Faraday now, no, really SK? Your cast grows ever biggAR.
Also loved the description of Superman's voice - that was Supes, wasn't it? Whole chapter is flowing very smoothly, and loved the bit with Jim Gordon.
major plot twist revelation, huphup!
Special Agent King Faraday gulped down another mouthful of lukewarm coffee, grimacing at the taste as it sluiced over his tongue. He really should've made another pot before sitting down with these reports, but with the hell that broke loose in Gotham, that really wasn't an option. Papers were strewn over his office desk, lit by the cheaply-made tin lamp that hung, slouched, over the haphazard pile. He'd already been debriefed by the President – the League said the Leopard Fever was being purposely disseminated, but had no leads on how they were transporting it, or where they would strike next. That's where he came in.
He sat back in his chair, rubbing his hands down his face wearily while sighing. Instead of remaining at bureau headquarters, which was currently rife with all kinds of jurisdictional toe-stepping, he'd gone back to his place in D.C. to do more research, free of military interference...for all the good it was doing him. It was past 4 AM, he wasn't a single step closer to finding a pattern in any of the outbreak locations, and he was quickly running out of time; he'd seen Waller's request for nuclear ordinance when it came down the horn. The woman was out of her gourd if she thought that he'd ever let anyone detonate a nuke on American soil –
A nearby door clicked shut. He didn't invite anyone else over.
King unholsted his government-issue Colt .45, finger on the trigger. He slipped around his desk, silent, as he easily guided himself through his darkened home. He'd lived in this place for going on sixteen years; he knew every square inch of this place like the back of his hand. No one was going to sneak up on him on his own turf. He halted at his study door, inspecting the light that poured through the cracks with a frown. The townhouse was technically three bedrooms, but he'd converted one into his office, and the other into what amounted to a mini-library, stacked with filing cabinets full of information and reports. He made a point of adding a deadbolt to the door on the off chance that someone was stupid enough to break into the home of a federal agent. He was going to have a talk with the locksmith who installed it tomorrow morning.
He inhaled quietly, steadied his gun hand, and kicked the door open. “Freeze – !” He stopped mid-exclamation, mouth open, once he realized who he had in his sights.
Waller appeared at ease with a semi-automatic pistol being aimed directly at her. “Hello, Agent Faraday. I think it's time we caught up.”
Book of Revelations
In spite of his long and storied career in espionage, King Faraday was never really one for the cloak and dagger bulls**t. He did it only because it was a good paycheck; that, and he happened to be exceptional at it. But the bloodthirstiness of it all – the constant backstabbing and betrayal – was a bit too much for him to actively enjoy. Amanda Waller, on the other hand, seemed to live off of it. It was part of the reason why they didn't really get along.
He dropped his gun to his side with a grunt of annoyance. “That's what phones are for. And doorbells.” He glanced around the room, which, at a cursory glance, seemed completely untouched. “How did you get in here, anyway?”
She motioned to the window with her head. “Deadbolts don't do much good if you have a window that's so easily jimmied.”
He added, 'Electrify windows,' to his home-improvement list. “So, what brings you around here? I thought you were meeting with the Joint Chiefs.”
She scanned the room briefly. “I ran into some...complications. I thought it would be prudent to get a second opinion before coming to any final decisions.”
He rose an eyebrow. She wanted his help? “This 'complication' – it was so important that you had to break into my house?”
“I didn't want to risk being followed.”
He shifted his weight to one leg. “You think you wouldn't be followed here?”
“You're not the only one who can get out of tight situations.” She reached behind her, under her blue overcoat, and slipped out a fairly large manilla folder. “As for what's so important...” She held it out for him. “See for yourself.”
The special agent began to inspect the folder, whistling quietly at the amount of information contained within it. “Where did you get all this?”
“That's one the complications,” she replied ambiguously. “I received this from General Eiling.”
His head snapped up. “Eiling? I thought he was still considered AWOL.”
“I thought so, too, and that's why I'm here.” She tapped a finger against the dull black metal that comprised one of his filing cabinets. “He was able to trace my cell phone and contact me using General Flagg's number as a cover. He says that the Joint Chiefs have brought him back into the fold.”
“Then the Joint Chiefs are keeping me and everyone else in the dark, because I've never heard anything about it.” Faraday's frown darkened, reading the documents cross-referencing Batman and Society movement. “Who authorized these reports?”
“That's another complication.” Her dark face was unreadable, but he detected an undercurrent of anger. He'd worked with Waller some during the Cadmus years; if he knew nothing else of her, it was that she hated being played. Sometimes, it was just the nature of the job, and he took it in stride – do your duty, no questions asked, no holds barred – but Waller? She always took it personally when someone used her without her realizing it. He guessed it was a pride issue; the woman certainly wasn't short on it. She grabbed the portfolio, pointing to a few of the dates. “Some of this League intel is over ten years old, and if we'd had it then, there wouldn't be a League right now.”
He followed her finger, confirming her words for himself. “So, either someone high up in the government didn't want us with this – “
“Or Eiling got this information from an outside source,” Waller finished grimly, smartly closing the folder.
If his hair weren't already white, he would have sworn he felt it going gray on him. This was why he hated the cloak and dagger bulls**t, right here. “If he didn't get it from us, where did he get it from?”
Waller smiled thinly, pressing the documents against his chest. “That's where you come in.”
He swallowed a sigh. That phrase never meant good things.
Nyssa was a troubled young woman.
Jonn's connection with her was strong and secure; it was just the kind of tether a desperate young telepath would likely require to retain whatever sanity she had left. Unfortunately, it was strong enough that he had nearly full access to her psyche, and what he saw there was the mental equivalent of abattoir. Whatever innocence that was housed within her diminutive form had been all but obliterated by the thousands of minds that she spent her entire life being forced to endure – many of them being murderers and psychopaths employed by her grandfather. But hope wasn't entirely lost; he sensed a small bastion of humanity, a shred of herself that longed for normalcy and struggled to stay alive in the midst of the insanity that threatened to overwhelm her.
Batman called her dangerous. If he only knew just how responsible he was for her survival.
J'onn landed among a small thicket of trees within sight distance of the Juragua complex. Peering around the trunk, he watched the uniformed guards standing at attention along the gates, armed with automatic weapons. They appeared to be the Cuban military, but he of all people knew that looks could be deceiving. He scanned the two men guarding the gate, learning quickly that they were being paid handsomely by the 'workforce' to ask no questions and falsify whatever documents were required of them. They had no knowledge of what was going on beneath the grounds of their new reactor, and didn't care to know, so long as the money kept flowing.
Having seen enough, he withdrew from their small minds, shifting into a contractor that they saw often and knew not to bother. His now burly form marched up the dirt path as though he owned it, stopping at the ten-foot tall electrified fence that ran around the reactor grounds. As he suspected, the two men made no attempt to verify his identity, and motioned with their arm to the nearby tower to let him through. Once the gates creaked back on mechanized hinges, the two guards saluted. “Welcome back, Supervisor Ubu.”
He grunted in reply, continuing along the trail to the complex proper, massive steel tubes and a myriad of coolant pipes climbing up into the rafters like a man-made network of vines. He noted rust patterns hidden under a fresh coat of paint among much of the machinery, along with water stains on the cement walls; it was clear that Ra's Al Ghul did not consider the reactor's longevity a priority, only its short-term functionality. On top of what else he was planning, using a facility of such poor condition led to another problem – even without live uranium in its stores, a meltdown could pose a grave threat to all of Cuba. The League would have to ensure that they had teams on standby to evacuate as much of the island as they could, should that come to pass.
A man garbed in black was posted at the end of the hallway. The officer stepped aside, saluting as the elevator doors opened. “The Master is expecting you.”
'Is he now?' He nodded curtly, stepping inside.
Private Rodrigo Famosa broke attention to glance over his shoulder at the path the supervisor walked down moments before. “I wonder what they're doing in there?”
“Who cares?” Sergeant Diego Sanchez replied. “They do their thing, we go home with heavy pockets. Everybody wins.”
“Yes, but what if they're spies?”
“What if we ignore it, like we're supposed to?” Sanchez snapped.
Famosa dropped his rifle to his waist, looking at his superior full on. “I'm not so sure about this, Sergeant – have you noticed that people in the nearby villages are starting to fall ill? What if us turning a blind eye is causing that?”
Sanchez muttered an exasperated, “Jesucristo,” then added, “just leave it be; we're not supposed to ask questions, remember? It's not any of our business who goes in or...” The soldier trailed off as his eyes locked onto a familiar figure stalking across the well-beaten path toward them.
The very same figure they'd already let into the complex.
Famosa tossed a look in his direction, tanned features going pale. “Is it any of our business now?”
“Shut up, Famosa.” He stepped forward, stopping the well-muscled man in his tracks. “My apologies, Supervisor Ubu, but – “
Ubu glared at the man as though he were a leper. “What is the meaning of this, dog? May I remind you, you are being paid handsomely for your cooperation!”
“I know, sir, but...well, you just came through here – “ The soldier was lifted up by his uniform collar with a strangled 'hkk'.
“What?” Ubu barked in his face. “You let an imposter into the compound?”
Sanchez's rifle clattered to the ground as he grabbed the supervisor's hand. “He...looked exactly like you – “
Disgusted, Ubu threw the smaller man to the dirt. “Imbecile!” He whirled upon Famosa, dark eyes ablaze. “Alert reactor security!”
The elevator stuttered violently to a halt, its light flickering from the change in velocity. J'onn, in the guise of Ubu, stumbled forward, catching himself against the wall. He barely had time to look upward before the cage rattled a second time, once again descending toward the bowels of the hidden facility. That was distressing. Straightening, his disguise vanishing, he calmly stood while the elevator arrived at its destination with a prolonged creaking of hinges and metal grinding against metal.
The half dozen armed guards awaiting at the entrance, alerted by one very irate Master Ubu of an intruder entering their sanctum, were greeted by an empty carriage.
Cautiously, the center soldier crept forward, the other five following suit in a V-formation behind him; muscles whip-tight and eagerly anticipating a conflict. Their examination of the elevator confirmed that there was no one inside, no one waiting above, nor was there any trap waiting for them. The leader, relaxing slightly, turned to his five compatriots who waited just outside the elevator entrance. “It appears to have been a ruse – “
Green hands shot out from the wall behind him.
By the time the remaining soldiers took stock that their leader was now an unmoving heap on the floor, his head having left a dent in the steel he'd been slammed against, the mysterious hands had already melted back into the surroundings. Their testing to be counted among the ranks of the Society was brutal, and their trials were numerous – but they'd never been faced with something that could emerge and disappear like a spectre. This was something beyond them. But they would not falter, forming a tense outward circuit, weapons primed to unleash carnage upon whoever was foolish enough to defy the Master and strike against one of their own. Their collective breathing was shallow enough that they could have heard a pin drop from a hundred yards away. Their hearing was acute enough to catch the heartbeats of rodents crawling inside the elevator shaft for several floors.
None of them heard the Martian Manhunter rise from the ground beneath them into the middle of their protective circle. Four of them would have no memory of what happened; the fifth would only see a blur of green flying toward his face before he was enveloped by darkness.
Frowning, J'onn looked down at the pile of unconscious soldiers that were littered around his feet. So much for getting in and out undetected. He moved to step forward when the crackling reverberation of a psychic attack on Nyssa traveled the length of their connection. Blindly, he grasped for a nearby wall, his other hand pressed against his head, as he struggled to see through the curtain of stars and make his way to a safer place. There were more coming, he couldn't afford to –
Ordinarily, it would take voltage several times the lethal capacity for a human to faze him, let alone incapacitate him. This time, it took only one well placed shot with a high-powered taser-rifle to force him to the ground. He peered up blearily to spot Ubu towering over him, smug. “The Master wishes to speak with you, infidel.”
Well. Far be it for him to disappoint the Master.
Jim Gordon stood under the dim yellow haze of a streetlamp, taking in the sights while he waited in the brisk October evening. Gotham Park was still dangerous at this time of night, especially alone, but this particular section was considered off limits by most gangs and organized crime – it was one of the Bat's favorite hunting grounds. He supposed that was why Batman chose this place for a meeting.
His breath came out in tiny white puffs, making him yearn for a cigarette. He'd been smoking since he was seventeen, why did Sarah think that quitting now would suddenly make him any healthier? Given the type of whackjobs and sickos he went up against every single day, cancer wasn't really on his list of priorities. But, if it made her happy...he coughed into his fist, lungs agitated by the cold air. He pushed the sleeve of his brown leather trench back, reading his watch. 3:17. He was late. That wasn't like him.
As always, he jumped, fighting back the scowl of irritation at continually being sneaked up on. He turned, half smile on his lips. “Nice night for a stroll in the park?”
His mood darkened when his eyes fell upon the haggard figure that slunk from the shadows, still commanding, still fearsome, but clearly battered. “I need your help.”
He shoved his hands into his coat pockets for lack of anything else to do with them, unsurprised by the request. It had been nearly a month since they'd last met, so obviously whatever got his attention was a doozy. “With what?”
Batman was ramrod straight, stiff, even for him. “I've come to turn myself in.”
If he had been drinking coffee, he would have spat it out in a rush. As it was, he yanked his hands back out in disbelief. “What? Why?”
Batman began to slowly walk forward; Jim noticed the limp he was trying to hide. He stopped just outside the yellowed ring of light, voice like flint. “Because I killed the Joker.”
His eyes went wide, jaw slack. His mind refused to comprehend the words, the idea that he could – he just wouldn't. “What happened?” Jim found himself asking.
“He kidnapped Robin,” he explained, gaze averted to the treeline. Batman didn't purposely avoid eye contact. “When I saw what the Joker had done, I...” He inhaled, squaring his shoulders without an ounce of pride to be seen. “It's over, Jim. You have to take me in.” He reached for his mask.
Gordon didn't believe it. Not for one second. He stepped closer, noting how the shadow seemed to be fighting the urge to back away. Batman never got spooked, and Batman never killed. Never. He stopped his friend's hand. “Don't.”
Batman appeared puzzled, fingers still curled under the edges of his cowl. “You need to do Miranda. You need my name.”
“Miranda's only for people getting arrested,” he answered, grip still firm on Batman's forearm, “and I already have your name.”
Batman gaped at him in open shock. The look – comical on anyone, but especially on the Dark Knight – was enough to make him crack a small, fleeting grin, hidden beneath his mustache. “What, you think you're the only detective in Gotham?”
Batman blinked, hand slowly falling back beneath the safety of his cape. “Why didn't you...?”
“Because I knew you were here to help.” He regarded the man evenly, eyes boring into his with the strength of a thirty year police veteran. “Now, do you wanna tell me what really happened?”
“I just did.”
If he knew the situation weren't so dire, Jim would've felt insulted. As it was, he was annoyed; covering up a crime for someone else never did anyone any good. He pretended not to notice the hypocrisy. “Well, I don't buy it – I know you better than that.”
Batman's eyes narrowed briefly. “You think I'm lying?”
“I think you know who really killed him, and you're trying to fall on the sword to protect them.” Batman made no attempt to respond, expression as stony as he had ever seen it – which, to Gordon, meant he'd hit the bullseye. That complicated things. Batman could hold out forever, take any punishment given, if he thought it meant someone else was being kept safe. Jim's only chance was to appeal to that directly. “I promise, I'll do everything I can to help you, but you've gotta help me first. I need to know what happened.” He motioned with his free hand toward the nearby park bench behind them. “All of it.”
He honestly didn't expect him to listen. But to his amazement, Batman complied, silently trudging to the bench and sitting; shoulders slumped and head bowed. By the time he was finished recounting the events of the past three weeks, he wasn't the Dark Knight Detective, anymore; just a man who had found their child tortured and subjected to horrors beyond their comprehension or ability to withstand. If their positions had been reversed, and the Joker had taken Barbara instead... Jim gained a newfound respect for him. “How's he doing now?”
“Sedated,” he answered, voice flat and becoming hoarse. “Leslie is going to try and ascertain the extent of the trauma, and figure out what we need to do from there.” He glanced up at that, lenses blazing in a sudden intensity that was usually reserved for the worst criminals on the market. “He is not going to Arkham.”
He placed his right hand on Batman's shoulder. It was trembling. “He won't. I'll make sure of it.” He straightened his own shoulders, trying to infuse as much assurance into his words as he could muster at 3:30 in the morning. “I'll take care of things on my end. You worry about taking care of the kid.”
Batman's burst of anger dissipated quickly, craning his neck up to stare fully at him; he looked for all the world like a kicked puppy as he asked, “You mean, you're not going to arrest me?”
Jim's heart twisted in his chest. “It sounds to me like the Joker was killed in self defense. It's not against the law to stay alive.” He could tell Batman wanted to argue the point, because even as his life fell apart around him, he was still concerned with compromising Jim's work ethic as little as possible. Jim shifted gears, studying him for another heartbeat. Two grown men were not naturally disposed to talking about feelings; definitely not a hardened cop and an even more hardened vigilante. But he heard the defeat, so unnatural coming from a man like him, in his voice. Now was not the time for stubbornness and pride. “And how are you doing?”
The light in his eyes went out abruptly, and for a moment, Gordon wondered if the man was going to cry. He hoped the flash of horror he felt at the thought of it didn't show on his face; after the hell Batman had been put through, he of all people had earned the right to break down. He almost wished the Joker wasn't dead, just so he could kill that diseased maniac himself. Almost. He was so engrossed in his own thoughts of retribution that he nearly missed Batman's quiet confession. “...It was my fault.”
Oh no. Not this. He knelt in front of the figure who sat hunched like an old man, his joints aching in protest – 'You're too old for this, Gordon' – as he tried to offer comfort. “No, it was not.”
“He targeted Tim to get to me,” Bruce lamented, baritone hollow and tortured. “If I hadn't – “
“Then he would've gone after someone else, and no one would've been able to stop him,” he retorted, tone brooking no argument. “Listen, son, I don't know what you've told yourself, or why you believed it, but as far as I'm concerned, you saved that boy's life tonight.” He gave the man one of his toughest glares, hoping it would give him an anchor point to steady himself on. “Now you're gonna go back home, you're gonna get him back on his feet, and you're gonna make sure he's taken care of, because he's a good kid, and you're a good man. And neither of you deserved this. Don't you dare let that bastard win, do you understand me?” He squeezed his friend's shoulders tightly. “Don't let him win.”
Batman stared at him blankly, eyes dull even through the lenses, before nodding once mutely.
He nodded in return, hands relaxing. “Good.” Forcing back the grunt of pain, he pushed himself to his feet, wiping at his knees absently. “Now, come on, there's work to do.” He didn't wait to see if Batman picked himself back up, because he knew he would. He didn't notice his hands were shaking until he tucked them safely back into his coat pockets, fingers instinctively reaching for the cigarette pack that wasn't there. “I'll get to work on the report, let me know if you...” He turned, and saw he was alone. 'Well, isn't that something?' he thought bitterly. At least that much hadn't been affected by tragedy. “Need anything else.”
Shaking his head, he sucked in a breath, the chilly air tickling at his lungs, and slowly let it out. He supposed he should head back to the office, again. He made it halfway to his car before he was interrupted by the jingling of his cell phone. Great, now what? “Gordon here.”
“Thank you, Jim. For everything.” The phone line went dead as abruptly as it lit up.
Jim stared at the device in his hand as he gently flipped it closed, the slightest measure of a grin touching his thin lips. 'Well, isn't that something?'
A phone rang again. Curiously, he looked down at the inert cell in his hand, trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from. “Where in the world...?”
Jim Gordon opened his eyes, blearily focusing on the blue-hued stalactites that hung imposingly from the ceiling over a hundred feet above. It took three seconds and a casual rub of his palm down his face before he remembered exactly where he was and why. Then the 'phone' rang again, coming from the massive supercomputer that was built into the cavern wall in the other room. 'Doesn't having a phone defeat the purpose of solitude?' Jim wondered while he tossed his legs over the side of the couch and plodded through the narrow, winding hallway to the main hall.
The sophisticated computer array was lit up, painfully bright compared to the darkness he'd come from moments before; one key in particular flashing in a simple but never the less aggravating pattern. Running his hand across his face – he hoped there was a razor in this place – he debated whether or not to let the message go; after all, Batman wanted him to keep his head down in case of another attempt on his life. Then he remembered he was in the Fortress of Solitude. He pressed the button.
The screen remained dark, but the voice was anything but. “Hi, Dad.”
He blinked. “Barbara? I didn't know you had Superman's private line.”
“I don't,” she replied, almost apologetic, “well, I didn't until just now.”
“Did Batman tell you I was here?”
“No, but he told me that he had you in a safe place, and I didn't find you anywhere on the Watchtower...” Silence for a beat. “I know you don't wanting me asking you this, but I need you to talk to Bruce.”
She was right, he didn't want her asking that. Barbara seemed to think that just because he didn't immediately and emphatically side with her after Bruce ended his relationship with her, Jim was on excellent terms with him, when he could have killed the man for breaking his daughter's heart so thoroughly. The reason he didn't immediately and emphatically side with her was because he knew that it took two to tango, and with all the time she spent around Batman, she had to have known what she was getting into – or, at least, she should have.
The truth of the matter was, their entire situation was a train wreck waiting to happen from the moment he caught wind of it – they were both stubborn, intelligent, determined, and entirely too used to getting what they wanted through sheer force of will. They just weren't compatible. It was no more his fault for being who he was than it was hers for being who she was; in his eyes, they shared the blame for the pain they caused each other equally. That's where Barbara seemed to falter in her understanding – she would always be his little girl, but it wasn't his place to shield her from her own mistakes, anymore. She would have to live with her regrets, just like everyone else in the world did. “About what?”
“About what's going on. He's taking on too much.”
He arched an eyebrow. “And you think I can convince him to slow down?”
“Maybe. He actually listens to you,” she stated with only a hint of bitterness tinging her voice.
Jim shook his head slowly. She had no idea just how much Batman listened to everyone – especially her. He wasn't about to argue it with her; he knew she wouldn't hear any of it. “Barbara...Batman knows his limitations better than I do. I'm not going to ask him to cut back, especially when millions of lives are at stake.”
“No, he doesn't know his limitations, Dad,” she retorted strongly. “You've seen him – you know how he gets. If Gotham's in trouble, he won't stop until someone or something makes him stop, and right now, Dad, he...” Barbara exhaled in resignation. “Dick's been infected with Leopard Fever.” He straightened at that. “Tim went undercover without Bruce's permission, Alfred's sick, Leslie's gone, and he won't listen to me, and...he has nobody left, Dad,” she pleaded. His heart twinged painfully in his chest. “I'm...I'm really worried about him.”
He was slightly surprised that she felt any concern at all for Batman after their break-up; Hell hath no fury like a Gordon woman scorned. Still, this was Barbara, soft-hearted and caring, just like her mother. His heart tweaked again. God, he missed Sarah. “I'm in the middle of the Arctic, what do you think I can do from here?”
“I don't know,” she admitted after a moment's pause. “I just...wanted to keep you in the loop, since I knew Bruce wouldn't.” That was her way of saying that she was afraid. For the sake of her pride, he let the undercurrent slip through unchecked. “How are you doing?”
“A little cold, but still breathing,” he answered, adding, “and there's some great coffee here.”
There was a quiet huff of laughter. It felt good to hear that from her again. “You and your coffee.”
He commented with a smirk, “Well, a guy's got to have his priorities in order.” He cleared his throat, relinquishing himself to the task required of him. It wouldn't be the first time that he'd have to drag Batman away from the brink for his own good. “I'll see what I can do.”
“Thank you, Dad,” she said with a quiet sigh of something like relief. “I'm sending you the information you need to contact me.” The screen lit up suddenly, causing him to squint and turn his head away. It hadn't occurred to him just how used to the cave's ambient lighting he'd grown in the few hours he'd been here. “Feel free to use it, if you need to.”
He read over the string of code with the eye of a complete outsider. He understood the very basics of computers, but he was hardly the whizkid that Barbara was at it. “Thanks, I will.”
The soft thrum of static carried over the line for another long, drawn out moment. “I love you, Daddy.”
He smiled at the monitor, hoping she could sense it and bring her comfort. “I love you, too, sweetie.”
The blinking light went dark. Frowning, he grabbed the arm of the nearby high-backed chair and rolled it over to him. Sitting down wearily, Jim rubbed at his temples as he stared sightlessly in front of him. What did she expect him to do? Put on some thermals and trudge his way back to the States? But she was right – Batman was taking one hell of a beating, and a lot of the shots were below the belt. He glanced back down at the sheet of paper he wrote Barbara's contact information on, and then looked at the cool metal keys that rested under his fingers. The wheels in his mind, having grown rusty from years of retirement, groaned as they began turning.
Batman wasn't the only detective around.
