by Dan Swanson
Chapter 30 — A Thorny Situation ####### CHAPTER 27
The various heroes tried desperately to protect their fallen foes from the sickening yellow-green flames, but nothing they did affected these flames at all.
Super-speed-generated vacuums, a giant golden-energy fire extinguisher, smothering the flames with knockout vapor, a good old fashioned punch — nothing worked. They watched in horror as the life energy was sucked out of their now-dying opponents, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
Bulletwoman quickly pulled a smelling salt capsule from her belt and broke it under Sandy’s nose. “Oh my God get that away from me!” Sandy was shouting almost before she actually woke up! The rest of the heroes backed away; they didn’t need to be reminded how bad those things smelled!
“Sandy, you’re the only one who might be able to save these people!” Sue said intently. “You have to use your magic! Fight it, Sandy!”
Sandy was feeling awful — she had never touched anything so horrible before. But Sue wasn’t going to leave her alone until she did something. She held her right hand out, fingers pointing to the sky, and moved it slowly in a figure eight motion. Her own magic reached out like a mist, and surrounded one of the horrid flames, and then permeated it. Her spell then allowed her to analyze this awful spell, and within short instants, she knew the spell as well as if she had created it herself. And she felt even sicker.
“I’m sorry, Sue. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. It was too late before we even ran into these guys. They weren’t really alive — they were all animated by this awful magic. It was eating them the whole time; absorbing them, absorbing their powers. And now, all that magic is combining into something even more awful and hideous — and unimaginably powerful!”
Sue’s enhanced intuition told her there was more going on here, and that Sandy was a key to it. While the others kept trying to fight against the green flames and smoke, Sue asked more questions.
“Sandy, I’ve never heard of magic like this before. How is it possible?”
“This spell wouldn’t work anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s the ancient magick that permeates this place that makes it possible. We have to get away!”
But it was sort of too late for that…
As each unconscious form had weakened, the flame above it had grown. When all the magical energy had been leached from each unfortunate being, that flame would lift away from the desiccated husk of a corpse, and follow the drifting smoke, joining with the other smoke and flames. As more and more flames joined in, a monstrous outline had appeared, and then began to fill in. It was hard to focus on the growing outline — the color of the flames and smoke caused many of the heroes to become nauseated, and the others were at least uneasy. If you were looking at this column of filth, your mind insisted on moving your eyes elsewhere, and it took a concentrated, consistent effort to keep your attention on this gross phenomenon — but the heroes knew they had better pay attention. Something this hideous had to portend deadly danger!
By now, the heroes watched with awe and dread as the smoke and flames coalesced into a solid form. Perhaps because the dragon Cap fought had been the largest of their foes, it had the general shape of a dragon — but features adapted from their other foes could be seen as well.
Perhaps the size of a DC-10, with a head something like a snake — but with long stalks where the eyes would be, and several large faceted eyes on each stalk like beads on a string… the body looked much like a classical dragon of legend, except that it was covered with red thorns, dripping red goo, instead of scales. And eight legs, long, spider-like legs ending in terrible claws. The tail ended in a hooked stinger, somewhat like a scorpion. And there were claws at the joints of the bat-like wings. While some dragons are beautiful to human eyes, this one was so ugly it made them feel queasy. Or maybe it was the fear pheromone adapted from the spider?
“Spread out! Don’t give it a single target!” Captain Thunder yelled.
All the heroes headed for cover, and a good thing, because the beast finally finished materializing, and it breathed a blast of fire at the spot they had been standing. And laser beams blasted from each of the faceted eyes. The deck where these energies hit was immediately turned into a bubbling pool of molten metal.
