It was a moment of absolute horror for Supergirl, and she gave in to paralysis for an instant. But only an instant.
There was Satan Girl, with those damned Kryptonite handcuffs and legcuffs still on, and she had the power to tear her way out of a cell even Kara doubted she'd be able to escape.
And there was a look of horrific intensity in her Hellsister's eyes that somehow surpassed even what she had displayed before.
After that, there wasn't time for any more reflection. Satan Girl broke the chains on her handcuffs and legcuffs and pointed her hands at Supergirl.
By the time she had released a mystic bolt, Kara had already ducked under its pathway, flown forward at super-speed, and smashed fist-first into Satan Girl's breadbasket. It knocked her onto her back. The impact cracked the reinforced ferroconcrete of the floor beneath them. Kara forgot her tiredness in the adrenaline rush of battle and kept pounding, pounding, pounding, trying to concentrate on her foe's already-broken jaw.
But the trace amounts of Kryptonite in the cuffs on Satan Girl's hands and feet were weakening her. Numbly, Kara regretted her rashness. And somehow, Satan Girl was still retaining her strength.
The villainess grasped Kara's face with both hands and began to force incredibly painful energies into her. Magical energies. Kara screamed in agony.
All this took less than three seconds. An instant after the scream, Dev, Superman IV, and Superman II were at her side, pulling them apart, trying to restrain Satan Girl, and (in Dev's case) landing as many kicks and stomps to her foe's body as possible while pulling Kara away from their foe's grasp with his arms.
Black Adam, still held by three Supermen, capitalized on the situation. "Shazam," he said, in a normal tone of voice.
The Legion was not used to seeing a lightning strike indoors without it coming from Lightning Lad's or Lightning Lass's hands. But this time, it seemed to come from an undefined point near the middle of the ceiling, stabbed down, and struck Black Adam in the chest with a brilliant nimbus. The flash blinded the three Supermen for an instant and made some of the Legionnaires turn away, seeking to get their vision back in working order. The backwash of magical energy loosened the three Kryptonians' grip on him. And, yes, there was a clap of thunder.
Those who could still see saw, in Black Adam's stead, an Egyptian with the same features, clad in loincloth, neck jewelry from thousands of years before Christ, a gold serpent armband, and leather sandals. As soon as Brainiac 5, John Constantine, and Dream Girl registered his image, Teth-Adam said "Shazam" again.
Another lightning strike. More magic that sent the three Supermen sprawling.
Black Adam was restored. He crouched, launched himself upward, and smashed through the ceiling of the chamber as if it were wet paper.
He hadn't gotten a hundred yards into the air before Superman VI grabbed him by the ankle. The sixth Man of Steel had an expression of grim enjoyment on his face, though his eyes were still squinting. "In case you don't know, our ears work as well as our eyes," he said, as he hauled himself up and gave Black Adam a finger-thrust to the throat.
The Egyptian choked. His voicebox was paralyzed. He couldn't have formed the first hiss of sound that started the letter "S", much less have said "Shazam" again.
Superman VI enjoyed his work all too well. By the time Supermen III and V reached them, he had already blackened one of Black Adam's eyes, bloodied his mouth, and dislocated one of his arms. The fifth Superman mercifully intervened and put Adam to sleep with a sock on the jaw. While Adam was out, Superman III X-rayed Adam's shoulder and popped the arm neatly back into place.
Superman V looked at his son, whose fists still had a little blood on them.
"We're going to have to have a talk later," he said.
The sixth Superman said nothing, but gave him a tight smile.
Back inside the Legion's headquarters building, the heroes were faring worse. With a sweep of her powerful arm, Satan Girl smashed away Dev and Supermen II and IV and started coming for Kara again. Involuntarily, Supergirl began to back up. If it had just been Satan Girl she faced, even with the Kryptonite cuffs, she would have piled into her. But, instinctively, Kara knew that there was a new factor in the game...
John Constantine, rubbing his eyes, snapped his head around to the Legionnaires that stood beside him. "Somebody block for me a second," he said, his hand already in an inner pocket of his trenchcoat.
The first to respond was Laurel Kent. Brainiac screamed her name in an attempt at caution. But Laurel wasn't heeding, and Constantine was behind her, and Brainiac charged after them both, his new force-field belt already activated. Mysa was about to hurl a bolt of magic energy, but she hesitated, seeing Laurel in the way and knowing that it would knock her out of commission as well.
