Meanwhile, back on Lythyl, the Legionnaires were flying after the mysterious being known as the Star King. It was humanoid with dangling, limp arms and legs and a round, red head without any features. It moved relentlessly forward, ignoring everything around it.
Mon-El followed rapidly and thought, I know that thing has some purpose for coming here, but what could it be? This world was a colony world settled by Earth astronauts. It was not even inhabited when the Kings from the Stars last roamed the universe. What is it about Lythyl that drew it here?
He frowned as he saw the odd being approaching a heavily guarded area. “Moons of Daxam! Those poor people didn’t evacuate! They act as if they intend to keep their posts in spite of the invader’s power! I’d better remove them for their own good!” He swooped downward, drawing all of the startled guards along with him in his wake. His sheer speed and the power of the flight carried them upward as if they were tossed back and forth in a whirlwind.
Mon-El released them a good distance away from their former position and marveled as two of them flipped agilely to the ground to stand defiantly before him. “You folks had better get away from that thing,” he said in Interlac. “It doesn’t care about killing. You can’t stop it.”
A bearded man scowled at him from beneath a hooded robe and said, “Stop him? We’re the judges of this world. We have no choice but to protect what is ours or die trying! I am Gorax, and such is my will!”
His companion was a taller being with brown skin and antler-like protrusions on his arms and head. “I am Steggus. I agree with Judge Gorax. We will fight that invader as we would battle any who dared to compromise the secrets within yon chamber!”
Mon-El shrugged and scattered them with a blast of super-breath before returning to where Quanto’s gleaming form had intercepted the being. “He can really move while in his light-beam form. Still, a bit of light won’t slow down that thing! Tasmia says that being and his kind ruled her world and tried to destroy it with some weapon of mass destruction eons ago. I can’t let it destroy this place, too!”
Quanto swirled around the Star King and then blasted it again and again with incredible bolts of light, but it ignored his attack entirely. Mon-El crashed into the Star King and grunted as his super-body bounced away like a ball.
The other Legionnaires caught up with them, and Saturn Girl said, “Lar, I can’t read that thing’s mind. But I do get a vague impression that it wants to enter that chamber!”
“That way leads to a weird place they call the Nexus,” said Timber Wolf. “It’s some kind of dimensional doorway, although the natives let others believe it to be a treasure of some type!”
Dream Girl fluffed her hair and frowned as she touched his arm. “Nexus? That sounds like what I saw in a vision just before Quanto and Mystelor and I joined you all on the bridge,” said the Naltorian beauty. “I saw a row of bridges that led up and over an endless series of other roadways that faded into a glowing portal of some kind. All the roads led to it in some way that defied the laws of physics. I didn’t know such a place existed on Lythyl or that my dream related to our current problem. I’ve had more than my normal amount of precognitive dreams lately.”
“Listen, call me crazy, but could that monster merely be trying to get back home?” suggested Sun Boy. “Maybe that is all it wants.”
Shadow Lass shook her head fiercely and cried, “No! That thing and its brethren would have destroyed Talok VIII long ago with their deadly alien science, had my ancestor not prevented them from doing so. We can’t believe all it wanted was to go home!”
“Well, Thom, this is your call,” said Lightning Lass. “What do we do?”
Star Boy gazed at each of his allies and then turned to Shadow Lass. “Tasmia, I can’t explain it, but I agree with Nura. The Nexus is just a way to travel from one place to another, right? Well, it doesn’t need that kind of shortcut for conventional space travel. We know that, since it has led us all this way with ease. Could the Kings from the Stars truly be nothing more than stranded aliens who ended up on Talok VIII eons ago, but tried to get home by forcing the populace to serve them by building a means to travel away from our universe?”
“Tasmia,” said Saturn Girl, “it takes nothing away from your ancestor’s courage for you to admit that, just maybe, that weapon he destroyed long ago was really an alien means of travel. Maybe all they wanted to do was leave Talok VIII!”
“I don’t know!” said Shadow Lass. “I have racial memories, as do most of our people. We’ve always viewed the Star Kings as enemies. Why would my heritage be built upon a lie?”
“Your heritage is not built upon a lie,” said Dream Girl. “It may just be built around a misconception. I mean, your people were just cave-dwelling nomads, right? How could they know the nuances of an advanced alien science?”
“Now, look here, Nura,” replied Shadow Lass, “I don’t need any smart remarks from you!”
“And we certainly can’t expect to hear anything smart from you, can we, Tasmia?” retorted Dream Girl.
“Stop bickering!” cried Lightning Lass. “The Star King entered the chamber! It’s now or never!”
