Stealing Thunder, Part I
Written by TwiceOnThursdays :: [Monday, 29 December 2014 08:58] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 13 January 2015 13:18]
Note: This story makes reference to World's Finest #272. I recount some of the tale here, altering it slightly for my needs. It was the initial inspiration for this tale.
My plan would probably kill me. It would test my abilities to their fullest, and failure meant certain death. I would have to use all my knowledge and my scant power, and rely upon more than a little luck. I had never really taken risks before, and the entire endeavor is outside my safety zone. As great as the risks were, I was also afraid that if I didn't take the risk, I would end up like my aunt and parents, murdered by someone with far too much power coupled with an absence of any moral restraint.
I'm no stranger to magic. My parents were minor mages who traded in books and information, and were always in high regard in the magical community. While not playing for any of the major teams, Light or Dark, Chaos or Order, they never traded in anything really horrible. Without the utmost care, some of the dark tomes could corrupt your soul just by being in the same room with them, let alone cracking them open and reading them. At one time or another, they probably owned a copy of every non-unique magical tome, and many of the unique ones. I read every one. Due to my voracious reading habits and my fantastic memory, I was one of the most knowledgable magical scholars in the world.
From the earliest age, I was learning dead languages, practicing basic magical exercises, and studying various forms of magic. My biggest problem is that although my knowledge is deep and thorough, my magical power level is minimal. I had an affinity for knowledge spells, and those augmented my natural talents. Without aid, my memory was photographic. Augmented by magics, I could read at a fantastic rate and remember and understand everything. I've lost track of the languages I can speak. Some of them belong to civilizations that died before Babylon rose. It comes in handy in my line of work. When a time traveling mage stumbles through the door speaking Eteocypriot, I don't have to waste spells to fluently converse with him.
I'm also good at modern science, including computer science. It's a mistake to think "Magic or Science". Some magic requires thinking in the abstract, in symbols, and Science lives in the mundane, aggregating facts into more facts and inferring iron clad rules. Magic thrives at looking at the world in various ways and constructing metaphors to manipulate forces that are beyond direct understanding. Most magic users only delved into one or two areas, keeping their magic behind a single or small number of systems. I was always more flexible than that. As I said, I soak up knowledge, and use some rare and arcane magics to augment this speed. Unlike most mages, I have a fair grounding in a multitude of systems: Atlantean Magic, ancient Druidic lore, Backwards Magic, Necromancy, and a dozens of other systems. For me, Science was just one of those ways. The tools that Math, Computers, and Science gave me are sometimes helpful in teasing apart the riddles of obscure magic. This belief pretty much makes me a heretic in the world of magic. I don't care about such things. Especially since unlike most of the people who think that way, all of whom revere the Ancient Magic of Atlantis, I've actually read every known surviving work from Atlantis (and they had a much more liberal acceptance of such matters)
As I've said, I have plenty of knowledge and training. My problem is that my magical power level is minimal. I can cast basic spells. I can make light winds blow, I can light candles. I can levitate in place. But though I know multiple ways to open a dimensional portal, to teleport, or to shape change, without the aid of an object or a huge ritual, I can't raise enough power to make the spells work.
On the other end of the spectrum there were people with vast amounts of magical power. These people can take shortcuts. They bypass training and technique, and sometimes even knowledge, and just make things happen. A good example of this is the heroine Zatanna (or would be if she also didn't train constantly). She had a lot of innate power, she could get by with no training or knowledge if she wanted to. All she needed to do was speak words backwards and incredible things happened. She was everything I wasn't beautiful, powerful, and famous. The only thing that kept me from hating her is that Zatanna was a rigorous student, and constantly studied to increase her knowledge and ability. This carried over to make her spells even more powerful.
Admittedly, I was a bit jealous her magical rock god status. I would do almost anything to have magical power at that level. Not to mention her physical beauty. She had an incredible body to go along with her vast power. I had nice hair. It was jet black, and I kept it in a cute Audrey Hepburn bob. My skin was a nice too, all smooth and creamy brown. But I really didn't have a decent figure, I was flat chested and my body was a too pear-shaped to be considered sexy.
