Karl Krellik was unable to credit his eyes. A few moments ago, he had been running down the steps of Clive Arno's museum at hyper-speed. Then a big hole in the very air before him had opened up, and he tumbled headlong through it, right into wherever he was at the moment.
"Wherever" seemed to be in the throne room of some big, bearded bozo in a pointy hat. An orange-skinned dude stood beside him, arms folded, looking like the chief screw at a max security prison.
If that was the case, Krellik was about to show him what the score was. The Coin of Loki gave him that kind of power.
"Welcome, Karl Krellik," said Mordru. "My name is Mordru. You have been brought to my world to serve in my Strike Force, in a position of honor."
Krellik's eyes narrowed. "How in hell did you know who I am? And who are you, and who's this kumquat beside you?"
The Messenger didn't much like that, but Mordru stayed him with a short gesture. "I am Mordru, sorceror, ruler of Zerox, soon to be master of all worlds," he said. "This is my Messenger. He comes from your time, and has provided me with data on beings such as yourself. Agree to serve me, and your reward will be great, both in terms of wealth and power. Refuse, and I will destroy you." Mordru waited for Krellik's response.
The green-suited, bald villain from the 20th century snarled. The coin he had discovered in that ruin of the city of gods gave him magical super-strength, super-speed, and mystic power enough to challenge Superman, though Clive Arno had beaten him with powers from coins of other gods. No matter what these two had on them, they couldn't stand up to that.
He sprang forward.
Mordru curled his fingers slightly. In response, the coin of Loki leapt from its hiding place in Krellik's boot and flew to the wizard's hand. Krellik, already in mid-air, fell flat on his face onto the marble floor. He groaned at the impact.
The Messenger's smile was even wider.
Mordru examined the coin. "A pretty bauble, this, but not the prize I hoped to acquire. Messenger, would you like to acquire the powers of the evil gods?"
"No!" screamed Krellik. His hand was outthrust, trying to reach for Mordru. "Give it back! I'll join you, just give me the coin back!"
The orange-skinned man looked at Krellik with disgust.
Mordru flipped Krellik the coin. It went unerringly to his hand. The bald man sighed in relief and stuffed it back in his boot. The familiar power flowed through his body again. Best to learn more about these characters before trying anything fancy.
"Okay, I'm in, whatever it is," muttered Krellik. "What do you want me to do?"
"To join my soldiers in a minor expedition and conquer a world," said Mordru. "That is not important. The Legion of Super-Heroes will respond, and you will oppose them. That is the important thing."
For the first time since his arrival, Krellik smiled. "Super-heroes,"
he said. "Now that's something I can understand. Okay, tell
me who I'm supposed to kill."
Kara, Dev, Laurel, and Chameleon Boy, the orange-skinned, antennaed Durlan Legionnaire who could change his body into a perfect duplicate of almost anything, were in a disguised Legion spacecruiser. Dawnstar flew before them in the space-warp. Even in this distortion of real space, she was guiding them unerringly to their destination.
"This thing sure is slow," complained Kara. She was dressed in a yellow-and-green jumpsuit, her costume compressed into a pea-sized ball and stored safely in a hidden pocket. Brainiac 5 had made an adjustment on her hair-changing comb to enable her to change hair-colors to virtually any hue. Now, for the first time, she was a redhead.
"It is that, darling, but less conspicuous than flying in under our own power," replied Dev. He had used Kara's comb to make himself blonde, had slapped a plasti-flesh mask on his face to make him look fiftyish, wore a three-piece brown and white suit, and spoke with a different accent. Contact lenses made his irises appear green, instead of brown.
Laurel had used body makeup to change her skin color to blue and was posing as a Talokian, one of Shadow Lass's people. She wore a purple blouse, shorts, and boots. "Sh'am I speaking wisht proper dialesht, Cham?"
Chameleon Boy had taken on the aspect of a gray-haired Terran wizard in a purple cloak and hood. "Don't slur too much and we should make out all right," said Cham. "Let's just hope that layer of false memory Imra gave us holds up, when we run into Mordru. And I didn't say ‘if', I said ‘when'."
