Meanwhile, the party still in Olympus tries to bring some sort of conclusion to their various quests. A team of MANHUNTER, WHITE LOTUS, HURICON, MUJAHEDEEN, and HUMMINGBIRD negotiates with Aphrodite and finds that her request is simply that a new temple to her, or modern equivalent, be set up in the world for her to visit.
Huricon offers to endow a museum of erotic and romantic art in Paris, which seems to set well with the goddess of love.
Resolving the ARES/RED STAR/HERAKLES problem is more difficult. Herakles insists that the heroes perform three labors for him. Appealing to ZEUS does no good, but HERA seeks out the heroes and offers her help. HERMES offers his help to the heroes once they have set off on their first quest.
The first labor is to bring Heracles the Conch Horn of Posiedon. The team negotiates with Poseidon, who has little love for Herakles. However, he insists that Zeebreis stay the night with him, which she does. The heroes take the horn to Herakles, then have Poseidon use his oceans to sweep the horn back to his grasp.
The second labor is to bring Herakles the Helm of Invisibility of Hades. Hades is a friend of Herakles, and not likely to go along with any games. The team must be conducted by their friend Hermes to Hades, fight and evade Cerberus, and then fight Hades himself for the helm, while he is wearing it. The struggle is sharp and vicious, but the helm is retrieved. The team brings it to Herakles, then arranges for it to be returned by Hermes.
The third labor is to bring Herakles one of Zeus's thunderbolts. The team decides to ask this of HEPHAESTUS, rather than the already hostile Zeus. They play on the smith god's jealousy of Ares philandering with his wife, Aphrodite, and suggest that if Ares is occupied with Red Star, his wife might be more faithful to him. He agrees and supplies thunderbolts he had not yet given to Zeus. He tells the team that, once they have Ares, they should leave the collar Herakles put on him around his neck, so that his powers will be damped when Red Star takes him to Earth.
However, Herakles plays with the thunderbolts when he gets them and throws one at Ares, which weakens the collar. Ares breaks free. He then ignores Red Star and starts to walk away. Herakles suggests she hit him, she does with a move through.
While he is down, Hermes shows up with EROS, who puts an arrow into Ares. When he wakes up, Ares finds Red Star trying to awaken him and kisses her passionately.
Ares suggests that Red Star stay with him on Olympus, and she agrees. Aphrodite is somewhat upset with Eros. Freedom Force is real upset with White Lotus, who let Red Star stay on Olympus when Freedom Force didn't want anyone left behind. Of course, one should always remember that the embrace of the gods is ALWAYS fertile, and both Red Star and Zeebries must count the months. . .
The team returns only days after the other team, showing that time on Olympus is not only different from that of Earth, it varies. General Gerard has forbidden any further expeditions to that dimension until these things can be predicted better. He doesn't want the world to be without the services of Vanguard for a year while the team enjoys an entertaining weekend on Olympus.
In Australia, BOOMER sees some strange fireworks on the Dreamtime, a hole opens up in the sky and a body starts falling toward him. Rescuing the figure, he realizes that it is NIGHTSTALKER, a hero from the 1980s whom he met about a year before (Mission 27). Nightstalker explains that he was following Michelle Kirkandopoulus, Achilles Kirkandopoulus (CASTOR of the GEMINI)'s granddaughter in 1989 when he was hit by some strange ray and propelled through that hole in space.
Boomer decides to get Nightstalker to Vanguard base ASAP. He returns home with Nightstalker and Wayerpui, who is carrying his child. Once there, he learns that AMAZONIA and her entire tribe (and almost the entire WONG family) have all been teleported away. Boomer is somewhat disappointed, but he is just as happy not to have Amazonia and Wayerpui in the same place, anyway. Boomer is also disgusted to see that there are now mechanical mind-reading devices on the base.
Boomer also learns that the USSR is very upset at the disappearance of RED STAR and have sent RED LEADER to replace her.
Vanguard is then visited by Michelle Kirkandopoulus, who seems to have been shifted back in time. She says that she came in a castle teleported by Doctor Destroyer.
Just before this time, everyone with psychic powers on the base (and elsewhere in the world) collapsed with terrible headaches. Figuring there is a connection, Boomer, Nightstalker, and Michelle combine with HURACON and FREEDOM FORCE to follow up on several strange events, including the finding of a bunch of little green stones in Death Valley (a vestige of that previous time travel adventure), then proceed to where Michelle knows the castle of Doctor Destroyer has been placed.
Entering the castle, they fight a dragon, just as Boomer and company had to fight before, and finally find where the time machine is. They destroy the machine, confident that White Lotus can probably get Michelle back to her own time.
They also find that Doctor Destroyer's whole trip is an attempt to break up the marriage of Achilles and his fiancee , Athena Chiladakis, a person no one on the base had ever heard of. Speeding to the Greek restaurant run by her parents, the heroes intercept some of Doc D's goons, MASTER STROKE and RUNNING ELK, and capture Master Stroke.
The following Saturday, Achilles and Athena are wed on Vanguard base and leave on a VERY secret honeymoon. Michelle is allowed to watch the wedding from afar, then sent back to her own time with Nightstalker.
Iceland is shivering under incredible blizzards -- worse than any the country has suffered in centuries. They appeal to the UN for help, and part of the assistance sent is a Vanguard team. The group consists of JOTUN, TYR (who worked with Jotun in the Resistance during the war), VALKYRIE, EARTH SPIRIT, and FREEDOM FORCE.
In Iceland, they learn that many of the northern villages and especially the isolated farmsteads are in deep trouble. Teaming up with the local hero, AURORA, the heroes set out -- clearing roads, rescuing farmers, bringing food to shut-ins, and generally doing what a hero has to do. It is very gratifying, though everyone but Jotun and Valkyrie feel like that are slowly freezing to death.
Then they find a farmstead in which the family has been slaughtered, and one of their assailants is dripping green blood! Then they find another in which the farmer managed to kill a strange wolf-like creature. Then one that is under seige by wolf-like creatures and black "men". After a sharp fight, they kill or drive away all the attackers.
During and after the fight, Jotun and Tyr both undergo strange attitude changes. Tyr feels like he recognizes the creatures, and feels an almost berserk hatred for them. He also doesn't trust Jotun, previously a boon companion. Jotun, on the other hand, feels a kinship with the creatures that wars with his disgust for their activities.
They move north to try to find the source of the creatures. After awhile, they realize that they are not on any map they have. They have transferred into another land entirely. Freedom Force realizes that the stars are entirely different than those over Earth. Tyr and Jotun rub each other the wrong way more and more. Aurora, Tyr, and Jotun all feel their powers growing, and Valkyrie feels that more and more is clear to her that she always considered just babbling on her mother's part.
They see a glittering castle in the distance and approach it. They are attacked by a fur-clad worm-like creature that takes a lot of beating. They also hide while a set of giants who look like Jotun and their polar bear pets pass, talking about how they are going to bring Midgard to its knees.
The castle is built of ice. The team decides to pretend that the group consists of prisoners caught by Jotun. Unfortunately, Jotun makes a mistake in saying he is from a place "closer" to Midgard -- the castle IS the place that is closest to Midgard. All of them are thrown into cells, Tyr and Valkyrie without their weaponry. Jotun is very disturbed. There was something familiar about SKRIBALDEER, the Frost Giant chieftain, but he can't think what it is.
But Jotun has tricked the giants into thinking Earth Spirit is a firemage, not an earth creature. Using her powers, she gets the group out of the cells, and they try to find the source of the power these frost giants are using to attack Earth.
Eventually, they find the HEART OF ICE, a gigantic mystic diamond that opens the gateway to Midgard. Tyr seems to be more and more an avatar of the god himself. The team fights the gem's guardians and eventually prevail. Tyr destroys the gem, and Aurora finds that she has the ability to maintain the gate long enough for everyone to escape.
Once back on earth, Tyr realizes that he does have a tie deeper than his name to the god whose name he uses. Jotun is hit with a feeling of loss, a feeling he has no real way of understanding. On the other side of the gate, Skribaldeer wonders what happened to turn his son against him
SORCERER, the RAKSASHA, MIND TIGER, TENRYUKAZE, and SHINYU attack the place where DR. QUAL is being held. They capture Earth Spirit. FREEEDOM FORCE, SWIFTSURE, SWIFTY, AURIC, WHITE LOTUS, WONG and ZEEBREIS attempt to hunt down the villains and are mislead for awhile by LEPRECHAN. Finally, they capture the Irish mischief-maker, who tells them that the villains are holed up in a cave in the Berkeley hills.
The heroes send Swifty to report to Gerard, then confront the villains in the cave. The fight is a disaster. Shinyu gets her jaws on both Swiftsure and Zeebreis.
Wong is slain, but so is Dr. Qual. White Lotus flees with Wong's body. Freedom Force and Auric are both knocked out and captured.
Zeebreis comes to some consciousness. She feels like she is drifting in her desolid state as water mist, and she cannot reform. At the same time, she realizes that there is another presence in this mist with her. She instinctively realizes that she is pregnant - with Poseidon's child! But why can't she reform to solidity?
Swiftsure comes to consciousness in a sensory-deprived state. Is he really conscious? Something assures him that he will be all right. "But vat about me?" questions another mind. He realizes that he is communication with Dr. Qual! But where is he? Why is he in whatever-he-is-in with Dr. Qual? What is going on?
