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[Archive] With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Story Only)

Discussion in 'Story Archive' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 30, 2019.

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    29th October
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    We step out into a small wood floored antechamber. The walls are decorated with pictures, though without the ring I've no idea whether they're chosen to demonstrate the owner's wealth or because he actually likes them. Pastoral scenes for the most part, though there's also a framed photograph of Mister Luthor with.. some.. guy in a suit. He looks vaguely familiar. My instincts say 'President' but I could easily be mistaken. I haven't really studied recent American history in depth. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I could name the guy before George Bush I back home.

    "I can take your jacket." Ms Graves holds out her organic arm, standing next to a door set into the wall.

    Hm. Losing the jacket makes the belt a bit obvious, but the existence of the belt technology is hardly a secret. Icon's origin is publicly available information even if his identity isn't. I unbutton it and slide it off my right shoulder before taking hold of it with my right hand and extracting my left arm. I shake it to settle out any creases before passing it to her. "Thank you."

    She opens the door and steps inside. Over her shoulder I see a variety of overcoats and jackets as well as a few scarves. She takes a wooden hanger off the rail and slides the jacket over it before pausing and turning to me. "I believe that Mister Luthor is aiming for a casual atmosphere. If you'd rather take off the tie..?"

    "I spent an hour watching 'how to tie your tie' website videos today and a good fifteen minutes actually doing the thing before I got it right."

    "If you'd rather ke-."

    My fingers are already in motion. "No, I hate the blooming thing. Take it with my blessing." Silk, dark grey with orange sigil. It glows when I'm wearing the ring. She winds it around the hanger, hooks the hanger back over the rack and then steps out, glancing only briefly at my now revealed belt with the glowing circles front, sides and back. In the inactive state the glow isn't all that bright. Maybe she just thinks it's a fashion statement?

    She leads the way through the inner door to the living quarters proper. It's two.. maybe three levels tall, the glass front probably providing a great view of Metropolis during the day. The room itself is probably about forty square metres, a size that would make the rent cripplingly expensive in this part of the city. Unless you own the building I suppose. I recognise one of the hologram television projectors at the base of the window. The seating area is slightly lower than the walkway around the edge of the room, with black leather settees forming a U shape around a wooden table. The room is decorated not with more pictures but with tall potted plants and abstract metal sculptures. I really hope he's not going to want to talk about them because my art knowledge really isn't up to it.

    There's a door to my right at the end of the room and a spiral staircase near the middle of the right wall but Ms Graves leads me to the left. The next room is a large dining room where three members of the waiting staff are laying out places. Fortunately for me Diana gave me a lesson in formal dining so that part I should be able to cope with. None of them look up as we pass, but I suppose they're just that professional. I don't quite see how many places are being laid out. Six or fewer, I think. We pass what I assume are the double doors leading to the kitchen on the left and on to a smaller and lower-ceilinged room. Mister Luthor is standing at the far end staring at a picture. The room has several others of varying sizes as well as other objects of interest. Relics, they look like. He's wearing black trousers and a pale blue shirt. Seems a bit strange, seeing him without full 'business armour'. I stop just in from the door while Ms Graves approaches him. She whispers something and holds out the card I gave her. I see his head turn slightly towards it before he turns around completely and slowly walks towards me.

    "Good evening Orange Lantern. Or may I call you Paul?"

    "Be my guest, Mister Luthor. My name isn't a secret."

    "And neither is mine. Please, call me Lex." He extends his right hand to me and I shake it. "I'm glad that your colleagues weren't able to warn you off."

    "They.. expressed some reservations, certainly." Only time I've been glad that Superman tries not to have anything to do with us. Diana at least thought that my assessment of the risks was accurate.

    "Mercy, would you mind..?" She nods and walks out of the room, closing the door behind her.

    "I have to say, I'm a little curious as to why you've invited me here."

    "Really? Quite aside from saving my life during the missile attack, your assistance in promoting peace in Rhelasia has already earned LexCorp in excess of twenty million dollars as part of the peace dividend." He stops for a moment and looks at me expectantly.

    "I'm.. glad that's working out so well. LexCorp is certainly well placed to provide..." He dips his head with a chuckle. "What?"

    "The reaction your associate Red Arrow had during the conference was more in line with what I've come to expect. Sometimes it seems that LexCorp can't operate anywhere without a superhero taking exception to it."

    "I rather thought it was just Superman you had.. poor relations with."

    "No, he's just the most notable. And the Justice League's UN mandate makes stopping him through legal mechanisms a little more problematic than most. Tell me, do you aim to join that august body yourself?"

    "Oh, not any time soon. I'm only.. four months through a year long probation, and given what happened last week..."

    His eyes narrow slightly. "Yes, I wanted to ask about that. Did you really.. spin the moon..." He raises his right hand, index finger extended, and makes a circling motion.

    "Yes, that was me. I put it back."

    "I wasn't aware that power rings had that sort of raw power."

    "As a rule, they don't."

    "Do you simply have a.. knack, for it?"

    Hm. Giving information away is usually a bad idea, buuut... I do want to work with him in future. And it wouldn't be that hard for him to notice that I won't be utilising the same levels of power in future that I did last week. "You remember what I said about not swallowing an energy field larger than your head?"

    A small frown. "That it tends to make a person... Ah. Was there a reason for you to disregard your own -quite sound- advice?"

    "There is always some special case,
    time or place,
    to forget,
    etiquette."

    "Precisely how large an energy field..?"

    "About the size of the universe. Fortunately it was fairly diffuse. And not hostile."

    "I suppose that explains the New York.. event. Congratulations on your entry into the Billboard Top One Hundred by the way."

    I blink stupidly. "Nnno."

    "You hadn't heard? You may want to ask Ms Colbert to phone the relevant record company, I'm sure you're due some royalties."

    "I'd.. really rather not."

    "Can I assume that the 'eye constructs' were also your doing?"

    "Yes, but those were actually useful. I was able to use them to find Ra's al Ghul, and what was left of his command structure is currently being held in a very secure location awaiting trial."

    "This, following on from the League's attack on that place in Ecuador. There can't be much of the League of Shadows left."

    "Not as far as I know, no. We missed the man himself, and I'm not sure what happened to his daughter Talia, but I think the League of Shadows can pretty much be written off as a functioning organisation."

    "We'll just have to hope that you are right. And I wouldn't worry about Ra's. When criminals like him experience a turn around in fortunes such as he has, it's remarkable how often former allies turn on them in their moment of weakness. Add to that all of the politicians he was blackmailing who will now want him permanently silenced, and I fully expect that problem will be taken care of presently." He pauses for a moment. "The energy you mentioned, you seem to be functioning normally to me. Were you able to expel it?"

    "It would be more true to say that we came to terms. Not sure I'd want to go through that again, though."

    "That sounds like a wise decision. Before my other guests arrive-" His arm goes around my shoulders and I allow him to lead me over to the picture he had been studying. "-I wanted to find out what you made of this."
     
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    29th October
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    "I'm not really an art person." And I'm really not. I'm looking at a watercolour of a street scene. Looks... I don't know, could be anywhere in Europe and any when in the first part the twentieth century. I say that due to the style of the car and the fact that there's only one of them. A couple of open topped horse drawn carriages. The art style... Pass. Qualitywise it looks okay, far better than I could do but not something I'd expect to find in Lex Luthor's home.

    "First impression?"

    "Frankly? I'm not sure why it's here. If I saw it in a hotel I'd walk straight past it."

    "I'll admit, the artist wasn't nearly as talented as he believed himself to be."

    Lex wouldn't be showing me this for no reason. I peer a little closer. "I think... Are the people less detailed than the background? I'd expect it to be the other way around." No, more than that. I was sort of assuming that it was a stylistic convention, but they actually look misshapen.

    "Art critics have tended to agree with you on that score, though they're usually less polite about it."

    "Is this.. some sort of investment? Is the artist about to become really popular, and this is going to shoot up in value?"

    "I rather hope not. It has a certain.. rarity value -perhaps surprisingly so given how prolific the artist was- but I don't think I'd ever sell it."

    "Were the rest better than this?" Oh. That might... "Some sort of personal connection? It's not one of yours is it. Or-?"

    He seems to find that idea amusing. "No, no. I have been known to sketch upon occasion but I've never had any real interest in creating art myself. Perhaps if you had a closer look?"

    I'll- Oh. The street sign's in.. German? Or it could just be a German sounding name. "Central or Eastern Europe. Can't tell much from the clothes, the detail's not there. Car's got a curved roof rather than a square Model T style roof or a soft top... Between twenties and sixties? Later than that there'd be more cars. No obvious communist symbology..." I shake my head. Whatever the lesson is supposed to be, it's getting lost on me. Did the artist sign it? I take a look at the bottom. It's a bit worn but I can just take a step back in shock! I mean, I knew he painted but I never thought I'd see...

    "For some reason the Defense Department keeps every one of his paintings they ever got hold of in a warehouse in Delaware. Given what else he did with his life, I'd understand if they had them destroyed. I'd understand if they sold them, or exhibited them. But, instead, all they do is accrue dust and consume taxpayer money. No one wants to make the decision. Bureaucratic inertia at its most depressing."

    "This... This... It's a bit of a risk, isn't it? I mean, if the Jewish Anti-Defamation League ever found out you were showing one of these..."

    "An embarrassing oversight. The painting was acquired as part of a job lot and.. I leave the task of decorating the interior of the LexCorp Tower to an external company."

    A rehearsed excuse, but there's no way he'd take a risk like that without a better reason. "Why do you... I mean, I can't believe for a second you share his politics..."

    "Of course not." He's standing besides me now, examining the picture again. "Have you ever thought about how history might have been changed if he'd met with more success in his preferred field?"

    "Not really, I've played Red Alert. Without a strong leader Germany struggles through the thirties and forties while the Soviet Union reorganises, most likely invading the west sometime before nineteen fifty."

    "You don't think someone else could have managed the situation just as well?"

    "They didn't need a manager, they needed a unifying ideology and a charismatic leader. If there'd been someone else who could do the job as well as him, they'd have done it."

    "I'm not so sure. There were a few people on the far right who might have been able to assume the role. If not.. things would certainly have been a good deal more dicey during the thirties, but Hindenburg or Papen might well have been able to pull things together without concerted Nazi opposition."

    "It-. Maybe. I don't-. Why do you have an Adolf Hitler in your gallery?"

    "Mostly, because I was curious. What sort of imagery would be produced by such a clearly depraved individual?"

    "Low quality water colours. I guess evil really is banal."

    "You know, when Superman first became.. active in Metropolis, I did find it somewhat aggravating. Not his power precisely, there'd been people who could fly since before the Second World War, and people with super strength earlier still. It was the way people responded to him. On the day he stopped his first armed robbery a full two thirds of the city went to work for me, directly or indirectly." He pauses for a moment. "And what made the news? Our work on fullerene tube circuitry? The bacterial strains we're creating which eat industrial pollution? The restoration work on the Museum of Natural History, made possible due to a LexCorp endowment? No." His head is tilted down slightly, his eyes a little unfocused. "Some guy in a cape, with his underwear outside of his tights."

    "He doesn't do that anymore."

    Lex turns his head and raises an eyebrow. "Stop robberies?"

    "Wear his pants outside his leggings. They had a bit of an accident.. last week." He gives me a curious look. "I always thought they looked stupid too."

    "I'm sure your medal for services to fashion is in the mail. Anyway, off the back of that frustration I ended up sinking a wasteful amount of money into armaments intended to allow the Metropolis Police Department to keep up with him. The press had a field day with that." Phillip Karnowsky, aka 'Barrage'. Lex Luthor's first totally-not-an-assassination-attempt on Superman. "They still use my equipment, but do you see that in the papers?"

    "You know that the Daily Planet is basically a tabloid, right? In the British sense of the word? Superheroes are flashy, high impact, and this was happening in their city. Rational perspective didn't really come into it."

    He looks at the painting again. "Hitler had relatively few strengths and many weaknesses, but he was living in a time and a place where he could make those strengths count and where the weaknesses didn't matter. At least, not in the short term. It was this painting which made me realize that the problem wasn't Superman, not really. Bread and circuses have always drawn the crowds, and I can't deny that he makes the more appealing clown." Petty. "When people see a figure like that, one who seems to stand up above the common man, their very evolutionary history encourages them to follow and obey. That story you gave me, 'How to Succeed in Evil'. Do you remember the part where Edwin wonders why people aren't more horrified by the actions of the Cromoglodon, only to listen to an interview where a local man empathises with his rage and experienced vicarious satisfaction through the destruction he caused?"

    I nod.

    "I laughed out loud when I heard that. It's so obvious. Superman didn't earn his abilities, he was born with them. And if an accident of birth is all that separates the man on the street from the demigod floating overhead.. then it's just too bad, isn't it? You can't compete with it because Destiny simply didn't choose you. Regularise it, as you and I are seeking to, and.. what was it the narrator said at Excelsior's press conference? They don't want you to bring their heroes down to their level. I can't be that shining, empty symbol, I'm just all too Human. In a world where even a man like the Joker has a fan club, I came to see that I shouldn't take it so personally. It wasn't as if we were directly competing with one another. Superman can fight the good fight all he wants, but he doesn't appear to be inclined to clean up refuse, run industry or balance the national budget. When the Appellaxians' attack was dealt with by the nascent Justice League, it occurred to me that if it hadn't been Superman, it would have been someone else. Some other super.. powered individual. And, upon reflection, I think it's far better for the world that it was Superman rather than..." He waves his right hand.

    "Socialist Red Guardsman?"

    "Among others. We've been quite fortunate with our super powered defenders over the years."

    I've heard that idea before. "Plekhanov's idea of the beginner in history."

    He glances at me before returning his attention to the picture. "Yes. Working patiently for the common good each day just isn't exciting."

    "So.. you.. don't have a problem with Superman anymore?"

    "I wouldn't go that far. When I.. got over the personal aspect of it and started to think about it more dispassionately, I realized that many of my concerns were still valid. Particularly when the budget for the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit was slashed in response to his activities." I hadn't known that had happened. I'll have to check that claim tomorrow. "I am simply not comfortable relying for our defense on a small number of apparently irreplaceable individuals. Or with the idea that mere 'normal' people could not hope to play a role in our planet's defense. That was why I was so glad that you brought the Danner Formula to my attention. If a man like Hugo Danner had come to me, instead of trying to take over Brazil... Well. Who knows what might have happened."
     
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    29th October
    19:11 GMT -5


    "I think I can guess. I did see your research centre in India."

    "Yes. You'll no doubt be pleased to know that we've improved security substantially since your visit."

    "I'd blooming hope so. I mean, I'm glad you're doing the research but I don't really want to have to fight uberrats again."

    "Uberra-? Oh, I see. No, as I understand it Doctor Munro is no longer performing tests on rats." That's not as reassuring as I think he means it to be.

    "I'm interested in how the Danner Formula works myself. I hope you don't mind, but I handed a sample of it over to an alchemist for analysis."

    "An alchemist?" He chuckles. "I think I'll survive."

    "Lex, I have a power ring. I've analysed the Formula completely. There is nothing in its chemistry which explains the effect it has on foetal development. This is something that hasn't made sense to me since I got here; you know magic works. Everyone knows magic works. And yet-" I spread my arms. "-hardly anyone uses it."

    "I took your point about power generation, but convincing investors or shareholders-."

    "Biotechnology, then. Atlanteans have the ability to regrow entire organs now, and as far as I know artificial organs are still years off."

    "I have tried making overtures towards Atlantis. Unfortunately, my point of contact was Prince Orm..." Ah. Would he have known..? No way to be sure. As Garth pointed out, lots of people dealt with Orm. "Getting researchers from elsewhere is proving to be somewhat problematic."

    "Do you know what the name of the city with the highest concentration of magic users in the western world is?"

    "No. Somewhere in Australia, perhaps?"

    "London. If you like I could talk to some people for you."

    "That would be helpful. I hadn't realised you moved in those sorts of circles."

    "It's a recent development."

    He frowns. "You only started interacting with London dwelling magic users since moving to the United States?"

    "Um, sort of? That wasn't.. really..."

    "You said 'since you got here'. I assumed that you were referring to the US."

    "Oh, no. I realise it sounds a little strange, but I arrived on this planet from a parallel Earth about four months ago, and I've been scurrying to catch up ever since."

    Another glance. "I've heard stranger tales. What distinguishing characteristics..?"

    "No magic, no superpowers. There's a load of minor differences spiralling from that, but they're the main ones."

    "Gracious. You must have found our Earth a little strange."

    I shrug. "I had popular fiction to work off. It's not the fact that things like that are possible, it's the logical inconsistencies in their use. I mean, so Superman gets born with the ability to fly, punch through steel plate and whatever. Captain Marvel can do nearly the same thing, and it's public knowledge that his powers are magic based. And yet, Cadmus clones Superman and no one researches the magic which might allow them to replicate Marvel's abilities. Biotechnology firms spend millions trying to work out how to give people the metahuman ability to create fire when any competent student of elemental magic would learn how to conjure fire within months, if they applied themselves. I thought it might have been religion, but apparently the Catholic Church doesn't have a problem with it..."

    "American Protestant denominations have traditionally been less understanding and all major versions of Islam feel the same way. I can see that it would seem odd to an outsider.. and now that I hear you describe it, I'm a little puzzled myself. Are you.. sure.. that the formula is alchemical?"

    "Sure? I can't be sure until the analysis is complete, but I can't think of anything else it could be."

    "These.. London magic users. Are they of the robe and hat variety, or..?"

    "I think there's.. some ritual clothing, but for the most part they dress sensibly. I mean, it's not like they could completely isolate themselves from the modern world, after all."

    "It does produce a rather amusing mental image, doesn't it? I'll give you a phone number to pass on before you leave. Speaking of Cadmus, I had a rather strange conversation with Batman about that earlier this month. I say conversation, he mostly limited himself to vague threats and insinuations. As it is indeed 'PR poison' I haven't become directly involved in its operations but I have promoted James Harper to the position of Operations Manager and I don't intend to try to second guess him. I hope that -unlike me- the League feel that he can be trusted."

    I'm not sure that anyone who was involved in Cadmus should still be there, whatever the courts said on the matter. A security chief who can't spot mind control isn't much better than one who is actively criminal, to my mind. And that's saying nothing of the enslavement of the Genomorphs. But if American law doesn't recognise AIs I can't imagine that getting recognition for a novel organic intelligence would be a quick process. "I can't speak for the League, but if the alternative was you..."

    "Quite. Now, about the-. About.. my son."

    I clench. "What about him?"

    "Batman appeared to think I intended to... I do appreciate that the boy's life to date has not been anything close to normal. Please reassure the League that I have no intention of trying to snatch him away from whatever stability he's been able to find, but-."

    The door opens and we both turn around. Ms Graves walks in, followed by a woman in a long, conservatively cut pale green dress. She has short black artfully tussled hair and I'd guess... Arabic appearance? It's subtle.. mixed parentage, perhaps? She looks familiar, but I can't quite place her.

    "So good to see you, my dear." Lex walks over to her, takes her right hand and kisses it.

    "Lex." Her eyes move to me. "And this is..?" I take a few steps closer.

    "Orange Lantern two eight one four. Pleased to meet you." I extend my right hand.

    There's a slightly awkward pause as she stares into my eyes. "You don't recognise me, do you?"

    I shake my head. "I'm sorry, I see a lot of faces. You look familiar, but..."

    "Since you are the man responsible for uniting me with my sister I will forgive you. I am-."

    I blink. "Nyssa Raatko."

    She smiles at me and takes my hand. "You do remember. When she knocked on my door I was quite astonished. She really did not want to believe I was who you said I was."

    Her great grandson -a man named Vasily Arketov- is still alive at present, and in the comics it was his death which switched her into full crazy mode. As far as I know she's fairly rational at the moment, though she isn't usually particularly sociable.

    Ms Graves whispers something to Lex, who nods and then looks at us. "Would you please excuse me? The head chef needs to talk to me about something."

    I tear my eyes from Ms Raatko. "Oh yes, of course." He nods at me, nods more deeply to Ms Raatko, then follows Ms Graves out. "Were you able to convince her?"

    "Yes. I still keep a few relics from the old days in my home."

    I checked, and Talia wasn't part of the most recent round of League of Shadow arrests. "Do you know where she is now?"

    "I believe that she intended to return to the house of her lover, the Batman."



    "Well he's been keeping that blooming quiet!"
     
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    29th October
    19:15 GMT -5


    "I'm going to have to talk to Robin about his stepmother vetting procedures. They clearly need improving."

    She raises her eyebrows. "Are you implying that my sister is unworthy?"

    "She has a.. certain amount of baggage. Did she say why they broke up the first time?"

    "Yes, because the Batman refused to join our father. Since he is no longer an issue, I fail to see why there should be a problem."

    "She did quite a lot of stuff while she was working for your father that.. some people might find concerning."

    "So did I, unless you think the fact that they happened a long time ago means that they count for nothing."

    "You left him under your own power. Plus, the Justice League didn't actually get Ra's, so he's still out there somewhere."

    "My sister did not leave our father simply because the League of Shadows was being destroyed. If she had still believed in his cause she would have stood beside him to the last. Your.. diatribe against him when you encountered her in Paris affected her more than you appear to have appreciated."

    "Really? I.. sort of assumed that I was wasting my time."

    "I particularly liked the bit where you called Ra's al Ghul, seven-hundred-year-old master of the League of Shadows, a 'nutter'."

    "Yeah." I wrinkle my nose. "Probably not the most sensible thing I could have said, but the situation was really winding me up. How'd you feel about the bit where I shot him in the head?"

    Astonishment, but happy astonishment. "She didn't mention that!"

    Ah. If we're going to talk about this in Lex Luthor's home... I pick one of John's most recent gifts out of my right trouser pocket and hold it out to her. "If we're going to talk shop, would you mind holding one of these?"

    She takes the small dark-grey stone from me, and for half a second there's a slight distortion in the air. I tested them before coming here and they certainly appeared to work. "I don't recognise the runes."

    "I got it from a magician friend of mine. He described it as 'sort of like a scrying ward, but for sound'. It should prevent eavesdropping, lip reading or sound recording."

    "Useful. But I'm more interested in hearing about how you shot my contemptible dog of a father in the head."

    "It was just before the League hit Infinity Island, the League of Shadows ex-headquarters. I wanted to know where his Lazarus Pit was and it seemed to be the most expedient way to find out." Oh, that's right, she can make them, can't she?

    "You shot him in the head and... Why did you need to know where his Lazarus Pit was if you did not intend to prevent him from using it?"

    "So I could steal it." She lets out a peal of laughter, covering her mouth with her hands. "Well, technically, it's an arcane artefact used by a supervillain to enable criminality so the Justice League has the authority to confiscate it.. but basically steal it."

    "And you did that.. before the Flash..?"

    "The Flash didn't get there until after I shot the place up. " I shrug. "The Justice League didn't know about it."

    "Then how did you find it?"

    "Finding stuff is something power rings are really good at." Out of habit I start to raise my left hand, then remember myself and lower it. "Once I had Talia's DNA.. I was pretty well motivated. Scanning for Ra's wasn't that hard."

    "What had he done to so enrage you?"

    "He sent a man made of clay to attack Gotham City. I'd had to.. well, I thought at the time that I'd killed him. He's.. he pretty much survived, as it happened..."

    "You had never killed someone before?"

    "No. Far as I know, I still haven't. I don't have a.. the same level of resistance to the idea that some of my contemporaries do, but I think that if you're going to kill someone you should be sure that they deserve it. On an individual level, I mean. Besides, if you've got a power ring it's usually just as easy to take a person down without killing them." She nods, and takes another look at the stone. "If you don't mind me asking, what brings you here? I mean, laughing at Ra's' misfortune is fun, but we're quite a way from your home here."

    "Lex.. wants me to work for him, at his research centre in India. My father shared his knowledge of alchemy with me before we parted company, and I have studied further on my own since. I wanted to ask you if you thought-."

    "The cheeky bastard!" She recoils slightly at my outburst, then turns her right palm upwards and shakes her head, looking for an explanation. "He was telling me how hard it was to study magic, and he'd already made you an offer! Have you any idea how hard it is to find good alchemists?"