Whether Laurel had forethought at all about what she was doing, even she couldn't say afterward. At that moment, she had become a fury in a black bikini and a red cape. Even as Satan Girl was closing on Kara, Laurel slammed into their foe like a football tackler, knocked her to the floor, and started beating on her. The Kryptonite hurt a bit, but she wasn't thinking of it.
And, miraculously, her blows were having effect. The exposed portion of Satan Girl's face was showing bruises where there hadn't been any before, on her cheekbones and on the side of her jaw that Supergirl hadn't broken.
The portion of her brain which recorded that information simply stored it away somewhere so as not to impede her major mental thrust which was, simply, keeping this bitch away from Kara. Only Kara was in there punching, too, not wishing Laurel to suffer at the hands of Satan Girl...and suffer she would, when the Evil Woman got her bearings again.
Satan Girl reached out her hands and smashed the two women's heads together. Both cried out in pain.
At that moment, John Constantine lunged in from the side and smashed a glass vial across Satan Girl's face. The liquid within spattered across her mouth, nose, and eyes. It hissed and bubbled and leaped up like water on a hot griddle or grease in a frying pan.
It burned Satan Girl.
The villainess let out a scream of pain and rage, putting her arm across her face. Constantine grabbed Kara and Laurel by their capes and pulled back. To the White Witch, he yelled, "There's something inside of her. Get it out!"
Mysa heard. And she had a clear shot at Satan Girl now.
With a hastily muttered spell, she threw all of her energies into a bolt which entered Satan Girl's body, found what was inside of it, and pushed it upward and out through her broken-jawed mouth.
The heroes, all but Constantine, were horrified. Kara looked upon the orange-skinned figure with recognition and understanding.
"Drang," she said. "He was in possession of her."
Drang was on his hands and knees on the floor, looking up at the assemblage with a gaze of purest hatred. Mysa was readying another spell. Constantine had a piece of blue chalk in his hand. Drang's eyes began to glow.
Brainiac 5 stepped in front of Constantine and took the blast of magic energy on the chest portion of his force-field. It drove him to his knees, but didn't quite penetrate.
John was quickly circling their foe with the blue chalk squeaking on the faux marble of the floor. Drang tried lunging for Brainiac, but Laurel pulled Brainy out of harm's way. The two of them exchanged a look. Brainy had time to say "Thank you," before Constantine closed his chalk circle.
The trenchcoated man stood, flipped the blue chalk back into his pocket, and crouched outside the circle to be on a level with Drang's eyes.
Then he flipped him the bird.
Drang raged and thrust himself forward, even though he knew what would happen. He hit the boundary of the circle and was catapulted back to its center.
"That's done for you, you lot," muttered Constantine.
White Witch stepped up to his side and surveyed his work. "This is incredible," she said. "Simple solutions. Old-style magic. I usually employ energies and spell-casting, but I never really thought of using this in battle situations."
Constantine took out a Silk Cut and lit it. "Just call me an old-fashioned boy, missy."
"My name is Mysa," corrected White Witch.
"Wotever. How's the Purple Princess doing?"
The burns on Satan Girl's face had healed with the exiting of Drang from her body. She seemed bewildered for a few moments, then thrust her hands in Supergirl's direction. Kara stepped forward and brought an uppercut up from the floor. At this point, she wasn't worried about telegraphing her punches, or about the power-sapping effect the Kryptonite was having on her.
She just hung one on Satan Girl's chin, lifted her several inches off the ground, and propelled her back against a wall with a crash. The bad girl was out of it, again.
"Guess she won't need any more holy water," said Constantine.
The three Supermen had returned with a null-and-void Black Adam. "Glad you have things under control," said Superman III. "Do you have a holding cell for this guy?"
"Let's find two new pair of K-cuffs for her first," said Kara, sitting tiredly on the floor.
Mysa said, "And this time, let me reinforce them."
By the time they got Black Adam and Satan Girl under wraps and in new Daxamian-steel holding cells, three latecomers had finally arrived--Star Boy, Shadow Lass, and Timber Wolf. All had finally made it back from their respective missions. All were agape for a bit at the five Supermen, but introductions were made all around, briefly, and the threesome were as proud as the other Legionnaires at having the famed heroes of history within their meeting hall.
