by Libbylawrence and Doc Quantum
The odd group of European action-heroes gathered by the Son of Vulcan appeared at the center of a small, deserted island in the Baltic Sea. There they stared up at a bizarre sight. The center of the island was filled with a looming tree unlike any they had ever seen before. The roots were so massive that they seemed to go deeper than the island’s very foundation. The thick root structure was so wide that entire city blocks could have rested upon each individual root. The leafy foliage was so vibrant and thick that any number of communities could have been hidden within their enclosure. The top of the tree itself couldn’t even be seen from the base of the island, but it seemed to stretch up past the clouds.
A strange-looking man stood near the base, and he scowled in disgust as he saw the seven action-heroes who charged forward. “This is impossible! None of you should be able to see me or my works.”
“We are new heroes,” said Thor. “You have no power to cloud our minds.”
The man smiled wickedly, his dark widow’s peak, goatee, and thin Fu Manchu mustache giving him an overall Satanic look. “Excellent,” he said. “I would gladly slay the successors of the action-heroes who cost me much.”
“Who is this guy?” asked Dona Ajax.
“Ever since I got these powers, I’ve been reading all I can about action-heroes and their enemies,” the new Stardust spoke up. “I’m not sure, but I think that’s Drako, the alien tyrant of an artificial world. Captain Atom stopped him from conquering our own world back in the 1960s, and the Sentinels of Justice fought him in the ’70s.”
Panthera snarled as her keen senses detected the approach of other figures. “We have visitors,” she growled.
“Aye,” said Jock o’ Kent. “I noted their arrival as well.”
The Dart flew higher into the sky and said, “They look like more of those pseudo-gods that have been popping up everywhere.”
“Less talk, more kicking arse,” growled the Black Lion.
Within moments, the horde of pseudo-gods arrived and charged into battle with the seven new action-heroes, while the Son of Vulcan stood by in the shadows, standing guard over Frigg. He wanted to be in the thick of it himself, but he knew that this was not his battle to fight. Still, he was ready to step in and lend the others his strength if the new heroes couldn’t handle things themselves.
In the Paris branch of Wunderkind International, Jack Bicci and Wesley Ajax found themselves in the fight of their lives with a horde of mythological creatures out for blood, and they weren’t doing well.
Suddenly, a newcomer leaped into view and began using an impressive array of combat skills to fight off the creatures, or at least keep them at bay.
“Who are you?” asked Wesley.
“Never mind that!” shouted the newcomer, dressed in a dark gray outfit. “Your friend was trying to get at that crate — I suggest you open it now!”
“All right,” said Wesley, and he quickly hobbled over to the crate, then tore it open with his bare hands. “Wow,” he said as he saw the strange-looking vehicle within. “Jack! The crate’s open!” he called to his friend.
Without a word, Jack swooped below the wings of the Pegasus he was trying to avoid, then brought himself down to a soft landing onto the vehicle that had been in the crate. With a grin, he turned the key in the ignition, causing the electric motor to whir to life. And in a moment, his Highro-Gyro was aloft in the air.
This was the same vehicle he’d used when he’d called himself Sinistro, Boy Fiend, but he had vastly improved it since his original outing. In fact, it had been a personal project of his that he’d only had to abandon just two years ago, when he set it aside in this warehouse for safekeeping. By some miracle he had forgotten it here instead of moving it to Wunderkind’s head office in Florence, Italy.
“Whoo-hoo!” Jack cried as he took to the air, using the gyro’s targeting system to strike several of the beasts at once with miniature knockout missiles. They proved to be very effective, neutralizing almost all the airborne beasts within seconds. He targeted the phoenix with a stream of fire-retardant, which snuffed the bird’s flame before it could set the whole warehouse on fire.
Now that the flier had been dealt with, Jack, Wesley, and the newcomer could focus their attack on all the beasts on the ground without fear of being attacked from the air as well.
“What’s your name, pal?” shouted Jack as he hovered over the warehouse floor and took out a cyclops and a large troll with elephant bullets, then prepared to face the dragon.
“Call me the Grey Ghost,” said the newcomer as he fought alongside Wesley.
In a matter of moments, the battle was over. After the dragon had been taken down, all the creatures reverted back to their original human forms. Wesley began going through the rubble, helping the injured men and women out of the debris. Thankfully, none of them had been killed in the melee.
“You helped us out back there,” Jack said to the Grey Ghost. “Still, I can’t help but wonder what you were doing here in the first place. Care to explain?”
