Dragons fight in the meadow.
With a flap of its great wings, the immense, red-scaled dragon took to the skies. Straddling aboard its shoulders was a giant of a man, easily seven feet tall.
Two other individuals took off in pursuit. The first was a gargoyled figure who could have been cousin to the dragon himself, possessing red skin, bat-like wings, and sharp teeth; he wore a white and green uniform with a red dragon, passant, proudly emblazoned on his chest. The second was a woman clad in a gold cloak and a revealing black outfit, whose fiery red hair seemed indicative of her incendiary temper.
Energy bursts from the woman's hands, and she wove a cage around the dragon. It backed away in mid-air, and whirled to look at her, a glare in its eye. The man on its shoulders chortled, and leapt through the cage in a cannonball, tackling the woman mid-air. She howled in rage as he dragged her down to the ground.
The gargoyled man watched the pair tumble, and inhaled deeply, then exhaled fiery breath at the dragon. The dragon almost seemed to laugh, cavorting in the air as it bathed in the flame, then swept a powerful wing against its opponent. The other dodged, barely.
Before hitting the ground, the woman hit the man face-first in a projected burst of energy. He swore, and released his grip, falling to the grassy meadow below. He looked upwards as he saw the woman abandon him, returning to do battle with the dragon. "Hey ... no fair!" he shouted.
The dragon began evasive maneuvers as the other two engaged in pursuit, but his retreat was halted suddenly by the appearance mid-air of a voluptuous redheaded woman clad in green, white, and red. She held her hands out, gesturing for him to stop. Her expression was sober.
The gargoyle and the woman caught up to the odd pair. Before they could speak, she pointed downwards, and the foursome descended to join the grounded man. The dragon slowly changed form, revealing a slender young man in a red uniform named Ned Ralston.
"About time you all showed up," the giant grumbled. "That wasn't fair, Blodwen, you know I can't fly."
Blodwen Reese scowled at him. "Then you should've kept your hands to yourself when you jumped me."
Owen Llewwlyn grinned, "Can't hardly blame a man, the way you dress."
"Hey, cut it out, you two," the gargoyled figure, Gareth Rhys, interrupted. He turned to face the redheaded woman. "Captain, what's the matter? You look grim."
She sighed. "I just got off the phone with Earth 6200's Acromaid; they're cancelling our annual crossover with Caliburn. Captain Wales is dead."
The four looked at her, stunned. The young man blurted out, "Captain Wales? Huw Gruffydd? That's ... I can hardly believe it ... "
Captain Cymru looked thoughtful for a moment. "I ought to ring Captain Babylon of Earth 451; he and Gruffydd were particularly close."
The gargoyled figure put a scaly hand on her shoulder. "Diana," Gareth Rhys said softly, "you were close to him too. How are you doing?"
She reached up and squeezed his hand affectionately. She remembered the back seat of a plush Mercedes-Benz, a startling moment of collision with a pillar, and a pair of impossible specters that had conjured themselves from that night to make her an offer. "We've all died in the Corps, Gareth," she whispered.
Johnny Calhoon, Carol Flane, and Kerry Lattimer ran along the yellow-grey cliffs of the vale of Glamorgan. Carol laughed, eyes sparkling like electricity. "Keep it up, Johnny! You're going to put the Yanks to shame!"
Johnny groaned, "I'd like to see how long the two of you would last on the floor of a Detroit steelworks."
Kerry emitted a powerful laugh. He paused, waiting for Johnny to catch up, playing mediator between his two companions.
Finally, Johnny caught up, the chill air burning his lungs. He pogo'ed into Kerry, shoving against him as Carol backtracked to watch the two men clowning around. "Come on, boyos," she said with an indulgent expression, "it's starting to get dark, and I want to be back at the hotel by nightfall."
Kerry donned a mock-petulant face, "Mother hen," he said, but proceeded to follow her, taking Johnny by the hand and pulling him along.
