Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A World without Heroes, Chapters 16 & 17!


            After a day of Ace and Eric virtually vanishing off the face of the earth; leaving Gene and Paul in a brief panic over where they had gone; Ace and Eric returned the next day to the hall for more rehearsals on the upcoming tour.  There was little talk about Eric’s stage character, with the exception of some additional ideas from Gene about the costume.  There was also little need for discussion on the setlist, as it was pretty much set in stone.  Instead, the band merely ironed out their parts and discussed some of the planned stops on the tour and some of the new effects they would be working with on the UNMASKED tour.
            No one talked about the Talismans, the Elders, Blackwell or Morpheus.
            This was fine by Gene and Paul.  With luck, they felt, the band would get through the tour, and then sit down with Ace to rationally show him that it would best for them and the Elders if the Talismans were in someone else’s hands.  It was the only logical decision for them.
            At least, logical to Gene and Paul.  As to Ace and Eric, they had decided to not discuss it anymore with Gene and Paul until they felt that Eric was up to the task of displaying his newfound powers just as well as Ace did.  When such a time came, then they could hit Gene and Paul with the news about what they need to do about the Talismans in order to help the Council.
            While no one talked about it, a hope that Gene, Paul and Ace secretly shared was that there would be no need to use the powers during the tour.  For Gene and Paul, it would mean another risk to themselves and maybe others.  For Ace, even though he felt confident about their powers, any confrontation would be just another reason for Gene and Paul to turn their backs on it. 
            For Eric, it was a blast.  Spending time performing with the band during the day, and at night working with Ace to perfect his powers.  Eric was almost hopeful that something would happen with Blackwell, as it would mean he would get a chance to test his powers in a real situation.
            But when the tour finally began, it was the biggest thrill for Eric; and it was thoughts about the tour that were going through Eric’s mind as he knocked on the door of Ace’s hotel room.
            “Alright, facista,” Eric shouted in a terrible Italian accent that sounded more like Spanish.  “Come out and face the people.”
            Ace opened the door after a moment’s hesitation.  “Man, Eric.  Don’t do that.  For a moment I thought I was back in that dressing-room.”
            Eric laughed.  “I still can’t get over how fast Gene ran.  Man, he was a streak of lightning!”
            Ace laughed along with Eric in a way that could have been trademarked and sold in bottles.  “Who needs superpowers?  Just have someone scare the crap out of you.  That’s all you need.  I think the only reason he beat us to the door was because we were right behind him pushing all the way.”
            “Well, Ace, thinking about all that running has gotten me thirsty,” Eric smiled.  “Want to join me down at the bar for a drink?”
            Ace nodded.  “Uh, let me get my language book.”
            Eric shook his head and pointed a finger up in the air to halt Ace’s launch back into his room.  “Never fear.  I’m Italian, right?  Well, I come from an Italian family, right?  It’s in my blood.  I can order for us.”
            “You sure?”
            “No problem.”
            “Whatever you say, El Douche,” Ace said, walking out into the hall and closing his hotel room door.
            “Eh, Ace that’s, ‘Il Duce.’”  Eric corrected.
            “I know.”
            Ace felt like he was back at the soccer stadium as he tried to outrun the laughing, but rampaging, Eric.  The both slowed down as they got to the bar and settled themselves into a couple of chairs centered around a small table.  They waited.
            And waited.
            And waited.
            “Don’t they have waitresses?  Or waiters?”  Ace asked as he looked around the room.
            “You would think so,” Eric responded as he also studied the room.  “Maybe it’s too early in the day for that, but there’s a guy behind the bar.”
            “Well, what do you want to do?”
            “Tell you what, Ace.  I’ll get us a couple of drinks from the bar and find out when the kitchen opens so maybe we can get a bite to eat as well.”
            Eric started to get up from his chair but stopped momentarily as Ace spoke.
            “Okay.  Get me a --”
            “Ah, ah,” Eric, again raised a finger in mock indignation.  “Allow me.  I’ll get you something that will make you remember this place.”
            With that, Eric got up from his chair and walked the 100 feet over to the bar.  Ace watched him leave as he leaned back in his chair to survey the room once again.  Starting in one corner of the room, he studied the tables, then moved his sight to that of Eric at the bar.  Eric could be seen talking with the bartender, Eric’s hands making numerous motions while the bartender leaned on the bar with a quizitive look on his face.
            Suppressing a chuckle, Ace continued to glance at the room.  For a brief moment, he sensed something electric in the air, but it was gone.  Turning to his right, his eyes came to rest on a waitress standing next to his table.
            “Oh!”  Ace almost shouted his surprise.  “Sorry didn’t see you standing there.”
            “What else don’t you see, Mr. Frehley?” 
            The male voice coming from the female body in front of him startled Ace more so than the sudden appearance of the waitress mere seconds ago.  It was only a matter of a second before Ace recognized the voice.
            “You!”  Ace stood up from the table, tipping his chair over in the process.
            Knowing the disguise was of no use any longer, the man switched back to his natural look.  It was the same suit of wires that Ace had seen before.
            “Yes, Mr. Frehley.  I’m back once again.  And I’ll keep popping up again and again.”
            “What do you want?”  Ace said in a more restrain tone than before.
            “Just keeping an eye on you, Mr. Frehley.  Following your every move.  Never know when we may have to cut in and stop you.”  The man, for once, did not smile.
            Seeing the man with a serious look on his face was creepier to Ace than seeing him smile.  “Then why haven’t you stopped me.  Why haven’t you stopped Eric?”
            “Because we have plans for you all, Mr. Frehley.  And because Eric is not a threat to us yet.”
