by Martin Maenza and Libbylawrence
Elsewhere, Cosmic Boy, Night Girl, Dawnstar, Timber Wolf, Blok, and Wildfire were approaching a carefully concealed chamber in a frozen wasteland.
“Are you certain this region once housed the League of Assassins?” asked Dawnstar. “Surely, it was an even more inhospitable area a thousand years ago!”
“Dawny, I don’t think that band of hired killers were exactly looking for Nix Olympia resort land when they picked a hideout!” said Wildfire.
Dawnstar smiled slightly and turned to her special friend. “I merely meant that travel here would have been almost impossible during that more primitive era. It could not have been much of a base from which to build a global criminal agency!”
“The man who founded the League of Assassins had a unique perspective,” said Cosmic Boy. “He loved unspoiled environments, even if they seemed especially barren to others. If his dreams had come true, then most of Earth would have been turned into an area like this. I am sure this is the place. Once I identified the symbol we found as one occasionally used by the ancient League of Assassins, I knew this frigid locale would be a place to start!”
“Although I am, in fact, deputy leader, I defer to your experience, Cosmic Boy,” said Blok.
Cosmic Boy grinned and said, “Thanks, Blok. You don’t have to worry about me overstepping my bounds. I’m just here to see this through. I have no goals to steal your title, or Thom’s, either!” He referred to Star Boy, alias Thom Kallor, who was, in fact, the current team leader.
“Could you track the man we seek, Dawny?” asked Night Girl.
Dawnstar scowled and said, “As I have told the others before, my powers are best suited for interplanetary tracing. Within a planetary atmosphere, I am much less capable in their use!”
“Don’t worry, Dawny!” said Wildfire. “Just relax and let Rokk do his thing. He’s the dinosaur who started this whole kid hero club!”
“Somebody is inside that chamber!” said Timber Wolf. “I’d swear it!”
Cosmic Boy nodded. “I detect large amounts of metal beneath the surface. It’s too large a concentrate to be ore.” He gestured as his Braal-born magnetic power pried up an almost invisible metal sheath and revealed a dark chamber below the cavern floor.
Timber Wolf flew downward and received a spinning kick to the head that sent him crashing into Dawnstar. “We’re not alone! I knew it!” he yelled.
Wildfire flew forward to confront a masked figure clad all in black. “OK, pal, this is the end of the line for you!” he said as he raised his hands to release a blast of anti-energy.
Before he could do so, the man in black responded with a precise jab to his chest that shattered his containment suit and left him as a helpless ball of anti-energy.
Wildfire knew how to speak in that disembodied form by vibrating slightly against the air molecules. “He ruptured my suit!” he said. “Not many creeps could do that with one blow!”
Blok lumbered forward and said, “I will detain him!” He stretched out his heavy hands, and the masked man rolled forward and agilely rose up between the huge rocky figure’s arms and smashed his fist into his stomach.
Pieces of rocky exoskeleton fell to the snow as Blok gazed down in dismay at a small wound, while his attacker rolled between his legs and raced away.
“Blok?” called out Timber Wolf as he bounded at the black-clad man.
“I am unhurt, but I am surprised by this outcome! I little expected one so slender to be capable of such power! Fascinating!”
Timber Wolf landed before the attacker, and they exchanged a blinding array of blows that were equally deflected. He’s as good as Val! thought Timber Wolf.
Nearby, Night Girl kicked a huge rock across the mouth of the cave. It is dark enough in here for me to be at nearly full power, she thought.
“Good going, Lydda! Now our mystery man won’t be escaping!” said Cosmic Boy as he concentrated and used his power to pin the struggling figure to the ground by the iron content in his blood. “Now to unmask him! It would be extremely painful for him to resist now!”
Cosmic Boy moved closer and gasped as the still figure suddenly lurched forward and knocked him down. He was faking it, or he blocked out the pain that resisting my powers would create! mused Rokk Krinn. Cosmic Boy then dodged aside as his foe delivered another blow. “Ku-Jui! He’s a master of the Braalian form of martial arts!” he cried. “He’s a lot better than my own teachers back home!”
Dawnstar swooped down and kicked the target in the neck, but he caught her leg, pulled himself up to her hips, and pinned her wings in one swift move that left her shocked as she struck a cave wall. She could fly via her flight ring even when her wings were pinned, but her steering was far less precise, since she relied on her natural power most of the time.
The man in black turned when a rain of rocks showered down on him as Night Girl hurled smashed boulders at his darting form. That distraction allowed Timber Wolf to tackle him, and as they grappled, Blok managed to snatch his mask.
“Val!” gasped Timber Wolf as he looked at the pained eyes of his best friend. “I don’t believe it! I knew what they said, but I couldn’t accept it!”
Karate Kid raised his hand and then lowered it. “Stop,” he said. “I don’t want to fight anymore! I can’t explain it, but I feel like this whole fight is wrong. I’m all wrong!”