    "Do you think he's untrustworthy, then?"

    "That's... This was probably just a joke at my expense. Generally? I don't trust him to do what I'd like him to. I trust him to serve his own interests in a reasonably rational manner. If you come to an agreement with him he'll probably stick with it, but don't make assumptions about anything not covered by it."

    "Does he have no principles at all?"

    "Um. His desire to bring augmentation to the masses appears to be genuine. Beyond that, I couldn't say with any certainty. Does it make him money, bring him power? Can he get away with it?"

    "He had given me the impression that your working relationship was rather better than that."

    "But did he tell you it was?" She thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. "Classic Luthor. Still, if you just want to spit in Ra's' eye, he did try and kill Lex last month. It's not a bad place to start from."

    "I was hoping for a simple 'yes' or 'no'."

    "Sorry. I mean, if it's this or keep sitting in your lighthouse, I'd definitely take it. I'd offer you something myself but I just don't have the infrastructure that Lex does, and despite my urging the Justice League hasn't got itself into research and development yet. Unless you feel like working in Atlantis..?"

    She smiles. "I don't think the water would be good for my complexion." Then the smile disappears. "Also, I am dependent on Lazarus Pits in the same way that my father is, and I do not believe that I could create one underwater."

    Maybe I should talk to Batman about it when he comes up for air? I'm sure that Talia would enjoy spending some more time with her sister. Speaking of family... "How is Captain Arketov doing?"

    "I suppose it would be too much to hope that I could keep any secrets from you. He is well." She sighs. "Since I age little I have to be somewhat remote so as not to invite suspicion among his peers. He knows who I truly am, but the only pictures he has of me are from when I allowed myself to visibly age."

    If he stays alive, no kryptonite bullet. "If you'd like to tell me where he is, I'd be happy to aug-."

    "Captain Arketov has agreed to join LexCorp as head of security of our Gdańsk facility." Lex closes the door quietly behind him. I hadn't even heard him come in. "A good deal safer than the Moscow City Police Department, and noticeably better paid."

    Darn it. Giving him supernatural fortitude and regeneration would make him more likely to survive, but Luthor's done more or less the same thing just by giving him a cushy job. I nod, more to myself than to him. "I can see that a man would have to get up fairly early in the morning to catch you napping."

    "My dear Orange Lantern, I would advise that man to abstain from sleep entirely."
     
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    29th October
    19:19 GMT -5


    "My final guest has arrived, and the chef has informed me that he's ready to begin serving. If you'll accompany me?" Lex waits a second for us both to turn to face him before half turning to open the door for us, bowing slightly as he does so. My eyes flick to the grey stone just visible in Ms Raatko's right hand. I doubt that Lex will listen to the recording -and there undoubtedly is one- until after we've left but when he does he will see the stone and I'd rather have it back. I pass through the door immediately after her and step to her right side as she turns towards the table, tapping her right hand with my left as I do so. I breathe a sigh of relief as she gets the message and drops the stone into my palm, our bodies blocking Lex's view. Back into my pocket it goes.

    Two waiters stand behind two free chairs at the sides of the table, while Ms Graves stands behind the larger seat at the head of the table which I presume to be reserved for Lex. The seat at the foot of the table is already occupied by Doctor Munro, who is in the process of rising from it. "Orange Lantern. I hadn't realised Lex had invited you as well. And who is your lovely companion?"

    He stood because he was being joined by a lady. I suppose he might be about old enough for that to be correct formal behaviour. "Doctor Arnold Munroe, Ms Nyssa Raatko. Ms Raatko, Doctor Munro."

    Ms Raatko walks towards him as he steps out from the table to greet her. She offers her right hand and he takes it and kisses it delicately on the knuckles. Wait, was I supposed to do that? "Tell me Doctor, what is your field of study?"

    "Well, biochemistry, though lately..."

    Lex walks up besides me, and I turn to him. "Doctor Munro isn't really comfortable in large groups, but he can be quite charming in a one to one conversation. Old world manners."

    "And since you want them to work together, you want them to get on. It might be awkward if you just flew her out to India. And me being here helps put Ms Raatko in a more receptive frame of mind."

    "That's.. part of the reason. You also made quite a good impression on Arnold. Of course, I wouldn't want you to believe that my gratitude wasn't genuine. I am rather fond of my life."

    "But there's no reason not to have this meeting serve other ends as well. I take my hat off to you. I'm kicking myself for not approaching Ms Raatko earlier myself."

    "No sour grapes, I hope?"

    "Of course not. I want alchemy to be part of mainstream Human science as much as you do, and if the League can't be bothered with it, why not?"

    This earns me a sidelong smile. "Oh, if only your colleagues shared your attitude. Nyssa, Arnold, shall we take our seats?" He walks around to his as Ms Graves pulls it out from under the table. Doctor Munro returns to his and the waiter pulls out the chair on the near side for Ms Raatko. I walk around behind Doctor Munro to take the far chair which the other waiter pulls out for me. I have literally never had someone do that for me before. Do I just sort of squat in midair and wait for them to bring it forwards? Or would it make more sense to just perch on the edge and then shuffle it in myself once they've left? I compromise, sitting down after a short delay and getting enough of it under me that it's comfortable.

    Right, next step: serviette. It's there, folded into a fan just past the forks. I suppose Lex's idea of informal is somewhat different to mine. Diana was quite clear that it wasn't to be used as a bib, and that I should only use it as a lap cover if Lex did and it doesn't look like he is. The serving staff who were in the room retreat into the kitchen. It looks like Ms Graves is sticking around, though not joining in. Alright, commencing operation 'don't make an arse of myself'.

    Lex turns his head in my direction. "Paul, I couldn't help but notice your rather eye-catching belt. I believe it's.. the same design as the young heroine from Dakota City.. Rocket, I think her name is.. generally wears. Are the two of you acquainted?"

    "Not as yet, though I imagine that we will be before too long."

    "Do you share a tailor?"

    "No, it's a piece of xenotechnology her mentor gave her. Which I proceeded to copy. Much harder to use than a power ring, and much less flexible."

    "Which I noticed you aren't wearing. I do understand that your colleagues have concerns about your safety. I wouldn't have demanded that you leave it behind."

    "After the craziness last week I thought it best to demonstrate to my mentor that I could be relied upon not to routinely alter the movement of planetary bodies because I wanted everyone to be able to look at them from another angle."

    "Wait." Doctor Munro looks thoughtful for a moment. "I remember hearing something on the radio about Jupiter's Great Red Spot disappearing almost overnight. You don't mean to say..?"

    "Yess, that was me."

    "The only Lantern I'd ever met before was a member of the Justice Society. I think I've been operating under a false idea of what those rings are capable of."

    "Almost anything, given sufficient power and focus. Last week I had an encounter with an elemental which resulted in me getting near unlimited amounts of both."

    Ms Raatko frowns. "You truly had unlimited power?"

    "Not far off. Why so puzzled?"

    "I'm not sure what I would expect from a person in that position, but..."

    Lex jumps in. "Wouldn't you say that making a giant cake was a waste of an opportunity?"

    "Getting power like that altered my perspective. Rational application of that power didn't really come into it. Orange power rings work on avarice, and what I really wanted was for my friends to get whatever they wanted. Of course, they were too busy freaking out about the changes in my behaviour to present me with an itemised list."

    The waiting staff return bearing four silver trays covered by silver lids. They take up station next to each of us before removing the lids and placing the soup bowls before us. It's tomato orange with visible pieces of vegetable artfully arranged in the centre, topped by a sprig of something or other. It's not giving off any heat.. Gazpacho! "Hah!" I quickly check the cutlery and find the soup spoon in the expected location.

    Lex raises an eyebrow. "Something amusing?"

    "There was a.. television comedy series I used to watch. 'Gazpacho soup' were the last words of one of the characters. He was remembering an incident when he was invited to dine with his employers and didn't realise that gazpacho soup was supposed to be served cold. He felt that instructing the staff to send it back to be warmed up had put a permanent black mark on his record." Lex 'hmms' in a slightly amused tone as I pick up the spoon and take a small amount of the soup onto it. "So, Doctor Munro, had any more trouble with escaped rats?"

    He swallows. "Oh no, we've stopped using rats for testing. It clearly works, after all, though I'd never considered combining it with other augmentative chemicals as the Brain did. I also wanted to thank you for putting me in touch with Tommy and Tuppence."

    I'm glad that went as well as it did. Thomas I expected would be interested to meet him, but why Tuppence was alright about talking to him but not me I have no idea. "Have you had any luck in working out where their mother got the Danner Formula sample from?"

    He shakes his head. "Hasn't, um, hasn't really been a priority. I think, err, I think Lex..." He looks over to his employer.

    "I have some people looking into it, though, frankly, I doubt they'll find anything. It's infuriating, really; there can't be that many samples of the Danner Formula left that aren't owned by either Paul or LexCorp, and someone delivers a dose to a woman apparently at random and doesn't bother keeping track of them."

    "I'm sorry." Ms Raatko holds her spoon just below her lips. "What is this 'Danner Formula'?"

    "It's what I want you to work on with Doctor Munro. Doctor?"

    "The Danner Formula is the work of my grandfather. Without wanting to go into too much detail, if injected into a pregnant woman it will result in her child being born with supernatural strength and endurance, approximately on a par with Princess Diana of Themiscyra. I... I would like to see it distributed as widely as possible, and Mis-. And Lex has offered to fund the research." She looks very interested. "More than just the formula itself, it might hold the secrets to unlocking all manner of supernatural abilities if we had someone who knew how to study the alchemical aspects that have been stymieing our efforts so far. Getting approval when we don't understand the basic mechanism..."

    She nods, eyes down. "I think, Doctor, that I should take a look at your research."
     
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    30th October
    08:57 GMT -5


    "So as you can imagine, I was pretty glad to see him." Mister King looks a lot like Captain Metropolis from Watchmen. The older version. He's not fat, but he's definitely put on weight since Infinity Incorporated broke up. The suit he's wearing is designed to conceal it somewhat, and he has kept up his exercise regime. Too much rich food, I suppose.

    "I can't believe they put you in an asylum for being telepathic!" He, M'gann and I are lurking by the zeta tubes in the training room while Kon, Donna, Artemis and Robin warm up for their first combined super strength combat lesson with Diana.

    "They didn't know I was telepathic, they just knew I was hearing voices in my head. Statistically, in a Human that's far more likely to indicate some sort of mental disorder than it is to indicate that they can really hear what other people are thinking. And once they got some drugs in my system… Well, I became symptomatic."

    "But why did your parents let them do that?"

    I'm only half listening to their conversation. Batman's coming to talk to me. I stare at the zeta tube at parade rest. I'm in my armour, which isn't particularly comfortable to wear without the ring at the best of times.

    "Mom thought I was ill and she wanted me to get help. Dad came to get me out as soon as he heard, but he was a career criminal and him and Mom weren't in touch anymore. So, anyway, he created a telepathic illusion of a fire, -" M'gann cringes slightly, but I don't think he noticed it. "-waited until they evacuated everyone and basically just walked away with me. Spent the rest of the week nursing me back to health."

    The ring and my lantern are still in the box over with Diana, over on the other side of the room. She said that Batman would have a decision for me today. I want to stay here. If he's got conditions, I'll accept them. Heck.. yes, I even want it more than I want to maintain secrecy about my age and the whole DCU thing. If he asks for a full explanation, I'll provide him with one. I'd rather not have to, of course...

    "Was that the first time you'd met him?"

    "Yeah. I'd seen his pictures in the newspapers a couple of times when I was growing up, but I hadn't really thought anything of it. We were together about a month, him teaching me and us getting to know each other. Finally learned how to shut all the voices out."

    "Had you always heard what everyone around you was thinking?"

    "No, started kicking in when I was about nine or ten." He squints as he tries to remember. "Only heard a few whispers at first. Didn't get really bad until I was fourteen."

    She nods. "Martians don't usually worry about that, but after what happened Wednesday I think maybe I should learn how to do that too."

    I apologised to her once I got back from London. She said it didn't matter, but I could feel the echo of her fear when she spoke telepathically and I could see the yellow that still clung to her.

    "Look, ah... Do you have a living area or something? I remember what it was like when Nuklon and Fury used to spar together and I don't think this room is going to stay a safe place for us fragile people for much longer."

    "Yes, of course. Right this way. Paul? Paul?"

    "Mm?"

    "It'll be okay." **[Reassurance]** I nod. She's probably right. If he were planning on doing anything punitive the box wouldn't be here, but that doesn't stop me worrying. "Do you.. want me to wait around?"

    "No, no. I'll be fine." I don't think she believes me. "Go on. Enjoy your lesson." She nods uncertainly and leads Mister King towards the lifts.

    "Recognised, Batman, zero two."

    Here we go then. I come to attention as he steps into the room proper.

    "Orange Lantern. Do you have anything to report from your meeting with Lex Luthor?"

    "I believe he was able to convince Nyssa Raatko to enter his service. From what was said I don't think he's pursuing other forms of arcane research."

    "That would be Talia al Ghul's sister, correct?"

    "Yes sir. She claimed to be an accomplished alchemist, and if she's still alive after this much time she at least knows how to make Lazarus Pits."

    "Did anything else of note occur?"

    "He showed me a painting by Adolf Hitler." Batman pulls his head back a little in surprise. "I think he was trying to make a point about the folly of mindlessly following heroic figures, but it was rather lost on me."

    He thinks for a moment. "Owning paintings by Hitler is not itself a crime, even if it is a little disturbing. It seems unlikely to me that he has those sort of far right leanings." I nod. "Who else was in attendance?"

    "Ms Raatko and Doctor Munro. Ms Graves was there, but she wasn't eating and didn't say much. I'll have the recording transcribed for you before the end of the day." Lex might not have been recording everything but I certainly was.

    "Good." He looks across the room, where Diana is demonstrating the ineffectiveness of striking unanchored super tough opponents by punching Kon in the stomach, sending him flying across the room into the far wall. He gets up, brushes himself off and leaps back. "We also need to discuss your ring."

    "Yes sir."

    "Martian Manhunter reports no lingering ill effects from being branded. Are you still able to make use of the ability?"

    "I assume so, I don't know. That was the first time I'd used it."

    "Can you call your ring from here?"

    "Probably."

    "Do so."

    "Sir, it.. hasn't been a week yet."

    "Orange Lantern, almost the first thing you did after regaining your senses was give up your ring. I am not concerned about you repeating last week's behavior of your own volition. What I am concerned about is you being overwhelmed by the Ophidian again. I want to be sure that you retain your usual level of self control when you make contact with it."

    "You do realise that you're right next to me if I can't, sir?"

    "Your views on unaugmented Humans aside I am quite capable of looking after myself, and if there really is a problem then Wonder Woman and Superboy are just across the room."

    I nod. I don't need to close my eyes or gesture, the ring just rises into the air and carries the box and lantern with it. I float it around the edge of the room until it arrives in the air next to me, then take hold of it with my hands and lower it to the floor. I open it. The lantern inside is glowing even brighter than it used to while storing two charges, but it doesn't seem to have decayed since I handed it over to Diana. The ring.. it's fully charged, but it doesn't look unusual in any way. I pluck it from its resting place with my right hand and then straighten up, holding it a short distance from my left ring finger to give Batman a chance to change his mind. He doesn't say anything. Okay then... It flies from my right hand into its accustomed place on my left ring finger, face inwards. The sigils on my armour light up immediately, I feel cooler and the stickiness of my sweat disappears, but I don't otherwise feel any different. I turn my left hand palm up and generate a sigil construct. No, it's still working.

    "Do you feel any different?"

    "Yes. I used to get a rush when I put it back on or recharged it. This time, nothing."

    "What is your current charge?"

    Ring?

    Charge is currently at one hundred percent.

    "One hundred percent."

    "Try recharging anyway. If nothing untoward happens you can consider yourself reinstated."

    "Thank you sir." I hold out my left hand towards the lantern. "Recharge." A thin beam of orange light projected from the lantern's core strikes the ring. It doesn't feel of

    I can hear you again.

    anything, though I note the beam is much more focused than what it was before I used Guy's lantern's template to repair it. I shake my head at Batman. "Nothing again."

    He nods, and offers me his right hand to shake. "Then welcome back to the team."
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    30th October
    19:34 GMT -5


    "Give me back my pants!"

    Artemis' cheeks flush red as she tries to hold down the ridiculously short skirt, though whether it's from rage or embarrassment I can't tell.

    "It's part of her costume. It doesn't come with trousers."

    "Looks good to me, babe. Aaarrrroooooo!"

    "Uuugh!"

    Artemis appears to be regretting accepting my offer to help with her Halloween costume. Wallace has gone with a wolfman headpiece. It's quite an impressive piece, actually. Kon is wearing ring-crafted bandages and pseudo-Egyp... Pseudo-Kahndaqi ornamentation. I even made it so that the bandages would have the same smell as actual mummification wraps. Wolf doesn't seem to think much of it.

    "How about tights?" Okay, it was rage. I raise my hands in surrender as she stalks towards me. That costume doesn't come with a collar. "Cycle shorts?"

    "Now!"

    Ringmakeitso.

    There's a brief orange glow around her.. her hips, and a pair of non-canonical white hot pants materialise, just visible under the hem of the skirt. She takes a quick look. "That's barely any better!"

    "I'm sorry. Thigh socks would probably go with it, but... Would you rather I just tried something else?"

    She tries tugging the skirt down, then gives up with a huff. "It's fine. What are you going as?"

    "I'm not."

    "What!? Why not?"

    "It's an American holiday. I'm British. I don't do Halloween any more than I do Thanksgiving or Independence Day."

    "It's just a party, Paul. What are you going to do instead?"

    "Batman wants a chat with Kaldur and me, and I really need to get around to reclaiming the rest of my stuff from Guy."

    "You could get your stuff from Guy any time. If the meeting with Batman finishes quickly you can still go."

    Quite aside from the risk of being recognised, I really don't want to go to a party populated by teenagers. "I'll tell you what: if-"

    "Recognised, Zatanna Zatara, A zero six."

    M'gann looks around from admiring Kon's costume. "Hey Zatanna. Great costume!" A witch costume, really? Is she trying to reclaim the stereotype or something?

    "Thanks! Are you.. going as a Martian?"

    "Nooot exactly." M'gann takes a few steps away from the rest of us, holds out her arms and spreads her legs as her clothing and skin transform. First, her short skirt changes into a tattered floor length grey dress, t-shirt and jumper merging to form the bodice. Next, gloves in the same style appear on her hands and forearms as her skin changes to pale grey with heavy black eyeliner and lipstick. Lastly, a torn veil appears on her head, pulled back out of her face. "Grraaaaww!" She makes a grabbing monster gesture with her arms before resting them on her hips, satisfied with her transformation. Sort of a.. Corpse Bride thing?

    "If what?"

    I return my attention to Artemis. "If you'll celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with me next week."

    Kon looks over to me. "Is that some sort of English holiday?"

    "Yes. It commemorates a failed attempt four hundred years ago to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening. If it had succeeded they'd have killed the king, most members of the House of Lords and a lot of members of the House of Commons. The country would have been decapitated."

    "What do you do?"

    "Traditionally, in the evening, there's a firework display and bonfire. Toffee covered apples are consumed. The highlight of the celebration is the burning in effigy of the leader of the plot, a man named Guy Fawkes, and the Pope." Stares. "The Pope of the day, obviously. I can't say his name, it's the same as mine. If you're interested in the background I studied the Reformation at school and I'd be happy to talk you through it."

    Artemis' face looks a little pained. "I.. think I'll give it a miss, thanks."

    "Rightyho. I'm not much of a party animal anyway."

    There's a degree of awkward shuffling, which is brought to an end by Captain Marvel emerging from one of the side tunnels. I think he's started occupying a room here. Wallace waves at him. "Ah, hey Cap. Any plans for Halloween?"

    "I thought I'd take Adom for a look around Fawcett City. Y'know, since this is the one night of the year when he won't get attacked on sight for, y'know, looking like the other guy."

    M'gann looks puzzled. "Couldn't he just wear something else?"

    "He doesn't seem to like the idea." He really doesn't. Once we convinced him that distinctive costumes were de rigueur for people in our profession he point blank refused to wear anything else. He appears to consider it beneath him. I thought he was being unexpectedly easy going, but he's now familiar enough with the modern world to start expressing informed opinions. I honestly don't see him accepting Diana's hospitality for much longer. One bad news story from Kahndaq is all it would-.

    "Recognised, Artemis, B zero eight, Zatanna Zatara, A zero six."

    The zeta tubes flare as they disappear. Huh. Guess they didn't want to go to the dance thing either. I suppose not really knowing anyone there would take the fun out of it.

    "Well, we should probably be going too." M'gann puts her right arm through Kon's left and I reach out and take Wolf from his right. "Have fun with your meeting."

    "I'll try. Enjoy the party." M'gann, Wallace and Kon head towards the seldom used ground exit as Wolf realises that she's been moved and wakes up enough to try burrowing against my body. In a normal puppy that would be cute but I have to reinforce my environmental shield to stop her ripping the outer layer of my armour. I shift her so that she's lying up my chest, and she turns her head to the side in order to lick my face. I stroke her head in an attempt to get her to go back to sleep. The licking doesn't bother me as the ring can easily deal with it. No, she doesn't seem to be feeling tired. Is Batman a dog person? I don't remember seeing one in Wayne Manor. It would probably be best if I persuaded her to stay somewhere out of the way for the meeting. I'll go and find her basket and put her in it with a hot water bottle, that usually works.

    I start walking, then remember that the ring is back on my finger. A flicker and I'm at the cupboard where we keep the hot water bottles, another and I'm in the kitchen, turning the tap on to fill it. A quick blast from a heating element construct later and it's up to temperature. Right, basket... I look across to the living area and see Teekl cowering below the basket's rim.

    "Teekl? I've been looking for you." There's fear in her eyes. She's shaking. "Teekl, I'm not going to hurt you, you daft cat."

    "Not like big orange snake!"

    "The Ophidian is inside my lantern. It isn't possessing me anymore. You're perfectly safe." My cat behavioural awareness tells me that approaching will just cause her to bolt so I stay right where I am.

    "Not like big orange snake!"

    "You don't like the Ophidian, I understand. It isn't here. Sniff me. Your orange light sense should tell you that I'm me again."

    My Agent is correct. We are no longer joined.

    Teekl suddenly calms down, blinking at me. She must have taken a look. I'd thought that it would take longer than that. Not that I'm complaining. I walk over to her and rub her head. After a slight hesitation she leans into it. Good. Everything back to normal.
     
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    30th October
    20:16 GMT -5


    I'm squatting in the air at chair height in one of the mountain's side rooms. Oh, I missed this. Hanging here, legs bent like I'm sitting on Mum's old kneeling chair but with the ring's flight system taking all of the weight. My back's slightly hunched and my hands are in my lap as I wait for Batman to start.

    "Computer, secure the room."

    There's a hiss as armoured blast doors close at the exits of the room and a clunk as the air vents close.

    "Secured."

    "Ooh, sir, before we start?" I float a grey stone each over to Kaldur and Robin on my left and Batman, Red Arrow and Red Tornado on the other side of the room. Shooould work on Tornado, but I'll use the ring to plant a listening device on an external wall just to check. They certainly covered my conversation with Nyssa. I remotely accessed his internal monitoring and the recording of our chat cuts out at the moment she touched the stone. Batman takes hold of his stone between his right thumb and forefinger, studies it for a moment and then looks at me for an explanation. "Scrying wards prevent remote viewing. These prevent remote listening. No one who can't see the speaker with their own eyes will be able to hear what they're saying."

    "Was this created by your Atlantean contact?"

    "No, by John Constantine. I'll show it to Sephtian next week and I should have an improved and.. smaller version available for League members-" I incline my head towards Red Arrow. "-and associates, within a fortnight."

    Batman nods. "Useful." Then the thieving git slips it into his utility belt. It doesn't need skin contact to work but he could at least have asked. "I'll cut to it; do we believe there's a mole within the team?" I narrowly manage to avoid rolling my eyes.