            The man then smiled and the hairs on the back of Ace’s neck rose.
            “Of course, if he ever should become a threat.  Well, you can always start at Square One again with another musician, couldn’t you?”
            “Is that a threat?”  Ace asked in a louder voice than before.
            “Oh, no.  Nothing of the kind.  Merely fact.”
            Ace moved forward, and just as before, the man vanished in a wave of blue-white light.
            Ace stopped his actions just as suddenly as the blue-white light.  He picked up his chair and sat back down at the table.
            Within moments, Eric returned with their drinks.  Eric’s drink was a small glass with some brownish liquid in it.  Ace’s drink was a big purple mug with about four little umbrellas, a slice of lemon, orange and lime, a “crazy straw” that emerged out of the center of the mug and rose about half a foot into the air, and a couple of sparklers that were ignited and showering sparks all over the table.
            It looked ridiculous, and Eric proudly put it in front of the moodish Ace.
            Eric’s smile faded as Ace gave no reaction to the drink in front of him.
            “Uh,” Eric moved in so that he could talk to Ace in a soft tone.  “Are you okay, Ace?”
            Ace turned his head to look at Eric.  Ace studied Eric’s face for a moment, then smiled.
            “Yeah, Eric, I’m fine.  Thanks for the drink.”

*      *      *

            It was their first tour of Australia, and things could not have been better.
            Lush accommodations; beautiful women at all of the parties, of which there were many; catering for any need at any hour of the days; and, plenty of time off in-between the concerts.  Everyone was having a good time.
            Except Ace.
            The four members of the band entered the hotel’s lobby after their final rehearsals before putting on their next show in Perth and they were happy but exhausted.  Both Gene and Paul headed directly to their rooms, but Ace swung a left and headed to the bar instead.  Sitting down at the bar, he ordered a drink.
            As the drink arrived, an older businessman at the end of the bar picked up his drink and walked over to Ace.
            “Excuse me,” the man asked.  “But you wouldn’t happen to be one of those guys from KISS would you?”
            Ace looked at the man and laughed.
            “Yeah, I’m Ace Frehley.  What can I do for you?”
            “Oh, so you are in KISS?  Would you mind signing something for me?  It’s for my daughter.”  The man pulled out a pen and grabbed a cocktail napkin.
            “Sure,” Ace said, reaching out for the napkin and pen.  He turned back to the bar and put the paper down on the table.  “I have a daughter myself.  What’s your daughter’s name.”
            Ace jerked his head up so hard that he felt the muscles in his neck knot up.
            There before him was the man from the rooftop.
            “You never know when we’re going to turn up next, Mr. Frehley.  The next time, it may not be just for an autograph.”
            The man smiled and disappeared once again.  The smell of electricity tingled in Ace’s nostrils for a second.  It was something that had hit him the last time the man had appeared and vanished.
            The brightness disappeared as Ace sat with the pen in his left hand.  Suddenly, his muscles tensed so much that he began to tremble.  The pen snapped in his hand and blue ink oozed over his hand.
            “Dammit.”  Ace said as he threw the pieces of the pen across the bar.
            Getting up from his stool, he made his way out of the bar and into the lobby.
            In the lobby were four young fans with albums, waiting for any of the members of the band to come out and say hello.  Seeing Ace, they ran over to him.
            “Mr. Frehley!  Mr. Frehley!”  A boy of thirteen said as Ace approached the elevators.  “Would you sign this?”  He started handing a KISS album to Ace as he spoke.
            Ace shoved the album hard back at the boy. 
            “Leave me alone!  Just leave me the hell alone!”
            Ace stomped off to the elevator, which opened as if on cue.  He went in and pushed the elevator’s control panel for his floor. 
            Ace looked at the ground, ashamed of his actions.  He did not want to look up.  Did not want to see anyone from the lobby. 
            To Ace, the doors took forever to closed.

*      *      *

            “What the hell is this?”
            Ace threw the cassette across the room, which bounced off of the mixing board twice before coming to rest on the carpeted floor near the feet of Eric.
            “Well,” Eric said, not even signifying Ace’s question.  “Look who’s here.  It’s the elusive Ace Frehley coming to visit his own home studio.  Will wonders ever cease?”
            “Where is Gene and Paul?”  Ace said as he recognized that Eric was the only one in the room.
            “Gone.  We were here in your home studio since One this afternoon.  We recorded some stuff and then they left.  Where were you?”
            “I was busy.”
            “Yeah?  So were we.”
            “Hey, I don’t care about that right now.  But what is this garbage on this tape?”  Ace pointed at the cassette at the floor.
            “What are you talking about, Ace?”  Eric picked up the cassette and looked at it.  “You have a problem with the songs?”
            “I have a problem with the whole album.  I was okay when Gene and Paul scraped the stuff we did in Canada.  That’s no problem.  And I was fine when you all wanted to do a concept album.  Hey!  No big deal.  But the Elder is something that we should be treating better than turning it into a cartoon.  And now you not only turned my song into a goofy song about black light or whatever, but you’ve got this stupid thing about Blackwell on here too!”
            As he spoke, Ace moved closer to the board, but stopped when he got into five feet of Eric.  Eric ran his fingers through his hair and leaned his chair back against the wall, looking defeated.
            “Ace,” Eric said in exasperation.  “You know I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a concept album either.  We’ve talked about it.  Remember?  But, you’ve wanted us to do something about the Talismans and the Elder for a long time.  It took me forever to convince the guys to give it a try.  Especially when you weren’t showing up for the meetings.  Now we’re doing something and you’re complaining about it.  Which way do you want it?”
