Duplicity assumed the form of a strikingly beautiful red-haired woman in a green flowing gown that opened across the stomach and had splits at each thigh. She waited for a moment until the other woman in the room noticed her entrance. The other woman frowned with lips that matched those assumed by Duplicity. She was her exact double, from curly red locks to revealing green gown.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she hissed. “You’ve no idea how unsettling it is for someone to look up at their mirror image.”
Duplicity laughed girlishly and said, “Actually, I do know, and that’s part of the fun, luv.” She melted back to her normal appearance and said, “Forgive me, Thetis. I meant no harm — or very little harm — to be honest.”
Thetis sighed and answered in a cold and emotionless tone, “I have done as you asked. My water spirits have obeyed and concealed the woman’s magical nature.”
Duplicity said, “And have you made that nature falsely appear to be at the locations I gave you?”
“Yes,” said Thetis. “I don’t need your constant harping. I do what needs to be done.”
Duplicity concealed a wry grin as she departed. “TTFN!” she said in a cooing tone.
Thetis the Sea Witch scowled and muttered under her breath. “Someday I will gladly fill her lungs with water and watch her choke,” she hissed.
Booster Gold and Skeets flew over the shore until the action-hero spotted a strange glow below him. “Magnification of visual scanner,” he said. Skeets automatically adjusted the costume’s appropriate feature via their remote link, and Booster frowned. “Something’s so bright down there that even with my filtered goggles I can’t make out any detail.”
“Nor can I determine more than the fact that it appears to be round,” added Skeets.
Booster said, “With my luck, it’s probably Lady Quark coming after me for that stupid hormone-induced move I made back at headquarters.”
“Negative, Booster. She’s on her way to investigate one of the locations at which Memakata detected Nightshade.”
“We’ve got to work on your sense of humor,” said Booster. “I was only kidding.”
He frowned as a blazing bolt of light surged skyward, narrowly missing his dodging form. He swooped down and executed an amazing series of aerial flips as light exploded all around him. “I’m really under fire here! Increase force-field energy. I’m going to take a hit in order to get closer.”
Booster Gold slowed down and allowed the light beams to strike him. He crashed to the ground and shook his head to gather his wits. “That was some impact. I’m not hurt, but the sheer force was enough to knock me flat.”
He dived forward and plunged directly through the silent and now-looming ball of light. “Nothing there. I’m fighting some kind of ghost!”
A voice with a British accent echoed from thin air. “You’re fighting Will o’ Wisp, and he’s a better man than the likes o’ you.”
Booster grinned and said, “With a name that lame, no wonder you’re ashamed to show your face. I’d hide behind a bright light, too, if I had to answer to a name like that. When you get out of jail, I’ll put you in touch with some marketing guys I know. Maybe a brainstorming session or two will enable you to come up with a name that really sings.”
The only reply his enigmatic foe gave was to generate another blast of light, but Booster rolled aside and swung both fists at the glowing being, only to fall through it again. “Skeets, can you calculate his position based on the angle of his blasts? He’s clearly not where he appears to be. It’s some type of optical misdirection.” He gritted his teeth and prepared to deflect a few of the light beams with energy blasts of his own, even as Skeets performed his own work and announced the results.
“Five inches to the left, Booster,” the small flying robot said.
Booster hurled himself in that direction and felt satisfaction as he made contact with an unseen being. Three rapid punches produced another more tangible result when a humanoid being fell at his feet as the blinding light flickered out. He was a bald man with a handsome demeanor, but he was clearly no fighter. Booster blocked his one attempt to hit back and then flattened him with an uppercut.
“Well, I don’t see any trace of Nightshade, so this must have been a wild goose chase,” said the action-hero. “Blue Beetle expected as much. Our foe wanted to occupy our time for some reason.”
“Correct, Booster,” said Skeets. “I’ve scanned the area and can find no trace of any other living being.”
Booster Gold looked down at the fallen Will o’ Wisp and grinned as if for an unseen camera. “Well, should I say it, or do you think it’s a bit over the top?”
