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The Earth Guardian
By: Mephisto

He stopped running, hiding behind the corner of a building. Through the sound of the rain he could hear the soft groans of incoherent babble that was a defining characteristic of Banished Pantheon zombies.

        They were behind him. He looked over his shoulder into the alley, and a flash of lightning revealed in deep fog the silhouettes of about 5 Banished Pantheon ambling slowly in his direction. He peeked around the corner onto an empty street, and once he assured himself it was clear he ran across. In the window of a building, there was a burning candle; a sign of safety. He knocked on the door a few times, looking back over his shoulder and flinching at how much closer the zombies were. He knocked at the door again, this time louder. The zombies were still coming, still groaning menacingly.

He beat on the door with both of his fists, screaming for someone to let him in. Now the zombies were at the corner, and starting to cross the street. Before he could bang on the door again, it swung open. A big hand grabbed him, pulling him in with such a force he fell on the floor. He got up in time to see the Doorman shoulder his M-16 and start firing into the group of zombies. Two of the zombies were dead(well, dead again), but the other three still came close enough to touch the barrel of the Doorman’s rifle. The Doorman backed up, fired into one of the zombies’ face at point blank range. Two more to go, he thought, as he watched the Doorman back up past the doorway as the zombies started to come into the room. The Doorman swung the door closed, forcing the zombies to stumble back, and then swung the door back open to lay down his final shots. The Doorman, pleased with the kills he had made, shut the door.

“Dammit, Danny” The Doorman said, “Where the hell have you been?”
“Having a little fun, can’t you tell?” For some reason, no matter how scared he was, Daniel always tried to act a little tougher around the Doorman. The large man was an ex-Marine, and as far as Daniel could tell he was certifiably nuts. All the guy ever wanted to do was kill stuff, or blow stuff up, or fight, or…

Still, Daniel looked to him for action that he lacked the self-confidence to do on his own. The man was a warrior. 
“Well, next time you want to go out and party, make sure to bring me along.” The Doorman grinned, slapping Daniel hard on the back. He didn’t want to admit it, but he always hated it when the doorman slapped him on the back.

“I’ve got something big” Daniel said, and went to find the Doc. 
“Well, well, look what the zombie dragged in.” Dr. O’Malley quipped. The old Irish man looked Daniel Mason over in his usual way, admiring the younger man’s exuberance. Daniel smiled fondly at his mentor, and then started talking business.

“They are gathering.”   
O’Malley spun around, eager to hear more. “You found the spot?”
Daniel nodded, “In a tomb, near the Moth Cemetery.”
“Well, good work lad!” The old man was pleased with his protégé’s field work. He was too old to do it himself, so he had to live the action vicariously through the brave young man he had come to love as a son. Realizing the task at hand, O’Malley donned a grim expression.

“It’s gonna be dangerous for you, lad. Better be taking the Doorman along.”
“Doc, what are you gonna do, fight them off with your cane? I won’t leave you hear all by yourself.” Daniel didn’t like the direction the conversation was headed, especially because he knew O’Malley always got his way.

“That’s an order, Mason. I got a few friends I can call if things get bad around here.” Daniel remembered the ‘help’ that O’Malley had mentioned, though until that point the old man had been too stubborn to make use of it. He hoped his mentor would be all right without him there.

        Less than an hour later, Daniel was loading his .45 caliber 1911 and holstering it into a harness that attached to his backpack, which the Doorman had called an ALICE. The Doorman, whose name they really didn’t know, was laced with weapons of all sorts. KA-BARs strapped to his forearms, an automatic shotgun slung over his back, and a pair of pistols holstered to his own belt. Daniel didn’t even want to know what the maniac had in his ALICE, probably C-4 or something overwhelmingly destructive of that nature. He had a crazy grin on his face, and was staring at the floor. Daniel tried to see what he was looking at, but before he could he felt the Doorman looking at him.

“The thousand yard stare, man.” The Doorman said, as if to read Daniel’s mind. “You’ll get it someday, if you stay in the shit long enough.”

“The shit?” Daniel asked.
“Never mind. You ready to rock?” Before he did anything, it seemed, the Doorman always was saying “Lets rock” or “Ready to rock”. Daniel found it as kind of an annoying cliché, like a cheesy catch phrase, but it seemed to invigorate the Doorman.

Daniel pondered this for a moment, checked himself to be sure he wasn’t leaving anything behind, granted himself a mere moment of worry for the Doc, and nodded his head.

