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Issue #17

"Fields of Battle"

by David Marshall

Inside Mordru’s Mind

Imra Ardeen hoped she wouldn’t live to regret her decision to enter Mordru’s mind. She expected it to be dark and twisted but the frigid wasteland left her shivering and cold. She cradled her arms and rubbed them together for warmth. The effort was futile.

“You’re not welcome here, Legionnaire,” a chilling voice whispered from the icy darkness.

Imra steeled her nerves. “Welcome or not, I’m here! Show yourself, monster!”

Mordru’s form materialized before Imra on the mental plane. “You invade my mind little telepath and have the nerve to hurl accusations of monstrosity?”

Imra didn’t wait to endure more of Mordru’s taunts. She unleashed a mental blast but it felt sluggish as if moving through quicksand.

The sorcerer easily deflected the ineffective effort and returned a blast of his own that knocked Imra off her feet. Her head felt as if it would explode.

A purple staff materialized in Mordru’s hands – a psychic construct created for battle on the mental plane. “You would battle a god in his own mind, wench? Such hubris!”

Imra rose to her feet and produced a mental construct of her own – a pink tapered bo staff. But why did it take all her concentration to maintain it? Forming weapons was the heart of basic telepathic warfare. Even a beginner in the telepathic arts could maintain a simple bo staff. Had she bitten off more than she could chew?

Mordru twirled his staff high over his head in a looping arc and attacked.

Imra barely fended off the blow with an awkward parlay.

The sorcerer shifted weight to his back foot and spun. He jabbed at Imra’s head and she was pleasantly surprised she blocked it with a little more ease than before. Perhaps she was acclimating to the landscape?

An instant later she realized she’d been had when Mordru reversed his staff and swung the butt end into her knee cap.

Imra dropped her staff and clutched her leg. She was barely able to stand, let alone fight. Combat on the mental plane was much more demanding than on the physical one. It wasn’t her actual leg that hurt, but a part of her psyche represented by her wounded appendage. She retrieved her staff and limped to her feet before lunging forward awkwardly.

Mordru blocked but mistook her lunge as a desperate wounded act. It was a technique Imra copied from Terran martial arts and applied on the mental plane. The style was known as “Drunken Monkey”. She quickly twirled her staff and caught the Dark Lord in the eye socket. A cut opened above his eye.

The wizard clutched his bloodied face. “You’ve injured me, girl! I will feast on your…”

Mordru’s venomous posturing abated mid-sentence. He seemed momentarily distracted. Imra wasn’t sure what seized his attention. Perhaps it was her teammates’ doing on the physical plane, but she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. She clutched both ends of her staff and struck Mordru in the mouth with the flat angle. Blood gushed from his fresh wound.

“Perhaps you should keep your head in the game, you pompous over-confident nass!” Imra taunted. She hoped to make the Dark Lord angry enough to make him sloppy.

“You dare mock me?” Mordru thundered. His eyes grew wild. “Let me show you who it is you mock!” Tendrils burst from the wizard’s mouth like the roots of a tree seeking water. The appendages flailed away as they crawled from inside the sorcerer. A putrid odor assaulted Imra’s nostrils as the creature slowly emerged. A head made its way through the birth canal of Mordru’s gaping orifice. One final push and the creature plopped to the ground like primordial goo. Mordru’s humanoid shell crumpled away.

Imra recoiled from the sight of Mordru’s true form. It was far more terrifying than any devil imagined in the hells of a thousand worlds. Foul slime dripped from his body. It was long like a centipede and he raised his head like a cobra. Hundreds of appendages lined his body, each brandishing a battle staff of its own. Nothing in Titan’s shared memory database prepared her for the incarnation of evil before her.

Invading the Dark Lord’s mind was a mistake. Imra wanted to flee but couldn’t sever the link between their minds. She was trapped! She wanted to run but knew she couldn’t hide from Mordu in his own mind. It was his mind and she the invader. He held the advantage and was strong enough to press it.

Mordru attacked. His tendrils struck impossibly from every direction at once.

Imra tried to block his blows but her psychic staff was useless against the Dark Lord’s fury. If she blocked one blow, a hundred more lashed into her. With each strike, her sanity dripped away like an icicle melting in spring. Finally her staff snapped in half and she fell.

Mordru plucked Imra up by the hair. “Do I terrify you telepath? Does the sight of my true form disgust you?” He struck her across the face, bloodying her nose.

