Kara Zor-El faced the most evil woman she had ever encountered, and the fact that the woman wore Kara's face didn't make things any easier.
Around them, behind them, the townspeople began to mutter, gasp, whisper, and even scream. The gist of it all was: Someone as powerful as the Evil Woman has come to deliver us. Maybe. We hope.
The little girl that Satan Girl had menaced was now in her mother's arms and being rushed away. If Kara had anything to say about it, Satan Girl would be missing parts of her body before she got near that little girl again.
The problem with that, of course, was that Satan Girl was glaring with pure anthracite-black malice at Kara, and getting ready to see if she could punch a fist through the front of her and make it come out her back.
That was all she had the time to notice before a blur rushed in and clouted Satan Girl a good one upside the head. The villainess was out for the count, and Kara knew she hadn't done it. Her first reaction was relief. Her second, strangely (even to her), was a feeling of having been cheated. Of having a chance to throw down on somebody who could punch me halfway across this solar system? Riiiiight, she thought.
While she was completing that thought, Kara found herself grabbed and carried at lightspeed-and-past by the blur, which, now she was travelling at precisely that blur's velocity, resolved itself into Dev-Em.
A very grim, very tight-lipped Dev-Em, who wasn't looking at her.
"Dev, what--" said Kara, putting her mouth close to his ear in order to make her words heard in the speedstream.
"Shut up," said Dev, in as emotionless a tone as she had ever heard from him.
There were obstacles in their way, she sensed, and Dev was plowing through them as if they didn't exist. None of them were human. He detoured enough for people. And he didn't let up his grip on Kara's waist.
She added her speed to his, letting him steer. Before she could draw two more breaths, they had rocketed through another barrier and he had picked up another female burden, in his other arm. The blue-dyed, thoroughly flabbergasted Laurel Kent.
"Dev, Kara, what's going on?" gasped Laurel.
"Later," snapped Dev, and thrust his feet against the ground, propelling them all skyward at a rate that seared a small hole in Zerox's ozone layer.
Kara had time enough to think of one other person. "Cham," she said. "What about Cham?"
Then Dev looked at her, and his face was colder than the ice about Superman's Fortress.
"We're leaving him," said Dev, and snapped his gaze away from her.
Bare seconds had passed while all this had taken place. The blue of Zerox's skies had faded to violet, then black, while their three-person projectile rocketed towards the place where warpspace invaded their dimension. The yellow-clad winged woman called Dawnstar was waiting near the warp opening, protected by a cloaking device, but visible to them.
Dawny barely had time to register their presence before Dev let Kara go and grabbed her, whipping himself, Laurel, and her into the bizarre boundary. Kara held onto one of Dev's feet to keep the contact between them. Until she knew exactly where Dev was going, she didn't dare chance separation.
Three seconds after they entered the warp, Black Adam and Ar-Ual followed, and could not find them. Their quarry might be only a hundred feet away from them, or a hundred light years.
<Missed them again,> noted Black Adam.
<We missed seeing Satan Girl get knocked on her ass, too,> said Ar-Ual.
Black Adam grinned at her. <That I regret the most,> he said.
Dev led them through another warp-portal to a different world than they had visited on their last stopover. He was a good enough spy not to use the same route more than once. But he did not pass words with any of the women until all four of them set their booted feet on the dusty surface of the planet Thorius IV. The atmosphere was thin, but they all had telepathic plugs, and Dawnstar was adapted to such an environiment.
Laurel Kent sat cross-legged on the ground. Kara stood, not knowing what to expect besides wrath and disapproval.
Dawnstar moved closer to Kara, searching her features, and stood between her and Dev, though she was not aware of it.
Dev stood with his back to the three women. Nobody sent anything until Dev turned, very slowly and deliberately.
He sought out Kara with his gaze. He drew several breaths for effect before he sent his first message.
<You blew the mission,> said Dev, his hands near his sides. His eyes didn't leave her face.
