In Zandia sometime later, Mal Duncan groaned and sat up as he felt moisture on his face and hands. He pushed himself up and glanced around a dark cell. He could make out the forms of five of his friends. Lilith Clay, Golden Eagle, Arisia, Harlequin, and Protector were locked in the same cell with him. “Well, this place has class compared to some of the places Great Frog used to play,” he said ruefully.
“Life on the road. Totally cool,” said Golden Eagle as he helped Mal up.
“Eagle, where exactly are we?” asked the Herald.
“It could be, like, Dracula’s castle for all I know, dude! I did a scan with the sensors in my armor, but one dark, wet dungeon pretty much looks like another!” he said with a sheepish smile.
Arisia said, “We’re in Zandia! I heard as much from some of the goons who tossed us in the cell.”
“To be specific,” added Lilith, “we’re in the compound of the Church of Blood. The attackers worked for the cult. We’re prisoners of Brother Blood’s!”
Arisia said, “Lil’s been here. She and the other New Titans fought Brother Blood a couple of years ago.”
Lilith nodded and said, “However, my brief time here after his defeat was not long enough for me to do more than see these cells in passing as we freed some of his captives.”
Golden Eagle said, “Well, why don’t we just, like, bust out and find the others? They could be hurt!”
Arisia said, “That would be a good plan, except for two things. They took my ring and Herald’s horn.”
Harlequin said, “And I don’t even have my handy-dandy bubble-pipe, either! They did a real number on us!”
Herald said, “Well, Robin always told us in the good old days not to rely too much on our gear. I guess we’re going just have to put his words to the test.”
Harlequin shrugged and said, “That’s rich! He and Batman carried everything but a Bat-kitchen sink in their belts!”
Herald smiled and said, “Yes, but you know as well as I do that neither one of them needed a utility belt to be capable and resourceful.”
Arisia said, “Lilith, I thought back when you were wearing that gauzy little outfit with the silver sandals that you could teleport.”
Lilith looked thoughtfully at the younger woman and replied, “Arisia, many of the powers I possessed after learning that I was a demi-goddess of Olympus are no longer mine to command. There are some I can’t use, and others I no longer wish to. Suffice it to say, if I could free us, I would do so.”
Arisia took her hand and said, “Sure! I totally didn’t mean to sound like I was trying to tell you what you could and couldn’t do! I just read about some of your previous abilities in my studies of the case files back at headquarters.”
Lilith smiled briefly and then allowed Mal to lead her away from the others. “Girl, what’s wrong?” he asked. “Is it something I can help with? I’m there for you if you need to talk when we get out of here. You know that, right?”
She hugged him and said, “I do know I can rely on you. There are things I would like to talk over with you. You know me so well!”
Meanwhile, the Protector heard their words and worried. He knew all too well that he was not in Nightwing’s class when it came to skills or capabilities. He knew that he was not being subjected to an unfair comparison by anyone except himself. Still, Jason Hart felt the comparison, and he wished that he could find a way to measure up to the hero he wanted to be.
Herald walked over to him and said, “How are you holding up?”
“I’m OK,” the Protector said. “I wish I could have been more help to you in that fight. I should have been more observant.”
Herald put both hands on his shoulders and said, “You did fine, man! None of us expected that second attack! Don’t beat yourself up over it!”
Lilith said, “There are guards outside the cell door. I can tell that much!”
Golden Eagle looked puzzled as he watched Arisia close her eyes and strain in concentration. “Arisia, chill! You look totally spaced-out!” he said.
Arisia said, “If I could just get closer to my ring, I might be able to retrieve it through willpower! I’m trying to, like, exert that willpower to bring it to me now!”
Golden Eagle said, “The Force is with you! Cool!”
Arisia smiled and said, “Right, but no Princess Leia hair for me, please!”
Mal said, “What are you doing, Duela?”
She was rubbing at her face with both hands. “I’m getting rid of my make-up. I figured if we try to blend in, we could pass for cultists. That is, when we get the jump on the guards!”
Herald nodded and said, “That’s a plan. I was sort of thinking the same thing, lady!”
