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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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    5th February
    12:02 GMT -5


    Lex's eyes widen slightly. "I had wondered-"

    Lamprey drops to one knee to drive his right fist into Tula's diaphragm, passing through her water armour like it isn't there.

    "Blood."

    "-why he was-"

    Kon and Donna dive at him from opposite directions as he rips the Dolmen Gate off Tula's armour.

    "-biting-"

    "Blood."

    His scars glow brighter as torrents of water blast out in all directions. He overrode the user authentication!

    "-my staff."

    Water pouring freely from the depths of the ocean slams into Kon's face, obscuring his vision as Lamprey turns to meet Donna's charge. Rob looses a bolt of lightning at Lamprey's undefended back. It strikes true but doesn't appear to affect him.

    "Blood."

    Water sprays upwards and he somehow swims into the air. Donna's trajectory is slightly off as a result. Her right fist hits him on the shoulder as she twists in the air to prevent him biting into her face! He snaps his jaw again, struggling to reach her as she interposes her bracers.

    "Blood."

    The OMAC next to me rises shakily to its feet and re-establishes the pink barrier. Then it takes a firmer grip on its head and starts to pull. "No! We can get-" Its fingers tear furrows through the armoured surface of the faceplate. "-the machines out-" It moves its arms away from its face and generates two glowing pink blades from its forearms. Wait, what is-? No! It jams one through the eye on its chest and the other into the one on its face as I frantically try and pierce the pink barrier between us! What the hell is this made of?! Shit, no! The barrier drops as grey nanogoo and liquefied brain matter ooze out of the incision. "-of… You."

    Kaldur slams the end of his trident into the water pooling on the floor and the glow of his magic ripples outwards in all directions, water turning to ice in its wake. Kon grabs Lamprey from behind as he wrestles with Donna. Lamprey responds by twisting his head and trying to bite through Kon's armour while simultaneously shoving the Dolmen Gate into Donna's face. Kon's armour holds out against Lamprey's teeth as the ice wave passes up to them. All three of them are caught up in the ice, Donna losing coordination as her face is completely covered. Kon strains against his own covering for a moment before it shatters.

    "Blood for Dakuwaqa."

    Lamprey disappears.

    He just… Shark ninja. Was that a teleportation? One moment he was there, then-.

    "Mrh-mruh!"

    Kaldur runs across the ice and touches his trident to the ice covering Tula and Garth, turning it back into water. I gently lift them both out with flight auras and do quick scan. Tula's basically fine -Atlanteans are designed to be fine with temperatures around zero- so she just gets a quick de-bruise. Garth -"U-uuhhh."- is barely conscious. Oh, yikes. Okay, deaden the nerves, pinch the blood vessels closed-

    There's a shattering noise as Donna throws her ice mask to the ground, shattering it. "Where did he go?"

    "He is a Blood Mage." Kaldur points his trident up at the still active Dolmen Gate and it stops glowing. "He has fed on the life force of everyone whose blood has passed between his lips."

    "Great." Robin checks his arm, brushing dried blood from his already mended arm. "Will he be coming back or is it-?"

    **aAAAHH!**

    Kon orientates on the floor below us and lunges down at full speed, ice and flooring shattering under the force of his movement. "M'gann!"

    "Everyone else, stay here." Kaldur runs to the hole and jumps down after him.

    -push the bones back into place, then muscles and blood vessels. A small amount of new material for the torn edges aaaaand… We're done. If not for his pale skin colour you wouldn't know that Garth had been injured.

    "Ha-?" Tula pushes herself up into a sitting position but she's still winded. A quick orange flare and her diaphragm is relaxed back to normal. "Is he alright?"

    "Mrh! Mruuh! Mruh moo frg-gh brh-bruh."

    "I've removed his injuries. Cornwall! Check on Kid Flash and Arrowette. They went that-"

    He gets a good look at the OMAC. "Oh God."

    "-way, worry about him later. Zatanna, please accompany him."

    "Ah-. Yeah. Yeah, I…" He heads in the direction Kid Flash flew in, sword in hand and Zatanna just behind.

    "Tula, anything you can tell me about shark type Blood Magic would be very helpful."

