Hawkwoman lay in the snow, wrapped from shoulders to knees in the strong material of the Queen’s trick playing card. It was constricting her, slowly crushing her to death. She ground her teeth in pain.
By lifting her head as much as she could, she could glimpse her longtime friend, Black Canary. Dinah Lance, due to be married in two weeks, dying in the snow. Hawkwoman’s keen ears could hear Zatanna behind her, struggling to spit out the gag in her mouth.
Hawkwoman summoned all the strength in her body and pushed out with her arms and her wings together. Slowly, oh so slowly, the card began to give. Finally, with a loud tearing sound it ripped wide, and Hawkwoman’s wings burst out like a newly born condor from its shell. She was free.
Her first impulse was to rush to Black Canary’s side. With a discipline honed in the Thanagarian police academy, she fought down that impulse and raced to Zatanna. In one quick motion she yanked out the cloth gag.
“Sniahc enogeb!” Zatanna cried, and the chains binding her dissolved into smoke. She sprinted across the snow, nearly stumbling once but righting herself, and plunged down beside Black Canary’s still form. The longtime champion of two Earths was barely breathing.
“Nosiop hsinav!” Zatanna commanded. “Ydob laeh! Laeh!” The air crackled with the expended mystic energy.
“Uhhhmm…” Black Canary murmured and began to stir. Zatanna grasped her old friend and hugged her tightly.
“Oh, God, Dinah,” Zatanna cried, a single tear staining her cheek. “We nearly lost you!”
“The… the talisman?” Black Canary muttered.
“They got it,” Hawkwoman said simply.
“Indeed,” another voice said. Before the three heroines knew it, they were back in Zatanna’s apartment. All the other heroines were there too, as was Madame Xanadu. Her face was emotionless as always.
“Tala’s ennead got all three,” she said simply.
“Well done, my sisters!” Tala cried joyfully, holding the three glowing spheres over her head in a mystic aura. “Well done!“
“So what now?” asked Golden Glider, ever the pragmatist.
“So now,” Tala said, “we use them.”
“So that’s it?” Hawkwoman demanded of Madame Xanadu. “We flubbed it, and the world becomes one big ladies night? I don’t buy that!”
“Nor I,” Wonder Woman said. “There must be something we can do!”
“I fear the situation may be hopeless,” Madame Xanadu said emotionlessly. “Tala has all the talismans now. Once she completes the spell, it will be irreversible.”
“Can’t we stop her?” Batwoman cried. “Keep her from completing the spell?”
“If we could find her,” Madame Xanadu said.
“Waves of Xebel, this cannot be happening!” Mera cried, slamming her fist down onto a table. “We cannot let it happen! Oh, I knew it was a mistake to bring her along!” The fiery queen of Atlantis shot a glance at Sue Dibny, who gasped in shock.
“Me?” Sue demanded. “You’re blaming me for this? I fought as well as any of us, Mera!”
“That’s right,” Wonder Woman said. “Did you not see her vanquish the one called Gem Girl? Oh, that’s right, you didn’t. You were unconscious!“
Mera’s eyes widened. “Why, you pretentious usurper–! If the real Wonder Woman had been there–“
With a loud ring of steel, Nubia drew the sword from its sheath at her belt. “The real Wonder Woman was there,” she said calmly. “And if you have any doubt of that, test it now!”
Mera said nothing, but her hands clenched into fists, and the water in Zatanna’s flower vases began to roil.
“Enough!” Black Canary cried out. “My God, can’t we stop bickering among ourselves long enough to figure out what to do? And I always complain about Ollie and Katar. You make them look like the Lone Ranger and Tonto!”
“Who?” Wonder Woman asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I’ll explain later,” Zatanna promised. “Assuming there is a later.”
“So, Madame Xanadu,” Superwoman said, “the problem is finding Tala? Can’t you use your magic?”
“Tala is likely masking her presence from me,” Madame Xanadu said. “If I had some idea where she might be, I could focus my efforts there and perhaps pierce her veil. But the world is a big place.”
“Um, excuse me,” Sue said.
“Yes, Sue Dibny?” Madame Xanadu asked.
“Does this spell have to be done in any special place?”
Madame Xanadu came as close as she ever did to a double take. “Excuse me?”
“Well, you said Tala is tapping into the fundamental magic of the life cycle,” Sue offered. “Wouldn’t it help her spell if it were done in some place important to that cycle?”
