Ku raised his scimitar and growled, “We are more powerful than before. We suffered from periodic amnesia before, but this time we recall all, and we’ve prepared for our eventual victory as any warrior would!”
“Our home of Oceania sank 70,000 years ago, and only by merging with one another could we survive in a dreamless sleep beneath the waves,” said Tane. “Ever since then, we have awakened every thousand years for a period of one lunar interval. After that amount of time, the isle descended again and took us as well. We retained no memory of any previous revival after our initial one. This was due to the power of our doddering keeper, Tangora. He could not risk our retaining true awareness of our condition.”
Rongo laughed wildly and added, “Tangora is the one slumbering now! When last we were imprisoned, fair Mauri had temporarily eluded capture. Thus, after her own eventual recapture, she retained her memories!”
Mauri, the ravishing blonde, smiled and said, “I mentally communicated with the others, and we vowed to put into motion a plan we had initially formed long ago. We had emitted energy across your infant globe and planted the seeds of our eventual overthrow of Tangora the Elder! This was before Oceania sank!”
“We planned to use an army of humanity to oppose our Elder and free ourselves from his rule,” said Ku, “but a cosmic disaster occurred before we could do so.”
“That was the disaster that led to the sinking of your island home!” said the Elongated Man. “Are you trying to tell us that these people Vartox gathered are the surviving descendants of the people you irradiated thousands of years ago?”
“Of course!” said Vartox. “That explains why these diverse individuals possessed that latent energy pattern that I detected!”
Maxima raised her gaze defiantly and said, “But my lover has secured them! They won’t be your pawns!”
Mauri smiled seductively and said, “You err, little mortal! It was ever our desire that the energy seeds be gathered in one place!”
“Yon mortal did our job for us!” said Ku. “We mentally manipulated his device from afar and made him believe a disaster was in the making. We wanted him to find our spawn and bring them in proximity to our slumbering place!”
Rongo rubbed his hands together gleefully. “When he brought the final surviving seed here, the energy within them awakened us! That power broke the pattern of thousand-year slumbers! Now we are free to use them to dominate your planet! He thought he was thwarting us, but he saw only what we wanted, and he did only what we desired. Is that not a grand jest?”
Vartox groaned as his wife drew closer to him and placed one arm on his shoulder. “My accursed ego has led me to place yet another world in jeopardy! I’ve spent all this time and ruined so many innocent lives for nothing but the whim of cruel and petty godlings!”
“We can stop them!” vowed Green Lantern. “We’ve done it before!” He concentrated his emerald energy in a wide beam that swept across the Oceanians for a moment before fading away in a gradually diminishing glow.
“You won’t use the same battle tactic against us this time! We’ve shielded our bodies from your alien gemstone!” gloated Ku.
Green Lantern frowned as his best efforts to focus the power ring against the mocking figures failed. I altered Tane’s metabolism before, he thought. I can’t do that again!
Mauri sighed languidly. “Fear not, Green Lantern,” she said. “There will always be a place for one such as you in my court!”
“You’ll pay for what you’ve done!” cried Maxima. “No one makes a fool of royalty!” She launched herself into the air, only to find herself transformed into a statue of solid crystal.
“Well done, Rongo! She will make a pretty decoration!” bellowed Ku.
Ultraa leaped forward, only to be struck by another mystical bolt that robbed him of mobility.
Wonder Woman hurled her gleaming tiara at them, but a slight motion of one hand from Tane deflected her projectile as leafy stalks of plant matter closed around her and threatened to smother her.
By the beard of Mars! I cannot make any progress — so rapidly does this jungle grow! she thought as she smashed her way through the foliage.
J’onn J’onzz grunted in pain as Ku brought his scimitar down with the flat of the curving blade facing outward.
“Your Superman could not stand against my power-dampening blade, nor can you!” said Ku.
Vartox remained still and watched in horror as Mauri’s honey-sweet voice bewitched Steel and sapped his will.
“You will serve me well!” she said.
Steel nodded slowly and began to pummel Ren Uoxon until the girl started to fight back.
“Stop! This is not right! Try to fight back!” cried the former Volar as the now-enslaved Hank Heywood battered her to the ground.
J’onn gripped Ku’s sword and blocked his second attempt to strike the Martian, but his energy was fading fast as the magical weapon robbed him of his strength.
The Elongated Man tried to free Nubia from the foliage, but he was tiring as well. We can’t match their inhuman stamina! he thought.
Green Lantern had swung around and focused his ring on the foliage threatening to crush Nubia. “I can’t stop them, but I can sure do some cosmic weed-eating!” he said, nodding in approval as his emerald energy sliced through the mystical plant matter.
Tane cried out and said, “Stop! You wound me when you harm my children!”
“That’s the general idea!” said Green Lantern.
The Martian Manhunter had dodged Ku long enough to use his own telepathic power to shake Mauri’s hold on Steel.
Steel gasped as he lowered his arms and helped Ren regain her feet. “I’m sorry! So very sorry!” he said.
