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Issue Thirty-four, Unexpected Company

It was an ordinary Tuesday.

Simmon Marious was at a late breakfast with the Port Alexander Chamber of Commerce, pressing the flesh on behalf of IO Mining. Alexander Crosby was reading with interest the recent exploits of Siberian Star, who seemed to be all the papers these days. To the west, Oleg Gavrilov was TA'ing a first year class in Mechanical Engineering at Port Alexander College. Defender was with Team Defender at their "clubhouse" putting the final touches on the speaker placement for the surround sound. Jim Reed was taking a break from his work at the Wander-No-More House to have a cup of coffee in the break room with the Pyschology student who was the new intern. Gwen Shallcross was at the Protectors Fortress reviewing some of the team's past exploits for analyses - her homework from Sting. PC was there, too, immersed in some project of her own.

PC's work was interrupted by a call on the Protector's emergency line. An ID showed that it was the Mystic calling on his DefenderPhone.

"Protector Central." Lorelei said. "It's not often you call us, Mystic. And usually not good news. What can we do for you?"

"Lorelei," he began, "there is something very bad beginning to happen. A ritual of immense power is begun, and I do not think it is a beneficient power. The locus is in Commerce City somewhere, I am attempting to discover the exact location. I think it would be best if you alerted the Protectors."

"Got it. I'll put out a Code Alpha, let us know when you've got an exact location and I should be able to reroute the team." PC then punched in the codes as Gwen looked up from her studies.

"A bit of trouble, Lorelei?" Gwen asked.

"More than a bit, if Mystic gives us a ring. I wouldn't get too excited, as I really doubt Defender will clear you for field action this quickly."

Gwen crinkled her nose at Lorelei. "Ehh, I know. Still, hope springs eternal." Gwen turned back to her reviews as Lorelei awaited team check-ins.

	*		*		*		*
Alex had spent part of the morning reviewing some of the scouting reports coming across his desk. With the draft coming in April, he knew he had to get familiar with some of the prospects that his coordinators and coaches were interested in. He was more interested, however, in the latest exploit...some would say "stunt"...of this new hero, Siberian Star. Alex worked with many types of heroes in the past...some outgoing, some reclusive, most in between...but hadn't yet come across anyone who tried this hard to be seen as often as possible. As publicity hungry as he was, his work to date, especially the collar of Arson that he made alongside Flex, was most impressive.

Alex made a mental note to take some time in the near future and patrol with Flex. His first impressions of him, working in the past on the Black Druid case, was less than favorable, but slowly, quietly, he had been working quite a resume, and he wondered to himself whether or not Flex might be ready to work with the Protectors. The addition of Merlynne notwithstanding, the group severely lacked manpower at the moment and could use some experienced hands.

His reverie was broken by the beeping of his communicator. The particular pattern of sounds indicated a Code Alpha. "There goes my day." Alex thought, as he went to lock his door before answering the signal. "Sting here." Alex said.

	*		*		*		*
Alden stretched to his full height, pushing the speaker wire into small hole in the ceiling. He heard a soft grunt from above. "Sorry," he called out to Liam.

"S'all right, AB. Luckily my throat was there to stop the wire," the student responded through the small hole. "Why isn't One up here doing this instead of me?"


"Yeah, Ichi. That's Japanese for 'One.'"

Alden shook his head. He had a lot to get used to with this group. There were days he felt like a college student again while in their company. Even Mara had commented on his youthful stride of late. Then again, he wasn't that far out of college.

"Ichi is working on tapping into my uplink. He should have limited access to the mainframe in the Fortress soon."

"Won't we get into trouble for that?" Liam asked from his spot in the attic.

"Not if Ichi does it right," Karen answered for her boss. She stepped into the room, followed by Mara and Jill. "As you can see we've even got a place for some downtime. Got to keep our wits about us if we are all going to live double lives."

"You've all out done yourselves," Mara said.

"Thanks Mrs. Bryce," Jill answered quietly. "Alden has been a big help. This is a dream come true for us."

"Wait. Why am I 'Mrs. Bryce' while he's 'Alden?'"

"Because," Alden responded, climbing down from the step ladder, "you're the famous writer. I'm just their boss."

"Jill, please call me 'Mara.'"

"Alden! Better come here quick." Ichiro called from the computer room. "I think I've done something wrong."

The group, sans Liam, raced toward the back of the house. The converted office space they entered was once a sizeable bedroom. It was now dominated by nearly a dozen computers of various makes and ages. Ichiro sat by a desk with three of them, all the newest. The monitor before him was flashing. Bold, red letters signaled a Code Alpha.

"Did you break it?" Karen asked.

"We'll know in a minu..." Alden was interrupted by his DefenderPhone. He gave Ichi a thumbs-up. "Defender here."

"Oh, now I have goose-bumps," Jill cooed.

	*		*		*		*
As he finished his cup, Jim looked across at the wide eyed intern. It was one thing to have heard the background to the Wander No More House but now they were there, clearly they were excited. Jim has passed on friendly greetings, but hadn't really the time to think about getting to know this new student. Sarge had been onto him about a leaky roof over the back porch area, and the weather of late hadn't been too kind, he knew he had to get onto it. With that in mind Jim nodded to the young student and moved to grab his tools.

From the cornor of his eye, Jim could see that behind his back the student suddenly looked less sure. He quickly surmised that she was wanting to make a good impression but was so unsure about themselves, let alone the house that they been thrust into. Without turning around Jim said, "At night is when they turn into vampires!"

The young student jumped as if awakened from a day dream. "What, err. I mean excuse me?"

"Listen the girls in this place. They've had it rough, they've been treated really bad. They know they are considered the underbelly of society. Relax, they don't look at you with any great hopes that you'll be able to save them. Just be yourself, there expectations are so low, that if you are just yourself, they'll be able to take you for who you are. Not who you think you ought to be."

Jim smiled, he hoped that he had said something that would help break the ice for this young impressionable student. As he walked out, he wondered what else he'd be up to today. "Time for Flex to stretch his legs, tonight. I think." Jim thought, a smile coming to his face. He hadn't seen the Parts that much over the last week and somehow he missed his old haunts. The thought of going out on patrol, of leaping over buildings and feeling the midnight air in his face...somehow the kid in him couldn't get over how much fun it could be, sometimes. As he got to the back porch, Jim looked at this watch. There were still days when the daylight hours just couldn't go by fast enough for him...

	*		*		*		*
Simmon Marious quietly nodded and smiled uneasily at the president-elect of the Port Alexander Civic Association who was telling him about his golf game. The assembled quartet chuckled at the man's antics as Marious continued to nurse his glass of apple juice. Oh how he hated the small talk, but often the figurehead must be seen and that was his duty this morning. A vibration on his belt perked him up momentarily as he unclipped his pager and looked into the screen. "I need to go," said the president of IO Mining with a tinge of glee.

"Hope they haven't broken through to China, that'll wreck your tax bracket," joked the head of Port Alexander's accountants group amid raucous laughter from the other leaders.

"Uh, no. Something much more exciting. If you'll excuse me," replied Marious breaking away from the group and signaling to his assistant to carry on the schmoozing.

He stepped out into the hallway, retrieved his overcoat from coatcheck and disappeared in the frosty March air of Port Alexander.

	*		*		*		*
As the team checked in, PC explained the situation to them and instructed them to come to the base. Until she heard more from the Mystic, there was nowhere to really guide them.

Once the communication was done, she tried to monitor the various police reports and such for any unusual activity, as well as the various utilities reporting and strange power readings.

On his way out, Sting noticed something strange. The security checkpoint at the CommerceDome was empty and when he looked back, one of the lower entry points into the Dome was open - and it shouldn't be.

Sting signaled the base. "Protector Central" PC said.

"PC, where did you say the Mystic thought this was coming from?" Sting asked.

"Commerce City, but there wasn't any specific place."

"Well, I think I might have a specific place. I'm missing some security here at the Dome and a door to the lower level is open. Contact Defender and Wanderer and have them meet me here, Entrance A-E. It may be nothing, but I'm going to go check it out. I will TRY not to engage without the others but that may not be my call. And yes, I'll be careful."

PC sighed. "OK, will do. Try to check in soon. PC out." PC then went to relay the message to Sting and Wanderer.

Meanwhile, Sting sped into the entrance heading towards the inner workings of the Commercedome.

	*		*		*		*
Everyone was crowded into the office when Alden came out of the bathroom in full Defender gear, with one minor exception. He had removed the modesty drape from the front and back of the costume. This got a few looks from the room.

"What? I don't want to look like a dweeb anymore, okay?"

Mara smirked. "But that's your endearing quality."

The DefenderPhone rang again. It was PC with new information. Defender listened as she quickly relayed Sting's concerns. All the while, he was writing CommerceDome on the white board. Instantly, well as instantly as college students are capable of, the team began pulling up building plans and news articles. As the floor plans appeared on the big monitor, Defender gave a thumbs up.

"PC. I think this would be a good first field exercise for Merlynne. Tell her to meet us there, but not to get excited. She's there as back-up only. Once you've contacted the Wanderer, let the Mystic know what we are up to. And give the Beggar Nation phone a ring... you know, just in case."

Hanging up the phone, Defender smiled at his new team. "Hit me with the download and stay sharp. It's time to earn your toys, folks."

"You heard the boss," Karen piped up. "Let's see what we can see."

"I'll be home in time for supper." Alden smiled at the two women in his life from behind his mask. He knew everything was in good hands as he raced out the backdoor into the cluttered alley. Next stop, Commerce City.

	*		*		*		*
The roof didn't look so bad, now he was looking at it from above. Clearly the water was pooling and seeping past the tiles on the roof. It was going to take a big chunk out of his day to get it fixed.

After a quick word with Sarge, Jim gathered what he needed and was back on the roof, stripping of the damage parts, soaked by the elements. Suddenly his cell went off. Since it was the one he had received from Ipac, he naturally thought it was for Flex and so modulated his voice to compensate.

But instead of the clipped polite tones of Wilkins, it was the Wanderer.

"Flex, my boy," began the friendly tones of the Wanderer. "I hope you're up for a rousing game of rounders, or rather pounders. There is trouble afoot at the CommerceDome, would hate for you to miss the fun. Apple Jacks, er Cheerio." Just as quickly as he had spoken, the connection was broken.

Flex wasn't sure how this involved him and why, of all times, the Protectors should need him now. He had to chance it. His gut feeling was that if the Protectors called him, then it must be big. Strictly speaking Flex wasn't part of the team, he didn't quite know if he was even on a reserve list. But in the past he had helped them and now it was the Wanderer calling, the one who through whom Jim Reid worked, Flex didn't feel he could turn down the call.

"Ok I will get there as soon as I am able. Flex out!"

Now having agreed to go, Jim had to hope that his luck would hold out and no one would notice his absence from the roof.

Less than three minutes later, the lithe leaping form of Flex was seen crossing the roof spaces of local district on his way to the Commerce Dome.

	*		*		*		*
Sting approached the door carefully. It had been casually destroyed, melted through it looked like. Sting went through carefully, the path taken by the intruders seemed a straight one - right down the corridor through a security grate covering the spillway to the field.

Sneaking closer, he began to hear a strange chanting in a language he didn't know. Peering around the corner, he saw four individuals in a circle near one side of the field. Two were men, one of who was dressed in a fashion that reminded Sting of the Mystic for some reason and the other in simple brown robes. One was a woman in some kind of strange armoured suit but with her head bare, and the last was manlike but not a man, with blue scaly skin on a lithe and powerful frame. They sat around a disc of some kind which had four candless evently spaced on it, which gave off enough light to shine even in the morning sun. Strange distortions played in the air above the flames. Around them on the ground within easy reach were some other objects that looked like staves or medieval weapons from Sting's vantage point.

Sting zipped back out of aural reach, quietly, and snapped on his Comm. As soon as he heard a click he didn't give PC a chance to speak. "Patch me to the team, now!" Sting whispered forcefully.

PC did the necessary connections, trying to connect to the Mystic as well, and simply said, quietly, "You're on."

Sting relayed the situation to his comrades and gave descriptions of all four beings as quickly as he could. PC researched the databases as Sting spoke to get information to the rest of the team. "They're doing some sort of ritual, that's for sure, and they had enough firepower to melt one of the doors into the dome. As much as I don't like four to one odds, I'm not sure if I can wait until you guys are here before whatever they're doing kicks in. I think I can disrupt it, but then...well, four on one. Defender, what should I do?"

Sting kept a watchful ear on the goings on in the dome while waiting for a response.

"Disrupting them might cause more problems," Defender responded. "Hold out as long as you think you can. If you feel you have to attack now, strike from cover. That will keep them off of you long enough for us to get there. Wanderer and I will come in as soon as we get there. Merlynne will stay outside and watch for reinforcements or escape vehicles. Everyone clear?"

"Clear," piped the Wanderer on the conference call. "I alerted Flex of the Alpha Alert, and will re-route him too. Hopefully PC can learn something from the databases about The Company and Black Druid, Black Witch, Darkspell, and Dradoom. See you soon Sting."

Flex made his way as quickly as he could. He already had a bad feeling about the call. Although not patched into the communications with the rest of the Protectors, Flex felt sure that if the Wanderer had called him in it must be pretty important. He did wonder what it might be, since he had not been aware of any major activity among the local criminal element.

That suggested an outside force, something he hadn't heard about - which seemed unlikely or something totally unexpected. The broadside situation. In any case it wouldn't be long before he found out. Upping the pace, Flex pushed himself to eat up the distance. He had a bad feeling about what might be at work. He only hoped he could give a good account of himself. On the previous mission he had undertaken with the Protectors, head strong and too full of himself, Flex had made a error of judgement. It lead to a run in with Sting, who it turned out was some sort of vet when it came to costumed crime fighting. "No! Stay focused. Times have changed. I've changed. Whatever happens I am a bit older and wiser and I can show them that I've learnt my lesson from the last time."

Flex still had a bad feeling about all this...

Sting settled in to watch and wait as the others sped toward the CommerceDome. As he watched, they reached a crescendo of some kind and the flames jetted up nearly a hundred feet then collapsed to nothing. He saw no other effects, but the four clearly thought they had achieved something, for the stood, picked up their staves and weapons and stretched speaking in low tones.

About five minutes passed, then the Mystic called PC and asked to be patched through to the team. "I am en route to the CommerceDome, and have just received a sending from," he spoke something that sound like a guttural hawking cough with some kind of nasal vowel in it. "The news is disturbing. They say that someone has robbed their arsenal and escaped to a different dimension. They were tracking them but had not identified the dimension when a ritual of great power blocked their access to this dimension. No native of," there was that sound again, "can pass to this dimension now, and they deduce that the criminals have fled here."

Sting replied quietly. "Probably related to the ritual that these four have just finished. PLEASE tell me I'm going to have backup in the next 60 seconds, otherwise I might have to do something I prefer not to do."

Arriving in the parking lot, Defender quickly peeked out a text message on his phone for Sting.


It eluded Defender how Karen and Jill could work those keys as fast as they did. Leaving the DefenderCycle parked in a relatively safe location, he close to the open gate to wait for the others to arrive.

Sting chuckled quietly. Text messaging, the shorthand of the 21st century, he thought. He replied in turn:

--> IF DEY TRY 2 GO?

Nearly to the gate, Defender had to stop to respond.


Sting nodded, then typed back. "I SHRNK NW - KEEP I OUT 4 U"

He then began to shrink to his 1" height. He figured that if he was going to be in a position to do anything if they left, he should be ready to strike if so. Sting saw four people obviously versed in magic and was careful to note that they might not be leaving through conventional means. Once shrunk, he ran out into the field area, skirting the wall around the field area to try to stay out of sensor range.

After stretching and chatting for another minute or two, enough time for Defender to creep up near the spillway, the four wizards began to lay out a new set of paraphenalia on and around the disk.

