As the Legionnaires prepared to defend Oa from the Dark Man’s imminent attack, they noticed how little Oa’s shifting sands had changed since their last visit to the Citadel of the Guardians of the Universe. (*) The only structure on the entire planet was the large and imposing base of the ancient blue-skinned immortals. Now, of course, only one Guardian remained on the planet, since his brethren had departed from the universe in order to achieve some grand goal of their own. The solitary little man in the red robe watched the heroes with an air of impassive resolve.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: The Universo Agenda.]
Several Green Lanterns joined Xenofobe as he used his power ring to focus his willpower into the creation of remarkable defenses. A Green Lantern from Durla that Saturn Girl recognized from her earlier encounter with the Guardians worked alongside representatives from Braal and Venegar.
Saturn Girl stood next to Xenofobe, whom she learned had something in common with her. As he explained, he was a member of the telepathic race from the planet Magswan, and he had held the honor of being one of the few off-worlders to study at Titan’s Mind Institute, where the famous and justly celebrated Imra Ranzz had herself studied some years after his time there. The Green Lantern stroked his chin thoughtfully as he listened to her speak.
“Our job is simple in theory, if not in execution,” explained Imra. “The Dark Man is telepathic. We are to shield our allies from any mental invasion he might attempt.”
Xenofobe nodded grimly. “I understand. Our efforts will be of little value if our foe may read our every plan from our minds!”
The pink-clad Saturn Girl stared off into space and longed for her family back on Earth. She had no regrets about her return to active duty with the Legion. Their kind of public service had motivated her even before she had co-founded the Legion. She was a woman who needed to be of service to others, and she did not enjoy prolonged periods of inactivity.
Her husband Garth Ranzz, alias Lightning Lad, was different. He had accepted the fact that leading the team was not his strong suit, and he preferred being a senior advisor when needed. He also relished raising their two sons, Graym and Garridan. All the natives of his homeworld of Winath grew up with a strong sense of family and community. Most people on that agricultural world were twins, and that kind of an environment led to a natural passion for home and hearth.
Garth and Imra had a unique situation in that they barely knew their son Garridan. The boy had been taken from them at birth and aged to around ten through complex and unsettling means, which had included his becoming the mutated monster called Validus for several years. (*) Now the family struggled to make up for lost time. However, while Imra naturally thought of them with love and longing, she also knew she had a job to do.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: The Garridan Quest.]
Shadow Lass waited and watched with eyes that saw into the deepest darkness, her voluminous black hair and blue skin making her a striking figure. Tasmia Mallor of Talok VIII was born to fight. She had embraced the role of champion of her desert home, and this role had been the right and the responsibility of the Mallors for centuries. Memory and heritage were precious to her people, and thus she clung to tradition. She was a capable fighter, and she was happy with the Legion. She saw her role of champion as being fulfilled through larger service to the universe as a whole. She had found love with the heroic Mon-El, and while she cherished her past, she was ready to fight for her future. She was not afraid, but she was anxious to end the battle.
Mon-El himself was not restless. His long imprisonment within the Phantom Zone had taught Lar Gand the value of patience, but he also felt that life was precious, and the heroic Daxamite was willing to give his own life to safeguard those in peril. He was influenced strongly by his so-called “brother” Superboy, and he did a fine job of living up to that hero’s standards of valor and nobility. His passion for exploration enabled him to see the universe as a wonderful place full of the rare and the bizarre, but he also knew that dangers like the Dark Man marred that infinite space all too often.
Star Boy was worried. His natural pessimism had altered slightly since he had been elected leader, but the black-and-silver-costumed hero from Xanthu had reverted back to his somber views during this dark and unexpected mission. He knew that the other members looked to him for guidance, and he worried once again that just maybe he was in over his head.
He glanced over to where his friends Sun Boy and Element Lad were helping various Green Lanterns secure the Citadel. Dirk Morgna used his thermal power to melt a barrier wall into alignment, while Jan Arrah turned air into metal. The three friends often spent their free time with Brainiac 5 playing Dungeons and Dragons. All of the young men knew this was no fantasy game but a life or death struggle.
