Within the medi-lab of Legion Headquarters in Metropolis on Earth, two people stood sadly beside a bedside where a lovely woman stared vacantly into space.
The plump Chuck Taine wiped a hand across his eyes as he gazed down at his helpless wife, Luornu Durgo Taine. There was no sign of humor in the traditionally jovial hero called Bouncing Boy. Since his wife Duo Damsel’s tragic accident, he had lost all of his old zest for life.
He sighed as he turned to talk to a second visitor. The young woman in white was named Tinya Wazzo, and she had known Duo Damsel for years. They had joined the team of heroes during its earliest days, and Phantom Girl had much in common with the woman once known as Triplicate Girl.
“Chuck, even though Lu is still in that coma, she has not lost weight or suffered in other physical ways. That’s a good sign!” she said as she tried to cheer up the sorrowful man.
“I know, but Dr. Gym’ll says that is just due to some fluke of her odd half-and-half condition,” said Chuck. “She’s been literally half-dead and half-alive since that monster, the Reanimage, made her merge her reconstituted dead body with her other two living components.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: Triad of Terror.]
Tinya nodded. She knew that Lu, as a native of Cargg, had originally possessed the ability to split into three independent forms. She had lost that ability when one of her bodies had been killed, but the loss had not killed her. It had made her an object of morbid fascination to the people of Cargg who had once idolized her. Still, she continued her heroic career alongside her husband. The power to replicate into two bodies was still remarkable to people who didn’t come from her world. A villain seeking to end death had forced her to merge with her own corpse, and that had left her as a comatose patient.
“Brainy will cure her yet,” Tinya said. “I know it has been a long wait for you, but he was not given up!”
Chuck’s eyes flashed in anger as he snapped, “Tinya, that cheerleader mentality of yours is really irritating after a while! Can’t you grow up after all these years?”
Shocked, Tinya quickly shook off her hurt feelings and said, “I’m sorry.”
Chuck hesitated for a moment before taking her into his arms and saying, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it. I’m just not myself. Losing Lu like this has changed me!”
She held him and tried to calm his fears, but in truth, Tinya didn’t know what to say or do.
The former Fatal Five had wasted no time after their destructive rampage through Lakopolis. The power of the Emerald Eye of Ekron was great enough that it could teleport them from location to location in the time it took for its shapely mistress to think of the command. Now, as the blinding green light faded, the four villains stood near a large building near the Himalayas.
“This will be our final stop for a while,” said Tharok. “As before, I need the three of you to guard the surroundings while I handle things within.”
“We know the drill by now, but I’m telling you that I want answers when we finish,” said the Persuader.
Tharok made no reply as he gestured to the ornate structure. “Empress, this requires subtlety,” he said. “Gain me entrance!”
The Empress nodded and ordered the Eye to beam the cyborg into the house. She yawned and then turned to her partners. “We are weary. We are weary of waiting for Tharok to reveal his goal. We will use the power that is ours alone to do what we do best. We will see the truth!”
“Very good, Empress!” said Mano. “We’ll see just what Tharok is up to, and he’ll never know that your pet Eye showed us the truth!”
The Persuader nodded and said, “I agree. If I don’t like what it shows, then I’ll have a few words for our leader. He has been entirely too secretive since he returned from beyond!”
Mano nodded. “Right. He vanished when we fought his evil double, the Dark Man, and he’s still never told us what happened to him all that time. (*) He just popped up, freed us from prison, and insisted that we help him on this insane quest!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “What is the Dark Man?” Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #271 (January, 1981).]
The Emerald Empress said, “Let the Eye reveal all!” A green glow spread across the walls of the building, and images began to flicker across the walls as the magical Eye showed scenes from within.
The house was quiet as evening shadows spread across the area. A few silent but efficient servants completed their daily tasks, leaving their employers to dine in peace. The table was set with an array of delicious foods, but only two people sat together to enjoy their meal and conversations. They sat together with an obvious comfort and familiarity. Between bites they talked with pleasure, yet they also clearly enjoyed a companionable silence born of long and close association.