The group began to chant again, with slow measured cadence. They had only been chanting for a few moments, when the Mystic joined Defender at the spillway. After another moment, Flex slipped in beside them.

Defender whispered to the Mystic, "Do you have any idea about what they are doing? Or how much time we have to stop them?"

The Mystic listened carefully, "It is a ritual of great power ... to raise a shield of some kind ... whether to keep something out or something in I cannot tell. A spell of such power will take some time to complete."

"You mentioned criminals. Where are they?" Defender asked.

"It is they who are casting the spell." He pointed, "Darkspell, my nemesis is there. By him, the Black Druid. Then, the Black Witch. That last is Dradoom, who is an outcast from the dimension of which I spoke."

"We need to hit them before they can complete their shield ritual," Defender said. Taking up his phone again, Defender fired a text message off to the Wanderer.

--> UR ETA 2 DOME?

When the Wanderer received the message, he was just bumping into Merlynne in the parking lot.

The Wanderer touched the brim of his hat to Merlynne. "I see school let you have a field trip today," he said trying to break the tension. Withdrawing his communicator he texted back to Defender:


Followed by:


Depositing the device into his pocket he turned to Merlynne, "We're expected."

"You're expected, mate." Merlynne replied. "I'm to guard the door. Boss's orders. Have fun in there." Wanderer saw her hand glow, and she appeared to dissapate into nothingness.

A moment or two later the Wanderer joined the Mystic and Defender in the spillway.

"Is everyone here?" asked the Wanderer in hushed tones. He peeked out onto the ritual and commented to the Mystic in a whisper, "Looks like some old friends, are we ready to crash their party?"

"Merlynne?" Defender whispered. When the Wanderer motioned toward the door, Defender nodded before turning toward the Mystic. "Can you handle Darkspell while we tackle the others?"

"I can try. Though the sending said they had robbed a mystic arsenal of artifacts of great power," said the Mystic.

"Are those, them?" asked the Wanderer indicating the paraphenalia scattered about the ring.

"I think so, and as well some of their jewelry and raiment," said the Mystic.

The Wanderer listened and got an idea, "So if someone were to remove one of those items, it could cause the ritual to fail?"

"I don't know, the ritual is unknown to me and the sending was brief. I do not know what the purpose of the artifacts are," the Mystic sounded a little frustrated. "If we can disrupt them enough, the ritual will doubtless fail."

Defender sighed. "Then we need to hit fast and hard. Target number one is the Black Druid. We hit him with everything we have. After initial contact, I'll peel off and take the Witch. Wanderer, stay on the Druid. Mystic, if you would please, tie up Darkspell. Sting can pick any dance partner he feels comfortable with."

A quick text message followed for the inch-high hero guy.


Having tried to take in the strangeness of the situation, combined with his panicked flight to get here, Flex was having a hard time taking everything in. His last encounter with magic, also with the Protectors, was a wierd flight through time. Not the easiest of adventures to simply walk away from unchanged. But despite the feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach he was ready to do his part. And for the most part, listened intently to what Defender and Mystic was saying.

When The Wanderer showed up moments later. Flex began to feel a little more at ease. Strange and unique in his own way, it was still a comfort to be with the one hero, that Flex felt he knew better than the others and thus felt he could trust.

"Flex, can you keep Dradoom busy while we try to drop the magic wielders?" asked Defender, shocking Flex out of his reverie.

Flex nodded adding in hushed whisper, "Yes, of course,!"

Sting quickly texted back. As he got closer looks at the villians, he remeberedwho was who from the databases.


Sting maneuvered to a point on the perimeter where he could slam right into the back of Darkspell once he grew into combat. Hopeful that the mages were too into the spell to notice him, he came onto about the first hashmark behind Darkspell and waited.

--> RE D

"When at the stadium, I always like to get a souvenir, why should this time be any different?" The Wanderer looked at Defender, "Would you like anything special or should I surprise you?"

"I've always been partial to staves," Defender said. "Original plan, then?"

"How about we start when the stooges' jaws drop? I'll join you as soon as I can." The Wanderer winked through his goggles at Defender and the Mystic before disappearing.

In the meantime, looking around the field at the various items and artefacts laid out as part of this strange ritual, Flex had a sudden thought. Turning to the Mystic, he whispered quietly to him, "You say this is some sort of spell of protection, and Wanderer has mentioned tackling them before. What are the chances that they are themselves under some sort of protection?" It seemed a reasonable question, and the last thing any of them needed was to attack, thinking they had the upper hand, only to have the tables turned on them.

"I think the chances are quite good," said the Mystic. "But," he added as the Wanderer dissappeared, "We seem to be committed."

An instant later he alien in black appeared next to a staff in the midst of the ritual. "Oh look, just what I needed!" he exclaimed to Darkspell and company. "I really must have it," the Wanderer said grabbing the staff and quickly disappeared.

Seeing as things were now committed by the Wanderer's sudden teleportation stunt. The team did not have time to be subtle. Flex rose with the rest of the team to take advantage of the initiative they had one and leapt into combat.

As he ran, he saw Defender pass gracefully over his head in a long leap, crashing into the one he had been told was called The Black Druid. The Druid staggered back with the impact, but kept his feet.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Sting appeared, growing to his full size and planting a fist into Darkspell's jaw. The mage flew up and back perhaps eight meters narrowly missing the Black Witch as he flew, and landed in a heap.

Sting followed up with a blast of vibratory energy at the Black Witch, but was startled to see that it seemed to have no effect.

"Protectors, I was wondering when you'd arrive," said the Black Witch, grapping her staff and raising her hands. "You're a little early, but that's allright. I have Lightning to spare!" A trio of bolts shot toward Sting.

Darkspell, little worse for the wear, rose, "And the Cold of Daemonus is also available in abundance!" A pair of frosty blasts raced toward Sting, splattering on the astroturf around him.

"Let us deal with them quickly and complete the ritual," said Dradoom, lifting his own staff. "Let the Bonds of Cythak turn the tide!" Writhing purple energy wrapped itself around Defender pinioning his arms and legs. A second pass of his staff and a wall of fire, six meters high and twelve long sprang into being in front of Flex.

The Druid faced Defender, "Again you interfere. This time, however, you shall fail!" He stepped closer and scooped up his staff, "The Fires of Vermithrax shall prove my words." Flame jetted toward the helpless Defender. "Do you enjoy the flame?" he asked, backhanding Defender with his open palm.

Flex turned and ran around the wall of fire to try to get to the fight.

Sting charged the Black Witch as she cast her lightning at him, as a result the bolts glanced off, then he slammed into her. She went flying back nearly thirty feet, hitting the wall of the stadium and sliding down to the ground.

Defender struggled in his bonds but was unable to break free as the Black Druid laughed and drew back to slap him again.

"Leave him be," cried the Mystic. "And let the Bonds of Vieltoor enforce my will." Crimson ribbons appeared and enveloped the Black Druid.

"Damn you," said the Druid as he writhed in his bonds.

Dradoom ran to where Sting stood, leaping in the air kicking as he came. Darkspell ran to join him.

Sting shrank as Dradoom's kick landed, his head snapping back from the impact.

Flex could hear the back and forth of battle around him. He glanced about to make sure the rest of the team were ok. He could see that most with the exception of Defender, who though being trapped, he felt sure that the Protectors leader was resourceful enough to break free and the rest seemed to be holding their own. Flex felt he still had a lot to prove, although deep down he knew it he owed nothing to no one. His record, fairly short though it was, still spoke louder than any self aggrandisement he might use of himself. Deeper still he couldn't help feeling, when he would let himself, a tiny amount of fun. Dangerous though this work was, when he was on the edge like this, senses tuned, body working, powers in full flow, he really felt alive. And alive felt good, felt like fun.

Holding back momentarily to take on the scene from the other side of the flaming wall, Flex readied himself to leap into the fray, then launched himself at Dradoom. The extra-dimensional twisted quickly and Flex missed landing near him ready to attack.

The Black Witch climbed to her feet and ran to join the Black Druid. Seeing she could not aid him, she began to pummel the helpless Defender.

"Cease, woman," said the Mystic and the Bonds of Vieltoor wrapped the Black Witch as well.

In the spillway, Merlynne, invisibly standing guard, saw the Wanderer pelting down the corridor with a strange staff in his hand.

The Wanderer looked about and wondered where Merlynne had gone. He held the staff aloft and called out "Merlynne, I brought you something."

Wanderer felt a tug on the staff behind him. "It's me." Merlynne whispered.

Wanderer let go of the staff as Merlynne faded in, but out of sight of the doorway. "Get in there, they probably need you."

As Wanderer headed back in, Merlynne channeled the Lakesword, and her body rippled with physical power. Knowing that the staff could possibly hold immense power to be used against them, she attempted to use her superhuman strength to break it, first with sheer strength, then by slamming it against the concrete ground. To her shock, the staff resisted her efforts.

Meanwhile, back at base, PC has succeeded in notifying the authorities of the situation at the Commercedome, telling them that the Protectors were on the scene and that the area arround the Dome should be secured and evacuated but that they shouldn't try to engage, as the felons were extremely powerful and very dangerous. She then did the same with IPAC, this time giving the possible ID of the villains involved. Magic made PC very nervous and after what happened with Max, she was taking no chances with this.

Her final call was as Lorelei Crosby, who called Hayden Janks, the security manager at the Dome and a good friend. Before she could go into it very much, Hayden took another call, then told her he had to leave because the police had ordered the area evacuated. "Dad's already out of the building on business," Lorelei said, "and he just got the same call. Get going, then." Lorelei hung up and continued to try to research what little information she had, using her resources to try and find mystic information on the web regarding the dimensions Mystic mentioned, using the best phoenetic matches she could find.

Outside the CommerceDome, alarms began to flash as various crisis centers were alerted. Siberian Stars IPAC beeperphone vibrated gently in his pocket.

"And that is why you have to re-calculate resistance when dealing with thermophysical anomalies," the vibration in Oleg Gavrilov's pocket cut short his explanation. The TA glanced at his watch and excused himself. "Samantha, could you finish up the lab? I just remembered that I have an appointment across campus." The 10am mechanical engineering lab looked on surprised as their instructor quickly assembled his books and walked out abruptly.

Once in the hall, Oleg Gavrilov pulled out the communicator that IPAC had given him, "Da." As the IPAC operator apprised him of the situation he hurried to his office only to find his officemate there grading papers.

"I thought you had lab?" asked a startled Reggie Whitmore.

"Uh, yeah. I forgot I had an interview at --, " quickly his eyes scanned the small office landing on a piece of promotional literature that peeked out from the pile of papers on his desk. "At Hope-Bryce Cybernetics."

"Really? Good luck. You better hurry, that's across town."

"Da, I better fly," he replied with a grin grabbing his oversized attache case and backpack which always prompted laughter among his peers.

Down the hall he ran, ducking into the deserted mech lab which housed most of his dissertation research and soon Siberian Star was soaring over Port Alexander. Destination: CommerceDome.

At which location, Sting dodged madly as Darkspell and Dradoom slapped at him. As he was bobbing and weaving, Sting screamed into his comm, "A LITTLE HELP WOULD BE NICE, I'M GETTING DOUBLE TEAMED OVER HERE!"

As if on cue, Flex gathered himself leaping into attack at Dradroom once again. He intended to hit and hit hard. He slammed into Dradoom, knocking him down and away from Sting, although he didn't seem to be hurt. He leapt in the air and landed on Dradoom, who still seemed unharmed.

Out of the spillway, the Wanderer appeared running toward the fray.

The Mystic looked from place to place then waved, "Let the Fires of Vieltoor purge your soul, Darkspell!"

A blast of flame soared toward the villian who laughed, "You fool! We are beyond your reach now. We are armed with mystic powers beyond your ken and this city shall be our first fortress, and then we shall rule this dimension. You cannot harm us." Indeed, the Mystic's flames splashed harmlessly off the man.

Darkspell returned his attention to Sting. "Stop moving around, damn you!" he cursed petulantly, swinging ineffectually.

Dradoom rolled to his feet, and then lashed out at Flex, but the Mouldable Man was too quick.

The Wanderer suddenly dissappeared in the middle of his charge, reappearing to one side of Darkspell and barely missing him as he ran by.

Darkspell left off his assault on Sting to deal with this new threat.

Dradoom continued his martial arts attacks on Flex.

With a gentle pop, the Black Witch dissappeared, to reappear a step or two away. Her bonds followed her, but before they completely rewrapped her, she teleported again and was free.

The Black Druid shifted form back and forth from and eagle attempting to win free of his bonds.

With a final shrug, Defender burst loose of his bonds and was ready to get back into the fray.

The Mystic ran toward his old foe, Darkspell and took a few punches at him. Unsurprisingly at this point, his punch glanced off his foe with no obvious effect.

With the arrival of help, Sting was able to dash off a few meters and collapse in the astroturf.

The Wanderer blocked a punch from Darkspell, the teleported clear of another, reapparing out of the man's field of vision. His punch landed cleanly sending the man forward into a sprawl, from which he rolled to his feet.

Flex suddenly gained in size, landing a punch on Dradoom as he did so. The alien flew backward five feet or so and landed on his back. He bounced up and charged back toward Flex.

Darkspell stepped back toward the Wanderer. "Fool you are no match for us now," he said jabbing at the hero. The Black Witch came forward to help Flex while the Black Druid continued to struggle with the Mystic's spell.

The Mystic, for his part, attack Darkspell again with his fists, but to no avail.

The Wanderer stuck his tongue out at Darkspell, "Nyah nyah nyah!" He mockingly danced around with an exaggerated Ali shuffle, and fired off a couple of hard body shots. "Sticks and stones, sticks and stones. You don't see me commenting on your choice of friends, do you? Now play nice and take back that 'fool' comment."

Darkspell ignored his attacks and punched back.

The Black Witch started to close in on the Wanderer but Defender cast loose his bonds finally and grabbed her as she went by. He yanked her into the air, spun around once and tossed her like a discus into the stands.

She climbed to her feet and teleported back to the playing field.

Flex took a couple of steps back from Dradoom then leapt in trying to hit his enemy with as much force as possible. The alien sidesteppted easily, though, and retaliated with several punches of his own.

The Mystic gestured again and crimson light sprang up around Darkspell.

Defender charged the Black Witch swinging as he came. His blow went wide, and the witch gestured. A trio of lightning bolts lanced out at Defender.

Unperturbed by the swift footed humanoid, Flex dodged about before flinging himself forward leading with his foot first. Again Dradoom slipped away. "Enough!" he said. "Let the Bonds of Cythak end this." The purple light that had surrounded Defender now spring up around Flex. "Now," said the alien cracking his knuckles, "we begin." He began to brutally beat down Flex.

"Leave him!" said the Mystic, and crimson bands sprang up around Dradoom.

The Wanderer sought to block each blow with the skill of a trained pugilist and then took advantage of an opening and the Mystic's spell struck. He jabbed with his left and then unleashed a haymaker of a right and exclaimed, "Have a nice trip!"

The entrapped Darkspell went flying back forty feet.

Black Witch followed up with punches against Defender.

"Urg! This is frustrating." Flex thought as he struggled out of his bonds. Struggling with his profund strength and stretching to loosen the mystic restraints was all Flex could do before he had the opportunity to strike back. He felt vulnerable, the effort needed to free himself requiring his attention but this would leave him open to attack. But then, what choice did he have?

Defender rocked back from the impact of the lightning bolt, blocked a punch and fired back with some of his own. The Black Witch ignored his attacks.

The Wanderer ran over to where Darkspell lay writhing in his bonds and began to pummel the mage.

For no reason that most people could see, Black Druid looked down at his foot suddenly and then laughed. His form flowed again then he slipped his bonds and was free.