I thought I had accepted this, and was happy with my life. I enjoy studying and learning magic. And I carried on my parents tradition of buying and selling magical books. I still read every one that wouldn't eat my soul (and I read a few of those with proper safeguards). I spent a lot of time alone, but I enjoyed that. I spent my time teasing ancient knowledge from between lines of text, cross referencing it to other tomes to divine the truth.
And with my memory, I could sort out most of these riddles by laying back and flipping through books in my head.
As you can tell, I'm trying to avoid thinking of my plan, and it's downside: probable death. So, I'll just spit it out. My daring plan was simple: Steal the Power of Shazam. This would give me the power of a god.
I was pretty sure that no one else knew the secret. It wasn't in an esoteric tome, written in the dark ages of man. It was, in all things, my aunt's journal. Aunt in this case really means "old family friend". She and my mother were very close growing up, and were like sisters. My mother acquired books for my aunt to devour. She was as avid about sorcery as I was.
At a certain point, she went off and started her own original research. Eventually she learned how to control magical lightning, and take its powers for her own. She could toss off bolts of lighting, and move as fast as lightning. But this wasn't enough for her, she wanted money, so she could pay off her debt to my parents, and acquire more knowledge and items, and accrue even more power.
She decided to rob a charity ball with a lot of the wealthiest people in the country, and Mary Marvel stopped her. Up until recently, this is all that I knew of the story. She was caught, drained of her powers, and left in a special cell shielded to block magic.
Unfortunately, it kept her in, but not others out. Felix Faust was on one of his crusades to gain objects of power, and he believed my aunt had the knowledge he wanted. His vast powers made it trivial to break in. When she wasn't forth coming, he ripped her knowledge from her head, literally. Faust is a classic case of too much magical power, and little actual skill and knowledge. That spell could have easily pulled the information from her without killing her. Instead he got one bit of knowledge and killed her.
He then followed the trail to my parents, and ripped knowledge of a book from their brains, and then moved on to the poor soul who bought the book from them. I read about the next 3 people he killed as he kept after the book, until he found it. Using its power, he made another bid to take over the world and was soundly stopped by the JLA mostly through the power of Zatanna. I wish I had her power. And her sexy legs! I would have stopped Faust. Once and for all.
I can tell Faust has no control. For one, I saw him at work, and his sloppy technique. And secondly, both my parents and my aunt were well aware of my memory and that I read every book (something no one else knows). If Faust had absorbed that knowledge, he could have ripped what he wanted from my mind and saved him a bunch of time and effort. Not to mention that I was hiding in a simple sub-space cubby hole watching him. A REAL mage of power would have sensed me. The one time Dr. Fate stopped by, he easily detected my presence. Most people think Lords of Order are stuffy and rigid, and most of the time they are. But at the time, I was five. When my parents left to find the tome he wanted, Fate simply looked at me in my hiding space, held his finger up to his helm in the universal sign to keep quiet, and then conjured me an Ankh-shaped lollipop that constantly changed flavor.
Felix Faust is just a thug in comparison, a thug who happens to have magical power. He thinks that gives him the right to do what he wants.
As I sat mourning the three people I loved in the world, and thinking dark thoughts of revenge spiced with fear for my life. If it wasn't Faust, some other magical thug would eventually decide he needed something I knew and take it from me.
It was then that I found the means to fix my problems. My aunt had always treated me like her niece. She had no children of her own, and I reminded her of herself when she was young, I was studious and soaked up all knowledge of magic.
She left me her meager possessions. It wasn't much, as she was forced to sell off her home while incarcerated as she couldn't keep up on her taxes (even small family manors are not cheap). They had long ago scoured her home for anything remotely magical. All that was left was an old key, that looked like the key to a bus depot locker, a small diary, an amulet, and a modest sum of money. We'd written often, and I'd visited her in prison whenever I could. The items weren't worth anything much, but it was nice to have something of hers.
But these items vexed me. For one, they nominally didn't have any magic. Cursory scans came up empty. Except magic is tricky, especially subtle spells and things that are used as triggers. The key and amulet were tied to other objects, through weak links. The amulet and key were obviously components in an existing spell -- they were literally keys to open something else, but had no traceable links.
