DOUBLE DARE ADVENTURES: Concept and proposal by Sean E. Ali

So, I promised you guys… something.

Oh, you think I won’t do this?

Go ahead: dare me.

In fact: DOUBLE DARE me.

Before we go there, here’s how we got here.

I have a lot of mulch sitting my head. There are a bunch of images that pass through and occasionally there’s an image or two…

…or several hundred…

…that politely ask me to find some time to make them a thing. One of my favorite sections of mulch in the mind cave involves a standard of the Silver Age of Comics: Team-Ups. When they were around, I was that kid that picked up those books. The Brave and the Bold, Marvel Two-In-One, Marvel Team-Up, DC Comics Presents, World’s Finest and Super-Team Family to name more than a few. You grab at least a pair of heroes, present them a problem and set them off on a case to find an answer to said problem. One of my favorite team ups involved two pulp heroes who always struggled to take a foothold in that medium, but hit all the right notes in this instance: The Shadow and Doc Savage in “ The Conflagration Man”. The Shadow and Doc approach a case from separate avenues, cross swords and personnel, and then work the case together (sort of) to its conclusion. Good stuff.

There are others, but I recently found myself rereading that adventure which pushed one of those images from the polite asking to a demand involving Pro Se characters and Dillon that kicked in before the International Instigator hopped on board. In fact, the idea just sort of hopped in my head while I was working on a DILLON AND THE VOICE OF ODIN and an edition of THE PEREGRINE OMNIBUS, featuring Barry Reese’s creation Max Davies (among others) aka The Peregrine, that showed up in the same production cycle. I thought then “wouldn’t it be fun if…?”

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Today’s free Fun Fact: Did you know if you look at the back of most REESE UNLIMITED books that Barry puts out there’s a handy dandy timeline? For readers (and I’m sure for the author) it keeps things straight and keeps Barry honest. If you don’t see it on the timeline, it hasn’t happened yet. And because Barry is obsessively updating that bad boy it’s easy to find a slot and slip in a point where you can do the fan thing and say “here’s what I think Max was doing in…”, but it also lets you say “hey, nothing happened here of note” and speculate on the possibilities. For me, I said to myself, “it’s a damn shame what went down in 1975 when so-and-so found a discarded Peregrine mask and had to stop a riot with…”

And that thought came with a visual. Unfortunately for me, I took my pretend Peregrine out of her epic Pam Grier Afro and recycled mask updated her and sent her off to find another mask belonging to some guy named Amiri under the name Coco Brown. The visual stuck though and eventually someone else stepped in from an old fan-fic idea and auditioned for the role. I told character there wasn’t a story involved, just a visual and they were cool with that. Then a bunch of other guys stepped in begging for a slot, so I gave them time and said what the hell.

I was left with a cast for a story that didn’t exist: a spaceman, a superhuman, a spy, a street crusader, and a science hero. I also had a sleuth, a scoundrel and a soldier, but ran out of real estate. But in case I was asked, I gave these guys a situation just so my rounding up a bunch of random characters to practice my skills in Adobe Illustrator and get some mulch out had a reason for being together. Plus, if you team up two guys, they need something to work on.

So while the stuff below reads like I put thought into it: I didn’t. This is off the cuff, mostly written while I was working out this morning. Any shortcomings in the passage are due to my apparent need for complicating the simple with unnecessary words to accompany what are hopefully pretty pictures.

As to the inspiration of why I did a nonexistent team up cover (okay, COVERS, I’ll give you that much freely) strictly for kicks?

Derrick Ferguson kept posting all those home brews from that guy who does all those crazy Super Team Family fantasy covers.

I mean I could do that.

And, no, this is not going to be a thing afterwards…

…unless you want to know who these guys are. In that case I’ll invite you back to see the same cover…

…but different.

How’s that for leaving them asking for more?

Oh yeah, welcome to DOUBLE DARE ADVENTURES, the best adventure fiction magazine never!

And now, we join our non story, already in progress…

***

For a quietly typical morning in the park: it was unusual. “It” being a piece of personal mail, addressed to him, with a photograph enclosed. The sheet of paper the photo was wrapped in only had one word, typewritten, near the top of the sheet.

“Remember.”

He said the word aloud, as if doing so would initiate… something: a memory, a remnant… a vision. He was waiting for some kind of extraordinary circumstance to come to him as he sat in on a park bench, in the middle of a quiet morning, staring at an old Polaroid showing a record of the impossible. So he did the only thing he could do barring some dramatic sign from the beyond.

He sipped his coffee and examined the clues to hand.

The photo was a thick card. Faded color showing the slight overexposure of the early instant cameras from the 1970s. Without meaning to he smiled. He remembered operating cameras in his childhood with flash powder that fired off a small explosion as a photograph was taken. His memories of sliding heavy plates around evolving to a darkroom full of chemicals evolving, in his lifetime, to the waxy plastic card he stared down at now being the pinnacle of technology.

