by Brian K. Asbury
This is going very badly, thought Sandie Bremmer as she ran toward Count Vertigo. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Squire going down beneath Stealth’s savage attack, while Lodestone was magnetically tossing the armoured Knight around like a rag doll. I’m the only one still on my feet. It’s all up to me. Again.
However, as she drew level with Vertigo, her feet went from under her as the horizontal village green suddenly seemed to become vertical. She fell, not hurting her two-dimensional form, but with wave after wave of nausea washing over her as her disoriented mind tried to cope with a world suddenly gone insane. She looked at her arm, and to her horror saw it detach itself from her body and move away, bizarrely twisted and attenuated.
“No! No!” She made a grab for it with her remaining hand, except that the fingers were ten times their normal thickness, and becoming blobs that were breaking away and rising into the air. And all around her, the grass was growing at an impossible rate, hemming her in, curving around to enclose her in a green tomb.
No! Other parts of her body began to detach and fly away, seeping through the green tendrils of grass like water. My energy form is breaking up, she thought, aghast. I’ve got to become human again. Got to use my rings!
She desperately scrambled for the controls on her rings that would neutralise her powers, but where were they? She had no fingers — no arms. No! Got to concentrate, she thought. This isn’t really happening. She closed her eyes and felt for her rings. Yes, there they were. A twist, and…
There was a crushing blow to her chin. Her eyes flew open, to see Vertigo standing over her, gripping the front of her tunic, his fist raised for a second blow. Then everything went black.
Elsewhere, the Squire skipped back from his relentless attacker. All his martial arts training was proving useless against an opponent who looked soft and pretty, but who was incredibly agile, much stronger than he, and seemingly tireless. This was an uneven battle that he could not win unless he did something to tip the odds in his favour.
In desperation, he fumbled for one of the special daggers at his belt. “Oh, now, that isn’t nice,” Stealth said. “I thought we’d agreed, pretty boy — fists only? This is very disappointing. I may have to kill you now.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” gasped the Squire. “I don’t intend to cut your pretty face.” He twisted a stud on the weapon and hurled it into the grass at her feet. An ear-blasting sonic scream erupted from it.
But to his astonishment, Stealth only laughed. She held out her open palm toward the dagger, and it fell silent. “What a weapon to use against me, kid! Oh, if you only knew! Why in the world do you think I’m called Stealth?”
And suddenly, she reversed the gesture, turning her palm toward the Squire. A tremendously concentrated sonic blast lifted him off his feet and sent him hurtling toward Godiva, who was still desperately trying to land a blow on Karma without success. He slammed into the golden-haired heroine, and they both went down. Neither moved.
Vertigo smiled to himself in satisfaction as he watched Lodestone repeatedly slamming the Knight into the ground. “Enough, my dear,” he shouted. “We don’t want to kill him, after all.” No — that was the Dominators’ prerogative.
“OK, honey!” Lodestone said cheerfully. She dropped the Knight one last time. Like his teammates, he was not moving.
“Good work, all of you,” Vertigo said. “Now bring them here.” He looked over to where Firebrand was approaching from the Village Hall, having heard the commotion. “No need to worry, my lovely,” he called out to her. “We have everything under control.” She hesitated, as if intending to go back to her guard duty. “However, forget the villagers and come and join us. We don’t need them anymore.”
No, the villagers had amply served their purpose as hostages, in keeping the police and other security forces from interfering. They could be left to their own devices now. He hefted the unconscious Cameo over his shoulder and strode back to the market cross that was their rendezvous point. Once the Company was assembled here with their prisoners, all that remained was to signal the Dominators to warp them back to his castle retreat. Then he could claim his reward. The power that he held over these four fools would be extended and made permanent — he would be able to control anyone he wished.
Firebrand had reached the market cross before him, and the others were bringing their defeated opponents — although Karma was struggling under the weight of Godiva. Vertigo snorted. That one would have to go. He was surly, out of condition, and rebellious, even despite the conditioning that made him adore Vertigo and want to obey him. It seemed to work better on the women, so perhaps he could persuade the Dominators to let him have Godiva and Cameo for his team instead of killing them. Besides, Godiva was some woman. The thought of her warming his bed at night was a very tempting one — and she would come to him willingly, of course.
“A shame really, that you didn’t need me,” Firebrand said. “I’m almost disappointed. It would have been interesting to see all that hair go up in flames.”
