The young woman lay in a hospital bed, weak but otherwise healthy. She had thought of trying to explain her situation to the doctors and nurses, but realized that they would quickly lock her in a mental ward. Instead, she had simply identified herself and was intending to wait until she could be released before contacting any of the people she knew would be waiting for word about her.
She didn’t need to wait that long.
She heard voices outside the door of the ward where she had spent the past fourteen months. She, of course, had not been aware that she was in the hospital. So far as she knew, up until the previous day she had been living a somewhat extraordinary life. In the past fourteen months, she had made discoveries about herself and her family that had astounded her. The discovery that she had spent all of that time in a coma brought the realization that those events had occurred only in her imagination.
That realization was not entirely correct.
The door opened, and Dr. Tallman walked in with someone who was immediately familiar to her from her imagined life of the past year. “Green Lantern? What are you doing here?”
The doctor retreated to a far corner of the near-empty ward. Green Lantern stepped up and took a seat in a glowing green chair that appeared in place as he sat. “Frances Kane? I, um… I need to talk with you about some things that have happened to me in the past year. Things that appear to be related to how you wound up here.”
“It wasn’t a dream, was it? My mother dying, and Todd and Jennie coming to my home,” whispered Frances. “That Phoenix creature, it really did all those things, didn’t it?”
There was a brief commotion outside the room, followed by three newcomers entering with a nurse. “Todd? Jennie? Who is this?”
“You know us?” asked Jennie Lynn. “How…?”
“It’s OK, Frances. This is a friend who may be able to shed a little light on the situation.” The Shade grimaced as Todd said this. “Umm, that is, he has some information that may help straighten things out.”
“OK, how about if we all calm down.” Green Lantern willed up chairs for the new arrivals. “Frances, this may go easier if you can just tell us what you remember from the time just before you came to the hospital, and what you think you remember since then.”
“It’s so strange, like the memories of two people in my head. I remember being in my apartment here in Kansas City. I was making dinner when this burst of light appeared in my kitchen. I thought I had blown up my toaster oven or something, but this — I don’t know — this thing was there. It was indescribable, but then it started changing, until it looked just like me. It told me that it needed me to get the Starheart, and I had no idea what it was talking about. Then it said something about having to immerse itself in my life totally for its plan to work. At that point, it was like I traded places, and I was looking at myself through its eyes. I watched myself collapse on the floor. I — it picked my body up and brought it to the hospital here. Then, I drove back to Blue Valley and made peace with my mother before she died. It was just after that when I met you all. But this is all crazy, isn’t it? I’ve been in the hospital all this time, haven’t I?”
From the corner, the doctor spoke up. “Miss Kane, I was assigned to your case. We could find no real cause for the coma, but your electroencephalograph readings were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From what you’ve been saying, it almost sounds like your consciousness was transplanted into this — for want of a better word — doppelgänger.”
Green Lantern nodded. “We know now that the Phoenix, for that’s who took your place, was after the Starheart. That is the source of my ring’s power, and its power was passed on to my children.” He gestured, indicating Todd and Jennie-Lynn. “Apparently, it used a sort of deep-cover method to get close to us, suppressing everything of its own personality until a pre-appointed time or set of circumstances.”
“Does… does this mean that I really am your daughter?”
Before Green Lantern could respond, Todd spoke up. “No. We found where the information that the Silver Phoenix Order based that conclusion upon was falsified. The Phoenix used the power of the bit of the Starheart it already possessed to create a false impression that fooled Mama and the Silver Phoenix mystics.”
“The lad is right, Lantern,” added the Shade, impressed.
“So where does that leave us now?” asked Jennie-Lynn.
“It leaves us with a young lady who needs to get back to her life,” replied her father. “And it leaves us with a group that has meddled in our lives for the last time.”
“You mean–?” asked Todd, his face going black as he asked.
“You don’t seriously mean to–” said the Shade, incredulous.
“Yes. We are taking this battle to the Black Shadows. Now.”
It had not even been twenty-four hours since their return from Thanagar, and the Scott family was preparing for another battle, a battle far from the world they knew, yet as close as the shadow under a bed.
“But I cannot go back there. Do you not understand what banished means?!” exclaimed the Shade.
