Even though only three seconds had gone by between Kara's red boots touching the dirt of the ancient arena and the first blow being struck, it was enough time for her to size up her adversary, her surroundings, and her situation.
Time slowed down, subjectively, for normal human beings in a crisis situation. It gave you time to react in a way that might save your life.
Kryptonians were no different. Except that, under suns that weren't red, their senses were much superior to that of a normal human's, and their memory capacity so much greater. Their motive ability was beyond lightspeed. When activated, their reaction time rivalled that of The Flash.
So Kara had the time to note the presence of about 8,500 people packed into the stands. A lot of them looked as though they didn't want to be there. The armor and arms the guards were packing might indicate that their presence there was coerced.
Mordru would have wanted them to see his enforcer, Satan Girl, in action against her greatest foe, and to learn her power. Satan Girl would want it to happen in front of witnesses, too, if she had her druthers. And here, to that extent, she did.
The arena was built along Greco-Roman lines, which testified to the fact that Zeroxians had come from a race of Terran magicians who relocated to another planet rather than face persecution. Supergirl could smell the blood mixed with the dirt, only a few inches below the surface. She remembered an old tale about a Roman presenting a visitor with a handful of dirt from an arena, and then squeezing it till blood poured out.
Some of it was animal blood...perhaps Zeroxians witnessed contests between animals, or something that would be the equivalent of Terran bullfighting. Some was not.
She recalled how grim, even frightened, Kal had been after he had had his "battle" with the Quarrmer, that being from another dimension who temporarily stole part of his essence and wanted to usurp his place on Earth. I-Ching, the Oriental guru of Diana Prince during the time when she was not Wonder Woman, had hypnotized the two into thinking that they really had locked in combat, and had ravaged the Earth with the backwash of their conflict. By the time Superman was brought out of the trance, he was in tears. The Quarrmer was shaken, as well, and left Earth's dimension.
"Kara," he said, "whenever...whenever we face a foe or foes who approximate our power, we must hold one thing in as great a priority as our own survival in battle. We must protect the Earth. We must control the battle so that the planet itself is not destroyed. We must never forget how strong we are...and how fragile it is."
They had had many battles with Kryptonian or Krypton-class foes before and after that, but she never forgot the haunted look in his eyes. He never forgot that dream.
She met the Quarrmer once herself, years later, in the adventure that brought her and Kal together with Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel. And I-Ching had died a few months after his meeting with Superman, killed by a sniper's bullet.
Irrelevant. All of that. Look at the foe. Concentrate on her.
The shudder that went through Supergirl wasn't fear of her foe's power. It was, rather, a reaction to seeing the face and body beneath that dark purple costume and mask, and knowing that those were her features, that was her body, that was even her brain, with a mind that was perhaps her own, but twisted in such a different, horrible way.
All the restraint from the id removed. All the lust and hatred allowed to flow free, with only self-preservation as a curb.
The darkest Doppleganger imaginable.
And the fires that burned in those blue eyes, trained on her like sapphire lasers, were straight from Hell.
Their power was matched. Their skill level was probably equal. Theoretically, neither of them should be able to defeat the other.
In reality, they both knew that they could kill each other, and Satan Girl would be trying to do just that.
Kara hesistated. She was sworn by the Legion oath, and by her own morals and ethics, not to kill unless no other way remained to save herself or others. She had helped destroy the Anti-Monitor, but a multiverse was at stake. Could she kill, now? Could she prevent herself from being killed?
Satan Girl was in a state of excitement that was almost sexual arousal. Her mouth was open and she was sucking in breath, probably trying to curse and not being able to get words out, her hate being so strong. Her lips twitched with the effort. Her arm was raised and it was coming forward so quickly a corona of air friction formed about it.
Kara's arm blocked it, parried, as her other hand smashed hard into Satan Girl's mouth.
No more time for reflection. No time for analysis. The battle was on.
Satan Girl had already sent three quick punches into Kara's stomach, making her lunch surge up to the backmost set of her taste buds. Her hand slashed out in a claw-strike for Kara's eyes. Get some points on the board, Kara, she told herself as she kicked Satan Girl hard in the stomach, and propelled them both up into the skies. The bad girl grunted. Kara had her foe's left hand and was trying to throw her in a klurkor move.
