Meanwhile, the Force of July had been under attack as well. Major Victory’s insistence that his team should secure the weapons found in the Zandia armory had won the day. In spite of the fact that Mayflower had more of a moral core, Lady Liberty possessed more sophistication, and Silent Majority possessed a certain calmness in the face of crisis, it was ever Victory’s will that led the team. His forceful nature and almost unshaken belief in the correctness of any action he deemed necessary carried the day. The handsome blond man said, “This shield feels right. I may keep it!”
Sparkler said, “Aw, we don’t need that kind of fancy gear. We’ve always done just fine like we are!”
Major Victory smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair as he said, “I appreciate your confidence, son. Still, whether we use them or destroy them, we must keep this kind of equipment from being used against American interests.”
Lady Liberty said, “You are ever so strong, my love!”
Mayflower said, “He’d better be! We’re under siege!” She pointed to where several super-villains were rushing forward.
“You creeps are in for it now!” yelled the green-armored Blackguard. “I don’t care if Blood wants you as his mentally controlled soldiers or not! I’m going to kill you all!” Mirage, Javelin, and Quakemaster followed. There was no sign of the Rainbow Raider.
“Roy ran away, but we don’t need him, anyhow,” said Quakemaster.
Sparkler flew at them and shouted, “Bring it on, you ugly goons!” He exploded into a multicolored series of brilliant bursts of color and light that drove all four criminals backward.
“Well done, lad! Now let us build on your fine beginning!” said Major Victory. He leaped forward and swung the golden shield up to block Blackguard’s glowing energy mace as that mercenary brought it down at the hero.
Blackguard grunted in surprise as his weapon failed to even scratch its surface. “That hunk of tin is pretty tough!” he said, grunting again in pain as Major Victory rammed the shield into his face.
Three furious blows from the Major dropped the villain to one knee. “The man using the shield is just as strong! American virtue always wins!” he said, slugging the armored man again and left him on the floor at his feet.
Mayflower had raced aside as Javelin had aimed one of his lethal weapons in her direction. Before the German could hurl it, Mayflower had rolled a tiny seed across the floor and caused it to sprout into a vine that wrapped around his legs and pulled him off his feet. She laughed merrily and said, “Why, you make a right fine potted plant, you do!” The vines continued their growth until the angry German was bound so tightly that he could neither free his arms or use his weapon.
Lady Liberty was under attack from Mirage. He said, “Don’t put up a fight, babe! But then, you French chicks never do!” The evil illusionist used his special gem to project the image of a roaring monster of green and gold that threatened to swallow the French woman whole.
She screamed, dropped her torch, and had started to flee when a more steely resolve came over her and she stopped in her tracks. She whirled around and generated a pulse of energy that passed through the imaginary dragon to ignite Mirage. He yelled in pain and dropped to the ground to smother the flames.
Approaching him, she casually kicked him with one high heel. “Pauvre fool! He will not impugn the honor of a lady again!” she said.
Sparkler cackled with laughter and said, “What Lady? Don’t take your title too serious!”
Lady Liberty frowned and said, “Wretched infante!“
Quakemaster had been busy firing his vibro device at Silent Majority, but the ever-taciturn man in black had made no response except to replicate and surround the villain. “Don’t matter how many of you there are! I can shake you all down!” cried Quakemaster.
Suddenly, all of the replicants re-formed as one, and Silent Majority tackled the startled man who had been aiming at a duplicate that was no longer there. He wrestled the vibro device out of the bigger man’s grasp and then, as three separate beings, pinned him to the ground.
Mayflower smiled and said, “Way to go, mate!” Silent Majority briefly smiled at his friend but said nothing.
Major Victory said, “Good job, team! Now let’s take this gear and rescue the Titans. We owe them that much!”
“They are in good hands. You have a more pressing concern, Force of July!” The team turned to face a newcomer who stood before them with an allure and an assurance that left even the Major at a loss for words. She spread her arms wide and said, “Allow me to explain all that is happening here. You may trust me, for I am a friend!”
Her movements and her words all possessed a grace that seemed to exert something of a hypnotic spell upon the team. As her high heels clattered on the floor, the woman in fishnet hosiery stepped closer to the Force of July and prepared to explain everything.
Artemis felt pain. That was the first sensation Donna Troy Long felt. She opened her eyes and slowly began to focus on the source of her pain. She found herself strapped to a bizarrely angled table, and the clamps holding her legs and arms in a wild, spread-eagle position were slowly but methodically pulling those limbs apart.
She caught sight of Mal Duncan, the Herald, who was in a similar contraption. He did not cry out, so she surmised correctly that he had passed out from the strain. A third figure did indeed scream again and again.
The French villain known as Warp was stretched out on another table of torture nearby. The bearded man yelled in anger and pain, but clearly he could not use his dimension-warping powers to free himself.
Artemis knew torture for its own sake was more the hallmark of the Fearsome Five’s new leader the Crimelord than it was of the Zandian cult. Blood wanted enslavement of those who opposed him. He wanted to feed on their belief, not wipe them out. Why kill someone who could serve him later on?
She twisted as much as she could, but even her super-strength could not free her or stop the painful progression of the torturous machine. Terry! I can’t let this break me! Terry and Jennifer need me. Mother and Diana do as well! she thought. Although she could not reach her lasso, she refused to give up. She tensed her muscles and vowed to resist the strain or die trying.
Slowly, time passed as beads of perspiration broke out on her face. She closed her eyes and fought the pain as her entire body trembled under the strain. With a cry of relief, Artemis managed to shatter her bonds and fall to her knees in blissful freedom. Thank Hera! she thought.