J'onn came to slowly, his senses returning to him one by one. Usually, the first that came to him was his telepathy as he instinctively searched for nearby souls in his vulnerable state. In this instance, much like his time in Copán, he found himself completely alone. He opened his dull red eyes, discerning that his arms and legs were locked against a cold metal wall by some large, cylindrical clasps that engulfed his hands and feet. They were reminiscent of the bonds the Justice Lord Batman used against them years ago, but these were, perhaps, not as advanced. He tested his bonds, tugging his limbs, and then trying to manipulate his way out of them. They proved too strong to break though, and seemed to be made of an alloy that nullified both his shapeshifting and phasing. Not many in the world had the capabilities of creating machinery to contain him, and unless Ra's Al Ghul had been planning to capture League members concurrently with the United Stated government, that meant he had procured that information from an outside source. That concerned him greatly.
It appeared that he would require assistance. Though he was unable to contact any of the League, his connection with Nyssa was still, surprisingly, intact. He reached along the tether and felt an obstruction in her mind, something weighing her down and blocking further access – likely due to whatever attack she suffered that caused him to lose focus and get captured. He might be able to remove it, but it would require – a door clattered open with a harsh whine of metal. He closed his eyes quickly, listening to the sharp footfalls against the the stone floor.
The slap that followed was enough to make him wince. Ah, there was his sense of feeling. “Wake up, dog! The Master approaches.”
The figure strode through the open doorway, impeccable and refined in every sense of the word. A slight smile dangled at his thin lips when his light blue eyes appraised him. “I see that you've met Ubu,” he addressed J'onn, pulling an arm from beneath his ornate green cloak to motion towards his brawny lieutenant. “I apologize for his alacrity in subduing you; it appears he does not appreciate being imitated by outsiders.” Ubu harrumphed in agreement, jaw set. “I trust you know who I am.”
J'onn cut to the chase. “Why are you doing this?”
Ra's cocked an eyebrow, tilting his head to the side briefly. “If your intent is to relay this information to your allies via telepathy, you will be sorely disappointed.” He pointed to the wall he was currently attached to. “The chamber you have found yourself in has been specifically tailored to prevent such communication, along with your...other attributes. As I'm sure you've already noticed.”
“You didn't answer my question,” J'onn said, steadily picking at Nyssa's locked away mind. “Why are you doing this?”
“I had thought, with the Detective at your side and my daughter under his sway, that you would have learned all of that by now,” Ra's answered, raising his hand to his chest in deference. “But, since you have traveled all this way to have an audience with me, I will tell you all you wish to know.”
“Because it won't make a difference?” J'onn asked coolly.
Ra's eyes twinkled dangerously. “As you'll soon learn, nothing will make a difference.”
Nyssa was aware.
She was rendered immobile, now currently in what she believed to be an infirmary, but her mind was still functioning as it always was – thanks, in no small part, to the Martian for unintentionally absorbing so much of the blow via their link. Had he not been her anchor, whatever pre-programmed response he'd triggered from her subconscious (no doubt placed there during her stay in the Cadmus labs) would have likely obliterated her cognitive abilities.
Oh yes, Ms. Waller was going to be hearing from her very soon.
But, for now, she listened.
“What has happened to her?”
“I don't know,” he admitted. His voice was terse, but somehow, guilty. Unnecessary, given that she offered to help him, and would have gladly paid a higher price if it meant winning his trust. “But her vitals are all normal, which means whatever's affecting her is probably only going after her voluntary motor functions. Locked-In Syndrome.” Well, that certainly sounded unpleasant.
Doors hissed open, and then shut. “Do you believe you can help her, beloved?”
“We'll do everything we can,” said the Woman. Did Mother ask her? “Have you heard from J'onn?”
“No.” This voice was new; it was like steel, wrapped in fleece. She found herself trusting it implicitly. She never did that. Ever. “But then, we told him to maintain radio silence. Are you sure he's in danger?”
“Nyssa said his name before she fell unconscious,” the Woman answered. “I think she was trying to warn him.”
“We should strike now,” the Woman stated boldly. “We know where Ra's Al Ghul is hiding, and even with your countermeasures in hand, we hold the advantage. He can't stop all of us at once.”
“I could, which means he could,” Batman rebuked. “And unlike me, he has thousands of zealots that are willing to die for him on a moment's notice. Charging in won't work here, Princess.” Princess? Was that an honorific or a pet name? If she were capable, her hairs would have stood on end.
“We have to do something,” the new voice exclaimed.
The silence that followed was deafening.
J'onn felt the slightest twitch of recognition along the tether, which gave him hope that his surreptitious work wasn't all for naught. He redoubled his efforts as Ra's spoke. “You're the last of your kind. You know what it's like to watch a world which you love more than your own life wither and succumb to the viciousness of those who care nothing for it.”
“What happened to my world and what is happening to yours aren't the same,” J'onn replied evenly.
“It is the exact same thing,” Ra's insisted, light blue eyes ablaze. “Those in charge of humanity seek only to swell their own pockets, and will destroy anything to do achieve those ends. They are bringing the planet which has given us all life to its knees to slake their own insatiable thirsts for wealth and power!” He held a hand out in J'onn's direction. “Surely you, of all people, have the objectivity to see humanity's destructiveness for what it is.”
“Yes, I do see it for what it is,” J'onn agreed, sending this information along while continuing to push against Nyssa's mental barrier. Ra's expression seemed to soften at the admission, having believed to have found common ground with his 'guest'. “And what I see in front if me is no less destructive than the ones you're attempting to stop.”
The man's long face became thunderous. “If you wish to delude yourself, so be it. What I have spent years trying to achieve is close at hand, and what I have begun cannot be stopped.” As quickly as the rage surfaced, it submerged beneath the seemingly tranquil waves of aristocratic refinement. “Using a unique mixture derived from the Lazarus Pits, I have devised a way to siphon the very life essence from anyone who ingests it. Those who are infected with Leopard Fever, unfortunate as their fates may be, are serving a much greater purpose than mere death – they are bringing forth the world's rebirth.”
J'onn felt the weight petrifying Nyssa's mind begin to buckle from his attacks on it. “How will the deaths of millions recreate the world?”
“Because the Lazarus Pits and their rejuvenating qualities are no mere natural phenomena. They're portals to another realm of existence – a portal which I will open to this sickly world.” Ra's voice held an absolute certainty that sent a shiver down the Martian's spine. “And once humanity has been excised like the festering tumor it has become, the Earth will be reborn anew. Untouched. Pristine.”
He could almost hear Nyssa's thoughts... “And what realm of existence will you be unleashing?”
A smile tilted Ra's Al Ghul's lips. “The Underworld.”
To be continued...
And the WTF Plot twist revealed! Yeah, I suck, I know.
Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:31 AM.
Faraday now, no, really SK? Your cast grows ever biggAR.
Also loved the description of Superman's voice - that was Supes, wasn't it? Whole chapter is flowing very smoothly, and loved the bit with Jim Gordon.
major plot twist revelation, huphup!
Batman's mind raced. A frontal assault on the complex was out of the question; raw firepower was no match for smart tactics, and marching an army into unknown territory while holding a sharp strategic disadvantage was tantamount to slaughter. A small strike force would hold better chances of success, perhaps, but he wasn't going to let more risk their lives needlessly by walking into a booby-trapped stronghold crawling with armed zealots. J'onn had already gotten captured as a result of it, and the only one that came close to his infiltration skills was himself.
Hm. If he could slip in...
“I hope you're not planning on going in by yourself.”
He met Superman's questioning gaze. There were times he wondered if Clark had telepathy and just didn't tell anyone about it. “You said it yourself, we have to do something.”
“Yes – we.” A hint of a smile curved his lips. “Don't think you're leaving us out of this.”
“J'onn's our friend, too,” Wonder Woman added, without missing a beat. “We have as much stake in this as you.”
He got the distinct impression that he was being tag-teamed, and he didn't like it. “The larger the group, the harder it will be to hide our whereabouts.”
“So, we stand in the open and fight,” Diana replied, unflinching in the face of one of his more withering glares. She held herself with pride and authority, a fire in her eyes that caused his stomach to tighten minutely. She really was something else. “I'm coming with you – with or without your consent.”
Superman stepped forward. “We both are.”
Yeah, he was definitely being tag-teamed, and quite effectively, at that. Regardless of his own misgivings, he knew that there was little he could do to sway them from their course once they'd set their minds to it. He couldn't muscle their way through them, nor could he manipulate their perception of the situation to his (and ultimately their) advantage, and slipping out while they weren't paying attention was evidently out of the question. It looked like he was stuck with them.
Despite his best efforts, he couldn't admit to being bothered by it. And that bothered him more than anything.
Batman grunted. “Suit yourselves, but don't go rushing into the first group you see; we're still not sure what kind of firepower will be waiting down there for us.”
Superman shrugged. “Well, short of Kryptonite, magic, or robot clones, what could he have down there that would actually stop the three of us?”
On cue, he reached into one of his belt pouches, procuring four ear plugs and holding them in the palm of his hand. “Sound.”
Clark blinked confusedly. “Sound?”
Diana sensed where he was going in the conversation, having already fallen prey to it once herself, and grabbed a pair to use. “Batman's right; the two of us may be more powerful than normal humans, but we're still susceptible to sensory overload. It would be easy to generate a high-pitched sound that would incapacitate us before long.”
Dubiously, Superman plucked the other pair from his palm, staring at them as though they were slugs crawling around in his hand. “Was this another one of your schemes to stop us?”
“Yes.” Superman didn't look at all comforted by his honesty. Oh well. “Also, be wary of any sort of chamber that looks potentially airtight – you may be invulnerable, but you still need to breathe.”
If it were possible, Clark looked even less at ease than he did fifteen seconds ago. “You've given this a lot of thought, haven't you?”
“I give everything a lot of thought.”
Superman placed the plugs in his ears, surprise brightening his boyish features. “Are you sure these will work? I can still hear everything.”
“They're made of a specialty sound-dampening polymer – meant to drown out and nullify debilitating sounds while still retaining the ability to hear all other relevant information.” He didn't add that those two pairs were specifically custom-tailored to protect the ears of individuals with super-powerful hearing, such as the two metahumans flanking him.
Superman frowned. “Where are yours?”
“My cowl is already equipped with them,” he said, quickly changing the subject. “The complex more than likely has frequency jammers like the ones we found in the Metro Tower, rendering any communication between ourselves impossible if we get separated. We'll be own our own, and we'll only have one shot at finding him.”
Talia, who to this point had been content to merely hold her unconscious daughter's hand and listen, looked up. “I'm coming with you.”
He was afraid she was going to say that. “Do you know the layout of the base?”
“I'm sure I could find my way around,” she replied enigmatically.
His gaze hardened. What was she getting at? “If your goal is to try and save him – “
“He has harmed my daughter, beloved,” Talia rebutted forcefully, pale blue eyes hard. “There will be a reckoning. I will see to it.”
Her sudden enthusiasm toward bringing down her father might have been welcome, if the malicious intent hadn't been so clear to read on her face. He couldn't worry about reigning her in while juggling a rescue mission. “We're trying to stop him, not kill him.” He felt her rage and understood it, though – all too acutely. His mind momentarily wandered back to Dick. “He'll answer for what he's done, Talia,” he added softly, as much to himself as to her. “I promise.”
She pondered his words, posture still resolute in her decision, before she sighed. “Very well. I will remain here in case Nyssa's condition changes.”
He nodded once, his vow having been made, and turned back to Superman and Wonder Woman. “We'll have to let the others know what we're doing, in case we're captured or killed.”
“High hopes as always, huh?” Superman jibed.
“Regardless of the outcome, the League will be more vulnerable than ever without the three of us here,” he responded as they exited the infirmary. The last time the three of them walked down these hallways like this, they had all been arguing over future expansions to the League, and who would be the one doing the majority of the training. Both Diana and Clark had immediately suggested he do it, since – according to them – he had the most experience with younger students, but he had none of it. He had his own problems to take care of, and his own proteges to train – he couldn't be bothered teaching more, not without allowing his heretofore separate worlds to mesh in a way that made him very uncomfortable. A Robin in the League meant a Robin that went out on missions without his guidance or permission, which meant a Robin that could get killed due to a teammate potentially letting him down when he needed their backup most.
Moot point, in retrospect – a month and a half later, he was tearing apart Gotham's underworld looking for him, because he'd done exactly what he feared others would do – he didn't watch the boy's back, like he was supposed to. Some mentor.
“Since when are you concerned about the League being vulnerable?” Superman asked in a careful tone.
He gave Clark a sideways glance. “Since the League is the only thing standing between Gotham and destruction.”
Kent's eyebrow arched. “Not much trust for the military?”
“Not much trust for ex-Cadmus officials running the show.” Specifically, Amanda Waller and whoever claimed to be ex-General Eiling. There was also that looming threat of a nuclear missile if they didn't find a cure before daybreak. He hoped that Waller would keep to her word and stall them, which only resulted in him feeling a bit sick to his stomach. Trusting Waller with anything was something he wanted to frantically avoid.
“Speaking of ex-Cadmus,” Superman started, all reporter, “have you heard from Waller since you talked with her?”
His expression was characteristically impassive as he stepped onto the elevator that had just stopped on their tier. “In a sense...”
Waller adjusted her jacket, idly running a finger over the tiniest lump from the state-of-the-art bat-shaped bug that was nestled in her inside breast pocket. She certainly hoped Batman was an attentive listener. She leaned over Faraday's shoulder, getting a closer look at what he was looking up on the computer. “Have you found anything?”
Faraday tossed her an irritated glance. “It's only been five minutes.” He returned to his work, speaking as he typed, “I've got security clearance for practically everything, but I'm going to start hitting some roadblocks if I don't find something soon. Whatever Eiling is involved in is high up – really high up.” Said roadblock splashed across the monitor, letters blinking amiably at them. He sat back with a grunt.
She shoved at his shoulder. “Move aside, let me try.”
Faraday regarded her with a mixture of distaste and curiosity. “What, you think you have higher clearance than me?”
“I know people,” she mentioned distractedly.
“Oh yeah?” he huffed. “Then why not just call them up and ask?”
She didn't move her eyes from the screen. “It would draw too much attention to myself, and in this line of work, you don't want to do that.”
“Funny, I thought that's exactly what you were always trying to do.” Her clearance passed through the system with flying colors, detailing project files and highly classified documents. His expression darkened when he saw her complete lack of surprise. “You didn't need my help; you just wanted to throw off the scent trail by using my computer and access codes.”
“It was a last resort,” she said, pouring over the information in front of them. “If Eiling's information is faulty in any way, we could wind up murdering tens of millions for no reason.”
He rested his cheek against an upraised fist, dark eyes cold. “Since when has that ever stopped you?”
“And if Eiling is backed by the wrong people,” she continued, ignoring him, “they'll be very dedicated to making sure that we don't find out about it.” Waller turned to him with an expression that seemed almost apologetic. At least, almost apologetic for her. “I'm sure you understand.”
“Oh, I understand, alright,” he groused. “Doesn't mean I have to like it.”
She smiled thinly at him. “I'll make it up to you, I promise.” She returned to her dissection of government documents, quietly adding, “Provided we live through this.”
Faraday snorted. “Ever the optimist.”
A strange hush fell over the ever-present buzz of activity that comprised the Watchtower bridge as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman marched to the Monitor Womb in step. By themselves, they were forces to be reckoned with, but matched together, side by side, most couldn't help but genuflect in awe of their combined presence. Some called them the Big Three, others nicknamed them the Trinity – and, to many of the other Leaguers and civilian techs, they were: justice, vengeance, and truth divine.
Shayera, leaning on a console to read the latest data provided to them by their mystery hacker, craned her neck to stare over her shoulder as they neared. “Any word from J'onn?”
“We think he's been captured,” Diana answered. “We're going down there to rescue him.”
Shayera nodded and reached for her mace. “Let me contact John and – “
“You're staying,” Batman interrupted curtly.
The Thanagarian whirled on her heel, gray wings fluffed in anger. “Listen, you can't keep – “
Batman held up a hand. “Green Lantern was right, earlier. We are being played, like pawns. And I'm one of them.” The pause lasted less than a second, but felt significant, none the less. “I'm too close, Shayera. I'm losing my objectivity. I need someone who can think tactically – someone that he isn't targeting, and that can still give him a run for his money.”
A pair of red eyebrows shot up. For Batman, this was practically a declaration of undying love. “And you think that's me?”
His lips twitched into the ghost of a grin. “You're the best Chess player I know.” He reached around her, gloved fingers working over the keyboard of the terminal she was looking at. “I've put in the frequency of a bug on Amanda Waller. Keep it on at all times, and make sure you pay attention to everything you hear – any minor detail could be the one we need to stop the military from turning Gotham into a radioactive wasteland.”
Shayera took the order in stride, green eyes focused on the console he'd just reprogrammed. “You really want the League to go up against your country's own military?”
“We've gone up against gods,” Batman retorted evenly. “What's a military compared to that?”
“We'd better get going,” Superman stated as he flew to the transport pad, Wonder Woman following shortly behind.
“I'll input the coordinates.” Batman stood close to Shayera as he moved to set the teleporter's destination. Though Batman never seemed to care if he was in someone's personal space or not, he usually avoided any and all physical contact unless it was to cause injury. Wondering what he was up to, she was about to speak up when he quietly asked, head down, “What's my weakness?”
Shayera blinked, as if she hadn't heard him right. “What?”
“My weakness,” he repeatedly more clearly. “What is it?”
She frowned. “Why are you asking me?”
“Because I know I'm not the only one with countermeasures,” he said, still making a show of working on the controls. She paled a bit, trying not to remember those days. Some of those wounds were still too fresh. “I need to know. How would you stop me?”
She knew, deep down, that he understood her reasons for keeping a list on her teammates better than anyone in the world, but then, that didn't make it right – that didn't make any of the horrible things that she did to her friends right. Her voice was shakier than she would've liked as she shamefully admitted, “By forcing you to sacrifice your life for someone else.” He pivoted his head to stare at her, expression unreadable, especially through those opaque lenses of his. “You're too resourceful to be held captive; killing you was the only way.”
“Who?” She didn't answer; she didn't want to. “You must have had someone in mind when you thought this out.”
She swallowed, throat having gone inexplicably dry even as her alto strengthened. She tensed her shoulders. “Someone you care about – Robin, Alfred, maybe Clark or Diana, if I had them in custody. You'd never forgive yourself if you let them die.” He looked away, focusing on the two that stood patiently on the transport pad. A beat passed as they both concluded that had she put her plan into action, it would have worked exactly as she'd hoped – pluck the right strings, and she knew he'd dance to her tune, just like everyone else. Shayera suddenly wanted to vomit. “I'm sorry.”
Batman stood smoothly, hitting the key that began the transport sequence. “Don't be,” he reassured, baritone neutral as he started down the stairwell. “It's what makes you a better opponent.”
J'onn felt the wall surrounding Nyssa's mind finally buckle beneath his constant assault. With a rush of backlogged emotion, she sent out a fervent, 'J'onn!' It felt almost like an embrace.
He pressed against her mind curtly, trying to quiet her. Though he was glad for her freedom, the current situation took priority. 'Listen.' He began sending her vital information as he attempted to learn more from his captor, who currently stood oozing polite affluence in the face of his chained countenance. The dichotomy would have been enough to intrigue him in other, less life-threatening situations. “Releasing Hades and his minions won't bring about the rebirth that you're expecting.”
Ra's hummed contemplatively. “I've heard of your exploits involving Hades. What Faust failed to understand is that one should never expect an even trade with a god – I ask for nothing in return, save that he ensures the world is returned to its former untarnished state. I will even give him an offering, to seal our pact.”
“Without a sudden burst of energy, the process of destabilizing the barrier between realms would take months – and given your interference here, I'm to assume that my window of opportunity has grown quite small,” he explained. “That burst of energy will be coming from the people of Gotham, shortly after it is obliterated by a nuclear blast, sent forth by the very government that is supposedly there to protect them.” The Demon's Head smiled slightly. “Ten million souls, delivered en masse, should be a suitable gift for one of Hades' status, should it not?”
The League had dealt with many variety of madmen, but he'd never seen one that exuded such conviction – the man before him truly believed, wholly and completely, that his cause was righteous and just, and that humanity's subjugation, if not outright destruction, would pave the way for a new Golden Age for the world. Ra's Al Ghul wasn't merely a puppetmaster tugging on the strings of the lost and disenfranchised for personal gain; he was a true believer in his crusade. J'onn's blood ran cold. “You're insane.”
“Insanity is relative, J'onn J'onnz,” Ra's riposted. “For example, you insist on saving a species that is determined to doom itself, even though you're aware of their hatred and mistrust of you.”
“I am aware of the repercussions of my actions,” J'onn answered, funneling all of this information Nyssa's way as quickly as he could. “Do you realize what Hades will do to humanity once you've released him? What he will do to you?”
Ra's appeared unconcerned. “Humanity is of no concern to me, and I have my own defense against the Lord of the Underworld.” He reached into the neckline of his suit, pulling out a portion of a medallion, its thin gold chain reflecting the meager light as though it were luminescent. “An heirloom from Thailand that draws from magical energies that even gods fear to strike against. A bargain will be made, and then, the world will be reborn.” He carefully stuffed it back into his suit, straightening his cloak with his hands as the cell door swung open, a slender figure walking up behind him. “It's a pity you won't be there to see it.”
J'onn stared in surprise at the newcomer. “Dr. Dahluzett?”
The scientist glanced up to him, over the rims of her thin black glasses, and grinned politely. “It's good to see you again, J'onn. Do you like the accommodations I've made for you?”
She spoke as though they were at a charity banquet, and not in the bowels of a secret underground base. That certainly ruled out duress. Could it have been nanites? “You willingly assisted the Society of Shadows?”
She adjusted her glasses minutely as she replied, “I was presented an opportunity I couldn't turn down. Creating a transporter to another realm of existence? Think of the scientific implications of such a device!”
J'onn was tempted to tell her that such a device had already been created years ago, but decided for a more direct approach. “The implication is your device will bring about the annihilation of humanity.”
“Humanity's family tree could stand a bit of pruning,” she answered cheekily, thoroughly amused at herself. “Either way, any true scientist is interested only in the discovery; I've discovered a way to help reshape the world for the better. Who wouldn't want that honor?”
Definitely not nanites, then. He wished he could read her mind – or, at this point, he surmised what was left of it. He never suspected any treachery from her during the Watchtower's construction; she'd been odd, somewhat unpredictable, but nothing that hinted at this level of hubris. He began to wonder if scientists that weren't insane or out of touch with reality even existed, or, perhaps, if Batman's perchance for unintentionally attracting the severely unstable was in play here. Regardless, he decided that any further outside contractors they hired from this point on would go through the most rigorous psychological examination he could possibly create.
J'onn returned his attention to Ra's. “You knew the government would eventually resort to a nuclear response.”
“Violence is the only response humanity understands,” Ra's retorted. “It was only a matter of time before eradication became a viable solution to their problem. Manipulating the system to achieve those ends was even easier than I expected.” His smile widened a fraction, eyes alight with a strange sort of mirth. “Falsifying evidence to claim that the League manufactured the disease in a gambit to curry favor with various political powers after finding a cure was all that was required to seal your fate in the eyes of many. I'm rather amazed that no criminal has ever sought to do so before.”
His glowing red eyes narrowed. “You contacted Amanda Waller.”
“Her mistrust of you runs deeply, yes, but not as deep as the once-great 'General' Eiling.” J'onn furrowed his brows in confusion. Eiling? “Even with his power and influence, his fear of the Justice League drove him to toss it all aside in a failed attempt at vindication. Though the government he once spurned has foolishly allowed him reenter the fold, his vendetta against your organization remains as potent as ever. Ironic that he would be so enamored with the thought of saving his country from you that he would end up delivering it directly to me without knowing. I suppose that is the price to be paid for a lack of perspective.”
Ra's turned smartly on the heel of one polished black shoe as he and his entourage slowly filed out of the small, dark room. “Now that I've answered all of your questions, I must excuse myself – the final preparations must be made before the assault begins.”
“Wait,” J'onn said, trying to keep his captor in the room, trying to buy someone – anyone – enough time to stop this, “I have one question left to ask you.” Ra's stopped at the edge of the door, peering curiously over his shoulder. “Why did you pick Gotham City as your staging ground?”
“Concerned for the Detective's mental state?” Ra's questioned.
“I am concerned for the millions of lives you're putting in jeopardy,” J'onn sidestepped easily.
Ra's eyes darkened briefly in distrust, before he stated, “The contagion which I created is no mere disease of the body; it is also a disease of the spirit. The weak, the weary, and the demoralized are far more susceptible to the plague's effects than an average, healthy human being, making Gotham City a prime candidate for infection.”
“There are many such cities around the world,” J'onn pressed. “Gotham stood out for another reason.”