As they walked back along the cliffs, Johnny squinted as they approached a gnarled and lifeless tree, alone on the vale. That's odd, he thought, I don't remember seeing that on our way out. He shrugged internally, but as they passed by he tripped over a root.
"Damnit," he cursed to himself, as he sat back upright. Kerry looked at him with concern. "You all right?"
Johnny shook his head, "Just my mind playing tricks on me." He reached out, grabbing hold of the trunk of the tree to pull himself upright, when twisted branches spewed out from the trunk of the tree, wrapping around his hand. He barely had time to react as his skin hardened to match the bark, more branches shooting up from his throat to silence any further noise.
Carol watched in horror, "arri arri," she cried out as she and Kerry ran off into the evening light.
In Caerdydd, capital city of the United Kingdom, a great winged beast blocked out the sunlight as the citizenry looked up to see a quintet of colorful figures descend amidst chaos. The streets were tangled with overgrown trees and briars, which despite its animated growth remained to all appearances dry and dead. Scattered throughout the city block were innumerable statues carved from petrified wood, unfortunate souls who have been caught and overgrown by the infestation. Still, many people in the crowds cheered as they saw the team come to earth.
Captain Cymru beamed smiles at her fans, and gestured to the team. Soon, Red Dragon's flame and Stinger's energy blasts began to clear a way through the streets, and the great wings of Pendragon flew trapped cars and people to safety. Gog, his cybernetic body immune to the contact with the wood, worked on clearage and rescue in tighter corners.
Eventually, a police car drove up the cleared street, and a burly man in a trench coat disembarked. "Caledvwlch," the police inspector muttered.
"Inspector Dai Thomas," Captain Cymru said softly. "How may we be of service?"
The inspector eyed the team sourly. He had little truck with costumed vigilantes, particularly ones who fed off of celebrity the way their leader did. Probably unpatriotic even to think that, he grumbled silently, she's certainly used her fame enough for worthy causes. "We've had a report that the Gerald Swan laboratories have been broken into by the Vampire Lady and her Atomic Gang." He hissed, "I can't believe they'd take advantage of this disaster."
Captain Cymru nodded. "We've faced her before, Inspector. This is nothing unusual." She looked around at her team, then focused on Blodwen. "Stinger, are you fully charged?"
The other woman shook her head, "We've all been working overtime on these relief efforts. I still have most of my backup storage pods … "
Captain Cymru thought for a moment. "Stay here and help Inspector Thomas with relief work. Gog, Pendragon, Red Dragon, we're going to go take on those perps. We're going to have to make it hard and fast, we don't have time to waste and we're all needed elsewhere."
Gog grinned, cracking his knuckles, then hopped aboard Pendragon's back. "Hard and fast is the way I like it."
Stinger looked at him innocently, "Probably why you don't have a girlfriend, Gog."
The man scowled, "Hey … ulp!" then almost fell backwards as Pendragon soared skywards, Captain Cymru and Red Dragon close behind.
Several minutes later, they hovered over the science centre. Red Dragon pointed out a pair of police cars outside the rear gate, and swooped down to converse with them. On his return, he gestured towards the ceiling hatchway. "They think they're in the basement, interfering with the cyclotron."
Captain Cymru wrinkled her nose. "Pendragon, you stay out here and keep watch." She gestured to the remaining pair, "Come on." Arching her body gracefully, she dove down to the ground floor, detaching the front door with surprising quietness. Red Dragon grabbed Gog under his arms and lowered him to the ground.
The trio crept through the darkened hallways, seeking the laboratory in question. Captain Cymru talking point, they burst in to the room which housed the atom-smasher. A tall woman with deathly pale skin and a black dress turned to face them. "Your Royal Highness," she said sarcastically, baring her fangs.
