Issue #10, Oct. Yr 2
"The Other Side of the World"
A songbird filled the air with an uneasy, mournful song. "Where are we?" Green Lantern asked.
"The Other Side of the World," Zatanna answered.
"China?" Green Lantern was confused. This trip was making less sense to him now than before he left.
"No," the mage answered. "It's another realm altogether. There is no time here only an Eternal Now ruled by an evil sorcerer known as the Warlock. Hal Jordan and I defeated him a few years ago."
Green Lantern followed Zatanna into the edge of a virgin forest. Giant Redwoods reached into the sky with their mighty limbs as if they longed to tickle the underbelly of the lazy clouds overhead. "What does that have to do with me? My wife..."
"I'm sorry Sentinel, but..."
"Where?" Zatanna asked.
"No. I'm going by Green Lantern again. Long story. Where are we going?"
Zatanna studied the woods and carefully picked her way along a narrow path through a thicket. "The Warlock's castle," she answered. "I left a doppleganger there to battle him and slipped away to get you." She paused near a large rock that resembled an arrow. "This is my mark. We're on the right path."
Green Lantern kept pace with the young sorceress. "So you need a Green Lantern to help you defeat this Warlock? I'm glad to help, but...."
"Have you experienced any trouble with your power in the last few hours?" Zatanna asked.
What? How did she know? "Yes.....yes, I have."
"The Warlock is siphoning your energy to open a portal into our world.," Zatanna answered. "If he succeeds he will be unstoppable."
"Siphoning my power? How?" Green Lantern asked.
"Time has no meaning here in the Eternal Now. The Warlock can peer into any time period in our world's history using his magic. He found a sorcerer in ancient China who was willing to help him. The sorcerer was present when the Starheart first fell to Earth. The Warlock taught him a simple reversal spell that drains your power every time you use it," Zatanna answered. "I felt the Warlock's magic touching our world and tried to stop him on my own but I need your help."
Ancient China..... Chang! Somehow Green Lantern knew the sorcerer's name. He could see his face as well. A bitter-looking man sitting at a table in a peasant's shanty in 5th century China. He watched as the door of Chang's shanty flew open and frightened villagers invaded the premises with the wild, savage look of blood lust in their eyes. They grabbed Chang with the fervor of a dragon attacking its prey. Like the New World witch hunters centuries later, the Chinese peasants were eager to eliminate that which they did not understand. Wickedness abounded in Chang's shanty that night with Chang's own dark heart and the thoughts of murder that filled the house. The Starheart acted instinctively as it flamed for the first time, bringing death in its wake and fulfilling its own prophecy.
"Almost there," said Zatanna. Her words were like cold water splashed in the face of a sleeping man. Green Lantern felt as if he awoke from hibernation. The peculiar vision disturbed him, but he quickly pushed it out of his mind as he noticed the birds had stopped singing. The air grew still as the heroes ventured deeper into the forest. An eerie calm settled on the wood. "Just a little further," Zatanna whispered. She pointed to a structure in the distance. "There! The Warlock's castle!"
Green Lantern was stunned. In his lifetime he had visited several European castles, but never had he seen such a magnificent palace. The engineer in him marveled at the grand towers and turrets that seemed to defy every law of physics academia drummed into his head those many years ago. The allure itself appeared to be wide enough to race vehicles on. Even the structure's ultra-massive columns looked frail to the task of holding the walk in place. Beneath the allure, an ivory row of arcading allowed the Endless sunlight to shine through the curtain wall and illuminate the courtyard. Lion-head finials lined the parapets, daring potential enemies to venture closer at their own risk. Buckingham Palace paled in comparison to the splendor of the behemoth before his eyes.
"He does have good taste," said Zatanna.
"Indeed he does," Green Lantern answered. "So what's the plan? Do we sneak in or charge the gates?"
"Neither. We walk up to the main gate. He knows we're here."
"What? Then why have we been sneaking around?" Green Lantern asked.
"I wanted you to know what we were up against. Listen to me and we can defeat the Warlock. Don't use your power until I tell you. You should also know your ring may not work here in the same way you're accustomed to," Zatanna warned. "My spells are spoken forward here. Hal Jordan's ring didn't work until he placed it on his opposite hand."
