by Cynthia Finnegan
At the Rock of Eternity, things had taken a turn for the better. The invading demon horde was finally defeated, bound and stacked like cordwood in the entryway. Uncle Dudley and Mr. Tawny lent a hand in subduing them, Dudley by grabbing whatever he could use as a cudgel, and Tawky Tawny just by being a tiger, a natural-born predator. Between the four, they managed to beat back Blaze’s troops.
Robyn O’Malley looked tiredly at her cousin and the boy, still inside the shield. Caitlin O’Malley had a look of fierce concentration on her pretty face while Billy Batson began to stir, his head propped against the young witch’s shoulder. There was one last spell on him that needed to be broken, the one that had kept him from calling on Captain Marvel for so long.
This spell was a conundrum; in order to break it, he would have to say “Shazam,” but to say the old wizard’s name, the spell needed to be broken. Cait had made a metaphorical dent in it, which was what caused Billy to revive somewhat.
“Well, I suppose there’s no harm in dropping the shield now,” Robyn said to herself. She dug a very long, very sharp dagger out of the bag, unsheathed it, and touched it to the shield. She said something, and the shield came down. As the shield vanished, Robyn listened in on a psychic conversation.
Billy, you have to say it. Say the wizard’s name, Cait thought to him.
I can’t! Billy replied. She’s done something to me! She won’t let me say the word!
You can. I’ll say it with you, I promise. Linked minds can’t lie to each other, and I can’t break this bloody spell if you don’t do it!
All right, he thought resignedly. Moments later, two voices, male and female, uttered the same word:
A single bolt of magic lightning struck both teens at the same time. After the smoke cleared, Billy had become Captain Marvel, but something strange had happened to Caitlin, as well.
“Oh, gods, what did I just do?”
Where Cait sat was a young woman garbed in a long, forest-green tunic, tights, and cape with silver trim, sash, lightning bolt, and ballet shoes laced around her slender ankles. Her new garments were similar to the Marvel Family’s, save for color. Think about it later, she thought.
“I may not be dead, but I swear I’m looking at an angel. Or maybe a Faerie,” Captain Marvel said, chuckling, then wincing and putting one arm across his chest.
“This is not funny!” she shot back.
The commotion brought Shazam over to them. He was as shocked as Robyn was to see what occurred. “What has happened here?” he inquired.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Robyn retorted.
“Great sir?” the Captain asked, still a bit dazed. “Was it Asian or African?”
“The elephant who sat on my chest. Holy moley, what did Blaze do to me?! I feel lousy!”
“Apparently, Billy’s remaining injuries have carried over to you, my son.”
Memory flooded the mind of the world’s mightiest mortal: Black Adam, the abyssal planes, Blaze, and four months of torture.
“Mary! I have to get to her!”
Captain Marvel struggled to rise, but Caitlin held him back by his shoulders. “Cait, let me up!” he said sharply. “I have to help Mary and Junior!”
“You’re in no fit shape to go anywhere, let alone into that demon’s realm!” Cait snapped, easily pushing the crimson-clad hero down on the makeshift couch, but not quite sure how she did so. Of course, given his current condition, he wasn’t about to put up much more of a fight.
“What’s going on out here?” Uncle Dudley inquired, returning from checking the demon horde. He then saw Cait in her green and silver Marvel uniform and exclaimed, “Great Godfrey!”
“Well, I’ll be–!” Mr. Tawny chimed in from behind Dudley. “How did this happen?”
Shazam explained, “It was a spell I created shortly before Mary first called on her powers, in case she did not want them.”
“You thought Mary might reject her powers?” Captain Marvel interrupted, trying to sit up again, which elicited an angry look from Cait.
“The possibility was there, my son. I thought I had reversed it years ago, but it seems that I did not.”
“Now I get it,” Robyn said excitedly. “When Cait and Billy said your name, Cait invoked the old spell and changed into… whatever she’s become?”
“Yes,” explained Shazam. “She now has the wisdom of Sulis, the power of Hera, the strength of Anu, the courage of Zenobia, the skill of Airmead, and the swiftness of Macha.”
“What if I don’t want them?” Cait asked, still near her patient. “Can you undo the spell?”
“It will be a simple matter to withdraw them, if that is what you wish.”
She considered it for a moment, then replied, half-jokingly, “Maybe later. Someone’s got to help you keep this obstinate halfwit in line.”
“‘Halfwit’?!” Captain Marvel said, reacting angrily. “My twin sister and best friend are in danger, and if you expect me to just lie back and do nothing, you’re nuts!”
“Then use Solomon’s wisdom!” she shot back. “This is Mary’s fight! If you go after them, you’ll shatter Mary’s sense of worth, and even if you got out again, she’ll hate you for the rest of your lives! Is that what you want?”
Caitlin’s words were harsh but true, and Captain Marvel heard himself say, “No.”
The young witch then murmured, “I got the glimpse of a god, all shining and bright.”
An hour ago, on the abyssal plane, the battle between Mary Marvel and Blaze continued. Both Satanus and Captain Marvel Junior were prevented from aiding them by a magical barrier.
At first, neither the demoness nor the warrior maid was winning, but it appeared that Blaze was gaining the upper hand in this contest. She had given the world’s mightiest girl a series of vicious blows that had sent Mary sprawling to the ground, her head reeling.
“Do you give up?” Blaze taunted, sneering at her.
“To a monster like you? Never!” Mary spat with contempt. She then gave Blaze a wicked kick to the solar plexus, but to no effect.