Black Witch jabbed at Defender.

The Black Druid looked around, then smiled, "The Fires of Vermithrax shall rive you now, old nemesis." Three blasts of flame soared toward the Wanderer.

The Wanderer vanished and appeared repeatedly as he tried to avoid the blasts soaring his way. He teleported clear of one, and into the path of another. With a cry he twisted in a circle and crumpled to the ground.

The Mystic responded to the Druid's attack, "Perhaps the Fires of Vieltoor are stronger!" His blast went wide, but he ran up to engage the Black Druid hand to hand. As his punch had no effect, he exclaimed, "They are too well warded, I do not see that we can defeat them!"

Free at last Flex charged right into Dradoom, landing a solid blow on the alien, who seemed unhurt, ignoring the blow to struggle with his mystic bonds. He was however knocked back a few feet.

Near Defender, Sting suddenly appeared, growing to full height behind the Black Witch. His hand, blurring with vibrations slammed into her in a mighty punch, and she actually let out a small cry.

Taking advantage of Sting's arrival, Defender gave the Witch a shove which pushed her back a few feet, stepped back and stabbed his thumb into a button on his WristComp. The macro it activated signaled a retreat on all the DefenderPhones in the area.

Desperate to gain some advantage on Dradoom and put a stop to this madness, Flex was readying himself for another attack. Suddenly in his back belt he felt his phone vibrate as it alerted him to Defenders call. Reluctantly he watched, with one eye still on Dradoom, for Defenders next action, intent on following, despite his own reservations.

It was then that he noticed that the Wnaderer had been felled, before he left Flex intended to make sure he got Wanderer as well before leaving.

He moved toward the fallen hero.

Sting took a swing that the Witch managed to duck..and then Sting retreated, making a beeline for the fallen Wanderer at top speed.

By the time he got there, Flex had lifted the downed hero and turned toward the exit. The Mystic had made an abortive move in that direction, but seeing the Wanderer well cared for, ran for the exit himself.

Defender had held back to make sure the others had received the signal. Satisfied they were falling back in good order, he leapt toward the exit.

"Leave them!" cried Darkspell. "When we are done here, we can hunt them down at our liesure."

As the heroes slipped into the exit, they saw their foes return to their places in the circle and resume their chant.

Sting took a breath once he knew everyone was assembled. "OK, I get the feeling that these guys were seriously juiced up. I swear, though, that last shot I got on Black Witch cracked her armor." He vibrated his fist for effect. "Something I've been working on in my spare time. My fist vibrates as I swing, and it seems to disrupt people as I hit, cutting through whatever protection they have. Other than that, though..." Sting looked out there. "What are we going to do when they actually *FINISH* it? I don't think the staff Wondy swiped is deterring them at all."

"We need to get them to stop the ritual somehow," Defender said as he caught his breath. "I think our best course of action is to remove them from the dome. Suggestions?"

"That may not be possible," said the Mystic from a spot near the spillway. "They have erected a cone of power over themselves. I do not think we can penetrate it."

Indeed, the Company was now enclosed within a shimmering golden dome, shot through with green streaks which shifted across its surface.

"Then we are about to have a serious problem." Defender said. "I'm open to any and all suggestions. If any of you have been holding back any hidden mystic knowledge, now would be a good time to come through with it."

Flex looked from the Wanderer, whom he was attempting to bring around gently but firmly, to the glowing cone. Nothing so far had prepared him for what he saw going on.

"Then we are about to have a serious problem." Defender said. "I'm open to any and all suggestions. If any of you have been holding back any hidden mystic knowledge, now would be a good time to come through with it."

Flex listened intently but simply shook his head. This was serious. In his short crime fighting career he had not heard of much that had stopped the Protectors. His own abilities though useful and varied, paled into insignificance against the might and power they were witnessing from these sorcerers. But what to do? If the Protectors didn't know, who did? Things were looking bad for them all, let alone Port Alexander.

Sting waited among the silence. "So that's it. We stand around and wait for the Apocalypse to come waltzing across the 50 yard line? There's gotta be something." Sting opened the comlink back to base. "PC, anything you might be able to come up with? I know we're trying to use science to fight sorcery, but we're running low on options."

"Well, I'm working with spit and bailing wire here." PC shot back, fingers flying furiously. "It would help if Mystic could give me an exact spelling of this dimension they're trying to tap."

Merlynne, noticing that everyone had come back to the spillway, came down to invesitgate, the staff with her. "Could this be somethin' ye could use, Mr. Mystic, sir?" Merlynne said.

"Perhaps," the Mystic took it. "This is one of the items the Company stole from the armoury in the dimension of," he made the noise, "and I'm sorry PC, but I don't think it *can* be spelled in English."

As the others spoke, Defender was carrying on an instant message exchange with his support crew. The Mystic might have the market cornered on magical knowledge, but a room full of fantasy fans had enough imagination to think outside the dome. Suggestions flew back and forth. Two stuck in Defender's mind. He fired them off to the assembled in rapid succession.

"Is there anyway to come up from under the dome? Or can we get a couple of canisters of tear gas inside the dome to disrupt their casting?"

"Actually, I can probably answer the first one." PC said, as she called up the architectural schematics of the Commercedone from her database. "One sec." There appeared to be a few tunnels and such under the field, but none directly underneath the enemy sorcerors.

"Beggin' your pardon," Merlynne began, "But what exactly is that cone supposed to be. A force field of some sort? What exactly is it supposed to be proof against? Anything...or anything they know is coming?"

"I do not know for certain, but they have reached the point in their ritual where disrupting it is both difficult and dangerous to the disruptor as well as to the casters," said the Mystic. "The cone of power is defense against all violation."

The Wanderer's eyes fluttered and suddenly popped open.

As he crawled to his feet, the Wanderer looked upon the worried faces of his teammates and said a mouthful, "I take it this isn't heaven, and we're still in trouble?"

"Getting worse every second, I'm afraid," Defender said. "You don't happen to have a can of Monster-B-Gone handy?"

The Wanderer patted himself down and thrust his hands into his many pockets. "A sardine can key, a bottle cap, and a rubber band...nope." He scratched his head and looked down the tunnel, "care to fill me in on what is happening?"

"Welcome back, Wanderer." Flex said pleased that he had performed some useful duty in bringing his team mate around. Helping him get back up Flex briefed the Wanderer on what had happened. The jokingly said, "We are looking for a way into further disrupt their spell casting. I don't suppose you have some tear gas you could jaunt into there do you...?"

Turning back to the group, Flex looked at the staff motioning with his hand, "So its the staff v the cone of power or trying to tunnel our way up under them." Adding with a wry look and little humour, "Assuming of course that the cone does not extend underneath them as well."

The Wanderer took in the briefing and asked, "So we need to disrupt their concentration, eh?" He turned to Sting, "this place has a sound system, doesn't it? Maybe if we cranked out 'We will rock you' we could do that and more?"

Defender looked up from the message on his wristcomp. "What is the significance of this place? Why here?"

"Two reasons," said the Mystic. "One: this place is a natural confluence of mystic force, predating the city. Two: that power is reinforced by the psychic energy expended here on game days; thousands of people expending emotional energy on the same object leave a residue. That is why the Black Druid and his cohorts made their attempt here with the Jewel of All-Devouring. It is a fine place for ritual magic."

The Wanderer looked to the man of the mystic arts. "Would destroying the CommerceDome remedy the problem, or will this residue remain?" The proposal was way outside the box, but the Wanderer was just trying to get all options in the open.

"The structure is not neccessary. Destroying it would elminate some of the energy, but not, I fear, enough." The Mystic had taken the proposal at face value.

Checking his watch the Wanderer asked, "How much longer until the ritual is completed? Will they be fatigued upon its completion?" The Wanderer hoped for an easy mop up, far-fetched as it was.

"It is hard to say," said the Mystic. "I do not know exactly what they are attempting. A warding of some kind, but of what type I cannot say."

There was a clatter at the doorway and the heroes looked up to see a strange figure flying at them. Strange, that is, to most of them. Flex identified it immediately as Siberian Star.

"Now what?" Defender asked aloud as he assumed a fighting stance.

The young hero recognized the Protectors and drifted to the ground into a walk. Defender's stance didn't seem to bother him in the least as he strutted forward. "I was told there was trouble."

Defender regarded the new arrival with a wary eye. He relaxed, recognizing the man from recent press. "Siberian Star, I presume."

"Da, and you are?" he asked smugly.

As the Siberian Star floated down before the team, Flex pushed through to welcome him.

"Hi! I didn't realise that IPAC had persuaded you to join them, must be the medical care and pension plan benefits." Flex attempt at humour, he knew would probably not do much for the Russian, but things were bad and the Protectors needed to know that Siberian Star was on their side.

Turning to the group, Flex made a quick job of introducing SS to the rest of the team, before filling him in on what had taken place so far. Then turning back to the Mystic Flex pointed at the staff, "That staff is all we seem to have. Is there any chance we can use it as a weapon against them?"

Defender turned back to the Mystic, "They have closed off this dimension they stole the artifacts from, warded themselves against our attacks, and are now finishing up some other sort of warding? Does that sum up the situation?"

"Yes," was the reply. "The sending told me they could not pursue the Company here, they are clearly warded in there, and if I read the signs aright, they are working another warding."

Siberian Star looked on and listened. Most of the assembled heroes he had seen before, what surprised him was their inaction. Things didn't sound like they were resolved, and yet here were the Protectors taking a proverbial smoking break. Who were the 'they' Defender spoke of and what were they waiting for?

Despite his wanting to speak up, he decided to stay silent and wait.

"If we disrupt them now, it could be bad. If we wait, it WILL be bad. I say we take our chances with disrupting. How do we get into that Cone of Power?" Defender asked.

The Mystic shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know."

"We need to find out what we can about it. Can we breech it through massive damage in a limited area? Can they hear inside it? Does air pass through it?" Defender looked at everyone assembled. "Anyone up for some field trials?"

Flex nodded at Defenders Suggestion. He was keen to try something, anything was better than this inactivity. Beside there odds where better now, with Siberian Star here they had some chance that this might tip the balance in their favour. Maybe!

There was a sudden change of air pressure in the area, everyone's ears popped slightly (except the Wanderer's). PC's connection to the heroes vanished.

"I think," said the Mystic, "they have completed their ritual."

Flex looked back up the tunnel muttering under his breath, "What now?"

"Flex, go to the entrance and tell us what you see outside. Sting, take a look inside, please. Everyone else," Defender paused for a breath. "Get ready for the fight of your life."

Sting shrank for stealth and took a look inside the Commercedome.

Flex slipped outside, he saw immediately what the Company had been warding - the city. The entire city of Port Alexandre was now enclosed in a shimmering golden shield shot through with green, like the cone of power that had surrounded the Company as they worked their ritual. It looked to him like the bay was enclosed, but that the shield stopped a short distance out to sea.

Sting looked in and saw the Company rising from their positions. Darkspell was lifting the disc, which proved to be some kind of shield, and was fixing it on his arm. "Now let us see," he said, "if our foes are near. Without our energies split by the ritual casting, they will fall before us as wheat before the scythe."

Sting zipped back in. "Whatever it is, they're done." he said. "And apparently looking for a fight. With enough time, I think my VibroPunch at least can crack their armor, but I have to be able to engage them one at a time or I'm going to go down and go down hard. Anyone else have something big time that can crack armor."

"My Lakesword might." Merlynne piped in. "But I'm not sure if Defender wants me to engage the enemy."

"I wish we'd had more time to do simulations," he replied with a weary smile. "But you can do it. Right now, go invisible and try to get behind them when they come out. Darkspell is their leader. Strike him if you can."

Locking eyes with Merlynne, Defender reassured, "You can do this. You have the strength and the ability. Today, you become a Protector."

"Ichi. Access my communication files and reroute all DefenderPhone communications through your system. We've lost connection to the Fortress. You guys are now our eyes. Karen, see if you can get PC on a land line phone. Introduce your self and give her directions to the brownstone. We are in big trouble."

Turning to the others, Defender asked, "Do we make our stand here?"

"If we do," said the Mystic, "I fear we are lost."

"If so, we need to do it smartly." Sting said. "And quickly, I'm certain they're heading this way right now. May I suggest that everyone who has something akin to a stealth mode go to it now?"

"Right. Time to dance." Merlynne said with a smile before her hand glowed and she faded to invisible.

"Defender, Ichi here," Defender's com crackled. "No commo to PC at all. No satellite. Nothing."

Sting turned to Mystic. "Do you have the ability to make me stronger like Ragnar does? Or maybe even make some of us invisible to try and get a jump on them?"

Sting turned to Wanderer. "You good to go or do we need to buy you some more recovery time?"

Siberian Star tensed and readied himself. He was unaware of the danger that lay ahead but gathered that it was intense considering the solemnity with which everyone spoke.

The Wanderer, still a bit winded from the first encounter, turned to the Mystic and asked optimistically "Will the warding of protection fade now?"

"The cone of power around them will fall, yes."

"Is there someplace we could lure them to our advantage." The Wanderer turned to the Mystic, "if the CommerceDome is super-charged because of the energy of its spectators, would a cemetary work in the reverse?"

"It is a different kind of energy," said the Mystic. "But energy still."

Defender sighed. "I hate to say this, but we can't afford to fall right here. Fighting retreat if necessary. We have to assume the Fortress is lost to us for now. We fall back to the brownstone and plan our next move. Ichi, forward the brownstone's address to all DefenderPhones. Prepare for incoming."

The heroes fell back quickly but in good order. Their foes seemed in no hurry, casual and contemptuous in their confidence. The heroes slipped away with little effort and soon were convened in the Team Defender brownstone, beneath a golden sky.

Meanwhile, PC had gathered up her gear in order to attempt to head into the city. She was extremely concerened about losing communications, and wanted to see what was going on with the city. In addition to her laptop, she also carried two Krai blasters and the collection of earpiece communicators she had managed to cobble together, along with the transciever. She knew she had to try to relink communications as much as possible.

Satisfied with her armament, she activated the full security measures for the Fortress and set out towards land using the underground tunnels.

She shot down the tunnel on the monorail, then pulled up short. A wall of energy blocked the tunnel a few hundred meters outside the bay by her estimate - clearly a continuation of the dome above. She experimented with trying to penetrate it, then was forced to retreat to the Fortress to do some research ... and worry.

Back at the brownstone, Flex didn't know what to make of this day. Clearly things had got unexpectedly out of control. One moment it seemed as if they had things under a certain amount of control but Defender had thought things otherwise and pulled the plug. Now they had regrouped again. Flex had to wonder at what point they stopped running.

The group were clearly unnerved. Something like this was certainly beyond his abilities and he wondered how many in the team felt the same. He spoke up, the first time since they had left the dome. "So we have fallen back. But are we any closer to a solution? If we are short on reserves, could we option IPAC? Do they have any agents within the perimeter?

At the back door of the brownstone, Defender turned to the others. "I've been keeping a secret from everyone here. This has not been a matter of trust. In fact, I would have told the rest of the Protectors about this shortly. I've kept this secret to protect the lives of some very special people. Before you cross this threshold, you must promise me to also keep this secret."

Flex nodded, he relised what his own privacy cost and how importent it was. Yet he was unsure of what this new level of trust meant in terms of his relationship with the Protectors and Defender in particular.

"Siberian Star," Defender continued, "if you are as honorable as the people of your homeland, I will take you at your word. Flex, while I might not fully approve of your approach, I have known of you long enough to trust you."

Taken aback by the last comment, Flex made a mental note. "If I ever get out of this one alive, I must ask Defender what he means by, 'my approach'?. It was nonetheless to be including in such a esteemed group, because he was trusted.

Siberian Star looked over his shoulder at the magical dome on the horizon and stepped inside. These were the Protectors and what he had already witnessed demanded he pay attention and rely upon their leadership to get out of whatever mess Port Alexander found itself in.

