by Libbylawrence and Brian K. Asbury
The Rock of Eternity was a place in which time had no meaning. However, to the captive, bound, and gagged Marvel Family, the time they had spent imprisoned by an odd conglomeration of villains led by their old foe Black Adam and a sinister old wizard seemed like an endless nightmare.
Billy Batson, of the colorful red shirt with the yellow collar, glanced over to where three other men named Billy Batson lay stunned. These three Lieutenant Marvels partook of his own superhuman powers through a fluke centered on the fact that they were also named Billy Batson, although each man came from a different geographic region, and each was physically different.
The other Billys still haven’t stirred! he mused. Darkling’s magic brought us all here to what looks a whole lot like a part of the Rock of Eternity. They’ve been as still as statues! I sure hope Chain Lightning’s bolt didn’t seriously hurt them.
He knew his sister Mary Batson and his pal Freddy Freeman were both awake, although they, too, were unable to free themselves. The gags were not necessary to prevent the trio from shouting their respective words of power that would normally transform them from three brave but normal youths to the legendary Marvels. This was because of the power the cocky blonde woman named Chain Lightning possessed. She could absorb their magical lightning, although in the past she had never displayed a particularly skillful use of this aspect of her electrically charged abilities.
Mary’s expressive eyes were saddened but determined as she noticed the other heroes who were captives of the evil group. The patriotic Minute Man was doing something with his bound hands. They were behind his back, but Mary figured the resourceful hero was attempting to escape from the tightly knotted ropes. He gave her a wink of encouragement, and she nodded in recognition. Next to Minute Man rested the bound forms of Mister Scarlet, Spy Smasher, and Bulletman and Bulletgirl. All of the heroes had tried to rescue the Marvels, and all of them had been ruthlessly beaten by Black Adam, Black Athena, Black Sheba, Black Dionysius, and their new allies, Chain Lightning and Darkling.
She had noticed that the magically gifted Caitlin O’Malley, the Mighty Isis, and even Ibis the Invincible were trapped in a different manner. Black smoke rose up around them and encased them in a murky, semisolid tomb.
Darkling smiled and said, “That’s right, Mary! Your magical friends have fallen to my own magic! They won’t speak their spells or use their talismans while the Stygian mists choke the very air out of them. It is all they can do to remain alive!”
Mary lowered her eyes and took stock of their plight. She knew that Pinky the Whiz Kid was free, as was their beloved but powerless Uncle Marvel. Poor Uncle Dudley! she thought with a sigh. He can’t do much against such odds! Still, he did trick Black Adam into speaking the magic word and changing from the superhuman Black Adam to the mortal Teth-Adam when we first fought that widow’s-peaked creep! I sure regret the fact that old Shazam ever granted that evil Egyptian the ability to gain powers like the ones he gave us.
Freddy Freeman was sore, in more ways than one. He had been trying to break free from the ropes ever since the magical Darkling brought them all from the cave in which they were all first trapped in this odd realm. He also figured it to be some part of the almost infinitely large Rock of Eternity, and like Billy and Mary, he wondered again and again where the wise and powerful old wizard Shazam was. Surely he could help them against their foes, including the evil wizard who so resembled him.
He heard Chain Lightning whisper to Darkling as she glared warily at Black Sheba and Black Athena. “The stud is a real hunk, but those two witches are getting on my nerves!” she said. “Anyway, why are we still here?” she asked insistently. “We were just going to steal the power I detected from that place they were hiding out in and then split!”
Before Darkling could answer, the evil wizard appeared out of the shadows and smiled. He turned to the two women and said, “Aye, that was your intent! However, that would not have pleased me. Thus, I had the dark forces that had birthed yon Darkling urge her to obey me and to force you to do so as well!”
Darkling scowled and said, “He is telling the truth. As soon as he appeared right after we defeated his allies, and you sapped their powers, the infernal forces that I serve spoke to me. They said to do as he said in every way!”
