Legion of Super-Heroes: Shadows and Substance, Chapter 1: The Demon of the Desert

by Libbylawrence

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A young man wrapped in a torn blue robe scrambled up the rocky hills of Talok VIII and glanced nervously behind him. He saw only the shifting sands of the desert. He heard nothing beyond the howls of the wolves that prowled the region between the desert and the Hidden Hills. “Steady, Grev! You’re almost there! The wolves won’t follow you into the shrine!” Grev Mallor told himself as he stumbled and rose again to claw his way up the slope. Shadows painted the rough landscape in their inky hues and brought the young champion called Shadow Kid some slight comfort. This was his domain, in a manner of speaking.

Shadow Kid ran and almost fell as he reached a cavern that rested in the middle of a hillside. He gasped for air and felt the cool, dank air of the cave embrace him as he plunged within. “I’m home! The worship of ancestors ended long ago with the scattering of the monks of Maakas, but I still feel like praying to my elders here! It was in this cavern that Tasmia and I received the birthright of power from those ancestors! A Mallor has championed Talok for eons, and I can’t let myself bring that proud tradition to an end. I won’t let ignominy cover my name as I fail my people!”

Resting in the darkness that was as bright as daylight to his altered eyes, he took comfort in the shadows that so matched the darkness he and his cousin Tasmia had power over. He frowned as the sound of harsh breathing filled the night air. “The Khund! I can smell him from here! They’ve found me!” he muttered. He pulled out his sword and groaned as the blade fell apart in his hands. “That bearded giant broke it when we fought! I can only draw upon the shadow-casting power that the Mallors have always used to protect our home from the desert raiders!”

Spreading his arms, he generated a wave of inky darkness that shut out the dwindling light and muffled the sounds from outside. “When I was a pupil at the Legion Academy, I dreamed of moments like this, but they never seemed quite so dark when they were just figments of fantasy!”

Suddenly, Shadow Kid cried out as the entire cavern exploded around him. He yelled as rocks cascaded down around him, and he jumped forward, longing for his Legion Academy flight ring as he fought his way through the cave-in. He managed to reach the mouth of the crumbling cavern as smoke and fire filled his world, and he struggled to avoid death.

“Nicely done! Your large friend has smoked out our prey!” said a man with an exotic accent. Shadow Kid whirled to see his enemies as they circled around him. The Khund grinned eagerly and rubbed his white beard in anticipation. The others merely waited with a confident and predatory manner. The monster loomed up from behind them. Its red eyes gleamed with the same heat that had destroyed the shrine of the Mallors.

“You fiends!” said Grev Mallor. “May the spirits of my ancestors haunt you!” He created a tightly formed shroud of darkness and charged forward, only to cry out in shock as the night literally exploded into brilliant and concentrated light. The brightly focused light sapped him of his energy and rendered his powers useless.

Grev caught a glimpse of the sad-looking blond man who seemed to generate the light from his body. He felt unseen hands shove him forward as a new figure stepped out of the ground to trip him up. He fell at the feet of the man who had spoken first. He saw the brown boots and robe of a nomad.

Shadow Kid was pulled to his feet and gripped roughly by the man whose blue skin and pointed ears marked him as one of Grev’s own people. He was a desert man and not a city man. That separated him from Grev and made all the difference. It was because of the warfare between the city dwellers and the desert nomads that Grev was in peril of losing his very life.

The man grinned a wicked grin and glared at Grev beneath shaggy brows and a heavy mane of black hair. “Kyack Ze, the demon of the desert!” whispered Grev as he was pulled forward.

“You know me! I am honored!” said the evil warlord. “Since you know of me, city spawn, you also know that I am not afraid of the dark!” He pushed Grev into the arms of a burly armored man who wrapped his arms around the young man’s chest and exerted pressure until he passed out.

Rogarth tossed Grev down and kicked him. “Bah! He would never survive the tourney on Avalon!” he grunted.

Kyack Ze grinned wickedly and said, “Oh, he is more impressive than he seems. All the Mallor line are more than they appear. They kept my people out of their precious cities to die in the desert for eons. That ends when we take their city.”

A man dressed all in white said, “That’s when you pay us! You agreed that, in addition to the gold you used to hire us to help you fight the city folk, we would get a real treasure when you claim the city for your desert nomads!”

Kyack Ze stared balefully at the Bgtzlian and said, “Oh, you’ll get all you deserve. I promised that, and Kyack Ze, the demon of the desert, always keeps his word.”


On Earth, within the Metropolis headquarters of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Tasmia Mallor tossed and turned in a feverish dream. The blue-skinned beauty saw herself as a child again. She felt the sting of the desert sands of Talok VIII as she made her way across the wild landscape and steeled herself not to look back at the lights of the city she had left behind. There could be no return to Ibid-Ganar for the small girl. She could not face the looks of disappointment on the faces of her people, should she return in failure.

