"A New Plan"
Imra Ardeen carefully balanced the elaborate silver tray on her right hand and made her way to her lord’s chambers. She checked her reflection in the domed cover’s brilliant mirrored sheen. Appearances were important to her liege and she would not let him down. She was chosen for the prestigious position by Lord Mordru himself and it made her happy beyond measure to please him. Never before had a god chosen her for such a high calling.
Two guards stood watch on either side of the massive double doors outside Mordru’s throne room. There was something familiar about them but she had more important things on her mind. One of the guards, a feral-looking young man, rapped a code upon the door with his knuckles and it jerked upon its hinges and creaked open.
As she passed into Lord Mordru’s chamber, Imra took note of the doormen. One was chained to each slab and they strained to open them. What selfless deed endeared them to her lord? What had they done so well to earn them the reward of his presence for hours on end? The one with the dark hair had a confidence about him, probably a result of his exalted place in the court. The other, a young man with long, blonde curls looked as if he could be the king of a great nation himself.
Mordru waited upon his throne for her. Try as she might, it was hard for Imra to keep her gaze fixed on the rough-hewn stone floor beneath her bare feet. Her master was so beautiful! His countenance was like beholding the heart of Sol itself! There could not be a more perfect physical specimen in the universe!
Imra curtsied. “Your victuals, my lord.”
Mordru lifted her chin with his hand. “You serve me well, fair-haired maiden.”
A delicious rush of intoxication coursed through Imra’s soul. “I please you, my lord?”
“Indeed you do,” Mordru replied.
“And us, my lord?”
Three identical, scantily-clad females fussed over Mordru, each in her own way. One sat at his feet and writhed luridly for his attention. Another awaited the serving tray to feed him. The third stood to the left of his throne and draped her arms around his neck. She fussed over the smallest details of his handsome face.
Imra hated the wanton hussies for drawing Mordru’s attention away from her. She worked so hard for his gaze to fall upon her and only her! How she wished her lord had called her into such service as the dancing maidens! Unbridled lust washed over her as she thought of dancing passionately before her lord in a skimpy outfit like the triplets wore. Just knowing his eyes were on her... No, such thoughts were wrong! She had no right to question her master’s will. She was delighted he took notice of her at all.
Mordru turned to his dancing servants. “Your lord is very pleased with your services, but I was not speaking to you.”
The girls bowed their heads. “Forgive us, my lord.”
Imra secretly rejoiced at the girls’ well-deserved chastisement.
“You’re forgiven,” Mordru said to them. He turned again to Imra and gestured for her to remove the covering from his food. She removed it and her heart sank.
Mordru exploded in rage. “What is the meaning of this, serving wench? You dare folly with me?”
Imra dropped to her knees and spilled the tray. “Forgive me, my lord! I did not know!”
Strewn upon the ground was a plate of limestone rock.
Medicus One, Dr Gym’ll’s Research Lab
To say Garth Ranzz was tired was a major understatement.
Mordru’s armies of strange, worm-like drones were relentless and his lightning proved less effective against them as the stalemate wore on. For every one that fell, it seemed two took its place. Each twisted, monstrous creature was armed with a deadly stinger in the hook-like end of its armored tail. Dr. Gym’ll, Medicus One’s esteemed Medical Director had already fallen victim to their stings and Garth swore he would keep his sister Ayla and the others safe or die trying.
“They’re getting closer!” Rond Vidar yelled over the fray.
Garth gritted his teeth and dug deep within to find stores of power he never tapped before. “Tell me something I don’t know, Vidar! They’re either adapting or I’m getting weaker. Or both! How’s Nura?”
The exotic beauty lay at Vidar’s feet in some kind of coma that occurred very suddenly. Vidar scanned her vital signs. “She’ll be fine. The fall to the floor didn’t hurt her too badly.”
“How can you say that?” Garth asked incredulously. “It’s not the fall that concerns me. She’s having some kind of seizure!”
“She Naltorian, Legionnaire! She’s merely dreaming!” Vidar replied.
