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Ron and Mikhail separate from the Firestorm matrix after confronting the Sand Demon in the Nevada desert. Las Vegas mobster Charles Harsh has Ed and Felicity abducted and brought to his estate. Ed and Felicity escape and flee into the desert. Felicity makes her way back to their hotel, where Ron learns a revelation about the Sand Demon's identity. Harsh chases Ed in the desert. Firestorm forms and returns to Nevada to battle the Sand Demon. Later, a stunning discovery is made at the State of Nevada's Dry Lake Mental Institution.

Firestorm826's Panel-by-Panel Story Summary (Spoiler Alert)

A creature nicknamed the Sand Demon was about to attack Las Vegas…Firestorm went to stop him. Firestorm’s not having a real easy time of it.

Firestorm lies nearly completed covered in the desert sand. Only his hands and face protrude. The winds whip the sand around him. Overhead, the Sand Demon - - Martin Stein - - descends towards Firestorm, his tattered clothing hanging in shreds from his body.

“Ron! You must stop this! Get a hold of yourself!” Mikhail cries out in Firestorm’s subconscious. “Unless we are in unity, Firestorm cannot act!”

“We can’t! We can’t attack the Sand Demon! Don’t you see?” Ron answers. “It’s really Martin Stein!”

A few miles away, in Las Vegas… “…We’re going to be a little delayed, Dr. Easterly,” Ed Raymond explains on the phone in his hotel room.

Felicity Raymond gazes out the window. “Every time Ron leaves…forms Firestorm…I wonder if he’s going to come back alive,” she worries.

Knock! Knock! Someone is at the door. “I’ll get it, Ed!” Felicity says. She walks to the door. “Could it be Ron?” she wonders. She opens the door and jumps with fright! A pistol points right at her!

“Get your husband and your things, lady. Mr. Chaz Harsh wants a word with you,” orders a suit-wearing thug.

The struggle for life under the sand becomes frenzied…desperate…until only one outcome remains. The sand sweeps over Firestorm, completely hiding him from sight. FASHH! Suddenly, Firestorm fissions and disappears! FOOOSH! Two fireballs shoot up from the desert. The Sand Demon watches them. His eyes glow red and a slight smile appears on his lips. The fireballs quickly disappear into the storm. And the Demon of Sand resumes his march on Las Vegas.

FASHHH! A fireball streaks into the Raymond’s room at the Sand Dune Hotel. In a flash of light, Ron appears. “Dad! Mom! You gotta help me!” he yells. Exhausted, he collapses face down on the floor. “…I found Martin..!” he groans.

SPAKOW! The other fireball soars over the Pacific Ocean and into Russia. ZAAAP! It lands in the Arkadin’s apartment. Mikhail instantly appears, lying in bed next to his wife. “Air! Need - - can’t breathe..!” gasps Mikhail. Sweat runs down his face as Nina turns to him.

“Mikhail! What is it?!” Nina asks anxiously.

“I was - - part of Firestorm!” Mikhail explains. He sits up in bed as Nina tries to comfort him. “Ron - - the American - - was hysterical! We couldn’t act! We couldn’t breathe!” he continues.

“Mikhail, if Firestorm dies, do you die with him?” Nina asks.

“I think so, yes,” Mikhail replies. “I am hurt when he is hurt. And if my American ‘brother’ does not pull himself together, he will get the three of us killed!”

A green sedan carrying Ed and Felicity pulls onto the estate grounds of Charles Harsh. The house is heavily damaged from the sandstorm. Debris lies scattered all over. “What the hell happened here?!” Ed asks.

The thug that abducted them parks the car. “Okay, you two! Move it!” he barks, aiming his pistol at them. “Mr. Harsh! Where are you?” he yells.

“Here. Mitch,” Harsh answers from inside the wrecked house. The thug guides Ed and Felicity to Harsh. A corpse, its flesh stripped to the bone by the sandstorm’s fury, lies nearby.

“Cripes! What happened here?!” Mitch asks.

“It was that two-bit con man, Eddie Slick, that you supposedly took care of for me!” Harsh answers.

“Slick’s dead, Mr. Harsh!” Mitch explains. “I buried him myself out in the desert for trying to rip you off, just like I told you.”

