Mordru swirled in a sea of darkness between planes.
It was not nearly as dark as his mind.
Every so often, a flash of impression or image from another reality would impinge. An Earth on which people had evolved to immortal energy-beings of intellect. A Mars inhabited by gelatinous beings who had conquered Earth. A Krypton which still survived. Other worlds he knew nothing of. None of them mattered.
The mage placed his hands against the sides of the blue helmet and felt
its cold metal. Of course it was still in place, both helmets were
still in place, but, by the gods and antigods, he had to be sure.
As if the cubed level of power and understanding was not evidence enough. As if the new sights and sounds and other sorts of senses raging through his consciousness were not evidence enough. As if the knowledge that he had power to rule half a universe was not enough.
No. No, it wasn't enough.
There was nothing here to breathe, and Mordru did not need to breathe here. Nonetheless, his body was trying to breathe more quickly, his heart trying to beat faster. All his life had led to this point in nontime and nonspace. All his existence, from his genesis as a minor mage on the Gemworld, through his sojourn on and conquest of Zerox the first time and his carving an empire in his end of the galaxy, through his conflicts with the damnable Legionnaires, to this.
He could destroy all the Legionnaires with a single wish. He could blot them from existence forever.
But...he was beyond them now. Their destruction was to be performed by his lieutenants. His entire mind, his entire will, his entire being had to be focused now on the casting he had to perform.
Mordru smiled, beneath the mask. Perhaps he might yet redeem his soul, if he stayed his hand from this task. Perhaps he might yet be washed in the blood, or cleansed in the rays, or whatever metaphor your various religions had for it.
He shrugged. Probably not.
Before uniting Chaos and Order, he had only a dim understanding of what it would take to summon the object he now desired. Now, it was as crystal clear to him as if it had been written in inch-high letters on a scroll in blood.
And he conceived it. In his mind's eye, there it was, the green jewel falling from the brow of the being who was falling...
And he drew into his active will every single iota of magical energy his sparking, crackling body possessed.
And his mind ran through passages of preparatory thinking in a nanoinstant, his voice chanting the correct sounds (no air here, but he still heard the chanting; it did not matter how), his body shaking as connections were made with worlds not hospitable to visiting mortals, even mages.
He had to bargain, and he made the bargains.
He had to see, and he saw more than he imagined, more than he dared, more than even his blackened soul could endure. But he pressed on. There was no escaping the gantlet, once he began to run it.
In measurable time, it would have taken less than three minutes. Within the subjective time of his mind, it took lifetimes.
A bolt of ebon darkness engulfed him. Mordru cried out, screamed, and felt Things making their presence...felt. Tactile sensations. He did not want to dwell on this.
Already he had penetrated farther than any sorceror on Zerox had ever dared. Still, it was not enough.
Then the darkness parted.
Hanging before him, as large, seemingly, as a planet...
A perfect emerald.
With more facets than the mind of man could comprehend. With lights within and without that were negations of light. With power and knowledge that cried out for a vessel, as the fruit of a forbidden tree called to the first man.
Mordru reached out his hand.
It came back, holding the emerald, shrunk large enough for his fist. For a moment he considered its sensation, both physically felt (was it really material?) and spiritually...beyond...below...
Before he could reconsider, he slammed the emerald into the forehead of the helmet. It lodged there, without visible means of support.
Mordru hung motionless in the void.
He would remain that way for a good while, both measurably and subjectively.
The power...the knowledge...what he had before, even with the twin helms, was nothing.
And yet, there was power beyond this for the taking. Yes, power beyond power. But he would have to understand the power he had at this point, before reaching for the power of the next point.
So Mordru lay on a sea of darkness, and set about learning, little by little, what he had now become.
He was a patient man.
The Girl of Steel traversed a somewhat different darkness with Drang the Destroyer. It was a passage through warp-space, and it took long enough for her to converse with her sinister courier, telepathically.
<So let me guess,> sent Kara. <You finally managed to regenerate, and Mordru took you on as his chief lieutenant.>
Drang turned his orange visage towards Supergirl. <Anything to keep your mind off of the upcoming battle, Supergirl? Or your upcoming death? Most of us have to die. But with myself...it's nothing really permanent.>
<I saw you starting to regenerate when I left you after our battle,> Kara nudged. <Took you long enough. Just didn't have the old mustard left anymore, eh?>
Drang bristled. <If I didn't have to deliver you to Zerox, I'd murder you myself. Yes, Supergirl, I regenerated...not completely, but as a low-powered wraith. I had consciousness. I betook myself to the Sorceror's Planet, intending to inveigle some magician into restoring me to full flame. Instead, I learned that Mordru was bound...and I awakened him.>
<Was he grateful?>, sneered Kara.
