by CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
“Back! Get back, demons!” cried a masked woman dressed in a dark blue and gold costume and wearing a brunette wig. She struck a ghoulish red demon in its chest and sent it flying back to the others, but it was a futile effort, for with every demon she managed to knock away, five more came in their place. She was quickly outnumbered and surrounded.
“Get back!” she cried once more into the deafening wind, shielding her eyes from the bright glare that was everywhere, sapping her strength. She knew that the demons on all sides were merely toying with her. Any second now, they could tear her to pieces.
Who was this doomed woman? Her name is Eve Eden, but she’s more widely known in her costumed persona of the Nightshade.
And I? Why, I am your Mysterious Traveler. Walk with me for a while as I relate to you a tale of grief and futility.
The magical realm known as the Land of the Nightshades was normally a beautiful place, a kind of fairytale world of magic where Eve’s mother Magda had grown up. For Magda had been a princess in this land, and she would have become its rightful ruler if it had not been for the demonic Incubus, who took over and exiled Magda into our reality.
Here, Magda was introduced by her new friend Sandra Knight to a young, upcoming politician named Wayne Eden, who soon made her his wife. The two were happily married and had two darling children, Larry and Eve. On the surface, the entire family was outwardly happy. But Magda had always kept her secret from Wayne. She had tried on countless occasions to work up the nerve to tell him the truth about where she had come from, but she realized in the end that he was incapable of believing it. Wayne Eden was a practical man, one not given to believing fairy tales, and besides, he spent more time with his mentor — Sandra’s father, Senator Henry Knight — than with his own family and would scarcely notice his wife’s distress over her origins.
And so one day while Wayne was gone, Magda decided to tell her two young children about the Land of the Nightshades. She taught them how to use their inborn shadow power and how this power could be used to travel there. She then took the two back to her homeland. To this day, no one really knows why she did so, but she had probably been tricked into believing that her homeland was safe once more. Instead, she and her children had no protection from the minions of the Incubus, and they were almost immediately attacked.
Magda tried to save her children by finding the necessary darkness to use her power of transportation back to our world, but the Land of the Nightshades was too brightly lit at midday. She was unable to save Larry, who was carried away, but after receiving a mortal wound, she was able to save little Eve by transporting them both back to their home in Washington, D.C. There, Magda Eden died, and Eve was left without a mother.
It was Magda’s dying wish that Eve someday return to the Land of the Nightshades to rescue Larry. And so Eve spent the rest of her life training herself to be a soldier, even while maintaining the illusion of a bored socialite to keep her father from worrying. She spent much of her childhood in Japan, where she trained with Tetsuo Tanaka, the martial arts expert and costumed crime-fighter known as Tiger. And she continued her training after she and her father returned to the United States, when she joined the CIA.
In order to keep her private life separate from her covert operations, she created the costumed identity of Nightshade, covering her blonde hair with a brunette wig and wearing a mask. After becoming an action-heroine herself, she soon met the world’s greatest action-hero, Captain Atom. It was not long before the two became lovers. Even after their intimate relationship was over, they remained close friends. Captain Atom and Nightshade often worked together on cases, and together they were founding members of the Sentinels of Justice.
Presently, Eve had found herself driven to return to the Land of the Nightshades once more just as her mother had years before. She had spent years using her training and abilities protecting her country and even the world, but she had never been able to accomplish her main goal in life — rescuing her brother Larry. After witnessing the vast devastation and death caused during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, however, Nightshade decided that the time had finally come. She would rescue her brother once and for all. And she would do it alone.
If she had been of sound mind, she would have realized the futility of returning to the realm now controlled by the Incubus alone, with no allies at her side. But the same urgency that had once pushed Magda to make her fateful decision to return now pushed Eve to take matters into her own hands.
She could not have imagined, in her irrational mindset, that the demon hordes of the Incubus would be waiting for her when she arrived. Now she found herself in the fight of her life, vastly outnumbered and unable to escape.
After making several more futile blows against the demons, they finally converged on her all at once, tearing off her wig and mask and ripping at her clothes. She fought as best she could the looming unconsciousness under the tumult of blows, the demons holding back just enough to allow her to remain conscious. They were playing with her. But any minute now, she would lose consciousness, and the game would be over. She would be dead or, worse, a captive slave of the Incubus.
