Earth Crisis – Part 7b: Into the Earth

As the heroes strapped into their seats in the Mighty Mole II, Cave Carson prepared to pilot them down into the depths of the Earth in his amazing digging machine. Before they actually got underway, however, Black Canary teleported two additional heroes into their ranks . . . The Flash (Wally West) and the new hero Polygon (who’d helped earlier in the attack on LexCorp but had been delayed before joining the others at Cave’s island base). Cave made sure each of them got a pill to help protect them against the heat, radiation, and pressures below, though Wally seemed . . . reluctant to take one. (Cave had to coax him by saying they were like mushrooms on pizza.) In fact, Wally seemed changed–much younger than he’d been before. He didn’t seem to remember most of the heroes present and didn’t think Troia looked like the Donna Troy from the Teen Titans he knew. He ever referred to himself as Kid Flash.

The heroes didn’t have time to delve into Wally’s seeming rejuvenation for the moment, though, as they had to get going on the mission. Cave set the course and fired up the vehicle’s telluric engine and the Mighty Mole II nosed its way into the Earth. Though before the Mole had gone far, two more teleporter beams flashed inside the vehicle, adding to their numbers El Bagual, the equine Argentinean hero, and . . . Red Hood! Expecting some consternation on his part, Black Canary commed Batman to explain that Red Hood had answered her call for additional heroes, and since they might need the extra manpower, she’d accepted his offer and teleported him onto the Mole, as she had El Bagual. Grudgingly, Batman agreed, but determined to keep an eye on Hood. Canary herself had to remain on the Watchtower to manually teleport anyone else who volunteered to help down below, given all the interference their signals were getting. Cave made sure the two newcomers each got a pill and carried onward.

The journey downward into the Earth was mostly boring and uneventful (other than the now juvenile Flash annoying nearly everyone with his teen-ish comments). As they descended, the heat and pressure increases became evident, and had they not taken the pills Cave had offered, the heroes would have been getting very uncomfortable by then. Though for some reason, after they’d descended for quite some time, Superman began looking as though he were in distress, causing the others to worry. He dismissed it as merely feeling a little weak, possibly from whatever had affected him with the reptilian hounds on Cave’s island. But then the Mole began to shake violently, and Cave told them to hang on, as they’d hit some kind of subterranean turbulence. The Mole lurched several times and shook violently before suddenly seeming to go into freefall for several sickening seconds. This was followed by a jarring impact and then the Mole stopped . . . and seemed to shut down totally.

As the Mole came to rest, its interior lights went out, and the inside was flooded with a soft greenish glow from the portholes. Cave began checking to see if everyone was all right, which was mainly the case, though it appeared that Superman was now faring much worse than before, beads of perspiration rolling down his face. (Cave’s cybernetic eye was glowing in the fainter light, prompting Wally to ask about it. Cave merely said he’d had an encounter with a stalactite and cited the old warning . . . “You’ll shoot your eye out . . .”.) Frowning over Superman’s condition, Cave checked the controls and determined that the Mole needed repairs. And he feared he’d have to do it quickly, if Superman was to stand a chance. Batman, seeing the greenish glow outside, declared it must be Kryptonite–that some of the meteors that had fallen to Earth in the past must have been pulled down into the ground by their density and various Earth movements. That was probably why Superman had been weakened in proximity to the reptilian hounds–they’d burrowed through some of it and it had coated their hides.

Batman further declared that he was certain he could make the necessary repairs to the Mole–he’d been studying it during the journey down. He asserted that Cave was needed to lead the other heroes down below. But . . . he couldn’t watch over Superman and repair the Mole at the same time. So Mary, even though she was the keeper of the late Mole Man’s essence, volunteered to stay with Superman to make sure he didn’t get too ill. She suggested that when the party managed to get to a safe location–away from the kryptonite–they could have Black Canary teleport her and Superman to them. Cave nodded, agreeing that it was likely the radioactive mineral wasn’t everywhere below and that if they got far enough away it would be safe to bring the others to them. For now, the shielding of the Mole was giving Superman enough protection. But if he were out in the open . . .