<Aieee! He nearly destroyed me. He did destroy the fools who were trying to restore him. Before he could separate my components, I convinced him that we had foes in common. For I have lived over 1,500 years, and I have knowledge of what has occurred in all that time. I knew how he could prosper, if he availed himself of the beings who lived in earlier time. I knew just whom to reccomend. Thus far...it has worked.>
Supergirl, flying beside him, smiled. <Not entirely. You didn't even figure out it was Dev and I when we pulled that spy mission on Zerox a little while ago.>
Drang said nothing, and did not look at her.
<And you were the one to recreate Satan Girl?>, prodded Kara.
The smile returned to Drang's face. <Of course! I witnessed your battle with your dark half, only a few years ago. I specifically asked to be allowed to remove her essence from your being. Mordru granted it. Then I brought that essence to him, and he formed it into a homunculus. She is not dependent upon Red Kryptonite radiation to maintain her existence now. She lives...and she lives to kill you.>
Kara sighed. <What about afterwards? Do you kill her?>
Drang laughed. <No. No, she has a very important part in the grand design. But enough of this. We near Zerox. We near...your destiny, Supergirl.>
Kara looked ahead and saw the warp-opening looming, with the familiar stars-and-blackness tapestry.
She took a deep breath, hoped she was hiding her fear, and knew Drang could pick up on every bit of it.
He was still laughing.
Brainiac 5, White Witch, Dream Girl, Laurel, and Dawnstar huddled in the interior of the Time Cube. There were benches and a small table, in addition to the controls and monitor. There was also a computer beside the monitor.
"We're going to the late 20th, but we still have to establish where to go," said Brainy. "With some help from Mysa, we could also jaunte into a parallel continuum. We can access Earth-Two, or Earth-S, or Earth-X, or any other one we want. We need a sorceror..."
"Just one?" said Dream Girl. "Why can't we get the whole Magicians' Union, if we need to?"
White Witch sighed. "Nura, please. We only need one magician. I'm being guided in that direction."
"Guided?" said Laurel, wide-eyed. "By who?"
"I'm not certain," she admitted. "But given the fact that Mordru has the twin helms, it could be the Lords of Chaos and Order. They want the helmets back, and separated."
"Hope they know what they're doing," muttered Laurel.
Dawnstar said, "Would you trust the spirits to guide you to the right magician, Mysa? Is this a possiblity?"
The antennaed sorceress looked up. "I'm willing to risk it, Dawny. It's worth a try. I could attempt cybermancy."
Brainiac stiffened. "Sorcery through a computer?"
"Why not? All I'm going to do is input some names and trust the computer to be influenced in the right direction."
Laurel stifled a giggle. Every time some magic impinged upon his domain of science, Brainy got nervous, indignant, or both.
He waved his green hand. "All right, go do it. But I already know who I'm going to try to acquire to get the upper hand on Winath. I'll let you go first."
White Witch, sitting between Laurel and Dream Girl, got up and moved to the small computer console. It wasn't quite capacity, but a party of five in the Cube had things a bit cramped. She activated a neural input transmitter and stuck its receptor on her forehead. Then she concentrated.
Choose which of the following might be of most use to us against Mordru, she thought.
Receiving, the computer noted in its female-voice mental playback and on its visible screen.
Zatanna, thought White Witch. Ibis the Invincible. Doctor Occult. Phantom Stranger...
She thought almost a score of names, and then gave the cutoff signal in her thoughts. The computer evaluated what data it had recorded on these sorcerers, and gave a readout within a fifth of a second.
Brainiac 5 worked his jaw. He said, somewhat coldly, "Him?"
With only a hint of raised eyebrow, Mysa said, "I guess so, Brainy."
She told Dawnstar where to set the spatial coordinates, and they prepared the Time Cube for emergence.
Dev-Em's whirlwind stopped in the first half of the 21st Century.
He blinked. Things were really shaping up, now. The skyline of Metropolis looked like an ancestor of the 30th Century, not some lame holdover from the early 20th. How much the existence of Superman and his pals had to do with this, he didn't quite know. But at least it was urban blight with some R**damned futurism to it.