These days, getting a physical photo sent through the post was an unusual occurrence in an age where technology speeds words, data and images across the globe practically in the moment they’re taken. The speed of life these days was blazing fast and gaining momentum with every second. He hadn’t grown up in this age despite his outward appearance, but he had managed to wrestle the way things worked to his advantage. But this image, this solid piece of hard copy, sent by “snail mail”, defied and thwarted his efforts to apply modern methods to his forensic examination. The photo had no corroborating data. Internet searches, Wikipedia, his backdoors into law enforcement databases – none of them gave him any information to prove this image was genuine. The only identification on the image itself was written in blue ink, he presumed from a ballpoint, a name: Outcast, California, and a date: 1975.

It shouldn’t be, and yet… here it was.

A woman, dressed in what appeared to be a black leather outfit, fighting her way through a mob filled sea of chaos.

And she was wearing a mask.

His mask.

The mask of the Peregrine.

And what he saw going on behind her…

Max Davies took another pull from his morning coffee and turned his attention to the postmark on the envelope. It bore the mark of Outcast, California.

And when he checked for the fifth time last night no such place existed.

Armed with that knowledge this morning, he was surprised to find the state of California had somehow gained twenty miles it didn’t have yesterday.

And in that sudden expansion that no one seemed to notice was a city named Outcast.

So as the sun warmed the morning, Max stared once more at a woman who shouldn’t exist, wearing a mask she shouldn’t have had operating on the West Coast in 1975, in a city that didn’t exist until this morning, fighting…

Good God, was the rest of it even possible?

Max pulled out his phone and chartered a flight to California.

***

“Outcast, California?” Dillon repeated. “No, never heard of it.”

Ambrose Bannon was an agent of ECHO, the Extraordinary Crisis and Hazard Objective, an organization Dillon had encountered in an incident involving a stolen mask that came a little too close to home for him. While he was on friendly terms with one of their contractors, the lovely and talented adventurer Coco Brown, his meeting today was his first with an actual operative with the clandestine agency. Bannon was typical of the agents he had encountered from other organizations in the shadowy alphabet soup of government sponsored intelligence agencies. He was big man and obviously fit, but used to disguising the potential under a nondescript business casual pose. He smiled and easily enough; the manner being casual without being memorable enough to stick with you, but Dillon observed that the pose was just that. While he distracted you with chatter, Bannon was actually sizing a person up. His eyes were actively probing, dissecting, and analyzing every movement and expression. They took in the surrounding area as a matter of habit, leading Dillon to believe the well appointed office they were meeting in didn’t actually belong to Bannon. What was missing, or different at least, was his attitude wasn’t combative. Dillon has gotten used to a certain amount of posturing from these organization types in some hamfisted attempt to establish themselves as alpha dog even when he was being called on willingly to put his talents to work, but Bannon approached Dillon as an equal and a beneficial asset. Despite himself, he concluded that he liked the change and the man behind the desk enough to work with him.

As that realization hit him, Dillon wondered if Bannon was somehow playing his role so well that Dillon was mistaking tradecraft for sincerity. Dillon wondered, for just a second, if he were being played by Bannon.

Bannon slid a manila folder across the desk which derailed the train of thought Dillon was on.

“Well, up until last night, no one else had either because it didn’t exist yesterday.” Bannon tapped the folder in front of Dillon, who picked it up and opened it. “Now, it does. California suddenly gained twenty miles with people to populate it ready made. And in the heart of it…”

“A city called Outcast” Dillon finished, as he flipped through the contents of the folder.

“A city called Outcast”, Bannon repeated as he settled back, with slight uncertainty Dillon noted, into the leather chair that came with the office.

“So how the hell is that possible?” Dillon asked. “And all of this stuff is archival material, most of it from 1975, centered on Outcast and another place, Los Puerta?”

“The city of the gate if I blow the dust off of my high school Spanish,” Bannon replied. “It’s there too along with a bay and a thriving local economy, great arts scene, and a history that didn’t exist until this morning.” Bannon slid a large business envelope across the desk next. “Now, Dillon, take a look at these.”

Dillon exchanged the folder for the envelope which contained photographs. Dillon’s eyes grew wide at the first one and as he flipped through them, they grew wider still at what he saw.

“Is this…?” Dillon asked looking up from an image that by all rights shouldn’t exist.

Bannon nodded.

“Are these…?”

Bannon nodded again.

“Wait, is this guy…?” Dillon handed Bannon the glossy oversized photo he was looking at.

“We think so, yeah.” Bannon answered.

“You realize that’s impossible.”

“The impossible is what we deal in at ECHO, but we know when we’re out of our depth,” Bannon said. “That’s why I asked to see you.”

Dillon filed through the rest of the images. “So who are these folks exactly?”

“You have what we have. Outcast exists but if you go online, it’s always been here; it’s just hard to find anything other than basic information. Strangely, no one outside of agencies like ours seems to notice this has occurred.” Bannon tapped the photo Dillon gave him earlier. “And that guy? He’s the only one of the bunch that you can find by name online anywhere because he’s an unsolved missing person’s case from the 1930s.”

Dillon frowned at that.

“As to who these folks are, the notes you’re reading identify them to a degree. But the basics are: a spaceman, a superhuman, a spy, a street crusader, and a science hero. Beyond that is a mystery with a huge secret at the heart of it,” Bannon said. “Those people and Outcast are at the center of it.”