As they prepared to disembark from the Mole, Cave offered the newcomers one of his customized “elephant guns” with the electro-bullets, but only Red Hood accepted. The group ready, Cave opened the Mole’s hatch and they emerged into a huge cavern. All around, the walls were embedded with glowing green stones . . . Cave noted that this must be why Superman was so weak–but he should be safe inside the Mole . . . for now. In the meantime, the party needed to carry on downward, following the tunnel Cave could see at the other end of this cavern. With luck, they should be able to follow the tunnel right to the Mole Men’s cities. Or at least that was the plan. Then they could have Black Canary teleport Superman and Mary to them. So Cave led them off and downward through the cavern complex.

As they descended, the heroes felt the effects of the heat and pressure even more, despite the pills Cave had given them, slowing them down and weighing on them. But they carried on. Cave again cautioned them on the use of their powers too much here, as they could burn out quickly from the intensity of the environment. Additionally, if they weren’t careful, they could bring down the entire cavern complex on top of them. It was looking damaged in many places–undoubtedly the result of Luthor’s telluric attacks on the Mole Men. Then they emerged from the tunnel into a much larger cavern . . . one filled with giant mushrooms of all types. Cave explained that they were now in the “Realm of the Gray”–the only type of non-animal life that could survive down here with no exposure to the sun. In fact, the fungi here thrived, as only things that lived off decay could. He told the others to wait at the entrance while he moved in to recon the cavern.

As Cave entered the fungi-filled cavern, he stopped and called back to the others that he was seeing red crystals in here–a marker the Mole Men often set up to indicate that danger was present. Before he could say more, one of the seemingly harmless mushrooms he was standing by suddenly began to move, shooting out tendrils that grabbed the subterranean adventurer and pulled him to it, kicking and screaming. As this happened, suddenly other similar mushrooms began to move forward toward the heroes, tendrils waving and seeming roots sprouting out of their bases, allowing them to walk along the rocky floor of the cavern. Flash suddenly seemed to freak out and began running around aimlessly, barely keeping out of reach of the creature’s tendrils. Troia quickly attempted to snare one with her lasso, while Firestorm began to fire up his nuclear power to use on the mobile mushrooms should it prove necessary.

Meanwhile, the mushroom that grabbed Cave held him tightly and a maw brimming with some kind of digestive fluids opened on top of it, as the thing began to move the struggling man toward it. El Bagual leaped for the fungus and, using razor sharp batarangs he’d borrowed from Batgirl, began to slash at the tendrils that were holding Cave. Polygon began charging up his electricity as he jumped atop one of the larger mushrooms to survey the scene. Batgirl gave Red Hood a couple batarangs at his request, and she threw one at the mushroom holding Cave, trying to help free him from the tendrils. Cave tried to raise his gun to fire on the mushroom holding him, but he couldn’t bring it to bear, so fired on one across the way that was approaching the heroes, telling them that these things were mindless and not to hold back on them.

Suddenly, both Mary Marvel and Superman are teleported in. They’d heard the cries on the comm and Mary had called Black Canary requesting they be teleported to the rest of the party. She reasoned that the others were far enough away from the kryptonite that Superman would be able to function again, and he was more than willing to take the chance. Batman was still working on repairing the Mole and needed to stay with it. Troia could determine from lassoing the one mushroom that it was indeed unintelligent, and it continued relentlessly to move toward the heroes. The batarangs of El Bagual and Batgirl severed several tendrils, loosening the fungus’s hold on Cave, but also spraying him and El Bagual with digestive fluids. Luckily Cave’s uniform and helmet protected him, though the equine hero wasn’t so fortunate. Cave’s electrical bullet struck the other mushroom, causing it to wilt and keel over in a pile of smoldering fungal material.

