Kara had to do something to conceal her nervous reaction. She stepped back, precisely into the arm she knew Dev-Em was reaching out to her, protectively. The trick was to present a convincing expression of fear, not surprise. She didn't have to fake the fear much.
Drang searched their faces with a penetrating gaze. There was only so much good White Witch's defensive spells could do to conceal their identities from a probe.
Here they were, on the world of sorcerors, with the mightiest magician of all time their foe, and his lieutenant giving them the once-over. Three of them were particularly susceptible to magc, like all Kryptonians. The fourth, Chameleon Boy, didn't count magic among his weaknesses but could be affected by it, of course.
"Why does your lady fear me?" he said, in a neutral tone.
Kara was shrunk into Dev's embrace. "I don't like your aura," she said. "You frighten me."
Drang gave a brief nod. "I should."
Dev said, "You'll have to forgive my wife, sir. But her perceptions are usually pretty good. My name is Zarik Conn. Who can I talk to about industrial magic?"
The orange-hued being looked at Dev as if he were a form of amoebic dysentery.
"Industrial magic," said Drang. "People have been asking Artists to curse their competitors ever since there was an Art. And to make their own doings prosper. In the long run it means little. In the end, it means only another soul harvested."
Dev-Em stepped a bit closer, placing Kara behind him. "What about the short run?"
"You may profit indeed by its use, for a season," said Drang, gesturing emptily. "But you pay for it in money, and in more than money. Why do I feel a bit of magic in your makeup?"
Chameleon Boy spoke up.
"We had ourselves...given a safeguard spell...before leaving Rann," he said. "There are many...things which can befall...a stranger on Zerox."
Drang fixed him with a clear eye. "If you have magicians on your world, then why do you come to Zerox?"
Laurel answered, "Becaush we want the very besht magic. For all we know, shomebody may be ushing it againsht us already."
"Well said, Dirinia," Dev responded. "And you have to admit, Zerox has a reputation."
Even if it sounds like the homeworld for a copier company in my era, thought Kara. The mental joke brought her disproportionate relief. Something like remembering a funny story in front of a firing squad.
"It does, Mr. Conn," said Drang. "All right, there is one last test I would give you before I admit you to the Presence." He snapped his fingers.
A metal box seemed to coalesce out of the very air beside him. Kara guessed he'd had it in a magical warp-pocket. On impulse, she tried her x-ray vision on it. She couldn't look through it.
Kara gripped Dev's arm more firmly. She just hoped her look of fear worked for them this time.
Dev talked quickly, "Look, sir, we're not up to all this testing and incarceration and running through the processing plant. I stand on my rights as a citizen of Rann. I do not want any more testing, I want to see your superior now. If I can't do that without that...whatever it is...then I'll turn and leave, and we'll take our business somewhere else. Furthermore, if you open that box here, I'm going to sue. Do you hear me? I can call the best minds of the Lawyer's Planet to work on anything for me. I've got that kind of money!"
Laurel was speechless. She had guessed what was in the box. Her exposures to Kryptonite were very few. She was scared stiff of the green rock.
Think fast, Kara told herself. You can leap at him. You can close the box before he opens it. It'll tip him off, put all of us in danger, but maybe we can avoid a magic counterattack--
Drang already had the box open. The chunk of green Kryptonite in it glowed like a luminous Halloween skeleton in the dark.
The orange-hued mystic's head snapped around to the sound of a groan.
He looked and saw Nikos, the student of mysticism, collapsing to his knees, holding his gut in apparent pain. "Take it...away," he rasped.
Kara, Dev, and even Laurel were white-faced and sweating, feeling the pain of Kryptonite radiation, speechless, trying to fight it off. They grimly guessed what Chameleon Boy had in store.
Drang's attention was on "Nikos". Smiling, he walked over to stand before the bearded figure. Cham was on his knees and one hand now, his other upraised, trying to reach the box and close it. Drang held it just out of reach, and chuckled. A pale green coloration was showing on Cham's skin.
"No wonder you were only a student," said Drang. "Kryptonians don't do magic."
"Damn you, quit hurting my friend," said Dev, hoping his pain sounded like concern.
Drang slapped the box closed once again. He stood and regarded Chameleon Boy, who appeared to be coming back from the brink of death. Then he motioned a guard to help Cham back to his feet, and gave the box to a second guard. "Take him to a holding cell," said Drang. "If he gives you any trouble, use the Kryptonite."