            “I want you guys to take these powers seriously.  Not write songs about them.”
            “Gene wrote ‘Mr. Blackwell’ as a confrontation to Blackwell, Ace.  It might draw him out.  Maybe make a mistake so we can beat him.  That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
            “No.  I want us to be ready for Blackwell when he decides to come after us.  Not push him over the edge.  Why didn’t you ask me about this stuff?”
            “Ace,” Eric put the chair back down and leaned towards Ace over the mixing board.  “You haven’t shown up for a large part of this album, and now you come in right at the end of the recording and start complaining.  Frankly, I don’t think you have much of a place to talk.  If you’ve got a problem you should have mentioned it earlier.”
            “What difference would that have made?”  Ace asked.  “You guys are going to do whatever you want anyway.”
            “If you believe that, Ace, then why did you even come here to argue about it?”
            Eric had meant what he said.  Ace had been growing more distant from the others ever since that confrontation at the hall more than a year before.  Now he was starting to sound paranoid by suggesting that he no longer had any control in the band. Eric got up from his chair and walked around the console to Ace.
            “Ace --” Eric said while putting an arm around Ace’s shoulder.
            Ace grabbed Eric’s hand and tore it away from his shoulder.
            Eric was a bit stunned by the action, but did not move away.
            “Ace, you’ve been wanting the guys to do something about the Talismans for over a year now.  If you want to blame anyone for the Elder stuff on here, blame me.  I thought it would be something that would bring us together and maybe work out something between the four of us, y’know?”
            Ace shook his head.  “Not this way.  This won’t accomplish anything.”
            Ace took a couple of steps back from Eric and looked him straight in the eyes.  “Blackwell is getting close.  I can feel it.  We should be preparing for the battle ahead and instead we’re writing cutesy songs.  ‘You’re not well, Mr. Blackwell.’  Oh, that’s really scary, Gene.  Blackwell might go and hide behind his desk if he hears this.  I don’t know where you got the idea that this was going to help us at all.  If this is the best you can do, Eric, then maybe you shouldn’t have gotten the powers anyway.”
            Eric felt as if Ace had hit him.  It was so out of the ordinary that Eric laughed out loud.  He then tried to say something, but sputtered on the words.  Instead he just laughed again and walked back around the console and sat back down in his chair.  Ace could see defeat in Eric’s face when Eric looked up at him.
            “You know, Ace.  I was with you on this, man.  I was really with you.  And when this all started, I was really having fun learning about the Talismans and stuff.  But you’ve changed in the past few months.  Stopped talking about the Talismans.  Even stopped the training after we got to Australia.  Then you started treating everyone like they were bothering you -- like we were stupid or something.  Now this.  Man, maybe it’s just as well that you stopped the training.  I . . . I . . ..”
            Eric stopped.  He turned his head towards the far wall and concentrated on it with all of his remaining energy.
            “Eric, I’m . . ..”
            Ace could not say anything else.  Within seconds, he was out of the studio and in his car, driving off down the road.
            He felt terrible about what he had said to Eric, but it was a futile and silly gesture to do the Elder album.  What would it prove, Ace asked himself.  Only that the band was so overconfident that Blackwell would know for sure they were ripe for the picking.
            Still, Ace thought, it was no reason to take it out on Eric.  Now the one person who was on his side about the Talismans was probably lost as well.  Because he did not think before reacting.  Because he had not planned it out any better.
            Upon reaching a stoplight at an intersection, warning him to yield, Ace slowly stepped on the breaks and let the car drift to a halt.  At once he felt the charge in the air.
            He turned to his right and saw the man standing on the corner.  This time he did not even bother with a disguise.  He just stood on the corner of the street and smiled at Ace.
            Ace began reaching for the door handle and was about to step out of the car, when the car began rolling forward as he had released his foot from the brake.  He climbed back into the car and pulled the shift into Park.  As he did so, he felt the electricity once again.
            He stepped out of the car again to see what he expected to see -- no one.
            Ace crawled back into the car, shifted into gear and stepped on the gas, as the light had now turned green.  He was deep in thought.
            He had anticipated the man’s appearance and disappearance this time.
            It could be something to keep in mind for the next time.

*      *      *

            It had been a year since the last appearance of the man and Ace was proven right with his thoughts about THE ELDER.  Still, the band had forged on ahead with another album, this time called CREATURES OF THE NIGHT and had just finished up a promotional tour in Europe to some degree of success over there.
            To Ace, however, it was just a delay before Blackwell and the man struck again.  Another time to try and unbalance his thinking and keep him from figuring out a way to stop Blackwell and get the others to finally see the light about the Talismans.
            For the moment, however, Ace had mixed feelings for his concerns.  The promotional tour had gone over well, but it left him feeling a bit hollow as he had missed most of the recording of the album due his concerns with the Elders.  Instead, the band had brought in some session player to perform in his place and Ace had spent the promotional tour merely acting like he was playing.  It was a numbing experience and one that he struggled through because he knew for once the band was in the right -- if he had spent more time with them instead of on his one-man crusade, perhaps things would be different by this point.  Now the others never even mentioned the Talismans.  Ever.
            Such thoughts went through Ace’s mind as he walked across the long-term parking lot at the airport, looking for his car.  In his hands were a suitcase and his guitar-case.  The November winds hit against his chest as he walked and he wish he had pulled out his jacket from the suitcase before he had left the terminal.  Instead, he felt the coldness of the wind biting into his flesh.
