“You ever been in this place, Geo-Force?” asked Black Lightning as the Outsiders descended toward Markov House.
“No, but from my father’s stories, I feel like I know the place,” replied the Markovian prince-turned-super-hero. “If the leader of our foes fancies himself a ruler, he will have taken the master suite on the fifth floor. There are balconies from the suite on all four sides of the building. The bedroom faces south; we should enter through there.”
“You’ve been paying attention to the strategy sessions! Good! You lead the way in.”
As expected, the bedroom was deserted in the late-morning hours. A quick check by Metamorpho revealed that the entire top floor of the European-styled manor house was empty.
“Halo, can you hide us with your refraction power as we work our way down?” asked Katana.
“I’m sorry, I can’t. I didn’t realize how much that would drain me bringing you guys over here. I want to save what energy I have left in case we’re attacked,” replied the younger heroine. Katana nodded agreement, approving that the young lady was setting her priorities in a way that benefited the team best.
“The fourth and third floor are all bedrooms,” explained Geo-Force. “I don’t think we’ll find any of those who attacked us there, unless they were injured. The second floor was mostly offices when my father lived here. We’ll check those, then make our way to the first floor.”
Quietly and quickly, the Outsiders moved through the house. Caution dictated that they check as many of the rooms as possible, which took time. It was almost two hours after they entered Markov House that they found their earlier opponents, along with several other people.
It was in a large room in the center of the house. It extended to the back of the house, with glass doors leading to a terrace that overlooked the opulent gardens behind the mansion. Brion recognized it as a ballroom of a type typical in larger European homes. This afternoon, however, it was being used more like a throne room.
“Mr. Sandhurst, you may approach!” called a loud voice with a regal air.
“My thanks, your majesty.” A man in a dark blue suit stood and walked to the end of the room near the windows, where a platform had been constructed. Upon the platform were several large, ornately decorated chairs. In those chairs sat the remaining villains whom the Outsiders had battled early that morning, along with three others. One was a slender blonde young woman, whom the Outsiders recognized as the sister of the man they knew as the Prince of Pain. Another sat motionless at the end, clad in a dark red and blue suit of armor. It was the third who commanded their attention, just as he commanded the attention of all around him.
He was just over six feet tall, broad of the shoulder, and narrow of the waist. His lined face and weary eyes gave him the look of a middle-aged man, though his commanding voice sounded like it belonged in a man much younger. He was clad in a simple gray suit, with the addition of a deep red, ermine-trimmed cloak over his shoulders. Upon his head sat a bejeweled crown, which included an attached mask that came down and covered the upper portion of his face.
“The computer was right. While I was up in our rooms, I ran a check on there for criminals with a royalty gimmick, and it came up with this man. He is known as the Monarch of Menace!” whispered Katana. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Monarch of Menace,” Detective Comics #350 (April, 1966).]
“Mr. Sandhurst, I must say that I am most pleased with your work this day. Your paper’s story on the Outsiders’ attack at the airport was quite excellent,” said the Monarch. “We thank you.”
“It is a pleasure, as always, to serve, your majesty,” replied the editor, though his face looked a bit puzzled about the whole matter. He retreated to his seat at a wave from the criminal overlord.
“Chief Branagan, please step forward,” said the Monarch, his voice dropping a bit. A heavyset uniformed man stepped forward. “I dearly wish I could say the same for you and your department. You had men at the scene this morning, yet you made no arrests. What have you to say for yourself?”
“You majesty, when we were called to the scene, I had no idea they were enemies of the state. My men and I simply responded to a report of a fight, and — urk!” The police chief’s body went rigid, and his eyes bulged in their sockets. The pain was evident on his face and in the trembling of his body.
“Did you see that?” asked Windfall in a low whisper. “That king, or whatever he is, made a signal to the guy in the armor, then I saw this glow through the slits in his visor.”
“I’m sorry, Chief Branagan, did I appear to be asking for excuses?” growled the Monarch. “The proper response to my request was an abject apology!”
“Looks like you pegged it, Windfall. Metamorpho, see if you can take out the bozo in the tin can. Halo, you try to immobilize the Duke before he can unleash any nasty little surprises. Geo-Force and Windfall, I want you to double-team the Earl. Katana, you’re on the Prince. I’ll take the Ravager.” Black Lightning looked around to see that everyone on his team understood his strategy.
“What about the Princess and the Monarch?” asked Katana.
“The Princess sounds pretty harmless. The Monarch seems the type to rely on his lackeys. He’ll start to fold as they fall.”
“Very well then, my friends,” said Geo-Force. “As you Americans are given to say, let’s do it!”