“Yeah, I’m ready. Let’s do it.”
        They headed out, slinking through the alleys without contact with “The Enemy” as the Doorman had called it. Daniel called it “Those fucking zombies”, but he didn’t see a reason to argue with a man who could probably kill him before he knew he was going to die. Daniel still worried about the Doc, but had decided to focus on the mission at hand. The DART, or Dark Astoria Research Team, had been working for over a year trying to figure out the Banished Pantheon; what makes them tick, their motivations, any possible leadership, any research that would give a clue as to how to make them leave. Superheroes came through Dark Astoria for various reasons, and had even tried to eliminate the Banished Pantheon presence to no avail. DART was aligned with a group of Super Heroes known as the EarthGuard, who had come to the agreement that if Doctor O’Malley and his team could find a way to rid Dark Astoria of the Banished Pantheon then Marut and his crew would come do the job.

        A few days before, Daniel had noticed a shift in the “Flocking” of the zombies, and had also noted a reduced presence in Spirit Masks and Shamans in certain areas. In other areas, it seemed, there was more protection than usual. After some long hours in the field(hours that Daniel usually spent hiding from zombies and eating candy bars out of broken vending machines in the many abandoned buildings), he had concluded that there was some sort of ceremony or ritual going on near the Moth Cemetery. What this was for, Daniel had no idea. All he knew was that it was big, and he had to be there to figure it out. He just hoped that if the Doc got into trouble, the EarthGuard would be able to get there in time to help him out…

        They were moving out of the old city now, into the wooded area adjacent to the cemetery. Daniel assumed that the Doorman was taking them through here for the added cover. The Doorman gripped his M-16, and kneeled low to the ground. Daniel followed suit, and waited. The big man turned to him, whispering.

“There’s a bunch of ‘em over in that cemetery, lotsa masks and Shamans. We gotta stay quiet.” Daniel nodded, and followed the Doorman through a few hundred yards of brush before coming to the edge of the forest. Daniel grimaced at the sight of so many zombies in what looked like a military formation. They are planning for war, he thought. A few shamans were in front of the formation, waiting patiently for orders. Daniel wondered who would be giving those orders, but lost his train of thought when he noticed that the Doorman was not by his side. He looked around, feeling quite helpless without the crazy warrior there with him.

        The Doorman was about twenty yards out of the forest, lying in the prone position behind a headstone in the cemetery. Daniel lay on the ground and crawled behind an adjacent headstone, trying to stay as low as possible. They crawled low through the stones, and Daniel was now sweating with fear. He could see the tomb he had found earlier, and wondered what the Doorman planned to do to get them in. He heard the ex-marine whisper to him, and Daniel stopped crawling. The Doorman crawled over to him, and took the shotgun off of his back. Daniel had fired the weapon before, but was not comfortable taking it from the more experienced fighter. The Doorman handed it to him, and took off his pack. From inside he pulled out a few trip mines, and shouldered his pack again.

“Ready?” The warrior asked him.
“Ready for what?” Daniel wasn’t really confused as to what the Doorman was planning, but he had never done anything like this before; nevertheless, he put his trust in the Doorman’s abilities with a slight admiration. The Doorman smiled at him, and got up to a kneeling position. Daniel didn’t remember either of them bringing grenades, but the Doorman pulled one seemingly out of nowhere and motioned for Daniel to get up. Nervous, he complied. The Doorman smiled again, and said “Let’s rock.”

        They jumped up, and started running for the door of the tomb. The zombies and shamans immediately noticed them, and groaned loudly as they headed in the direction of the intruders. The Doorman starting blasting away with his M-16, and threw his grenade a few feet in front of the large zombie formation. The explosion seemed to shake the ground, and zombie parts went flying everywhere. Daniel noticed some zombies coming from their other side, and blasted one with the powerful shotgun. The recoil on the weapon made him stumble a bit, but he kept on running for the door of the tomb. When they reached it, the Doorman told him to keep going and kneeled down to set the trip mines. A zombie rounded the corner of the doorway, and Daniel pulled his .45 and shot it a few times, the rounds flying over the Doorman’s head. Done setting the bombs, the Doorman pulled a KA-BAR knife from the strap on his forearm and stabbed upwards, the blade going through the bottom of the zombie’s chin and the tip of the blade sticking out of the top of his skull. Daniel turned around, and gasped at the sight of a group of zombies coming up the stairs that led down to the tomb. The Doorman, still holding the shish kebobbed zombie, threw the lifeless corpse down the stairs. The incoming zombies tripped and stumbled over the body, leaving ample time for the humans to put quite a few rounds into them.