“Is that the best you can do?” the demoness asked in a sugar-sweet voice. She then struck Mary across the face with the back of her hand, grabbed a fistful of Mary’s minidress, and prepared to deliver a final blow.
“Pathetic. I guess you’re going to stay here, after all.”
Then, at that moment, a loud noise rumbled its way through the plains, shaking the nether-realm to its very foundations.
It was a peal of thunder.
It was the exact moment that Billy and Caitlin had together said, “Shazam!”
“Nooo-ooo!” Blaze shrieked in denial as her new powers, stripped from Billy and from the theft of Shazam’s forgotten spell, quickly withdrew from her and Satanus’ bodies in a corona of blue-white energy that leaped upward to find their rightful recipients, while Mary watched in complete amazement as the barrier shattered.
The world’s mightiest girl didn’t waste an instant. She got to her feet and dealt Blaze numerous blows to her face and body at super-speed, culminating in a tremendous uppercut that sent the demoness flying a good fifty yards. Due to her parentage, Blaze hadn’t been harmed by her foe’s attack, but she was stunned. Mary took off after Blaze’s airborne body, with Captain Marvel Junior and Satanus scrambling to catch up with them.
Mary landed near the demoness as she crashed to the ground, ready to deliver another series of super-fast blows. And, for the first time in her long existence, Blaze was actually afraid. With her stolen powers augmenting the ones she was born with, she had almost beaten Mary. But now, without those abilities…
“Stop!” Blaze cried, her hands raised in front of her in surrender. “I… I quit my claim on your souls!”
“On all of us?” Mary demanded as Junior landed behind her.
“Yes! Just leave my realm, now!”
“No! Sister, what have you done?! She was beaten!”
“Exactly as planned,” Captain Marvel Junior remarked, poised to attack. “You didn’t honestly think that we’d come after Billy without one?”
“Y’see, Blaze, what comes around really does go around,” Mary quipped tiredly.
“You said it,” remarked Junior. “C’mon, let get out of here. I wanna see if Billy’s all right.”
“He is. I can feel it,” Mary mused as they took flight. “He’s going to be just fine.”
Minutes later, the world’s mightiest teens alighted on the Rock of Eternity. They saw the battered horde of demons as they entered, and heard voices as they approached the throne room. The pair listened in as the wizard mentioned another set of powers and how someone named Caitlin had changed into a Marvel.
“No,” Captain Marvel’s familiar voice said, then a girl murmured a phrase that sounded like a song lyric. A moment later, the Captain and Cait said the wizard’s name, transforming back to their mortal forms.
“Billy!” Mary exclaimed as she ran up to her twin brother and hugged him tightly.
“Mary?” Billy asked. “What happ — oww! My chest!”
“Don’t worry ’bout it, sis. Only hurts when I laugh.”
“He needs to be in a hospital,” the strange, auburn-haired girl retorted irritably.
“Mary, meet Caitlin and Robyn O’Malley. Caitlin saved my life, by the way.”
“Hi,” Cait and Robyn said simultaneously, Cait offering her hand first.
“Thank you,” was Mary’s only reply.
“Well,” Captain Marvel Junior said, lifting his best friend, “if Billy needs a doctor, we’d better board the train and get going.”
Soon, Billy, Mary, Junior, Dudley, Mr. Tawny, and the O’Malley girls boarded the subway car, the doors closed with a hiss, and it vanished into the mists.
And on the abyssal planes, Blaze plotted against the Marvel Family anew.
Manhattan, later that day:
Billy Batson was carried into St. Joseph’s emergency room by Captain Marvel Junior, where he was diagnosed with three cracked ribs. Two young women had followed Junior. One of them demanded that her father, Dr. Sean O’Malley, be put in charge of the injured young man’s case. The other girl they recognized from four months ago, when Satanus had been brought in disguised as Billy.
It was decided to keep Billy a week for observation, in case of internal injuries. Dr. O’Malley, hearing the whole story from his only daughter, excluding her own transformation, decided to say nothing about her adventure, not even to her mother.
Since Mary wouldn’t leave her brother, Freddy had the task of telling Billy’s other friends and co-workers that the one whom they had called Billy for the past trimester was an impostor. Those in the know, such as Joan Jameson, got the full story. Those who weren’t got an edited version, with no mention of Blaze or the abyssal plains, and were left to draw their own conclusions. He still told them the truth; he just left out most of the salient details.
Sterling Morris believed that his star newscaster had been abducted by a group of terrorists. Not exactly an uncommon event these days, but how did they find an impostor who looked and sounded so much like Billy, much less teach him the young man’s habits so quickly? By the end of the recitation, Mr. Morris decided that it really didn’t matter how, just that Billy was safe.
When Freddy told Cissie Sommerly what had happened, the pretty strawberry blonde told him flat out that she’d suspected something was different about Billy for quite a while. “I’m not dense,” she said after a moment, grinning at Freddy’s look of surprise. “I thought something was hinky a month ago.”
“How–?” Freddy asked her.
“Oh, little things, things that Billy wouldn’t do on a bet.” She rattled off a list of things that had made her question whether or not she was really still dating her boyfriend. Many of them were the very things that had made him suspicious as well.
The Potters, though, took Freddy’s story at face value, but then, Freddy had hinted that Billy had been snatched because of his friendship with Captain Marvel. They bought it; how could they not? If he hadn’t been so pure of heart, Freddy would’ve made a world-class con man, due to his natural charm. Still, the version he told the older couple was marginally true.
But only time would tell if Billy had come through his experiences in Hell with a whole soul.