Ralph yelled at Vartox, who had remained inactive. “Vartox, we need your help!” he shouted. “You can’t let your guilt make you helpless! We still need you. Where else could we find your level of power?”
A blue and red blur swept into the room as the JLAers exchanged glances of renewed hope.
“Well, I’m no Vartox, but I’m ready for the challenge!” declared Superman.
Steel grinned as he said, “OK, you bunch of freaks, now you’re in for it! Nobody can stop Superman!”
“I just returned after getting Batman’s signal,” said Superman. “Vartox, we’ll talk this out later. Right now, I need you to be the hero I know you to be!”
Vartox raised his head and stared at his friend for a moment, his eyes full of guilt and misery as he looked at his oldest ally. “Kal…” he began in a halting tone of voice.
Superman nodded slightly and then said, “It is OK. We’ll settle things later.”
The JLAers started to resume their attack on the Oceanians, but even Superman’s initial effort seemed doomed to failure. He had swooped down at Ku, only to accidentally block Green Lantern’s own flight path. As they collided, each hero crashed into one of their allies below. The impact sent J’onn and Steel to the ground.
Vartox had aimed his hyper-energy at the cruel Rongo, but it was deflected into Nubia, Ren, and Ralph. What had looked like a promising new beginning for the heroes had changed into another setback.
“You aren’t warriors!” sneered Ku. “None of you can fight like we can!”
“They do not need to, brash one!” The thunderous voice resounded through the room as a powerful-looking white-haired man materialized before them.
“Tangora the Elder!” hissed Tane as his ruler appeared before his eyes.
“As ever, you have all acted as spoiled children,” said Tangora. “As ever as an all-knowing parent have I acted for your best interest!”
“You fooled us!” cried Mauri. “We thought we’d trapped you below the ocean!”
Ku scowled and said, “What is this? What trick have you played upon us?”
Tangora smiled and said, “I was aware of your actions a millennia ago and allowed you to spread your energies over the populace, for I knew I could put such manipulations to a better use!”
“We have an army of our own!” said Mauri.
Tangora said, “You have human containers whose collective energy has grown and deepened over the generations until it is now strong enough to achieve a higher purpose than conquest!”
He spread his arms, and an orange glow surged across the many crystalline containers that held Lola Barnett and the other captives. That same energy swept across Mauri, Tane, Ku, and Rongo until their words of defiance were silenced, and they remained still.
Moments later, the crystalline containers were empty, and the Oceanians were noticeably shaken.
“I have returned the now-normal mortals to their proper domiciles,” said Tangora. “They have served their purposes well. By refining that energy within generations of humanity, I have enabled it to achieve my long-cherished goal. We are now all free from the lethargy that imprisoned us all. We need no longer return to our sunken home! Freeing us all was ever my desire!”
“We are truly free!” said Mauri.
“Aye!” said Ku. “I feel it so!”
“Then it was your wish that we do what we did,” said Rongo. “I mean, you wanted us to have those mortals assembled all along!”
“Yes, and it was only through the help of Vartox that I accomplished the goal,” said Tangora. “I was as weak as you were until the last seed was brought near to our watery resting place!”
“Tangora alerted me to the whole plan,” explained Vartox. “I had to play the part of the dupe to achieve the real goal. Your vision never fooled me for a moment. I misled those I love, since I knew only my own mind had been shielded by Tangora from your probes.”
Maxima’s gleaming crystalline form returned to normal as she fell into her husband’s arms.
“Forgive me for misleading you all!” said Vartox.
“Ultra’s still stunned,” said Green Lantern. “He must have been hit harder than we thought.”
“I’m OK,” Ultraa whispered. “Just need a moment to rest.”
“When I arrived, Vartox used his invisible hyper-vision as a form of morse code that only my super-vision could detect,” explained Superman. “He told me to prevent you all from attacking, since he knew Tangora was almost ready to act.”
Vartox smiled and said, “Superman and I have used that form of unseen communication before.”
“Wait!” said the Elongated Man. “So you abducted all those poor people just to help Tangora cure himself and his brethren? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t seem like a reasonable act.”
“He’s right,” said Superman. “I was willing to follow your request and give Tangora time to act to cure his people, but from what I’ve learned since Batman reached me in space shocks me. Vartox, you had no right to kidnap people and use them in such a way!”
“He acted for a greater good,” said Tangora. “My brethren and I will no longer be a threat to your world. Surely that is an end worth any means?”
“You talk well, but your pals don’t seem to share your attitude!” said Green Lantern.
Indeed, before Tangora could do more than turn around, the others had attacked him. He gasped in pain as he staggered beneath their attack. “I do not understand! I felt certain that, with true liberation, you would embrace my goals of justice and peace!”
Ku bellowed, “We wanted our freedom, but we only wanted it in order to rule all!”
Rongo giggled and said, “You’ve saved us all and doomed yourself! What a cosmic joke!”
Superman and Vartox both started forward as the Oceanians battered their leader. This battle is just beginning! thought Superman.