They followed hurriedly and watched as the alien stood before a multicolored dimensional gateway that led out of the known universe.
“They say that thing takes you to your heart’s desire!” said Timber Wolf. “That’s what I learned when I was here before! The roads or bridges sure sound like what Nura saw. I never told anyone else about them when I returned from here. I didn’t even share it with Ayla.”
Nura nodded. “This is what I saw in my dream.”
“Friends, I come from an entirely different universe,” said Quanto. “I know what it is like to be trapped within a realm beyond your understanding. Please let the Star King depart through the Nexus. Perhaps he will find peace and a way home to his own realm!”
Shadow Lass stepped forward and then lowered her head as she dropped to her knees. “Let it go. I think maybe you’re right. That device it made so long ago might have been a way to get home and not a doomsday device, after all. My pride wouldn’t let me accept that, but why else would a being of that kind of power do nothing but mindlessly seek out a dimensional doorway?”
The heroes waited as the odd being vanished within the portal.
“I think it’s gone for good,” said Shadow Lass. “Maybe the same memories that my people carried from that long-ago time have finally enabled me to realize the truth at last, but I do think it went home!”
Mon-El held her and said, “I think you did the right thing. It is a vast cosmos out there, and we can’t know everything. That creature may have been nothing more than a lost child.”
“I could not read its mind, but maybe it read our minds,” said Saturn Girl. “Brin, your memories of this place and that Nexus enabled it to find Lythyl and use the Nexus to go home. That’s my theory, anyway.”
The heroes waited for a few moments before turning to head back to their ship. Quanto and Mystelor exchanged a lingering glance, and then she said, “We will stay here. We want to take a new path ourselves. We may go through the Nexus, and then again, we may settle here. Now that we’ve seen this case of yours through to the end, we want to find our own way.”
“Good luck to you both,” said Star Boy. “If the Legion can ever help you, just call upon us!” He shook hands with the duo, then led his friends back to their ship.
Dream Girl waited a minute or two, then gently gripped Shadow Lass by the arm. “I’m sorry I spoke out of turn. I’m more than a little uneasy. I’ve been getting vague images of some darkness that may threaten us soon. I can’t put my finger on its nature, but it has me feeling very vulnerable.”
Tasmia nodded and said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll forget the whole thing, if you will! As for the darkness, I’ve found it can be a friend if you let it.” The two heroines hurried to join their friends as the Legionnaires left the judges of Lythyl scowling in anger at their intrusion.
The Dark Man had decided to abandon his Tharok guise, since the Emerald Empress and her allies had deserted him. He now moved about freely in his natural form, looking like a normal man as Tharok had appeared before the accident that had left him as a monstrous cyborg. In truth, this clone of the villain was far more dangerous, in spite of his more human appearance. He was a vampire of sorts in that he fed off of life force. This was merely what drove him to his acts of murder. He did not question it, nor did he try to resist his urge to kill.
He did commune with an unseen master, and this strange, one-sided conversation led him to one more victim. On an island in the Pacific Ocean, he stood over another corpse after feeding upon the immortal victim.
“I don’t have time to hunt down my former allies. Let them try to oppose me, and I will drain them of life as easily as I drank deeply of the immortal energies of this pathetic man. Duncan Pramble — what a mundane name for one with many lives. Too bad all of them failed to satisfy my hunger!”
Turning away from the corpse, he entered a small spacecraft. He had stolen it from someone in the Himalayan community where he had found his last two victims. It would do for his needs, since he knew he had more work to do near Earth before departing for deep space.
Meanwhile, the Emerald Empress, Mano, and the Persuader were hiding near Legion Headquarters. They had tracked the movements of three Legionnaires with the Emerald Eye of Ekron until their trail had taken them to the main shopping district of Metropolis.
Element Lad smiled in amusement and Polar Boy watched in surprise as Quislet darted merrily through the crowd within his silvery miniature spacecraft. “Quislet like the city life!” chirped the other-dimensional Legionnaire.
“I’ll say you do!” laughed Polar Boy. “Still, you have an advantage when it comes to making your way through the crowds! Jan and I aren’t quite as maneuverable. Even with our flight rings, we’d be running into air traffic in this busy district!”
“Polar Boy, you and I could learn a few things from Quislet,” said Element Lad. “He enjoys life to the fullest, while we brood all too often!”
Quislet, an energy-based being from another dimension, had to remain inside the small flying craft that was his home. He could only leave it for brief periods during which he inhabited inanimate objects for moments until his energy charged form caused them to respond to his wishes before decaying. “Friend Jan speaks the truth! Quislet is party animal!” chirped the small hero. His flight was abruptly ended when a green energy bolt from the hovering Eye of Ekron cut off his path.