Rond drug his assistant to safety then worked feverishly to ready Ayla for emergency transport while the medical satellite’s general evacuation alarm blared away like a charging Winathian Siring Bull.
In the midst of the confusion, the doors to the research lab swooshed open. Garth was relieved to see that Querl Dox and Salu Digby had docked safely at the station. Of course they had their own complication floating along behind them strapped to a hover bed. It was the young man the Legion rescued from the belly of the energy beast. The three were enclosed in Dox’s force shield.
“It’s bad bedside manner to drag your patient into the gates of hell, Dox!” Garth half-joked.
“We had no choice but to bring him along into hell or otherwise,” Dox replied. “Metropolis fell two hours ago. Violet and I were forced to evacuate Legion headquarters. Perhaps Dr. Gym’ll and Vidar would examine the Rimborian as well when this is over.”
“Scratch Dr. Gym’ll,” Garth shouted above the fray. “Damn worm things got him. Either of you bring anything that can help us?”
“I can expand my force shield around us all. It may buy us some time,” Dox replied.
“Do it!” Garth shouted as he dropped his attack. “I have no fight left in me.”
Dox fingered his force-shield belt and the nearly-invisible bubble of energy surrounding the new arrivals enveloped everyone else.
Dox rushed to Garth’s side. “Any plan for getting us out of here, leader man?”
“I’m not even sure what the sprock we’re fighting,” Garth answered.
“They are a non-catalogued species, but I suspect they are biologically linked to the Gil’ Dishpan although much less evolved. For lack of a better term we’re calling them Droneworms. Mordru dispersed them across the galaxy to terminate his enemies. Meanwhile he’s transformed the Indian continent into a medieval paradise. There’s your hell, at least for the thinking man,” Dox replied. “Salu and I barely managed to escape Earth.”
“Any word from Jan’s team?” Garth asked.
“Not since you and I spoke last,” Dox answered. “I’m sorry.” He left Garth’s side and spoke with Vidar.
Garth closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He hoped for the best but feared the worst for his teammates. The Legion was only weeks old and had already seen much loss with Jan’s world Trom weighing heavily on their collective shoulders.
Nura Nal stirred from where she lay on the floor.
“I see your sleeping habits haven’t improved,” Dox said to her. “And here I hoped you were merely knocked unconscious in the battle.”
“And you still have that sparkling Coluan tact, Doxie so I’d call it a draw.” Nura replied as she stood to her feet. “As much as I love getting inside that gray matter of yours, I have tasks to complete.” She assisted Salu and Rond with readying Ayla and the unknown young man for transport on their hover-beds.
“Shows what she knows,” Dox huffed. “The Coluan brain is pale yellow not gray like some devolved base species.”
“Guys! They’re breaking through!” Garth shouted.
Dox looked up. “Impossible! My force shield is impenetrable!”
Nura pointed to Mordru’s drones. “That helpless confusion you feel right now? It’s called humility. Rumor has it that it’s good for the Coluan ego every now and then.”
“You’re a fine one to lecture on humility,” Dox replied. He made an adjustment to his force shield. “That’s full power! We must ready ourselves to make a stand once they adapt!”
“Dox! This young man’s condition is rapidly deteriorating,” Vidar warned. “I’m unfamiliar with the exotic radiation signature but it’s many times more potent than any I’ve ever encountered!”
“Yes, I know,” Dox replied. “I tried to treat him with a genetic bomb I hoped would slow the radiation and allow me to siphon off enough or him to live, but Legion Headquarters fell before I could complete his treatment.”
“I may be able to help him,” said Vidar.
Garth interrupted. “Gentlemen, another time perhaps?”
“And us in the process,” Vidar added.
“Then do it!” Garth and Dox replied in unison.
The fight with Mordru left Reep Daggle weakened. He buzzed through Mordru’s castle in the form of a lowly common housefly and searched carefully with all his eyes for even the smallest opening that would give his teammates and the universe a fighting chance. The tiny insect form was no threat to topple the Dark Lord’s rapidly expanding empire, but at least it allowed him to roam the castle freely without attracting suspicion and his freedom gave him reason to hope. It was far from a guarantee of victory but it was a start. He was a Legionnaire and that meant something even if the team was new.
