“I know when dread magic rends order asunder, all must appear tempest tossed and unreasoning!” Princess Projectra told them. “Yet I vow to free my land and my people ere the tyrant grows one day older! The voices of my ancestors told me that the sign of the liberation wouldst come in the form of noble youths of power and promise!”
“Forgive us for staring, Your Majesty, but you or one like you was known to us years ago,” said Dream Girl. “That same woman is now older, and–!”
The White Witch stepped on Nura Nal’s foot and interrupted her older sibling as she bowed elaborately before Princess Projectra and said, “And yet she is not amongst us now, nor does she equal you in beauty!”
Princess Projectra smiled winningly and said, “You have a flattering tongue! I thank you, but I know my good knights didst not liberate you for that alone!”
“Nay, Princess!” said Mysa Nal. “I offer you magic as well with which to oppose the tyrant!”
Dream Girl rubbed her boot and nodded slowly. Clearly, Mysa does not want us to question this young Projectra too closely, she thought. She said we would understand in time, and that’s the best assurance we’re going to be getting, apparently!
She caught Star Boy’s gaze and indicated that he should follow her to a private spot. There, she repeated Mysa’s warning not to press these odd doubles too closely about their nature.
“Magic has its own rules,” she explained. “I’m going to trust Mysa on this one. Although I am as curious as any of you about how we’re talking to doubles of our dead former members in many cases, or how there can be both a teen Projectra who is sweet and noble, and a more mature Queen Projectra who is all dolled up as Mordru’s play pretty!”
“I will trust Mysa and merely hope that in time the reality will be as hopeful as any phantasm of the mind,” said Blok.
“Quislet like this game better than D and D back at H.Q.!”
“I’m happy for you, but this is no game, and I want to end it as soon as possible!” said Dream Girl.
The Legionnaires conferred with their new allies and soon formed a plan. “Princess Projectra says she can shield us from Mordru’s magic long enough for us to try to attack the castle,” said Star Boy. “She knows a secret way inside and hopes its use will be enough for us to make a real difference!”
“And yet, if one Princess Projectra can shield us from Mordru and knows of a secret way inside,” said Dream Girl, “why wouldn’t the other older version be able to detect us and also anticipate use of that secret passage?”
“It is my belief that neither knows of the other!” said White Witch. “Thus the evil version would not expect anyone else to be able to hide a foe or know a private way inside.”
“The Legion doubles like Mighty Maid possess powers like those of the late Legionnaires,” said Invisible Kid. “That helps us to plan what things would be possible in an attack, since we know of their powers!”
“While many of them are only known to some of us from the archives, I have studied the originals and their service records closely,” said Blok. “I feel comfortable planning a strategy based upon the capabilities of the real Chemical King, Supergirl, et cetera.”
Thus, the small group prepared to fight for a world enslaved and the soul of a friend turned foe.
The heroes made their way through the forest and eventually came to a small bunker that was unearthed by Mighty Maid at Princess Projectra’s command. They flew into it and made their way along a long and damp tunnel that led into the castle itself. Climbing several flights of narrow, roughly carved steps, they emerged to find themselves in a pantry.
“This is it, my friends!” announced the young Princess Projectra. “We will reclaim my throne from Mordru, and you will all be richly reward!”
“Your reward will a swift death at the headsman’s block!” cried a guard as a legion of troops swarmed into the room and drove the heroes backward into an adjoining chamber.
“Fight! For Projectra and Orando!” yelled Liegeman as he charged forward and agilely knocked a sword out of a soldier’s hand before kicking him flat and turning to smash another trooper in the nose.
Paladin stood still as soldiers fired arrows at the faux Ferro Lad from above. He boldly turned and walked through a rain of shafts to beat them all to the ground with a silent determination.
Those arrows bounce off him just like they would have been deflected from the real Ferro’s metal form! And as Liegeman or Karate Kid, Val sure packs a punch! mused Shadow Lass as she blinded a group of soldiers and rolled herself across the floor to bowl them over.
Blok ripped a heavy ornate mirror off the wall and hurled it like a massive discus across the chamber to send other troops sprawling. By his side, Mysa chanted and nodded in approval as her magic caused chains to snap above them and lower a huge lighting fixture to the ground in a fiery crash. “Those candles will start enough of a blaze to distract many of our foes!” she said with a smile.
Star Boy yelled out a warning to the others as he caused an entire squad of armored knights to topple into one another due to their sudden increase in mass. “Watch out!” he cried. “Those guys are going down like tenpins!”
Dream Girl landed a spinning heel kick on a guard’s chin and said, “Good job, lover! We’ll be home in time for a romantic evening!”
She bit her lip as she called out those words by habit. Romance? What romance is left for us? If my dream was truly a sign of things to come, then Thom and I will break up soon!