EFREET is relaxing in his lamp when WHITE LOTUS appears to him with Wong's body in his arms. Then the picture of Wong goes away and White Lotus collapses before Efreet. Efreet contacts Gerard, who puts out a call. The heroes who respond are SWIFTY, HURACON, PRINCESS PHOENIX, DEVADASI, MUJAHEDEEN, TYR and GEMINI (recently returned from his honeymoon).
Tracking down the previous group, they find the cave and the body of Wong.
Probing both White Lotus and Wong, Devadasi realizes that Wong's consciousness barely exists, and is currently residing in White Lotus. White Lotus's consciousness is trying to heal Wong and keep him alive. This stops Devadasi's healing attempts on either body. None of them can think of any way of undoing the situation.
They send Swifty back to Vanguard with Wong's body, then Devadasi and Efreet try to combine abilities to follow where Sorcerer obviously teleported the rest of them.
Just as they are leaving, Swifty returns, and the addition of his super-dense body throws the teleportation awry.
Efreet finds himself underground, bathing in a lava stream. Princess Phoenix is immersed in flame, in which she can seemingly swim. Huracon is floating free in air, takes a minute to orient himself, then sees Mujahedeen underneath him, about to be attacked by a large group of demonic looking creatures (who were fighting each other before Mujahedeen showed up).
Devadasi and Swifty end up in an underground city that seems to teem with 4' tall Japanese kami of various descriptions. Tyr is hanging from a cliff face by his fingers. Gemini is standing near a Japanese-style manor house.
Efreet burrows through the earth and finds himself in the same city with Devadasi and Swifty. They also see that there is a way out into open air. Efreet knows that they are not on earth. They are in an area that is similar, though not the same, as his own home dimension.
Princess Phoenix realizes that she is in a globe of plasma; looking out of the globe, she can see Huracon below. She breaks out of the globe. Fortunately, the plasma is lighter than air, and stays up.
Huracon rescues Mujahedeen and outruns the flying demons chasing him. They team up with Princess Phoenix and head toward the manor house they see in the distance.
In the manor house, Gemini has been welcomed by SORCERER and asked to sit down. SHINYU is there, but a guard outside anounces that strangers are approaching, and she leaves to greet them, in dragon form. To replace her, RAKSHASA enters the room in tiger form and lies down next to Sorcerer. Gemini has seen parts of Auric being used as decoration about the house. He also sees that FREEDOM FORCE's alter ego. Jack Delaney, is acting as a mind-controlled servant, and that EARTH SPIRIT is imbedded in a chunk of amber, and Sorcerer seems to be taking power from her.
Tyr sneaks up to the manor and looks through the paper walls to see this scene. He decides to bring the house down.
Devadasi, Swifty, and Efreet leave the cavern, and are met by MIND TIGER, TENRYUKAZE, and a ew STEEL TIGER.
In the course of the resulting battles, Efreet entombs Steel Tiger many meters down in the earth of this hellworld, Sorcerer uses the Freedom Force aspect of the hero to give Rakshasa more power, then is driven away by the combination of Tyr, Gemini (with Pollux the non-magic, silver-lined-for-this-mission, iron, robot) and Earth Spirit gaining her powers back.
In the fight with Shinyu, Princess Phoenix attempts to ride on Shinyu's flashed head just as Mujahedeen tries to shoot Shinyu. He hits Princess Phoenix instead, but she is rescued by Huracon before anything unfortunate happens. Then the heroes manage to take out the dragon.
At the end of the fight, Sorcerer has gotten away, but the rest of the villains have been captured or, in the case of Steel Tiger, incapacitated. Efreet and Devadasi between them do not have the ability to move everyone back including the prisoners, so they take back Shinyu (in human form) and kill the Rakshasa. Whether Sorcerer can maintain his little other dimension with its sun running wild is a good question.
They leave him to figure it out.
Things are fairly uneventful on Vanguard base for a month, though the rest of the world is still steaming. Axis Annie is convicted of treason in an American court for her Axis broadcasts to the Allies during World War II. The Shah of Iran, PRINCESS PHOENIX's brother, narrowly escapes assassination by super-powered assassins.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is now public knowledge; the Russians are very upset.
Closer to home, the West Coast of America is experiencing the worst winter in a century. It has snowed in LA.
Even closer to home, the assorted telepaths and teleporters of Vanguard are finally getting over the disorientation they felt when Doctor Destroyer (and, it is suspected, some other people) tried to mess up the time stream. Doctor Destroyer may still be at large in the 1940s; some of his henchmen are.
In March, Vanguard replaced the missing SWIFTSURE and ZEEBREIS with two members of the mercenary COMMANDOES: SEALORD (replacing Swiftsure as British representative and Zeebreis as underwater expert) and WHIZBANG (replacing Zeebreis as Netherlands member and Swiftsure as speedster). SWIFTY tried to get appointed in his mentor's place, but was turned down as too young. He still maintains that Swiftsure cannot be dead, despite the testimony of the other Vanguard members who saw him die. For the moment, he is still going to school in San Francisco.
AURIC is still in several pieces, though telepathic probing by SPHINX and DEVADASI have shown that he is still conscious and feeling no particular problem with his disassembled state. Everyone is sure that WHITE LOTUS could put him back together again, but White Lotus still remains in a coma state, along with Wong Hsing. BARON SEMEDI sent SPECTRE to "find" White Lotus's spirit, but he has not yet returned.
Baron Samedi says that he is still searching, and probably does not realize the time passage. On his recommendation, no attempt has been made to get replacements for either White Lotus or Spectre. Meanwhile, Devadasi is trying to figure out some way of reviving Auric, and often consults with Efreet.
Then PHOTOS comes back to base. As a sort of work therapy after discovering that her father is now the power behind Stellari's star bands, she has been working in Peru. She is assisting the Hartford Expedition, an investigation into the site of the first Vanguard mission, a hitherto unknown Incan ruin. She has been assisting with mapping and illustration of the area, and acting as occasional bodyguard and air survey.
While she is visiting back at the base and giving Gerard a report on progress, she receives a message from Doctor Elizabeth Hartford, the leader of the Expedition. Two of Photos's co-workers are missing! Since the site is the former headquarters of SORCERER and DR. BLITZEN, Gerard sends a group back to investigate. The team consists of Photos, BOOMER, CONQUISTADORE, FREEDOM FORCE, HURACON, MUJAHEDEEN, WEREWOLF, and VALKYRIE.
Taking the Mars flying boat to Lake Titicaca, the group is flown by Freedom Force to the temple site. They learn that the pair, a man named Richard Maynard and a woman named Anne Seton were last seen heading for the temple to check out some ideographs.
Werewolf tracks the missing savants to the temple. At the temple, the team cannot find any secret doors until Boomer suggests they move the sacrificial altar. They find a staircase going down. At the bottom of the stairs they find an overgrown area with vine-like plants that seem to provide their own light -- probably a form of fungus. Within the vines, the team finds a door that is not touched by the plants.
It opens easily, leading into a room with doors on the other three walls as well. The opposite door is very hard to open. A combination of Boomer's tunneling boomerang and Freedom Force's strength finally gets them through, to find a large room with several centrally-located tables and lined with caskets that seem to hold people from several eras of history in suspended animation.
On one of the tables is Richard Maynard. His internal organs have been removed from his body and, still connected, laid out on the table next to him. He is still alive and seemingly not in shock, but unconscious.
At this point another door opens in the vine-covered area and a man dressed as an Incan priest walks out of a previously unnoticed building opposite the doors the team opened. Freedom Force demands an explanation. The man does not seem to understand English, and yells out in what Conquistadore recognizes as a tongue related to the modern Mayan that he knows.
A group of priests appear from one side, and a group of warriors from the other. The priests have wands that use light powers similar to Photos's. The warriors have very deadly spears.
The team realizes that this group of supposed Incans seem very similar to the Immortals they have fought before. ALL of the opponents seem capable of regeneration, and all are very hard to knock down and keep down. In typical fashion, the team shows no teamwork, and barely escape with their lives. Photos is in a comatose state, leaking light. Before they can reorganize, the temple is destroyed as what can only be a spaceship rises from underneath the structure the heroes were fighting in (which is not destroyed, though it is broken up somewhat) and speeds away -- not into space, but on a horizontal course.
The heroes patch up their very battered bodies and try to figure out what their next move is. These immortal Incans are still around somewhere, and could be a menace to the world if they are not stopped. But where did they go?
They put themselves together and look over the situation, trying desperately to keep PHOTOS (now more human looking [entirely human looking, in fact - she is nude because her costume is actually a power effect]) from bleeding to death. Suddenly, amongst the ruins of the temple, an Incan woman appears, holding an amber crystal.
Only CONQUISTADORE can talk to her, and he must stumble, but he finds that her name is IMA SUMAC [is there a reason she has the same name as a popular Incan singer of the 1950s?] and she was sent by the woman with the Incas (whom she refers to as Mother Inca) to heal Photos.
She also indicates that she has been in a kind of suspended animation for centuries. She was probably one of the residents of the crystal tubes the team found in the underground temple. She refers to the Inca and Mother Inca as Children of the Sun.
Over the objections of FREEDOM FORCE and WEREWOLF, and watched carefully by the rest of the team of BOOMER, Conquistadore, and MUJAHEDEEN (HURACON and VALKYRIE are still unconscious), Ima takes Photos and the unconscious members down to the undertemple, where they find that Richard Maynard is still on his slab, still unconscious. Ima looks at him and says that he is starting to feel pain, but she must work on Photos first.