Satan Girl bit her throat.
Kara shrieked in surprise and terror. The bitch was trying to tear out her jugular. She scratched at her foe's eyes, battered her head, pried at her jaw, kneed her hard where it counted, got her loose like a plaster peeled from her throat. They tumbled upward in the air, and there was noise from the crowd below, noise of fear, noise of fury, mostly just noise, and she didn't pay it much attention.
"R**damn you," gasped Satan Girl, a bit of blood at her mouth, "die!"
By the time Supergirl had said, "Not yet, and not alone if I do," she had sent five blows raining into Satan Girl's head and body and smashed her with a klurkor kick to the ribs.
A surprising thing happened, then: she banged into a barrier in the air.
It was approximately a mile from the ground, and she instantly deduced what it was: a force field, probably of magical origin. That ensured Mordru and Satan Girl that the battle would be fought within sight of his subjects, and with the entire thing recorded on holovid. If the fight had ranged far afield, its object lesson, as he saw it, would not be taught.
Unghh! A palm strike just below her rib cage. If that had had enough force behind it, Rao knew, it might have penetrated her body. And that was just what Satan Girl wanted.
She sent both hands rocketing forward in fists, and smashed them both into Satan Girl's eyes, just as the evil woman trained her heat vision on them. It was a near-blinding impact. The villainess howled in pain, disengaged from Kara.
Supergirl panted, wanted to get her breath, knew she didn't dare. She slammed both clenched hands into the back of her opponent's neck. Satan Girl dropped like a rock. Kara followed her down. Her foe impacted on the sand of the arena floor and the shockwave rocked the entire area. The spectators screamed in fear and clutched the nearest solid object, which was usually another human being.
Drang stood just outside the combat area, and took in every aspect of the battle as if mesmerized.
As Kara neared the ground, Satan Girl, who had been on hands and knees, quickly sprang into action and nailed her with a double-kick to the belly. The breath left Kara's lungs. Kryptonians don't need to breathe under a yellow sun, but the physical reaction from the blow was the same as a human's would be. She tried to suck in wind, tried to ignore the agony in her abdomen.
Satan Girl sent another kick, this one into her crotch. Kara's being was engulfed in pain. How...how could she endure this kind of agony and be expected to come back? It just wasn't fair...
By instinct, she brought up an elbow and fended off a klurkor chop. Damn it to Sheol, Kara, she thought, don't worry about your pain...worry about making some pain for her.
She grabbed Satan Girl's arm with both hands and attempted to gain leverage, flying quickly behind her. Her enemy whirled around with her, not about to make it that easy. Kara got a glimpse of the woman's face and wished she hadn't. It was a goad. She loosed one hand from her grip on the arm and smashed her fist into that face, bloodying Satan Girl's nose.
In the nanosecond that bought her, Kara got behind Satan Girl, wrapped her legs around her ribs, and wrapped her arms about her foe's head. She began to twist and scissor, her biceps and leg muscles coming into stark definition, and gritted her teeth. Satan Girl grunted in rage and pain.
"Still want this fight as much as you thought you did?" snapped Kara.
Both were airborne at this point. Satan Girl rocketed them both upward, impacted with stunning power on the magical force-field. Kara went "Umph!" and her grip loosened a tad. Her purple-clad foe bit down hard on one of her hands. Supergirl screeched and clawed at her other-self's eyes, burned her with heat vision, tightened her scissors-grip, and banged away at her with her free hand, all at the same time.
Despite all that, Satan Girl managed to getfree of her grip as she gave up her bite, and gave a deafening shout into Kara's left ear. In response, Kara clenched both hands again and brought them down like a maul onto the right side of Satan Girl's ribs. The bad woman's shout ended in a note of pain.
Both women went down to the arena floor again, and stood facing each other for several seconds. Kara stamped her boot to check something. She could tell, from the reflection of sound, that the field of force extended below the sand a few feet. The field was a bubble around the entire fighting area, undoubtedly activated just after her arrival.
But light could penetrate it. A thought passed through Kara's mind as she looked up for an instant at the four men on the flying platforms with the holovid cameras.