Golden Eagle said, “Say, why didn’t they take my armor when they took your ring and horn? They took my gauntlets, but that’s it!”
Protector said, “Perhaps they didn’t think you could escape with it. I mean, there’s nowhere to fly in a locked cell. Your gauntlets could have at least blasted through the doors!”
Golden Eagle said, “Dude, I can totally fly the armor without being in it! Watch this!” He removed the golden body armor and braced them directly in front of the cell door. “My helmet lets me control it, so I can, like, guide it without being in it. That way I can use it to knock down the door without getting totaled myself!” He concentrated, and the golden armor raised itself above the floor and crashed into the cell door again and again until it shattered the door.
Harlequin, Protector, Lilith, and Herald leaped forward to tackle the shocked guards. In a matter of moments, the foursome had won their victory. None of the ordinary men and women who served the Church as guards could truly claim a chance to best three individuals who had seen combat experience like the Titans. Seconds later, disguised in the red and black robes of the Church of Blood, the Titans led Golden Eagle up the stairs.
“You’re our prisoner. That’s what it will look like to any observers,” said Herald.
Golden Eagle grinned and said, “I hear you, dude. Take me to your leader!” They made their way up the steep stairs and hoped for the best, even as they glanced around in search of their friends or more foes.
They found a group who was, oddly enough, both friend and foe. The Force of July blocked their path as Golden Eagle slapped his palm against his head and said, “Great. Uncle Sam again!” He flew forward, grabbed Major Victory, and soared high above the ground. “Look, flag-man, I hate to, like, come down hard on a totally psyched guy like you, but as long as Brother Blood is pulling your strings, I got no choice, you know?” He also knew that he simply couldn’t hold the stronger man for very long. Thus, he dropped him into the other Force members and yelled, “Cowabunga!”
Though Major Victory could fly, he was unable to correct his descent path and ended up landing directly on his friends. That, in turn, gave the other Titans time to spring into action.
The Protector darted into their midst and twisted the dark glasses worn by Silent Majority. He gripped him in a headlock and wrestled him down, only to be thrown down the stairs when the taciturn man replicated.
Herald was trying to avoid the fiery blasts Lady Liberty was aiming his way while shielding Arisia, who was straining furiously to locate her missing ring. “Get down, honey!” warned Mal as he shoved the alien girl flat.
Silent Majority’s replicants grappled with Harlequin and Lilith as Protector fought his way back up the stairs. He was bruised but unbeaten. Mayflower and Sparkler circled the heroes warily. The British beauty reached into the pouch of her cloak and produced a seed. In seconds, the seed had blossomed into a thorny plant that surged into Harlequin’s twisting form.
Golden Eagle grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the path of the sharp projectiles as she beamed at him and said, “My knight in dented armor!“
Lilith rolled away from Lady Liberty and managed to touch Major Victory’s face. “I feel your confusion. You do not know what you are doing,” she said softly. He shuddered and raised his fist above the girl’s face.
Mal had bounded forward to try to protect her, when Major Victory suddenly lowered his fist and said, “Force — stop fighting!”
The stentorian tone of his voice halted the others, and they stood still among the Titans as Major Victory rubbed his eyes and said, “Great Scott! The cult turned us into mindless puppets! They’ll pay!” He turned to the heroes and said, “I’m myself again. You can’t imagine how we’ve been manipulated. They’ll pay. I vow it!”
Lilith said, “I didn’t break the mind-control. I barely did more than detect it!”
Mal said, “Well, something did the trick! The others are coming out of it, too!” He gestured to where Mayflower, Lady Liberty, Silent Majority, and Sparkler were all blinking and staggering, as if they, too, had awakened from a dream.
“Cor! Last thing I remember was standing on the shore near the Church compound,” said Mayflower. “I was dressed as Poison Ivy. Before we could even react, we were attacked from all sides! How’d they know we were fakes?“
Lady Liberty said, “That ees what I wish to know as well!”
Sparkler said, “It wasn’t me! I didn’t give it away!”
