Mindstorm, part 16
Disclaimers and other information in "part 0" Scene constructed around pp.39-41 of JSA #50.
Then the pain slammed into him, and he knew it wasn't new pain, just that he had misplaced it for a minute or two, and through the haze he heard Uncle Sam's voice. "...magic is wearin' out. Shake it off, Sand."
Sand bit his lip and forced his legs to work, staggering as Uncle Sam helped him to his feet. "Sand," a woman's voice said, and he shook his head to clear his vision. Phantom Lady. What was she doing here? And why was she taking off her -
"Probably a good idea to cover yourself," she suggested with a faint smile as she draped her cape over his shoulders. He was naked, he realized, too headsore and muddled to feel the embarrassment he knew he normally would. "Alex took out Eclipso and Alan's back with Todd." He nodded, even though she might as well have been speaking Kwakuitl for all the sense he could make of it. "Mordru - well, I think those two will know more." She nodded toward Black Canary and Dr. Occult, who were both struggling to their feet on the broken concrete.
Sand fought for his voice, directing his attention to the one hero he felt he actually knew of the gaggle he could see around him. "What's-" He swallowed hard and tried again. "What's... going on, Canary?"
Her answer was brisk and both what he needed to know and not. "Philadelphia just got hit with a six-point-o on the Richter scale, Sand."
That explained the pain, he thought to himself, and almost as if on cue, it rose up in him again - a sensation like bile rising in his throat, only sharper, more acidic and stretching through his arms and legs as well.
Every hero spun toward the building that had finally crashed down under the damage done to it by whatever had torn up the streets, and a very bad idea of some of that cause began to niggle at the back of his brain.
The nausea forced the thought back, and he struggled to listen as Uncle Sam began to talk again. "We're not out of the woods yet, kids. Thanks to Mordru and his cronies shifting the moon's orbit, the geodynamics of the entire planet are completely screwed up."
Moon out of orbit? God, that would mean - Sand clutched at his stomach, trying not to hunch too obviously under Phantom Lady's cape. Not that anyone would have noticed, given that the earth under their feet was beginning to shift with an ominous rumble. He felt Uncle Sam touch his shoulder, and he grimaced. "I can feel it -- tectonic plates slipping. Earthquakes and volcanoes erupting along the inland mountain chains." And it hurt. It hurt desperately, forcing him to speak through gritted teeth.
"Can you stop it, Sand?"
Sand forced himself to straighten. The Earth was screaming, and it hurt. It shot like fire through his veins, but if couldn't stop it, how many millions would die? He forced himself to press his feet against the ground to get a running start, letting Phantom Lady's cape fall from his body. "I can try," he called, and then he dove, plunging through the broken concrete of the sidewalk, sliding through foundations and around layers of pneumatic tubes and vapor sealed subway tubes, penetrating down to bedrock.
He didn't know what had been happening - or for how long - before he had returned to consciousness of himself. He had an idea of what might have been done to him. The rage storm he had passed through - he'd been through it before. That time he'd been unconscious of himself for years and knew what he'd been only from the videos.
A monster. He had been a mindless, raging monster.
He suspected it had happened again, that somehow, someone had figured out how to release the beast he had thought was permanently caged. He didn't dare think how many he might have maimed or worse. He couldn't dare. He needed to focus.
The deep rooted steel of New York City finally gave way as he penetrated deeper, past the levels that humans could dream of reaching. He slipped through the upper mantle and into the asthenosphere, stretching his mind and body along lines geomagnetically mapped into his very being.
The earth was shattering, and it still hurt. Hurt more, hurt personally, as if every pressured fault line were a rib or a femur or a vertebra in his own body. Whatever had been done on the surface echoed hard and deep, searing through the beauty around him with an agony that somehow didn't decrease the beauty but made it different, changed it in a way no one else could possibly understand.
He was deep in the earth's core now, stretched out with every fiber of himself, and mixed with the wracking pain and the deep beauty was ... fear. He chided himself, realizing what the fear was.
It was fear of death. And in truth, he wasn't sure it was entirely his fear.
The Earth trembled around and through him.
He steeled himself, told himself to think of Wes. Wesley Dodds, his mentor, his friend. A man who lived and died heroically. Sand remembered the dream he'd had when Wesley died, the sand dissipating through his fingers, the phone call that woke him and confirmed his fears.
Wesley Dodds had thrown himself off a mountain in Tibet to prevent Mordru from stealing information from his mind. Sanderson Hawkins would stretch through that same mountain to prevent Mordru from destroying the Earth. He would not be afraid.
Sand made himself anew at the Earth's heart, exercising his control of his silicate form to heal the rifts and cracks and pressure points, making himself the heart of it all...
And it was too much. He tried too big, too hard, and it was tearing him apart, more powerful than he could hope to be. He snarled and embraced his own hubris, fighting harder, feeling his sense of self begin to discorporate on the waves of the world. Every pulse of his being sheared away from every other, rending him past his soul...
"NNNNGGAAAHHHHHHH!!!!" he screamed.
The rest was silence.
Sand did not open his eyes, trying to register what was happening.
He didn't hurt anymore.
"Fine. Don' mind me. I'm just puttin' up scenery."
There was warmth on his face, like sunlight. And a breeze, he realized, scented of wildflowers and damp soil. He could feel blades of grass under his fingers.
"Well, yer not doin' me any good lying there."
Sand finally opened his eyes, then blinked rapidly several times. A scarecrow thin - man? - with a jack-o-lantern for a head leaned over him.
"Good. Yer awake. I imagine the master'll be wantin' to see you soon, then."
Sand rolled his head carefully and then gingerly sat up.
It still didn't hurt.
"Where - is this -" Spit it out, he told himself, looking at the odd creature who was standing beside him and... smoking? "Is this heaven?"
The huge grin on the pumpkin face widened, and laughter spilled out. "HAR HAR HAR! Heaven! That's a good one. What, boy, you think yer dead?"
Sand nodded, accepting the pumpkin man's hand and rising to his feet. "I was trying -" He paused, screwing up his face in concentration. He had been doing something important.
"Savin' the world, yeah, I know. Felt the ripples, y'know. You did it, by the way." The pumpkin man was lighting a new cigarette.
Sand cocked his head to one side. That must have been it. "Good," he acknowledged absently, brushing his hands over his body. He frowned. "Should I have -?"
"Clothes?" the pumpkin man supplied, and suddenly he had them, odd vestments that rested lightly on his skin. "Apparently so. What's yer name, son?"
"Sand," he replied absently, fingering his new clothes. They felt - not like cloth. More like ... flower petals and spring leaves and dandelion down.
"Well, Sand," the pumpkin man said, holding out his hand again, this time obviously for a handshake which Sand provided. "Pleased ta meetcha. I'm Mervyn Pumpkinhead, but everyone jus' calls me Merv. Welcome to the Dreaming."