"Damn you," rasped Satan Girl, still standing before her in a semi-crouch. Supergirl had done her some damage--that was nice to know--but she was still as dangerous as anti-life. In a sense, she was anti-life.
"Why damn me, Satan Girl?" asked Kara, circling, as her foe circled her. "Is that all your existence amounts to...just a damnation in the living world?"
"You should know," said Satan Girl, spitting the words out. "You gave me life. Then you denied it to me. Now my life doesn't stem from yours. I can kill you."
"Why? What'll it bring you?"
"Why?" For the first time in their battle, Satan Girl smiled. "It will bring me surcease. It will bring me peace. You know, Kara. You know that the two of us can never coexist. Your existence, to me, with all its inhibitions and light--gahh!" She spat. "It's as revolting to me as my little killings must be to you. But I have the advantage there. I can kill. I have killed. Have you?"
Supergirl said, "Have you loved? Have you ever loved?"
Satan Girl stopped in her tracks. She put her hands on her hips, in a parody of the power stance. And her head went back as her mouth opened and brayed some of the most sickening laughter Supergirl had ever heard.
"‘Have I ever loved?'" mocked Satan Girl. "The question is, have you ever loved? You poor, pathetic little virgin. Yes, I have loved. I've warmed a man's bed, Kara. I have felt his sex in my sex..."
"Stop it!" raged Kara.
Satan Girl snickered. "Oh, I've got you there, haven't I? Yes, dear, darling little Kara, with those red hotpants and that blue blouse with the stupid ‘S' over your chest...I have bedded Mordru. And more than that, Kara..."
She knew what it was, in an instant of horror, before Satan Girl told her.
"...I bear his child! The firstborn of a homo magus and a Kryptonian...with the power of both combined. He will rule this world, and more. And those of our combined blood will rule a universe."
"You filthy..." Kara couldn't get the words out, or didn't want to.
"Oh, and the best part for you, Kara, must be knowing that all of this is going to happen with your genes, from your bloodline..." Satan Girl cackled in mirth. "That's quite a burden to bear on that little yellow head, isn't it? And even better is knowing that you won't kill me, now, will you? Especially not when I'm..."
Supergirl roared forward, faster than the unaided eye could see. A missle of red, blue, and yellow that scorched the very air around her.
Satan Girl, ready for her move, stepped aside. Kara crashed headlong into the force-field ringing the arena wall. She bounced off, considerably rocked. She had time to shake her head before Satan Girl was on her again.
The villainess smashed a kick right to her kidneys. Supergirl howled in pain. Satan Girl grabbed one of Kara's wrists, then the other, drew both of her arms behind her, and slammed a stomp right between her shoulder blades.
The pain was blinding.
"Let them hear you scream," murmured Satan Girl as she ground her foot hard into Kara's spine. "Let me hear you scream."
She refused. She locked her jaws tight, kicked at the dirt and threw it into the air, tearing soil out until it reached the top of the force-field below it. Their position shifted, but Satan Girl's hold, what might be called a surfboard in the wrestling ring, didn't change. She rode it out.
In agony, tears stinging her eyes, Supergirl utilized her flight power and soared towards the top of the force-field, Satan Girl holding her fast, shifting to try and make Kara slam into the field when they contacted it.
Instead, Kara shifted at the last moment to bring Satan Girl's head into contact with it. Then, almost before the impact was felt in Satan Girl's cranium, Kara rocketed across the length of the field, scraping her foe's head against it, sending purple sparks of coruscating force away from the point of contact.
Satan Girl couldn't hold back her screech of pain.
That was satisfying.
The dark woman tried hard to hold the grip, but she just couldn't manage it. And as soon as she let up, Kara was on her again, smashing, kicking, punching, klurkor-striking, in rage and vengeance and desperation.
The attack had Satan Girl backpedalling, but she let Kara's momentum carry her forward and stepped aside, matador-like, clipping her hard on the back of her head as she swung past. "Ohh!" Kara cried, trying to shake off the pain.
Satan Girl's face was snow-cold as she sent her fist forward in a punch directly over Kara's heart.