Kara wondered what reaction Shadow Lass's skimpy costume would evoke from John. All he did was give her a discreet once-over and say, "Buncha toffee apples all around, and nobody'll let you have a bite," more to himself than anyone else.
Shadow Lass had time to shake hands with Laurel and give her a hug. "Good to see you again, dear," she said. "And they tell me you tried to impersonate a Talokian. Did you do good?"
"They didn't sheem to shushpect mush," said Laurel, and both of them cracked up.
Now that the battle was over, the five Supermen had surrounded Kara, insisting on introducing themselves. Before they did, Supergirl insisted that Laurel come over, and, when she did, told the five newcomers, "This is Laurel Kent. Just as I represent the 20th Century branch of the family, Laurel is the representative of this century. She's a good friend of mine, too, and I'm sure you'll love meeting her and finding out the family still endures in this era."
Superman II was the first to step up, as was his privelage. He smiled and extended his hand, first to Kara, then to Laurel, who was somewhat shy. "Tynth Kara, tynth Laurel, it's a privelage...and it truly is a day of wonder. To think that I would not only see my son, and his son, and two generations beyond him, but to see you, Kara, in your prime--let me leave it at that, I shouldn't say more--well, let's just say I'm glad Dev-Em decided to recruit me." He shook Kara's hand. To Laurel, as he shook her hand, he said, "And I am proud to meet the latest generation of the Kent / El family. Tynth Laurel, greetings from my time."
"You're the son of Kal," Kara said, in wonder. "This is incredible. I mean, just before I came here, I attended your father's wedding to Lois Lane. Thank you."
"No, thank you," said Superman II.
Laurel murmured, "I don't believe I've shaken the hand of the second Superman. Uh, Tynth Jor-El, I have a confession to make. I've only got the power of invulnerability. I'm sorry."
Superman III had already stepped up to shake, and he shook hands first with Laurel and put his hand on her shoulder. "Listen here, Tynth Laurel. Even if you had no powers at all, you would still be an heir to our line. And we would still love you. I'm Jon Hudson, or Kal-El II. And I want to officially give you the approval of the Kent / El family. Be proud of who you are, not just of what powers you have...or don't."
Laurel flushed. "Like, uh...I mean...thank you, Tanth Kal!" She was looking down, and turning red, but Kara was glad to see her smiling.
Kal-El II turned to Kara next. "I've met you too, Auntie Kara, but you were a bit older when I did. You certainly were pretty back then...that is, now. Am I getting too far into the volcano?"
Kara giggled. "Never mind, Kal II. I understand what you're saying, and I'm glad to meet you. And if I remember this when I meet you later on, I'm going to tease you unmercifully about it."
He smiled. "Fair enough. Thanks, Kara."
Superman IV followed up, stood stiffly before them, and bowed to both of them. When his head came back up, he began his speech. "Tynth Kara, Tynth Laurel, I bring you greetings. It is said that the Line of El was never stronger than during the time of Kal-El I. Whether that is true or not, I salute you both, the female Alpha and Omega of our proud line, the woman who was the most beloved of all our daughters, and the woman who grandly bears our legacy. My name is Dav-El, or David Kent. I am the fourth to bear the title of Superman. To you, Tynth Kara, I stretch my hand from the future. To you, Tynth Laurel, I stretch my hand from the past. Please accept congratulations from a time between your times."
He held out a hand apiece, and the two girls shook them. To spoof his formality, Kara did a curtsy. Superman V cracked up. Laurel started laughing, too. Superman IV looked a bit embarrassed for a second. His son slapped him on the back.
"Dad, dad, don't worry, they're just tugging your cape. Glad to see you, ladies." He quickly shook Kara's and Laurel's hands and bussed Kara on the cheek. "Me, I'm his son. They call me Mark Kent, Kor-El, and Superman V. Dad calls me ‘Hey, you'. It's a real fliv to see you both. Tynth Kara, if you don't have a boyfriend, I'm comin' back to your century after this is over. Tynth Laurel, if she does, I'm going to stay in this one." He winked at them both.
"Charmed as hell, fella," said Kara. "But I think I'm spoken for. Thanks, though."