“And you want me to drop by and bring back postcards from El Dorado.”

“That or answers; we’re not picky, Dillon.” Dillon saw the mask slip slightly and Brannon’s expression betrayed the unmistakable mark of a man who had been up a lot hours working this before Dillon was called. “We’ll meet your fee and expenses, sight unseen, and call upon whatever resources you need and bring in whoever you need for this.”

“What’s Coco Brown up to?” Dillon asked.

“She’s on a job, but aware of the situation,” Bannon replied. “She’s trying to wrap things up and wants in if you need her.”

“Then I guess I should go pack a bag and rent a car and bring you back some answers.” Dillon extended a hand, “Okay, Bannon, I’m in.”

***

Aaaannnnd, end scene.

If you’d like to meet our heroes beyond our heroes, I know a guy who knows a guy who has art and answers.

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Dillon Annual Collection 2018!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW PULP’S MOST EXCITING HERO FINDS A NEW HOME-
DERRICK FERGUSON’S ‘DILLON’ MAKES PRO SE DEBUT WITH 2018 ANNUAL!

When fans of modern Pulp Fiction discuss characters that have made their mark, Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon tops the list. While hitting all the expectations a hero should, Dillon also stands out as a unique character, thanks largely to Ferguson’s skill as a writer. And now, in a showcase of great stories, Pro Se marks Dillon’s first appearance under its banner with DILLON ANNUAL COLLECTION 2018, now available in trade paperback, hardcover, and digital formats.

A soldier of fortune gifted with an astonishing range of remarkable talents and skills that make him respected and feared in the secret world of mercenaries, spies and adventurers. A world inhabited by amazing men and women of fabulous abilities that most of us are unaware even exists. Fueled by a taste for excitement, driven by an overpowering desire to protect the innocent, see that wrongs are righted and assisted by a worldwide network of extraordinary men and women, all experts in their fields, DILLON spans the globe in a never-ending quest for the wildest and most breathtaking adventures of all. 

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In this oversized omnibus of past adventures, Dillon faces new enemies, battles a phantom buccaneer on the shores of Xonira, runs a deadly jungle race against a criminal overlord, battles dangerous agents on a speeding train in an attempt to prevent a kidnapping and spends an unexpected wild night out with celebrity rocker SLY GANTLET, whose life offstage holds some surprising secrets. Pro Se proudly presents its debut of Derrick Ferguson’s International Instigator in some of his wildest adventures in the first ever DILLON ANNUAL COLLECTION!

With an exciting cover, logo design, and print formatting by Sean Ali, DILLON ANNUAL COLLECTION 2018 is available now at Amazon athttps://www.amazon.com/Dillon-Annual-Collection-Derrick-Ferguson/dp/172244357X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1531318009&sr=8-2&keywords=dillon+annual+collection+2018 for 18.00.

This book is also available for $35.99 in hardcover athttp://www.lulu.com/content/hardcover-book/dillon-annual-2018/23102381

Dillon’s Pro Se debut is also available as an Ebook, designed and formatted by Antonino Lo Iacono and Marzia Marina for only $3.99 for the Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/Dillon-Annual-Collection-Derrick-Ferguson-ebook/dp/B07FDHVXVD/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1531321825&sr=1-1&keywords=dillon+annual+collection+2018+kindle. Kindle Unlimited Members can read for free.

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies to review this book, contact Pro Se Productions’ Director of Corporate Operations, Kristi King-Morgan at directorofcorporateoperations@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

 

Dillon and The Big Ass Book by Sean E. Ali

To start: I’m okay if I don’t have to work on a DILLON book for bit.

Now I’m saying this in a “Daniel Craig bitching about Bond, but he’s coming back” sort of way, but a few days off from the International Instigator will be nice in the aftermath of my completing the latest book that will be showing up under the Pro Se Press banner. This was a long, mean, ugly slugfest and I for one am glad this particular proof is in the can.

Okay, you’re not used to that level of grousing. Let me explain…

Once upon a time, your partner-in-crime and mine, Derrick Ferguson, tells me he’s mulling over an offer to take Dillon over to Pro Se. He asks my opinion and my response was simple: “So I’m still doing covers and layouts, right?”

Be careful what you wish for, friends and neighbors, because you will probably get it…

…usually between the eyes if you’re not careful.

So fast forward, then stop, then fast forward again and Tommy is looking for a cover for the up coming DILLON book which is being called an annual. So I’m laboring away on that and we already covered the saga of Derrick shooting down the initial idea, so I design a new cover. Derrick approves, Tommy lets out a sigh of relief, I get text and a green light to lay out the book and…

…well this is where it gets a little tricky.

In the interim on the cover art and the redo of same for the annual, Derrick is kicking around another DILLON book idea and discusses it with me in such a way that I run off and do what is the Annual but thinking it’s the other thing Derrick and I were talking about…

So basically I lay out the entire book under the wrong concept and title. To make matters worse, the cover I designed is basically earmarked for a book that’s more or less not written…

…oh and the book I am working on is too thick to work as a standard DILLON or Pro Se book.