Reep suspected that the Legion would one day be something great. No, it was already great - it would just take time before others could see it. He hated leaving his teammates behind in their holding cells, suspended from the ceiling like slabs of raw meat but he had no choice. They were unresponsive when he attempted to revive them. He suspected they were under some spell that prevented them from awakening. He wasn’t sure why he was unaffected, but he was thankful. He assumed it was due to his Durlan physiology but that mystery was better left to Dox after the Legion saved the universe.
Not all his teammates were in holding cells. He saw some serving in Mordru’s court while buzzing through the throne room. Rokk and Jan were chained to the doors and Luornu’s three selves serving at Mordru’s feet. Brin and Thom stood guard outside the throne room. Mordru boasted gleefully about how he enjoyed using the Legionnaires as his playthings.
Reep explored the massive castle for hours. It seemed to have no end, and perhaps was even growing! He needed to rest his wings. The long corridor to his right off the main hallway seemed like a perfect place to land. There were no horizontal surfaces, but in his housefly form Reep could stick to the walls as effortlessly. More importantly the corridor was tucked behind the main walkway. It was also empty except the four guards stationed by a door at the end of the long hallway.
This development warranted closer inspection.
“This had better work Vidar or we’re toast,” Garth shouted.
“My plan is all we have right now, Legionnaire” Vidar answered. “Now, Dox!”
At Rond Vidar’s signal, Querl Dox lowered his force shield. Garth wasn’t sure about the wisdom in dropping the only barrier between them and certain death. Then again, some plan was better than none and if he was going to die he’d rather go down fighting than wasting away inside a force field.
“One good burst of lightning, Garth,” said Vidar.
“They’ve already adapted to my power,” Garth protested.
“Not them,” Vidar explained. He unstrapped Dox’s patient. “The hover-bed.”
“Do it, Garth! I think I know what he has in mind,” Dox shouted.
Garth unleashed his power and hoped he wouldn’t kill the young man on the hover-bed. He wasn’t sure what the geniuses had in mind, but it was their show now.
The bed glowed white-hot from its electricity bath. The previously comatose young man sprung up and unleashed the most gut-wrenching scream Garth ever heard before a burst of energy shot from his eyes and fried the drones where they stood. Then the patient collapsed once more.
“Curse the Luck Lords themselves!” Garth exclaimed. “What the sprock was that?”
The stench of burnt Droneworm flesh filled the air.
“Droneworm fricassee anyone?” Salu asked with a wicked smile that belied her usual shy demeanor.
Dox took a sample of the charred Droneworm remains and turned to Garth. “Vidar used the Rimborian as a biological weapon and in turn siphoned off enough harmful radiation to give him a fighting chance at life.”
Nura Nal scanned the Rimborian. “A fighting chance maybe, but believe me, he still has that special glow about him. Even after the barbecue, he retains enough residual energy to power the Metropolis super-grid for years!”
“What now Ranzz?” Vidar asked.
“We get out of here and regroup,” Garth answered.
“But where?” Salu asked. “Mordru’s magic is everywhere.”
“Perhaps I can help,” said Nura. “I saw a place in my dream.”
“This is no time for your silly games,” Dox scolded. “I’m sure Mordru’s minions have shut down the day spas in this sector.”
Garth spun Dox around and anchored his finger in the Coluan’s face. “Whatever has taken place between the two of you in the past stays there! I don’t hear a plan from you right now, so if Nura thinks she can help we listen! Understood?”
The lab fell to a hush as Dox’s icy stare cut into Garth. When the Coluan finally spoke his words were cold as the blackness of space. “Your logic is sound. Nura?”
Nura smiled over her shoulder as she exited the lab. “Pack your maces and your crossbows everybody! Next stop, Sorcerer’s World!”
