Superman and Vartox attempted to shield the fallen Tangora the Elder from the energy onslaught that engulfed him, but they could not penetrate the coruscating nimbus of fire that surrounded him.
“Stop!” shouted Superman. “How can you murder a man who just freed you from what has been a near-eternal slumber?”
“Freedom of one kind can be worse than enslavement of another type!” said Tane. “Why should we serve Tangora? He is weak and passive and would deny us freedom of expression!”
“The last time we shut them down, it took the Phantom Stranger’s mystical power added to our own resources!” said Green Lantern.
“Knowing the Stranger, he would already have arrived had he been able to do so or had known he was needed,” said the Elongated Man.
“This is madness!” cried Maxima. “We’ve been used by these monsters! They have played us all for fools!”
“I have wronged you all!” said Vartox. “I will make this right — or die trying!” He smashed at the energy field again and again, but even his hyper-strength could not weaken the barrier.
As beads of sweat ran down his brow, Vartox concentrated until an amazing result occurred. Tangora dematerialized and rematerialized outside the still-existing energy field. “I could not break it, but I could teleport him out of it!” he explained.
The other Oceanians vanished as well.
“They’ve fled!” cried Maxima.
“I’d say they just decide to leave on their own,” said the Elongated Man. “They have bigger fish to fry!”
As Vartox bent over the stricken Tangora, the Elder groaned and began to try to speak. “Thank you, Vartox!” he cried. “Forgive me! I did more than urge you to help me with my scheme. I used my mental power to manipulate you! Your judgment was altered by my influence! You had no free will!”
“I knew your actions weren’t those of the champion I’ve known for so long,” said Superman. “You were as much a victim as those you abducted.”
Vartox clenched his fists and said, “I find very little comfort in this revelation! Have I accomplished one positive thing since I first gained my hyper-powers? Am I destined to be nothing more than some universal pariah spreading misery in his wake?”
“Easy there, fellow,” said Green Lantern. “You can’t blame yourself.” It’s easy for me to talk, he thought. I don’t think I could live with myself if I ever became some kind of possessed pawn without free will! Willpower is what makes me the man I am!
“We must track them down before they can do more harm!” said J’onn.
“Tangora, they’ve gone back to their island, right?” said Ralph Dibny. “From that base they can make their plans.”
Tangora nodded wearily and said, “Yes! You are most perceptive. I can feel the rise of our ancestral home as I speak! I still have enough power to take us there, and I can remove the immunity to your powers that prevented you from fighting them on a level playing field!”
Vartox said, “Ultraa, stay behind in case they return to this base!”
Ultraa nodded and said, “If that is your wish.”
As the Elder teleported the heroes away from the isolated base, Maxima whispered to Vartox and embraced him.
“Our love is strong enough to withstand the mind games of creatures like these,” she said. “You owe me no apology! Your love has given me a new life when I little expected to have any future at all!”
Vartox kissed her and said, “My feelings for you were never false.”
Ren Uoxon came closer and said, “I know what it is like to be adrift from all one values. You are still a hero to me, Vartox!”
“Old friend, I’ve been under the control of magical forces before as well,” said Superman. “You are innocent of any wrongdoing. You didn’t realize you were not free when you formed your plan.”
Vartox smiled wearily and said, “Kal-El, you honor me with your friendship. I promise you that I will not let my actions spell the end of your adopted home! I will make things right!”
“We’re here!” said Green Lantern. “I recognize the risen isle from last time!” He gestured to a huge island in the mid-Pacific that was actually the size of a small continent. The island was a barren place of blasted rock and charred soil, with one ancient temple as the only landmark.
“Aphrodite’s golden girdle!” cried Wonder Woman. “The temple resembles one from the ancient Greek culture!”
“Considering its age,” said the Elongated Man, “I guess it would be more correct to say the Greek temples look like that one!”
“They’re inside the temple, but they don’t seem to be doing anything,” said Superman. “They seem to be in some kind of meditative trance!”
Tangora’s eyes widened, and he almost fell forward until Nubia caught him. “It is worse than I imagined!” he said. “If they cannot rule, then they will undo the very fabric of reality!”
“Great Guardians!” cried Green Lantern. “My ring is detecting a massive disruption in time and space!”
“Well, I don’t have a power ring or super-senses but I’d say you’re talking about that!” said the Elongated Man, stretching his arm skyward to indicate an opening in the sky that grew longer and flatter with each second.
“What is the world is that?” asked Ren.
“It is a rift in reality!” cried Vartox. “Through some means beyond our understanding, those fiends have begun to undo reality itself!”
“It is called the Dreaming!” said Tangora. “It was an aspect of our teachings that we passed on to our original followers eons ago. It has survived in a much-altered form in the cultures of this region!”
Superman nodded and said, “Of course! Dreamtime or the Dreaming is something of a cultural or racial memory believed in by the original natives of Australia. The concept dates back at least 50,000 years and is sometimes called a time out of time!”
“I thought it limited to little more than an explanation of why certain customs, ideas, and words are common to diverse locations,” said J’onn.