            Then a new sensation overcame him.  He heard the crackle of electricity.  He swirled around to see a flash of light -- one that he had never seen before, yet knew that it was only because he had never noticed.
            Within less than a second, the man had appeared.  The man smiled and stared in the direction of Ace.  He frowned soon after.
            Ace’s suitcase and guitar-case lay on the ground.  Ace, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen.  It was a curious sight to behold for the man, and he frowned immediately.
            The man stepped forward, inching his way to the suitcase with all of the precaution of a mouse investigating a known mousetrap full of cheese.  Looking to his left, then his right, the man reached down to the suitcase.
            Just as the man was about to put his left hand on the suitcase handle, Ace leapt from between two parked cars and grabbed the man’s wrists.  As he did so, a small object fell out of the man’s right hand and clattered on to the ground.  The man looked up at Ace in wild surprise and tried to break free of Ace’s grip.
            Ace kept hold of the man and threw him against a beat-up BMW van.  The man’s head connected with the window in the back of the van and the glass cracked but did not shatter under the impact.  As the man let out a groan, Ace moved his head within inches of the man’s face.
            “What do you want?”  Ace hissed.
            “Nothing.  Let me go.” 
            Ace turned back to look at the device that had dropped to the ground seconds before and instantly recognized it for the type of device Deveraux had used a couple of years before.  Ace now knew that the man would be unable to leap into limbo as he had in the past.
            “So, you think it’s fun to simply play with my head by leaping in and out of my life for the past year, right?”  Ace said, as he turned back to the man.
            The man said nothing, still feeling the pain in his head.  Ace could hear the approach of a jet overhead.  He turned in the direction of the sound and saw the landing-strip where upon the plane would land.  Ace smiled.
            “Well, let’s see how you like to play under my rules.”
            With that, Ace threw one hand up into a hitchhiker’s pose, while never releasing his hand from the man’s wrist.
            The two blinked out of existence, only to reemerge on a landing strip at the airport.  The man looked frantically around, and then zeroed in on a 747 that had its landing gear down and was heading for a landing on the strip the two of them were dead-center on.  Ace threw the man to the ground and sat on top of his chest.
            Ace saw the plane as well.
            “See the plane?  It’s going to land, and it’s going to land right here.  When it does, I’m going to simply disappear right before it gets to us and we’ll get to see how well you can stop it with your smiling face.”
            “Don’t,” the man said, trying to struggle.
            “Why not”
            “Let me go and I’ll tell you anything you want.”
            “No.  I don’t want to.”  Ace was now the one who was smiling.
            “Please,” the man screamed.  “I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
            “What is Blackwell planning?”
            “I can’t tell you,” the man said as he heard the screeching of tires hitting the pavement off in the distance.  “Blackwell will kill me.”
            “Fine,” Ace paid no attention to the approaching plane.  “Then your career as roadkill is about to begin.”
            The plane came closer and closer.
            “Okay!  Okay!  I’ll tell you anything you want to know.  Just get me out of here!”
            With another flick of the wrist, the two disappeared as the plane moved over their former position.
            They reappeared back at Ace’s suitcase in the parking lot.  Ace once again threw the man up against the van, only this time he let go of the man’s hands.  Ace moved quickly into the road and grabbed the cylinder that the man had dropped.  He began taking it apart as he spoke to the man, who was gasping for breath at the side of the van. 
            “Okay, now talk.”  Ace said, hardly noticing the man for the moment.  “Why have you been following me around for the past year or so?  What was the point of that?”
            “It,” the man gasped again as he lowered himself down to the back bumper of the van and attempted to sit there.  “It was Blackwell’s way of throwing you off-guard.  We’ve figured out that you were the only one of the four who really had any connection with the Elders.  If we could throw you off, maybe get you paranoid about us, then the others may not be willing to go along with you.”
            Ace shook his head, as if it was an answer that he had been expecting.  “Oh, throw me off and then the others would be easy picking.”
            “You -- you were the most dangerous.  Yet, you couldn’t be killed or else that would alert the others.  Better to just discredit you.”
            “So that’s why you said those things about Eric.  You wanted to throw me off on training him so he would be in the same boat as the others.”
            The man shook his head, but said nothing.  From the evenness of his breathing, Ace could tell that the man had gotten his wind back.  Ace ripped out some wiring from the cylinder and threw it over his shoulder, knowing it was now useless to the man.
            “But why take so long in doing this?”  Ace crept up to the man.
            “The time’s not right.  But it will come.  It’s already too late to change what will happen.”  The man showed little fear, but Ace could still see something else, something new in the man’s eyes.
            “And what is going to happen?”  Ace got so closed that he could see the fog of his breath covering the man’s face.
            “Do you really need to see it?”  The man asked, only this time with no trace of fear or concern.  He had his hands in his pockets.
            “What is going to happen?”  Ace now felt like their roles were somehow reversing with every word each would say.
            “Here,” the man said as he reached out and grabbed Ace by the arms.  “Let me show you.”
            The man shoved one of Ace’s arms so that the man’s hand was right in front of Ace.  In his hand, the man produced another one of the silver cylinders and pressed the button on top.
            A wisp of light surround the two and then the landscape changed to one that Ace had only heard about yet knew by sight.  The man took away his hands from Ace as Ace looked around and nearly stumbled when he saw the building in front of him.
            “It’s the capital!”  Ace exclaimed.  “We’re here with the Elders!”
            “Yeah, Mr. Frehley.  We’re here.  A place that you’ve heard Morpheus tell you about, but never actually allowed you to visit.  Ever wonder why?”
            Ace said nothing.
