by Libbylawrence, CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
In a house in a suburb of Vienna, Austria, a matronly, red-cheeked woman named Hilda Ottinger turned to look at her snoring husband, Werner. The overweight bald man had reclined in his favorite chair a few moments ago, and already the newspaper was resting across his slowly rising and falling chest.
Hilda smiled and said, “That dear man can sleep at the drop of a hat. Here I am so jittery about my niece coming to stay that I can’t sit still, and your father snores away like a blissful buzz saw.”
Their daughter Ruth shrugged as she gathered up a few remaining papers and smoothed over the rug. “Papa is like that,” she said. “That’s why I love you both just the way you are. You two are a perfect couple. You balance each other out.”
Werner Ottinger sat up suddenly and said, “What about your young man? Has he set a date yet?”
Ruth swatted her father on the knee with a rolled-up paper. “Papa, you rogue!” she said. “You were faking. You just wanted to see what we’d say.”
Hilda stopped and rested her plump hands on her husband’s shoulders. “Seriously, Ruth, are you and Rex getting on OK? We’d hoped you would be a June bride.”
Ruth Ottinger tossed her hands in the air. “For your information, we’re just enjoying each other’s company for now, but that’s OK. Honestly, an independent woman can do just fine these days without a husband. Women are doing it for themselves.”
“Well, that may be so,” said Werner, “but your mother and I’d like to actually see a ring on your hand. We’d like grandchildren before we’re too old to enjoy having them around.”
“Oh, Werner,” scolded Hilda.
“You can worry about my love life later,” said Ruth. “I can see the taxi coming up the drive. My cousin is here at last.”
Hilda opened the door, and Werner made his way out to open the taxi door for their pretty guest. He also paid for the cab fare as Hilda and Ruth greeted the striking red-haired girl. The family had originally planned to pick the girl up at the airport themselves, but the flight had been delayed by several hours, and it was now very late. Werner finally just hired a taxi driver to wait for her arrival and bring her here so she could head straight to bed.
“Welcome to Austria, Madeleine! How was your flight from Kenya?” asked Hilda as she took the hands of her young niece. As a child she had been adopted by a missionary family — Hilda’s brother and his wife — and although she had spent part of her childhood here, she had spent most of her life in Africa. “It’s too bad it was so delayed. You must be exhausted.”
Madeleine Fehr smiled nervously and said, “It went very well, Aunt Hilda. And it was exciting. I had never traveled by plane before. This is such a wonderful adventure.”
Ruth smiled at her young cousin, whom her parents were taking in for the school year. “You have a wonderful attitude. You seem to be the kind of girl who makes the best out of any situation.”
“My adoptive parents raised me to appreciate all the possibilities of life,” Madeleine said. “To do any less would be shameful.”
“Well, young lady, we’re pleased to have you here, despite the late hour,” said Werner. “Hilda will take you up to your room. If she gives you any trouble, just give me a shout. I’ll teach you how to handle my dear old wife.”
Madeleine laughed as her uncle’s clowning put her at ease. She thought she would enjoy her time with the Ottingers, and she smiled with pleasure as she climbed the steps and entered a comfortable room at the head of the stairs. “Thank you so much, Aunt Hilda,” she said. “It’s late, and I think I will go to bed, if I may.”
Hilda leaned over and placed one matronly arm around her. “Of course, Madeleine. You just make yourself at home, darling.”
The girl closed the door and sat on the bed. It was a bit too soft, but she could manage. She slipped off her shoes and reclined on the blue covers. Sighing with contentment, she soon closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Jock o’ Kent raced north out of the English county of Wiltshire, his face grim. Someone had set loose Kern and his demon chariot to roam the roads and highways, and unlike the false Amazons he had defeated, his wizard senses told him this demon lord was the genuine article. What kind of dunderhead would do such a daft thing? he thought.
The Welshman recalled his last battle with Kern on All-Hallow’s Eve nearly two months ago. That time the demon had been accidentally set loose by Edward Constant after the antiques dealer received a new shipment of rare chests, one of which had entrapped Kern for centuries. After Jock o’ Kent defeated the demon and put him back in the chest, Constant had promised to keep it hidden in a safe place. So much for an Englishman’s promise.
The hero stopped at a rural area near Woolmere Green, Worcestershire, where he saw the light first. Six flames danced in two rows of three. As he got closer, the flames became six horses pulling an obsidian chariot through the night. A figure in black armor and cloak urged the fiery creatures to greater speed with a lash made of red light. “We meet again, wizard,” growled Kern. “Why do you insist on getting in my way?”
“I haven’t any time for people with bad manners — or killers, demons, and such,” said Jock. “You going back in your chest peacefully this time?”
“Surely you jest,” said Kern. He turned his horses in the road and whipped them forth at blinding speed. Laughter trailed behind him.
“Idiot,” said Jock. He flashed after the demoniac charioteer at full speed. Too deadly to be left alone on the roads, Kern could not be allowed to roam free. Worst of all, the wizard hero could not destroy the charioteer, only imprison him in his chest.