As they stepped inside, Defender called out. "Karen. We need the war room cleared and ready in five minutes."

Karen Townsend stepped into the room followed closely by Jill Danvers. "War room? Oh, the dining room. Right. Gotchya, one war room coming up."

Upon seeing the Wanderer, Jill ducked behind Karen. She looked down, staring at her friend's shoulder. A Cheshire cat grin threatened to dominate her face. Defender saw the look and traced Jill's furtive glances back toward the alien. Inwardly, he smiled.

"Jill... Jill? JIII-ell," Defender said, snapping his fingers to get her attention.

"Uh?" she managed before snapping out of it. "Oh, yes boss?"

Defender leaned in close to whisper. "Please find Mara and ask her to stay where she is. I'll check in with her as soon as possible."

"Okay, Ald... er, Defendersir." She shot one more glace toward the Wanderer, giggled and skittered off.

As the two girls went about their duties, Defender called out once more. "Ichi. Any luck getting through to the Fortress?"

"Nossir. No communication channel seems to be getting in or out of that, whatever that is," he indicated the shield around the city.

"Damn," Defender said under his breath. Turning to Sting, he continued in a normal volume. "Well at least we have someone outside the dome to coordinate IPAC and the Round Table. There is that."

"War room's ready, boss," Karen announced. "What do you want us to do now? Everyone's here."

"Gather the team. We've got a major situation," he responded. Defender motioned everyone into the dining room. Once the group of heroes had found a place, he made quick introductions, finishing with, "They are my support crew. Team Defender if you will."

The Wanderer nodded to each member as they were introduced, tossing a playful wave to Jill hoping to keep things light for Team Defender considering the dire straits they were in.

Siberian Star stood off to the side, remaining quiet and detached.

Flex took in the plush surroundings and for a while it felt a bit like the Wander no more home with so many people all over the place. As he was introduced he like the others quietly nodded his head. If it weren't for the circumstances to would feel like the Defenders support team, eyes wide jaw drop expression to them.

"Sweet. Your very own Scooby gang." Sting said, smiling through his raised mask as he drank some water. "I'm sure PC will love to talk shop with them once we deal with the crisis at hand."

"Awful sure we're gettin' out of this then?" Merlynne asked.

"I've seen enough apocalypses in my career to know it's not over until the big bang." Sting said. "And without PC as a coordinator, we're blessed to have these kids. And yes, I *AM* old enough to refer to you as such, so don't take it personally." Sting smiled. "OK, we've got four mad mages with power out their ying-yangs with a mad on for us and Port Alexander shut off from the rest of the world. Mystic, you've had this look of fear on your face since this happened. Be straight with us...are they THAT unstoppable at this point? Are there any options you can offer us, even the craziest, wildest, most dangerous options you can think of? Cause I'll be damned if I'm going to be taken out by bad guys who have that much power and that little imagination. I mean, come on, Black Witch? Darkspell? Did they go online, click the SuperHero Name Generator and go with the first click? No way we're going down to that, right?" Sting knew he was rambling, but he was trying to 'rally the troops' as it were, since everything was strangely somber since they got there. He knew from experience that if a team thought for one moment they were beat, then they were.

After the formal introductions Sting piped in. Flex had, had a little more time to get to know the masked Protector a little better. He could tell he had quite some experience and although he knew little about him beyond what he had found out from previous encounters, he was aware that he was a man with who had seen a thing or two. His rousing speech, he knew was not simply hot air. When he had finished Flex too felt that, though he did feel out of his depth, he, they did have a chance.

He nodded toward Sting grateful for the care the man was taking and the consideration he showed Defender. He clearly was a great support within the team. Flex felt proud to be among them. After Sting had finished he, like the rest of the group turned to the Mystic waiting for some answers. Out of them all he was the best hope they had of finding some way through all this.

Defender tried to hide his blush, since Sting had just described Defender's origin. Before he could say anything, Liam spoke up. "Mages, eh. Then you guys have found a way to stop their scrying abilities?" While the other heroes looked from one to the other, "You know... You've warded yourself and the house against their magical detection?" Karen threw up her hands. "Boss, Everquest-boy has a point. They might have some magical means to track you. And you would have lead them directly here. Man, considering your wife, how did you not know that?" All the color drained from Defender's face. He turned toward the Mystic. "Could they track us here? Can we stop them from doing it?"

"I do not know," said the Mystic, "It is conceivable but unlikely. There are technical reasons why it will be difficult - including the fact that this shield seems to inhibit it as well. At least at the moment."

Letting out a deep sigh, Defender relaxed visibly. "In that case we have a little time to think this one out. Here is what we know...." Thus followed a quick breakdown of what had transpired to bring Siberian Star and Team Defender up to speed. "What we know is that the Company have sealed off the city by magical means. They were warded in the CommerceDome against out physical attacks. We have one of their weapons. We also know they are planning to conquer our world starting with Port Alexander.

"What we don't know is a larger file. We don't know how they plan to take over PA, although cutting it off from the outside is one helluva start. We don't know if they are still invulnerable. Finally, we don't know where they are currently. I suspect that could be solved by turning on the television. They don't strike me as subtle. Stef, can you handle that?"

"I'm on it," Stephanie Malone said. "I'll also call my boss at the Times to see what the city desk knows."

"Gentlemen, we likely need to act fast, before they can solidify a power base. I'm looking for suggestions or insight. I'm willing to listen to anyone," Defender said, making sure all the members of his team got the message.

"OK, here's the first thought." Sting said. "We know communications are cut off from the outside. However, shouldn't we try to see if the cocoon can be physically breached from the inside? As in, can we possibly leave it?"

"What if they can leave it at will?" Defender asked the air, suddenly feeling stupid. "What if they've summoned the Easter Bunny? Ack! Is there something here we are missing? We need more information."

"What if we are elsewhere?" offered the Wanderer. "One thing I've learned about dimensions, is that when gates are opened things come and go, Port Alexander could be some place else entirely. We do need more information."

Siberian Star jumped in. "I can scout around." He held out his IPAC beeperphone, "Do these still work between us?" With a push of a button he tried to summon Flex's in hopes that internal communication was still possible.

Communication within the city seemed to still be working.

Satisfied that he could contact the heroes if there was trouble, Siberian Star started for the door to take a flight around the city.

Unsure of what to do, Flex piped up. "Are we getting anything on the TV yet?" The only station still on the air was a small local one with is studios and broadcast antenna inside the city. There was a live report with lots of speculation, but little new to add. They had a van outside the CommerceDome, since shortly after the heroes had left a column of energy had shot up from the center of the 'Dome and slowly expanded to fill the interior of the CommerceDome.

Siberian Star's patrol confirmed what the other reports had said: the city was surrounded by a wall or sphere of some kind of energy that he had never seen before. There did not seem to be any gaps, and it resisted his efforts to penetrate it.

The situation below was volatile, although the police seemed to be keeping it under control at the moment.

He called Flex to confirm their suspicions, and revealed the mixed bag that the group known as the Company was nowhere to be seen -- at least not yet.

Flex flipped the phone off, having just reported back what the Siberian Star had reported.

"I don't know about you, but I am tired of moving into the defensive posture here. I think we need more information and we need it now. I suggest that we maybe go on patrol until we come across our worlocks. We inform the others but do not engage. Instead we seek to find out what they are up to."

Flex stopped for a moment, he still felt like a stranger among the group. He wondered if he would ever fit in apart from in a half way house full of people who didn't fit in. But he had to be honest, nothing any of them had tried had come to much so far.

He continued more slowly, "At best we're guessing, right now. Look i know its a long shot, but if we can get close enough. Maybe split them up. It may be possible for me to pretend to be one of them and infiltrate. See if I can find anything out. What there plans might be." Flex was ready for the protest so added, "look, I know it is a risks. But lets face it, none of us choose to take this role on, but we're on it. And right now there is a city outside wondering where the rest of their world is. If we don't do something and soon, the mages might not be our only problem."

Flex relaxed his posture as he let his words sink in. He knew that it might be the best plan, but at present ideas and solutions where not leaping out at them. Flex knew thay had to take the initiative.

"Flex, your enthusiasm is wonderful," Defender said. "But right now our enemies have the upper hand. They know what is going on. This isn't an episode of Trek Wars. The bad guys don't come with exposition switches."

"Uh-hmm. Boss, that's Star Trek," Karen corrected.

"Anyway, we have one of their weapons. The Mystic is our best hope of understanding what is going on with the dome. We also need to do some more scouting. Specifically, we need to check the CommerceDome to see if anything else is going on there. We also need to let the mayor and the chief of police know we are doing everything we can. Someone needs to get in touch with the local IPAC branch to get them to coordinate efforts with local law enforcement. Lastly, we need to locate the Company and bring them down.

"Sting, I think you are ideally suited to scout the CommerceDome. Be careful and avoid all contact with the enemy. Our only asset right now is... Tatterknight!" Defender had a revelation. "Max's network of informants might be reporting to Tatterknight right now. They have eyes all over the city. Who would like to try and find him?"

Relieved at the thought that they were getting something being done, Flex spoke up again, "I'd be happy to try and contact Max's people. Just point me in the right direction."

"That's the problem, Flex," Defender began, smiling. "We don't exactly know where to look."

"I think I might be best suited for that, actually. I've spent a lot of time down there and I think I have the best 'street cred' of all of us down there, unless I'm mistaken." Sting said. "However, can I suggest Merlynne go scout the Dome...cloaked, since we're making Trek references?"

"If only we had more of the weapons," opined the Mystic. "Something with which to even the odds. This staff is a remarkable construct."

"In what way?" Sting said inquisitively.

"It shows a sophistication not found often in our world. I suspect that," again came the unpronounceable name of the other dimension, "is far more advanced mystically than we. The mere fact that they have arsenals for mystic weaponry implies that they have followed a different path than ours - pursuing magic as we pursued technology."

"Hmmm. Can we get there from here?" Sting asked? "Yes, muy dangerous, but if we sent a stealth team in to grab a few of these mystic beatdown sticks for our use? Also, now that i'm thinking of it...are there any other practitioners of white magic other than yourself that we might be able to call on within Port Alexander for assistance?"

"The inhabitants have tried to get here to pursue the robbers and were blocked. But," an idea struck the Mystic, "as you say, perhaps we can get there. The way is blocked but ..." he became excited. "We must investigate this! If we could travel to ... that place they might be persuaded to arm us against their enemy who is also our enemy."

"Great!" said the Wanderer rubbing his hands together, "I'm always ready for a roadtrip."

"Oh great" Flex mumbled to himself. The last time he had an outing with the Protectors, they all went back in time nearly ten centuries. Now it looked as if they were shunting across dimensions as well. "I really have to go do some more time in Superhero night school. I must have missed the lesson on alternative realities. This sounds more and more like life imitating TV the deeper we go."

"Sounds like a plan, but we probably shouldn't send everyone." Sting said. "Keep a team here to keep the bad guys busy in case something major happens while the 2nd team goes to get help from the other dimension."

"Agreed," said the Wanderer. "Do you know anything about this dimension?" he asked the Mystic. "I'd hate some of our gadgets to not function there," he commented feeling confident that his innate powers would remain in another dimension.

Waiting his turn to speak, but somewhat relieved that he might not have to face the rigours of a cross dimensional travel, Flex offered his services in defence of Port Alexander, whilst the others were gone.

As he sat back down he wondered why he suddenly seemed bothered by magic so much. Unbidden a flash of music and an a vague memory of a nanny, his parents brought over from England, came to mind. Though he could tell she was quite an older women, he could not for the life of him remember her face or name. Like morning mist in the summer sun, as he concentrated in the memory it was gone again.

Still feeling somewhat puzzled Flex put it aside for further reflection later and looked about, waiting to make use of himself.

"If this realm depends upon magic instead of tech," Ichi said, "Then those of you with mechanical powers should stay away."

Karen nodded. "That means Siberian Star is out."

Defender gave it some thought. "I'm out as well. Who does that leave?"

Sting looked around at the seven assembled heroes. "My powers aren't mechanical in nature," Sting began, "but if we have to take them on without assistance, not to toot-toot, but I think I was the only one that actually *HURT* one of them. Given that, plus my search for Tatterknight, I should probably stay behind as well."

Sting thought for a minute. "Obviously Mystic makes the trip, and I think Wanderer would do well there too. Mystic, how many do you feel need to make the trip? If you need a 3rd, I'd actually recommend Merlynne because her powers are based on magic as well. Which would leave Flex as our...ahem...flex option. Hold on a minute."

Sting punched a phone number into his communicator. After five rings, there was a pickup. "Hello, you have reached the offices of MidKnight Star Investigations. We are currently out of the country on assigment, to leave a message for..." Sting hung up the phone. "Some possible backup." Sting said answering the silent question on Defender's mind, "but they're not available. In any event, how does that work for everyone?"

The Mystic considered, "Given the power I have seen in the weapons the company has stolen, I would estimate that if we must fight in ... that place, we are already lost. Given that, a few is as good as an army. The question, really, is how many will it take to force the entry.

"I seem to recall the Wanderer finding some interesting things at the house of Ricard Damon. The portal is probably there. The question is what, if anything, have the Company left behind to guard it."

Defender nodded. "In that case, we all go. If there are guardians, we remove them from the playing field. The Wanderer and Merlynne will cross over with the Mystic, assuming you are willing to go. The rest of us will hold the gate just in case the Company gets wind of our plan. Meanwhile, the members of Team Defender will be working to find Tatterknight as well as serving the same role as PC. Sting, could you give Karen and Liam an idea of where to begin their search?"

Flex listened intently to the argument, unsure if he should volunteer. Gulping quietly he got up and spoke, "Listen if it comes to it, count me in for the cross over. Since I am not powered by 'Tec' like some of the rest of you, I'm good to go. If it comes to it!"

Flex was determined that whatever, skeletons were in his cupboard, he wasn't going to be held him back.

Sting thought for a moment. "Honestly, it would be easier, and faster, for me to go now and meet you there. I can cover a lot more ground. Plus, the Nation are fiercely protective of their own, and they may tell me more than they'd tell your team." Sting put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "A half hour, and I'll meet you there."

"Will you have time to find anyone in half an hour?" Defender asked.

Sting chuckled. "Defender, think of who you're talking to. Besides, I have a pretty good idea where to start. Worst case scenario is that I find out where he is, leave a message, and pass him off to your partners." Sting looked at Ichi. "Can you quickly whip up a digital picture of the four of you? That way Tatterknight knows who he's talking to."

Ichi perked up. Before he could say a word, Defender interrupted. "Without costumes."

Ichi sighed. "Okay, but it will take a minute to find one."

"OK, remind me one more time what we want to accomplish. Mobilize his contacts? Get him on board with us? Spell it out for me, I'm an old man and my memory goes from time to time."

"Making the assumption that the Company does not immediately come after us, we will need to find them. Since the Beggar Nation is everywhere and practically invisible, Tatterknight might be able to get information on their whereabouts that we can't get through other methods." Defender pursed his lips. "Besides, we might need all the help we can get."

Sting finalized where they would meet and nodded to the team. "If I run late or run into trouble, I'll holla. See you there." Sting pulled down his mask and sped at top foot speed towards the area of town where Max's "office" was. From both helping Max patrol the area as well as the goodwill efforts he had made since Max's "disappearance", he had a fairly good idea of Tatterknight's 'schedule', but he also knew that the field around Port Alexander probably had him and his nation on emergency status as it was, and thus either he'd be near the office or someone there would know his whereabouts.

As Sting sped off, Defender started the countdown. They had fifteen or so minutes before they needed to leave for the assault. Jill approached and spoke softly to him.