Dev, Kara, and Laurel all drew deep breaths of relief, sweat pouring down their foreheads and dampening their underarms. Kara called on Rao to grant her courage, and stepped up to get in Drang's face. "Nikos is a friend of ours. Bring him back, right now."
Drang's manner became more threatening now. "You are in no position to make demands, milady," he said, angrily. "Bringing a Kryptonian here is a punishable offense. A very serious one."
Dev stepped beside Kara, angrily. "So is holding U.P. citizens prisoner against their will," he snapped. "Release Nikos. He meant no harm."
"You knew he was Kryptonian," said Drang, coldly.
"So what? He has a good mind. Part of what drives his curiosity about the Art, as you call it, is the knowledge that he can't be a practitioner. That's why we're here, to get a practitioner. And here you go, throwing us in the slammer. For what? Because we want to make you some money?"
"I want my hushband back," said Laurel, angrily. "Thish is a total outrage. You have no rightsh to do that."
Drang fixed them with a gaze imported straight from Hell, and began to grow.
Dev, Kara, and Laurel backed off, looking up at the expanding orange man. The chamber roof was a good 15 feet from the floor, and he reached it within seconds.
Dev hesitated, and both of the women held fast with him. To act, or to keep their cover? Each of them knew that the hesitation could prove fatal. Kryptonians, after all, were vulnerable to magic.
A burst of power went forth from Drang's eyes. Kara yelled, "No!", as it contacted Dev's chest and knocked him, grunting in pain, the entire distance of the room. He struck the wall and slid down it, moaning.
Without thinking, Kara hurled herself forward and punched at Drang. But her blow went straight through his body. He was, she realized numbly, more a creature of force than matter.
"You bashtard!" snarled Laurel, remembering at least to stay in character. "You unshpeakable ant-droppings! We shall have you brought to court for thish...thish..."
Drang chuckled. "I think not. The only authority on this
world is my master, and we are decidedly not subject to the authority of
the United Planets. Go. See to your man. I have
not expended enough force to kill him, only to...educate him a bit."
Kara was already at Dev's side. He was trying to shake it off, but Drang's magical energy-vision bolt hurt, no question about it. She hugged him, helped bring him to his feet, whispered encouragement to him. And she was surprised, or perhaps not, to find that real tears were springing to her eyes.
Laurel was channeling her hate into her impersonation. "I want my hushband, you tangerine-skinned scum! You have no right to hold ush!"
Dev was still groggy. Kara pressed her mouth to his in a kiss. It was affectionate, to be sure. But it had a practical purpose: she didn't want him moaning the word "Kara" before he got his senses back.
"Guards, you may house the Rannians--if that is what they really are--in a single cell," directed Drang, shrinking back to his normal size. "The Talokian woman will go to a separate compartment. I'll arrange for a mind-probe in the morning. Go."
Several guards with medaeval-style chain-mail uniforms and up-to-date blasters prodded the threesome up and out of the room.
On Titan, Mon-El ripped the Persuader's axe right out of his hand. He felt the weapon trying to leap out of his hand, trying to return to its master, thanks to the ionic bond the Persuader had created with it. But his power was more than enough to hold it fast.
"Give it back, Legionnaire," grated the armored killer. "I'll split you in half with it."
"Doubt it," said Mon-El, and gave the villain a smash that knocked him straight through a wall and through several others. The Persuader was tough, but he wasn't a Daxamite. Mon-El was.
Validus's fist came down on Mon-El and knocked him straight through the floor.
"Great!" yelled Mano. "The Legion's finally here!" He held his deadly palm out, ready to use his disintegrator disk on anyone who came through.
Element Lad lifted his own hand, aimed it at Mano's space-helmet, and loosed his power.
"GAAARGGHHH!" choked Mano. Some elements of the atmosphere in his helmet had been changed into toxic substances. He couldn't breathe...
Tharok cursed. For once, the Legion seemed to be fighting smart. But that had little advantage over Validus, who outpowered any two Kryptonians, or the Emerald Empress, the powers of whose Eye had never been measured.
"Eat this, Legionnaires!" howled the Empress, and blasted the heroes with a bolt from her floating orb. The Legion squad--Cosmic Boy, Magnetic Kid, Blok, Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, Saturn Girl, Element Lad, and Sun Boy--were knocked off their feet. Luckily, Blok had positioned himself in front of the blast and had taken most of its brunt. He was out for the duration. Mon-El was still nowhere to be seen.