“Then it was his ghost!” Harsh replies, waving his arms around at the scene. “The freaking sand obeyed his commands! Lookit what he did to my house - - my guests! I only survived because I zipped into the fallout shelter I got downstairs! I’m holding you responsible for this, Mitch!”

“Hold it, Mr. Harsh! Where are the Raymonds?” Mitch asks, looking around nervously.

“You brought the reporter here?! And they heard all what we just said?!” Harsh barks, grabbing Mitch by the lapels.

“I think so,” Mitch answers.

“Where are they now?” Harsh growls.

Nearby, Ed and Felicity sprint away from the wrecked house. They run up a sand dune and slide down the other side. “We’ve got to split up,” Ed says. “You head back to the hotel, get some help. I’ll pull Harsh after me.”

“Ed, no!” Felicity answers. “I’m not going to let you sacrifice yourself for me!”

“Sorry, honey, but I’m not that noble,” Ed explains. They reach the bottom of the dune and get to their feet. “It’s just Harsh will go after me, no matter what. My only chance is your bringing help! You’re the one with the hard part, not me.”

“You’re full of it, Ed. But you’re also right,” Felicity agrees. “Take care, understand?” She turns and runs towards the city.

“I’ll do what I can. Or what I must,” Ed thinks as he climbs back up the dune. “Please, God, we’ll see each other again!”

As he reaches the top, he comes into view of Harsh and Mitch. They watch from a window inside the wrecked house. “The woman isn’t with him,” Harsh observes as Ed runs past the house. “You find her and deal with her. I’ll take care of the reporter.”

Ron slumps in a chair in the hotel room. “Great. No one here but me!” he thinks. “Probably off working on whatever it is Dad’s doing here. Gonna have to deal with this myself. Great.” He leans his head back on the chair and stares up at the ceiling. “Well, Ron - - how do you think you did on your last outing as Firestorm?” he asks himself. “Well, gee, Ron - - I think on a scale of 1 to 10, I was a negative nine.”

Ron gets to his feet and walks to the window. “Well, hey, Ron - - why do you say that?” he thinks. “Because I was freaked, that’s why. And nearly got us all killed. That - - thing - - you fought out in the desert, that wasn’t Martin. Your real problem, dummy, is that deep down you feel you killed Martin. And that’s stupid. He might’ve died from a brain tumor if he never became Firestorm. I know that deep down. But do I believe it? More important, if that thing is - - or was - - Martin, can I bring myself to stop it? I don’t know. I just don’t know..!”

Felicity walks quickly along a road. The heat bears down on her and sweat beads on her head and shoulders. “Just a little…further…try to find…Ron…!” she thinks.

Behind her, a green sedan pulls over a hill and descends on the road toward her. “There she is! Perfect!” Mitch thinks as he spots her. “A little dipsy doo with the car, and she’s just another oil smear on the highway.”

Suddenly, the Sand Demon appears! Mitch slams on the brakes as the Sand Demon hovers just above the car. It stares down at the car with fury. The wind picks up around the car and sand quickly starts to swirl. SWOOOSH! BAM! The sand blasts through the windshield! “Slick!” Mitch yells as the driving sand pounds into him.

Nearly exhausted, Felicity bursts into the hotel room. “…R-Ron..!” she cries out.

“Mom!” Ron blurts. He leaps up from the chair and catches Felicity just as she begins to collapse. “Mom, what happened? Where’s Dad?” he asks.

“Gangster named Harsh took us! We…broke free!” she explains, trying to catch her breath. “Still…hunting your father! Must become Firestorm…Help him!” Ron helps her to the couch. “Saw…that Sand Demon!” she tells him. “Thought you were going…”

“I…I couldn’t..! Mom, that creature is what’s left of Martin Stein!” Ron interjects.

“No. We heard them talking. It’s a man Harsh had killed - - a con man named Eddie Slick! Not Stein!” Felicity tells him.

“Eddie Slick?! Of course!” Ron blurts. “I’ve met him before! He was a crooked wrestling promoter who looked just like Martin! Now - - if I can just get Mikhail to agree - - we can do something about that creature with a clean conscience!”

