A stylish and ornate Atlantean vessel carried Curry, Aaron, and two others through the black ocean depths toward the cities beneath the seas.
“Nice ride,” said Garth with a hint of his old spirit, which he had developed while among the bantering Teen Titans of his youth. The young man, no longer a teenager, had curly dark hair and wore a red and blue outfit similar to Aquaman’s original costume.
Curry nodded. The ship was his by birthright, and he had claimed it for this mission, even if he had relinquished other royal trappings.
The woman who sat apart from them was Mera, a Royal from the other realm of Xebel as well as his estranged wife. She had long, flowing red hair beneath her golden crown and was devastatingly beautiful, wearing a form-fitting, stylized green swimming outfit. Her company was chilling and rending to his heart now, but at least she had agreed to join them. Hope springs eternal, eh? he brooded.
Aaron watched them all, especially the icy Mera. What sorrows had come to this family, and how sorely this noble man was tried by all he had faced, yet he still fought to help one in need. That was the stuff of legends and of heroes.
Beneath the ocean depths, Curry, Garth, Mera, and Aaron journeyed to the first spot marked on the amnesiac man’s magic chart.
“This spot is on a significant site from Atlantean history,” said Curry. “It was a corner of one of the fabled Zodiac Gates of ancient Atlantis.”
Aaron nodded. “During the glory days of the City of the Golden Gates!”
“How did you know that?” asked Garth.
“That phrase seemed to come to me as naturally as does the need to locate whatever awaits me at these charted spots,” replied Aaron.
Mera snorted in disdain. “I find this whole quest to be a fool’s errand, but then that was always the way with Arthur. Risking life and limb, and family, for the sake of adventure — a boy who never grew up.”
Aaron stared at the redheaded woman intently. “I feel as if I have known you before,” he said.
Mera’s eyes blazed beneath her ever-present crown. “I am the Queen of Atlantis, now and evermore. Let not my mate’s feckless abandonment of our heritage delude you about that. No male may suffer my wrath gladly, and no one dares gaze upon my form unchallenged!”
Curry frowned. “Mera, you have jumped to wrongful conclusions again. Aaron means no harm. And must I remind you that your queenship was entirely due to the saving of my realm and the laws governing said kingdom. Without me, you would never have even had citizenship there, so do not presume upon my temper too severely.”
In response, Mera flounced off to the back of the ship.
Garth winced. Mera has been an ice-maiden for so long that even Aquaman’s snapped. He won’t let her talk to him like this anymore. That could be a good thing.
“I need to journey within that ruin,” said Aaron. “Perhaps you can aid me thusly.”
Odd language for a treasure hunter, mused Garth.
“Take the tablet in the cabinet,” said Curry. “It confers limited water-breathing ability for surface dwellers.” They filed out of the ship, leaving Mera to pout within.
“Something about this place speaks to me,” said Aaron as they made their way inside the ornate splendor that had fallen into ruins.
“Things were certainly made to last in those times,” offered Garth. “I suspect magic is behind their preservation.”
Curry abruptly stopped. “I detect something moving toward us in the distance. This place could have guards, or what you’d call squatters on the surface world.”
They saw armored figures approach from the ruins. “By Deedra’s Chain! Skeleton warriors!” cried Aaron as they closed in, and Curry’s keen eyes recognized the animated corpses.
“Get back behind me,” ordered Curry. “I’ll wage this war!”
Garth pulled Aaron to the side. “He means it, pal. Let’s just allow the man to do his thing.” Aaron nodded and complied.
The skeletal warriors closed in on the group, and Curry charged them. This was the time to release his fury. The pain of loss, the pain of rejection, and the guilt he felt over all his failures, real and imagined, exploded into action.
He slammed into the first corpse, sending bones shattering through the current. Seeing a sword descend toward his own skull, he noticed in surprise when Aaron stopped it and disarmed the user with a sword of his own.
“I found this blade here,” Aaron explained. “The movement came back to me as if from a dream of lore.” He whirled and ducked, defending himself skillfully.
Garth watched and thought, Aaron is a swordmaster! This guy has his secrets, all right.
Curry was less surprised, for he had begun to guess just who Aaron might possibly be, and although the answer involved magic or time travel, he had seen both often enough. He refused to duck the blades aimed for his body. He merely surged forward like a wave personified and crushed one corpse after another in his wake, despite the blades cutting through his new costume and leaving lacerations in his flesh. Curry fought through the skeletons and watched with a measure of trepidation as Aaron uncovered a gemstone of crystal; after all, hadn’t Orm sought and found six similar crystals in the recent past, with cataclysmic results? Thankfully those had all been returned to their points of origin, with new safeguards in place, but the rest of the Twelve Crystals of the Zodiac remained unaccounted for.
