Dream Girl rushed to Star Boy’s side and hesitated for a second before kissing him passionately. “Good job, Thom!” she said. “None of these men are from Zerox. None of them tried to cast a spell or use a wand or other magical relic against us!”
“I concur!” said Blok. “They are clearly invaders from some other world brought by Mordru to conquer Zerox!”
“I think I know what world!” said Shadow Lass.
“What do you mean?” asked Star Boy.
“You all don’t know the things I do about swords or other weapons you view as ancient or outdated,” said Shadow Lass. “Well, I do know about those weapons, since we still use them on Talok VIII. I’ve seen blades like the ones used by these men, and I recognize the craftsmanship!”
She caressed one sword as it gleamed in the dim light. “They were made on Orando. They match some of the blades I saw when we last came to Jeckie’s world. You can tell by the make of the armor and the weapons they carry. These troops came from Queen Projectra’s homeworld of Orando!”
Invisible Kid suddenly appeared and said, “She’s right! This whole area is not what it appears to be! Come with me, and I’ll show you a whole new world! A magical spell is making certain areas appear to be what they are not! In fact, my friends, I wonder if we truly saw this planet in its true form when first we arrived in the Cruiser!“
“Quislet knows the coordinates are those of Wizard World!” said Quislet. “Legion Cruiser doesn’t lie!”
Star Boy frowned for a moment as he considered the possibility that Quislet actually conversed with the inanimate objects he controlled before he spoke. “I think Jacques is saying this is Zerox’s location, but not Zerox itself.”
Invisible Kid pointed as they drew closer to the castle. “Indeed, my friends, I think those men were not invaders from Orando, since this planet, though occupying Zerox’s space and made to appear as Zerox, is truly–!”
Before Invisible Kid could finish his sentence, eldritch fire struck the heroes like a bolt from beyond.
When smoke cleared and the arid smell of burning faded away, the heroes found themselves within a massive throne room. The room was decorated with ornate banners and tapestries that depicted the grim personal history of Mordru.
Scenes of horror were displayed on every wall, but none of the grisly images could match the sight of Mordru himself, smiling with an evil delight as he sat before them on the throne.
“Mordru, where is my sister?” cried Dream Girl as she valiantly confronted the wizard. “We’ve come for Mysa!”
Standing up, the old wizard glared at them with a palpable malice and menace in his gaze. Mordru was taller than any normal man, or so he appeared through the manipulation of magical power that was his to command. He had a long white beard and wore his customary purple tunic over green pants. He spoke in a voice that sounded like thunder, if that phenomenon could convey human hatred.
“Welcome, Legionnaires!” he said. “It is fitting that my most esteemed foes be present at the moment of my coronation! For, make no mistake, I am ruler here now!”
Star Boy saw more soldiers, but again none of them displayed individuality or differed in expression. “You rule here, but these people are your victims, not your subjects!” he said. “None of them show any sign of free will!”
Mordru laughed harshly and said, “The only will that matters here is my will! That is why you only live at my whim! I could end your lives in a moment. I could put you all out of misery, but I prefer to cherish this moment and allow you to preen and strut like the petty little pawns you are!”
Blok slowly stepped forward and said, “Mordru, it little befits one of your power to toy with others!”
“I will not be lectured to by a golem with delusions of grandeur!” said Mordru. “I shaped childish mockeries of mankind like you when I was nothing but an infant! Still, I will reply by saying that my power allows me to choose how I act!”
Invisible Kid had turned invisible as soon as they had materialized within the chamber. Shady had cleverly concealed them with a shadow at the moment of their arrival. Now she faced the evil wizard, and for all of her courage and experience, she felt like the girl who had fled in horror when she first opened his tomb long ago.
“I saw your rise to power!” said Dream Girl. “I saw you, and I know what you want! You want Mysa as your bride!”
“You amuse me, and I tolerate it, since your Naltorian stock is close to mine own lineage!” said Mordru. “However, Nura Nal, I demand an answer. In what way did you see this series of events? Did you perchance dream them? And may not all such phantasms be shaped as a potter forms his clay, if one has the power?”
“You sent a false vision to me!” cried Dream Girl. “I never imagined you had such power!”
“You thought the visions of the night were yours alone!” crowed Mordru. “You are truly as vain as your peers know you to be! What is but a type of jest on your part carries with it a deeper truth! I have the power to control your dreams to the degree of preventing you from ever having another again!”
“You don’t scare me!” shouted Dream Girl. “I want my sister!”
Quislet hovered in the air and waited. He was not certain what his power could achieve against someone like Mordru, but to his credit, the little energy being also felt no fear.
Shadow Lass felt a chill as wind filled the chamber and the torches on the walls flickered as a newcomer appeared before them. She stood as tall as Mordru and wore a gown of some rare and magically woven silk. The rich blood-red hue stood out in the darkened room, as did the intricate gold stitching that ran across the deeply cut, tightly laced bodice. The gown had side splits that revealed a flash of leg above high-heeled red shoes. A veil rested upon her flowing platinum blonde hair and obscured her face. Her skin was an alabaster shade, but she was not as pale as the White Witch.
“My bride wishes to extend her own greetings to you, as is due to such old comrades!” said Mordru.
“You’re not Mysa!” cried Dream Girl as she caught on seconds before the others saw the cruelly smiling face beneath the rising veil one hand gracefully lifted.