            “Well, it doesn’t matter.  In fact, nothing will matter to the Elders within just a few minutes.”  The man stepped up to Ace and pointed to a segment of the sky above.
            In the sky came forth a circle of darkness that faded into the clouds above and harden into a solid.  Within the circle came the sketching of lines that at first began to form a pentagram, then moved on to other lines that looked like ones Ace had seen before.
            “I remember something like that.  There was a symbol like that under the safe at Robinson’s.”
            “Exactly, Mr. Frehley.  That was a symbol used by the Ancient Ones, and so it this one.  Only this one is a bit different.  When you fought Robinson, the idea was for you and the others to become enclosed within the circle.  The time was right then, but Robinson failed by thinking she could control the powers all by herself.”
            The man’s words became bitter.  “Stupid woman.  This would have been over long ago if she had remembered what Blackwell had told her.  No one can hold all of the Talismans, not even a member of the Council.  How dare she believe she could!  Because of her, we had to wait for another time.”
            “So that explains the delay,” Ace said.  “Blackwell didn’t come after us because he had to wait until it was time again.”
            “Exactly.  And with Deveraux and Robinson out of the way, Blackwell couldn’t afford to lose anymore of you or us.  The game plan changed, Mr. Frehley.”  The man walked in front of Ace and said nothing until Ace looked at him.  “The game plan changed, the results would end up being the same.  The Talismans will be ours, Mr. Frehley.  You know it, Morpheus knows it, and even the Council knows it.  This day will occur, only the time changed.”
            Ace shot a glance up to the circle in the sky.  As the lines solidified, images began appearing inside of the circle itself.  A deafening cry came from inside the circle as a beam of blackness emerged from the circle and headed towards the earth, straight towards the capital.  As the sound continued, members of the council came out to see what was occurring.
            “But this symbol is different!”  Ace shouted over the roar of the sky above them.
            “Of course it is,” the man grinned.  “This is the doorway to their world, and it has been unlocked!”
            Ace was confused.  “But -- but this can’t be happening.  You still need us.  You still need the Talismans!  This can’t be happening now!”
            The man laughed deep and rich.  “Oh, come now, Mr. Frehley.  Who said this was happening now?  We went through Limbo, remember.  This is not the present.  It’s the future!”
            From the light came the troops.  Legions full of creatures.  Each of the creatures were something that could have only come from such darkness -- dark, terrible and a mockery of anything that could have evolved naturally.
            They moved in a way that seemed with ease, yet left a slime of blood behind them as they moved.  At once, one grabbed at a council member and with a stroke of its tail, sliced the elderly person in half. 
            It was to be a scene that Ace saw only once, but knew would continue.  Just as in his dreams.  Just as how Morpheus had spoken of it.  With his eyes shut against the sight, he could still hear the sounds.  It made him mad with grief.
            “The Ancient Ones.”  Ace said it almost as just a declaration of fact.
            “Yes,” the man said, quite happy in watching the events.  “They want to help us.  Want to help humanity.  No longer will the Elders manipulate us.  Blackwell and the Ancient Ones will see to that.”
            “But who is creating the circle?”  Ace asked, wishing he had not even asked.
            “Why, it’s simple, Mr. Frehley.  If you look into the circle, you’ll be able to see where it has originated.  You’ll see who is creating the circle.  In your mind, you already know who it has to be.”
            Ace refused to raise his head again to the circle.
            “Look, Mr. Frehley!  Look at what the future holds for you!”  The man screamed the words as he turned Ace toward the circle so that Ace could see everything clearly.  “Look at what your final triumph will be!”
            Ace lifted his head and stared into the center of the circle.  By now the circle was a solid black sphere, but he could see into the center of the darkness.  At first the darkness held nothing, but eventually he could make out some figures, and then it came into focus.
            “No . . ..”  Ace whispered.
            Within the circle were four figures.  Each had their hands held above them with power flowing through their bodies as they concentrated.  Each was a person that Ace knew.
            There was Gene.  There was Paul.  There was Peter.
            “No . . ..”
            There was Ace.
            As the words left his lips, a flash of white light filled his senses.
            Ace awoke on the cold ground of the airport.  Off in the distance was the man, still unconscious from the experience of being transported back through time.  Ace tried to stand up, and felt dizzy.  He clutched onto the trunk of a car as he stumbled toward his suitcase and guitar-case. 
            At first he thought they had come back because he had used his powers, but the changed felt different this time.  He saw the man on the ground and wondered if it was his doing, but that left little reason for his being unconscious now. 
            It did not matter, Ace felt.  He grabbed his stuff and made his way to his car.  He fumbled with his car-keys, managed to start the car and pull out of the parking lot, leaving the man far behind.
            “I’ve got to tell Morpheus.  I’ve got to warn him.”  Ace mumbled to himself as he drove.
“I’ve got to warn Peter.”
            Heading out onto the highway, Ace turned the wheel and headed off towards Peter’s house.
            Back in the parking lot, the man remained on the ground for a moment, then disappeared in a flash of blue-white light.


            “Get out of the road, Grandma!”  Ace shouted out the car window as he past a bright yellow Volkswagen with a gray-haired woman hunched over the wheel.
            The screeching of the tires and the honking of the horn shook Peter from his unsuccessful attempt to sleep.  Peter looked back at the car in the dawning rays of the sun just in time to see the old woman roll down her window and give Ace the finger.        
            “Ah, New York,” Peter said, his voice cracking from a dry throat.
            Ace heard Peter speaks, but did little to register his comment other than signaling for a turn and pulling over at the side of a building in a run-down neighborhood.  Ace turned off the engine, pulled the key out of the dash and turned to Peter.
