Membership in the Galactic League's Legion of Leaders is a high honor, bestowed only on those who deserve it. One would think that it would be accepted without hesitation. Why, then, is the latest member-to-be so adamant about refusing? The answer awaits in:
The time: now. The place: Galactic League Headquarters, where the members of the Legion of Leaders were engaged in a very special ritual.
Tailfin looked at the sheet of paper in front of him. "Well, I guess it's official now."
"Finally! This should have been done a long time ago!" Captain Britain remarked.
"No argument here, CB," the Legion's leader returned. "But until recently, our constitution permitted only fourteen members. Now that we've revised the by-laws, though, we can correct some oversights."
Starhawk nodded. "Thunderclaw was the first member elected under our new charter, and with any luck, a certain master of magic will be the second."
Captain Britain grinned. "Wonder what he'll say when he hears the news?"
"I'll answer that--in person!" cut in a new voice. "He says--No!"
All of them whirled, to behold a slender, auburn-haired youth clad in a tight-fitting one piece garment of blue, its high collar ornamented with alternating bands of white and gold. Over his heart rested a gemstone of golden yellow, glistening in the room's lights. Boots of darker blue shod his feet, and his hands were covered with gloves that extended nearly to his elbows. A belt of gold-colored material encircled his waist, set with a repeating pattern of raised convex discs. The center one of these had been inscribed with a curious sigil, an intricate four-pointed star. A cloak of deep midnight blue swirled about his shoulders.
"Spellbinder?!?" gasped Berserker at the sorcerer's sudden appearance.
Skythief was just as amazed. "And in a different costume? A new one?"
Medieval was the quickest to recover his composure. "We were going to summon you after the voting, but it looks like we won't have to do that after all."
The young mage directed a cold gaze at the Legionnaires. "Then you won't have to waste your time. I want no part of your group."
Tailfin was nonplussed. "But we thought you wanted to join us! When we helped you and the Champions find the Runestaff, we worked well together, and we've done the same on more than a few cases since then! And as Thunderclaw once pointed out, the Legion is in need of more magically-powered members!"
The sorcerer's gaze lost none of its coolness. "That is none of my concern! I tell you now: I don't need any of you, nor your help!" His eyes flashed like blue fire. "You sound like my aunt, Spellsinger; she wanted me to 'follow in her footsteps!' I tell you now what I told her -- no!" With that, he vanished in a brilliant flash of light.
Tailfin finally broke the shocked silence. "Why, that--!" Dumping the ballot box out on the table, he growled, "Meeting adjourned! Let's get the hell out of here!"
As they left, Ms. Marvel frowned. "I can't believe Spellbinder acted like he just did!"
Captain Britain rubbed his chin thoughtfully, a frown creasing his brow as well. "It doesn't sound like him at all." Almost without his consciously willing it, his memory unfurled his long friendship with the young magician. The two had shared many an adventure, and their relationship had developed into one almost like that of brothers. So close had they become, in fact, that on a recent adventure Spellbinder had gifted the British hero with his true name, a gesture that was not to be taken lightly.
**Something's not right,** he thought, **And I think I'd better check it out!**
Far away from League Headquarters, in the midst of a barren, windswept field, a voice broke the silence, speaking words older than mankind:
With those ancient words, a tongue of blue flame wrapped around Spellbinder's body, spinning faster than lightning, than even faster still, until, with a sound at once like a crack of thunder and the whispers of a gentle breeze, he disappeared -- only to reappear a heartbeat later in a land of myth and legend, a place where magic, not science, ruled--a place called Darkworld!
His arrival there was not unexpected. An army of hideous horrors surrounded him, their gibbering assaulting his ears even as their taloned hands assaulted his person, but he would brook no interference from these toadies this day. The gem over his heart glowed as brightly as the sun, and a sheet of golden fire erupted from his fingertips, cutting a swathe through the demon horde. "Away from me, hellspawn! I'll not have you interfering!" Shrieking, the creatures fled from the eldritch flames. His way now unimpeded, he spoke another incantation:
Enveloped in a nimbus of golden light, he rose into the air, there to soar on the winds towards a destination only he knew. As he flew, strange thoughts went through his mind. **When I first came here, my magicks were affected by the ether of this dimension. This new costume helps to compensate for that, but it's still a strain. I only hope the Legionnaires have learned the truth. I might be barred from asking anyone in the real world for aid, but that doesn't mean I'm helpless!**
While Spellbinder rode the wind toward an unknown destination, Captain Britain was just arriving in a quiet town in upstate New York called Silver Falls. More specifically, his destination was the small house belonging to fantasy novelist Lydia Darklighter -- a woman perhaps better known as the sorceress called Spellsinger.