Kara hugged herself. She had heard of Mordru many times from Superman and the Legion members, but had never encountered him personally. Kryptonians were vulnerable to magic. And at Mordru's power level, her destruction would be an easy thing indeed.
Sheol with that, thought Kara. The Anti-Monitor had more power than that, and we managed to kill him. I've traded punches with Darkseid and lived to tell it...just barely. Be afraid after the fact, not before.
"All right, crew, listen up," said Dev. "Tell me who you are."
Chameleon Boy affected an aged man's intonation. "I am Nikos, adept of Yog, not a practitioner of the dark arts, but a student. I come with you as a personal friend and to behold with my own eyes the wonders of the Sorceror's Planet."
Laurel said, "I sh'am Dirinia Dakorr, wife to Nikosh and late'sh of the planet Talos'h VII."
"I never thought we'd get Shady to speak Interlac without an accent," said Cham.
"I am Meladda of Rann," said Kara. "I am wife to you, Zarik Conn, and partner in your business venture." She kept a neutral expression on her face.
"And me, I'm just Zarik Conn, interworld businessman, late of Rann,
and out to do a deal with a planetary conqueror," said Dev. "Maybe
I can get us a corner in the magic market. Chins up, kids, we're
headed for the junction."
Ahead of them, matched intrinsically to the speed of the spacecraft, Dawnstar flew. Her powers enabled her to survive in warp-space as easily as in the vacuum of their own space, and her consciousness was tracing out their route as easily as if she was putting a pencil to a road map.
She could usually sense detector beams directed into space from inhabited planets. Most worlds within the U.P.'s reach, or who could pirate the technology from them, had such systems or their equivalents. She would have to hang back from Zerox by many millions of miles when they emerged from the warp. She would also have to pray that no patrol ships from that world caught her in their detection webs.
A winged woman in dead space would be as clear a beacon of Legion involvement as anyone could hope for. Or fear.
Part of Dawnstar's heart was still sick with grief for Wildfire, and with guilt for her betrayal of his love. Part of her mind still sang death-chants for him in the tongue of her tribe. Part of her was still unsure how she should feel about Kara Zor-El.
But the dominant part of her was Legionnaire. So she sped on, knowing that the ship's computers would record this route and make her redundant on the return trip.
If there was a return trip.
The world of Winath was known all over the U.P. as being the home planet of Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, and Lightning Lord. What was less known to distant worlds of the confederation was that Winath had its own local team of super-heroes. They had been created by the planetary government, and, since they were three in number, they were called the Power Triad.
One of them was dubbed Strength, for he had great muscular power...not equal, of course, to Superboy's, but mighty nonetheless.
Another was called Speed, and she could move at hypersonic velocity, though she was hardly the equivalent of the ancient hero called The Flash.
The third was Stealth, who could become invisible and intangible at will.
They were over 25 years of age, physically, and thus were not eligible for the Legion. The Winathian government would never have allowed them to leave, anyway. They were meant for the protection of the homeworld.
As it was, several strange newcomers had phased into the Planetary Defense Control building, which was sunk some two miles underground. This was a particularly impressive feat, since there were warp-inhibiting devices all over the place and the strangely-garbed invaders appeared as if by magic.
One of the band was Karl Krellik. Another was Professor Zoom. The third was Tyr, an old foe of the Legion's, who had a weapon in the place of his hand.
They weren't overfond of one another, but they did know how to follow Mordru's directive. They made short work of the Power Triad. Luckily, none of the heroes were killed.
Krellik and company took over the installation very quickly and broadcast a message to the rest of the planet, and to the U.P. in general:
"We are in control of Winath. Let the Legion come try to take it back from us."
And the villains sat, having had to kill only a very few people, and
The Zeroxians figured that anybody who was crazy enough to want to land on their planet unbidden at this time was either a bunch of spies, in which case they needed to be neutralized and / or interrogated, or insane enough to be interesting. Thus, the four newcomers who had violated their space were allowed to land at a spaceport.