"Um, likewise," said Laurel. "It's, like, a wow to meet you too, Tynth Mark."
Superman VI completed the set. He stepped up, regarded them both silently, then gave a half-smile and nodded, like a lieutenant inspecting the troops. "Tynth Kara, tynth Laurel, greetings to you both. In my time, the mantle has fallen to my hands. Only a few...heroes...remain in my time, to fight the lonely war. It was people like yourself, Tynth Kara, who inspired us to begin. It will be people like yourself, Tynth Laurel, who encourage us to continue. Till the day my hand is stilled in battle...you may count yourselves the friends...of Superman VI." He extended his right hand to Kara, shook, extended it to Laurel, shook again. Then he nodded again, and went back to his fellows. Kara and Laurel looked at each other, not having said a word.
"Family reunion," said Kara, shaking her head. "If I'd known this was coming up, I'd have made something to give ‘em. Maybe just food. Mother moon, Laurel, this is a whole new level."
"Oh, you brought them something," said Laurel. "You brought ‘em a super-villain. What more could they want?"
Brainiac 5 gavelled the meeting table and said, "It pains me to remind everybody of this, but we are in a triple crisis situation. Shady, Thom, TW, we're glad to have you back. Now let's get to business."
"Could I bring up something, Mr. Brain?", asked John, one hand holding a cigarette under which a Computo module held a tray.
A few whispers went around the table at the newcomer's cheek. Brainy stood his irritation down and said, in a neutral voice, "If it's relevant to our work, most assuredly, Mr. Constantine."
"Thanks," said Constantine, his hand reaching idly into a coat pocket. "It seems to me that we're getting an abundance of people with prophetic dreams. Seems like somebody or something is trying to give us a bit of a warning. If you could have them give me the skinny on ‘em, it's a possiblity I could help put ‘em together. Well, me and the lovely Miss Witch here." He smiled at her. Mysa did not smile back, pointedly.
"John, the lady's not for mashing," said Kara, and hoped he took the hint. "But it is a good idea. I've had one recently. So has Gim, and he'll be in before long. And so has Nura here. So maybe we should give him a rundown on what we've experienced."
"Look, if this fellow Gim has had something too, and he's elsewhere, can we get him on a remote hookup?" John asked, taking a spiral notebook and a pencil out of one pocket. "I got a lot out of that video thingy he sent us, but I'd like to ask him some questions. If I've got as many pieces as I can get in front of me, it's a whole lot easier to work the puzzle."
Brainiac 5 said, "Computo. Get me in touch with Legion One."
A new flying viewer module popped in from a hidden cabinet near the roof. It floated magnetically towards Brainy. When it was before him, its viewer came on and showed him the faces of Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, on the bridge of their spacecraft.
"Hi, Brainy," said Cos. "What's the word? We're only about three hours away."
"That's good, Cos, but please bring Gim up front and get him to talk to us," said Brainiac. "Constantine wants to ask him about his dream. Says it may have significance."
Within seconds, Colossal Boy appeared onscreen, drawn by Saturn Girl's mental summons. "Hi, Brainy. Long time no see. Didn't you get our message? I already told you about the dream."
Brainiac pointed to John Constantine. "He's the man you need to talk to."
Constantine, pencil ready, said, "Hello, lad. I need to talk with you about the dream, ask some questions, get some things cleared up, and so forth. Two of the birds here have done a bit of dreaming in that line, recently. If you'll replay it, I'll see if it jives with the ladies' accounts."
So Colossal Boy once again recounted his dream of some hours past. Constantine asked him about the historical personages, asked him about the two strange hosts of the dream, and muttered, "Blue skin. That's good. I was afraid I'd have to deal with that fat berk and his brother-the-beard on this one."
Gim finished the tale of the dream, adding, "I used to live in Jerusalem. I could probably take you to where that spear is...but I hope I don't have to. If I do, please don't tell my rabbi." He grinned.
"‘S probably Friday, and he's sleeping late," said John. He had filled several pages of the notebook with pencilled notes. "Okay, lad, stay with us. Now you, honey." He indicated Dream Girl with his pencil.
Nura, remembering her vision, was too nerved to take offense at Constantine's familiarity. "This is what I foresaw," she began.
