Hazard was more than a bit concerned about Artemis Crock. Becky Sharpe felt a certain affection for the other woman based upon their past association together. (*) She also liked the fact that she saw signs in the platinum blonde predator of a softening. Artemis was not as lethal as she once had been. Hazard had long ago vowed to never kill in the pursuit of her criminal activities, and she liked the idea that Artemis might be coming around to her views as well.
She smiled to herself. Things usually worked out well for her. Oh, she had suffered more than one defeat in her past, but her powers were stronger now, and something beyond the facts at hand made the redhead feel like she could not lose. But she wasn’t sure what to make of the others.
Alchemy was almost too nice to be a super-villainess. She was the kind of woman who could very easily have been a heroine, or maybe a housewife. Zabora was clearly a rookie in more ways than one. Hazard decided to look out for the eager younger woman.
As for Sumac and Oleander, she liked them, but she couldn’t decide which of them was really in charge. Oleander was smarter, but Sumac seemed determined to protect her at any cost. That kind of devotion was admirable.
Sumac hurried into the room and announced, “They are coming back! The plants outside have alerted me!”
“Everyone, get into your positions as we discussed,” said Artemis. “As I told you all, I want the fake Artemis taken alive, since I have plans for her of my own. As for the others, subdue them, but try not to kill them.”
“Spoilsport,” said Oleander.
Alchemy nodded slowly and took several deep breaths to calm herself. This would be her first battle.
Meanwhile, outside the house, the Monocle had the Monster carry Corona out of the ship as Black Arrow, Dart, the fake Artemis, and Harlequin followed.
The Monster gazed down at the still girl in his arms with a look that softened his normally angry expression. She is pretty, he thought. I know she’s as rotten as all of humanity beneath that creamy complexion, but even a brute can admire looks like hers.
Black Arrow grinned as he watched the blond man. He likes her. Our psychotic Adonis may have a heart after all, he thought. I can use that to my advantage in the future!
As for Bellatrix, she had assumed the role of Artemis in order to capture the gang and impress Paul Kirk. She looked up to him and was, in fact, devoted to him and his crusade above any other consideration.
As the group waited for the Monocle to relay a special signal that would open the gates, Harlequin frowned. When we get inside, I’m going to expose the fake Artemis, she thought. I can’t afford to have any unknown quantities around when I make my own move!
The group entered the old house, only to be attacked from all sides. The Monster dropped Corona as his perfect lips drew back into an animalistic snarl. “Treachery! I should have known!” he growled.
The Monocle shouted as pellets exploded in their path, and a strange gas filled the air. “Can’t breathe! The very air is changing to some poison!” he gasped.
Indeed, Alchemy had hurled some of her transformative pellets and had changed the oxygen into a tranquilizing gas.
The real Artemis spotted her double, and as the two women recognized one another, Bellatrix cursed and ripped off her wig to reveal her normal red hair. She kicked out at Dart and caught the other woman by surprise.
The woman’s abrupt actions had startled all the combatants except for Harlequin, who caught Bellatrix’s gaze and caused her to think that everyone looked identical to Artemis. That should rattle her! she thought.
However, Bellatrix merely punched the nearest Artemis in her line of vision with enough force to leave her stunned on the floor. “Jerk!” she cried. “I know anyone close to me is a foe. Your illusion bit won’t help you!”
Black Arrow dodged her and fired an arrow at Alchemy, who blew her fumes away by an attached fan. He stepped protectively over his wife, since he knew she was the one that Bellatrix had knocked out. “Witch! I’ll make you a red-haired pincushion!” he said.
The Monster leaped at Sumac and began to batter the plant-manipulating youth with both fists. Sumac grunted in pain and released a barrage of thorns into his attacker, who ignored the projectiles and continue to beat the green-clad man.
Oleander sent a snaking vine out to choke the Black Arrow, but he managed to dodge her with an impressive show of agility. His smug grin faded as he regained his feet, and found Oleander perched seductively on a thick stalk that threatened to crush his helpless wife who lay beneath it. “Drop the bow, Robin Hood, or I’ll smash your bride!” demanded Oleander.