    "I don't know much. I didn't even know that people who weren't Sharks could use it. He'll get temporarily stronger every time he tastes someone's blood and he can use that strength to fuel his own magic."

    "Any idea how long it lasts?"

    "Long enough." Ultraboy manages to stop scowling for just long enough to look smug. "And it's permanent if he eats someone whole. Might wanna check on your team mates." Artemis sprays knock out gas in his face. "I'm not-" He coughs. "-Human. That stuff's not going to work on-" He coughs again. "-me."

    Artemis pulls out a flare and holds it threateningly. "No, but it's flammable. Keep talking, smart guy."

    "Someone get the number of that tr-" Wallace staggers back onto the stage, leaning on Zatanna. "-uck…" He sees the OMAC. "Oh. What happened?"

    "Killed himself as soon as the controls were taken off."

    Zatanna's hands leap to cover her mouth. "Oh God."

    "Zatanna, there was no way you could have known that he'd react like that."

    "You mean it wasn't a robot?" Lex looks down at the remains with new interest. "I rather assumed-."

    "Mister Luthor, now is a good time to keep quiet." Now that I've got a moment I do a more detailed scan of the other hostages. Miss Teschmacher's got cracked ribs to go with the face and I begin the process of healing those.

    Rob walks back in holding Arrowette in a bridal carry. I can hear her gasping in pain. "M-. Orange Lantern, she's got broken ribs, a broken left arm and she hit her head pretty hard."

    "If none of that's life threatening-" I give her a quick scan anyway. It isn't. "-I'm inclined to leave it in place for now. Put her down next to the other two where we can keep an eye on her."

    He doesn't look too happy about that, but as his eyes move to avoid mine he catches sight of the fallen OMAC again. "Right."

    Miss Teschmacher more or less fixed I move my attention on to Wallace. He's much less hurt than I thought he'd be, bruises and a risk of concussion later. Fixed.

    Raquel floats in through the entry hole in the ceiling. "Guess I don't need to stay in reserve any more, huh?"
     
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    12:05 GMT -5


    What was that? There are noises coming from the hole in the floor from the Kaldurs, the Martians and Kon fighting, but.. I'm hearing…

    External force field inactive.

    Wind that was being turned aside is now hitting the exterior glass and whistling through the holes our fight has made.

    "Lex… Where's the force field gener-" The wind cuts out again. Oh, that's not good. "-ator?"

    "It's not quite that simple. In order to maintain-"

    Hope detected.

    No no no no no. What's he doing?

    "-a stable effect, we had to-"

    There's a flare of blue and a sudden heat.

    "-place guiding-."

    Railgun constructs reappear around me as Zauriel materialises next to Donna and with a look of savage glee punches her in the head. She spins in the air and drops to the frozen ground, out cold.

    Zorina appears on the upper floor next to Raquel, who has just enough time to turn and gasp before the last OMAC casts off its invisibility on her other side, phases a hand through her armour and pulls out her Spell Eater.

    "Nehw I Yas 'Won', eid."

    My alter ego appears next to Ultraboy. "Jonathan, what were you thinking?! What part of-?"

    I switch to phased particle beams and open up on the OMAC without mercy.

    "Eughah!"

    My targeting is less precise than usual due to my need to cause damage being greater than my need for precision. 'Anything other than a destroyed brain', after all. Armour and cybernetically augmented flesh evaporates, a glancing hit to the head wrecks the upper eye and the area around the chest eye is reduced to vapour. The OMAC collapses to the ground.

    Zorina shrugs. "Ria, ediug eht teluma ot em."

    "-subtlety eludes you!?" Blue Lantern ignores the arrow Artemis has pointed at his ear.

    A particle beam annihilates it before the amulet can reach Zorina, giving me about a half second to see her pouting before Zauriel flaps his flaming wings and dives at me.

    Accelerated perception.

    Railguns reform as he opens his mouth. Mage Slayers drop in from subspace as he exhales and I hear.. a note. What is that? It.. makes me feel something like-.

    No! Bad!

    She's right, it's irrelevant. Kill the bastard thing.

