by Martin Maenza
The black-garbed Starman took to the air as a number of the warriors clawed at his legs, attempting to pull him down to his doom. “What’s the plan?” he asked as he pounded at them with his mighty fists.
“First we have to clear these creeps out of our way!” Steel replied. He smashed one with a left, then hurled another into the ground with his right. Where the pieces broke away, new forms began to grow, increasing the size of the attacking horde with each defeat. “But that’s easier said than done!”
A number dived toward the Atom, but he used the size-changing controls in his costume to shrink out of harm’s way. “I’ll consult with the Stranger!” he told his friends. Gliding on the stench-filled air currents, the tiny titan was able to reach their guide, who held off those warriors that attacked him with a mystic barrier. “OK, Stranger, what now?”
“We must reach Firestorm!” he said. “He seems to be the key in all of this. If we free him, perhaps there is yet a way to defeat this dual mystical threat we face. But only our enemy knows where they’ve hidden him.”
The Atom looked back to see the other two slowly falling to the tide of warriors that attacked them. “Sounds good,” he said, “but we can’t leave the others! They’ll get slaughtered!“
“Agreed,” said the Stranger, nodding. “I have an idea how to take care of that!”
“Good,” the Atom replied. “Then allow me to help ferret out where they’re keeping our friend.” And with that, the hero shrunk smaller than his six-inch form and seemed to disappear.
The Phantom Stranger turned to the other two. “Starman, these creatures are spawned from the hellish realms. They are not accustomed to the light of the world above!”
The brown-haired hero smiled. “I think I’ve got you!” he said. Knocking a few of the attacking humanoids away, Starman thrust out his arms and began to glow brightly. “Let’s see how they like a little light!“
The warriors were repelled at the merest touches of the energy and began to cower. “Good,” said the Stranger, “but a boost in power will help as well!” With a wave of his hands, suddenly Starman’s output increased one-hundredfold. The blinding light flashed over the entire immediate area, driving the warriors back into the ground from whence they came.
“Curses!” spat Sabrina Sultress in the more masculine voice. “But you will not stop us from destroying your friend!” And the robed woman vanished.
Sabrina Sultress materialized in another part of the realm atop a large, flat, rocky surface. “We should have destroyed them without revealing ourselves to them!” the female voice said.
“I wanted the Stranger to realize who defeated him!” said the male voice in the body. “That realization would make the collection of their souls all the more sweeter!”
“Well, Crystal,” said the female voice, “by doing so we collected nothing!“
“Bah, woman!” said the male voice. The woman’s body turned to their captive. “We shall finish the ritual needed to expel this one from his body. And then our partnership will end, as I will have a new shell to possess my spirit!”
“The sooner the better!” the female voice said. And the robed Sabrina Sultress returned to the pentagram they had started to mark on the ground earlier.
Well, thought Firestorm, that was sure freaky! Nothing like watching a psycho argue with herself. Himself. Whatever.
In his head, the young flame-haired hero in red and yellow heard a familiar voice. “Now, Ronald,” said the subconscious mind of Professor Martin Stein, “is that any way to talk?”
Sorry, Professor, Firestorm thought as he struggled. His arms and legs were held fast to a large block by what appeared to be huge, demonic purple hands. I’m just frustrated! I’m beginning to really hate enemies that use magic! Now I know how Superman feels.
“Agreed,” the Professor said. “Our powers will not work on organic matter, and these bonds that hold us fast appear to be made up of living beings.” The demonic hands were indeed very strong, too.
It’s gross, if you ask me, Firestorm thought. Say, I’m real sorry I summoned you down here without getting all the facts first. Had I known what we’d be facing, I never would have put you into this situation.
“I really don’t have much of a choice, do I, son? After all, we are a team in this endeavor.”
Firestorm nodded. As always, the professor was encouraging. When he had to face death, it was good to know he’d not do it alone. Suddenly, Firestorm felt a slight weight tapping him on his shoulder.
“Hey, flame-head! Focus, buddy!” It was the Atom.
“Atom!” Firestorm said softly. “Where’d you come from?”
The tiny hero gestured to the woman across the way with her back turned to them. “Took a free ride in that witch’s cloak,” the Atom said. He then tapped his belt to send a signal to the others via their JLA signal devices. “Help should be here any second to get you out of here.”
“Thanks,” Firestorm said. “I’d have signaled myself, but I’m a little tied up.”
“Yeah,” said the Atom. “Too bad you can’t shrink like I do and slip out of those ugly mitts holding you.”
“No, I can’t,” Firestorm admitted. Then an idea came to him. “But I can do something else! Stand back!” The Atom leaped away from the hero’s shoulder.
Firestorm began to concentrate hard, causing the fission of the two forms that made up the nuclear man to occur. In a flash, where the hero once stood, now there were two people: the brown-haired college student and the bespectacled older man.
“That did it!” Ronnie Raymond said. “By splitting, we were able to get free of those demonic manacles!”
“Where am I?” asked the bewildered Martin Stein; as the subconscious part of Firestorm, the professor never recalled any of the hero’s adventures when separated.
The outcry caught the attention of Sabrina Sultress. She whirled around suddenly. “What?” the female voice cried.