Green Lantern tapped his chest. "My power is internal. The ring's there to remind me who I am."
An unfamiliar seriousness hardened on Zatanna's face like cement on a hot summer day. "Then let the game begin."
The ground beneath the two heroes jerked and pulled them toward the castle like a living escalator. The draw opened for them and in a matter of moments they were inside.
"Really my dear sweet mage, you do talk too much! I was getting bored! The little playmate you left me isn't nearly as fun as the real thing!"
The taunt seemed to ooze from the heart of the castle walls themselves. The strident words echoed throughout the massive stone structure. The effect was disorienting. The walls seemed to spin. Or were they really spinning? Colors and shapes swirled before Green Lantern's eyes and jeered him with their voices. It pushed his will to not be overcome with vertigo as the chamber blossomed to life. Colors, shapes, sounds, and smells heckled him from every corner of the room. Stone became liquid, threatening to drown him with its voice. The colors smelled of fruit and barley and Coney Island hot dogs. The smells were technicolor like the old movies he loved so much. Nothing seemed right as his senses battled for dominance in his brain. He was an embryo standing graveside at a fresh mound of dirt marked by a headstone bearing his own name. He saw his world and other worlds, people living and dying. Old friends passed before his eyes. Rick Tyler. Al Pratt. Charles McNider. Other realities....infinite Earths.....a 30th century Lantern. He was in Wes Dodd's Brownstone Flat. No, the Perisphere planning a War Bond rally with the Young All-Stars. If only that damned, impertinent Arn Munroe would get his head together.....
Zatanna stood in the midst of the cosmic storm seemingly unaffected by the fabric of space, reality, and time unraveling before her. Green Lantern reached for her in an attempt to anchor himself to the only stationary matter in the room. "Illusion go away!" she demanded.
Then the room stopped and Green Lantern realized they were standing before the Warlock all along. He was a thin being, his features humanoid. His vermillion countenance was framed by a dark goatee. He could have easily passed for Satan's twin brother. He sat on a large, golden throne encrusted with jewels and trimmed in exotic woods. A crown of bones adorned his head. A life-sized painting of a nude woman who looked like Zatanna hung behind him on the wall. Blood flowed from her womanhood and ran down her legs to a congealed puddle at her feet. She was missing her arms. Green Lantern shied away from the image of his friend's brutalized nakedness. The painting was centered along a gallery of demon-spawn and mortals from earth's history who had been similarly tortured for the Warlock's pleasure and captured on canvas. Particularly troubling was one of a Roman Centurion who held his own head aloft. Like a gawker at an accident scene, Green Lantern couldn't take his eyes off the gruesome portraits. Then Zatanna's doppleganger screamed. No! These weren't paintings but real beings stuck in living canvases of the Warlock's own evil imagination.
The Warlock laughed as the last of the cosmic winds died down then turned to Zatanna and gestured to the canvas imprisoning her doppleganger. "Mildly impressive wench, but my plaything here can attest to the futility of your power against my own!"
Green Lantern didn't hear Zatanna's incantation, but searing bolts of white energy leaped forth from her hands and struck the hellish Warlock, forcing him to the ground. He wailed with a mixture of agony and perverted laughter as wave after wave of raw energy tore at his flesh.
"Zatanna! You'll kill him!" Green Lantern shouted above the fray.
"That's the idea!" she answered. Her face was contorted with fury.
Green Lantern had never seen Zatanna exhibit such rage. She was the sweet one, famous among the cape and spandex set for her light-hearted humor and zest for life. She was the kind-hearted stage magician who took care to never pull a rabbit from a hat by its ears. Now she was trading magical blows with the fury of Joe Louis or Ted Grant in their prime. Was she always this powerful?
The Warlock struggled to his feet. He was still bathed in an aura of Zatanna's potent magick. "You're much better than you were when we last met but I am still your superior."