Garth couldn’t believe his ears. Xerox, the Sorcerer’s World? Everyone knew there was nothing there but eccentric fools who refused to join the modern age. They fancied themselves as the remnants of a centuries-old cult of magic users. The planet was tabloid-vid fodder for any number of urban legends. The name Sorcerer’s World itself was slang, a tongue-in-cheek stab at the desolate, backward orb. Sentients galaxy-wide joked that beings were “ready for Sorcerer’s World” as a synonym for mental illness. Some sentients suggested R.J. Brande was ready for a stay there when he founded the Legion and suggested the unification of the Free Worlds.
“Are you crazy?” Dox called after her. “Your suggestion is a fool’s folly! Our answers to this crisis lie in the absolutes of science, not hocus-pocus and legend! And what makes you believe they’ll help us? That useless mudball won’t even allow a ship within their orbit!”
“They’ll help because I have connections, Doxie!” Nura called back to him. “And my sister is neither a fool nor folly!”
“Sister?” Dox asked incredulously and buried his face in his hands. “There’s another one like you?”
What lay behind the heavily-guarded door? Reep suspected either a prisoner or the machinations that allowed Mordru’s magics to replicate the castle so quickly. Reep considered at least three-hundred seventy-two life-forms that would allow him to slip underneath the crack in the door unnoticed, but before he could settle on the proper one a servant girl appeared with a tray of food and curtsied to the guards. They opened the doors and said nothing.
As Reep suspected there was at least one prisoner detained behind the door and perhaps more. Who else did Mordru deem dangerous enough to deny their freedom or even death?
The servant disappeared into the mouth of waiting shadows beyond the door. Maintaining the form of a housefly it was easy for Reep to follow her.
The servant removed a torch from the wall and descended a crude, spiraling staircase of hand-hewn stone. The steps reached deep into the earth until finally the servant’s bare feet struck a dirt floor. She followed an earthen corridor until she reached two prisoners suspended on a wall in specially-designed shackles that looked suspiciously like the power dampeners the Khunds used on Reep and others with evolutionary abilities when they were imprisoned in the Stalag. The prisoners were spread-eagle and appeared badly-beaten. With only the small torch for a light, the shadows hid their faces. “Compliments of my lord, Mordru,” said the servant girl.
“Tell Mordru to go to hell,” answered one of the prisoners. He was dressed in a Science Police uniform. His partner’s uniform shirt was shredded but it appeared he too was an officer. What was so important about a couple of Science Policemen?
The servant girl fed the prisoner with the torn shirt first. While feeding him she turned to the one who cursed Mordru. “You shouldn’t speak of my Lord in such an insolent manner. You risk his wrath.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed we’re not exactly BFF’s right now,” the prisoner replied. The servant girl offered him food. He lapped at the swill hungrily.
Once he finished, the servant turned to leave and hung the torch in the wall. “It’s not good for you to dwell in such darkness. It could drive one mad.”
The prisoner laughed. “I’m mad as hell already! We demand our release from this unlawful confinement! We are Earthgov liaisons to the Science Police and know our rights under the United Planets constitution!”
“My shoulders and back hurt,” said the other prisoner. “Why can’t you sprockin’ release us so we can kick Mordru’s ass, Svaughn? You’re a Science Police officer too for God’s sake! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
The one called Svaughn whipped around. “All that matters is serving Lord Mordru to the best of my ability! If you insist on speaking of the Master in such a manner I will leave you to your madness.” She doused the torch before leaving the dungeon in darkness.
“You have some nerve coming here!” bellowed Mysa Nal. She was Nura’s sister, but they bore little resemblance. Mysa’s long, white robes blended into her pale skin and flowed behind her as she walked. Unlike Nura, she wore no cosmetics or anything else that would call attention to her femininity. Instead the left side of her face was adorned with a black tattoo of a crescent moon with a small star to its immediate right inside the crescent. Her red hair brushed against her bare shoulders and framed her face with straight bangs. It was obvious she made no fuss over it. The cut was more practical than for beauty. She was also smaller than Nura, a tiny wisp of a girl. By comparison she was plain to Nura’s extravagance.
Garth couldn’t tell if she was younger or older, partially because of her demure frame and mostly because Nura’s was not so demure.
