Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Martin Lodewijk
With Ember in a cage hanging over the mouth of a mostly- buried, giant god-thing, the implicit threat is clear: Storm is to be the city's champion and fight for the throne of the Palace of Death. Or else.
A guide leads Storm from the city and on a several day's trek across the desert. They come to a mountain range and take a very narrow pass through it that looks like it was cut by intense hit. As they emerge on the other side, some sort of giant turtle monster approaches--only to get sliced in half by an energy beam. The guide says the gods punish large animals that try to approach. He leaves Storm at the Valley of Bones. Only champions are allowed to go further.
Storm follows the path across the bones and soon sees the "Palace of Death" before him:
Storm moves closer and finds the other champions waiting for him.
The old man says he's the Guardian of the Palace. Now that Storm has arrived they can begin. The Guardian will guide them through the traps and perils to the place where the last champion died the previous year. From there, he will observe their progress and be able to report the knowledge gained in their respective demises to the champions the following year. Storm asks how long has this gone on, and the Guardian tells him it has been thousands of years. The current guardian is the 615th.
He leads the champions single file along an invisible but torturous path to the "palace." One champion decides to walk directly there; he's disintegrated for his impatience. The rest make it to the ship. Once inside, they pass through a series of traps: portals that grow hot if you don't pass through quickly enough, hypnotic-patterned walls, checkerboard floors that have to be tread on in a certain pattern, and more. They lose two more champions reaching the point that marks the extent of the Guardian's knowledge.
The first champion sent into the next room falls through a trapdoor into lava. Storm is next up; the Guardian counted the steps and tells Storm when to jump. Asverze [Skarla in the Titan Books version], the only female champion, is sent first into the next room. She finds herself facing a duplicate.
From that point on, Storm leads the way using his new understanding of the palace to guide them. The Guardian decries this all as blasphemy, but nobody listens. Passing through the traps, they find an escalator with skeletons of ancient crew scattered about. They take the escalator to the control room--and the "throne" of the Palace.
TO BE CONTINUED