"Now might not be a good time, but I've got you new costume ready. It's up stairs." She paused and grew even quieter. "Could you ask the Wanderer if I could have an autograph?"

Defender smiled at the girl. "I think I can arrange that."

Whilst the others milled about to get ready, Flex took the opportunity to people watch. Life at the Wander-no-more house was far from normal, hectic. odd, even fun but never normal. Although the house, full of heroes as it was, was equally hardly normal it still had a sense of homeliness that Flex had missed for many long years.

Something deep within ached - he realised that the Protectors were in many ways, a kind of family. Something he'd been without, for a long time. Turning away from the group, he went outside. "I need to clear my head," he mumbled to the others. Knowing that he needed to clear his head, in order to focus on the coming battle.

Sting left to make contact with the Beggar Kingdom and TatterKnight as the others waited nervously. The live feed from the CommerceDome was still running and they were still getting power, at least at the moment. They watched SWAT and police teams isolate the Dome, then watched in frustration as a wave of what the Mystic identified as conjurations - Servitors of Daemonus, looking like smaller versions of Darkspell; giant and fearsome looking wolves; and small leathery warriors clad in shimmery green armour - swept out from the CommerceDome and drove the authorities away.

Moments later, Darkspell strode out and approached the TV crew. His message was short and to the point, "We are the Company and we are the masters of Port Alexander. The police cannot stop us and the Protectors have already been defeated and are even now running from us and in hiding. If you are watcing Mystic and Protectors, know this: before we were mighty, now we are invincible. Our laws will be made known to you soon."

The Protectors left to try their desperate mission. The city was darkening, the mystic warding over it was cutting out some of the sun. They moved quickly but carefully. Above them, they could see more conjurations beginning to move in the air. They kept to the shadows, which were more abundant now, and crossed the river, opting for the most direct route over the bridge directly into the Old Town. They crossed on the under-side, however, using their skills and talents to cross undetected - or so they hoped.

They approached the house of Ricard Damon - Darkspell - and there the Mystic went into a trance, sending his astral form to reconnoitre the mansion. While he was was "out," Sting called and when the Mystic had returned, Sting had arrived and was briefing the team. He had been unable to find TatterKnight himself, but had left word with several knights and others. He also learned that there was still no sign of the Beggar King.

The Mystic reported that there was a distinct locus of energy in the house, the remains of the gate. If they had not been blocked, he should be able to reactivate it. There were, however, half a dozen conjurations guarding the house. "They do not seem to be watching the portal specifically, but the house generally. It seems our foes do not see this as a vulnerable point. Let us hope they are mistaken."

Following the Mystic's briefing, Siberian Star spoke up. "If some of us are to stay, perhaps we should engage the guards so you can sneak in to the portal undetected. The Company thinks us scattered, it is best that they do not know what were are attempting."

Flex nodded sagely. To him this seemed like a good plan, but even so years of cunning still played there part in his character. If they were to strike this must do it quick and they must do it hard. "Mystic can you give us the location of these guards and are there likely to be any other surprises hidden about?" Flex was anxious that they did not blunder in over confident, especially after there recent defeat. Something told him that, though the mansion looked like an easy target, it wasn't going to be that straight forward.

"Two are flying overhead, you can see them there," he pointed. "The others seem to be circling the building on foot, in pairs." The Mystic considered. "I did not see any other defenses in place, but that does not mean they do not exist."

"Okay, we need to time the interval of the patrols. When we have it down, we hit one patrol with everything we've got to drop them quickly. From their, we infiltrate and find the gate. Merlynne and Wanderer go through and the rest of us hold the gate from that point, hopefully with the advantage of a choke point of a hall or doorway." Defender looked at the others. "Questions?"

Flex shook his head, it seemed like a good plan to him.

While he was thinking about it, Defender also sent a quick text message for Hunter and Steph to go buy two full generators and enough gas to keep them active for a few days. If the Company killed the city's power, he wanted them to at least have the ability to keep communications active.

Sting nodded in agreement. "Did you want me to recon the inside at Inch High Superguy mode?" he said.

"Yes, but be careful," Defender said. "You know, you should have called yourself Vanguard instead of Sting."

"Really? And why is that?" Sting asked.

"Because you are always our lead element into any fray... our Vangaurd," Defender said.

"Huh. Must be french for 'target decoy'." Sting deadpanned. With that, he shrank to 1 inch and headed towards the house.

Sting's recce turned up much the same data as the Mystic's. He looked over the guards and came to two conclusions: 1) there was no set timing to their sweeps, that was the bad news; 2) that was because they weren't too bright, which was the good news.

The Protectors moved into position. The pair they chose to hit first consisted of two of the strange armoured warriors.

They didn't stand a chance. The Protectors were frustrated and had a lot riding on a quick takedown. In seconds the two conjurations were unconscious on the ground.

They bound them firmly and moved into the house. The Wanderer took the lead, having been here before, and led them to the same room he had examined before. There the heroes took stock of their situation as the Mystic examined the portal.

Defender spread the team to cover the entrances, except for Merlynne and the Wanderer. It would not be long before more guards attacked, he felt. He was nervous, feeling as if each shadow might hold an enemy. Magic was well beyond his expertise and he felt out of his depth. The sooner they had this portion of the mission concluded, the better Defender would feel.

"Yes," he said. "The portal is open to us. I believe we can pass."

"Then lets get this done." Merlynne said. "Ready when you are, Mystic."

"Agreed. Be as quick as you can be, please," Defender shouted from his vantage by the back door.

The Mystic concentrated and gestured at the middle of the room. It seemed as if nothing happened, but then the heroes realized that the center of the room was now vaguely distorted as though by a heat mirage. "Now. Go." said the Mystic.

Still somewhat uncomfortable with the surroundings, Flex did his best to keep him mind on the job. But the house had that uncanny sense in which it appeared that things lurked in the shadows. Or at least they seemed to, as far as Flex was concerned. It was when you weren't looking, something jittered or skittered in the dark places, but then was silent and still when you looked directly at that space.

Now they stood before the portal. Itself nothing more than a flimsy curve, of wavy distortion in the space before them. Flex nodded toward the Wanderer. He never felt prouder to know someone, human or alien than he did at that moment.

Merlynne smiled at Wanderer playfully...almost flirtatiously. "The rookie and the immortal. Sounds like one of your yank "buddy pictures", eh? You ready?"

The Wanderer briefly considered if paying property taxes conferred upon him 'Yank' status then answered, "As ready as I'll ever be." Hey turned to Flex, "are you coming? I wouldn't want to deprive you of some dimensional fun!" Quickly the Wanderer recited what the Mystic had briefed them on concerning their duty within the portal. As strangers there in the magickal realm, it would be difficult to accomplish not knowing anything about what lay on the other side.

Flex smiled, the Wanderer was irrepressible. No, In think I can get into enough trouble right here. Besides someone has got to make sure you have a world to come back to. Good luck.

With a last wave, the Wanderer and Merlynne stepped though the portal.

"As much as I hate to be in this place. Do you think it wise that we check it out? We might find something that can help us hold things together while we wait?" Flex voice sounded like it had shattered the silence and angered the brooding dark that resided over the house. But he put aside his dark thoughts, as he waited for Defender and the others to decide what they did next.

"If you would like to look around, do it quickly," Defender said. "You *might* spot something the Wanderer missed."

Flex nodded. He realised that Wanderer had been here before but, Flex did not know if he had, had much chance for a thorough search. He looked across to Siberian Star, "Care to join me?"

Lets look about carefully. We may have missed something in our hurry to get to the gate. Starting with the gate room he [or they] began to look about searching for anything he could find.

They found many strange and exotic curios and knick-knacks, but nothing which seemed directly useful in their current situation. They returned to the room with the portal to wait anxiously with the others.

	*		*		*		*
Reality tore itself apart and reassembled itself a different way. It reminded the Wanderer of teleporting actually.

He and Merlynne stood in a world much like the one they had left. It was only after a moment that they realized all the colors were subtly wrong. The green of the plants had too much blue, the sky was too orange, and more.

They stood in a garden courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a striking crystalline building, whose walls shimmered as waves of color slid up and down them. For a moment they feared the worst, for facing them was Dradoom! Only it was not Dradoom, but rather another member of his race, or rather members: three of the inhabitants of the dimension stood nearby with expressions of surprise on their face. Two were armed with spear like weapons, the third leaned on a staff.

Cautiously, the Wanderer assumed what he hoped was a universal posture of peace, with empty hands outstretched he spoke, "We come in peace, can you understand me?"

The two with spears leveled them but the other waved them off with an annoyed gesture. He looked at the Wanderer and said something in a grating tongue, like that the Mystic used to name this dimension. Seeing confusion on their faces, he made a pass or two with his staff and then tried again, "Do you understand me now?"

"Yes," the Wanderer replied with relief. Softly, he whispered to Merlynne to do likewise with her sword as the spear carriers did. "We are obviously a long way from home. We need your help to prevent further destruction." The Wanderer wasn't quite sure how time would function here in the unpronouncable dimension; each second could be days or longer back home. He decided expediency outweighed diplomacy.

"We had thought the gate closed," said the older 'man.' "But I see, hah, they were too clever by half. The gate blocks only my race not yours." Ignoring the new arrivals he stepped up to the gate and began making passes with his staff. "Yes, that is how they made it so quickly and so strong." He chuckled then turned back to the pair. "Who are you and what is your mission here?"

Feeling oddly emboldened, Merlynne stepped forward. "I am Merlynne, and my companion is named Wanderer. We are here on a mission of justice and mercy. A renegade from this dimension named Dradoom and his associates have accessed dark magicks of great power and seek to enslave our world. We were told that you seek to bring Dradoom to justice as well. We come seeking assistance in doing that."

The Wanderer added, "They are armed with weapons of immense power, we hope you can help us return them to justice."

The man listened to the story. "Yes, that is essentially true - save the dark magics part." Pedantically he explained that in this dimension they believe magic to be nuetral, neither good nor evil, but a tool to be used. After he digressed for a few moments, he came back to himself. "I cannot make such a decision. Come with me." Leaving one guard, he and the other led the pair through a corridor in the crystal building and into a wide room where he spoke to another man.

Soon, they had been handed up through several levels of beauracracy and were telling their story again to a powerfully built alien who seemed to be of some importance. He listened carefully, then turned to the first man and said something incomprehensible. The man nodded, made the by now familiar passes with his staff and colors leached from everything in the room, swirled together in front of him and coalesced into a small armoured figure; like those they had seen guarding the house in Port Alexander, only smaller and somehow less real. He spoke to it, made another pass and it vanished.

He began to speak a moment later, and to the surprise of the Wanderer and Merlynne, from out of the empty space the summoning had occupied they heard the voice of the Mystic answering in the same language.

A moment earlier, the Protectors who remained in Damon's house were suprised when a miniature armoured figure appeared in front the Mystic and began to speak to him in a gravelly tongue. The Mystic reassured them and began to speak to the creature.

After a few moments, the figure disappeared. The Mystic spoke, "Our comrades have passed through safely and are now speaking to ... there is no word for it ... a sort of military police officer specializing in magical crimes. All seems well."

Back in the other dimension, the armoured figure reappeared in front of the old man, who waved his staff and it dissolved into a spray of color.

The heavier man, who had been introduced as Karaktoa, spoke to the Protectors. "The situation is as you say. But dire as it seems, all is not lost." He stood and began to pace. "The criminals, as you know, stole weapons of great power from this place. Such things have the potential to cause great damage to both our dimensions if left uncorrected. We can provide you with weapons and devices to counter the ones stolen by the criminals, but this will throw the dimensions even further out of balance." He stopped by a balance scale, "The case is like this. Our dimensions are, in a mystical sense, in opposite pans of a scale and in balance, so. By stealing what they have, the criminals have put things out of balance." He moved some weight to one side, "A new balance could be found, but the rocking back and forth as it does so will cause great damage to both our worlds. And a new balance may not be found at all, both could be destroyed. By arming you, we throw things further out of balance." He moved the rest of the weight to one side and the scale tipped over and fell. "You see? But, if we and you move quickly, and all the weapons, yours and theirs are returned fast enough, the balance will be restored."

Merlynne took it all in. "So what you're saying is that *if* you arm us, we would have to act fast to subdue the villains and then immediately return everything to you. Am I understanding this correctly, sir?"

"Or risk destroying both our worlds, yes," he replied.

The Wanderer clapped his hands together. "Sounds like fun." Placing his hands on his hips he asked, "Can you tell us something about the weapons they stole, perhaps any weakenesses we could exploit?"

Karktoa gestured and the window wavered before a variety of images began to form in it. "The armoury has been sealed for centuries, as it contained powerful artifacts which can cause untold damage in the wrong hand as you witness here. The villians you call 'The Company' broke into a cenotaph to four great heroes of our ancient past. There they stole the weapons and artifacts of those heroes. Their staves are powerful foci, allowing them to cast spells with less exertion. They also took amulets and belts which have various protective functions. If our legends are true, each should be nearly immune to all attacks save the most powerful. Also taken were rings and diadems, which focus the mind making mind magics more powerful." As he spoke, he pointed to six rings, three belts, a cloak, two amulets and a coronet.

"They took also the Shield of Warding, which is an immensely powerful artifact designed to support blocks and wards. It is this shield which holds the portal between our worlds closed - at least to us."

"All this talk about 'nearly immune' and 'immensely powerful' doesn't instill confidence in our success," commented the Wanderer. "According to your legends, what can triumph over these artifacts?"

"Over the artificts? Nothing. But over their wielders ... perhaps," he turned back to the heroes. "Do you wish to risk both our worlds by arming yourself with these weapons?"

"I think we make a bigger risk to both our worlds by not doing so." Merlynne said. "After all, d'ya rilly think these rogues will stop with our world if they're successful? I kin imagine Dradoom wanting to kick arse and chew bubblegum on all of you."

Merlynne looked directly at him, with a confidence belying her years. "You give us the power to stop Dradoom and his allies, we'll get it done. Count on it."

"I expected no other answer," said Karktoa. "We have prepared a number of artifacts for you to use. We can offer no more, or the instability will become too great. Come."

He led them into another crystalline room, that for some reason reminded the Protectors of Q's lab from a James Bond movie. He walked to the first of a series of tables, and gestured to four sets of what looked like gloves of very fine mail made of some dull golden material. "These gauntlets are made of the rare," he made a strange coughing noise, "metal. They should be able to penetrate the protective aura generated by the other stolen artifacts."

He moved to the next table upon which rested six silver masks. "These masks should provide you with a measure of protection against mental magics and they also will allow you to see the auras of things not native to your dimension."

"These last few artifacts," he said moving to the last table, "are of less general utility, but may prove useful. This shield," he pointed at a small buckler, "will defend even against mystical attacks. This rod will dispel some spells, we have found it most useful against bindings and the like. This amulet focusses the mind and allows most magical effects to penetrate more deeply. And this ring provides a similar effect."

He stepped back to allow the heroes to examine the artifacts.

"Oh yeah. These will help." Merlynne said, chuckling. "Boy, these wankers are in for quite the little surprise. Is there anything special we need to do to make these weapons work or do they simply work themselves once we wear and/or wield them? Also, do you have a means for transporting the lot of them? A sack, bag, luggage, something of the sort?"

The Wanderer made a quick inventory and tried to determine which Protector would benefit most from each item. "Not to mention a means for transporting these things back to you, along with the thieves for justice," he added to Merlynne's question.

"Bags are here," said Karktoa. "As for returning, if you are successful you can return through the portal as you did this time."

"What about adaptability to our own abilities." Merlynne said. "We've got one who shrinks, another with stretching abilities, a third with the ability to teleport, and I can shapeshift. Would the gauntlets, masks, etc. be able to adapt to us, or would that become a constraint?"

"The artifacts adapt to their wearer. They should not hinder those gifts you already possess," said the alien.

