Legion of Super-Heroes: Monsters of the Heart and Mind, Chapter 3: Hunters and Prey

by Libbylawrence

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A little later, Blok watched from within a Legion Cruiser as Dawnstar of Starhaven soared gracefully through the dark void of space like a lovely and exotic bird. She relished the freedom space travel gave her, and she savored using her tracking powers to their fullest extent. The winged girl needed no transsuit to protect her from space, nor did she require a ship to carry her. She remained outside the Legion cruiser that followed in her wake. She did wear a pair of telepathic earplugs, and thus she could communicate with her teammates inside the ship.

“I think I have his trail,” said Dawnstar. “It is faint, yet it has not been disguised by any magic. It seems as clear to me as any other trail I have followed in the past!”

Saturn Girl sat by the pilot chair where Element Lad directed the craft through space. He had joined them along with Dawnstar, and while he and the Amerind tracker knew nothing of what had truly occurred, he knew that Validus and a mystery woman had eluded them, and they had to find the pair before others suffered.

Imra Ranzz brooded as she tried to make sense of what had happened. She could grasp the concept that Darkseid had taken her child and turned him into a time-tossed monster. She could understand that the witch wanted to hurt Validus and his parents for some wrong of which she alone was aware. She marveled at the ingenious nature of the curse that prevented them from sharing their news with their friends in order to gain help to capture the child without harming him. However, what Imra could not understand was how the woman could claim that she had been turned away from the Mind Institute on Titan due to a lack of mental powers. She had checked the records, and no native of Titan had ever been declared totally powerless before. She also struggled with the pain of imagining how terrible the baby’s life had been as a monster turned into a killer, who was tormented by all and loved by none. A tear welled up in her eye as she fought back emotions and tried to concentrate on the job at hand.

Element Lad turned to her with his own sensitive and inquiring eyes and asked, “Imra, what’s wrong? I know Validus interrupted your vacation and hurt Garth’s shoulder, but he didn’t kill any of your friends during his rampage, did he? They did evacuate in time.”

Saturn Girl swallowed hard and nodded. “I’m fine. I just want to see to it that Validus gets what he needs.”

Element Lad turned to the woman who had enabled him to join the team in the first place years ago and said, “We’ll bring him in. Still, I’d think that you, of all people, know that revenge is never sweet. I learned that with Roxxas.” He referred to the space pirate who had slaughtered every other native of Trom and left the young Jan Arrah the sole surviving son of the planet of transmuting pacifists.

“I know,” said Imra. “I mean, I want to see that Validus finds peace!”

Garth leaned forward and rubbed his wife’s shoulders. She was tense, and he did not blame her. He glanced over at Ayla, who nodded in understanding. They all knew that the creature was not what he appeared to be and had never truly been the monster they had deemed him to be all those years. At heart he was a helpless and frightened baby, and he was family.

Blok sat uneasily in the back, and he whispered to Mysa Nal in his rumbling tone. “Mysa, when Mordru’s magic turned you into the being called the Hag, you were restored to normal by your sister, and I assume such a process could occur again for others.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Forgotten Legion,” Adventure Comics #351 (December, 1966).]

“Blok, I know what you are suggesting,” the White Witch replied. “I have been trying to locate such a spell. Still, my books are back in our headquarters, and I can only make do with what is here with me.” She indicated a large tome that she had brought with her from the world of Zerox.

Timber Wolf idly caressed Lightning Lass and said, “We’ll fix things. I feel that. You got to trust my instincts.”

Ayla Ranzz smiled and said, “I do. I love you, too. Still, I am afraid.”

Lightning Lad was in deep thought as well. Garth Ranzz had grown up on Winath with his twin Ayla and their older sibling Mekt. Mekt Ranzz had been considered an oddity, since he alone on all of Winath possessed no twin. Growing up apart from the norm of his world’s society had embittered him until he had become a rebel, and a violent one at that. The accident that gave all three siblings their lightning powers had done nothing to make him feel as if he belonged. He had turned to crime and had adopted the name Lightning Lord. He had also nearly killed Ayla not long ago.

Garth thought of his own children. Little Graym was safely with friends on Titan. He and Imra had checked in with them before departing to track down the altered baby that was Validus. Garth hoped that neither of his sons would grow up with the pain and isolation that drove Mekt to madness. He had worried that such might be the case when he and Imra had mistakenly thought Graym was not a twin. Now he hoped that he could restore Validus and reunite with both his sons. He could raise them along with Imra to be the kind of men he wanted them to be. He would not let either of them walk down the lonely path that had brought Mekt to his own private ruin.