Imra sprawled to the ground and drained her remaining power reforming her battle staff in preparation of the Dark Lord’s final volley. At last she found the strength to stand once more. If she were going to die, she would go down fighting and not cowered at Mordru’s feet!

The sorcerer pounced upon his hapless prey and delighted himself with Imra’s vulnerability. Mordru played with her memories like a trunk full of children’s toys. Moments that were dear to her became nightmares. Never had she felt so violated. The Dark Lord probed the depths of her mind for her greatest fears and exploited them without mercy. Her staff fell to the ground out of her reach.

“Is that all you have?” Imra taunted, knowing Mordru saw through her bluff.

But her ploy was more than meaningless posturing. She hoped to keep Mordru busy while she erected her strongest defenses around her deepest fear – giving Mordru a foothold into the minds of everyone she ever met. She was connected to their minds and would die before allowing him to use her as a conduit to them.

As Titan’s premiere telepath Imra “heard” a lot of random thought pollution in her lifetime. For most beings a crowd presented an opportunity to socialize. For her it was a challenge to keep out the secrets of friends and strangers. Her prodigious talents landed her a place in the academy at a young age – as a guinea pig. Even on a world of telepaths she was a freak. To most on Titan telepathy was a pleasant babbling brook of thought. To her it was a tsunami. While many attended the academy to strengthen their telepathy, she was sent there to learn to rein it in.

Imra corralled every stray thought collected in her lifetime and raised a defense around them but doing so turned them inward on her psyche, not just the gentle, pleasant ones but the dark ones as well. Every brazen secret, every hateful thought, every trace of darkness hidden in the recesses of the minds of countless strangers over the years exploded with the pain they wrought - heartbreak, betrayal, suicide, grief, broken homes, rapes, cheating spouses, murders, the lack of hope in souls lost to every sin and vice known to the galaxy. Maintaining control over such an array of thought pollution was excruciating.

“Well played, little telepath!” said Mordru. “Of course you realize defending others bares your personal fears for exploitation? Yes, there it is – that which you fear most!”

At first it was merely a whisper in the darkness but it grew louder until Imra swore the whole universe heard it – her real deepest fear.

What if she lost control?

Perhaps it was arrogance but she neglected that whisper for years. It was the unspoken burden of the telepath and the reason they rarely ventured from the safety net of their collective.

But Imra was different. She was the strongest of the strong, the centerpiece of Titan’s strategy for promoting tolerance off-world. It was why Titan allowed her to join the Science Police in the first place. The acceptance of her people hinged on her ability to function outside the collective. The one-time freak was now the planet’s ambassador. If she lost control her people would be even more vilified and mistrusted than ever before.

Mordru gasped. “You are even more self-centered than I, Imra Ardeen of Titan! Your greatest fear isn’t the well-being of others, it’s you!”

For once the Dark Lord spoke the truth. His attack intensified. He abandoned the calculated bo staff maneuvers and simply wailed away on Imra with his weapon. She was ruthlessly hammered into submission. At last the beating stopped.

“Surrender girl, and I’ll let you live as my plaything,” Mordru hissed. “After I leave you a drooling, lobotomized vegetable!”

Imra wanted to quit but knew it wasn’t an option. “I’ll die first!”

“So shall it be done,” Mordru replied. A sword appeared in his hand. He raised it high into the air. It whistled as he brought it down.

Imra raised her hands to fend off the blow. The sword sliced clean through her left arm just above the elbow, leaving a bloody stump. She screamed in agony. “By the rings! The pain…” Her bloodied, severed appendage flopped beside her like a fish out of water. “You will not beat me, wizard!” She retrieved her staff and nestled it beneath her remaining arm.

“You are already beaten, girl,” Mordru answered. “May your soul never find peace!” He raised his sword high to strike but again seemed distracted.

Imra took advantage of the distraction and transformed her staff into a spear. With all the strength her one arm could muster she plunged it deep into Mordru’s torso.

The wizard howled in pain and turned his attention to the spear. He struggled to remove it but it wouldn’t budge. “Damn you telepath!”

Imra smiled. “That spearhead was designed to hook large fish back home in the methane seas. The barb on the backside of the head assures it won’t come out unless you cut it out.”