“And I thought of it as a creation story from Aboriginal myth!” said Nubia.
“It is all that and more!” said Tangora. “It is the unweaving of the thread of reality! It must be stopped! The rift must be sealed! The Dreaming would allow a strong enough will to reshape the world according to his or her own whim!”
“Superman, if you and your allies can stop the Oceanians, I will stop the rift from widening!” said Vartox.
“The communion of mind must be severed immediately, and in doing so you will achieve a secondary goal, for they will all be weakened for a brief time!” said Tangora.
“Maxima and I could perhaps disrupt their union with our own mental powers if we worked together!” suggested J’onn J’onzz.
The fiery redhead nodded and said, “Of course! I will stop these creatures!” She and J’onn stood facing one another, and then slowly their minds united.
“I can use my ring to add all our brainpower to the effort!” said Green Lantern. He concentrated, and his power ring flashed as it contacted each mind, and slowly the united mental essence of the heroes shattered the union of the Oceanians.
“The rift has stopped growing!” said Superman. “This is the time to fight back!”
The heroes rushed into the temple and made the most of their advantage.
“They are weakened from the sudden rupture in their mental bond!” mused J’onn.
Green Lantern encircled Tane in a glowing sphere and rocketed into space before the nature-loving god could recover. I can’t harm you directly, but I’d like to see you use your plant powers in the void of space! thought Green Lantern as he noticed the strange being’s apparent shock.
Back on earth, J’onn and Maxima were having equal success with the warlord Ku. “His power-absorbing sword will do him little good if his perceptions are mine to control,” said J’onn. “He can’t drain power if he feels he is isolated!”
J’onn nodded as he added his mental prowess to the process of separating Ku’s sensory organs from the true reality. “He can’t see, hear, or feel anything! That should hold him for a time.”
Mauri was equally helpless as Nubia and Ren wrestled her down and bound her in the magic lasso.
“Your seductive powers have no power over females!” declared a confident Nubia. “You could easily be held captive by my Amazon sisters!”
That left Rongo the jester, and he was equally outmatched by the power of Superman. “Your transmutation magic is powerful, but it can’t shield you from a simple right hook!” Superman knocked the jester flat and then stood over him, ready to resume the fight.
“No! I yield!” whined the jester.
I figured I could take the fight out of him, thought Superman. After all, Black Canary knocked him out the last time he fought us!
Tangora nodded in approval. “I have dampened their powers as well. That made your efforts more successful but no less heroic!”
“Wait!” said the Elongated Man. “Look outside!”
The rift in the sky was no larger than before, but it was still open and menacing. Vartox hovered beneath it, and golden energy crackled across his body.
Superman flew upward at super-speed, only to be struck from behind by Maxima and Ren as they matched his speed and knocked him down.
“My husband’s mind touched our minds through mental projection,” said Maxima. “He doesn’t want you to be harmed!”
“Stay back, Justice League!” said Ren. “This is not your fight!”
Green Lantern tried to scoop them from the air, but his ring construct was unable to grasp the two women as Vartox shielded them in yellow hyper-energy.
J’onn helped Superman to his feet as he shook his head in concern. “The force-field around them is yellow and fiery,” said the Martian. “Green Lantern and I are both helpless to stop them!”
“I’m not letting Vartox sacrifice himself!” vowed Superman. He rose again, but it was too late.
As Vartox read the minds of the women who had joined his crusade, he reluctantly honored their wishes. “I admit I cannot seal this rift alone, but I did not want to lose you two!” he said. “Still, together we may save a world!”
He gestured, and yellow hyper-energy flooded Maxima and Ren as they joined hands with Vartox. “I have always been able to briefly share my hyper-energy with others,” he explained. “In doing so with you two, I also give you the ability to use my most lethal power! I can convert my body into pure hyper-energy! If we all do so, we may seal the rift in reality!”
Maxima smiled and said, “I am ever by your side! No queen of Almerac would defer to any other course of action!”
Ren nodded and said, “And I’m willing to give my all as well!”
The three figures glowed golden for a moment and spread across the hole until it was sealed.
Superman and Green Lantern reached the space seconds before it began to vanish like a wound that had been cauterized.
“Kal, thank you for your friendship!”
The words rang in Superman’s mind as the energy flashed once and then vanished. “Vartox!” cried Superman.
The sky was clear once more, and below on the isle, Tangora had once more secured his wayward brethren.
“I have recovered enough to make certain these four never bother your world again! We will find our place in the myriad of dimensions beyond this realm,” he declared before vanishing with the captives.
“The isle is sinking again!” said Steel. Indeed, Oceania was descending once more into the sea.
As Green Lantern carried them all to safety, the Elongated Man looked at Superman and said, “I’m sorry. I know he was a friend of yours. He did save the world.”
Superman nodded and said, “Yes. He did at that, and I only hope in doing so he found the peace he has deserved for so very long.”
In one of many pocket dimensions within the Earth-One universe, on a planet much like Earth, energy erupted across the clear sky, and slowly, very slowly, began to assume a humanoid shape.