They went down the stairs, and rounded a corner into a hallway that led to the main chamber of the tomb. There was a bright red glow coming from the chamber, and a deep voice was chanting something in a language Daniel did not know. As they got closer to the chamber, Daniel could tell that it was a lot bigger than he had expected. The door they would enter from led to a walkway that looked over a large room. The Doorman entered the tomb, which wasn’t a tomb at all really, and Daniel followed him in. His jaw dropped at the sight before him; there were Circle of Thorns mages standing around a large glowing orb in the center of the room, chanting something in an ancient language. This didn’t make a lot of sense to Daniel at first, but after a moment lost in thought he decided it made perfect sense. Why else had the zombies seemed more organized, why else would they suddenly have goals and not just amble around looking for food? The CoT were giving them direction, were giving them hope of more food and more power, and it all had something to do with this orb. They hadn’t been seen, but Daniel wasn’t sure what to do now.

“What’s that red ball thing?” The doorman asked.
“I don’t know, but its important to the zombies and the CoT. They are either worshipping it or trying to get it to do something.”

“Trying to get it to do what?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re a lot of help, you know that?”
“I have never seen anything like this, there isn’t a precedence or prior experience to base this on.” Daniel was starting to get mad.

“Well I need to know whether or not I can blow it up, is all.” The Doorman gave his usual crazy grin when he was talking about blowing things up.

“I wouldn’t.”
“Damn. Well, can I at least kill those fairies in the robes?”
“That could work. Glad we can agree on something.”
BOOM. The walls shook, and dust came down the entrance hallway. Not good, Daniel thought. The mages stopped their ritual and looked directly at them. The Doorman started shooting into the group of them, and Daniel ran down the walkway to a ladder that he took down into the pit with the red orb.

“Where are you going?” The doorman yelled, letting off a few more shots into the mages. Daniel pulled the shotgun up to his shoulder, and fired into an energy mage a few feet in front of him. The Doorman followed him down, taking out a few CoT after jumping from the ladder and rolling on the ground.

“Fools!” A Death Mage yelled, “You’ll ruin everything!” The Doorman shot him in the face, yelling something that Daniel couldn’t make out. He assumed it was witty in nature, probably “Let’s rock”. The Death Mage seemed unharmed by a round of hot lead to his face, which Daniel decided was not good for them. The robed villain laughed, and as he laughed it seemed a thousand voices were laughing with him. At first Daniel thought it was an echo, but after looking around at the walkway above them he shuddered at the sight of countless mages. The Doorman grunted, and Daniel saw that he was being held by the Mage’s dark powers. Without the big man to help him, Daniel felt pretty useless. He fired his shotgun at the Death Mage to no avail, and when he pulled the trigger again the weapon gave him a useless click. A flag might as well have come out of the barrel with “You’re fucked” written on it.

        A flash of red light. Daniel wondered if anybody else saw it. He looked at the Orb, and it didn’t look any different. Something was happening, though, he just didn’t know what. The Death Mage called to Daniel.

“Pathetic mortal, I will end you!” Daniel wondered if all of the mages talked like that, the Super Heroes must get quite a chuckle out of it. Feeling a little strengthened by the cheesiness of the Death Mage, Daniel remembered the .45 on his belt. He pulled it, and started firing shots. Another flash of red light, this time it lasted longer. Daniel was sure that no one else had seen it this time. He looked at the red orb, and suddenly felt connected to it in some way. The Death Mage still stood there, smiling, unharmed by the bullets. After faking a yawn, the Death Mage held him in the same way he did to the Doorman, dark energy surrounding Daniel’s body restricting any movement. Then, at no surprise to Daniel, he started to monologue. The crowd of mages on the walkway above was cheering their leader on, their yells echoing loudly throughout the large cavern. This didn’t bother Daniel too much. He was more concerned with what was happening to him, what the red orb was and why whatever entity connected to it was contacting him.