Several of the costumed women glanced at each other, then back at Sue.
The island of Bahrain was a small oasis in a sea of troubles. Situated in the middle of the southern part of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain’s fertile lands and fresh water had long made it a prize of the many civilizations who dwelt there. It had also supported several industries: historically, pearl diving; more recently, oil. Ownership of the tiny island had long been contested between many claimants, most recently Great Britain and Iran; in 1971, Bahrain became an independent Arab emirate.
And, many Biblical scholars believed, Bahrain was the site of the actual Garden of Eden.
“We have arrived, Sisters!” Tala cried with glee as her magic deposited herself and her ennead on a lonely plain near the eastern shore of Bahrain. The three glowing spheres rotated around her head like eerie comets. “From here, the new age of the world shall begin! The age of Tala!“
“And us,” Golden Glider reminded her.
“Hey, Tala,” Gem Girl asked, “I’ve been wondering about something. If those mystic doohickeys are so important to feminine magic and all that, how did they end up where we found them?”
“I’m kind of curious about that, too,” the Cheetah asked, absently scratching at several insect bites on the back of her neck.
Tala smiled an icy, reptilian smile. “These ‘doohickeys,’ as you call them, were not important to feminine magic. Not all by themselves. They were merely repositories for magical energy. The feminine magic in them was put there by yourselves.”
“What?!” Poison Ivy demanded. “What do you mean?”
“Foolish little sisters,” Tala laughed, “I knew that meddler Madame Xanadu would learn what I was about and would try to stop me by sending her own ennead into battle with mine. I counted on that, you see. The battles between women — three battles, with three women on each side — generated sufficient feminine magic to empower my spell!”
“Whoa, wait a minute,” New-Wave said. “You mean, while we fought Wonder Woman and the others, those globes absorbed some kind of magic generated by our fight?”
“Precisely,” Tala confirmed.
“That was taking an awful big chance, wasn’t it?” Queen asked. “I mean, suppose the cards had fallen the other way?”
“Yeah, suppose we had lost?” Sea Tigress demanded. “What then?”
“That was never a possibility,” Tala said. “Without your knowledge, I amplified your abilities with my own magic. There was no way you could have lost.”
“Stacked the deck, huh?” Queen asked, admiringly. “Pretty handy, Tala.”
“Yes, wasn’t it?” Tala agreed. “And now, just one more component is required for the spell to work.”
“And what’s that?” Killer Frost asked. “Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing, maybe?”
“No, not quite,” Tala said. The sorceress raised her hands, one thumb bent down to the palm, the other nine fingers spread. Instantly, the nine super-villainesses were imprisoned in glowing violet nimbuses of light. None were able to move.
“The final component of my spell,” Tala cooed, “is the sacrifice of nine lives rich in feminine magic.”
The nine villainesses gasped in shock at Tala’s words. They struggled in their prisons of violet light, but while they could move a bit, they could not get free.
“What?!” Mirror Mistress demanded. “Y-you’re just going to kill us? After we did all your dirty work for you?”
“Mm-hm,” Tala acknowledged as she lifted her arms above her head. The glowing spheres orbiting her head flew higher now, circling high over her outstretched arms.
“You piece of–!” the Cheetah hissed. “You’d better make sure you kill me on the first try, because otherwise I’m going to rip your heart out and eat it raw!“
“Oh, have no fear on that score, Deborah,” Tala said with a smile.
“Oh, God, no!” Gem Girl cried. “Please, don’t! I-I don’t wanna die! I just wanted pretty jewels! I j-just wanted pretty joo-hoo-hools!” And the would-be super-villainess wept openly and loud.
“Oh, Christ,” Poison Ivy said with disgust. “Shut up, will you? You’re embarrassing me.”
“Your embarrassment will be over shortly, Pamela,” Tala said, lifting her eyes to the rapidly circling spheres above her. “When I unleash the power of three times three, all will — what’s that?!”
Tala’s head snapped down and around as a field of glowing golden light suddenly appeared on the plain before her. As one, the nine heroines gathered by Madame Xanadu appeared.
“Too late to join the party?” Black Canary asked, trying to mask the fear she felt deep inside.
“I never thought I’d be happy to see the likes of them,” Killer Frost observed.
“You fools!” Tala hissed. “You seek to stop me here? At the wellspring of all feminine magic? You haven’t a chance!”
“A girl can’t get shot for trying,” Batwoman retorted.