Captain Cymru drew her gun from her side. "Scofflaw," she said, and filled the Vampire Lady's maw with Plastrix adhesive. The Atomic Gang, their armor bristling with power, turned to face the team. Captain Cymru pointed them out in a line, "Power lines from their battery packs to their weaponry," she said, and the trio swooped forward, disconnecting the Gang's blasters from their batteries.
Gog said, "Why didn't we do that when we faced them before?" as he began to take the disoriented Gang members down with his powerful fists.
Red Dragon blasted one of their still standing opponents with his fiery breath. "I don't know, maybe we weren't motivated enough."
Captain Cymru watches them for a moment, before walking over to confront the Vampire Lady, who clutched and clawed at her face. "Don't worry, it will dissolve on its own soon. Fussing at it will only ruin your complexion."
From a hidden spot in the laboratory, two further members of the Atomic Gang leapt into action, firing their blasters at the closest team member. Gog howled in pain as the energy seared his augmented flesh, and lunged forward to grab the pair, slamming them into one another and tossing them behind him in a contemptuous gesture.
The two landed on the reactor, breaching its protective shielding, their cracked armor casings shooting sparks. A security alarm began sounding, sirens and flashing red lights.
Captain Cymru whirled around. "Gog ... damnit!" She picked the Vampire Lady up by her cloak and tossed her at Red Dragon. "Gareth, get her and Owen out of here." She began to wrap her hands around the dangling power cords of a pair of the felled Atomic Gang members. "I'll take care of the rest."
Red Dragon began to object, "Diana, you can't ... "
"Do it!" she screamed imperiously, and he took hold of his passengers and swept upwards through the building, making his way out the front door and into the sky. Pendragon looked at him as he came into the air, the dragon tilting his head like a curious cat. "Explosion," Red Dragon gasped. Without a second thought, Pendragon swooped back down to the ground, grabbing a police car in each claw and transporting their passengers to safety.
Gog pointed, "Look, here she comes," as they witnessed the spectacle of Captain Cymru shooting upwards like a missile, a half-dozen armored felons suspended from each hand. She had almost reached the level of the rooftop before the building exploded.
The shockwaves tossed her through the air, scattering her passengers and sending her crashing, disoriented, back down to Earth. She lay for a moment, stunned, and then struggled to upright herself. She didn't notice at first that her bared leg had fallen into a dead, tangled, thicket.
When the other three descended to meet her, she was nothing but petrified statuary.
The room was small and cozy, the surroundings prettily ornamented in a style she considered reminiscent of her grandmother's generation. The family's clothes were likewise antiquated.
The mother was seated at one end of the small dining room table, stylishly dressed for the family dinner. The father stood, as he surveyed his family and his surroundings with a benevolent air. Aside him was a small girl in pigtails, in a frilly dress. The baby in the room, almost a toddler, was naked.
"Why choose me?" whined the younger child, and the older one looked increasingly uneasy and agitated. "Why choose me?" The father put his hand comfortingly on the head of the pigtailed girl, and without a word took the toddler by the neck, turning it face down and calmly severing its spine at the neck with his carving knife. The head rolled off bloodlessly as it was severed, and the father began to carve into the child's flanks.
On the floor, next to the mother, was a large red bag, on which was painted in flourished white letters, "Mihangel's Baby Mart."
She opened her eyes, to see her four companions staring down at her, worried and amazed. She quickly scrambled away from the desiccated tree, crawling into the arms of Gareth Rhys. "Eeuuuurh," she cried out in fear and disgust.
"Diana?" his voice was concerned as he wrapped his red arms around her. "We thought you were dead."
"Ah god," she said. She wept, and looked back up at him. "I dreamt ... no, I can't possibly tell you." After a moment, she reached out and squeezed Blodwen Reese's hand as well, taking several deep breaths, trying to calm herself.
"Welcome back," said the other woman.
Ned Ralston, in his human form, approached her. "What happened to you in there?" he said softly.