“Let him up, Brin!” said Blok. “We can hear him out!”
“No!” yelled Cosmic Boy. “We’re getting out now! My powers just reacted to a signal of some kind. This place is rigged to explode!”
They rushed out into the sky as Cosmic Boy and Night Girl used their respective powers to break out of the metal and stone chambers, and their flight rings carried them higher.
Blok moved between the others and the cavern below as a blast shook the mountain, and rocks and snow cascaded down.
“That could well have been our tomb!” said Dawnstar.
“What does it matter? From what little I can understand or remember, my only home is the grave!” said Karate Kid.
They landed on a slope nearby as Timber Wolf lowered the man from the air, having carried him away from the blast. “Are you trying to tell us you really are Val Armorr, the Karate Kid?” asked Brin Londo.
“Yes!” said Val. “I’ve been fighting against her voice in my head. A woman named Alita made me a killer. I can’t explain how she brought me here or why I can’t recall my past except in flashes of brief scenes. All I know is when you called me Val, I lost the desire to fight!”
“Well, all I know is that you look, talk, and move like our friend, the Karate Kid,” said Cosmic Boy. “Why don’t we go back to our headquarters and find the answers? Will you join us?”
Val hesitated as he looked from one face to another. He saw the floating energy mass that was Wildfire and said, “I’m sorry about ruining your containment suit. That’s what that was, wasn’t it? During the fight, I just knew how to defeat you and where to hit.”
“Yeah,” said Wildfire. “You must be able to recall more things than you know.”
“My memories are there, but they are veiled,” explained Val. “I can almost break through to them, but not quite.”
“Imra could help him,” said Night Girl. “I’d say we’d better get him back to your headquarters!”
As they swiftly departed, Val glanced back at the snowy rubble. “This is not over,” he whispered. “You won’t do to other good men what you did to me!”
Later, a weary Val Armorr stood in a quiet room within Legion Headquarters and looked sadly at a row of somber but noble-looking statues. “Our honored dead,” said Val. “Ferro Lad was one of my first Legion buddies. It still seems like such a waste to think about his death. He died a hero, and that is the only way to go, but he could have done so much more!”
Timber Wolf nodded and pointed toward another statue. “I feel the same way about Condo. As Chemical King, he and I were in the same class at the academy. He was a good man, too!”
“I remember,” said Val. “I really do. I’m starting to regain some of my memories. These faces up there in metal mean something to me. I feel things when I look at them. I sure don’t feel worthy to be honored next to Lyle or Kara!”
“You died a hero, too,” said Timber Wolf. “I don’t know how you came back. I can’t figure out what happened, but I know you deserve all the honors you were given!”
“Lar said I am a clone, but I differ from the clones Brainy tried to make years ago,” said Val. (*) “He says that I am more than a mere genetic copy. Mysa insists that I’m more like a reincarnation of Val Armorr. She thinks my soul, or his soul, lives on within me! I don’t know what to think!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Legionnaires Who Haunted Superboy,” Superboy #206 (January-February, 1975).]
Timber Wolf placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Neither of them had time to do much more than run a few tests. I don’t know any more about bio-science than I do about magic, but both of them are experts in their fields. I’d say you should just accept their findings, but not pay too much attention to them. You look like Val. You talk like him. You have some of his memories. Imra says the rest are going to come back to you, too. Why complicate things? As far as I can tell, you are Karate Kid, and I’m glad to have you back!”
Val smiled and said, “Thanks. Still, I don’t want to just sit here while the others debate my future. My destiny is my own to shape. I have things to atone for and reparations to make. I can’t be judged by them until I am at peace with myself.”
“So how do we find that peace, buddy?” asked Brin.
“Well, it might be a start to learn if I can be a hero again,” said Val. “I think I could do that best in a simpler time, where I would encounter less baggage. Plus, the League of Assassins started back then, according to Rokk. Well, maybe I could shut them down personally by going back to their era!”
“I don’t know how the others would feel about it, but I trust you,” said Brin. “I’d like to help you. I can get some of your old gear and costumes, but what about Jeckie?”
“I want to see her,” said Val. “I want to hold her again, but just like I once had to prove my worth to her father by a quest of sorts, so do I now know that I need to be certain I’m the man she deserves before I see her again!”
Brin nodded and sat across from his friend in silence. He had once believed himself to be nothing more than a mockery of true humanity. He had been tricked into thinking that he was a mere android. Later, he had wondered if he was more than an animal of sorts due to certain side effects of the procedure that had given him his powers. Both misconceptions had been proven by time, patience, and the love of a good woman. Brin hoped that in Val’s case the same could be true. “I could take you to your Sensei!” he said. “I met him after…”
“You can say it,” said Val. “You met him after I died. I know that old man has more wisdom than any computer, but I don’t want to face him yet, either. Like I said, I need to get to know myself first!”