This one starts at the royal palace of Kaambuka, where the ruler (Prince Aram Al Ashir) is bored out of his mind with matters of state. He perks when he sees Travis Morgan (and Shakira) outside the throne room, and immediately leaps forward to challenge Morgan to a duel. Ashir boasts that he’s been practicing, but Morgan still manages to defeat him. Before the palace guard can skewer Morgan, Ashir calls them off, explaining that he and Morgan are old friends. Ashir is the thief that Morgan met earlier in his adventures who came home to rule his city—reluctantly. Ashir is quite taken with Shakira (and who can blame him?) and invites her and Morgan to relax in his throne room. Ashir complains about how boring it is being a ruler and laments that his councilors have arranged a marriage to seal an alliance with another kingdom. Ashir figures his new wife will be ugly, and since she’s a head of state, he won’t even be able to keep a harem. Poor bastard. Morgan suggests they have a little fun before the old ball-and-chain shows up, and Ashir invites them to go hunting with him. Elsewhere, we see a robed figure observing them through a crystal ball and talking to a soldier named Mustulous about getting rid of Ashir before the marriage takes place. Mustulous wants to keep it simple—a poisoned dagger in the back—but the robed dude says Ashir has support around court because of his royal blood, so they have to be more subtle. He gives Mustulous a small charm in the shape of a horn and tells him to conceal it on Ashir’s person. During the hunt, Ashir takes down a good-sized stag but gets jumped by a sabre-tooth tiger. Morgan tackles the tiger, but it ignores him and goes after Ashir again, who puts an arrow through the beast’s eye. Morgan notices the horn pendant dangling from Ashir’s belt and a matching one woven into the tiger’s fur; obviously the pendant made certain the tiger attacked Ashir. The wizard (I’m assuming he’s a wizard since he uses a crystal ball) isn’t happy the assassination failed. He tells Mustulous the time for subtlety is over and to be more direct in the next attempt. He also says if Mustulous fails, he’ll be cast into a pit that contains … something C’thulhu-esque, from what I can see. When Ashir, Morgan, and Shakira get back to the palace, they’re ambushed by assassins. Shakira is alert and skewers the first one, ruining the advantage of surprise. They make short work of the assassins, one of whom turns out to be a palace guard that Ashir had thought trustworthy. Morgan suggests Ashir just abdicate, but Ashir says having enemies has finally made rulership interesting. Trumpets blare to announce the arrival of Ashir’s betrothed, and he’s instantly depressed again. Morgan suggests she might turn out to be a babe, but Ashir says things never work that way. But Ashir is wrong; not only is his fiancée hot, she’s Morgan’s long-lost wife, Tara! We’ll see how that all plays out next issue.
Wizard World – “The Book of the Dead” – Mike Grell/Vince Colletta
We check in with Machiste and Mariah, who are still stuck in the age of Wizard Kings in Skartaris’s distant past. their friend Mongo Ironhand wants to find the Book of the Dead (aka the Necronomicon) so he can jump the queue to become Sorcerer Supreme. Machiste and Mariah agree to help him, since the book might help them get back to their own time. Mongo finds the book but it’s stolen immediately by another wizard, Zarrgon Fire-Eye. They head for Zarrgon’s fortress, in a volcano, fighting off his gnomish minions on the way. As they approach, Zarrgon decides to be more hands-on and buries them in a rockslide. We’ll see if they get out next issue.
Last issue, a bunch of rich guys set hex up for a murder because he was screwing up their plans to run off some ranchers and buy up their valuable land. The rich guys killed one of their own and sent Hex on a wild goose chase after the supposed killers, then called the best U.S. Marshall in the business (Jeremiah Hart) to apprehend Hex. Hex had to stop by a farmhouse where he’d left Mei Ling, the woman he loved, after saving her from a runaway wagon. Mei Ling’s leg was injured, so Hex took a doctor out to the farm to check on her. Hart shows up in Feldon’s Gap and the mayor and his crony really lay it on thick, saying Hex gunned down their friend in cold blood and Hart should shot him on sight. Hart looks over the body and wonders about the bullet holes, but says he’ll bring Hex in. The mayor and his accomplice are a bit worried at Hart’s examination of the body, but they figure if he gets too suspicious they can kill him too. Hart visits his prisoner (Spast) in the local jail, saying he’ll be back for him after he takes care of Hex. Spast’s brothers are waiting outside, but Hart is way faster on the draw and wounds all of them, then tosses them in the cell with Spast. Out at the farmhouse, Mei Ling’s leg is just sprained (though the doctor has it wrapped from hip to toe) and she’ll be fine in a few days. She tells Hex she’s ready to settle down and return his love, as long as he gives up his violent life forever. He’s not sure if he can, but Mei Ling says he hose he life he leads, so he can choose a different life if he really wants to. Hex says he has to track down the killers from Feldon’s Gap, since he swore he would, but after that he’ll retire from bounty hunting and marry Mei Ling. Hex heads out the way the mayor told him the killers went, but can’t find any sign that anyone’s passed that way. Hex is jumped by Hart, who ropes him and tells him he’s under arrest for killing the banker in Feldon’s Gap. Hex says he was sent after the killers by the mayor, but Hart says the mayor fingered Hex for the murder, so he has to bring him in. Hex tries to reason with Hart, and Hart is even more suspicious of the mayor’s story now that he sees Hex’s guns—Colt dragoon .44s; the banker was shot with a smaller calibre. But Hart says Hex has been accused, so it’s his duty to bring him in. Back in Feldon’s Gap, the Spast boys use some hidden blasting powder and a cigar to bust out of jail. When Hart and Hex stop for water, they’re jumped by Apaches. They fight back, but the numbers are overwhelming. The Apaches recognize Hex from the scars on his face (which they call the Mark of the Demon) and they take him and Hart captive. We get a flashback to Hex’s origin and how he first got the Mark of the Demon. The Mark is basically a death warrant for Hex, so he and Hart are tied to stakes to be burned alive. They realize the rawhide that’s binding them will expand if it gets wet. Since they don’t have any water, they scratch each other’s wrists until they bleed, expanding the rawhide enough for Hex to get loose. He frees Hart and they go after the Apaches, fighting their way out of camp. The Apaches chase them, so Hex and Hart make like Butch and Sundance and jump off a cliff into a river. Hex is knocked out, but Hart saves his ass, pulling him safely to shore. Well, maybe safely is the wrong word, since the Spast boys are hiding nearby waiting to slaughter Hart and Hex. We’ll see if they succeed next issue.