Element Lad was perceptive enough to know that his friends were acting oddly. He trusted them all enough to allow them to tell him what they were hiding in their own time. He accepted that something was going on that he did not fully understand, but he was sensitive enough not to pry even as leader. He thought of the pretty Science Police officer Shvaughn Erin, with whom he shared a growing bond, and he hoped that all would work out well. He wanted to close his term as Legion leader without tragedy or failure.

“I have him!” cried Dawnstar. “I think Validus is directly below us on that small planetoid. It appears to be a primitive place devoid of obvious construction.” She led the cruiser safely down to the planetoid, and they landed in a thick jungle.

“The atmosphere supports our metabolisms. We won’t need to use the transsuits!” said Element Lad as he concentrated and used his unique powers to analyze the surrounding atmosphere.

“I sense Validus,” said Saturn Girl. “He is here. Nothing is concealing his mental energies from me. Garth, I think I have either become attuned to his mind in some way, or that woman wants us to find him here!”

“Well, she may want us here, but she won’t like the results of this encounter!” said Lightning Lad.

“Strange,” said Timber Wolf. “I get the feeling we’re being watched!”

“We are!” said the White Witch. “Yet I can’t see anyone!”

Dawnstar swooped down from above and said, “Validus is dead ahead!” They followed her agile form through the brush and emerged in a swampy clearing, where Validus loomed up suddenly and roared as he faced them. He was confused, and he had no understanding of how or why the witch had brought him to this primitive world.

Saturn Girl inhaled sharply and tried to project thoughts of peace to his mind, even as the others moved around to try to surround him. She darted aside as bolts of energy surged out of his transparent skull and sent her crashing into the swampy waters. “I felt the bolts coming, but I could not move in time!” she sputtered as she flew out of the water.

Dawnstar flew in an amazing array of circles as she distracted Validus, and he tried to grab her without success. “I can occupy him, but I’d like some help here!” she declared.

“She’s right,” said Timber Wolf. “We can’t let him get her, no matter what!”

Lightning Lass nodded and turned to the White Witch. “This would be a good time to whip out a spell,” she said.

The White Witch smiled and began to chant. Soon, Validus cried out as the vines and jungle-like brush wrapped around him and bound him to one spot as he struggled against the animated foliage.

“Good! Hold him, but don’t harm him!” said Lightning Lad. He felt rather helpless, since he didn’t want to use his own electrical current on his child, even though past experience had shown that the bolts couldn’t really hurt him.

“Calm down! We’re not going to hurt you!” pleaded Saturn Girl as she tried to project images of the love she felt for the altered child. He slowly stopped struggling as they drew closer.

“Great work!” said Element Lad. “He’s almost docile right now. Still, we can’t afford to lower our guard! With Mon-El and so many of the others occupied, we’re on our own! ” He gestured, and the air around Validus changed to the super-durable substance called inertron.

Saturn Girl suddenly shouted, “Don’t, Jan!” She tried to telepathically explain the truth to him, but the spell blocked her every effort.

Before she could do anything more, four clicks echoed through the humid air, and projectiles launched toward the heroes with precise aim.

Lightning Lass and Lightning Lad were each caught in an odd device that closed around their throats and held them in place. Each of the twins generated electrical current into the trap, but it merely tightened around them and choked them more.

A viscous goo enveloped Blok, leaving him encased in the amorphous substance. He could break almost any other type of trap, but the strange substance shifted with his every punch and held him down.

Timber Wolf hurled himself aside as a net narrowly missed his agile form. He ducked and rolled to his feet in a feral crouch and saw their attacker sail out of the sky on a hover-cycle. He had very long, red hair drawn back in a clasp, and he wore a beard that tapered off into another jeweled clasp. He wore furs and skins obviously taken from various exotic animals. “Orion!” growled Brin Londo as he glanced around and noticed Dawnstar, White Witch, and Saturn Girl trying to help their fallen friends.

Element Lad was still occupied with trying to contain the now-furious Validus. The larger creature broke out of every type of containment before the native of Trom could solidify any transmutation. Element Lad whirled around and tried to alter the device that held the Ranzz twins, but even as he concentrated, a bolt of mental lightning knocked him cold. Validus was free once more.

Adam Orion, known as the Hunter after his father, Otto Orion, smiled and said, “My thanks for tracking this beast down for me, Legionnaires! When I took the job of killing him, I knew the best course of action would be to wait and follow your group from Titan. I heard he was rampaging there, and so I just concealed my own ship in orbit and trailed you here!”

