by Martin Maenza
In the southwest region of the lands known as Skartaris stood a city of great importance. It was called Shamballah, the Golden City, and it was one of the most glorious of all the cities built by the ancient Atlanteans when they came to this realm in long ages past. At the city’s center was a palace where Tara ruled as the region’s queen.
The auburn-haired beauty, who wore a short, light-colored dress, sat at a great table. It was filled with fruits that had been gathered by her servants and a roasted bovine still warm from the fire. The queen was joined this day by two others: a platinum-haired beauty dressed in green, and a rugged, dark-haired man with chiseled features dressed in dark pants and an open shirt. “Is the food to your liking, Jared?” Tara asked.
The man nodded as he swallowed the large bite of meat he’d taken moments before she’d asked her question. “It is very good,” he said.
“Did you have meat such as this where you come from?” the queen asked.
“Pork? Oh, yes, definitely. But your cooks use some spices that give it a unique flavor.” Jared Stevens had never tasted anything quite like it in all his years growing up on Earth. He then corrected his thought. This is Earth, too, he thought. Or, more correctly, a sub-dimension attached to Earth-One. His home was known as Earth-Two. (*) He never could figure out the crazy designations the members of the Justice Society had told him about.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Book of the Scarab.]
The other woman nodded. “The drinda-root is very distinct,” Jennifer Morgan said. “It’s definitely not something you could pick up at the local Foodmart or E&P.” Like Jared, she was not a native of this realm she now called home.
Jared smiled. It wasn’t that hard to do, given how captivating Jennifer was. From the moment he laid eyes on her when he first arrived here with the Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Alexander Luthor, he’d found himself extremely attracted to her. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Hawkman and Scarab: The Road to Shamballah.]
But it was more than just her looks. She had a wonderful personality and a caring way about her. She also happened to be a sorceress, one of the best in the land. One could say that she cast a spell over him, but not a magical one. His sensitivity to magic would have revealed that. No, the spell was a more natural one.
Jared Stevens was in love with Jennifer Morgan. And he knew that she had similar feelings for him as well.
This was part of the reason that he’d been so relaxed here since his arrival. He knew he’d eventually have to make his way to Earth-One proper, if it were possible. The communication between the two worlds had been cut off by a mystic barrier since the Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the summer of 1985. Before Alexander Luthor had returned to Earth-Two with the Hawks, he had hoped that Jared might be able to figure out what was preventing Jared from returning with them. His was a special case, and perhaps he might hold a key to breaking though the barrier between worlds someday. In the meantime, Jared had been using the excuse that he wanted to see more of Skartaris first before embarking on his mission. It was enough of a reason to allow him to spend more time with Jennifer.
Time meant something very different here in Skartaris than it did in the outside world. Although it only felt like a few weeks had passed since his arrival in November of 1986, Jennifer reckoned that about eight months or so had elapsed in the outside world, and it was now July, 1987. It was hard for Jared to believe at first, until Jennifer dropped a bombshell: her father, Travis Morgan the Warlord, had been born in 1926. In the outside world, he would’ve been close to retirement at sixty-one years of age, while in Skartaris he was still an active and virile adventurer far younger than his chronological years. Jared had often found himself wondering about this. Just how long did people live in Skartaris?
His thoughts were broken as something brushed up against his leg under the table. At first it was a passing brush, but then it became more insistent. The look on his face alerted the others at the table that something was amiss.
“Is something wrong?” Tara asked.
“Uh… no… I don’t think…” Jared said.
Jennifer lifted the dark tablecloth and glanced underneath. There, a black cat was rubbing about on Jared’s leg with great intent. “Shakira!” Jennifer exclaimed. “Shoo! Now!”
The cat glanced at her with a biting look, tossed its head, and bound out from under the table. The three watched it go. Then the cat spun around in the center of the floor, glared at the group, and transformed.
Standing there now was a dark-haired young woman in a skimpy black fur outfit. “You’re no fun at all, Jennifer,” Shakira said playfully. “I’ll retire to my chambers.” She tossed Jared a sultry look with her blue-green eyes and sauntered off.
Jennifer fumed slightly. The nerve of that shape-changer, she thought to herself.
