The People’s Heroes glanced warily at the young teens of Soyuz and then back again at the weird newcomers who seemingly menaced both groups.
“I relish a fight!” said Sickle. “Allow me to demonstrate our superiority to these strange beings!” The belligerent blonde leaped forward at the flying blonde who seemingly led the new arrivals. But she never reached her, because the smaller woman dodged agilely and then pelted Sickle with dozens of hurled fireballs.
The flames that surrounded the flying woman’s lithe body seemed to obey her every command, but never seemed to diminish in spite of her expenditure. She wore a golden torc and a sparkling red and gold costume that consisted of a strapless top and short skirt that split at each side over golden sandals. There was an exotic warrior maiden look to her that was only slightly diluted by her ravishing good looks and rather languid manner. Very long, large golden earrings dangled from her eyes beneath her long blonde hair.
Throwing back her head, she laughed a rather girlish laugh as she watched Sickle crash to the ground and assume a fetal position as the hardened fireballs rained down on her. “Be thankful that Saule merely struck you with solidified fire and not with truly hot flames!” she said.
The ever-clever Firebird bit her lip as she heard the woman refer to herself in third person. Saule? she thought. She was a goddess of the sun! Are all these beings based on mythological characters?
Hammer had jumped to protect his fallen wife when a petite woman with long, light brown hair blocked his path. She had delicate features and moved with the grace of a ballerina, but she also had a gleam in her eyes that would have halted a more perceptive man. Lumbering forward, Hammer roared, “Move aside, girl! I would not cripple a mere female!”
Placing both hands on her hips, she laughed. She wore a light blue tunic with silver sandals and bracelets, and her brown locks were styled around a tiara of silver as well. “I am Aigiarm, and you are not worthy to clean my sandals!” she said, calmly punching Hammer with one lightning-fast jab that dropped him flat at her dainty feet, leaving him stunned.
“Did you see that?” gasped Perun. “That girl flattened him! She isn’t bigger than any of you girls, but she knocked him cold!”
“Aigiarm was a mythical warrior princess,” said Firebird. “She was said to have been the finest fighter the world ever had!”
Meanwhile, Princess Fern was in trouble as well, as a man with very shaggy, long brown hair approached her and, casually pulling her into his arms, grew until he towered above them all.
“He’s a giant!” cried Morozko. “He is like the American King Kong!”
His sister Rusalka pouted briefly as she rushed to help her friend. Strange he grabbed Liana, she thought. She’s cute but I’m the beautiful one of the group! Gesturing with her hands, she tried to dehydrate the giant through her control over water, but his sheer mass made the process a slow one.
Meanwhile, Fern was no helpless damsel in distress in spite of her royal background. She concentrated and allowed a group of vines to shoot up around the giant’s legs until she felt a sharp mental pain.
The huge man who held the Princess in one massive hand said, “I am known as Leshy. The natural world belongs to me, little one! I can stop your control of plants with a mere thought!”
Morozko tried to freeze the giant, but his icy blasts were swept aside by a gaunt blond man in a solid white costume with a fur-lined hood, gloves, and boots.
“You cannot touch my large ally while the winds are mine to control!” he cried in a shrill voice.
“Thank you, Comrade Stribog!” yelled the giant Leshy.
Molotov exploded in the midst of the group, but his powerful energy had no effect on the petite battle maiden Aigiarm or her companions. As he started to re-form his body, he was scattered by Stribog’s winds.
Firebird tried to use her own telepathy to gain some understanding of the newcomers, but all she could do was shield herself from Pravda’s own mental powers.
“You and I have had this appointment with destiny for far too long, my pretty!” said Pravda.
The agile Bolshoi screamed as his dazzling kicks failed to stop a ruggedly handsome blond man who slapped him down and said, “I am Sea King Yamm! The thunderous waves of the ocean cannot move me, so how can your fancy kicks, you preening peacock?”
