by Cynthia Finnegan
The oddly decorated subway train appeared in front of Shazam’s palace on the Rock of Eternity. When it settled to a stop, its doors opened with the hiss of a disgruntled dragon, and its passengers, Robyn and Caitlin O’Malley, Captain Marvel Junior, Uncle Dudley, and Mr. Tawny disembarked.
“Goddess, will you look at this place!” Robyn exclaimed as Junior helped her out. She sounded duly impressed. “What do you keep here, the Third Fleet?”
“If you think the outside’s impressive,” he replied as he gave his hand to Cait, “wait ’til you see the inside. There you go, kiddo.”
“I am not a child!” Cait retorted, her pretty elfin face blushing hotly.
“Of course you’re not,” Junior teased. “You’re a senior citizen.”
Then it was the world’s mightiest boy’s turn to blush, as Cait called him something rather rude, and instantly regretted saying it. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s all right; I shouldn’t have teased you like that,” he replied as he took a torch and led them inside. “You’re here to help Billy, and my being a — what did you call me?”
“A dozy pillock.”
“OK, a ‘dozy pillock’ isn’t helping any. Truce?”
“Truce. You’re a good person, Freddy Freeman.”
As the party approached the main chamber, they heard a piercing wail, the cry of a soul begging for release. When they entered, they saw Shazam holding Billy down by his shoulders. The young man flailed with manic strength. Caitlin, sensing urgent need, pushed past everyone and ran to the side of her patient.
“Hullo,” she said, looking directly into Billy’s fear-widened blue eyes. “My name’s Cait. I’m here to help you, but I can’t if you’re hysterical. Focus. Look in my eyes and focus.”
“I… I’ll try,” Billy replied as she placed her hand on his forehead with a feather-light touch. She went into a mild trance and reached the other out to her cousin Robyn, who took it, giving the girl strength and an anchor.
A few moments later, she felt Billy calm down, and then began the arduous task of healing him, wishing that she had the help of someone close to his soul: his sister.
As she watched her foe’s continued battle, the demoness Blaze sensed a kink beginning to form in her plans, a kink that could rob her of her prize.
I thought I took care of that little problem when I altered the name Captain Marvel Junior heard, she thought.
There were two battles being fought on this day.
On the Rock of Eternity, a young woman fought to save a young man’s soul. And on the abyssal planes, another young woman fought not only for her own soul, but her very life as well.
There’s no end to these guys! Mary Marvel thought as she waded into the demonic rank-and-file. She had been fighting the fiends for what seemed like hours, or was it only a few minutes? Time passed differently in this infernal place, and the world’s mightiest girl was beginning to lose hope.
“That’s it, girlfriend!” Blaze said, watching the battle from a distance. “The longer you fight, the more hopeless you will feel, until you’re mine!”
“Isn’t there one, or rather three things you’ve forgotten, sister?” Satanus asked, now wearing his true demonic form, having shed the form of Billy Batson, which he had been wearing for the past four months.
“I’ve forgotten nothing, brother. Even as we watch the fun here, I’ve got a horde on its way to deal with Batson, Freeman, and the two witches. They’ll cause us no more trouble.”
“Yeah, right,” he mumbled. “Famous last words. White witches are linked to the Presence itself.”
Unbeknownst to the demonic siblings, Mary had overheard every word they said. The information was priceless, but useless. She would have to escape this dread realm for it to be any good to anyone. This is one of her plans I’m gonna enjoy screwing up royally, she thought.
“Blaze!” Mary called out over the war cries of the demon hordes she fought. “I want to talk to you! Now!”
On the Rock of Eternity, Captain Marvel Junior was standing watch over his best friend, Billy Batson, and the young witch, Caitlin O’Malley. She had lain her hands on Billy only minutes ago, but already there was a difference. His bruises were fading, and the cuts that latticed his arms, legs, and torso were healing without a trace of scarring.
Robyn had gotten up, stretched, and padded across the room, raking her auburn-cast black curls out of her eyes. “Gods, am I beat!” she said, stretching again, feeling her lower back pop back in.
“I thought you said you weren’t a healer,” Freddy remarked, somewhat acidly.
“I’m not, really. I just lent Cait a little strength and gave her an anchor. What you’ve seen was all her doing, and she’s the one who’ll have the reaction headache when she’s done.”
“Yup. Happens when you’re overtaxed.”
“I should be getting back to Mary. Who knows what might be happening to her right this minute.”