She raced forward and deftly freed the Herald. Mal fell into her arms and she said, “Hang on, honey. You’ll be OK. We’re going to beat them!” She knew she could make her way out and find her friends, but something made her stop. She turned and gently lowered Mal to the ground.
Artemis stood over Warp and carefully released him from his own trap. “Thank you! I thought I was going to die on that thing!” he gasped.
She caught him as he fell into her arms, and she steadied him on his feet. “Warp, we both want to defeat the Fearsome Five. Will you work with me? Will you help me free our friends?” she asked.
He looked into her eyes and nodded. “Oui. For now, I am your man,” he said.
She smiled and helped him forward as a recovering Mal regained his feet and took stock of the situation. Artemis? Man, I feel like I just completed three months’ worth of inventory work at the club! he thought. Gripping his horn, he said, “They didn’t even take my horn or your lasso. Weird, the Brotherhood was far more thorough than the Fearsome Five were!”
Warp said, “Oui! We are professionals. They are merely murderous children led by an unknown brute!”
Herald whistled softly and said, “You aren’t exactly one of the Hardy Boys yourself!”
Warp grinned and said, “Non, nor do I claim to be. I leave the heroics to my sister back in France!”
Elsewhere, Hawk, Dove, Raven, and Phobia were imprisoned in a dark cell. “I thought I heard screams! I hope the others are unhurt,” said Dove.
Raven said, “I am weary and dazed from my own ordeal, but I sense much that is dark all around us.”
Hawk said, “Raven, it doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to sense that. It’s pitch black in this pit!”
“Idiot,” said Phobia. “The girl means she senses dark emotions. Hatred, malice, greed. I feel them, too, in my own way. I relish them!”
Raven said, “Of course! The same power that enables you to peer so ruthlessly into one’s fears allows you a type of empathy!“
Phobia walked over and placed both hands on her hips. “You amuse me. You were heir to a power that could have burned this place to cinders, and yet you rejected it all to become nothing more than a frail and callow child!“
Raven said, “And yet behind the anger and the pain, I sense you are but a frightened and bitter little girl as well. Childhood hurts drive you to hurt others. I could take that pain from you.”
Phobia spat at her and said, “I do not need your pity!”
Dove said, “Well, you do need our help. We have to work together, or we’ll never get free. The Fearsome Five hates your team as much as they hate us. That girl Gemini claims to be Madame Rouge’s daughter!”
“Her mother died,” said Phobia. “She would do well to learn from that example. We are not meant to be crossed!”
Hawk laughed and said, “Man, it really ticks you off to have lost your hold on this isle of thieves, doesn’t it? You thought pulling Brother Blood’s strings would make you rich and powerful, but now you’re no better off than we are!”
Phobia said, “Look at me, boy! Look into the heart of your own fears!“
Hawk gasped as he saw it again. He saw that terrible day. He watched as his brother Don Hall, the original Dove, felt the deathly touch of the shadow demon. He saw red skies and heard Don’s cries, and he was as helpless to save him as he had been during that last day of the Crisis.
Hawk also felt the same old feeling that had seared his heart back then. “It should have been me! Don was always the good one. Don was better. He deserved to live!” he cried.
That image faded, and he saw Dawn Granger, the new Dove, falling to the same type of darkness. As she cried out in pain, Hawk felt anger surge through his body. That anger began to change him until he became a thing of the darkness and shadows. He became Kestrel? “No!” he bellowed.
Seconds later, it was all over.
Phobia had been shoved across the room by an anxious Dove and Raven, who had placed calming hands on his chest. “Hawk, you are well. You are safe!” she said.
He nodded and took a deep breath. “I owe you big time, lady!” he said to Phobia.
Phobia laughed a brittle laugh and turned on one high-heeled boot to walk away. “I await your efforts, frail and futile though they will be!” she said.
Dove said, “They locked us up so we’d tear each other apart! We must work together, or they’ll win!”
Hawk said, “I don’t know. I don’t trust Countess Dracula over there as far as I could throw her!”
Raven said, “Something is dampening my own powers. It may be the drugs that remain in my system or the magic of Jinx. I can’t teleport us to freedom as I normally would.”
At that moment, the cell door caved in as a figure in blue and purple stood in the smashed doorway. “Don’t worry, I’m here to help you. The ASA asked our sponsor to send us in to find the Force of July. We’re going to help you Titans, too! One of us has been shielding us all from detection by Blood’s forces or the new group running things,” he said.
“I’m not a girl to look a guest hero in the mouth, so to speak, but do I know you?” asked Dove as she and the others followed the big man out.
“Nope. I’m called Dynamo. I used to go by Dynamic. That’s the name I used as a would-be hero and later as a mentally unhinged villain. I’m just trying to redeem myself one mission at a time!”
Hawk said, “Whatever your name is, thanks for the hand!”
Back at the arsenal, the Force of July listened as the woman in fishnet stockings spoke in her compelling tones. “I am Chanka the Silver Deer. Once I wronged my ancestors by seeking revenge on the white man. I turned to hate and nearly lost myself. I have recovered from such baser emotions. I came here with others seeking redemption. My past villainy enabled me to move freely here along with certain psychic shields my partner manifested. Now, I ask you all to follow me.”
Major Victory nodded slowly. “You’re part of Waller’s Task Force X. I read the papers on you!”
She said, “Now, we must hurry!”
Sparkler interrupted by crying out as he dropped one of the stolen weapons from the arsenal. “Whoops!” he said.
Before they could move, a glow enveloped them all, and the Force of July and Silver Deer were gone. A glowing hourglass remained behind to mark their point of departure.