Ra's paused for a moment, as if debating on whether or not to answer. “Yes, there was,” he said finally. “Years ago, I offered the Detective a chance to become my heir and continue my work on a more gradual scale; one that would not lead to such bloodshed and loss of life. His selfish dismissal of my proposal has forced my hand – if his desire to protect Gotham creates such an obstacle for him, then it is an obstacle that must be removed.” He stepped through the heavy steel door frame, continuing as he exited, “There are times when one must sacrifice that which they love most for the greater good. No one man, no one city, is worth the world. It is a painful lesson that all men must learn in time – so, too, shall he.”
The cell door slammed shut.
Faraday's computer beeped suddenly, breaking the deafening silence that had fallen between them. Not like they had much to talk about aside from work, anyway. “Found something,” Waller declared.
King looked up curiously, sitting straighter in the hard-backed chair he dragged in from his kitchen. “What?”
“Take a look.” He stood easily, sidling behind Waller to stare at the faintly glowing screen. She looked over her shoulder at him. “Does an organization named 'Checkmate' sound familiar to you?”
He shook his head as he began reading the documentation in front of him. Why did they always have stupid names? “Can't say that it does.”
Waller scrolled down quickly, faster than he could keep up with, he noted with a scowl. One of these days, he was going to learn to speed read. “Looks like it's another NSA offshoot that deals specifically with metahumans.”
He quirked one bushy black brow. “Isn't that what your department is for?”
“You know better than that by now, Faraday,” Waller reprimanded him lightly. “Behind every Devil you know is another Devil you don't.” She stopped scrolling suddenly, pressing one manicured finger into the flat LCD screen. “Look who signs off on the reports.”
He saw the name before she pointed it out, his teeth set on edge in a battle between dismay and exasperation. Bureaucratic idiots. “Eiling. Why would they put him in charge again after his stunt in Metropolis?”
Waller's expression was carefully, expertly, flat as she responded, “Because the fallout of Cadmus rested squarely on me.”
“The price of success.” He batted her hand away from the mouse, squeezing her to the side so he could better see the monitor without having to hover over her shoulder like some sort of parrot. He frowned when the better angle didn't seem to adjust any of the information he thought he was reading incorrectly. “There's no list of any report from his agents finding the intel in that folder. Where did he get it?”
“Knowing Eiling, if it involved the League, he probably didn't bother to ask.” With a speed that someone of her particular weight class didn't seem capable of, Waller stood from Faraday's workstation, cell phone in hand. “I need to inform the President of this; you need to find Eiling and bring him in for questioning.”
Faraday's frown deepened. “Aren't metahumans your department?”
She pressed the cell against her ear, hastily answering, “Don't worry, you'll be receiving help.”
He balked. “From who?”
On cue, the hallway lit up with a blinding column of light. When it faded, half a dozen costumed heroes of various shapes, sizes, and species crowded his living room. Steel slung his mighty hammer over one shoulder with a small grin. “You needed backup?”
Faraday blinked twice, then turned his head to a smirking Waller, who merely said, “I told you, Faraday – I know people.”
Flash held the vial gingerly in his right hand, staring at the bubbling purple goop that was puddled at the base of it. So this was the vaccine. All of the simulations he ran in the last twenty minutes (nearly sixty; it would've been more, if the computer hadn't been so slow to catch up to him) came back the same – it rendered the active mutagenic properties of the disease inert and impotent. This stuff should do the trick. Well, he hoped it would, anyway. The plasma sample Batman got from his little spook next door was only enough to synthesize two doses of it – not a really high margin of error they were working with, here. Didn't really bother him all that much, though, considering that he'd been boomeranged near the sun, had his brain swapped with an evil villain, and saved the world a gazillion times beforehand with functionally less to go on than he had in his hand right now.
Wally's focus passed through the container and landed solidly on a barely conscious Nightwing, who laid limply on the bed. The vigilante's half opened eyes, which had been lolling along the ceiling for the better part of ten minutes, flicked toward him with an abrupt sharpness and clarity. “Take a picture,” he huffed quietly, “it'll last longer.”
“And gross out everyone? No way, dude,” Flash riposted, mood brightening slightly as Nighty's dry and peeling lips twitched into a grin that seemed to come easily, even in the face of his deteriorating condition. This guy was every bit as stubborn as his mentor and then some (he was so going to have to wrangle them both into a poker match one day), and that served to further fuel his need to get this antigen up and running. Anyone that could out-Bat the Bat and still be awesome to hang with was someone worth pulling out all the stops for.
He softly flicked the glass with the tip of his finger, watching the solution froth within its confines for the breadth of a second. No time like the present. He inhaled and grabbed a syringe.
It had been years since Selina felt such a rush – an exhilaration – before flinging herself off into the night, on the prowl, and ready to take whatever she pleased. Back then, the rush was largely from her meetings with Batman, but with time came a coolness that crept into their relationship. She had gone from an equal, a not-quite lost cause that he could redeem, to just another painting in the Rogue's Gallery. She'd begun to wonder if he had grown bored of the chase and moved onto better, more responsive prey, but his actions tonight cemented that she made far more of an effect on him than she realized.
It was a shame that he'd given his heart to someone else, if only because that meant their eventual meetings were going to become that much colder. It was for the best, though. She was never very good at long-term relationships, and Bruce – Batman – well, his love was for Gotham first and foremost. In the end, she knew she could never compete, and really, being leashed to one city was something she couldn't do. Still, he deserved some measure of happiness, and if Bruce's mystery woman truly wished to give that to him, Selina certainly wouldn't begrudge her – because boy, did she have her work cut out for her.
She slid the mask over her face, glancing down at her skin-tight suit to ensure that her whip was firmly in place. It was, as it had been for the last ten times she looked. She stood atop the balcony of her high-rise apartment, Isis contentedly purring against her neck, and gaped down at the ordered chaos that went on in the distance. Now was as good a time as any to try out the whole Good Guy thing, she surmised. Maybe then she could finally figure out just what it was about it that kept drawing Batman to it.
She smirked, hopping onto the metal ledge in a lithe crouch as she loosed her whip. Besides, it wasn't like heroes didn't allow themselves small trophies of their victories, from time to time...
Nightwing, heavy-limbed and generally feeling like stir-fried crap, tried not to think about just how quickly he was nosediving. Leopard Fever affected the body, but his mind was still as sharp as it ever was, and right now, the prognosis was sounding really grim. That worried him, but not for the reasons one might think. The prospect of dying wasn't all that appealing – it really messed with his Feng shui – but he'd knocked on Death's door a couple of times before already, and well, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. What bothered him was knowing that his death would just give Bruce that much more of a reason to act like a manipulative, pigheaded jerk and push people away. That's not what he wanted his legacy to be; he didn't want to bring misery to those he loved. He couldn't stand the thought of it.
He grit his teeth, feeling them pulse painfully inside his head, and steered his train of thought away from the negativity that crept up on him. No, he wasn't going to die, and he reminded himself that it was actually a good thing that he was here. He knew that poisoned dart had been meant for Bruce, and if what he suspected about the disease was anywhere near accurate, all that festering guilt Tall, Dark, and Gloomy had been holding onto would've eaten him alive. Literally. Ra's probably knew that, too, which is why Bruce was set up the way he was.
No way was he going to die, not now, not like this. He needed to pull through, just so he could get in the fight and knock Ra's down a peg or twelve, and redeem his good name. Reduced to a spandex-clad damsel in distress – again? Come on, what kind of impression was he leaving on people with a record like that? Bruce was not gonna have all the fun, this time.
Of course, there was that small matter of beating a heretofore fatal disease without any idea as to how. That was the fun part. Luckily for him, he had a nurse capable of moving at the speed of sound to keep him from buying the farm anytime soon. Once all of this was over, he estimated that he would owe Flash about fifteen-thousand boxes of donuts. Chump change, in the grand scheme of things.
Flash entered the airtight chamber with a whoosh of air, syringe in hand. However, instead of injecting him with the churning purple mess, the speedster inserted a needle that was attached to a thin, translucent tube into his arm. In another whir of red, the tube was then attached to a fairly small machine that sat just outside of his cell, on a sterile metal cart. Dick blinked once, forcing his eyes to focus on both it and its operator. “What are you doing?” he croaked.
Flash rolled up one red-clad sleeve past his elbow, pricking his left arm with a similar tube-attached needle. “We don't have the same blood type, so I had to improvise.” He patted the device on the cart once. “This bad boy here should separate the plasma from my bloodstream, and then pump it directly into you with a flick of a switch.”
Dick's already pinched expression tightened further. He wasn't liking the sound of this. “And why do I need your plasma?”
At that, the Flash smiled, brazen and confident. “The Fastest Man Alive means the fastest metabolism alive.” He held up the syringe. “Your condition's too advanced for any vaccine to help you now; your immune system just won't be able to keep up. But mine can.”
Alarm bells rang inside of Dick's head, in time with the screaming of his muscles. “If that stuff doesn't work, you'll be killed in minutes. And even if it does work, you're still sending all your antibodies to me – meaning you won't be able to fend it off yourself.”
Flash shrugged, lips still curled up in good humor. “Hey, what's the point of being a hero if you don't stick your neck out sometimes?”
The Flash injected himself with the vaccine.
Compared to the carefully controlled temperatures of the Watchtower, the climate of northern Cuba was like stepping into a sauna, even in the dead of night. Letting the long-since familiar tingling from transport fade from his limbs, Batman pulled out a pair of binoculars and quickly inspected the otherwise unassuming facility that loomed in the distance. “Remember,” he began, “stay together, and don't stick your neck out unnecessarily – we won't have any backup coming.”
“We won't need any.” Without preamble, Wonder Woman launched herself into the hazy night air, lasso unfurled and fists clenched. Before any of the guards could successfully take aim at the humanoid missile hurtling towards them, she angled herself downward, plowing straight through a section of girders that held the reactor's communication tower aloft. The two remaining undamaged legs groaned and buckled under the added weight, toppling into the man-made courtyard in a shower of sparks; men scattered in all directions to avoid being crushed under tons of steel.
The plume of smoke, along with the chaos that erupted as a result of it, was noticeable even from their position nearly a third of a mile away. Batman sighed quietly. “So much for staying together.”
Superman's expression was alight with what he assumed to be an appreciation for a fellow bull wrecking the local china shop. “Look on the bright side; she knows how to make an entrance. Come on.” He then gripped Batman's forearm and took to the sky.
His eyes widened in momentary surprise and outrage, pointedly disregarding the way his shoulder popped unpleasantly from the sudden movement, before settling on glaring at the Man of Steel for all he was worth. Of course, as was often Kent's way when he did things to purposely annoy him, he was ignored. Still, it offered him a nice vantage point of the havoc Diana had created in such a short amount of time. The efficiency at which she'd turned the complex upside-down was impressive, to say the least. It had been a long, long time since he'd had the pleasure of watching her work up close.
That made her a distraction.
Shayera's words became all the more sharply focused in his mind as he, unable to shake the feeling that this was all one huge strategic blunder on his part, touched down along with Superman, but it was too late to worry about ifs and buts now. They were in the middle of the fray, with the telltale staccato of ricocheted bullets inside the building, and the overhead wailing of an air raid siren, signaling their arrival and the incoming rush of reinforcements flooding from the lower floors. Superman glanced upward. “Looks like they're laying down the welcome mat for us.”
Eight soldiers sailed out of the building's entrance, landing against the cement with harsh cracks of broken bone and cartilage. It was Batman's turn to appreciate the scene. “We've got a welcome mat of our own.”
Wonder Woman's silhouette appeared in the door, shortly before another armed guard was hurled head first down the hallway with an aborted shriek. “Are you two coming?”
The two men exchanged similarly amused looks, and for one, single, solitary moment, it was like the past four years had never happened.
He didn't realize just how much he missed this. (He wouldn't let himself.)
Batman mock-saluted while Superman smiled and replied, “Yes, ma'am.”
To be continued...
I tried to end this on a non OMFGWORLDSASPLODIN' note for once, and yes, klammed, I suck for plot twists and throwing in people. XD
Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:36 AM.
A good, good, the plot goes on. Now, I know you don't like Selina so much, and it shows just a tinge, but like the move to the more anti-hero status (or flirting with it) that you've put out here for her.
everything else is about as epicGRANDSCALE as it can get and you can get it. keep going SK (:
Well, it's not that I don't like Selina, it's just that the DCAU version of her -- at least, compared to what I've researched about her in the comics -- is kinda flat in and of itself; her character didn't really grow or flesh out that much. She had her love of cats, yay, fine, but beyond that, she kinda came off to me as the really sexy, flirty antagonist to Batman. The first episode had Maven telling Batman that Selina was in love with him, but I never really felt it -- it was like she was in love with the chase, not necessarily him. That is to say, she always took, she never gave -- she knew Batman was a sucker for her, and she constantly used that against him without appearing to offer him much of anything in return, except to essentially string him along with the hope that he could "rehabilitate" her. Y'know?
Besides, character wise, she's probably my complete antithesis, so that's a personal failing on my part, when it comes to getting in her head. I know it doesn't say much, but I really am trying to figure out what makes her tick. At least, insofar as DCAU Catwoman is concerned.
Yeah, I know completely what you mean. As you might be able to tell, I've taken a lot of my Selina's characterisation from the comics and not the DCAU. Though I suppose if she's your antithesis, whatever your motivations would be, hers would be... the opposite? Also, this video helped me. I also keep forgetting just how beautiful BTAS was, when the models worked.
As a note, I split Chapter 13 into two chapters, because it was entirely too damn large, which bumped up subsequent chapters by one. So, no, you didn't miss a chapter.
If anyone's even still reading this.
Rarely were situations so dire that the plucking of a single thread could threaten to unravel the entire tapestry, and yet, that was precisely what Phantom Stranger was witnessing. In an odd way, he found such an infrequent occurrence somewhat fascinating – he was not, nor had he ever been, human. However, the thought of finding their plight intriguing, however remotely, struck him as resoundingly crass and callous. Perhaps he was learning as much from them as they were from him.
Regardless, he watched impassively, as was his way, while the various factions, agendas, and ideals finally began to intertwine with one another – or, in a few notable cases, outright collide. Batman had likened the dilemma to a game of Chess; were that the case, humanity was in check, and their next move could win or lose the match for them. Even though he'd abdicated tactical control of League forces to Shayera Hol, he still remained the most important piece on the board.
It followed, of course; in his experience, knights were always the most dangerous.
Rule of Thirds
Fully three dozen armed, black-clad guards waited, assault rifles at the ready and aimed at the elevator built into the end of the hallway that slowly descended to their level. The leader, having already been made a fool of once and determined not to become so again, did not wait for the carriage to fully stop before he and his compliment of troops opened fire on it. A wall of lead shredded the hatch doors, sparks of thin metal being punctured lighting up the otherwise dim corridor as the men unloaded full clips of bullets into the still-closed doors. The leader, wanting to make sure that his prey didn't manage to survive, this time, chucked a grenade that rolled easily through the slowly opening doors, detonating in a dense cloud of gritty, gray smoke.
The haze of gunpowder and burnt munitions hung lazily between them as they warily stared at the empty carriage, now defined by bullet holes and clear scorch marks. Tensely, the leader crept forward a pace, machine gun primed to fire upon anything that mysteriously appeared in front of him, footfalls silent.
Slightly less silent was the small metallic pink that echoed from two tiny metal balls rolling under his feet. He gaped down at them confusedly. Marbles?
They hissed quietly, releasing noxious gas.
Fully three dozen armed, black-clad guards were rendered unconscious in fifteen seconds.
Batman slipped through the emergency hatch above, slinking into the hallway while Wonder Woman and Superman floated down behind him. Superman looked at the spectacle, hands on his hips. “I don't understand why you didn't just let me deflect the shots.”
“The resulting ricochets would've done more harm than good,” said Batman, kneeling by the point-man and rifling through his tunic to search for any tools of value.
Wonder Woman smirked. “You enjoyed that, didn't you?”
Batman plucked a small access card from the man's sleeve. “It pays to take pride in one's work.” He stood, facing Superman. “Where to now?”
Superman's expression tightened, using his X-Ray vision to scan the entire base for available routes and incoming resistance. “More forces coming in from our left. J'onn's two floors down to our – “ He straightened, startled. “Dr. Dahluzett?”
Wonder Woman blinked as well. “The missing scientist? Is she being held hostage, as well?”
He refocused on what he saw at the base of the complex. “No, she's...working with him. Some sort of machine, over a vat.”
Batman frowned, pocketing the card. “Of course. Ra's is never far away from a pit, even if he has to create one himself.”
Diana turned to them, declaring, “Splitting up may not be the best idea, but whatever Ra's Al Ghul is creating can't be for the good of Man's World.”
“Agreed,” Batman replied. “Superman, you find J'onn, Diana and I will worry about Ra's.” He raced down the hallway, scalloped cape flared behind him as he added over his shoulder, “Meet up when you can.”
Diana and Kal's eyes met briefly. She nodded and trailed after him. Clark sent a silent prayer off for his two friends and flew in the opposite direction.
Former-General Wade Eiling stood, massive and disfigured hands laced pensively behind his back, as he studied a diagram of Gotham City pinned to a cork board wall. Sure, it was more low-tech than the rest of his team were used to, but defunct Fifties-era fallout shelters weren't exactly equipped with state-of-the-art functionality. He'd already sent the order to Vreelend for an immediate personnel evacuation to be completed by 0530. The President expressed his doubts about his timetable, but then, the President was sitting back, posh and safe in the White House, while he was down here in the trenches, watching the infected ravage their home and countrymen with reckless abandon like rabid wolves. It was the stuff out of nightmare scenarios, the kind they loved to theorize about in West Point. Well, the debate was all academic, now. He knew what needed to be done.
The silence that had fallen was interrupted by one Christopher Smith, AKA Peacemaker. He tugged at the bill of his ballcap anxiously. “You sure this is a good idea, General? You know, hiding so close to a city that's about to be bombed?”
Sitting at the end of a flimsy metal table, casually flicking a Zippo open and shut, Manchester Black retorted in that thick cockney brogue of his, “A good place to watch the fireworks, I say.” He leaned back in his fold-out chair, resting his feet on the tabletop. “You oughtta be lucky that you can't hear the things all those blokes are thinkin' right about now. If you ask me, turnin' this place into a smolderin' crater can't do nothin' but help.”
“We're not just here to watch,” answered the third member of his team, a masked assassin that went by the codename Deathstroke. The man held absolutely no loyalties to anyone or anything, but he was renowned for his skills, and was as shrewd as they came. Eiling determined that as long as he kept the money flowing better than other avenues, he could keep Mr. Wilson on his side and in line. And if he couldn't, there was always his ability to crush the mercenary's skull like a grape. “I believe the General is under the impression that the Justice League may try to interfere with the launch. If we're too far outside of city limits, we won't be able to intercept them in time to make sure that they don't.”
Manchester snorted. “You're a mind reader, too, now, eh?” He set his chair down flat, leering. “What am I thinking now? C'mon, then!”
“I make a point to understand the motivations of all those around me.” His attention turned to Peacemaker. “If you had doubts about the General's plans, you should've taken the opportunity to mention it before we started.”
“I'm not doubting him,” Peacemaker backpedaled with a shrug, “he's the boss, after all. Radiation poison's a nasty way to go, is all.”
The nearby elevator doors slid back with a harsh clattering of aged and underused metal, General Flagg stepping out in combat fatigues. “So's a bullet, Peacemaker. You have your orders, now pipe down and follow them.” The gunslinger raised his hands in non-verbal surrender, shaking his head in silence. Having quieted him, Flagg marched to Eiling, saluting crisply.
He gave the sheaf of papers in his subordinate's hand a sidelong glance. “Has Vreeland completed the evacuation yet?”
Flagg tensed, just a little. “No, sir.” He held out the stack of notes. “We just received new orders from the DOD. We're to stand down...pending investigation for treason.”
Eiling's head whipped around, glaring down at the comparatively little soldier. “Treason? Under whose authority?”
He turned, finding himself face to face with Special Agent King Faraday, flanked by six members of the Justice League. His beady, yellowed eyes narrowed, recognizing the roster. Green Lantern, Steel, Black Canary, Big Barda, Doctor Light, and Booster Gold – some of the strongest on their list. But no Superman. His mind digested that information, feeling almost insulted. He raised one leathery brow. “Running errands for the League now, Faraday?”
“Actually, we've been deputized,” Booster replied jovially, arms akimbo, “so, technically – “
“You're a military man, Eiling,” Faraday interrupted curtly, “you know the rules. Drop your weapons and come along quietly.”
“What did they tell you?” he questioned, sensing more than seeing that his team was now on their feet, positioning themselves to strike. “That I've gone mad with power? That I'm a threat to society, the way they are?” He snorted, enhancing hearing making out the quiet ratcheting of Peacemaker's pistols from beneath the table. “Sorry, Special Agent, but a soldier's priority isn't just to his Commander in Chief – it's to his entire country. I've got a job to do, and right now, you're in the way of it.”
Nyssa all but left Mother in her frantic wake as she rushed through the elevator doors and onto the Watchtower bridge. The traitor stood, arms folded over her chest in contemplation as she mused over a wealth of information being steamed across the holographic screen. She saw the word 'Eiling' among the mighty wall of text, and a tingle of dread jolted up her spine. “We need to talk.”
Hol's bright green eyes widened in surprise at her arrival, before hardening in momentary distrust. Idiot woman. “What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in the infirmary?”
“My grandfather is summoning Hades,” she said bluntly.
That got her attention. Good. Maybe she wasn't too late, after all.
J'onn squinted from the light as his cell door creaked open and then swung closed with a thunderous clang, two masked soldiers marching towards him. One held a filled syringe in his hand. He knew what was coming, and wished that he could touch his beloved wife's mind one more time. “The Master says that you have outlived your usefulness,” hissed the second, taller, man.
“I didn't realize I was useful to him,” J'onn retorted aloofly.
“You were, alien,” he said reproachfully. “You have led your friends here to their deaths.”
They were here? That meant Nyssa was able to get his warning off. They could stop him from releasing Hades. He felt himself relax, even as his would-be murderer lifted the needle for him to see more clearly. There was no fear. “Then it will be my friends who avenge mine.”
“Silence, infidel!” He turned to his silent, syringe-bearing compatriot and nodded. “Do it.”
The soldier aimed the needle at his arm – and then wheeled around, snake-fast, stabbing it into the other thug's neck.
The higher-ranking officer shuddered violently as the chemical coursed through his system, gripping the betrayer's arm in a futile attempt at keeping balance. The smaller figure looped an arm around the limp soldier, laying him on the ground while tossing the used syringe to the side. J'onn watched this with an amazed fascination, trying to ascertain what just happened. “Who are you?”
The black-clad man sprang to his feet, keys in hand, and closed the distance quickly. “Come on, J'onn, you don't recognize me?” He tugged his cloth cowl off.
He stared at the familiar masked face. It had been entirely too long. “Robin.”
The young man's expression hardened somewhat. “Not exactly.” He unlocked the Martian from his bonds, and caught the superhero as he stumbled forward. “Easy; find your legs, first.”
J'onn's focus fell upon the unmoving body to the right. “That soldier, did you – ?”
“He's fine,” Tim assured, “the solution is only a sedative to humans, but it's fatal to you.”
J'onn covertly scanned the former Robin's mind. “One of Batman's plans.”
His shoulders went taut, tersely answering, “Yeah. Full of surprises, isn't he?” The sound of gunshots rang loudly outside of the door. Tim frowned in mild irritation. “Now what?”
The reinforced steel door flew from its hinges like it were made of styrofoam, clanging to the ground as Superman rushed forward. “Don't worry, J'onn, I've...” He stopped mid-step. “Tim?”
“Little late, big guy,” Tim responded with a small, self-assured grin, “but I'll give you extra points for the entrance.”
The Man of Steel smiled, grabbing J'onn's forearm to steady him. Clark looked down at the boy – man, now – that he hadn't seen in almost five years and clapped a hand on his shoulder. The poor kid was always going to be short. “It's good to see you're okay. I know Batman will be glad to see you.”
Tim's grin suddenly turned sour. “Yeah. I'll bet.”
J'onn, having recovered enough, sped through the door. “We have to hurry. I'll explain along the way.”
The voice that suddenly boomed in his head was startling, given how much he was concentrating on not being perforated by automatic gunfire, but he would have been lying if he said he wasn't relieved. They'd found him. “J'onn's loose,” he informed Wonder Woman, who was currently surrounded by a group of five, deflecting bullets and taking down deadly combatants with grace and efficiency. She made it look so easy.
She didn't spare a glance over her shoulder, grabbing two men by their throats and slamming their heads together. “I heard. Do you think he's okay?”
The remaining three men tried to fire their machine guns at point blank range; two had their barrels bent in half, the third had the rifle yanked away by a thin titanium cord. The first two collapsed to the ground, unconscious and suffering from broken jaws, while the third went airborne by a powerful kick to the chest. Batman landed in a crouch next to her, muscles pulsing with blood and adrenaline. It felt good. “Sounds fine to me.”