Merlynne smiled broadly. "That's all I need to hear. Wanderer, are we ready?"

"I was hatched ready!" he exclaimed.

The pair loaded up their mystic arsenal and Karktao led them back to the courtyard where the portal was located. After saying their goodbyes and receiving another warning to return as quickly as possible with all the artifacts, the pair passed through the portal to rejoin their friends.

"G'day everyone! My name may not be Santa, but I'm fat, got rosy cheeks and have presents for everyone!" Merlynne exclaimed.

Flex hung back, unsure as this certainly wasn't what he expected, yet curiosity got the better of him. Stretching forward he listened in as Merlynne strode fully through the portal with the Wanderer in tow. Clearly it appeared they had been successful, judging by the number of items they had about them.

"I love presents," Defender said. "Especially the strange, extra-dimensional type. What did you bring us?"

Merlynne drew the items out of the satchel and explained their function to each of the heroes, then explained the danger they were in and what needed to happen once the fearsome foursome were beaten. "These things will adapt to us, according to the folks in the other dimension." Merlynne said. "That means the stuff should shrink with Sting, stretch with Flex, and other assorted effects. The only thing left to do before handing Dorkspell and his crew their teeth in a glass is to figure out which weapons best suit whom."

The Wanderer agreed with Merlynne's assessment, adding "And opponent. Whoever wants to take our wizardly types better take the best protection." He reached for a pair of gloves, "Better to pound you with." He realized that the mystical bonds could be avoided by his teleportation, leaving the rod for someone with less evasive maneuvers.

"Mystic, your magical abilities need to be at peak performance," he said indicating the amulet and ring.

The Mystic selected the ring, "I have also learned how to use the stave the Wanderer captured. It should help me to cast more spells without fatigue.

"If I understand this amulet correctly," continue the Mystic, "and the nature of your sword, Merlynne, then you should bear the amulet. It will aid your sword to strike deep."

Defender looked at the items arrayed before them. "I speak with my fists. Gloves for me then. I still think our best option is wolf pack tactics. We need to drop our strongest opponent as quickly as possible. I'm going to guess that would be Darkspell."

"They are all formidable opponents. Darkspell has been hindered by the loss of his staff," said the Mystic.

Sting reached for a pair of gloves as well. "Darkspell. Ooh, pick me, pick me, boss. I owe that chump a world of hurt."

Merlynne eyed the shield. "I don't think my other powers will serve me as well as the Lakesword itself will, so I wonder if the shield wouldn't complement it. Also, Mystic, would the amulet and ring's abilities stack or would one do as well as two. If the latter, I humbly request the ring. Since my sword is magic, perhaps it would help. Plus, the amulet looks better on you."

"I don't know if one would do as well as two, but let us distribute them." He gallantly offered up the ring, accepting the amulet.

Flex eyed the gauntlets suspiciously. Up until now he had felt as if in many ways he had become something of a wet blanket rather than a hero. With a deep breath he reached forward and placed the items to him on. Come what may he was not going to let a thing like, fear stop him this late in the day.

The Wanderer reached for a mask. He turned his back to the group and slipped it on, turning around in a menacing pose. "Arriba, Lucha Muchacho is here!"

He was surprised to see that, with the mask on, all the artifacts that he and Merlynne had brought were now shining clearly with a radiance of no particular color at all, as if the glow was in his mind. On second glance, all the artifacts save the other masks and the shield glowed.

Siberian Star reached for a mask as well. The coverings were purported to protect against mental magics and he was not at all comfortable facing anything that was not science.

Defender also took a mask. "We need to hurry. Our foes are looking for us. We got in here under their radar. I think it is time we let them know we were here. If their servants report that we are in the general area, I think that will draw them here. Saddle up, people. And let's be careful out there."

Sting looked at the masks. "I'm going to take a chance here. There's seven heroes, six masks. Unless the Mystic has magical wards against mental attacks, I'll forego the mask so everyone else can work with one. In my time with the Peacekeepers I was subjected to one of the most grueling, but most effective, training programs involving mental resistance out there. It's served me well to this point against the psis and magical foes I've faced."

Flex nodded toward Sting in gratitude. He had not yet experienced much by way of mind control, but the thought of being under the influence of such magical powers sounded far worse than putting on a magical mask. For the second time that day, Flex made another important step as he slipped the new mask over his own. "Ready to go Defender." He sounded odd, hollow perhaps behind the mask, but somehow the thought of battle, of making some kind of a difference now began to make the adrenaline rush. It was evident in the whole team - now they all stood a chance of beating these guys and undoing the damage they were doing.

Defender clapped him on the back. "Good. Is everyone else armed and prepared?"

"Who shall take the rod?" asked the Mystic. "Perhaps you would like it Siberian Star? With your flight and speed you could most effectively free any who are imprisoned." He donned a mask.

The agile Russian grasped the rod. "I will be the get-out-of-jail free card," he deadpanned.

Once everything was distributed, Sting had a thought. "You know, we need to go find these guys, but we also need to get all the weapons over the portal as fast as possible...Defender, what would you think about possibly drawing the villains *HERE*, if we can?"

Defender ran his hand through his hair. "On the positive, we have them close to the portal. On the negative, we will be fighting on Darkspell's home turf. Drawing them here shouldn't be an issue, since they are actively looking for us."

"Can the portal be damaged?" asked the Wanderer of the Mystic, concerned that a battle on the premises could make it all moot if they couldn't return the artifacts.

"Not precisely. It's not actually *here* at the moment. It could be awkward if we couldn't reach this location, though," said the Mystic indicating the space around them.

"A fight here might bring down the building. Best if we draw them to somewhere near here," Defender said as he keyed the mike on his communicator. "Defender to TeamD. I need an open space somewhere near my current position. Where's the nearest park or parking lot?"

"The idea of drawing here sounds best," Flex offered as he continued, "After all won't they think that this is the perfect trap. They'll think us trapped and we get to play on that overconfidence. Don't you think?"

"Oh, one other thing," Defender started. "Someone alert the media. These turkeys have said some things that have damaged our reputations. I'd really like their defeat videotaped and televised."

"On it, Defender." Sting said, and he dialed up a number given to him several weeks ago. "Peters." the other line said.

"Jenny? Sting from the Protectors." Sting said. "Yeah, I was the one who surprised you by growing out of nowhere. Listen, these dirtbags that have caused the chaos in the city? Alert your lawyers, because we've got a slander suit ready to shove up a choice oriface somewhere on Darkspell's body. How would you like to be first on the scene?" Sting then gave her the location and warned her and her crew to stay back and out of sight. After he hung up, Sting turned to his compatriots. "Let the games begin." Sting said.

"Mystic. These aerial servants... how quickly can they report back to their master?" Defender asked.

"As quickly as they can fly," was the reply.

"Okay, Flex, your change is a physical one. I think that stands a better chance of fooling our adversaries. If you would, please assume the Mystic's form," said Defender.

Flex nodded. He liked the Defender from the first time they had met. He liked his quiet thoughtful approach. Quiet a contrast to his own, very much less subtle way of getting things done.

"However, I like having Sting as our ace-in-the-hole. No offense to you, Merlynne, but he has much more experience. As they will be expecting him with us, I think it best for you to masquerade as your mentor. So, the real Mystic will remain in hiding until they arrive and the battle is joined. The rest of us make like good little targets except we get to attack back. That leaves..."

Defender looked at the Russian. This was the first time he had to regard the newest arrival to Port Alexander. So far, he had quietly accepted everything that was put before him. That alone impressed Defender. He was also intrigued about the powered armor. At another time, they might have quite the entertaining discussion. Right now, it was time for action.

"You have the Rod and the ability to get around quickly. Stay hidden with the Mystic while we draw them out. Take your shots where you can get them. That just leaves battle strategy. Merlynne, the Black Witch is yours. Sting, you want the Druid, he's yours. Flex and I will double team Dradoom. I would never dream of getting between the Mystic and his nemesis, so Darkspell is yours. Wanderer, my friend... you're our wildcard in all things. Why should today be different. Take the target you feel most comfortable with. If your partner goes down, go for the next available target. And smile for the cameras."

The thought of doubling up on Dradroom felt good. Despite his best efforts Flex had not gotten a single good blow on Dradoom now was the chance to change all that.

The Wanderer nodded, enjoying the prospect of being able to pound on whomever he wished.

The Protectors and their friends slipped outside, shifting into their various guises. Flex diguised as the Mystic and Merlynne disguised as Sting joined Defender and the Wanderer in crossing a wide lawn under the eyes of the circling watchers who, just as intended, sped away to the south, toward the CommerceDome.

That done, they put themselves into position. The Mystic suggested that they circle around a small fire with candles in a circle around them, "It might looke like a ritual which would explain why you hadn't move in a while.

The others agreed and took up their locations. The Mystic found a good ambush spot and hid, as did Siberian Star. Sting merely shrank down to his smallest size and hid in the grass nearby.

Then they waited.

After half an hour, which was about what they had guessed, they saw large shapes flying in from the south. The shapes resolved into four huge birds, and perched on the backs of the birds were the Company - Darkspell, Dradoom, The Black Druid and the Black Witch.

They circled once above the heroes, then dived in to the attack.

As they planned - Flex moved readied himself for action. He looked at Defender a nodding his readiness, but continued to remain in position. Seeking to give the impression,that as the Mystic, he was leading some deep ritual.

As the villains neared their position Flex mouthed slowly to Defender, "Ready when you are. Just give the word to go!" Flex felt anxious - he knew he would most likely be the main target for the group, disguised as was.

Sting's voice crackled over the Protector's communicators, "Suggestion to the masses; we need them off the mounts. Star with his ice encasement and Mystic with his bonds appear to be the likely candidates to dismount 1-2 of them."

The Mystic who had been outfitted with a com at Defender's Clubhouse replied, "Indeed." A moment later, the familar crimson ribbons of the Bonds of Vieltoor wrapped around the wings of the Black Witch'es mount. The giant raven squawked and plummeted to the ground, where it landed with a meaty thud and lay still. The Black Witch rolled off its carcass but seemed more angry than hurt.

Merlynne as Sting suddenly began to move at high superhuman speed, doing a convincing Sting impression.

Defender leapt in the air, a flying tackle aimed at Dradoom. The huge bird dropped down a few feet in the air and Defender sailed over his target.

Sparing only a single glance at the Black Witch and seeing she was alright, Darkspell marshalled his forces into combat.

The Black Witch raised her hands and miniature bolts of lightning shot from her hands at the Wanderer.

Darkspell attacked similarly with multiple bolts of the cold of Daemonus targeted at Flex, still disguised as the Mystic. "You are mine, this time, old foe," he called out.

Thinking fast, Flex relaised that if he were to act too out of character the ruse would be up. He wasn't ready for that, just yet. So he decided to try and fake a response. Holding out his hands he began to mumble, hoping he sounded convincingly like the Mystic, "The undeniable boundry of Calapor protect me." Was what he tried to say, but only got half way before the bolts cut him off as he tried to also dodge as best he could, making his way toward the enemy as he did so.

Black Druid continued the onslaught, targetting Merlynne as Sting, "This time the fires of Vermithrax will not be denied." The bolts struck home rattling Merlynne but not stopping her.

Dradoom chose to summon the Bonds of Cythak, targetting first Merlynne in her guise as Sting, and then the Wanderer.

As Dradoom finished casting, a jet of ice raced out from the woods and flew above his head. As he cast about looking for the new foe a second blast followed the first, this one going low. As Siberian Star finished shooting (and cursing the erratically moving target, he heard Sting's voice in his com, "Sting's bound. Wanna see if your toy works?"

The Mystic was still hard at work, and more crimson ribbons appeared, this time targetting Dradoom's bird. Which plummetted to the ground where it squawked menacingly.

Seeing Dradoom's mount go down, it was time to end the charade. "Flex! Take Dradoom!" shouted Defender as he landed on the far side of the battle.

Flex nodded and shouted at Dradroom, "Miscreant your are mine. The abominable strength of Kaftar endow me now." With that Flex made ready to grow into combat, still in the guise as the mystic. Just to continue to add to the confusion a little longer.

The Wanderer teleported a meter to one side, freeing himself from the bonds which had surrounded him.

Dradoom leapt lightly from his downed bird, which flexed its wings and freed itself, pecking at Flex-Mystic with a giant beak, while Dradoom launched a series of his strange martial arts attacks.

Flex twisted and turned as much as he could to avoid the damage.

Darkspell flew on his bird around to get a better angle on his presumed foe, firing several frosty blasts down at him.

The Black Druid brought his mount closer to Merlynne-Sting, dropping a few more meters down as he came. "Taste again the fires of Vermithrax!" So eager was he, that as he sent the first fireball toward her, he lost his balance and fell off his mount! Cursing, he stood again and launched another fireball at his old foe.

The Black Witch looked around, and decided that Defender needed a dance partner. Lightning bolts shot toward him.

The Black Witch looked around, and decided that Defender needed a dance partner. Lightning bolts shot toward him. Defender went into a series of leaps and dives to avoid them.

From the treeline Siberian Star soared out. Seeing that "Sting" was struggling within the mystic bonds he set the bootjets to the hero and thrust forth the sceptre on his way. Energies coursed around the artifact and the bonds shimmered in the bathing light. "Be freed, my comrade," he said quickly trying to determine the construction such a device.

The bonds surrounding "Sting" dissappeared, and with a nod, "he" dissappeared.

With a yell, the Wanderer ran a few steps forward, dissappeared and reappeared a bit off to Darkspell's side, who in a panic juked down and left. With a whoop-whoop noise, the Wanderer passed over Darkspell's head, then popped again back down to safety.

The Mystic took advantage of Darkspell's distraction and summoned the bonds of Vieltoor one more time, binding his mount. The bird dropped to the ground and Darkspell looked at Flex in confusion, wondering how he could be casting as well as doing everything else.

Behind him, the Mystic stepped out of the woods and shouted, "Now let the Flames of Vieltoor determine who shall stand victorious!" Fire jetted from his staff and lapped around Darkspell.

"Aaagh, I felt that," cried Darkspell spinning to face his true foe.

"Then feel it again," said the Mystic sending another blast toward his foe.

Darkspell sidestepped easily. "I think I begin to see, that is a fake Mystic, a 'fakir'." He laughed at his own joke.

Siberian Star looked around, then shot a blast of ice at the bird nipping at Flex. The bird flipped over and back and stopped moving.

"OK Dradoom its time for the tables to turn", Flex bellowed as he went on the offensive. Already kicked about after there last encounter, Flex with the aid of the mystical weapons, knew he stood a better chance. Now the game was up, he wanted to make this a short and sharp shock to Dradoom.

Growing into combat against his larger opponent, Flex rushed with all his strength, seeking to land a blow past his foe's defences. His blow landed solidly, and Dradoom looked shocked to actually be hurt by the blow. He grimaced almost comically as he sailed back four meters, and landed on his back.

"By the Seven Eternal Names," he said. "How can this be?"

Continuing the growing into combat theme, Sting suddenly rocketted up to his full height landing a solid blow on the Black Druid's chin. The Druid sailed up and back crashing to the earth a few meters away. "What magic is this?" he asked.

"You fools," shouted Darkspell. "They been armed as we have, by your countrymen, Dradoom."

Kicking the ground in disappointment the Wanderer looked around and set his sights on Darkspell who was now intent on engaging the Mystic. "Darn right," he said, stepping into place and firing off some punches.

"Aaargh," commented Darkspell.

Defender sprinted toward Dradoom, calling out as he ran. "Merlynne, time to switch partners. The Black Witch is yours."

Even as he spoke, Merlynne appeared in mid-air behind the Black Witch, swinging an empty hand. As her hand moved, a blade shimmered and materialized in it and she smashed it into the Black Witch. The Witch staggered but seemed more surpised than hurt.

