"The Gathering Storm"
The room snapped to attention when Mordru entered the dining hall. His guests dropped to their knees on either side of the entry and prostrated before him. The Dark Lord scarcely acknowledged the show of capitulation. And why would he? He was more powerful than the very deities they worshipped and they lower than peasantry to him. Two attendant girls followed behind to assure his elaborate train didn’t touch the ground. He took his place at the head of the grand banquet table.
Former heads of state rose from their knees and gathered around the table after him. They represented the disgusting diversity of the United Planets and Khundian Empire. But despite some notable differences in appearance and culture, they were the most base of species – glorified carbon forms born to serve their Dark Lord.
Mordru’s attendants pulled out his chair then removed his train and folded it carefully.
The delegation from Kathoon took their seats ahead of everyone else – including Mordru.
Mordru was not pleased. “You sit before your Master takes his place?”
“All apologies, my lord,” Viceroy Palix stammered. He stood and gestured to his people to follow his lead. They complied quickly. “My people are ignorant of your customs. I assure you no offense was intended.”
Mordru eyed the Kathoonian delegation and took his seat. “You are forgiven, Viceroy Palix. However, protocol cannot tolerate ignorance. It sets a bad precedent.”
“It won’t happen again, my lord,” Palix pleaded.
“No,” Mordru answered. “It won’t.”
With a wave of Mordru’s hand Palix burst into flames. He clawed desperately at the slow-burning ash of his charred flesh. His screams of agony were nearly as pleasant to Mordru’s ears as the smell of the man’s burning flesh was to his nose.
“Anyone else care to discuss protocol?” Mordru asked as he eyed his horrified guests. “I didn’t think so. Please, be seated friends.”
The delegations rushed to obey.
United Planets president Mosai Desai stole a nervous glance at the burning Palix. “My Lord?”
“Yes, Desai?” Mordru replied.
“Some among our delegations have heard rumblings you will appoint planetary governors. Is this true?” Desai asked.
“Governors?” Mordru laughed. “Such a move would imply dependency on the likes of you!”
“Not at all sire,” Desai argued. “It would be like having an arm of Lord Mordru on every world.”
“Light years from this table my subjects cower before my name, Mr. President,” Mordru replied. “Perhaps it is difficult for a bag of dust and water to comprehend, but fear trumps mortal law. Allow me to demonstrate.”
Another wave of Mordru’s hand and the politicians dropped dead around the table like dominos, one after the other. Mordru enjoyed the horrified looks on their faces as each one realized he would be next to die. Desai was the only one to escape such a fate. When his turn came at last, his body was turned inside out.
Mordru amused himself with the man’s heaving lungs. They gulped oxygen in short, staccato bursts before expelling carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. How revolting to require such a cycle of nature to live! Mordru clinched Desai’s lungs in his hands and popped them like balloons.
“And you,” Mordru said to Palix. “Should I grant you the sweet sleep of death or allow your suffering to fill my dining hall with its sweet song for eternity?”
Palix took no mind of Mordru’s question as he continued to scream in agony.
“An eternity of suffering it is then!” said Mordru as he took a turkey leg from the table. “Your decision pleases me, Palix.”
Beneath New Dehli
“We’ve reached another damned wall!” cried Gim Allon. He and his colleague Dirk Morgna escaped Mordru’s castle with the Legionnaire known as Reep Daggle. Their combined powers allowed them to tunnel beneath the structure rather than fighting their way through it.
“Didn’t stop you the first time, big man,” said Dirk. “Give it the old super-sized fist and let’s go!”
Gim ran his hand along the wall searching for a weak spot. “I believe this material is man-made.”
“Man-made?” Reep asked. “This far underground?”
Dirk cleared away some dirt from the wall. “My guess is we’ve hit one of the planet’s old subway tunnels.”
“No one has used the old tunnels since the transport tubes were put in place in the late twenty-eighth century!” Gim gasped. “Most of them were lost.”
“Looks like we’re better archaeologists than cops, huh?” Dirk asked.
“The important thing is whether or not we can get through it,” said Reep.
Gim smiled as he cocked his fist. “Stand back.”
Reep and Dirk gave Gim room to work. The young giant’s oversized fist slammed into the wall and left a gaping hole. He cleared away the rubble and the three fugitives squeezed into the opening. Dirk was correct: It was an old subway tunnel.
“Now what?” Reep asked.
“We follow and see where it surfaces,” said Gim. “This could be our ticket out.”
“Be careful of the rail,” Dirk warned. “It could be live still. Those twenty-seventh century fusionspheres were designed to run forever.”
A scream caught Reep’s attention. He sprouted huge ears. “Do you guys hear that?”
“What?” Gim asked. “I don’t hear a thing.”