Perun generated his lightning bolts at Leshy and had some success, as the giant dropped Fern and yelped in pain. Princess Fern curled into a ball and managed to cushion her fall with a suddenly erupting patch of flowers that rose skyward to slow and then stop her descent.
Sighing with relief, Perun thought, Princess Fern has more battle experience than any of us, since she and her parents were their Earth’s greatest champions! We’ll need all her skill if we’re to survive this battle!
Little Vikhor merely swirled around and hesitated. He was a bit frightened, to be honest. And as the Pantheon closed in on the teen heroes, that feeling seemed more and more reasonable.
Before the battle could resume, Saule, Aigiarm, Leshy, and the rest stiffened momentarily, seemingly listening to an unseen speaker.
Saule smiled ruthlessly and said, “We will conclude this now and prepare for our company!”
Fern whispered, “Clearly, someone is giving them orders, but who could their guests be?”
Sera nodded and said, “And why did Perun’s power have more effect on Leshy than any of ours have had on them?”
Perun was more than a bit nervous as he felt the eyes of the members of the Pantheon study him with a cool appraisal. It seemed the newcomers were as curious as to why the boy had been somewhat successful against them as well.
Marik Titov had been using the agility of a hawk to dodge the concentrated air-blasts of Stribog, but even he could only stay one step ahead of the man in white.
Pravda smiled with pleasure as she took advantage of the lull in the battle to strike at Firebird. The blonde girl felt dazed, but she managed to repel the mental assault.
“Sera, are you hurt?” asked Rusalka as she steadied her friend.
Sera shook her head and said, “No! I was letting my guard down because I wanted to try to scan Saule and the rest to learn their secrets. I only found one thing, but I’m certain of it. All of them are being guided like puppets by a more powerful will!”
But she never got to continue her statement, since the Pantheon suddenly attacked with startling vigor.
Saule’s heat-blasts drove them backward as Yamm, Aigiarm, and Leshy struck with speed and precision. The teens were knocked out by their stronger foes, who also stunned Marik, and then gathered up the battered People’s Heroes.
Stribog rubbed his hands together with pleasure as he said, “Excellent! Now I shall lift us all away on the winds I control! Let our trail lead the others to their own place of utter destruction!”
Moments later, the Sentinels of Justice appeared in the square, lingering only long enough to determine that all of the combatants had vanished.
Captain Atom slammed his fist into the palm of his other hand and said, “We missed them! If only we had arrived faster!”
A handsome brown-skinned man in a dark suit and turban shrugged and said, “I offer my apologies, but my magic did the best it could under the circumstances!”
“Amon, Captain Atom didn’t mean to blame you,” said Liberty Belle. “Without your power, none of us could have reached this spot with such ease!”
Amon the Invincible was the son of Yarko the Great, who was possibly the world’s greatest mage. The son had followed in the footsteps of the father in that regard, for Amon was a powerful mage himself. It was rumored that he was also the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince named Amentep, and in fact his own mother was a dark-skinned Egyptian. Amon nodded and said, “Thank you, Belle.” Turning to the Sentinels’ leader, he asked, “Where to, now, Captain? I fear our Soviet friends are none too happy to see us!” He nodded toward the rapidly approaching soldiers who had arrived to take stock of the scene of battle.
Belle interjected, “I think we should go to where it all started for the Son of Vulcan! Where else would he go but his birthplace? The island of Cyprete was where John Mann became Son of Vulcan!”
Captain Atom nodded grimly and said, “The little lady’s right! I think she just solved part of the mystery of where we can find Vulcan!”
Amon the Invincible grinned and said, “Consider us there!”
Moments later, the Sentinels of Justice found themselves transported to a remote part of the island of Cyprete, where a startling sight greeted them.
Strikingly realistic stone statues of the teen heroes of Soyuz and the People’s Heroes lined an ornate Roman temple, where the costumed members of the Pantheon sat in regal splendor.
“Those aren’t statues!” said Captain Atom. “I’d wager anything that those are the real Soviets transformed into stone! A Medusa-type change is well within Vulcan’s powers.”