Left with nothing else, I read her diary. It was short, only about 100 pages, and filled with utterly mundane stuff. She recounted some of our letters and talks when I visited. Nothing unusual. There HAD to be something.
So I did what I always do while trying to tease out a puzzle, I sat and meditated, and let my mind drift. I drifted through her words, and starting thinking about her entries.
As I said, I have a fantastic memory, augmented by magic. I started to realize that she'd subtly altered the dates of my visits and letters. As I started to piece through them, I realized that there was a cipher. A hidden code revealed by the differences of dates. My aunt had played some cryptographic games with me as a child, and we'd had a book cipher that was impossible to crack unless you knew which book was the source.
Fortunately, I never forget a book. And my Aunt had a few books memorized. We'd often used The Wizard of Earthsea to encode messages, a favorite book of mine as a child. I quickly decoded the message, "Find Lab. Open Rock in Forest. Read Diary."
The message was terse, and probably a little cryptic to others, but I knew what it meant. We'd taken walks in the forest near her parents house many times. Likely she'd hidden a portal to her laboratory in a rock along that path. I made a quick trip and started to trace out steps through the forest.
I may not have much power, but that makes me very tricky and subtle. Mages that rely upon power are easily fooled by a high quality anti-scrying spell. I know all the tricks, and what to look for. And don't forget anything. I walked the path, and the re-walked it a thousand times in my mind. That gave me a few places to double-check, and I quickly found a rock heavily shielded against detection.
There was a fiendish magical lock on the rock -- built to use power thrown against it to bolster its wards. Try to break it down by main magical strength, and it'd hold off even Dr. Fate. My aunt was a wizard of cunning ability, and this was one of her spells that she'd shared with me.
This allowed me to attack the lock, using knowledge that other mages would not have. Puzzles are part of what I do, and I'm damn good at them. It took me a bit, but I finally figured out the trick, and flipped open the lock. A portal appeared, leading to a nicely stocked laboratory. I could see books lining the walls.
I'd never known where my aunts REAL lab was, she'd had a minor setup in her home, but it wasn't enough for someone who researched magic like she did. Inside the door, there was a touchstone, that would activate the amulet. As I did this, a spell flared to life on the amulet, creating a dimensional key so I could come and go to the space directly, without having to travel to the rock. The spell would last for years, and would work for me even with my limited abilities.
Books filled the room, most of which I'd already read, and a few were copies that my parents had found for her. I quickly poured through the few books I'd not read, finding nothing of import.
I found no diary. And I didn't find her spell book.
I started through the lab again, once again turning things around in my mind, figuring out the best places to look again. After a lot of painstaking effort, I found a spot where a faint magic indicated yet another subspace. I tried a few words, until "Ged" caused it to pop open. Resting inside was her diary and spell book.
I wanted to start with the spell book, but I read the diary first. It was magical, and she could write to it from anywhere. A lot of it she wrote before going to jail, but a good portion of it was written afterwards.
I greedily read through the book. Inside were accounts on how she grew frustrated with most magical tomes. Most were incomplete ramblings of mad men who didn't really understand magic, or at best used power to force their way, not knowledge. She was really upset with people who claimed to know the secret to immortality but who eventually died of old age!
This frustration started her researching her own spells, and lead to her discoveries about magical lightning. But magical books and study are expensive, and by that time she'd amounted considerable debt, and a sizable amount was to my parents. That my parents were not concerned about the money, just made her feel more guilty. It wasn't that my parents were wealthy, they certainly could have used the money -- it's that they lived simply. They cared for little besides magic, me, and my aunt.
Desperate for money and with her new-found speed and mastery of lightning, she decided to rob some of the people who'd lorded money over her when she was young. Unfortunately, she picked a place Mary Marvel showed up. But what fascinated me was her recounting of the tale of the fight:
I wish I'd never chosen the base path of robbery. But I was desperate for money. I'd spent my life acquiring knowledge, this seems an ill-use of that effort. Yet, most of these people were parasites, who only had money from their grandparents labor. I'd chosen the event with some care, but not enough.
I strode in the room, and demanded everyone give me their valuables. The foolish men in the room thought that they could over power me. They rushed to attack, but I easily shocked them into submission. As I was going around to collect their jewels and wallets, I heard, "Want to try your little tricks on me?" I looked up to see Mary Marvel swooping down on me.