So not only do I have to re-set the text of the book (which would eventually take five different attempts and an emergency consult with Derrick to get a solution), I also have to rebrand the book…

…oh and create yet another cover because the cover I have can’t be used yet.

So Derrick suggests the “lost cover” I already discussed in another post…

…but you folks have seen that.

I mean the goal of a cover reveal when the time comes is to have you folks see something new. I’m not saying that cover won’t show up in some form (I’m looking at you DILLON AND THE PROPHECY OF FIRE), but that can’t be here after I’ve already revealed it as invalid.

It would be like hyping an event then pulling the rug out from under folks by not delivering.

So Tommy tells me we had to get the book in by July 4th. I had a completed book, an altered title logo, the guts all worked out and all of that was good to go on July 2nd…

…but no cover.

And I’ll be damned if I’m responsible for Tommy having a heart attack that close to a holiday.

So I started to go with the back up idea based on DILLON AND THE PIRATES OF XONIRA…

…which, by odd coincidence, was the first DILLON book I worked on as a cover artist, and inspired a revamped animated concept you may have seen bits of from me under the header of DILLON AND THE MASK OF AMIRI EZANA…

On paper, that should’ve worked. I had an image already set for the back cover, I’d just drag that puppy to the front and done, right?

Oh man, no, WRONG!

It’s great on the back, stinks on the front. So I spent the 3rd of July creating an all new cover based on PIRATES…

…and I am pleased to say it’s so much better than the other three covers that will never be on this book that I’m almost not exasperated about it.

…almost.

So after all this skin of the teeth designer action…

…I’m kind of glad I’ve got this one in the rear view.

Dillon, my man, I’ll leave the last minute saves to you.

…I need a nap and a vacation.

So coming at some point soon, the DILLON ANNUAL COLLECTION will hit the stands…

…and it’ll be under 500 pages with a damn fine cover.

Okay, if you think it isn’t, keep it to yourself, I’m already seeking counseling for my PDSD (Post DILLON Stress Drama).

So until we do the cover reveal…

Be good to yourselves and each other.

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The Lost Dillon Cover That Wasn’t by Sean E. Ali

So yesterday, Derrick Ferguson and I finally got around to a reveal and his blessing on the cover for Dillon’s first run as a Pro Se Press product…

…no this is the rejected version, I’ve blown the doors off and went in a whole different direction since this first attempt.

But I just had to shout D out for not only having faith in waiting for a final, but giving me some necessary time to deal with matters off camera in the real world which stretched this out longer than intended…

…and before you ask, “personal stuff” is my default answer on the real world stuff I had to deal with…

With a little luck, we’ll have a book to wrap my new bad boy cover around in short order. In the meantime, I’ve got an order to fill for another job I was contracted on just last week which I’m not at liberty to divulge…

So keep your eyes peeled for a DILLON update as soon as I’ve got one for you.

After I clear my plate, I’ll get a taste of Derrick’s side of labor and begin to do a loose framework for DILLON AND THE MASK OF AMIRI EZANA, so he can prop up my own humble efforts of something I wrote for kicks that most of you didn’t see…

So enjoy the lost DILLON cover that wasn’t until we show off the one that is…

…I think you’ll like it.

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Glenn Walker Is Gone And I Really Don’t Know What To Say About That

Maybe it’s because I knew Glenn but then again, I didn’t know him. Like so many of you reading this, I only have become friends with you because we’ve exchanged stories, anecdotes, ideas, life experiences, jokes and tragedies via The Internet. Yes, there’s a shared intimacy on a certain level but most of you I’ll never meet. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t want to. I hope to do so as so many people I’ve met online are some of the most fascinating and interesting people I’ve ever met in my life. Glenn was one of those.

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Glenn wrote for the Biff!Bam!Pop! entertainment website and that was one of the maybe six or seven websites that I would visit every single day while having that most important first cuppa joe in the morning. Thanks to Glenn, I got turned onto a lot of excellent writing and media information via that site and I can’t recommend it enough. Glenn wrote reviews, think pieces, what could be considered op-ed pieces and I would frequently read what he wrote and email him my thoughts and we’d go back and forth for a bit. Not arguing, mind you. But the email discussions were stimulating and Glenn always made me THINK, something I truly value in all my friendships, be they Real or Electronic. You want to be my bosom buddy? Then challenge me and make me THINK.

One of the highest compliments I’ve ever been paid as both a writer and as a human being is when Glenn said in his review of “Dillon and The Legend of The Golden Bell” is that when he was trying to write a story in a pulp style he wrote on a sign “I want to be Derrick Ferguson when I grow up” and taped it on the wall above his desk. He was an enthusiastic Dillon fan and wrote several reviews of two of my Dillon books. We spent many hours online discussing pulp both Classic and New, movies, comics and I always came away both amazed and enriched. I always came away from a conversation with Glenn Walker having learned something new. Because Glenn had more ideas in a hour than most of us have in a week and it came out in his writing, his podcasts and his blog.

Apparently, Glenn was in poor health for a while, something I didn’t know but that was like Glenn and something I suspect we had in common; he wasn’t a complainer so his death took me totally by surprise and affected me in ways I’m sure won’t hit me until later. I’ve lost a few people this year and while they all were deeply affecting, on a whole different level, losing Glenn hurts. I had planned on making it a point on meeting him the next time I went down to Florida and now I’ll never get the opportunity and that is yet another reason to mourn.