Tongues of flame erupted from the floor and encircled Zatanna, forcing her to drop her attack. The Warlock wasted no time making his move. A gag appeared and clamped over Zatanna's mouth. "Unlike you woman, I'm not so weak I have to announce my every move."
Green Lantern had seen enough. Emerald flame flared from his ring and formed a small torch. He quickly freed Zatanna from her manacle. He drew the Warlock's attention now.
"Ah, so you bring me a Green Lantern... the old one... doomed to die soon," the Warlock taunted. "He wishes to be an doting, elderly fool. So let it be..." The Warlock's arms waved wildly as if they shared a mind independent of the Warlock's own.
"Green Lantern stay young!" Zatanna commanded.
He could feel the Warlock's magic and Zatanna's magic battling within his body. This was madness. He felt utterly helpless as the competing forces battled for dominion. The Warlock's chaos magic tempted his senses with images of him and Molly growing old together. It was his deepest desire but this was not the way. There were a host of evil sorcerers who could restore him to his proper age but he wasn't willing to sell his soul to them either. Zatanna would have to win. If the Warlock succeeded,. his life would end with a train wreck and there would be no meeting Harlequin for the first time. The JSA would fall at Brainwave's hands. There would be no Jennie or Todd. Green Lantern relaxed and called on his deepest reserves of will. Zatanna and the Warlock weren't the only magic wielders in the castle. He could feel the Starheart energy stirring within him, pushing the Warlock's evil out of him. Push...push...
"Arrgghh!!!" the Warlock screamed as his own malevolent energy returned to him. "Foolish, prideful man! I will slay you a thousand times over and feast on your entrails!" He gestured to the paintings on his wall and an army of creatures from the Warlock's gallery stepped forward from their world of oil and canvas. He pointed to Zatanna and Green Lantern. "Slay them and I shall free you from your agony!"
Zatanna pushed Green Lantern behind her. "Trust me! You can't afford to keep using your power. I only hope you have enough left for when the time comes."
A knight rushed forward on his steed toward them. His lance was aimed at Zatanna's heart. A green lance shot forth to meet the knight's charge, but Green Lantern was unable to hold its form together. The knight fell from his horse, but only because the sudden appearance of the verdant weapon scared the beast into bucking him from its back.
"Knight return to the forest!" Zatanna commanded. She turned to Green Lantern. "Are you trying to get us both killed or is everyone from my father's generation stubborn as mules? Do not use your power! "
Trusting others wasn't what Green Lantern, or Alan Scott, did best and perhaps it was his greatest fault. It was hard to lean on the frailties of those around him when the Starheart's flame burned in his soul. That's why Jennie had been so angry with him at the hospital. He couldn't heal Molly and he couldn't trust anyone else to either. Now he stood on the Other Side of the World with Zatanna, afraid to follow her lead. And why? She was experienced against their opponent and knew the intricacies of the special world in which they fought. His magic obviously wasn't working. He didn't like it, but he would have to trust her.
Physical Therapy Suite, Wingate Memorial Hospital, Apollyon City
"Here Mrs. Scott, take the ball in your left hand and squeeze." The young man in the one-size-fits-all turquoise hospital scrubs smiled at Molly and reached her a chalky-looking rubber ball imprinted with Wingate Memorial's logo.
The ball fell into her left hand and to her surprise she didn't drop it. It reminded her of a baseball.
"Good. Now squeeze tightly."
Molly gripped the white ball with her fingers and squeezed. Her hand wasn't cooperative. She looked at the ball again and thought of a spring day when she was in eleventh grade.....
A cloud of dirt filled her eyes as Molly slid into second base. It was the bottom of the ninth and she didn't want the game to go into extra innings. Her mother warned her in no uncertain terms that a young lady shouldn't be out late with a bunch of boys. It wasn't good for her reputation.
"You're outta there!" the second base umpire yelled.
In one graceful motion, Molly retrieved her baseball cap from behind the base and jumped up in the ump's face. "What do you mean I'm out? Are you blind or just plain crazy?" she yelled.
The umpire was not amused. "Listen girlie...I say you're out, you're out!" He jerked his thumb toward the dugout indicating that she was indeed out and for her to join her teammates on the bench. "Now sit your sweet little ass in the dugout before I toss ya!"