Kara's head rocked back as she fought to keep sensation in a body that was struggling to numb out in reaction. Her back slammed against the boundary of the field. Satan Girl was coming with her, slamming her with backhands to one side of her face, and then to the other. She was beginning to draw blood.
She drew up her legs to her chest and thrust them out, propelling Satan Girl to the other side of the field. Before the villainess could rebound from it, Kara's hard little fist pinned her gut to it. Breath expulsed itself in a huff from Satan Girl's mouth, with force that would have blown down a building. Kara's other hand punched up at her foe's jaw a second afterward.
She had to keep punching. There was nothing left but to overpower this Hellsister. The alternative was something she didn't even want her mind to touch.
What if she won? What about Drang? Would he destroy her with his magic?
Maybe so. But at least she'd have taken Satan Girl out.
That was when the flat-handed chop hit the side of her neck.
Satan Girl was breathing hard, was hurting, but she was intent on one thing only: the total destruction of Supergirl, with her bare hands. Her hands went to Kara's chest, squeezing, clawing, a devil's smile on her face.
Kara's mighty hands came together against her foe's ears with a force that would have turned a battleship into metal sheeting.
Satan Girl screamed in agony. She propelled herself away from Kara. Her senses would return, but for these few moments, the only thing in her life was something that felt like a steel girder rammed from ear to ear.
Kara slid down the side of the force-field, her feet finally touching dirt. She prayed: Rao, be it thy will, let me die, but not without my foe's perishing as well. Take me to the Happy Lands, to the verdant fields...and I could use a hand here, first, please!
She looked up.
One of the guys manning one of the four holovid platforms was having trouble. He hadn't done the speaking.
A big condorlike bird which was attacking him had done that.
"Supergirl!" the bird said, wrapping its claws into the shrieking man's chest. "Listen! Help me smash these things...they maintain the field!"
Satan Girl was taking her hands from her head, turning to look at Supergirl, about to get into gear again. But Kara was not where she had been a second ago.
The bird was changing, morphing into something different, and she didn't have to be told what the end-shape would be. Twin bolts of heat coursed from her eyes. They were focused on the mechanism contained in a large box structure atop the flying disks that the holovid men stood on.
The devices within the box sparked, hissed, blazed, burned out, even as Chameleon Boy completed his transformation and simultaneously knocked his foe out with a nerve pinch.
The other three were shouting, cursing, trying to bring weapons to bear on Cham. Satan Girl raged, snarled "NO!", and tried to grab Kara. Supergirl stiffarmed her away, almost disdainfully.
Her gaze went to the next flying disc, and the next, and the next. Each of them sparked, each of them blazed, each of them died. The discs overturned and the men fell, shrieking.
Within a second, Kara had caught each of them and tossed them safely into the arena. They picked themselves up out of the sand and ran past Drang into the entrance tunnel. The orange-skinned wizard's lip curled with distaste.
Chameleon Boy had gained wings again, morphing into a bird, but not before he grinned and gave her a thumb's-up. She smiled at him, too...
Then she saw a bolt of heat strike him and knock him out of the sky.
He groaned, falling fast. Kara reacted without thought, rushing in to catch him as he automatically assumed the form of Chameleon Boy again. He fell into her arms safely. But she could tell by the burned-away area of his shirt and the burn marks on his chest that he was hurt...badly hurt.
"Cham, great Rao!" she whispered.
"Don't worry," grated Cham, through clenched teeth. "I'll be...okay. Just get her for me...please..."
Satan Girl faced them both. Kara came to a standing landing on the other end of the arena. She held Chameleon Boy in her arms, and her eyes met Satan Girl's for a long, chilling moment.
She flew towards the judge in the topmost tier of the arena. As she had guessed, the force-field was off. She was able to deposit Chameleon Boy at the judge's feet without any problem.
"See to his burns," she said, in a voice that warped away any chance of debate. The judge, in his peaked cap, gulped, nodded, and motioned for an attendant.
Kara turned. Satan Girl was rocketing towards her, irregardless of the danger to the onlookers. The Zeroxians screamed and hustled away from the point where the girl in blue stood.
Supergirl turned and sent a smashing fist straight into Satan Girl's jaw. It was an impressive bit of calculation, seeing that Satan Girl was in full super-speed flight.