But I did know him and that is reason to rejoice. And it gives me more incentive to meet more of my friends who I’ve only known online. So if for no other reason than I can touch them, hug them, share laughs and stories while actually in their company and connect. I think Glenn would approve.

Here’s a link to Glenn’s personal blog; Welcome To Hell. He wrote about movies, television, pop culture…the whole bloody business and he did it with style and grace. You want to honor the memory of the man? Then go read what he wrote.

And here’s a link to a wonderful elegy written by Andy Burns.

And here are links to the reviews Glenn wrote of two Dillon novels. Review that I will always treasure:

Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon and The Legend of The Golden Bell 

Origins of Dillon

The Griot of The Lost Refuge!

I bet you thought we forgot, but we honestly were way too busy at the time to bring you this the penultimate episode of the best animated cartoon miniseries never!

But here it is, the Episode Five of Derrick Ferguson‘s DILLON AND THE MASK OF AMIRI EZANA!

In today’s episode Dillon, Coco Brown, Fortune McCall and the Golden Lady are reunited in time to hear a strange tale from THE GRIOT OF THE LOST REFUGE!

We join our story already in progress…

Dillon and Coco were herded into courtyard. the ground was smoothed and paved in stone that displayed images of ancient warriors in battle with creatures beyond description, an apparent record of the history of the men and women who had surprised them when they approached the hidden city. Dillon was fairly sure that the city, this legendary “Lost Refuge”, had been hidden by something more than natural camouflage. He had spent too much time out in the wild tracking and discovering hidden temples and buried civilizations and there was always something – a marker of some sort, remnants or artifacts… something to indicate that people actively occupying or recently passing through an area had been there in fact as much as fable. The way the ancient structures they entered suddenly appeared was so sudden that it couldn’t be just a trick of light and landscape.

In the center of a circular courtyard, sat a heap of gray cloth, that took the form of a man as they came closer. It was hard to gauge his size and a grim hood obscured his features. From the stiffness of his movements, Dillon presumed the man was quite old. The head beneath the hood craned up but the face was still hidden in gloom despite the small fire blazing before him.

“Do they have it?” The hooded man’s voice was a rasp of sandpaper slowly scraping wood.

The soldier or guard in charge who brought them here nodded. “They do. It led them to us and through the gate without incident.”

“Good, good.” The gray hood nodded slowly. “Bring them closer.”

Dillon and Coco crossed the circle. Dillon’s gaze scanned the courtyard, taking in details and filing them away. Like the weapons his captors carried, the city wasn’t what it seemed to be. The buildings were smooth carved white stone and the architecture resembled what one would find on ancient mosques, but some of the windows were lit from a modern source of illumination despite there being no obvious power generation system that he had been able to determine. The place was a paradox of the ancient and some sort of hidden advanced technology. The “gate” that was referred to wasn’t something that could be seen – one moment, he and Coco were following Fortune McCall’s trail had been blazed an hour or two earlier through a thickly covered jungle, the next they found themselves on a cleared out plain, surrounded by soldiers, with the Lost Refuge laid out before them and no sign of the veldt anywhere near them. Before Dillon or Coco could react, the leader fired off an energy beam from the tip of his spear to discourage any resistance. The soldiers didn’t disarm them, which told Dillon they didn’t feel the weapons the pair had available to them weren’t a viable threat, so they went along quietly. As they stood in front of the hooded man, Dillon was beginning to think maybe he and Coco should’ve taken their chances at the clearing.

“Please, sit. Sit!” The hooded man motioned to several cushions set nearby, some in stone bench frames, but most piled high on the polished pavement near the fire. Dillon settled on those making certain that if the need arose, he could move quickly. Coco followed suit and Dillon could see she was sizing up their host and scanning the area around them. If the hooded man noticed or cared, he made no sign of it outwardly. As they sat, one of the soldiers stepped into an alcove and emerged a few minutes later with a plate of fruit and a pot of tea with three earthen cups. He poured, the drinks, the hooded man took a cup from the tray and sipped gingerly. “You may feel free to join me or not. I do not waste excellent tea and handpicked fruit from my gardens with poison or drugs. You are my guests and your presence is welcome.”

Dillon picked up one of forks on the serving tray, speared a slice of melon, studied it for a moment, and took a bite. The sweetness almost made his toes curl. He waited for the bite to go down and after a few seconds passed with no ill affect, he took another.

“Okay, so we’re welcome guests here,” Dillon said finishing the first slice and spearing a second with his fork. “Just guests that require twenty armed men with laser weapons to stand around while we make nice.” Dillon’s fork made an arc, taking in the soldiers standing alert and ready. “I sure feel cozy.”

The hooded man nodded at the lead guard who made a gesture to his men who promptly melted away into the corridors that led to the greater city beyond the courtyard. Besides Dillon, Coco, and the hooded man; the lead guard and three of his men remained in the courtyard but far enough back to be considered a respectful distance for conversation. “Good. Good. Now before we begin, I have one last loose end to tie up with you. Bring them.” The head guard nodded and disappeared for a few moments. When he returned, the Golden Lady and Fortune McCall were in tow.