"...on the contrary, Captain," the dark-haired woman was saying. "My nephew was eager to follow in my footsteps; in fact, he insisted! I don't know who told you otherwise, but that is the truth!"
"It was Spellbinder himself who said it," the blond hero returned. "I don't understand why either, unless" Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "Of course--that must be it!"
Spellsinger gasped, rising from her chair. "Captain Britain, what is it? My nephew--is he in danger?"
"He may well be," returned the champion of England as he headed for the door. "But Spellbinder is our responsibility now; the Legionnaires don't abandon one of our own. We'll find him, and rescue him if need be. I'm calling an emergency meeting!"
Meanwhile, in the Darkworld, Spellbinder was fast approaching his destination: an ancient castle hewn out of gray stone. So intent was he on reaching that objective, however, that he failed to notice the twang of a bowstring. Too late, he saw the shaft speeding toward him and tried to dodge. The arrow bit deep into his shoulder. Like a wounded bird, he fell earthward to crash in a heap on the hard ground, and was claimed by darkness with alarming swiftness. Gibbering, the demons responsible emerged from their hiding places and bore him into the darkness.
Back at League Headquarters, Captain Britain was explaining his theory to his teammates. "When Spellsinger told me Spellbinder asked to follow in her footsteps, it gave me an idea. I don't know if it's true, but."
"Tell us, and then figure it out!" snapped Berserker impatiently.
The younger hero nodded. "Okay. When the two of us were on a caper together awhile back, he told me about a story--a fairytale, really--he heard when he was a kid. It seems this hero needed help from his friends on a quest, but he couldn't tell them so. So, he went to them and told them to stay out of his waybut he left behind a mirror. It took them a while, but they finally figured out that the mirror meant that he'd been saying the exact opposite of what he meant, and were able to help him out."
"Nice story," replied Starhawk. "But what's that got to do with what's happening?"
The British hero sighed. "Don't you see? I think Spellbinder's acting out the story, with himself as the herowhy, I don't know." He gestured to the floor. "Look!"
The spot where Spellbinder had stood earlier that night was polished to a mirror-bright finish.
Meanwhile, the object of the Legionnaires' search was just recovering his senses. Bound and gagged to prevent his casting any spells, he was seemingly helpless. However, his thoughts were not on fear, though he did have to make some concessions.
**Waking from unconsciousness with an arrow in my shoulder to see demons and monsters dancing around a pyre -- it could drive a normal man mad! Fortunately, I'm anything but normal, and I've lived with this sort of thing since I learned my first magicks at Mother's knee! Thank the Balance these monsters don't know I don't have to rely on spoken spells! I've already taken steps toward my release -- if the Light-following inhabitants of this world are close enough to hear my summons!**
As if in answer to the young mage's thoughts, the demons suddenly fled, shrieking, as an army of Light-following Darkworlders closed in on them. Warriors and mages cut a swathe through the demon horde, until the evil things were all either dead or fled.
One of the warriors, a tall, well-muscled man in gleaming golden armor, knelt down beside Spellbinder, removing the gag and capably slitting the ropes that bound the young magician hand and foot. "Tynan preserve me! 'Tis a lad!"
A queenly woman in mage's robes bent to help the mage to his feet. "I recognize his garb--he wears the Mantle of the Chosen!" She dropped a graceful curtsey. "Our lives are yours."
"Not that, I hope," Spellbinder returned, flushing a little with embarrassment. "I'll be glad of just your help. Can you tell me where Castle Greystone is?"
She smiled. "We'll do better than that, my lord." With that, she waved her jeweled wand, and in an instant the two of them stood outside the castle.
Spellbinder looked up at the forbidding stone fortress. "In there, I'll find the reason why I've come hereand return it to its rightful resting place."
The lady-mage eyed him with concern. "Your shoulder--you're injured!"