“Pathetic human, did you think that you could…”
Another flash, this time lasting longer. Daniel could tell that something in that orb was trying to tell him something…
“This orb holds the spirit of Terra Praesul….” The Death Mage continued on.
Flash. You must act quickly. Daniel startled at the voice in his head.
“How?” he asked, “What do I do?” The Death mage kept talking, not noticing that Daniel had spoken.
“….going to enslave the spirit, and use his power to…”
Flash. The time is now! You must take your place with me! Daniel would rather have been confused, but he knew exactly what had to happen. The problem, it seemed, was the fact that he couldn’t move to do it. Daniel noticed movement from the Doorman, who was slowly but surely pulling the other KA-BAR out of its sheath on his forearm. Through some miracle of strength, the Doorman broke the Death Mage’s hold on him and threw the knife. The blade pierced the Death Mage’s eye, and Daniel suddenly no longer felt restrained. The Mage seemed to be feeling the knife’s handle sticking out of his face, and screaming in agony. The crowd on the walkway above all seemed to gasp at once. They all started coming down into the pit, and Daniel knew he only had a few precious seconds to act.

        The Doorman pulled out his pistols and started firing into the mages, even killing a few. One of the mages jumped off of the walkway, landing on the Doorman’s back and stabbing him with a jagged knife. The Doorman reached back, pulled the mage off of him and slammed him onto the ground. A flying mage landed in front of Daniel, and tried to stab him. Daniel sidestepped the knife, and tackled him to the ground. Getting back up, Daniel kneed the mage in the groin and then began running towards the red orb in the middle of the room. He heard the Doorman scream with pain, but Daniel couldn’t turn back now. This was the only way they could make it out alive. He stopped as he got to the orb, and heard the mysterious voice in his head. Repeat these words...

        The Doorman had been stabbed again; there was just too many mages for him to fight at once. A mage blasted him with a fireball, and he fell backwards. Another mage jumped on him, trying to go for the kill with a rusty dagger. The Doorman grabbed the mage’s wrist, broke it, and stabbed the mage in the chest with his own blade. He pulled the rusty knife out of the dead mage and lunged into a group of enemies; bloody robes and dead bodies were all that the Doorman could see as he kept stabbing and slashing his foes. Another fireball landed in the middle of his back, and the Doorman fell on his face. He pushed himself up, but a mage stepped on his back and stabbed him in the shoulder. The Doorman rolled over, and landed a strong uppercut to the mage’s abdomen, sending him flying to the ground. He turned around to see a mage get another fireball ready, but before the mage could throw it he was encased in stone. The doorman turned to a group of mages coming towards him, and his jaw dropped when stalagmites shot up out of the ground, disorienting the robed villains. The Doorman looked to the center of the room to see that the orb had changed; it was now just a stone ball. Standing next to it was Daniel Mason, or at least what used to be him. This new guy had horns like a ram, and armor unlike what the Doorman had ever seen. The ground started to shake, and a small earthquake erupted where the disoriented mages were, causing them to fall on the ground. The Doorman started to feel dizzy from blood loss, and sat down with his back propped up against a wall.

        Daniel Mason was still himself, but was forever changed. He had fused with the entity known as the Terra Praesul, the Earth Guardian. Daniel now had the knowledge and experience of a God, and the power to control the earth itself. Terra summoned a small creature composed of pure stone to handle the rest of the mages, and went to help his friend. He picked up the doorman, and left the cavern. He heard the Death Mage scream, and Terra realized that he had forgotten all about his one-eyed friend. He turned, and concentrated for a moment as the tomb caved in on itself under his will. As he walked through the cemetery with the unconscious Doorman over his shoulder, Terra took the time to feel good about saving the person he had always looked towards to take action. He only wished the Doorman was conscious, to tell him that he was a warrior now too. Terra sure felt like a warrior. The threat was over, and the Circle of Thorns couldn’t use the Earth Guardian spirit to do their bidding. For the first time, Daniel Mason felt as if he had actually made a difference in the fate of Dark Astoria.

        Upon arriving back at D.A.R.T., where a few members of The EarthGuard had been protecting the worried old Irish man named O’Malley, Terra explained what had happened at the Moth Cemetery and how they had thwarted the CoT plot. The Doorman was revived and healed by a hero named Stimpack, who had been talking about whiskey with Doc O’Malley. The leader of the Supergroup, Marut, approached Terra with an offer of employment.

“It only makes sense,” Marut told him, “The spirit you fused with has only one purpose: to protect the Earth. Paragon City is the front line for that war. We will help you in any way we can.”

“Besides,” Stimpack chimed in, “we have a fully stacked bar in our headquarters.”
“I’ll drink to that,” O’Malley added, elbowing Stimpack playfully in the ribs.
        Terra looked over at his friend the Doorman, who already seemed to be feeling better. The warrior nodded at him in approval, and Terra turned back to Marut.

“Lets rock.”

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