I didn't expect to find a superhero at the party, but with my new-found powers, I thought I was ready. I had the power to shoot lighting out of my hands and I was as fast as lightning. No one could touch me! Still, I couldn't beat someone of Mary's power, so I started to run away. I paused dramatically in the window and taunted her.
"Come on Mary Marvel! You'll find it IMPOSSIBLE to catch CHAIN LIGHTNING!"
Yes, I really did go over the top and sound that dramatic. I then took off running thinking I was going to get away with no trouble. Only, a Marvel is faster than lightning, and next thing I knew I had a gentle but firm grip on my leg that I could not shake. I must say, I panicked a little, and let loose with my mightiest blast.
To my surprise, Mary was replaced by a woman who looked very similar, but was a bit less beautiful, and who was not in as good as shape. She was still pretty, just not as unearthly beautiful as Mary Marvel. I quickly figured out this was Mary's non-super hero identity!
I no longer feared anything. I started to fly around her, and she uttered a word "Shazam!" and it summoned lightning from the sky. But I CONTROLLED lightning, and I easily siphoned it into my body. When it struck me, words can't express how wonderful it felt.
As the Bolt touched me, time halted. I felt the lightning pour through my body. As it ran over my muscles they hardened up, and began to expand. It was like I spent years in the gym eating right and doing perfect exercises. While I was in reasonable shape, I still had a bit of extra fat on me, and it just evaporated. As this happened, I could feel my bust inflate. The sensation caused a tremor to go through my body, and my knees quivered in delight. In response, the lightning hit my brain, and my mind exploded. My perceptions sharpened and I could feel a clarity of thought that I'd never had before! As the lightning settled in my brain, I could feel it tweaking my reflexes, and motor control. I have no doubt that without these additions, my immense strength would turn the world into paper, and I would have torn through everything. Finishing its task, The power coiled into my muscles, filling them with unearthly strength. The entire thing took only an eyeblink, but it felt like minutes to me. I reveled in the feelings. My body felt strong and powerful, and I bent my arm, and felt my biceps bunch with the movement.
I just had to try them out, and I casually punched a stone statue and smashed it with my bare hands!
I stood there, and admired my biceps and my amazing forearms, along with the strength they possessed, when Mary said "It's terrible to be beaten by a small time crook who accidentally got electrical powers!"
This is where I made my fatal mistake. I was confident that I'd already won, and her statement incensed me. I worked hard for my powers! I invented the spells that gave them too me. Feeling secure in my newfound power, I relaxed on a stone wall, toying with Mary. There was nothing she could do, I could kill her with a casual blow. I recounted my story, leaving Mary entranced. Or at least so I thought.
I ended it by looking over at her and challenged her, "What do you say now?"
Mary responded with a tone of august respect, "What CAN I say except … WONDERFUL … INCREDIBLE … FANTASTIC … SHAZAM!"
I was so caught up in my story and seeing her change her mind, that I didn't notice the bolt until AFTER it had hit Mary. It doesn't matter if you are faster than lightning if you are absorbed with something, especially something in the normal time flow.
With a shrug of my amazing shoulders, I went after Mary. I was sure I could punch her, and knock her out. Only, my blows had no effect. Fortunately, I had her powers, and her blows could not affect me either! It was an impasse. But then I remembered that my lightning could turn her back!
It became a game of cat and mouse, Mary elegantly dodging my bolts as I chased her down. But eventually, I tagged her with a bolt and turned her back.
And this is where I REALLY fell into her trap. She said "SHAZAM!" again, and summoned another bolt, and I intercepted it and drained it into my body. I thought I'd be INVINCIBLE. That I'd be at least TWICE as mighty as Mary Marvel!
It doesn't matter how fast you are, if you aren't paying attention. Plus I was SURE I was twice as invincible, and nothing could harm me.
Mary hauled of and hit me with a perfect blow that knocked me out. One punch. A second bolt turns you back! I had lost my Marvel powers.
I awoke in a special cell to contain my electrical powers and to curtail my magic. After a bit of consulting, Dr Fate managed to pull my electrical powers out of me, and set wards on the cell so I couldn't do any major magics.