I know that your Mysterious Traveler had made it a practice only to observe and never to interfere the course of events, but there are always exceptions to this rule. Unless Eve Eden was able to return to the world of reality, she would most certainly die here in her ancestral homeland. I could not allow that.
And so I interfered, hiding her from the hordes of demons attacking her and taking her to a safe place elsewhere in this magical realm, a dark place where I hoped she would be able to recover on her own and return under her own power.
She floated there in the darkness for what seemed like an eternity, apparently as empty as the void around her. Once she had a purpose. Once she had known and done things. Now she seemed little more than a husk, cut off from her friends and her home.
I walked over to where she floated, hands in the pockets of my dark coat. Nightshade had been badly injured, and I realized that she would never be able to recover here and return to our world under her own power. I was left with no other choice than to take further direct action. I wrapped my trench coat around her and gave her a nudge, using her own power to propel her.
Yes, I had once again manipulated events rather than simply watched. Still, it was necessary. The Sentinels of Justice needed to be strong again, and one part of that was to help Eve Eden return home. I sent her to the one friend who would ensure that she found the help she needed: Captain Atom.
Presently, within the mental landscape of Eve Eden’s consciousness, the sorceress known as Phantom Lady looked around. Frankly, there was little to see. It seemed curiously empty of the background elements and archetypes she was used to viewing in a person’s mindscape.
A structure began to rise out of the ground ahead. It seemed to be an old-style European castle, complete with a moat. The drawbridge was up to block her way. Bars and shutters covered the windows.
Suddenly, a serpent arose from the moat, fire streaming from its cavernous maw at the intruder. Phantom Lady immediately threw a hand up, forming a shield, but she was quickly blown back across the misty ground, digging a trench with her body. The sorceress rolled to one side as the serpent blasted again with its fiery breath, and the trench filled with flame as she leaped to her feet.
The serpent drew back to fire yet again, but the heroine flew forward, growing into a giantess. She pulled the creature from the moat as the monster tried to bite her hands, then slammed it into the ground with a thunderous roar. She then squeezed the monster’s neck with her purple-gloved hands as each struggled for dominance over the other. Finally, the serpent sighed away in a cloud of reddish dust.
“What else is in store for me?” she asked herself as she approached the raised drawbridge.
She carefully walked along the moat, looking for an entrance, but everything seemed to be closed up tightly. Even the arrow slits were shuttered against intruders. The sorceress began floating over the moat, gliding over the wall to land in the main courtyard of the castle. There, guards rushed from their posts to attack this invader with instructions for her not to arouse the mistress. Their swords flashed in the dull air.
Phantom Lady raised a hand and created a shield. The guards battered at it while the sorceress cast her mind farther into the structure in search of Nightshade’s consciousness. When she thought she had found it, she expanded the shield into a blast of light, causing the guards to be thrown to the ground in a stunned heap.
The sorceress walked over to the main section of the castle and blasted the door apart. She began climbing the stairs to the tower where she had sensed Nightshade hiding in the darkness, and she paused at the last barrier to her quest.
It was a mighty door blocking her path. This was the final defense against her intrusion, the last defensive measure that Nightshade had within her mindscape. The sorceress pressed against the door, summoning her will and energy to the task, and slowly but surely the wood of the door began to bend inward before finally snapping piece by piece under her hands. She could feel Eve Eden’s mind trying to stop her, but she wouldn’t allow that. She would go forward.
Phantom Lady burst through the door with one last effort, stumbling with the sudden release. A set of steps rose in the darkness before her, and she began ascending the steps to the chamber at the top of the tower.
The sorceress paused at the top of the stairs, her goal at hand. Eve Eden’s spirit was there in the safety of the pitch black darkness. She walked over to where Eve floated silently. Nightshade’s astral body, representing her mind, was scarred and covered with wounds. She had been harmed badly in her attempt to rescue her brother from the Incubus in the Land of Nightshades. She was still salvageable, however, and Phantom Lady had promised Captain Atom to do everything she could to help her. Besides, she and Eve Eden were friends, and they shared a deep connection that could not be allowed to end in this way.
Phantom Lady raised her hands at both ends of Nightshade’s astral body. Energy flowed from the sorceress’ hands as she turned her will to the grindstone of healing. The scars on the action-heroine’s body began to erase themselves, and the wounds began closing and smoothing over as if they had never been there.
Nightshade’s eyes snapped open, and she smiled slightly at the sorceress as recognition set in. “Thank you, Sandy,” she said mentally.