Invisible Kid helped his predecessor’s eerie double, Will O’ Wisp, occupy other soldiers and barely avoided being struck by a soldier as his mind become preoccupied. I know the true Lyle Norg is dead! he thought. I know the one I once met was but the Dream Demon in his image! And yet it unnerves me to face one so like the man whose genius spawned the formula that granted me my powers!
“Keep your wits about you!” said Will O’ Wisp. “A battlefield is no place for daydreams!”
Mighty Maid flew into the soldiers at super-speed and slammed them into the wall with nothing more than the force of her movement and an updraft. She pursed her lips and blew a super-gust of air that froze them to the wall like mounted trophies. She smiled and dusted her hands together in satisfaction. “My, I hope you boys don’t catch colds in that freezing armor!” she said.
Alchemist was busy using his own Chemical King-like powers to cause the enemy troops to lose their weapons to rapid rust or decay, while Quislet was darting in and out of shields, swords, armor, and maces in order to cause the objects to briefly animate at his command and then explode.
“My friend, though you be sprite or pixie from the sylvan realms, my powers may yet aid thee!” said Alchemist. “I may delay the decay that strikes the things you enter!” He gestured, and as Quislet entered and animated a fallen shield into a set of fists that punched out at nearby troops, the little energy being smiled through the shield as it failed to fall apart.
But in a moment Quislet had returned to his ship and flown directly onto Dream Girl’s shoulder. “Pretty pretty, this is bogus! Quislet seemed to gain more time before decaying objects, but it didn’t happen! The shield fell apart like always! Alchemist and his powers are fake!”
Dream Girl hesitated and then said, “I know! I’ve feared all along that our new allies are nothing more than illusions! Mysa warned me not to reveal it, since we could very well ruin whatever good force brought them into being by announcing that they aren’t real!”
Star Boy gritted his teeth as he watched the battle and brought a wall crumbling down to cut off a group of troops. “The men we fight look different, but they all move in unison. They repeat a pattern of combat moves like the D and D holo game programming Dirk, Jan, and I play with at times! That makes me think Mysa and Nura are right! Not only are our new allies mere illusions, but so are the forces we’re fighting!”
At that moment, laughter echoed through the chamber, and the scene shifted to reveal the original throne room.
The Legionnaires, along with White Witch, were back in front of Mordru and Queen Projectra.
“This has been a fine spectacle!” said Mordru. “Your powers deluded them all into thinking they had escaped from us and found long-dead friends to help them!”
“Enough of your games, Jeckie!” said Star Boy. “You’ve proven how powerful you are under Mordru’s tutelage. You made us all believe we’d escaped, when in truth, we never left our original position! You bedeviled us with wraiths of our lost friends and a copy of your younger self! Well, laugh while you can, because we won’t be tormented by your sick games any longer!”
The sultry Queen Projectra lifted one pale hand to conceal a yawn and then smiled at her friends. “You amuse me with your brainless bravado, Thom! You always have! In truth, I can make you think anything I choose, if I so desire!”
White Witch stiffened as she saw Grimoire lounging in a corner. “Mysa, my love, you will be allowed to live if you join us!” he said as he stepped closer and extended one hand.
Mysa looked up at Blok’s stolid form and then slapped Grimoire across the face. “Never will I join you! I scorn you and your pretty words of love!” she cried.
Grimoire drew back and said, “You pain me more than you know! It did not have to end like this!”
“What would you do, Grimoire?” said Mordru. “Would you rule in my stead? Would you play the hero?” He stood up and gestured with one sharp-nailed hand, and a bolt of fire struck Grimoire and burned his tunic to shreds, revealing a pale red gemstone near his heart.
“A blood crystal!” cried Mysa. “Grimoire was struck by a fragment of the blood crystal we destroyed on Nadir! Mordru’s been controlling him ever since through that cursed gemstone!”
Grimoire lowered his eyes and said, “Aye! Tis so! He pulls my strings to his own will, but he had no need to shame me thusly!”
“Why not?” said Mordru. “You are mine to use as I please! You are mine to discard with equal ease!” He ignited the young mage in a burst of green fire that left him crumpled on the floor at Mysa’s feet.
She bent over him and wept softly as Grimoire raised one trembling hand and said, “He made me betray you… but you… made me love you first!” His hand dropped as he died, and Mysa raised her eyes to accuse Mordru once more.
“You are a killer!” cried Mysa. “You taint all our teachers stood for! You have learned nothing from them!”
Mordru stroked his long white beard and said, “I learned enough to place them where they will never oppose me again! I left them and their petty Zerox in Orando’s distant dimension! They may rot there, ere I care!” Turning to his bride, he said, “And now, my Queen, what say you? Shall we have more games with these pawns?”
Queen Projectra revealed an expanse of leg as she draped one leg over the arm of her throne and lounged in her ornate chair. “Nay, milord. I say we kill them all now!” she said with a gleam in her icy blue eyes.