He loves her, Robyn thought, and it’s not like a sister. “I can hold the fort here. I mean, I’m not exactly alone, am I?”
“Nope. You’ve got another witch, an ancient wizard, a talking tiger, and Uncle Dudley. What more do you need?”
“Let me think… my head examined?”
As Junior flew back into the black vortex that separated the abyssal planes from eternity and the ethereal planes, he thought about what would happen if he failed in his self-appointed mission.
And he shuddered.
Robyn watched Captain Marvel Junior fly off with a feeling of trepidation. The sight was not her strongest gift, since she could only sense when things were about to happen. Caitlin, on the other hand, could see future events unfold hours or even days before they occurred.
“Well,” she sighed, holding the broom, “the best cure for nervous tension is housework, and this old place could sure use some. Now, where’s that bag, and which way is east?”
Gaining her bearings, the dark-haired beauty swept in an east-west motion on all sides of Cait and Billy, forming a circle around them. When she finished, she set the broom in a corner and fished a pouch of sea salt and herbs out of the bag. Scooping out a large handful of the mixture, she poured it in a thin line around the pair, making certain that there were no gaps or blank spots in the circle she drew. Satisfied with her work, she turned to replace the pouch, and faced a very grim Shazam.
“Young lady, what in the names of the Presence do you think you are doing?” the wizard demanded.
“You know, right then you sounded exactly like my mother,” she replied matter-of-factly. “It was genuinely unnerving.”
“What were you doing?”
“Drawing a metaphorical line in the sand. It’s defensive magic; what’s in that’ll keep any nasties off the kids’ backs.”
Suddenly, a loud clang made them look to the entrance of the temple.
“Them,” Robyn said nonchalantly.
Blaze’s demon cadre had arrived on the Rock at that moment, screaming challenge. Shazam started calling down bolts of magic lightning to blast them with, while Robyn made a sweeping gesture with her arm, sending a quarter of the demons back where they came from. This was Robyn’s real gift, the ability to push or fetch things and people.
Those demons that got past the wizard and the white witch soon found themselves getting burned on the shield surrounding Cait and Billy. The sounds the demons made hitting the shield were indescribable.
“I hope that Junior gets back soon, because this is getting really redundant!” Robyn exclaimed.
“So do I, child, so do I,” Shazam replied.
Back on the abyssal plane, Captain Marvel Junior found Mary Marvel where he had left her earlier. He saw her battling Blaze and her minions, and heard her yell something as Satanus was about to waylay the girl.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that hitting girls from behind is a definite no-no?” the world’s mightiest boy quipped as he tackled the demon prince to the ground.
“You?!” Satanus bellowed in rage. “You’ll die for this!”
“Yeah, right, and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that, I could buy Mary a nice steak dinner. Now what do you say we let them settle this without interference?”
As they flew off, Mary defeated the last demon and advanced on Blaze, fists at the ready. The demoness backed away slowly, lifted her arm, and blasted the girl in the face with hellfire. All that tactic did was make the young heroine angry, and she slammed her fist into her foe’s jaw, knocking her down. She then grabbed a handful of Blaze’s tunic and pulled her up.
“All right, you want a deal?” Mary snarled. “Here’s the deal: leave my brother, my parents, and my friends alone!”
The demoness, still wearing her enemy’s face, simply laughed. “Now, why should I want to do that? It’s so much fun seeing you Marvels squirm!”
Just then, Junior and Satanus returned, hitting the ground with the force of a meteor. The demon prince had been trying to lose the world’s mightiest boy in another part of Dis since he had been prevented from ambushing Mary.
“What do you mean, sister? Was this some sort of game?” he roared as he emerged from the newly made crater.
“Of course it was, brother! Think on it; it took them what? — four months to figure out that Billy Batson was here as my hostage?”
“Some of us were suspicious long before then,” Captain Marvel Junior retorted, following Satanus closely.
“Oh, indeed? I highly doubt it, since my brother’s guise fooled even that doddering gray-beard, Shazam!” Blaze crowed.
“I doubt Shazam was ‘fooled’ for very long. As for the rest of us, I guess some people just have suspicious minds. Any Elvis jokes, and I’ll flatten you!” That last was aimed at Satanus.
“I’m sure you will… Junior,” he replied sardonically.
A long, silent wait followed. They were at an impasse, and both sides knew it.
She had reached an impasse, she knew it, and she didn’t much like it.
Caitlin O’Malley, still within the opalescent shield that Robyn had created, was perplexed. The young man everyone called Billy had lost consciousness again, but hadn’t woken up yet, and she was starting to worry about him.