Tara saw Jennifer’s face but did not know what to say to her stepdaughter.
Jared felt a bit awkward about the whole situation. He realized it best to change the subject fast. “Tara, where is Travis today?”
“Not too far,” the queen replied. “He went off to the Forest of Ebonar to help an old friend.”
“My father doesn’t like to sit around idle,” Jennifer added. “During times of quiet and peace, he still likes to keep his hands busy, even if it’s just helping build a new fort.”
“It is good to keep the relations with the outlands positive,” Tara said. “After all, anything he can do for diplomacy goes a long way to undercutting the instances of confrontation.”
Jennifer nodded in agreement. “True.”
Suddenly, a figure burst into the room. A lanky green lizard-man stumbled to a stop at the edge of the table. “My queen!” He gasped to catch his breath. “My queen, I seek help!”
Jared poured a glass of water for his friend and handed it to him. “Grell, what is it? What’s wrong?”
Grell gulped down the liquid, then brushed the excess away with the back of his hand. “Friend Jared! My thanks!”
“Grell, you need my help?” Tara asked.
“Seek Warlord,” Grell said. “Got word. Trouble at home. Need help!”
“Your home?” Jared asked. Grell and he had talked some since the day he arrived in Skartaris. Grell hailed from a small village of mutated lizard-people to the northwest, past the mountains. “What’s wrong?”
“Invaders!” Grell said. “Small number, but very strong. Very bad. Take over village.”
“Travis knows that region well,” Tara said. “His plane crashed down not far from there many years ago when he first arrived here.” That was shortly before he and Tara first met.
“Father is not far,” Jennifer said. “I’m sure he’d be willing to go investigate the situation.”
“Definitely,” Jared said. “Grell, let me take you to him.” The man rose from the table and took the lizard-man by the hand.
“Thank you, friend Jared,” Grell said over and over.
A short time later, Jared Stevens landed in a clearing in the forest. The trip was a relatively easy one for him, given the abilities of flight he possessed as the Scarab. The magical beetle artifact embedded into his chest gave him that gift, among others. Grell, however, hadn’t enjoyed the flight at all, even though Jared held the lizard-man firmly in his arms.
“There we go,” Jared said, putting down his friend. “See, no problem, right?”
“No, no problem,” Grell said shaking his head. Still, Jared could see the lizard-man was happy to have both feet firmly planted on the dirt once more.
Jared looked around the area and paused. He then heard the sounds of hammering and voices coming from just beyond some brush. He turned to Grell. “Come on, this way.” The two worked their way through the greenery, ducking under low-lying branches until they came upon an opening. There they saw a number of men erecting a large fence made from the trunks of fallen trees. One man in particular was whom they sought.
Travis Morgan was a well-built man with long white hair. His face was covered by a mustache and short beard. As he worked, sweat beaded down his muscular bare chest. He swung his mallet as he would a mace or club in battle: firm, solid, and with complete accuracy.
When he finally paused for a break, Jared called to him. “Travis!”
Travis Morgan turned and smiled. “Jared, Grell, what are you doing here?”
“They’re friends of yours, Warlord?” a dark-haired man with heavy eyes asked.
“Indeed,” Travis replied. “Let me introduce you.” Travis Morgan motioned for the new arrivals to come over. “Mikola Rostov, this is Jared Stevens and Grell.”
They exchanged pleasantries. Jared knew of Mikola, or at least his name. The man at one time had been in love with Jennifer Morgan. The two had parted ways. Jennifer had told Jared this as they were getting to know one another, at that point where couples often spoke about past relationships.
Jared quickly explained why they had come, and Grell told of what he knew about those that had attacked his home village. It wasn’t a lot of information to go on, but it was enough to realize that it could be a potentially bad situation. Travis Morgan listened intently, nodding. The former Air Force pilot was also starting to think about how to handle the situation.
“I could join you,” Mikola offered. “You might need my rather unique skills.”
The Warlord put his hand on his old friend’s shoulder. “Thank you, Mikola,” he said, “but I think you’re needed here to continue supervision of this work. However, there is another way you can help.” He quickly told his friend what they would need. Mikola nodded.