The Monocle fired blasts of laser intensity energy at the attackers, but the real Artemis Crock avoided him by spinning through the air in a series of acrobatic twists and flips. She landed nearby and caught him with a spinning heel kick. He grunted in pain and grasped for one of his trick monocles, only to scream as Alchemy doused him with pellets that melted his cloak and left him unarmed.
Hazard grinned and said, “Ain’t that the worst luck? He stepped right into the gas!” She knew her own bad luck-creating powers had helped spell the Monocle’s sudden defeat.
Harlequin glanced at Hazard and caused the redhead to shudder as the image of her own grandfather, the original Gambler, appeared before her eyes and fired an antique pistol at his own skull. She screamed and drew backward, even as the real Artemis belted Harlequin in the jaw.
Bellatrix grinned coolly as she realized Artemis had indeed switched sides. “Nicely done, princess!” she said as she blocked a punch from the Monster and rammed her knee into his stomach.
But even as good as she was, Bellatrix couldn’t match the Monster’s raw strength. He grabbed her and slammed her into Artemis. They collapsed to the ground as the brutish Stephen Rogers brought both fists down to the ground and created a tremor that rocked Alchemy off her feet.
Even as Oleander bent over the fallen Sumac, and Hazard fought to shake off the frightening images that had finally faded from before her eyes, the battle ended.
At a whispered command from the Monocle, Corona raised her hand and blasted the invaders with her power ring. The Monocle smiled grimly as he surveyed the scene.
“We have won, beloved! They little suspected that, on the way here, I used my monocle to hypnotically bind Corona to my will. They never expected to be attacked by the one they came to rescue!”
“What about the two women who are dressed like Artemis?” asked the Monster.
“I don’t know the impostor’s reasons for coming here or who she is,” admitted the Monocle. “Still, I can enslave them both, as I did with Corona. In fact, I can control all those who dared invade my home!” He smiled and touched his ragged suit. “But first I must do what I sought to do all along!” He added in a whisper, “Beloved, soon you will be free.”
Artemis groaned and sat up slowly to find herself trapped inside a glowing golden energy sphere. Next to her sat Bellatrix, now dressed in an abbreviated version of the blue-black costume she had been wearing when Artemis first met her. Apparently, she had been wearing it beneath the pink and white Artemis costume.
“Rise and shine, Artemis,” said Bellatrix. “If I’d known you were actually going to join our cause so swiftly, I might not have taken any action out of your hands!”
Artemis scowled as she replied, “I haven’t joined any cause. I’m here to get you to safety, where I can knock some sense into you!”
“Sorry, ladies, but neither of you will be going anywhere!” said Black Arrow as he approached the energy globe that held them.
Dart leaned on his shoulder and smiled maliciously as she tapped on the globe. “Corona is Monocle’s personal slave girl, and her ring is almost as good as Green Lantern’s. It created this prison.”
Harlequin lounged nearby and thought, What does she know about Green Lantern? If she ever crossed his path, he would have placed her in jail before she could have batted those fake eyelashes!
The Monster sat alone and brooded. He was angry, and most of his anger was directed at himself. This was not a new sensation to the troubled man.
Artemis blinked as she gazed through the golden glowing energy sphere and spotted Oleander and Sumac. They are caged as well, she realized. I wonder if that energy really has robbed them of their powers. If not, I may have an ace up my sleeve!
Hazard and Alchemy were across the room in their own cage. Alchemy was not moving.
They must have drugged Zabora, Artemis thought. I suppose they couldn’t risk having her turn her alchemical powers loose on them!
Hazard caught her glance and winked. Artemis smiled as she nodded slightly toward her friend. The Monocle caught us by surprise by having Corona attack us like that, but I’d wager even her power can’t be stretched too far, not if her mind is trying to resist his hypnotic control!
At that moment, the Monocle entered the room. He was dressed in an immaculate new suit, and he led the entranced Corona by one hand.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you have been allowed to retain your wits and will in order to witness what will spell the greatest victory any villain ever achieved. I will shortly have the means by which I will rule the world, and the irony is that my conquest began when my own heart was conquered!”