Like Princess Projectra's world of Orando, Zerox was a contrast of medaeval and ultrascientific. The spaceport abutted a city of cobblestone roads, stone and wood houses, and a forbidding castle which was Mordru's domain.
The people of Zerox were, for the most part, homo magi who had escaped Earth through a dimensional portal during a time of persecution. Everyone on the planet was an adept to some degree, but their power had largely been drained and housed in Mordru's body. Not too many people liked that, but none was going to tell him so to his face.
The ships which escorted Dev's craft had spy-rayed it for weaponry and found nothing very forbidding. Since trade ships were coming and going with goods from other planets even during the present state of martial law, they were allowed to land. After all, it might even be interesting.
"Zarik Conn," said Dev when they asked his identity. "The wife and I are from Rann. You've heard of Rann? Well, who cares. We want to see a man about some magic. Industrial magic."
The processing man had looked at them blankly. "Sir, are you ignorant of conditions on our world at present? Most magic has been curtailed at King Mordru's request."
"So I've heard," replied Dev. "My advisor Nikos here has told me. But we'd like to talk with the big man himself. I do a deal, he does a deal, we both make some credits on it. I don't do war, I do business. You tell him that I want to do business with him. You know, money."
A guard gave them a short look which relegated them to sub-moron level.
Kara was using her super-hearing for various things. First, to check the pulse rate of the processors and guards. A bit tense, but nothing which indicated they might have discerned their identities. She increased her listening level a bit more and caught a cacophony of sound all over the planet. Her brain became a super-processing unit to filter out all but what she was really seeking for.
She thought about just using her vision powers, but didn't want to be seen looking in too many directions. The guards were bound to be suspicious enough as it was, and it was easier to keep her visuals here in the processing room to keep up her ruse while her aurals sought out the information.
Finally, she heard a voice. Her own voice.
Satan Girl's voice.
And the person she was talking to, the one with the tone of utter command and power, had to be Mordru.
"One object exists in this universe," Mordru was saying. "The other in its sister. Unite both, and the Emerald can be detected, if it exists."
Emerald? thought Kara. Could Mordru be referring to the Empress's Emerald Eye of Ekron? She thought not. If he wanted that, all he had to do was kill the Emerald Empress and take it. Since he had employed the Fatal Five as shock troops, that wasn't likely.
"Does it exist, then?" That was her voice. But the intonation, the air of deadliness and malice in it, even though she was talking to an ally...Satan Girl's voice made Kara involuntarily shudder.
Mordru paused. "Non-adepts have little understanding. In the Art, some things become extant through mere conception, if one's power is enough. The Throne of Sulein, the Hand of R'lann-Thyrr, the Mundane Egg, these and other such things exist only if they are conceptualized with power. Whether or not the Emerald existed before the helms are united, it will exist once the twin helms are united."
"The Emerald will give you power supreme, then," Satan Girl said, and her sigh of passion conveyed something else to Kara. This was bedroom talk. Great Rao, she thought, my other self has become Mordru's lover!
"Power supreme," Mordru scoffed. "If that was all I desired, I could have taken such long ago."
"Knowledge?" asked Satan Girl.
"I have knowledge," said Mordru.
There was another pause, and then Satan Girl's voice said, "What, then?"
"A means to an end," said Mordru. "Come. Lie this way. Repeat what I put in your mind."
Both began to chant, but in between came groans of a character Kara could not ignore. Satan Girl making love to Mordru. No...making magic with Mordru.
She shut it off. She'd heard enough.
At the same time, she heard the processing official talking, and reeled back in her mind to the beginning of his current dialogue, her brain now processing what she had stored away in another part of her consciousness until now.
"You will be quartered in the security bay until your plea can be brought to the King's attention," the man was saying. "You will be searched and scanned. You will be permitted no weaponry nor cold iron in his presence. Should you fail to pass any of these examinations, you will be destroyed. Within a day's passage, your plea will be ruled upon."
Dev turned to her. "Sounds good to me. Come on, Meladda, let's go."
A guard moved between them. "A pardon, sir. Each of you is to be housed separately until the authority is satisfied."
Kara gave a disgusted look. "Can't you even let me wait with my husband?"