“Can’t she?” Tala asked, throwing her hands out in front of her, launching nine sizzling bolts of energy.
“Deirrap!” Zatanna cried out, and nine similar bolts flew from her fingertips, stopping each of Tala’s in mid-flight.
“Press the attack!” Hawkwoman cried, hurling a mace in Tala’s direction. Her friends followed her lead with swords, batarangs, hard-water battering ram, and sonic cry.
Tala quickly erected a mystic energy field that blocked them all.
“Dleihs etapissid!” Zatanna cried, and golden light shone from her fingertips and bathed Tala’s field of dark energy. The field began to lighten in color; Tala concentrated, and it darkened again.
“Keep pouring it on!” cried Sue, who was able to do little more than watch and advise. “She’s weakening, I can tell!”
“Pour it on, you say?” Mera asked, lifting her arms. The waters off the shore of the island rose up, a hundred feet high. “Done!” The giant wave came crashing down, smashing like a hammer on Tala’s field. The spray soaked the heroines, but when the mist cleared, Tala’s field held. However, Tala was down on one knee now, her brow beaded with sweat.
“We’re doing it!” Hawkwoman swore, swinging her mace again. “We’re wearing her down!” The mace bounced off the field. Superwoman and Wonder Woman pressed close attack, hammering at the field with their fists. Black Canary channeled her sonic scream into a tight funnel as she had done against Poison Ivy’s plant. Katana’s sword rang against the field again and again; sparks flew from the energy wall as the blade struck it, perhaps because of the sword’s own mystic nature.
“I must succeed!” Tala swore through gritted teeth. Slowly she raised herself back up on two feet and clenched her fists tightly until the nails bit into her palms. “I — must — succeed!” The evil sorceress forced a final, desperate surge of mystic power through the three glowing spheres; a mighty blast of mystic force shot out and bowled the nine heroines over like bowling pins.
“Ha!” Tala cried, seeing her enemies fall. Already Wonder Woman and Mera were struggling to their feet, but Tala only laughed. “You are too late, foolish ones! You fought valiantly, but now–“
Before Tala could complete her thought, three scarlet bolts of energy lanced out from behind her and struck the three glowing spheres. Simultaneously, the spheres shattered.
“Nooo-ooo-ooo!” Tala cried, and her scream was spread across the island winds as her body was sucked into the glowing vortex created by the destruction of the globes. In the blink of an eye, she was gone.
“Wha-what happened?” Sue asked.
“Someone destroyed the spheres,” Zatanna said. “Tala had linked herself to them, body and soul, to work her spell and tap into the fundamental magic of this place. When they went — she did, too.”
“A fitting fate,” Wonder Woman said simply.
“But who did it?” Batwoman asked. “Who zapped the spheres?”
Black Canary looked beyond the still-smouldering spot where Tala had stood, and gaped in surprise. “Good Lord!” she cried. “You?“
“Yeah, me,” Mirror Mistress said. “Surprised?”
“A little,” Zatanna agreed. “How’d you get free? And where are the others?”
“The light-prisons started weakening when Tala started fighting you guys,” Mirror Mistress said. “I guess she couldn’t split her focus like that. Eventually they got weak enough for us to break free. The rest of the gang got out of Dodge fast; they couldn’t put air between them and Tala fast enough.”
“And why didn’t you flee with them?” Katana asked, an edge to her voice.
“It didn’t seem right, somehow,” Mirror Mistress said with a shrug. “I don’t know; it’s not like me, but we’d have all been dead if you guys hadn’t shown up, so I guess I owed you. Besides, I had a chance to think it over; it wouldn’t be such a great world without men, after all.”
A few of the heroines, including Sue Dibny, hid a knowing smile.
“Well, don’t think we don’t appreciate it, Bertha,” Black Canary said, “but you realize we have to take you in. You’re still a wanted criminal.”
Mirror Mistress laughed at that. “You can try,” she giggled. “I don’t think you’ll have much luck, though.”
“And what makes you so sure of that?” Wonder Woman asked, in a threatening tone.
“Because you’re talking to a hologram,” Mirror Mistress said. And with that her image began to fade away, quickly becoming transparent. “Until next time, ladies,” she said, and then was gone entirely.
“Oh, yes,” Hawkwoman swore. “There will be a next time.”
“Well, everyone,” Black Canary said with a sigh, “I have to say, this is a bachelorette party to tell the grandkids about.”
“When they’re old enough,” Sue added. Canary nodded.