Firestorm, who’d been holding off for fear of causing a cavern collapse, finally decided to take action, hitting one of the walkers with a nuclear blast. Superman tacked the mushroom holding Cave, trying to tear it in half, while Mary battered away at its tendrils and attemped to pull Cave free. Troia began punching another of the mushrooms as Flash ran around screaming–only to smash into one of the red warning crystals the Mole Men had left. Superman easily tore the fungus in two, though it sprayed him with digestive juices . . . fortunately harmless to the Man of Steel. Mary had managed to pull Cave away from it in time to avoid further hits by the digestive fluids, which even his uniform wouldn’t have held against for much longer. Troia reduced her target to pulp, though not before a tendril had managed to sting even her tough Amazon skin. The one Firestorm hit disintegrated, though fortunately no one was close enough to be hit by any digestive fluid. The others continued to move slowly and inexorably toward the heroes.

El Bagual, hit by the first burst of digestive spray, was screaming in agony from the burns it caused and barely managed to avoid another spread of the caustic liquid, leaping away from it in time. Polygon hit another walker with a burst of his electricity, while Red Hood had tried to protect Troia from the tendrils of the one she’d taken down. Batgirl meanwhile took a spray can from her belt and began to spray the acid counter fluid it contained onto El Bagual, neutralizing the caustic fluids. Cave thanked Mary and Superman for the rescue and fired his second electro round at another oncoming mushroom walker. Flash lay stunned by his run-in with the red warning crystal, which had seemed to impart a flash of energy his way when he hit it. The mushroom Cave shot withered and died and the one Polygon hit exploded–spraying digestive fluid at Flash! The remaining two fungi kept coming . . .

Superman tackled one of the two remaining fungi opponents, taking it out, while Mary managed to call down the magic lightning to hit the other one. Flash was hit by the acidic spray but managed to shake it off before it could harm him–and for some reason now seemed older than he’d been a few moments previously. Firestorm then transmuted all the remaining acidic fluid from the mushrooms into granulated salt, removing any remaining threat. Cave, recovered from his ordeal, explained to the heroes that they’d just faced Mushroom Walkers, part of the Realm of the Gray. He hadn’t encountered any in so long, he hadn’t recognized them at first. He shrugged off any remaining pain and led the heroes to the tunnel on the opposite side of the cavern, leading on down into the Earth. But as they entered the tunnel, a soft green glow was evident on the walls–and Superman began to feel weak again, though not as bad as before. Fortunately, Firestorm thought quickly and turned the encrusted kryptonite in the walls to frost, which immediately melted and ran down the center of the tunnel as a stream, restoring Superman’s strength.

Cave led the party downward until they came to yet another larger cavern, this one mostly flooded with a stone bridge arching over the water to another tunnel on the other side. Emerging from the water on either side of the bridge were a pair of red warning crystals. Cave suggested the heroes wait while he tried the bridge, since not everyone in the party could fly. He headed out onto it, with Mary and Superman flying along side to make sure he didn’t fall into the unknown waters–when suddenly the water surged and four nasty looking creatures emerged, waving vicious tentacles at the heroes. Polygon decided to try electrifying the water as Batgirl started tossing batarangs at the things. Cave identified them as Cave Krakens to the heroes, warning them that the monsters were tough.

Polygon managed to electrify the water, but instead of being hurt by it, the Cave Krakens actually seemed to absorb it and grow nastier, shooting bolts of electricity back at the hero! Meanwhile Batgirl’s batarangs bounced harmlessly off their tough skins. Cave told them that the Krakens absorbed telluric current from their surroundings, so the electrical jolt in the water only strengthened them–they had to be attacked directly. Superman aimed a powerful heat vision blast at one, while Mary slammed a powerful punch into another, trying to push it out of the water and onto land, hoping that would weaken it. Flash ran onto the water and began to speed around another of the Cave Krakens, trying to get it to wrap itself up in its own tentacles. Troia flew down upon the fourth one, attempting to hit it powerfully enough to drive it back down into the depths. Firestorm went to check on Polygon after the Krakens had attacked him.

The Kraken Superman hit with heat vision screamed in pain but managed to still move quickly enough to grab the Man of Steel in its tentacles. The one Mary hit was forced back but managed to grab her as well. The same thing happens with the one Troia hits–it was driven down into the water but not before it grabbed her, puling her toward the water as well. Only Flash moved fast enough to elude capture, tangling the creature up as he’d hoped to. El Bagual bravely weilded the batarang he’d gotten from Batgirl and lept out and onto the nearest of the Kraken, aiming at its eye. Polygon had managed to erect a shield before the redirected lightning hit him, knocking him back some but doing no further harm. Red Hood, seeing the creature grab Troia, fired the elephant gun he’d gotten from Cave at the monster.