As far as anyone can still, she first takes what's left of Photos's soul and puts it into the amber crystal, then opens Photos up, rearranges her organs, and sews her back up again. Then she reinserts the soul, and the amber crystal shatters.
She then moves on to Maynard, re-inserting all his organs and sewing him up again. (Observation of Ima shows that she has a faint scar running from her chin to, probably, her groin.) She then helps revive Huracon and Valkyrie, and tends to a wound that Boomer had been ignoring until all the others were healed up. Photos and Maynard remain comatose, but their vital signs indicate they will recover.
A search of the area reveals that almost everything has been taken in a hurried evacuation, but they find a cache of papers and clay tablets that were left behind.
Most of the paper is diaries and reports from a series of explorers and conquistadores from the 16th through 19th centuries. All of them end with entires about going to investigate a mysterious temple. Huracon and Conquistadore read these with great interest. Boomer attempts to teach Ima some English, and she picks up some words, but Conquistadore is still the only one who can speak to her with any ability. She also seems to have another language, marginally related to the Mayan that Conquistadore is using, that he does not understand at all.
The team heads for Lima to find some people who can translate the ideographs on some of the clay tablets. (The ideograph expert in the archaeological team was Anna Seton, who is still missing.) They find that some of the tablets are not Incan at all. One of them is actually a map with some decent detail of northern South America, and Central America, and southern Mexico up to the area of Mexico City. A number of areas are marked on the map, many of them coinciding with known ruins of the Olmec, Mayan, and Incan culture. Others indicate areas that are thought to be howling wilderness, but may hide ruins.
The team moves up to Belize city in British Honduras and find some experts on the Mayan and Olmec eras. They are also told that something like a meteor or shooting star landed in the water near the city. The description sounds like the "spaceship" used by the Incas.
The map indicates a hithertoo unknown ruin near Belize City. The team resolves to investigate it the next morning. That night, however, Ima is awakened to dreams of screams and death and an admonition by her mistress, Mother Inca, to stay away. Her screams alert the current person on duty, Boomer, who uses his knowledge of the Dreamtime to try to enter her dreams. He is almost killed by a tentacle that comes out of mist. He, too, can hear the screams of death and despair.
The team scrambles and heads for the site. They fly towards its general location and Huracon scouts ahead. He finds a cleared area at the top of a hill that seems to actually be a buried pyramid. The team comes down through relays of Freedom Force and Huracon. Ima refuses to go in, so Boomer grabs her and hauls her along. Werewolf distrusts her, Mujahedeen feels protective.
Entering the pyramid, they follow a tunnel that leads them into an area covered by water, with a small beach littered with the bodies of various Incan warriors, all dead. Knowing from bitter experience that this is a good trick, the team is very wary. The room is filled with a mist that keeps them from seeing the other side of the water, even using their flares and flashlights.
Their voices alert survivors on another beach across the mist. Incan voices ask if the party is the Inca. Ima attempts to talk to them, saying that she has brought help. Huracon and Freedom Force fly towards the other group, but as they reach them they are attacked by a monstrous tentacle rising from the water.
Ima panicks and tries to run. Werewolf, unable to engage the monster in the water, attempts to subdue her, and is attacked by Mujahedeen. Huracon lands on the other beach and finds that there are an Incan priest, two warriors and two women, one Spanish and one black Jamaican, both from previous centuries. They beg to be rescued from the Incas so, ever gallant, he scoops them up and attempts to rejoin his friends. One of the warriors manages to hit him with his throwing spear, though, knocking him out. His momentum lands him on the opposite beach, but the two women land in the water.
Fortunately, the monster has moved away slightly and is now battling Boomer, Valkyrie and (finally) Werewolf, over Ima, whom it has grabbed. Conquistadore found that the electric blasts from his sword could damage the creature in the water greatly, but the entry of his teammates into the water to rescue Ima prevents him from continuing that tactic. Boomer asks Conquistadore for assistance and the Nicaraguan takes that as a cue to leap towards Freedom Force's last known location.
This brings him to where the women have fallen, so he brings them to the surface, and Freedom Force, newly recovered from a blow from the monster, graps all three of them and hauls them to the beach.
In the water, the team is joined by The Inca and a few followers, who finish off the unconscious monster, then disappear into the shadowy water. Huracon looks around and finds Anna Seton in a cave. The assorted Incans all manage to escape, though more bodies of those slain by the monster are left.
A search reveals that one tunnel leading from the water room leads to a recently emptied storehouse. There is another tunnel leading away that eventually leads to the outside. The Incans are gone. A search of the bay reveals that the aircraft (spaceship?) they escaped in previously is in the bay, abandoned. It is also wrecked, but Dr. Kroninberg and Achilles Kirkandopolous are examining it for ideas.
More records are found, and Anna Seton examines them all, discovering that The Inca is probably one of Eric's Immortals who came over to the New World 4,000 years ago and is probably responsible for much of the Mayan, Olmec, and Incan cultures. Early on, he found that the woman called Mother Inca was also an immortal when he took out her heart and she still lived. Apparently, the evisceration procedure is an attempt to discover if the victim is a potential immortal. Many had been found in this manner over the centuries. Ima herself is an Immortal.
They also found that the tentacled creature, which had been somewhat humanoid, was the son of the Inca. Apparently the Immortal genes are not very stable.
Back at Vanguard base, the major question is "Why doesn't WHITE LOTUS wake up?" This is joined on the question hit parade by "What HAS happened to SWIFTSURE and ZEEBREIS?" and "Why won't PHOTOS wake up?" The Incan IMA SUMAC has no better idea than anyone else as to why her patient has not waken up.
BARON SAMEDI sent SPECTRE off to search for the missing members among the Lands of The Dead, with instructions to return quickly. Spectre has been missing for many weeks, though Baron Samedi is not very worried. "It is difficult for the dead to be ruled by the vagaries of mortal time."
Spectre has, in fact, had no luck looking for anyone in the Christian and Chinese afterlives where they might be expected to have gone if they died. He does find El Jaguar in the Aztec afterlife, but there is no way to bring him back.
However, he finds his way to the Elysian Fields and from there approaches Olympus, where he finds RED STAR. Red Star is very pregnant, and tells Spectre that Swiftsure is now a statue that is slowly being brought to life in Hermes' palace, and Zeebreis is a mistcloud that hovers over a pool in Poseidon's domain, waiting to be delivered of another cloud which is her child by Poseidon.
Spectre and Red Star go to the Oracle and ask about the fate of White Lotus. The answer is, "He who seems to be dead can only be rescued by those who have passed Death's door." They ask if their other comrades will eventually return to the lands of the living and are told, "Those who would walk the ways of the mortal world must first tread the Paths Of The Dead."
In the meantime, White Lotus has found himself in the seeming body of the Chinese Immortal who supposedly died several months ago. He is first in the custody of the local God of Walls and Ditches, who administers administrative punishment to White Lotus in the name of the Immortal. Nothing White Lotus says can convince anyone he is White Lotus, and he can never recover enough stamina to do anything about his captivity.
Spectre finally returns to Vanguard base and tells everyone about Swiftsure and Zeebreis (and Red Star). SEA LORD is both relieved and upset by the news.
Baron Samedi forms a group that consists of Spectre, VALKYRIE (who has continually appeared at the bedsides of Photos and White Lotus, passed her hand over them and seemed to wake up, wonder what she is doing there, and then walks away), and EARTH SPIRIT, who essentially died at Hiroshima when she became Earth Spirit.
The Dominican voudon weaves a spell that brings his group, plus the body of Photos, the pieces of AURIC, and Red Star (recently, Olympus time, delivered of a son), Swiftsure, and Zeebreis (who has also just delivered her child) from Olympus to an area in his own Land of Death. This is as far as he can go, but Spectre and Valkyrie can guide the party further. Photos and Auric seem to be all right, and Spectre realizes that everyone is there in an astral form.
The path they follow is surrounded by a mist. Earth Spirit and Photos both find that their powers come on and off, depending on where they are on the path. Spectre explains that they are passing various death lands. Those that have no light or no connections with the earth do not power Photos or Earth Spirit, respectively. Earth Spirit stops where she can feel some power and loads earth into her boots. Photos has to hope that if anything happens, she will have light. Meanwhile, she is alternately clothed in light or looks like a naked woman walking along the path. Oh yes, Valkyrie finds she is riding a winged horse.
Suddenly, the group is attacked by a group of undead monsters, ranging from a demon to a wraith to a vampire to a monstrous gorilla god of some kind. The mist parts and the group finds they are on a network of branches far off the ground (if there IS any ground). Earth Spirit must use the earth she has as a power source.
Photos is powerless until one of the attackers appears -- a fire spirit that powers her up.
As the battle continues, they are taunted by a Chinese voice that tells the monsters to drive the heroes off the path. Towards the end of the fight, the person shows up, WHITE LOTUS! He attempts to slay Earth Spirit, whose powers have been used up in the fight, but Zeebreis detects an arrogance that she is not used to in White Lotus and asks him for a password he does not have. The group turns on him and manages to capture him and knock him out.
Taking the unconscious masquerader (who STILL looks like White Lotus) with them, they arrive at the Chinese City of the Dead, Feng Tu, where White Lotus (in the Immortal's body) is about to be sent to the 7th area of punishment for escaping his proper punishment.