Silent Majority shook his head as if to say he also had said nothing.
Major Victory said, “The isle is rumored to be loaded with super-crooks. I suppose one or more of them can read minds.”
Mal said, “As long as you are free of the mind games, how about helping us get our gear back and rescue our pals?”
“You can count on it,” Major Victory said. “We’re going to show that fiend what it means to interfere with liberty-loving sons and daughters of America!”
Sparkler piped up, “You tell ’em, Major!” They hurried up the stairs and encountered a group of cultists.
“Hit ’em, team!” roared Major Victory as he released a blazing burst of energy that leveled the nearest group of cultists.
“I didn’t know he could do that!” said Arisia.
“My star-bursts do drain me, but they are part of my arsenal,” said Victory.
Lady Liberty punched a female cultist in the nose and said, “That felt good, mon ami!”
Arisia cried out as a glowing green object sailed through the air and into her hand. “My ring! I finally came close enough to it to summon it!” she said. “I’m still charged, too! Let’s find our friends and wrap this case up!” She used the ring to teleport them to their stolen belongings.
Charley smiled as he slipped on his gauntlets. “Cool!” he said.
Mal grabbed his horn and said, “I couldn’t have said it any better myself.”
Harlequin nodded as she retrieved her bag of gimmicks and tossed the Protector his belt and other miniaturized devices. “Here, lover-boy, let me help you with that,” she said as she reached around his hips and adjusted his belt.
“Uh, thanks! I can take it from here — really,” he said, blushing furiously.
Mayflower said, “Looks like we hit the bloomin’ arsenal! There’s stuff here from any number of super-doers!”
Herald nodded and said, “Including a shield that looks a lot like the one I used to use as the Guardian!” He pointed to a golden shield in the shape of a badge.
Arisia nodded and said, “And that black ring looks like a power ring from the old Anti-G.L. Corps. Not that it has any power left in it, though.”
“Brother Blood has been equipping this place well with the weapons and gear of heroes and villains,” Mal concluded.
“That gemstone looks like something Golden Glider uses,” said Mayflower.
Golden Eagle said, “We could like take it all and be totally awesome when we free our friends!”
Herald said, “I don’t know. Stolen gear isn’t ours to take, either! We could secure it or turn it over to the JLA.”
Major Victory said, “As a legal agent of the ASA, I have the authority to claim this kind of contraband.”
From high above, the Protector swung into view and said, “The point is kind of moot now — I found the others! I just climbed the outer wall and spotted an arena. They are battling in it now while the cultists watch and Brother Blood acts like some ominous judge!”
Herald said, “We better put an end to his fun right now!”
Arisia smiled grimly as she held up her glowing power ring. “I’m more than ready!” she said.
Meanwhile, Raven was suffering from problems all her own. The young woman had been separated from her friends shortly after their arrival on Zandia. Her white dress, high heels, and cloak had been removed and replaced by a nondescript black and red robe. She had also been drugged, bound, and placed within a cage suspended high above an empty cell.
A guard looked up at her and said, “Who is the Mummy? They’ve got her wrapped up so tightly she looks like a refugee from Tut’s tomb!“
A female guard shrugged and said, “I don’t know. She’s got to be one of the super-human types, but they were careful to remove her costume and burn it so nobody could identify her too easily. That’s also why they taped those bandages over her face.”
A gruff voice broke the silence as someone entered soundlessly and said, “It is not for you to question the will of Brother Blood! Do so again and risk exclusion from the Church!”
“Forgive us!” cried the two guards in unison.
“Leave the cell. I will see to the prisoner for now!” said the gruff-voiced figure.
As they departed, the two cultists failed to see the figure reveal himself to be a large ape.
“Bah! These witless fools accept any situation if it is couched in the proper phrases of Blood’s will or Blood’s way!” he said. The talking ape spoke to an unseen audience and received a reply through a speaker he wore in his ear. “It shall be done!”
He little realized the irony of his situation. Just as the cultists accepted all orders that supposedly came from Brother Blood, so the oddly altered animal followed the orders his own master gave him.