She watched her cousin and the wizard for a moment, and saw them fighting a cadre of monsters with a sense of awe. She never realized Robyn was quite that powerful before.
Bugger, she thought in disgust, returning her attention to the boy in front of her. Three cracked ribs, which will have to heal on their own, and with all the other injuries I’ve already healed, it’s a goddess-blessed wonder that there were no internal ones, as well!
“Now,” she said, “to the problem at hand. Why won’t you wake up for me, handsome?”
Cait slipped into another light trance, ready to finish healing Billy. When she opened her eyes, she saw not only his aura, but the seven wheels of light called the chakras.
To say that Billy’s aura was in sorry shape would have been a gross understatement. What were once clear reds, blues, and golds were now muddied, and the wheels, which should have been glowing brightly, had become dim. He was bespelled, she was certain of that. But what kind of spell? And could she break it?
“Compulsions,” she said to him. “They must’ve been activated when that she-devil blasted you. I still need to know what kind and how she sealed them on you, and once I do, I can remove them, and you’ll wake up.”
As the girl prepared to do battle with black magic inside the shield, the forces of good were winning the skirmish outside.
“I think we’re finally winning here!” Robyn O’Malley exclaimed as she pushed another demon away.
“Indeed,” Shazam replied. “It would seem that, between us and your shield, we are gaining the upper hand in this!”
“Good, ’cause I’m wiping out!” she laughed heartily.
On the abyssal plane, the standoff continued. For a few tense moments, no one said or did anything. Then finally, Blaze broke the silence.
“Well, this is quite a little impasse we have here.”
“Really,” Mary replied sarcastically, glaring at the demoness. “Especially since you claim we owe you a soul.”
“You owe me! Nicholas Bromfield’s soul was mine, brat! You had no right–!”
“No! You had no right taking my foster-father away from me! He was still a living being! And then, you turned him into a monster to attack us!”
After another long silence, the demoness proclaimed, “I have a claim on your soul, too, Mary. I propose this: we, the two of us, fight this out. If, and I do mean if, you win, any and all claims will become void, and the two of you may freely take your leave.”
Mary swallowed hard and asked, “And if I lose?”
“You lose, little girl, and you’re mine!”
Captain Marvel Junior’s cry of negation carried across the plains, causing both humans and demons to clap hands over ears in pain.
“Lower the volume, Junior!” Mary scolded, fists on her hips. She was standing closest to him. “I think they managed to hear that back on the Rock of Eternity!”
“But — what she’s suggesting–!”
“As if I had any choice in the matter?!” she shouted back, then took a deep, cleansing breath, and continued sotto voce. “Junior… Freddy… you knew that one of us might not make it out of this place.”
The world’s mightiest boy wrapped his arms around the world’s mightiest girl and simply held her for a few minutes.
“Yeah, I knew it,” he finally replied, his voice tinged with regret, “but why does it have to be you?”
To Junior’s amazement, Mary laughed heartily, and hugged him even tighter. She contemplated kissing him, but decided against it. She did not want to think about what Blaze would make of it, or do about it.
“I dunno,” she retorted, still embracing him. “Born under a bad sign?” Just then, she realized that, not only could she face this threat alone, but she could win the day, and their freedom, if the demoness kept her promise.
“Very funny,” Junior shot back with a half-grin.
“I do my humble best.” She paused for a minute to study his face, like she was committing his features to memory. “Do you trust me to do this?”
“Are you kidding? I trust you with more than my life; I trust you with my soul.”
“An awesome responsibility,” she sighed, then thought an instant later, one that I pray I’m up to.
“Hello?” Blaze interrupted, clearly annoyed. “Can we get this over with? I am on a schedule, here!”
Mary Marvel’s response to the jibe was to fly, fists extended, straight into the demoness’ midsection, lifting her off the ground.
“If you’re so anxious for a fight, Blaze, then why don’t we take this somewhere a little more private?”
Blaze raised her own fists and slammed them, hard, into the back of the world’s mightiest girl’s skull. Mary’s head whipped forward from the force of the blow, and she reeled from it. It did no damage, but she actually felt it.
“And let your boyfriend miss all the action?” Blaze said with venom. “Not a chance, girlfriend! Besides, I have prime spots reserved for you two, as far apart as possible!”
That made the girl angry, and she retaliated by flying up, then dropped back down tucked into a ball, striking Blaze in the back. This maneuver had worked on Black Adam when he attacked four months ago, and Mary hoped it would work again now.