'You must destroy the machine Ra's Al Ghul has made – it is designed to create a tear between Earth and the Underworld, using those infected by Leopard Fever to power it.'
Diana's shoulders stiffened, fists clenching that much harder. “Hades.”
Batman, frankly, wondered why he was at all surprised about the development. It was all beginning to make sense, now – at least, about as much sense as one of Ra's plans ever really made. “And Gotham being destroyed is just the kind of jump-start Ra's would need.”
She hovered in the air, a dangerous glint in her eye. “Like Tartarus he will!” She launched herself down the dimly lit corridor. “Come on!”
“Green Lantern, come in.”
John ducked a massive gray fist, generating a partial bubble to stop the hail of gunfire that came from his left. Eiling was a hell of a lot faster than he looked. He heard Shayera's voice ring in his ear, barely having enough time to deflect an elbow aimed for his face. He created a clamp on Eiling's arm and tugged, twisting it painfully. “Go ahead,” he grunted through clenched teeth. This was like trying to arm-lock Superman.
Eiling, being trained military (even if he was Air Force), shifted his weight, sweeping a leg under his and following with a left hook. He sailed into a pile of crates as he heard, “Whatever you do, don't let Eiling destroy Gotham.”
He groaned and pulled himself out, hand on his head. “Working on that, thanks.” He looked up, eyes large, and dove out of the way as the topic of their conversation careened feet first into crates he'd landed in, pulverizing both them and floor beneath it.
“No, John, you don't get it. Eiling's just a patsy.”
He hovered in the air, green coating his form. “Who's playing him, then?”
“Take a wild guess.”
John fired an energy beam at the monstrous figure, hoping that the shot would've been enough of a distraction to force him on the move. Instead, he merely raised one hulking arm and swatted it away with a scoff of disgust. “Is this the strongest the Justice League has to offer without Superman in its ranks?” He cracked his knuckles, lips sliding back into a grotesque half-snarl. “I wish I'd have known that sooner – I would've wiped all of you off the face of the map years ago, if I had.”
“Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” A pair of glowing green crab claws shot forward with the force of a Boeing 747, slamming Eiling into a far wall. He tightened his fist, the claws digging through the concrete as they further pinned the general. “What's Ra's Al Ghul getting out of all this?” he responded to Shayera.
“A power source, and a way to release Hades.”
What? His concentration broke abruptly. “Wait, did you just say – “
John's head was engulfed by one rock-like palm, shortly before it was hammered into the pavement. “Never take your eye off the enemy, soldier.” He began to squeeze.
A moment later, Eiling was sent flying through the air by a well-placed shoulder ram, courtesy of Big Barda. “Take your own advice.” She grabbed the dazed Lantern by the front of his suit and coarsely lifted him to his feet. “Get up, no time to rest now.”
John found himself smirking in spite of himself (and his now-fractured jaw). “You'd have made a great Marine.”
“Quit flirting with Barda and stop Eiling, already.”
Barda's eyebrow twitched. “Possessive, isn't she? I like her.”
He made a noise that was somewhere between a growl of displeasure and a groan of resignation. “Great.”
Batman and Wonder Woman met surprisingly little resistance on their way into the bowels of Juragua. While it was possible that the Society soldiers realized who they were dealing with and fled, he considered that entirely too convenient.
Evidently, Diana agreed. “Something's not right,” she stated as they neared the thick gray double-doors at the end of the hall. “If Ra's Al Ghul has access to your countermeasures, why haven't any of his men used them on us?”
He quickly began hacking the door's locking sequence while she set about watching his back. “In all honesty, Princess, there aren't many ways to counter you.”
“You found a way to do it.”
A bullet ricochet pinged a hair's breadth from his cowl. He ignored it. “I know you better than most.”
In spite of the cacophony of automatic gunfire that echoed in the narrow corridor, there was a strangely pregnant pause before she replied, “You do.”
He grimaced inwardly. 'Not the time for confessions, Diana.' “I'm almost through.”
“I have a better idea.” Backing up next to him, the muscular Amazon reached one arm behind her and dug her fingers into the steel alloy, the metal buckling under her might like putty in the hands of a sculptor. With a grunt of exertion, she yanked, tearing the door from its hinges and hurling it headlong into the small team of soldiers in front of them.
She turned to the kneeling Dark Knight with a satisfied smirk on her face, raising her empty arm to the newly opened entrance. “After you.”
His poker face remained intact as he slid to his feet. “The door could've been booby trapped.”
“If it was, you'd have said something.” Her smirk widened, dark blue eyes twinkling. “I know you better than most, too.”
“I do.” There was another brief pause, a contemplative expression passing her features, before she inhaled, looked at him, and quickly pressed her lips against his.
His eyes promptly went wide. 'Definitely not the time, or the place, Diana!'
She pulled back, eyes warm with compassion. He felt as though he should say something, chide her for wasting time, but something in her expression captured his attention. She smiled softly. “They don't live through Gotham, Bruce – they live through you.” Her hand flattened against his left shoulder in comfort. “You honor their lives with yours.”
Bruce felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. Amazingly, the indignant rage he was expecting didn't come. That bothered him. He wanted to get angry; anger was comfortable and familiar. This, this was... Truthfully, he had absolutely no idea how to take what he just heard.
Not the time, or the place, he reminded himself. He shook off her words, mask firmly in place once again. “We'll discuss this later.”
He wasn't sure if he meant that or not.
Booster ducked behind a small wall to avoid being peppered by bullets from that gunslinging psycho with the really stupid looking ballcap. What was his name? Pacemaker? Something like that. He guessed he should've paid attention to GL when he was bringing all of this up. Oh well, live and learn. “Is it me, or are we getting creamed, here?”
“It looks like things could be going a lot better for us, sir,” Skeets, his ever-faithful metal companion, replied dutifully.
“I mean, we outnumber them, what gives?” he mused, taking pot shots as he could before diving back in.
Faraday laid down much-needed cover fire, yelling in reply, “These guys are highly trained professionals; they were hand-picked to fight people like you!”
“Aw, man,” Booster groused as he took the opportunity to slip out of the cubby and take the fight to Peacemaker – oh yeah, that was his name! – with a well-placed right cross to the chin. “That doesn't really seem all that fair.”
Skeets reminded him, “You have a superpowered suit that has built-in technology several hundred years beyond this current time-period, sir.”
He scoffed. “Yeah, so? He's got guns – I don't have guns! What if he shoots me?”
Faraday sneered, snapping over his shoulder, “Booster, if you don't stop yapping and start fighting, I'll shoot you.”
“Get in line.”
“Hey, me first!”
“Can I do it?”
Booster's shoulders slumped at the resounding support he received from his teammates. Made him all warm and fuzzy inside. Seriously. “Well, jeez, thanks guys. Fine, I'll just fight...” His eyes wandered to that one greasy-looking guy in the black trenchcoat that hadn't done squat since this whole brawl started. He looked wimpy enough to take. “That guy over there.” Mind set, he flew forward.
The next thing he knew, he was being hurled into ground by a force he couldn't see or feel. “H-hey,” he spluttered, trying to regain control of his limbs, “what the...”
“Wimpy, huh?” Black ambled up to the rooted Booster and flashed him a jaundiced smile. “With a brain as loud as yours, mate, you're liable to wake the dead. Or join them.”
“Hey, man, this is not cool,” he objected, fighting against whatever hold this creepy dude had on him, to no effect. “How am I supposed to fight you when I'm stuck like this?”
“Kinda the point, innit?” Black snickered, lifting his hand up. So followed Booster's body, hovering in the air, completely powerless to defend himself as the long-faced Brit brandished a revolver. Okay, bad time to find out that he was armed.
Booster was so intent on thinking of a way out, and Black was so distracted by how obnoxiously noisy his thinking was, that neither of them noticed Doctor Light until she fired; Black was sent careening into a wall. Booster began to say something charismatic (or, lacking that, laced with a healthy amount of machismo), but the words were forever lost when the ground rushed up to meet him very little pomp and circumstance.
The pavement was a tough crowd, apparently.
“Watch your step, sir.”
Trying to save face, he sprang up immediately and pretended that he totally meant to do all of that. Booster Gold never went anywhere without a backup plan! ...Or a smart robot assistant who had all of that stored, so he didn't have to remember any of it himself. “Nice shooting there, Doc!” He grinned winningly at Light, who merely stared at him in open distaste. “Interested in a side-kick position? I could always use a strong female lead to offset my charming good nature.”
“Baka,” she hissed, turning on her heel and stalking away.
Yeah, she definitely bought it. “I'll take that as a maybe!”
Wonder Woman and Batman stormed into the well-equipped command center, built into the walls of the cavern. In the center of it was the pit Superman described, its obvious man-made nature sticking out like a sore thumb, along with a large machine built over top of it. Shaped like a skeletal pyramid, the contraption had what appeared to be a powerful laser mounted at the apex of the four symmetrical girders, aiming directly into the churning green fluids some yards below them. The entire room stank of acid.
“And so the cavalry finally arrives,” Ra's Al Ghul's voice echoed through the chamber. Diana looked up, spotting the madman languidly descending a metal catwalk. A lazy smile hung on his lips. “It's been quite some time, Detective; I see it hasn't treated you as well as you'd hoped it would. Mortality is harshest to those who fight it the most bravely.”
She quickly made note of her surroundings. There was a computer platform fairly close to the pit, likely the controls for Ra's portal. “You wouldn't know the first thing about bravery, Ra's,” Batman said. “Hiding in caves, sending your lackeys to do all your heavy lifting – who do you think you're fooling?”
Ra's face darkened at the jab. “But I see your insolence remains as strong as it ever was. A poor habit that I wish to break you of.”
Diana lifted herself from the floors, gaze hard and features set; regal, proud, and deadly. Every last bit the Amazon Princess. “You can't hope to win, your forces have been decimated and your plot to destroy Gotham has been stopped. Lay down your arms and surrender peacefully, or suffer the consequences.”
Ra's inclined his head towards her as if he'd just noticed her presence. “Ah, Wonder Woman, I presume. I'm rather surprised the Detective allowed you to accompany him on this mission.”
She took the slight to her equality far better than she would have in years' past, her lips curving into a small, dangerous smile. “Afraid that you'll be beaten by a woman?”
His eyebrow curved. “Spirited. I can see why you chose her over my beloved daughter, Detective.” Batman gave no reaction. That seemed to disappoint Ra's slightly. “No matter, I have preparations to attend to.”
She flew forward, fists bared. “Not if I have anything to say about it!”
Ra's raised one hand from the security of his heavy green cloak, a ball of white-hot electricity forming in front of his fingertips. “Believe me, my dear, you don't.”
She screamed in pain as she was launched back the way she came, trails of smoke dangling in the air from her path. Foolish and short-sighted of her – Ra's had the Agimat, which meant Ra's had access to extremely powerful magic. She would not be caught so shamefully unprepared again.
“Diana!” She heard the quiet squeaking of leather and kevlar next to her as he knelt at her side. His glove ghosted over the swiftly healing skin of her collarbone on its way to grip her shoulder tightly.
Ra's examined the show of affection with aplomb. “Over my centuries of life, I have searched endlessly for ways to increase my longevity. While this necklace I liberated from the clutches of a corrupt and selfish organization won't add any years to my lifespan, it more than makes up for it in brute strength. I hope you approve.”
Her eyes opened, rolling downward and catching Bruce's gaze. They then immediately locked onto their quarry with the ferocity of an angered panther. She rolled onto her feet, fists clenched at her side, and charged again. Batman threw a handful of Batarangs to cover her attack as he darted off; they were blocked by a wall of earth that sprang up from the ground.
She feigned a right hook. Ra's dodged, as she thought he would, and double-backed with an elbow to the head. He took the blow like he hadn't felt it, using her momentum against her to flip her over his shoulder. Diana landed on one leg while she snapped out the other, knocking his feet out from under him. Twisting, she caught him by the lapels of his jacket and moved to strike when she felt the ground beneath her feet suddenly melt into liquid. Gasping, she found herself thigh deep in quicksand before it instantly solidified back into its former state, rendering her immobile.
Ra's stared down at her with a self-assured grin. “It appears the Detective isn't the only one who needs a lesson in humility.” His fist descended.
King Faraday dove behind a pillar to avoid another volley of Deathstroke's bullets. He hastily reloaded, crouched low to the ground and glancing hurriedly over his shoulder. “I'm surprised to see you here, Wilson. Run out of people to sell out?”
“The name is Deathstroke, Agent Faraday,” the mercenary censured, one eye narrowed beneath his mask. “And I could say the same about you. How's the leg treating you?”
“Better than your eye, I see,” Faraday retorted, breathing shallowly as he shifted his weight. “I thought you don't do freebies.” He rolled around the corner, weapon drawn, and found himself staring at empty space.
He didn't have time to react when Deathstroke double-backed around the pillar, hooked an arm around his neck and pressed the barrel of a gun between his ribs. The man's voice was uncomfortably close to his ear as he answered, “Sometimes, the reward is in the act itself.”
Both were knocked off of their feet by a high-pitched sonic scream. Faraday took advantage of the momentary confusion, slipping out of Deathstroke's hold and pinning him to the ground, gun against the base of his jaw. “You know what, Wilson? You're right,” he huffed while grabbing a pair of specially-made cuffs designed for meta-humans. He nodded once at Black Canary in silent thanks for the assist. “This is rewarding.”
Batman raced up the gangplank. He knew Diana was buying him time to shut down the machine, and he planned to make every borrowed second count. He was stopped midway to his goal by a kick to the side, staggering into the other side of the catwalk with a grunt of pain. “Infidel!”
Great. “I was wondering when you'd show up,” he groaned as he looped his arm around the railing and regained his footing.
Ubu stood directly in front of him, blocking his path to the main computer console, rapier in his oversized hands. “You will not interfere with the Master's plan!”
He didn't have time for this. He hurled a Batarang directly at the lieutenant, blandly stating, “Duck.”
Ubu deflected the projectile easily with his sword, snorting dismissively as he watched it ping harmlessly over the edge. “Hmph, did you think that would – “ He turned his gaze forward and saw a fist flying towards his face.
He slumped to the ground, unconscious. Batman frowned down at him. “Don't say I didn't warn you.” He stepped over the body, continuing on while the sounds of battle raged on behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, watching the earth shield shatter as Diana's body was flung through it. She rolled with the landing, springing back onto her feet to block the arc of a sword with her vambraces. Good, still holding her own.
He arrived at the mainframe, eyes scanning the controls in front of him. Going on the information streamed in front of him, along with the layout of the hub and machine itself, it looked as though Ra's choice for this little excursion of his wasn't entirely arbitrary.
He heard the cocking of a gun to his right. Sarah K. Dahluzett, still dressed primly in her lab coat, held the weapon with surprising familiarity as she ordered, “Step away from the controls.”
He angled his head to glare at her, acquiescing to the command, cape coming to rest lazily around his frame. She was too close and the catwalk was too small for him to merely disarm her. He would have to throw her off balance. “I would have expected better from you, Doctor. Why this? Why Ra's Al Ghul?”
“Why not Ra's Al Ghul?” she replied. “He was the only one with the vision to see my ideas for their true potential.”
“And he was the only one willing to fund you after the private sector caught wind of your failed stints with Powers Technology,” he supplied evenly. Across the large room, Wonder Woman dove into Ra's from above, only to be forced away by plume of fire. He needed to speed this up.
“Those penny-pinching imbeciles wouldn't know revolutionary tech if it grew legs and kicked them!” She edged her way closer to the control panel. “My transdimensional generator will fundamentally change everything we know about the universe, and I plan on being right here when it happens.”
And there was his opportunity. “Is that was Ra's told you? Or is that what you told yourself when you agreed to help him?”
She frowned at him. “What are you talking about?”
“What do you think I'm talking about?” he questioned, hand going to his utility belt. “Surely, someone as brilliant as you didn't fail to notice just how Ra's treats women in this little club of his. Do you really think for one second that he's going to let you take the credit for any of this? You're a tool, Doctor – a means to his end. The moment that portal opens, your role in this scheme of his is over, and you'll be as good as dead.” He smirked. “And then he'll get all the glory for himself.”
She blinked behind her oval-shaped glasses, grip loosening on the gun. “You can't be – “
He threw a flash pellet.
Dahluzett cried out in pain, shielding her eyes with her hands and reeling back. He rushed forward, twisting her wrist and forcing her to the ground. “Tell me how to shut the machine down.”
She struggled against him for a moment, but stopped when it was obvious she wasn't going anywhere. She craned her neck, staring at him out of the corner of her eye, glasses askew. “Y-you can't.”
“All that time and effort, and you never added an off switch?” he rebuked, his hold tightening painfully. “I don't believe you.”
She shook her head, threads of hair falling loose from her bun. “No, you don't understand – the generator is fully powered; it's wired into the reactor's systems.”
“There has to be a shutdown sequence,” he pressed forcefully, distantly noting the distorted echoes of Diana's cuffs scraping against stone. He wished he could see what was happening, but this was more important. “Tell me what it is!”
She gasped in pain at the added pressure, gritting her teeth. “I...it would take days for the generator to fully power down! It's too much to simply flip a switch! If you shut it down now, you'll be releasing all of that energy in one singular, uncontrolled burst.”
“The blast radius – how large would it be?”
She went completely limp under him in resignation. “Nearly fifty miles.”
Batman blinked in shock. “That would split the island in half!”
“Transdimensional generator prototypes don't work on your average AA-battery,” Dahluzett quipped in a tight voice.
With a grimace of dissatisfaction, he secured her wrists in cuffs – tighter than he intended, given the squeak of pain she elicited, but he didn't really care – and stood. He turned to the mainframe, beginning to initiate the proper shutdown sequence even as his mind whirred. This effectively ruled out any chance of quick resolution in terms of the generator itself; it appeared that their only hope of ending this was...
His eyes flickered up from his work. His fingers froze.
Ra's Al Ghul held a battered and barely conscious Diana by the throat, arms bound and powers sealed by a thick band of steel, dangling her over the edge of the churning vat of green acid. “The restorative powers of the Lazarus Pit gives life to the dying, but will take the life of the healthy.” He smiled. “I wonder...what would it do to an immortal like you?”
Ra's let go.
Her bracers were bound. She had no powers. She couldn't fly.
Batman leaped over the edge, the console forgotten, and dove down after her.
To be continued...
Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:42 AM.
Wow...quite the cliffhanger .
I look forward to the finale.
That was the singular word that was seared into Batman's mind as he plummeted through the rancid, hot air. No, he was not going to let her die, he was not going to fail anyone else. He reached out, one hand securing itself around her wrist while the other readied and fired a grappling hook. He was stopped short when a bolt of lightning struck his exposed side, causing his vision to go white, then black.
He teetered on the edge of consciousness through sheer will alone, the world around him progressing in what felt like slow motion as he and Diana careened into another freefall. Only the barest measure of situational awareness allowed him to dig the built-in titanium claws of his glove into the pit wall, stopping their descent a mere twenty feet from the surface. Time reasserted itself rather violently with the tearing of his rotator cuff and the spraining, if not outright breakage, of his left wrist. At least he was fully awake, now.
His arms and shoulders quaked from the exertion, lungs burning from the toxic fumes while rivulets of sweat rolled down his brow. The charred mess that was now the left side of his ribcage pulsed in agony as he hung there, face scraping against the rough concrete, completely helpless against whatever reprisal Ra's had in mind.
But he didn't care. He had Diana.
Ra's lazily circled the large pit, eyes drawn to the sight of them both dangling from the wall itself. “Impressive. Even in the most grim of circumstances, you find a way to survive, much like myself.”
Gritting in teeth and slowly lifting Diana closer to his waist, Batman hissed, “You and I are nothing alike, Ra's.” More quietly, he ordered through shallow, pained gasps, “Princess, reach into my belt and grab my spare grapple. It's the – “
“Second pouch on the right,” she finished, spare hand making surprisingly quick work of his notoriously difficult to open utility belt.
He glanced down at her confusedly. “How did you – ?”
“We share more similarities than you think,” Ra's crooned from high above, now standing opposite them. “We both are unwavering in our causes, and are willing to sacrifice that which we love most to see it protected.”
“Like your daughter and granddaughter?” he shot back, feeling Diana remove the pneumatic grappling hook from its secured pouch.
“Yes. I suppose I have your allies to thank for their lives, along with the destruction of my compound,” Ra's replied guardedly, brandishing his scimitar and aiming in their direction. Its polished blade began to crackle with electricity. “For that kindness, I will ensure that your death is a quick one.”
“Now!” He released the wall and Diana fired. Ra's shot impacted where they'd been clinging to a split second before, sending bits of scorched concrete sprinkling over them as the hook wound itself around a ladder near the top of the pit. The moment they came with reach, Batman planted a boot down on a rung and shoved Diana against it. He took the grapple from her hand and released the current line, setting up a new one. “Find a way to get that off your wrists; I'll draw his fire.”
Without waiting for a response, he fired the jumpline to an overhead catwalk, leaping off and hurling an explosive Batarang to distract Ra's. As expected, he took the bait, ignoring Wonder Woman completely. Once a misogynist, always a misogynist. Left to her own devices, Diana gaped down at the metal rod that was knotted tightly around her forearms – tightly enough that it didn't even budge when she slammed it against the rung nearly a dozen times. She ground her jaw, wishing she had access to acid or –
Her eyes fell to the Lazarus Pit, then to the steel corded around her wrists.
Well, mystical acid was still acid.
Across the room, the platform Batman crouched upon suddenly began to warp around him, groaning miserably as it was torn from the cables that anchored it. He bounded over the edge before the steel could crush him, landing in a roll. He had barely touched down before the ground rose up beneath his feet, throwing him off balance. He recovered and narrowly leapt out of a broken stalactite's way. Ra's slashed his sword into the ground, the spark creating a line of blue flame that hurtled towards him. Batman dodged to the side, taking a direct hit to the chest from a mid-sized boulder. He attempted to right himself, hands splayed out to springboard back up, when the earth ripped open under him. He skipped down the jagged terrain in an uncontrolled fall before slamming into the base some thirty feet down.
Ra's stood at the top of the small pit, bits of dislodged rock and dust bouncing lightly against his cape and cowl. He told himself to get up, but his body refused to comply; and to make matters worse, his left arm was beginning to go numb. He wasn't sure if that was due to the injuries he sustained, or if it was a precursor to a heart attack. He supposed it didn't matter – at this point, he could hardly afford either. “A commendable effort, Detective,” Ra's voiced and lifted his arm up, the steel humming like a tuning fork as the cave ceiling above them both began to tremble and crack. “Yet still, not enough.”
A golden lasso looped itself around the blade, ripping it from his fingers. Startled, Ra's Al Ghul whirled around to find his prized scimitar connect with the waiting hand of a floating Wonder Woman. She was not amused. “Ready for round two?”
'Get up,' his mind repeated sternly.
He pushed himself to his feet.
“And where are you going?”
Phantom Stranger halted mid-turn. “I wish to observe the situation more closely.”
“It's more than mere observation, isn't it...?”
“You're forbidden from interfering, Phantom Stranger...” The Spectre reminded him harshly. “You know this.”
“Then why entertain a futile gesture?”
Stranger paused to reply, before his lips twitched into the slightest of grins. He disappeared through a portal, replying, “Don't ask.”
Checkmate may have been down for the count, Faraday thought, but Eiling was anything but. He'd already badly injured Doctor Light, who they had transported away, and was proving to be more than a handful for the rest of the League squad down here. He wondered if he was going to have to call in that standing order to the nearby Air Force base to drop whatever non-radioactive payload they had directly on their heads. He wasn't a big fan of the thought, but Faraday didn't live this long by taking stupid gambles. If these guys couldn't swing it, they'd have to resort to more conventional weaponry. He had a job to do, after all.
Eiling sailed into the continually battered wall via the business end of Steel's mighty hammer. While slumped down, Steel pressed the advantage, raising his mallet high over his head to deliver another blow. Shortly before it made contact, Eiling stopped the weapon dead in its tracks with one massive paw, yanking forward and brutally headbutting the hero as he rose to his feet. Dazed, Steel didn't fight back as Eiling grabbed his arm and flung him headlong into a charging Booster Gold, before turning with a startling amount of fluidity and pitching Steel's hammer like a throwing axe towards Barda.
Teeth bared, she easily deflected the hundred-pound metal hammer into the ceiling with her Mega-Rod, continuing forward to fire a blast at point-blank range. He swatted the rod up and away, the discharge turning the concrete above them into a charred crater as he twisted around to put her in a sleeper hold. She planted her feet along the damaged wall and pushed out with all her might. He stumbled backward, unable to maintain his grip on her long enough to block the double-fisted blow she drove onto the top of his skull.