With a high-pitched cry, Katana leaped to the attack. Her intended target, the Prince of Pain, recognized that she was coming at him and reacted with a bolt of artificial lightning from one of the devices built into his costume. The lithe Japanese warrior landed in a wide-legged stance, with her sword held horizontally across the front of her body, just above eye level. The enchanted blade absorbed the electrical charge and glowed a pale blue with its energy.
Windfall and Geo-Force attacked in unison, each applying their own unique abilities from unexpected directions. Windfall created a swirling air current at floor level, quickly gathering force as it rose around the confused Earl of the Elements. Geo-Force used his mastery of the earth and its elements to bring down some of the stonework set into the walls around the ceiling. The bombardment was doubly effective as it first struck the Earl, then as the pieces were caught up in the maelstrom created by Windfall. The portly Earl staggered under the two-fronted assault.
Halo rose into the air as she unleashed the strange energy powers at her disposal. A glowing nimbus surrounded the Duke of Destruction, and he froze in place. Unable to activate any of the weapons in his arsenal, he was out of the fight.
As others gathered in the room realized what was happening, they ran for the doors. Within seconds, the only ones in the ballroom were the Outsiders, the Monarch of Menace, and his costumed aides.
Black Lightning charged the Royal Ravager, diving to tackle the brawny man around the knees. They tumbled across the room, exchanging blow after blow. Their battle took them into the path of the Princess of Pleasure. She smiled and reached for the two fighters. Placing a hand on each of them, she closed her eyes. Instantly, they stopped fighting. The Ravager let out a groan and fell to the floor with an expression of bliss on his face. Black Lightning rolled away from his opponent with a smile, his eyes closed and his body writhing with sensations. The Princess straightened up with a smile of delighted malice and looked for her next victim.
Metamorpho shifted his feet into mercury and slid quickly across the room on the frictionless liquid metal. As he closed on the motionless knight, he crouched, then jumped. He let inertia carry him as he converted the entire mass of his body into ammonia gas. A sizeable portion of the resulting cloud was driven into the slotted helm worn by the eerie figure. The free-floating consciousness that comprised the personality of Rex Mason when his body was in gaseous form watched for any physical reaction, ready to convert into a nitrogen/oxygen/hydrogen mix to keep his opponent from suffocating. This time, however, the reaction was an unexpected one. Instead of passing out or crying in pain, the wearer of the armor sat bolt upright and started talking in an incomprehensible language. Metamorpho found himself reverting to his normal, multi-hued form and falling to the floor as he felt the touch of something in his mind.
“This is the place.” Katrina Fetteroff pointed to the large home on the opposite side of the street. Even under two feet of snow, it was obvious that this wasn’t just another home.
“Looks like his kind of place,” replied the man behind the wheel of the Porsche. He parked the car, stepped out, and pulled off the overcoat that he had been wearing. Underneath, he was clad in dark, multicolored velvet. Deep red-and-green-striped trousers managed to complement, rather than clash with, the green, gold, and purple paisley tunic. He reached into the backseat and pulled a similarly colored carpetbag, from which he pulled a three-pointed cap that matched his tunic.
“Just what the hell are you supposed to be, anyhow?”
“Giacomo, King of Jesters and–”
“Jester to Kings. Yeah, yeah, I watch old movies, too.” Katrina smiled. “Why the get-up?”
“As a way of paying back the Monarch. He made a fool of me too many times. Today,” he added grimly, “the fool will be his downfall.”
Inside Markov House, the battle continued. The Prince of Pain cried out as Katana’s sword, still glowing with the electrical charge his weapon had imbued upon it, struck his shoulder and sliced through his costume. Sparks flew from severed wires, distracting him. Katana pressed the advantage, delivering a side-kick that sent the young man crashing into the Monarch of Menace.
As the Earl of the Elements fell, Geo-Force and Windfall divided their own attentions. Windfall bent to check on Black Lightning as her teammate touched down next to Metamorpho. He touched one hand to the element man’s neck to check for a pulse and raised the other to create a crushing magnetic field around the armor of his assailant.
“Brion, don’t. He’s not the enemy!” gasped Metamorpho. He turned his head toward the throne. “Take out the big guy. I’ll be all right.”
As Windfall checked on the team leader, the Princess of Pain slipped around behind her. As she raised her hands to bring them down on the teen heroine. She started to swing them down, only to find them held in place. Looking up, she saw the grinning face of Halo, a glowing band extending from the Outsider’s hand to her own. “I don’t know what you did to Black Lightning, but you aren’t getting a chance to do it to Windfall!” she cried.