“Only if you’ll do me the courtesy of answering my questions and letting me leave in peace once we’re done here,” said the man in gray.
“You have my word,” said Jack.
A gray-eyed warrior woman with a burnished shield and crowned helmet ran into the fray, and Panthera leaped through the air to land on her. The woman cried out, “Minerva will not suffer herself to be touched by any beast-woman.”
Panthera clawed at her, and her sharp nails left deep, raking marks across the armor, even as the other woman brought her mailed fists down on the feline fury’s head and back. They struggled furiously for several moments.
“I see a girl in that big tree!” shouted Dona. “She’s somehow inside it, and yet she’s here, too.”
“Why, that’s the World Tree!” explained Jock o’ Kent, the wizard hero, who instantly recognized it and surmised what had happened.
“What in the bloody hell is the World Tree?” yelled Black Lion, who was busy fighting small but vicious green-skinned goblins.
“It has many names and takes different forms in many o’ the world’s myths,” explained Jock. “Y’might consider it the Cosmic Axis. It’s enough to say that, in this form, it’s vulnerable to bloody alien tech. This Drako bloke must’ve tapped into that powerful, reality-alterin’ weed and used its power to blind the world’s heroes to his schemes. But he was a bloody fool to do so, because the Tree itself was able to fight back by creating the pantheon of false gods to draw all us heroes here. But the World Tree’s efforts failed when this alien bozo exerted more force and ended up preventing all existin’ heroes from realizing his full scheme, so none o’ them could recognize the patterns that the Tree was tryin’ to reveal.”
“That explains why my dad and Jack Bicci didn’t spot the same pattern on the map that I did,” said Dona Ajax.
Stardust frowned. “So that cosmic tree brought about our origins, too? Is that even possible? I don’t like to think that my destiny is so beyond my own control.” He raised his hands and blasted a hulking Asian warrior across the shore. “I don’t have a clue who that guy was supposed to be, but my force-blast seems to have been enough to at least slow him down.”
A lithe Celtic warrior in blue and gold clothing with paint across his severe face tried to attack Thor, who dodged his every blow. “Stand still, you!” roared the man as he raised a heavy wooden staff. Thor ducked the swinging weapon and brought both arms up to knock the Celtic warrior reeling. It was a new experience to him to display his own superhuman strength, and he relished every moment of it.
Drako balled his fists up in frustration as his pawns were contained or driven back by the group of young action-heroes.
Dona Ajax had been trying to figure out just how she could best employ her own martial arts and acrobatic skills, when she noticed the struggling dark-haired woman above them. She began to climb the tree using the many vines that covered the huge base. She pulled herself deeper into the foliage and gasped for breath as the climb began to take its toil on her. This thing goes on for miles! thought the brunette. Got to keep moving while the others keep these “new gods” busy.
Thor struck a Viking pseudo-god with enough force to send him several feet deep into the sandy ground.
Stardust, hearing a cry as he soared over the battleground, shot forward to catch Dona, who had begun to fall from the tree. But he was still new to flying, and he overshot the mark. To his horror, Dona fell to the ground before he could fly back.
But incredibly, Dona Ajax did not crash on the ground. Instead, she instinctively thrust out her legs as if to jump, then shot back up, screaming in surprise all the way. “Aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa-hhh!”
“Dona?!” cried Stardust. “Are you OK? How did you do that?”
“I’m fine!” Dona shouted as she came back down to a landing, nearly laughing in relief. “But I think the super-strength I inherited from my dad just kicked in!”
“That’s great!” said Stardust, who was still visibly shaken at having missed her.
“Stardust, can you free that lady?” Dona said, pointing at the branches. “She’s being used as some kind of human battery for Drako. His alien science can’t fully control the mystic energies of the World Tree.” She frowned slightly as she wondered exactly how she had known this. Could my half-alien heritage be manifesting itself in more ways than just super-strength? she wondered.
Gripping the vines, Stardust struggled as he finally freed the captive woman. “My God!” he said. “You’re Psyché, the heroine of France, alias Lucille Michaud! I’ve read about you. You went missing during the Crisis, and the world thought you were dead, like so many others.”
“Sacre bleu!” she cried out, relieved. “I thank you. That monster for so long has trapped me. The very world seemed to be dying around me when he teleported me here. Ever since, he’s been using my psychic powers as a conduit by which he could master the World Tree and change reality. I will see him pay!”