He dropped to the ground, then proceeded to roll, foot landing squarely in Barda's midsection and sending her flying. Lantern swooped in to assist, forcing a clamp around his waist in virtually the same tactic as before. This time, though, Eiling was ready, using his spined elbows to turn the pavement below him into dust. With nothing for the clamp to embed itself in, he shoved it away and rolled to his feet, just in time to cross his arms over his face to block a powerful sonic scream. Cement crumbled under his boots as he dug in, slowly being pushed back toward a large pillar. As soon as she stopped to take a breath, Eiling struck out, snapping it free of its moorings and hurling the giant chunk of stone in her direction. She immediately screamed to try and break it apart in its flight, eyes going wide when it continued to merrily pirouette toward her unabated.
Faraday dove, rolling them both out of harm's way with only a hair's breadth to spare. Fair was fair; at least they were even, now.
Eiling marched forward, undaunted. “The Justice League won't stop me from doing my duty to the American people.”
Steel clenched his fists, wishing his weapon wasn't lying in a bent-up mess halfway across the room. “Last I checked, that doesn't including dropping a bomb on them.”
He held his head proudly, as though he were performing a great service. “They're giving their lives for their country – like all citizens should be willing to do.”
Canary muttered, “Somebody bother telling them that?”
He let his fist fly, demolishing another nearby pillar as he walked. “It doesn't matter. No one tells me what my country can or can't do to keep itself safe from menaces like you – “ He was cut off by the small fwip of a dart jabbing into the back of his right shoulder. Confusedly, he plucked the tiny metal object from his skin and let it roll in his oversized palm, then turned and raised his beady yellow eyes to its shooter.
“As of right now, sir,” began General Rick Flagg, staring at him over the barrel of a tranquilizer gun, “the only menace I see here is you.”
Eiling seemed surprised. Even disappointed. “I never thought you would have turned on me.”
Flagg's expression remained stalwart. “With all due respect, General, a manilla folder of unverified origins with a handful of dates and a few racy photos isn't what I call definitive proof for a nuclear response.”
Eiling's eyes darkened. “So. A traitor, then. You really think something like this can stop me?” He crushed the dart in his fingers, tossing it to the ground. “No tranquilizer exists that...can...” Eiling trailed off abruptly, body going stiff. Haltingly, he gaped down at his suddenly quaking hands. “W-what...is...”
“Checkmate was created to be an anti-meta assault squad – we've been trained and debriefed to take down all potential metahuman threats,” Flagg explained evenly, weapon still trained on the seizing monstrosity. “That includes you. Sir.”
Eiling stumbled forward, breathing labored and clutching at his morphing chest. He glared up, eyes still a crazed, cloudy gold, and lunged. “You – !”
Lantern wrapped the man's body in an impromptu net, holding him back even as Eiling struggled to crush Flagg's throat with his hand. Flagg, for his part, seemed to be taking the attempt on his life completely in stride. Ever the soldier. “I wouldn't move more than necessary – the reversion may be a bit uncomfortable.”
Eiling let out a pained roar and tried once more to claw out Flagg's eyes, only to sag against the net with an extended groan of pain after a moment's exertion. His body disappeared into the folds of clothing that now hung from his quickly shrinking frame, falling unconscious with a whimper.
Booster stared at the sickly creature trapped in GL's construct, before turning his attention to Flagg. “Man, you cooked up a way to take down your own boss? That's pretty cold. Even for you guys.”
“The serum wasn't one of ours,” Flagg admitted as Lantern receded the net, letting Faraday close in to cuff the fugitive. “It was a donation from a concerned citizen.”
Faraday, having secured Eiling, looked up with a frown. “If you had it on you all this time, why did you wait until now to use it?”
Flagg regarded him with a raised brow. “Waste not, want not, Special Agent. We could've been the good guys.”
It occurred to Tim, as he sat in the bowels of a big baddie's underground citadel, hurriedly trying to hack a computer's files to save the world while Superman and the Martian Manhunter were covering his back – them! Covering his back! – that this was the single most awesome moment of his entire life. So, why was he having to fight back a constant churning nausea over the whole thing?
Something giggled in the recesses of his mind. One of them was a mind reader, they could learn what he did...if they didn't already know. And then what would they say, hm? They wouldn't be so quick to piddle-paddle around with his sort, would they? Heh. Funny.
He stopped typing suddenly, eyes clenched shut. No. Not now. Not now.
Superman glanced over his shoulder, standing in the corridor and essentially playing the big blue indestructible decoy while J'onn went about taking down most of their ranks. “Find something?”
Tim opened his eyes blearily, trying to reinsert his mind back into reality the way one would plug something into a power outlet. Surprisingly enough, he looked upon the screen and realized he did find something. Lucky him. “Maybe.” He examined the screen. “There's some kind of signal coming from the complex; I don't know what for, yet.”
“How about the jamming frequency?” Superman asked as he clapped his hands together, sending off a shockwave of air that knocked the newest troupe that tried charging him back down the hall in a mass of flailing limbs and weaponry.
“Working on it. This thing seems tied to it.” He tapped another couple of keys. “The signal's being sent to a satellite, and then being piggybacked onto a bunch of other satellite networks for transference.”
“Do you have any idea what it is?” Superman caught the shell of a Howitzer in his hand, grimacing as it exploded in a massive plume of smoke. He wiped the debris from his hand idly; did they really think this was going to do anything to him?
Tim accessed the datastream successfully, but instead of being given information as he was expecting, he was rewarded with an unintelligible mass of jibberish. It didn't look like any sort of code or algorithm he'd ever seen before – and he'd been trained by Batman, so he was pretty confident he'd seen pretty much all of it. “Nothing good.”
Batman reached the top of the pit with more effort than he would've liked to admit, briefly watching Diana parry a decapitating blow and counter with a fist to Ra's face. A strike like that should've taken his head clean off. Instead, he shrugged it off, creating an impenetrable pillar of fire that forced her to retreat momentarily. They seemed evenly matched, which spoke to the terrible power that the Agimat possessed. He charged forward, peppering Ra's position with smoke pellets while he tried to regroup.
The man lifted a hand to shield himself from the smoke, before seeming to remember his new-found capabilities. Batman noted the potential exploit. “Parlor tricks will do you no good here,” Ra's admonished, waving his hand and parting the rolling slate clouds like he was halving a stick of butter. “For all your skill and courage, you are but a man.”
“And what does that make you, Ra's? A god?”
“No.” Ra's lifted his chin, a jaundiced sort of nobility in his voice. “But my mission makes me the herald of one.”
“I've met heralds of the Gods before,” Diana riposted coolly. “You're nothing close.”
“You think you're a messiah?” Batman added, shrugging his cape over himself. “You barely even qualify as a leader.”
Ra's expression tightened in anger. Good. “My network stretches across the globe, and has done so since before your ancestors even first stepped foot in your beloved city.”
“Is that why you had to ask an outsider to build your portal?” Diana goaded.
“Don't kid yourself, Ra's,” Batman continued where she left off. “Your network is in shambles, and you know it. Your men are nothing more than lemmings now, aren't they? You've brainwashed them so thoroughly that the moment you die, this entire operation will fall apart. All that work, all those centuries on your side, and what have you accomplished with it? Nothing.”
The Demon's Head's lips twisted into a snarl, grip on his sabre tightening with a squeak of leather. “Silence!” He charged forward, blade leaving a trail of flame in its wake as he swung. Batman sidestepped the arc easily as Ra's wheeled, fist clenched, and...nothing. He blinked, looking perplexed as to why he hadn't immolated anyone the way he'd wished to.
Batman flashed a dangerous little smile, holding his hand up.
The Agimat dangled from his fingers.
Ra's gawked at the pendant in shock, offering no resistance as Diana's golden lasso wrapped around his shoulders and wrenched him off of his feet. She towered over him, powerful and commanding. Batman secretly found it sexy as hell. “You have a great deal to answer for.”
Ra's countenance brightened inexplicably. “As do you.”
Warning bells went off in both of their heads. Batman immediately began to dissect all the information available to him. “What do you mean?”
Ra's remained silent. Diana tugged slightly. “Answer his question.” On cue, the cord began to glow a fierce gold, the man's forehead beading with sweat as he attempted to fight the compulsion to obey. “The more you resist, the more painful it becomes for you.”
“Pain is momentary,” Ra's grated out through clenched teeth, “I've lived through far worse than this.”
The sharp heel of Diana's red boot found itself lodged between Ra's shoulder-blades as she yanked on the rope. Hard. “I can fix that.”
Batman's eyes narrowed, looking back up to the portal console. “He's stalling.” He stalked off towards the terminal.
“Dahluzett said that it would take days for the generator to power down,” he declared as he hurried up the rickety gangplank. “Reactors like these are meant to generate energy, not store it. That means the energy is coming from somewhere right now.”
“Quite astute, Detective, it is indeed coming from somewhere, at this very moment.” The lasso around his shoulders dimmed significantly, giving in to its persuasive effects. His voice was as rich and dark as the green velvet cloak he wore. “No doubt you've already learned of the vaccine I administered to my men.”
Tim blinked when the signal abruptly ended, snatching his hands back from the keyboard in confusion. “...It stopped.”
“Is that a good thing?” Superman asked, before he saw the uniformed soldiers coming towards him suddenly double over – in unison. They curled in on themselves, writhing along the ground in unbearable pain.
Tim stood at the mouth of the doorway, taken aback. “What's happening to them?”
Superman reached down and pulled off one of the soldier's masks. He then proceeded to take a step back, expression contorted in revulsion. “My god.”
“That 'vaccine' was, in fact, a highly lethal, fast-acting form of my contagion that was designed to remain dormant until a specific high-frequency transmission was used as a catalyst – it will do in seconds what would take the ordinary solution days.”
The man's pallor went from a healthy tan, to gray and then black in moments; his skin shrank, tugging itself over the skeletal framework, like he were being burned alive from the inside out. It was one of the most grotesque things Clark had ever been unfortunate enough to witness. He glanced up to J'onn imploringly. “Is there anything...?”
“This is the final stage of Leopard Fever. There is nothing we can do for them.” J'onn's features were pinched with remorse. “Any of them.”
“As soon as you announced your presence in the compound, I ensured that signal was sent, via satellite uplink, to every last operative under my employ.”
Clark gazed down at the crowd of men all dying in profound agony, unused to the feeling of powerlessness that settled into his bones. They were there to prevent atrocities like these. Criminals or not, they were still people. No one deserved to die; not like this.
“Though I had wished to offer Hades ten million souls, I suppose three million will do just as well.”
Superman squared his shoulders. There would be justice. “Come on.”
Batman stared across the expansive command center in disgust. “You murdered your own men.”
“Sacrificed, Detective. For a worthy cause.” The subdued Ra's Al Ghul smiled. “Even lemmings have their uses.”
Diana, angered at the madman's confession, lifted him from his feet with one hand, a dangerous gleam in her eye. “You will pay for your crimes, in full.”
He wheezed from the superpowerful fist pressing against his larynx, but otherwise remained unimpressed by her display of superior strength. “What you do to me makes no difference – my plan is unfolding as we speak.” From the corner of her eye, she spotted Superman, J'onn, and a black-garbed figure that bore strikingly little resemblance to the Tim Drake she knew from four years ago rush through the ruined doors. “If I am to pay for my crimes, then so shall everyone else.”
Wonder Woman heard the whirring of the device powering up and turned her head in alarm. “The portal!”
“I know!” Batman shouted, working furiously at the control panel to halt the procedure. When that failed, he unsheathed a Batarang and stabbed it six inches deep into the console, hiding behind his cape to avoid the flare of electricity. In spite of the console's damage, a pearl of energy began building up at the generator's apex. “It's activating!”
Hades. Diana dropped Ra's to the ground and charged the pyramid structure, Kal at her heels, as whorls of light and matter all streamed in otherworldly patterns around that growing ball of matter. It took them both all of a second to cross the room in order to destroy the device.
The generator needed half of that.
In the depths of the Juragua nuclear power plant, an incandescent particle beam sliced through the air and connected with a boiling Lazarus Pit, creating a chain-reaction that reverberated throughout the entire Lazarus network in the form of an earthquake felt the world over.
James Gordon took shelter under the Fortress' computer as icy stalactites came crashing down all around him.
Catwoman looked up from the knife-wielding would-be murderer she had under her boot heel and readily abandoned him, bodily shoving the hapless brunette victim out of the way of a falling stone gargoyle. She rolled, shielding the woman's body with her own as they huddled in the doorway of an abandoned rowhome.
Lois Lane stumbled to the carpeted floor, quickly ducking beneath a nearby work desk. She shakily grabbed a piece of scrap paper that fluttered next to her foot, pulled out a spare pen, and began writing as clearly as she could.
Shayera heard the console beep wildly and moved to inspect it even as she heard Oracle's frenetic explanation blaring over the speakers. “I'm reading massive geothermal and seismic activity all around the world!” The sound of crashing was loud in the background. “Including here!”
She saw the holographic display of the Earth turn predominately orange and red, and immediately switched frequencies. “John, what's going on down there?”
“You tell me!” he shouted over the line, also rife with sounds of wide-spread destruction. “Eiling's down, we – “ A harsh crackling ended the transmission prematurely.
Her pulse pounded in her ears. “John!”
The explosion rocked the cavern. Chunks of stone fell from seven stories up, decimating the networks of catwalks and wiring in a shower of sparks as they plunged, while rifts in the ground tore themselves open in a chaotic zigzag.
One such crack made a beeline for Ra's; he scrambled, unsuccessfully, to get out of the way, before he plummeted into the crevasse. He'd only begun to scream when the golden line around his torso was snapped taut, halting his descent. He peered over his shoulder to dimly identify the young masked figure that hung over the jagged edge, lasso clasped tightly in his hands. “So, your early retirement hasn't dulled your reflexes as much as I'd thought.”
A startled gasp exited his mouth as he lurched down another five feet. The Detective's youngest pupil smiled wanly. “Sorry. Slipped.”
Wonder Woman and Superman were forced back; Batman was knocked from the catwalk entirely, and was only saved from certain death by a timely intervention from J'onn. He floated them both to the sandy cave floor, gently maneuvering the vigilante to stand under his own power. “You're injured.”
He heard the grunt of pain Batman tried to hide. “Tell me something I don't know.”
An ominous rumble echoed through the badly damaged command center, frighteningly similar to an oncoming train. Wonder Woman squinted as she righted herself, disliking the large, amorphous silhouette that rose through the swirling green electrical cloud that inundated the pit. “What is that?”
“My dear,” crooned a deep and powerful voice that sent a chill down her spine as a familiar figure emerged from the haze. Hades touched down lightly on the edge of the pit and graced her with a smile. “Don't you recognize your father?”
The proverbial train arrived at its station in an explosion of winged demons.
From the new fissures created by the world-wide quake spewed monstrosities from the Underworld, blackening the skies with their wings and chilling the blood of anyone that heard their unholy screams. As a full-fledged panic began to erupt in the already-crazed streets of Gotham City, Selina Kyle backed away from the brunette she had just saved and looked skyward. Her next words were fittingly succinct: “Oh, hell.”
To be continued...
Would you believe I've spent most of the time between updates trying to figure out how I was going to fit everything into one chapter, before muttering, "**** it," to myself and just splitting it in two? Yeah.
Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:46 AM.
Arise...Archim...I mean Hades ! Seriously, though, your storytelling abilities are nothing short of phenomenal, and I don't give such praise easily. Every part of this finale has had me at the edge of my seat - so much so, I wonder whether I actually want it to come to an end...
Another thing: I generally detest Ras Al Ghul and hold him in contempt relative to other world-level threats like Vandal Savage, Darkseid et al. His hypocritical profession of "honor" does not impress me and it feels rather pathetic; at least other supervillians take pride in their role. Terry had it right - "father, environmentalist...(but most of all) sociopath".
While my opinion of him as a character hasn't changed, you have successfully convinced me that he can be a true threat (something which did NOT come across in the DCAU, Batman's "worse than the Joker and Luther combined" statement notwithstanding). His planning was excellent and logical. It never crossed over into Xanatos Roulette territory.
You really ought to consider doing this for a living. In the meantime, keep up the great work.
And the subtle Warcraft III nods continue. XD Next I'll have Batman sacrificing his soul to Frostmourne or something.
Yeah, Ra's is kind of stupid/pathetic comparative to guys like Luthor/Darkseid/Joker, because he's really just the leader of an elaborate thieves' guild that tries to pass itself off as a New World Order. However, I appreciated the concept, at least, that he could be an adversary to Batman/Bruce Wayne in ways that the Joker and others weren't -- he was kind of an intellectual and financial equal. It's a shame they never really played that angle up in the DCAU (or the comics, really, but I'm not too sure about that). Besides, if they said that Ra's is the one who caused this Near Apocalypse -- and given the kind of apocalyptic stuff the Timmverse has seen, that's saying something -- then he'd have to do it in a way that suits him. If there's one single similarity Ra's and Batman do have in common, it's that they're both huge fans of backup plans.
Anyway, glad you're still reading and possibly even enjoying. ^^
What would be even better is that such a story arc could focus on Bruce's slow redemption, where he rediscovers his humanity, and learns that "all darkness, all the time" is a recipe for disaster. Kinda like how he rediscovered his unintentionally humorous side in BB, or how he learned to open up and reconnect at the end of RotJ.
When Shayera was first sent on her mission to scout out Earth's forces, she'd made a point of researching everything she could about it. Her superiors had amassed a fair amount of intel for her to go through during her month-long trip through the cosmos, and had been watching the planet with interest for years, they'd said. That should have made her wonder just how long they'd been drawing up plans for the Hyperspace Bypass, but at the time, she was watching her people die daily, and didn't really care about those kinds of details. Like everything she did, she tackled it with gusto. Of course, she'd read about their technological capabilities first, but once she got a scope of how primitive and weak they were compared to Thanagarians, she'd moved onto different annals.
In particular, she recalled being intensely fascinated by their theologies, and how those beliefs shaped the various cultures that dotted Earth's landscape. Humans, for all their faults and assertions to the contrary, were a deeply spiritual people; far more so than Thanagarians ever were. At times, it was something she envied; in others, she considered using it to her advantage, if it was required to quell the populace. She occasionally wondered if humanity reacted so badly to her deception because it called certain things into question for far too many. Disillusionment carried a hefty price.Years later, staring at the unsteady image of the sky being consumed by the horned silhouettes of otherworldly demons, Shayera knew this wasn't any ordinary world-shattering cataclysm that seemed to frequent Earth so often. Zombies, robots, and aliens were the product of science-fiction and horror – entertainment gone awry. Plagues, demons, gods rising from the depths of imprisonment? It would strike a chord, one strung low and carefully hidden by many, that would turn this world upside down in seconds.
To the citizens of Earth, she understood with a sinking feeling in her gut, this was more than just the end of the world. This was an apocalypse.
On a Pale Horse
Shayera all but stabbed the comm button. “Green Lantern, can you read me?” Her heartbeat sounded too loud in the ensuing silence. “John, come in!” Nothing. She hurriedly worked at the terminal, replacing an image of Gotham's skyline being consumed by demons with a 3D satellite mock-up of the northeast Atlantic coast. Seconds she knew to be too precious to waste passed as the image zoomed in once, twice, three times, the area continually obscured by a dense fog of smoke and ash. Growing irritated and impatient, she zoomed in a fourth time.
The defunct fallout shelter turned command base, along with the gently sloping hillside it had been built under to hide, had disappeared into the depths of a newly-formed chasm. Her chest felt just like that demolished ridge.
Her gaze caught the images of another flickering screen, jumping from city to city as the insanity unfolded. Shayera closed her eyes and inhaled.
When they opened again, there was a steeliness in them that hadn't been present since the days of the Thanagarian occupation. She pressed down on the comm button again. “Attention all Leaguers, prepare for emergency teleport; coordinates are being sent via your comm-link now.” She switched frequencies, continuing, “Mr. Terrific, put the stragglers on those monsters attacking the cities. Find whoever you can – I don't care if they're just some kid in a Halloween mask, get them up and fighting. The rest of us will be working to evacuate the area and stop Hades.”
“Hades?” Mr. Terrific repeated. “I thought gods were a myth.”
She briefly scanned the bustling room, almost expecting to see a blue fedora somewhere. She ignored the hint of disappointment when she didn't. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Terrific. Trust me. Shayera out.”
She was halfway to the transport pad when she heard Talia question, “Do you believe your combined forces will be able to stop a god?”
Thinking of Rex, of the only home she had left, Shayera replied without turning, “No. But we have to try, anyway.”
She disappeared in a haze of light.
It was startling how quickly they were subdued. Even Superman found himself overwhelmed by the seemingly endless number of monsters that spewed from the newly-created portal, forced to the ground as the others were held in place for their master to deal with them properly.
Hades, Lord of the Underworld stepped down from the rim of the pit, his boot thudding heavily against the stone floor. A lazy grin hung from his lips. “My daughter, it's always a pleasure seeing you again.”
Wonder Woman, arms held behind her, glared darkly at the god. “I am not your daughter.”
“We will discuss that in due time, my dear.” He regarded the group of restrained mortals curiously. “I must admit, I'm impressed; opening a doorway to the Underworld is quite the feat.”
Ra's Al Ghul, closely guarded and still bound by the unbreakable lasso, adulated, “I had hoped one of your innumerably powerful stature would appreciate the effort on your behalf.”
Hades turned in his direction. “On my behalf? How altruistic of you, mortal.” He strolled forward casually. “I suppose it is you I have to thank for my freedom?”
Ra's nodded. “Indeed. I spent many years researching and carefully planning your escape, and have given you an offering of several million souls in the hope that I may make a request of you.”
Hades briefly inspected him. “Go on.”
Ra's stared up at the god with as much dignity as he could muster from his half-bent position. “In your many eons of life, I am certain that you've seen humanity's steady decline. They are now little better than a pestilence on this world, and must be stopped so the Earth can recover from its wounds and become the fertile utopia it once was.”
“Utopia?” Hades paused in contemplation, then broke out into a hearty laugh. The sound of it was nothing short of chilling. “Ah, mortal,” he drawled amusedly, shaking his head, “if only you knew how ridiculous you sound.”
Ra's paled slightly.
His smile grew dark, towering over the kneeling Society leader. He lifted his broadsword. “Request denied.”
The god's arm was wrenched to the side unexpectedly by a beam of energy, sizzling briefly from the heat before it healed. He whirled, eyes befalling Captain Atom and several members of the Justice League pouring through the cavern entrance, shortly before he found himself staring at a snarling Amazon's fist.
To say all hell broke loose after that point would be redundant.
The Flash's world, at the moment of Shayera's call to arms, was one of doubles and unfocused swirling blobs of color. He felt the tissue and cells of his arms continually battle the disease's advance, infecting, dying, and being recreated to start the cycle all over again in nanoseconds. He halfheartedly wondered if he'd inadvertently turned himself into a dynamo in doing this, but, well, it was a little too late for second guesses now, wasn't it? The only thing he knew with clarity was that this sucked and he didn't like it.
He was too busy gazing off at one of the three left walls that mysteriously sprung up in the last few minutes to see the gloved hand turn off the machine. It was only the sound of it dying down that spurred him enough to bother trying to find out what was going on around him. He squinted, blearily focusing on a fully suited Nightwing staring down at him. Wally's eyes widened. “H-hey, what are you – “
“Time's up, speedster. Duty calls,” Nightwing said, a quiet little grin on his face.
“But, what about...”
“This?” Nighty pulled his glove off and rolled his sleeve back. The thick bands of black death that had ringed his forearms were now down to speckles, like he'd been painting with a little bit too much fervor and forgot to dress accordingly. He wiggled his disease-free fingers once for effect before slipping the gauntlet back on. “Looks like I owe you one.”
Flash huffed weakly. “Heh, buy me some doughnuts and we'll call it even.”
“I'll buy you a doughnut factory, if you want.”
Wally's stomach gurgled with anticipation. “Will they make jelly-filled?”
Dick's grin widened. “Nothing but.” He nudged the speedster's shoulder. “Come on, we've got some bad guys to stop.”
At the base of the newly-created crevasse that once was a section of the Appalachian Mountains, a pile of stone and soil pitched and rolled away, revealing a dozen dirty and battered survivors. Booster Gold rubbed his head wearily. “Man, that was not a fun ride. I want a refund.”
Retracting the bubble he'd protected everyone else with, Green Lantern immediately moved to activate his communicator. “Green Lantern to Watchtower, come in.” He frowned at the lack of response – not that he expected anything different, at this point.
Skeets buzzed, “The electromagnetic readings I'm getting are off the charts, sir. It's likely that it's interfering with communications.”
“Great.” He dropped his hand. “I guess I'll try another method, then.”
A few thousand miles away, J'onn battled a swarm of demons, twisting bonelessly around their strikes. The voice that echoed in his head nearly startled him into the business end of an axe. 'J'onn, what just happened?'