Felicity reaches for the phone. “I’ll call the police to help your father. But you’ve got to get out there as soon as you can, Ron, or he’ll be dead.”

“Quick as we can, Mom!” Ron replies. He closes his eyes and begins to concentrate. “Mikhail! Mikhail! Firestorm needed!” he thinks. “Mikhail!”

In Moscow, Mikhail feels the mental call. “My partner calls me. Firestorm is needed again,” he tells Nina.

“But he nearly got you killed? How can you trust him?” Nina asks.

“His voice feels different,” Mikhail answers. “I must trust my instinct - - and, ultimately, I must trust him as well.” An atomic ring sparkles in his eye…

SPAKOW! A fireball streaks out of Moscow, racing across the Pacific Ocean. FZAM! Firestorm appears in the hotel room. “We have to help my Dad first!” Ron explains.

“No, first we must defeat the sand creature!” Mikhail counters. “Many lives are imperiled as opposed to the one - - no matter how important that one life may be to us!”

“But - - !” Ron says. “All right,” he concedes. “I haven’t been real good at quarterbacking lately. But let’s do this fast, okay?” Firestorm flies towards the huge swirling sand mass in the desert. “At least, we do not have to search for him,” Ron adds.

Charles Harsh pursues Ed. He moves in front of Ed, surprising him by darting out from behind a sand hill. “Give it up, Raymond! Make it simple on us both!” Harsh yells, pointing his pistol. “You’re dead meat! But your kid don’t have to be! What say?”

Ed lunges at Harsh. WHAM! He smashes his fist into Harsh’s face. “No,” Ed growls.

Firestorm flies into the storm, quickly approaching the Sand Demon. “I think we shall assay a frontal attack,” Firestorm says. WHAM! A plume of sand smashes into Firestorm!

Nearby, Ed and Harsh fight fiercely. POW! Harsh connects with a punch. Ed bends down and grabs a handful of sand. WHUSH! He whips it into Harsh’s face! “AGHHH!” Harsh cries out. WHAM! OOF! The two men trade blows in rapid succession.

WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! The sandstorm reaches the edges of the city and begins to damage the buildings and neon marquees. “Suggestions?” Firestorm asks. “We cannot transmute the sand - - we might have to concentrate on each grain, and we haven’t the time!”

“We need to transmute the creature itself!” Mikhail suggests.

“Listen! Don’t they use heat and sand to make glass?” Ron asks quickly. “What happens if we hit the Demon with a fireball?”

FWOOOSH! Firestorm shoots a fireball at the Demon. WHOOMP! It explodes in a massive burst of flame, instantly encasing the Sand Demon completely in glass! The glass cocoon hovers for a second, and then falls to the street. KRASHHH! It hits the pavement and shatters!

Firestorm lands nearby and walks up to the pile of broken glass. He reaches for the crystal-covered skull and lifts it gently. “Goodbye, Martin Stein. Goodbye, Eddie Slick. May your ghosts rest in peace,” Firestorm tells the skull.

In the desert nearby, the fight continues between Ed and Harsh. KRAK! Ed lands a devastating punch across Harsh’s jaw! Harsh falls stunned to the sand and drops his pistol. “Big mistake, Harsh, threatening my family!” Ed tells him.

Ed bends down and grabs the pistol. “Somebody else did that. Killed my first wife. Almost killed me,” he tells Harsh as he points the pistol at him. “If you’re allowed to live, you could still order us all killed - - even from prison, couldn’t you? I’m not letting that happen a second time, Harsh.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Mr. Raymond,” Firestorm says as he lands next to the men. “You see, I’ll personally vouch for Mr. Harsh. And if he makes a liar out of me…I’ll make a fire out of him.” Firestorm glares at Harsh, scowling angrily at him. “Maybe you don’t fear Ed Raymond, Mr. Harsh,” Firestorm warns. “Fear me.”

Later, after the sand has been swept away and the authorities dealt with… “Bags are all in. But Dad - - why did you rent a car just to go back to the airport?” Ron asks as he closes the trunk.

“Because we’re not going directly to the airport. We’re going to do what we came out here to do in the first place,” Ed answers. The three of them get in the car and Ed drives off.