Dev had materialized, as he had wanted, in the skies above Metropolis. It wasn't yet "New Met", but he didn't give a calot's behind. A few sensor-devices picked him up. The Metropolitan Police would be trundling up in their hovercrafts if he stayed there any longer.
He knew where to go.
Dev pushed off of the very air and hurtled towards an address he had learned of while poring through histories of the period.
The apartment was quite a bit better than the one the guy's father had had for many years. At that, it was only a place he used while in town. He had a really decent estate out in the country. Unlike his dad, he wasn't shy about making money.
It was on the 50th floor of the apartment building. Dev banged on the window and hovered outside.
The man inside opened the window, grabbed him by the wrist at super-speed, and hauled him inside. Then he closed the window. All of this happened within half a second.
Dev-Em looked up at his host and grinned. Black hair, blue eyes, carrying around about ten pounds more than his father, maybe an inch or two shorter. But yeah, he looked like his old man...a lot. He wore the front of his hair differently, thank Rao. He was wearing a T-shirt with a GO METROS! logo on it, a pair of blue shorts, white socks, and running shoes.
A toddler's voice from the next room called out, "Daddy. Can I go to the Fort and play?"
In a low voice, with clipped and precise terms, the man said, "You've got ten seconds to identify yourself and convince me why I shouldn't change your face. Flight doesn't impress me. Your knowing this address does. Talk."
Dev got up from his seated-on-the-floor position, hands out and open. "Hey, Jordan, ease the Sheol up. Your dad knew me. I'm Dev-Em. Supergirl and I are in a big jam. The Legion's in on it as well. Talk to me."
Jordan's eyes widened and then narrowed. He didn't wear glasses, but his tinted contacts were a token to disguise arts. Riskier, thought Dev.
"You say you're Dev-Em. What's this about Supergirl? What's this about the Legion?"
Dev folded his arms. "We've got a big problem in the 30th. Mordru is the biggest part of it. There's also Black Adam, Ar-Ual, Satan Girl...those names mean anything to you?"
The big man's shoulders relaxed a bit at those names, even though he was still wary. He said, "No one outside of the family and two others knew about Ar-Ual. As for Satan Girl, nobody outside of the family knew about her in this century."
Dev leaned against the wall, putting the sole of one boot against it. "So do I pass muster? Kara's in deep. She needs some help from the family. You're one of the ones I want to call on. We're going to need some of the others from later on down the line. Trust me on this."
Jordan said, "Suppose I believe you. If I go with you, what can I expect?"
"Oh, you can expect us to make about four more stops before we go back when I came from. Believe me, it'll help with you along. I'll fill you in along the way."
"Where's the next ‘stop' supposed to be?" asked Jordan. "You know, if you're the real Dev, my father never liked you."
"That's why I'm not bothering to pick him up," said Dev. "It's hard enough just working with the princess. As for the next stop, if I'm listening right, we're going to pick up the kid in the next room. That is, when he's grown up a bit."
Jordan leaned against the wall. "If you're really Dev-Em, who is Sensor Girl?"
"I don't bloody know!" exclaimed Dev. "She just joined the frabbing Legion. I only work with them, not in them. She's not an assignment. Is that enough for you?"
Jordan nodded. "Her identity was a secret for awhile. All right, Dev, I'll take a chance on you. Just a moment." He opened the door a crack. "All right, son, you can go and play in the Fort, but you have to take Laurie with you."
"Awww...do I haveta? She's a..."
"‘She's a girl.' Yes. I know. We made her that way. And she'll keep you out of trouble. If you get into any, I'll take you both out back of the moon and spank you. Got that?"
"Got it, daddy. Daddy, when will you be back?"
"When I get done. Go get Laurie and go. I love you both."
"I love you, Daddy." There was a whoosh from the other room, drawing the curtains towards its source. Dev blinked.
Jordan turned back to Dev and shut the door. "So we're going through time to pick up my son?"
"That's the next stop, yes," said Dev. "Can we get to it?"
In response, his host touched the buckle of his belt. It was a triumph of Rokynian technology, with some added effects he'd built into it. His regular clothing was replaced by the familiar red, blue, and yellow uniform. It was tailored especially for him, not a hand-me-down. But it still had the time-honored design. "This is a job--" said Jordan Kent.
"--for Superman," finished Dev. "Yeah, yeah, work on your delivery. Let's agitate the air." He held out his arm.
The second Superman took his hand, and both of them vibrated in synch until they became simultaneously invisible and able, Flash-like, to slip through the molecules of the building wall.