A moment later, Phantom Lady reappeared in the hospital room. She hid the weakness she felt from her colleague; it would soon pass. A moment later, Nightshade herself awoke fully healed but also somewhat weak.
Captain Atom and Dr. Brent were both at Eve’s side for different reasons. Phantom Lady saw Captain Atom smile at Eve, and the sorceress smiled herself before she left the room, her job done. Sandra Knight recognized the traces of love that the two still held for each other, thinking of Magda and Wayne Eden when she’d first introduced the two. Her thoughts shifted of their own accord to Don Borden, the man she had once loved herself, but she forcefully put the feeling aside before the pain of her loss could return. The sorceress had her studies and her own new mystical allies to attend, and there would be time later on for reminiscences of her past love.
Dr. Tom Brent went home at the end of his shift that day in a good mood. Nightshade was ready to leave the hospital when he stopped in to check on her. Captain Atom was at her side, holding her hand with a look of delirious happiness, while Phantom Lady had gone long ago. It had been a long time since Dr. Brent had even thought of being that happy. It was good to see others like that. It made him pleased with his profession and life in general. He turned and left the two alone with each other.
“Why did you do it, Eve?” asked Captain Atom.
“Aw, look at you,” she said smiling. “All teary-eyed. You’re human after all, Nate.”
“Don’t change the subject,” he laughed. “Seriously, though, Eve — what made you attempt such a foolhardy mission all alone?” Phantom Lady had left without telling him anything more than that she had battled demonic creatures in another dimension, leaving out the personal aspects of the story as Eve would have wished. Nightshade had not felt comfortable enough talking about the lifelong goal she had to liberate her brother Larry from the thrall of the Incubus, and Phantom Lady respected her wishes. “Does it have anything to do with Caroline?”
Eve Eden turned away from him. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said decisively, shutting him down. “Can we just go? I’m supposed to have lunch with dad before the service, and I don’t want him to know I’ve been in the hospital. He worries enough about me still being single at my age.”
“As you wish,” said Nathaniel Adam, offering her his arm. She took it, and the two old friends strolled out of the hospital.
Late that afternoon, Eve Eden stood alone under a tree in Arlington National Cemetery. The others who had attended the memorial service for Caroline Dean, including her friends in the Sentinels of Justice, had all dispersed to hold a private wake and farewell party. Besides Nathaniel Adam, Ted Kord, and Vic Sage — and even the Sentinels’ reserve members Peter Cannon and Christopher Smith — had shown up to pay their respects for the woman known to them as Liberty Belle.
Eve was now the last one left at the cemetery, after telling Nathaniel to go on without her. That sad, puppy-dog look of concern he’d worn on his face for her ever since she was brought to the hospital had been too much to take.
Christopher Smith had been forced to leave on urgent business with the United Nations as soon as the ceremony was over. He rarely operated in his other identity as the Peacemaker any longer, last donning the uniform a year ago to work on a Sentinels case as a reservist. Chris was instead becoming increasingly involved in his peace envoy work with the U.N. He was the oldest member of the team, having been graying since the 1960s, and it showed. Eve could tell that he was also trying to hide recent injuries. She wondered if he, too, had been wounded during the Crisis.
Peter Cannon seemed visibly shaken at the ceremony, a fact that shocked Eve. She had always known the man called Thunderbolt to be a level-headed, calm, and serene individual. Although he was one of the most reluctant of action-heroes, Peter always came through as a Sentinels reservist when he was needed, although it usually took a bit of coaxing by his Tibetan friend Tabu. He had become an accomplished author of several novels and non-fiction works over the last twenty years, and he was very sought-after on the speaking circuit. She had not been aware that Peter even knew Caroline, let alone knew her well enough to be so moved, so his display of emotion was almost as shocking as seeing her father cry at her mother’s funeral when she was a child.
Death had been her companion ever since the death of her mother, and she had always hated funerals. This one was particularly hard, because she and Caroline had been close, and despite all the power she and the other Sentinels had, they were unable to save her from being publicly murdered. The worst thing about Caroline’s murder was that it had no motive and wasn’t even personal. The man who executed her in a public square did it only to set an example, almost on a whim. That villain from a parallel world who killed her — she later learned he was a pirate-themed villain from Earth-One called Captain Stingaree — didn’t know anything about her.