“Dad, look - - thanks. Thanks for your hope,” Ron tells him. “But in dealing with this Sand Demon thing, I think I’ve really come to terms with Martin Stein.”

“Well, I’m glad, Ron,” Ed answers. “Except I really do think Stein may still be alive. Let me explain my thinking and what I’ve done. Martin Stein was dying of a brain tumor. The tumor was inoperable and not responding to ordinary radiation treatment. You thought that the accident that made you two Firestorm also made the tumor immune to radiation. Perhaps that’s true - - at the levels the hospitals were willing to deal with. They’d be afraid to go higher than acceptable levels for fear it would kill him. But the nuclear bomb they tried to kill Firestorm with subjected you to radiation at a far higher dose - - and the new Firestorm absorbed it all into himself. So maybe - - just maybe - - there was a chance that the blast destroyed the tumor.”

Ed guides the car out of the city, heading northeast on the highway. “I used my skills as a reporter and worked from the premise Stein might be alive,” Ed continues. “If he was alive, where was he? Why - - as you pointed out - - hadn’t he gotten in touch? If he was alive, the only thing that could possibly prevent him was loss of memory. He doesn’t know to ask. You both lost your identification on that Russian sub, and he never had time to get more. Whoever found him wouldn’t know who he was, either. If he lived. So I started my search with certain parameters: I knew how old Stein was, what he might look like, when he might have shown up. I started making some calls to hospitals and institutions in the area, concentrating on state institutions - - he’d be classified as indigent, and made a ward of the state.”

Ed pulls the car into the entrance of the State of Nevada Mental Institution Dry Lake Facility. “I found one person who fit the parameters. I don’t know for sure it is Stein,” Ed explains. “I didn’t want to go and look without you. You have a right to be there - - if it’s him.”

Ed parks the car and the three get out. A doctor walks to the car, carrying a clipboard. “Dr. Easterly?” Ed asks when he sees him.

“Ah! You must be Ed Raymond, the man who’s going to identify our mystery guest for us,” nods Dr. Easterly.

“Well, we hope so,” Ed answers. “Would you mind telling my wife and son what you told me?”

“Well, they found him - - our John Doe - - out in the desert, wandering aimlessly. He may have been out there for days - - we don’t know,” Dr. Easterly explains. “Possibly he was a reporter who had gotten too close to the Firestorm – Pozhar story that happened around that time. Do you remember it? Good, good.”

Dr. Easterly guides them out into the courtyard. Just ahead, a man sits alone, reading a book on a bench near the trees. “There’s evidence that he had a brain tumor recently - - and quite a large one,” Dr. Easterly continues. “Although there’s no evidence of the tumor itself. It has, however, damaged part of the brain. Mostly, the parts connected to his memory seem to be affected. He’s extremely bright, our John Doe - - I.Q. on the genius level, according to the tests - - and he’s retaught himself things immensely well and quickly. Very personable and friendly, and easy to get along with. Very interested and helpful with other patients, very good-hearted.”

They slowly approach the man. “But every once in a while he goes into - - well - - almost a coma. It’s as if his mind leaves and his body just continues,” Dr. Easterly explains. “There was one stretch of three weeks when he was like that, and his body functions started to deteriorate badly. But then he came to and was fine. We don’t know what causes it. We don’t know what brings him back. We have neither the staff nor the facilities here to probe further. We haven’t even had the time to do so a full inquiry into who he is, so any information you might have would be helpful. Do you know him?”

Ron looks closely at the man. “Yes. Yes, I think I do,” he answers. Ron walks around the bench in front of the man and smiles at him. “Hi,” he says.

“Oh, hello! Umm…I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of…” the man says.

“I’m Ron Raymond,” Ron tells him. He kneels next to the man. “You’re Martin Stein. Professor Martin Stein.”

“Am I?” Martin asks. “Well, thank you. That’s certainly good to know. Not having any idea as to what your past is - - it’s very disconcerting. I’m a professor, you say? Hm! You’ll have to forgive me. Except for the time since I came here, I really have no memory of my past. Are we relatives or - - ?”

Ron takes the Professor’s hand. Ed, Felicity, and Dr. Easterly smile as they watch them. “I’m a friend, Martin,” Ron says. “I’m a friend.”

Fin

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