"Do it, Jan," muttered Sun Boy, picking himself out from under debris. Validus was turning towards the heroes, menacingly. The Empress was readying her Eye to blast them again. Tharok stood back, near Arda Foran, who was terrified at the display of power and violence.
Painfully, Element Lad raised both his hands again and blasted an element-changing burst at the air around the Empress's eye.
They had done some intensive research before the battle, and learned that the Empress's eye had been weakened by a certain element when Superboy first contacted her.
That element was what El Lad now surrounded it with, thanks to his incredible power.
The Empress shrieked in frustration. Her Eye's power was being dampened, like a uranium core within a bunch of cadmium rods. She powered up her will, trying to force the Eye to blow a hole in the Kryptonite casing.
"Crack it free, Validus," ordered Tharok. The giant with the lightning flashing from his cranium drew his hand out, reaching for the floating, green-encased orb.
Lightning Lass let go a crackling charge of elecricity from her hand. It struck the Empress, whose green hair immediately straightened into a hairdo that would have done the Bride of Frankenstein proud. She fell unconscious.
That was lucky, as Validus had just cracked the Kryptonite casing loose from the Emerald Eye. But, with the Empress unconscious, it had no controller. Thus, it hung motionless in the air, awaiting the next command of its mistress, whenever she awakened.
"Destroy them, Validus!" yelled Tharok.
A nanosecond after he said that, Tharok found himself levitated off his feet and slammed roughly against a wall. He was protected by a degaussing element from the magnetism of Cosmic Boy. But when Magnetic Kid added his power to that of Cosmic Boy's, even Tharok was not proofed against it.
And, two seconds after that, Lightning Lad and Lightning Lass sent high-powered bolts of electricity smashing into him. It overloaded his surge protectors, knocked the robot half of him offline, and knocked the human half unconscious.
Validus loomed over the Legionnaires, his great arms outstretched, ready to crush the lot of them. They shrank back, not sure they could open the space-warp that they had entered through in time to avoid his attack.
Mon-El, looking much the worse for wear, punched up through a section of the floor and rammed him back. It bought them a few seconds.
Saturn Girl had been mentally communicating with President Foran. They had quickly networked with others in contact with the President, and those had networked with still others, all in the space of instants, all of them in an ever-expanding web. As a result, a large portion of the people of Titan were in contact with them, knew what was happening, and knew what Saturn Girl wanted done.
<NOW!>, she telepathed to her army of mentalists.
And Arda Foran united with that army as well.
The many channelled their power through that of the lady Legionnaire, who possessed the greatest quotient of mental power on the planet. Others were adding their threads of power to the assault every instant. Imra Ardeen felt as though a giant redwood tree was being forced through her head, but at the moment, it didn't matter.
The power of a million minds was united, and directed in a bolt of mental force through Saturn Girl, and against Validus.
It impacted hard into his electrically-charged brain.
He roared in agony. The mental warriors of Titan felt pain as well, from the feedback of the mighty monster's brain. But they held fast, for the sake of their ruler and their greatest heroine, and slammed into their target again, accessing more and more minds throughout the planet.
Validus struggled to maintain his consciousness, tried to reach out and crush the Legionnaires, but it was of no use. Mon-El added his physical force to the Titanians' mental force, battering their foe's body as they battered his mind.
Lighting Lad and his sister strained their abilities to the max as they pumped thunderbolts into Validus. Sun Boy blasted him with as much solar heat as he dared, given the presence of the others in the room. Element Lad solidified the air about Validus into inertron, trying to halt his progress, though the giant crushed it to bits in his blunderings.
For an instant, Saturn Girl hesitated. The blasting into Validus's brain opened an area there that seemed strangely...well...familiar to her. But she hadn't the luxury of analysis just then.
<Hit him again,> she commanded. <Full force. Bring him down this time...or we're dead.>
Despite all the power being directed at him, Validus was still struggling to reach his prey. One squeeze of his mighty hand, and any of them save Mon-El would be squashed like ripe tomatoes. And not even Mon-El could withstand the monster's full strength.
The power of seven million minds struck out at Validus.
At the same time, Mon-El grasped the Persuader's Atomic Axe, and smashed it full-force into the monster's head.
It didn't penetrate it. But the impact of that great blow, and that of the Titanians' mental blast, were enough to do the job.
Validus tottered, stumbled, and went down on his chest with a great crash, splintering the substance of the floor. He was unconscious, and would stay that way for a very long time.