Batgirl ran onto the bridge trying to get Cave to safety. He expressed appreciation at her gesture, but stood his ground and fired his own gun at the Kraken that had Mary and that El Bagual was attacking. The tangled up Kraken Flash had targeted meanwhile plunged back into the depths of the water in frustration, while the one that had Mary jerked and screamed as El Bagual plunged the batarang into its eye, causing its maw to open just in time to receive Cave’s electro bullet. It released Mary as it jerked and sparked horribly before it too plunged back into the depths. The one that Red Hood shot writhed but held onto Troia, while the Man of Steel grabbed the one still holding him and used his super-strength and speed to pick it up and dash it against the cave walls, which gravely injured it, causing it to slip below the waters. Mary, now freed, grabbed a handful of the rock bridge and threw it with all her strength at the one still grasping Troia, while the Amazon continued to pound it with powerful blows. Firestorm, too, dived after the Kraken pulling Troia down and directed a nuclear punch at its cranium. The besieged creature finally released Troia and dove away from its attackers.

Suddenly the cavern was silent except for the lapping of the waters and the breathing of the heroes. They gathered on the other side by the tunnel that continued to wind downward. Checking to make sure everyone was all right and hadn’t overexerted or needed another pill, Cave readied them to continue their trek downward. He told the heroes that he feared the Mole Men had pulled back further into the earth, leaving these outer caverns deserted, except for the creatures that had moved in to take up habitation there. He warned them to stay alert, because–as he knew from experience–there were worse creatures afoot below the Earth than even they’d yet encountered . . .

As Cave spoke, there was an ominous rumbling in the cavern and dust began falling around him–and suddenly Polygon disappeared, as though pulled out by a teleporter beam! The comms burst with static as Black Canary’s voice broke through to tell them that she was having trouble holding the teleporter beams steady, and that Polygon had just been pulled back to the Watchtower. She thought it was some kind of interference below, but would try to counter it if she could. Meanwhile the party continued on down the tunnel. Cave told them he believed there were only a couple more levels before they reached the Mole Men’s reception station, which he was sure would still be manned, even if they’d withdrawn from these upper chambers.

After a while, the party came to yet another cavern, this one filled with various colors of crystals and a large steaming pool in its center. Cave believed another tunnel heading down lay on the other side of the pool, but its raised wall and the steam made it impossible to be certain, so he suggested they move inside cautiously, as something felt wrong. As they advanced, Cave spotted some more red crystals, indicating danger, so suggested they wait while he scouted ahead. He didn’t see any sign of trouble, though he still felt it in his gut, but he told the others to come on in but keep alert and call out if they detected any odd odors. But as they joined him, Cave was suddenly knocked to the ground as a reptilian hound–like those that had attacked his base–burrowed up out of the ground and onto him. It was quickly followed by two others.

As Cave went down, Superman flew toward the reptilian that had attacked the subterranean adventurer, aiming to strike its eyes, expecting it to have the same weakness as the others they’d encountered. Mary, too, streaked at the second one, aiming a powerful punch of her own at its eyes. Troia, meanwhile, rushed to pull Cave to safety. Flash decided that the creatures were coming from the tunnel on the other side of the cavern (not having seen them emerge from the ground), so began spinning his arms at superspeed over the steaming pool to direct steam down the tunnel and prevent any others from emerging from it. The reptilian Superman hit went down, but quickly got back up for more, as did the one Mary hit–with it joined by another that lept at her. Nothing emerged from the tunnel as Flash filled it with steam–but three more reptilians came around the pool behind them, having burrowed up from the other side. These went after Red Hood, El Bagual, and Batgirl.