After some discussion, The Yama King manages to pierce the bubble that kept White Lotus from proving his real identity and the White Lotus with the rescue party turns into the Chinese Immortal. The 7th Yama King gleefully takes the escapee back and leads him off to have molten gold poured down his throat for a century or so.
The party returns to Vanguard base, except for Red Star, who has realized that she is pregnant, again. She returns to Olympus.
Once back, White Lotus awakes in Wong's body, cures it, and then trades places again with his faithful bodyguard.
Zeebreis finds that Sea Lord has been given her baby naiad mysteriously while she was gone. He expresses relief at her return and expresses his affection and regard once again. They both disappear for a month or so, leaving Vanguard with WHIZ-BANG as its Dutch representative for another month. He and Swiftsure (who seems to be a permanent 19-year-old now) shake up the base by having high-speed races around the perimeter of the island. Swiftsure announces his real identity, thinking that there is no way he can continue to pretend to be a 29 year old in his current body.
It's 10:00 PM at Vanguard Base. The day has already been eventful, as the Turkish member, JANIZARY, has finally arrived. Swiftsure and Whiz-Bang are running a charity race in the Mid-West, Zeebreis is still gone, Red Star is still in Olympus.
BOOMER and TYR are on duty, VALKYRIE, MUJAHEDEEN, and WEREWOLF are getting to know Jannisary, FREEDOM FORCE is writing a report, DEVADASI is doing her daily dance exercises in her room.
Tyr decides to take a stroll around the base. Secretive by nature, he flits from shadow to shadow, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Suddenly, he sees furtive movement. Freezing, he watches as REAPER and SHOCKTROOPER dart from shadow to shadow.
Raising an alarm, he attacks, and is soon joined by the others. The invaders are joined by BLACK QUEEN, and JAGUAR and AMAZONIA! When Tyr tries to entrap Amazonia, she sneers and calls him WARLORD. Reaper keeps calling Freedom Force Nazi. In fact, the invaders call all of the heroes Nazis.
In the confusion, the Vanguard members start taking into account the actions of the invaders, the fact that Amazonia disappeared into time months ago and Jaguar is dead (and, for that matter, Shocktrooper is supposed to be in prison), and the strangeness of this underpowered invasion. Vanguard members keep saying they are not Nazis. Eventually, the two sides calm down enough to realize that there has been a mistake.
Reaper is really DEFENDER (he is also BART WILLIAMS), the Black Queen is really the WHITE QUEEN (and identical to Mrs. BART WILLIAMS), Shocktrooper is called STORMTROOPER, Jaguar is still Jaguar, but Amazonia is called WARMAID. They are the last members of an organization called EARTH'S LAST HOPE, on another earth, one where the Nazis contacted and manifested the old Norse gods, and then conquered the rest of the world. Many heroes analogous to Vanguard now work for the Nazis as an organization called REICHGUARD. Many of these heroes were originally members of Earth's Last Hope or preceding organizations, but were in some way subverted by the Nazi gods.
In the other world, Freedom Force is AMERICAN NAZI, Tyr is WARLORD, Swiftsure is LIGHTNING, Valkyrie is VALKYRIE, and leads a group of other Valkyries.
Earth's Last Hope had been driven to the San Francisco Bay area, to a secret hideout underwater near Treasure Island. Knowing that they would be found out shortly, they managed to open a gate to another world, the Vanguard world, and meant to go there to rest and recoup before trying once again to destroy the Norse gods and regain their own world. Now that they see there are heroic counterparts of their foes in this world, they appeal to Vanguard for help.
General Gerard calls in some of the world's great scientists to determine what to do about this situation. In the meantime, he forbids Earth's Last Hope to use their powers in this world until decisions have been reached. Within the day, an investigatory team consisting of the world-renowned Clark Savage Jr., up and coming occultist Professor Enoch Swythe from Miskatonic University, and Devadasi. They talk to the Earth's Last Hope heroes to get every detail of their world and try to determine exactly what has happened.
Apparently, the Jewish death camps were set up in a formation that exactly duplicated the Old Straight Tracks throughout Europe. Someone among the Nazis used the deaths in this camp to summon the Norse gods, and they responded. With gods on their side, even the development of nuclear weapons on the Allied side (shortly duplicated on the Nazi side) was not enough to stem the tide, it just made the world's weather worse.
Boomer and Warmaid find a mutual attraction and are not seen much around the base (unless you go to Boomer's room). Boomer's current ladyfriend, Wayapui, visits some friends she has made with the kitchen staff during this period. She is 8 months pregnant at this point, and very tolerant. Devadasi finds that there is an echo effect when she reads the minds of Defender, White Queen, and Stormtrooper, as though she can read two sets of minds. Apparently, when analogs are present in the same world, reading one's mind gives an image of the other mind as well.
Defender and El Jaguar ask for confession from a Catholic priest. The base chaplain hears their confession and comes out of the booth shaking. Stormtrooper spends a lot of time partying with Vanguard base personnel. He is apparently overjoyed to have found a world in which the hated Nazis were kept from destroying his beloved Germany.
After some research, Dr. Swythe and Dr. Savage come to the conclusion that the Aesir called by the three scientists are really demons who took on the forms of the gods who were being called. The concentration camps full of victims are not there to maintain the presence of the "gods", as Earth's Last Hope thought. They are being destroyed simply because the demons like to kill them.
The demons are kept in the world as long as their "focuses" are. In some cultures, these are known as a demons' "hearts." Probably, knowing that the demons had to have the focuses to exist, the three doctors (Doktor Blitzen, Dr. Qual, and Dr. Kronos) made themselves the focuses, in an attempt to ensure the gods would have to obey them. However, the demon-gods probably just took them over and put them in a safe place making the demons virtually unkillable. The three doctors are probably squirreled away in the Citadel of the Allfather, a fortress smack in the center of atom-bombed Berlin. This is the home of the gods and the Reichguard.
Gerard and his advisors are not sure just how to proceed. Several people, including the newcomer JANIZARY, feel that the problems of another world are not those of this world.
Then DEVADASI reads FREEDOM FORCE's mind and gets a resonance. The same for the minds of VALKYRIE and TYR. Quickly assembling a team of Devadasi, Freedom Force, Valkyrie, EL GAUCHO, WEREWOLF, Janissary, MUJAHEDEEN and the new probationary German member IRON CROSS (who is identified as having a double in the other world by Earth's Last Hope, but there is no resonance in his mind), Vanguard goes to meet its opposite number.
They find them in an abandoned warehouse. With an incredibly (especially for Vanguard) efficient battle plan, involving using Iron Cross as a diversion, Boomer, Devadasi, and Mujahedeen as artillery, and Iron Cross and El Gaucho as a covering force, the team manages to defeat an equal-sized team of AMERICAN NAZI, WARLORD, LIGHTNING (Swiftsure-analog), VELTRO, OBERMANN (the leader, and someone no one has ever seen before in this world [see V.O.I.C.E. of DOOM for Graf von Grausom]), MOTE (Hummingbird-analog), DR. HYDE, and BEARZARK. They discover a pile of bodies of derelicts who had used the warehouse as a residence - all have been sacrificed to the Aesir by the Reichguard.
Now they have captives. Now, they can send a team across the worlds who can masquerade as some of the Reichguard members. Maybe there is something they can do.
Assembling a team, Gerard sends FREEDOM FORCE as American Nazi, VALKYRIE as Nazi-Valkyrie, and TYR as Warlord, to escort Earth's Last Hope - pretending to be prisoners - along with DEVADASI, BOOMER, PHOTOS, MUJAHEDEEN, and new Panamanian member BOXER, back to the Nazi world to be taken to the gods. Earth's Last Hope and Photos (whose powers are too obvious) are all secured by the slave bracelets brought by Reichguard, which negate their powers totally. However, each of the prisoners has a key.
Coming through, the team finds the base has been taken over by Reichguard. In residence is SWASTIKA (Red Star-analog) who promptly welcomes "American Nazi" as her lover. Also present is a troop of Einheriar (undead storm troopers) and PANZER - a Juggernaut suit with an Einheriar in it (Or perhaps the armor has just been animated. It is hard to tell.).
Swastika insists on joining the heroes. The Bay Area looks much the same, it has hardly been hit by the war. However, the weather is more overcast than normal for the time of year and there are constant rain squalls.
At Treasure Island - here a Nazi naval base, they are welcomed by General von Shleikart, who arranges a motorcade to take them to their air transport. Tyr-Warlord and Valkyrie share the general's car (Swastika arranges for she and Freedom Force to be alone in another car) and sees that the city has some battle damage. The residents shrink away from the motorcade and look very downtrodden. They also learn that General von Shleikart has a new mistress he is very proud of-- the American movie actress Susan Williams.
In the APCs carrying the prisoners, the guards start working themselves up to raping the women. but they arrive at the airport before anything can happen.
The plane lands in Kansas City, which has much more battle damage. In Dover, New Jersey, there is a two hour layover for servicing of the DC-6. A religious ceremony is laid on. Swastika nominates herself and American Nazi to stay and guard the prisoners. She drags him behind some curtains and leaves Panzer to guard. Since the prisoners want to go to the Citadel of the All-Father, they try nothing. American Nazi/Freedom Force surrenders to the inevitable. Tyr and Valkyrie stoically maintain discipline as they watch several hundred people hanged to the greater glory of Odin.
The flight over the Atlantic is boring except for the flyby of a group of Valkyries, who salute Valkyrie as their leader. She is drawn greatly to their winged horses.
