Later, back at court, a weary Grimoire staggered inside and led a beautiful woman beside him. The assembled knights and squires and other court officials chattered in excitement as their missing princess stood before them.
“King Artros, I have rescued Elwinda!” said Grimoire. “Sadly, doing so cost the Changeling Knight his very life. He sacrificed all to occupy a fierce dragon. That enabled me to free my cousin from its cavern!”
“Father, are you not pleased to see me?” said Princess Elwinda.
King Artros fingered the ornate jewel at his neck and said, “Of course I rejoice to see you well! I merely mourn the passing of one who served me so well!”
“Elwinda is weary and needs rest,” said Grimoire. “Let me take her to her room, where her maids may tend to her needs!”
“Yes, rest, my child!” said the king.
Grimoire led her up the stairs and out of sight while King Artros brooded upon his throne. He returned seconds later and said, “King Artros, one thing I neglected to tell you in my joy that Elwinda was safely home, was that I did manage to take an item of strange and mystic power from the dragon’s lair!”
King Artros jumped to his feet and said, “Indeed? Show me at once!” Grimoire bowed low and held out an ornate jewel much like the one King Artros wore beneath his flowing cloak.
“Give me the crystal. As liege, I command it!” cried the king as his voice grew louder, and he reached out eagerly. He touched the odd jewel and gasped as it sprouted an arm, which ripped the matching jewel from his neck and then jumped away from him to change back into Chameleon Boy.
“What deviltry?” groaned King Artros as Grimoire rushed forward to steady him.
“Do not harm him! He has been under enchantment dire!” cried Princess Elwinda as she appeared from down a hallway with Phantom Girl.
“I freed the real Elwinda from the castle dungeon far below,” explained Phantom Girl. “It didn’t take long for me to locate her via an intangible search of the place!”
Chameleon Boy cracked the jewel into pieces and said, “Now that the source of his odd behavior has been destroyed, so should his reason return!”
Princess Elwinda held King Artros by the hand and gazed adoringly at Chameleon Boy. “My love! I knew you would rescue me and set right this cursed realm!”
Cham kissed her passionately and said, “With a little help from my friends.”
“Explain it all once more,” said Grimoire. “You told us at the cavern that you knew King Artros was under a spell that made him evil as soon as you first saw him. You even knew that the jewel he was wearing was responsible for his lies.”
“My child, forgive me for having my personal retainer lock you away in our castle’s dungeon,” said the king. “I was not myself. You must know that it was as if my mind was being ruled by some unseen evil!”
“That’s exactly what happened,” said Cham. “It started when you found the jewel. It is a blood-crystal. It has the power to turn anyone who comes into long contact with it into a killer or an evil pawn of its creator. I knew that was what it was and what it had done to you, since I once fell under such a spell to a crystal just like it! (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Curse of the Blood-Crystals,” Superboy #188 (July, 1972).]
“I pretended to believe your tale about the Glade and a captive Elwinda, because I wanted to see exactly what you wanted from the Glade. When Phantom Girl and I defeated the dragon you wanted us to fight, I saw the real blood-crystal that rested within the cave. I broke it as well. The crystals call to one another and want to be together. It’s some mystic bond they share. Once you were possessed by the crystal, you had to have the other one, and you fabricated the story about Elwinda’s being a captive in the Glade in order to justify sending first your troops and then us to try to kill the dragon who guarded the crystal. Your desire to have it was so great, you could not risk letting anyone know what you truly wanted from the Glade.”
“Tis so!” said King Artros. “I was forced to lock away my child and use what magic I could summon from the cursed gem to enable her to reach you via a magic summoning! I hoped you would defeat the dragon and bring me the crystal, or at least clear the way for me to claim it!”
“Once I explained the situation to Grimoire after I was sure I could trust him, he agreed to take me back to you, while I assumed Elwinda’s form,” said Chameleon Boy. “Seeing her apparently free shocked you and confirmed my suspicions. It also gave Tinya time to search the castle for her. I changed from Elwinda to a crystal when Grimoire led me out of view. I knew I had to get the crystal away from you in order to free you!”
“You have saved me,” said the king. “You have saved my kingdom. You have restored my child. She is yours, my son!”
Chameleon Boy embraced the princess and said, “I gladly accept, but Tinya and I have two missing friends. They vanished within the Glade, contrary to my plan, and we have been unable to find them.”
“Our rings will not work properly,” said Phantom Girl. “We’ve lost White Witch and Shrinking Violet!”
“While that evil crystal made me lie about much, the perils of the Glade are real,” said King Artros. “If the ladies remain within that odd and ever-changing place, then I fear they have been lost forever!”