The woman seemed to glow slightly, and she took to the air and used her telekinesis to hover slowly down to where the Black Lion and Panthera had cornered the alien conqueror named Drako. Dark orange blood poured from his body where the feline girl had clawed at his body.
“I saved your life!” spat the wounded Drako, directing his words at Psyché. “You would have been killed in a vain attempt to save your beloved country from the antimatter cloud, had I not hired Doctor Diabolique to abduct you at that critical moment. I kept you in suspended animation here until I could learn more of your incredible psychic abilities. You ought to be thanking me!”
Lucille’s eyes flashed with rage as she landed and stood proudly in front of him. “You dare suggest that what you did was helping me?! When I was fifteen years old, I vowed that no one would ever again use me as a pawn. You are lucky that I don’t simply command a horde of psychic demons to execute you on the spot!”
“I beg for mercy,” pleaded Drako. “Without the tree’s power, which I could only tap through your captive form, I am no danger to you.”
Dona Ajax took a mighty leap forward and said, “He’s beaten. I can sense it. You don’t need to lower yourself to his level.”
“Right,” added Stardust. “Heroes do not kill.”
“Unless we have to,” added the Black Lion with a menacing growl.
“Be that as it may, what has happened to my country?” asked Psyché. “I was fighting to save France during the Crisis.”
“The Crisis has passed, and the whole world is safe now,” said the Dart. “Even more so, now that the mythological menace is gone. We’ll bring you back home.”
At that moment, the Son of Vulcan stepped forward out of the shadows, leading Frigg along with him.
“Some action-hero you are,” quipped Dona, “showing up after all the heavy lifting is done.”
The Son of Vulcan shook his head. “I have served my role, as have you all. You’ve done well. The Sentinels of Justice themselves could not have done any better.”
“Speaking of which,” said the Dart, “I’d like us all to consider a possibility that this team-up of new heroes doesn’t have to be a onetime thing. The Sentinels have protected the United States for nearly twenty years now, and throughout most of that time most of their members didn’t even have any super-powers. If we band together as a team like the Sentinels, we could help each other protect Europe just as the Sentinels do America.”
“T’tell you the truth, I’m not much of a joiner,” said the Black Lion, looking around at the odd assortment of costumed characters. “In my line of work, I’ve found it best to work alone.”
“Aw, c’mon, ya bloody Scot,” said Jock o’ Kent, slapping him on the back with his beefy hand. “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”
Panthera paid scant attention to the conversation, focusing most of her attention on making sure that Drako stayed bound where he was.
“I do not know if I am much of a joiner, either,” confessed Thor, “but I doubt anything from my personal life could even compare with joining an action-hero team.”
“If we do form a team, it should be called something like the Sentinels,” said Stardust. “Though we could also call ourselves the Mystery Men like the wartime team, since many of us share the names of the heroes of that era.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: The Mystery Men of America was Earth-Four’s first team of costumed crime-fighters, active from 1942 until 1950.]
“How about the Paragons?” suggested Dona Ajax. “Y’know, like paragons of virtue? I know it sounds corny, but it sounds sort of like the Sentinels.”
“The Paragons it is, then — however that translates into each of our languages,” said the Dart. “Are we all in?”
The seven new action-heroes gave their assent to the proposal, some more grudging than others, and they began discussing when and where they should meet next.
Stardust walked over to Lucille Michaud and placed a hand on her back. “Lucille, you are welcome to have a place with us as well, of course,” he said to Psyché. “But I also wanted to let you know that you are no longer alone. Your grandfather is still alive. He only learned of your existence at your funeral, when your true name was revealed to the public. I read all about it in the news. We can take you to him.”
Lucille tossed back her short black hair and said, “Can this be true? My grandfather lives? I had thought that I was the last remaining member of my family.”
Stardust nodded and smiled, glad to know that all his reading had paid off so well.
The Son of Vulcan spoke. “The portals that allowed Drako to break through the normal defenses of the World Tree are closing once more. I have seen to that. And now we must go.”
“Wait,” said Thor. “There’s one thing more I must do.”
As the others watched, the god of thunder stepped forward to Frigg and delicately removed the necklace she wore from her neck. She began to glow with soft white light, and a moment later the goddess was gone. In her place was a little baby girl almost one year of age.
“Annika!” cried Thor, picking up his daughter and embracing her in his arms.
“What just happened here?” asked Dona Ajax, utterly confused.
“A miracle,” said Stardust, watching the reunion of the young father and his daughter. “A miracle happened here.”
The small group flickered away once more, each hero finding himself or herself back at their original starting point.