The second baseman laughed.
"What you laughing at?" Molly asked. "At least I do hit the damn thing once in a while!"
The player's smile faded as Molly turned and stormed her way back to the dugout. She paused at first-base long enough to encourage her teammate who had advanced her to second with his single. "Good hit, Omar. It's not your fault the second base ump is such a jackass."
Once inside the dugout she took a seat beside Buddy McNear. He was her freshman crush, a sophomore who showed a little interest until Molly outran him on track-and-field day that year. After that, she was forever known as one of the guys.
Buddy spit tobacco at her feet. "He's right you know. It is a sweet little..."
WHACK! Molly backhanded Buddy with her baseball glove. He covered his face and yelled. "Damn girl! Can't you take a compliment? Jesus Christ, my eye." Buddy pulled his hand away from his face revealing a nasty cut just above his right eye. He wiped away a trickle of blood. "You little bitch! Look what you did...."
Buddy lunged toward her. For the first time in her life Molly was really scared. Buddy was much larger even with her athletic build. As soon as they locked arms she knew he was also stronger.
"Fight! Fight!" Molly wasn't sure who yelled, but the effect was predictable. Boys raced from every corner of the field to see the fight. The blue-and-white jerseys of her teammates blended with the red-and-gold pattern of their sandlot opponent to form a shifting patchwork of color and testosterone around them as she and Buddy wrestled for an advantage. They screamed for Buddy to kick her ass. She wouldn't give him the first punch. She raised her knee towards his groin, but missed and caught him in the stomach.
He retaliated with an open hand to her face. "Don't make me hit you again, Molly!"
Molly held up her hand for Buddy to quit and then covered her mouth. It hurt. "You hit me. Son of a bitch... you hit me!" She could feel her rage coming to a boil. It was terrifying and liberating. "Don't you ever hit me again or I'll kill you. You understand? I'll kill you!" She jumped for Buddy, grabbing his hair on either side of his head. She pulled it forward and head-butted him in the face.
"Ok! Ok! Break it up!" The umpire pushed his way through the crowd of boys and into the dugout. The second base umpire followed close behind. Molly was glad to see them. They weren't quite adults, but they were older than she and her friends, college age kids who got their kicks officiating their Sunday sandlot league. The two older boys stepped between them. "What's the problem here?" the umpire asked.
Molly and Buddy stared at one another. They were both bloody, but she was in no worse shape than he. Buddy smiled and held out his hand. Molly shook it numbly. She was no longer afraid of him but instead was scared of herself. She had just threatened someone's life...and meant it! Buddy didn't seem to notice or care, but if she could have, she would have killed him.
Molly turned to the umpire and tried to salvage a smile despite the ringing in her ears and a sore mouth. "There's no problem. In fact....we just won the game!"
"Wha...?" The umpire jerked his head around. Omar remained on base when the brawl broke out in the dugout. Once he realized no one was paying attention to him, he broke for home. He rounded third and sped toward the plate like a bull charging a red cape.
"Ohmigosh! The ball! The ball! Give me the ball!" the opposing pitcher yelled to the catcher. They scrambled over one another before the catcher handed it to his teammate. Like two runaway trains on the same track, Omar and the pitcher raced toward the same pentagon-shaped Promised Land.
Omar reached home first. Or did he? Or was it the opposing pitcher? Everyone from both teams looked to the umpire..... "Safe!" he cried. The opposing team moaned to him about the play being unfair, but he explained that no one had called time.
Molly's team grabbed her, Buddy, and Omar and hugged them. Dirty young faces celebrated the thrill of victory with exuberant smiles. Molly's busted lip was quickly forgotten.
While her teammates celebrated, Molly made her way to the second base ump. He seemed a little put off until she smiled. It felt like one of those dentist smiles where one side of your face felt huge...except it was huge.
The ump smiled back. He was cute in a college-boy kind of way.
"So..." Molly asked. "Now that my sweet little ass has won the game, you wanna take me for a soda?"
"Come on Mrs. Scott. Squeeze a little harder. Tighter. Tighter..."