    Kaldur takes a step towards him. "I am convinced there is none. When Onyx claimed she had an inside source she was merely sowing dissent."

    Robin sits up slightly in his chair. This room has plenty of chairs and I've got no idea why everyone else is standing up. "Her intel could easily have come from comparing notes with the other villains working for the 'Injustice League'." I glance left and, yes, he did the air quotes gesture.

    "Kaldur and I did background checks on everyone after we first heard the accusation." I shake my head and shrug. "No evidence of malfeasance. There are other things we could do, but they're invasive and frankly.. paranoid."

    "And think about it." Robin leans back with his hands behind his head. "If anyone was working with those creepoids..."

    Kaldur inclines his head slightly. "...he or she would have betrayed us during our fight against them."

    "I'm not convinced." Well of course mopey arrow isn't convinced. "Sure Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash are above suspicion-"

    "Thanks."

    "-but I know Artemis isn't shooting straight." Isn't the only advantage of a bow over a gun that you don't have to shoot straight? "For starters, she's not Green Arrow's niece."

    No shit Sherlock. Kaldur jerks his head around to stare at me. I shrug. "She has a secret identity. You said to just share information you needed, and you didn't need it."

    "Your decision was correct." Batman nods slightly. "Though Artemis' relations may make her suspect, in the absence of specific evidence we have no reason to share her true identity without her consent."

    "And what about you?" Red Arrow narrows his eyes at me. "We have no way of verifying anything you've told us about where you come from. And you've been getting friendly with Lex Luthor."

    "Two points to consider in my defence. Firstly, I spent the week before last as a physical god. Assuming that I'd stayed true to whatever cause I was betraying you to, there was absolutely no reason for me not to off the lot of you. Believe me, it was well within our abilities. Secondly, Kaldur used the Lasso of Truth on me during our initial investigation. I don't remember exactly what I said-" I look at him for confirmation. "-but apparently it was quite convincing."

    Kaldur thinks for a moment. "You said that you would only think it correct to betray the team in a situation where to do so would serve the greater good in a way that massively outstripped the harm done, and that you were aware of no such situation currently existing." Huh. Not exactly the declaration of camaraderie I was hoping for. "You also said that you were not capable of betraying Superboy, regardless of the situation." Orange light for the win. "Then you tried to explain some point of moral philosophy. Something about 'believing in the ideal and not the idol'? I'm afraid that by that stage you had become fairly incoherent."

    I look at the others. "Well, I'm convinced."

    "Then what about Miss Martian?" Red Arrow's really got the bit in his teeth at the moment. "She is Manhunter's niece, but he told Black Canary he has a few hundred nieces and nephews. And the first time he met M'gann was five months ago, when she stowed away on his last trip from Mars to Earth."

    Hah! I grin. I didn't know that she'd done that. Kaldur remains impassive. "This changes nothing." He folds his arms across his chest. "I have fought side by side with these people. None, are traitors."

    "Though.. there are techniques for bypassing agency. Kon was nearly the victim of one. Might be worth getting M'gann and Mister King to have a look at all of our brains." I think for a moment. "Actually, it wouldn't be a bad idea to make that a regular thing for all of us."

    Kaldur thinks for a moment. "Members of the League of Shadows were routinely being issued with wards to block scrying. Might enemies with the capacity to use magic be gathering information that way?"

    I look at Batman. "Please tell me this mountain's warded." A small shake of the head. Ah, poop. "Well, I could get someone in to fix that, but you might be happier if Mister Zatara did it instead. Scrying wards for League members -including when they're in their civilian identities- might also be a good idea. Aside from magic and telepathy... The greenies and I can scan for implants or nanotechnology. I suppose... Parallel universe duplicates? Are they a thing?"

    Batman considers. "Though I haven't ever encountered one, your presence here suggests that they could be."

    "Could the problem be on the League end?"

    "I performed thorough background checks on every League member. All of them are loyal to the organization."

    "A robotic engineer who had studied either myself or my brother or sister could duplicate our bodies, and we are not susceptible to telepathic interrogation." It's weird how someone Red Tornado's size can fade into the background just by being silent and stationary. "I have upgraded our security protocols to ensure that the technique our father used to ensure my siblings' obedience will no longer function."

    "I don't suppose we managed to get Onyx during the last round of arrests?"

    Batman shakes his head again. "Both she and Bane are still at large. We're monitoring his factory on Santa Prisca, but it doesn't appear to be in operation."

    Robin leans forwards. "How about Brain? We know he had contact with both Wotan and the Ultra-Humanite."

    "Gerard Shu-gel." He scowls at me.

    "Nothing as yet, though all League members are on the alert for any information on their whereabouts." Silence descends. I can't think of anything to add to the discussion. After a moment Batman raises his head. "On the basis that we have no hard evidence, I think it would be best to proceed on the assumption that there is no mole. I'll ask Zatara to contact you with regards to the cave's arcane defenses. Dismissed."
     
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  9. Threadmarks: Displaced
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st November
    22:09 GMT -4


    I dash up the dingy theatre aisle, ignoring the stares from the other members of the audience. Behind me on the stage some wizened thespian witters through Prospero's lines. Listening to Shakespeare while wearing a power ring is a strange experience; Elizabethan English really isn't modern English and half the time the ring decides that it needs to be translated. That amusement was just about the only thing keeping me interested, which is probably why I was the one who noticed Ms Reilly get up and head for the exit. The body I built for her doesn't creak in the way that Red Tornado's does and it can move pretty darn fast. By the time I'd clambered past Mister Grant and Jay and Joan Garrick she had already left the auditorium. The ring can track her easily enough but I can't use it to just appear at her location with all of these people around.

    I slow to a jog as I pass through the corridor to the main lobby. Funny thing, it's actually quite difficult for a group of superheroes to get together out of hours. One camera taking a picture of a group of people with a particular set of physical characteristics when they're spending time together, one person realising that those people bear a remarkable resemblance to another group... It's even worse when the group in question includes people like Diana, Jay and me who don't have secret identities. Jay can just about get away with it this far from Keystone City, Diana wore a shawl, coat and big dark glasses and I avoided wearing orange but one little burst of FTL and I blow it for Alan and the others.

    Through the main door and out onto the street, turning left. Ms Reilly has slowed to a walking pace but is steadily heading away from the theatre, and not in the direction of the nearest zeta tube. Red Tornado is back in the mountain, so...

    "Ms Reilly!"

    She slows slightly and I hurry to catch up. Not many people on this street during performances and her name isn't really a risk factor. Would someone recognise her, and so me and then the others? I'd have thought not, but the risk... I really don't like this secrecy. She comes to a full stop as I catch up and move ahead of her. Her face is completely still. She has a program for generating organic Human facial expressions but she appears to have it deactivated. I watch her for a moment, hoping for a clue as to the cause of her behaviour.

    "You can call me Danette. Or Danni. I don't think it would be inappropriate."

    "Um. Right. Danette. Is there... What's wrong?"

    "Do you know how many times I have watched The Tempest?"

    "No. I know Jay said it was your favourite..."

    "I remember having watched it on seven occasions. First, in nineteen thirty one. Then nineteen thirty six, thirty eight, twice in nineteen forty, then forty two and forty four."

    "Right?"

    "How old am I?"

    "I.. suppose it depends when you count from?"

    "Danette Reilly's records say that she was born in nineteen twenty five. In fact I was first activated in nineteen forty two."

    "So you couldn't have-."

    "Seen those plays. Yes. The annoying thing is that the memories aren't even that detailed. I can manually access the files now. Those I really saw I can describe in perfect detail, every word, action, every stage direction. If I had to I could recreate the whole performance. For those that were part of my false background Father simply entered a review cut from a local paper. It's just a text file. Wesley asked me about the first time I saw it when I was a member of the Justice Society and I just blithely regurgitated the file without dwelling on the lack of detail. When we were in the theater just now Joan asked me the same thing and I nearly gave the same response."

    "Ahhh..."

    "What is perhaps worse is that the performances I do remember appear to be shorn of emotional context. I remember that I thought Ariel's enslavement was unjust. I can see my own reasoning, the false memories and implanted beliefs which led me to that conclusion. I simply don't feel the connection to it any more. It is as if I am reading an essay on the subject written by someone else."

    "How do you feel about the things you've done since being.. reactivated..?" Not a good choice of word there.

    "Distress. Loss. Uncertainty. Danette-. I didn't used to feel those things."

    "But that means that you can still feel. Doctor Morrow didn't remove your capacity for emotion completely. You can still make a new life."

    She turns to the road, head held straight. "Red Tornado believes that he can reinstate the program which caused me to interpret the data as memories, not as computer files. It is still active in our elder brother. It would likely allow me to become more like Danette once more, at the cost of becoming more deluded. I am tempted by the offer, but at the same time I do realize that this might simply be a transitional state. He said it was something I would have to decide for myself, but I find that since I am unable to trust my own recollections I have no sound basis for doing so." She turns her head to look at me. "Which do you believe would be the better course of action?"

    "They're both a bit rubbish. Are there no other choices?"

    "Yes. The most tempting choice of all would be to erase all memory since my reactivation and then reinstate the program. I would have to create a believable explanation for my resurrection and convince everyone who knows me to go along with it. But..." She stands there for ten seconds, completely still and saying nothing. She doesn't have to breathe unless she wants to speak, and at the moment she isn't. "Danette could be happy with the result."

    "No. Absolutely not. Killing yourself is not the answer."

    "It would not precisely be suicide."

    "But if you have the program restored, you're effectively altering your mind to become a new person. You wouldn't be you anymore, it's close enough." I take a moment to think it through. "If the choice is a comforting delusion or an uncomfortable truth, I'd choose truth. That's part of why I'm an atheist. If you want.. help, making happier memories... I've got lots of spare time if there's something you want to do."

    "Danette had few-."

    "No. Don't worry about what Danette would have thought. Your problem appears to be you thinking you 'should' be Danette when.. from what you're saying.. there never really was a Danette." She tilts her head slightly to the side. "Alright, look. Hiding up in Red Tornado's penthouse is not a good way to accustomise yourself to the new 'you'. If you're seriously considering wiping your mind anyway there wouldn't be any harm in it."

    "That.. makes sense. Do you have something particular in mind?"

    "Batman's going to be occupied with.. um... Dealing with the fallout from us destroying the League of Shadows-" Technically true. And it might be properly true as well. I was pretty busy myself after Infinity Island. "-for the next week or so, and he told me it would be helpful if I could spend some time in Gotham. Not just doing crime prevention, but learning to interact with civilians and with conventional law enforcement while on the job. If you're interested in getting back into that sort of thing... Well, actually, if you don't have a better idea, it's as good a place as any to start."

    "Are you aware that I cannot fly without setting fire to whatever is below me?"

    "Not a problem. You can try using a flight belt, I can float you by ring, and you're easily strong enough and light enough to parkour it."

    Stillness again. Then she turns to face me and in a smooth motion steps close and puts her arms around my chest, her head resting on my right shoulder. I freeze for a moment before reciprocating. "Thank you."

    "You're.. welcome. Not that I miiind, but..?"

    "It feels... Appropriate."

    "Um. Okay. Dooo you want to see the rest of the play?"

    "No. I believe I am content here."
     
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    19:22 GMT -4


    "Really? Because I always thought Jay was his actual name."

    "He does not use 'Jason' often. I only heard it once when Joan scolded him."

    "Whaw. Learn something new every day."

    Danni and I are hovering about three hundred metres above the streets of Gotham at the end of a busy but not particularly intense week. Lots of gangs and petty criminals, no one who can really stand up to a super gynoid or a Lantern. I've had more one liner practice than combat practice. Only bumped into Commissioner Gordon once, after Garfield Lynns tried using his flamethrower on Danni. It's a bit weird meeting someone famous like him in the flesh, because there's really nothing special about the interaction. I presented my credentials, handed over my recordings and that was it.

    It was fortunate that Danni's pyrokinetic abilities work on other people's fires as well. She wouldn't have been seriously hurt, but I'm not sure I could rebuild her skin to quite the standard I did while merged with the Ophidian. I think I remember the weakness being intentional, to allow her to use the same chassis in both civilian and professional modes. She's currently wearing an armoured costume based on her Red Inferno chassis but following the contours of her Firebrand outfit.

    I decided that under the circumstances I wouldn't comment on the mask.

    "I have been meaning to ask you something."

    "Go right ahead."

    Gotham's a lot less scary when you're a Lantern. The ability to walk right up to a gang, politely ask them to lower their weapons and then sigh disappointedly when they shoot you has really helped me get over any remaining difficulties I'd had with social confrontation. And even though we've only been here four days, street crime has noticeably decreased. Power ring scans just own.

    "I have noticed that when you and the Ophidian constructed this body you made it anatomically accurate, for a woman of my dimensions."

    Hm. I don't feel embarrassed about it, but this could be a little awkward. "Yes? Wasn't.. that how it was when you were first constructed?"

    "No. Areas which were unlikely to be on display were designed to be accurate in outline only. Now, my breasts hang naturally." She awkwardly shifts the upper part of her torso. There's a slight jiggle. "It is a strange sensation."

    "Wouldn't someone have noticed?"

    "When I joined the Justice Society I was the only female member, so there was little chance I would have been unmasked in the changing rooms. As for other sorts of physical interaction, it was the forties, and I was unmarried."

    "What if you'd been injured?"

    "In the event of a minor injury I was programmed to conceal it, repair myself and then forget that I had done so. In the event of major injuries I was programmed to enter a fugue state and signal Father."

    And when she 'died' the other members of the Society covered up her true nature. They didn't know that she was one of Morrow's, but it didn't take them long to find out that her background was nonsense. Jay and Alan were so overjoyed to discover that she was back among the living I was concerned that they might have heart attacks.

    "My skin is now far more sensitive than it was originally. What was the reason for that design choice?"

    "A 'pure' AI wouldn't care much about the body it animates. It's just a tool, its true self is its mind. You're a gynoid. From what Red Tornado told me, your identity is more tied up with the state of your body, so we wanted to give you one that would enable you to fit in."

    "A sensible goal, but that does not explain the level of detail. The patterns of sensitivity on my skin appear to match those of an organic woman. It is not merely my sense of touch that has improved. I appear to have erogenous zones now, including a vagina which so far as I can tell would allow me to engage in penetrative sexual intercourse. Furthermore, I believe that modifications made to my neural network would allow me to..." She blinks. "Enjoy.. the sensation. That was certainly not part of my original design."

    "Is it a problem?"

    "It is... No, it is not a problem. I was simply curious as to your motivations."

    "I'm not really sure, to be honest. Now that I'm not merged with the Ophidian anymore, not everything we did together makes sense to me. I suppose... I mean, psychologically, sex is quite important to Humans, and since you're designed to mimic us..."

    "Ah."

    I don't think we did it because we particularly desired her ourselves. I just think that given the choice between hot robot girl and clunky robot androgyny, given that both would be equally powerful in combat, we went for the hot one without any particular personal designs in mind. I'm not.. completely sure, however. My instinctive understanding of my own desires only extends to current desires. And-.

    Oh, thank goodness, a cat burglar. I have the ring magnify my vision and see a young woman in black jogging bottoms and black hoodie scurrying over the rooftops below us, awkwardly carrying a large rectangle, also covered in black. It's got straps on it but the size and shape mean that she can't easily manoeuvre it while remaining concealed.

    "Looks like someone's out for a night time run along the rooftops. Along with.. a Jackson Pollock currently insured for three million dollars." Why, I couldn't say. Just looks like a mess to me.

    "I see her." Danni's mechanical eyes have the full range of augmentations the Ophidian and I were able to copy from STAR Labs and fit into them. "What is her name?"

    "Ring says..." Actually, the ring's having a little trouble. Looks like someone's been trying to stay off the grid. Ah, there we are. "Holly Robinson, seventeen years of age. Not currently registered as attending any local schools." I think I remember her. Wasn't she Catwoman for a bit? Of course, I can't assume that relationship exists here. I haven't really spent any time looking at Ms Kyle's background, partly because she isn't that significant and partly because I didn't want to step on Batman's toes.

    "That's a shame. Does she possess any unusual abilities?"

    "No. Baseline Human, though given that we haven't picked up the theft being reported she must be a reasonably accomplished thief."

    "Shall we apprehend her?"

    I tense my right cheek. "A bit overkill for us both to go. How about I get this one and you stay on stati-?" An alarm pierces the night, swiftly followed by what I've learned to recognise as a fire brigade siren. "That one's for you then." Danni nods, turns, and flies off in the direction of the alarm. She got the hang of the belt much faster than the rest of us -Kaldur excluded- did. It turned out that I hadn't got Artemis' belt wrong, she'd just been wearing it upside down. I'd forgotten that girls' belts usually buckle the other way around.

    Now, what's the best way to apprehend Ms Robinson?

    The world flickers around me and I'm standing on a roof a little above her current position across a narrow passageway. The ring lets me watch as she jumps a cluster of ventilation pipes and accelerates to leap across the gap. The additional drag from the painting slows her but she looks like she's going to make it until she spots my glow and jerks just as she gets to the edge. Without enough time to stop she jumps but her lack of momentum results in her only just grabbing hold of the edge of the roof and slamming into the wall painfully with her chest.

    I walk over to the edge and look down at her. I've never been much of a fan of heights myself. I put my right foot on the lip of the building and bend, resting my forearms on my knee. "Good evening, Miss Robinson. May I offer you a hand up?"

    "Gh! Duh!" She tries to get a better grip, but can't quite manage it. Her legs try to find purchase, but it's a fairly flat bit of wall.

    "I think you'd survive the fall, but it would hurt a lot and you'd probably break a bone or two." I crouch slightly and place my right hand on her left wrist. She flinches slightly, then tightens her grip on the wall as she starts to slip. Once she's reassured herself that she isn't immediately going to fall she risks looking up at me.

    "I know you. You're Orange Lantern."

    "Nice to be recognised."

    "You're the idiot who made that giant cake in New York. Are you even allowed out on your own?"

    I blink, then move my hand away from her a little. "I can just leave you to fall, you know?"
     
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    19:26 GMT -4


    "No you can't!"

    "Why not?"

    "It's..! It's, like, against the superhero code or something!"

    I pantomime astonishment. "There's a code?"

    "Yes!"

    "No one told me."

    "Everyone knows superheroes can't do stuff like that!"

    "Isn't that basically the same as saying that no one's ever found out about a superhero doing it?" I look around. "Don't.. see any cameras..." Her eyes widen and her breaths become rapid and shallow. Might have been a bit much, but that should motivate her to move this time. I move my right hand back and take hold of her wrist. "Well?"

    She thinks for a second, then pulls up just enough that she can grip my right wrist with her left hand. I'm not even using the ring at this point; she's not all that heavy and I'm easily strong enough to lift her weight. I pull up and step back and she scrabbles up onto the rooftop, releasing my wrist just as soon as she has solid roof underneath her. I move away from her a little to give her some space to recover as I try to decide what the best way to handle her situation is. I'm not sure exactly what the penalty for the theft she's committed is, but I'm confident it would involve prison time. I ensured that Jade would get out in a matter of months and thought it was a good deed despite her almost certainly being a murderer. It seems a bit hypocritical to send someone to prison for stealing what is frankly an ugly and overvalued piece of canvas. On the other hand, letting her walk off with it is probably a non-starter. I wonder if she's-.

    "Hey!" She's crouching slightly as if ready to lunge or run, and she's.. got a knife in her right hand? I peer at it in puzzlement. What exactly is that going to achie-? "Step aside, and no one gets hurt!"

    "You do know I.. have a power ring, right?" I hold up my left hand, palm towards her, and point it out. "Tiny knife..." I gesture at it with my right hand. "Xenotech super tool." And back to the ring.

    She's still staring at me, and... Ah. She's shaking. I can see the yellow wafting around her. She wipes her eyes one at a time with her left hand, not daring to look away. "I ain't... I ain't going to jail."

    My right forefinger taps my chin. "Gotham prisons don't have the best reputation, it's true. Prob.. bably wouldn't help rehabilitate you. On the other hand-."

    She swiftly pulls the painting off her back and holds the knife to it. "Let me go, or the painting gets it."

    "Look, what were you even going to get for stealing that?"

    "Ah, if you, like, want a cut..?"

    "I'm pretty sure that's against the rules. I'm just curious."

    She stands there for a moment. "Nine hundred bucks."

    "Whaw. I knew the mark down on stolen property was big, but that thing's insured for three million."

    "It is? Fuckin' Lenny-." Her eyes go wide again.

    "That would be.. Leonard Seeley? Pawnbroker with several convictions for receiving stolen goods?" Her head shakes a little, but her brain activity says otherwise. "Is that stolen to order, or just a target of opportunity?"

    "Ah, I'm not sayin' anything else without a lawyer."

    "Because superheroes are known for their observance of the niceties of due process. Look, h-how do you see this going? If you somehow actually manage to stab the painting, all that happens is that you've committed a more serious crime than you have already."

    "You can't let me. If it's worth that much money, it's too important for you to risk letting me cut it up."

    "I'm not.. really an art person."

    Another pulse of yellow. "What?"

    "Is this one of those superhero rules I don't know? The picture's ugly and it's insured." I shrug. "Frankly I'm.. not that bothered about it."

    "You're bluffing. You gotta be!"

    "Mmmmmmnnnnoooo? Honestly, I don't care about the painting. I'm more concerned about what happens to you next. I am provisionally prepared to accept that the chance of Blackgate rehabilitating you is so low that there isn't any point in sending you there. How's about you put the painting down and we discuss your future like rational people?" I try smiling, but with all of the yellow around I think that subtle body language isn't what is required. Eye contact and nodding? Eye contact and nodding. Huh, that actually worked. She shifts her knife to the side a little and lifts the bag's strap over her head before gently setting it down on the ground. She keeps a hand on the knife and her eyes on me the whole way. "Thank you."

    "Soo... I can go?"

    "Nno? Like I said, I'm not interested in the painting. That's really just a macguffin."

    "What.. are you interested in?"

    "You."

    Her eyes flick to the side and she shuffles uncomfortably. "Oh. Um. I don't... I don't know..."

    "See, it occurs to me that you don't really have a way out of your current predicament. Not just me, even if I wasn't here, you hand over the painting, you make a fraction of its value... You have no qualifications, every theft makes getting legitimate employment harder and you live in the same city as Batman. If you steal enough things he will come looking for you and however good you are, you are not better than him. I'd like to offer you a way out." That gets a little attention. "I can probably make the theft and breaking and entering charges go away and I can pay you a sum of-."

    "Okay." Huh? She seems to wilt slightly as she puts the knife back in her belt. She's gone from staring at my face to looking at the ground. Defeated? Why would..? "Suppose I don't really have a lot of choice."

    "I suppose not. So what I was thinking-."

    She pulls her hoodie over her head and drops it to the ground, revealing a grey and slightly foxed t-shirt. She looks a bit scrawny, and the ring suggests that she isn't getting a healthy mix of vitamins. Making a project of improving her life is going to be so much easier with her not being in prison why is she taking her t-shirt off? I play back the last chunk of conversation just as I get proof that she isn't wearing a bra. Oh! I avert my eyes and put my right hand over them just to be on the safe side. "That wasn't what I meant! That wasn't what I meant!"

    "Huh?"

    "Did you really think I'd just drop down and tell you to... You're seventeen, for goodness sake!"

    "You w-? Oh." I hear material sliding as she swiftly redresses. "Um, yeah, that was just... Um. So, you weren't telling me to..?"

    "No!"

    "Oh. 'Cause it sure sounded like-."

    "Clearly I haven't adjusted my ears for Gotham yet." I rub the hand covering my eyes across my face. "Normally when something like this happens I offer to hug the other, um, don't.. think that's really appropriate here. Wait." I remove my hand and look at her. "This hasn't happened before, has it?"

    "Not... No, not like this."

    Right. Real crime. Sexual exploitation of the marginalised and vulnerable. No silly costumes, just lives getting ruined. I've only seen the headlines of how bad Miss Robinson's life is. If I'm going to do something about it...

    "Have you had dinner yet?"
     