Kara met his stare with her own. <Satan Girl was about to kill a child,> she replied. <What was I supposed to do, Dev, let her die?>
<You blew the mission,> repeated Dev, with more force. <We had to leave Chameleon Boy behind. If it was anybody but him, I'd be going back for him right now, without you. But he stands a chance...I hope.>
Dawnstar said, <Dev, this is unfair. Legionnaires are pledged to preserve life, and if an innocent-->
Dev's face twisted in anger. <Frab the innocent! You endangered us all with your actions, Kara. Me. Laurel. Cham. Dawnstar. Yourself. If I'd been a hair later with my pickups, we'd have had Ar-Ual and Adam to deal with, too. Plus all of Zerox. Think you could take on a planet of magicians? By yourself?>
Supergirl stepped forward, angrily. <Listen, Dev, and listen damn good. I am not a spy. I'm a super-heroine, and a Legionnaire, and a human being. Do you think I could have let a little girl die, at the hands of my own clone? Do you think I could ever have lived with myself if that happened?>
<Kara's right, Dev,> said Laurel. <We can't abandon people in danger just because of your mission. Even one like this.>
<"Even one like this,"> Dev retorted. <Don't you think I have a notion of what was going on? But can't you realize that Mordru is on a scale much greater than one human life, even if it is a little girl's? Don't you think I know that-->
<I don't think you know enough,> burst in Laurel, getting right in Dev's face. <I don't think you know a damned thing. Shut up, Dev.>
He stood in front of her, his mouth working. <Take a swing at me, you big, brave man,> sneered Laurel, bravely. <Just you try.>
Supergirl interposed herself between them, pushing Dev and Laurel apart. <Enough, Laurel,> she said. <If Dev wants to smack somebody, let him try me. I'm the one he's mad at.>
Dev turned his head and spit to the side. <I'm not smacking anyone,> said Dev. <Much as I might like to. If I had been the one to try that stunt, I'd be up on charges at UPIC within the week. I'd be decommissioned, maybe even face time at Takron-Galtos. Would you have appreciated it, Kara, if I'd blown our cover back during our interrogation, and gotten a squad of Zerox cops with wands just primed for Kryptonians? Tell me.>
Kara shook her head. <Oh, Dev,> she said. <I thought I knew you better than that. I thought you knew me better than that. If we don't step in to save people from the evil we're fighting, than what in Sheol are we fighting it for?>
<Kara, you ever have a chance to read military theory and / or history?> snapped Dev. <In case you don't know, commanders have to make decisions that will endanger some innocents, perhaps even kill them-->
<Not me,> said Kara. <Not ever.>
<--Perhaps even kill them, to save the greater number and achieve the greater objective,> Dev said. <You have to hold to the greater objective. You simply have to. There is no escaping that fact.>
Dawnstar held Kara's bicep lightly and sent a PM to her. <To think that I once held you in contempt. Forgive me, Kara. I now know who is the true monster among us.>
<Dev's not a monster,> sent Kara, in a PM of her own. <But he's also not a Legionnaire. Thanks, Dawny.>
Laurel touched Dev's shoulder. <Dev, just listen to me for a moment. Could you sacrifice the life of another, so easily, just to complete a mission...even one as big as this?>
He whipped his head around to look at her.
<I have,> he said.
None of the three women said anything.
<It was an inforunning operation out of a Dark Circle world,> Dev continued. <My contact was a man in deep cover. Their cointelpro caught up to us just after an information drop. We had made arrangements on what to do if such a thing happened. I exposed him as a traitor. My cover held. He was taken away, tortured, and killed. I got the package through. Later, I saw to it that his torturers got theirs. No, I didn't do it personally...but I made sure it was done. That's how it is in my world. Not pretty, but we get the job done.>
Kara looked at him looking at her. Numbly, she knew that she'd never watch a James Bond movie again and enjoy it.
<No, don't think I enjoyed it,> he said. <Rolg's face still comes to me in a particularly juicy nightmare every now and then. But he has to wait his time in line. And you know what he tells me? He tells me about the people of that world who were liberated, in time, with the information I got through. He tells me that I did the right thing.>
<That little girl's ghost would never tell me that,> said Kara.
Dev put his hands on his hips. <And I suppose you can save her again, if Satan Girl wants to try killing her again? Go on, Kara. Go back to Zerox and try.>
Supergirl stepped closer, stared full in Dev's face for a second, and then slapped him off his feet.