Limited though I was, I could use minor magics, like the spell I'd been using since I was seven to write into my journal from anywhere.
No one knows where my real lab is, and no one can find my spell book.
Except You, Ashima, if you've followed the clues I've left you.
I think I've figured out how to crack the rest of the riddle of Shazam's spell, and I think you really could become more powerful by absorbing multiple bolts.
Ashima, if you're reading this, I hope I'm right. You are the only one I know who deserves to know my secret spells. And it's a shame that you lack a large pool of mystical power. I believe with my help, you can take the power of Shazam and not only posses a powerful invulnerable body, but magical power that is on par with your increase in strength!
You know the key to unlock my spell book. Unlock it and read it. I've made some additions to the spells there, that should help even one of your power to grab the power of Shazam.
I know that you have an innate skill and grasp of magic that might even exceed mine. Read all my notes, and make any improvements you can, and then seize the power for yourself! You've NO IDEA how awesome it feels.
This passage burned itself into my mind! Not only could I become immensely physically powerful, immune to all who would assault me, but I could become magically powerful as well. I would be immune to the Felix Fausts of the world, and I could make sure they faced justice.
I've no desire for any revenge on Mary Marvel, she was just stopping a common criminal, even if she was my aunt. I do not want to deprive the world of a hero. But Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel aren't the only Marvels! I could steal Black Adam's power! He's a villain, and depriving him of his powers would only make the world a safer place!
I easily unlocked her spell book, and avidly read all her spells. I then spent some time doing what I did best: analyzing spells and figuring out how they worked.
My aunt could only divert the lightning strike that initially empowered the Marvels. She had some theories in the book, and they seemed sound. I had a bit of work in front of my to turn them into full blown working spells. Despite the load of work involved, I was sure I could cause the power to jump to me from a powered marvel! No need to wait until they said the magic word. But I have to get CLOSE. Close to a madman with the power of the gods.
And I had to find out how to lure Black Adam into the spell circle that I'd have to make to power the spell.
I had a plan, if only I was courageous enough to risk my life to try it. And unfortunately, the plan was to get Black Adam angry. The anger would make him arrive where I needed him to, and the anger would make him careless enough that I would have a chance to complete my task.
Amazingly enough for a criminal like Black Adam, he had fallen in love. His love had the powers of the Goddess Isis. For awhile, her love had swayed Adam to be more wise and just. While rough, he fought for Justice. After her death, he became enraged, and was deadlier than ever. My plan was to simulate Isis' return. I would use some simple illusion spells to show her, and some spells to make some wind blow. Simple parlor tricks, but this would convince people that Isis had returned.
That would draw Adam in, but he wouldn't be happy. I would have one shot at getting my spell to work. I would need some money to get my plans together, and I would have to pour over the spells involved to make sure that I could handle everything that I needed. If not, I would have to go looking on the market to find some items to help me along.
I spent the better part of the next year working out the changes to the spells, and figuring out how much power I'd need, and how I could generate it. And then I spent some time figuring out how to properly simulate enough of Isis' power to draw in Black Adam.
It was rough work, but I was pretty sure that I'd solved all the problems, though I pushed my finances to the limit. This was going to be all or nothing anyway. I'd either gain enough power so that money would no longer matter or I'd be dead.
The following month was more rigorous work. I had to find a suitable place to lure Adam. I bought an old factory, so it would be large enough for me to inlay the runes and spells into the walls. I had to cash in some favors to obtain some items to augment my illusion casting, give me the power to fly, to control plant growth, and to control light winds. This would enable me to not drain my personal power to simulate Isis. The powers would be much weaker than hers, but I was only after an illusion good enough to draw in Adam.
After finally getting it all together, it took another month to painstakingly inscribe all the runes I needed into the walls and floor of the building. I made sure they were covered over. They didn't have to be visible, and I didn't want to give Adam any reason to be suspicious.
Finally, it was all ready, and all I needed to do was start my illusion of Isis. I paid some web reporters to hype up the story and run some pictures. That would bring Adam in. I was sure he'd figure out it couldn't be Isis, he was no one's fool. In fact I was counting on it -- counting on his anger to blind him to any danger and fall into my trap.
I baited the trap, and I waited.
End Part 1