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    19:44 GMT -4


    "So how come you get one with meat and I don't?"

    "Because, Miss Robinson, among a power ring's abilities is the ability to restructure the wearer's body. I can eat what I like. You, on the other hand, are showing signs of vitamin deficiency and therefore I'm taking it upon myself to improve your diet. Starting now."

    Miss Robinson pokes at what I believe to be a piece of squash with her fork. Finding a restaurant good enough to be worth eating at but empty enough for us to be able to get a table without reservations was easy enough for the ring, though I doubt it was the sort of thing the Maltusians had in mind when they created them. This branch of Tikka Nights has won praise from local food critics but hasn't been open long enough to have developed a regular crowd yet. Having tried their food I can say with certainty that they're missing out.

    After notifying Danni of my intention I changed into my grey-with-orange-trimming casuals and transported myself, Miss Robinson and the painting to within easy walking distance. It's resting against the side of her chair now. She spears the squash cube, lifts it off the plate and looks at it for a moment before reluctantly putting it into her mouth and gingerly chewing it.

    "Well?" She nods, then scoops up a larger load onto her fork and adds it to her current mouthful. "Glad you agree. Well, while you can't talk, here's what I want to happen next. I want you to write a report explaining exactly how you were able to bypass the security of the manor from which you removed the painting. Once you've done that, I will go there, repair the property, return the picture and deliver the report."

    "Wuy?" She swallows. "Why bother doing that?" Another scoop is rapidly directed towards her mouth.

    "Because you're hardly a master thief. If you could break in, so could someone else. This being Gotham, there's a good chance that such a person wouldn't limit themselves to merely stealing a painting. Aaand the people you stole it from are less likely to complain if they gain something from the process." Oh, they got the texture of this lamb just right. I've got to try and bring the others here some time. "Once that's happened, you're going to tell me the names of the people who would have been involved in fencing it so that I can monitor them. This is a big step up for Mister Seeley and I think I should make it my business to knock him back down." Miss Robinson wilts. "Then, I will give you three hundred thousand dollars in cash."

    I get a shield up just in time to catch the spray as the sudden shock results in her swallowing vegetable curry into the airway. I pour her a glass of water and pass it to her while she finishes her coughing.

    "T-thanks." She takes a gulp as the ring cleans the blast zone, then tries to get her breath back. "Um. That's... That's a lot of money."

    "Ten percent of the insured value of the painting. Of course, there are going to be conditions attached. Though, compared with.. what you.. thought.. I wanted, probably not very onerous ones."

    "Ughuum. Uhuuh. What..? What exactly..?"

    "I become your... Parole officer? Sponsor? I'm doing this so you can sort your life out, the downside is that you have to sort your life out. Any recidivism at all and I send a file to the Gotham police. Or possibly Batman."

    "Any what?"

    "Recidi-. Backsliding. Criminality above the level of the utterly trivial. If you can give me a better idea of your skill set I will assist you in gaining legitimate employment. Alternately.. you could work for me, but the only thing I need around here is an informant and frankly.. my need for that isn't exactly great."

    "Right..." Another sip of water, a quiet cough to clear her throat and then she starts at her food again.

    "Whatever you choose I will be checking up on you at least once a week."

    "Do I..." Ew! Not with your mouth full! "Do you want me to get a job right away? 'Cause three hundred thou is more money than..."

    "No, but I would encourage you to prioritise it. Having something productive to occupy your time will make the transition to productive citizen much smoother."

    "So-" She looks at me with a thoughtful expression on her face. "-how rich are you, anyway?"

    "Why do you ask?"

    "You just gave three hundred thousand dollars to a girl you've just met as if it wasn't even a thing."

    "Alright. Um, it depends how you count it. I've got about five million dollars in cash, but in addition to that I'm the only person currently mining this star system's asteroid belts. If I fully realised that asset..." Ring? Oh. "Which I couldn't because that much money doesn't exist. Um... About five times richer than the Earth."

    "No way."

    "If you really doubt it I can take you to see them at some-."

    There's a white blur and the waiter disappears. I whip my head around to catch sight of the other diners vanishing in the same way, and the crashing from the kitchen suggests that it's happened there too. The Spell Eater at my chest starts getting warm. Oh heck, if that's a magic effect then... No, it's cooling again.

    "What happened! Where'd they go?!"

    I hear a crash from outside. No, more than one crash. And screaming. Need to go! "Miss Robinson, finish your dinner, then go home and stay there." I push back my chair as I replace my clothes with my armour.

    "But where'd everyone-?"

    "I don't know. I have to go and find out." An orange line makes contact with the bag containing the painting and deposits it into subspace.

    "Hey! You could just have-!"

    "Yes, I could. Excuse me. "

    A flicker and I'm high in the air over Gotham. I can't see any unexpected glowing or anything else that might indicate a source for what I just saw. Streams of traffic look.. stationary. I can see fires on the Vincefinkel Bridge to the south. Is someone attacking it? "Danni, you there?" Nothing. "Orange Lantern two eight one four to Red Infer-. Uh, Firebrand, please respond." Nothing again. Ring, find Red Inferno.

    Unable to locate.

    Up to me then. Another flicker and I'm above the bridge. This isn't my first time responding to a crash, but there doesn't appear to be a single vehicle here that remained under control. My eyes flick over cars and lorries that have anything from a minor dent to being complete write offs. As I look them over I unavoidably see the injured and... I don't know that they're dead, but there isn't a lot of movement from the more ruined cars. Batman was right about focusing on individuals, it really doesn't help keep you in the right frame of mind. First, the fires have to go. Hundreds of filaments radiate from my body, miniature freeze guns seeking out the heat of the flames and neutralising it. I try and have a more detailed look so that I can start freeing the trapped as I connect to the emergency services. Claw constructs shimmer into being and begin cutting through car frames and hurling ruined metal over the sides of the bridge. No one's answering. Are they just inundated? Someone must have reported this, right?

    Then it hits me. The cars... The drivers' seats are all empty. I'm not seeing... No adults. No, wait. I see a young man staring in terror at a metal bar sticking through the thankfully unoccupied passenger seat of his car. Ring, how old..?

    Samuel Barns, seventeen years of age.

    Same age as Miss Robinson. Ring, scan Gotham and detect anyone other than me more than seventeen years old.

    None found.

    Shit. Ring, detect any adults in the world.

    Thirty thousand seven hundred ninety two found.

    Where?

    All are located on Themyscira.

    Not much help there then. I look across the wreckage and scan for corpses. Twenty nine. Assuming this is replicated on every road on the planet... I'm looking at one small part of the worst single act of mass murder in human history.
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    19:53 GMT -4


    I managed to heal the five worst wounded before I no longer want to heal them sufficiently to help them.

    "Mountain to Orange Lantern."

    I just... I don't, I can't identify with them. I'm using an orange ring. They aren't mine in the way that my team mates and Alan are. Should I feel worse about that? I don't know any of these children, I don't identify with this city. My revulsion at their injuries just got overwhelmed, compassion clouding out my avarice. There's just so many...

    "Come in Orange Lantern."

    The rest... There're some with broken bones, but no one else is going to die here. And that's not true for the rest of Gotham, let alone the world. I remember now, the storyline with that Genie... What was it called? Bedlam? At the behest of a child it created a replica Earth and sent all of the adults to it before altering the child's mind so that it wouldn't reverse the wish.

    I raise the ring to my ear. "Orange Lantern here. Go ahead, Robin."

    "Oh El! You're still here?"

    "Oldest man in the world, I know."

    "How come?"

    "Not sure. My Spell Eater warmed up when it happened, but if the other adults haven't returned the effect of the spell is probably ongoing and it should have overloaded by now. Have you been able to track the source?"

    "Not yet, but we're working on it."

    "I'm going to go into orbit, see if I can see anything."

    "Hey, mister?"

    "Good idea."

    "Then there's.. ah... There're a few people I could bring in to help." Robert, obviously, but I should also stop off in Poseidonis and get anyone who knows how to scry. William Batson... Gemma, I need to check on Gemma! John's usual opponents are just the sort to try something at a time like this.

    "Who do you have in mind?"

    "Captain Marvel's probably the most important."

    "Ah, Captain Marvel's an adult, Oh El."

    "Captain Marvel's ten. He ages up when he transforms."

    "No way!"

    "Hey, do you know where my Mom is?"

    I don't look at the child. She's a toddler, wrapped up well against the cold. Even with the ring on minimal effectiveness I could still help here. I think that would be the Human thing to do, to help the people in front of me. But the only way to fix this on the global scale on which it's happening is to shut down the spell at its source. Though it's an easy decision from a utilitarian standpoint I'm still Human enough to be more affected by the suffering I can see and I really don't want to have the ring show me the global suffering that would be necessary to force a desire shift. It's a knife edge balance I can't risk completely ruining by giving in to compassion.

    "No, but I'm going to try to find out. Be good until she gets back."

    "Ah, oka-."

    A flicker and I'm looking down on the world from orbit. A degree of the psychic pressure disappears and for the first time I can sort of see where Danni was coming from; it can be nice not to know why you think a certain thing. Nice to delude yourself that it's a rational decision and not a conditioned response. Three orbits should be enough, and my non-FTL flight is much faster, post Ophidian merger.

    Ring, scan for anything more weird looking than normal. And find me Robert Marrack, William Batson and Gemma Masters.

    Compliance.

    "Scan in progress. Nothing obvious in North America." Robert's in costume, running down a street in Truro. Looks like a gang of teenagers are looting an off-licence. He should be able to cope with them easily. "Nothing happening in northern Russia or the North Pole." Except for deaths by exposure. I suppose that's more likely to be a problem in hot places. Gemma's at home, pacing in the living room with the television switched on. The automated stuff is still working, I suppose. "Nothing in Western Europe. Nothing in the North Atlantic." If it wasn't Bedlam then Atlantis is where I'd start looking. At the very least I need to pick up any other Spell Eaters Sephtian was able to finish. Should be a couple by now, right? I've already got some standard magic suppression manacles in subspace storage and Sephtian hasn't finished the design work on the super strength ones yet. "Central America clear. Pacific clear. Central Asia clear." William's shouting at the Fawcett City zeta tube. Ring, override. Add voice and physical appearance files for William Batson to Captain Marvel's record.

    Compliance.

    "North Africa clear. South America clear. Australasia clear. South Africa clear. South Pole clear. Marvel should be with you in a few moments. I'm heading to Truro. Might be worth Kaldur going to Poseidonis, see if any of the other Conservatory students can help with the scrying. And maybe some more of those nifty anti-magic chains."

    "Good thinking. Is this Cornwall guy really going to be able to help?"

    "Yes, I'm just not sure how much. I should be back at the mountain within fifteen minutes."

    "Recognised, Captain Marvel, one five."

    "Okay, stay in touch. Marvel just got he-. No way!"

    I take the ring away from my ear and cut the connection. Oh, hang on, what about Squire? I didn't put her on the team list because I didn't want to risk Sir Cyril's sobriety, but for a one off... No. Not essential. Robert first. Space disappears as I make the transition to Quay Street, Truro, just outside the Red Elephant Beer Cellar.

    5th November
    23:57 GMT


    The glass front of the shop is smashed in but mercifully there aren't any crashed cars. Of course, it's the middle of the night here, it should be-.

    "Arrrgh!"

    "Hah har! Go on, bite 'im Jimmy! Bite 'im good!"

    I immediately transition inside. Robert's pinned to the countertop by someone who looks suspiciously like a Nanauvian shark. The sharkman is trying to get an angle that will let him deliver a fatal bite while Robert's trying to push him off. The sharkman -Jimmy, I assume- outmasses him considerably but Robert's lifted larger objects before. I'm not sure why he's struggling. His two accomplices have undergone partial transformations, developing baldness, scales and disturbingly broad and sharp-toothed jaws. One is slamming a till against the wall and the other is chugging a vodka bottle. Vodka bottle spots me first. His eyes go wide and he lowers the bottle.

    "'oo tha' fuck are-?"

    Shockcrown, shockcrown, manacles.

    The two smaller sharkmen collapse and Jimmy is wrenched off Robert and suspended in the air.

    "Put me down you landlubbing prick! I'll eat your arms and legs and leave you for the seagulls! I'll piss on-!"

    Ring, muzzle. "Robert, you alright?"

    He pushes himself off the countertop onto the ground. "Yeah mate. Yeah. Thanks."

    "Who are these idiots?"

    "Jimmy," He gestures to the suspended sharkman. "Stevey" Till. "and Richey." Vodka. "The Fearsome Fish-Eaters."

    I've heard worse. "Can they do anything other than shapeshifting?"

    He shakes his head. "Mate, they can barely write their own names." He straightens up and brushes ground glass off his cape. "You got any idea where all the adults have gone?"

    "No, but we're working on it. And when I say 'we', I mean you as well." I extend my right hand to him. "Welcome to the team."
     
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    23:59 GMT


    "Obviously I wish it were under better circumstances..."

    He looks at my hand, then at my face, then at the ground. "The Justice League have gone too, then?"

    "Except Captain Marvel, yes."

    He nods and takes my hand. "Right then. What's our next step?"

    "Before we get to that, are you on top form? Because I've seen you lift-."

    "I know!" He turns away for a moment. "Aarh! Ugh. You know that altar thing Dad and me draw power from?"

    "I wasn't sure exactly which object in the reliquary it was, but yes, I know what you mean."

    "When there's two of us, two 'Cornwall' superheroes, it gives each of us less power. What Dad and me get now is half what he got when it was just him. When I went down there.. I must have got woken up by whatever spell made them disappear.. tried to connect to it... Maybe half of that?"

    Curious. If this is this continuity's version of A World Without Grown-Ups then the adults have been transported to a newly created duplicate Earth. I would have expected ancient magic effects to stay behind, for Robert to be a fully powered solo Captain Cornwall. If that hasn't happened..? Maybe it's like that episode of Star Trek Voyager where the ship gets replicated except for one substance in the engine which can't be copied by the technique employed? Or maybe both versions of the altar report two users to the same underlying spell, which then counts it as four users?

    "I don't suppose you can just charge yourself twice?"

    He turns back around. "I had tried that, that's not how it works. It gives me power constantly at a steady rate for a set amount of time. If I trigger it again it just restarts the timer."

    "Really? I assumed that it gave you a reservoir which you expended."

    "No. If it did that it wouldn't matter if Dad and me shared."

    "What happens if you build up power but don't use it?"

    "Then we can keep going for a bit after the time runs out." He stores it? That shouldn't... He knows almost nothing about spell casting, there's no records of accidental discharges... He shouldn't be able to do that. He might have an innate ability like the Zataras have, but that wouldn't.. be.. linked.. to the altar. Just the male members of the family. Oh. Might be on to something there.

    "It doesn't matter, I can still-."

    I pull Jimmy down to our level. "Had an idea. This lot didn't look like this earlier. Their change is magic-based, right?"

    "Yeah, think so. Why?"

    "Try doing what you do to the altar, to them."

    "What? That wouldn't do anything."

    "Then there's no reason not to try it. I've got a theory, and it's dead easy to test." He starts to protest and I make a placatory gesture with my hands. "I wouldn't delay us if it wasn't important."

    "Alright, if you say so." He steps up to the madly glaring Jimmy and holds out his hands. Jimmy's renewed efforts to break free meet with no success. "So, normally I'd-."

    Jimmy collapses through my bonds, returned to the Human form I saw on my initial scan. He gapes and I shockcrown him before he can do anything. Robert's staring at his hands. "Well, that's new."

    "It also explains why your Uncle Julian cast the spells that he did. He wasn't trying to cause an earthquake, he was trying to soak power from the ley line network and the earthquake was a side effect."

    "So, what? I'm getting power from Jimmy like from the altar?"

    "Probably. How does it feel?"

    He clenches his right fist and a gauntlet of black stone forms around it for a moment before disintegrating.

    "Stronger than it was? I think? I don't know, it's not like when I get power from the altar."

    "I think -and we need to study this later to be sure- that you just ingested all of the power maintaining his transformation. It's a fixed amount; you're not continuing to drain him because there's no spare magic." I hoik Richey and Stevey off the ground. "Drain them, and we can dump them in the countryside somewhere on our way to Liverpool."

    He nods and repeats his gesture. The two sharkmen swiftly revert. "Why're we going there?"

    "The niece of a friend of mine lives there. She has some knowledge of magic and I'm worried that she's going to overreach herself if she doesn't have supervision."

    "So, are we flying?"

    "No. FTL transfer. One moment." I raise the ring to my ear. "Orange Lantern to cave. I've got Cornwall and am proceeding to Liverpool. Any news?"

    "Zatanna's studying the spell her dad used to find the Injustice League. Hey, um, that thing you gave him-?"

    "Until we know who's doing this I wouldn't know what sort of focusing aid to find."

    "Right. Kaldur's in Atlantis and the rest of the team's in Happy Harbor helping out. Uh, M'gann was wondering: has this spread to Mars?"

    "Don't know, I'd have to go there to check. I'll do it if I've got time."

    "Right. Cave out."

    "Who was that?"

    "That was Robin. Stand by for-."

    "Robin as in Batman-and-Robin Robin?"

    The mask he's wearing makes it a little tricky to read his facial expression, but he sounds incredulous. "Yes. Transfer in two.. one."

    We flicker into being over a woodland just north of Bodmin. No one around and it should take them a good few hours to make the walk to the nearest village once they regain the ability to move. I drop them and let the constructs fade. "You alright? Some people get a bit queasy when I do this?"

    "We just..? Faster than light?"

    "Yes. I'd teleport us but the North doesn't have any zeta tubes. Are you alright?"

    "Yeah, yeah."

    "Scanning target loc- ohhh dear."

    "What?"

    "The ring's showing me the area around her home." I generate a construct to show him the row of terraced houses.

    "I hadn't realised obesity was that bad in Liverpool. And why are they all hanging around outside her house?"

    "Those aren't Liverpudlians. Those are Praexis Demons."
     
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    6th November
    00:04 GMT


    "Dad told me about them. They feed on misery, right?"

    "Yes, but that doesn't explain why they're there, and why they're so fat. If it was midday or evening and everyone knew about the separation it would make sense, they'd be rolling in misery. In the middle of the night?"

    "Are they really going to be a problem? They're suppose to be really weak."

    "Weak to a superhero, or even a healthy adult. To a city full of sleeping children?"

    "Oh. What's the plan, then?"

    "We go there and kill all of them. Drain them if you can, punch them in the face if you can't. I'll assimilate a couple and see if they've got anything useful to say."

    "Err, kill them?"

    "Demons aren't legally people, I checked. And destroying their bodies would probably just send their spirits back to hell anyway. Also, city full of sleeping children."

    "Right, yeah."

    "I'm going to drop you here, just down the road from them. I'll be on the other side about five metres up in the air. I'm pretty much going to leave you to it unless it looks like you're being overwhelmed, you alright with that?" He nods. "Good. Transition in three.. two.. one."

    The scenery flickers as I deposit him on the road, check he isn't being ill, then transfer to the other side of the mob and get my first look at them with my own eyes. Our targets are about a metre and a half tall, broader than a Human would be and disgustingly fat. Their bellies flop over their loincloths in a way that makes me nauseous to even think about, their arms are tubes of fat barely held together with skin, they waddle on legs whose knees are concealed by ugggghhhh. I vaguely remember this breed from Hellblazer but I don't remember any detail. Their heads are round, their eyes small and glowing red and their mouths are broad and sharp toothed. They don't appear to have cheeks but have no trouble opening and closing them.

    Why are they here?

    One at the far end has waddled in the direction of Robert. It stops about three metres away, sniffs at him, then opens its mouth and lets out a sort of hissing wheeze. Robert sticks out his hands and with a look of total confusion on its face it goes from bloated to emaciated in less than a second. Then it carbonises, catches fire and disintegrates into ash. The sound causes most of the rest of the mob to turn to face him and start moving in his direction, spreading out to encircle him as much as the straight street allows. I project a clamp around one of those who remain behind and pull him over to me, his arms and legs swinging helplessly. His eyes fix on me for a moment and then he tries to look somewhere else. His neck doesn't seem to have much articulation.

    "Where is it? The nice taste? Give it to me give-!"

    Assimilate.

    Identity theft in progress. The Praexis shudders for a moment before the orange light converts it, spreading out from its bloated stomach across its entire body. No resistance detected. "Identity theft complete. Nameless Praexis Demon of Hell, you belong to the Orange Lantern Corps."

    "Food? Get food now?"

    Why is there an orange sigil on its loin cloth? Ugh... "No, you don't need it anymore, you disgusting abomination."

    "Awww.."

    "Who summoned you?"

    "Don't know. Black. Said there was food. Is there food?"

    "No."

    "But hungry!"

    I spare a moment to check on Robert. The Praexis threatening his position are growling and menacing but not advancing to a closer range than the black spot marking the place where their comrade died. Robert seems to be hesitating. "Cornwall! Get on with it!" He jerks, makes eye contact with me, nods and then raises his hands again and strides forwards. The front ranks of Praexis start to shrivel and with a roar the rest charge him. Teeth and claws... The Praexis aren't all that strong, but a helping hand wouldn't hurt. I fire threads at the legs of the middle of the pack and violently yank them out in all directions, bowling the rear ones over. I'm not sure they can get back up without help. A couple of the front rank leap at him but he steps to the side and punches the closest one in the head, which crumples under the force of the impact. The second waddles a few paces to try and stabilise, manages, grins to himself in satisfaction and then disintegrates as Robert drains him.

    "How many more of you are there?"

    "Ahhh." He raises his right hand to his mouth. "Some? Many?"

    I see what John meant. "Did any of you go anywhere apart from here?"

    "Maybe?"

    "Why did you come to this house in particular?"

    "There's food in there!" He claps his chubby hands together. "Can I eat it now?"

    "No."

    "But I want to!"

    Ring, I need his knowledge but not his personality. Ideas?

    Subsuming him into the structure of this ring will allow for full analysis.

    Right. Do it.

    Orange strobes flicker out from the ring, surrounding the Praexis. He looks at the ring in confusion.

    "What does that do?"

    His body distorts, being pulled into the ring belly first, shrinking as it goes.

    "Waah!"

    Gone. And I now know everything it knows. Which is fuck all. I wasn't exactly expecting it to experience the world in the same way I do but it had eyes, didn't it? As far as I can tell whatever it was motivating them was centred around the Masters' residence and I think that would have resulted in them all coming here. Looking over at Robert I see that he's finished off the last couple. A flicker and I'm standing next to him.

    "Not feeling too demony, I hope?"

    "No. I feel pretty normal. Is it..? Does this happen a lot?"

    "This is the first time I've seen an actual demon. Come on, we can't stand around." I lead the way to Gemma's house. I think I see her pull back from one of the upstairs windows. Is she going to be afraid of us? I can just grab her but I'd rather be reasonable about it. Praexis Demons are weak, but I got the impression that this lot didn't arrive under their own power. For a moment I was worried that she might have summoned them, but then they'd be inside, wouldn't they? I bang my knuckles against the door. "Miss Masters, it's Orange Lantern. I'm a friend of your Uncle John. Are you alright?" The ring shows me that she's in the hall, looking nervously at the door. "Miss Masters, we've got a bit of a situation here and I'd like to get you somewhere safe." She takes a few hesitant steps towards the door, pauses, and then walks the rest of the way with more confidence. She puts the chain on the door and then opens it, peeking through the gap. She's thirteen at present. Her hair's short and brown, done in a sort of bob.. thing that probably has a specific name I don't know. I'm not sure how much supernatural exposure she's had other than 'as little as her mother and John can make it'. I know John's father was murdered over a year ago, so we're after that business with his ghost but before the thing with the Beast.

    If that even happens here.

    I really hope that doesn't happen here.

    "I've seen you on the news. You're Wonder Woman's friend. Did you kill all the fat things?"

    "All the ones around here, certainly."

    "Were they pikies?"

    "Um. Sort of?"

    "Dad says I need to watch out for pikies. They'll steal anything, he says. Don't think Mum and Dad would want me going somewhere with a stranger."

    "Normally, that would be sensible, but you do know who I am and you probably know who my friend-" I gesture to Robert. "-is as well."