The two raced through the West Midlands countryside at blinding speed. Jock o’ Kent saw a sign indicating that Birmingham was up ahead, and he knew he had to do something quick. The strongman ripped a tree from the ground and threw it with his full power behind it. Kern looked over his shoulder and saw the tree coming, and his sparking eyes grew wider in surprise. The tree disintegrated in a cloud of splinters when it crashed into the monstrous spirit. The armored charioteer flew over the heads of his horses and dug a trench into the ground. They came to a halt beside the fallen figure.
Jock o’ Kent scooped up the chariot and hurled it into the air. Kern slowly got to his feet, but the hero did not give him time to recover and punched the charioteer in the snout. The villain was propelled far up into the air all the way toward Wales, and the strongman took off across the countryside after his punching bag, knowing the horses would be right after the pair of them. At the Welsh border, Jock was there to meet Kern — who fell down out of the sky — with a powerful right hook that sent him flying even farther west into Snowdonia on the Welsh coast.
The legendary hero quickly reached Snowdonia, where he snagged Kern out of the air before he could sail over a cliff into the Irish Sea. He spun like a top with the charioteer in his hands and then released the demon in mid-spin. The killer was whipped through the air into a cave in the side of a hill. The strongman heard the crash of metal and winced slightly.
“Time to put this Saesneg to bed,” the Welshman said. He ran into the cave as the demoniac horses came over the countryside after the duelling pair.
Jock o’ Kent strode into the cave. His face was set as Kern climbed to his feet. He would have to do this just right.
“You won’t get in my way this time,” Kern screamed. His scarlet lash cracked across the cave at the giant. As the whip descended, Jock stepped out of the way. He leaped forward and kicked Kern in the head. The charioteer flipped end over end to land on his face. The wizard hero grabbed his foe by the scruff of his neck and held him off the ground.
The demoniac horses filled the cave’s entrance with their flaming bodies. “You want him?” said Jock. “Go get him.” He threw the fallen Kern into a stone box embedded in the floor. The horses dived into the small container after their owner, dragging the chariot behind them.
Jock heard chomping noises as he slammed the heavy stone lid back on the box. Bars of some silvery metal stuck up from the cave floor. They had been pulled in two. The massive muscles on his arms barely stood out as he tied the metal together like string. “And that’s that,” Jock said to himself. “Have a good meal,” he said thumping the box before he left the cave.
He could swear he heard Kern scream, but he must have been hearing things. After all, there was nothing in there with him but his horses.
In the Ottinger home in Austria, Madeleine Fehr slowly awoke from a deep sleep to find that a startling figure was standing before her in her room. She blinked as if to determine if she was awake or not. The large figure in blue seemed to radiate a benign power, and although he appeared to be a European man with blonde hair, everything about him told her that he was not of this Earth.
“I am the Super-Wizard,” said the strange figure. “And I am pleased to meet you in person. I have been watching scenes from your life, and my ray-scans tell me that you are a good person.”
“This is crazy,” she whispered, “and yet I-I know who you are. I have seen a picture of you before — i-in the history books.”
“Of course,” he said, smiling. “History is an important subject, and we all need to know our own history and the history of our family. It is for that reason that I have come to tell you of your birthright.”
Madeleine frowned. “Birthright? What do you mean?”
“Your grandmother — your true grandmother — was a heroine with special abilities,” said the Super-Wizard. “And she used those abilities to fight criminals in the same time period that I visited Earth, as it will say in your history books. Her name was Marga, and because of her abilities she was known as the Panther Woman. Although your grandfather possessed no powers of his own, the man who became her husband was a heroic pilot and adventurer named Ted Grant. It is in their memory that I have come to tell you of your birthright.”
The teenage girl’s mind was racing. Could this be true? Would she finally learn some of the secrets of her family’s past after all these years of wondering?
“As I have recently empowered others to serve as champions, so do I now release the power that is within you and give you a mission to accompany it. You are to defend and protect the natural world, and you will become one with the natural order. Like your grandmother Marga, you shall be more than human. You shall embody the power of the panther.”
Madeleine gasped as her body changed in the blink of an eye. Her small form grew taller and more powerfully built, and her red hair flowed down past her shoulders. A more feral look crossed her face as her soft features became harder and more animalistic. Her fingernails and toenails became longer and more rigid.
“Panthera,” she said with a slight snarl that surprised her for a moment but quickly felt as natural as anything. She crouched before the strange alien man and asked, “Will you show me what to do? Will you show me how to use these powers for good?”
“That is not my purpose,” said the Super-Wizard. “But I have arranged events so that you will be in a position to be mentored by a heroic man who will help you become a heroine, just as your grandfather Ted Grant helped your grandmother Marga to become the Panther Woman. This man was himself mentored by one of this world’s greatest heroes and has long trained for his own heroic career. He is the companion of someone in this household.”
“You can’t mean Uncle Werner,” Madeleine said, stifling a laugh at the thought.
“No, but you will know him when you see him,” the Super-Wizard replied. “And you shall meet him soon. Farewell.”
She nodded and rose up as her new patron vanished, and she felt herself revert back to her normal small form.
“Panthera,” she whispered to herself. “I feel as if I could transform myself at will. This feels both strange and thrilling.”
Madeleine Fehr knew she would need time to accept this or even believe that such things were possible. For now, though, she was just happy to know something about her real grandparents.