“I do not understand the question,” said Skeets.
The famed action-hero shrugged and said, “I was going to say something like — well, I put his lights out. I hesitated because I didn’t want to sound too corny. Still, the kids love me for that kind of thing, and you never know when a line like that could come in handy.”
Skeets said, “Booster, sometimes I fear you think you are always on camera. You play to an audience without any need.”
Booster grinned. “Well, I’ve got to be me, right?”
Lady Quark had wasted no time as she followed the trail the mystical cat had offered. She did not like Nightshade. She looked down at her, viewing her as being unworthy of the respect and affection that Captain Atom clearly had for her. If the regal Lady Quark had been of an introspective nature, she might have recognized that her feelings arose out of insecurity or jealousy. That realization might in turn have awoken her to the possibility that some of the love she felt for her late husband, Lord Volt, was now being directed toward the heroic Nathaniel Adam. However, the platinum-haired woman was far from contemplative, and thus she never thought of her feelings or their source. She merely acted upon them.
Eve Eden is merely a shameless exhibitionist, she mused. Still, I can’t allow her reckless ego to lead to her demise. It has ever been the role of the aristocracy to govern those with fewer advantages. For her own good I will rescue her, but I will never like her.
She landed outside an old barn, scowling as she took stock of the environment. The area seems deserted. Never would my royal family have allowed resources to rot in such a manner. We would have channeled our powers to direct our subjects until they reclaimed such land and made it fruitful.
Lady Quark looked up to see a young woman standing in the open loft of the barn. The woman posed defiantly with her hands on her hips, and her long red hair blew in the wind. She wore a brief costume of gold and blue and had sandals with laces ordained her otherwise bare legs. She jumped down over her foe’s head to land on Lady Quark’s back before the startled royal could react or turn aside. Strong arms encircled the action-heroine’s head, and she found herself gasping from the pressure.
A loud bellowing laugh rang out as the warrior woman continued to exert pressure on the struggling Lady Quark. “Ha! You Americans may think you rule the world, but Steel Maiden will teach you otherwise.”
Lady Quark scowled and tried to spin around and unseat the woman who sat on her back, but the redhead merely wrapped both legs around her chest and retained her grip. “I am not an American. And I am no one’s servant!”
She gritted her teeth as the big woman raised one arm and then casually smashed her in the face again and again. They crashed through the old barn and emerged out the other side as their fight raged onward.
“Who are you?” asked Lady Quark as she slipped partly free of the other woman’s grasp and received a knee in her back.
“I am known as Steel Maiden. I am the direct heir to the line of proud Queen Boudicca herself. Celtic blood will always tell and will always dominate lesser beings like you, my steed.” She pounced on Lady Quark again and pulled back on her head with the short hair the regal Sentinel possessed.
This time the action-heroine’s response was far more effective. Lady Quark flared up as crackling energy cascaded along her yellow leotard, and the sheer force of the explosion sent Steel Maiden reeling.
Lady Quark was furious, her anger coming from more than the beating she had received. She was enraged because of the manner in which the mocking British woman had humbled her and refused to admit her superiority. She clenched her fists, and energy flashed around them both.
Steel Maiden scrambled to her feet and said, “So you have a bit of spirit after all! I may keep you on as my maidservant.”
Lady Quark bit her lower lip and said nothing, instead letting her amazing powers do her talking. A wave of crackling energy surged from her until her body seemed to fade away, leaving only a feminine energy formation in its place.
The brave and powerful Steel Maiden fought back, but she could not match her raw brute power against the cosmic nuclear energies of the angry Lady Quark. She fell flat and lay stunned as the action-heroine drew closer and gazed down on her with a look of triumph.
Lady Quark frowned as she noticed that the cocky warrior maiden was now smaller, and her entire manner seemed different. Upon losing consciousness, Steel Maiden had reverted to a very lovely but decidedly demure and petite woman in a designer suit and heels.
Remarkable! It is as if she were two people in one changing form, mused Lady Quark as she easily tossed her frail captive over one shoulder and prepared to search for Nightshade.