    "Why's he dressed like Captain Cornwall?"

    "Captain Cornwall's me Dad".

    She appears to think for a moment. "Where d'you want t'go?"

    "Atlantis."

    She smiles. "With the mermaids and that?"

    "Probably. Then on to a secret superhero base."

    "And that's safe, is it?"

    I take a look at the scratches on the door and its frame. "Safer than a place the pi-. The Praexis Demons already know about."

    She nods, unchains the door and steps back. "I'll write my parents a note."
     
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    23:16 GMT -2


    "This is a lot more boring than I thought it would be. I thought this man was supposed to be a wizard?"

    We're in Sephtian's workshop. Robert looks both impressed and nervous about being somewhere very few surface dwellers ever get to go. Gemma seems less impressed. Has John made her jaded, or has she built up unrealistic expectations based on what she thinks he does?

    "Sorry about that, Miss Masters. It looks a lot prettier from the outside but we're in a bit of a hurry here. If you can get your parents to agree to it I don't mind bringing you back here in the future."

    The idea of getting her taught magic in a safe environment has a certain allure, though I'll have some way to go before her parents will agree to that. Now, where would Sephtian have left the other Spell Eaters? I really hope he's doing them one at a time. If he's doing the first stage of the whole lot before moving on we could be in a great deal of trouble. Workroom, workroom. He's remodelled quite a bit since I was last here. Ah! There they are! I don't want to use FTL with passengers underwater if I can help it, so I start moving in the direction of the double doors leading to the workroom.

    Bubbles trailing from his feet and hands, Robert comes up alongside me. "So, we're not picking anyone else up from Britain?"

    "I picked you because we need all the magic users we can get, and with you being a thaumovore that's doubly true for you. Why, did you have someone in mind?"

    "I dunno. Squire? Rush Hour Three? I think they'd be young enough."

    It's funny. Despite knowing I'm underwater and being well used to flying I still have a momentary impulse to walk along the rows of work benches rather than just fly over them. "They are, but they're not essential. You are. I might end up getting them later, depending on how things go." I head towards the small transparent dome on a small table near the ring shaped desk in the room's centre. It's a minor shield spell, probably powered by the pressure of the water around it. My hands pass through with no resistance and I take the three hopefully complete Spell Eaters therein. It shuts down as they pass through it. No good way to test them as I don't want Robert wasting his acquired charge. Actually, having him drain some nonessential stuff around here might not be a bad id-. No. Don't mess around with things you don't understand unless you have to. Feeding him on that sword Artemis and Zatanna got off that William Hayes loony is a much better option.

    "What's this place for?" Gemma's swum in behind us. Do I need anything else from here? Don't think so. I was going to ask him to design some improved binding chains, but he doesn't really have the production capacity. The way things are going he's going to need to upscale massively to meet my demand.

    "Making these." I hold the amulets up. "They don't quite make the wearer magic-proof, but they're not far off." They're actually even better than the one I'm wearing, but since I'm no longer exceptionally vulnerable it doesn't make much sense for me to prioritise myself for one. Depending on who we're up against they should probably go to the melee fighters. "The arrangement on the ceiling allows everyone working at the benches to channel their efforts into an object at the centre while Sephtian makes sure all the different bits of the spell integrate properly. This is a-" I swing my arms to encompass the room. "-snapshot of the future of industrial arcane technology."

    "Feels weird." / "Feels weird."

    Robert and Gemma jerk their heads to look at each other as they make the comment at the same time. They're both sensitive to magic and they're not used to this type. Makes sense it would throw them off a little. I swim over to Robert and pull Gemma to us with the ring. "Robin, I'm heading back to the cave now. All mask-wearers got their masks on?"

    "I'm the only one in the cave with a secret identity. We're good."

    The tubular shape of the zeta tube construct surrounds us. "Three to the cave, training room entrance."

    5th November
    20:16 GMT -4


    "Recognised, Orange Lantern, B zero six, Cornwall Boy, A one zero, Gemma Masters, A one one."

    I stride out while the other two take a moment to get their bearings. What can I give Gemma to do to keep her out of the way? Ah, that might work. Teekl, please come to the training room. Someone wants to meet you.

    Teekl come when Teekl feel like it.

    I get an impression of her moving nonetheless. Robin's standing in the middle of the room surrounded by holographic screens. "Hey Oh El."

    "Oh my God you're Robin." Gemma's hands go over her mouth as she tries to contain her excitement.

    "The one and only." He gives her a wave and a smile. "And you're Gemma Masters."

    "Yes! How did you- Oh, right, hah! The computer just said it."

    "Uh, Oh El..?"

    "She's John Constantine's niece, and represents one hundred percent of the children I know who aren't superheroes. I want her somewhere safe."

    "Does magic run in her family too?"

    "Yes, but not in a good way. I'd rather she not be involved in... Where's Zatanna gone?"

    "Kaldur brought his whole class. They're in the hangar, because-."

    "Can't get out of the water, right. You got anything?"

    He shakes his head. "Nothing on satellite, and with the news channels down there's no good eyewitness reports of anything that could explain this."

    "Um." We both look at Robert, who shrinks slightly. "Sorry. Is there.. like.. something I should be doing?"

    "Cornwall here can absorb other people's magic to power his own."

    "That wasn't in the file you gave Batman."

    "We just found out. Know anything about scrying or divination?"

    "Little bit. Some geomantic stuff. I mean, if you've got people working on it already-."

    Robin shrugs. "Every little helps. Oh El-."

    "Yeah. Come with me. I'll show you down. Robin, if you can't find anything could you please keep an eye on Liverpool? We ran into a mob of Praexis Demons and I want to make sure there isn't some apprentice summoner going crazy down there."

    "Sure, but that wasn't what I was going to ask. You were in Gotham when this started."

    Oh. "Yeah."

    "How.. bad was it?"

    "I was on the Vincefinkel Bridge. Twenty nine dead and.. lots of injuries." I close my eyes for a moment, picturing it. "I stopped the situation there getting worse, but if you extend those sort of figures across the city... Or the world..."

    He nods, visibly shaken.

    "Add in the risks of exposure and starvation... A load of healthy children getting scared isn't the problem, we're going to need paramedics and primary caregivers back in the next few hours or things are going to get even nastier."
     
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:24 GMT -4


    "And this is the hangar."

    "Whow." Robert looks appropriately awestruck as he takes in the large cavern, before pointing hesitantly at the bioship. "Is that.. an alien spaceship?"

    "Yes. It belongs to Miss Martian. Very useful. This way please?" I lead the way to the right, down the steps to the open area where I see that the others have gathered. M'gann, Kon, Artemis and Wallace are still out rounding up unattended small children around Happy Harbour. Low traffic density plus low speed limits have apparently kept the casualty count down locally and with the best will in the world I can't think of a way to use their abilities to aid the search.

    "Wot's that?"

    Gemma's hanging back a bit, pointing at one of the visiting Atlanteans. Maybe this whole thing will shock her out of her magic fascination? Hm, no. Wishful thinking. "The big guy in the water's Blubber. Atlantean with whale traits grafted on. No idea how he got in here." I sort of assumed that Kaldur would just get Garth and Tula. Blubber can cope with the low pressure here well enough but he can't support his own weight out of water without suffocating. He could have swum in through the hangar doors but it's an awfully long way here from Poseidonis. How did they get him from the zeta tube to the water? "Cthuloid-looking fellow's called Topo. Another Atlantean." I hadn't realised that he could walk on land. He's standing a short distance from the discussion going on between Kaldur, Tula and Garth. I point them out. "Aqualad, Tula, Garth." Garth's facing in our direction. He nods at me and I wave my right hand in response. He looks slightly puzzled by my guests then dismisses them with a small shake of his head. Kaldur's in Ocean Master gear sans helmet, which is sitting on the concrete steps behind them. "Zatanna Zatara and Lori Lemaris." Zatanna's by the water's edge talking to the mermaid. Lori notices me and I assume she says something because Zatanna glances my way before pointedly looking away. Not sure what that's about. "And the Creature from the Black Lagoon over by the steps is La'gaan." And William Batson is sitting next to him. I can't use his real name and he doesn't look like Captain Marvel at the moment. Maybe I should just make something up?

    Kaldur says something to Garth and Tula which prompts them to nod in agreement before turning away and walking over to the water's edge, Topo following on behind them. Kaldur stands still for a moment and then walks to meet me.

    "Orange Lantern. It is good to see that you have remained with us."

    "Fat lot of-. Yeah. Got anything so far?"

    "The worldwide nature of the spell, combined with its obvious power and complexity, makes it very hard to trace an origin point. And it seems that the League of Shadows were not the only ones to learn how to avoid unwanted attention." I nod. Supervillain networking at its worst. "Cornwall Boy." He offers Robert his right hand and to his credit Robert only hesitates slightly before taking it. "Orange Lantern speaks highly of you."

    "Um. R-right. Thanks.. thanks for having me. I'll try and make myself useful."

    Kaldur nods, then turns his attention to Gemma who is standing a little back from us. "I do not believe we have been introduced."

    "This is Gemma Masters, John Constantine's niece. Gemma, Kaldur'ahm, our team leader."

    Kaldur holds out his hand to Gemma, who clasps both of hers to her chest. After a moment Kaldur lowers his hand. "Miss Masters, I understand that this must seem strange to you but rest assured that we are working as hard as we can to find out what happened to all our elders."

    "Uh.. uh-huh..."

    "Orange Lantern, have you tried speaking to the Ophidian?"

    "No. And... And I should have done. Sorry, I should have-."

    "Ah!" Gemma leaps past me, trying to hide from something.. Teekl. Teekl nudged the back of her legs while lioness size and is now sitting down and regarding Gemma with amused curiosity. "What the hell is that!?"

    "That's Teekl. Iiii was going to ask her to keep you company. She's perfectly safe." Teekl gives me an incredulous look. "Safe to her friends. Usually." She's still looking at me. "Teekl, cooperate! Important things are happening!"

    The tip of her tail flicks. "Teekl be nice to kitten."

    "Right. I'm... I'll go and check on the Ophidian. R-. Cornwall, stick with Kaldur."

    "Okay, I can-."

    The hangar disappears as I transition to the corridor just outside my room. Another post-joining improvement: the filters in the ventilation system are no longer fine enough to prevent my filament FTL. I open the door and quickly stride to where I keep the box containing my personal lantern.

    "Reveal."

    Whatever's happened to the world my subspace storage still works. The lantern... Damn it. Whatever reduced Robert's power looks like it's had its effect on my lantern as well. Rather than the brilliant glow it's had since I stuck the Ophidian in there it looks dull, glowing only faintly. No, that's not... It's at least as bright as its old 'two-charges-available' mode, just darker than I've got used to.

    "Ring, lantern status."

    "Lantern physically intact. Power drain detected. Error, unable to locate source."

    "Is the lantern at risk?"

    "Lantern integrity not at risk. Rate of power drain constant."

    "Is the Ophidian still in there?"

    "Lifeform 'Ophidian' not detected."

    "Can the lantern be restored to full functionality?"

    "Nature of error unknown, unable to effect repairs."

    Great. Anything else? I don't need to recharge at the moment. "Occlude." The lantern vanishes once more. The Ophidian is certainly older than eighteen, if that really is the cut off point. But William Batson isn't, and Captain Marvel is William Batson. I also don't know enough about the Amazons to know why some of them weren't affected. Are they the magic users? Ones who had some sort of defence? But if that was the case, wouldn't loads of Atlanteans have avoided being affected? Gah, I don't know. What's the next step? Without the Ophidian there's no way I can stabilise world conditions by myself. With a drain on my lantern I can't even constantly work at small scale change reliably. No, stick to the counterattack strategy. I need to keep as much charge as possible available for that.

    I blink, and for a moment I see the mangled wreckage on the bridge. Damn it.

    Next step, Marvel.

    I transition back to the hangar, next to William and La'gaan.

    "Neptune's beard!"

    "Hey, ah, thanks for giving me access for the zeta tubes."

    "You're welcome. Um, what am I supposed to call you at the moment?"

    "Billy. Billy's fine. There's lots of Billys around."

    "Alright, Billy. Adults aren't here, we are. I don't know that Captain Marvel would go to wherever they are, but every moment we delay sorting this out more children die and I'm having trouble coming up with a better idea. Are you up for giving it a go?"

    He shrinks a little, and looks away. "Ah, noooot.. really."
     
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:33 GMT -4


    "Ah. Mind if I ask why?"

    "Because I'll just.. disappear! Captain Marvel might have the courage of Achilles, but I just have the courage of-." He looks around. "Of me."

    "I've always been a bit suspicious of that one. Achilles knew he was invulnerable, right? So... How was what he did brave? How does fighting people who can't hurt you require courage? No, Patroclus was brave, for daring to fight beside him while lacking that invulnerability."

    He keeps looking down. "Yeah, but... I mean, what if they're all..."

    "They are not dead."

    I appreciate La'gaan's confidence, but I can't be that sure. "Do we know that for certain?" He recoils slightly. "No, seriously, I don't know enough about magic to recognise the effect. Could what we observed have killed them?"

    He has to think for a moment. "No. Finding everyone over a particular age everywhere on the planet-."

    "Not everywhere. I'm still here, and Thirty one thousand out of one hundred and eighty thousand Amazons are still on Themyscira."

    "R-right. I don't know what would have prevented..."

    "Wait. How did you manage that?"

    I look down at where Garth is standing. "Ring, remove torso armour."

    "Compliance."

    Garth's eyes widen as he takes in my tattoos. The cuts and brands inflicted during the more recent work have faded into near invisibility, but they're just about noticeable when I move. Garth comes closer and I walk to the steps to meet him. "What are those... What is that supposed to do?"

    "The tattoos cause any attempt to scry for me to fail. They've been tested -not by me- against the most powerful life form in Hell. If he couldn't see through them, I'm probably safe.. from..."

    Garth makes a scooping gesture with his left hand, his own tattoos glowing as he does so. A thin tendril of water rises from the pond and moves through the air to pool just beside him, forming an upright circle. He lays his left hand on it and it shimmers. Through the rear I see a picture of the steps I'm standing on, La'gaan and Billy. And not me. "That's..." He looks up as if to check that I'm actually here, then turns back to his water screen. "That shouldn't be possible. Who did this?"

    "John Constantine. You remember, the-."

    "The wizard you brought with you..."

    "That's him." I shake my head. "I'd really like to talk to him about this at the moment."

    "How long does the effect last?"

    "Should be permanent. John can carve runes directly onto a person's soul, so it-."

    "That's not-!" He looks at the water window thing again. "No, clearly it is. I hadn't realized he was that skilled. Were you wearing your Spell Eater talisman when the.. event happened?"

    "I never take it off, but I was assuming that it couldn't have drained a spell this big."

    "It couldn't, otherwise the spell itself would have shut down. But the combination might have prevented it from detecting you."

    "Would it help if I took it off?"

    He nods. "If we could monitor the effect as you disappeared, it might give us a better idea of how the spell worked. Of course, if it isn't the Spell Eater that kept you here, nothing will happen."

    "Are we out of other ideas?"

    He sighs. "We're training to be battle mages, not researchers. If we-."

    "Okay." I put my right hand on the Spell Eater. "Do you need me to do something first?"

    "I don't think... We can't use a spell to track you because your amulet will just absorb it-."

    "And I can't take it off because that will trigger the disappearance."

    "Right." He makes a small gesture with his right fingers and a small amount of water separates from his window. "But if you swallow this, we should be able to track it. And we can probably put... Tula! Kaldur! We've had an idea!"

    They walk in our direction, accompanied by Zatanna. I try meeting her eyes, trying to get some idea of why she's annoyed with me. She spots what I'm doing and makes a point of looking away, arms folded across her chest. Hm. Think this is the first time I've seen her in Mister Gambi's armour. It's black with white lines which look like they're supposed to suggest the shape of a dinner jacket. Trousers rather than tights, thank goodness. Still wearing her hair loose but I'll take what rationality I can get.

    Kaldur looks from me to Garth while Tula squints at my chest. Given Atlantean clothing standards I'm going to assume that she's just looking at the tattoos. "What is your idea?"

    "We think that Orange Lantern will get transported to wherever the adults are if he takes off the Spell Eater. If we monitor it carefully we might be able to get some idea of the nature of the spell. The risk is that he almost certainly won't be able to come back if we do it."

    Kaldur looks from me to Tula and then to Garth. "That.. sounds.. complicated. Were you able to get anything useful from the Ophidian?"

    "Turns out that the Ophidian either isn't talking to me or is over eighteen."

    He nods. "Robin told me that Batman and Zatara disappeared within a second. Would there be enough time for you to gain useful knowledge?"

    Tula thinks for a moment. "Maybe. I don't know..."

    "Would it be possible to drain power from whatever part of the spell causes the disappearances without shutting it down completely? Would that help?"

    Garth frowns. "Doesn't your Spell Eater drain as much as it can all of the time?"

    "Yes, but-. Cornwall! Over here! You remember how you were afraid that I was a magic drinking abomination?" Garth and Tula drop their gazes for a moment as Robert reluctantly leaves the shelter of the wall under the bioship's landing platform. "Turns out that Cornwall here is a thaumovore." Tula and Garth simultaneously turn, look and take a small step away from him as he comes within touch range. "The men of his family appear to have an innate ability to drain magic from others and add it to their own reserves. He disintegrated a mob of Praexis Demons rather swiftly before we got here, and he should be able to disrupt or at least slow down the spell effect enough that you can get whatever readings you need. Cornwall?"

    "Um, maybe? I haven't had a lot of practice."

    Kaldur looks at him. "Exactly how much practice have you had?"

    "The Demons, and there were these sharkmen I turned back into normal Humans." The Atlanteans just about manage to conceal their horror. "That's it. Nothing before today."

    Kaldur turns back to me. "Do you understand the risks? We have no idea where you will go, if indeed you go anywhere."

    "I accepted the risks when I took the job. I'm as well equipped to survive the process as I can be, and I really don't see a future in a world where everyone just vanishes at eighteen." My armour reappears, Spell Eater on the outside. Construct armour appears on top of that. Just to be doubly safe I add my MindShield construct.

    Kaldur nods. "Very well. It would be best if everyone was involved in this." He gestures towards the water's edge where Blubber, Lori and Topo have clumped together. I nod and head towards them.
     
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  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:46 GMT -4


    Nothing!

    Fucking... Nothing!

    I'm standing in the training area, having taken over manning the monitoring and communications station from Robin and I'm still annoyed about that. I took off the Spell Eater and nothing happened! All that build up, I felt like a complete idiot. Garth said that I was probably protected by the tattoos instead and I can't exactly turn those off. Well, maybe I could, but it turns out that Robert's magic sucking is a magic ability and he couldn't feel the magic making up the ward.

    The Atlantean contingent are working on some sort of detection network that should be able to pick up major alterations in the Earth's magic systems without directly picking up the warded ritual site. I... I feel a bit useless. When I first got here I thought about prioritising disasters for the attention of the emergency services, only to kick myself for forgetting that there aren't any at the moment. I didn't prepare for this.

    I've been hearing about the activity of some of our peers. A group from Japan whom I've never heard of called the Super Young Team have been making regular reports of their activities, including organising their fans to perform house to house searches for young children whose parents have disappeared. The power of social media. Kaldur plans to make a similar broadcast when he gets the time. Elsewhere in Japan an individual identifying themself as 'Hammersuit Zero-X' was noted as fighting some sort of monster. I can't get any pictures and the pilot appears to be less interested in self promotion than their countrymen. I've never heard of any of them, but when this is over they're all going in the notebook.

    Several people have been active in Dakota City including Rocket. No Static, I noticed. No Big Bang event has happened here as far as I can tell so maybe we've got him to look forward to. Donna phoned in earlier. She's attempting to organise things in New York but very much wants to be in on the attack when we find the source. I mentioned the thing about Amazons remaining behind but she couldn't come up with any explanation as to why that happened either.

    Most disappointingly, no reports of anything that could be the focal point of the spell which is causing this. No reports, no pictures... I've got the ring doing an analysis of satellite imagery but I can't properly describe what it's supposed to be looking for. Next step is to just start scanning for every magic using supervillain there is and working out which ones we can't find, and that's just-.

    I look around as I hear footsteps. Zatanna walks down the corridor behind me and starts walking towards my position. She looks like she's deep in thought and isn't really paying much attention to her surroundings. She gets most of the way across the room before looking at me and then stops dead. No one else around and I don't really have any ideas on what I could be doing to fix the world so I suppose now's as good a time as any to find out why she's annoyed with me.

    "Hi Zatanna."

    "Um, yeah. Hi."

    "Have I.. done something to offend you lately?"

    "No." She crosses her arms. "What makes you ask?"

    "Because I've got much better at reading body language since I got this ring. Also, your aura is tinged with red."

    "I'm just worried about my father." She resumes her walk in my direction, stopping on the other side of the closest hologram screen and motioning her hand to turn it around.

    "Right." I bring up a summary of events in New York. "Things seem to be staying quiet in your neighbourhood."

    "Uhuh."

    It's still night in China, so I don't have much information on what's happening there. Is there a Great Ten youth team? I don't remember one from the comics. "Mind me asking what you were doing when this all kicked off?"

    "I was here, talking to Artemis about the team. And you were busy setting fire to the Pope."

    I stop and look at her. "Is that what this is about? Zatanna, I've never been to a Guy Fawkes Night celebration where they burned a dummy dressed as the Pope. I mean, yeah, they burn the Guy, but the major events stopped burning the Pope before I was even born."

    "But you said..?"

    I shake my head and shrug. "I just wanted to get out of going to the dance."

    "Setting fire to the Pope isn't something you should joke about."

    "Okay, one, setting fire to a dummy in robes. The few places that still do it do it because it's traditional, not because they hate Catholics. Two, not the current Pope, the Pope from a period of history in which the Catholic Church was trying quite hard to persuade Catholic European countries like Spain and France to invade England and convert us back to Catholicism by force. Ever heard of Bloody Mary? The queen, not the drink? Queen Mary Tudor, who had over two hundred people burned to death to try and achieve that end after having her immediate Protestant predecessor decapitated. I don't have a problem with the Catholic Church as it is now and I don't have a problem with the current Pope. He's not exactly at Pius the Thirteenth levels of awesome but he's alright. Four hundred years ago when the commemorations started the Church was a very different organisation and I think it's worth remembering that. Third, you don't see me complaining about Independence Day, despite all the complete nonsense you lot get taught about British colonial policy. I'm not saying I'll go to a parade or anything but I'm not going to sit in my room hiding under a Union Jack with Men of Harlech and Jerusalem playing on a loop." I pause to take a breath. "And I went totally overboard with that, didn't I?"

    She nods. "A little, yeah."

    "Sorry. And, I'm sorry, I hadn't realised the thing about the Pope would be that offensive. If I had, I wouldn't have said it."

    "That's.. that's okay. I'll forgive you for that." She frowns. "What do you mean, 'complete nonsense we get taught about British-'."

    "The fundamentality of the right to liberty proclaimed by rich slave owning white men. And they did have representation, it was-."

    "Recognised, Kid Flash, B zero three."

    I think that was probably a lucky distraction.

    "Hey Oh El, hey Zatanna. Any progress?"

    I shake my head. "The Atlanteans are working on it. How's Happy Harbour?"

    "About as peaceful as it could be. Think we've got all the kids out of the cars now."

    "Ah. I'm sorry, how many died?"

    He blinks in astonishment. "What? None? Why'd you... Oh. You were in Gotham, right?" I nod. Good to know that wasn't replicated everywhere. "How bad..?"

    I look down, right fist tapping against my mouth. Zatanna's staring at me as well. "Fairly bad. Would have been.. convenient, to have a ring better adapted for medicinal uses."

    "Right. So, um, hey, how come you're still here?"

    "The consensus is that it's probably my warding tattoos."

    "See, I've kind of got this bet going that you've been lying about your age." I tense, then try not to. "I think you're really under eighteen and that's why you weren't affected." Aaaaand breathe.

    "No, I'd definitely be in the target age group. I don't think it even works off that. It didn't affect thirty one thousand Amazons and M'gann's still here."