He went incorporeal as one attempted to stab him with a broadsword, letting the blade pass harmlessly through his body and impale two more that were directly behind him. 'Ra's Al Ghul has succeeded – Hades is free.'
He wasn't sure if John meant to send the string of expletives his way or not, but it wasn't worth dwelling over. 'We're on our way.'
Crushing the demon's neck in his grip, he hurled the trio away as others made contact, pinning him against the jagged rock face. Still greatly weakened, he struggled against the inhuman might of the creatures that piled onto him, when the echo of Shayera's fearsome warcry gave him an idea. Eyes glowing a deep crimson, he forced majestic white wings to unfurl from beneath the confines of his cloak. As he'd hoped, the mob of demons immediately shrank back, hissing in terror.
J'onn smirked grimly, charging forward.
Below, Wonder Woman retrieved her lasso from around Ra's Al Ghul's shoulders with a simple warning: “Make any attempt to escape, and bloodthirsty demons will be nothing compared to me.”
She launched herself into the fray as Ra's dusted himself off in her wake with a slightly amused tilt of his lips. “Hell hath no fury, indeed.”
The ground trembled as Superman sailed through the cave ceiling, emerging in a sub-basement level corridor of the complex proper. Shaking himself free of debris, he stood and caught Hades' fist in one hand, striking with his other. The god staggered backwards, surprise registering on his features as he rolled his jaw. “Stronger than even Heracles, this one.” He tipped his head at the Kryptonian in what could have been appreciation, smiling thinly. “You will make an excellent addition to my ranks.”
“I've heard that one before.” Superman ducked another punch, leaping back to avoid him. “Why are you doing this?”
“Have you ever been denied freedom, mortal? Locked to a realm of darkness for all of eternity?” Without warning, Hades vanished from Superman's sight – all various forms of it. The punch against his gut caught him unawares, sending him through yet another set of ceilings. He vaguely recognized the power plant's courtyard area as he was halted midair by the same invisible force.
Hades faded back into existence, holding him aloft; the sharp edge of a sword was pressed against his neck. “I want to be free, mortal.” That he could actually feel the blade digging into his flesh set alarm bells wailing in his head. Hades was a creature of magic, or something similar – something far beyond what the yellow sun could protect him against. “I will be free.”
A cord whistled through the air and snapped taut.
Hades was yanked down, away from the Man of Steel, by a golden cord wrapped around his neck. “The only place you're going is back to is the depths of Tartarus, Hades.”
The god righted himself, fingers curling under the unbreakable twine and tugging it off. He appraised the two floating in front of him, noting how his minions were already pouring from the egress he'd created during his battle with this Superman, and shook his head in disappointment. “I do so wish that it hadn't come to this, my daughter. I'd wanted you to join my side willingly.” His tongue became serpentine, eyes glowing a faint, baleful red. “But even you, like all of your mortal ilk, fall under my domain.” He brandished his broadsword. “I think, my dear, it's time that I show you to your ancestral home.”
Catwoman rounded the corner into the alleyway, swinging away from one of the creatures in pursuit. It slammed headfirst into a fire escape with enough force to knock the entire thing loose from its moorings, and for all the damage done, it now only seemed to be pissed off at her. Wonderful. She barely dodged the downstrike of its two-handed axe, stepping on the shaft of the weapon to gracefully connect the heel of her boot against its jaw. She bounded backwards when another axehead cleaved the previous in two, panting lightly as more demons, hissing and red-eyed, descended from the sky to land along windowsills and ledges imposingly. In any other circumstance, she would have taken the obvious choice and bolted.
She loosed her whip and held her ground, wondering if Bruce would be either proud of her, or angry in that equally pigheaded and adorably overprotective way of his that she was risking her life for his city. “This is what I get for playing the hero.”
The demon twisted its malformed head along its spined shoulders and harshly yanked the axe from the ground with a hollow scraping of metal on stone, running forward in an uneven, wobbling gait. The chopper whistled through the air in a precise downward arc, only to be pulled from the monster's grip before it made contact. Grunting, it only had time to halt its advance in confusion before it was torn from its feet by...something; she couldn't tell what. The creature landed in an unconscious heap amid its brethren as the telltale whirring of Batarangs rang through the air, sinking into their leathery flesh with unerring accuracy. They shrieked in pain as the force returned, knocking away more in an incredible gust of wind.
Selina looked skyward, mood brightening at the familiar, if heavily armored, pointy-eared silhouette that loomed above. “I was wondering when you'd get here. It's not like you to leave a girl to defend herself.”
“It's not like you to be a damsel in distress, either,” replied the figure as he leapt from the ledge, landing next to her with a grace that was every bit as feline as her. The sleek black headpiece folded back and sank into the neckplate, revealing the suit's current owner.
She blinked. Well, this was unexpected. “If it isn't the Man Wonder,” she remarked idly, giving his get-up a once over. “Nice suit; no cape?”
Nightwing shrugged. “I know this isn't my usual style, but you know what they say: if the prototype super-suit fits, wear it.” He smiled winningly at her. “And I hate capes.”
She smirked. He was a sweet kid; it was nice to be on the same side as him, for once. “I know what you mean.”
The wind slowed long enough for her to catch a blur of a bright red suit. The Flash? “Says you,” he groused. “Why can't I have a super-suit?”
“Well, if you're really good, maybe Santa will get you one for Christmas.” Nightwing nodded briefly in her direction. “So – care if we lend a hand?”
Catwoman turned her attention to the legion of monsters invading Gotham and cracked her whip once for effect. Proud. Bruce would definitely be proud. “Sure thing, Man Wonder. Let's see what you've got.”
The helm slid from its confines, armoring Nightwing's head again as he dropped into a fighting stance. “With pleasure.”
Batman was in a bind. He'd exhausted nearly all of the tools in his utility belt, and was now relying on the kind donations of the hellish creatures around him to stay alive. More annoyingly, his injuries were preventing him from doing much more than merely holding his own. With the world at stake, that wasn't good enough. His mind worked even as he ducked under the prongs of a trident, grabbing its shaft and leveraging it to throw the monster off balance. Ignoring the fire that sprang along his side, he pivoted and jammed the weapon into its chest. This situation wasn't sustainable; they couldn't defeat an army that had, literally, an endless number of troops to throw at them. They couldn't beat a foe that couldn't tire.
He heard the screeching too late, his movements unacceptably sluggish as he saw the pike come careening down towards his head. Idiot.
Scant centimeters from killing him, the weapon was knocked off course. A second later, a blur of black collided into the eight foot tall monstrosity, sending in to the ground in a heap of leathery wings and pointed spines. Tim crouched over the body, retractable metal bo in hand. “Long time, no see.”
Instinct took over before his conscious mind fully grasped just who was standing in front of him, turning around to protect Tim's flank. Inexplicably, he commented over his shoulder, “Nice staff.”
“Thanks.” He heard the hollow cracking of bone being pulverized by titanium. “It was a going away present from Alfred.”
He snapped a monster's neck with a quick twist of the head. “Alfred gave that to you?”
“Why not? I've always been asking for one.”
He ducked a claw swipe from another demon, surging upward to break its arm. Tim wheeled around, finishing it off with a harsh swat to the head. He hunched over slightly, breathing heavily. This was definitely not sustainable, in any respect.
Tim frowned in confusion, if not concern. “You look like crap.”
“I keep hearing that,” he replied tightly, hand pressed against his pulsing ribs.
“Hades has reached the surface!” J'onn shouted in warning. “Superman and Wonder Woman will need our assistance!”
“On it! Everyone, move!” Shayera hastily dispatched the creature she was tangling with, folding her wings back and shooting through the air – and several more demons that weren't quick enough to get out of her way. J'onn more fluidly maneuvered around them, fading through the ceiling. All the other heroes capable of flying or teleporting followed or were carried away. Even the monsters, both the ones that had already arrived and the reinforcements that continually streamed through the portal, took to the sky – scurrying to aid their master.
He stared up at the retreating figures, briefly hating his humanity. Flight was too good of an advantage to not utilize, somehow. It was for the best, though; with the fight taking place on the surface, it freed him to close the portal down here. Now, he only needed to find out how. His focus turned back to Ra's, who was still fighting as though he could worm his way out of his own mortality again. Maybe he didn't realize the situation he was in.
Batman decided to remind him.
Talia leaned on the Watchtower console, grinding her molars. She wanted to stop her father before his deranged actions caused irreparable damage, but it appeared that her intervention came far too late. Beloved had been right, as usual – she should not have played any part in Father's plan. She should have come to him for help. She had to set things right, somehow. She had to.
The elevator doors opened behind her. Surprised that much of anyone beyond the skeleton crew was left on the satellite, she pivoted. Her eyes fell upon one ever composed, but grimly determined Alfred Pennyworth; an infant was nestled safely in the crook of his left elbow. She decided to forgo asking. “Alfred.”
He gave her a tiny nod of recognition, seemingly out of rote more than courtesy, as his attention was clearly directed at the command center they stood in. “Miss Talia. I heard Madam Shayera's command a few moments ago, has she – ?”
“Departed,” she confirmed. “To battle Hades.”
The elder man grimaced slightly; a strange sight, for him. Then, his gaze snapped up to hers. The intensity of his scrutiny reminded her sharply of beloved when he was scheming. “You've stated before that you wish to help stop your father from this catastrophe. Does that still hold true now?”
He stepped forward, holding out a small ring. “Then take this. It will be of use to you.”
She knitted her brows. “What will this do?”
“My ancient Hebrew is a bit rusty,” he explained, placing the ring in her hand, “but if I've translated this engraving properly, then I do believe this may be the fabled Seal of Solomon.”
“Rumored to have control over demons and the undead,” Talia murmured, staring at the band resting in her palm. “I recall my father searching for this item many years ago, without success. How did you come across this?”
“It was a...gift from an old friend.” He motioned to the transporter controls. “You must hurry. If the reports being displayed are anywhere near accurate – “
“I'll make my way at once.” In spite of this, she remained still as a stray memory of Milan rose unbidden in her mind. Knowing there might never be another chance, she turned back around and said, “Beloved once confided in me that he would not have survived this long if it weren't for your aid. He respects your word above all else, and would end this – all of this – if only you asked him to.”
Alfred's brief hesitance in reply was proof enough of her statement's impact. “I know, madam.”
“Then why do you allow him to continue?”
He inhaled, slowly. “Because denying him the opportunity to help others would be too cruel an injustice for him to endure.” He motioned to the transport console. “Go, madam. Quickly.”
She nodded briskly, heading for the teleporter without further delay. Alfred watched her go with no small measure of worry, wondering if he hadn't made a terribly dreadful mistake.
“She will not betray your Master,” suddenly said the young woman that stood off to the side, expression blank. “My grandfather has threatened too many that my mother cares for to show him mercy, now. She enters the fight with vengeance in her heart.”
“That,” he answered, all too aware of the tiny infant cradled in his arm, “is what I'm most afraid of.”
Ra's thought he was faring rather well, given that he was several centuries old and outmatched in every capacity but for sheer tactical prowess – but that was all he was doing. He couldn't escape into the fray without dying, and he'd liquidated his entire institution simply getting to this point; restructuring would take more time than he could afford to buy from the Lazarus Pits. Hades disregarded his offer, but there could still be a way to foster the seeds for regrowth after his reign of terror had ended. He needed to survive to do that, though, and the fiend in front of him was making that a problem.
He parried the arc of a sword with his own, blue sparks flying; the demon moved with a swiftness and brutality he knew he couldn't match. If only he'd still had the Agimat, he could have brought this brute to his knees! He parried again, the inhuman power of the strike reverberating through his limbs painfully and causing him to falter backwards. The red-eyed monstrosity sensed his weakness and rushed forward to finish its job, when the Detective, of all people, mysteriously appeared in front of him to block the blow. Breathing room established, Ra's was free to flank the miserable creature and end its life with a blade to its chest. “Your assistance is obliged, Dete – “
Ra's sword clattered to the ground as Batman wheeled around, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and bodily shoved him into the nearby cave wall. The vigilante's expression was nothing short of murderous. “Don't thank me yet. The only reason I saved you is because you might know something we don't. Tell me how to close the portal.” He pressed harder against Ra's throat. “Now!”
Ra's struggled to allow more airflow in, but was met with his captor's hold tightening further. “There...is no way to close it. It will remain open for as long as the energy sustains itself, which will last for days.”
“If it can be opened, it can be closed,” he insisted sharply. “Tell me how!”
“He doesn't know.” The Dark Knight looked to the left, spotting a figure in a blue fedora and cape calmly walking towards them. “He also doesn't know the full ramifications of his actions.”
“Like releasing a God bent on killing everyone?” Tim commented idly.
“Worse.” Phantom Stranger nodded to the thin beam of energy that flashed chaotically with energy. “The barrier separating the realms of the dead and living was never meant to be broken. While Ra's Al Ghul's machine remains operational, the breach will remain open. However, that machine is also the only thing keeping the breach stable. Removal of that stabilizing force will cause the rift to widen, and likely shatter the barrier between worlds altogether, obliterating this one in the process.”
“A catch-22,” Batman said, slowly lowering Ra's to the ground without seeming to realize that he was doing so. “There has to be a way to stop it.”
“Whatever could be done to reverse the damage may only hasten it,” the Stranger replied.
“That doesn't mean we give up!” Tim exclaimed. “So what if this barrier was never meant to be broken? Well, it broke. Now we have to fix it.”
“Spoken like a child,” Ra's chastised with a shake of his head. “Some damage can never be adequately repaired – those scars will remain forever, immune to the effects of time.”
“Guess that explains why you're still here, then.”
Ra's snarled. “Insolent – “
Bruce's focus, strangely, turned inward at the sound of R – Tim's voice. How long had it been since they'd stood in the same room – since he could even stand the thought of it? How much time had he wasted, hunkering in a corner and licking his wounds, pretending that nothing existed but his own shame? He glanced at his former protege, still short with an unruly mop of hair, still rebellious and mouthy, still alive, and was struck by an epiphany. The world was still here. Tim, Dick, Alfred, Clark, Diana, all of them, they were still here; maybe not well, but definitely alive – and, right now, they needed him.
...Almost as much as he needed them.
The conscious admission could have been enough to bowl him over. As it was, his grip on Ra's went slack. “You're right. Some damage can't ever be repaired.”
Tim's eyes went wide with incredulity. “What? You can't – “
He placed a hand on the young man's shoulder reassuringly, and in spite of himself, in spite of everything, he smiled faintly. It had been too long. “But that doesn't mean we should give up.” He turned to the Stranger. “What do we need to do?”
Phantom Stranger shook his head. “Unfortunately, I can offer no advice. The inherent volatility of magic can be difficult to predict under the best of circumstances; mixing magics even more so. The same action can produce a thousand results, all wildly different, many of them extremely deadly.”
Tim stared at the demi-god flatly. “How about a hint?”
Batman's expression lit up suddenly. “He just gave us one.”
To be continued...
A/N: Let me be brief: real life > me. There's another chapter that will be (hopefully) coming within the next couple of days -- which was actually part of this one, but, yeah, 18 pages is a bit too long for one chapter. Even for my standards of "Jesus God make it end already" chapters.
Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:50 AM.
Superman and Wonder Woman battled valiantly; they used their abilities in tandem, playing off of the other's individual strengths and styles in a near-symbiotic fashion. Had their opponent been anything but the Lord of the Underworld, they would have fallen easily. Diana blocked Hades' broadsword with her vambrace, twisting to grab his arm and pull him into Superman's waiting fist. The god sailed through the air as they continued their assault, Wonder Woman looping her lasso around his wrist while Superman's eyes glowed a fierce red. It was a perfectly executed maneuver.
Hades tugged on the unbreakable cord, wrenching Diana to him – and directly into Superman's line of fire.
She screamed as the full brunt of Kal El's heat vision connected with her unprotected back, going limp as Hades steadied her in a nauseatingly paternal gesture. He mused, “You know, like this, you remind me of your mother.”
Diana slammed the back of her head into his mouth.
Snarling, he hurled her toward the ground. “Wench!”
From across the battlefield, Shayera watched Superman fly down after her, and more alarmingly, caught how Hades smiled and followed suit. She knew where her friends were weak, and she knew all too well how those weaknesses could be exploited. She wouldn't let that happen again. She charged through a wall of wings and fangs, felling the army between her and him as Hades readied his sword, poised to impale the Man of Steel through the back. She threw her mace with unerring accuracy, knocking the weapon out of his grasp a few feet from its intended target. Incensed by the interruption, Hades glanced up in time to see a shrieking Thanagarian barrel into him.
She struck repeatedly, right cross after uppercut after haymaker. She managed to move him approximately three inches before Hades lashed an arm out, swatting her aside like a gnat. She righted herself, wings flared out, as the Lord of the Underworld glared, broadsword reappearing in his hand with a pale green fizzle. Sparing no words, he launched himself downward. With a warcry, she launched herself upwards.
She stood no chance. But if she could buy Clark and Diana time, if they could stop Hades and save her son, then it would have been worth it.
A split-second before they collided, a demon slammed into Hades, sending him off course. She halted her ascent as she watched him fumble in amazement at the sudden attack, before grabbing it by a horn and hurling it into the distance. “Wretched creature!” No sooner had that monster been dispatched before another took its place, and then another, and another still. So it continued, even as he killed his aggressors, more would replace them.
Shayera flew to check on her allies below who, by this point, also noticed the sudden shift in the army's behavior. They stared skyward as the minions piled onto the dark god from all angles. “I didn't think demons could stage a mutiny,” Superman stated.
“They can't,” Diana replied with a grunt of pain as she pulled herself free of Clark's grip, eyes narrowed in distrust. “They're bound to the will of Hades; no demon is strong enough to resist his orders.”
“Not all demons are alike,” came a slow, rumbling voice. A single demon descended to their level, stilted in its movements. Its malformed jaw worked with clear unfamiliarity as it spoke words that were not its own, words halted and hardly recognizable. “I have controlled the creeeeatures that have been released here, and have sent them to attack their looord. Go – take this time to stop my faaaather.”
Superman scrutinized the creature. “'Father'? You mean Talia is controlling you?”
The demon didn't acknowledge his question, slanted red eyes flickering briefly, as if blinking. Its message sent, it darted upwards with a roar, leaving them behind to be slaughtered for its new master. Kal surveyed the grounds, spotting her with her hand upraised, glowing ring upon her finger. “I don't know how she's doing this, but – “
“Batman to all points – start evacuating the surrounding area.”
Shayera blinked at the request. “I already have League members – “
“Get everyone on it – now.”
Diana stared skyward at the chaos made manifest, asking, “And what about Hades?”
“He's not our biggest problem anymore.” As if sensing her incoming argument, he added, “The portal is destabilizing; if it isn't closed now, the Earth is as good as gone. We need every able-bodied person we can get on the surface, preparing to contain as much of the damage as possible. I don't know what sealing it will do, so be ready for the worst. Batman out.”
Shayera swore under her breath, muttering, “This just keeps getting better and better.”
Diana clenched her fists as League members retreated from the battlefield. Her eyes were flint. “I'll make sure Hades stays distracted.”
Superman recognized the tone; he'd heard it often enough from his own voice during the height of the Cadmus fiasco. He opened his mouth to reason with her, but stopped short when he watched her charge forward. “Diana, wait!”
“No, let her go,” Shayera interrupted quickly, putting a hand on his arm to stop him. (Such was his strength of will that he actually stopped without inadvertently tearing her arm off.) “Those things aren't going to keep him busy for long – Batman will need cover, and so will we.”
He knew she was right, but the idealist in him – sometimes, the only thing that kept him going – took intense issue with anyone taking on a mission they had no real chance of surviving; he didn't want anyone giving their lives if there was a way that he could save them. Shayera's grip tightened slightly, her expression soft with a strange kind of sadness. “Trust me, Clark, Diana needs to be here – for herself and for Bruce.” She smirked faintly. “Call it 'Mother's Intuition'.”
His eyes turned from the Thanagarian to the Amazon, and was reminded of when Batman torpedoed the Watchtower directly into the Hyperspace Bypass while behind the wheel of it. After the dust had settled, he'd mentioned how insane of an idea that was, and asked if he was actively trying to kill himself. Bruce, in reply, simply flashed him a quirky little grin and glibly stated, “It's not a suicide mission until you die.”
Clark vividly remembered not being sure if he wanted to punch him or hug him. It only occurred to him later, after Hawkgirl had resigned and reconstruction of the new Watchtower had begun, what the words meant: it wasn't a suicide mission until they died – Bruce's way of saying, 'There's always hope.'
“There's always hope,” Superman said, even as Wonder Woman drove into the dark god with a thunderous force. “Let's go.”
Batman walked toward the pit-turned-gateway while Tim happily handcuffed Ra's, asking, “So, what's the plan?”
His knee twinged in phantom pain. “Suture.”
“When a person is stabbed, removing the knife prematurely is the worst thing you can do – ignoring everything else, it's still staunching the blood flow, buying the victim time. Dahluzett's device is doing the same thing with the portal.”
Tim surmised, “So, you're going to sew the wound up. With what?”
“This.” He held up the Agimat. “If I can substitute the generator's energy source with this one, I might be able to reverse the effect and seal the portal.”
“You would be ill-advised to use it,” Ra's cautioned sternly. “Though I've no doubt of your willpower, such is the strength of the Agimat that the magical forces trapped within it would tear you to pieces.”
“I'll make do.” His focus shifted to Tim, ordering, “Get Dahluzett to safety, then coordinate with the League forces on the ground and help with the evacuation effort.”
“Got it.” He raced up the warped and badly damaged gangplank, kneeling at the side of the barely conscious scientist. “Come on, up and at'em.”
She stirred as he lifted her from the ground, wriggling weakly in his grasp. “No, get off me – my generator! My work!”
“Seriously, lady,” he griped as he slung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, “let it go.”
Batman waited for his former protege to exit the cavern before he turned to the passively silent demigod. “Stranger. I need a favor.” The Stranger inclined his head to listen. “Get them away from as far away from here as you can.” He nodded to the figure behind him. “Ra's, too.”
Ra's stepped forward. “Someone must stay to ensure that the portal is properly shut off at the correct time, or else your gambit will fail.”
He regarded the man with open hostility. “You caused all of this, and now you're saying you want to help me stop it?”
“My intent was to save Earth, not destroy it,” Ra's replied factually. “If reparations are to be made, then it is my duty to make them, here and now, while there's still a chance.”
Batman's distrust only heightened at the supposed honesty, glancing at the Stranger. His silent question was answered with, “He's being genuine.”
Stranger's words did not alleviate his distrust in the slightest, but a nigh-omniscient creature from another realm of existence had advantages he didn't. With effort, he yanked the leash on his temper and strode forward, removing the cuffs from the Society leader's wrists. Sighing in relief, Ra's rubbed at one with his hand, before that wrist was caught in an iron-wrought grip. Their eyes met. “Don't even think of double-crossing me.”
“If I'd truly wanted you dead, Detective, I'd have had you killed in your sleep years ago.” As if to sell the point, Ra's smirked.
Stars exploded, and Ra's hit the ground with a pronounced thud, holding his jaw protectively. Batman stood over him, a looming silhouette, and rubbed his fist idly. In the distance, Stranger asked, “Was that necessary?”
“Absolutely.” He looked over his shoulder. “Will you do it?”
Stranger nodded dutifully. “They'll come to no harm, so long as you're successful here. Good luck.” He bowed his head, then faded from sight.
Ra's, having scrabbled to his feet, stared at the Dark Knight in morbid fascination as he stepped onto the pit's ledge. “Getting the boy out of the way was wise, but sending off the most powerful ally in your arsenal to do so was overzealous.”
“It wasn't about getting him out of the way.” He gazed into the churning miasma below, remembering those first nights after Tim was recovered. It almost killed him. It did worse than kill him. “I won't let him get hurt again. I can't.”
“Your 'Stranger' friend may well be the only one capable of retrieving you,” Ra's stated. “Without him, how do you expect to escape the collapse of the portal itself?”
He thought of his loved ones – of how much they had sacrificed for him, and he for them. He suddenly wanted to thank them for all they had done, for the dozens of times they had saved his life by simply being in it. He knew it was impossible (and hypocritical – he recalled the saying about atheists and foxholes), but he let that impossibility strengthen his resolve to succeed. It wasn't a suicide mission until you died.
Besides, he'd spent the past four years in a living hell. The real thing couldn't possibly be worse. “I don't.”
He dove in.
In a world beyond worlds, the Spectre frowned at the scene playing out before him, and vanished.
Hades was becoming increasingly irritated. His treacherous minions swarmed around him like gnats, doing no harm but being a continual nuisance, while Diana was busy making herself one very fast and angry nuisance that was gleefully taking advantage of the distraction in any way that she could. He wished he could say the damage she was unloading was due to his demon army's bothersome influence, but he had to admit that while she was no member of the Pantheon, Diana had quite well proven her champion status. After all, she was still alive.