Meanwhile, Siberian Star lifted off the ground and spied the fluid technique of Dradoom, suddenly failing to avoid Flex's attack. After a brief pause, the young Russian accelerated into a full-speed power dive targetting the alien fighter. He hit, but did little visible damage.

"Yes," growled Dradoom, "they are armed but not all are armed with the same weapons." He rolled to his feet and began to enage Siberian Star.

"This one is out of her depth," said the Witch, forking her fingers and sending lighting at Merlynne.

"Maybe so, luv." Merlynne replied, "But I've got more than enough for you, Witch. You want some, come get some...of my blade." Merlynne waded through the lightning bolts and took another swing with the sword.

The blow struck the Witch who ignored her and laughed, "You'll have to do better than that, little girl."

The Black Druid climbed to his feet, "And this one shall suffer, too." Fireballs flew at Sting.

The fireballs exploded around Sting, giving him pause, but not taking him out of the game. "Blackie, I'm already suffering." Sting said, "I don't know what's worse, the god-awful stench of your clothes or that dimestore Greek God dialogue you're doing. I would think after 1,000 years you could at least upgrade your big bad nasty villian speeches to Dr. Doom level."

Darkspell seemed content to get physical with the Wanderer, returning his punches.

The Mystic took the opportunity to send the flames of Vieltoor once more at his old foe.

"Dradoom, your people have a message for you. And we are here to make sure you know their displeasure. A displeasure fit for your treacherous actions. Does it mean nothing to you and your lackeys that you have jeopardised both of our worlds, by your reckless and short-sighted actions. Does it mean nothing to you that if this continues, neither world will survive. Where will your efforts to conqueror, be then?" said Flex. He could feel the blood pumping in his veins. He had never felt so enraged in his life. Not even when Saruva captured the former tenants from the Wanderer No More House, to experiment on. He knew it was the fear he felt, as much as his frustrations and pent up anger over his unresolved feelings toward magic. But now he felt he had a worth subject for that indignation.

Defender was close enough now to get involved. He ran in and took a swing at Dradoom, as Flex leapt in to join him. The two rained blows on Dradoom who started to look a little punchy.

The Mystic launched another blast of cold at Darkspell then ran in to join the fray, twisting his ankle as he did so.

The Wanderer teleported out of the way of one of Darkspell's punches, only to reappaer in the way of second. He crumpled to the ground, out cold.

The Mystic, with Siberian Star nearby to help began to unload punches on Darkspell. Several landed, but to little effect.

"At last!" Flex breathed as he saw that the combined efforts of Defender's and his own attacks were beginning to make a difference to Dradoom. Flex kept up the pressure as did Defender. Dradoom went on the defensive parrying every blow thrown at him. He began to look a bit overwhelmed, though.

Sting kept up the assault on the Black Druid, knocking him around the place and then closing in to keep on the pressure. The Druid replied with fireball after fireball.

Merlynne and the Black Witch circled each other, Merlynne taking a tentative swipe or two with her sword.

Siberian Star fired a quick blast, enclosing Darkspell in chunk of ice. As Darkspell briefly struggled with the icy prison, Siberian Star grabbed the Mystic and flew him away from harm. "We cannot hurt him with our fists, you should use your magics from a safe distance."

As they landed, Darkspell shattered the ice and looked for his foe.

The heroes, too, looked over the field. Except for Sting, who wore no mask, the battlefield was a strange site, with all the mystic artifacts (save Merlynne's shield) glowing with a strange light, some stronger than others. Even the Mystic's cloak, which he had worn as long as they had known him, shone through the eyes of the mask. The Wanderer's entire body glowed slightly after each teleport. Dradoom's entire body glowed the whole time.

"Mystic," the Russian spoke in an accent, "I can see the artifacts and other items. They glow and so does the Wanderer when he teleports, is the glow caused by a tether of sorts to another dimension? Can we sever it somehow?" He held the mystical rod out, "If this can break bonds like the bands, can it also disrupt connections to their source of power?"

"The masks allow us to see things which are not of this dimension, the Wanderer moves to another dimension when he teleports and this aura remains for a moment when he returns. We see only their origin, not their source of power," said the Mystic.

Frustrated that Dradoom had so far parried most of his attacks, Flex continued wearily looking for a better opening past his foes defences.

The Black Witch had apparently caught her breath and launched a volley of lightning bolts at Merlynne.

Darkspell, now that he saw his true foe, sent blasts of cold at the Mystic, who waved his captured staff and countered with jets of flame.

Merlynne's luck ran out and she fell beneath a storm of lightning bolts.

The Wanderer slowly rolled to his knees and rubbed his head. With a struggle he got to his feet only to drop to a knee, "Gotta take the full standing eight," he mused.

Siberian Star's attention focused on Flex and decided to come to his aid. The Russian fired out with a blast of artic energy encasing Dradoom in a thick block of ice, hoping to pin the alien fighter's arms momentarily to help Flex attack more effectively.

Flex took a breather, nodding his thanks to Siberian Star for his unexpected help. Dradoom struggled with the grip of ice that held him. Seeing his mighty form, Flex knew that unless he was out down now, he to would be able to regain his strength and continue to be a serious thorn in their side. He felt he had not choice. Moving forward, despite how he might otherwise feel about hitting a foes so bound, Flex had to be pragmatic.

With Dradoom's torso suddenly encased in ice, Flex and Defender made hay while they could. Simeultaneously, they slammed punches into his head, and the alien spun around woozily, almost out on his feet. He tried to shrug out of his icy bonds, but they were too thick. A followup punch from Defender dropped him to the ground unconscious.

The toll was beginning to show on others of the company as well. Sting landed a solid blow on the Black Druid, who looked really woozy afterwards. Desperate, he launched a gigantic fireball at Sting, but was clearly unable to target properly and the fireball went wide.

Sting set up for one more punch, and the Black Druid dropped like a stone.

Darkspell fired another blast of the Cold of Daemonus at the Mystic, then gave up on the mystic arts in favor of fisticuffs and charged in, his blow knocking the Mystic back and down. The Mystic rose to one knee and sent the Fires of Vieltoor back at his foe, unfortunately missing.

Siberian Star, relegated to being a distraction, whipped around and shot out a wave of cold toward the Black Druid in hopes of freezing his feet fast and making him an easy target. The wobbly Druid wobbled out of the way.

The Black Witch satisfied with her work on Merlynne turned her attention to Defender, sending a lightning storm his way.

As the Black Witch spun round to tackle Defender, Flex shrugged, "Why waste the opportunity to double up again." He thought and launched at her with a flying leap whilst her attention was on Defender. He misjudged his distance and landed just short.

The Black Witch turned her attention to Flex, the nearest threat.

Darkspell closed in on the Mystic and continued to slug away. The Mystic, caught off-guard by such a physical assault fell beneath his pummeling.

The Wanderer slowly got to his feet and made a lurching charge toward Darkspell.

Sting, satisfied that the Black Druid was down for the count, raced toward Darkspell and started swinging. Darkspell dodged but even so, Sting rang his chimes pretty well.

Siberian Star took advantage of Sting's arrival to grab the Mystic and fly him to safety.

Vengeance is sweet, the Wanderer landed a solid punch on Darkspell who was moving far too slowly to dodge. He flew back a couple of yards and landed in a crumpled heap.

Defender closed in on the Black Witch to lend Flex a hand and landed a few punches. The Witch saw her comrades falling left and right and began to look a little dubious.

Flex began to feel under pressure, his aim was the obvious thing that suffered as lightening bolt after lightening bolt reigned his way. Seeking to use his bodies mouldable properties he sought to dodge in the incoming barrage.

Sting turned to Wanderer and slapped his shoulder. "See, glass jaw. Do be a friend and make sure Dorkspell is out, I've got a little mustard left for the Witch." Sting sped straight towards the Black Witch and took swings with the Gauntlet.

The Wanderer tugged on his hat brim in acknowledgement and proceeded to make sure that Darkspell was incapable of causing any further problems. With a sigh the alien massaged his jaw as he dragged the KO'd sorcerer back closer to the battlefield.

Siberian Star took to the air to watch the fight from above and help if he could.

Sting reached the Black Witch and knocked her into next week. She landed hard to see Sting bearing down on her again. She looked around the shouted for one of the two birds still mobile on the battlefield. One swooped down and landed near her.

She mounted up and the bird lifted off.

Siberian Star had been flying air cover for just this reason; he fired a quick blast of cold at the bird as it tried to gain altitude and was rewarded with the sight of the conjured creature plummeting back earthward and spilling its rider to the ground.

Even as she fell, Sting, Defender and Flex were racing toward her landing point. Sting, with superspeed, arrived first. He looped around to the side farthest from his friends and landed a punch that knocked her back toward them. She hit hard and staggered to her feet - and right into a wide right cross from Flex. She went down, twitched once and stopped moving.

"BOO-YAH!" Sting exclaimed as the Witch finally fell. He ran over and leapt into Flex's arms like he just scored the winning touchdown, then jumped down and high-fived him. "Nice shot, Flex!"

"I know how you feel, Sting. And I think you just summoned up how we all feel." Flex said, as ecstatic. At last they had won, though the road to victory had been costly. "I wonder how much damage, the rest of the city has suffered? Flex mumbled to himself, not wanting to think too much about that right now. They had some clearing up here to do, as it was.

Pulling out his IPAC communicator, Flex tried to raise Wilkins and crew. There was no response, and the dome above them was still in place.

Defender placed his hand over Flex's communicator, oblivious to the lack of response. He whispered so that only those close could hear him. "No, this time IPAC is out of the loop. First off, there are reporters present. Secondly, all of our foes are going through the portal to stand trial for their crimes against the other realm. I suspect the denizens of that realm will be better suited to dealing with magical prisoners."

Flex wasn't sure he could argue with that. But equally he wasn't sure whether this was appropriate according to the law. But then he was just a vigilante, according to the law, so did it matter who served them justice?

Sting calmed down as he came to a realization. "OK, we need to get this stuff back." Sting checked on Merlynne to make sure she was OK, then "borrowed" her mask in order to help determine what artifacts to take.

Merlynne was coming around, but was still woozy. Sting experienced for the first time the strange visual effect of the mask. All things of extradimensional origin glowed with an odd light: the gauntlets, the ring and amulet that Merlynne and the Mystic bore, the staves the company had stolen, as well as the six rings, three belts, two amulets, one cloak and a diadem. Dradoom himself also glowed, as did the Mystic's cloak and Darkspell's cloak, although both had worn their respective cloaks before the Company had raided the arsenal.

Sting snagged Darkspell's cloak as well, figuring he would be better off without it. "I guess our team should head back in. One question...should we give them Dradoom as well? Or try him here?"

Looking up at the still solid dome around Port Alexander and then to the others, Flex commented, "Looks like that is still going to be a problem! What is there in are arsenal, that can deactivate that? Mystic do you have any ideas?"

From out of the woods several hundred yards distant, a group of figures broke cover and made their way toward the heroes. After a moment of concern, they relaxed as they recognized Jenny Peters and her camera crew.

The reporters approached slowly, a bit in awe. The "ritual" fire was throwing strange shadows in the semi-gloom. A few other small fires blazed here and there, caused by stray fireballs from the Black Druid or fireblasts from The Mystic. Three giant birds lay dead on the ground, while the fourth hopped from place to place in confusion, no danger now that its riders were no longer giving orders. The cameraman played his lens to the right and left, trying to catch everything as Jenny ran a stream-of-consciousness voice-over into her microphone.

She interrupted herself, "Pity this isn't live. Mike, you've got plenty of tape, right?" The cameraman nodded. "Well, Protectors, that was ... amazing. What now?" She looked up at the warding which still enclosed the city.

Siberian Star took a step forward, "Miss Peters, there is still much to be done. But I can assure the people of Port Alexander that Siberian Star will continue to assure their safety even in times like this." That being said, he took to the air and began to quench the stray fires that still burned with his icy blasts.

Defender chuckled at Siberian Star's sudden concern for the fires now that a camera was present. Jenny must have noticed his amusement as she turned to him next. "With the Company out of commision, we will see that the mystic items they stole are returned to their rightful guardians. Once those things are no longer in this realm, we will be able to concentrate on the damage they have done."

"Defender, a word." Sting said, as he looked at Jenny. "Don't worry, I've got some soundbites for you, this is group business." Jenny nodded and turned towards the Wanderer.

The Wanderer took that as his cue to lavish Jenny Peters with compliments about her journalistic integrity sprinkled with the exploits of the Protectors' battle with The Company. As was the norm, the Wanderer said much in quantity but little in the way of quality effectively keeping the press and the people of Port Alexander in the dark when it came to potentially harmful details.

As the Wanderer flattered Jenny and the press, Flex slunk back to where the villains were 'sleeping' soundly. As much as he had, had to overcome his fear of magic, the thought of facing the press seemed even more difficult to overcome.

In the past when they had caught up with him he had been either to tired or to angry to care. But now, with the adrenaline wearing off, he felt more vulnerable than ever. "Besides" he thought to himself, "if people only knew who I was, and what I had done. They would not feel so charitable toward me?" No, he preferred his actions to speak for him, rather than words.

With the press focused on the 'heroes', Flex thought about shifting shape but held back. If the need be, he would shift into one of the press crew and blend in till it was time to leave. And he was anxious for it to be over.

Sting caught Defenders eye as he spoke. "I have a feeling we might not be able to take these back yet. The dome's still up, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we might still have problems back at the Commercedome. Do you think we should check that out before we return the weapons?"

Defender steered Sting over to where the Mystic stood. "I'm not sure. With Jenny coming out as soon as she did, I haven't had a chance to speak with our resident expert. What's your take on this phenomenon, master Mystic?"

"The ward is still in place," said the Mystic. "Did not Merlynne and the Wanderer mention a 'Shield of Warding' as one of the items taken? I recall a shield-like object which was the focus of the ritual at the CommerceDome."

"Would that be the one in the Commercedome?" Sting said. "If so, we need to find it, break the ward, and return that one as well. Defender, should we all go or just send a few of us?"

"Someone needs to stay here and watch our prisoners. Time is an important factor, so it might be a good idea if you scouted first. If it seems safe, then we can get the Mystic there to take a look at the ward. If there are too many guardians, we'll send a strike team first. I'll get Ichi to tap into the security cameras inside as well."

Flex, who was not that far away from the conversation nodded approvingly. He certainly would feel happier being seconded to deal with the shield and avoiding any further encounters with the press.

"Got it. I'm going to take Siberian Star with me; with him flying we'll get there faster. Merlynne can fly the Mystic to the Dome later once we've got it sussed out."

Sting then flagged over Siberian Star. "You up for a recon mission so we can put this to bed?"

Siberian Star landed gently onto the singed grass and nodded authoritatively, "Da."

Sting then shrank to his 1" size. "Got a pocket or a crevice I can hitch a ride on?"

The young Russian unzipped a compartment on his belt and placed the diminutive Sting inside, coldly adding "Hold on" before taking flight to the CommerceDome.

Within minutes, the two were approaching the CommerceDome. The area around it had been razed for perhaps a half-mile in all directions, leaving it in the center of a blackened plain. A hole had been opened in the roof of the dome from within they could see a golden glow which matched the sky. In the sky and on the ground, they saw many of the conjurations they had come to identify with the Company.

"This must be the place," Siberian Star commented. "It appears we are outnumbered," he observed before ducking behind a billboard and landing on a roof. "We are not yet out of the woods, the others will be needed."

"You can say that again, sunshine." Sting said as he flipped on his comm unit. "Defender, we need the full team out here, we're not out of the woods yet."

"Can't do it, Sting. We've got prisoners that I'm not going to risk losing." Defender counted the bodies present and compared them to standing members of the Protectors. "I need at least two people back here with the bad guys in case any of them suffer from insomnia or somnambulism. How bad is your situation?"