The guards of the holding cell on Zerox in which they had placed the Rokynian mystic weren't prepared for what they saw. Or, rather, what they didn't see.
A few seconds ago, the monitor screen clearly showed the man sitting peaceably on the bench that would also serve as his bed. Now, he was not there. Not anywhere in the cell that they could see.
Franticly, the guard in charge of the monitor steered the controls of the camera within the corner of the cell's ceiling to cover every inch of the enclosure. It even saw under the bench. There was no place he could have gone. Yet, he was nowhere in sight.
"I thought this guy couldn't do magic," said one of the other guards. "Rokynians can't do magic."
"So who said he was Rokynian?" snapped another of the band of three.
"They saw him hurting from the Kryptonite," said the third. "Said he looked like somebody'd stuck his hand in a chopping machine."
"Hell with that," snapped the first guard, getting up. "I've sent an all-points. Get a couple of wands and come on."
The three men opened the mystic's cell, guns in one hand, wands in the other. The wands' magical charge was set to detect a life-form other than their own. And, incredibly enough, they did detect such a life.
"Where the hell is he?" snapped one.
"Join arms," said the monitor guard. "Look up. Look down. Now move forward, see if we hit anything solid."
While they were moving forward, they weren't looking down.
They didn't see a small section of flooring they had walked over more-or-less flow out of the cell, and blend in against the floor and wall beyond.
But they did notice it when the door swung shut on them, before they could get out.
It would take the shouting trio some time to key the door open. By that time, Chameleon Boy would have covered a lot of ground.
The tower in Salem had stood there for over 1,000 years. The object within it had been there for almost that long. On occasion, the people who used it took it with them, but they always brought it back. The Lords of Order made them.
There was no physical entryway into the tower, and, unless you were an adept, there was no way you could get in. Even on 30th Century Earth, the place was off limits. The world wars that had ravaged Earth over the last ten centuries had failed to bring the structure down. A few people in government knew about the tower's nature, and they didn't permit anyone inside it. Some who had tried came out altered in various interesting ways. Some didn't come out. Most never got in.
Yet, this was not the Earth of the Legion of Super-Heroes. 1,000 years ago, this was the Earth of the Justice Society of America. Whether or not heroes inhabited the Earth-Two of the 30th Century was not apparent, because none of them came to stop the bearded man who flowed through the stones of the Salem tower as if they were water.
The object on the plain wooden table before Mordru was a golden helmet. It was not made of gold, but of an undetermined metal much harder than steel. Its edge in front came to a slight point, and the only holes in its surface were two eye-holes. The helm itself covered the rest of the face, to just below the chin.
Mordru reached for the helmet.
Beings attempted to bar his way. He had not been chosen to receive the helmet. Nabu the Wise appeared in the mind's eye of Mordru and threatened to utterly destroy the sorceror. Mordru reacted with contempt. He had faced greater even than Nabu in his time, and prevailed. Armed with the right knowledge and enough power, a sorceror could overcome the safeguards, and claim the helmet.
Mordru took the helmet in his right hand.
He did not put it on.
"One more stop to make," he muttered, completely ignoring the chorus of the Lords of Order thundering in his consciousness.
He exerted a fraction of his power and faded from that Earth's plane. The Helmet of Fate went with him.
Nabu and his brethren were as grim as they had been in many a year. Mordru's objectives were clear. Now, pawns must be chosen to block his play.
Working across dimensional planes was not an easy thing, but the Lords
of Order resolved to try.
Dream Girl sought out a calm spot in the Legion's break room and sat down at a table, resting her head in her hands. Sometimes she got her prophetic visions spontaneously, which was a real bitch when you were trying to get your manicure done at the same time. Other times she could exert her powers and get the pictures in semi-coherent form. A lot depended on interpretation. All it amounted to, in her mind, was turning over raw information to people who could process it a bit better than she could. But they couldn't pick it up themselves, which gave her no small pride.
This time, it was an occasion that fell somewhere between the two varieties. She was trying to bring her powers to bear on foreseeing the future events of this battle, on her own. But it was like she was being gently prodded in that direction by an Other. The vibes didn't seem hostile, and she'd have Mysa check her out after the seeing. For right now, the important thing was to use the Gift.
And she did.