“This is what we came for; I sense that much,” Aaron said as he sheathed the sword he had claimed.
“Excellent! You are a fine swordsman,” said Curry, But then, that’s what your legends said, too, he inwardly added.
They returned to the ship, where Mera lounged on a divan. “You returned? How nice. I would hate to see this fine adventure end with your death,” she said in a mocking tone. “The surface world must be in dire need of your powers. What would Superman and Hawkman do without the mighty Aquaman?”
Curry turned white and stalked off. “Set the course, Garth. I suspect the next marking is also over a former Zodiac Gate.”
Aaron gazed into the crystal, and visions of battles flashed through his mind. A huge native warrior and an oriental swordswoman, along with a shape-changing blonde girl fought at someone’s side — his side? — against aliens, wizards, and a weird creature with madness in his eyes.
The journey went quietly, while Mera combed her long hair silently and Curry scowled out the portal.
Garth still mourned his lost love and wondered if his place in the world was with the fragmented New Teen Titans, which had been mulling the idea of dropping the Teen from its name. Might I even lead the team, since Dick and Donna both seem so preoccupied these days? he wondered. I need something to challenge me. Aquaman and Mera are at war with each other, and the pain that drives them is growing stronger every minute. I can’t watch them blow up like this.
Curry gazed at his woman. She was his woman. According to Atlantean law, as ruler he could claim his mate or mates. Mera could be one of a harem, but he deferred to her. She had been his partner and lover. Had the tragic death of Arthur, Junior, at Black Manta’s hands many years ago now so embittered their love that it was beyond salvation? He was angry and hurt, and he could only act. Action would keep him sane. “This is it. The second arch or Zodiac Gate was once here… where ruins now stand,” he began.
“Uh, Aquaman, those sure aren’t ruins anymore!” said Garth, looking at the scene before them. Huge towers rose from the sea as a gleaming city occupied the once-empty oceanscape.
“By Triton, that is new!” said Curry. “That was not here last time I swam these waters. Those ruins are not from Atlantis.”
“I sense evil,” said Aaron. “I feel this place is not of this realm… not even of this dimension.”
How does a guy like that know about dimensional travel? wondered Garth.
Mera sat up, showing alarm for the first time. She clutched Curry’s arm, and he enjoyed the sensation of her touch.
After a quick conversation with the passing aquatic life, Curry announced, “The sea life is scared. They say this city appeared here all at once, days ago.”
“Let us leave!” said Mera.
“No! I need the gemstone within that tower,” said Aaron. “It was found and taken inside by whoever brought that tower here from the other realms.”
“Okay, Garth, stay here with Mera,” said Curry. “Aaron and I shall check out this place. Be it demon abode or celestial palace, we’ll brave its doors or die trying.”
They hurried off, and Garth turned to Mera. “Can’t you forgive him?” he pleaded at her feet. “He is suffering so. I know he loves you desperately. This whole series of events has nearly broken him. He is hard, and it is from pain, not from any lack of sensitivity.”
She turned and said, “Boy, you are his foundling, not mine. I would as soon have cast you back to the outcast life your purple eyes earned you.”
Garth winced and swam off. Got to get out, or I swear I’ll strike that witch! he thought. Tula, how did our world change so fast? How do I live without your wit, humor, and love? Even when Roy, Donna, and I re-teamed to handle Doctor Light recently, I couldn’t stop thinking about you! (*) He groaned; his lost love haunted him still, but he was young and had much to live for yet.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: Fragments.]
Aqualad entered the towers and crossed a hallway full of ornate paintings of weird scenes, and he was sure he had seen something like these seascapes in a nightmare. Hearing a scream ring out, he broke through a doorway to see a red-helmeted warlord hovering over a young woman. “Leave her alone!” he declared.
The alien was human in appearance but the green and red militaristic garb he wore like something out of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers made him look otherworldly. “Make me, Guppy,” he said.
Ducking the warlord’s chain-mailed fist, Aqualad caught the arm in mid-swing. Just like Dick taught me, he thought as he twisted and flipped his alien foe over his shoulder.
A swift kick to the throat left the alien stunned on the floor. He turned to look upon the alien’s prisoner and gasped in shock. “You?!”