“I return your friends to you,” the hooded man said. “They have served their purpose by getting you here.”

McCall and the Golden Lady crossed over to Dillon and Coco. “They got the drop on me, Dillon,” McCall began.

“Don’t sweat it,” Dillon said cutting him off. “They jumped us too, probably the same way.”

“Is that better for you, Mr. Dillon?”

Dillon started to ask how the hooded man knew him, but considering everything that had gotten him to this point, he simply assumed that his name had preceded his actual presence for a bit. “That’s fine. Thanks.”

“I presume you have questions,” the hooded man plucked a slice of mango from the plate. “I probably have answers to most if not all of them. However I have one first: Where is the mask of Amiri Ezana?”

Dillon knew, they knew he had it. He slid the pack he was wearing from his shoulders, fished around inside and pulled up the bag he had secured the mask in when he and Coco recovered it in Kaizaro. Dillon loosened the drawstring and pulled the opening loose.

The mask of Amiri Ezana was glowing for the first time since that night he first encountered it in the Golden Lady’s tower. It gently rose out of the bag and hovered obediently between Dillon and the hooded man. The fire was almost directly below the mask and the light of the flames cast shadows on the mask making it seem like a living thing.

“At last!” The hooded man exhaled heavily as if he had been holding that particular breath for several eternities with infinities to go.

“You didn’t say the mask did tricks, Dillon,” Coco said sitting next to him. She seemed mesmerized by the floating mask which held her attention, Coco’s focus went from the mask to Dillon. “What the hell is going on? What’s this about?”

“That, young lady, is why we are gathered here” the hooded man said. “It is a relic finally returned to its rightful home and it is time to fulfill the destiny it was created for.”

“And that is?” Coco asked.

“A story I’m about to share”, the hooded man replied.

“Great”, said Dillon, “You can start with who you are, what this place is and maybe explain why the mask is doing…” Dillon waved a hand in the direction of the floating, glowing mask, “…whatever the hell you call that.”

The hooded man chuckled softly. “The mask is doing what it normally does when it’s near one who has plumbed its secrets. I? I wear many names, Mr. Dillon, but for the next few moments, I am merely a griot with a story to tell. I trust you will grant me time to tell it since it is necessary you understand what has come before in order to understand what will follow.” Coco began to say something, but a look from Dillon made her pause. She was about to ask about what was following what, but Dillon’s look seemed to say that he wanted this self-appointed griot to spin his story uninterrupted. “As to the name of this place, it, like me has many names. Some call it the “Quiet Place”, others the “Palace of Whispers”, most know it as the “Lost Refuge” – but its proper name to us who live here is Chigaro cheMambo.”

Dillon thought he recognized the words, but couldn’t place the language exactly. He ran through a few phrases, things one picks up crisscrossing the globe over the years. No it wasn’t Kissi, or Maasai, or Jalaa… Shona, it was Shona. Something to do with kings…

“So ‘Land of the King’?” Dillon asked.

“Seat, Mr. Dillon, Seat of the King to be exact.” The griot nodded beneath is hood. “You are as advertised and as expected, Mr. Dillon. Very good.”

Dillon looked surprised. “Seat of the King? That’s —“

“Correct again, Mr. Dillon. That is a story from your childhood, is it not?” The hooded man took another sip of tea. “I trust I have your full attention now?”

It was Coco’s turn to look at Dillon in surprise. “The Seat of the King? What are you two talking about?”

Dillon spoke, but did not take his eyes off the griot as he answered. “The Seat of the King is part of a legend of a wandering warrior king who was considered to be one of the greatest protectors of Shamballah and was the first true Warmaster of Liguria. But…” Dillon’s expression was intense, like he was trying to pull a detail from his memory that refused to budge. “…no, there’s something else. The details are right, but they’re not right at the same time.”

“Considering the last time you heard the story, you were probably a boy, that is astoundingly good, Mr. Dillon.” The griot was staring right at Dillon and yet the glow of the firelight couldn’t penetrate the shadow the hood cast to clearly make out the man’s features. “The part you missed was the warrior’s original home before he began his travels and why he was wandering the world in the first place.”

“A castaway warrior king,” Dillon said absently. It was obvious he was trying to pull together the details of the legend he recognized. “He caged a demon, but his people cast him out because he became the monster he defeated.”

“Their belief was the warrior king became the evil he fought. The truth was he finally found clarity. He became both the light and the dark,” the griot said. “He became sure of his purpose and that purpose was to lead. To rule. To eradicate the darkness with light and if that wasn’t possible, with a greater darkness than what his foes could muster.” Coco started. She was fairly sure that the griot’s voice was changing, becoming richer and less raspy. “He, and his followers, were cast out of their lost paradise into the world outside by those who feared the power he discovered. To insure that he was never able to return, they locked away his access to their realm by hiding their land from human eyes as well as his own.”

