by GDL 629 19136
The dream came again, swirling around, a liquid reality that ebbed and flowed with the tides. Names, words, events past and present were all to behold, to be forgotten by mortals upon waking.
Except for one.
Wesley Dodds awoke with a start. “Wes?” Dian Belmont never got used to this, the fitful tossing that always woke her up and the trembling, sweat-soaked figure who reminded Dian of nothing so much as a frightened boy, the total opposite of the driven mystery-man she’d seen at night in times past.
It was as much a part of Wesley as the mask. The only relief from his fevered nightmares, his adventures as the Sandman, had kept the demons of unconsciousness at bay.
Wesley was shaking. “Sandy… he needs me,” he muttered.
“Wes? What are you saying? Sandy’s all right. He’s in bed, asleep.”
“Dian, could you go check on him? Please?”
As Dian left, Wesley grabbed his cane and slowly hobbled to the window. The morning dew of spring cast a haze upon the grounds of the estate. How ironic, thought Wes, that only now, in my winter, do I appreciate the spring. If only…
Dian burst in. “Wes, come quick! It’s Sandy! He won’t wake up!”
For Sanderson “Sandy” Hawkins, nephew of Dian Belmont and junior partner of the Sandman, the last few decades had not been kind. In the mid-’40s, an experiment went awry, transforming him into a creature of silicon, a true sand-man. He spent years trapped and under sedation, in excruciating pain, while Wesley and his friend Rex Tyler searched valiantly for a cure.
Then he was kidnapped by a villain called the Shatterer, who used Sandy’s pain-wracked, seismic-controlling powers to wreak havoc. Fortunately, Wesley found a cure, and Sandy reverted to his original human form, now the youngest fifty-seven-year-old man in human history, a man trapped in the form of a teenager.
Sandy lay there unconscious, his eyes wide open. He was breathing, but very faintly.
“Wes, what’s happened to him?” Dian asked.
“I don’t know. Sandy’s passed all the tests Rex and I did. He’s totally human again.”
Sandy lurched up, the expression on his face now turned to a cold sneer; his eyes glowed a red ember. He spoke in a voice not his own, “Hello, old Sandman. It’s been a long time, has it not?”
Wesley knew the voice. It belonged to an old, old foe. “Ramulus,” Wes hissed. “What have you done to Sandy?”
“Oh, I’ve just drawn him into my realm. He’s fine… for now. I won’t bore you with the details; suffice it to say, my powers have grown considerably since we last fought.”
“What do you want, Ramulus? How did you find us?” Wes and Dian had been very careful in concealing the identity of the Sandman; even Jonathan Law had kept the secret.
“How? Through your dreams, silly old man! Yours stand out like a beacon! Now enough of this. You want to save your little brat, you have to play by my rules!”
“I’m listening, Ramulus.”
“Put on your uniform. I want to kill you as the Sandman, not some doddering, crippled old fool! Then, you’ll follow me. Oh, and by the way, no police or JSA; come alone, or I’ll melt your progeny into glass!”
With that, Sandy’s body stood up, limbs dangling hideously like a marionette, and shambled to the door. “Time’s a-wasting, ol’ dreamer,” the voice cackled.
“Ramulus, so help me, if you harm that boy…” Wes furiously went past him, belying his leaning on his cane, and reached a familiar door. Dian hurried behind.
“Wes,” Dian cried. “You can’t be serious! You know what Charles told you! Your heart can’t take any more strain! You’ll kill yourself! Call Rex, or Alan–”
“Dian, I can’t do that! Ramulus is watching us — I can’t take that risk! Our boy’s life is at stake!”
The door to the basement groaned with relief; the master had finally returned to his lair. Down the steps the laboratory awaited, where Wes had spent years perfecting the masks, the gas-guns, the wirepoon guns.
His trademark double-breasted green suit and the purple cloak hung proudly on the wall. No mistaking this outfit for the Tarantula’s. The hollow glass eyes of his gas mask welcomed him home.
“One last time, then. For Sandy’s sake.”
The location where the possessed Sandy led him wasn’t unfamiliar. It was the first place that Wesley and Sandy first fought Ramulus back in 1942. Although he called himself Nightshade then, thought Wes. (*) Someone else is using that name now, anyway.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Adventure of the Magic Forest,” World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer, 1942).]
The small section of Central Park looked exactly the same. The deceptive tranquility of the forest, thought Wes. He ignored the pain in his hip and trudged into the thick of bushes, guns out and ready for action.
He heard a rustling from above and, trusting his instincts, whirled around and fired his wirepoon gun. The oncoming vines writhed violently as Wesley tied them together, then flipped a switch on the gun, sending an electric current through the line. The shrieking was unnerving.
I added that for Sandy to use when he takes over for me, thought Wes. It sure comes in handy now.
The vines then hung limply, shaking slightly.
“Well done, Sandman! Well done!” A hole in the ground opened up, and out stepped Ramulus. He looked even more unearthly than when the Sandman last fought him, if that were possible. His flesh had taken on an even greener pallor; his bony frame stretched even longer. The hollow eyes sank in even farther, now pupilless and gleaming red, framed by black-arched eyebrows. His bat-like nose had upturned still farther. Two long strands of beard hung from the sides of his jaw, like fangs. The effect was unsettling.
“Come in, my dear Sandman… I have something… interesting to show you.”
The word interesting was never good when it came from a villain.
Wesley went down the earthen steps, not sure what to expect. His heart was beating even more rapidly. The walls of the room seemed to expand and contract, looking almost organic, and cast a reddish-purple glow, pulsating to the tune of his speeding heart rate.
“Sandman, do come in. I have a challenge for you. You claim to be the master of dreams, but you are nothing but a fading mortal.” Ramulus smiled an even wider smile. “So I propose to fight you one last time — in the realm of dreams. This device I have acquired will provide our entrance into the dream dimension.” Ramulus pointed to a table in the center of the room, with two connected helmets dangling from the ceiling.