Timber Wolf and Lightning Lass were huddled together, and the engaged couple whispered to one another even as they waited for the attack to come. Wedding plans had occupied much of the lively girl’s time, but her more solitary lover had allowed her to make all the decisions. Now they waited, and no doubt they talked about their future as they tried to stave off the perils of the present.
Polar Boy was nervous. He had not been pleased with his performance during the battle with the three former members of the Fatal Five. He wondered if the others already considered his membership in the main team to be unjustified after his long years of service with the Subs. He knew that he would not run, and he even accepted the fact that he could die, but he did fear letting the others down in any way. He had to be careful, and he had to use his ability to generate intense cold to the maximum.
Quislet hovered within the small craft that sheltered him. The little energy being was not nervous. He liked everything about being with the Legion, and he seemed to shed past misfortunes with the merry good nature of a child.
Tharok himself broke their silent vigil by announcing, “He is here! I sense my foul double!” The cyborg was unhappy with the fact that the Green Lanterns had secured the Emerald Empress, Mano, and the Persuader within the Citadel’s many sciencell prisons. He would have liked to have had the others by his side in this most personal battle.
The Guardian floated higher on a cloud of green energy and said, “Indeed, the Dark Man walks Oa. Green Lanterns, prepare for action!”
Star Boy yelled out, “Long live the Legion!” The others echoed his sentiments and charged forward to face the Dark Man as he appeared before them. He smiled as he marched across the sands of Oa.
“You know all by now,” he said. “I know my ‘brother’ told you of my master Nekron. That is good. Why should such an epic struggle be fought in the dark? Contrary to my nom du crime, I like having things out in the open. I relish the fact that each of you knows that I am far more than I once was. Now I am the herald of the lord of the unliving. Through me, he shall enter this universe!”
“You are nothing but an abomination born out of misguided scientific experimentation!” said Tharok.
The Dark Man laughed and said, “Could we not apply that epithet to you as well?” He moved forward with blinding speed and touched Xenofobe. The Green Lantern’s power ring protected him from mortal harm under normal circumstances, but the Dark Man’s enhanced power enabled him to sap the hero’s ring and threatened to end his life.
Polar Boy rushed forward and coated the shadowy villain in a tomb of solid ice, ignoring everything around him as he generated wave after wave of ice. Silence reigned for a heartbeat, and then the tomb of ice exploded and left the heroes to dodge, melt, smash, or transmute it to avoid being injured.
The Dark Man stepped out of the remains of ice and said, “I had known the chill of limbo. Your petty power means nothing to me!”
Element Lad gestured, and the ground beneath the Dark Man turned to vapor. He levitated above the pit with his telekinetic power, then used the same gift to hurl Element Lad, Polar Boy, and even Mon-El across the sands.
“I could do this for eons, but why bother? Let my army fight for me!” said the Dark Man. He gestured to where a lightless portal suddenly opened before them.
“I can’t see into that void!” said Shadow Lass.
Mon-El swooped back to her side and shook his head. “My vision powers are useless, too!” he said.
Quislet flew closer and said, “Quislet sight see, see!” He entered the void, then returned a second later. “Quislet not welcome there! That place dead!”
Sun Boy blasted fire at the portal to buy his friend time to escape, but nothing emerged to stop Quislet from distancing himself from the doorway.
The Guardian himself suddenly moved forward, and his powerful mind radiated thoughts to all assembled. “He dares to open a gateway to Nekron’s realm of the unliving! I will not allow such effrontery!” He moved forward with the Durlan Green Lantern and the Green Lantern of Braal by his side. They were lost from sight as all three of them were engulfed in an explosion of energy when a weird army emerged from the portal.
“Great! He’s assembled an army of dead people!” said Timber Wolf as the heroes were attacked by dozens warriors. None of them were completely intact. Decay and decomposition marked them all as the skeletal forces charged hungrily at the heroes.
