by Cynthia Finnegan
What on Earth was the matter with me? Mary Batson thought to herself as she thought back to last summer, when she first decided to attend UCLA. I’ve seen people die horribly before, but when I told Billy and Freddy that I was chucking it all and moving? That’s wasn’t like me at all. And the looks Mom and Dad gave me at the airport; they were heartbroken. I guess they thought that I’d change my mind and go to NYU. With all that happened to me after I got here, I’m beginning to think that I should’ve.
Mary had been regretting many of her decisions since she’d landed at LAX, especially the decision to retire her alter ego, Mary Marvel, the world’s mightiest girl. Ever since she arrived at UCLA, there had been nothing but trouble.
Trouble came in the form of the demoness Blaze, who had been after Mary, her twin brother Billy Batson, and Freddy Freeman for the longest time, after entering Blaze’s realm to rescue Mr. Bromfield, Mary’s adoptive father, years ago. Blaze had been trying to get her hooks into her ever since, and she had succeeded, unbeknownst to Mary, thanks to her minion, one Nick Damiano by name. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Mary Marvel: To Fight No More.]
But Blaze’s plans had backfired on her, for an attack on her had made Mary begin reconsidering her decision to retire as the world’s mightiest girl. And when Sabbac tried to rob her parents during a party while she was visiting home, Mary hardly needed to think twice before saying the magic word and becoming Mary Marvel once more. After helping stop the Black Pharaoh alongside Shazam’s Squadron of Justice, Mary only transformed a couple more times after that. (*) The first time was when she was made a previously scheduled appearance at Hoppy World, and she was forced to fight the Black Rat. (*) The second time was when Black Adam returned, and that had been nearly four months ago now. (*) Still, during those few times she’d only ever acted as Mary Marvel while she was away from UCLA. Thus, in a way, she had kept to her decision, but only on a technicality.
Mary looked at herself critically one more time. Now that it was June, and she was at the end of her horrible second semester, that lousy perm she had gotten in her first semester was finally laying right, and her new outfit would surely impress Freddy, who would be visiting today.
Maybe I should talk to Freddy about my run-in with Blaze last fall, Mary thought. I knew I couldn’t talk to Billy about it; he’d want to march straight down to her realm and confront her, and I didn’t want him to get hurt.
Hmm… I will tell Freddy about what happened. And if Blaze wants a fight, she’ll have a big one on her clawed hands. And I’m just the girl to give her one, Mary thought with grim determination.
“Hey, Mary!” Mary’s roommate, Linda Lee, called out from the bathroom. “Wow, you look awesome! Got a hot date?”
Mary grinned and said, “Something like that. A friend of mine’s visiting, and I wanted to look nice.”
Linda made a decidedly un-ladylike snort. “He have a brother?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think that Chris is your type.”
A tall, statuesque girl with dark auburn hair entered and asked, “Who’s Chris, and why wouldn’t he be Lee’s type? He’s breathing, isn’t he?”
Mary remembered her; she was a pre-med student named Samantha. “Chris wouldn’t be Lin’s type, because he’s too young for her.”
Sam, who could almost match Captain Marvel for height, applied her lipstick in the mirror. “How young?” she asked after blotting her lips with a tissue.
“Fourteen,” Mary responded.
“That’s young,” Linda said.
“You know, I really like living in an all-girls dorm,” Sam quipped, changing the subject. “No guys hogging all the hot water!”
“At least it’s not like the restroom at my sister’s law firm back in Boston,” a pretty Asian named Tamryn chimed in. Tamryn, like Sam, was pre-med.
“How’s that?” Mary asked innocently enough.
“Unisex; ladies and gents.”
Linda, Samantha, and Mary all cried out, “Eeewww!” in unison, with Linda adding, “That is so gross!”
Mary lingered long enough to apply some blush and a pale pink lip-color. She had looked a little wan of late, and the blush gave her a bit of color. She checked her pale blue sweater and jeans once again when a clap of thunder struck, seemingly from across the quad.
“Well, I’d better get going,” she said. “My friend’s here, and I don’t want to keep him waiting!”