Bolt burst from cover, moving at less than his top speed, in order to be sure the dragon saw him. As soon as it noticed him, the beast breathed again, this time blasting a sickly green mist at the speedster. He accelerated, and avoided the blast, and Captain Thunder used that momentary distraction to blast from cover himself, and slam into the side of the dragon’s head with all his power — carefully avoiding the gooey thorns, as his past experience showed him that even his invulnerability was at risk in this battle! And he only bounced off, his flight deflected somewhat, while the dragon seemed not to notice…
“Creepies! What can we possibly do against this beast?” he wondered. Before he could recover his balance, the dragon tried to impale him with its stinger. Cap was able to dodge the sharp end of the stinger, but the tail caught him with an incredibly powerful blow, smashing him from the air into the pool of boiling metal. As soon as he splashed down, the dragon breathed ice on the metal and it instantly hardened again. With Cap out of the way, the dragon turned its attention to the rest of the team.
Golden Arrow, Pinky and Mr. Scarlet had quickly reached the conclusion that the three of them could not battle this monster directly. But they refused to be left out of the fight. After a quick consultation, the two heroes in red pulled canisters from their utility guns, and with a couple of wraps of wire from their wirepoons, Golden Arrow attached these canisters to two arrows. He fired them in quick succession while Bolt was distracting the beast again, and he scored direct hits on both eye stalks, even though the long flexible stalks were waving around! The arrows shattered, rather than hurting the beast, but they had expected that. The canisters burst and coated the eyes with a sticky red powder. It was supposed to be sleepy powder, but it temporarily blinded the dragon.
The magnetic controller Bulletman used to deflect bullets had reacted strongly to the appearance of this beast. It was surrounded by a magnetic field, too! Nobody was shooting at him right now, and this monster was more dangerous than anything else he might encounter here anyway, so he took a risk. He pulled the magnetic control module, which he usually used to protect himself from bullets, a rectangular box about six inches by two inches by an inch, from its covered socked on his helmet, flipped open the controls, and set it to oscillate wildly and turned up the power as much as he could. He then flew over the dragon and dropped the magnetic controller onto its back. The beast reacted as if someone had stuck it with a hot needle!
Bulletman was stunned by what happened next! The dragon turned its head, and the neck stretched until the beast was able to breathe on itself on the middle of its back — and it did! A flood of acid squirted over the armored back and the magnetic controller was melted almost instantly.
“Sandy, the spell that it used? Could you use it on us?”
“Are you crazy, Sue?!” Sunbeam yelled. The three women had taken cover together, and Sue was keeping the other two out of the battle for right now. She was still playing to her intuition. The other two heroines, much less experienced, were willing to follow her lead, at least for now.
“No. I won’t! It would kill us all!” Sandy was incredulous. “Are you crazy?” She was screaming!
Sue could tell that Sandy right on the edge of hysteria. Well, she had never been in a situation like this before, and Sue could sympathize. But the heroes needed her, right now, so Sue had to keep pushing her! If they lived, Sandy would have the rest of her life to get hysterical. Of course, if she got hysterical right now, she probably would be hysterical for the rest of her life — a very short rest of her life!
“Sandy, you’re really good at adapting spells for your own use. And creating new ones, too, I’ve watched you. Is there any way you could use your magic to combine our powers in one of us, like that dragon did? Without killing us all?”
With Sue’s calm direction, Sandy calmed down somewhat as well. She concentrated for a minute, and then nodded her head. “I can’t do that, but maybe I can do something just as good! See, instead of…”
“Don’t tell us, just do it!” Sue suggested, urgently.
“Uh, OK, but we will need everyone to make it work, including Captain Thunder!”
Sue turned to Sunbeam. “Carol, can your power get Captain Thunder out of there? Please try! And you guys stay hidden until I get back!” and she zoomed away, looking for Bolt.
She caught up to him quickly — or rather, she let him see her, and he quickly caught up to her. “Jamie, can you use your speed to help melt Captain Thunder free of that trap? And then, gather up the others and bring them all together with Sandy.” Almost before she could finish, Bolt vanished, and she saw a blur using super-speed to try to melt the solidified metal holding Captain Thunder.