            “Okay, we’re here.”
            Peter turned to Ace, then to the building.  After studying the structure, he faced Ace once again.
            “Ace, where is ‘here?’”
            “Nevermind,” Ace opened his door and got out of the car.  He managed to get to Peter’s side of the car before Peter had even managed to find the door handle.  Opening the door, Ace held it open as Peter crawled out of the car.  He stretched, trying to shake off the weariness he felt, which the cold November weather accomplished in quick order. 
            The sun was already starting to stream into the city streets, blinding Peter as he looked around.  He reached into his coat jacket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses.  Promptly putting them over his eyes, he stuck his hands into his coat pockets and heard the car door slam shut.  The sound was soon followed by the sight of Ace walking towards the building and stepping into a small alleyway between it and the building next to it.  Peter soon fell into step behind Ace.
            “Ace,” Peter followed closely, but due to the size of the alleyway, could only stay behind Ace as they moved.  “I understand what you told me about the Talismans and the vision you say you saw of the future, but where are we going and why do you need me?”
            Ace pointed to an entrance at the side of the building.  The door had at one time been locked with a series of chains and padlocks, but now the door barely hung on its hinges.  There was a huge sign reading, “CONDEMN,” on the door.  Ace moved forward and opened the door slowly as he spoke.
            “Well, first off, I need someone with me right now.  Thanks to Blackwell and his peon, the guys in the band think I’m either nuts or just trying to cause trouble with the Talismans.  If I go to them with the story I told you about the Elders, they probably would just think I’m loopy.”
            Ace went inside the dark building and held the door open for Peter.  Stepping into the darkness, Peter reached for the door to steady himself.  As he made contact with the door, the sign came off in his right hand.  Reading the sign, he pulled off his sunglasses and then tossed the sign aside.
            “You’re lucky that I was in town visiting the folks.  Although they weren’t thrilled about you calling up the house at Four this morning.”  Peter tried to wipe the dirt from the sign off his hands as he continued to follow Ace into the building.  “Good thing you caught me while I was half-asleep, though.  If I had been thinking clearly, you’d be on your own now.  After all, I told you guys years ago that I wanted nothing more to do with the Talismans.”
            “I need someone with me, Peter.”  Ace moved through the rubble inside the building and towards a staircase at the far side of the room.  “From the way things were told to me last night, I get the feeling that Blackwell plans on doing something to me and the others very soon.  If he does, then we’re probably all in trouble.  Including you.  I need someone to guard my back while we’re here.”
            “But what are we doing here?”  Peter said, as he followed Ace up the staircase to the second floor of the building.
            “I need to contact Morpheus.”  Ace stepped onto the second floor, which creaked noticeably under his weight.  He moved to the center of the room and stopped.
            “Why?”  Peter asked, stepping as lightly as possible on the floorboards as he moved towards Ace.  He took in the room at its full extent, seeing the sun shinning through numerous holes in the roof above them and through cracks in the far wall.
            “Because I need to find out more about what is going to happen.  I also need to have Morpheus convince the others that what I have been telling them is true.”  Ace saw down on the floor and crossed his legs.  “And, well, I’m worried about him.  When I saw the future, I noticed that Morpheus was not there.  I don’t know.  Maybe he was inside the capital, but if so, it was destroyed within seconds from what I saw.  I have to warn him if I can.  I don’t know if it’ll make any difference, but I have to warn him.”
            “And the Ancient Ones were able to get through because something you and the others did?”  Peter said, stopping when he was about ten feet away from Ace.
            Ace hesitated.  “Er, yes.  It was because we opened the portal to the Ancient Ones that the Elders will fall.  I have to contact Morpheus to make sure he’ll be safe and also to find out if he knows why we’re needed to open the gateway for the Ancient Ones.  I thought Blackwell only had to have the Talismans, but there seems to be more to this story than Morpheus ever told me.  If we know why he needs us we might be able to stop the future from happening.”
            Ace let the matter drop.  The last thing he wanted to mention now was how he had seen Peter as part of the four in the future.  Ace knew how Peter felt about the Talismans.  To tell him now would have only frightened Peter off.  Besides, it also left the uneasy question as to Eric’s whereabouts. 
            At the moment, it did not matter.  To think about it would make it difficult for him to concentrate, and he needed his wits about him if he wanted to draw Morpheus to him.  If he could.  Since Eric had mentioned seeing Morpheus when he had gained the Talisman, no one had seen or heard from Morpheus.  It could be possible, Ace concluded as he tried to steady his thoughts, that the reason Morpheus was not there in the future was because --
            No.  Again, it was time to concentrate on the present and nothing more.
            “So, what do you want me to do now?”  Peter stood in a ray of sunlight that came steadily through a hole in the roof of the building.  The warmth from the sunlight felt good to Peter in the cold stillness of the room.
            “Just keep your eyes and ears out for trouble, okay?” 
            It was the last thing Ace said.  He slowly reached up to his throat and removed the chain around his neck that held his Talisman.  Placing it in front of him, he closed his hands around the Talisman and dropped his hands into his lap.  Ace then closed his eyes and tilted his head back.
            Peter had expected a chant like Ace had done in the past, yet this time there was none.  Instead, Peter noticed that the ray of sunlight he stood in was slowly shifting from where he was standing.  It seemed very odd.  Even more so when he noticed that the other shafts of sunlight in the room were also bending, twisting to connect directly upon Ace as he concentrated.  Ace’s appearance was also changing, with his makeup slowly covering his face and his clothes metamorphosed from his street clothes to that of a variety of his DYNASTY costumes that Peter remembered.