“Ramulus, I’m not doing anything until I see that Sandy’s safe,” seethed Wesley.
“But of course, Sandman. Look over at the far wall to your left.” There was Sandy, slumped in the corner, slumbering peacefully.
“You will let him go. Now.” Wesley wasn’t taking any chances.
“Sandman, you are not in a position to demand anything! He will leave when you are dead! Not one second sooner! If you doubt that I am in control…”
Sandy suddenly rose up and once again spoke with the voice of Ramulus: “…allow me to demonstrate.” The possessed form of Sandy picked up a knife lying in the corner and aimed it at his arm.
“Stop!” Wesley yelled. “I’ll do what you want — just leave him alone!”
Ramulus released Sandy. “And now, Sandman, you will go to the table and place the helmet on your head, and we can begin.”
Wes followed Ramulus’ instructions, then Ramulus took the opposing helmet. There was a brief flash of light, and the onrushing tides of sleep claimed them both.
A hole in the underground lair opened up, revealing a wiry little man with reddish hair and long, angular features. He was dressed in clothes made of animal skin, as if he had stepped out of a folklore illustration.
“Ahhh… Ramulus has done well, my sweet Desire. The mortal agent will fight in the dream lord’s realm, prompting them both to die in the Dreaming.”
A pale creature of exceptional beauty, yet burning with a cold disdain for the little man beside her — or was it a him? — said, in a singsong voice, “Yes, Sky-Walker, this will work nicely. My brother will slay them both for warring in his realm, and will bring the Kindly Ones upon his head. Now, aren’t you glad I freed you from that cage? I could have let you face Odin’s wrath — remember that.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Ragnarok.]
Loki smiled demurely, thinking to himself, Think what you will, you witch. I will take care of many accounts today. I am Loki Sky-Walker… and will be pawn or debtor to no one.
Wesley gazed around, trying to penetrate the haze that surrounded him. The mists cleared, and before him stood Ramulus.
“Here I control reality, Sandman. Now, you will die!”
The fog suddenly swirled up, madly spinning around flickering masses of color, dizzying Wesley. Then the ground opened up, and Wes tumbled down. He fired his wirepoon at the wall, trying to break his fall.
“Oh no, Sandman! We’ll have none of that!” cackled Ramulus, whose face appeared alongside Wes, taunting him.
The walls turned to glass. His wirepoon was useless. Wes fell even faster, faster than he could even see. The air turned to attack him, winds whipping at him like snakes, drawing blood.
This is not real, thought Wes. I’m not being killed by you, Ramulus! I’m not falling!
Suddenly, he stopped. The ground was beneath him again, though his cuts and bruises remained. Wes realized, This reality conforms to mental commands. So then…
Ramulus suddenly appeared before him, and Wes fired his gas-gun at him. Ramulus gasped and choked, then flew back out of the range of the gas.
“No! You’ll not get a chance again!” Giant vines rose from the ground, twisting together like snakes. Wesley fired the gas-gun again, and this time the vines withered as if attacked by an acid.
“My, you are clever, Sandman! For an old man, you adapt awfully well. The sweeter your death will be!”
Wes leaped toward Ramulus, sending a martial arts kick squarely into his weathered skull. Ramulus swung back at him, but Wes easily parried. Then Wes delivered a massive blow to Ramulus’ abdomen, doubling his opponent over with pain.
Spitting blood, Ramulus wheezed, “This… suits you too well… my foe!” Ramulus gestured, and swarms of vines grabbed Wes, throttling him violently, squeezing harder and harder.
Wesley couldn’t concentrate to break free; the pain was too intense. Ramulus hurled waves of jagged rocks at Wes, which tore at his clothes and his skin. Wes felt a sudden pain in his arm running down like wildfire.
Loki watched the proceedings through a pool of water in Ramulus’ underground base, snickering like a hyena. “Yesss, yesss… kill him! One by one, the mortals who defeated me shall perish!”
Desire stretched out on a chair and couldn’t have looked less interested. Gazing slightly over her handheld mirror, she commented, “Isn’t he done yet? I find this completely tiresome.”
“Patience, Desire, patience.”
On the table, Wesley’s physical body started to quiver and shudder. The sands of time were running out.
Ramulus concentrated harder, putting all of his power into the victory that was almost his, and as a result, he lost some of his control in the physical realm.
Sandy Hawkins awoke, shook his head, and looked around. He saw a thin little man, twisted and cackling uncontrollably, and some dame behind a handheld mirror. He also saw the Sandman lying on a table, next to Ramulus, of all people. Wesley’s body was shaking in convulsions. “I’ve gotta get him outta here.”
Desire looked up. “Ah, our golden child is awake.”
Sandy froze in his tracks. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen; her stark white skin and piercing eyes had grabbed hold of his heart and welded him to the floor. She was even better than his frankly embarrassing dreams about Wonder Woman.
“Desire, stop playing with your food and just kill him.” Loki was too busy enjoying the proceedings in the Dreaming to be distracted now.
Wesley struggled in the grip of the vines while he could sense that his physical self was growing weaker. He put all of his remaining energy into one thought: Sandy needs me; he’s still in danger!
A word suddenly came into his mind — the name 0f a being he only now remembered meeting once, in England, in 1939. It was a vision of a pale, pale man, trapped in an ornately carved fishbowl, who could come, if he only said his name.
“M… or… M-Morpheus…” Wes managed to croak out.
“Struggle all you want, Sandman! In the realm of Ramulus, even Morpheus himself dare not–”
“Enough!” a voice boomed, as hollow and cold as the grave.
“Nooo! Not him!” cried Ramulus.