Frankly, Hades was quite vexed by it all, but not due to her defiance; it was his realization upon the eighth straight blocked attack that he was actually pleased by her display. Now was not the time for some inkling of fatherly pride to rear its ugly head. Still, what kind of father would he be if he didn't give his daughter her proper due?
“Exemplary performance, my dear,” he complimented, cutting a vast swath of his minions down with a single arc of his blade. It was testament to how many of the creatures he'd culled in the past few minutes that the gaping hole in their ranks didn't fill. He was impressed that Diana was able to withstand the power behind the swing as she halted it with a silver vambrace. Her mother certainly trained her well – well enough to almost be a threat to him. “You're quite the formidable opponent.”
Still, withstanding was not the same as repelling, evidenced by the scowl of exertion that crossed her features after the blow landed. Judging by the venom in her voice, she noted this, as well. “Your words are meaningless, Hades.”
“I speak the truth. I've been longing to see how you've matured since our first encounter all those years ago,” he responded smoothly, parrying the heel palm strike aimed towards his head with his sword arm. In the same motion, he gripped her by the crook of the elbow with his spare hand and spun her around in his grasp, pinning her arms between her back and his plated torso. She screamed as the claws that were once again aiming towards his body sunk into hers, instead. “It's a shame to see you wasting your talents like this, though.”
She tried headbutting him again. This time, he ducked his head to the side, pressing his lips near her ear in a close whisper. “Why do you fight for them? You could conquer this entire world for your own.”
“Never. It would go against everything I ever stood for.” He didn't miss just how sharp her features became.
“What do you stand for?” he asked her as he maneuvered around to prevent his minions from flanking him. They hissed angrily at his strategic movements, backing away in an attempt to regroup. “Look at them below, scurrying like vermin – killing each other indiscriminately out of greed, pleasure, and apathy. Even the good among their kind are weak and ineffectual against the might of their more craven ilk.”
“You know nothing of Man's World, Hades,” she seethed as she shifted in his grasp, trying unsuccessfully to wriggle free.
“I know more than you realize, my dear. Lest you forget, I am the Lord of the Underworld, not merely Tartarus. All will pass through my gates eventually, but you...” He paused, humming. “Well, since you seem so enamored with these mortals, I'll strike a bargain.”
She scoffed. “With you? Save your breath.”
“Hear me out before dismissing my proposal,” he chided her lightly. “Regardless of your intervention, all the denizens of your so-called 'Man's World' will perish at some point. It's only a matter of when. I could strike them all down now, or...” His lips tugged back into a jagged grin. “I could spare their lives – in exchange for yours.” He ducked around another headbutt attempt. “If you refuse, I'll simply kill you and slaughter everyone else afterward, starting with your closest allies.”
She snarled. “You would never keep your word.”
“I always keep my word,” he reprimanded immediately. “Mortals merely forget to be specific.”
Diana remained silent, stoic and unyielding. Nauseatingly moral and stubborn, like all of her kin, but he couldn't hold that against her. She didn't know any better. “On one condition.”
He almost grinned; foolish woman. “Yes?”
Her gaze was distant, her breathing shallow. “You will personally see my soul safely to the Underworld.” Her dark blue eyes flickered in his direction. “If you're truly my father, you'll do this for me.”
He considered her briefly. Hers was a sad tale – an immortal among mortals, perhaps, but compared to the power he and his torpid siblings in Olympus wielded, her life was as fragile and fleeting as the middling little creatures she was forfeiting her life to protect. He supposed for a champion of the Gods, for his daughter, he could grant this one singular request.
“You have my word.” Hades pushed her away, brandished his sword, and ran her through.
Batman was engulfed by the putrid mist of the portal, ignoring the way it burned at every patch of exposed skin. The clouds peeled back suddenly, the whistling of stale air ringing in his ears as his eyes struggled to adjust to the extreme contrast of light and dark. He knew what was waiting for him on the other side would have been none too pleasant, but he hadn't been expecting this.
Instead of the fiery pits of everlasting torment that Diana and Shayera described in their little day-trip to Tartarus, he was greeted by a verdant swamp landscape that stretched on into forever, cut in half by a bloated river. It may have even been somewhat tranquil, if not for the massive, violent whirlpool that churned the otherwise stagnant waters of the Styx. He grabbed his jumpline – the last remaining item in his belt, save for the Agimat itself – and aimed for a low-hanging stalactite.
A scream from behind caught his attention, and before he could look over his shoulder, he felt the collision rattle through his limbs as a demon slammed into his midsection. It wound its arms around his torso in a crushing grip, veering him towards the ground in a nosedive. Awkwardly, he twisted and struck the monster in the face, first with his fist, and then with his elbow. It snarled and tried to bite his arms off, but had no effect on their course, otherwise. As the canopy rushed ever closer, he hurriedly jammed his grapple into the nook of one of the demon's horns and fired. The line snapped taut, and the demon's head jerked back with an audible crack.
He shot forward into a free-fall, grabbing the edges of his frayed cape in both hands and praying that it would be enough to control his landing somewhat. Branches and twigs were ripped from their trunks in his descent, his already-damaged cape being torn to pieces in his grasp as he was pitched into the dirt. Even with his training, there was only so much kinetic energy he could mitigate with proper technique; by the time he rolled to a halt some sixty feet away, he'd given up all pretense of fighting gravity and had simply gone limp.
Batman laid on his back, staring blankly through the too-still canopy to the dead rock above, and tried to remember how to move. He pressed his fingers against the pouch that held the Agimat, relieved when he felt it still in its confines – still had a job to do. With a groan of misery, he rolled onto his side, his arm clasped protectively around his ribs as he shakily stood. He half-crouched, half-hobbled to the treeline, quickly scouting the area for more party-crashers while he heard the wailing echo of Cerberus in the distance. That was not a creature he wanted to tangle with unprepared; this entire sojourn was much more suited for the likes of – “Diana?”
The figure that caught his attention walked idly along the riverbank, gaze focused on the vortex above with clear worry. He strode forward without thought. She wasn't supposed to be here. “Diana!”
She looked at him in shock. “Bruce?” Her expression tightened in regret. “Oh Hera, Bruce, why are you here?”
“Me? Why are you here?” he continued angrily as he closed the distance. “I told you and the others to help evacuate the area! Why did you come through the portal?”
He scowled. “What do you – “
Batman's mind – his razor-sharp, callously indifferent mind – registered her words and actions efficiently and without emotion, drawing a clear line from A, to B, to C without halting for his own benefit.
What Batman's razor-sharp and callously indifferent mind didn't anticipate was a suddenly desperate and frantic Bruce all but shoving the Bat out of way as the connection was made, firmly grasping the reigns for himself. “No.” His hands found her shoulders roughly, willed them to be there, be solid, be alive. “No.”
Her face was still pinched in remorse, lightly clasping his wrists as she glanced skyward again. “Hurry, you have to hide.” She tugged at his arms – her grip was so weak – and hurriedly ordered, “Go! Hades will be here soon – he'll kill you if he sees you!”
He didn't move, had absolutely no intention of it. “I'm not going anywhere.”
“Bruce, you stubborn man, listen to me,” she growled. “If you die here today, Man's World dies with you, and my sacrifice will have been for nothing.” Her jaw rolling in determination and fury, she authoritatively motioned to the trees with her head. “Into the trees. Now!”
He blinked, reality encroaching upon in him as his mind (heart?) continued to scream that he could fix this, he could save her, there had to be a way, he just needed to find it, just needed time. She was right; too many were depending on him to succeed only to falter now. He wouldn't let them down. He would not let Diana's death be in vain. There would be vengeance.
Bruce's grip tightened. No. There would be justice.
He pulled her forward and pressed his lips to hers.
Her fingertips ghosted down his cheek – they were cool against his skin, no no no – and it was all he could do to break the contact after a painfully brief few heartbeats. She exhaled quietly, hand still resting against his face, and stated with a heart-breaking earnestness, “I love you.”
His gloved fingers curled around her too-cold ones and gently pulled them away. It was like tearing off his own arm. “You shouldn't.”
Diana smiled sadly. She motioned again to the treeline. “Go.”
His hands dropped to his sides and stepped away, his tattered capes still managing to shroud his form as he stepped away. He nodded to her once, a final farewell, and disappeared into the underbrush.
Death was an odd experience. Diana felt virtually no different than she did previously – the only marker that she was, in fact, dead was her lack of powers. Was this how ordinary humans felt in their normal day to day lives? She briefly glanced back to the swamp as she continued up the shoreline. Was this how Bruce felt? This...vulnerable? Gods, the strength of will he had to –
“Ah, there you are, my dear.” The booming, thunderous voice stopped her cold; odd that she didn't feel her skin crawling the way it did previously. Hades landed a pace in front of her, smug grin stretching his features. “Are you ready for your trip? Do you need an extra moment or two to prepare?”
Diana marched rigidly up the riverbank, past the smugly preening God. She had to draw Hades as far away from Batman as she could. “Let's get this over with.”
“So wrathful,” he crooned. “Need I remind you that you were the one who requested my company?”
“I requested that you adhere to a single honorable tradition, not your company,” she corrected as the rickety boat holding Charon floated casually toward their positions. She felt no fear at its arrival; immortal or not, she had expected this would happen one day.
“Never the less, it's my company you have,” Hades answered, still smiling as he waved off the ferryman's silent request for the customary fare. “I suggest you get used to your new surroundings, Diana. You'll be here for quite some time.”
Wonder Woman proudly stepped into the dingy, never breaking eye contact. Even in death, she would not be cowed into submission. “Should you break your word, Hades, there will be dire consequences. Justice can never be escaped, not even by a God.”
“How very impious of you,” Hades replied darkly, gesturing for Charon to disembark. Dutifully, the blue creature pressed its rotted ore into the shoreline and shoved off. “In this forsaken realm, my dear, I am justice, and you will learn not to question my interpretation of it.” His grin turned wicked, true to his very core. “Fear not, though; you won't be the only baffled newcomer yet.”
Diana stiffened. She knew it. “You said – “
“I said that I would spare their lives in exchange for yours,” Hades interjected. “I never said for how long.”
She launched to her feet, determined to dive off the boat and into the deadly river waters, the consequences be damned. Her journey ended abruptly when Charon's gnarled hand dug into her shoulder and forcibly dragged her back down to her knees. Hades chuckled at her display, his betrayal complete, as the realm of the living disappeared in a blinding flash of white.
Hades sighed wistfully as his daughter disappeared into the mists of the dead. She would be a tough one to break, just like her mother, but he had all of eternity to teach her the error of her ways. Eventually, like all the others who came before him, they would see reason. But for now – his retribution. He strolled forward casually, listening to the distant cries of damned souls on both sides of the portal, and smiled brightly. Today would be a beautiful day.
“Hades, Lord of the Underworld...”
Even by his standards, the timbre and weight the voice carried was full of hatred and spite. His interest was, quite frankly, piqued. He glanced to his left and found the owner standing silently amidst the trees. It took him a few moments to recognize just who was daring to encroach upon his territory. “Oh, it's you.” He cocked an eyebrow. “A little out of your jurisdiction, aren't you?”
His voice was a low, baleful growl. “You have made a bargain... One that you now seek to break.”
“And you wish to – what? Keep me in check?” Hades crossed his arms, equally amused and annoyed at the creature in front of him. “Even the Pantheon couldn't do that, except to lock me in this cesspit. What do you expect to do here, today? Stop me?”
“No. I do.”
Hades turned on his heel. Batman stood at the riverbed, dangling a glinting pendant from an outstretched arm. His eyes widened, feeling the raw chaotic energy that emanated from the amulet. “No!”
Batman let go.
The second the Agimat made contact with the churning, super-charged waters of the Styx, a violent electrical current danced over the surface of the whirlpool. The sparks of magic and uncontrolled power intensified exponentially as the pendant was sucked into the current, sending a powerful surge of blue energy up the thin tether keeping the two realms connected. Cerberus howled in discontent as the entire cavern began to rumble ominously – the precursor to a terrible earthquake.
Hades gaped forlornly at the sickly swirling clouds warped and began imploding on itself. “The portal! What have you done?”
Batman's glare never wavered from him. “Magics don't mix.”
His eyes blazed red with fury and locked onto the piddling little worm who sought to betray him. Enraged, he shot forward in the blink of an eye, latching a hand to its miserable throat and lifting it far overhead. “You wish to entrap me, mortal?! Then YOU will be my prize!”
Bruce, feeling what little strength he had left failing him as his larynx was steadily being crushed by the unbreakable grip of an irate deity, almost smiled. No regrets.
There was a flash of light, a whiff of ozone, and he found himself five yards away, on the ground and hacking up what remained of his lungs while struggling to breathe. Blearily, he gaped through watery eyes to see Hades sailing in the opposite direction, an almost comical trail of smoke being left in his wake. It took him a shameful two seconds to focus his eyes on the objects that hovered bravely nearby. It took him three more to muster up the power to speak. “Stranger...? What...”
Stranger turned to his companion. Oh god, Diana? Was she... “The agreement has been rendered forfeit, your life and powers have been returned. Take him.”
Diana circled around the demigod and knelt at his side, slipping her arms underneath him. He could've cried; she was warm. She looked at their savior, radiant and alive. “What about you? I thought you were forbidden – “
Stranger glanced over his shoulder as he strode forward purposefully. “Don't worry about me. Go – quickly! Before the portal closes!”
Wonder Woman watched on as Phantom Stranger's attire shredded into nothing, revealing a creature of pure light. He – it – intercepted Hades with a thundering crash, pushing the God back into the ground and holding him there. Her heart swelled in admiration; whoever or whatever he was deserved to be exalted among his brethren in the Elysian Fields when his time ended. Such bravery deserved nothing less. She gathered Batman into her arms and soared through the rapidly collapsing portal.
“Wretched, meddling insect!” Hades bellowed at the being, struggling to connect a blow with it. “You dare to strike a God?!”
Stranger's voice reverberated throughout the halls of the dead with a startling conviction and strength. “You are no God, betrayer. You will receive no absolution.”
Spectre observed the scene with vague interest. It seemed that Phantom Stranger had finally found his breaking point – and it only took six millennia, at that. “Nor will you, Stranger... Your judgment is soon to come. But you already knew that, didn't you...?” He tilted his head in a tiny gesture of respect. “In that case, I grant you...” He peered skyward, through the violent torrent of energies. He had one last stop to make. “Mercy.”
Over a hundred miles away, holding a defunct tanker filled with thousands of people overhead, Superman was the first to hear the explosion. His head shot up as he spied the barest crack of dawn over the rim of the world over his shoulder, trying to discern if the explosion was the portal closing, or the Earth's immanent collapse. Either way, he needed to be there.
He landed upon the shores of Key West, Florida, placing the rusted rig upon the balmy shores with as much grace as possible, before breaking the sound barrier to return to the scene. “Superman to all channels – I just heard a massive underground explosion.”
“I'm en route to do damage control.”
A hundred-and-fifty miles away, Shayera's heart leapt into her throat at the voice, her eyes stinging and throat tightening. He was still alive. Even so, her mind detached and assessed the situation; when she replied, her voice was strong and clear. “Understood. John, try and contain as much of the blast as you can with your ring – Superman, you worry about northern coastline. J'onn, Stargirl, Vibe, and Ice, get the southern coast. The rest of you...” She paused briefly as she felt the first tremors beneath her striped yellow boots, signaling the backlash Batman mentioned. “Buckle up, 'cause we're gonna be in for a really bumpy ride.”
Ra's felt the earth roll beneath his feet again, and immediately braced himself against a nearby wall. He had held up his end of the bargain and initiated the shutdown sequence of the generator when it appeared that the Detective had been successful. He still wasn't entirely sure if that was the case, but the power surge that traveled through the energy conduit certainly seemed like an important happenstance, and considering how quickly the condition of the command center was deteriorating, he could hardly afford to wait for a more verifiable signal. While it was heroic of the Detective to be so willing to give his life on a slim hope, he hadn't survived six-hundred years by throwing himself upon every sword that promised redemption. He certainly wasn't about to start now.
The earth rolled again, this time above him; the light fixtures of the secret emergency exit rattled like diamonds in an expensive chandelier. He quickly climbed the ladder at the end of the narrow passage, the hollow clinking of metal playing accompaniment to his shallow breathing. He vividly recalled the good doctor's omens about shutting off the generator at the apex of its energy storage, and the consequence of such foolishness. With luck, the closing of the portal would act as a means of absorbing much of the blast, allowing for the area to survive largely unscathed – and, more importantly, allowing for him to rebuild a network and find a successor capable of carrying on his work. There was still time. There was always time.
He slid the top hatch back and slipped into the final hallway that stood between himself and freedom, the stench of burning metal hanging in the humid night air.
“Ra's Al Ghul...”
Ra's stopped mid-motion, one foot still resting on the top rung of the ladder. His blue eyes darted around the darkened corridor, expecting (fearing?) to spot the Detective's sinister white eyes peering back at him. He found nothing. He exhaled quietly, standing fully and distractedly brushing his sleeves off. Even Batman could not have escaped –
“Ra's Al Ghul...”
He wheeled around, teeth bared at the terrible, disembodied voice. “Who's there?” he challenged. “Show yourself immediately!”
“As you wish...”
A being dislodged itself from the ever-present shadows that spilled like the bloodstains of millions across the wall, the darkness lingering on his frayed green cape as though it couldn't bear to be parted with him. Ra's' mouth went dry as the thing began to slowly glide towards him, the hallway twisting into the maws of oblivion. Its pale yellow eyes were cold as it grated out in that soul-scarring baritone, “You have escaped me for generations... Plotted and schemed to avoid the fate that you have justly brought upon yourself... No more.” The monster's eyes brightened, glowing fiercely, as it raised a hand – the brandishing of a scythe. “Your time of judgment has come!”
He backed into the wall, heart seized in terror at this creature, this spectre of death. He did not come this far to fail now, he did not sacrifice everything to be felled for nothing...!
The vision dissolved. The corridor was as it had been before.
Ra's blinked. Blinked again. He then sagged against the wall, breathing a deep sigh of relief. It appeared that opening a portal to the realm of the damned had let out more that he had been anticipating. It was a mistake he would not repeat. Wiping his brow, he continued through the passage with all due haste, shoving open the exit doors.
The night air was heavy against his skin, as were the shadows that clung to the many trees that surrounded the hidden egress. On impulse, he quickly closed the doors behind him, feeling his heartbeat slow at the reassuring sound of thick metal clanking together. He turned back around, jumping at the figure that hadn't been there seconds before. The instinct to run was quelled once he recognized who it was that stood before him. “Ah,” he smiled, holding out his hands, “my beloved daughter.”
Her eyes, blue as his, were devoid of any emotion but vengeance.
Two hulking monstrosities swooped down from above and landed heavily to his left and right. Talia's lips did not move as they said for their Master, “Goodbye – “
“ – Father.”
Ra's pained screams echoed for miles.
The Spectre, lurking in the shadows, smiled darkly and faded away.
Superman saw the tsunami ripple away from the landmass of Cuba...without making use of his own enhanced eyesight. The destruction it would cause would be immense if it wasn't stopped. He set his jaw. “J'onn, is your team ready?”
“Good, because it's coming your way now,” he answered, intercepting the endlessly long wall of seawater that frothed angrily in the distance. Shortly before he made contact with the massive wave, he veered to a parallel and blew a gust of air from between his lips. The wall of seawater hardened into monolithic shards of ice that curled over the rest of the Carribbean like a sweetly sparkling guillotine.
Along the southern coast, the four Leaguers remained spread out over a length of two miles. As their own tsunami hurtled ever closer, they enacted their own method of curbing its deadly force: J'onn cleverly shapeshifted into a form that would cut through the wave and break its momentum. Stargirl used her staff to redirect one portion of the wave to crash into another. Vibe, carried on the back of the Shining Knight's prized pegasus Victory, focused his mind on the sea floor and forced it roll upward for a brief moment, creating a smaller counter-tsunami to halt the behemoth's tracks. Ice, lacking Superman's flight and speed, resorted to erecting walls of frost to slow the tsunami's pace.
On the mainland, Green Lantern hovered over the imploding Juragua nuclear facility, firing a luminescent barrier from his ring to surround the entire installation. His mind's eye, so deeply immersed with keeping his concentration, could see the way the earth sank into itself – the way the remaining wildlife frantically scrabbled against the impenetrable wall he erected. He ignored it, ignored everything but the rattling of his every nerve while the force of the explosion steadily rose upward against his will, the weight of the ocean against a styrofoam cup. As his world went white, John believed he finally understood how J'onn felt as his mind and body both buckled under the strain of containing the equivalent of a thermonuclear explosion.
In the choking haze, Diana curled her body around Batman as a final, spiteful blast of searing heat engulfed them both. She had already given her life once for the man; she wasn't afraid to do so again.
The refugees and citizens corralled into the port city silently watched the sky light up too brightly for the dawn it should have been. One small child, too young to understand how close she had come to death, pointed and murmured excitedly, “Fireworks, mama!”
“Shush, Maria,” the mother, Carmen Famosa, hissed, taking a careful peek at one stoically quiet Shayera Hol. Though she may have been far removed from the hustle and bustle of world politics, she knew of the story between the winged woman and the man responsible for turning much of those 'fireworks' green...and felt her pain. She prayed for Rodrigo's safety, or, at least, his safe entrance into God's kingdom.
The populace of the world felt another faint tremor run under their collective feet as Ra's Al Ghul's portal to the Underworld resealed itself in a brilliant flash of light, the remaining demons screaming in terror at the sight and fleeing into the skyline. Catwoman, bleeding and clutching at her injured arm, smiled brightly at their sudden retreat. For once, she had no snappy comment to make, simply basking in the warm glow of a hard-won victory. No wonder these heroes did this stuff so much.
Nightwing halted, the titanium-plated cowl retracting with the slightest tick of his jaw muscles. “Looks like they did it again,” he praised, eyes flickering over to the lanky speedster with an appreciative smirk. “Maybe there's something to this League thing you guys have going, after all. Are you accepting applications?”
The Flash turned back to him, grinning like he'd won the sweepstakes. But then, they really had, hadn't they? “See? I knew you'd come around eventually!” He returned his attention to the sky as the first rays of sunlight streaked across the sky. “Who knows, after this, maybe Bats'll join back up, too.”
Hundreds of miles above the Earth, Nyssa Al Ghul suddenly gasped, and then burst into tears.
To be concluded...
Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:53 AM.
Wow. Just...wow. Please excuse my French, but that was f&*king AWESOME. Between Dick wearing the Beyond suit, Diana dying and being reborn and the scene with Ras (which kinda reminded me of the end of the Lion King for some reason) you blew me away.
I love that catchphrase - "It's not a suicide mission until you die". I guess that's Batman's version of:
"The difficult we can do immediately, the impossible will take a little longer"
Tim was dead.
That was the sole thought running through Batman's head as he stood hunkering over the ledge of a rooftop. 'Tim is dead and it's your fault. You brought this on him, you let him into your world, you left him to face an entire city's criminal element by himself while you were on Monitor Duty – ' His lips, already curled into a snarl, slid back over his teeth in unbridled self-hatred. He had tried, for the past three weeks, to keep his own ineptitude under wraps; he had tried to keep it quiet. If anyone learned that the Bat had been hit where it hurt the most, Gotham would erupt into a frenzy, and the League...well, it was the damned League that caused this mess in the first place.
Still, he couldn't ignore that three weeks had passed and the Wayne family's sudden disappearance from high society was turning heads. More quietly, expressed only in the soft creaking of leather as he clenched his fists, he had become desperate for a solid lead. So, he'd called on the only person he could remotely trust to keep the situation to himself. J'onn J'onzz.
J'onn, to his innumerable credit, had almost given himself an aneurysm in his six hour effort to locate the boy's mind somewhere, anywhere, on Earth. He had even gone so far as to open his mind to the entirety of humanity in a risky bid that he could learn some scrap of information before he fried his own brain from the information overload. He collapsed after forty-seven seconds and didn't regain consciousness for nearly five minutes. Even then, the only thing J'onn could manage to do was roll his head along his shoulders and heave, “N-nothing...”
A faint glimmer of hope he hadn't realized existed was tersely snuffed out.
His mind, still logical, cited that there could be another explanation. Mind-dampening technology, perhaps. Tim could have been off world, or in an alternate reality, or in another time period, or any one of the other thousand insane circumstances he'd found himself in over the years. There was no concrete evidence to support his worst fear, only lack of evidence to disprove it.
Batman stared blankly at the imposing skyline, trying not to give credence to how small and alone he felt. Three weeks later, and he was still no closer to an answer, or even a direction to start looking for one. His eyes focused on a historic cathedral that was nothing if not out of place amid the abandoned factories and dilapidated buildings of the lower east-side. The church steeple towered above like a phoenix rising from the ashes of its fallen predecessor; stalwart, indomitable, a beacon of light for the world-weary – and, right now, there were few people more weary of the world than Batman.