Dream Girl tranced herself out, her eyes shut, her mind completing the skip into the near future. Or was it the future? The drift seemed to bend backwards after a certain point...
A note of fear injected itself into her being. She was seeing something...she didn't know what it was, but she wasn't sure she wanted to be where she was, mentally. Involuntarily, she shuddered, but forced herself on.
There was...a sort of war going on...a battlefield...she wasn't sure of the nature of the combatants...of what world they were native...or even what universe...terror...
Dream Girl wanted to wrench herself out. But the vision was not yet done. She briefly flashed on the thought: Will I be able to pull myself out if I go any further?
She wasn't at all sure of that.
But she was a Legionnaire, and her power was needed.
So she stayed on.
The more distinct the vision became, the more terrified she became. The two factions at war, the great black tower a few antlike figures were walking into one by one, its terrible swaying...
Then the flash on a circle of people, just for an instant. She couldn't identify them. It was just a mental blip.
Then the symbol. The symbol which filled the skies above the battlefield, the blackness and whiteness, with a line of demarcation between and a dot of opposition within the midst of each...and...a figure, very small by proportion, floating towards it...
She could not have told you why this scenario frightened her the most. But it did.
Dream Girl heard someone screaming. The vision went blotto and she felt hands on her arms, shaking her. She recognized herself as the source of the screams and was somewhat reassured by that.
She opened her eyes. Mysa, her sister, was holding her and repeating her name. "Nura. Nura. Come out of it. Please, Nura, come back. Now!"
Nura Nal shook her head. Only Mysa was with her. Their sisterly rapport was greatly helpful, despite their differences. "I'm back, Mysa. I'm here."
"Oh, Creator," sighed Mysa.
"I...don't think so," said Nura.
Then she started to tell Mysa about the dream.
Even Professor Zoom could get tired, having to cover the whole Planetary Defense Center on Winath many times per second. It was his version of guard duty. Krellik's coin gave him the power to see many things normal people couldn't, and he was using that power now to check for invaders. Between the two of them, they felt prepared for the Legion. And, as they and Tyr well knew, the Legion would come.
"They're bound to send Lightning Lad. And Lightning Lass," muttered Tyr, oiling his gun-hand.
"I don't give a damn who they send," said Krellik. "They can send the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I'll kill ‘em all, down to the last alto."
Tyr shot Krellik a look of contempt, without disguising it. Krellik was amused. "Have any idea why Mordru teamed the three of us?"
The red-skinned man shook his head. "Maybe because of the three imbeciles we had to smash up. You're from the past, is that not so?"
Krellik said, "I'm from the 20th Century, my name is Karl Krellik, I've got no serial number. I found the Coin of Loki in the City of the Gods. That's where my powers come from. I had exactly one gig, fighting a guy called Captain Action, even though I got to see Superman. Then I got snatched here. How about you?"
"This is my native time," said Tyr. "I am a warlord of Tyrraz, scourge of my galaxy, and nearly the destroyer of the Legion that Mordru sends us against. At first I made their Timber Wolf my pawn. Then I fought them directly, even sending my planet, a mobile war-world, against them. Thus far...my campaigns against them have been less than successful."
Krellik's eyes spoke jokes, but his mouth didn't repeat them. Instead, he said, "What about Zoomy?"
The yellow blur slowed enough to become visible, and his voice echoed from the perimeter of the chamber. "Name's Eobard Thawne. From the 25th. Got hold of a Flash costume from a satellite. Had enough traces of Flash's speed for me to reproduce it in me. Going back to the 20th after I finish this gig and make Flash's wife an offer she better not refuse. That's all you need."
Krellik was about to respond when he suddenly halted. His eyes scoured the floor. He leaped to a certain spot, snatched something off the floor too small to be seen or even felt. Tyr peered at Krellik's hand, but said nothing.
The bald villain willed some of the Loki coin's magic into play. Against her will, Shrinking Violet grew to perceptible size, then to full human stature.
While she was doing that, Ultra Boy emerged from a space-warp behind them, and Krellik's perception wasn't fast enough to keep him from being bashed. But Professor Zoom streaked towards him and smashed a super-speed blow at his jaw. Ultra Boy could only use one power at a time. While using super-strength, he couldn't be invulnerable. He crashed into a back wall of the chamber, shorting out equipment, fighting for consciousness. Zoom was still at him, pounding away with glee.