“The Emerald Empress!” gasped Element Lad as he swooped skyward in spite of the traffic to aid his friend. Polar Boy frowned as he saw the sultry woman and her two partners in crime appear from the crowd.
“That’s right, Legionnaires! We’re back to make your pitiful lives more colorful!” cried the Empress.
“Quislet ready to rumble!” cried the smallest Legionnaire, darting under the Eye with his greater agility and then flying directly at the Empress.
She cursed and cried out as her efforts to dodge his attack met with more resistance when Polar Boy created a sheet of solid ice beneath her feet. She sprawled on the ground and then shouted, “Make them pay for this indignity!” The Eye obeyed her commands, and if Element Lad had not turned the air between them into inertron, Polar Boy would have been blasted to ashes on the spot.
“This is too big for us!” shouted Element Lad. “I’m summoning help!” Jan Arrah activated the holographic display feature of his flight ring and projected his image into the main communications center at Legion Headquarters, where the amazing robotic Computo ran all things technological. “Attention, Legionnaires! We’re under attack near Metropolis Park. Three of the Fatal Five are at large!” The blond hero from Trom rolled aside as Mano slammed his destructive hand down inches from his body.
“Cutting it close is Jan!” chirped Quislet as he entered Mano’s helmet and then returned to his own ship as the breathing device shattered into bits seconds later.
Mano fell to his knees as he started to choke. He could not survive in anything but a poisoned atmosphere.
“Quislet, you shouldn’t have done that!” cried Jan. “He’ll die! Plus, those fumes will kill everybody else!” He gestured, and the poisonous gasses released from the broken helmet became oxygen.
Polar Boy was busy generating a rain of ice that passed directly through the Persuader. “He’s some kind of illusion created by the Eye!” he said as a blow from the orb sent him flying backward.
Before Element Lad could turn to check on Polar Boy, he was caught by a swing of the Persuader’s axe, and blood poured into his eyes, and he knew no more. The Emerald Empress laughed as her powerful Eye caught Polar Boy with a blast of energy that dropped him flat. She kicked him in the head again and again until the Persuader barked a warning. “Empress, we have what we need!” he said. “Mano is dying. Make him a helmet with the Eye!”
The Emerald Empress nodded and did so, even as she snared Quislet in a net of fiery green flame. “My energies will keep that thing in his toy ship!” she said with a smile. They dragged the heroes away as the crowd watched in awe just as the Science Police rushed in too late to do more than see them flicker away in a flash of green.
Back at Legion Headquarters, Phantom Girl checked the mission monitor board and shook her head in dismay. “I’m the only one left!” she said. “The others are on duty in space on various missions. Though I could call in the Subs.”
At that moment, the shapely girl from Bgtzl saw a green flash of light, and she whirled to observe a message from the Emerald Empress appear in the air around her. She saw a projected image of the cocky Emerald Empress and heard her mocking voice as she made her challenge. “We have no desire to test your security system with our presence, so we will merely inform you that we have your three allies. They will die unless you come to battle us at this spot!”
Phantom Girl saw a map flicker across the air and then fade away to leave only the harsh laughter of the tyrant of Venegar. That’s on Earth near what used to be called the Bermuda Triangle! mused Phantom Girl. I have to get some help, fast. I see the board shows the team that went to Talok VIII is coming back! I’ll contact them now and pray we can get to Jan and the others in time! She ran her fingers across the computer and prayed silently as the machine executed her command.
Within a hidden base outside the city, the Persuader sat with his blue helmet on one knee. He was a bald man with a coarse and brutal expression on his face. “Well, you’ve got them hooked with the human bait,” he said with a sneer. “Not bad, since I’m the only one of you who likes fishing!”
“I’d like to burn that thing to dust for what he did to me back there!” snarled Mano, pointing at a green ball of flame in which Quislet’s ship was contained.
The Emerald Empress lounged across a divan and idly polished her sharp green nails. “Now, now, Mano, don’t be tiresome,” she said in a languid manner. “There will be plenty of time to play with our guests after their brave friends have defeated the Dark Man for us. After all, we told them to go to where the Eye shows that vampire is going!”
Mano grunted and stalked away from where Element Lad and Polar Boy were encased in tubes full of noxious fumes that kept them sedated. The gas would be no threat to the element-mastering power of Jan Arrah, if he could only wake up to focus his amazing might. Still, he slumbered onward helplessly, as did Polar Boy nearby.
The three heroes were helpless, and their friends were their only chance of survival.