“But not before draining away some of the power he gained.” Dillon’s eyes seemed to focus on some distant marker in his past that no longer existed, but nonetheless foretold of a hazard to come. “It was said they took the very heart of his power as he was exiled. That energy was locked away in a totem and…”

“Patience, Dillon,” the griot said. “There is more to tell. For a time the warrior king wandered the world until he and his followers found Shamballah. They fought, and even ruled there. They formed the core of what would eventually become the Warmasters of Liguria and were also the source for many of the martial arts found throughout what you call Asia and Africa. Their battles were glorious! The Pale Colossus of Shanto, The Night Lords of the Bygone Land, the Deathwalker, the Fourth Child of Doom – so many foes and each one that was defeated restored some of the power the Castaway King.

As they journeyed through the outside world, their fame brought them followers. Warriors who thought that they could become part of the legendary band, but at best could serve as vassals. Pieces to employ as agents among the peoples of the outside world.”

“Like the Azure Dragons,” Coco said.

“Yes, child.” The griot’s hood dipped slightly in her direction. “The Dragons were probably the greatest and most loyal of those outside the Castaway King’s circle of true warriors. Their enthusiasm at being considered the elite among their peers made them the perfect arm into the outside world while the Castaway King and his people looked for a place to settle and wait until they found the means to return to their homeland. Eventually they found an area that was lush, green and full and this place was built as a home to those who served the Castaway King.”

“So this ‘Castaway King’ is dead and gone by now, right?“ Coco’s sentence trailed off as she saw the stricken expression on Dillon’s face. “Dillon?”

“I don’t think so, Coco…” Dillon stared hard at the mask as the light it radiated intensified. He frowned and started to reach for his gun.

The Golden Lady took in a sharp breath. “Dillon the mask!”

“Ah,” the griot rose from his sitting position to his full height and towered over Dillon who rose at the same time. “You’ve figured it out, but you’re too late!” With a savage jerk, the griot tore away his hooded robes to reveal a powerfully built black man with a well groomed goatee covering strong features. He snatched the mask from the air and placed it over his face. As he did so the mask seemed to melt into the flesh it touched and as the man took his hands away from his face, Dillon and Coco saw that the two had somehow merged. The markings on the mask; the gold and pearl crown were now blended into his features.

“And I have you to thank for reuniting me with the totem that held the last of my power. I am Amiri Ezana, the Castaway King, and the one true Warrior Lord of —“

“Usimi Dero,” Dillon said with a whisper.

Amiri Ezana smiled and the aspect of the mask that conformed to his features stretched them into something hideous – an expression that bore the mark of evil and madness behind the pools of molten gold his eyes had become.

Coco placed a hand on Dillon’s shoulder as she looked up at Amiri Ezana. “So how exactly does the legend end?”

Dillon looked at her and pulled his Jericho. “Doesn’t matter, C. We’re gonna have to do a rewrite.”

“I was really hoping you weren’t going to say that.”

Amiri Ezana laughed. “I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you, the children of Usimi Dero are going home. It is a truth that is out of your hands.

“Don’t think so,” Dillon replied. “You just melded with a mask from a time when you were bat-shit crazy,” Dillon took aim. “I think the last thing I’m about to do is let you go on a field trip to the old neighborhood and see what goes down next.”

“Pity,” Amiri Ezana said with the hint of a sigh. “I’ll just have to destroy the world without an audience.”

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We Join Our Story, Already In Progress…

And the greatest cartoon miniseries never is BACK!

Today, Dillon finally gets a line on the Mask of Amiri Ezana and is in the middle of trying to recover it in Kaizaro in the African nation Orlorei. Riding shotgun with him is Agent Brown a freelance investigator working for a spy agency Dillon’s never even heard of called ECHO in today’s episode of Derrick Ferguson‘s DILLON AND THE MASK OF AMIRI EZANA: SHOWDOWN IN THE SILVER SPHERE!

We join our story, already in progress.

As he fell in behind Agent Brown, Dillon was still being surprised by her. She was a deceptive package: gorgeous, funny, and a seasoned pro that he’d easily rank up there with any of the operators he’d encountered in his adventures. Right now though, he was glad she was with him as they ascended the last level of the building below the distinctive globe that took up. They’d been fighting Azure Dragons since they set foot across the lobby and it was a running battle that had cost them time as whatever the hell the mask of Amiri Ezana was needed for was coming to a head. Brown, stopped short, placing her hand on Dillon’s chest. The wicked looking jet black modified Pepperbox pistol she carried seemed to just appear from thin air.

“We’ve got company,” she said softly. She threw back her hair and slipped on a pair of wraparound black sunglasses. She tapped the frame with a delicate finger. “I’m picking up three, maybe four heat signatures nearby. We’ve got a few minutes though, they may still be waiting on a call from that guy with the radio downstairs.”

“Okay,” Dillon nodded at Brown’s glasses, “how do those work?”

“Standard ECHO tech – the glasses have multiple functions built in. The heat signature thing is meant to be used in night vision situations, but I use it like limited radar through the HUD.”

“And I didn’t get those before we came here because —“

“You didn’t ask?” Brown chuckled as she replied. “They just handed me a pair because I said I needed a way to get data updates on the fly.”

“Seriously?”

“A closed mouth, don’t get fed, Dillon.”