Before the sun was in the late afternoon sky, the trio was riding out of the forest on horseback. Mikola had been able to provide them with steeds and provisions for their trip. At the moment, they rode east on the Merchant Route, a worn trail that was used to move goods throughout the land.
Jared shifted in the saddle. Riding was not one of his better skills. “I could have flown us there,” he said. “It would have been faster.”
“Perhaps,” Travis said, “but Grell could not accompany us then.” The lizard-man nodded. He was much happier on a horse than in the air, but only slightly. “Besides, part of this is investigative in nature. A flying man would draw attention to ourselves.”
“Oh,” Jared said, and he had to agree. “I guess you’re right. We wouldn’t want to do that and make things harder for us.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say this will be a picnic,” Travis replied. “Things will get a lot trickier when we turn off the trail and head north. Though we’ll be following the edges of the Kharakan River, that doesn’t decrease our chances greatly from encountering trouble. We’ll have to ride through a good bit of the night to avoid the mercenary raiders.”
Grell cringed slightly. “I no like them. They take gold.”
“What if we have nothing for them to take?” Jared asked.
“They take life,” Grell said coldly.
Travis tried not to laugh. “We’ll be fine if we keep moving,” he said. And they continued on.
For three days the trio rode hard, stopping only at night, and even then for just a few hours rest when it was safe. They had, at times, been forced to outrun some rampaging dinosaurs and other threats with intentions to kill them.
They steered clear of the city of Thera, a place that Morgan told them he once was welcomed as a god until incurring the wrath of Deimos, the high priest.
Soon after, the Kharakan joined up with the Balagar River. They continued to follow the river north, even when it wound a bit to the east. To their west was the Desert of Sorrows, another place they wouldn’t want to pass through unless it was absolutely a necessity.
Finally, they were getting closer to the village of the lizard-men. They dismounted, safely hiding their horses so they could continue to creep closer on foot. “Grell, perhaps it best you remain here with the steeds,” Travis Morgan suggested.
“Grell want to help!” the lizard-man said.
“I know you do,” the Warlord said, “but we’re not sure what we’ll find there. We don’t want to risk anything happening to you, either.”
“Grell no help?”
Jared looked at his friend. “You help by guarding the horses,” he said. “That’s a very big help.”
“And,” Warlord added, “if we are not back by the setting of the sun, we’ll need you to ride and get help. Can you do that for us?”
The lizard-man nodded. “Grell can.”
“Good man,” the Warlord said. He then motioned for Jared to follow, and the two humans started off toward the village.
“Is that such a good idea?” Jared asked when they were well out of earshot. “If there’s a lot of trouble there, isn’t it better to have an extra set of hands?”
“It depends,” the Warlord replied. “We’re not sure who these invaders are and what they’ve done to the village. If it is a small number like the message Grell got was led to believe, it’s likely that you and I can take them ourselves.”
“And if it’s not?”
“If it’s not, then we merely assess the situation and plan a better strategy.”
Jared nodded. He liked the way Travis Morgan thought. The man was hardly rash; years trying to survive in a place like this would do that to a man — that and the military training he had on the outside world. It was easy to see why his name was the stuff of legends in Skartaris.
Approaching the village, they crouched down in some heavy brush. They sat quietly, observing all they could to get a handle on the situation.
The lizard village was made up of various small buildings that mostly served the purpose of antechambers. Their true dwellings were small caves underground with tunnels that connected them to the buildings above. This allowed the species to remain cooler in the times of great heat that often accompanied the summer months, not that the rest of the year was that temperate to begin with.
A few females moved about the grounds, mostly gathering buckets of water or foodstuffs from the nearby pools and brush. Most of them had an expression of weariness or concern about them. When they spoke, it was in hushed voices as if to avoid being overheard.
Two large males then appeared, the first males Travis and Jared had witnessed during their time of observation. Both were rather large and stocky. While a similar green in color to the women, their features differed slightly. When they spoke, they did so loudly and in a tongue that unintelligible to either man. The two males grabbed at the females, fondling them to the females’ dismay. Then they would laugh at the antics and the women’s reactions before sauntering away.
“I guess we know what doesn’t belong here,” Jared whispered to his friends.
Travis nodded. “True. But where are the males like Grell? And how many are there of these outsiders?”
They would have to watch a bit more.