Nura paid her sister’s tone no mind. As usual she deflected anger with feigned ignorance. “What? No hug for your dear sister?”
“You should know better than to come here,” Mysa replied. “Leave! All of you!”
“I don’t understand,” Garth interjected. “We were given clearance to land just so you could tell us to leave?”
“Nonsense,” said Nura, her eyes locked with her sister’s. “Mysa has always possessed a flare for dramatics. The elders granted us an audience. It’s Mysa who wants us to leave. More specifically she wants me to leave.”
“Ladies, this is getting us nowhere,” said Dox. “Please reserve your petty jealousies and hatreds for another time.”
“Petty jealousy?” Mysa asked.
“I do not hate my sister,” Nura snapped.
“What Dox is trying to say is that whatever issue is between the two of you can wait,” said Rond Vidar. “Young lady, Nura believes your people can help us stop Mordru.”
Mysa arched her brow and recoiled at the name. When she spoke it was in hushed tones. “Mordru?”
A loud explosion relieved the weight of the sorcerer’s name. It was accompanied by a fetid, sulfuric smell and white smoke. A somber collection of beings stood in the midst of the clearing smoke. It was obvious they hailed from several worlds. Garth assumed they were sorcerers too. A lone, aged Dromerdary took two deliberate steps forward.
“One should not even whisper that name in folly, child,” warned the camel-like bipedal alien as he crossed his hooves.
Protocol was never Garth’s strength so he bowed awkwardly and gestured for the others behind him to do so, but wasn’t sure whether they did or not. “No folly intended, sir. Mordru has enslaved half the known galaxy and is hell-bent on conquering the remaining universe if we don’t find a way to stop him.”
“Mordru cannot be stopped,” the ancient Dromedary replied with a shake of his head.
“We came here for help,” said Garth. “Tell me now if we’re wasting our time so we can seek other options.”
“You have no other options, young man and I didn’t say we wouldn’t help you,” the Dromedary answered. “Mordru is a force of nature as ancient as the cosmos itself. Stopping him is impossible, but containment is possible.”
“Then you’ll help?” Garth asked.
The Dromedary nodded. “We pledge our aid to you for you cannot hope to defeat him alone. It is for this task Xerox lives and will one day die again.”
The cryptic decree wasn’t encouraging, but at least with an army of sorcerers on its side the United Planets stood a fighting chance. It made sense to fight magic with magic. “We accept your generous offer. Your sorcerers are welcome to ride to Earth aboard the Legion’s Blackhawk Cruiser.”
The Dromedary shook his head. “You misunderstand child. Our prophecies foretell one among us destined to contain this evil.”
“One?” Salu asked. “Only one of you will return with us?”
“Aye. The One who is destined to face Mordru. It is the outcome that is clouded by the intricacies of prophecy,” the Dromedary answered. “Perhaps it is me. Or perhaps another of my brothers or sisters, but we must convene for conclave. We shall return with your champion.”
Another explosion and the assembly of mages and wizards disappeared leaving Garth’s rag-tag crew with more questions than answers.
“I knew this was a waste of time,” a gloomy Dox huffed. “Shall we swing by Bismol next?”
“We’ll take what we can get,” said Garth. “Hopefully it will be the blue Minotaur. He’s the only one among them remotely intimidating.”
Salu placed a hand gently upon Nura’s shoulder. “Are you ok? Anything you want to talk about?”
Nura shrugged. “What’s there to say? Mysa’s always been jealous of me. She was born with a precognitive handicap. She can’t see even the next second - totally blind to tomorrow. On the other hand, I can see weeks or even months in advance - even further than the current High Seer.”
“So how did she get here?” Salu asked.
“When she ran away from home a few years ago, our parents scoured the worlds for her, thinking one of the technologically advanced planets would hold an attraction to her. Instead we found her here in our own system on Xerox,” Nura explained. “She was so happy here with her studies that our parents agreed to allow her to stay.”
“Let’s hope she has as much influence with this council as she does with your parents,” said Garth. “Otherwise the United Planets is finished before it even has a chance to fly.”