Black Arrow exchanged an amusement glance with his wife as they listened to their leader.
“I have spent years mastering all forms of optical science,” explained the Monocle. “Every lens and prism imaginable has known my scrutiny. Finally, not long ago, while experimenting with the prismatic principles of certain gemstones, I made contact with a sentient being! She was as seductive and regal as any queen from the childhood fables my old nanny used to read to me. She was a ruler of the Seventh Dimension, and her essence had been separated from her body. However, her enemies could not destroy her entirely, and she regained sentience. In time, her mind was able to contact my own when I hit upon the exact spectrum in which her mind had been contained!”
Dart grinned and said, “A queen in a magic mirror, no less?”
The Monocle raised one eyebrow and nodded slowly. “Not an entirely false analogy, my dear. Perhaps such imprisonments formed the fabric from which our ancient fairy tales were spun. In any event, my queen and I fell in love with one another. Ours was a communion of the mind and was infinitely more intimate than any tawdry affair of the flesh!”
The Monster snorted in obvious contempt even as he glanced over at Corona with something of admiration in his dark eyes.
The Monocle ignored him and concluded his speech. “I assembled you all to help me attain Corona, since I had determined that her ring could liberate my lover and restore her to this realm!”
“You promised us power,” said the Monster. “When do we get our share? Seeing your love life prosper doesn’t do a thing for me!”
“When my queen is free, her own awesome powers will enable us to dominate this world, and when we rule, my loyal allies will in turn be rewarded,” said the Monocle. “Perhaps I will give you Italy. Would that please you?”
He’s crazy, thought Artemis. Clearly, any broad with such power wouldn’t keep him around a second after getting free.
“We have to stop him!” whispered Bellatrix. “He’s bad enough with only mortal punks to serve him. What happens when he gets the services of some super-witch?”
“He won’t,” said Artemis. “Let him talk. I’m thinking!”
“Now I know we’re in trouble,” groaned Bellatrix.
The Monocle spoke louder as he produced a multifaceted gemstone. “Now, Corona, I command you to use your ring and all your enslaved willpower to free my lover from within this gemstone!”
Corona nodded and raised her hand to reveal a glowing power ring. Her golden energy bathed the gemstone, and the room grew brighter from that glow. Moments passed, but nothing happened.
The Monocle grew increasingly impatient as he ordered the young woman to concentrate harder. “This gem is crafted to have the exact refraction necessary to bring the Seventh Dimension into our realm. You must use it as a conduit for your power and build a bridge to this dimension!” he said in an increasingly desperate tone.
Artemis raised one hand and signalled to Oleander and Sumac. If they can still control plant life from within that cage, then my earlier plan will work, she thought. Before the Monocle’s gang had returned to the house, Artemis had ordered the twin plant masters to reach out to the growing things around and beneath the house and exert a specific kind of nurturing control.
“Now!” she cried as a female shape began to materialize out of the gem.
Oleander and Sumac strained, and slowly their efforts bore fruit. The floor shuddered and then shattered as massive plants erupted out of the ground and began to break through the house’s foundation. As the house shook, Corona’s light dimmed for a moment.
The Monocle frowned as he realized his dilemma. By ordering her to use all her willpower so fully, I may be giving her the means by which she can also shake off my mental control! he thought. “Bring her here! Ignore every other concern!” he shrieked.
“Those green freaks are doing this!” said Black Arrow. “I’ll make them sorry they ever sprouted in my direction!” He and Dart began to fire their weapons of choice at the caged twins, even as Harlequin rushed forward to intercept Bellatrix and Artemis as they leaped out of the now-fading energy constructs that had held them. Bellatrix tackled Harlequin with her eyes shut, and the two women crashed to the floor.
Artemis caught the Monocle with a crossbow bolt, and he staggered backward clutching his gemstone.
“Stop them!” he gasped.
Sumac roared with anger as his plants slammed into the Monster and drove him across the room. “Hey, pretty boy, this for the beating you gave me before!” cried Sumac.