“Orion, we’re not going to let you harm Validus!” cried Saturn Girl. She flew forward as the Hunter raised a long rifle and took aim. Before he could pull the trigger, Orion the Hunter received a kick to the face from Dawnstar, who zoomed in and disarmed him.

“You won’t play target practice with my friends!” declared the winged girl.

The Hunter cursed and hurled a small pellet in her face. Dawnstar gasped in pain as a white powder caked her features and solidified into a mockery of a death mask. She fell to the ground and writhed in pain. “I don’t think you have much of a say in things, my feathered beauty!” said Orion.

White Witch chanted desperately, and the Hunter’s hover-cycle began to smoke and then exploded. He dived to safety and hid in the brush as his ride fell apart.

Timber Wolf was tearing into the trap that held Ayla and Garth, but he was making little progress. “This thing is tougher than the hide of a Jovian ironcalf!” he muttered.

“Forget about us,” said Ayla. “We’re trapped, but not in any immediate danger! Dawny is choking!”

Timber Wolf nodded and raced to the fallen native of Starhaven. He managed to peel the powdery film off her nose and mouth, and she coughed in relief. “Easy there, Dawnstar!” he said. “Take it slow. You’re going to be fine!”

Saturn Girl yelled to the White Witch, “Help me pull Blok from the goo!” They used their flight rings, grabbed his arms, and soared higher, but his sheer mass and the glue-like substance around him weighed them all down.

“You must guard yourselves! Orion is out there, and Validus is getting closer!” warned Blok.

Indeed, mental lightning bolts crashed around them all and shook the ground with their tremendous force. To make matters worse, Orion fired barbed arrows in their direction from somewhere within the brush.

Saturn Girl moaned in pain as one sliced across the back of her leg. She staggered but did not fall, thanks to her flight ring. “Imra!” cried Lightning Lad as he saw the attack on his wife. “Ayla, we have to work together! This thing feeds on our current and tightens as it drinks in more. We have to generate enough raw power to burn it out before it can kill us! Are you with me?” he said.

Ayla nodded, and with a final glance in her brother’s eyes, she crackled with raw electrical power as he did the same. The device shattered as its microcircuits fused into scrap. The lightning duo was free.

Garth immediately blasted the brush and bought them some time as the Hunter ran out of range of the powerful bolts. “Imra, honey, are you OK?” he asked as he embraced Saturn Girl.

“I’ll be fine,” she said. “We have to calm Validus and capture the Hunter!” He nodded and marveled once more at the strength his wife possessed in any crisis.

Lightning Lass burned the goo away from Blok, and he thanked her as he rose to his feet. “My thanks! Now, we must revive Element Lad!” he said.

“He’s coming around now,” said Dawnstar. “I was able to splash some water on his face.”

Timber Wolf had been executing a dazzling series of flips that carried him around Validus but kept him just out of reach of the giant. The tactic had occupied him thus far, but even Brin Londo could only move with such speed for a time before growing tired.

“Got to try something!” said Element Lad. “I don’t know why you’ve become so protective of Validus, but you know I’m not about to take his life! Trust me to subdue him, as I trust your motives for concealing what went on when you fought him on Titan!”

Imra and Garth exchanged nods and she said, “Do what you must, Jan! We do trust you!”

Element Lad concentrated, and slowly the air around Validus changed into an alien substance that glowed a bluish color and covered his transparent skull. Even as he cried out in anger and sent mental bolts crashing into the covering, Validus sluggishly and slowly began to sink to the ground. Jan Arrah’s brow was beaded with perspiration from his intense effort, but he had triumphed, and Validus fell to earth with a crash.

“What did you do?” asked Imra.

“I slowly altered the air around his head to Naltorian haltogen, which reacts to electrical energy by emitting a narcotic vapor,” explained Jan. “His own efforts to blast away the covering on his skull created the gas that knocked him cold! He’ll be fine in a few hours.”

“Great work, pal!” said Timber Wolf as he clapped Element Lad on the back.

“Celebrate your own premature demises!” yelled Orion the Hunter as he charged out of the brush again with a wide-mouthed gun that emitted orange bursts of fire.

“Allow me to end this farce!” said Blok. He marched forward and allowed the marksman to hit his chest again and again with the energy blasts.

The Hunter backed away as Blok stolidly continued forward. “You’re a freak! This energy can shatter bone!” cried Adam Orion.

A brilliant flash of lightning from Lightning Lass’s raised arms illuminated the scene and blinded the Hunter, who was looking straight in her direction as she poised behind Blok’s massive form. Orion yelled in anger and tried to flee, but the combination of his sudden blindness and Blok’s imposing strength led him to slip and fall into the swampy waters.

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