Mordru broke the spear off at the point of entry. “Perhaps I have underestimated you, telepath. Your mettle astounds even me, but it will not spare your life.” Again he raised his sword but wasted no time gloating. He struck hard.

His blade took off Imra’s remaining arm. Again she screamed and tried to push herself away from Mordru using only her legs. She lost her balance and fell onto her side. She tried get to her knees but flopped onto her stomach.

“And now your head, telepath!” said Mordru. “You were a worthy opponent!”

Before the battle’s final blow could be struck, a small orb of white light flashed between Mordru and his fallen foe.

Mordru swung at it with his staff but the orb eluded him. “What manner of deception is this that continually draws me from our battle?”

Imra shook her head as the orb buzzed around Mordru’s head like an insect. “I… don’t know. It isn’t my doing.”

Mordru swatted at the orb. “This is impossible! Light cannot exist in the darkness of my soul!”

He swatted wildly but the tiny light proved elusive.

With Mordru distracted the mental strain of protecting others wasn’t as taxing. Imra regenerated a projection of her severed limbs and created a battle mace. She swung the heavy, spiked ball end around and around before striking the mage in the head. At last, the wizard fell.

Meanwhile the light grew stronger, chasing the shadows from the darkness. Imra didn’t feel as cold.

Mordru staggered to his feet. He was hurt but still clearly distracted by the spreading light. “I... I will suck the marrow from you bones for that, wench!”

It was Imra’s turn to go on the offensive. She cycled through an exotic array of thought constructs – everything from a bow and arrow to a battering ram – and unloaded on the Dark Lord. And though her blows proved true and Mordru was clearly addled he seemed more concerned with the spreading luminescence.

“What is going on here?” Mordru demanded as the light continued to swell.

“It is innocence, Mordru,” whispered a sweet, melodious voice. “It will be your doom.”

The mighty wizard rose to his knees and shook his fist at the light. “Damn you! You do not possess this kind of power!”

“You are right, corrupt one!” the voice replied as the light burned brighter. “The force that confounds you is everything power is not.”

Mordru lashed out at Imra with a stray mental blast that sailed past then turned back to the voice. “Show yourself if you dare!”

The light intensified forcing Imra to shield her eyes. A being of pure light materialized but gazing directly upon it was like staring into the sun. Imra made out two figures, one impossibly bright and the other equally dark. Their silhouettes burned into her eyelids even when she closed her eyes.

Even with her eyes shut tight Imra knew the light was winning due to the ever-increasing warmth. But just when the darkness seemed to flicker it found a way to grow strong once more. Back and forth the battle raged.

Imra was relegated to a mere afterthought – a witness and nothing more.

Mordru laughed one moment and cursed the next. There was a frantic quality to his voice Imra never heard before.

And then a great explosion hurled Imra from the mental plane.

She screamed and kicked as she cracked the physical plane. Someone hovered over. Had Mordru won?

“Dammit, Dox! She’s having a seizure of some sort!” Garth screamed as he shook Imra’s shoulders. “Come on, Imra! You can beat this! We need you!”

Imra reined in the seizure herself. “Garth? Please stop shaking me.”

“You with us?” Garth asked.

Imra massaged her temples. “I have a headache bigger than Io, but I’m ok. Did we win?”

Garth shook his head. “Not yet. Mordru’s weakening rapidly though. Whatever you did to him in there worked.”

“It wasn’t me,” Imra answered. “There was a light...”

“Later,” said Garth. “I need to help the others put Mordru on ice for good. Dox make sure she’s ok and away from the battle.”

Dox checked Imra over as well as one could in the heat of battle but she quickly brushed him off and returned to the fray. Though her psyche was badly bruised she could still direct mental traffic as well as anyone in the galaxy. She was amazed at how efficiently her teammates took the battle to the evil sorcerer and thankful none of them saw Mordru’s true form. They battled a husk, a mere dwelling for the entity that was truly Mordru. The humanoid form he displayed on the physical plane no longer intimidated her. She would not tell her companions what she saw. Some things were best left unsaid.

The Legion and its allies intensified their attack on the sorcerer. They attacked individually and in teams, depending on the opportunity. When one needed to rest another stepped in and assumed the fight.

Rond Vidar unleashed a violent torrent of energy from Dox’s patient’s anti-grav bed. A Khundian battlewagon couldn’t have hit harder. The wizard fell but staggered to his feet once more.