Tyr shot projectiles at Ultra Boy, but Colossal Boy was the next to emerge from the warp, and grabbed his gun-hand, pointing it upward. Krellik leapt 15 feet above the ground and unloaded a smashing haymaker at Gim.
By that time, the rest of the Legion contingent had arrived, and battle was joined.
Supergirl and her crew arrived at Legion headquarters after traversing the space-warp again. Kara and Dev avoided looking at each other. Both Laurel and Dawnstar had tried to put out peace feelers to Dev, but had been courteously rebuffed.
Brainiac 5, White Witch, and Dream Girl were on hand. Brainy
broke out into a big smile when he saw Kara, although when he perceived
Dev's body language, his smile became a bit strained.
And, as he realized Chameleon Boy was not with them, the smile faded entirely.
"Glad you got back," he said. "Where's Reep?"
Dev started to speak, but Kara held out her hand. Then, with a deep breath, she spoke. "I blew the mission. I may have put Cham's life in danger. We got some information. Mysa needs to hear it. Maybe you and she can put it together."
Brainiac 5, hands on his hips, said, "How endangered is Reep?"
Kara started to speak. This time it was Dev who interrupted.
"Kara didn't have much of a choice, Brainy. Satan Girl was endangering a child. Kara heard it, knocked the bitch on her kiester, and saved the kid. I had to pull us all out of there jig-time, and I just didn't have time to grab Reep, too. He's on his own. But he's got his disguise power, and he's the head of your Espionage Squad. I think he's got a chance."
Brainiac, Mysa, and Nura all studied the threesome in silence for a moment. Laurel started to speak, but Dawnstar hushed her with a gesture. The dynamics were shifting, and Dev's crow-eating might help put things together again.
"We're going to have to get him as soon as we can," said Brainy. "But right now, give me the info you've got. And don't worry about ‘blowing it'...you were in danger every minute you were on that planet. Who first? Kara, Dev?"
Dev jerked his thumb at Kara. "She did the crucial listening. I'll fill in what I know later."
Kara's posture, Brainy noted, showed a little more relaxation. They must've had a hell of a fight about the mission. He could guess, from the looks of the other two girls, how it must have gone.
Part of him was naughtily glad that things between Dev and Kara weren't all that rosy. Another part, the altruistic side, wanted what was best for Kara...and if she wanted Dev, that was her decision. But most of him was intent on the mission at hand. And magic was far out of his usual purview.
"All right," said Kara. "Here's what I heard."
When she had finished, she noted that the White Witch's pupils were a bit wider, like a frightened cat's. "What do you make of that, Mysa?"
"The twin helms," said Mysa. "Chaos and Order. Great cosmos, he's going to unify them."
Brainiac 5 snapped his fingers. "Doctor Fate. His helmet...the Helmet of Order. I met him when we fought the Three Demons with the Justice League and Justice Society. And so did Mordru."
Mysa nodded. "And you say that he was not on Zerox when you left. That means he has gone after the Golden Helm or the Blue Helm, or both, already. We have to call back the Legionnaires and see if we can safeguard one or both. They will increase his power exponentially. But that last...the Emerald?"
Supergirl nodded. "Do you think it has something to do with the Emerald Empress?"
Mysa shook her head, concentrating. "No. If he wanted the Ekron Eye, he could have taken it from her when he gathered the Fatal Five to him. It wouldn't make that much difference to his power, anyway. But--"
"I'm with you, Sis," said Dream Girl. "The twin helmets may just boost him up to a level at which he can get something he wants...maybe this emerald."
Brainiac said, "We know that Mordru started out as a mage of the Gemworld. Perhaps it has something to do with the gems of the ruling houses there..."
"No!" gasped White Witch.
Her eyes were wide with shock. Mysa Nal's hands trembled, and both Kara and Dream Girl rushed to her side, to support her. "Great Creator, no! It cannot be true...but...but it must be."
Dev said, tensely, "What, Witch? What must be?"
