The dangerous Sea Witch was battling a foe of her own, as her power to control the waves and the wind enabled her to lash her enemy with a savage power unequaled by any mortal being. However, as she laughed with malice, and her revealing gown and long red curls swung back and forth as if in a dance with the forces of nature at her command, the muscular man she sought to destroy raised his head skyward and shouted his own defiance.
The golden-armored form of the proud Son of Vulcan refused to bow down to the awesome storm, and he fixed his steely gaze on the dark and threatening clouds as if he planned to stare them down by sheer force of personality alone. To the consternation of the arrogant Thetis, the alter ego of John Mann did just that. The clouds moved away at unnatural speed, and the lashing wind calmed to a gentle sea breeze.
“What madness is this? How do you defy my will and break the hold my magic gives me over the raging storm?” she hissed.
The Son of Vulcan sneered as contempt washed over his handsome face. “Petty witch! You would dare contend with the scion of Olympus? What power can you possess that does not shrink like a wilted flower before the ever-victorious might that comes from Jupiter and his noble brood? What might can you claim that is not a paltry thing when viewed from the pinnacle of eons?”
He had drawn upon the powers that he derived from his mystical link through his patron, Vulcan. Calling upon the gifts of beings with names like Neptune and Aeolus, he had torn all control the Sea Witch exerted upon the forces of nature from her and left her in helpless fury.
Sea Witch smiled and drew closer to him, caressing his cheek with one silken hand. Her breath was sweet and perfumed as she worked her magic. “You would make a fine partner. We are kindred spirits,” she cooed.
The Son of Vulcan nodded and swept her into his arms into a passionate kiss before dropping her in the mud at his feet. “You are beneath me as the ant is to the soaring eagle,” he said. Spitting on her fallen form, he said, “You claim to be a Sea Witch? Well, I will make you even closer to the watery world than ever you were before. By the transforming might of Circe, I make you more fish than woman.”
She screamed soundlessly as her body changed shape, and the red ringlets that she was so proud of vanished to be replaced by scales. Her long legs shrank and became fins, and she plopped into the water nearby.
The Son of Vulcan laughed bitterly and said, “You will return to normal in the span of seven days — unless you end up in the stomach of some other sea-dwelling predator.”
He knew from his use of the seeing power of Argus that Nightshade was not to be found nearby. Had his friends witnessed his manner and heard his words, they might have become concerned at how very different John Mann seemed since the last time he had participated in a mission back in January to help the Sentinels of Justice deal with a crisis in Cuba. (*) But he was alone, and these changes in personality were not detected.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Fantastic Giants.]
If they had been noticed by Captain Atom and the others, a future disaster might have been prevented. But as Mann himself would have stated, such was the way of the Fates.
The star-spangled sensation known as the second Liberty Belle had her own problems with John Mann’s alter ego. The pretty blonde in the revealing red, white, and blue miniskirt and sleeveless top did not know what to make of her new teammate. She was a recent addition to the Sentinels, since her predecessor — the original Liberty Belle, Caroline Deane — had died during the cosmic Crisis on Infinite Earths. (*) The new Liberty Belle had all the moves of the original, but she also harbored certain secrets, and the inhumanly perceptive Son of Vulcan had stared at her after their first meeting with a keen eye that showed little mercy or human weakness.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War, Chapter 11: Executions.]
“I know the truth about you,” he had said. “One with the all-seeing eye of Veritus can never be deceived. Thus, I know you to be of noble intent and a courageous heart. Still, your deception may not fool our allies for long. The Blue Beetle is not a fool. The Question also possesses the detective skills that could expose you. I will say nothing, but I warn you that I do know the truth about you.”
The cold words had chilled her heart, but she had been helpless to speak. “What could I have said? I mean, he had me cold,” she had later said back in her private apartment.
“Just keep calm. He’s probably not planning to tell the others,” Leeza had replied then.
Now in the present, Liberty Belle shook her head and turned to concentrate on the matter at hand. Eve is a dear girl, she thought. She’s been kind to me. All the Sentinels have except for Son of Vulcan, but he’s a real cold fish. She stopped and listened for a moment. “No sign of Nightshade, but I hear someone moving up there,” she whispered to herself. Her high heels clattered as she raced up a flight of stairs to confront her foe. Can’t expect stealth from four-inch heels, she thought.
Liberty Belle stopped short and jumped up to grip the edge of the curving stairwell of the old lighthouse. She flipped upside down in a move that would have impressed Nightshade herself and landed in a crouch to look up at a strange woman. She was strange, because she was well-known to Liberty Belle and to the world at large.