It was for that reason she and the others hadn’t been able to face Caroline Dean’s family, let alone her little sister. Eve had been startled at first when she saw Candy Dean, since the young woman bore such a close resemblance to her big sister Caroline. Was that the reason she avoided looking at her throughout the ceremony? Perhaps it reminded her too much of the helplessness she felt when she and the other Sentinels had been captured and could do nothing but look on in horror as the man ran his cutlass through her chest. What made it even worse was that the heroes of Earths One and Two arrived just a few moments too late to stop it from happening. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War, Chapter 11: Executions.]
Eve wondered what the point of all this was as she watched the final shovelfuls of dirt being thrown over the grave. She turned and slowly began to walk away, head bowed against a sudden drizzle of rain. Heaven’s tears, she thought to herself as she moved away.
She and Caroline Dean were both action-heroines and had been friends for several years in both their private and public lives. While Eve was usually on secretive missions as Nightshade, Caroline Dean often took the spotlight as the patriotic Liberty Belle. The costumed hero community was a small one compared to Earth-One’s, and the two women had known each other long before the formation of the Femme Force One team some five years ago. It was then that all of Earth’s male action-heroes had disappeared, leaving only the action-heroines behind to stop the powerful she-demon that had caused it.
On that day in 1980, Liberty Belle first contacted Nightshade, and the two quickly found a few other action-heroines to save the day: Phantom Lady, Nova, Tyger, and the Bionic Woman. After rescuing the Sentinels of Justice and the other action-heroes, the impromptu team decided to remain together under the name of Femme Force One. Unlike her regular team, the Sentinels of Justice, Femme Force One only gathered every once in a while under special circumstances. But because of Caroline’s efforts, all of the team’s members were able to provide each other with all the support they needed whenever they needed it. And thanks to Eve, they had collectively been made reserve members of the Sentinels of Justice. Now Liberty Belle — Caroline Dean — was gone, and Femme Force One was a fast-fading memory.
Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman, had been the first to leave the team, preferring as normal a life as she could have. She was the only Femme Force One member to come to the funeral, and she was accompanied by a man she knew to be famous astronaut and bionic man Steve Austin, but they left before Eve had a chance to speak with either of them.
Nova Kane had left the team next for similar reasons, and for a time she apparently gave up her powers, only to learn shortly before the Crisis that she still retained them. She was married during the Crisis to Alec Tronn — E-Man — and the two were currently honeymooning in space. She couldn’t possibly know of Caroline’s death just yet.
Nanako Kuri, the Japanese action-heroine known as Tyger, spent most of her time in Tokyo, where she was the nation’s most famous action-hero. Her adventures with Femme Force One and the Sentinels of Justice were usually a vacation for her. Eve knew she was too busy helping Japan rebuild after the devastation from the Crisis. Of all the places in the world, Asia was hit hardest by the Crisis and would take longer to recover.
As for Phantom Lady, Sandra had become increasingly interested only in exploring the deeper realms of magic and seemed uninterested in the kind of routine crime-fighting she’d performed in the 1940s. She had also begun working with a secretive group of likeminded individuals based in Detroit whose goals were more mystical and exploratory in nature. Only Nightshade and Liberty Belle were still interested in Femme Force One, but Eve had to admit that her priorities were always first with her counterespionage work and the Sentinels of Justice. Femme Force One had essentially died long before Caroline was publicly murdered during the Villain War. Eve had not expected her to come to the funeral, knowing Sandy preferred to mourn in her own way.
Eve fought back the tears and rubbed her face slightly as the rain began to pour unnoticed from the sky. The black clouds and rolling thunder matched her mood perfectly as she walked down the driveway and through the metal gates of the cemetary.
She still did not know exactly why she had made her attempt to rescue Larry from the Incubus singlehandedly. But part of it, she now realized, was that she was grieving the loss of one of her dearest friends. And she somehow reasoned that if she was able to gain back her lost brother, the pain she felt for the loss of her mother and her friend could somehow be relieved by the joy she would feel in the reunion.
Eve Eden walked aimlessly beyond the gates of the cemetery, feeling immense sadness. What was it that Ted Kord had said during the funeral?
“The world’s grown darker, now that one of its brightest lights is gone.”
She wondered about that but never probed any further. It was apparent to her that he’d had to deal with losing a friend as well. The Blue Beetle was hardly his old, happy-go-lucky self, which was understandable considering the recent events of the Crisis and the fact that they were at a funeral. It was obvious he was dealing with something, but she was feeling too much grief over Caroline’s death herself to console anyone else just yet.