As Geo-Force and Katana advanced on the Monarch of Menace, the man behind the mayhem of the previous night and morning moved quickly toward a door. He reached it, pulled it open, and was startled to find it blocked by a bizarrely garbed man — one that he recognized.
“Daniel! Thank God you’re here, son!” He paused, as his mind registered the multicolored costume and the rod that the young man held. On one end, it bore a miniature likeness of his own head.
“Do not call me by that name! I disavow all ties to you, other than that of sworn blood enemy!” The man called Giacomo pointed the rod, and gas issued forth from the mouth of the small jester on its end. As the Monarch coughed and staggered back, Giacomo stepped into the room, followed by Katrina Fetterhoff. Looking around she noted that all of her former teammates were either captive or unconscious.
Striding over to Black Lightning, she took his face between her hands. “Listen to me. What you are feeling, it is not real. You are a man of uncommon inner strength. Fight the feelings that witch put into you, and come back.” The dark-skinned hero stopped his uncontrollable movements, and his eyes opened. He started as he realized who was looking down at him, but relaxed as he looked beyond her and saw his teammates smiling.
“What… what happened to me?” he asked.
“Little Miss Penelope, there, laid her loving hands on you,” Katrina said, looking over at the other body twitching on the floor. “Looks like she got the Ravager, too. Damned brute. Maybe feeling a little excess pleasure will do him some good. Her skin emits some sort of endorphin, a chemical that interacts with the nervous system of anybody she touches. Overloads the pleasure centers in the brain.”
“Damn straight it does! I haven’t felt anything like that since–” Black Lightning stopped to think. “Damn! Since never. Not even with my ex-wife!”
“Yeah, apparently the only one who is immune is her brother, the Prince of Pain. That’s one relationship that it’s best not to dwell upon.”
Geo-Force had returned to Metamorpho’s side to help him up. “What about this one in the armor, Rex? You said something about him not being the enemy?”
The element man removed the helmet from the motionless figure. “He was being used by the Monarch. My ammonia cocktail apparently snapped him out of the hypnotic state that he’d been in.”
“Ammonia did that? It should have killed him, or knocked him out, at least,” said Geo-Force.
“It would, if he were human.”
As the helmet came free, everyone in the room gazed in shock.
Windfall was the first to find her voice. “Ewww. He’s red!”
That broke the tension in the room. “Yeah, kiddo, he’s red. He’s big, and from what he’s been able to tell me, he’s from Saturn. At least, I think that’s the planet with the rings, ain’t it?” asked Metamorpho. As several in the room indicated that it was, he commented, “Hey, I know archeology, not astronomy.”
“How did he wind up working with the Monarch, then?” asked Black Lightning.
“He’s not too good on detailed explanations, but the images he’s giving me make it seem like he crashed on this island in the South Pacific, where the Monarch was living. Old King, here, figured he could use this guy’s telepathic powers to dominate people and set up his own little kingdom here.”
“That’s why the newspapers and the police turned against us!” exclaimed Halo.
“So it seems,” agreed Katana, who then turned to the young man who had helped them out at the last minute. “And what’s your story? Did I hear correctly? This man is your father?”
Giacomo hung his head. “Much as I am loathe to admit it, yes. I am Daniel Rex. My father tried to use me against Batman and Robin a few years back, and I saw what a difference they made in the world. I vowed then to try to be like them.” His hands waved over his odd costume. “I thought that I might atone for some of my father’s misdeeds this way.”
“Took guts to face down your old man like that,” said Black Lightning. “Looks like some smooth moves with that dolly-on-a-stick, too.” He turned back toward Katrina. “Talked him into bringing you along, hmm? Can’t say as I’m ungrateful, by why did you snap me out of the Princess’ trance like that?”
“Because you are a good and honorable man. Something I’ve not encountered before. I hate to see such as that go to waste. Besides,” she said, quickly pulling Black Lightning’s face to hers and kissing him, “I like you.”
Before anybody could react, Katrina Fetterhoff dashed out one of the glass doors, jumped off the terrace into the snow-covered garden, and ran off.
“Want me to get after her?” asked Halo.
“No, I wouldn’t worry about her,” replied Black Lightning. “I’ve got a feeling that we’ll hear from her again.”
“Then what say we call the cops to take care of these turkeys, and start getting this joint cleaned up?” asked Metamorpho.
“We’d better. Lia will be here tomorrow, and if this place isn’t perfect, she’ll have a fit!” said Halo. Everyone laughed as they started tying up the criminals to hand over to the police.