The therapist's voice was warbling in Molly's ears like an untuned sitar in a symphony. She didn't want to squeeze the damn ball. She wanted to walk. To run. To fix a pastrami sandwich. She wanted....
She wrestled with the muscles and nerves of her drawn-up face. They wouldn't cooperate like they did when she spoke to Alan. Maybe she was too angry or upset, but this stroke wasn't going to rob her of everything she worked so hard for....
"You're tired, Mrs. Scott. Perhaps we should return you to your room and let the doctor...."
Molly was incensed. She didn't need a doctor. All she wanted was someone to listen to her. She was a human being, not someone's nine-to-five. She still had hopes and dreams. A marriage. She wanted to get back into business. To be a stepmother....no a mother to Jennie and Todd. She would beat her stroke or die trying. With a clumsy pushing motion, she heaved the ball to the floor. Her mouth quivered, but she was determined to spit the words out if she had to. They came in a mixture of slurred syllables and ticks, but their meaning was clear. "...I want to play baseball, dammit!"
The Warlock's Castle, The Eternal Now
"An aura of protection for Green Lantern!" Zatanna commanded.
A pale, blue glow engulfed Green Lantern in the coolness of its center. Enshrouded in the magic veil, he leaped at a two-headed dog that rushed Zatanna. It was a broad-chested beast with four rows of razor-sharp teeth set in each of its mouths. He tackled it just as it tore loose one of her coattails. Green Lantern and the dog rolled across the castle's polished stone floor.
"Frail mortal!" the dog said with one of its mouths. He stood on two legs and curled his claws into fists. "I'll rip your..."
Green Lantern gave the dog no time to finish its threat. Mr. Terrific once taught him some Judo basics. He put them to use against the feral lycanthrope. Leaping forward, he grabbed the canine creature by the wrist and flipped him as they both fell to the ground. Lantern was ready for the floor to meet them. The dog was not.
Showers of sparks lit up the Warlock's throne room as Zatanna's magic met the Warlock's chaos energy. Green Lantern rushed to her aid, but found his way blocked by a horde of the Warlock's gruesome friends. They closed in on him as he watched the battle unfolding around the Warlock's throne.
The Warlock screamed as shadows seeped from his every pore. No, he wasn't screaming but celebrating. A red vermillion glow spewed from his mouth and slammed Zatanna to the ground with a thunderous flash of light. The intensity of the blast vaporized the Army of Living Oil. Only Zatanna's aura protected Green Lantern from the force of the chaos.
"Zatanna!" Green Lantern cried.
She turned to the Lantern's voice and extended her hand toward him.
The Warlock stood over her with a smug, gloating grin on his face. "Look upon the visage of your executioner woman!"
Zatanna ignored the Warlock's taunts and continued to focus her attention on Green Lantern. She appeared oblivious to the Warlock and moved her lips as if she were talking. Then like a school girl blowing a kiss, she hurled a spell that penetrated the barrier that separated her and the Warlock from the rest of the throne room.
The Starheart magic dwelling inside Green Lantern could feel the deeper magic rushing toward him as if he had a radar tuned to the arcane. Zatanna's voice filled the room. "Green Lantern use your power now as I command!"
Never before had someone taken over Green Lantern's own magic. Or did Zatanna just use her magic to influence him? Either way, a torrent of raw, ancient Oan energy exploded from not only his ring, but from Green Lantern's eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. The puissance of the Starheart flowed from his innermost being as a portal opened before him.
"Go!" Zatanna cried.
The Warlock paused, his attention diverted from his battle. "A portal into the other world!"
Green Lantern watched as Zatanna used the unexpected turn of events to her advantage. Energy blasts erupted from the empty air parallel to her open hands and lit up the throne room with the intensity of a thousand Fourth of July celebrations. They exploded in the Warlock's face.
"Don't worry about me! I can take care of myself! Now go!" Zatanna cried.
Zatanna bought him this chance. Green Lantern was not going to waste it. He dived into the pool of transmagorphic energy that floated before him. As the Eternal Now disappeared behind him, he had a good idea where he was headed.