“Look, I doubt any of us will exactly be welcomed there. You can travel to the Shadow Realm more easily than any of us, and you know your way around there.” Obsidian grinned, a pale line in the darkness of his face. “And hey, maybe you can get a little payback to this Lord Umbra you mentioned earlier, and win back your lady friend.”
“Ah, the perpetual romantic, I see.” The Shade cocked his hat slightly to one side and straightened his glasses on the bridge of his long nose. “Very well, then.”
Raising his cane, he swept it in a circle. Inky blackness spilled forth, enveloping the quartet. When the darkness dissipated in the light, they were gone.
Elsewhere, it was the opposite effect. From nowhere, a swath of light cut through the darkness. As it moved, figures appeared in it. The light dissolved away, leaving four people in its place.
“They will know I have returned; we cannot stay in one place for any appreciable amount of time.” The Shade looked around, getting his bearings. Straddling his cane, he rode it like a witch’s broomstick. “This way. Remember, this is not like your realm. There is no solid world, only islands of solidified shadow where other shades may dwell. Not life as you know it; we are merely knots of consciousness that come into being and dissipate when we feel our existence is no longer worthwhile.”
“So, anything we encounter isn’t really living?” asked Green Lantern.
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” said the Shade. “Though some residents come from Earth or other realms entirely, the majority of the sentient shadows that exist here have a mere semblance of life.”
“Whoa, what a rush!” said Todd, taking to the air. “I feel like this darkness is feeding me, giving me power enough to take on Solomon Grundy with one arm tied behind my back.”
“Let’s not get too cocky, there.” Todd turned to look at his father, flying alongside him. “Treat every opponent as if it’s your toughest one.”
“Yes, Obi-Wan-Daddy,” said Jade with a slight grin. She had noticed that her power pulse seemed dimmed here. “Any increase you feel, Todd, may make up for a loss of power on my part. What about you, Dad? Do you feel any weaker here?”
Green Lantern focused his attention on his power ring for a second. “No, not really.”
“Up ahead, there. The Black Shadow Society is headquartered there.” The Shade indicated a large tower of black glass. Even in the darkness of the Shadow Realm, it stood out. At the top, a large flame burned in the turret. Willing a pair of binoculars into existence, Green Lantern spotted several dark figures in the turret. “They will be able to manipulate the darkness around you — remember that.”
Streaking through the air, all that was visible were a pair of faintly glowing green coronas surrounding Jade and Green Lantern. Obsidian spotted this and instinctively willed his cape out and around them. They vanished from view, yet he knew there were there. “What’s that about manipulating the darkness?” he asked.
“You catch on quick, lad.” The Shade smiled. “We may get out of here with our skins intact, after all.”
They streaked toward the tower, coming through a wall of polished glass that had appeared to be transparent. It shattered, sending pieces flying all over the room. Twelve figures turned toward them. “He’s here!” cried one, turning to face a thirteenth figure sitting on a black onyx throne.
“Indeed.” In the darkness, a pair of red eyes glowed malevolently. “Shadoo, after all these years, you dare to return.”
“My Lord Umbra, I come to ask only one minor indulgence.” Everybody froze. Obsidian turned to face the Shade, expecting betrayal.
“An indulgence? And just what do you think I can do for you?” asked the leader of the Black Shadows.
Faster than mortal eyes could follow, the Shade’s hand dived into his morning coat, pulling something from his vest pocket. “You can die!” he screamed, turning on the tungsten hand torch. The light stabbed through the darkness, striking Umbra full in the face.
A scream tore through the inky blackness as Jade and Green Lantern let loose with torrents of green flame at their opponents. Lord Umbra tried to pull the blackness around himself to shield against the light. Obsidian spread his arms, absorbing the shadows into himself. His body seemed to swell as the darkness around him abated. As shadowy figures advanced on him, he pushed outward. Waves of darkness rushed out, carrying the figures away.
On his throne, Umbra finally gathered enough darkness to himself to fight back. A bolt of shadow struck the Shade, tossing him through the air toward the opening in the wall. Obsidian rose up and flew over to interpose himself, catching the one-time villain in midair.
“My thanks, lad. Now, work with what you’ve seen. They cannot stand the light,” gasped the Shade as he passed out.
“Dad! Your oath!” cried Obsidian.