"A pardon, mistress," said the guard. "Security."
"Your king has...no reason...to suspect me," intoned Cham, in the semi-wheezing voice he had adopted. "I am...a mere student...of the Art. Not a practicioner."
"He shall take that into consideration, I am sure," the guard replied.
"Nikosh, thish is the lasht time I go wish you on a bushinessh trip," rasped Laurel. "I'll bet thish place hasn't even got a deshent hairdressher."
Dev shot Kara a look. They couldn't even communicate telepathically. Mordru's minions had telepathic plugs tuned for thought-sending, not capable of mind-reading but certainly able to pick up mental conversations.
She was looking straight at him. For an instant, he was surprised to feel the skin of his face heating up. Not that it could hurt him, but...
Kara, he told himself. Heat-vision.
The Girl of Steel was using timed pulses of heat-vision to send him a short message in Morse code. He gave her a thumb's-up signal, hoping it would be interpreted as a sign to have courage.
The message was:
I'M LISTENING TO MORDRU.
Then all four of them were taken away.
The armed forces of Titan were standing at the ready, but nobody wanted to go against the Fatal Five yet.
For one thing, each of the Five had enough power to take out a good portion of the forces themselves. Together, they might devastate the planet.
Also, there was the president to think of. If a way could be found to save her, Titan's army of telepaths vowed to do so.
What everyone was really waiting for was the Legion.
President Foran had been telepathing a steady stream of information gleaned from her captors' brains to many of her countrymen within broadcasting distance. Her power was not so great as Saturn Girl's, but it sufficed.
Tharok, sitting at her desk and consulting the array of monitor devices available to him, didn't much care. "I know what you're doing," he said. "You can read my mind, but you can't understand it."
"To my eternal gratitude," retorted Foran, her hands chained before her. She was seated at the side of the room.
The Emerald Empress turned sharply, the Eye of Ekron revolving with her as it hovered overhead. "Don't press your luck, woman. Only the fact that you're a bargaining-piece stops me from using the Eye to melt you into a puddle."
"Do it," dared Foran, facing the Empress.
The green-haired woman drew in a breath and the pupil of the Eye glowed.
"That will be enough, Empress," directed Tharok. "Her taunts are without value. After we've fought the Legion, we'll consider her disposition."
The Empress turned away. In another instant, the Eye rotated again, facing Foran, even though the Empress showed the woman her back.
A burst of blue-white energy shot from the Eye's pupil.
President Foran screamed, as electrical energy shot up, down, and through her body. Not enough to kill, or even render unconscious, but certainly enough to torture.
The blast was very brief. Nonetheless, the President's gray hair was frizzed as if she had stuck her finger in a power socket. She cried and moaned. Her hands trembled. She was incapable, for the moment, of doing anything with her powers.
But the citizens mind-linked with her knew what had happened, and were angered. They urged the armada to begin the attack on the Five at once. Grimly, the generals said no.
"Must you be so damned impulsive?" said Tharok to the Empress.
Mano and the Persuader walked in. "We've taken Validus for his walk," said Mano. "When in hell are we going to get some action around here?"
Tharok retorted, "Like it or not, Mano, this time we're only hired hands. When the Legion comes, we fight them. We beat them. Then we're done."
The Persuader, still helmeted, stood at surly attention. "Think that'll get us off Mordru's leash?" he scoffed. "We'll just be his trained dogs forevermore."
Tharok gave the Persuader a look which said, I know more than what I'm saying--but not in front of outsiders.
The Persuader, understanding, folded his arms. Tharok turned to Arda Foran. "I don't care if you have read my mind. You can't telepath it to Mordru, he's out of range. And after we're done with the Legion fight, you'll be dead, anyway."
Arda Foran said nothing. She seemed pulled inward upon herself. Mano stepped closer to the half-robot villain.
He whipped off his glove and swiped at Tharok.
Tharok was lucky enough to take it on his robot arm. It burned off at the bicep, where Mano's disintegrator palm-disk had touched it. Mano was moving jerkily, getting his hand up for a second strike, saying nothing.