Arriving at the Citadel at ldusk, the prisoners are taken down to the cellars of the Citadel. The powered prisoners are put into an area that acts like the slave bracelets. The others are put into standard cells. The gods tell them that they will interview the Reichguard members on the morrow.
The plan is to free Earth's Last Hope and have them fight the gods while Vanguard tries to locate the three doctors and eliminate them. Boxer is less than pleased at this possiblity, but realizes the necessity.
Tyr-Warlord volunteers to command of the cellar guard after midnight. At that time, he sneaks Boomer, Mujahedeen, and Boxer their equipment. Then they break themselves and Devadasi out, assisted by Freedom Force and Valkyrie, who make their excuses and come down to help.
There are six guarded doors to investigate. Each is guarded by Enheriear, and there are normal guards there to. Vanguard sends an unpowered person into the non-power area to release Earth's Last Hope, then Vanguard begins to blow away guards and open doors.
Soon Tyr the Aesir shows up with some Valkyries. The fight gets intense. But the heroes manage to find the three doctors and slay them in their sleep. They also find demon-Loki (who, true to his mold, had tried to betray the Aesir), the Fenris wolf (who seems to be the real Fenris Wolf, not a demon-fake), and the world's version of EFREET's lamp. Devadasi frees the Fenris Wolf to fight the gods, no one trusts Loki, and Freedom Force uses Efreet to good effect in eliminating the last of the three demon-raisers.
Upstairs, Earth's Last Hope holds its own. WHITE QUEEN turns into a dragon (the Vanguard members note this for future confrontations with Hellspawn) and manages to kill one of the Aesir. Then, the last of the doctors is slain and the god-demons must go back where they came from. The heroes get away before the Citadel collapses around them.
The brainwashed members of the Reichguard come out of their control and vow to join Earth's Last Hope and crush the Nazis who still control most of the world.
Swastika, much to Freedom Force's chagrin, was killed in the fight.
Most of the Valkyrie-mounts and the Valkyries vanish when the gods do. However, the mount used by the demon-controlled Valkyrie remains. She gives it to Vanguard-Valkyrie. She flies it across the Atlantic while the others ride a plane.
The Nazis in San Francisco are fighting for their lives against the American partisans. They cannot stop Vanguard from getting back to the underbay base and through the gate. They ship the Reichguard members (most of whom are swearing fealty to Earth's Last Hope - only Obermann is fanatically Nazi) back to their own world and blow up the gate. ZEEBREIS is given the task of keeping an eye on the gate area, just in case.
Vanguard is unable to use the information they attained from the Hellspawn analogs against Hellspawn. But the information is taken down into the records for all to read.
A team consisting of AURIC, BEARZARK, BOOMER, BOXER, EL CONDOR, DEVADASI, DR. KONG (back after a leave spent helping Ethiopia recover from the war), FREEDOM FORCE, GEMINI, HUSSAR, JOTUN, MANHUNTER, NIGHTINGALE, PRINCESS PHOENIX, RED STAR, SPHINX, STELLARI, SWIFTSURE, WHITE LOTUS, and ZEEBREIS are sent to Korea. Just as the American troops are pulling out (and the Russian troops are supposed to be pulling out), a strange flying saucer-like object has started attacking both sides of the tentative border between North and South Korea. Each side says it is actually a vehicle belonging to the other. This could cause a war.
Gerard thinks that it might be caused by Cretacians or Hellspawn or Eric's Immortals, all of whom might want the world to go up in a nuclear holocaust (the Russians are thought to have an A-bomb already). The team is supposed to find out what is going on and stop it.
The saucer has sunk a fishing boat, destroyed a section of the only railroad still running, and terrorized a village, kidnapping several people. Red Star takes Auric, Bearzark, Devadasi, Gemini, and Swiftsure in an investigation of the North, where similar things have happened. El Condor takes to the air, attempting to find birds who can give him some clue as to what is going on. Zeebreis investigates the local seabed. White Lotus retains Boomer, Boxer, Jotun (whose powers are diminished in the heat of a Korean summer), Manhunter, and Princess Phoenix as a backup force in Seoul.
The appearances of the saucer are such that they could be the same saucer. Each appearance, the saucer carries the insignia of the other side's air force, exacerbating the problem. Neither side is willing to cooperate too much with the UN force.
The demolished section of railroad has been repaired. The southern team decides to use the railroad as a stalking horse. They load it with goods needed at the 38th parallel and head north. One of the flatcars has a disabled Sherman tank; Freedom Force thinks he might have a use for it.
The trip north is uneventful. They get a report from Devadasi to Sphinx saying that there has been another outrage in the North, but the northern team was unable to get there in time.
Going back south, the train is loaded down with refugees. Dr. Kong rigs up some detectors for radiation (some of which appears in the previous atrocity sites) and suddenly he gets a reading.
The saucer is attacking.
The saucer proves to be manned by a mixed crew of aliens. Their leader is an ancient humanoid with a long nose, he has two cat-like followers (one of whom has a set of Star Bands - just like Stellari's!), three insect-like aliens seem to be followers of the cat people (one of whom is a very excellent martial artist) and a robot like Pollux.
The aliens do not parlay -- they attack. Hussar is knocked out early, which proves to be a blessing; he wakes up again when the aliens are almost triumphant, but also badly knocked around, and proceeds to finish the job started by his teammates. Both Stellari and Sphinx are wounded -- Nightingale spends most of the fight trying to wake them up again. Freedom Force is also knocked out. For a few seconds, the only defender left is Dr. Kong with his high-powered rifle. In the course of the fight, Freedom Force finds a use for the tank. He drops it on the martial artist.
Telepathic inquiry into the minds of one of the cat people (the elder is a powerful psionic in his own right) shows via images -- the language cannot be understood -- that the saucer came at the instigation of the elder (promptly nicknamed "hosenose") who received a message from Earth. Arriving on Earth, they were met in a secret mountain base by Cretacians who did something to persuade the aliens to help them start a war amongst the humans. The cat person's feelings toward humans seems to be that they are traitors who betray their betters -- the Cretacians.
The mountain hideout is close to Seoul. The Seoul team is closer than any of the other teams. Sphinx, when he wakes up and gets the information from the aliens, sends word to White Lotus.
White Lotus's team, consisting of himself, Boomer, Boxer, Jotun (whose powers would work just fine away from the heat of the summer), Manhunter, and Princess Phoenix heads for the general vicinity of the mountain. Not willing to go in the "front door" pictured by the cat person's mind, they cast about looking for a back way.
After all, the Cretacians have only been seen before in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps they have an underground way to Korea?
White Lotus finds a tunnel in the right place and they burrow into it. It contains a semi-living monorail leading to a semi-living railcar. Working their way around it, they find themselves in a tunnel complex. They are soon set upon by Cretacians and their mutated dinosaur slaves.
There is much tunnel-making by Boomer, dodging in and out of elevator wells by Manhunter, and general mayhem by Jotun (whose icy winds are particularly harmful to the lizards), Princess Phoenix, and the others. The Cretacians lure the Vangaurd members up into their complex, hitting them with dinosaurs at every turn, and some of them (probably the leaders) manage to sneak past and make it down to the tunnel, where they take their railcar away. The others then will themselves to death.
Later questioning of the aliens by the massed wills of Sphinx, Devadasi, and White Lotus provides the explanation that the elder alien's people, when they were just a young race, just starting to bring the cat people to civilization, had met the Cretacians on one of their exploration voyages and established a trade and mutual assistance treaty. Then they came back once and the Cretacians were gone.
Recently, the beacon the Elders had left with the Cretacians before their disappearance went on. The Elder recruited his crew, took an old saucer out of mothballs, and went to investigate. The story told by the Cretacians was that the humans were a client race (like the cats for the elders and the insects for the cats) who had rebelled and tried to eradicate the Cretacians. The Cretacians wanted the elders to destroy the humans outright, but the saucer was not equipped with instruments of mass destruction. So they hit on the instigate-a-war plan as second best.
The aliens, finding out in turn that the humans and Cretacians are simply in dispute about who owns the planet and that they were unlikely to be able to do much against Vanguard united anyway, promised to leave and were let go.
FREEDOM FORCE is dreaming and finds himself confronting the Leprechan. The Irish spirit reminds him that many months ago, WHITE LOTUS guaranteed him fairy gold every month. He hasn't been getting his gold (mostly because White Lotus died shortly and, apparently, his sojurn in the Chinese hell drove the agreement out of his mind).
The Leprechan says that, since Freedom Force and his friends went back on their word, he'll have to get recompense elsewhere. There are those who would be interested in getting their hands on someone valuable to Freedom Force -- Susan Williams.
About this time, BOOMER, cruising the dreamtime, comes upon the confrontation and tries to take out the Leprechan. In retaliation, the Leprechan reaches into the real world and pulls in Wayerpui, who is very close to bearing Boomer's child!
Wayerpui is still in the reality as well as dreamtime. She goes into labor, Boomer pops back and gets help. BOXER, a medical doctor among other things, shows up to help out. He uses his healing powers to keep Wayerpui safe. Boomer attempts to go back into dreamtime to find Wayerpui, and the baby's, souls.
Freedom Force attempts to get to Susan Williams to guard her, but arrives to find her abducted through a strange shimmery gate. Assembling a team of Boxer (who feels he can leave Wayerpui in reality), VALKYRIE, HURACON, and new Cuban member PELOTA -- flying mistress of jai lai -- he charges through the gate, finding Boomer's dream self on the other side.