Then they accelerated through the air, broke the time barrier, and were gone.
It had taken a bit for the clothing synthesizer to get Brainy, Laurel, Mysa, Dawny, and Nura clothes that would be fashionable for the time and yet something the women would actually want to wear. Brainiac settled on a trenchcoat and big hat. Well, gloves, too. Nura actually wanted to try a padded shoulders outfit from the Forties, but Mysa argued her out of it with a look. She settled on a white miniskirt. Laurel tried shorts and a halter, then decided to go with blue jeans at the last moment. Dawny got jeans and a red checked work shirt, plus moccasins. Her great white wings were wrapped in an invisibility cloth designed by Lyle Norg, the late Invisible Kid I; it reflected no light and kept her wings secret, so long as nobody bumped into them. Mysa went with a light blue formal outfit with a skirt so long she had to lift it in order to walk. That, and a pillbox hat with a veil, which they hoped would hide her antennae.
With their various fashion crises settled, the five Legionnaires stepped from the Time-Cube into late 20th Century Earth again.
They seemed to emerge from a building wall. The door-field of the Cube had temporarily bonded with it. Luckily, nobody without the proper entry device could get into it, or even perceive it. The alley which they found themselves in was a bit narrow, and Brainy stepped on a white cat getting out. It yowled, took off, and upset him. He went flat on his back, the hat dropping off. The girls giggled, or tried not to.
"Ladies, think together with me: This is a serious mission. This is a serious mission," said Brainy, and got up, got his hat, and placed it back on his head.
The air was cold and damp. The sky was overcast. They heard a large bell in the distance tolling off the hour. Nura said, "I wish we'd picked a place with a little bit more sun. My tan could use some maintenance."
"Great Spirit, give me strength," muttered Dawnstar. "Follow me. I have seen the map." She walked unerringly ahead. The others went in her wake.
They emerged from the alleyway. Shopfronts, streets, cars (an Austin Mini especially caught Brainy's eye), people on the move. This part of 20th-era Earth they'd never been to. Laurel thought it was quite nice, with character.
Mysa, stepping carefully, skirt in hands, sniffed the air. "This place is loaded with emanations. If I had time, I could get drunk on them. It must have been a great place for an adept to work in."
A policeman in blue on the corner gave them an appraising look. Damned if it didn't look like he'd better give it some attention. He stepped forward, pointing his billy at them. "I say, you there. Yes, you five. Just a moment. Park it."
"Oh, gods," said Nura. "If he thinks we're what I think he thinks we are, we are in for--"
The bobby walked over to them, stuck his club under one arm, and pulled out a small notebook and pen from his coat pocket. "Now I don't suppose you ladies and you, sir, would have heard about solicitation laws? You just don't do this sort of thing in this part of the city, you know. Be damned if you'll do it in this part of the city."
"Oh, Rao," muttered Laurel. "Uh, look, sir, there seems to be a miscomprehension here. I mean, like--"
"A miss what?" said the bobby. "A miss what, Miss? Look here, it's too early in the morning for this sort of crap. I want your names. Then we'll all go for a brisk one down to the station, which is, luckily for you, only a few blocks from here. And then you can explain to me all about your business, as if I needed to be told. But first--" He pointed to Brainiac with his billy club. "First, sir, I want to see your face. Now come along with you, I'm not prejudiced, even if you happen to be a Paki or something. Just off with that hat, will you? Crikey, y'look like something out of an old cinema."
"Officer--" said Brainy, hesitating.
"I said off with it!" yelled the policeman, and he stepped closer and whipped the hat off of Brainiac's head.
His jaw hit his Adam's apple a second later.
Brainiac 5 stood revealed in all his blond-haired, green-faced glory. Silently, he swore.
"Mysa!" he spoke, loudly.
The sorceress dropped her skirt, put her hands on the back of the bobby's helmeted head, and spoke a short, effective spell.
When his senses returned to him a half-minute later, he shook his head. After a second's lookabout, he wondered how he had gotten from that corner to this without remembering walking it.
He stared up and down the street. Well, nobody was stopped, so obviously nobody had hit him. Not too many people on the street right now, anyway. Just the usual get-the-breakfast-and-get-to-bloody-work crowd.
A corner away and two blocks down, the quintet trudged on. Brainy, who had been in the 20th a couple of times before, wished they could take a cab, but it would take a bigger vehicle than the average one here to carry the five of them and a driver.
Nura looked up, pointed to a double-decker bus. "Look at that, Brainy. Do you suppose we could get on that?"