El Bagual countered his attacker with some Capoeria moves against it, delivering a spinning kick to its muzzle. Batgirl fired her grappling hook at the eye of the one coming for her. And Red Hood fired both barrels of the gun he’d gotten from Cave at the reptilian moving in on him. Thanks to Troia’s help, Cave managed to get to his feet and fire his own gun at the reptilian Superman had hit, reminding them that taking out the alpha of a pack of three would weaken the others. The creature El Bagual kicked was brought up short before snarlilng and jumping the equine hero, claws and teeth flashing. Batgirl’s target was hit in the eye by her grappling hook and went down hard. The one moving in on Hood took the two electro-shock bullets at point blank range, allowing them to penetrate enough of its thick hide to put it out of commission as well.

The reptilian Cave shot went down as the electro bullet penetrated its eye. One of the two attacking Mary turned toward the other heroes while the other pressed its attack, trying to claw and bite her. Superman tried to use his super-hearing to see if he could distinguish anything about them that might identify the alpha, but when he couldn’t detect anything useful, he grabbed the other one rushing toward them and tried to find a pressure point on its throat that might take it down. Mary meanwhile called down the magic lightning to hit the one attacking her. Troia stood protectively over Cave to make sure he remained safe, while Flash continued to fill the tunnel with steam. Superman couldn’t find any pressure points on the creature, but he held it immobile as it wasted its attacks against his invulnerable skin. The one Mary hit with the lightning dropped–and the one Superman held weakened and passed out under his grip, the other taken out having been its alpha.

The last remaining reptilian–the alpha of its pack–continued to grapple with El Bagual, who used his powerful hooves to kick it off and into the wall. As it hit the cave wall, stunned by the kick, Cave shot it in the eye with his remaining round, ending the threat. Cave speculated that these reptilian hounds had gone feral and so, not being controled by the Mole Men–while still fierce and mindless–weren’t quite as dangerous as the others they’d faced. He was hopeful there weren’t any more of them, though he cautioned the group to keep an eye on the ground and if they saw any soft soil, to watch out . . . it could mean more of the creatures. Then he led them on down the tunnel after it cleared of the boiling steam Flash had blown down it.

As they continued down, Cave began to feel uneasy. And Superman’s super-hearing began to pick up a “chittering” sound down the tunnel. Cave suddenly came to a halt as he found the tunnel blocked by an apparent cave-in, blocking their way down to the Mole Men’s reception area. The heroes wondered whether Superman and Mary could dig through the blockage, but Cave was afraid that it was too unstable here and would bring down the entire tunnel complex on top of them. Suddenly everyone could hear the strange chittering sound that Superman had detected previously–and then three large, pale insects appeared atop the rocks blocking the tunnel. Cave looked grim as he announced that they were facing Stone Bugs–and that they needed to get out of there fast, as the creatures could eat anything consisting of or containin minerals–including those in people!

But the insects moved like lightning and before the heroes could react to Cave’s warning, the bugs were upon them, one each going for Superman, Mary, and Cave. Superman moved swiftly to catch the bug coming at him in his powerful hands, aiming a heat vision blast at its underbelly. Mary used her speed to avoid the bug coming at her and grab Cave and lift him up above the one moving too quickly toward him. Troia meanwhile flew toward the one attacking Mary to engage it while telling the others to run. Flash, thinking he might lure the bugs to the blockage and get them to eat a path through it for them, ran to the fallen rocks and began to phase in and out in an attempt to get them to follow him. Unfortunately the bugs were too unintelligent and single-minded to notice Flash’s ploy and continued to attack the heroes.

The bug that had gone for Mary began to skittle up the side of the tunnel wall to try to reach her–till it was stopped short by Troia’s mighty attack. The one that had been after Cave, no longer seeing the adventurer, went after the next person in line–Red Hood. Superman managed to hold off the bug, which kept snapping its jaws at him, and a pool of molten rock ran down its underside where the Man of Steel’s heat vision melted its outer rocky shell. El Bagual had suddenly found himself feeling dizzy–possibly the result of his injuries–and had turned to try to flee the bugs, as Cave had directed, only to slip and fall. Batgirl, seeing the equine hero go down, moved to cover him while using her comm to try to call Black Canary to teleport him away. Fortunately, she managed to break through the static, and Canary did an emergency teleport out, retrieving the hero and beaming him to the Watchtower infirmary.

