by Dan Swanson, with Doc Quantum
Surprisingly, the pair of demons had not yet managed to batter down the door to Strabo Hall before the worlds’ mightiest girls were upon them. They somehow sensed the approaching heroines and turned to face them. The two demons had every reason to believe that incipient battle would be similar to the Ali-Wepner heavyweight title fight of 1975, with the demons in the role of Muhammad Ali; Chuck Wepner had fought valiantly, and even knocked Ali down once, but the outcome had never been in doubt, and neither would this battle. After all, these two demons claimed Shazam, one of the most powerful human wizards in history, as their father, and a powerful demoness as their mother. They had no way of knowing that their mother had actually lied to them about the identity of their father, but they had still inherited awesome powers from their real father. And no assemblage of humans, not even one including the four worlds’ mightiest girls and the not-inconsiderable power of Atom Blake, Boy Wizard, could come close to matching their powers. But Atom and the Marys had an unexpected ally.
Although Grim Island had only come into existence relatively recently, in 1948, and the Grimoire Academy was officially founded in 1951, both the island and the academy were paradoxically extremely ancient. Almost three thousand years ago, ancient wizards discovered the isle of Tourmaline in the Atlantic Ocean and had theorized that it might be a remnant of the sunken continent of Atlantis, based on the natural concentration of mystical forces focused upon it. Discovering that the island was a natural vortex that existed simultaneously on five separate parallel universes and was connected to many other universes and dimensional realms, they founded the first school of magic there, catering to the small populations of Homo Magi on each of the five Earths. Although it was known by many other names in previous centuries, it had come to be known as the White School by the early twentieth century, since its once-colorful marble walls had been bleached white over the centuries. Also, the school expressly forbade teaching the dark arts, preferring only the study of so-called “white magic.”
Most students only knew about the most recent history of Grimoire Academy and were completely unaware of its ancient origins, but as an advanced student of mystical arts, Atom had learned some of its history. But Atom had not been able to find out the identities of those ancient wizards, and he wondered if Shazam himself had been among their number.
Over the centuries since the isle was discovered, literally hundreds of the most powerful mages throughout history had contributed to the magical spells defending the isle from invaders. But the evil mystical forces waged against the White School came to a head during World War II, when an expeditionary force of Nazi occultists from Earth-X breached the island in 1945. The Thule Society of Earth-X had been the most powerful version of that German occult group, and they desired the island primarily for its access to other dimensions, time, and space via the Clock Tower. Thus, with some help from a traitorous former professor named Henry Valdemir and a few former students in their ranks, the Nazi occultists managed to breach the isle’s defenses and bomb the White School, destroying or damaging several of the ancient halls and buildings on its campus.
But just as the Nazis were about to land their bombers on the island and claim the Clock Tower and all the other treasures there as their own, the isle vanished, sinking rapidly into the sea while seemingly dissipating into nothingness, causing those Nazi mystics to crash and drown in the ocean. The protective spells ended up saving all but a few of the faculty and students present, returning all the residents to their respective Earths, while another spell caused the island and the school to be mostly forgotten by anyone who ever heard of it, except as a faraway dream world like Avalon. The island’s defenses should have been effective against the attack, especially when combined with the talents of the Homo Magi professors and students who resided there. But perhaps the island had a certain sentience of its own, and it had decided that the day of the White School was over, and that it was time for a new era to begin.
It was rumored that a young Gareth Gallowglass had been one of the White School’s last students at the mere age of seven prior to his becoming the team mascot for the Sentinels of Magic, a World War II-era team of adventurers of Earth-One who died on Grim Island, while another rumor claimed that the prodigy had not only been born on the island of Tourmaline, but was spirited away to the mainland for his safety at two years old after Valdemir murdered his parents, fellow professors at the White School. (*) But Headmaster Gallowglass had never even acknowledged the existence of the White School in all his time on Grim Island. Atom wondered why that was. Perhaps, if the island really had a consciousness of its own, it may have chosen Mr. Gallowglass as its new master and protector, even if he wasn’t very forthcoming about any of the details with anyone but his most trusted advisors, Earth-One’s Doctor Mist and the wizard Shazam himself.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Sentinels of Magic: Times Past, 1948: Sacrifices Must Be Made.]
When Grim Island came into existence three years later, literally boiling up from the sea in the South Pacific, no one could have easily guessed what connection, if any, it had with the isle of Tourmaline or the White School. But when Captain Marvel and four mystical heroes from the other Earths convinced young Gary Gallowglass to found a school on Grimoire Island, it was almost as if destiny stepped in and took over. (*) Only Mr. Gallowglass knew the whole truth, but by the time Captain Marvel and the others returned to see how the construction of the school was coming along, they were astonished to find the Grimoire Academy and each of its respective halls, as well as the Clock Tower and other notable buildings, already fully built. They had at first assumed that young Gallowglass, with his talent for creating things out of nothing, had done it all himself, yet he never made any claims to doing so. But rumors soon abounded that the old isle of Tourmaline in the Mid-Atlantic had somehow reconstituted itself as Grim Island in the South Pacific, and all of the ancient halls of the White School had sprung back into existence on Grim Island in modified forms, perhaps having only waited for the moment when Gareth Gallowglass, the island’s new master, had allowed them to.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: The Books of Magic: Times Past, 1951: Founding Fathers.]