Mon-El was badly bruised, his uniform torn, and he was obviously exhausted. He wiped his mouth, staring at their fallen foe. Then he swung his gaze to take in the equally unconscious Tharok, Emerald Empress, and Mano.
Finally, he smiled at his fellows, and at Saturn Girl and President Foran, who were still locked in deep mental union.
"Looks like we won," he said.
The holding cell that Kara and Dev were placed in was a bit more up-to-date than their earlier quarters. It did have a double bed. Kara stared at it for a few seconds, then lay Dev across it. He was still shaking off the effects of Drang's bolt.
"Gently, love," she said. "Don't try to talk just now."
He seemed to get the message.
She wondered if she dared rake the walls with X-ray vision. She decided against it; there might be radiation detectors within the walls that could register such usage and betray her identity. But there had to be spying devices trained on this room. Mordru was smart enough to employ high-tech where he needed it.
Kara decided on microscopic vision.
It took a while to comb the room using it, but it was worth the effort. She discovered seven hidden cameras and eight listening devices. There was indeed a newly-installed detector that would have betrayed the usage of X-ray vision. After all, since their earlier foray into Zeroxian territory, Mordru was expecting Kryptonians.
"Love, I'm sorry I got you into this," he murmured. Kara sat on the side of the bed and put her hand on his own. From his pulse rate, she knew that he meant what he said.
She kissed him.
Dev didn't need super-senses to know that she meant it, too.
She lay her other hand on the side of his face. He half-opened his eyes and smiled. Not a grin of asinine sexual anticipation, but a smile of true affection. Kara breathed in deeply, then let it go.
No. Mustn't think of...doing that yet. Should I think of it at all? Great Rao, what am I doing?
She shook her head. "We'll get out of this somehow," she said. "Just a bad idea to come here, I guess."
"My idea, not yours," Dev responded. Then his eyes opened wider for a moment, in realization.
Kara was pressuring his hand and easing up on it, sending him a message in Morse code.
It was one of the few ways they could communicate, and possibly escape detection by the spy devices. Possibly.
THAT WAS DRANG WHO BLASTED YOU, she said, with her squeezings. OVER.
He sent his own hand-pulsings back. SO YOU KNOW HIM? OVER.
Kara: AN OLD ENEMY OF MINE STOP A MAGIC FORCE-BEING STOP THOUGHT HE WAS DESTROYED BUT ALSO THOUGHT I SAW HIM REGENERATING LATER OVER.
Dev: CAN WE USE VISION IN HERE? OVER.
Kara: NO STOP X-RAY DETECTORS IN WALLS STOP WE CAN USE SUPER-HEARING OVER.
Dev: OK STOP THEN WE MAY BE ABLE TO DO MORE RECON OVER.
Kara: AREN'T YOU WORRIED ABOUT YOURSELF? OVER
Dev: WORRIED ABOUT MISSION STOP WORRIED ABOUT MORDRU STOP WORRIED ABOUT CHAM AND LAUREL STOP WORRIED ABOUT YOU OVER.
He brought his other arm up and embraced her. He drew her down. He kissed her. She opened her mouth and they blessed each other with their tongues.
It was a long time before they broke the kiss.
For this kind of communication, they had no need to use Morse code.
But she finally sighed and began to squeeze his palm again.
Kara: NOT NOW, DEV. OVER.
Dev: UNDERSTOOD STOP SORRY OVER.
Kara: DON'T BE STOP I'M SCARED STOP NEVER DID THIS BEFORE OVER.
Dev: KISSED QUESTION I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT OVER.
Kara: NOT THAT DUMMY EXCLAMATION POINT STOP YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN OVER.
Dev: I KNOW BUT I'D NEVER MAKE YOU DO SOMETHING YOU DIDN'T WANT TO STOP SHOULD WE DO A BIT OF LISTENING QUESTION OVER.
Kara: I KNOW YOU WOULDN'T AND NEVER MIND ABOUT WANTING STOP WE'LL TALK ABOUT IT LATER STOP LET'S DO OUR LISTENING SHALL WE QUESTION OVER.
Dev: SIGH STOP YES, LOVE OVER.
The physical telegraphy was done at super-speed, but each of them was able to decipher the "dots" and "dashes" without difficulty.
Kara began her listening. First, she picked out Laurel, who was demanding to see the U.P. Embassy (which didn't exist on Zerox), demanding better food, and demanding some decent video selections, all in a single rant and all in a flawless Talokian accent. Good for her. But she could tell from Laurel's heartbeat that she was worried about the others.
