Mordru showed his teeth in an animalistic grin and then replied, “Very well! There are plenty of other Legion-spawn to toy with when they come to quest for these victims!” He gestured again, and green fire engulfed the heroes.
Star Boy cried out as he tried to shield Dream Girl, but he was too late, and his own pain was too great. He touched her cheek before blacking out in a blinding wave of pain.
Blok tried to protect Mysa Nal and Tasmia Mallor, but his bulk was useless against the eldritch fire. He cracked apart like a shattered stone, and his body partially covered the charred women and the fallen Invisible Kid.
Only Quislet remained as he hovered helplessly above the bodies of his friends.
“The sprite must die as well!” said Mordru. “Let him suffer dispersal without the protection of yon craft!” He shattered the silvery vehicle that housed Quislet, and sparks briefly illuminated the room as the tiny being drifted apart.
Queen Projectra stood up and kissed Mordru as she saw the results. She caressed his cheek and fingered his beard playfully as she whispered, “And now, My King, I would reward you for such sport!”
Mordru swept her into his arms and carried her up the stairs to their private quarters. He smiled at her with open and amorous interest and laughed a deep, throaty chuckle as he drew her closer and closed the door behind them.
At that moment, Star Boy realized that he was not dead. He had witnessed the inferno, and he had felt it. He was certain of the heat and the pain and the loss he had felt, as well as of a rather numbing sense of oblivion, but that had ended, and he opened his eyes to see Dream Girl, White Witch, and the others experiencing the same effect. “What happened? Is everyone unhurt?” he asked.
“We’re fine, for now!” said Shadow Lass. “That could change! Look!”
She pointed to where the regal and alluring Queen Projectra had returned to face them. She no longer towered over them as before, and her expression had softened, as all of them could see. “I know you have no reason to trust me or to forgive me for what I put you all through, but I assure you I am myself again!” she said. “Mordru’s hold upon me has been broken!”
“Of course it has!” said Dream Girl. “That’s why you shielded us from him by making him think he’d killed us all! We all felt that illusion as if it was real!”
“How did you fool him?” asked Mysa. “His power should have enabled him to see through such a charade!”
“My power is far greater than ever before because of Mordru!” said Queen Projectra. “He conquered Orando and killed all of the Council of Orakills in order to gain their magical power, but he could not do so! With their deaths, he’d hoped to steal their latent magic, but the magic defied him, and thus he realized that only one of royal blood could partake of the magic freed when he executed the Orakills. Thus, he planned to claim me as his bride and his mate and a channel through which he could use that raw energy! He switched Orando with Zerox in order to get rid of his old teachers, and he abducted me.
“I admit freely that I fell head over heels into his power. The shock of recent events like Val’s sudden return and even swifter departure had left me vulnerable. I became that evil woman you saw and suffered under. Yet part of my mind fought him and all he stood for, and thus that small recess used the new power I’d gained to create an illusion of myself as I was when I first met Val and became one of you. That other self and the images of poor Val, Ferro Lad, and the rest came to be embodiments of the good in me as it waged war against my dark side.”
“So that’s why we thought we were battling troops when we were still captives!” said Shadow Lass. “Your evil side manifested illusions of enemy troops to stop us, just as your good side created the faux Legion to help us!”
Projectra nodded and said, “Mysa and Nura sensed as much but feared to speak the truth, because they feared if my then-stronger Mordru-controlled side learned what I was doing, she would stop it all before I could buy time enough to assert my will!”
“What of Mordru?” asked Mysa. “I can readily believe that the ego-driven wizard would buy into any illusion of the magnitude your power now operates on, if it showed something he wanted to believe. He might have refused to believe an illusion that showed his own defeat!”
Queen Projectra sighed and said, “I have suffered much at his hands. He has used me in ways that I care not to speak of, but I did not execute him. I have focused all my power upon him and left him in a perpetual illusion of victory and romance. What he thought was a bridal chamber was, in fact, a tomb! He is trapped and will remain so as long as the airless chamber holds him!”
“So all we did was act out a fantasy of battle that bought you time to regain your free will?” said Star Boy.
“Yes, it is so,” said Queen Projectra. “Still, my freedom has come too late to help Grimoire, who was but a pawn. It has arrived too late to restore my murdered mentors or abused subjects.”
She stepped closer to the Legionnaires and suddenly dropped down on her knees before them. Tears streamed out of her eyes, and her heavy makeup ran down her anguished face. “I beg you all to forgive me for what tortures I inflicted upon you all! I truly do not know if some part of me did not relish it, since in my mind I blamed the Legion for the way my people suffered under the Legion of Super-Villains and for the murder of my beloved husband!”