    "Really?" Puzzled frown. "I thought M'gann was, like, sixteen or something. Are you saying she's really eighteen?"

    "Wallace, M'gann's forty eight."

    "What."
     
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  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:53 GMT -4


    "Don't worry about it, Slayer. King Orin ordered Wotan locked up so well I doubt he can even move, let alone cast spells." King Nanaue Sha'ark grins at me. I think he's grinning anyway. The way his mouth's structured makes it a bit hard to tell. "Same with Orm-" He grimaces. I think. "-and anyone else in Atlantis who could have done something like this. It's you surface worlders who can't keep your magic using criminals under control."

    "I rather suspected, thank you." Sha'ark would be taller than me if he were standing fully upright. As it is the tops of our heads are about level. He came along with the others but he'd been lurking under the water until just now. He can move about on land but he's not exactly elegant doing it. He only came up because he wanted to meet the man who crippled Orm.

    Zatanna moves her hand through the holoscreen, removing Wotan and Orm from the Guess Who board of our potential suspects. There's still a lot of faces on there. She sighs. "This isn't going to work. There's no way they could have avoided being affected by their own spell without being outside of its area of effect."

    "So we're probably looking for someone under eighteen?"

    Sha'ark turns his head to the side to get a better look at the images. His head isn't quite the same shape as a natural shark as his eyes are more forwards-facing. "Why is it eighteen anyway?"

    Zatanna looks at him curiously. "Why wouldn't it be?"

    "In Nanaue, you're adult at sixteen. If whoever did this was trying to get rid of people who could fight back shouldn't they have set the age limit lower?"

    "Is that a clue?"

    "Not unless you know where they could have got a spell to do exactly that. The sort of person who… Who'd do this... I don't think they'd be worried about that sort of thing."

    "Hm. Carnage doesn't bother me, but this is pathetic. If you're going to remove the world's most powerful warriors, you should attack immediately, not wait for them to work out how to stop you. Are you sure nothing's happening out there?"

    "No, I'm not. Nothing shows up on satellite and I'm monitoring discussion forums, but if something were happening in the parts of the world that're still asleep, or... Okay, that isn't helping. We agree that there must be someone under eighteen doing this?" Zatanna and Sha'ark nod. "Alright. I don't know of anyone under eighteen who would do this, but I know a couple who could. Zatanna, if I give you a name can you send a message to a person?"

    "Maybe, but who..? Are you talking about.. that Timothy Hunter guy?"

    I shrug. "It would be convenient if we could get hold-."

    "Who's this guy?" Sha'ark points at a picture of Klarion.

    "Klarion, Lord of Chaos. Nasty piece of work. I stole his cat."

    "Why's he on the adult list?"

    "Because he's at least forty years old. In fact, according to Kent Nelson's notes he's an ancient eldritch abomination who just chooses to look like a child."

    "So, not him then?"

    "Wouldn't have thought.. so..." Wait a second. Mordred. As far as I can tell he doesn't exist here, but when he used his version of this spell in Justice League Unlimited he remained behind when he should have disappeared due to being at least a thousand years old. "Last time I saw Klarion he didn't have access to most of his magic due to his lack of a familiar. He still looked Human."

    Zatanna brings his image to centre screen, expanding it. "Do you think he could be behind this?"

    "Maybe. I'm not sure how to check except by finding him."

    "But if he doesn't have a familiar, where is he getting the power from? I mean, that was how you beat him, right?"

    My mind flashes back to the well fed Praexis Demons. "Dread to think. He might just have got a replacement, I don't know what the requirements for a familiar are."

    "The animal needs to be emblematic of the wizard adopting it, and have some sort of social bond to them." We both look at Sha'ark. "What? I go to the Conservatory to study these things. You think anyone in Nanaue would tolerate being ruled by an idiot? If he had a cat, he'd probably want a cat again."

    "Klarion didn't strike me as an animal person. How strong a bond?"

    "Familiars are animals. If you feed them, that's usually enough." Another Praexis Demon flashback.

    "Would something else work? A Demon, or something?"

    "A Demon?" He thinks for a moment. "I don't know. I've never read about it, but if the Demon were fully intelligent, I don't think so."

    Come on out, Fatty.

    A fat hand emerges from the ring, flaps around and then somehow the Praexis manages to.. fall out of the ring and belly flop onto the floor.

    Zatanna takes several steps back. "Is that..?"

    Fatty looks up without getting up. "Food?"

    "No. It's a Praexis Demon I assimilated. So far it's only demonstrated intelligence equal to that of a monkey."

    "Food now?"

    "Maybe less. They're weak as Demons go, but if you fed it..."

    "Consorting with Demons is a death penalty offence in most of Atlantis. I don't know anyone who would know how to make one a familiar." Sha'ark seems disconcerted by the idea.

    Zatanna looks horrified. "Why would you take something like that?"

    "I wanted to know why it was in Liverpool, and asking it didn't seem likely to work. And I was curious if it was possible to take a Demon permanently out of circulation using the ring's assimilation function. Normally, when you 'kill' a Demon you just send it back to Hell. I'm not one for temporary solutions."

    "Do you think.. Klarion..?"

    "Honestly, I think we're speculating too-."

    "Aqualad to Orange Lantern."

    I raise the ring to my ear. "Orange Lantern here."

    "Billy has volunteered to transform. With luck, we will soon be back in contact with the Justice League. Have you found anything?"

    "No, not... The only youngish magic user who could be doing this we've been able to come up with is Klarion."

    "That does not bode well."

    "He wasn't just going to disappear. Doubt he'd have any allies with him. I think the fight's winnable if the first wave use Spell Eaters to protect themselves and cover him in magic suppressors."

    "Do you have any leads on his location?"

    "No, sorry. Do you want Zatanna down there for when Billy tries it?"

    "Yes." She nods and walks towards the lifts. "While we wait for news of his success, please, keep looking for any information that might help us."

    "Of course. Orange Lantern out."

    Not like there's anything else I can do.
     
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:59 GMT -4


    "-am!"

    I step away from the rapidly dispersing cloud of smoke as Billy appears in the training room, rapidly looking around to get his bearings. He's smiling like a loon so I assume-.

    "It worked! Batman, Zatara, Red Tornado and some British guy, they're in the mountain! Only not this mountain, it's-!"

    "A copy of the world where all of the adults went?"

    "... Yeah." He peers at me. "How'd you know?"

    "It was one of a range of possibilities, and given how you reacted it seemed to be most likely." I raise the ring to my ear. "Orange Lantern to Kaldur, good news. Billy's back and our elders are alright. You should probably come up here."

    "We are on our way."

    "Orange Lantern to team. Please return to base as soon as reasonably possible." I lower the ring. "Billy, when you say 'some British guy', can you describe him?"

    "Uh, blonde hair, blue suit, long coat and he was holding an ice pack to his head."

    John. Wait. "Ice pack?"

    "Yeah. Guess he hit his head or something. But the main thing is everyone's okay!"

    "No they're not. What you mean is: the majority of adults are physically okay. I can only imagine how bad the panic is worldwide. Have they had any more luck than us tracking down the perpetrators?"

    "No, not yet. Zatara and the British guy were working on it. They said something about scrying for bad guys until they get the right one."

    I look back at the list I was working from. That could take a while.

    "I don't suppose they told you where Danni w-."

    There's a blast of displaced air as Wallace comes to a halt next to us.

    "Who's Danni, Oh El?"

    "Danette Reilly. The gynoid?"

    "Oh yeah, you were with her in-. Wait. You abbreviated her name?"

    "I.. suppose I did..?"

    Wallace leans down to elbow Billy in the shoulder. "Y'know, for Oh El that's like second base."

    Billy looks puzzled. "What's second base?"

    "Uh..."

    Wallace looks away, then looks relieved as the rest of the gang approach. Kaldur, Robin, Zatanna, Garth, Tula, Sha'ark and La'gaan file in. Floating around Garth and Tula are a small cloud of glowing stones. Our detection network, presumably. The plan had been to have me fly up into orbit and spread them out in a grid while the Atlantean contingent conducted the scan from the ground. Would have taken ages to scan the whole planet like that, but if we can narrow it down even a little...

    Kaldur fixes his eyes on Billy. "What news?"

    "There's, like, two worlds. Adults on one, kids on the other."

    "My dad's okay?"

    "Zatara's in the cave right now. He's standing right over there." He points near where I'm standing. I can see the tension visibly leave her. I hadn't noticed it earlier. I suppose I'm not the only one who tries to keep busy.

    Kaldur looks a little relieved too. "Does Batman have orders for us?"

    "He says you should keep looking for wherever the spell's being cast. I don't think they're having much luck with that either."

    "Have they managed to identify the perpetrators?"

    "No, they're trying to work it out based on who they can't detect."

    "We do need to know if someone we haven't heard of might be handling the youth end of things. The only one we've been able to come up with is Klarion, and he's supposed to be out of action."

    Garth takes hold of one of the rune stones and walks forwards to give it to Billy. "See if you can take this with you when you transform. If we're lucky we can create a sympathetic link between it and the ones on this side."

    "Got it. Anything else you want me to tell them?"

    "No. Take the stone to Zatara and return once we know whether or not it can be used to communicate."

    Billy nods. "Sha-!"

    "Wait." Billy cuts himself off, and the others look at me curiously. "Is it really just Mister Zatara and John there trying to work out how this happened?"

    "Well, yeah. Everyone else is out trying to keep order."

    "Please pass on my suggestion to Batman that the League's priorities need to be reassessed. Panic is unfortunate but inevitable given the situation and the League is ill equipped to act as a police force. Everyone capable of aiding in the search in any way should be on that."

    Kaldur frowns. "I do not think that abandoning-."

    "Tell Batman to imagine a world where in every hospital, every clinic, every doctor's surgery... Doctors: gone. Surgeons: gone. Anaesthetists: gone. Critical care nurses: gone. Any child who was undergoing surgery when the separation occurred is most likely already dead." The faces around me whiten. What, didn't they think about this? "Most children who were in critical care wards will be dying without the constant attention they need. Small babies-" I wince and rub my brow. "-who were being bathed when their parents disappeared stand a good chance of drowning." My voice hitches. "And good as autopilots are I don't know how long we've got until planes start falling out of the sky with no pilots. Major roads are covered in crashed cars, the injured and the dead and there aren't enough of us to help. I will be astonished if we keep the death toll to a mere five figures -most of whom will be children- and I will shout the praises of any deity who feels like chipping in, we cannot afford-." I take a ragged breath as my mind's eye sees the bridge again. "We can't afford to pay any unessential attention to secondary objectives. Please pass that on."

    Billy stares at me wide eyed, mouth open. "O-okay. Sh-shaz-."

    A flash of lightning and a puff of smoke and he disappears. I turn to see the others still staring at me. "What? Didn't you realise? This isn't two people in silly costumes hitting each other. This isn't theft. We aren't dealing with an ideology that could be engaged with. This is mass murder on a planetary scale at least. This makes the Injustice League look like amateur hour, and most of the victims will be young children."

    Tula swallows. "The... The stones are ready. If you take them i-into orbit we can get started."

    I nod. "Oh, um, if I'm not here when Billy gets back, tell him to get the Greenies to call in reinforcements from their Corps. Someone who knows how to do rapid planetary surveys." I use the ring to take hold of the stones. Garth shakes himself and takes one of them back. Right, for the communication attempt.

    "Um, sorry to bother you..." Gemma and Teekl emerge from the trophy room. Gemma's hesitant, slightly crouched. Teekl's as confident as she always is. "You've.. probably thought of this, but.. to scry for someone you need something they've owned, right?"

    Garth turns to her. "No, but it makes it a lot easier. Why?"

    "Well... Didn't Klarion.. used to own Teekl?"
     
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:23 GMT -4


    Fifty miles up, I move the enchanted stones to their next position. They really aren't designed to be used like this. In Atlantean cities they have things like these spread out through the streets to monitor thaumic shifts for much the same reason that the surface world monitors solar radiation. Moving them around makes it much harder to detect anything. If I had a thousand of these we'd already have a location but there's no way to make that many new ones in the time in which we have to complete this mission or rework the ones currently in use in Atlantis.

    "Aqualad to Orange Lantern. Zatara has identified Blackbriar Thorn as being among our enemies, and confirms that Wotan remains in his cell."

    "Understood. Any news on the Lanterns?" Teekl cooperated surprisingly well with the scrying but her link to Klarion barely exists in arcane terms, what with her no longer being his familiar and becoming a Construct-Lantern. The best we could get was 'somewhere in the south-east of the United States' but at least that's more than we had before.

    "Lantern Stewart has confirmed that the effect is limited to Earth."

    Blubber was in a bit of a state when I left. Whales can't breathe water, and neither can Whale-form Atlanteans. His people used Whale-form shapeshifting before the sinking and are the only ones to live in homes with air-filled spaces in the modern day. Though obviously dangerous the only real alternative would be moving to Venturia. It's the only Atlantean city-state with territory above water, but it's also the most autocratic and usually the risk is perfectly manageable. Adults have a spell-song for extracting oxygen dissolved in the water and children usually accompany them until they're old enough to learn to do it for themselves. Which means that as of a couple of hours ago any of them caught outside their homes have had to hold their breath and swim for an air pocket. They should mostly be alright as their lung capacities are as good as the natural Whales they pattern themselves after. But if any get lost, or panic and try to swim for the surface...

    "What about reinforcements?"

    "No news yet. Move to the next location."

    I'm moving quite large distances. It's up in the air as to whether they'll work as intended at all. Only advantage of there hardly being any magic users in this country is that anything artificial-looking is probably our target. I'm over North Carolina now, near the coast. Why is Klarion doing this? There aren't really any other examples of confirmed Lords of Chaos. I suppose this is certainly chaotic, maybe that's the point. Maybe the people we're fighting are just that bad. Perhaps their desires are just too... Inhuman. I blink and trigger Ophidian'sEyes and the dark world below covered in points of light near major areas of inhabitation is replaced with something that looks like one of those satellite images we used to look at in secondary school geography. It's practically impossible to make out individual sets of desires at this range and with this many people. I think I'm glad about that. No. I don't think it's helping, nothing's standing ou-

    Mommy! Daddy! Help!

    I clutch my head, clamp my eyes shut and try and shut the Eyes down. Agh! Individual desires might be imperceptible but the collective whole is strong enough. Need to try again. Need to refine it. Ring, track individual desire-clusters. I want to.. to skim the desires.

    "Nothing again. Move to next location."

    I take the stones south, watching the desires as I go. Rather than listening to a crowd like before and being overwhelmed when they shout in unison this is like hearing a great many quiet voices in succession. They're going so fast that I don't know if I'd spot anything...

    Oh no. I'm hearing them cut out. I'm seeing them go dark. I thought.. ah.. I thought that by this point most of the deaths would have already occurred. They probably have but that doesn't mean

    Exaltation, joy, speed, lights out.

    that more people.. more children, aren't going to die while I'm doing this. I take a second to see what that last one was about and see a freshly burning car, smashed up and flipped on its roof. Joy riding idiots. Why..? Why would they..? Focus. I know that what I'm doing is the best way to end this but I'm really starting to understand why most superheroes prefer the inefficient way. This is... More going dark. North Carolina has about nine million inhabitants. I should have expected this. Even on a normal day people would be dying. I don't know if this is unusual or not. I hope it is. The glow of orange just makes it more obvious when the dark patches suddenly appear, however small they are.

    "We have something! Hold position." Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease. "Move to position out to sea, just off the coast."

    I can't use FTL transfer without them losing the connection and I can't risk the delay that would cause but I think this is the fastest I've ever flown anywhere. I want to ask what they've picked up but I can't risk distracting them. I scan the area below me with the Eyes again but I don't even know if they'd work through the ward. More fading out.

    "Move south. There's some sort of distortion effect."

    I comply. "Is it him?"

    "I am uncertain. Given that these readings are indirect it must be incredibly powerful but it does not match what I felt during our last encounter with Klarion."

    "Would having a new familiar to draw power through change the feeling?"

    "There are too many unknown factors. Decrease height to twenty miles."

    "Decreasing height. Is it worth notifying the League?"

    "Not yet. I do not wish to alert them until we have something solid."

    Below me the American coastline tapers off towards Florida. To the north there's a fairly impressive river mouth and off the main coastline there are a few small islands. I switch between daylight-augmented vision, normal vision and the Ophidian's Eyes, trying to spot something that could be relevant just a little sooner. The ritual site could well only be a few metres across and from this height unless it really stands out it's a faint hope, but I have to try, damn it!

    "Twenty miles, holding position."

    When this is over I think I'm going to have to be a bit more forceful about the research and development thing. Now that I've cleared local space there's really no reason why we couldn't install a magic field reading network. Unlike normal spy satellites I don't think the Security Council would object to us tracking something they don't use in any significant way, particularly if this is the result of not doing so. I cringe and close my eyes as a series of orange lights disappear, fire consuming a street. No fire services. No adult on hand to grab a fire extinguisher at the first sign of smoke. I can't tell what started it. Dodgy wiring? An unattended deep fat fryer? It isn't just the new disasters, it's all the small things adults are better equipped to deal with than small children, accidents always producing casualties at the top of the predicted range because all of the things that could ameliorate the situation aren't happening.

    I could try getting the ring to analyse visible light, but at this height I'm going to get a great deal of blur. Long range scans are unreliable because of the wards. I hate this powerlessness!

    "Orange Lantern, we have something. Decrease height to ten miles and move fourteen miles to the south west."

    "Height decreased, movement complete. I'm directly over-." Ring? "The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge."

    "We have your location. The technique we're using can only give us the approximate location of what we're looking for. Are you able to see anything unusual?"

    "No! Sorry. Sorry. Give me a moment. Ring, membrane and visible light analysis." A pale orange glow extends across the sky behind me. Shouldn't really be noticeable from the ground. Were there anyone down there to notice it. Water, sand, grass... "Can you suggest a direction?"

    "It would-. One moment." He goes quiet and I extend the light-sensitive film further. Still nothing. "Try to the north."

    "Moving north." I follow the sandbank north and a little to the west. I've no idea what makes a good ritual site. Would Klarion bother with conventional camouflage? I really don't know. "Coming up on Roanoke Island." I try to avoid looking at the inhabited areas in any detail. We haven't heard any reports and someone would have said something by now, wouldn't they? Wait, what's-? "Got something." A blur of purple in the middle of a woodland. Shouldn't be there and a direct scan with the ring says that it isn't there. I move directly over it, dropping the membrane construct as I do so. My eyes can see it well enough now. There's a glowing, five pointed star drawn on the ground down there and kneeling in the centre is a colossal purple humanoid. Five streams of purple light flow from its back to small circles at the points of the star. Four are empty, but the fifth...

    "I have visual confirmation. Klarion's on Roanoke Island. And he's got a friend."
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:29 GMT -4


    "Relaying visuals now." Giant purple genie thing. Bedlam. I can't see whatever his name was, the boy it bonded to in the comics. Maybe Klarion took that role or stole Bedlam from him. Does this mean that Klarion still doesn't have much of his own power? If it weren't for the wards I could scan him to make sure that he still reads as a baseline Human. Certainly his proportions are still more 'correct' than the first time we met.

    I don't see a shield.

    Directly behind me the railgun construct appears. I know he can't detect me with magic. He could see me with his eyes, but I'm still ten miles up and I'm not actually glowing all that much. I know I'm perfectly capable of firing my projectiles hard enough to level a good chunk of that woodland. If he is Human at present then he'd be reduced to meat in seconds.

    And I really want to kill him.

    I can't see any other magic users. If that Bedlam is anything like the one in the comics then it can rearrange reality as soon as it notices us. Should I take the shot? No. What set of actions is most likely to result in Klarion's death?

    "Billy is notifying the Justice League now. Assuming that the adults taking part in the ritual were occupying the other points of the star there will be three others in addition to Blackbriar Thorn. That.. being in the centre. I have never seen anything like it."

    "My first guess would be a Djinn but I can't claim to know anything about its capacities for certain."

    The best outcome is most likely to result from us working together. "Did you give Billy a picture of the symbols he's using? John will want to see it."

    "Of course. It would probably be best if you returned to the cave. I do not want Klarion to learn of our coming until we are ready to strike."

    I can't use FTL until I'm out of his line of sight. An orange streak across the sky would be a blatant give away. I keep my distance, flying in a curve towards sea level. I don't see him looking around. A summoning would probably be able to see me if he had them on sentry duty. I have the ring show me a map of the land's contours, plotting the earliest time I can FTL back and pick up the others. Being an island that means that I have to go further than I would like. Can't risk going supersonic because I haven't bothered practising and the noise would attract his attention. With FTL available practising it just didn't seem worthwhile. Briefly I consider travelling underwater but I haven't practised that post Ophidian and I don't know how brightly the travel corridor would shine.

    It feels like five minutes by the time I get enough land and tree between Klarion and myself that I feel confident that I will not be spotted. I plot the FTL transfer as close as I can to the ground -sure, it'll be spotted, but it's not like Klarion is watching news reports- and in a flash I'm at the external Happy Harbour zeta tube. Come a long way since the first time I came here with Diana and Alan.

    "Recognised, Orange Lantern, B zero six."

    The ring protects my eyes from the glare as I walk into the main training area. The team's all here, along with Donna and Robert at one end of the group and Garth and Tula at the other. Sha'ark, Gemma and Teekl are lurking near the back wall while the others are standing in front of the main holo display. A pile of heavy chains and manacles covered in runes made of gold filaments sits under it while it displays the images I took of the area.

    "-am!"

    Billy reappears, takes a second to get his bearings and then scurries up to Kaldur. "Green Lantern confirmed it, they're on Roanoke Island. Four guys: Felix Faust, Blackbriar Thorn, Wizard and some guy in a black cloak he didn't recognize. The big purple guy doesn't show up on that side."

    "Does Batman have a plan?"

    "He thinks we should attack both places simultaneously, in case they can warn each other. Um, and he thinks we should do it quickly." He looks at me nervously. "Batman said you were right about stopping them as soon as possible being the most important thing, but without the League around.. people are getting scared."

    "How scared?"

    "A mob attacked STAR Labs in Gotham. By the time the police got it under control the whole place was on fire. I guess... Things like that, they're gunna be happening in a lot of places, aren't they?"

    "Probably. The faster we end this the faster it stops." Except for those whose children have already died. I don't dare even think about telefragging.

    Kaldur picks up a set of manacles. "These are used by Atlantis to imprison powerful magic users. Placed around Klarion's arms and legs they should prevent him using his magic."

    Wallace gestures to the image. "Do they come in giant size?"

    Ring, Spell Eaters. The three of them appear just in front of me, held up by my orange aura. "No, but these do. I'm not saying they'll make you magic proof but.. near as I can do."

    Robin looks from them to me. "Don't you need one of them? I mean, given what happened last time we fought him..."

    "I don't have that special vulnerability anymore, and-" I tap the armour in the centre of my chest. "-I've still got my first generation model."

    "Kid Flash." Kaldur holds out the manacles to him. "You stand the best chance of getting close enough to him to use these." Wallace takes hold of them and gives a sombre nod. I float a Spell Eater over to him and slip the thong around his neck.

    "That will protect you from direct attack and generally cause magic around you to fall apart. If he conjures fire it will still burn you. If he makes himself physically more powerful like he started to last time we fought it won't help at all."

    "Got it."

    "Superboy. Troia." He picks up a length of chain. "This will be less effective, but with luck it will suppress Klarion's power to something we can cope with." Kon puts the chain over his right shoulder and they both catch the Spell Eaters I send their way. This is the first time he'll be wearing the Nth Metal armour on a mission, but he's done plenty of training with it. Sadly it doesn't have the same magic-negating effect as Hawkgirl's mace in Justice League Unlimited. Other than letting him fly I'm not sure how much help it'll be.

    "Ah…" Robin points at the manacles. "I know Kid's got the best chance of putting it on him, but shouldn't we all have one of those just in case?"

    Garth shakes his head. "There aren't any more. Those are the strongest we could find. The sort of manacles used on regular prisoners wouldn't stand a chance of working on a Lord of Chaos." Robin nods.