“He won’t stay down!” yelled a frustrated Salu Digby.

The giant Science Police officer landed an uppercut to Mordru’s chin. The blow staggered him. Thom Kallor stepped in and bathed him with his dark energy blasts. The combination of the officer’s right hand and Thom’s increasing of his mass lowered the wizard to one knee.

The wounded chef staggered to his feet and propped himself against one of the castle’s main columns. Imra recognized him as the Bismollian who served Mordru rocks while she was under his spell. He bit into the column.

“Tenzil, what the sprock are you doing?” asked the gigantic Science Police officer.

“My part!” the chef replied. His Bismollian teeth tore through the column like a laser through butter. The column collapsed and fell on Mordru like a dying tree. At last, the sorcerer fell.

“Throw me into a pit with a monster will you?” Tenzil asked as he sprawled backwards to his butt. “That’s right! I said it!”

Quiet reigned as the Legionnaires gathered themselves. Finally Veilmist broke the silence. “We won, right?”

“I think so,” Garth answered. “He doesn’t seem to be moving.”

“I can’t believe it,” said Salu.

The Science Police officer who blasted Mordru with solar rays stepped forward. “Not yet, we haven’t. The only way to defeat Mordru is to imprison him in an earthen tomb.”

“How can you be sure of that? Dox asked.

Reep Daggle vouched for the Science Police officers. “Believe me, if anyone knows it is these two. They saw the inside of Mordru’s last tomb. There were instructions left inside by the last group who defeated him in case he ever escaped.”

“If an earthen tomb will hold him, then please allow me,” said Jan Arrah. He converted the air around the sorcerer to inertron.

And just in case he ever escapes again,” said Imra.

She made contact with the minds of the two Science Police officers and relayed the instructions to Jan so he could fashion Mordru’s new tomb with the same directions the Science Police officers discovered in his old one.

Once Jan was finished Mordru’s castle began to fade.

Elsewhere a platinum blonde girl whom Imra didn’t recognize began to stir. “Mysa!” the girl shouted. “Where is my sister?”

Garth rushed to her side. “I’m sorry we couldn’t save her, Nura.”

The girl Garth called Nura buried her face in Garth’s chest and sobbed. She finally gathered herself long enough to reply. “It was those damned charlatans on Sorcerer’s World! They sent her to her death!”

Salu hugged the grieving young woman.

“Do not weep for me,” said a whisper that impossibly drowned out Nura’s lamentation.

“Mysa?” Nura asked.

A tiny orb of light floated before the Legionnaires and their allies. It was the same one Imra saw locked in battle with Mordru on the mental plane. The light intensified quickly and suddenly exploded, leaving a hag in its place. The hump on the old woman’s back was so large she could hardly look up. Her leathery skin was wrinkled and pale, almost ghostly to match her straggly white hair. Her nose was dotted by a large, hairy wart. Her teeth were missing and her fetid stench was like rotting flesh.

Nura broke Salu’s embrace and rushed toward the old woman. “What have you done with my sister, witch?”

“I am Mysa, your sister” the hag answered.

“Liar!” Nura shouted. “I watched her die! Give me her body for a proper Naltorian burial.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, sister,” the old woman chuckled. “But as you see I am not dead.”

“Prove it!” Nura demanded.

The hag laughed. “My dear sweet sister! The years we’ve wasted on what Dox correctly deemed petty jealousies. But if it’s proof you seek then perhaps I should tell the secret we shared as children?”

“What secret?” Nura asked.

“The red door,” the hag replied. “Remember our world behind the red door? Br’re Marf and Tqiufl the keepers of the Crimson Lands?”

Nura’s eyes grew wide.

“She speaks in riddles,” said Dox. “Nura has suffered enough...”

“Not riddles at all,” Nura replied. “And Quiglii the innkeeper?”

It was the hag’s turn to smile. “How the Jafari’i tried to thwart our adventures there.”

Nura threw her arms around the hag’s neck. “Oh Mysa! You’re alive! Please don’t ever leave me again!”

“I must,” said Mysa.

Garth stepped forward. “What’s going on? Mordru ate you whole.”

Mysa turned to the Legion’s leader and chuckled. “The universe exists on three planes, child. The first plane is the True Realm. It is where those of supernatural and mystical training interact. The second is the mental plane and the third is the physical plane. When Mordru seemed to swallow me alive, I fell into a void between the True Realm and the mental plane. It was the teleportation spell I offered before in your cruiser.”