Shadow Lass helped her to her feet and said, “Jeckie, you are one of us. We have nothing to forgive! You were Mordru’s slave. We know that!”
Queen Projectra smiled sadly and said, “I do not know that. Was the naïve and loving princess but another illusion or role I played? Is the heartless and vain bride of Mordru my true self? Did he plant the evil in my heart or merely nurture its growth? I need time to come to terms with what I’ve become! I need time to find peace with my people and the spirits of my ancestors! I want to take leave from the Legion and remain here. Val will come for me when he finds his own path. We spoke enough in the short time before he left on his journey through time for me to know this.”
“What of Zerox?” asked Dream Girl.
“Can you part the veils that separate us from that dimension as you used to do when you came back here after assuming your Sensor Girl role?” asked Mysa.
“I can do so,” said Queen Projectra. “I have more power now than ever before, though much of it is mine only while I stand upon Orando’s soil!” She walked over to a burning brazier and spoke in hushed tones until the flames grew hotter, and a portal opened in thin air.
“I will go to Zerox and help my teachers return their planet to its proper place,” said Mysa.
“It is no longer my desire to exclude Orando from the rest of the universe,” said Queen Projectra. “That policy only allowed Mordru to secretly take over. I would ask you to rather offer your teachers sanctuary here!”
“It has been said that the magic of Zerox rests within its natives and not in its soil,” said Mysa. “After all, they did migrate there from Earth centuries ago, as well as scattered Homo Magi groups around the cosmos years ago. (*) If they agree, I will let you know!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Secret Identity of Super-Horse,” Action Comics #301 (June, 1962).]
The White Witch vanished through the portal as Star Boy stepped closer to Queen Projectra and said, “Of course we grant you leave from the team, but I want you to know that you have a place with us when you choose to return!”
“I thank you,” said Queen Projectra. “I will put my realm in order once more and wrestle anew with private demons of my own for the future!”
“We must see to burial for Grimoire,” said Blok. “He was more victim than villain!”
“It shall be done!” said Queen Projectra. “His crime was only that he failed to regain his free will as I did! Neither my people nor I will deny him a resting place.”
Invisible Kid whispered to Quislet, “I am glad to hear that. I was rather shaken by the way she left Nemesis Kid’s body to rot in the streets after Val’s funeral.” He referred to Projectra’s decree that her husband’s murderer would not receive burial after the death of Karate Kid. Now, with Val seemingly back from the grave and in search of himself through time itself, Jacques felt it more natural to feel sympathy even for Nemesis Kid.
Later, the Legionnaires watched a wonderful sight as the mobile Sorcerers’ Isle from Zerox appeared on the Sea of Mist on Orando. The Teachers of Sorcerers’ World had agreed to settle on Projectra’s homeworld and to try, in time, to cure Mordru of his evil ways.
“Let Zerox remain in that limbo. We carry its magic within us and would welcome a chance to make our ways more acceptable to outsiders. By separating ourselves from non-mages, we made ourselves easy prey for our foe!” Those words had echoed in Mysa’s mind as her esteemed teachers chose a new home.
The Legionnaires said their goodbyes and departed in the Legion Cruiser.
“I hope Jeckie will find some peace there,” said Shadow Lass. “She has lost so much!”
“She has gained much as well!” said Star Boy, looking at the bright side for once. “Mordru’s claim that she was worthy due to being shaped by tragedy and loss was true in a sense. She is one strong lady!”
Dream Girl nodded and said, “Val will come back to her. That much is a blessing!”
Blok rested one hand on Mysa’s arm and said, “You grieve for Grimoire?”
“I am sorry for his loss, but I have you, and your friendship is a rock to me!” said Mysa.
“We’re all here for you, Mysa,” said Star Boy. “At least we won’t have to fear Mordru again. He’s well-secured now! Soon, Orando will be free of even a memory of the damage his evil magic did!”
However, Star Boy’s words were far too optimistic, but then he could not know that during the dark wizard’s reign, some magic touched the soils itself, and from that tainted soil a corpse formed and then shaped itself anew into a living being. The body was a handsome blond young man who had viewed his own restoration as being due only to the gradual success of his alchemical power that allowed him to overcome any single adversary in time.
“I owe a debt to Projectra, and in time I’ll pay her back for what she did to me! She killed me, but then death itself is only a single foe, and Nemesis Kid can’t be defeated for long by any one being, be it mortal or god!” he said as he walked into the forest below the castle.