Shrinking Violet and the White Witch were experiencing some of the perils of the Glade at that very moment. Following their defeat of the goblins, the two heroines had continued in vain to find a way out of the enchanted Glade.
“I feel more like my old self now,” said Mysa Nal. “Still, that sudden rush of magical energies nearly overcame me. I do not like that feeling of helplessness at all!”
Violet placed one hand on her arm and said, “I can relate to that. I vowed to never let myself become a victim again after I was freed from the kidnappers who tried to replace me with an impostor. Don’t worry. We’ll get through this.”
Mysa smiled and said, “I appreciate your understanding. It’s just that so much of my magic depends upon my advance preparation and memorization of a finite number of spells. I pride myself on being prepared. Losing all sense of what was proper or necessary like that frightened me.”
“Speaking of spells, in the past you used something like a spell of dissimilarity,” said Vi. “Could that bring us to Cham and Phantom Girl, since like us they are not native to this world?”
Mysa shook her head slowly. “In truth, I have already tried such a spell, but nothing happened. It’s as if the same magic energy that almost overcame me before now dampens my efforts.”
“So there’s no in-between in this place,” said Shrinking Violet. “It’s all or nothing! Well, let’s take the high ground and try to find a way out before more hungry creeps come for dinner!” She flew skyward, only to cry out in pain as a tiny projectile struck her from behind.
Clutching her neck, Shrinking Violet found a tiny dart. “I’ve been shot with something!” she said slowly before the forest faded from view, and she pitched forward in a faint.
Mysa reached out to catch her and stopped in surprise. Her slender and graceful arms extended from her white robe, but instead of the customary pale white coloration she was used to, she saw a healthy tan. “By Naltor! I’m changing back to my original appearance! It’s as if the magic of Zerox that turned me into my present form has been tapped, and I am the girl I was before!”
She had no time to react or even to help Violet, because a pack of feral men and women emerged from the woods and swiftly knocked her out with skilled and savage blows.
A hairy man tossed her over his shoulder and said, “I thought she had a companion, but I see no one. No matter. She’ll be enough to amuse me this night!” His pack howled and screamed in agreement, and he bounded off into the forest with the stunned and changing Mysa.
Meanwhile, tiny figures in green and brown emerged and carried the stunned Shrinking Violet away in a different direction.
Meridian, the captain of the Leaf Rangers, gently placed his quiver and bow aside as he entered the Bower. He moved with his customary stealth and agility, and he removed his twilight cloak and carefully folded it until the magical garment faded from view. It was still physically in his arms, but because of its special properties, it could not be seen from most angles. This was essential for one in his calling. He had to be able to move swiftly and unseen in order to safely patrol the Bower.
The captain took his duties seriously, as did all of his rangers. Danger threatened with each new dawn, and the old ways were weakening with the passage of time. He knew some, like old Silenus, claimed that in time all magic would fade away, and the world of the giants would destroy all that remained of the world of Faerie.
Meridian felt this was nothing more than pessimism. “The people of the Bower will not die unless we allow our own destruction. We may survive as ever if we remain vigilante and firm!” he had replied to silence the older sage.
The ranger had completed his morning patrol in spite of the fact that his allies had offered to do it for him on this special day of celebration. Still, Meridian had refused to shirk his duties, even on what would be his day of union.
Meridian stepped closer to a hallowed-out leaf and nodded approvingly as he detected its aroma. “The Fair Ones like such scents, and let no one say that the captain of the Leaf Rangers fails to please his mate!” He stepped closer and gazed down on a sleeping figure. She had dark hair that cascaded down to her hips, and she wore the traditional gossamer slip and slippers of a faerie maid.
She rolled over in her sleep and smiled as she smelled the sweet perfume of the spice blossoms overhead. She stretched once and sat up to rub at her eyes. She blinked once and frowned as she realized that she was sleeping within a leaf. In fact, her entire environment was strangely new to her. She saw no sign of the outer world, since all around her there arose tall, colorful flowers and plants.
Glancing down at her body, she sputtered in surprise as she saw her nearly transparent yet oddly durable garment. She noticed a faint glimmer along her arms and bare legs that came from some type of minute body cosmetic. She jumped to her feet and tried to grow, but nothing happened. She frowned in consternation and turned to face the agile Meridian, who watched her with an approving stare.
“Who are you? What’s happened to me?” she whispered as a slight movement of her hips sent her elegant gossamer wings flapping gently behind her.
She was greatly changed, but she was still Salu Digby.