Mary ran down the stairs, out the door, and walked briskly to the quad. When she arrived, she searched for a familiar face among the unfamiliar ones. She found who she was searching for and called his name.
“Hello, gorgeous,” the handsome young man called out, his face split in a broad grin.
“Hi yourself, handsome,” Mary replied as she gave him an affectionate hug. “Oooh, Freddy, I’ve missed you so much!”
“I’ve missed you, too, Mary. Now ease up, or you’ll burst my spleen!”
“Oh! Sorry,” she said contritely, releasing her hold on him.
“Don’t be. If it weren’t for this,” he held up his crutch for a moment, “I’d’ve squished you, too.” As Freddy put his arm around her, he felt Mary tense for an instant, then relax.
Amazing, he thought, from what Billy told me of all those hard exams she had this semester, I was half-expecting her to have turned into the wild woman of Borneo by now, but she looks absolutely beautiful. “So,” he added. “What’s been going on since you got back here?”
With that, she blurted out everything she’d done since returning to Los Angeles after her last visit home, not even leaving out the smallest detail. And, as she promised herself earlier, she even told Freddy about her confrontation with Blaze last year. As he listened to her intently, an earthquake chose that moment to strike. The tremor was strong enough to knock the pair off their feet.
“Whoa!” Freddy exclaimed. “Was that what I think it was?!”
“Yup, ‘fraid so. I don’t know how anyone ever gets used to them.”
“What do you want to do about Blaze?” he asked, retrieving his crutch.
“You believe me?!” Mary exclaimed as she helped him to his feet.
“Of course I believe you. Your story’s too fantastic not to be true. So, what do you want to do?”
“I-I don’t know — go to her realm, confront her, get her to leave us alone — something, anything!” She took a deep breath. “Will you help me, Freddy? I’d ask Billy, but I don’t want to put him in any danger. Besides, you know how overprotective he gets sometimes.”
Freddy’s response to Mary’s question surprised them both. He kissed her. Granted, it was only a lingering brush of his lips to hers, but a kiss was still a kiss.
After they parted, he said, “All you had to do was ask.”
Shortly, they began to look for a secluded area to say their magic words. Mary had been worried about that; it had been weeks since she used her powers. When they found a good location, they faced each other and cried:
The two were answered by twin blasts of magic lightning, transforming them into Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior. This feels so… right, Mary decided. I should’ve never given this up, not in any way, shape, or form.
“You ready?” Junior asked.
“I’m ready. Let’s go. I’d like to stop at the Rock of Eternity first and talk to the wizard. Then next stop, Blaze’s realm.”
On an abyssal plain, a pair of bright blue eyes peered into a ball of flames, watching the pair rocket into the sky. The demoness’ laughter, beginning as a harsh raven’s caw, changed into a much softer, almost familiar tone.
“Oh, this is too perfect!” Blaze said, laughter still bubbling in her throat. “Instead of just Mary’s soul, and yours, my sweet, I’ll have Freddy Freeman’s as well! I couldn’t have planned this better!”
As the demoness’ changed laughter rang out, the lesser demons cowered, trying to hide from their mistress, and her captive, bound and gagged in the shadows, struggled to break free.
“Hello, Billy Batson’s office, may I help you?” Joan Jameson asked into the receiver.
On the other end of the line was Dudley, Billy’s honorary uncle. The elder gentleman sounded concerned. “Ah, Ms. Jameson,” Dudley exclaimed, “thank heavens I got you! Is my nephew there, by any chance?”
“No. He hasn’t been here since the night before last. He said he wasn’t feeling well and left early. I thought he was over that bout of pneumonia.”
“He was, and I don’t believe he was relapsing.”
“Have you tried him at home?” Joan tried to sound optimistic.
“I have, m’dear; he’s not there, either. Ms. Jameson, I am truly worried about the lad.”
“Well, what about Freddy? Has he seen Billy?”
“Freddy hied himself to the City of Angels this morning to visit with Mary. I don’t expect him back until late tonight.” Dudley paused for a moment, as a look of horror flitted across his features. “I’m beginning to suspect that Billy’s been abducted.”