Dirk shrugged his shoulders. “Me neither.”
“Someone is screaming,” Reep replied.
“Where?” Dirk asked. “I don’t hear screaming.”
“Me neither,” Gim agreed. “Perhaps your imagination is playing tricks on you.”
Reep transformed into a leopard and broke ahead of his companions. “Follow me! Someone’s in serious trouble!”
As Reep ran, he noticed the old rails glowing in one section. “You were right, Dirk! The main rail is still live in this section! Be careful!”
In his leopard form Reep quickly outpaced his companions. Once he reached the spot where the screaming was the loudest he waited while the others caught up with him. “Now do you hear it?” Reep asked as they approached.
Gim nodded and pointed to a ventilation duct at the top of the wall. “It’s coming from that old duct! My knuckles are going to hate me in the morning, but… ”
One blow and the wall collapsed. The trio stepped into the pallid darkness and found themselves in a cavern. Dirk flooded it with light.
A young man dressed in a tattered, bloody chef’s uniform lay on the cavern floor. He was covered with claw marks and bites. Despite his condition he managed a goofy grin when he saw them. “The cavalry at last!”
A horrific beast hovered over the chef and cowered from the light. It was a gruesome, vampire-like ghoul with no eyes, a tiny slit for a nose, and covered from forehead to chin with menacing rows of razor-sharp teeth.
“Dirk, take out the Vrykos!” Gim ordered.
“The what?” Dirk asked.
“The ugly one!” Gim commanded.
Dirk froze. “You have to be more specific!”
“Blody grife!” the chef spat. “Not me! The one in need of a good dental plan!”
A flare erupted from Dirk’s hands and slammed the monster to the ground. It wailed as solar energy irradiated its body. .
“Don’t let up!” Gim ordered. “You can’t kill them! They’re immortal!”
The Vrykos howled but refused to yield to Dirk’s flames.
“This could go on forever,” said Gim. He snatched up the confused Vrykos in his growing hand and shoved it through the cavern wall into the subway tunnel. The creature howled when he deposited it on the live rail.
Reep helped the chef to his feet. “Reep Daggle. I’m a Legionnaire.”
“Great pick up line,” the chef replied. “Tenzil Kim, and boy am I a big Legion fan right about now.”
“We should get moving,” said Gim. A little electricity and a pile of rubble won’t keep a Vrykos occupied for long.”
Earth, New Dehli District, Airspace Above Mordru’s Castle
The Legion Blackhawk descended over the city. Garth considered using the Delhi Ridge as cover, but according to Dox, Mordru wasn’t prone to a sneak attack. Besides, Garth wanted the sorcerer to know they were coming.
“The heart of Mordru’s stronghold is directly below us,” said Salu.
“How do we get in?” Rond asked. “I doubt we can just walk up to the front door and knock.”
Mysa stepped forward. “I have prepared a teleportation spell, but it would be a significant drain on my power.”
Garth shook his head. “Sit tight, little lady! We need you at full power!”
“As you wish,” Mysa replied. “I wanted to make you aware of the option.”
Before he could thank Mysa for the offer, the plastisteel interior of the Legion’s Blackhawk cruiser gave way to the stone and mortar of Mordru’s medieval castle.
“Everyone accounted for and ok?” Garth asked.
“Looks like the gang’s all here,” Rond Vidar replied. “No worse for the wear.”
One thought gripped Garth’s mind. “Ayla?”
“Both she and Dox’s patient are with us as well,” Vidar answered.
“Get them to safety,” Garth ordered.
“With all due respect,” Vidar argued. “They are safer with us than anywhere in this castle. If Dox will be so kind as to enclose them within his force field…”
Garth nodded. “Dox…”
“Done,” Dox replied.
Nura Nal grabbed her sister by her shoulders. “You were supposed to save your strength for Mordru!” ”
“The teleportation spell was not my doing, sister,” Mysa replied.
“It was mine!” Mordru bellowed as he appeared with an explosion that would have shamed the sorcerers of Xerox. “How many foolish youths will this world throw at me?”
A lightning bolt erupted from Garth’s outstretched hands and slammed into Mordru’s chest. “Surrender and restore the United Planets to its rightful state!”
Mordru swatted at Garth’s attack like a swarm of mosquitoes. “You dare lecture me on the rightful state of things, child? I alone determine right and wrong in this universe!”
A second bolt of lightning struck Mordru.
“Does your feeble control of the storm astonish the mortals of this realm, little boy?” Mordru hissed. “You cannot begin to comprehend the storms I command!”
A dark cloud appeared over Mordru’s head. He reached into the rumbling blackness with both hands. When he lowered them they too glowed with the power of the storm. He hurled the lightning at Garth and struck him down.
“Garth!” Salu shouted. She ran to his side and checked on him.