Black Dionysius stepped closer to them and sneered coldly. “Yeah, the old dude is righteous. You better follow his lead, babe.”
The old wizard raised his heavy eyebrows in amusement and touched the young punk on the shoulder with one withered hand. Black Dionysius screamed in pain, but made no noise, no visible sign of his torment. The wizard was displeased at the word, and he was using his magical power to secretly punish the young villain.
“Righteous? Nay, lad!” he said. “If that was so, I would be the sworn foe of this young lady instead of being in league with her own masters!”
Black Adam swaggered forward imperiously and said, “You have given me a family. You have aided us in humbling my old foes. Now, again I ask you the questions that even the wisdom of the ancients cannot answer for me. Who are you? Why do you resemble my former mentor? Why give me a family?”
The wizard laughed and said, “Patience, Teth-Adam, is a virtue. Surely that is why you possess none! Still, I will tell you a part of what you crave to know. I gave you a family, because I am part of your family as well. Indeed, you might say that you sired me!”
Black Adam scowled. “You speak nonsense!” he said. “I sired heirs, but surely not one with power like yours!”
“I spoke figuratively,” said the wizard. “Know that, long ago, the wizard who gave you your powers in ancient Egypt despaired of you because of your abuse of said power. He stripped you of that might with which you had conquered the sands of the ancient land. He also looked within his heart. Had he been blind to your true nature because of weaknesses in his own soul?
“He questioned himself again and again. He pondered the nature of evil, and he sought a means by which he could free himself, and thus any future champions who shared his power, of the foul taint of vice! He finally performed a rigorous ritual by which he banished all evil from his own nature.
“This did not make him perfect, but it did free him of many weaknesses, real or imagined, that he feared might one day lead him to err again. He banished any and all evil from his heart. There was little to be found except for vices like hubris, that any being of such might could possess!
“Still, the corruption entered another universe and stayed there for eons, until an event of a cosmic crisis threatened to disrupt the workings of the cosmos. That formless evil returned here and would have remained as naught but a malicious sentience without body or host had it not drawn upon the shadow demons that attacked the many Earths during the Crisis on Infinite Earths to add substance to its malevolent mentality.”
“You say that you are the embodiment of any evil or vice that the old wizard might have carried within his heart,” said Black Adam. “It took you eons to return here and acquire a solid form!”
The wizard nodded and said, “This may be my origin. I shall not say more. I will keep my secrets, even from those I consider family! But surely, the old dance betwixt light and darkness, dawn and twilight, good and evil, well explains my animosity for my double!”
Billy heard it all, and he stared wide-eyed at the old wizard. As the evil being rested one hand on the shoulder of Black Adam, the sleeve of his long robe fell back to reveal a small but ornate bracelet. Billy gasped, and his keen mind began to form a plan.
Holy moley! he thought. If that’s what I think it is, we may have a chance! This dance isn’t over yet!
The dark wizard, oblivious to Billy Batson’s interest in his bracelet, turned away, seemingly absorbed in his own thoughts. Billy turned his head toward Minute Man, hoping to catch his attention. If Minute Man really was on the verge of freeing himself, and if he, Billy, could somehow communicate to the patriotic hero that he should make a grab for the bracelet…
But it looked hopeless. Minute Man was completely absorbed in his own activities. One or two of the others seemed to catch Billy’s agitation, but none of them looked likely to be in a position to break free.
As he looked around, he caught sight of one of the three Lieutenant Marvels. Fat Billy Batson looked in a bad way, a very bad way. His breathing was hoarse and shallow, and his forehead beaded with sweat.
Holy moley, thought Billy. He looks as if he’s either having a heart attack or has had one only a short time ago. That makes the need to get free even more urgent!
A short distance away, Black Adam’s brow was furrowed in anger. “Are you even listening to me, old man? I said we’ve wasted enough time. Let us kill these pathetic children and their allies now, and be done with it!”