“Quite,” said Vertigo. He reached into his belt for the signal device that would alert the Dominators to their success. However, it was suddenly dashed from his grasp, speared by an arrow. Before he could even react, a second arrow struck his arm, its head becoming a clamp which embedded itself into the stone of the cross, pinning him to it.”
“G-Green Arrow?” he gasped, looking around for his old foe.
“Not quite,” said the Bowman of Britain, looking down at him from a nearby rooftop with yet another arrow nocked.
“Tell your cronies to put down their prisoners and surrender,” shouted the Bowman. “Otherwise, my next arrow goes straight through your heart. And believe me, I’m not bluffing.”
“Who the hell are you?” gasped Vertigo.
“I also know the limitations of your powers, Vertigo,” the Bowman added. “I’m well out of your range, so stop trying to zap me.”
“You ain’t out of my range,” Lodestone said, rising into the air.
“Perhaps not. But I’ve been observing you. Your powers are magnetic, and this arrow has no metal parts. Try anything you like, but it won’t stop me firing it at Vertigo. Now stand down.”
Lodestone looked helplessly toward the Count, who nodded. She dropped back to the ground, her purple glow fading.
“What do you want?” Vertigo growled.
“Want? I want to see you and your confederates behind bars, where you belong. I’ve already called the police, and they’re on their way. I’d advise you not to resist.”
“What do you want us to do, Count?” said Stealth.
“Nothing,” said Vertigo. “Do as he says. He may be bluffing about killing me, but I have no intention of putting that to the test.”
“A wise move,” said the Bowman. “I may not be your old foe Green Arrow, but I’ve worked with him, and I’ve made it my business to know everything there is to know about his enemies. You may be evil, Vertigo, but you’re not suicidal. I think you’ll do the sensible thing.”
Vertigo grimaced. “Of course I will,” he said, fixing his gaze firmly on his red-white-and-blue-clad tormentor. “But you should know that sometimes the sensible thing is not necessarily the obvious one.” He summoned up his power. Stealth, Karma, and Lodestone suddenly all keeled over, screaming and scrabbling for holds in an environment gone mad.
The Bowman’s gaze flickered toward them. “Now, Firebrand,” hissed Vertigo. “Get him!” There was an explosion of light and sound from behind him, and the red-haired girl was suddenly a ball of energy, streaking toward the Bowman’s position.
The archer, only momentarily distracted, swiftly let fly with his arrow, but Firebrand’s energy form intercepted it, and it incinerated instantly. Then that incandescent ball was in front of him, only inches from his face. He gulped. He had nothing in his arsenal that could cope with this.
“Destroy him, Firebrand,” Vertigo was screaming from below. “Kill him! Do it!”
Seconds passed. The fireball simply hovered there. Then it moved slowly forward, forcing the Bowman back along the flat roof. Suddenly it expanded, then coalesced back into the human form of Firebrand.
She stood there, staring at him. “Just what in the name of God have I just been doing?” she breathed.
“What are you doing?” screamed Vertigo. “Kill him!”
Firebrand was still staring at the Bowman, who stared back, unsure of what to make of this new development. Suddenly, she whispered, “Wrestle me down!”
“Grab me. Pull me down. Make it look as if we’re fighting!”
Without further hesitation, the Bowman dropped his bow, lunged for Firebrand, and dragged her down onto the flat roof, out of sight of those below.
“Just what’s going on?” he hissed. “Much as I enjoy a good bout of wrestling with an attractive woman, this is hardly the time or place.”
“Listen to me,” Firebrand said. “I may not have much time. I’ve been under some sort of spell. I actually thought I was in love with Vertigo. I’d do anything for him.”
“But changing to my energy-form seems to have snapped me out of it. Trouble is, I don’t know if it’s permanent. If I go back down there, I might be find myself under his influence again.”
“I see. What can I do?”
“Take out Vertigo. I don’t mean kill him, but if you put him out of the picture, the others might snap out of it. None of us are really bad guys, but we can’t resist doing anything Vertigo orders us to do. We’d even kill if he commanded it.”
The Bowman’s forehead furrowed. “That’s all very well, but this has given him a chance to get free. I don’t have the advantage of surprise anymore. However, there may be one ace I can use. Listen, this is what you have to do…”
“D’you need any help, sugar?” Firebrand looked up to see Lodestone levitating over the edge of the roof.