Maybe Ernie Pyle was right; maybe there were no atheists in foxholes, after all.
The antique doors opened with a pronounced creak of hinges far too loud for his tastes, but then, any noise was too loud for his tastes. His eyes, narrowed and distrustful, darted across the expanse of the empty congregation hall, expecting something to emerge from the dingy stained glass windows or pop up between the pews. It wasn't in his nature to simply walk in – Batman was not seen unless he wanted to be seen, and waltzing through the front door was about as subtle an entrance as painting a bullseye on his head at a firing range. It came as a slight surprise when he concluded that he didn't care; not this time. He had bigger things to worry about than stealth, and Lord help the poor fool that decided to pick a fight with him tonight.
The corner of his lip twitched in distaste. Not even ten seconds, and this place was already getting to him.
He walked through the nave, his footfalls silent against the carpet while the faint buzzing of the overhead fluorescent lights echoed in his ears. The hall smelled mustier than he last recalled it, and as he passed the pews, he spotted the thin layer of dust coating some of them. Much like every other sector, it seemed the church had been cutting back on manpower when they could least afford the loss in personnel. He made a passing note to anonymously donate a few million to this particular parish at the next opportunity. That should tide them over for a year or two; enough to keep the church out of the red, if it wasn't already in it.
Batman ascended the steps leading to the sanctuary, coming to a halt at the altar. An ornately carved wooden cross rose from the center of the stone block, meticulously well-kept in spite of the appearance of the back pews. Half a dozen freshly-lit candles framed the cross, their flames bathing the lacquered pine in a warm orange hue. He wasn't sure what he was doing here, or what he was expecting to achieve, but he couldn't deny how calming the flickering of the – wait, freshly-lit candles?
He glanced to his left. Father Michael Stromwell stood in the doorway to the sacristy, his round and aging face mildly surprised. “Odd to see you here at this time of night,” he stated by way of greeting. “Is something on your mind?”
Good old Father Michael, always cutting right to the chase. He often wondered how he and his conning, thieving, drug-pushing scum-bucket of a brother could possibly be related. He returned his gaze to the altar. “I have a lot of things on my mind, Father.”
Father Michael crossed the small enclave slowly, his limp more pronounced now that he was alone than if he were in front of parishioners. “So I see. Do you care to talk about it?”
He opened his mouth immediately, and then closed it. “No, Father, I don't.”
Father Michael nodded sagely, his cane thumping softly against the carpet as he descended the few stairs to the nave. “That's fine. I hope you don't mind company, though.” Batman looked over his shoulder to see the elderly priest sitting down upon the first pew, cane resting idly between his knees. In response to the scrutiny, he smiled wanly, folding both hands on top of the cane. “A shepherd doesn't abandon one of his flock.”
“I'm not part of your flock.”
“As much as you may try to convince the world otherwise, you're still human,” Father Michael responded without missing a beat. “In my book, that makes you part of it.”
His face hardened. He wasn't sure why. “And if I wanted nothing to do with you or your flock?”
“Then you wouldn't be here.” He nodded to the high arched ceiling. “No one comes to a church to enjoy the nightlife. No lost soul wants to be lost. God gave us all free will, but that doesn't mean He can't nudge us in the right direction every now and then. That's why you're here.” He motioned his dented wooden cane towards himself. “And that's why I'm here.”
Batman returned his attention back to the faintly-glowing candles that danced in the stale church air. His tongue felt like lead. “My son is missing.”
The silence that greeted his confession was deafening.
He felt compelled to fill that void with something; he was talking before he realized he opened his mouth. “It's been three weeks. He couldn't have just vanished without a trace. There has to be something that I'm overlooking.”
“Do you believe he's still alive?”
“I...I don't know,” he admitted heavily. “I know what I want to believe, but...I can't ignore the signs just because I don't like what they have to say.”
“And what are those signs saying?”
He leaned forward, resting his hands on the edges of the stone altar, a bit amazed that he wasn't struck dead instantly for the sacrilege. As it was, his chest hurt. “Nothing. They say nothing.”
He heard the rustling of cloth behind him. “I doubt there's anything I can tell you that you haven't already thought of yourself or dismissed, but for whatever it's worth, I'll say this: sometimes, salvation can come from the least likely source. Have faith.”
He looked askance at the priest. “In God?”
“In yourself. And your son.” A hand landed solidly on his left shoulder. “We're all God's children, Batman; you and your son included. And if He loves his children half as much as you love yours, then He will not forsake you in your time of need. Of that, I have no doubt.” Father Michael squeezed. “Have faith.” His hand slipped back down to his side as he took an uneven step backward. “If you or your son ever need a place of refuge, our doors are always open. I make a mean baloney sandwich.”
If anyone else had dangled that olive branch in front of him, especially now, he would have instantly raised his defenses and shut them out entirely. From Father Michael, though, he knew that there was no presumption or judgment attached, and that his offer was simply an offer; nothing more, nothing less. He returned the gesture of kindness with the faintest grin of appreciation, little more than a softening of his unusually rigid features. “Thank you, Father Michael. I'll keep that in mind.”
The priest smiled once more, reaching over to pat him reassuringly on the shoulder.
A jolt of electricity shot through his arm and chest.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Diana listened to the steady chirping of the heart monitor as she entered the recovery room. In defiance of the odds, the rules, and the very Gods themselves, Batman had managed to save humanity from certain ruination, though at great personal cost. On the strictest terms, he had died twice – once before he had even reached the Watchtower, and a second time, briefly, on the operating table. Young Nyssa had insisted on planting herself directly outside of the emergency room, her ordinarily cold eyes red and swollen from bouts of hysterical sobbing. While her Amazonian pride chafed at the public display of weakness, she certainly couldn't fault it; she understood the girl's terror all too well.
She had wanted to stay, but her duties to Man's World outweighed her personal desires; Batman had ensured Earth's immediate survival, now it was up to everyone else to pick up the pieces. Her time since then had consisted mostly of digging survivors out of the rubble the world-wide quake had created, and quelling some of the chaos that had sprung up in its wake. Visiting Bruce was the closest to a respite that she was likely to get in the near future, and she was glad to have it. Her gaze turned to the room's third occupant, currently the only one conscious aside from herself. “Any news, Alfred?”
The butler look his head wearily. “No change so far, I'm afraid to say. However, given the injuries Master Bruce has sustained...” More quietly, “And given his abhorrence for involuntary vacations, it may well be a blessing in disguise.”
“It's been over a week.” Her attention returned to Bruce. “Has he ever stayed unconscious for this long after a battle?”
Alfred's eyebrow curved up. “I should say, madam – after battling with a deity, ending up merely comatose should be considered an incredible stroke of luck.”
Luck. She resisted the urge to run her fingers over her upper abdomen, where a particularly nasty scar was now hidden by her armor. The price paid for her faith in humanity.
The infirmary doors opened in a soft rush of air. Only a week, and Dick's condition had seemingly returned to normal, with no trace of the disease to be found in his system. Diana hoped the rest of the afflicted that were currently being inoculated with Flash's serum healed so quickly. “How are you feeling?”
Nightwing grimaced faintly. “About the same as I felt the last fifty times I've been asked that.”
“It's quite good to see you up and about, Master Dick,” Alfred assuaged, a rare moment of affection brightening his normally decorous expression. “No doubt Master Bruce will be thrilled to see you've made a full recovery.”
Dick raised an eyebrow in a distinctly Alfred-esque manner. “Oh, really? Define 'thrilled'.”
“He may actually smile.”
“Wow. Now, that would be something.”
Diana's brows pinched in confusion, unsure if their amazement was facetious or not. She had seen instances when Batman had smiled; granted, they were rare, but it certainly wasn't outside the realm of possibility. She glanced between the two of them. “Has he never smiled around you before?”
Dick shrugged one shoulder. “He used to.” He paused. “I miss it.”
She saw the vague sadness that shaded his eyes, and decided to change the subject. “How goes the clean up in Gotham?”
“Oh, fantastic,” Dick answered with a sharp, sardonic cheer. “With the right contracts and funding, we should have Gotham completely rebuilt in...oh, about thirty years, or so. It's just the kind of project Bruce can really sink his teeth into.”
“And a lot of others,” said a new voice, scratchy from disuse.
Alfred's head rose in surprise. “Master Bruce! Oh, thank Heaven.”
Diana's expression mirrored the butler's, questioning, “How long have you been awake?”
“Since I came through the door, at least,” Dick responded, meeting his former-mentor's perpetually withering stare. “I was wondering when you'd give it up and say something.”
She knew that Bruce was too disciplined to double-take the way that he wanted to. She certainly wanted to. “How did you know?”
“It's pretty hard to play dead when you have a heart monitor strapped to your chest.” Dick grinned. “So, how's it feel to be back in the world of the living?”
Bruce winced when he shifted up along the pillows. “Painful.”
Nightwing snorted. “Oh yeah, he'll be fine.”
True to the prediction, Bruce cracked a smile. It was small, less than the average smirk that stretched across Wally's face on a bad day, but for Batman, it was monumental. “You're looking better. The Flash pulled through?”
Nightwing nodded. “It's being mass-produced and distributed to all the major affected areas as we speak. I've gotta admit, the guy's a lot smarter than I initially gave him credit for.”
She didn't miss the way Bruce's gaze turned momentarily distant. “He has a way of surprising people.”
“He isn't the only one.”
The rest of the room whirled again, eyes falling upon one of the more surreal things to occur since the crisis began: Phantom Stranger sitting in a chair. His cape fell lazily over his strangely hunched frame as he spoke, “Your survival in the face of insurmountable odds is a testament to both your strength and courage.”
“Our survival is thanks to you,” Diana said. “If you hadn't intervened, Hades would have escaped through the portal.”
Bruce's eyes narrowed slightly. “I thought you weren't allowed to intervene.”
“Not without dire consequence.”
Bruce's eyes narrowed further. “How dire?”
Wordlessly, Stranger brushed his cape aside and lifted a single hand; his palm was oozing blood. Diana gasped.
Nightwing, not having been touched by Phantom Stranger's power, shrugged a shoulder in confusion. “A paper cut? That's it?”
“He bleeds now,” Bruce responded, voice hushed.
Stranger spoke as Alfred dutifully grabbed a roll of gauze and made his way over. “The last time I was offered an opportunity to directly affect the outcome of a conflict, I abstained, resulting in a bloody civil war. As penance, I was disallowed from ever interfering with events again, only able to watch and guide others from afar.”
“Why break that rule now?” Nightwing asked.
Stranger's expression, still partially hidden by his fedora, turned remorseful at the unspoken scrutiny. “My inaction sowed the chaos that humanity has been forced to reap for generations. The suffering of trillions could have been prevented, had I the willingness to sacrifice everything for something greater than myself. Your willingness.” His voice, normally so soothing, hardened in resolve as he stated, “I failed those under my protection once. Never again.”
Bruce relaxed against the pillows, satisfied.
Alfred finished off the wrap with a quick tug, inquiring, “What will you do with your new-found mortality?”
Stranger considered the question with a tilt of the head. “Experience it.”
“Avoid experiencing the dying part,” Nightwing quipped. “It's not as fun as it sounds.”
“Death is a part of life, and there are fates far worse than it.”
“Guess you haven't experienced irony, either.”
Phantom Stranger looked at his bandaged hand briefly, bowing his head in thanks to Alfred as he walked to the infirmary doors. “Though it was handed down as punishment, I consider this a gift. Immortality is not what Ra's Al Ghul believed it to be.”
Nightwing smirked. “Y'know, I'd say, 'Don't be a stranger,' but that would be self-defeating.”
“If you ever need refuge, you're always welcome at the Watchtower,” Diana offered. “Hopefully, we'll meet again under better circumstances.”
“Perhaps. The road will be long, for all of us. Let us hope that it's one worth traveling.” Stranger's lips quirked into a tiny, wistful grin that seemed both completely out of place and pitch perfect. “Who knows what the future holds?”
Diana looked back at Bruce as Phantom Stranger exited. Bruce stared at the closed doors, expression determined. He murmured, more to himself, it seemed, than anyone else, “I know what it won't hold.”
In spite of herself, Diana's heart sank at those words.
Bruce's eyes found hers. His expression was uncharacteristically hesitant.
Alfred noted the look and discreetly strode to the doors, patting Nightwing on the shoulder as he passed. The younger vigilante nodded and followed suit.
The two gazed at each other for a long moment. Bruce murmured, “You died.”
“So did you,” she riposted. “Twice.”
“You're not supposed to die.”
“You're not supposed to come back from the dead. Twice.”
His eyes narrowed. “You're being difficult.”
“I'm being difficult?” she repeated incredulously.
“I can't afford to lose you, Princess.” His voice was vulnerable. “I don't want to lose you.”
“Phantom Stranger was right; death is a part of life,” she said, crossing over to stand next to him. “But that doesn't mean that death is the end of it.” He seemed dissatisfied with that response, so she gently ran a hand through his hair, leaning down to look into his eyes. “You will never lose me, Bruce. Not in this life, not in the next. I swear it.”
He closed the distance and kissed her. She was never so happy to not get an answer.
Tim sat uneasily in the hard-backed chair, fingers toying with the edges of his domino mask. It had been a very long, hectic week. Since he was a mere mortal, most of his efforts were spent on the Watchtower, coordinating rescue missions and relaying data to the crews on the ground. It wasn't nearly as heroic as rushing into the belly of an evil mastermind's underground lair, but frankly, he felt more accomplished doing this than drop-kicking demons. He was reaching more people, this way; his work was producing real results. In spite of the carnage Ra's Al Ghul left behind, it felt good to rebuild something. It gave him a little bit of hope for himself.
He twisted the mask between his forefinger and thumb. Of course, there was the matter with Bruce. Tim had heard of his condition shortly after arriving on the satellite, and he'd tried – really tried – to see him in the Medbay. But with all the injuries and the chaos that came with a triage, he was outright ordered to leave the floor unless he began vomiting internal organs. The closest he got to visiting since then was the reinforced sliding doors, before panic and shame got the better of him and he scurried off back to his station to pretend it never happened.
But that hadn't worked yet, had it? Pretending it never happened. No, he wasn't like Batman; he couldn't shut off the part of his brain that dealt with pain. He couldn't erase the last four years of his life – if he could, he would, in a heartbeat – and go on with life, the way it had always been. He needed to make the suffering worth it. He had to justify his survival, somehow. Dying in an alleyway was not the way to do that. Not anymore.
Maybe Bruce was right for firing him. Maybe Bruce knew he wasn't cut out for –
The door to his quarters slid back. Tim turned his head to look at his guest, then rose to his feet automatically when his brain comprehended who was in front of him.
Batman, expression and posture tight with agony, let the doors close behind him. Tim gaped at the statuesque figure silently, heart thudding in his chest. He didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but he expected a harsh reprisal for his stunt, at least. Maybe a re-firing, just to get the point across.
He did not expect to suddenly find his face buried in a Kevlar-layered collarbone, an impossibly strong arm hooked around his neck like his head was in danger of tumbling off of his shoulders. “It wasn't your fault,” Bruce said quietly, his voice as pained as it was earnest. “It was never your fault.”
He couldn't breathe. “But I...”
“You saved your life. And mine.” The grip around his shoulders tightened, the sharp corner of a jawline pressed against the side of his head. “Never tell yourself anything different.”
Tim's eyes burned with tears as he wove his arms around his adoptive father's torso. He wasn't sure if he would be able to keep to that promise, but for Batman's sake – for Bruce's sake – he would try.
In another part of the Watchtower, dark save for the dim glow of a monitor, Alfred watched the display of affection, and the very tentative beginnings of a renewed bond. It took Earth being pushed to the very brink of destruction for Bruce to see how much he had left to lose, but it seemed the boy finally caught on. He settled back in the rocking chair, a feeling of peace settling over him.
“Beautiful, isn't he?”
Curious, Alfred peered to the new voice...and felt his jaw go slack.
Thomas Wayne smiled down at him, not looking a day over thirty. “So,” he began jovially, “a ghost, an angel, and a demon walk into a bar. Stop me if you've heard this one before.”
Alfred's jaw continued to remain slack.
Thomas looked at the screen, brown eyes dancing with mirth. “All things considered, he's turned out remarkably well. I'm not one-hundred percent certain about the dressing up as a bat thing, but Martha doesn't seem too concerned about it.” He shoved his hands into his pockets, regarding him warmly. “He loves you, you know. More than anything in the world.”
Alfred's mouth worked soundlessly, thoughts and feelings he hadn't realized were there bubbling to the surface with a fury. It wouldn't do to cry; it wasn't proper. “I should hope not, Master Wayne.”
“How many times have I told you to call me 'Thomas'?” Alfred couldn't help but smile slightly as he continued, “You know, I've never had a chance to thank you for all you've done. So, let's get to it, then.” He motioned to the door behind them with a jerk of his head. “C'mon, old friend, let's go. You know how bad of an idea it is to keep Martha waiting.”
On impulse, Alfred stood and began walking next to his closest friend. “Where, might I ask, are we going?”
“Why, the bar, of course.” Thomas' grin widened a fraction. “Who did you think the angel was?”
SIX MONTHS LATER
Marie King-Dennis sat curled up on the corner of her fuzzy blue couch, half-heartedly attempting to pay attention to the news. “In a bizarre twist of fortune, part-time Gotham resident and reformed feline fatale Selina Kyle was honored today by local government officials for her actions during the Near Apocalypse. City authorities state that in the early morning hours...”
Her brain tuned out the noise, eyes falling to the parcel lit a pale blue by the television's LED display. Her monthly donation rested upon her wood-paneled coffee table, sealed but undelivered. Ever since Batman had found her, the quiet little life she built for herself had all but unraveled. She had gone from soft-spoken wife and mother to paranoid wreck. People were beginning to notice. Martin already did, but he assumed it was due to the trauma from the break-in. Thankfully, Batman was always excellent at blending in with the shadows, so she never had to explain in more detail just who had been in the room with her. 'Some psycho in black,' was the best description she would ever give, and for once, it would be the truth – or something like it.
“...Police Commissioner Joseph Loeb announced his resignation this morning, amid allegations leveled by former-Commissioner James Gordon, in which he states that Loeb lied to public officials and the press about dozens of city-wide threats that endangered the lives of millions of Gothamites. This is the latest accusation made after reports surfaced about Gotham City Police officials withholding vital information regarding Leopard...”
She leaned forward and plucked the letter up in her fingers, running a thumb over the coarse paper. Last week, he suggested that she talk to a therapist about it, if she wasn't comfortable opening up to him; it was Martin-speak for, 'I'm losing patience.' He was getting tired of her always looking over her shoulder, (waiting for those beady white eyes to be glaring at her from a shadow), or constantly waking up in the middle of the night screaming (that Batman was coming to finish what he'd started). He wanted Marie back. She couldn't blame him. She wanted Marie back, too.
“In other news, the church bells are ringing! Gotham's own Bruce Wayne, finance mogul and boy billionaire, finally tied the knot Tuesday evening to Diana Prince in a small, private ceremony held on the grounds of his mansion, Wayne Manor. Prince, a Grecian diplomat, reportedly met Mr. Wayne while volunteering at...”
She shot up from her comfortable spot, suddenly stifled by her home's quaint four walls, suddenly terrified that it was all going to evaporate before her. What was she going to do without this? Without them? Marie raced off to her son's room, tucked in the corner of the small, two-bedroom home.
She opened the door. Her heart froze in her chest.
Batman angled his head upward, slightly, serving only to get her in his sights. “Hello, Harley.”
She said nothing, did nothing.
She struggled to understand his aim about as fiercely as she struggled to breathe. The fury she witnessed last time was absent, and that put her more on edge than seeing it. Why was she not a puddle of broken bones and agony yet? That made sense – treating her with this...cordiality didn't. Batman was never cordial. (Except for all the times he saved her life after she tried to kill him.) “What do you want?”
“You're not the only one,” she replied tiredly, the months of lingering terror and years of guilt finally catching up to her. She gave a mental goodbye to Martin, and hoped he would understand, one day. “Listen, if you're here to kill me, just do it and get it over with.”
His gaze sharpened, white lenses stark and unreadable.
She felt pressured to continue. She would not let this fall apart. “We both know I deserve it.”
“A lot of people deserve a lot of things.” He gazed down at blissfully unaware toddler slumbering in the bed. Timothy. “He deserves his mother. You want to take that from him?”
The surreality of this conversation made her head throb. His unwillingness to finish what he had started – what she had started – was driving her insane. Again. “Why are you doing this?”
Batman remained silent in deliberation. That he was deliberating her question and not murdering her for asking it terrified her on levels she didn't know existed. Eventually, he answered, “Salvation.”
She squinted at him in confusion. “What?”
“I'm checking up on a lead; maybe you can help me,” he stated. “Last I heard, Harley Quinn fell to her death in the ruins of Arkham. I was never able to retrieve a body, but I never had any reason to assume otherwise until suspicious letters started showing up on Tim Drake's doorstep.” He appraised her. “Do you know if she's still alive?”
She gaped at the vigilante for a moment in open amazement, before staring down at her beautiful baby boy. She clenched the letter in her hand. She would not let this fall apart. “Nah. She's worm food.”
“I certainly hope so,” he said, adding in a dangerous tone, “because if she ever shows up again, so help me God, I'll come down on you so hard, it'll leave a crater.”
Strangely enough, his threat eased her fears. She could accept those terms. “I wouldn't expect anything else.”
He turned smartly on his heel and headed toward the open window. In plain sight. Her mind refused to comprehend it. Without thought, she blurted out, “How is he doing?”
Batman lurched to a halt. He glanced over his shoulder, replying, “Entering his senior year of college. Communications. Straight-A student. He seems...happy.”
Her eyes stung. Good. She didn't ruin his life. He survived. Good. “I'm glad.”
He said nothing, at first. He turned back to the windowsill, replying quietly, “So am I.” He nodded curtly. “Good night, Mrs. Dennis.”
A/N: Wow. Where do I begin? This story is something of a catharsis for me. At the risk of revealing more about myself than I really should (especially on the internet), I haven't had the most stable life or relationships with those around me. I've never been very good at trusting people; the distrust is somewhat justified, but only somewhat, and only to a certain number of people. I began writing this as a challenge to myself -- to see if I could actually finish something I set out to to. Something ambitious, something worth putting effort into. To paraphrase Robin William's character in the Bird Cage, I know it's just fanfic, but I'd like it to be good fanfic; if possible, great fanfic. Something that I could look back on and be proud of doing.
I'd always identified with Batman's character and personality on a very deep and personal level due to many extenuating circumstances and factors. I wrote this, at first, because I wanted Batman to go through Hell, and come out on the other side. I wanted a character that I revered to be put through the ringer, just so he could pick himself up by the bootstraps and become a better person as a result of it. Sound sadistic? It probably is, but that's the stuff heroes are made of -- they take the hits normal people can't or won't and keep going. They get beaten down to the point of submission, but refuse to actually submit. What doesn't kill them, invariably, makes them stronger. I wanted to epitomize that. However, in Batman's case, it's something slightly different: he is, by virtue of his character, his own worst enemy. He is incapable of trusting himself to trust others, because he fears that any miscalculation could cost them their lives. His sense of hyper-responsibility is more dangerous to his life and the lives of those around him than any twisted plan of the Joker or eye-lasers from Darkseid.
Like I said, I understood the character, because in many ways, I was, and still am, that character.
In some ways, this story has become reality imitating art. My life, and my outlook on it, has changed so much since I began this story over two years ago that getting back into it (sometime around Massive Time Gap #1) was actually somewhat difficult. Many of the extenuating circumstances and personal difficulties that came to define who I was were no longer there -- because I stopped putting myself in a position where these extenuating circumstances were allowed to thrive. Much like Batman realized later in the story, I finally understood, after a very slow and painful process, that I had a choice in how I wanted my life to unfold, and that no one could make that choice but myself. I can't honestly say that I'm the same person I was when I began writing this story, and frankly, I think that's a good thing. I gained perspective that I lacked before, and hopefully, I was able to reflect some of that feeling of added zen, if you will, into this last chapter without completely destroying the momentum of everything.
But enough of my rambling. I hope those of you who have been waiting months for this chapter will find it suitable. I appreciate your patience regarding the large gaps between the final chapters (working 12-15 hour days can do that, I hear), and all your words of support. I may not respond often to emails or reviews, but rest assured, I've read every single one, and am as grateful for all of you taking time out of your days to read it, as I am honored that you would enjoy something that I've made. Thank you all for sharing in this with me.
Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 03:12 AM.
OH man what a great post. I just love your stories.
I hate when they end.
I am waiting for the next one. ;-)
Software bloat is like being bitten to death by a duck. You never actually bleed, you just wear down and give up.
If I kill you fast, is it an act of kindness? - Jinzouningen Juuhachi Gou
Remember.... No one can ruin your day without YOUR permission!
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