            Peter stepped back as the light around Ace intensified, as if it was throbbing with life.  Peter dug into his pocket for the sunglasses, and was just about to put them on when a brilliant flash of white light filled the room, forcing Peter to turn away. 
            When Peter looked back at Ace, he saw that another figure stood in-between the two of them.  Peter said nothing.
            Ace opened his eyes and looked up at the figure.   “Morpheus,” Ace cried out.
            “So,” Morpheus said with melancholy in his voice, “the time is here already.”
            “Morpheus, I am so glad to see you!”  Ace quickly got up from the floor so he could speak with Morpheus face to face.  “There was so much that I had seen in the past day that I need to ask you about.”
            “Really?  I’ll try to tell you in what little time remains.”  Morpheus tried to smile, but to little effect.
            Ace took no notice as his head filled with questions.  “Morpheus, you told me that Blackwell needs the Talismans.  But you never mentioned that he needed us as well.”
            “What have you seen, Mr. Frehley?”  Morpheus’ voice remained calm.
            Ace hesitated at first in what he was about to say, then decided the direct approach was probably the best.  “Yesterday, I was taken to the Council sometime in the future.  And I saw that a gateway had been opened between the Elders and the Ancient Ones.  They were coming in and killing the council off.”
            “Mmm-hmmm.”  Morpheus reacted as if it was old news.
            “Is it possible that what I saw was really what will happen?  Or is it just a trick by Blackwell?”
            Ace did not expect the answer he heard.
            “We have known about our future for some time.  What you saw was no trick.  Blackwell will bring the darkness of the Ancient Ones upon us.  The prophecies had dictated the course of events as they are occurring.  We just never knew for sure when it would happen and who would set it off.  We were worried it could have been Blackwell, but there is no way to track him until he has made his move to open the portal.”
            “But can’t you do anything to stop it?”  Ace sputtered.  “If you know the future, you can change it.”
            Morpheus laughed.  “Change the future?  We have tried.  Still, the future is the past.  What you already saw will be there for the rest of us in time no matter how we try to avoid it.”
            A bit put off by Morpheus reaction, Ace drew himself closer to Morpheus.  “Morpheus, you told me that Blackwell would use the powers of the Talismans to destroy the Elders.  You never mentioned that we are going to be the ones to do it for him.”
            “There are a lot of things Morpheus never has mentioned, Mr. Frehley.”
            The voice came from a distant shadow in the corner of the room.  Both Ace and Morpheus jerked their heads in the direction of the voice.  With the clicking of heels, two figures moved from out of the shadows and into the beams of sunlight.
            It was Blackwell, with his assistant Mr. Parker.  Parker held a small metallic weapon that looked like a cross between a flare-gun and a Magnum .45.  Blackwell moved across the room in great confidence, although to do so he had to avoid eye contact with the perspiring and nervous Mr. Parker.  As the two reach Ace and Morpheus, they stopped.  Blackwell folded his hands in front of him and beamed with a huge smile.
            “But,” Blackwell said in mock despair, “there really is so little left to say, isn’t there Morpheus?”
            “How --” Ace started with one question, halted then began with another instead.  “What do you want?”
            “Oh, nothing much.  Just putting another piece into the puzzle we call the future, Mr. Frehley.”  Blackwell said the words without taking his eyes off of Morpheus.
            “Don’t do this, Blackwell.  There is still time to change the path.”
            “No.”  Blackwell said it with no emotion, just as a declaration. 
            “You won’t use me, Blackwell.”  Ace began to move forward, then stopped as Mr. Parker fumbled with the gun and pointed it at Ace’s head.
            Blackwell laughed.  “Oh, Mr. Frehley, why are you worried?  I’m not here for you; I can get what I want from you anytime.  Oh, but do be careful.  The weapon our Mr. Parker holds is one that I had developed a few years ago and can be quite painful.  It not deadly, mind you, but it can wipe memories away from the brain quite easily.  Even induce new memories if used properly.  If, however, it was used carelessly . . . well, we don’t want a vegetable on our hands, now do we?”
            “So that’s how you made the people forget about Deveraux.”  Ace said as a past mystery was resolved before his eyes.  “You used this weapon on them!”
            “Not me,” Blackwell said quickly and with some distaste, “Mr. Parker here.  So although he doesn’t look it, he does know how to use it.”
            “If you’re not here for me,” Ace responded, “then what are you here for.”
            Blackwell had pointed at Morpheus as he spoke.
            “I figured as much.  Why?”
            Blackwell moved closer to Morpheus until they were only inches apart.  “Simple.  I had found out that you were contributing more to the progress of our four friends than just merely giving them the Talismans.  You were telling them things that would help them to avoid me.  Perhaps even stop me.  I couldn’t allow that to happen.  There’s too much at risk for the future to let you just play your games like a boy hoping to make favor with Father with some lowly good deeds.
            “I have to get you out of the way.  Once you are gone, the Talismans will be mine in short order.”
            “But,” Morpheus asked quickly, “how did you know I would be here?”
            “A deduction, with a bit of patience.  I first had to find out how you were arriving here.  To do so takes a tremendous amount of energy.  I knew that you had taken Criss’ Talisman back to the Council when he resigned from the group.  I also knew that the four must remain together in order for them to be full strength to their powers.  A new carrier had to be found.”
            Blackwell began moving around Morpheus as he spoke.
            “I had been following the band, and saw that they had hired a replacement.  You, on the other hand, never arrived.  I had to force your hand.”
            Morpheus cut in.  “By staging the battle on the rooftop in which I gave Mr. Carr his Talisman.”