The dragon was just about to clear its eyes, so they only had a few more seconds. Carol created a giant jackhammer, which battered the cooled floor, and Bolt was able to quickly heat it, not enough to melt but enough to soften. And Cap was, of course, trying to break out from inside. The combined force was enough — Cap burst out of the softened metal and quickly smashed into the dragon one more time, distracting it for another few seconds, although he didn’t hurt it.
Sandy turned to Carol. “OK, use your power to make a giant hero — big enough to fight that thing!”
“I don’t know if I can!” Carol countered, with a quiver in her voice. “And even if I do, I can’t give it enough power to fight this monster. And besides, which hero?”
Sandy actually chuckled. “Power doesn’t matter. Who doesn’t matter. A boyfriend, one of our teammates, even yourself. Just do it!”
“Please, Carol?” asked Bulletwoman. “It may be our only chance!” Even though she had no idea what Sandy was going to do, she trusted her teammate.
Carol concentrated and an instant later, they were dwarfed by a giant copy of Atomic Rocket. Sue looked at her with a question, but didn’t ask it. This wasn’t the time for idle chit-chat!
“Now, Sue, you have to get everyone to touch the figure at the same time! And then say ‘Shazam!'”
Now Sue had to wonder if Sandy was crazy! “The magic word only works for member of the Marvel Family!” she reminded her younger partner.
“Don’t worry — I’m not using it as a magic spell, but a tool to focus all of our minds at the same time. Get going, Carol can’t maintain the giant very long!”
Especially as the dragon had noticed the giant, and turned toward them to attack. At that instant, all the heroes converged on Sunbeam’s giant warrior figure, and together they all said “Shazam!” At the same time, Sandy cast her spell. The result was nothing short of incredible!
From the outside, it was a spectacular show! All nine heroes vanished in a brilliantly intense blast of light, and the giant yellow figure changed form and color. Facing the dragon was now a human giant, female and muscled like a weightlifter, wearing a costume that was something of a jumbled hodgepodge of all the heroes’ costumes, and carrying a bow and a pistol. The dragon was big, but the giant heroine — perhaps an ultraheroine, let’s call her Synthesis — looked like she might be up to the task!
Inside was chaos! While this incredible body was shared, each mind remained separate. And they all seemed to have equal access to the nervous system! Captain Thunder was trying to fly, while Mr. Scarlet was trying to shoot his pistol, and Golden Arrow nock an arrow, etc. There were so many conflicting commands to the body that it looked like it was having a fit — it just stood there and shivered! And although their minds had not been melded, each hero could ‘hear’ all of the others ‘talking’ and they were all talking at once, and then it escalated into shouting, and the inside was cacophony!
At that instant, the dragon charged at Synthesis, emitting an ultra-sound blast from its mouth and shooting lasers from several of the faceted eyes. Though Synthesis was paralyzed by the conflicts within ‘her’ ‘mind’, she had Captain Thunder’s invulnerability, enhanced by Sunbeam’s magical shell, and neither sound nor laser affected her. But the dragon smashed into her, throwing her backward, and she fell splat on her rump!
Of course, this did nothing for the composure of most of the heroes making up Synthesis’ mind! Most of them were trying hard to control this giant body, as each wanted to fight!
Sandy was struggling — maintaining this merged form was requiring just about all her concentration and energy, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold it together long. The more energy the heroes exerted, the more painful it was to her, and if they didn’t stop screaming soon, she would scream herself. “Sue!” she directed a frantic thought. Sue was still riding her intuition, and she heard the young mage and responded to her.
“Sandy! What’s happening? How is this supposed to…”
“Sue, SHUT UP AND LISTEN!” Sue shut up, stunned. Nobody talked to her like that! Before she could respond, though, Sandy plunged on. Sue could hear the strain and pain she was undergoing in her mental ‘voice’. “Somebody has to take command! I don’t have the left over energy to do that. One person has to tell all the others what to do. And she needs to start by telling them all to SHUT UP AND LISTEN!”
Sue thought fast. She was best suited, she was probably the loudest, and she was the closest to Sandy. So, with all the mental power she could, she shouted!