The Leprechan tells them the path to take, avoiding being killed by Boomer in the process.
The first step is an encounter with the Wonanbi, the dreamsnake they encountered in Australia. The snake is guarding an egg which seems to have Wayerpui's child in it, along with another one. Apparently the Leprechan said that it was a Wonanbi egg, and the Wonanbi is guarding it jealously. The group leaves that problem for the moment, to see if later developments provide a solution.
Following the path after Susan, the group enters the land of faerie. Susan Williams has been given to the Queen of Fairie, who has given Susan to her champion -- Bluebeard. Freedom Force must battle Susan's onetime (and probably current, there was no divorce) husband for her. Freedom Force wins, barely, but does not kill his opponent. Taking Susan, they continue on to a mountain.
There they find Wayerpui, guarded by Fenris Wolf,the same Fenris they found in prison on the alternate world. Devadasi let him go. After a quick struggle, the Vanguard members kill the wolf, apparently.
Wayerpui goes into labor. The Wonanbi shows up with the egg and gives it to her; it disappears. Leprechan gets away. Back in real time, Wayerpui delivers two children; only one was expected. Both the boy and the girl are born with four-leaf clover birthmarks. Each child gets two names: aborigine names meaning Dreamflower and Swiftsnake, and the English names of Lotus and Jeffrey.
Night time on Vanguard base, and sleep is disturbed by the movements of one member, VALKYRIE. In her dreams she has seen the slain anbd bloody body of DEVADASI, and she moves to collect the dead. Similarly, FREEDOM FORCE AND SWIFTSURE have terrible dreams of claws and fangs --dreams they have had before!
BOXER is on duty and sees Valkyrie moving with strange purpose toward the barracks holding Devadasi. He attempts to intervene and is knocked away. He puts out an alarm, summoning HURACON, SWIFTSURE, WEREWOLF and FREEDOM FORCE.
As the five heroes try to stop Valkyrie from taking away Devadasi, Swiftsure undergoes a sudden change. He has apparently been fighting a headache or something, and suddenly he shakes his head and then blasts Freedom Force with a psychic blast!
He also starts cursing in German, a language he does not know!
Werewolf, who has not trusted many of the members of Vanguard since the Reichguard incident, immediately assumes that Swiftsure is actually the Nazi-Earth's Lightning, even though that version of him never showed any psychic abilities, and Lightning was one of the Rechiguard members who changed allegiance back to Earth's Last Hope when the "gods" were banished.
The other members subdue both Swiftsure and Valkyrie and Swiftsure comes back to normal. Boxer treats Devadasi and brings her back from the brink of death. Even though she showed no outward wounds, she had indeed been dying as if slashed to pieces.
The team realizes that Devadasi, Freedom Force, and Swiftsure had all been wounded in the attack on Vanguard that took place at the San Francisco Opera in April. Looking into recent events, they find that, in Thailand, there have been several interesting incidents. Apparently the Kali cult, or something similar, has resurfaced there. At an old Vishnu temple, a mass grave of 100 people was found. Moreover, a couple of reporters, one British and one American, with a resemblance to Swiftsure and Freedom Force respectively have recently disappeared.
Putting Devadasi in a hospital and recruiting Fox, the team of Boxer, Freedom Force, Swiftsure, Valkyrie, and Werewolf heads for Thailand via Fox Express. There, they find that a local entertainer/ temple dancer disappeared three days before.
After about three days, the team locates the ruins of Angkor Wat, covered by jungle except for one recently-cleared area around an old temple. They approach the temple and find a woman on an altar. Some of the team is attacked by rakshasa, much like the one slain in Sorcerer's world a few months back! The woman and the two reporters attack. One man has powers like Freedom Force, one man has powers like Swiftsure, and the woman has powers like Devadasi's. Besides that, there are several rakshasa.
It is a bloody battle. Freedom Force is knocked out and Fox takes him back to Vanguard base. Freedom Force wakes up, tells Fox to go back and help the others, and flies to the hospital where they left Devadasi to see what has happened to her. He doesn't notice the firefight developing behind him, but that's another mission. . .
Fox appears back in the clearing and is confronted with a rakshasa. He teleports the rakshasa back to where Freedom Force can deal with him, not realizing that FF is gone. The Rakshasa eviscerates Fox and turns into a fish and dives into the bay. The gate guards, already mystified by the firefight on the base (see next mission) watch in horror as Fox dies in front of them.
Back at the fight, Swiftsure again starts using psychic powers and talking in German. He attacks Valkyrie and Werewolf and, as the imposters and rakshasa are either defeated or run, runs off himself into the jungle. He has not been seen since.
The team finally succeeds in their struggle. A couple of the rakshasa escape. A couple more do not. The reporters and the dancer return to normal, but how normal will they stay?
Without their teleporter, and not even knowing what has happened to Freedom Force, Swiftsure, and Fox, the team makes their way back to civilization to find transportation back to Vanguard base.
The evening after the team leaves for Thailand, the remaining heroes on base, BOOMER, HUSSAR, JANISSARY, MUJAHEDEEN, PELOTA, PHOTOS, RED LEADER, and SUN MAIDEN (the Incan Ima Sumac) are surprised to find two additions to their number. RED STAR has returned, and she is brought by a woman calling herself ISHTAR who claims to represent Iraq.
Red Leader questions Red Star, but Red Star has no answers. She has no memory of where she has been the last nine months. Ishtar seems to be simply very impressive.
There is a mild party, then most of the team goes to bed. Boomer and Red Leader have duty, and are duly replaced by Janissary and Pelota.
They awaken with the others around the campfire they went to sleep around. Their adventuring party, led by the crafty Red Mage, is on a quest for the fabulous Gem of Truth. Their trip is uneventful until they are attacked by a group of ogres, which they defeat handily. Eventually they reach the fabled Catacombs of Yith and enter.
After several adventures, they find the Gem, guarded by the obligatory dragon. They arrange for some of them to distract the monster while Ian the Winged One dashes in and grabs the gem.
The plan succeeds and, as the party is dodging amongst the corridors of the catacombs, one by one the Vanguard members come out of their trance and find themselves standing in the shards of a large glass cylinder, as Hussar breaks another one and another member is released.
The entire adventure has been a mutual dream. Grabbing the Gem of Truth acted as a subconscious prompt to Hussar, who realized that he was actually in a cylinder and used his great strength to break himself free, and then started breaking the others out.
They are in an underground complex. In another, larger, room, they find ranks of cylinders with what seems to be every staff member of the Vanguard base, including Gerard. Prominent among them is FOX!.
The Vanguard members who depend on weaponry of whatever kind have none to hand, but they grab a couple of technicians who show them (1) where their gear is and (2) the machine that creates the people duplicates. The Vanguard members destroy the machine, then realize that an alarm is going off. Destroying the machine alerted the mastermind behind the plot, whom the technicians identify as someone named Psi-Storm.
Vanguard base is above them. It is manned by doubles of everyone there. Using Fox as transportation, the team gets up to the armory and takes it over. The troops follow, arming themselves.
A battle develops between the two teams of identical heroes. Fox aids the soldiers in taking out their opposite numbers.
At about this time the ersatz Fox ((created by Psi-Storm because of his abilities as a teleporter)) appears with Freedom Force at his usual return spot at the opposite end of Treasure Island, Freedom Force flies off to the hospital, ersatz-Fox goes back to Thailand, then returns to Vanguard base and is killed by the Rakshasa.
The battle see-saws for awhile, but the Vanguard members finally win out and destroy their duplicates, who dissolve when they are knocked out, showing their essential inhumanity. As they start to sort out the shambles made of the base, they hear a rumbling below. The underground complex is destroyed below them. Fortunately, they had already moved all the imprisoned staff people out of there.
Chang Kai-Shek is on the run in China. Mao-Tse-Tsung has declared the People's Republic of China. The nation with the highest population in the world is now out of the United Nations.
BOOMER, BOXER, and MUJAHEDEEN are on guard duty when two women, one dressed in white and one in blue appear on the landing of the headquarters tower. They initially mistake Boxer for WHITE LOTUS. He corrects their mistake and calls White Lotus's room. Wong tells him that the Mandarin Mystic is in San Francisco at a temple.
Calling the temple, they get White Lotus, who returns immediately. It turns out the women are two dragons. They say that their "dark sister" and an evil sorcerer are killing their sisterhood and they must call on the temple of the Lotus, which at this point consists of White Lotus, to help them. Then they go to sleep for a week.
When they wake up, they go see Shinyu in her prison cell. They astonish Vanguard by saying that only the human half of Shinyu is there. The dragon half is in their valley, killing them. Shinyu gloats.
During the time of the nap, Boomer gets a grudging acceptance by Gerard that a group of them can go on "vacation" with White Lotus, as long as they don't get into trouble with the new Chinese authorities. Gerard is as anxious to stop Shinyu-Dragon and Sorcerer as anyone else, but he doesn't want an international incident.
The "vacationers" turn out to be Boomer, Boxer, Mujahedeen, PARTISAN, PELOTA, RED STAR, VALKYRIE, and White Lotus. Red Star and Partisan are taken along to help alibi the group to communists if they are found.
White Lotus teleports the team to the site of the ancient temple of the lotus. They find an ancient protective device of jade and the dragons insist that someone without taint of magic must use it. Partisan gets elected, though he distrusts magic completely.