            “Exactly.  Carr was the first step.  I know you better than you would want to believe.  I knew it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  Once you arrived, I was able to pinpoint how you arrived and would be ready the next time you did so.”
            “So, the battle was just a fake?”  Ace seemed surprised.
            Blackwell ignored Ace as if he was a pesky insect.
            “As Mr. Frehley has guessed, we then spent some time destroying his fellowship with the other members of the Talismans.  Making him an outsider, and since he always came across as one it was easy enough.  Without his guidance, the other will soon fall into place.”
            “And today?”  Morpheus said.
            “Well, thanks to my quick-change friend that Mr. Frehley had met -- who,” Blackwell stopped and pointed as he faced Ace, “Mr. Frehley, you would be relieved to know is recuperating from his travels of last night -- I gave him a chance to see what the future will hold.  I knew it would be enough to try and contact you.”
            Morpheus sighed.  “So now you have me.  What do you plan to do?  Lock me away somewhere?  Tie me up and hold me for ransom?  You can’t keep me forever, Blackwell.”
            Blackwell turned and looked at Morpheus.  He then chuckled and moved around Morpheus again.
           “Yes, I would not be able to keep you forever.”
            As Blackwell moved behind Morpheus, Ace saw a quick flash of gleaming metal fall into Blackwell’s right hand.
            “Yet, if there is one thing I learned from humans after all of these years is that it is sometimes best to deal with things directly.”
            With those words, Blackwell grabbed Morpheus by the throat and forced the knife deep into Morpheus’ back.  Morpheus let out a gasp of air and began to collapse.  With his head falling back, he could hear Blackwell whisper to him.
            “Forgive me, my one and only brother, but the destiny must be fulfilled.”
            “Blackwell,” Morpheus shuddered as he spoke the words softly, “you are a fool.”
            Blackwell lowered the Morpheus to the ground.
            “N -- no.”  Ace watched with his eyes wide, but unable to move. 
            As Blackwell got up from the floor and began dusting his hands, Ace’s body began to tremble.  He clenched his fists so tightly that the Talisman he held began to cut into his right hand and blood appeared between his fingers.  Ace’s face grew with anger.
            “It was all a frame-up.  You knew all along.  You set me up!  All this time, you set me up!”
            Blackwell, still looking at Morpheus with a touch of sadness, seemed to take little notice of Ace.  It only angered Ace even further.
            “You used me!  You moth--”
            Ace began to rush blindly toward Blackwell. 
            With a slight hint of hesitation, Mr. Parker pulled the trigger on the weapon.
            A blast of reddish-black, liquid-like light came forth from the gun and hit Ace directly in the head.  The blast knocked Ace sideways and he fell to the floor.
            Ace seemed disoriented for a second, shook his head and began to get back on his feet.
As he attempted to do so, Parker once again pulled the trigger.
            This time the blast lasted longer as Parker held down the trigger and the light poured into Ace’s skull.  Still, Ace tried to get up, only to fall down once again.
            Blackwell took three strides and ripped the weapon from Parker’s hands.
            “What are you doing?  We don’t want him braindead.”  Blackwell hissed the words.
            “But -- but . . . he was going to jump you.”  Parker said in fear.
            “I can handle myself, Mr. Parker.  Let’s just make sure you haven’t damaged Frehley too much, or we will never be able to get him ready to trap the others.”  Blackwell heard Ace trying to get to his feet in the distance and twisted his head to see where he was.
            Ace stumbled backwards as he got on to his feet, but managed to catch himself from falling once again.  He put his left hand up to his head and tried to shake the clouds and ice from his mind that had formed there and were steadily growing with each second.
            “Got to warn the others,” Ace mumbled.  “Got to get out of here.”
            Blackwell raised the weapon himself this time and pointed it at Ace.
            “Got to . . . got to getaway. . . to go somewhere . . . safe.”
            Ace raised his hand in a pose that he had now forgotten what it meant.
            “ . . . Somewhere . . ..”
            In a flash of light, Ace was gone.
            Blackwell still held the weapon up to where Ace had stood, but remain still for several seconds, as Parker tried not to breath.  Finally, Blackwell let the weapon drop to his side. 
            Parker watched the figure in front of him.  He had no idea what to expect from Blackwell.
            As if suddenly activated, Blackwell turned on his heels and headed for the staircase.
            “Come, Mr. Parker.  There’s work to be done.”
            Blackwell was already moving down the staircase when Parker dared to move.
            “W-what, what about his friend Cri--?”
            Blackwell did not look back.  “I said, ‘come.’”
            With the one final word, Parker ran to catch up with Blackwell.  They disappeared on to the first floor and the door to the building could be held slamming shut.
            It was not much longer before Peter emerged from a broken-down ventilation shaft in the deepest, darken corner of the room.  Wide-eye with what he had just witnessed, he slowly crept up to Morpheus’ body and knelt down to the old man.
            “Hey, Morpheus, are you okay?”
            He heard a faint muffle from Morpheus and Peter bent his head down to hear Morpheus speak.
            “Warn them, Peter.”  Morpheus said.  “Warn them, or all could be lost.”
            It was the first time Morpheus had called him by his first name, Peter thought.  For some reason it had struck him oddly, better still it was odd that he would notice it now at such a moment.  He tried to smile.
            “Hey, c’mon, Morph.  You’re going to get out of this.  You’re an Elder, right?  You guys are tough.  C’mon, I’ll get the car and we’ll get you cleaned up.  A knife wound can’t kill one of you guys, right?”
            “ . . . Oh . . . man . . ..”