"No time to worry about that now," the young sorcerer returned. He drew a deep breath, centered himself, and spoke an incantation:
With an ear-splitting rumble, the castle crumbled to the ground. Revealed was a book bound in midnight-blue leather, its cover inscribed with letters of gold in a tongue that was ancient when man was new. Spellbinder crooked a finger, and the tome dropped into his outstretched hands. A smile spread across his face. "At last, the Tome of Altan is recovered!"
Suddenly, the ground trembled; in the next instant, the pile of rubble burst apart as a huge reptilian head on a long, snaky neck rose out of it. Another joined it, and then another, until a gigantic nine-headed reptilian monstrosity loomed over the young mage. When it spoke, the voice which issued from those fanged mouths was terrible to hear: "Who dares to disturb me?"
Spellbinder plucked up his courage and answered. "I ask only that I be allowed to return the Tome of Altan to its rightful resting place: the Pyramid of Magi of Auryn."
One of the heads snaked over to just a few feet from the young sorcerer. "And who are you, that you have the authority to do so?"
"I am Spellbinder, leader of the Champions, the son of Montagar, the Sorcerer Supreme of Auryn."
"Montagar?!?" the beast roared in rage. "It was he who banished me here! If you are his offspring, it will make me doubly happy--to slay you!"
But as the monster reared back its heads to send a gout of flames at the mage, a metal rod struck of of them.
"If you want him, you'll have to go through us first!" challenged Captain Britain. He caught his thrown battle-staff on the fly and gestured to the monster with it. "Okay, Legionnaires, let's hit 'im, and hit 'im hard!"
Those words were all the members of the Legion needed. Like a well-oiled machine, they went into action, their efforts against the dragon so mighty that they were able to stagger it. Yet for all their efforts, the beast was still able to resist their attacks. Watching, Spellbinder knew that he could not let his friends be defeated, yet his spells and the wound in his shoulder had left him weakened. Nevertheless, he could not let his friends' efforts on his behalf be in vain. He spoke an incantation:
As the echo of the magician's spell died, a stream of emerald green light leaped from his fingertips to ensnare the dragon in unbreakable bonds. Thrash as it might, it was unable to free itself. Knowing better than to waste the opportunity, he summoned up every scrap of power from within himself and recited another spell-chant:
With those ancient words of power, he glowed like a newborn star and fired a dazzlingly-bright burst of eldritch power at the dragon, and for a moment all was lost in the blinding flash. When sight returned, it was gone, leaving only sparkles of fast-fading light to mark its passing.
Standing in the wake of the spell's power, the precious Tome clutched to his breast, Spellbinder smiled weakly at his friends, breathed a heartfelt "Thank you..." and promptly collapsed.
When he came to again, he was in League Headquarters, where the adventure had begun.
"How is he?" came the worried voice of Captain Britain.
Starhawk's voice carried a note of relief. "Fortunately, that arrow passed between his shoulder bones. He'll heal -- and my electronic medikit will make sure he doesn't have a scar." A light hand removed something from Spellbinder's shoulder. "Look, it's working already--hey, he's awake!"
Captain Britain grinned. "Hey, chum, how you feeling?"
The sorcerer smiled. "None the worse for wear, thanks to you. I'm just glad you were able to decipher my message. One of the conditions of my quest to recover the Tome was that I couldn't ask your help directly, so that was the only way I could let you know what was going on." Then he frowned. "One thing puzzles me, though: how did you get to Darkworld?"
Tailfin, who had arrived with the rest of the Legion to hear Spellbinder's query, grinned. "It wasn't too hard. We had Spaceglider pinpoint your location telepathically, then used the transmatter device to follow your trail."
Skythief sat down on the edge of the table. "Well, then. Aside from explaining that new outfit of yours, Spellbinder, I guess that leaves only one more loose end to tie up. Earlier today, we voted you in as a member of the Legion. Do you still want to say no?"
"No!" Spellbinder gasped. Then, "No, not no! I mean--YES!"
"All right!" Captain Britain raised one arm in jubilation, and gave Spellbinder a happy hug with the other.
"Then it's settled!" A beaming Tailfin clapped the Legion's newest member on the shoulder. "Welcome to the Legion, Spellbinder!"
The rest of the team crowded around their new teammate, welcoming him into the fold with characteristic exuberance. There would be formalities to attend to, of course, but they could wait. Right now, they all joined in welcoming their newest member.
And for Spellbinder, it was, quite simply, one of the happiest days of his life.