“Yellow! Something yellowish about them prevents our rings from working on them!” yelled Xenofobe.
“He killed the Guardian!” cried Saturn Girl. “I didn’t think it was possible!” She was correct. Even as his army engaged the others in physical combat, the Dark Man had managed to drain the sole Guardian of the Universe of his life force.
“He allowed himself to fall in order to save us!” gasped the Durlan as he and the remaining Lanterns flew out of the ever-widening portal.
Lightning Lass blasted away at them, as did Sun Boy and Polar Boy. Their respective powers destroyed the corpses, but more emerged from the portal to challenge them.
Star Boy used his gravity-enhancing power to cause several of the dead beings to shatter as their own mass made them collapse, but he saw that for every one they eliminated, dozens more emerged to fight anew.
“I can smash them apart with super-speed and strength,” said Mon-El, “but my best efforts seem futile when more of them keep coming. Just how vast are his resources, anyway?”
“Let me assure you that they are nearly limitless, thanks to his new master!” yelled Tharok. He shoved past a group of slowly approaching bodies and tried to make contact with his double.
“Brother, do you wish to bring our tiresome journey to a final end?” said the Dark Man. “I welcome it as well!” He grabbed Tharok, only to lose him again as Saturn Girl mentally alerted Mon-El to a plan she had formed.
“Lar, get Tharok back here now!” she thought. Mon-El melted through a row of dead bodies and snatched Tharok into the air.
“Release me! I would end that fiend’s infernal life now!” said Tharok.
“Imra needs you,” said Mon-El. “We are working as a team!”
“You share a link to the Dark Man,” said Saturn Girl. “You had to feel what he felt when he fed on those poor people! What is the exact nature of this attack? Can it be reversed?”
“I see no way to do so,” said Tharok. “He leaves his victims as dry and lifeless husks. He converts their life energies into some reactant upon which his metabolism feeds. What more can I tell you? His dark ways sicken me more than they do you. I feel all he experiences when the link is intact!”
Shadow Lass had been fighting relentlessly against the dead men, but she could not halt them with her darkness power, and eventually she fell beneath their relentless attack. Then Sun Boy blazed through the crowd and carried her to safety as Mon-El arrived by her side. “Thanks, Dirk!” she said.
“Are you hurt, Shady?” asked Mon-El with concern.
“No!” she replied. “Just frustrated. Their sheer numbers are winning, even though they lack our powers!”
“Imra, did Tharok’s data give you an idea?” asked Star Boy.
Saturn Girl shook her head and said, “No. I just hated to see all those poor victims being used like so many pawns. I guess I was being overly optimistic to think we could ever revive them!”
As the Dark Man’s forces poured our over the sands of Oa, the Legionnaires drew back and tried to help the Green Lanterns. “Our rings are ineffective against the yellowish tint of the dead!” said Xenofobe, who had been badly battered. “We can fight as you do, but not like we would prefer to do!”
The Dark Man laughed as he made his way forward. “Of course your weak light will not stop me. I serve Nekron, and his forces are composed of the eternal dead. What more can you say when faced with that kind of power?”
“Long live the Legion!”
The battle cry echoed across the sands as several newcomers stepped defiantly out of the portal between worlds. Unlike the decayed corpses that served Nekron, this group was vital and intact, even down to the clothing they wore. They may have originated in some realm of the dead, but they were free of Nekron’s taint and thus carried themselves with a higher level of purpose, will, and courage.
The first man wore a mask of metal along with an armored suit. He was followed closely by a dark-haired man in green and a smaller man in a turban. Behind this trio came a man in a costume that matched Mon-El’s own red and blue one. Finally, a young man in a brown costume with a matching headband emerged with a look of determination on his features.
“Ferro Lad! Chemical King! Kid Psycho! Eltro Gand! Invisible Kid!” cried Star Boy with a gasp as he and his friends gazed upon the shocking sight of dead members and allies seemingly returned to life.