“Victoria Bonham!” gasped Liberty Belle. “What brings Britain’s most stylish and most frequently photographed woman to this place?”
The beautiful blue blood smiled coldly and gently swept one errant lock of her midnight black hair away from her heavily mascara-covered eyes. “Wouldn’t butter melt in your mouth? I know why you are here. We’ve been told all about the way you American action-heroes have gone rogue. You may fool the world, but not the Union.”
She wore a black Gucci dress and high heels, but the outfit and her entire manner changed as she suddenly shrank down to six inches, and tiny gossamer wings popped out of her now-bare back. Her costume consisted of a shimmering filmy tunic with equally tiny slippers. Her famous features could no longer be clearly seen due to some kind of magical distortion.
“You’re a fairy?” gasped Liberty Belle.
“I’m a Piskie, to be exact,” said Victoria. “You arrogant Americans wouldn’t know that term, of course.”
Liberty Belle hesitated as the tiny woman’s sheer charisma held her in place. A spell! Something about her is sapping my will, realized the nearly mesmerized Belle. She shut her eyes and lashed out with a spinning heel kick that caught the flying Piskie by surprise but failed to connect with her agile and miniature body.
She swooped at Belle’s face, and the blonde patriot yelped in pain. “You stung me!” she gasped.
Piskie laughed and said, “I call it my faerie touch, but it does feel like a sting, doesn’t it?”
Liberty Belle staggered backward, allowing the mocking Piskie to draw closer and closer before she suddenly drove her own head into the tiny figure’s body and knocked her flat. She whipped off one shoe and shoved the startled Piskie inside. “I know a bit about pixies. You can’t use your powers against organic matter, like the dye on this shoe.”
She removed the other shoe and carefully wedged them together, with the angry Piskie trapped inside. “This should hold you until I can get back to headquarters,” Belle said.
Blue Beetle had piloted his blue scarab-shaped flying craft, the Bug, until he had located the mystical trail that led to a weirdly costumed figure who darted wildly from one place to another. “What in the name of Paul Revere and the Raiders is that?” the action-hero said aloud.
The man he saw had sharply pointed ears, glowing red eyes, a long pointed nose, and sharp teeth. His body was powerful from the hips upward, but it was also twisted in a painfully inhuman manner. His legs were much smaller, and his costume consisted of a long frock coat of purple with golden braid and buttons and matching breeches with buckled shoes.
“He looks like a psychedelic minute man!” said Blue Beetle as he commanded the Bug to lower him on his ladder via its remote spoken command system. He dropped down and then frowned to himself as he could see nothing of the weird figure he had spotted from above. “Hide and seek — great.”
Blue Beetle yelped as a powerful impact rocked him to the ground, and he felt a dozen blows from an unseen foe. Super-speed! he thought. He’s moving so fast I can’t see him. I’ll be out cold before I can raise my fists. Still, he was always ready for a fight, and thus the resourceful Blue Beetle yelled, “Bug, X-12!”
The craft hovering above responded by activating a row of carefully concealed lenses that lined one section beneath the ship’s bottom. The Blue Beetle closed his own eyes a moment before light exploded around them, and the Beetle nodded with satisfaction as the blinded figure appeared before him. “You can’t run if you can’t see where you’re going,” he quipped as he slugged the weird being with both fists.
He caught the stunned speedster and nodded in approval. “I hated to belt the poor guy like that, but I knew I had to take him out with one blow or he’d recover and zoom off like a shot in the dark.” He loaded the man into his Bug and flew off.
Captain Atom was beginning to grow weary as his powers failed to impress the brawny black man who opposed him with ease and amusement.
“You know, I always fancied you action-heroes. I hope a good rattling will knock some sense into you. I don’t know what drove you lot to go stark, raving mad, but I can’t let you run roughshot over Merry Olde!” He grinned and ignored Captain Atom’s best right hook.
“This what you mean to do, mate?” he said as he connected with a hammering blow that drove Atom through the pavement.
Captain Atom emerged again and slammed into the Brixton Brawler even as he tried to reason with him. “We’re not mad. We’re not rogues. We want to find our missing member, Nightshade. If someone told you the Sentinels have gone bad, then they lied.” He gripped his foe tightly, and they struggled in midair.
“I’d like to believe you. Really, I would. You’ve got that John Wayne air of dependability about you, and I really did admire you. Still, I got the scoop straight from my boss lady, and she don’t get her facts wrong.”