“I’m fine,” Garth whispered as he rolled over. “I absorbed it.”
Mordru chuckled. “Your resiliency is amusing, stripling! Perhaps I underestimated you.”
“I’ve got your resiliency right here!” Garth answered. “Thanks for the power up!”
A third burst of lightning staggered the sorcerer.
“Let’s dispense with the pleasantries and commence with the slaughter!” said Mordru. A beam of energy leaped from his eyes toward the Legionnaires and their associates.
At the last moment a shield covered the heroes.
“Dox?” Garth asked.
“It’s not me,” Dox replied.
Mordru’s energy crackled around the shield but failed to penetrate it.
“A wielder of the arts among you?” Mordru asked. “I can taste your power, little witch! Xerox, no? Come to me, child!”
The wizard reached out his hands toward Mysa.
Mysa unwittingly staggered as Mordru’s magic grabbed hold of her and raised her off the floor. She hovered six inches off the ground and inched toward him. She tried to fight back but was no match for his immense power. “I’m not afraid of you, Evil One!”
“You lie, little witch,” Mordru jeered. “You are terrified to the very core of your soul!”
“Release her!” Garth ordered.
“You grate my nerves, petulant one!” said Mordru. “You will be the first I kill after dispatching with your witch in white!”
Sweat poured from Mysa’s brow. Despite her herculean effort she was losing the battle. Her approach toward the wizard hastened.
Nura rushed to her sister and wrapped her arms around the wispy girl’s waist. “He’ll not take you as long as I have breath in my body!”
“Please, Nura! I know you mean well, but you weaken my concentration,” said Mysa.
“I won’t let you go!” said Nura. “He’ll have to take us both.”
Mordru laughed. “How touching! The two women share the stench of family.”
“Garth! Do something!” Nura shouted.
Garth’s lightning struck the sorcerer once more. “Don’t worry. We’ll save you, Mysa!”
“Save her?” Mordru asked. “See the horror on her face? She realizes how futile it is to resist my deeper magic. Here allow me to show you, Legionnaires - bow before me!”
It felt like someone placed an elephant on Garth’s shoulders. He swore to himself he wouldn’t bow but Mordru’s power was overwhelming. At last his knees buckled and he succumbed. “Rond, is it possible to repeat what you did on Medicus One?”
“No,” Rond replied. “This is your fight, Legion. Lord Mordru, allow me to grant my patients the mercy of a quick death.”
“Vidar, you traitorous bastard!” Garth spat. “Don’t you hurt my sister!”
Rond moved to the anti-grav beds. “You should thank Lord Mordru for granting her mercy, Legionnaire.”
“Go to hell!” Garth spat back.
“I will see you there,” Rond answered.
Mordru cackled. “It pleases me that your decision brings your associate such agony! Make their deaths quick... but painful.”
Rond moved to the anti-grav beds and made some adjustments to Ayla’s unit then to Dox’s patient. “They’re stabilized and ready for the light show.”
“Light show?” Mordru asked. “What do you mean?”
“This!” said Garth. He bathed Dox’s patient’s bed with lightning. The young man jerked up and with an agonizing scream unleashed so much raw power from his eyes that Mordru was hurled across his chambers.
With Mordru’s concentration broken, Mysa fell into her sister’s arms.
The Dark Lord crashed into the far wall and arose angrier than ever. “Your duplicity angers me, earthman! I will feast on your entrails! So swears Lord Mordru!”
“I’ve been told they don’t taste very good,” Rond replied.
Before Mordru could answer, an explosion staggered the sorcerer to on knee. Mysa’s arms were outstretched before her. A ball of of white energy formed between her hands. It gained size as it spun on an invisible axis then launched at Mordru and detonated like a bomb against him. He fell once more.
“Go, little sis!” Nura shouted. “You are good at this!”
Mordru spat a god’s blood and cursed. “You’re impressed with her child’s play? Mordru will show you real power!”
The sorcerer stood to his feet and grew until he towered over Garth’s motley team. He burst through the roof of his castle and brushed aside the debris with an angry wave of his arms. Towering over the Legion he reached for Mysa and she shot toward him like a rag doll.
“Mysa! No!” Nura cried.
Mordru snatched Mysa from the air with his enormous right hand and dangled her over his open maw. He relished her futile struggle.
Nura fell to her knees. “I’m begging you. Please, I’ll do anything!”
Mordru seemed pleased with himself. He smiled menacingly and nodded. “Yes, you will.” He dropped Mysa into his mouth and swallowed her whole.
“No! Mysa!” Nura screamed. “Bring her back you monster!”
Mordru’s laughter shook the ground like rolling thunder “Now I’ll crush the rest of you like the insects you are!” He hurled a bolt of raw magic from his hands.