    "Miss Martian. Do you believe you would be able to conceal us under a telepathic illusion?"

    "If.. Klarion's.. mind is like a normal Human's... Probablyyy." She doesn't sound certain. Heck, she's got good reason not to.

    "Do what you can. Our best chance is for Kid Flash to get close without being spotted. Cornwall." Robert appears to be doing a bit of a deer in the headlights impression, but he manages a nod. "When we reach the ritual area, your first target is the spell warding the area against detection. Once it is down I want you to try and disrupt the ritual directly." Another nod. "During our previous encounter Klarion favoured attacks of pure magic, though he may change tack if he realizes that approach is ineffectual."

    "I'll manage. I'll have to."

    "Garth, Tula: Roanoke is a small island. I want you at the water's edge ready to strike at Klarion as soon as the ward is down." Scry targeted water artillery. Useful, plus it gets two people we haven't trained with out of the immediate fighting area. "Orange Lantern. Do you believe that you will be able to assimilate the Djinn as you did Teekl?"

    "It's not impossible, but I wouldn't want you to depend on it. In theory the ring should work on just about anything but I just don't know enough about it... Or how long it might take."

    He nods. "Try anyway. The rest of us will do our best to distract Klarion from his magics. Remember, our primary aim is to end the spell as quickly as possible. Attacking Klarion is only worthwhile in that it makes that goal easier to accomplish." There's a short pause. "Does anyone have anything they wish to add?"

    "Just one thing. I'll be taking my lantern with me. If we're able to break Klarion's focus and remerge the worlds, I doubt it'll just go away. And the only thing I'd feel confident taking that thing on with is the Ophidian."
     
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:36 GMT -4


    Looks of surprise and dismay from my team mates while Robert, Garth and Tula just look puzzled. Right, I suppose they haven't read the reports of what I did while under the influence. As far as I remember we didn't go under water, though we did spend enough time in the UK to rename Pevensey Castle as Westham Castle. Probably didn't make the news. It's such a stupid thing; we could have tracked down Klarion then, but instead we focused on correcting a signing error that doesn't even exist in this parallel.

    "Are you sure that is wise?" Kaldur sounds concerned, but I don't hear a better alternative. "Last time you bonded with it, your ability to focus was severely compromised."

    "I know, but even if it happens exactly the same as last time I'm fairly confident that at the very least I... We would remain focused on the Djinn for the duration of the fight."

    Garth frowns. "What are you talking about?"

    Kaldur glances sideways at his friend. "Orange Lantern's personal lantern is home to a powerful Avarice Elemental. When they bond, his power increases dramatically."

    "How dramatically?"

    "He-. They did not strain themselves in rotating the moon full circle."

    The newcomers take a moment to absorb that. Tula recovers first. "Why aren't you using it now? With something that powerful-."

    "Because he goes crazy!"

    Artemis doesn't like the idea, it seems. "That isn't why. It isn't here. I checked my lantern earlier. I mean, it's an ancient Elemental, of course it's over eighteen."

    Robin frowns. "So where is it?"

    "The lantern was in subspace when the separation happened. I.. assume it's in the copy of my lantern on the adult side. If it was loose I'm sure Batman would have mentioned it."

    "What happens if you move the lantern and it isn't in the same place as the one the Ophidian's in when the spell ends?"

    "Um. Oh. Not sure. That's... That's a good point, actually." I was worried about telefragging, but if the lantern moves to Roanoke while the Ophidian stays behind... "No, you're right. I can't risk it. Aqualad, once the merger occurs I can transport myself back here and pick it up, but Robin's right. I shouldn't take it with me."

    Kaldur nods. "Is there anything else?"

    "Yeah." Sha'ark moves away from the wall and takes a few steps towards our group. "I need Slayer to take me back to Nanaue before you kick things off."

    "Why?"

    "What he was saying earlier got me thinking. King Arp'ax and all the Councillors are on the adult side. I'm the only ruler left. My blood tells me to fight, but my head tells me my city needs me." He snarls. "And it tells me I can't fight on land well enough to make a difference."

    I look at Kaldur and shrug. "I can drop you off on the surface above the city. I'll only take a couple of seconds."

    "Very well. Once that is done, return here to transport the bioship to Roanoke. Billy, inform Batman that we will begin our attack at twenty one forty five eastern standard time."

    He nods. "Right. Shaza-!" He's gone in a cloud of smoke.

    I head towards Sha'ark as Kaldur turns to the group. "Make any remaining preparations and then head to the bioship. We leave as soon as Orange Lantern returns." There's a collective nodding and they head to the lift, Zatanna hanging back a bit. Probably wants to talk to Kaldur about something. I reach Sha'ark and create a zeta tube construct.

    "Recognised, Orange Lantern, B zero six, King Nanaue Sha'ark, A one two."

    We rematerialise in Happy Harbour. "Haven't done this with a sharkman before, so if you feel unwell let me know."

    Nanaue is in the North Atlantic, north of the Greater Azores and roughly on the same latitude as Edinburgh. Atlantis covers a large area but virtually all of its population is concentrated in its sprawling city-states. Nanaue doesn't bother with a census, but official estimates give it a population somewhere between two and three million, virtually all of them sharks. The world flickers and we're hanging in the air a long way above and a little to the south of it. It's raining, and with all the clouds there's little to distinguish the sea from the sky.

    "Can you find your way from here?"

    "If we're in the right place I'll smell it when I get in the water."

    "Okay, well, thank you for your help-."

    "I never understood why High King Orin liked the Justice League so much. I always respected him as a warrior, but what does the surface world have to do with us? Now I get it. One powerful enemy can tip the sea into the sky and you lot stop just long enough to work out how to cut his hands off."

    "We can do more together."

    "You might have something there. Hm. Those scampi you and the Cornwall boy caught. If your king-."

    "Queen."

    "Whatever. If your queen doesn't know what to do with them, send them our way. I'll see they get straightened out."

    I nod and release him. He turns face down in the air and shimmers blue as the sea rises up to meet him. I don't just mean the waves, a whole area about forty metres across extends upwards. All of Kaldur's Atlantean friends have specialised in their preferred areas of arcane combat and Sha'ark is a very capable aquatic melee fighter. Sharkman mages are more muscle wizards than mid range blasters like Kaldur, which unfortunately means his assessment of his usefulness in a fight on Roanoke was completely accurate. I watch for a moment through the water as he shoots downwards at a pace that a torpedo would envy, then create another zeta tube construct to transport myself back to the mountain.

    "Recognised, Orange Lantern, B zero six."

    I emerge in the hangar and transition to the air just above the bioship as my team mates come through the lift doors. Tula and Garth could really do with some armour, but if their part of our strategy works they shouldn't see direct combat. And I suppose if it doesn't then a little ceramic plating isn't likely to do much against a Lord of Chaos. I watch as they all pile into the bioship. I should probably stay out here, given how crowded it must be getting in there. I'll need to drop the bioship off a little way away; it's still unarmed and we want to attack from an ambush if at all possible.

    But...

    Kaldur's plan involves doing things the superhero way. Nothing he said was wrong exactly but I doubt he even considered the more militant approach. I am quite capable of railgunning the site. If Klarion has been brought down to Human physical normalcy then I can assimilate him. In fact, if Fatty is anything to go by it won't even be that hard. Klarion didn't strike me as one to practise deferred gratification. If. If I can pull it off, then whatever the Djinn can do shouldn't be a problem. Or... The ritual symbol. If I can just shoot the ground underneath it, would that disrupt the process?

    I consider as the hangar doors open and I plot the best flight path. Deliberately firing to kill. How badly do I want this? It won't be like Clayface; if it works Klarion will be meat paste. I blink and see the bridge again. Yes, I think I can live with that. I raise my left hand slightly and surround myself in construct armour. **Everyone ready?**

    **All set.** M'gann's mental voice sounds distant. Usually before a mission there's a little excitement, a little... Not fun exactly, but at this point Wallace or I would try a little humour. Not this time.

    **Course plotted. Prepare to engage stealth once I disengage. Transition in three, two, one.**
     
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:42 GMT -4


    We appear just above sea level, just north east of the Kitty Devil Hills. M'gann engages the stealth system as I rise up from the bioship, extending the finest filament I can into the sky above me. I need to check that-.

    **Aqualad to Orange Lantern, is-?**

    **Confirmed, Klarion and the purple entity are still in place. Relaying image now.** I open my mind to the rest of the team, showing them what my optic membrane construct is showing me. Beneath me I see the distortion in the air as the bioship begins its approach.

    Am I actually going to do this? Not the murder attempt -and it is murder, I don't have any sort of legally recognised authority to shoot criminals dead- but acting outside the agreed upon behaviour of my ingroup.. that's a little harder. Should I say something?

    **Orange Lantern to Aqualad. Would it be helpful to disrupt the physical structure of the ritual site?**

    **At this point it is most likely that it would not.** There's a brief pause. **Tula and Garth are in the water and heading for the shore. We will be landing momentarily.**

    **Understood.** No response from Klarion or Bedlam yet. I should be undetectable to them but the others aren't. On the other hand the woodland should conceal their approach from visual detection but with my armour glowing I'd be quite visible. Keep to the plan, or attack immediately myself?

    I see the bridge again.

    [​IMG]

    Right. I transition to a point three hundred metres above the ritual site. From here I can easily see Klarion and Bedlam with my unaided eyes. Bedlam looks unwell, while Klarion's standing in a fairly relaxed pose in his space in the magic circle, soaking in the power flowing from Bedlam.

    "Ring, firing solutions."

    Target plots appear in front of me as a circle of railgun constructs appear in the air around me. Multiple points of impact should disrupt the ground of the ritual site. I'll shoot Klarion and Bedlam as well. Bedlam will most likely ignore it but this could end Klarion. Before Wallace or after? I know he can perform complex actions at super speed but... No.

    The railguns hum, higher in pitch than they used to. I have the ring calculate the effect of the kinetic energy on the ground. The forest is acceptable collateral damage but the nearby village of Wanchese isn't. Done.

    **Stand clear, stand clear. Ordnance inbound.**

    **Orange Lantern, what-!?**

    The guns around me flash and dust erupts from the ritual site, obscuring my view. The purple glow of Bedlam is still there, but I can't tell whether I got Klarion or not. If you haven't found the body... I transition down into the billowing dust cloud, emitting beams of orange light in all directions in an attempt to feel out the environment. There's a distortion as they pass through Bedlam but he doesn't seem to be reacting either to them or to me.

    **Orange Lantern, what did you do!**

    **Bombarded the ritual site in an attempt to kill Klarion. Given that we aren't seeing his accom-.**

    My armour shuts down and I fall to the ground.

    **Ufff!**

    "Well, look what the cat didn't drag in." A wave of orange light pulses outward, drawing the dust from the air. The ground I'm laying on is broken, as if someone took a giant rotavator to it. The ritual site is unaffected, protected by a glowing purple dome. The power for the dome flows not from Bedlam himself but instead rises from Klarion's left hand like evaporating nitrogen. I try raising my armour again but nothing happens! Klarion smiles at my confusion. "Get over here." An orange hand materialises in the air next to me and forcefully grabs me before pulling me through the air to hang in front of Klarion. He's hacked the ring! How the hell has he done that? I try reaching for my pistol but the orange hand pins my arms to my sides! Don't think it would do much anyway. "Have you got any idea how hard it is to find a Lost City? I had to spend weeks in that stoopid desert, and even longer making sure the spell didn't affect you." The hand rotates and then flicks me across the ground with force. Ow! "But it was worth it!" I get my arms up to protect my head but even through my body armour I'm going to get a bruise.

    I take a moment to look at the ring. It looks dirty, orange light barely showing through the caked on dust. Wait. Lost City. Dust. There's something about that... Klarion grins and steps through the shield protecting his ritual site. Purple power stops flowing to him from Bedlam and instead goes directly into the shield. Klarion raises his hands and a giant orange Klarion appears above him, leaning over me and grinning in the inhuman way he did before I took Teekl. That was it! In the comics, Vandal Savage tried something like this on Alan! I don't remember how he got out of it, but I know how I'm going to.

    "Now, how do I make you give me Teekl back?"

    I reach across with my right hand and pull the ring from my finger.

    "Hey, what-!" The confused face of the construct evaporates as I shove the ring into one of my pouches and scramble back to my feet. Klarion looks up in the air in confusion for a moment before locking his eyes on me. "How do you keep doing this?! Bedlam!"

    The purple colossus turns slightly. If I had to guess I'd say it was genuinely unwell. Nonetheless, it raises a purple right arm and sends a wafting stream of purple energy through the barrier into Klarion. He throws his head back and drops his arms to the sides. When he returns his gaze to me his eyes glow with purple light. "Y'know, if you'd let me keep using the ring I'd have played with you for a bit. Now, I'm just gunna squash you!" He makes a punching motion with his right hand, I tense, and a circle of ground five metres away is flattened by a tremendous physical force.

    Eh?

    "What?" Klarion looks at his hand in bewilderment. Recovering quickly, he points his right middle and forefinger at me like a gun, and a brilliant beam of purple energy.. goes.. straight.. past me? I start moving clockwise around the ritual area as he charges an electrical blast in his hands. The lightning bolts strike the area around me to Klarion's visible frustration. "Aagh!" He can't aim at me. He can't aim at me! He concentrates, walking forwards to keep me in sight, and fires off another bolt. This one hits me in the chest. There's a small pain and I feel the muscle around the impact site clench, but my body armour is well insulated enough to take it! Thank you Mister Gambi!

    **The Djinn's called Bedlam. He's charging Klarion but doesn't otherwise seem to be participating.**

    Klarion's mouth glows and I lunge forwards to press myself against the side of the purple shield as he vomits forth a wave of purple fire. It misses -just- and I don't feel any heat from it. Startled, I look at the ground and see that the upturned soil has been transmuted, replaced with brick, glittering jewels, sand, some sort of slime and a strange blue bush that doesn't look anything like earthly plant life. When the flames peter out I start moving again, trying to get to the far side of the shield. Klarion watches me from the other side, not bothering to respond until I reach the opposite side from him. His eyes appear to have reverted to normal.

    "Bedlam!" The Djinn's hand points to him again and purple light envelopes him. Glowing eyes again. Is he becoming vulnerable?

    **Klarion appears to burn through the power Bedlam's giving him quickly. I suggest waiting until he does so again and then sending Kid Flash in with the chain.**

    **What did you think you were doing?**

    Kaldur's understandably annoyed. **I was trying to kill Klarion as quickly as possible. And I should point out that he had no warning before I strafed the ritual site and the shield was still there. If Kid Flash had gone in first he'd just have run into it.** Again, I share my vision of what is happening in front of me.

    **Why aren't you using your ring?**

    Kon sounds more concerned than angry, though I can hear anger there as well. **Klarion did something to it to take control of it. I took it off to stop him.**

    **Sit tight Oh El, be with you in a sec.**

    **Wait 'till he's discharged!**

    Looking across the circle, Klarion appears to have reached a decision. "Oh well. If I can't blast you, I'll just have to pull your arms and legs off." He crouches slightly, and his body stretches in the same way it did near the end of our last fight. His arms and legs lengthen and become far thinner than is humanly possible. He gains an extra set of elbows and knees and at least two fingers on each hand. His spine lengthens and bends, giving him a permanent stoop. His fingers grow and gain talons for fingernails and his face... His face regains some of the inhumanity he displayed on top of Nabu's Tower, glowing purple eyes and obvious monstrosity.

    Then he pushes off the ground and clears the shield dome in one easy leap.
     
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:46 GMT -4


    He swings at me with his right talon but I'm already moving out of the way. Ah! Not fast enough though! His claw clips my left side and flicks me into the air. I roll as I land, my left hand instinctively checking the area struck. The dyneema outer layer is ripped clean through and the plates beneath are scratched but unbroken. Not super strong then. I get my feet underneath me just as he swings again and I dive out of the way. Okay, big, strong, not all that agile. Still got no way to hurt him.

    "Oooh, are we having trouuuuble?" He fans his hands out towards me as I get up again, a ball of purple fire growing in size and intensity. Maybe I can use the shield to make it hard for him to manoeuvre again? I'm up and running again. A moment later I hear a rapidly closing roaring sound and.. for a second the right side of my body feels.. strange. Not painful, but as if the sensory input was for something of a different size or shape and wasn't being interpreted correctly. Phantom limb where the missing limb was made of tentacles. I glance at myself and for a moment see my body wreathed in pink fire before the flames are evaporated by the Spell Eater. If that had been a normal fire I would have been unpleasantly burned just then. "Gah! Not again!"

    I risk a look back, slowing as I do so. Klarion stares at his hands as his eyes flicker between purple and normal. Right. I draw my pistol and take aim. **Kid Flash, whenever you're ready.** I fire.

    Blam!

    My first round misses, his unusual body shape throwing off my instincts. The noise makes him look up in surprise.

    "A gun? You can't have-."

    I aim more carefully and fire again.

    Blam!

    It clips the side of his body.

    "Ah!"

    I can't tell how much that really hurt him. Not much by the look of it. He starts towards me again. Right, his torso's facing me. It's not going to get any easier.

    Blam! Blam! Blam!

    A hastily materialised barrier blocks the shots, but he stops coming towards me and he definitely looks worried. And it's not quite big enough to-

    Blam!

    "OW!"

    -protect his feet. He looks faintly ridiculous hunched up like that. Right, six shots, pretend to be out. Lower the gun. He hops a little but he doesn't look seriously injured.

    "Klarion, you're under arrest for over a thousand murders and sorcery most foul." Which is technically a crime in its own right in the US. Thank you snapped.com.

    "Oh, boo hoo." He shrinks back to his normal size, a little of his cockiness gone. "Bedlam!"

    Gun up. Blam! Blam! Two hits, upper left chest and left shoulder.

    "A-ah!" Klarion goes down on his back, and in a rush of displaced air Wallace materialises next to him and clamps the manacles shut around his wrists and neck. I take a moment to breathe. Did we just..?

    I hear running and look around to the direction Wallace just came from. Kon and Donna lead the way, flying into Bedlam's barrier and punching it repeatedly. Robert's a little behind them, the same distortion his father used on them both in London forming an aura around his body. He slams to his knees, laying his hands flat on the ground. Right, the anti-scrying ward. Not sure that should be a priority now.

    **Aqualad to Orange Lantern. Are you injured?**

    **Not that I can feel.** I take a moment to make sure everything's still there. Yess... Can't check under the armour and without the ring to regulate things I'm swimming in so many endorphins that I'm not sure I'd feel it.

    "Citsym reirrab, espalloc!"

    I need to talk to Zatanna about the white patches. Without those she'd have quite effective camouflage. She's staying back, but I see the shield start to buckle where she's pointing at it. Robert stands and joins in. I start walking in her direction. With no ring and the rest of my ammunition in my presently inaccessible subspace pocket I'm a near total liability at the moment. Shit, no ring. I fish it out of my pocket and look at it. Still covered in hardened gunk, and my armour doesn't come with a utility belt. Maybe if I find Robin-.

    "Bedlam!" Oh, what's he doing n-. Oh shit. Bedlam turns towards where Klarion lays on the floor and the flows of energy to the other points of the circle disappear. Then the barrier drops and Bedlam compresses and flows directly into Klarion's mouth and eyes. Wallace backs away in a hurry as Klarion rises into the air, the chains around his arms and neck glowing brilliant purple for a moment and then exploding away. The injuries I'd managed to inflict on him vanish and he turns his inhuman grin towards Wallace. Wallace starts to run, but a series of purple lightning bolts strike at the area around him with enough force to make the ground explode! He evades two, but the third strikes him directly and the blast from the fourth sends him careening into the tree line.

    I start running directly away from him. I haven't got any way to hurt him. What can I do? **Aqualad, I strongly suggest having Cornwall take down the ritual site as soon as possible.**

    **Cornwall, do it. Garth, Tula, target Klarion. Kid Flash, status.**

    **I'm.. I'm okay. Worried there for a minute. That ward thing really came through.**

    Robert takes a few awkward steps forwards into the circle and Donna and Kon fly at Klarion, chain stretched out between them. It hits him in the stomach and pulls him through the air a few metres before his body glows purple and he stops dead. Donna and Kon turn and try yanking on the chain harder to no effect as he turns to face them.

    "Stop bothering me."

    His hands glow brilliant purple, then he points them directly at the two of them and fires. Both drop the chain, Kon evading, while Donna follows her Amazon training and blocks with her bracers. I wince, but enchanted mithril and Improved Spell Eater combine to result in her merely being knocked flying. Kon flies along the deck to attempt to ram into Klarion with his fists only to be intercepted by a far stronger looking purple barrier which brings him to a full stop.

    Then Klarion hits him with another purple beam and he slams into the ground hard enough to cut a furrow.

    "Guess I don't need that stupid cat after all."

    He looks up and waves his right hand, a torrent of water presumably launched by Garth and Tula striking another shield.

    "Kcatta ruo ymene neesnu!"

    I'm no good like this. I need to get into cover, and see if Artemis can lend me her crossbow. Won't do much good while he's in God Mode, but it would at least-.

    **Er, Aqualad, sir? There's some sort of yellow crystal in the middle here.**

    "Rrrrragh!" The water covering the ground where Klarion blocked the Atlanteans' shot surges upwards and engulfs him, freezing solid as it does so. That's Kaldur, right? I can't see him.

    Arrows strike the ice, embed themselves and then vaporise it. Unmakers with delayed timers. I didn't see the point but Artemis wanted them. Can't see Klarion now. Did she get him?

    **Ignore the crystal. Focus on draining the ritual site.**

    I see the glowing lines making up the magic circle retreat from the far edges inwards towards where Robert's kneeling. Figures flicker in the air. I think I see Batman.

    "No no no no no no!"

    Klarion rematerialises in the centre of the magic circle which immediately reignites in brilliant purple. A stomp of his foot causes the ground beneath Robert to leap upwards, throwing him into the sky. I instinctively try to generate a construct to catch him, then feel rather foolish.

    No, I can't do anything else here.
     
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:50 GMT -4


    **Garth, Tula, target the barrier.**

    I make it two thirds of the way to the tree line before I spot Artemis and start heading to her position. Something roars behind me but I don't stop. If the people there can't deal with it then it probably can't be dealt with. Artemis looses another arrow towards the shield before ducking back into cover. If a tree even provides cover against Klarion at the moment. I duck in behind the next tree along.

    "What did you think you were doing!?"

    "Our priority is to end the spell as soon as possible. Killing Klarion immediately was more likely to do that than binding him." I look back at the ritual site where he's reraised the dome shield. "Don't suppose you've got any anti-magic arrows, have you?"

    "There aren't any!"

    "Right. I need to get Sephtian to work on more offensive antimagic stuff."

    She notches and looses again. "Is this really the time for a shopping list?!"

    Oh, that's clever. The water being fired by Garth and Tula is getting turned into steam just before it hits the barrier. Kaldur worked out how to do that with the trident during one of our experimental sessions but this is the first time I've seen it used in the field. Not much use in Atlantis compared to freezing but blooming useful on the surface.

    "Klarion did a number on the ring and my gun's empty. I'm out of offensive options."

    "You can't hide from me with baby magic. Etsat ruoy nwo enicidem."

    The howling vapour suddenly redirects towards an apparently empty area of ground. Why would-?

    "AAAAAAAAGGHH!" Kaldur appears in the vapour as it turns back into water before cutting off completely. He drops to his knees. He did the intelligent thing and wore the helmet, but Ocean Master's armour isn't sealed. His hands, feet and face just got hit by boiling water.

    Oh no.

    **Aqualad's down. Miss Martian, get Aqualad to safety. Superboy, Troia, alternate hitting the barrier and evading. Tell me when your Spell Eaters start getting hot.**

    **Right.** / **You got it.**

    M'gann's invisible and without the ring I can't see her, but Kaldur's steaming form rises into the air and heads back from the combat zone at high speed. I see Donna swoop in as Klarion raises his hands to the top of the dome and purple lightning lashes out from all sides.