Seeing the bug rushing him, Red Hood fired both barrels of the gun he’d gotten from cave at the creature. But Cave, still held up by Mary shouted at him that the electro rounds wouldn’t affect the stone bugs. He pulled out a pair of different bullets from his pocket and threw one to Red Hood while replacing one of his electro rounds with the other. He shouted to Hood not to miss. Meanwhile the rocks in the blockage began to shake ominously as Flash’s phasing seemed to disturb them, possibly due to his speed being reduced by the pressure down below. The bug that Hood had hit seemed unaffected aside from a few rock chips falling off as it lept at him. Superman, meanwhile could see something glistening inside the melted hole on the stone bug’s underside, so thrust his powerful fist into the hole. Mary tried to position Cave to fire at one of the bugs, while Troia wrestled with the one she was fighting. Flash suddenly collapsed, breathing hard, from the effort he’d expended trying to attract the bugs in vain.

On thrusting his hand inside the bug, Superman felt something soft and then felt and saw fluid dripping out of the hole. Troia’s blows on the other caused it to crack in several places, revealing something glistening inside. The other bug was on Hood in a flash, knocking him down and trying to bite him. Suddenly, Firestorm phased through the tunnel wall–he’d fallen behind earlier and the heroes, concentrating so on all the fighting, hadn’t even noticed till his reappearance that he was missing! Fortunately he appeared in time to aim a concussive blast at the bug attacking Red Hood, while Batgirl fired her grappling hook at the ceiling and grabbed Hood to try to pull them both away from the ravaging bugs. Hood meanwhile had managed to load the bullet that Cave had tossed him and fire on the bug that had attacked him, as Cave fired on the cracked one that Troia was holding off.

The one Cave shot shattered as his explosive bullet hit it, sending rock and goop splattering the tunnel walls. The one hit by Firestorm and Hood also seemed to shatter, though something was left–the gelatinous inner bug, which kept on moving, though it turned toward Flash since Hood was no longer in its line of sight. The one Superman was holding continued to snap at him as its life leaked out through the hole in its underside. He continued to squeeze on the inner bug. Mary, seeing the other bug turning toward Flash, sat Cave down and went after it, as did Troia. The two women managed to splatter the bug before it reached Flash, though the Scarlet Speedster began to vibrate and scream . . . and suddenly was an adult again. The struggles of the one Superman was still holding weakened and then it ceased moving, its life drained from it. As the heroes talked about how they needed a good hot bath after that, Cave suddenly had an idea.

With the current tunnel blocked, Cave led them back to the chamber where they’d fought the reptilian hounds and where the steaming pool lay. Cave reasoned that since the last tunnel didn’t have any water going down it, the water must be going somewhere and perhaps that somewhere was down below the pool. Flash volunteered to spin down into the water, creating a tunnel for the others, while the Speed Force protected him from the steam. Superman used his superbreath to blow away as much of the steam as possible as Flash made the plunge. Flash called up from below that there was indeed another cavern there, and so the flyers went on down through the tunnel he’d created, while Cave took the rope from his belt and secured it to a stalagmite so that he and the other nonflyers could climb down as well.

The cavern below them was filled with spouts of water cascading down from above in an amazing array of liquid splendor. It was impossible to keep totally dry, but at least, as more than one remarked, it helped clean up some of the bug goop from the stone bug encounter. But as Flash quickly pointed out, there were more red warning crystals in the cavern. Cave nodded but pointed to what looked like another tunnel leading downward behind the nearest water spout. But just then Mary noticed a crystaline-looking crustacian of some sort pop up from one of the pools, followed quickly by two more of the glittering creatures. Before the heroes could react, the creatures lunged at them. Cave yelled out that they were Crystal Crabs–not alive as we know it–and not to hold back on them, as they were worse than the stone bugs.

