Cave Carson led the heroes through the next portal at the way station they’d arrived at after they’d fled the lava monster at the ruins of the Mole Men’s entry station. The journey through this portal, however, was much rougher, with strange forces feeling as though they were pulling the heroes apart. However, they managed still to arrive in one piece. For the most part. Flash, who’d run on ahead, was missing, as were Firestorm and Red Hood. Black Canary’s voice on their comms said that Hood had been pulled back on the teleporter beam, as Polygon had been earlier–seemingly the result of some kind of telluric interference clashing with the teleporter energies still remaining in their bodies from their earlier teleports to the party. Cave speculated that the portal they’d gone through was damaged, as his cybernetic eye was picking up odd random patterns from it.
As they looked around the chamber they’d emerged into, Superman began to feel a weakness again . . . undoubtedly due to the green sparkling fragments that seemed to be embedded in the walls of the cavern–more kryptonite. Cave stated that this chamber appeared to be what was left of the Mole King’s palace. He’d been brought here to appear before the Mole King on his last visit to Moleria many years previously. He speculated that the Mole Men must have mined the kryptonite in the upper chambers and brought it down to the palace as decorative materials. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be enough of it here to harm the Man of Steel–just weaken him some. Otherwise, the cavern was filled with a variety of glowing crystals, regal even in their current state of disarray. The former palace clearly had been abandoned and left in ruins by the telluric attacks on the Mole Men.
Cave speculated that the telluric attacks were also likely responsible for the erratic nature of the portals. The last one shouldn’t have brought them here. That meant any time they used any that had been abandoned, there was no telling where they’d come out. But there was nothing they could do about it, so Cave led them on through the crystal cavern, pointing out the crystals as being worth a fortune on the surface. Suddenly Superman detected some ominous sounds with his super-hearing and warned the party to be on guard in case more of the stone bugs were around. Even as he said it, the volcanic ash covering much of the floor erupted with several of the crystaline crabs they’d encountered in the chamber of the waterspouts on their way down.
Chittering insanely, the crabs rushed the heroes. Superman hit one with his heat vision, more to distract it than anything else, while he called for Mary Marvel to help him take it out, as they’d done the one in the earlier chamber. The two powerhouses grabbed the crab simultaneously from both sides, holding it immobile and causing cracks to appear in its body. Troia hit one attacking her with her full Amazon strength, shattering it instantly, while she kicked at another behind her that was heading for Batgirl. That crab, propelled by Troia’s kick, was unable to react as Batgirl used its momentum to throw it over herself and into a bubbling volcanic vent on the other side of the chamber. Cave, with no time to change from his electro bullets to explosive ones, fired nevertheless on the crab attacking him, hoping that at such close range, the impact from the bullet might be effective.
The crab Batgirl had sent flying did land in the volcanic vent–but it suddenly exploded as it hit the bubbles rising from it, causing the chamber to shake and pieces of crystal and dust to fall from the ceiling. The crab Cave had shot stopped as the impact of the bullet broke away parts of its maw, but then it jumped Cave, knocking him down and trying to bite im with its ruined jaws. The remaining crab jumped at Mary while suddenly, from the still nearby portal, the Flash emerged, looking confused . . . seeing as how he’d entered the portal before the others but only just now came out of it–after them. Superman and Mary then pulled apart the crab they were grappling with, and Superman, seeing Cave down, rushed to assist the subterranean adventurer, while Mary turned to deal with the crab attacking her. She grappled with it, and then she pulled it over to where Flash was standing, asking him for an assist with it. Troia also moved over to help Cave, aiming a powerful blow at the crab atop him, while Batgirl moved to help pull him away from the creature.
Flash quickly came out of his shock at seeing the others there already and complied with Mary’s request, vibrating his arms to crystal shattering frequencies. The crab disintegrated before his attack. Cave had been kicking and batting with his rifle at the crab atop him, but still managed to warn the others to avoid the bubbles coming out of the volcanic vent, as they contained explosive gas and could bring the cavern down on top of them–if it wasn’t already happening from the first explosion when the crab hit them. Superman grabbed the crab attacking Cave and pulled it off him as Batgirl pulled the adventurer away from it. Meanwhile, with Superman holding it firm, Troia hit it straight on and shattered it, the creature falling to pieces on the cavern floor. The cavern was suddenly quiet–except for an ominous rumbling from above, where the gases had exploded . . .
Cave urged the heroes on, since the cavern roof seemed to have been weakened, stating that he believed another portal would be just around the corner into the next tunnel. Even with them acting erratically, it would be preferable to being buried under tons of rock. The others quickly followed him. As the group rounded a corner, they did indeed see another portal before them. But it was guarded by another of the lava monsters. Their hopes of evading it as they had the previous one in the other ruined cavern were quickly dashed when a second monster rose from the volcanic ash covering the floor–this one between them and the portal! The two hulking monsters began to lumber toward the heroes . . .