The cold hero peered out from behind the advertisement for Dutchmen football and murmured, "don't call me 'sunshine.'" He stood defiantly assessing the situation, trying to get a count of how many creatures possessed flight and wondered why they did not vanish when The Company had been rendered unconscious.

There were many, they kept moving so it was hard to keep count.

Back at the house, the Mystic looked at the downed Company as she shook the cobwebs from his head. "I can add the Bonds of Vieltoor to the mundane shackles and I should think that would hold them for the time it would take to make our attack, if indeed they awake before then. Or," he added, "I can remain to keep sure of them. The conjurations are less suited to my talents than yours in any case."

"But will your talents be necessary to lift the enchantment at the CommerceDome?" Defender asked.

"A point," said the Mystic. "But I do not think so. I suspect that a purely physical solution will suffice. I can provide you with information and consultation via this," he waved the communicator. "And if my presence is required, I can project my spirit into the Astral plane and be there swiftly indeed."

"Fair enough. I'd still feel better if you had some back up, though." Defender looked to his remaining companions. "But if you folks are still inching for a fight, let's locate our Vanguard."

The Wanderer sent a gloved fist into his hand in expectation. "Let's go pound some more extradimensional bee-hind!" As an afterthought, he added "Mystic, will we need the gauntlets and other artifacts to fight these conjurations?"

"I don't know. I can't imagine it would hurt, but it oughtn't be neccessary," said the Mystic.

The heroes nodded and took their equipment, then they moved out. Merlynne accepting the Mystic's mask to replace the one Sting borrowed. They met with the Siberian Star and Sting and planned their assault.

With no one of the Company to guide them, the conjurations were disorganized and slow to respond to the threat presented by a coordinated group of superheroes. Sting's blasts and punches, the Wanderer's fisticuffs and quips, Flex'es flexible fists, Merlynne's sword, Siberian Star's cold and kicks, and Defender's leaping attacks were more than a match for the summoned creatures. Leaving the bodies piled behind them or dispelled whence they came, the Protectors battled their way across the plain and through the doorway. Birds and other strange creatures feel from the sky as Siberian Star shot them or dove into them. Wolves, monsters and miniature warriors flew to the left and right.

Once they gained the entrance, Siberian Star iced over the doorway while the others dispatched the few creatures inside. Then they were out and onto the field. To their mask enhanced vision, the Shield of Warding was the center of a riot of color; the energies it summoned and controlled flowed up and dispersed as they headed toward the dome overhead. At four points on the Shield, candles burned, but a second glance showed that the flames did not waver - rather the candles seemed frozen in some kind of stasis.

As he caught his breath from the fight, Flex looked over to Siberian Star, "Never a dull moment, a friend?"

The aloof Russian just nodded. He hovered overhead keeping an eye on the barricaded doorway. "What are we to do now? Is there a danger to disrupting the Warding?"

The Wanderer approached carefully, withdrawing his communicator and contacting his old friend, "Mystic, we've secured the Shield of Warding. How should we proceed?"

"You should be able to dispel the ward by removing or extinguishing the candles. Be alert though, there may be some backlash when the ward comes down. Be prepared to fall back when the ward drops," said the Mystic.

"Do they need to be extinguished in any order? or simultaneously?" asked the Wanderer assessing the speed of Sting, his teleportation, and Siberian Star's abilities to take out the candles and get away quickly.

"Let me think a moment," said the Mystic. "It would probably minimize the disruption if they were dealt with simeultaneously. However, the failure of a single candle should result in the collapse of the spell. On the other hand, if a single candle were extinguished or removed, you might have a little time to get away before the others ... overload, I guess is an apt analogy."

As the Mystic's answer came through, Flex prepared to for what might come next as a result of any mystic backlash. Almost as an afterthought, he mumbled, half audibly to Siberian Star, "Been a pleasure working with you again." Then focused his attention on the task at hand.

Softly Siberian Star whispered mostly to himself, "one hopes there are more times" realizing the dangers which still lay ahead.

Sting said, "If one's all it takes, looks like I'm on. I know you can 'port, Wondy, but no sense in taxing you unnecessarily. Besides," he whispered in Defender's ear, "I'm the one responsible if the place blows up anyways. As it is, I'm gonna be paying a fortune in insurance."

Defender scratched his head. "It sounded to me like there would be less damage if all four candles were snuffed at the same time. Considering the circumstances, I'll leave the call to you, Sting."

Sting pondered for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "We can do all four at once. Merlynne, you can energize yourself to superspeed, yes?"

"Yes sir." Merlynne replied.

"Excellent." Sting responded. "Merlynne, Defender, Wanderer and I will each take a candle. Defender jumps, Wanderer pops, the rest run like blazes. Everyone else can clear out of the Dome so that we can do our thing. Sound like a plan?"

The heroes nodded.

A small, imperceptable shimmer of light washed over Merlynne, then she nodded and took her place along the rest of the heroes, each at a candle.

Siberian Star flew out of range and began to look for any curious onlookers who were out taking in the disaster. There were always some foolhardy souls who decided to disregard warnings and put themselves in harm's way.

Flex followed suit.

Defender, Merlynne, Sting and the Wanderer took their positions around the shield, while the others fell back to the sidelines. At Defender's signal, they all puffed on their candles, but none went out. Remembering the Mystic's words, Defender advised them each to take hold and then pull the candles out of place. They took a grip and began to pull. There was a pressure, something holding the candles in place. The candles resisted being moved, as if the weight of the dome was holding them in place.

The heroes strained, each one doing their best to shift the candle from its place. The tension built and the heroes felt as if something was about to give. They redoubled their efforts and then suddenly the candles popped loose! The heroes fell back on their rumps as the resistance vanished.

All of them, that is, save Merlynne, who seemed pulled forward as the others' candles pulled back. As she crossed the plane of the shield, the dome above them that began to collapse. The shield was the base of a column of shining gold which was falling in on itself and on Merlynne.

Merlynne was completely enveloped in the column except, Sting noticed in a frozen moment of time, for her finger which was held outside the column at the point where she wore the alien ring. With only the softest of wet sounds, the column closed behind the ring and and Merlynne's finger and the ring fell to the ground outside the column of light.

The collapsing column seemed to suck all the light from the CommerceDome in on itself filling the stadium with dimness until it completed its collapse and vanished. And with it, vanished Merlynne and her shield.

The candles went out, the lights returned to normal and the heroes faced the Shield of Warding on the otherwise empty field.

Defender leapt to his feet. "What happened?! Where's Merlynne?"

Sting was in complete shock at what he saw. It took him a full minute to responde to Defender. "It...sucked her in." Sting said, bending over to pick up the ring, finger still attached. He shuddered at the pain she must be in...having her body disfigured so young. "It purposefully left the ring behind, so wherever she is in...there...*points to the shield of warding*...didn't want any of the alien artifacts in there with her...except her shield, curiously enough. And please, no one ask me why I'm calm. I'm internally hysterical, but I have to hold it together if we're going to rescue her. Damn, damn, DAMN, Jack is going to have my bollocks in a sling."

Flex also rushed over to the scene, joining the others who in mute shock stood around trying to understand what had just taken place.

Looking across at the distraught Sting, Flex felt only a great sadness. Although he didn't have much time to get to know Merlynne, he could tell that she would have made a fine addition to the team. But was that it though? Was she trapped and unreachable? Although the idea of dealing with yet more magic didn't appeal much, neither did the thought of leaving her trapped someplace alone either.

Flex knew the others were voicing similar questions, in the shocked and disbelief that was registered on their countenances. It looked as if this case was far from over yet...

Defender looked at his companions. "This is well beyond my area of expertise. Time to talk to Tall, Robed, and Mysterious."

The heroes quickly gathered the shield and the other items, including Merlynne's finger and ring. They noted that there was no blood, the point where the finger had been severed was smooth and unblemished.

They returned as quickly as they could to Darkspell's house, where they filled the Mystic in on the occurences. He looked grave. "When the ward was broken, it seems that Merlynne was caught in the flux. Since it was a dimensional ward, she could be literally anywhere. There are numberless dimensions and she could be lost in any of them."

"What!" Flex found himself crying out loud. He had hoped that there was some way forward in sorting out this whole mess. Now it sounded as if they could spend there lives fruitlessly searching.

The Mystic held up a hand, "Wait! Wait! All is not lost. There is often some kind of sympathy in place, a resonance. Even when cast adrift, spirits are often drawn to regions which are sympathetic to their nature or plight. Too, we have a link to Merlynne which may be used to aid in tracking her," he indicated the finger. "I shall not rest until she has been located."

"As for these," he pointed to the Company. "I think you are right, Defender. Those who loaned us these weapons are best equipped to deal with them. I shall open the portal again so that whomsoever wishes may transport our prisoners and return all the artifacts."

"How long will such a search take? Flex asked the Mystical man. Having just spent the best part of three days cut of from the outside world and his other life, he was curious to know if he would putting his life on hold again, anytime soon. After all the news that he had gone missing again, for a whole three days, was not going to be easy to explain back at the Wander No More House. But that would have to wait for now. He was keen that they took care of Dradoom and the other magical cronies before they started off on another possible mission.

"It is difficult to say. I will have to research the problem and begin to search across the dimensions. It could take years," said the Mystic. "It could take far less time. Much of it will depend on her - on her strength of will and purpose, for such things are psychic beacons."

"She's a very strong willed woman," Defender replied. "As there is nothing that can be done at the moment, let's deal with our first problem. We need to get the Company and the artifacts through the portal. When the shield is turned over, it would be a good idea to tell them about Merlynne."

At that moment, Defender's commlink beeped.

"Oh thank GOD!" the voice of PC rang out on the other line. I've been trying to get to you for days! Since communications are back, I have to assume whatever was blocking them has been stopped? Is everyone OK?"

"Not exactly," Defender said. "Merlynne is currently unaccounted for. We're looking into it at the moment. The Company was responsible for the dome and have been taken into custody."

PC grew silent. She had seen too many friends either leave or go missing lately and she wasn't prepared for another so soon. Swallowing her emotion, she responded with a slight tremble in her voice. "Is there anything I can do from here?"

"Nothing I'm aware off. The Mystic is looking into it. We'll know for sure shortly." Defender followed with a phone number. "You might want to call this number and introduce yourself to whoever answers. They can fill you in on all the details that you missed."

The company returned to the room where the Portal was anchored and soon the portal was prepared.

Sting said that he would go with the Wanderer this time. The Wanderer clapped him on the back, "It's a fun ride, just keep your hands inside the car," he mused about the trip through the portal. The gear had been gathered and last minute details about what to ask from the Mystic still rang in their heads.

Looking at everything scattered about, Defender motioned for Flex. "Give them a hand, would you?"

Flex nodded grateful to be getting on with something. He quickly gathered the gear together as Defender had instructed.

Still his flesh crawled around the portal and in the presence of such strong magic. "This fear I have bears investigation at some later point." Flex mused to himself, "Maybe I can have a chat to Mum about it! But in any case I am not letting it hold me back." He silently determined. Having finished gathering the stuff together, he looked up at Defender and said, "what now?"

Defender just indicated that they should wait.

Sting and the Wanderer passed through the portal with the equipment and the prisoners and were soon taken to Karaktoa. They explained what had happened as he examined and inventoried the prisoners and artifacts. "All is well," he said, "save that the shield is missing."

"We had a problem," began the Wanderer with a smile. The alien detailed the dispelling of the Shield of Warding and the unfortunate mishap concerning Merlynne, which the denizens of this dimension accompanied him the last time. "We believe that she has been transported to another location with the shield. Our mystic is researching her whereabouts, do you have any idea where she could have been taken?"

"Also, now that you mention it," Sting said, "in using these masks, the missing shield was the only artifact from your realm that didn't glow. Would that have any significance?"

"Interesting," said Karaktoa. "The masks allow the wearer to see things of extra-dimensional origin -- relative to the current dimension. The implication is that the shield originates on your world. We knew it to be of extra-dimensional origin to us, but not it's home dimension. From what you say about the dissappearance of your companion, this is borne out. Everything not native to Earth was left behind as she was drawn through the collapsing ward."

"As for her whereabout ... the only help we can offer is this, we will stay in contact with the Mystic and share with him what we know of the shield. It may prove easier to track than it's bearer."

Another of the aliens appeared and said something to Karaktoa, who turned to the heroes. "The prisoners have been prepared. Do you wish to witness their punishment?"

The Wanderer deferred to Sting. Throughout his many travels he had seen a myriad of trials and justice meted out in countless ways, however Sting's human upbringing might cause concern when witnessing another species' system.

"By all means. Lead the way, sir." Sting said.

Karaktoa led them to a tower overlooking a couryard. At first glance the courtyard seemed to be filled with statues, but a closer glance showed them to be living creatures. The prisoners were strapped to a crystal pillar in the center of the courtyard.

Karatoa indicated five towers circling the courtyard, "The judicial magi are in position. When they cast their spells, the criminals are affected by two spells simueltaneously. One is a spell which slows down time for them to an incredible degree. The other is one which accellerates the aging by a corresponding factor.

"The result is that the criminals you see below you are aging at the rate of our lives, but moving at a rate many times slower. To them, they and their other prisoners are living at the same rate but aging incredibly swiftly. They live perhaps a hour each of our years, but age a year for each of their hours.

"We have no guards. None are needed. When any prisoner steps outside the circle marked there, we simply pick them up and move them back to the center."

When he finished speaking, he raised his hand, then dropped it. At that signal, the five magi cast their spells. The crystal pillar glowed and when the radiance dimmed, there were four more statues in the courtyard.

The Wanderer didn't want to seem critical, but the lack of guards is probably what led to the theft of the artifacts that The Company used to create all the havoc. "Is there no escape from the spellcraft? Preventing another case of theft is of great interest to both our worlds."

"The only known way to remove the spell is to have the same five magi or their lawful succesors reverse it," said Karaktoa.

"So they stay like this forever? Or until they die of old age? Talk about your life sentence." Sting said.

"Some are redeemed, but in general this punishment is reserved only for the most dangerous criminals. We felt that threatening two entire dimensions with destruction warranted this step."

"And if the statues are removed from this dimension?" asked the Wanderer.

"I see your concern," said Karaktoa with a smile like a shark. "The spell might be shattered, yes. But when I said there were no guards, I mean only on the prisoners directly. The courtyard itself is well-guarded from outside interference."

Relieved that he was understood the Wanderer returned the smile. "Good. Twice I have faced the one we call Dradoom and it is becoming tiresome."

"Yes, I can see your point," said Karaktoa. "Our system has served us well for many generations. It is not foolproof - nothing is - but it works quite well."

He led them back to his office. "My friends you have served both our worlds well. We are in your debt. We shall be in contact with your Mystic to aid in the search for your missing comrade." He made the gestures of farewell of his people.

"Thank you for your help. Our world, in turn, is indebted to you. I wish you and yours peace, long life, and prosperity." Sting said.

"And to you and yours," said Karaktoa.

A guard led the two back to the portal, and soon they were greeting their friends on the other side.

Flex looked on the assembled heroes not sure how he felt now that things had 'settled down.' Turning to the Siberian Star, he said, "Hope to see you around."

He waited till the others had finished there various duties said a quite goodbye and took off. On the way back he wondered if, "Being caught up the other side of the magic barrier would be a good enough reason for him to have been away the last couple of days. At least it had the virtue of being the truth for once." Flex knew he had to work on it, but had the beginnings of an idea that would cover his tail, once again. At least for this time anyway.

Interlude 34.1: The Day After
Interlude 34.2: Wanderer No More
Interlude 34.3: Merlynne's Quest
Interlude 34.4: In the Kingdom
Interlude 34.5: A Proposal

Last Updated 2 March 2004