Though not as fast as the bugs, the crabs were on the heroes in an instant due to their proximity. One went for Troia, another for Superman, and the third for Firestorm. Superman balled his fists together and hit the one with a mighty uppercut, while Mary quickly moved to double-team the one on Superman with a blow from the opposite side. Troia fought back against the bug that was attacking her, while Flash begin vibrating his had rapidly, sending the vibrations agaisnt it to try to shatter it. Both ploys worked–the one Superman and Mary had hit together shattered, as did the one hit by Troia and Flash’s vibrations. Firestorm hit the one attacking him with a concussive blast, while shots from both Cave and Red Hood also hit it, the combined effort shattering it as well. Batgirl quickly moved to protect Cave from the flying shards, which was successful, other than one that sliced his cheek, though it was only a glancing blow.

Cave commended the heroes on so swiftly dispatching the deadly crabs, and Superman expressed satisfaction with their teamwork as well. Cave suggested that the initial outpost of the Mole Men should be in the next chamber if he was remembering correctly. So he led the team down the nearby tunnel. But Cave stopped as they got a little ways in, pointing out that the temperature had dropped and the walls of the tunnel were frosted. Superman with his microscopic vision and Firestorm with his quark vision could tell that the tunnels were covered with frozen one-celled creatures. Superman cautioned the group not to touch them. Cave suggested that this might be a good sign–that the Mole Men keep their upper city a little cooler to help other species better survive there. So they were seeing a hopeful trend. But as they continued on, the temperature suddenly increased dramatically, and a wave of almost overpowering heat seemed to be coming from below.

As they reached the entrance to the next cavern, Cave seemed distressed, saying that this wasn’t right. There shouldn’t be so much heat there. He pointed to some paving stones at the entrance of the cavern–with lava visible beneath them! As they moved to the entrance of the cavern, Cave became more distressed by what they could see–ruins with lava running beneath the stone pavement. Flash speculated that the destruction they were seeing must be from Luthor’s telluric tests, which must be why the Mole Men had grabbed him. Cave told them this was where the Mole Men met visitors of other species and conveyed them to their main cities. But it was gone. All in ruins. Cave feared they must all be dead, till the heroes reminded him that the Mole Men had taken Luthor, so some at least must still be alive. Mary was distressed, too, to think of that much destruction. But she noticed an odd feature a ways inside the cavern–a circle of mushrooms with an odd looking swirl in the center . . . like a vortex. Near it was another red warning crystal.

As the mushroom circle was pointed out to Cave, he recalled that this was a way station after all and that the Mole Men transported visitors to their main cities through vortexes powered by telluric current. So perhaps this one was a portal to one of the surviving cities and they could take it to find the Mole Men. If it was still working–and wouldn’t tear them apart. But their discussion as to whether to try the portal was quickly interrupted by a churning bubbling sound as something fiery and glowing seemed to rise from the floor of the cavern and coalesce into a burning creature, looming over the portal. At once, Flash decided to jump through the portal and was quickly followed by Batgirl. Mary, Firestorm, and the other heroes all followed suit, leaving only Superman and Cave. Cave told the Man of Steel to go on through, as it was his responsibility to see the others make it to the Mole Men. Superman reluctantly agreed and flew through the portal.

On the other side, the heroes waited breathlessly to see whether Cave would make it through after them. Suddenly, the subterreanean adventurer emerged from the portal, his miner’s hat aflame. Firestorm quickly transmuted the flame into powdered sugar and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that Cave was safe. But then they noticed that Flash was gone! Perhaps, someone suggested, he’d run on ahead. Cave told them he thought this was just another way station from the look of it and there should be another portal nearby. They went in search of it and quickly found it at the end of a nearby tunnel. The heroes braced themselves again and then, one by one, they followed Cave Carson through the new portal and into . . . “The Lair of the Mole Men.”

(To be continued . . .)

Heroes present: Superman, Mary Marvel, Troia, Flash, Firestorm, Batgirl, Polygon, El Bagual, Red Hood (?), Cave Carson, Batman (with the Mole), Black Canary (at the Watchtower).

Others present: mushroom walkers, cave krakens, reptilian hounds, stone bugs, crystal crabs, lava monster.

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