A large hand crashed through the walls of the palace. Validus grasped Mano firmly, his deadly hand held prisoner between two of Validus's fingers.
The Empress's eye glowed menacingly and the Persuader's axe was ready to strike off both Mano's atmosphere helmet and the head within it.
"Don't, you two," yelled Tharok. "She's mind-controlling Tharok. Empress, shield us all with the Eye!"
"Better be right about this," murmured the Empress. The Eye of Ekron blazed forth again, surrounding the Fatal Five in green auras that soon faded to invisibility.
Mano grunted in pain. "Hey, Tharok, I'm really sorry about that. The bitch got into my head."
Tharok stepped to within three feet of Mano. "You'd better be glad I figured that out," he said. "Otherwise, I'd've had Validus squeeze you to a pulp in an instant." He mentally ordered Validus to release Mano. The giant's claw-like hand sprang open. Mano gasped a sigh of relief. He donned his protective glove again.
Tharok regarded his metal stump of an arm, then looked at Arda Foran. "We need her alive, but not whole. Persuader, an arm for an arm."
President Foran's face contorted with fear, despite her determination. The armored executioner stepped towards her, his atomic axe ready for business.
He raised it above his head.
An arm with a red sleeve on it reached out and grabbed it, just under its blade.
Mon-El and his Legion squad piled out of the space-warp White Witch
had conjured up for them. There wasn't even time for a few wisecracks
before the battle started.
Within a day's time, Dev-Em and his three associates were released from confinement. Kara and Dev had been listening to Mordru and Satan Girl, but had picked up no further great revelations, other than their sex life. Still, they both hoped that Witchy would be able to interpret Mordru's words. Kara didn't know much about magic and didn't want to.
The foursome were assembled before Ultir, a lower-echelon minister and fourth-degree mage, whose powers had been quite sucked away by Mordru. Still, he affected the pointed hat and robe of his guild. He sat on a dais above them in a reception room amid armed guards. When he spoke, he got right to the point.
"Convince me that you are not spies," he said.
Kara swiftly looked over her compatriots. Laurel was convincingly hanging onto Cham's arm, and Kara figured that all her fear might not be feigned. Cham lent her "moral support" and brushed long white hair out of his eyes. As for herself, she hoped that nobody was carrying Kryptonite around for a spot check. She x-rayed the guards and their interrogator, and saw that they were lucky in that respect.
"What's to convince?" said Dev, spreading his hands in a show of impatience. "I've told you. My name is Zarik Conn. I do business. I'm from Rann. There's two reasons I and my friends are here. First, to start the basis of trade with my company and your new government. Second, we want to talk to your leader about the practical application of magic to moneymaking."
"If I might speak, adept," said Cham, in an accent not his own, "we've used clairvoyants from Orando, but they only see so far. We've had telepaths from Titan spy on our competitors, but they wear telepathic plugs to screen out probers now. The only thing we haven't been able to use well in the field is the Art."
Ultir looked at him with ill-disguised contempt. "And I take it your outworld knowledge hasn't helped you much in that regard."
Cham bowed slightly. "When one wishes knowledge, one goes to the greatest source," he said. "That is why I, why we, have come to Zerox."
Ultir sniffed. Then he said, "We have had difficulties with spies lately. I could have put you through a larger examination already. But, if you are the spies we have encountered of late--"
"Friend, will you get it through your head?" snapped Dev. "I'm just here to make a credit. I'm a spy like your mother's the queen of Ranagar."
"--if you are such spies," Ultir overrode him, "there is only one test we need subject you to. The examination by our Highlord's own greatest assistant, his Messenger." He waved a hand lightly. A guard went to open a door in back of the dais, but it opened before he could get there.
The Messenger of Mordru stepped into clear sight.
Kara caught sight of him. Involuntarily, she gave a start--and she could guess that the Messenger had seen it.
An orange-skinned, goateed, mustached man in red devil-horned helmet, red tunic and trunks, purple cape with a flared hood, purple leggings, red knee-high boots, and a metal wristlet on his left wrist. A villain she had not seen in many years, and hoped never to have seen again.
Drang, the Destroyer.