Captain Cymru stared at him levelly. "It was not just my physical powers that were enhanced when I became Captain Cymru, but also my powers of empathy. I understand people's suffering. I feel people's pain." She looked back up at the gnarled grove which surrounded them. "We've been going about this the wrong way entirely. These plants are sentient. Moreover, I know who they are."
Gog scratched his head, "An old friend of yours? Sorry about screwing up back there, Captain, this is all my fault."
"It's all right, Owen," she said softly. "Without your mistake we might never have solved this problem, just caused more misery. When ... " she shook her head, finding herself again. "When I first met Dane Whitman, I had lost my mind at the time. This was before Myrrdin and Roma took us both to do battle in the otherworldly land of Annwyn. I was roaming around Cornwall, and barely knew who I was. I met a woman there, Old Sarah Mumford, who took me in." She stood up again, and walked over to delicately touch a tangled branch with her gloved hand. "In trying to protect us both from the evil magician Medrawd, Sarah was transformed into a tree. I was in no shape to help her, then, and all this time she must have been gathering magical energy into herself like a power battery, unable to move or free herself, but finally strong enough to take some sort of action in the physical world." She rested her head against a branch, "Dear Sarah has suffered horribly from all our attempts to clear the city, and she used what images she could to inform me of this. Fortunately, I could decipher her crazed dream-logic."
Red Dragon watched her, "What are you going to do?"
Captain Cymru thought for a moment, then rose into the air. "I need Victoria Bentley."
Later, two women, one bright and one dark, stood by a gnarled tree near an abandoned cottage. An old grey cat sat perched on one of its branches. Captain Cymru smiled, "Hello Greymalkin," and reached out to caress the ancient feline, who nuzzled her hand and purred. "Do you remember me? I am sorry it has taken so long to return."
Behind her, the sorceress Victoria Bentley gestured magically. "This is a powerful spell, I don't think I can reverse it. I'm sorry, Diana."
Captain Cymru looked up. "Is there nothing you can do?"
Victoria Bentley closed her eyes, and sighed. "I can't restore her, but I can free her." Her voice cast force terrible chants from centuries past, and the tree twisted upon itself, compressing and then finally imploding, being replaced by an image in brilliant gold light; the image finally transforming into the shape of Sarah Mumford. "Sarah?" Captain Cymru whispered.
The image flickered, growing younger and finally transforming to a lovely women in her twenties. She reached out her hands, "Thank you, my dear ones."
Victoria Bentley bowed deeply. "Greetings, old one. We are here at your pleasure. What do you wish?"
"Sarah, I should have come sooner," said Captain Cymru sadly.
Sarah Mumford smiled, "You did not know. What matters is that you came." She intangibly caressed the woman's cheek, "I go now to join the six Proud Walkers in the land of Ehangder Dechreunos. Be well, loved ones." The image flickered again and vanished.
Victoria Bentley sighed deeply. "Thank you for including me in that, Diana. Although my mystical responsibilities take me elsewhere, you know I am always ready to stand by the side of Caledvwlch as an ally."
"I thank you for what you did, Victoria. An old friend can rest in peace, finally, and a debt is paid. Now let us return to Caerdydd, there is still much work to do." Without another word, the pair rose into the sky and returned home.
All characters trademark and copyright Marvel Comics, Inc.
The surname 'Rhys' comes from Siadwel Daffyd Rhys, Red Dragon from Grant Morrison's "Zenith" strip which appeared in 2000 AD.
"I understand people's suffering. I feel people's pain. I also know how to make catchy pop records" was a quotation attributed to Henrietta Hunter in X-Statix, originally intended to be a revived Lady Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales.
'Ehangder Dechreunos' is a literal Welsh translation of 'Dusk Latitudes,' the mystical realm Alan Moore had intended to appear in his "Nightjar" series. Moore had planned to do a three-part horror story early during his tenure on the "Captain Britain" strip featuring Sarah Mumford, but Alan Davis steered him towards sci-fi instead. That information inspired this chapter. For more on Old Sarah Mumford, see the Marvel Appendix.