“What kind of void?” Dox asked.

“There is no time or space there. It is infinite but can be held in the palm of a child’s hand. I waited there for eons, honing my craft and studying the lessons I learned on Xerox. When your telepath engaged Mordru on the mental plane I knew my time had come at last.”

“I owe you my life,” said Imra. “Or at least my mental faculties.”

“You are a very strong one,” Mysa replied. “But the fight wasn’t yours. Only I could engage the Dark Lord in the True Realm but first I had to return you to your teammates.”

Imra linked her mind with Mysa’s. <“Please don’t share with the others what we saw there. It is best they not know.”>

<“I understand,”> Mysa replied. She continued her story aloud. “Our combined attacks succeeded because we hit Mordru on all three planes, the physical, the mental, and the True Realm. It was a difficult final battle but I was able to emerge victorious, thanks to all of you.”

“I believe I understand,” said Nura. “Your physical appearance changed because you spent so long in this... limbo void?”

Mysa shook her head. “No sister time does not exist in the void I inhabited. My changed appearance is from absorbing Mordru’s evil. I carry it in me even now.”

“We’ll help you,” said Garth. “Join us.”

“I cannot join you and alas I must leave you again, my sister,” Mysa said as she brushed Nura’s cheek lovingly with her hand.

“Why?” Nura asked. “No, Mysa. Please don’t.”

“I must return to Xerox so my teachers can draw this evil out of me without releasing it again. Science is ill-prepared to deal with the responsibility.”

“Now see here!” shouted Dox.

“Enough, Dox,” said Garth. “The invitation is a standing one, Mysa. The door is always open. Not just to you, but to all of you. We made a great team and I don’t even know some of you.”

Dirk extended his hand and shook Garth’s. “Dirk Morgna, Science Police liaison to Earthgov. I’m sorry but my loyalties and Gim’s lie with the force.”

“Speak for yourself,” said the once-towering officer who battled so valiantly against Mordru. “I’m tired of toting an omnicom and receiving odd-jobs because we’re different Dirk. If you want to stay with the Science Police, then I respect your decision, but it was nice to actually use my powers to make a real difference.”

“I’m sorry, Gim. I didn’t mean to speak for you” Dirk answered. “I just thought... Aw, hell. Count me in too. If today’s any indication of the way you guys do business, I want in.”

Garth turned to Rond and Nura. “And you?”

Rond shook his head. “I’m sorry Garth but I must decline the offer. I almost feel a part of your Legion now, but my research must come first. Of course, I’d be happy assist in emergencies.”

Garth shook Rond’s hand. “I understand, buddy. But you could make your home here in Metropolis. Brande provides us with the very best and we’ll see to it that you have free reign to come and go as you please.”

“An enticing offer indeed,” said Rond, rubbing his chin. “And the Time Institute is here too. I will definitely consider it.”

Nura squeezed herself between Rond and Garth. “You really want me to join your team?”

“Of course,” Garth replied. “Between your actions on Medicus One and your quick thinking that led us to Xerox, we couldn’t have beaten Mordru without you.”

Nura stroked Garth’s cheek playfully. “I’m your girl tall, red, and handsome.”

Imra didn’t know the buxom blonde but she didn’t like her flirting with Garth.

“Who is this?” Garth asked Reep. He pointed to the young man in the shredded chef’s uniform. It was hardly pristine white, but still recognizable as such.

“Tenzil Kem,” the chef replied. “Need someone in the kitchen?”

“Weren’t you battling Mordru too?” Luornu asked. “Was I seeing things or did you bite through that column?”

“Bismollian,” Tenzil replied. “But I have no illusions of being a hero. I’m just a chef, but I’d like to hang around if you need a culinary expert on premises.”

“On one condition,” Imra replied with the steeliest tone she could muster.

Her teammates practically broadcast their apprehension. She’d earned a reputation as being tough. Iron-Butt Imra they called her. She was the one who argued against opening the Legion’s door to those they rescued from the Khundian Stalag.

“What condition?” Tenzil asked.

She locked her icy gaze upon him. “We get the final say on the menu. I’m not sure we’re ready to eat rocks.” She smiled.

The few Legionnaires in the know laughed. The others shrugged their shoulders but they too joined in when Imra retold the story.

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