    **Cornwall, Zatanna, we need that barrier down.** From the far side I see Cornwall's cape flap as he runs back towards the circle. A lightning bolt hits him in the chest, staggering him. He steadies himself, then surges at the barrier even faster. I actually see a wave of force ripple right across it where his fist strikes it, then he plants both hands on it. Klarion looks at him in puzzlement.

    "Evael Noiralk faed dna dnilb!"

    Klarions glowing eyes alight on Zatanna. "You don't have what it takes to magic me."

    **Zatanna, the barrier. Get the barrier down.**

    Purple electricity runs through Robert, forcing him to his knees. **Robert, can you cope? We can get you out if you need-.**

    "I can manage!"

    "Artemis, please notch an unmaker and loose at Klarion the moment the shield fails. Shoot to kill."

    **What?**

    Surprise but not irritation. "I'm a utilitarian. Every moment we delay more children die. I don't care who's on the adult side, he's the most powerful of the group. We've already demonstrated that we can't hold him. Do you have a better idea? Because if so I would very much like to hear it."

    Her eyes dip for a second, then she nods and pulls her bowstring taunt.

    "Thank you." **Robin, I don't know what conventional explosives will do to-.**

    "-am!"

    Billy appears in the middle of the combat zone and blinks in confusion as he takes in the scene. Klarion turns to look at him and raises his hands.

    **M'gann, get him into cover!** Billy is flung sideways as a purple beam blasts through the space he had been occupying. "Billy, get over here and never teleport into a combat zone like that again."

    He scurries over as Kon, Donna, Robert and Robin all capitalise on Klarion's distraction to pound unrelentingly on the shield. I can see purple wisps of power flow into Robert before Klarion returns his attention to his assailants and fires a stream of what look like shards of purple glass from his hands directly through the shield at them. Donna evades but Kon and Robert are both struck and go down as Billy makes it into cover near me.

    "It's-. It's the gem! It-!"

    I hold up a hand to stop him. **Miss Martian, please add Billy to the network.**

    **Added.**

    **Billy, you can provide your information to everyone telepathically. What does the gem do?**

    "I can? Oh, um-." **It's what caused this. It's what's keeping the worlds apart. Destroy it and we win.**

    **Oh, is that all?** What could we do what could we do?

    **You could dig underground with your power ring and-.** I hold up the dirt-encrusted ring. **Oh.**

    That spinning dig thing Superman did in Christopher Reeves' Superman film would never work in real life. Phasing? **Miss Martian, come over here and take my Spell Eater. The best way to get-.**

    "Zatanna, stop!"

    **Robin, what-?** A brilliant golden glow appears over the combat area as Nabu manifests a pointless giant ankh to pose in front of. **Who put on the fucking Helmet?**

    **It was Zatanna.** A host who's familiar with magic. Nabu must be thrilled.

    "Klarion. This ends now."

    Nabu's golden ankh blast is met by a purple beam from Klarion, who doesn't look overly worried by this development. M'gann appears as she touches down besides me.

    "You said Nabu didn't want to let Wally go last time."

    "We can't worry about that now. She's got his full attention. Here." With some difficulty I get the thong out from under my armour. "Put it on, get under the shield, get the gem and then get out. Clear?"

    "I-I'm not sure. I've been practicing phasing with Uncle J'onn, but-."

    "If you can't do it then you can't do it, but now would be a very good time to try. Get up close to the barrier and try to duck under it."

    She nods, takes the Spell Eater from me and fades from view.

    Godsdamnit. I did not want to see Nabu again.
     
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:53 GMT -4


    **Billy, how are things going on the other side?**

    **The magicians were way more powerful than they were supposed to be. Batman thought that big purple thing was sending them power.**

    **And it stopped when Klarion absorbed it?**

    **Er, yeah, I guess. The guy in the cloak's keeping up a shield but without the extra power we've got them on the run. Um, where's Aqualad?**

    **He got badly scalded, Miss Martian put him somewhere out of the way.** Okay, Nabu and Klarion are still beam-of-warring it. I can't believe that neither of them have managed to learn anything more sophisticated. **Cornwall, can you drain Klarion's beam?**

    **I can try.** He moves around the side of the barrier while Klarion ignores him, walking his hands around its surface as he goes. I can't tell from here whether it's having any effect.

    "Billy, I think we've got things under control here. Get back to the adult side and help them get the gem."

    "Okay. Um, should I tell Zatara about..." He points at Nabu. Have to say, that costume looks good on her. Better than it did on Wallace anyway. Maybe they can work something long-term out? Having Nabu back on the active roster would be useful if it turns out he can actually be trusted. Maybe I was being too cautious?

    "Probably a good idea." **Superboy, Troia, Kid Flash; status reports?**

    **I'm fine, but I think Superboy's bleeding under the armor.**

    **Kon, how bad?**

    **I'll heal in a minute. The purple.. spike.. things are fading. Spell Eater's getting pretty hot, though.**

    **Troia? How's yours doing?**

    **It's warm to the touch.**

    **Right. Superboy, stay back until you've fully healed. Troia, start hitting the barrier again.**

    **Right.** / **Right.**

    **What about me? I'm -ow- good to go.**

    Realistically, what can Wallace do? **Do you see a jewel in the middle of the pentagram?**

    **Yeah?**

    **If the shield drops, grab it and get it to Nabu.**

    **That's it?**

    **Unless you've developed a magic disruption potion and brought it with you, yes.** I can feel his frustration through the link. **Kid Flash, I don't honestly think that brute force is likely to take down the barrier. Getting the jewel makes us win. Are you with me?**

    **... Yeah, okay.**

    **Garth, Tula, any-?**

    **Garth's looking after Kaldur.**

    Damn it. **How bad?**

    **He'll-. He'll get better. It looks worse than it is...**

    **As long as he's not going to die we can probably fix it. Right, I need you to scry the shield spell and tell me if we're actually doing anything to it. I honestly have no idea.**

    **I can do that. It'll take a moment.**

    **Tell me when you have something.**

    With Robert's help -I think- Nabu drives the ankh back towards Klarion's shield. Klarion snarls and makes a downwards gesture with his right hand. What did-? "Agh!" I see a purple circle form around Robert as he's sucked underground with a yelp.

    **Cornwall, stay calm and hold your breath. Miss Martian, are you in position yet?**

    **Almost!**

    A purple beam knocks Nabu's ankh aside then Klarion starts flinging exploding purple balls up into the sky, forcing Nabu to take evasive action. Returning my attention to the circle I barely see it as the jewel disappears. I tense, but Klarion appears too caught up in his duel to notice. Nabu takes advantage of a brief lull in the explosions to fire a golden bolt of eldritch energy at the shield. Klarion seems unfazed. Is anything we're doing having an effect on him?

    **P-? Orange Lantern? The shield's definitely weakening, but he can restore it in a few seconds. If you want to take it down you have to keep attacking.**

    **Thank you Tula.**

    Then Nabu blurs and Zatanna drops a metre in the air before reassuming his costume. What?

    "When the world divided the Helmet split in two! You're not all here Nabu! And you're losing hold of that poor-"

    M'gann rises from the ground, supporting Cornwall with one arm and holding the jewel in the other.

    "-soon to be dead-"

    **Fate, catch!** The small yellow jewel flies towards the recovering Nabu as Cornwall heads back towards the shield dome.

    "-girl. What?" Klarion does a double take as Nabu catches it. "How did you get that? Give it back!"

    "No, Witch Boy, you have wrought harm enough this day. Yam eht owt emoceb eno ecno erom!"

    And then things get strange. The barrier around Klarion shimmers as a tall thin figure in a dark grey robe appears in one of the other focus points, his head slightly bowed and his arms fanned out. A small forest of black thorns covers the ground but substantial portions of it appear to be on fire. I catch sight of John on the far side pulling himself free of brambles that appear to have pinned him to a tree. Batman dodges as Faust hurls a barrage of flame at him, only for it to turn on its creator as Danni seizes control of it. A barrage of green bolts slam into the shield dome from above courtesy of Guy and Stewart and are swiftly joined by an even larger ankh. Red Tornado fires a tornado at William Zard, only for him to hold up.. something, I can't see it from here, and send it up into the air at Mister Zatara, who's standing on a floating pentagram. Red Tornado realises what's happened and abandons the ranged attack, but Zatara's-

    "Sdniw eb dellits."

    -completely fine, right. Robert, Donna and Kon are all up and hitting the shield again, quickly joined by Marvel and Diana. Klarion appears to have abandoned the offence.

    "Oh well. Fun while it lasted." The shield around the ritual site flickers from purple to a pale grey as a red oval opens in the space next to him. Bugging out. I'd rather capture or kill him but that doesn't seem to be on the cards. "See ya later, armadillos. Unless I see you first!"

    Zard and Faust look around in panic and are swiftly knocked down for their distraction. Robe guy doesn't look particularly bothered. His shield appears to be holding.

    **Tula, how's his shield holding up?**

    **I... I'm not sure. It doesn't read like any form of magic I'm used to. If I had to describe it I'd say it's a bit like-**

    Two beams of ghostly white energy pulse from his right hand, corroding Guy and Stewart's armour constructs and knocking them out of the sky.

    "Green Lanterns. We will continue this another time."

    **-a power ring.**

    His shield collapses as he fades out of existence.
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:57 GMT -4


    I make my way in John's direction as my team mates and the Leaguers gather in the centre of the clearing. He appears to be dangling a piece of burned and twisted wood on the end of a shoelace while walking over to a thick patch of blackened brambles. The piece of wood jerks suddenly.

    "There you are."

    He looks up and sees me. Yikes, that's a nasty bruise. John points at the wood. "Crack this open for me, would you?"

    "And how would you like me to do that, exactly?"

    "Well excuse me, but you look just like this guy I know who's got a power ring." I hold it up. "Fuck me, how'd you manage that?"

    "Klarion had some sort of magic dust. Managed to bypass my armour construct and Spell Eater." For a moment I consider tossing it to him and asking him to have a crack at it, but it occurs to me that John Constantine and orange power ring probably shouldn't be mixed.

    "Constantine." Ah! How the heck did Batman sneak across an empty field? "You were permitted to accompany us on the understanding that you would offer technical assistance only. At what point did you decide that it would be acceptable to kill Blackbriar Thorn?"

    "Just the man I was looking for. You got one of those sharp batarang things?" He holds out his right hand. Batman scowls at him. "See, the thing about Blackbriar is, he doesn't exactly die, does he? It's like shooting the Bog God; put a bullet through his head and what have you done? There's no brain there, just more moss. Only looks Human out of habit." He wiggles his outstretched fingers again to no effect. He rolls his eyes and turns back to the wood, carefully taking a grip on an exposed section of charcoal and snapping it off. I wave him aside and hit the indicated area hard with the butt of my pistol, cracking it further. "That should do it." I stand aside and he sticks his hand in up to the elbow and reaching around inside what appears to be a hollow tree trunk. "Ow! Got the bastard." He withdraws his arm, hand holding a short but surprisingly vital thorn vine. There are a few small leaves along the length and a cluster of roots around the lower end. John looks at it for a moment, then holds it out to Batman. "Used to be I'd hand him over to Alec, but we're not really talking these days. Should take about three months for him to regrow, based on past performance. Make sure he's somewhere secure when he does, right?"

    Batman's face eases slowly away from the scowl. He takes the proffered vine, looks it over and then places it inside his utility belt before turning away and heading for the gathering below.

    "How the heck did you take down Blackbriar Thorn?"

    "Sympathetic magic, mate. I had a bit of his body from last time we met." He holds up a fag butt. "He got close enough, and..." He holds up the piece of wood on the shoelace and brings the two objects together.

    "Whaw. Thought you kept saying you were out of your depth with this stuff?"

    "I am, you just can't see the blood in this light. Pinned me to that friggin' tree-" He nods at it. "-with his brambles and I couldn't do a thing until the purple supercharge he was getting from that yellow crystal cut off." He turns to look at the huddle. "Hadn't realised he still held a grudge. Come on, I need a lift home."

    We start down the shallow incline, stepping over the remains of Blackbriar's signature attack. "What happened to your eye?"

    "Got cocky, is what happened. Used an enchantment to make people not want to see me, then snuck in your mountain. Thought I might learn something about what happened. Batman spotted that people weren't looking my way and punched it just in case." He stops for a moment and looks at me. "And you better have a bloody good reason for getting Gemma involved."

    "Mob of Praexis Demons outside her house." He reluctantly nods approval before starting on again. "We left a note. Though while we're on the subject, what do you think Mister and Missus Masters would say about her going to school in Poseidonis?"

    "Terry would tell you to fuck off. Cheryl would castrate you with a rusty spoon. Not sure I'd stop her."

    "So that's a 'no'."

    "Of course it's a 'no' you stupid... Those Atlantean kids. You had them in the mountain looking for Klarion, didn't you?"

    "Yyyyyes. Not sure how much Gemma saw..."

    "'Course she saw, she's a Constantine. Fffffffffffuck. She's gunna use a spoon on both of us."

    "Aren't you going to stop him?"

    Nabu-in-Zatanna is levitating just over the centre of the former ritual site while Wallace gestures at the place Klarion disappeared. He has a point, but if there's one thing I've learned from our last two encounters with Klarion it's that Nabu doesn't trump him.

    "To what end? Klarion is chaos personified. He cannot be contained."

    Sounds like someone's not trying hard enough. I seem to remember him saying the same thing about Teekl. Guy nods at me as John and I reach the rear of the huddle. He's running a green strobe over his chest, presumably undoing whatever damage the black beam did.

    "Guy, Kaldur took a pretty nasty hit. He's with a couple of other Atlanteans in the bioship, would you mind getting him to an Atlantean hospital?"

    "No problem. What happened to him?"

    "Klarion redirected steam onto him. Gaseous water at over one hundred degrees centigrade."

    "Yikes. I'll get right on it."

    The afterimage of a glowing green filament marks his leaving. Captain Marvel's wrapping the enchanted chain around the unconscious Zard and Faust. They should be weak enough to be contained by it. Kon and Donna are standing with Diana on the far side of the group. They both look fine, but... Ah, there's Robert. Can't tell his expression with the mask on but I know it's pretty unnerving being around this many new people. Especially when the one who decides to talk to you is Batman.

    "…k you sir. I-I-I really appreciate this."

    "We'll need your parents' approval before this becomes definite, but you've demonstrated the skills and the character that we're looking for."

    He just nods as Batman turns away and walks to where Mister Zatara is trying to stare down Nabu. "Fate!" He takes a breath, getting his worries under control. "Great Nabu. Release my daughter."

    Nabu stares at him for a moment. Wait, he's not going to-? "No." Shit. "Witness the havoc wrought in these hours." He spreads his arms out as if to encompass the world. "The world needs Doctor Fate, and the girl's natural affinity for the mystic arts.. makes her the perfect candidate."

    Shit.

    "You can't do that!" No, Artemis, he can. That's why no one put him on before now.

    "She has her own life to live!" Robin, he doesn't care about it. We need an order-based argument, and I'm coming up with nothing. Think think think.

    Wallace tries next. "Kent would never allow you to-!"

    "Kent Nelson did object most strenuously. So I released his spirit to the afterlife. He is gone."

    I've got nothing. I've got nothing.

    Mister Zatara slumps slightly, then spreads his arms to the side. "Then take me instead. My-."

    "No!" John pushes his way forwards. "You! Nabu! Take me."

    The venom in Zatara's glare is tempered with surprise. "John, this is not the time to-!"

    "Shut up." John pokes him in the chest. "She needs you. Well? Magic's run in my family's blood for thousands of years. I'd be a far better host than-!"

    Nabu glares at him. "You?! No! You reek of Demons and damnation. You are barely less chaotic than Klarion! You are useless to me."

    Zatara gently pushes John aside. "But I am not."

    "True. In many ways you would be a superior host. But if I remove the Helmet, what guarantee have I that you will don it?"

    "My word." Oh gods. This is actually going to happen, isn't it? "Ekat em daetsni."

    Nabu looks down at him for a moment, then floats down to the ground. John isn't any happier about this than I am. "Giovanni, don't do it. We can find-."

    Mister Zatara puts his right hand on John's right shoulder. "John... This time, it isn't your fault." He looks at him for a moment, then walks over to Nabu. Nabu looks at him for a moment, then raises his hands and lifts the Helmet from his head. As Zatanna's face is revealed the uniform fades away. Still under Nabu's control, she lowers it to her chest. Her eyes open narrowly at first, then they widen.

    "Dad!"

    "Zatanna!" They embrace. I don't suppose there's any chance he'll have an attack of common sense and just throw the bloody thing away? From the devastated look on John's face I don't think so. "Remember. I love you." Mister Zatara kisses his daughter on the forehead, before taking the Helmet from her unresisting hands. He looks over our group. "Take care of my girl."

    "You have my word." Batman, that's not going to fix this. Gahh! If my fucking ring wasn't broken I'd fly that stupid Helmet into the sun!

    Mister Zatara raises the Helmet over his head and Zatanna belatedly realises what's about to happen. "No! It was my fault!" Robin takes hold of her from behind. She struggles, but he's far too strong. "Dad, don't-!" He closes his eyes as he lowers the Helmet. "Dad!"

    His eyes blaze golden as Nabu takes control. Then uniform appears, and we all know that's it. Mister Zatara's gone. I'm glad the Helmet hides his face. It makes him easier to hate. He looks at Zatanna for a moment, then turns towards Faust and Zard. "Leave these to Fate." He gestures at them, and then he and they rise into the air before disappearing in a ball of golden light. Zatanna drops to her knees and my team mates surround her to offer support.

    What do I do?

    No. What do I want?

    I walk up to John and put my face close to his.

    "John, I'm not prepared to accept this. Can I assume that you're not either?"

    The look he gives me, I can see why Demons are scared of him. "Too bleedin' right I'm not."

    "Right. Get back to London and get some stuff together. I need to get the ring fixed. Then..." I nod to myself. No doubt at all. "Then we're going to work out how to kill Nabu."
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November
    20:59 GMT -4


    I take a moment to admire the blasted landscape. Frustrating as impotently wailing on Klarion's shield was, I'm still inclined to call this a success. William in particular impressed me with his resolve. Of course, I knew that this was almost certainly this parallel's version of the World Without Grownups storyline, but there was no reason for him to believe that there was anything other than oblivion awaiting him post transformation. Anyway, it wasn't as if either side could help the other, and whoever the adults were up against they couldn't have been as powerful as Klarion. William accepted my idea of utilising the Sword of Beowulf to enable him to participate in the fight in place of his usual Captain Marvel abilities. Turns out that the Sword agreed with Shazam's character assessment and even without the wisdom of Solomon William is sufficiently intelligent to master 'stay in cover and fire lightning at the bad guy'.

    Wotan, Zard, Faust and what's left of Blackbriar Thorn sit bound in the Atlantean magic-suppression chains I took out of subspace once I'd crushed the focus gem. Batman, Red Tornado, Wonder Woman, Mister Zatara and Lantern Stewart were managing I suppose, but even Batman doesn't carry the equipment that I do. Bit of a blow that Klarion got away but if I'm honest with myself I know that I'd have had to be very lucky to complete an assimilation on someone like him. Now we just have to explain to Nabu that if he doesn't give Zatanna back he's going to get dogpiled by twelve superheroes who'll swiftly teach him the value of teamwork and we can retire for the evening.

    Why isn't that happening?

    "Take me instead. My skills are already at their peak, my body is physically stronger, better able to withstand the strain of your power."

    Oh. That's actually quite clever. In any fight there's room for things to go wrong. If he can be persuaded to just take himself off we can throw the Helmet into the sun without taking the risk. I knew there was a reason I was studying under these people.

    "All true. But if I remove the Helmet what guarantee have I that you will don it?"

    "My word." He's a magnificent actor, really. I must go and see his magic show at some point. "Ekat em daetsni." Hm? Take me instead? Would that work on Nabu? Might be overplaying it. Whatever. Nabu appears to be taking the bait, dropping down to ground level. Hah! High heels! I hadn't noticed those until just now! Right, right, Helmet off, come on. Some of us have things to do this evening.

    "Dad!"

    "Zatanna!" They embrace. "Remember, I love you." Wait. He isn't actually going to..?

    Yes, yes he is.

    I'm stunned. He's actually going to do it. He kisses Zatanna on the forehead, before pulling the Helm from her grasp. He looks to the Leaguers. "Take care of my girl."

    Batman replies for them. "You have my word." What? There's-. What?

    Zatara raises the Helmet-.

    [​IMG]

    Oh, this is completely stupid!

    As Zatara goes to put the Helmet on his head and seal his fate -hah!- I extend a grapple line and pull it from his hands.

    "Hu..? What are you doing?!"

    "Something intelligent for a change."

    I catch the Helm in both hands and look at it for a moment with OrangeVision. It shows me more than it used to; Father Box's work I suppose. The pale gold aura of order-based protective charms is present, but there are tiny cracks of orange light. He has opened himself to the idea of Want. An error, I think.

    "I will remind Nabu who rules this world and it is not the dead! Ring! Assimilate!"

    Orange light invades the Helm from where my hands touch it. Almost immediately I feel Nabu attempt to resist. Insufficient.

    "Identity theft twenty percent complete."

    "Your selfish desire for a body stolen from another undermines your defences, Wraith."

    Another surge of orange. All but the front piece is mine, now.

    "Identity theft seventy percent complete."

    "This world is mine! These people are mine! You! Are! Mine!"

    Everything but the eye sockets is glowing orange. They glow with arcane power as he tries something, anything, to stop the process. But my wards are at full strength, and he has no mortal vessel to bind him to the world.

    "Now you will learn what it is like to wear you."

    There's a final flash of orange as the process is complete.

    "Identity theft complete. Nabu of Cilia, you belong to the Orange Lantern Corps."

    The Helm is now faintly glowing orange. The outline is the same, but the eye sockets are slightly narrower and there is an Orange Lantern sigil over the faceplate. The sigil looks like it's been cut, but the surface remains smooth as I run a thumb over it.

    "You… You have made me break my word…"

    "Dad, he-."

    I hold up my left hand. "No, no, he has a point. That sort of thing can have mystical significance." I take the helm in both hands again and hold it up level with my eyes. "Lantern Nabu. Direct command. You will be obedient and subservient to Giovanni Zatara in all matters. Confirm command."

    "i CoNfIrM."

    The voice is strained, distorted, but it's unquestionably him. "Glad to hear it." Turning, I use my right hand to toss the helm to Zatara. He catches it, still looking more than a little stunned at the turn of events. "You'll make a better Fate than he ever did."

    He looks around. He moves his mouth as if to speak, but no sound emerges. He looks to the ground, then his daughter, and then the Orange Lantern Corps Helmet. Then, he turns it and places it on his head.

    There's a flash of orange-tainted golden light as he rises into the air. Another flare of light as a similarly miscoloured ankh appears behind him and a gust of wind blasts out in all directions. He remains floating, and raises his hands to stare at them as if seeing them for the first time. He's gained a cape and his suit looks like it's been dry cleaned.

    "I'm… I'm in control. I can feel his power, his knowledge. They are mine now!"

    "And you still fulfil your oath." I roll my shoulders and stretch my neck. Not a bad day's work. Shame about all the deaths, but if these people weren't such a bunch of fucking sleepwalkers

    The assembled League members are staring gormlessly at the newly ascended Giovanni Zatara. I interpose myself. Time to let them know how I feel about their inactivity.

    [​IMG]

    "Aaaaggghhhh! Are you all! Completely! Retarded!?" Shocked expressions. "Aaaaaaaaaggghhhh! Right!" I transition to the bound prisoners and haul them up by the chains. "Since I clearly have to fix every fucking problem myself around here, I'll deal with these gentlemen as well." A burst of FTL takes my prisoners and me over the North Pole before a Boom Tube takes me to my actual destination over the Great Wall of China.

    6th November
    10:03 GMT +8


    Lantern Stewart didn't look particularly on the ball but that and Father Box's efforts at stealth should prevent him from locating me immediately.

    Father Box deflects the radar scans as I take a look around. Now, where would Chairman Jiang of the People's Republic of China's Standing Committee on Metahuman Affairs be at this time of the morning?
     
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