After she finished, she noticed that Constantine was grimmer, too. He was staring at her as if she had just sent him on a suicide mission. It was three full seconds before he pointed a thumb at Kara and said, "Believe it's your turn now."
Kara clasped her hands before her on the meeting table. "All right. This is what I dreamt."
The Girl of Steel told her tale. After she finished, she noticed Constantine was working his tongue inside his closed mouth. He didn't seem to want to talk. But she guessed he knew he had to.
Finally, Constantine exhaled. "All right. Here's what I think we've got. You say this Mordru berk's supercharged himself with the helmets, and the Devil's Emerald. Heh...never knew the thing really existed. And that isn't enough for the bugger. I think I know what he's after. You, Superbird...you say you were the spear-carrier in this one?"
"My name is Supergirl," said Kara, quietly.
"All right, ‘scuse me, but that was the basic screenplay, wasn't it? You carryin' the stick and all?"
"Yes," said Kara. "I was carrying the spear."
"The yin-yang pattern," muttered Dream Girl. "I still remember that. Have you figured that one out yet?"
"Yes," said Constantine, stubbing out what was left of his Silk Cut. "Believe I do. You, Colossus, I b'lieve the blue gent with the junk jewelry you saw was Nabu the Wise. He's a Lord of Order. Back in my time, Doc Fate knew him."
"You knew Dr. Fate?" said White Witch, with some awe. The way she said it, Kara thought she must have pinups of him on her walls.
"We associated, a time or two," said Constantine. "Nabu makes sense. The wanker stole his helmet, united it with the Chaos thingie, he's bound to be pissed. So he's probably behind the dreams. Wouldn't surprise me if Melderkin or somebody's alongside him."
"Another Order Lord?" asked Kara.
John turned her way briefly. "No, darlin', the competition. He's a Lord of Chaos. Kinda like Michael friggin'-too-many-books Moorcock. Evidently when this thing blows, you're going to have a starring role, even if you are just a spear-carrier. My guess is, it's going to blow pretty soon. Morphew--"
"That's ‘Mordru,'" corrected Laurel.
"Wotever, I'm pretty sure I know what your comp was up to when it picked me. I've had experience in this line. Just did it a few weeks ago." He lit another cigarette. Kara noted, with her heightened vision, that his hand trembled just the slightest as he did it.
Finally, Mysa said, "So what is it, John? What's Mordru's objective?"
Constantine paused again, and Kara didn't think he was doing it for effect. Finally, he said, "The Dark. I think the beggar's going to merge with The Dark."
One of the Legion ships was going to have to go out of its way again. Colossal Boy was inbound, but the craft carrying Element Lad was going to head towards Daxam.
Ar-Ual was still steadily pushing the asteroid with the leaden sea towards the planet. Several ships and some ground installations had erected force-barriers against her. They only slowed her down. Mordru's own force barrier, which surrounded Ar-Ual and the asteroid, was able to work through them, like a long nail being pounded through the trunk of a tree.
It bought the great planet time, but not enough of it. At least it was time enough for the Legion ship whose occupants included Element Lad to pop out of the nearest space-warp, traverse the distance to their objective, and, after explaining things via subspace wave to the Daxamite authorities, set El Lad out in a spacesuit and a propulsion unit. That was chancy. No one knew if Ar-Ual's heat vision could pass through the force-field or not. If it did, she could slice his suit open with a glance of her eyes and fry him like a porkchop before his blood had a chance to boil out of his pores.
But that, Jan Arrah told himself, was part of the deal when you signed with the Legion.
Element Lad propelled himself within range of the asteroid, and focussed his great element-changing power. He decided to change the lead to gold. The ancient alchemists of Earth would have been overjoyed, he mused.
He pointed his hands at the hunk of wrecked planetary matter and let his radiations fly.
Jan cursed himself, softly. Mordru's force-field obviously was proof against his power, as well.
For a moment, Ar-Ual saw him, and he was close enough to see her. He tensed, half-expecting her to loose a searing double-line of heat against him. He wondered if his fellows in the Legion ship would be able to save him in time, if she did.
But she did nothing, and, after another moment, turned back to her task. Element Lad tried his transmutation power seven more times. None of his attempts worked.
Frustrated, he opened his comlink to the ship. "Coming back in, Legion Two," he said. "No success as of yet."