Superman quickly took action, flying in front of one of the creatures and hitting it with his freezing super-breath while calling on Mary to try to shatter it should he succeed in freezing it. As he did, the chamber that they’d just emerged from was filled with a rumbling sound as it collapsed behind them, cutting off any retreat back to the other portal, crystal dust and rocks spewing from the opening. Mary meanwhile tried flying swiftly around the creature Superman was attacking, hoping to add to his cold breath with the wind her flight was causing and waiting for an opportunity to hit it. Troia, remembering how she had command of ice and cold when she was goddess of the moon, attempted to create shards of ice to hurl at the creatures, hopeful that it would add to what Superman and Mary were doing. Seeing the collapse of the cavern behind them, Flash began to generate a cushion of air with his super-speed to keep the collapsing rocks and dust from flying out and hitting or otherwise affecting the heroes.
As the other heroes took the fight to the lava monsters, Batgirl decided to try to get Cave out of harm’s way. She fired her grapple gun and then grabbed the man and tried to swing the two of them into the portal and away from the burning creatures. Cave, realizing there was little he could do, went with Batgirl’s ploy, though he quickly replaced his spent round with an explosive bullet as Stephanie propelled the two of them toward the portal. The first lava creature, however, hit by Superman’s breath, the wind from Mary’s flight, and Troia’s ice crystals seemed to stiffen, it’s glow dying, and nearly stopped in its tracks. The other continued to move toward the heroes, shooting out a stream of burning lava that hit and snapped Batgirl’s grapple line, causing her and Cave to fall back to the ash-covered cavern floor. Flash’s whirlwind kept the rocks and dust from the cave-in back from the heroes–including the kryptonite dust that, had Superman breathed it in, could have killed the Man of Steel.
Seeing the first lava monster slow under their freezing onslaught, Superman quickly moved to the second creature to do the same with it, hoping to slow them down enough that they could get through the portal. Mary followed suit and Troia continued to pour on the ice, though she could feel the effort beginning to take its toll on her. Flash continued to keep the dust and rocks away from them to give the other heroes the chance to take out the lava creatures. As they concentrated on the second monster, it too seemed to slow–but the first one started to regain its fiery glow and move again toward them. Superman told the others to get everyone through the portal while he held the creatures off, but Troia refused unless she was sure the Man of Steel could also make it through. She called to Flash to grab Cave and Batgirl and get them through the portal and then return to help them deal with the monsters.
Flash quickly grabbed the two and rushed them to the portal, though not before Cave could get off a quick shot at the frozen lava creature with his “elephant” gun. Though he was through the portal and on the other side before he could see the effect of his shot, the explosive bullet hit the stiffened monster, shattering it. The other creature, having shaken off the effect of the initial freezing, began to lumber toward Troia, though more slowly that originally now. Flash re-emerged from the portal–this one fortunately functioning still–as Superman directed the heroes to work together to take out the last creature, he and the ladies to freeze it while Flash shattered it. The three proceeded to hit the creature with more freezing wind and ice, while Flash asked Troia to thow him the end of her lasso–which he used to wind around the legs of the creature so that Troia could pull it down, causing it to shatter.
The heroes then went through the portal and arrived at the cavern where Batgirl and Cave were waiting, causing the adventurer to breathe a sigh of relief that the portal had worked. Troia was looking weaker from her efforts however, and Flash and Mary also seemed to be showing effects of the heat and pressure in the subterranean world, so Cave gave them another of the pills he had to counter those effects. Then they continued onward, though Cave didn’t recognize the chamber they were in–but he saw a hole and some stone stairs at the bottom of it and figured that was the way to go. He lept down and landed in a crouch to survey the larger cavern below as the rest followed him down. Cave immediately spotted two exits from the cavern–one leading into another, larger cavern and a portal on the opposite side from that. But . . . both were guarded by a pair of the mole monsters the heroes had first fought in Metropolis Park.
Cave speculated the portal was the way they wanted to go, but he puzzled over why the two mole monsters were guarding the entrance to the other cavern. So he asked Superman to check out the attached cavern with his super-vision to see what might lie in that direction. The Man of Steel trained his super-eyes on the requested target. And as his X-Ray vision penetrated the cavern walls, he gasped. In a much larger cavern was assembled an army–mole men, mole monsters, and even some of the lava men that had attacked the LexCorp telluric facility on the press tour. They were preparing to board a number of the mole men’s digging machines in an apparent invasion of the surface world! Superman quickly told the others what he’d seen, making their mission all the more urgent.