It was a mystery, one of many surrounding the island’s history. But the White School was no longer, having been replaced by Grimoire Academy and its gray walls. And only a close mystical inspection could reveal that they were were one and the same, with only cosmetic differences. Perhaps the island had needed time to heal, or perhaps it had been dragged into the mystical realm known as Darkworld or perhaps even Hell itself during the attack by the Thule Society, and had taken three years to claw itself back out into reality. In any case, the very same magic that had protected the isle of Tourmaline for centuries now protected its successor, Grim Island. That protective magic had accumulated and merged with underground pools of natural mana, then began to seep into the very heart of Grim Island, slowly imbuing the isle with a semblance of mystical life and awareness. It was this awareness that now perceived the unnatural threats posed by the invaders Blaze and Satanus and joined in the battle.
Magical fire washed from the hands of the two demons and flared toward the incoming heroes. Then, from nowhere, a powerful wind rose up, driving the flames back at the intruders. The four Marys flashed toward the pair of demons and attacked with all their power.
Mary Marvel slammed a roundhouse right to Blaze’s jaw, while Valley Mary connected to her stomach with a super-powered side-kick, accompanied by a powerful shout: “Kai-ai!” At the same time, Posh Mary slammed viciously into the side of Satanus’ neck like a guided missile, while Mary Belle tackled him at the knees. Both demons were slammed into the thick wooden doors, which virtually disintegrated into splinters with a crashing noise like an exploding artillery shell. As they fell, stony hands grew from the floor and held them down firmly.
Blaze screamed in anger, and the hands exploded violently. “Go, brother, and rescue the Space Ghoul! I will rend these abhorrent children until they beg for my nonexistent mercy!” She began to grow in size, while Satanus flew at high speed down one of the intersecting corridors. Blaze swept her giant (and still growing) arm in a vicious arc toward the heroines.
“Split!” Mary Marvel ordered her friends as she flew up and over the blow. “Mary Belle, you’re with me.” She and Mary Belle flashed down the corridor after Satanus, while Valley, Posh, and the late-arriving Atom Blake carried the fight to Blaze. Mary Belle was the least dangerous fighter of the Lieutenant Marys, so Mary Marvel was making her teams as even as possible. Satanus had slowed for just an instant, and the two Marys slammed into him like twin missiles, knocking him against a wall, which bulged powerfully and slammed him back at them. Mary Marvel unloaded another roundhouse, and the demon skidded farther down the corridor on his back, digging a groove into the ancient marble floor. Mary Belle quickly flashed ahead and landed on his chest with both feet, driving him more deeply into the floor, which finally gave up and shattered — and the battling foes dropped into the basement.
Valley Mary was a student of karate, and she was practicing the precise science of blows and kicks on Blaze. Posh Mary’s style was that of a Liverpool football hooligan, fast and cruel, using elbows and knees viciously. Atom was using his magic to try to restrain the demoness, and Grimoire Island itself protected the heroes while occasionally pummeling Blaze as well. Soon she had flames leaking through rents in her ghastly demonic skin, her left arm hung loosely, and she limped as her right knee stiffened to the point where she could no longer bend it. By rights, she should have escaped by vanishing into her own dimension, something even the magic of the island couldn’t prevent. But instead, she stayed and painfully battled on.
Satanus was taking an equal beating as he tried to move through the basement. Mary Belle knew no fighting styles, so she emulated sports, using football tackles to knock Satanus from his feet or battering him with a length of pipe like a baseball bat. Mary Marvel forged steadily ahead, battering him with lefts and rights to his head and body as he would stumble backward. Though he was also taking serious damage like his sister, leaking flames and having problems using his limbs, he continued to retreat rather than escape to his own dimension. Finally, the attacking heroines trapped him with his back to a wall, and he could retreat no farther. Bleeding flame, with one eye swollen shut and the demonic equivalent of broken ribs, and one leg almost completely worthless, he faced the Marys for his final stand.
The charged him at their top speed, flashing down the corridor like runaway missiles. Satanus had fooled them just a little, and he managed to twist and turn, causing both Marys to miss him and crash into the wall. There was an explosion of mystical energy as powerful wards reinforcing the walls shattered, instantly and violently, temporarily stunning the unsuspecting heroines, who fell to the floor, dazed.
“Fools!” the demon roared at them triumphantly. “The wards on this room were proof even against my magic. Without your help, I couldn’t have entered here!” Before they could recover, he was moving toward a table upon which something lay, covered by a sheet. He pulled off that sheet to reveal a green corpse, which Mary Marvel recognized instantly.
“It’s the Space Ghoul! But why would you want to rescue a corpse?” she asked the battered demon as she rolled over and started to struggle to her feet.
“He’s not a corpse. His species can enter a state of suspended animation when they are severely injured,” the demon replied. He snapped his fingers, and the corpse sat up.
“Too bad your species doesn’t have that option!” Mary Belle shouted as she again charged to the attack.
“Too late, fools!” the demon shouted in triumph. He leaped forward, and the instant he touched the now-revived alien, they disappeared. In the entrance hall above, the battered Blaze vanished at the same instant.
A few minutes later, the Mary Marvels and Atom Blake were back in his room, discussing the incident.
“We beat the crap out of those demons!” Atom crowed triumphantly, almost shouting. “But I don’t understand one thing,” he said, pausing with a curious look on his face, waiting until he had the attention of all four girls. “Why was rescuing the Space Ghoul so important to them that they let us beat them up so bad? Why didn’t they just give up and go home as soon as they realized how badly we were wiping them out?”
The girls looked at each other with knowing grins, and shared a chuckle of secret amusement. “Why, Atom, surely even you must know…” Mary Marvel started to reply.
And all the others joined in. “…that demons are a ghoul’s best friend!”