At the last moment Dox’s force field deflected the attack.
Mordru looked surprised. “Impossible! Science is no match for magic!”
“That remains to be seen,” Dox answered.
“Dox! How long can you hold him off?” Garth shouted above the crackling energy or Mordru’s magic dancing over Dox’s force field.
“The calculation would be impossible without a proper measurement of Mordru’s ability to tap into the universe’s store of kinetic energy,” Dox answered. “My force field can withstand this sustained level of stress for twenty-three days, eleven hours, and nineteen minutes.”
“Correction, Coluan!” Mordru replied. “Your toy is finished!”
A blow from Mordru’s right hand shattered the shield and scattered the Legion. Nura took the worst of the blow and was out cold. Rond didn’t even look to be on the same planet as everyone else, but was conscious. Salu crawled to Garth’s side and fell next to him. Dox slammed into the castle wall. He was covered in green blood.
“What now?” Salu panted.
“Now I finish you,” Mordru bragged.
“Garth?” Salu asked. “Please tell me you’ve got something else.”
Garth tried to push himself up but collapsed beside her. “I’m out of tricks, Salu. We’re done.”
Mordru clapped his hands and his minions filed into the battle-ravaged chambers. Garth recognized them.
“Imra?” Garth asked. “Rokk?” The missing Legionnaires filed in behind them.
The mind-controlled Legionnaires chose their victims. Jenni and Tinya raised Salu to her feet and pummeled her. Two of Luornu’s selves dragged an unconscious Nura up by her arms, while the third more Aggressive One grabbed a handful of her platinum blonde hair and clocked her across the jaw. Brin held Rond’s arms while Veilmist raised a knife to his throat. Jan and Thom grabbed Dox while Lyle punched him in the gut. Rokk and Imra stomped away on Garth.
There were no guarantees when saving the universe. Sometimes even heroes fail. Garth gave it his best but it wasn’t enough. He wondered whether Rokk or Imra would have done a better job in such a crisis. His thoughts were cut short by Rokk’s boot heel in his eye socket.
The worst was lying at Imra’s feet knowing she was ready to kill him. He had a crush on the pretty blonde from the moment they met in the Metropolis Spaceport. She never warmed to his advances but it didn’t change his feelings for her.
“Imra, please. I don’t want to hurt you,” Garth begged.
“Hurt me, Garth?” Imra asked. “You don’t have it in you. Your feelings for me cloud your judgment.”
“Struck a nerve, have I?” Imra taunted. “I… I… what am I doing?”
Imra spun on her heels and blasted Mordru’s mind with a telepathic jolt. The unsuspecting sorcerer fell to his knees and clawed at his head. “The pain… What have you done to me, girl?”
“Now, Legion!” Imra commanded. “Hit him while he’s down!”
The mind-controlled Legionnaires shook off their cobwebs.
“Don’t stand around gawking,” Garth demanded as he stood to his feet. He’d taken a beating but felt it was important for the others to see him take the lead. “Take the fight to him!”
Every able-bodied Legionnaire unleashed their fury on Mordru. Rond even managed to crawl to the anti-grav beds and add another blast of energy from his patient’s eyes.
“Rond?” asked a confused Garth. “I didn’t power the bed. How did you…”
“You don’t have to,” Rond replied. “Your previous blasts were absorbed by a power cell. It finally absorbed enough energy to become self-sustaining. Now I can drain the excess energy at will.”
“Pour it on then,” said Garth.
A familiar telepathic tickle tingled in Garth’s mind. <”Mordru’s weakening, Garth. Don’t let up!”>
“Imra says we need more guys,” Garth shouted over the din.
“Maybe we can help?” Reep Daggle burst through the doors accompanied by two Science Police officers and a badly beaten young man dressed in a tattered chef’s uniform. They propped the chef up against a wall and joined the fray. An inferno erupted from the sandy-haired Science Police officer’s hands and slammed into Mordru.
The sorcerer wailed in agony.
The second Science Police officer grew to match Mordru’s stature and unloaded a big right hand on the sorcerer’s jaw. Reep took the form of a Winathian Mad-Plains Ram and charged the mage’s legs. Their combined attacked dropped the Dark Lord.
“Score one for the cavalry!” Garth shouted. “Keep it up, Legion!”
Mordru staggered to his feet and looked confused as if the Legion and their allies were the least of his worries.
“Something’s happening!” Garth shouted over the fray.
Imra made contact with Garth once more. <<>“I’m going in.”<>>
<<>“What do you mean “going in”?”<>> Garth asked.
<<>“I’m making contact with Mordru’s mind,”<>> Imra replied. <<>“If I don’t make it back…”<>>
Garth reached for Imra but she collapsed in his arms. “Imra! No!”