“Seems like a small bunch,” Dillon said steering the conversation back to the current situation. “You’d think with all the Dragons we’ve put down so far, there’d be a bigger bunch protecting the mask.” Dillon pulled his Jericho, “In fact I’m surprised the local law hasn’t dropped by to investigate why a couple of those Dragons wound up high diving into the sidewalk outside.”

“Past them is the elevator to the exclusive floors in the Silver Sphere. I think this bunch is a patrol. As to the fallen Dragons, if there’s one thing they do well in Kaizaro, it’s cater to the whims of the wealthy.” Agent Brown expelled a sigh, “Public Works will mop them up and pretend the whole thing was a performance art piece with digitally altered footage for the news.”

“Well I figure we can handle this,” Dillon said.

Agent Brown flashed Dillon another one of those damn smiles that made him forget they were in a situation where a building full of assassins were trying to kill them. “Baby, we had this before we showed up. If it gets too heavy, You get to the elevator and I’ll hold things down here.”

“You sure about that?”

“If I wasn’t, it doesn’t matter,” Agent Brown responded. “This is the job.”

Dillon smiled “When this is over, we’re going out.”

“You think so?” Brown said absently.

“A closed mouth, don’t get fed, Brown.”

“Um-hmm,” Brown replied, Dillon was rewarded with a smirk that seemed to promise that if they did make it, she just might let him take her out.

“Okay, it’s almost showtime,” Brown said, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“One last thing though,” Dillon said.

“What’s that?”

“I’m not calling you “Agent Brown” on date night.”

“Coco.”

If Dillon had been drinking water, he knew that was a spit take. “Come again?”

Brown sighed and grinned, “Here we go…”

“You’re joking with me though, right? Who names their kid ‘Coco Brown’?”

“My Pops thought ‘Constance Corrine’ was beautiful at the hospital, it was ‘Coco’ by the time Momma got home from the hospital,” Brown said.

Dillon nodded, “Okay, Coco Brown, let’s get ready to mash on these last Dragons.”

Coco, heard Dillon stifling a snicker, “Well laugh it up, big man, but do me a favor.”

“What’s that?”

“Be careful with the jokes if you ever meet my aunt. She don’t play that.”

“And her name is?”

“Later. Here we go!”

Three Azure Dragons emerged from the corridor near the elevator bank and Dillon’s eye flashed gold as soon as he saw the man at point: Xuanzhuan Siwang.

“Man I am getting tired of that little bastard!”

Coco checked her Pepperbox a last time. “Well handle your business, I can hold down the other two.”

“Bet. Just don’t kill them, we still need to locate the mask.”

Coco sprang from their cover gun blazing. She fired wide to scatter them and choose her target. She was a crimson and black blur as she went for the Dragon to the left of Xuanzhuan Siwang. She went from a full run to a slide that dropped her below the blade swung at her. She let her momentum carry her between the blade and knee, of the Dragon and Coco hammered both fists into the man’s groin. The Dragon groaned sucked in air and his eyes bugged out like an old Warner Brothers cartoon wolf, and Coco came up from her slide, pivoted and hammered the Dragon in the back of the neck where the base of the skull met up with the spinal cord. Already dazed, the Dragon was slammed face first into the unyielding floor.

She was already in motion for the next man as Xuanzhuan Siwang and Dillon began to square off. They had encountered one another enough over the last couple of weeks to know what they were dealing with. Dillon knew the second he saw his opening, he had to roll on Xuanzhuan Siwang hard and fast. He had already holstered his gun so he wouldn’t give in to the urge to let off a shot that could go astray. The last thing he needed was to be distracted against a man who showed he was more than capable of taking Dillon down.

So, of course, that’s when the whole damn situation went sideways as the elevator bells dinged across the row of elevators going up to the Silver Sphere and vomited a squadron of Azure Dragons. Dillon and Coco were easily outnumbered twenty to one.

“I shall be the one to bury you, dead man.” Xuanzhuan Siwang smiled. “But I will take my time, make you beg for death and deny you that death for as long as I possibly can. You will…”

“Dillon, is this guy going to talk us to death or what?” Coco Brown had her gun up and was sweeping the circle of Dragons who were apparently waiting for the order to take them.

Dillon played along. “He’s like that, Coco. The man is a damn chatterbox.”

Xuanzhuan Siwang went from smug to confused. He opened his mouth to speak when from the floor below came a tide of ECHO agents and a battle royale nobody asked for took off on its own. Xuanzhuan Siwang didn’t wait, the Dragons had turned their attention to the ECHO agents, while he exercised the better part of valor and scrambled for the elevator.

“Oh HELL no!” Dillon bellowed as he smashed through combatants on both sides, bulling his way through the melee in pursuit. Xuanzhuan Siwang had reached the car and slapped the button to the floors above. The doors had nearly closed when Dillon squeezed through like a man late for an interview. Xuanzhuan Siwang flattened against the wall of the car. “Not possible!”

“Okay, Siwang,” Dillon’s gold flecked eyes narrowed, “let’s see who’s burying who today.”

With a snarl, Xuanzhuan Siwang sprung towards Dillon.

Dillon smiled. “You know, I think I’m gonna miss your crazy ass when this is all over.”

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