LAUREL'S OKAY OVER, she told Dev.
CONFIRMED STOP I HEARD HER TOO OVER, said Dev.
Then they listened for Cham. He was sitting quietly in his cell, in a lotus position, not responding to the guards until they sadistically threatened to open the Kryptonite box again. Then he screeched in horror and backed against the rear wall of his chamber, his hands held up before his face. The guards laughed. So was Cham, inwardly. But he, too, was worried. Kara admired him.
CHAM IS WELL OVER, said Dev.
ACKNOWLEDGED OVER, said Kara.
And then she tried listening for Mordru.
She directed her aural powers to the sorceror's keep, to his bedroom, to his study, to his torture chamber, to his bathroom, to his feast-hall, and to every area within a thirty-mile radius of it, using her super-brain to pick through the voices and noises like a CIA spook analyzing a voice recording.
Mordru was not there.
CAN'T HEAR MORDRU OVER, she said.
ME NEITHER STOP TRY AROUND THE PLANET OVER, responded Dev.
Kara and Dev spent the next few minutes combing the world of Zerox with their incredible ear-power. They picked up many things they wished they had not. Spells and incantations that fairly burned their brain to listen. Voices of men and...things that may not have been men. Normal conversations. The sounds of animals in the field. Fishwives at the marketplace. Military men discussing strategies. City guards bracing suspects. All within mere minutes, each of them filtered for the slightest resemblance to Mordru, but none of them a precise match.
HE'S NOT HERE OVER, said Kara.
I CAN'T HEAR HIM EITHER STOP NOT GOOD OVER, said Dev.
GOING TO LISTEN FOR SATAN GIRL OVER, said Kara.
WATCH YOURSELF OVER, replied Dev.
Within a few moments she heard a heartbeat and breathing cadence that she had registered semi-consciously before in their previous encounter, and could not mistake now.
About it, she heard the sound of rushing air. The same sort of sound Kara heard when she was in flight.
Then there was a crash of splintered timbers and masonry. Satan Girl was breaking through a roof.
A sound of chanting within the building that roof belonged to was heard by Kara, then stunned silence. Then people screaming.
Smashing and crunching of materials. Fleeing humans. A shriek of rending metal. And Satan Girls' voice.
"This is what you worship?" she screamed. "Look what I can do to it!"
A splang of a crashing, hollow metal idol being upended, and then a hissing of heat, and a moan from the congregation who witnessed it. Kara guessed Satan Girl was melting the idol.
From Satan Girl's heartbeat and pulse rate, Kara detected the woman's irritation and rage. Her doppleganger was angry at something else, and taking it out on innocents. Her hand tightened, involuntarily and painfully, on Dev's.
NO, he sent back.
Then she heard the sound of a girl screaming in terror. Not in pain, thank Rao. But in outright fear.
And another woman said, "Monster, release my child! I'll do anything you want, anything, but give me my child!"
Kara released Dev's hand. He grasped her shoulder. "Love, what's the matter?" he said, as a cover.
Satan Girl's voice again. "You'll do anything? Well, that's nice, but I don't need you to do anything. I'll show you what you can worship...and why you should worship her. Because she can do this..."
But before the voice could get that far, Kara Zor-El had smashed through the holding cell wall.
With a speed beyond light, she zoomed in on the point from which Satan Girl's voice had emanated. Even her friction-treated clothes began to smoulder, though they didn't burn off. Kara prayed as much of a prayer as she could get in within a fraction of a second.
The prayer was answered.
Satan Girl hadn't had a chance to hurt the little girl she was holding.
Kara smashed a hole through the side of the temple of Syrinx in one of Zerox's major cities, whipped the girl out of Satan Girl's grasp, and crashed five knuckles into the woman's jaw, all within several hundredths of a second's time.
The girl tumbled back into the arms of her mother, unharmed, but weeping in fear.
Satan Girl's body smashed another hole through the opposite side of the temple, giving the structure a lot more air conditioning than it probably needed.
As the loggy villainess raised herself up to half-sitting, a familiar form landed before her, in a power stance. A crowd of villagers nearby, drawn by the earlier violence Satan Girl had done to the temple, stood back and watched, in awe and terror.
But each one of them was glad the strange woman had knocked the purple-clad bitch on her kiester.
"Hear you've been looking for me," said Kara, facing the woman who stared bolts of hatred into her eyes. "Take your best shot."