“I must keep going!” she said. “The Yakka Mahor raiders hate all of us who live inside city walls. They won’t stop attacking our home until they capture it. I have to find the champion’s shrine! My ancestor defended our land for generations. At his sacred spot, I may find a way to make myself worthy of being his successor!”

Tasmia recalled fighting off the wolves of the wasteland, and she relived that battle in her dream. She cried out once and then found herself standing within the sacred cavern in which her proud family’s heritage was celebrated. She stood next to her small cousin Grev as the odd couple received the ancestral birthright that allowed them to create darkness and control shadows. The thrill of power filled her, and she saw herself transformed in the dream until she had matured a few more years. She had been the champion of Talok VIII for several years, and she had driven away the raiders on more than one occasion.

She saw herself leaving home to accompany the lord mayor on a diplomatic mission to the United Planets organization after Talok VIII had accepted U.P. membership. She relived the excitement of seeing Earth and of meeting the heroic Legion of Super-Heroes. That meeting had been made necessary by the fact that, in her absence, Talok VIII had fallen under the tyrannical control of the villainous Fatal Five. Their cyborg leader Tharok had used a mind-control device to dominate her people and turn them into warlike slaves. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Escape of the Fatal Five,” Adventure Comics #365 (February, 1968).]

Tasmia felt the old anger again as she recalled how she had felt when she had discovered the plot against her world. She also felt her initial attraction to the brilliant but self-contained Brainiac 5 again. In time this crush had changed, and she fell in love with Lar Gand, Mon-El.

That came later. Her dream memories swirled and altered with no rhyme or reason. She saw the liberation of Talok VIII from the Fatal Five by the Legion. She even felt her knuckles strike the smug face of the Emerald Empress as she helped the team reclaim her homeworld. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Fight for the Championship of the Universe,” Adventure Comics #366 (March, 1968).]

Tasmia joined the Legion as Shadow Lass, and young Grev began training at the Legion Academy as Shadow Kid to take her place as their world’s hero. Now she felt pride turn to cold horror as the image of Grev in trouble filled her senses before she woke up with a start and gasped for breath. She ran one hand through her voluminous black hair and glanced around the serene darkness of her elegantly decorated room.

“By my ancestors, that dream was so vivid! I know Grev is in trouble. I can’t explain it, but I feel like the dream I just had in which my cousin was in danger really means he is in trouble! Our planet is known for a type of racial memory. Perhaps the shadow-casting power we share also means Grev and I have more of a personal bond as well.” She slipped out of bed and dressed quickly. She didn’t bother turning on the lights, since she had no need of them. She moved gracefully and swiftly out of the room and turned to fly down the hallway until she reached another room.

Knocking gently, she was ushered inside by the room’s only occupant. He was Mon-El, the handsome and heroic Daxamite she loved. He switched off the stellar-observation program he had been running on his holo screens, and he took her hand in concern. “Tasmia, what’s wrong?” asked Lar Gand. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

Tasmia nodded and leaned closer to him as she said, “Lar, I had some type of visitation during a dream. I think my ancestors were trying to tell me that I am needed at home on Talok VIII. Grev may need me!”

Mon-El nodded grimly and said, “I know from my years in the Phantom Zone that many stranger things have happened. I say we check out your theory by going to Talok VIII now!”

Before the heroic couple could depart from the huge complex that served as Legion Headquarters, they were greeted by several of their friends. Star Boy was weary-looking, since he had been spending long hours reviewing certain routine matters pertaining to the team’s security and its charter. He was determined to prove himself to be a good team leader, and he was gradually altering his normally easygoing manner as he assumed more responsibility.

“Thom, Lar and I want to go check on Grev,” said Shadow Lass. “I tried to raise him a few minutes ago, but I can’t get through to him. I’m worried about him!”

Thom Kellor nodded and ran his hand across his brown beard. He looked thoughtful as he slowly answered, “Let me get a few of us together, and we’ll join you. Things have been pretty quiet lately. We’re up to full strength and can easily spare a small group.”

Tasmia smiled and said, “You certainly are more accommodating than Dream Girl was when she was leader! The last time we had to go check on Grev, Nura wouldn’t allow anyone else to join us!”

Thom shrugged and said, “Thanks. Still, Nura knew the team was shorthanded then. She didn’t mean anything callous by her actions. Perhaps she knew that things would work out well for you due to one of her precognitive visions.”