The Witch's hands went to her face for a second. Then she sighed, straightened her shoulders, and said, "Brainy, we must recall all the Legionnaires at once. It may already be too late. But we must act now, if we can act at all."
"Mysa, what is it?" said Kara. "Tell us, and quit obscuring."
The sorceress looked at Kara, very steadily, and very grimly.
"Mordru seeks the Devil's Emerald," she replied.
In the part of the Arctic wastes in which Superman had kept his Fortress of Solitude...there still was a Fortress of Solitude.
It wasn't the original. That had been done away with centuries ago. But there were few places on Earth in which 30th Century citizens couldn't go, if they wanted to. And some entrepreneurial businessmen, when Superboy's appearances with the Legion had made people conscious of the line of Superman again, had bought the land, consulted ancient texts, made a few time-trips for verification, and had created a new Fortress of Solitude that was anything but.
They festooned it with as many relics of the Man of Steel as they could profitably acquire, or facsimiles thereof, and outfitted it with statues, holograms, displays, and aural playbacks that clued the thousands of visitors per day in to the great history of the first Superman, Supergirl, and his friends, plus some of the great Kent / El line of the next 500 years.
Of the last Superman on Earth, there was only a cursory display. Some of the youngsters found it the most fascinating.
Supergirl had never been to the faux Fortress, and there was a standing order at Legion headquarters not to let her or Superboy know it existed, if they could help it. Interestingly enough, none of that had to do with one of the Fortress's final secrets, of which even the new owners were oblivious.
Mordru came through the roof of the Fortress like a cannonball, the golden helmet still in his right hand. Large pieces of ceiling and jagged shards of ice crushed or stabbed several people to death. The rest were sent into panic, and stampeded away from the site. Some guards, overcoming their shock, turned powerful ray-weapons on Mordru. He was surrounded by Brainiac's force-field, but wouldn't have much noticed the beamers even if he hadn't been.
The mage's feet touched the polished surface of the Fortress's floor at precisely the spot in which he sensed his objective. He held his left hand out, pointed directly downward. From his fingers there sprang five beams of power, drilling into the stone and soil beneath, going down, down, down.
Five miles down, to be precise.
Within a minute, a three-foot-square block of copper was wrenched to the surface, spewing more dirt and rock throughout the entire chamber.
A supervisor, accompanied by five guards, pushed through a doorway. "Hey, wait a minute," he yelled. "What are you doing to our exhibit? Get back, there!"
Mordru, without looking at them, sent a bolt from his left hand that killed them all.
The block of copper had remained beneath the Fortress since Superman had placed it there, not long before he laid in the massive floor over it. Once he had encountered the object within, and its wielder, and had discovered that copper retarded its power.
It mattered little to Mordru. He raised his left hand again, splayed flat like a karate fighter's, and chopped downward. The block fell away in two pieces.
Mordru took the end of the copper wire surrounding the object and unravelled it.
The helmet beneath the wire was blue metal. Not painted, not steel-blue, but actually bright blue metal.
It was the mate to the golden helmet in Mordru's right hand.
The Lords of Chaos might have welcomed Mordru as a brother-in-arms if they were more blissfully ignorant of his purpose. But they, too, focussed their powers on him, trying their best to keep him from utilizing their trinket.
It mattered as little as the earlier shellacking he had taken from the Lords of Order.
Mordru took the blue helmet in his left hand. He hefted them both, taking the balance of each. Then he sighed, shook off the peaked cap on his head, and did what he had come to do.
First he jammed the golden helmet on his head. His white beard peeked out from under it, and hung down to mid-chest on him. Truthfully, it looked almost comical.
Then he slammed the blue helmet atop the gold one. Chaos over Order...but with the power of both.
A hum of power filled the air. By this time, the 5,000 tourists of the Fortress of Solitude Complex were all trying to get the hell out of the place, and wishing they'd tried Antarctica for a vacation, instead.
Mordru was oblivious to all. The power...the POWER...
And yet, that would not be enough. And the Lords of Chaos and Order, now desperately breaking tradition and communicating with each other, also knew it.
Even the Emerald would not be enough, thought Mordru. It, too, was just a means to the End.
To the End...
Mordru threw back his head, the twin-helm clinging to his head like metallic skin, and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Then he destroyed the Fortress of Solitude.