“My body!” the male voice exclaimed.
“Wrong!” said Ronnie Raymond. “My body!”
And with that, Ronnie concentrated once more. He invoked the special bond between himself and the professor, causing the fusion of their two bodies to occur once more. Just like the day they were caught in a nuclear explosion at a power plant, the two men merged once more into the amazing being known as Firestorm.
“The game’s over, Sultress!” the nuclear hero said. “You managed to catch me off-guard before, but that won’t happen again!”
“Stop him!” the male voice of Count Crystal exclaimed.
“Stop ordering me around, you fool!” Sabrina Sultress said. “I know what I’m doing!” She thrust her arms in the air and shot mystical energy into the atmosphere. The skies began to rumble as dark, threatening clouds formed.
“It’s over!” announced Starman as he flew over the edge of the ridge. He carried along Steel, while the Phantom Stranger flew up near them under his own power. “Give it up, lady! You’re outnumbered!“
“No!” Sabrina cried out. “I’ll kill you all!“
The skies seemed to obey her words. A great wind whipped up out of nowhere, battering against the flying forms. They were forced to land on the rock to avoid being tossed about like leaves in the storm. Then the clouds began to open up, sending down a barrage of flaming rocks upon them. The heroes had little protection on the open, flat landmass.
“Yes!” cried the male voice. “Destroy them all with hellfire and brimstone!”
“We need to get out of here!” Steel yelled over the howl of the wind. He knocked away the rocks as they fell, but there were so many. Firestorm quickly erected a barrier by transforming the oxygen molecules in the air into a hard asbestos half-dome.
“We cannot flee yet!” said the Phantom Stranger. “First we must stop the sorcerers.” He looked about and noticed the crystal figure in the center of the ritual grounds that Sabrina Sultress had been preparing. “There! We must get that statue!“
The Atom nodded. “I’m on it!” The wind currents were too strong for him to glide upon, so the tiny hero stuck close to the ground and scurried toward the marked area. At his small size, he knew he was the only one who could reach it without Sabrina Sultress noticing.
“This is crazy!” Starman said. He attempted to take flight, but the storm was stronger. “How are we supposed to combat this?”
“Just try!” the Phantom Stranger said. He turned to the hero standing next to him. “Firestorm, listen to me carefully! There is something you’ll have to do when the moment is right.” The flame-haired hero listened to the plan carefully.
The Atom reached the crystal statue and looked up at it from his low vantage point. “Oscar it ain’t!” he said as he shrunk under the base. “Here goes!”
The crystal statue lifted into the air as the Atom shot up to his six-inch height. The movement caught the attention of Sabrina Sultress. “Eh?” she asked. “I’ll crush you!” She raised her foot fast to bring it down hard.
“Starman!” the Atom called out. “Catch!” Using his full-grown strength, he flipped the artifact into the air toward his ally. Then he had barely a split-second to dodge her foot as it came down hard.
The hero in black and red reached out his hand and pulled in the statue. “Got it!” he said. “But now what?”
“Over here!” Steel called out. He had broken away from the Stranger and Firestorm to help get the statue to those who could do the most with it. “Starman!”
The stellar hero cocked back his arm and tossed the crystal item like a football. “Hope you’ve got good hands, Steel,” he said. The wind messed up the throw’s accuracy, and the item was about to fall short. The hero in red and blue dived through the air, caught the item, and cradled it safely against his chest as he fell to the ground on one shoulder. “Yes! Pass complete!”
“Ooof!” Steel said as he hit the ground hard, and the air left his lungs for a second. As he started to rise up, the burning hail intensified as it pelted his back. “Gonna take more than a few pop rocks to stop me!” He rose up to his feet and ran toward the others. Intense lightning shot down from the skies, and the hero had to leap to dodge the blasts. “Oh, c’mon, now!”
A powerful lightning burst hit him squarely in the back. “Yeeeaaahhh!” Steel screamed but held fast to the item. His body could take a great amount of abuse, but even he was starting to wonder if it would reach the breaking point. He smiled when he saw the Phantom Stranger gesturing to him. “Here goes!” He tossed the statue into the air toward his friends.
“Firestorm, now!” the Phantom Stranger commanded. “Just as I instructed you!”
“Roger!” Firestorm said. Using his special powers, the hero fired a blast at the crystal statue in order to transform it as the Stranger advised. The mysterious hero added his own mystical spell to the mix, combining his energy with Firestorm’s.
Suddenly, a bolt of energy shot forth from the transforming object and arced directly toward Sabrina Sultress. “Nooo!” screamed both the male and female voices as the green energy hit the woman squarely in the chest. The woman’s body fell to the ground as the energy arc withdrew from her. As it went, a pained male moan could be heard streaking across the sky. The energy returned to the object just as it completed its transformation.
The statue fell to the ground, its properties changed from crystal to metal. As it did so, the storm summoned by mystical means began to abate. The Phantom Stranger strode over to where the object fell and picked it up. “It is done!” he announced after gazing at the object. “Count Crystal’s spirit has been reclaimed and imprisoned in the modified vessel.”
The other heroes joined him. The Atom, now to his full height, carried the fallen body of Sabrina Sultress in his arms. “Does that mean we can go home now?” he asked.