“Ah… no. I’m fine,” she said, scrambling to her feet and dragging the Bowman with her. “He used some sort of gadget to stun me momentarily, but it wore off. I’ve got him.” She grabbed hold of the cross-belt holding his quiver and burned through it. The quiver and its contents fell at their feet.
“The Count told you to, like, kill him, Firebrand,” Lodestone said, alighting on the roof next to them.
“I don’t think that’s a terribly good idea,” said the Bowman hastily. “I can be useful to him.”
“He hates Green Arrow. Well, I know who Green Arrow really is. I can lead Count Vertigo straight to him if he’ll spare my life.”
The two women exchanged glances. “I think the Count would like that,” said Firebrand. “Why don’t you give Robin Hood, here, a lift down? And he can take this, too.” She bent to pick up the fallen bow.
“You’re giving him his weapon back? Are you, like, crazy, girl?”
Firebrand smiled. She kicked at the fallen quiver. “It’s useless without arrows. And he can present it to the Count as a trophy. That would be a nice gesture, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, yeah, I guess so.”
“There you are, then.” Firebrand handed the archer his bow. “So what are you waiting for?”
“Now what?” muttered Vertigo as Lodestone levitated down to the ground, extending her magnetic field to encompass the Bowman.
“The Bowman, here, has a present for you, darling,” said the American girl. “Go on, sugar.” She pushed him forward. “Tell Count Vertigo what you told Firebrand and me.” The Bowman began to walk toward the Count.
Vertigo strode forward. “Why does this costumed buffoon still have his bow?”
“It’s OK,” Lodestone said. “He doesn’t have any arrows.” Even as she said it, however, the archer took a stance and pulled back the bowstring.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” demanded Vertigo. “Are you trying to threaten me with an empty bow?”
“Not just any bow,” said the Bowman. “This is the legendary Thunderbow, Vertigo. And it can do this.” He released the string.
Suddenly, where there had been empty air, there was a streak of light. Vertigo had no chance to dodge as it exploded at his feet. As he reeled back, a second arrow-of-the-imagination exploded in front of his face, sending him spinning into unconsciousness.
Lodestone howled and lunged for the Bowman, her purple aura flaring. However, a flash of lightning split the air from above. She was lit up momentarily like a Christmas tree, then collapsed.
Over by the market cross, Stealth and Karma stared in astonishment as their comrades went down. “Count! Nooo!” Stealth howled. She snatched up the Knight’s fallen sword and charged toward the Bowman, only to be felled by a second blast of electricity from Firebrand, who now flared into her fireball-form and streaked down to the cross.
Karma stood with his back toward the ancient stone monument as, on one side, the Bowman advanced with the Thunderbow pointed directly at him, and on the other, Firebrand blazed with spectral flames. “Hey… hey, now guys. You don’t wanna do this, do ya? I mean, chill out. What can I do to ya, huh?”
“Hold your fire, archer,” Firebrand said. “Wayne, here, has some sort of mental trick which makes any attack against him miss. If we attack, we could end up hitting each other instead of him.”
“Yeah… yeah…” said Karma. “So ya better watch it, dude. You better let me go if ya know what’s good for ya.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Firebrand, advancing. “I know I can’t hit you directly, Wayne, but suppose I heat the air over this whole area to a few thousand degrees Celsius? I’d love to see you dodge that one.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” screamed Karma.
“Wouldn’t I? The alternative, Wayne dear, is that you stay right there, let me walk up to you and take your arm. Don’t use your powers, or — sizzle, sizzle, sizzle.”
“Because I want to take you into my energy-form. It freed me from Vertigo’s influence, and it should work for you, too.”
“And if I don’t agree?” Flames shot up from Firebrand’s hand. Karma thought fast. “O-OK. I agree.”
“Good. I knew you’d be reasonable.” She stepped up to him and held out her arm as though to take his. Then suddenly she swung her other arm back and landed a roundhouse punch on the point of his chin. He crumpled into a heap.
The Bowman stared in astonishment. “I thought you were going to free him from the Count’s influence?”
Firebrand smiled sweetly as she rubbed her aching fist. “Oh, I was. But that was much more satisfying. I’ve wanted to do that ever since I met the obnoxious little git!”