“Are you sure?”
“Not entirely, but it would explain a few things.”
“Look, Dudley, I’ll keep a watch out for him, but if Billy doesn’t show up in one of his usual haunts, call the police, because if he’s in trouble, it might not be something that Captain Marvel can get him out of.”
Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior rocketed away from the campus. They flew faster and faster until they exceeded the speed of light, which flung them out of the space-time continuum. As they approached the fabled Rock of Eternity, the young heroes saw that the old wizard, Shazam, was not alone.
“Greetings, my children. I know that you have come about Blaze, but there is something urgent that–”
“Uncle Dudley? What are you doing here?” Mary interrupted as she landed beside the elder gentleman.
“Mary! Freddy, m’lad! Have either of you seen Billy at all lately?” Dudley queried, almost frantic.
“No, Unc,” Junior replied. “I haven’t seen him since he got back from visiting Mary a couple of weeks ago. Why? What’s wrong?”
Dudley faced the pair. A certain amount of dread crept into his voice as he spoke. “Billy’s disappeared. His secretary said that no one at WHIZ has seen him for two days. I also checked with the Potters; they hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him, either.”
“Oh, no. Please, God, don’t let her have him,” Mary whispered fervently.
Shazam finally got a word in, and it wasn’t good. “I’m afraid so, child. Blaze has your twin captive in her realm. She means to use him as bait for you.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“So she can finish what she started months ago — stealing your souls.”
On the abyssal plane, Blaze, looking more and more like Mary, interrogated her captive again. She felt a perverse pleasure in this one’s torment, slowing the young man’s time-sense so that his torture would raise more power. His entire body was a mass of cuts and bruises in various stages of healing, and all he felt was searing, intense pain.
“Shuh… shazaah…” he moaned, trying to get the word out, his voice a hoarse whisper from screaming.
“Ssshh, my sweet. Your sister will come for you soon, I promise,” the demoness answered, wiping a drop of blood from the fresh gash on his cheek.
“Wh… why ah… are you… doing this to… to her?”
“Oh, let me think… because I feel like it? Because the three of you sneak into my realm — my realm! — and steal her foster-father’s soul from me?! And then you return him to the living? That isn’t done, not without a forfeit. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because you’re my father’s favorites. That’s why you’re here. I don’t forgive, and I don’t forget. One of you owes me my due, a soul, and I just want to take my pick.”
“Yes. They’ll be here soon, sweetling, your sister and your friend. I’d better put you where they’ll find you easily; then, the trap will be set.”
Blaze looked at the smudge of blood she wiped from Billy Batson’s face. The blood of an innocent is always the sweetest, she thought with a smile.
Four months ago:
How long have I been at this, anyway? Captain Marvel thought as the minutes that felt like hours of fighting Black Adam began to blur together. Thanks to the stamina of Atlas, he was far from tired, but the nonstop battle was getting tiresome, and they had somehow managed to lose Mary and Junior a while ago. To top things off, Adam seemed to be herding the Captain toward the Hudson River, not to mention keeping him on the defensive. But why?
“All right, Adam. I have definitely had enough of this malarkey. Why don’t you just say the magic word, change back to Teth-Adam, let the police take you back to jail, and make our lives all a whole lot easier?” he said, swinging a haymaker at Adam’s pointed chin.
“And why don’t you be silent!” the villain retorted as he did the impossible; he dodged the oncoming blow with unnerving ease. Before the Captain could regain his bearings, Adam snaked his hand out and grabbed the lower half of the hero’s face in a vise-like grip.
Black Adam’s fingers dug into his foe’s cheekbones and lower jaw, while the palm of his hand was pressed tightly over the Captain’s mouth to keep him quiet. Captain Marvel even tried opening his mouth to bite him, but Adam positioned his hand in such a way as to prevent the hero from moving his jaw at all. As the world’s mightiest villain held his struggling enemy, he shot the world’s mightiest mortal a look of venomous triumph. Adam knew he had the younger man at a disadvantage as he uttered a single word.