Just then, Cave’s cybernetic eye momentarily dimmed and his other went wide and almost vacant, as he stood, dropping his rifle and facing the heroes. His voice was now slack and monotoned as he told them that “their” forces were ready to attack the surface in retaliation for what the heroes’ “king” had done to “their” land. It appeared that Cave’s mind had been taken over telepathically by one of the mole men. And indeed, he confirmed that this was the case. And added that he was sensing that all might not be as it had seemed to his people as he scanned the other heroes’ minds. The heroes quickly disavowed Luthor as their “king,” as that was who the mole man was referring to. They told him that they were there to take Luthor back to face justice and that they had brought the essence of one of the fallen mole men home. Troia especially emphasized that they’d come in peace.
The mole man speaking through Cave–who told them to call him Digger, since they wouldn’t be able to pronounce his name, even in their minds–sensed the royal blood in Troia and decided that she must be their royal ambassador, here to speak with the Mole King about the release of the heroes’ “king” . . . He was overjoyed to sense the essence of the fallen mole man in Mary, especially since that mole man was the Mole King’s brother. So bringing his essence back to Moleria would go a long way toward the Mole King being favorably disposed toward them. Digger offered to lead them into the presence of the Mole King so that they could argue for the release of their “king” and an end to hostilities, as well as their own safe return to the surface.
Digger told them to stay with him so that the “Guardian Beasts”–the mole monsters–wouldn’t attack them. Then he led them down the stone stairs to the portal and through it. And true to his word, though they–and those guarding the other side of the portal–growled ominously at the heroes, the creatures did not attack. The heroes seemed to trust Digger, though Flash seemed wary of a possible trap. As they emerged from the portal, to their surprise, Firestorm was now with them! Apparently the other portal had sent him here, though later than when he’d entered the first portal. On the other side of the portal were a series of small cavern like dwellings topped with fungi, out of which several mole men peered at the heroes. At the other end was another set of stone steps leading up to yet another portal. Midway on the left was a larger cavern like structure with a pair of the mushroom walkers standing in front of the entrance. It was to this that Digger led them.
Digger explained that this was one of the remnants of their once grand cities–all that was left after the telluric attacks on their realm. The heroes quickly affirmed they were here to stop those. Digger took them to the one structure, and inside, sitting on a mushroom, they could see Lex Luthor! He began to shout at the heroes to rescue him as soon as he spotted them. Digger told them they must wait there while he prepared the Mole King for them. He led them inside, the mushroom walkers withdrawing their tendrils, and then he left Cave’s body, leaving the adventurer somewhat confused as to how he got there until the heroes explained it. The heroes could see Luthor none the worse for the ordeal, except for a welt on his cheek where one of the tendrils had lashed him when he tried to leave the cell. And that his head seemed to be covered with fungi–the result of the food the mole men had given him to survive down there.
The hereos chided Luthor for telling them he was the surface world’s king, but he merely brushed them off in typical fashion, insisting they get him out of there. He freaked out when they told him what was making his head ache was mushrooms growing on it and insisted Superman burn them off with his heat vision, which the Man of Steel declined, fearing the mole men would see that as an act of agression. As they discussed their situation, Cave’s eye glazed over again and Digger was back. He told them that the Mole King would see them now and he led them past the mushroom walkers and toward the stone stairs, leaving a protesting Luthor behind. Upon going through the portal at the top, the heroes found themselves in yet another, smaller cavern, which Digger proclaimed as the royal sanctum. He told them they should be honored as they were the first surface dwellers ever to be received there.
They followed Digger past a large door guarded by two reptilian hounds, and up a stone ramp to a waiting area containing some strange looking metallic stools and a table. On one wall was an opening into a large pool, where the water stirred ominously. Digger warned them not to get to close–that the Kraken in the pool might be hungry. Then he bid the heroes–except for Troia and Mary–to sit at the table and wait while he took the two women to meet the King. He told them he would link their thoughts so that they could be assured all was right and communicate with each other still. Then he took Mary and Troia back down to the doors and through them to meet the Mole King. Inside, they found the kind at a mushroom table and chairs awaiting them. An opening in the side wall revealed the inside of the pool and the Kraken–a much larger version of the cave krakens they’d fought on the journey down.
As the two heroines and Cave sat, Digger left the adventurer, so that Cave could listen to the negotiations. The King seemed eager to receive them, especially the one carrying the essence of his brother. He recognized Troia’s authority to speak on behalf of her “king” and the surface world. First, though, he received his brother’s essence from Mary, reuniting the fallen mole man with his people. Cave expressed that he hoped the mole men would take the route of peace, given how peaceful they’d been when he’d visited before. And then he shut up to let Troia negotiate with the Mole King. The King affirmed he could sense the heroes’ natures, but was puzzled why their “king” had waged war on them, destroying their cities and their portals and his and allied peoples below. Why he had stolen their own telluric current to use to destroy them. He asked Troia why he should not execute Luthor for his crimes against Moleria.