Understanding, Green Lantern looked at the half-dozen creatures facing him. They reminded him greatly of the shadow demons who had menaced this world and others during the Crisis on Infinite Earths a couple of years back. Making a mental note to investigate that possibility later, he raised his hands before him. His body was enveloped in bright green flame, and the ring on his left hand glowed with an intensity painful to the creatures of the Shadow Realm.
“And I shall shed my light over the dark things, for the dark things cannot stand the light. The light of the Green Lantern.”
At the conclusion of this oath, the flame was filling the room, driving the creatures to the floor. Jade thrust her hand forward, power pulse glowing and adding to the fire, directing blasts at specific shadow creatures.
“Fah, your light may destroy them, but not me!” growled Lord Umbra. The darkness came alive, eating away at the green flame.
Handing the Shade’s unconscious body over to his sister, Obsidian said, “Go! Get him away from here — he’s our ticket home!” He urged his father to follow, saying, “We’ve crippled them. Let’s go.”
“No, boy, they may go, but you are touched by the darkness. You may not be one of us yet, but you shall be!” Umbra gestured, and tendrils of shadow reached out to grasp Obsidian. “Do you deny it? It is our gift that powers you, the darkness within your soul just as surely as it is in my own.” The young hero was drawn back to the onyx throne, and turned to face its occupant. “Do you dare deny it?”
Realizing that Obsidian had been drawn back, Green Lantern raced back to the tower. He arrived in time to see his son bow his head before Lord Umbra.
“Yes, I have your darkness within me,” he said in a low voice. “But I also have the light that is my mother’s birthright, and the honor and the will that is my father’s, and they all make me who I am today!” His voice rose to a dull roar as he spoke, and his hands came up before him. Once again, the darkness gathered about them, but this time the darkness was laced with silvery fire.
“Which is why I’ll never be one of you!” he yelled as shadowy, silver fire shot forth, striking Lord Umbra in the chest. This was joined by a gout of green fire, a blast that blew him back through the wall, out of the tower. His screams were heard throughout the realm, ending only when his form was totally consumed by green and silver fire.
Obsidian and Green Lantern flew out of the tower, sending bolts of shadow-laced silver fire and green fire back behind them to blow the tower into a shower of glowing fragments that dispersed into the darkness. Far ahead, they spied a glowing green isle. Speeding toward it, they met up with Jade and a recovering Shade.
“Good Lord, you’ve done it. Umbra and that council of his have held this realm for centuries. Not that there might not be someone just as repugnant waiting to take over now.” Pushing his glasses back up his nose, he smiled. “Still, perhaps I might yet find my Lady Nightfall.”
“You mean to say you’re going to stay here, Shade?” Obsidian sounded doubtful.
“For a while, at least. Oh, don’t get your hopes up; you’ve not seen the last of me. After all, I can’t expect this young Starman to take proper care of Opal City without my guidance. I owe you now, Obsidian, for my very life.” The Shade tipped his hat. “Such as it is.”
Jade started to protest. “But wait — you have to get us home, first!”
“No, I think I have that covered, sis.” Obsidian raised his cloak, spreading it wide with his arms. It seemed to grow, enveloping his sister, his father, and himself. As the Shade watched, the cloak rippled, then collapsed upon itself, leaving nothing in its place.
“Yes, I do believe the lad has a great deal of potential.”
Frances Kane was sleeping when the shadows stirred in her hospital room. Like an inky curtain, the shadows drew aside, and three costumed figures stepped out. There was a brief burst of green light, and the costumes dissolved away from Alan Scott and Jennie-Lynn Hayden. The third reached up, to pull away the cowl that covered the back, top, and sides of his head as his face came into view in the blackness that had been there before. Todd Rice shook out his thick, wavy, brown hair and let out a sigh.
“Nice job, twinnie,” whispered Jennie-Lynn. “Going to make frequent trips back there now?”
“I don’t think so.” Todd shrugged. “I could feel this enormous power while we were in the Shadow Realm, but now that we’re back, it’s gone.” He held up a hand, and traces of silver light danced around it. “Guess I’ll just have to settle for my old shadow powers and my light-based powers. I can live with that.”
“We’ll have to let Rose and her ancestors know that the Black Shadow Society is defeated,” said Alan.
“Todd?” All heads turned toward Frances. “I’m glad you’re all right. I know we aren’t related, yet…”
“Hey, Frankie, don’t worry about it. We’ve got all the time in the world to get to know each other now, for real.” Todd looked at his father and sister. “All of us.”