From there, they fly dragonback to the valley of the dragons, at the foot of the mountains that separate China from Tibet. They contact the remaining dragons. One is still all right, but two others are badly damaged, and the others are dead. Boxer attempts to heal the two damaged dragons, but they will be weeks healing, even with his help.
The dragons are in their cave, at the foot of a cliff. There is clear spot in front of the cavern. The team decides to do what they can, using White Lotus's spells to create assorted explosives and setting up land-mines and a cannon, manned by Mujahedeen. The plan is to suck the dragon and Sorcerer into the killing field, then attack them from all sides.
During her time at guard duty, Red Star is lured away by someone calling her name. It turns out to be Red Spirit, another product of the same experiments that created Red Guard, whose speciality is espionage. They argue about whether she should be there, then he takes her away to the camp of Shinyu, the Sorcerer, and Red Guard (sans Red Leader, who is still at Vanguard). It seems that Red Guard has been ordered here to help Sorcerer and Shinyu stamp out the magic of the dragons. Red Star questions using magic to stamp out magic, but the Guard refuses to question orders. Red Star says that, of course, her aims and those of Red Guard are the same.
They include her in their attack.
Sorcerer's group performs to plan. They land in the clearing, but do not detonate any of the mines. A battle ensues. Red Star desperately tries to help Vanguard without betraying her old comrades of Red Guard, and manages to keep several of Red Guard occupied at one time or another. At one point, Partisan slings an explosive stone into the fight and knocks Red Spirit back. He lands on a land-mine and is mortally wounded. His powers are such that he cannot wear any armor.
Finally, most of the combatants are knocked out, and Sorcerer is trying to free Shinyu who is held by a telekinetic beam from White Lotus. Partisan is reminded of the jade artifact he carries and decides, since he can't get through Sorcerer's force fields with his stones, to use it as a spear. He drives it into Sorcerer, who is engulfed in a black field which grows to travel along the beam of the TK to engulf White Lotus and to engulf Partisan. Shinyu, too, is caught in the darkness.
As the other members of Vanguard watch in horror, the four combatants all disappear into the void. There is no trace of any of them.
As White Lotus disappears, all of the artifacts he had made for Vanguard disappear with him. Amulets for Ego Defense, the talisman that lets Fox make his teleports easily, and other items all disappear from the earth. One assumes that those artifacts created by Sorcerer also disappear.
By this time, the Red Guard members are all unconscious. The pacifist dragons offer a potion that will keep them unconscious for a week. The dragons then fly the team to Thailand, where they contact Fox, who teleports to them (taking several tries) with a recovered Devadasi in tow. Devadasi does the Dance of the Mind-Changer through the memories of Red Guard, planting a story of how they were betrayed by Shinyu and Sorcerer and were saved by Vanguard. They are then turned over to the Russian embassy in India.
Now Vanguard is left without its premier mystic and its Yugoslavian member (both reported as missing in action with Shinyu and Sorcerer). Going back to Vanguard base, they find that the human Shinyu disappeared in a black void about the same time the dragon version did. They also cannot be sure of how long Red Guard's memories will stay changed, since Devadasi had never seriously done this dance before to such a large audience.
What is going to happen next?
No one knows what has happened to WHITE LOTUS. He does not show up at any of his usual places. SPECTRE tries to track him down on the Paths of the Dead, but does not return for after a couple of weeks (standard operating procedure), GERARD tells BARON SAMEDI to go ahead with a voodoo ritual that might contact his undead spirit.
It must be done on All Hallows Eve, so they cannot wait for Spectre to return.
(Actually, Spectre is returning every night [he has to maintain contact with his host body] but, in typical fashion, he is just fulfilling his needs, then leaving again on his search without telling anyone of his progress or lack of it.)
The Baron brings in a bunch of voodoo drummers. BOOMER, VALKYRIE, RED LEADER, WEREWOLF, and BOXER attend the ceremony on All Hallows Eve. The ceremony begins. It involves the sacrifice of a black cock, a white goat and a dog and is not for the queasy. The Baron draws a circle with the blood of the animals and puts fetishes around it. The drumming begins. The sense of uneasiness grows. Outside there is a rising wind and a surge of eldritch energies that puts the teeth on edge of Boomer, Valkyrie, Devadasi, and Red Leader.
DEVADASI and PELOTA are on guard duty, TYR is wandering around, strangely uneasy for someone not in the gymnasium. He feels as if he can hear Valkyries on the winds and Thor's hammer smashing giants, but not enough of them. Near midnight, the drumming reaches a climax.
Devadasi realizes that something is wrong and rushes to the gymnasium. She is in time to see a black fog appear, and envelope Baron Samedi. The fog twists and writhes into faces that remind some of a wolf, some of a dragon, and some of a cuttlefish. All the faces laugh insanely Boomer tosses an explosive boomerang into the circle but there is no explosion. Tyr rushes in, sees Werewolf and Boxer disappear into the circle, and immediately grabs Devadasi (thereby stopping her powers because she is not dancing) and swings into the circle. Pelota arrives and charges into the circle of fog. Eventually, even Boomer and Red Leader go in.
The Vanguard members find themselves in a strange arena full of areas of different heights and facing several demonic beings: a fire elemental, a gorilla-like demon with huge fangs, a traditional bat-wing-demon, a tall lanky, hook-nosed and hook-handed monster, a huge silvery creature with great strength, and a flying three-headed cat.
The landscape has several strange properties. One wavy area shoves someone who enters it along in a 90 degree angle to the angle of entry. There are teleportation nexuses that take anyone who enters them to the next nexus. Devadasi is badly mauled by Fang the gorilla, Werewolf takes out both the bat-winged demon and the flying cat. Boomer and Tyr rescue Devadasi from Fang. Red Leader is very cowardly, but his mental blasts are somewhat useful. Boomer and Valkyrie are also both badly hurt in the fight.
At the end of the struggle, the heroes find a tablet with a sanskrit inscription that is later translated to read:
In the beginning was the void. And from the void came hunger and destruction. And these were the old powers of the world.
Once they have the tablet, the arena dimension fades away and they find themselves in the gymnasium. The drummers fall exhausted over their drums. There has been no trace of Baron Samedi. All of his works, including his zombie sidekick, have been undone. The zombie is a moldering corpse. One of the heroes finds a chip of jade on the floor. It looks like a piece of the jade "sword" Partisan used on Sorcerer.
EARTH SPIRIT, EL CONDOR, and Dr. HYDE are sent to Italy, where Etna has had a minor eruption. After performing general rescue work, Earth Spirit suggests that they explore the volcano itself. Sulfurous gases coming from the lava vents disorient them. Then they are attacked by some sort of rock people. Dr. Hyde's time limit runs out on his powers and he is captured. El Condor is captured trying to rescue Dr. Hyde. Earth Spirit gets away and calls for help.
The team of RED LEADER, RED STAR, TYR, BOXER, VALKYRIE, and PELOTA are teleported in by FOX. Fox says that, as a spirit, he feels that the area is very wrong. Then he teleports out again. As they are being briefed by Earth Spirit, the team hears gunfire. Investigating, they find a bank robbery being performed by a local group of supervillains. The villains include a martial artist with gun and whip called THE SICILIAN, a walking statue of iron called IRONMAN, someone in Roman armor called GLADIATOR, and apparent werewolf known as LUPUS, a second martial artist known as LEAPER, and a very big and strong brick called TITAN. They get their heads handed to them, capturing only one of the superpowered robbers, the Sicilian, who "escapes" shortly after the police take him into custody (which they find out later).
Following Earth Spirit up Mount Etna the team finds no rock monsters, but does find a tunnel into the mountain that resembles a gigantic worm bore. Entering the tunnel, they are soon attacked by the rock monsters, whom they defeat. Finally they arrive in a large open chamber lit by the glow of a lava river flowing through it.
There they find three serpentine priests (they do not look like Cretacians) sacrificing Dr. Hyde on a stone altar, surrounded by rocklike servitors. The altar is already bloodstained. Apparently El Condor has already been sacrificed and tossed into the lava river.
There is a battle with the magic-using lizard men priests and more rock monsters. Earth Spirit and Boxer get hold of Dr. Hyde's body, priests use TK to get it away, Red Star retrieves it. Despite Red Star's efforts to save Dr. Hyde's body, it ends up falling down a crevice in the hard lava floor to the molten lava below. On the verge of defeat with all of their rocklike servitors destroyed, the three serpent priests joyfully follow him down. The mountain rocks and the lava boils out of its bed into the chamber. The team must retreat. As they do, the psychics and mages hear gargantuan laughter and the sense of the words, "And now Typhon is awake and the three are joined."
There is an emergency bulletin from Norway. Boomer, Earth Spirit, Tyr, Werewolf, and Jotun are sent to check it out.
HURACON, HUSSAR, and DEVADASI are scheduled for guard duty. An hour into the duty period, Devadasi has not shown up. After another hour, Hussar calls the Asian barracks. VALKYRIE answers the phone. She knocks on Devadasi's door. No answer. The door is not locked. Valkyrie looks in to find a dark, empty room. There is no sign of a struggle. Valkyrie mentions to Huracon that Devadasi has talked about looking for the missing FREEDOM FORCE in India.
Huracon alerts the normal security force. They report that Devadasi signed out the day before with FOX. Fox signed back in 20 minutes later.