The Shape frowned as his elongated neck allowed him to examine the statues at close range. Turning quizzically to Lady Quark, he said, “Tashana, is that your daughter?”
Lady Quark flew toward the statue, and energy surged along her yellow leotard until the air crackled with a fiery nimbus. “How can it be?” she cried. “Still, there is no doubt! Liana! How could Vulcan have copied her so exactly? He never met my child! She was lost with my husband and our Earth!”
“Shape, how did you know that statue represented Quark’s kid?” asked the Countess. “I mean, I didn’t even know the girl’s name!”
The Shape retracted his rubbery neck and said with a smile, “I studied the files on all of you. I wanted to achieve greater closeness to you. You are my friends.”
The Countess nodded slowly, without any of her customary haughtiness. Something in the artificial being’s childlike sincerity touched the spoiled woman’s heart.
“I think Cap’s right,” said Liberty Belle. “The Soviets certainly aren’t objects of worship. This temple isn’t dedicated to them. I think they really have been transformed. That could mean Quark’s daughter is alive!”
Lady Quark had not heard the platinum blonde patriot’s words, instead charging at the Pantheon with startling speed and dynamic force. “What is the meaning of this?” she shouted. “I demand answers!”
Before she could reach the apparently amused Pantheon, she was swallowed up by open air, which literally parted and then closed around her.
“What did you do to her?” yelped Felina as she bounded forward with feline agility.
“Nothing!” said Saule. “Our master removed her, as is his right! He has been overwhelmingly merciful to you out of some misguided former affection!”
As the sultry sun goddess stood up and led her team forward, a powerful figure emerged from the temple. Light gleamed on his golden armor and helmet, and he raised a sword high in one hand.
“Greetings!” he said in a stentorian tone. “As Saule has said, it was my wish not to harm you unduly. I merely removed Lady Quark from this place. Her intemperate rage might have led to her undoing!”
“Vulcan?” said Booster Gold. “It is you! What’s the big idea? Why are you sending goons like those guys and the fine-looking babes with them against the USSR and the USA?”
“Your superficial nature blinds you to much that lies beyond the obvious and the material,” said the Son of Vulcan. “I allowed monsters from myth to attack American sites, because it was my wish to destroy the nation’s military capabilities without directly confronting you, my former allies. I similarly empowered the Pantheon and used them against your Soviet counterparts. Again, my goal is merely to disarm the Soviet Union!”
“Vulcan, what are trying to do here?” demanded Captain Atom. “We all want peace, but you’ve never tried anything like this before!”
Son of Vulcan sighed and said, “I want to impose peace on the planet. I wish to end the folly of Mars and his ilk once and for all. If none of the so-called superpower nations have weapons of war, then surely peace must follow as night trails day!”
“Vulcan, you can’t preach to me about peace,” said the Peacemaker. “I fight to maintain peace! Still, global disarmament can’t be imposed by violence!”
“And yet, it will be when I am finished with my crusade,” said Son of Vulcan. “I offer you all this warning. Join me if you wish, or merely choose to do nothing to oppose me. But if you try to stop me, then I will use all my might to bring you down to ruin!”
“If it’s a fight you want, then you’ve come to the right place!” shouted Booster Gold.
Liberty Belle placed one hand on his arm and said, “Wait. There’s more to this than meets the eye!”
“I command the unseen forces to be revealed!” said Amon the Invincible. But almost immediately he gasped in pain as his magical energy recoiled on him like a serpent. He almost fell, but the Guardian shielded him with a telekinetic force-field as Tomorrow Woman helped her increase the strength of her own shield.
A tall woman with long red hair emerged from behind the Son of Vulcan and draped one arm over his own. She wore a flowing yellow gown with sandals and a tiara.
“I am Eris, beloved of Vulcan, and soon to be queen of this world,” she said with a wicked gleam in her eyes. “I am the one who opened his benighted eyes to his true duty. If you wish to know how he found his path, then look no more! I am the answer!”