The Monster twisted aside and then flipped away to land near Corona. She was sweating heavily as her willpower drove her ring to bring forth the strange other-dimensional woman from within the gemstone.
Hazard half-dragged Alchemy to join her friend.
“You helped this along, didn’t you?” asked Artemis.
Hazard grinned and said, “I figured if I concentrated all my bad luck vibes on Monocle, something would give! Didn’t know it would result in Corona’s losing control over our cages!”
Artemis shoved her friend aside as an arrow narrowly missed her throat. She then spun around and fired her own crossbow at Black Arrow, who cursed as the shaft expertly struck his hand and caused him to drop his bow.
Dart had more success in her own attack as she caught Oleander in the eye with a dart. The plant girl screamed and fell to the ground as her brother turned from the Monster and rushed toward her side.
Bellatrix had started to choke Harlequin as the smaller woman fell beneath her more aggressive foe.
However, dwarfing all other aspects of the fight, one female figure loomed above them as a dark-haired beauty in a cloak and black costume that left her arms and legs uncovered became all too real.
The Monocle smiled broadly and extended one hand toward her. “My love!” he said. “At last you are a reality!”
The female figure smiled coldly and turned toward Corona, whose golden energy was fading before a sapphire glow that radiated from the strange woman.
Corona blinked rapidly and pressed one hand to her head. “I saw it all like some nightmare,” she said, “but I couldn’t resist!” She frowned as her golden glow evaporated in the wake of the other-dimensional queen. “Her glow saps my ring’s power!”
Artemis noticed that all the combatants had become motionless as the purple glow grew ever brighter. “I am the Star Sapphire, hereditary matriarch of the Seventh Dimension! (*) I am the ruler of this realm from this moment onward!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Amazing Star Sapphire,” All-Flash #32 (December, 1947-January, 1948).]
“I’ve longed for this moment!” said the Monocle.
“You have served me well,” said Star Sapphire. “You shall do so again, as shall all members of the frail sex!”
Harlequin gasped as she shoved Bellatrix off her chest. “All the men! They’re in a trance!” she said.
Indeed, Black Arrow had left his wife to stare in awe at the Star Sapphire. The Monster hovered near Corona, but only had eyes for the alien queen. The Monocle was silent and clearly had lost his free will to her, as had Sumac, who no longer tried to aid his injured sister.
“What did you do?” said Artemis. “Every guy in the place is suddenly yours to control? I thought that only happened when I entered a bar!”
“Artemis, she’s giving me a bad feeling!” said Hazard.
“All males are naturally inferior,” explained Star Sapphire. “All males are subject to my every whim. So has it always been when I am at full power. When those who have dared to oppose me robbed me of my material form and my mind, I floated as one lost for what seemed an infinity. But, in truth, I was merely refining my natural powers. I owe them a debt of thanks, for they inadvertently put me in closer communion with the wellspring of my power than I had ever known before!”
Artemis had never heard of the alien queen, but she did know of a teenage girl who called herself Star Sapphire, who was a member of the Junior JSA. If there was any clear connection between the two, she was unaware of it. The girl called Sapphire never had power like this! she mused.
Star Sapphire smiled again and said, “As for you, as members of the greater sex, you have no excuse for your actions, and since you clearly oppose me, you must die!”
A purple fire erupted from around her into a nimbus that blinded all of them, leaving Artemis to try a desperate tactic.
“The heat alone could kill us!” said Artemis. “Corona, you can’t shield us from her. She seems to sap your ring’s energy, but can you get us to safety?”
Corona was still shaken from the experience and hesitant to act at first, but she nodded as she tried to focus her power ring’s energies.
“Maybe I can help!” shrieked Hazard. “We got to stop her! She’ll kill us all! She’ll kill us!”
Alchemy was silent and still. She sat slumped forward at Hazard’s feet and tried to shake off the effects of the drugs she had been given.
As Hazard’s fear became panic, and her probability-altering powers went wild, Corona’s will reached out to touch her ring and command it to shield them from the power that threatened to destroy them.
Then a blinding flash of gold filled the room, and Artemis Crock knew no more.