Lar placed a calming hand on his friend’s arm and said, “Easy, there, Thom. No need to defend your lady love. I respect her, as you know.” Tasmia made no comment. She was less than thrilled with Nura Nal. She recalled Mon-El’s early interest in the Naltorian beauty when she first met the team.

A young man in an orange and brown costume with a wolf emblem on his chest came out of the gym. “Oh, good,” said Brin Londo, alias Timber Wolf. “I’m glad someone else is still up. I was getting in a quick workout.”

“Brin, we’re heading for Talok VIII,” said Star Boy. “Grev Mallor may need help. Can you get Ayla and Imra to join us? The mission monitor board shows they’re here.”

Timber Wolf shook his head and said, “I’ll say they are. They’ve been running a fashion-simulation holo for hours! Ayla wants to find just the right wedding gown for our ceremony. I hit the gym because I was getting a bit stir crazy watching them flash all those images of her in different gowns in the air!”

“I remember when Imra was using it to prepare for her wedding,” said Star Boy. “Dirk got in and started playing around with her holo image. I thought she was going to kill him!”

“Enough frivolity,” said Shadow Lass. “Please, let’s get moving! Lar could have carried me there by now!”

Mon-El led her to the cruiser, where they were joined by a hastily summoned Saturn Girl and Lightning Lass. Star Boy assumed the pilot’s chair as they zoomed off toward Talok VIII. He knew that Tasmia could be a bit imperious at times, but she had a good heart, and he hoped she was unduly concerned about young Grev. He also frowned as he realized that his basic pessimism was changing to a broader sense of constant concern for his teammates. Leadership was testing his resolve and his character.

Saturn Girl, a blonde woman in a pink costume, came from Titan. Imra Ardeen Ranzz was a telepath, and while she respected her allies and never intruded upon their private thoughts with her mental gifts, she also felt just how worried Shadow Lass was. Tasmia is scared for Grev. I know how I’d feel if anything happened to Garth, Graym, or Garridan! she thought as she crossed her legs and leaned over to try to reassure the Talokian heroine. “Tasmia, Magnetic Kid is always boasting about how skillful Grev was during their days at the Academy,” she said. “I bet he’s fine. He can handle a tight spot. I’m sure of it!”

Tasmia nodded and smiled slightly. She appreciated Imra’s concern. The older woman was caring, although she hid her emotions behind a frosty façade at times. Imra’s more demonstrative sister-in–law Ayla Ranzz took Tasmia’s hand in her own and said, “It will be fine. The Legion looks after its own.”

Ayla Ranzz was a pretty girl with reddish-blonde hair and a trim figure. She wore a blue and white costume, and she shared the power of lightning generation with her twin brother Garth. Lightning Lad was now on senior advisor status and only helped when needed. He was far too busy taking care of the couple’s two sons.

Lighting Lass admired Garth’s paternal instincts, and she hoped that, after she and Brim were married, they would eventually have children of their own. She knew that Brin would make a fine father, in spite of his rather mercurial nature. He lacked many of the traditional skills born of normal socialization, because his life on Zoon had been unusual, to say the least. For a long time the solitary Brin had believed himself to be an android due to a cruel hoax. He had found both himself and his love for Ayla after a difficult period of adjustment.

Normally, the curious and introspective Mon-El would have loved losing himself in contemplation of the solar systems around them, but this time he moved with speed and lost no time in exploration.

Such was Lar’s skill in navigation that they reached Talok VIII in record time. He knew that the last time he had visited his lover’s world, they had battled the enigmatic priestess of Maakas named Lady Memory. (*) Lar shivered as he recalled how she had used her powers to make him relive his seeming eternity within the limbo called the Phantom Zone. “I’m glad Lady Memory is still safely in stasis at Labyrinth, the prison world,” he said. “At least she is not behind whatever trouble Grev is in this time!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Shadows of Future Past,” Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #318 (December, 1984) and “If Memory Should Fail,” Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #319 (January, 1985).]

Shadow Lass agreed as they entered the atmosphere of the world she had once championed. “Yes. Still, I would not be surprised if her fellow desert dwellers were behind the problems. They never leave our home cities in peace for long. Grev should have been able to drive them off easily with the merest show of a few shadows. He must be hurt, or he would have responded to my efforts to contact him.”

Mon-El kissed her passionately and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll find him and make things right!”

Tasmia smiled and hoped his confidence was justified. She knew far more about how bitter and unceasing the conflicts between the different cultures on her world could be. She also felt something vaguely akin to a premonition that great peril awaited them all.

The group drew closer to a walled fortress-style city. “There’s Ibid-Ganar below! We’d better check in with the lady mayor,” said Shadow Lass.

The Legionnaires landed their craft and emerged to enter the large city’s main governmental complex.

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