"We'd need money," he said. "Or a spell. Are you up to it, Mysa?"
Mysa sighed. "I knew I was going to do all the work on this trip," she said.
Twenty minutes later, thanks to a bus driver that had been induced to go a long ways off his usual route, the fivesome got off and walked to a doorway in a building none of them really wanted to go into. They tromped up a couple of flights of stairs. Mysa, not saying a word, pointed at the correct door. Brainiac walked up, the girls coming after him, and banged on it.
"Go away," said a tired voice within.
Brainiac banged on the door again.
"It's 9:40 in the bloody morning," said the voice, with a tinge of real anger. "Normal human beings with any sense are in bed for the next two hours. Go the hell away."
"Mr. Constantinople, we need to see you," said Laurel.
The man inside cursed. "All right, all bloody hell right, you're not the rentman, are you? Or the rentperson? Gimme a minute." They heard him creaking the springs in the mattress, fumbling for something on what sounded like a clunking chair, singing a few bars of something that sounded like, "We're so pretty, oh so pretty..."
Dawnstar leaned her back against the wall beside the door. Her look of exasperation was echoed by Brainiac. Laurel stood beside Brainiac, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Mysa and Nura waited quietly.
A man with short blonde hair, in an undershirt and light pants, the belt not buckled, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, threw open the door. "If it's a business thing, goodbye. I'm taking the decade off. Going to head for the country and start a bloody dairy--" He stopped short, when he saw Brainiac's low-slung hat and trenchcoat. "Oh. Oh, this is bloody marvelous. Totally brill. A trenchcoater. That you, Occult? It has to be, that or Dick bloody Tracy." He lifted Brainiac's hat.
A few seconds later, he said, "Will that condition clear up in time, brother, or are you naturally that way?"
Mysa said, "Your name is John Constantine. We're from the 30th Century. We need sorceror's help. You have been reccommended to us."
Constantine leaned back, sizing up the four women, smoking Silk Cut in his hand. A short grin crossed his face. "Are all these your girls, mate, or could you see your way clear to share?"
Brainy grabbed him by the armpits. "Get dressed. We're going on a trip."
"To the 30th Century?" said Constantine, blinking. "Ah, hell. May as well see what Dan Dare looks like in real life. Let me down, Mr. Green, I've got to get my coat and shoes."
After he did, they marched him out and allowed him to get breakfast at Ed's Easy Diner, where he introduced several of them to Marvin Gaye music on the jukebox and stood them a round of coffee. Then, twiddling his thumbs while still holding a cigarette between two fingers, he asked them, "Tell me, ladies and gent, why the hell I should go back to the future for you. I don't do stuff for free."
Mysa was prepared for that. Leaning forward, she said, "I know the name of the child you seek."
Constantine looked up, seriously. He stubbed his cigarette out in his cup. "I'm no bloody pederast, lady," he said. "What's this about a child?"
"I know you and several others of this time sought the child of promise," she said. "I can tell you his name. Then you can find him."
The Londoner was silent for a few more seconds. Then he said, "Lead the way, love. After I pay the tab."
He did, and the six of them left.
Kara and Drang had flown thru the warp, which opened above the atmosphere of Zerox. The guardships were there, waiting for them. She took no notice of them. <Where do we go?> she asked Drang.
<Follow me,> he said.
She combed the planet with her super-vision. <Never mind, I know where,> she said, and rocketed down to the precise spot.
It was an ancient arena, in which gladiators, sorcerors, animals, and soldiers had all fought, in their turn. The seats which ringed it in tiers were packed with people. Old people, young people, men, women, boys, girls, even some infants in their mothers' arms. There were holocrews stationed in various places, recording the event for Mordru's possible pleasure...if he ever returned.
All of them had come, she guessed, to see her die. Or, perhaps, to see the other one die.
She took all of that in within an instant. Her attention was drawn sharply to the dark-clad figure in the center of the arena.
An official of sorts sat one end of the arena, his arm upraised. Lord only knows how long he had been holding it there.
Satan Girl looked up and caught sight of Supergirl with her own vision powers. A cry of lust, hatred, and terrible anticipation burst from her mouth.
The Girl of Steel shot downward and landed a few feet away from her, her red-booted feet taking the impact as she sprang up a little in reaction. Supergirl's face was as grim as it had ever been.
Now, the waiting was over.
The official lowered his arm and cried, "Begin." But it was too late.
Supergirl and Satan Girl had already started.