At super-speed, Black Adam watched as the magic lightning arced toward them. At the last possible instant, he twisted them both around so that the mystic bolt struck Captain Marvel, changing him back into his mortal form of Billy Batson.
Realizing that he was only an inch or two above the bay, the look of shock on Billy’s face was quickly replaced by terror as the black-clad villain plunged the teenager into the icy waters of the bay in an attempt to drown him.
In the present, Billy Batson awoke with a start, shivering. He was gagged again, but still bound to the stone framework where Blaze had given him his most recent beating. He didn’t know how long he had been trapped in this little corner of the netherworld, but as day after torturous day wore on, his hopes of rescue had begun to fade.
Until today. Mary and Freddy now had full knowledge of what had happened to him. But the demoness had mentioned his being bait.
If Mary and Freddy wind up trapped here… He shuddered at the thought. In the distance, he heard his captor having a screaming match with her male counterpart, a demon named Satanus, who, oddly enough, had been on Earth disguised as Billy.
“Very bloody funny, sister! It was bad enough being banished to the earthly plane, but to be given this face, form, and the memories that go with them…”
“Was sheer genius, brother,” Blaze replied smoothly. “Think about it; if I hadn’t bespelled you into a perfect doppelgänger of Billy Batson, one that would even fool Father into bestowing his powers to you, the brat would have been missed, now wouldn’t he?”
“You’re right. It was brilliant. But why haven’t you broken the spell, yet? And why have you magicked yourself to look like Mary Batson?”
“That, brother dear, is my secret.”
Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior both looked like they’d been sideswiped when they found out about Billy.
“How long has he been there?” Mary asked, her face a mask of conflicting emotions.
Shazam replied, “My child, the length of time isn’t as important…”
“How long?!” she screamed, trembling with barely concealed rage.
“Four months, as you reckon time.”
“Four months?!” Junior exclaimed, barely able to keep his own feelings in check. “Then, that means Billy was taken when Black Adam tried to drown him!”
“At the very moment he was submerged.”
“Who took Billy’s place? And how was this… this thing able to fool you?” Mary asked, still shaking, but her voice a little more controlled.
“A demon called Satanus. Blaze suppressed his memories of himself and used your brother’s mind as a template. I did not know of this switch until two days ago, largely because the false Billy Batson never dared to attempt to transform into Captain Marvel.”
Dudley had been listening to the three, but unlike his honorary niece and nephew, he was thinking beyond raw pain, trying to come up with a few good ideas about retrieving Billy from the demoness’ grasp.
“Kids, listen. This whole thing has to be a trap — a very elaborate one, but a trap nonetheless. This Blaze creature seems to be counting on the two of you marching into Hell, so…”
“So why not give her what she wants?” Mary said sourly. “That rotting cow has been after me long enough. If it’s a fight she wants, it’s a fight she’s going to lose. Let’s go.” That last remark was addressed to Junior. The thought of her twin spending all that time in the clutches of the demoness was making her angrier by the moment.
“Hang on a sec,” he replied, then flew to the top of the Rock of Eternity. A moment later, the world’s mightiest boy returned with three yellow, daisy-like flowers tucked into his belt. They were moley flowers, the one thing that would give them safe passage into, and out of, Blaze’s realm.
“Now we’re ready,” Junior said as he landed. He handed one of the yellow blossoms to his lovely partner, which she tucked into her own belt. “Let’s find Billy and see if we can’t bring him back.”
As the youthful pair headed toward the black whirlpool that marked the passageway to the abyssal plane, Dudley and Shazam watched the retreating forms, hoping against hope that they would succeed in their mission.
“Why didn’t you tell Mary about the — what did you call them? — hooks that demoness put on her?” Dudley asked.
“Because she already knows about them,” Shazam replied gravely, turning toward the temple. “Come, Dudley. We can monitor their progress on the Historama.”
As Mary and Junior disappeared into the whirlpool, the world’s mightiest girl had a disturbing thought. If there’s no other way out, I’ll trade myself for the boys’ safety. Demons can’t resist a good deal when they hear one.
And, in her corner of Hell, the demoness laughed.