The young woman was very pretty. Her Indian features combined a classic beauty with a keen mind. Her expression was full of interest and introspection. The man was European, and he was gnarled with age and wrinkles. Yet he was alert, and his incisive comments punctuated the meal as he made his female companion laugh with clever words.
“Arani,” he said, “I see that my efforts to wean you of the habit of pouring that noxious oil over your salad have met with no more success than when first we came here all those years ago!”
She laughed and said, “Now, don’t forget that I picked up that habit from my second husband. He was a man who liked his food!”
“Ah, yes, Pierce,” the old man said. “Your eyes still dance when you think of that esteemed gentleman. I do regret that I never formed a true relationship with him.”
Arani nodded and said, “You tried to kill him and our teammates. That might have made dining together impossible. After all, during poor Jeff’s lifetime, you were a super-villain. You didn’t reform until long after he passed away!”
The old man sighed and patted her hand tenderly. “I wasted so many years with hatred and greed,” he said. “I am so thankful we found each other, and you taught me peace and love!”
She smiled and said, “Well, considering our ages, it took us both long enough to realize that conflict and hate were simply too petty to be the emotions of two immortals.”
“I’m so glad we found each other,” said the old man. “I mean, after all, young Blake is so relentlessly upright that he bores me! I’d hate to spend eternity dining with him. I’m glad he went away into space.”
Reaching for a glass, he frowned. “Arani? Is someone there?” he said. “I feel like someone is watching us!”
Arani frowned and stood up from the table. “Gaius, I fear you are right,” she said. “The staff knows not to intrude at this hour. I thought the neighbors knew as much as well. However, this unwelcome guest will not stay long enough for our meal to grow cold!”
She stalked forward on high-heeled boots and gasped as the man in the shadows stepped into view. “Tharok!” she gasped.
Tharok smiled and said, “You know me? I am flattered! Considering how remote your home is, and how very well you have managed to keep your existence a secret from conventional sources, I expected to find you ignorant of the criminal news of the recent past!”
“Your infamy has reached even these peaceful climes,” she said. “Now leave, or you’ll grow to know me far better than you wish!”
He smiled as she raised a hand and created a blast of fire. “Temperature extremes no longer mean anything to one such as I!” he said. Moving forward, he wrestled her to her knees with a show of inhuman strength.
Arani called out as she fought with her attacker. “Gaius!” she cried. “Have the staff take you away. He is too powerful for me!”
The old man tried to rise, but while his mind was keen and vital, his withered body was slow and infirm. Before he could retreat or summon help, Tharok blasted him to the floor with a blazing bolt of black lightning. The old man clutched his chest and fell to the floor as Tharok grinned like a vampire and took on a completely human, if entirely dark appearance. He drained the life out of the woman called Arani Caulder Pierce Chodha, and then swiftly did the same thing to the helpless old man.
Once he had finished his “meal,” he changed appearances via the device on his belt and resumed the appearance of the cyborg.
Outside, the three villains had witnessed it all, and as the Emerald Eye stopped projecting the scenes from within the old house, the Persuader yelled in anger. “That’s not Tharok! It’s that vampire, the Dark Man! He’s only posing as our old friend to manipulate us into serving him. He’s not trying to get some source of power to benefit us all. He’s just feeding off of various immortals in some way!”
“I’ll blow his brains out with my hand!” vowed Mano.
The Emerald Empress scowled and bit on her green lips as she hesitated. “We owe it to the real Tharok to kill that thing, but how can we do so? Even our power is not enough to master the dark forces he draws upon! I mean, he just killed someone who claimed to be immortal. That is impossible in and of itself!”
Resolute, she said, “But first, we will leave him to his grisly meal!” She teleported her companions across the globe with the power of the Eye and then turned to address the two angry men.
“My axe could kill that thing, but I’ll go along with your scheme,” grumbled the Persuader. “I suspect you’ve found a better method than raw violence!”
“We can’t kill him, either, but we could get help from some others who could do the job for us,” said the Empress. “Why, we could stand back and watch them fight and then pick up the pieces!”
“And just who will we get to kill the Dark Man?” said Mano.
Pursing her lips together, she whispered, “Why, the brave and handsome men of the Legion of Super-Heroes, of course!”