Troia knew she had a huge task before her and began explaining that Luthor was not their king–just a selfish and greedy individual who didn’t care what happened to others as long as he got his way in the world. With Mary assisting, Troia argued that the surface world should not be held accountable for the actions of one man and that for justice to be done, he needed to be returned to them so he could be punished for his crimes. As she spoke, the Kraken, getting a little hungery, began to extend its tentacles toward the heroes upstairs, going first for Batgirl and then, when he intervened, Superman. Through the mental link Digger had forged, Superman asked Troia to get the King to call off the Kraken. She did, and he ordered it to hold off on its hunger . . . for now. Troia continued to argue the case for peace, as an ambassdor of Themyscria and the surface world.
As Troia told of how her people lived in harmony with the earth and other peoples, the Mole King seemed to understand, as it was the same way with his people and others below the surface. Finally the Mole King, persuaded by Troia’s arguments and what he could sense within the heroes–especially by their returning of his brother’s essence–decided that he would call off the war with the surface. He said he would have Luthor brought to his chambers to determine the man’s fate. But he required the royal ambassador’s word that if he called off his invasion force, there would be no further attacks on his realm. Troia affirmed that she and the other heroes would do all in their power to guarantee that, The Mole King accepted this, and the war with the surface was over! Meanwhile, a pair of mole men brought Luthor through the portal and to the upper level where the other heroes were waiting.
There was one problem–though he’d agreed to end the war, the Mole King still felt that the heroes’ “not-king” as he now called Luthor needed to be punished. He ordered his mole men to throw Luthor into the pool for the Kraken to devour. Immediately, the heroes, starting with Batgirl, dove into the pool to resuce Luthor. As Batgirl fitted Luthor with a rebreather, the other heroes attacked the Kraken to get it to loosen its grip on the man. Meanwhile, Cave, realizing things weren’t going well, called on his comm to Black Canary to institute “Contingency plan EC-406.” The Mole King was confused by their actions, given that the war was over and Luthor was not their king, but someone who deserved punishment. But the heroes continued to do what heroes do to free the man.
Cave yelled at them to grab Luthor, and as Superman did, suddenly teleport beams glowed around all of them and they and Luthor all disappeared from the inner sanctum of the Mole King. And they reappeared in a tunnel, devoid of mole men, as the teleporter beam wore off. All but Flash. Black Canary’s voice, breaking up a great deal, came over the comms saying that the teleporter beam had pulled Flash back to the Watchtower. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get it to do the same for the rest of them, given all the interference. That seemed only to work on those heroes she’d beamed into the Mighty Mole originally. Fortunately she was able to beam them to the coordinates Cave had given her earlier in case of emergency. She had, however, managed to retrieve Batman from the upper chamber, so he was safe as well. Cave quickly explained that when he’d visited Moleria before, as was his wont, he’d created an emergency escape tunnel for possible future use, just in case. And now they were in it.
Cave led the heroes and Luthor a ways up the tunne to a chamber in which he’d left an escape pod. It was a tight fit, but they all managed to squeeze in. The only catch was for the pod to start, the vapors in the chamber below them had to be ignited. Cave had planned on using his rifle shells to do that, but it had been left behind when Digger took him over. Fortunately, Superman could do it with his heat vision. The Man of Steel hit the vapors with a blast–and the capsule was off on its way to the surface, a boring device in its nose activating as it plunged upward into the earth. Cave hadn’t told them that he wasn’t certain where the capsule might come out–it had been a while since he’d left it there–but fortunately, it emerged underwater next to the docks at Central City harbor! The heroes and Luthor swam out and onto the docks, safely back on the surface.
As the heroes conferred, they realized that they really didn’t have anything to hold Luthor on, as he confidently reminded them. He’d technically broken no laws. So the heroes, taking comfort that they’d stopped the mole men’s attacks on the surface and saved a life–even if it was Luthor’s–departed. Except for Troia. She stayed long enough to try to extract a promise from Luthor to shut down his telluric current experiments. After she’d suggested that he wouldn’t want to see an angry Amazon come knocking at his door, Luthor grudgingly agreed to end his experiments, seemingly saving the city from Isis’ wrath. He promised he’d give them the blueprints for his generator and have it destroyed–in exchange for a supply of the priceless crystals he’d seen down below. Troia suggested they would consider such an exchange, but first he had to end his experiments. In response, Luthor called his people in front of her and told them to shut it down, before having them teleport him back to Metropolis.
Seemingly, the Earth Crisis was at an end. But . . . would Luthor keep his word?
(To be continued . . .)
Heroes present: Superman, Mary Marvel, Troia, Flash, Firestorm, Batgirl, Cave Carson, Black Canary (at the Watchtower).
Other present: Lex Luthor, the Mole King, Digger (the mind of a mole man), mole men, mole monsters, mushroom walkers, reptilian hounds, the Kraken.