And while he propelled himself back in the ship's direction and waited for the tractor beam to hook onto him, he wondered if he had been wrong when he saw a look of desperation on Ar-Ual's face.
Constantine had the floor at the Legion meeting, and he was telling them what had occurred several weeks in the past, after the Crisis.
"So all right, the Crisis didn't go as far as we'd been worried about," he said, his Silk Cut ash about to topple off from the end of the cigarette and land in Computo's hovering tray. "For me, it made things a bit harder, because I had to jump into a couple of Earths-next-door and haggle some mates into comin' to the party I had to throw. Of course, we could'a all been dead by that time, which would've made things kind of academic. I'd been expecting a bunch of things to be scrunched into one--an Earth with one-stop-shopping. But that wasn't the case."
Brainiac 5 was impatient. Kara put a hand on his arm. When he tried to put his hand on hers, she drew it away, sadly.
"Now I've got to fill in a little about The Dark, and believe me, you might be better off not knowing much...it's kind of an F.Y.E.O. thing. What it amounts to is, more or less, the symbolism of all evil, everywhere, or maybe just in one reality...but I think it may be more like a one-evil-serves-all-universes thing. There's also a Light, but it was The Dark I was concerned with. Some idiots in Brazil saw the boundaries of things starting to crumble. I had a motley crew and I tried to head ‘em off at the pass, so to speak, but it didn't quite work like that. The damn brujeria died in the process...but they woke the Dark up."
John Constantine was silent for awhile. The room was brightly lit, but Kara felt as though she might as well have been in a cave lit by a single torch.
Constantine stubbed out his cigarette, cracked his knuckles, and sighed. "All right. For that eventuality, I had a home team, and an away team. We sent the away team to the flashpoint, the trouble spot. I headed up the home team. We monitored things with a seance. It was like lowerin' a welding torch on a string, seein' how close you could get to a drum of high-test gasoline without settin' it off.
"Two of our guys set it off. They didn't make it back. Another, our main downlink, went barefoot in the head. Now he's rubber-room material."
The Legionnaires and Supermen were silent in awe. Now Kara had a clue as to why Zatanna hadn't made it to Kal's and Lois's wedding. Kara broke the silence. "Was one of them--" she began.
"Not now," said Constantine. "All right, our away team tried penetratin' the bleedin' Dark one by one. A couple tried to fight it. Some tried reasoning with it. One wasn't even gutsy enough--or maybe stupid enough--to try. Then the final player went in, my big green gumba from the Louisiana swamp. Evidently he struck just the right note. The Dark let him go free. The away team next reported seein' The Dark...as a huge hand. There was also another Hand manifested...of Light. And they kinda swirled around each other, until, well, until it seemed to gelatin into this very popular symbol of the circle, with the black on one side, the white on the other, a little squiggly line between ‘em, and a couple of dots of difference in each one to offset the color scheme. You know."
"Yin-yang," said Dream Girl in awe. "That's why...great Creation."
Constantine continued, "At that point we pulled the away team the Hell out of there and tallied up our losses. The aways made out better. They lived through it. Things more or less came back to normal after that, but it's hard to tell after somethin' like that. Believe it."
Kara had a flash of insight. "Drang," she said. "He must have known of it, somehow. Even in his deatomized state, he might be aware of it. And he said he bought his life from Mordru with information."
John looked at her. "You knew this Orange Julius guy?"
"I thought I'd destroyed him," she said. "But I also thought I saw him regenerating, just a bit, when I left."
He shrugged. "Sometimes, they're bloody hard to kill. Anyway, that's how it went. Now, we make some deductive reasoning, based on the dreams and what we know."
"The hand with the eyes," said Mysa. "Mordru entered it. The hand could be The Dark."
"I don't have any doubt of it, sweetheart," said John. "The bloke's on a power level to make Doctor Fate look like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia. He's been climbin' the ladder one rung at a time. One step, the Fate Helmet. Another step, the Chaos Helmet. The third step, the Emerald. Now he's on the bloody top of the ladder, way above where the sign says, ‘Do not go above this step.' And he's about to reach out--" Constantine reached his hand out toward the middle of the table. "--And grab it." His hand clenched, furiously.
"He's about to merge with The Dark," said Constantine.
"He's going to try to become The Dark."