The Legionnaires gasped as the ominous figure lifted her veil to reveal a heart-shaped face of rare beauty. It was a face they knew well, but it was not the face they had expected to see.
“I am not Mysa!” she said. “Your belief that I was, was merely one of life’s many illusions! Your belief that this was Zerox when it was and is truly Orando in Zerox’s location is but another deceptively sweet hope! I am not your White Witch! I am Projectra, rightful heir to the magic of the Orakills, ruler of Orando, and beloved chosen bride of Mordru!”
The Legionnaires struggled to come to terms with the shocking sight of the bride’s identity. Mysa the White Witch was not Mordru’s chosen bride. Their teammate, Queen Projectra of Orando, was the woman wearing the elaborate bridal gown. It was Projectra’s icy blue eyes that stared at them with such malice and her rose-like lips that smiled with malevolence as she towered above them.
“Jeckie, what’s Mordru done to you?” asked Shadow Lass as she stepped forward to try to reason with her friend.
“He has done nothing more or less than open my eyes to the deceptions with which I had blinded myself!” cried Projectra. “He helped me see myself and my proper role in this universe for the first time! Before I felt his kiss and thrilled to his embrace, I was nothing more than Voxv’s dutiful child or the loyal Legionnaire! Now I rule in deed as well as in title, and in turn, my beloved Lord Mordru rules me!”
“She’s under some spell!” said Shadow Lass. “Mind-control of a magical nature has made her his slave!”
Projectra scowled, and blinding light enveloped Shadow Lass in a crushing cocoon that snaked its way from her heels up to her eyes. “Tasmia Mallor, your race of desert savages would have feared to address me in such a manner, and my power will teach you to do so as well! How does it feel to have your frail shadows burned away by the light of my truth? My power can make you see through the comforting darkness in which you’ve hidden so long!” She placed one hand directly on Shadow Lass’s face, and Tasmia screamed.
Dream Girl glanced down to where Shadow Lass lay in convulsions nearby. Tasmia saw nothing beyond a burning light. Her eyes retained a golden glow over the pupils, and she could see and hear nothing but a terrible bright light that seemed to strip her bare of all protection and illusion. She was weak. She was not worthy of the legacy of the Mallors. She shuddered in a fetal position as she realized that the Mallors were frauds. Her revered ancestor had saved Talok VIII from the Star King, but she had learned recently that those cosmic beings were in truth benign stranded travelers whose doomsday weapon had been nothing more than a means to return home. Mallor had murdered innocent beings. She came from a line of savages, not a line of champions. Now everyone could see that shame. She cried out and found no way to close her eyes against the brilliant light that exposed her every weakness for all to see.
“Get away from her!” yelled Star Boy as he shoved himself between the two women and found himself plunging through space over Xanthu. He was an infant in a space station orbiting the planet, and to the horror of his desperate astronomer parents, his unique mass-increasing power had sent their fragile home out of its orbit.
Thom Kallor screamed, but the voice that he heard was not a baby’s shrill cry, but the bellow of a grown man. He saw Fryd and Mira Kallor try to carry him to safety in their escape pod, but they were too late, and their world erupted in a fiery explosion as Thom’s power brought them to an early death. Even as Dream Girl held his trembling body, Star Boy could only see the illusion of death caused by his hand.
Projectra laughed and placed one high-heel against his chest as she kicked him prone and watched Nura’s futile efforts to revive him. “He sees the events of his infancy as I would shape them! He killed his parents and died in that accident his powers caused! That did not happen in real life, but it happened in the version I’ve blanketed his mind with, and what I declare to be real is real for all who fall under my sway!” She turned and said, “Invisibility is as petty an illusion as shadows! I see you, Invisible Kid, and I see your sense of inadequacy!”
Jacques Foccart shook his head and ran forward. He did feel unworthy of the powers Lyle Norg’s formula had given him. He did feel as if he did not deserve the role he played as a hero when he had not earned the powers that came from the mind of a brilliant dead man. He also saw himself as a killer, since his wild use of a power beyond his understanding had sent a Khund warrior to a death in airless space. That power had been removed, and his friends had insisted that his actions were nothing more than an accident of self-defense. Still, Jacques knew better, and with Projectra’s power forcing him to see nothing beyond those same fears and doubts played over and over again in fearful clarity, he could not fight back. “Lyle, forgive me! You should have lived, and I should be a dead nobody!” he whispered as he rocked back and forth in his pain.
Projectra laughed a kittenish laugh and turned to face Dream Girl, Blok, and Quislet. “How I will relish using my power on you, Nura Nal!” she said. “Still, a girl must save some pleasures for the future!” She kissed Mordru as he gestured and enclosed Dream Girl, Blok, Quislet, and the others in a green magical sphere.
“How well you use your powers, now that I have taught you their fullest potential!” said Mordru. “To think you once did naught with them but project phantasms, when in truth, forcing others to face their own demons without cover of comforting self-delusions is a far more potent tactic!”
Projectra smiled winningly and said, “It is but one more blessing for which I owe you, my liege!”
Mordru took her hand and led her away with only one glance backward at the captive heroes. “We will have much sport with you before I claim your lives and then tread across your precious Earth!” he said. “Lord Mordru promises you that!”