The wizard turned to face him. “No. We must wait. The Marvel Family and their friends are the bait that will bring my age-old enemy to me. He is the ultimate prize here, and when — and only when — he is mine, then you may do with these worms as you will. Until then, you must learn patience.”
Black Adam snarled and grasped the old man’s shoulder in his grip of steel. “I have been patient long enough, ancient one. They die now — I, Black Adam, declare it so!”
The wizard merely sneered. Black Adam suddenly found himself writhing on the floor, his body convulsing with pain.
“You will do as I say, Teth-Adam. Defy me, and your life is forfeit. Never forget that!”
He looked around at the various members of the Black Adam Family, who were staring in astonishment at their leader’s humiliation. Black Dionysius was remembering his own private pain.
“Well? Does any of you dare also to challenge me? Speak now!” Every one of them averted his or her eyes. “Then we will wait!”
Elsewhere in the endless tesseract that was the Rock of Eternity, the air shimmered, and three figures materialized beside the immortal wizard Shazam. A young boy in white stepped solemnly forward. “I’ve brought them, Shazam, as you asked. But I couldn’t locate the others you wanted.”
“By Jiminy,” said Uncle Dudley. “Is this where I think it is?”
“This is the Rock of Eternity,” Shazam confirmed. “Your friends are held here by our enemies, though my magicks shield our presence from them for the moment.”
“Then let’s go help them,” said Melanie Garde, AKA Pinky the Whiz Kid. “What are we waiting for?”
Shazam shook his white head. “They are many, and they have great strength. They have so far bested not only Captain Marvel and his family, but the other champions whom I guided to their aid. My counterpart is cunning; he has studied the heroes of this era and has instructed his protégés in exactly how to best them. He even almost caught me unawares.”
“While you have courage, my friends, that is not enough. You need allies — powerful allies — if you are to come off best in this conflict.”
“But… but, now hold it there just one darned minute,” blustered Uncle Dudley. “We’ve got you, haven’t we? You’re Shazam! There ain’t nobody more powerful than you!”
A ghost of a smile played about the old wizard’s lips. “Alas, my genial friend, my counterpart is every bit a match for me. And since his allies are free, and ours are imprisoned, he holds the balance for now.” He turned to Kid Eternity. “You are certain you cannot call them forth?”
Christopher Freeman shook his head. “They’re not dead, Shazam. If they were, they’d be here now. You can’t find them yourself?”
“No. They are lost to me, I fear.”
“I’m sorry?” said Pinky. “What are you talking about?”
“Shazam created other heroes besides the Marvels,” said Kid Eternity. “We’re trying to find them.”
“Why… who do you mean?” asked Dudley.
“When you were in the Suspendium,” explained Shazam, “I empowered others to fill the void. The most powerful of these were a trio of heroes who were based in Great Britain. Alas, they vanished in the year 1964, due to the effects of the Great Crisis…”
“The Crisis?” said Dudley. “But wasn’t that just a couple o’ years back?”
“The Crisis affected many eras,” said Shazam. “Different times — even different worlds — were linked for a while. I believe that my alternate Marvel Family were whisked away through time and space, but I know not to where or when. However, if I could only locate them, and bring them from wherever they are, to here — to the Rock of Eternity — then they could sway the balance back in our favor. You see, I empowered them in a different manner from Captain Marvel and his kin. The magic word they speak is not my name, and neither is the magic lightning called down, which means that Chain Lightning and the Darkling would have no power over them.”
“Then you gotta find ’em!” cried Dudley.
“Alas, I do not believe we have time,” admitted Shazam. “And neither of my creations who are currently on this world, Shiva and the original Master Man, will answer my summons. Therefore we must recruit other champions.”
“Who?” asked Pinky.
“They are scattered far and wide,” Shazam said. He raised his hand. “I shall send you to them. Some will be reluctant to help, but you must persuade them. Time is of the essence!”
He waved his hand, and a magic portal appeared in front of the heroes. They stepped forward, and the trio of Uncle Dudley, Pinky, and Kid Eternity vanished.