Chapter Twenty-Six: Unsealed

After I sent the signal to be taken back to my native Earth, I suppose I expected the strobe effect (fleeting glimpses of one alien world after another) from my journey to Tazza's realm to replay itself in reverse as my passenger and I went back the other way.

Didn't happen that way. Most of the return trip had me surrounded by meaningless swirls and flashes of color, as if someone had embedded me in a kaleidoscope and then started shaking vigorously.

Then we passed through an environment of total darkness for at least four seconds.

Finally we emerged back in the secret lair where Phantazia and her technicians were waiting. During my long absence, there'd been some turnover in the Tektos presence, however; Fugue was still there, and a guy who was probably Karbon, but three other members must've gotten bored and wandered out.

Phantazia only had eyes for "Vera Gemini," which was just as well—if she'd expected me to carry on an intelligent conversation, she might have noticed something wrong with my voice or syntax, even when I was speaking through the helmet of the haz-mat suit.

"Go change, Misty," Phantazia said absently, already fixated on the motionless form I'd brought back, and making gestures at it which had no effect that I could see. "I need to probe this spell for a bit before I find the right way to disrupt it without hurting the woman inside."

I headed for the dressing room where we'd left the real Mist Mistress. I was not terribly surprised to find she wasn't there; my temporary allies must have relocated her so that no stray passers-by would trip over her body and think something fishy was going on.

My allies had not, however, left behind her costume, nor her hair cut off and turned into a wig. That eliminated the hope of disguising myself as Mist Mistress the way we'd discussed. Which meant that if I took off the haz-mat suit and then showed my face outside this room, I'd spotted as an escaped prisoner by the first member of the cabal to come along.

I shucked the suit anyway. Walking around in it now that the mission was completed would also look suspicious, and if I had to fight, that bulky thing would just handicap me.

On the other hand, the pistol and the knife might come in handy. I wasn't eager to shoot anybody, but it beat them killing me.

I wasted a few minutes searching the room, trying to see if Fortescue or Black Lotus or one of the others had left behind any sort of message for me. A scrap of paper would be nice, but I'd settle for less. Something written in the dust on top of a piece of furniture, for instance.

Either they hadn't left any such message, or else it was too subtle for me. Which left me to fall back on my own judgment. Was I better off just waiting in this room and hoping to kayo the first person who poked her head in, or should I try to make a run for it?

Not knowing my location was a strong point against counting on the "make a run for it strategy" to amount to anything.

Another point was my near-certainty that Dreamqueen and Amora had turned the Vera Gemini statue into a Trojan Horse. When Phantazia found a way to crack the petrification spell, it was likely to blow up in her face.

Perhaps literally?

I didn't know the details, but it seemed likely that whatever happened would create a large distraction which could be used to my advantage.

So I chose to wait in the undecorated little room which was only a "dressing room" by courtesy. Sooner or later, something would happen—an intrusion into the room, or a loud noise in the distance, or a power failure, or something—and I'd know it was time to act.

Therefore, I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

(Yes, this was getting monotonous.)

Then came a sound like a thunderclap. I decided to wait at least one minute before moving—in order to give any bad guys elsewhere in this HQ enough time to run toward the sound of the disturbance, so they'd be less likely to see me taking off in the other direction.

As usual with my spur-of-the-moment plans, it didn't quite happen that way. All of a sudden there was no longer a concrete wall separating this room from the bigger one where I had left Phantazia and "Vera Gemini."

No explosion; no shock wave; no shrapnel flying through the air; the wall just . . . ceased to exist. Phantazia and Fugue had their backs to me; they were confronting a woman who looked more like an aerobics instructor than a dangerous magic-user. She had long, wavy blond hair and was wearing a scoop-necked, sleeveless purple leotard, coordinated with pale pink tights on her legs. There was something brown strapped around her ankles and lower calves, as if to provide a little extra support. I admit that, unlike most aerobics instructors, this lady was hovering about three feet above the floor and had yellow energy shimmering around both hands.

"Free!" she cried. "Did you think to taunt me to my face, bringing me out into fresh air just long enough to gloat? Know your folly now!" She waved her left hand and a technician vanished into thin air, along with the desk and computer which the poor woman had been standing next to.

Phantazia was probably doing something with her own powers, but I couldn't tell. At any rate, she was also trying sweet reason: "Woman, I released you from that binding spell! Why assume I am your enemy?"

A yellow beam streaked from the blond's right hand toward Phantazia and then seemed to dissipate a few inches away from its target. Meanwhile, the spellcaster was saying loudly, "You may have some ability, mortal, but you lack the resources to subjugate a true Spellbinder!"

I was getting a very bad feeling about this. Phantazia and the blond seemed to be talking right past each other; I didn't think the blond was actually listening to anything Phantazia was saying. Seemed like a good time for me to run out the door of the dressing room while those high-powered women were keeping each other busy . .

.Author's Note:

The new arrival who was magically disguised as a statue-ized Vera Gemini is actually Erica Fortune, also known as "Spellbinder." She had a six-part miniseries in the late 80s, followed by a five-part serial in the pages of "Marvel Comics Presents" in 1993. Erica was originally a very nice person, but it turned out that the more you use Spellbinder powers, the crazier you get. Irreversibly, I gather. When last seen, Erica was being imprisoned inside a magically-created crystal cage by her younger brother Roy (the potential for being a Spellbinder seems to run in the family). Then he deliberately destroyed the mystic items which had made him able to hold his own against Erica's rampage (I think they may have channeled and focused the latent power he otherwise wouldn't have been able to use effectively?) so that he wouldn't be tempted to keep using that great power over and over until he ended up as dangerously insane as his poor sister.

To the best of my knowledge, Erica the Spellbinder has never done anything in any other comic book story since 1993. I am told that Erica was one of many obscure characters who were briefly mentioned in "Civil War: Battle Damage Report," but her status was listed as "Undetermined." In other words, we didn't see her running around loose, freed from her crystal prison. The brief mention of her simply acknowledged that the U.S. government still had a file on her, but didn't know where she was or what the heck had happened to her! (My best guess: Her brother never bothered to file an official report about how he'd imprisoned his big sister as a way to keep her from destroying the world or whatever she had in mind.)

I simply assume that by the time of this serial fanfic, Amora the Enchantress had somehow obtained that crystal prison and set it aside for a rainy day, on the theory that sooner or later she might want to have Erica unleashed in somebody else's back yard and see how much trouble she could cause. Sort of like having your own little nuclear hand grenade, I suppose.