Questioned, Fox says he took Devadasi to her temple. They notify Gerard, who is annoyed. Devadasi was supposed to come back promptly with Freedom Force. He sends Fox back to the temple to fetch her. Fox takes much longer than usual (he is somewhat crippled with his teleportation since all of White Lotus's enhancements to his powers were destroyed when WL disappeared) to get it right, then disappears. He reappears with a story of finding a huge funeral pyre in the courtyard of the temple and blood everywhere.
Gerard sets up a team of BOXER, Huracon, Hussar, PELOTA, RED STAR, RED LEADER, and Valkyrie. Fox takes them to just outside the temple. He misjudges slightly but all land on their feet except the high-flying Huracon. There is a smoke ring rising from the courtyard.
An air reconnaissance shows no damage to the outside of the temple. In the central courtyard is the remains of a very large bonfire and splotches of blood where someone was sliced open.
Going in through the entry tunnel to the courtyard. They find the tracks of monkish sandals, older booted tracks, and small slippered feet with drops of blood following them. They figure that Devadasi was taking bodies to the funeral pyre. There are also the tracks of the pads of one or more large felines.
Huracon, Valyrie and Hussar remember the attack by the Rakshasa at the Opera. This is their kind of bloody work and their general area of operation. They remind everyone, and remind them that Freedom Force was apparently taken over by a Rakshasa at one point. Fox remembers that his cloned duplicate was killed by a rakshasa and is not pleased.
Going through the temple, they find torn clothing and bits of flesh and blood. Huracon and Boxer find a hidden room behind some others. In there they find a badly wounded and bandaged priest on a small cot. Boxer tries to heal him but finds that the old man will die soon, he is too worn out.
He is conscious enough to explain that the devastation was caused by Freedom Force! He has been possessed by the spirit of a Rakshasa and taken on some of their attributes. He is now below the temple, trying to break into the Hall of Demons where the priests have slowly but surely been imprisoning the souls of all the Rakshasa for thousands of years. Rakshasa cannot be killed, they just transmigrate to a new child's body and grow again. Only the gems in the Hall of Demons can hold the soul of a rakshasa. Fortunately, there are only so many rakshasa and they cannot reproduce, so the population of rakshasa has been steadily diminishing.
But now, Freedom Force is going to try to free them. Devadasi has gone to fight them. She has some of the talismans of Vishnu that are used to fight rakshasa, but is not trained in how to use them. Behind the statue of Vishnu is a door. In the farthest cell on the right, pull a stone to reveal a well leading to the underground area of the temple. The priest faints.
Behind the statue they find a depression in the floor where it has been cut away with some kind of energy (Devadasi's "sword of light?"). Inside the depression is a nest of silken gauze with four depressions, two empty. In the two filled depressions are a lotus blossom carved from amethyst and a choch-like shell of an unknown type.
The two items taken are seemingly a disk shape sprouting jets of flame and a short rod. Apparently, Devadasi felt she could only carry two talismans and still fight, a reasonable assumption.
At this point, a familiar voice says, "Hello all, been here long?" It's SWIFTSURE. Before he can explain his presence, Red Leader tries to read his mind. He goes well into Swiftsure's mind, then another personality entirely blasts him back out again, curses them all in German, and drains away some of Red Leader's willpower. The group turns on him, but he uses Mind Control on the group to tell them, "Kill Red Leader, it's all his fault." Only Hussar is truly controlled, though others are confused. Hussar stabs Red Leader. Huracon tries to get Red Leader away, and interposes himself between the two when Hussar catches up to him. Huracon is wounded. Meanwhile, Red Star and Valkyrie gang up on Swiftsure, and Valkyrie finally manages to stab him. Hussar takes one last stab at Red Leader, then comes to his senses. Red Leader is almost too far gone for Boxer to save, but he does
Swiftsure is marginally healed, tied up and hooded. Red Leader is left with the priest and Fox, who collapsed after bringing the group to the temple. The group then goes down the well and starts looking for Devadasi. Huracon carries the lotus blossom, Pelota carries the conch shell. Pelota is not happy, she is very claustraphobic.
Swiftsure wakes up as himself, Qual submerged again, and frees himself. He follows as quietly as he can, determined to make his seeming treachery up to his teammates.
The tunnel leads to a maze. Finding their way slowly through the maze, Pelota just barely managing to keep from screaming and curling up into a little ball, they suddenly find themselves confronted by two invisible rakshasa. Fortunately, Boxer can discern them with his sense of ki and combat them effectively. Behind the group, they are attacked by Steel Tiger and Freedom Force, who might have caught them by surprise except for Swiftsure.
Freedom Force almost kills Valkyrie and Swiftsure but comes to his senses and takes his body back from the rakshasa. Then he manages to hold Steel Tiger (animated by the spirit of the rakshasa "killed" in Sorcerer's private hell) so Valkyrie and others can knock that body out. The fight is very close and furious, and Pelota turns into a screaming vegetable in the middle of it, but the heroes emerge triumphant with the aid of Devadasi, who has been hunting the rakshasa (and vice versa) this whole time.
Devadasi leads the team, including Swiftsure, into the Hall of the Demons. There are five gems that do not have rakshasa souls in them. She goes through elaborate ritual dances that imprison first the two "free" rakshasa, then the one inhabiting the Steel Tiger body, then the one inhabiting Freedom Force (a somewhat tougher struggle, but ultimately successful). She offers to take Qual out of Swiftsure, even though that means that one rakshasa is free on earth forever. She says that Qual in Swiftsure's body poses more of a threat than the rakshasa. Everyone agrees and it is done. Qual is not pleased, but he cannot stop it.
When the dancing is over, the group leaves the hall and it seems to vanish away, the souls of the rakshasa taken away forever from the earth.
Devadasi finds that, because she could not use the talismans properly, she has been drained of many of her abilities. She is now strictly a mentalist, without the TK powers she had been manifesting. Her first decision is to invest in a set of Boomer armor.
The team reports to Gerard. Red Leader is sent back to Russia, still suspicious of Red Star's long absence. Red Star keeps getting abstracted looks on her face.
During the adventure, things kept coming back to her about her time on Olympus. The mind block put on her mind by the Olympians is slipping…
12/24/49: Mission Sixty-Four--Have Yourself A Very Vanguard Christmas (GM: Steve Henderson)
Despite all the aggravation and frustration and sorrow of the last few months, Christmas is in the air, even among those members who have no connection to the christian tradition. Many members are on holiday leave, visiting loved ones elsewhere. Others are on good will tours. The ones remaining sponsor a very successful toy drive for the needy.
In recognition of their effort, Gerard announces a big party for Vanguard, inviting all members to attend. Some members are buying gifts for each other, others have arranged a gift exchange. Even Red Star, staunch communist that she is, seems to be getting into the spirit. However, things have been so busy that most of the personnel have not had time to go shopping. They must go shopping Christmas Eve.
The night before, Valkyrie is troubled by a series of chaotic but erotic dreams, mostly involving her horse. Red Star has dreams of dancing under the stars with a lover, holding her first born in her arms, looking through shining Greek temples, and the like.
The next day, the two of them go into San Francisco with PHOTOS (who has resigned, but is hanging out with her friends), DEVADASI, and PELOTA., At first, things go well, but the crowds get thicker and the lines get longer. In one store, they are recognized and deluged with autograph seekers and questions. During the press, one of Photos's packages is stolen.
Then, while passing Powell Street, they realize that a cable car has gone runaway. They stop it but in the rush Pelota's packages are stolen, and all of the packages are trampled.
Giving up, and definitely not in a Christmas mood, the women of Vanguard get into their chauffeured car. In the middle of the Bay Bridge crush, the car radio comes on.
There is an alert in San Francisco Bay. Something is happening on Angel Island. The small American military detachment there has called for help. They say they are under siege by strange monsters in the fog. Abandoning their car and trampled packages to the chauffeur, the women respond.
Meanwhile, Freedom Force, Boomer, and Tyr, along with new Columbian member El Dorado, have been just as frustrated in San Francisco. Freedom Force stops a drunk driver, and his packages are stolen. Autograph hounds manage to trample everyone's packages. By the time they are on their way home, most of them the worse for stopping at several bars along the way at Boomer's instigation, they are all depressed. Then, in the bridge traffic, they too are called for the emergency.
Meanwhile, BOXER and Dr. KONG have drawn sentry duty. Dr. Kong has never understood christmas in America, its observation is so different from his Coptic training.
Boxer remains aloof from the rush and, besides, he got his solstice gifts for everyone months ago. He's organized. The island is thoroughly fogged in. The mood is very depressed all around. Dr. Kong's fur is no help in the foggy weather. They are in a thorough funk when they are the first to get the emergency call from Angel Island. Since neither can fly, they grab a boat and go investigate, leaving a notice for the radio operators to get them some backup.
Angel Island is completely cloaked in fog. As each of the teams approaches, they can hear gunfire. Landing on the island, they find they can only see about four meters in any direction. They are attacked by zombies, all of whom look like they came out of the ocean after rotting for scores of years. The zombies are not great fighters, but they are dogged and determined and have no fear. They just keep coming. During the course of the fight, El Dorado is separated from his teammates and ends up fighting beside Dr. Kong and Boxer.
At midnight, the zombies collapse. There is no explanation for the attack. Tired, depressed, and discouraged, the Vanguard members come back to base to find packages for everyone. Pelota looks in the sky and seems to see a sleigh flying off through the fog, pulled by reindeer. She mentions this to Boomer, who remarks that, considering what else has happened over the last three years, nothing like that surprises him any more.