The evil woman was slammed back, ass flying over head, spiraling in the air, until she hit the arena sand with a WHAM! that made everyone in the stands bounce up several inches. Satan Girl shook sand out of her eyes, got back up to a semi-standing position...and ran right into Kara's uppercut.
"You hurt my friend," said Kara. "You just reminded me of why I do this sort of thing. Now you're about to learn what sort of thing I do."
Satan Girl cried out in fear, tried to put up her hands in defense.
She might as well have tried to put out a nova with a fire extinguisher.
Supergirl didn't so much attack her as surge upon her. Her fists formed a gyroscope of flying matter about her body. Everywhere Satan Girl turned, there was a fist. At every point she might have tried to attack Supergirl, there was a fist. And all of them crashed into the face and body of the woman in the purple uniform. Crash upon crash upon crash upon crash...the thunder of her blows reminded the onlookers of the pounding surf, those who had been far enough outland to go to the coast.
Satan Girl tried to put up a defense, to punch, to kick, to burn with her eyes, and nothing worked worth a damn. She tried to kick-start her own fury. It was in stall mode. She had to get her hands up, try for a foul blow, kick, whatever. This was impossible. After all, she was the one with the fury, she was the one with the rage...
The klurkor kicks came, and made her feel as though her head was being torn from her body. Smashing away at her, fogging her sensibilities (Damn it! This was not happening!), driving her back, driving her up, driving her any way the blonde bitch wanted her to go... It just couldn't be true!
Kara wasn't letting up. She didn't dare. Satan Girl could easily recover, if she didn't keep up the pressure. She might attempt to threaten some of the Zeroxians in the arena. She might make a comeback.
Her mind once touched the thought of the unborn child in Satan Girl's womb, but she pushed that thought aside and sank it in a mental coffin. She would deal with that question later.
Instead, she thought of Chameleon Boy, burned and agonized. She thought of the men and women that had died...died...at this Hellsister's hands. And no one could stop those hands from killing again...no one, unless Supergirl did not falter.
So she did not.
Part of her was conscious of her hands numb and pained and bleeding, part of her was conscious of her heart almost bursting with overstrain. But part of her was screaming and howling and rejoicing in fury, and that part scared her, but she knew she had to harness it and put it to use.
So she did.
Dimly, she realized that the struggle had taken them high above the arena, over a mile above the ground, far past the point at which the force-field would have once restrained her. She guessed that the field itself had been of standard scientific make, but reinforced by magic. Otherwise, there would have been no need for the field projectors on the flying discs.
That wasn't important right now.
Satan Girl was fading, but trying for one last comeback. She clawed at Supergirl's face, tried to puncture her eyes. Kara grabbed at the woman's hand, forced it back, and looked into her face. What Satan Girl saw there...scared her.
Kara sighed, just once.
Then she slammed her fist forward with a shout of fury, and there was no brooking its power.
The villainess was senseless almost before Supergirl's knuckles had finished breaking her jaw.
Supergirl released her foe's hand, let her fall.
Satan Girl fell from the heavens, a mile and a half downward.
She smashed into the arena ground with an impact that sent up more soil from the impression already left by the battle.
Kara drew in breath, used her super-hearing, detected a heartbeat consistent with that of an unconscious human in her foe.
Then she herself descended, and lit down beside her fallen other-self. She breathed, shed a few tears of pain and effort, wiped her face and saw blood on her hand where her skin had been clawed open.
First, one brave man began to clap his hands. The guards nearest him ratcheted their heads in his direction.
A second person began to applaud. Then another. And another.
Within ten seconds almost everyone in the entire arena was standing, clapping, stamping his or her feet, and shouting in praise of the blonde woman whose name they did not know.
The guards basically looked at each other, sighed, shrugged, and figured somebody would tell them what to do in a bit.
Supergirl was on one knee, getting things back together, trying to fight the pain...her body had taken a terrific beating, and with the adrenaline draining away she was beginning to really feel it...and wondered what the hell her next move should be.
Then she looked up, and caught the sight of one other being, who stood a little more than 100 yards away.
Drang the Destroyer was looking at her with an expression of rage.
And what Satan Girl had left, he appeared to be more than willing to finish up.