Captain Atom was a leader of men in the military, and as such he had gained a real talent for reading a person’s character. He felt this powerful Brit was not the kind of villain he normally faced. This was no Doctor Spectro or Ghost. Atom said, “I can’t out-fight you. You’re stronger than I am. Still, I could convince you that I am telling the truth by doing something less obvious.”
The longtime Sentinels of Justice leader dropped the Brawler on a rooftop and landed beside him. He raised both hands as if to emit a blast of energy, but instead he merely changed back to Colonel Nathaniel Adam. “OK, I switched back to my normal form. Would I do that in the middle of a fight if I was some power-mad fiend?”
The Brixton Brawler shook his head and stroked his beard for a minute. “You know, I think I believe you. Maybe we’ve been set up right well.”
He extended one huge hand, and Adam gripped it. “Tell me more,” the Brawler said.
The seventh location in which Nightshade was supposedly to be found was as much of a dead end as all the others. Sea Witch’s magic had distorted the true trail Eve’s other-dimensional nature would have created, and now the final active member of the Sentinels found herself struggling for her footing.
Guardian was another action-heroine new to the team. She was a very tall, blonde woman in a red and blue costume with a gleaming tiara, belt, and gloves. The gear came from Sarge Steel, who in turn had received it when a team of would-be heroes called the Sensational Sentinels, who had given up their heroic careers forever during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. The three folk singers comprising the team had realized that they could never compete with the more famous team that took the name of the Sentinels after their retirement. While the Sensational Sentinels had operated for only a few short months in 1966 and early 1967 before retiring, the more famous Sentinels of Justice had been using the name for the eighteen years since the team was founded in 1968 with charter members Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, and the Question.
The woman who accepted the Sentinels’ gear from Sarge Steel initially planned to call herself Sentinel. But by the time she agreed to join the Sentinels of Justice, she decided to take the name of Guardian as a new identity in order to prevent confusion. Steel explained that although a previous action-hero had also used that name, his career had been very brief and had ended during the Crisis.
Guardian had been accepted to the team along with the new Liberty Belle, and she loved her work. She had grown up wanting to fight for justice, and the inspiration of a forgotten hero had led her to join Checkmate — Sarge Steel’s agency — where she served under him until he judged her ready to step into the ready-made role of heroine. It seems crazy to imagine that all my time in Checkmate would lead to this, she thought.
That was before a beautiful blonde girl in a green halter top and hot pants had crashed into her like a meteor. Can’t breathe! She’s knocked the air out of me, thought Guardian, gasping for breath. She crashed to the ground as the blonde teen slapped her with one super-strong hand and knocked her flying. She’s stronger than anyone I’ve ever faced before, thought Guardian.
“You won’t harm the people of Great Britain! I won’t let you!” vowed the pretty flying girl as she landed and blocked Guardian from any escape. “I’m Lady Justice!”
Guardian said, “Shouldn’t that be Justice Girl? You look all of sixteen.”
“I’m old enough to fight for the U.K.,” said Lady Justice. She swung at Guardian, but the woman had recovered enough to use the telekinesis power of her tiara to deflect the blow.
That blow gave me a headache, mused Guardian. I can’t use my mental might against her raw power. She instead flew into the air, and Lady Justice followed. She’s faster than me, and she flies as well as I do. Maybe I can trick her.
She stopped short and whirled to deliver a punch with the gloves that gave her super-strength, but the mighty blonde merely blinked and slapped her miles across the sky. Guardian thought, I’m dizzy. I can’t beat her. I can only stay out of her reach.
She saw a trail of smoke arc across the sky when a small plane veered into sight, and they stopped their fight. Both women raced to intercept and lower the burning plane to a safe landing. Guardian smothered the flames with a concentrated blast of telekinesis, while Lady Justice used super-speed to carry the passengers to safety.
They rested for a moment and eyed one another warily. “You helped me save those poor people,” said Lady Justice. “Maybe I was wrong about you. But Miss Wright swore you’d all gone criminal.”
“Who is Miss Wright?” asked Guardian. “Clearly, in this case she’s Miss Wrong. I am not a criminal.”
“Your heart never altered its beating,” Lady Justice said with surprise in her voice. “You aren’t lying.”
Guardian said, “If you can detect truth from lies, why didn’t you use that power on this mystery boss of yours?”
“I trusted her,” Lady Justice said. “She represented the highest levels of government. One doesn’t doubt one’s government.”
Guardian rubbed her aching chin and said, “Honey, you have a lot to learn.”