    Ice fractures and is cast aside as the whatever-it-is he's screaming at me heads my way even as my retaliatory strikes slam into his armour. My construct armour buckles and fractures as I shove Lex and company out of its path. I keep firing as I'm forced to fortify my environmental shield in an attempt to keep the.. whateveritis off me. I see the orange light being blown off me, peeling off like I'm being sand blasted. Come on die you bastard! Bgah! The environmental shield fails and I'm sent flying backwards at speed, striking the rear wall with enough force that the armour's systems have to reset. Inertial dampeners only… Ugh… Partially effective. No follow up. Armour status? Oh well. Due for an upgrade anyway.

    Orange light flares around me as I cut myself free of the power armour, orange construct armour taking its place. Zorina's now standing patiently inside a Raquel-generated energy field, Wallace and Rob are ministering to the fallen OMAC while Zatanna checks up on Donna. Tula is standing next to Garth, poised to leap into action.

    "What the hell was that about?"

    "Gwa-ah-ah. A-hugh… Hakugh."

    I look down at the choking noise. My Mage Slayers -some of them anyway- punched clear through Zauriel's armour and mashed his lungs. Or whatever Angels use. Angels heal fast, don't they? I create another railgun construct and hold it up against his head before addressing my alter ego. "What the hell was that about?"

    My alter ego looks up, notices the arrow for the first time, nods at Artemis and then turns completely to face me. "I know they're a bunch of fuckwits, but they're my fuckwits… You know?" He sighs. "Lamprey still giving you trouble?"

    There's a roar from the hole in the floor. Could be pain or fury. Could be Kaldur, could be the other guy.

    "I can call him off. He's savage in a fight but he's completely loyal to Barracuda. Barracuda gave me the authority to give him orders."

    "Go on then."

    "But -and I realise that this is a big deal- I need you to let us go home in return."

    Zauriel tries to get up. I have a jack hammer construct slam right into his ribs- "Aaaaagh!" -and press him to the icy ground.

    "You've got the planeshifter."

    "And you've got people who can throw lightning and two fully charged power rings. The warm up for group shifts is several seconds. I might be able to hold you off but it's far more likely that you'd either break through or otherwise disrupt the process." He shrugs. "I feel like an arse doing this. Jonathan-"

    "Call me Ultraboy!"

    "-was just supposed to plant a beacon and leave." He turns back to the Young Offenders' leader. "I don't see anything very 'ultra' here. When we planned this-."

    "You said if there was something of significant value we could-!"

    "And what did you get out of this, other than an arse kicking? Because all I'm seeing is three wrecked OMACs." Looks like Jonathan can do surly discontent every bit as well as Kon. Doesn't have a come back, though.

    Lex walks up besides me. "You surely don't expect your people to get away with this?"

    "Zorina just put a kill switch in Rocket's head and Talon's on the ground floor with a rather large bomb he cobbled together from parts he found in your secure research area." He glances at Jonathan again. "Following the contingency plan like he was supposed to." Back to me. "His cybernetics give him very quick response times. Try to end this violently and this whole building comes down."

    "Your people have committed violent crimes against myself, my employees and our rescuers and now you're threatening-."

    He nods, sadly. "Yes. It's amazing how quickly you get used to it. Though.. if it sways you.. I can give you both the technology you'll need to block our planeshifter." He waits a moment. "Well? Does LexCorp central go out in a blaze of glory or can we come to terms?"

    I glance at Lex. The League aren't going to be happy about this, but… We can stop them coming back, no one's taken any lasting injuries. I might be able to stop a bomb going off, but there's a good chance that with all of these wards I couldn't get down to its location quickly enough. If that's even really there. Lex's jaw tightens very slightly. He must have been under a lot of stress to show emotion like that. A moment longer and he gives me a very shallow nod.

    "Ring, contact Aqualad."

    "Channel available."

    "Orange Lantern to Aqualad. We have a truce offer."

    "Power Ring to Lamprey. Break off and come to my-" Ice shatters as Lamprey.. surfaces through it. "-location, and stand down. This has gone on long enough."
     
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    12:11 GMT -5


    "Satisfied?"

    That.. was a very nasty bomb. Talon's face is immobile as Robin examines it. I don't know whether he's just got an unusual degree of self control or a result of his implant. Or immobility from the implantation process; it's subtle, but even without scanning him I can see how he's gelled his hair to disguise the surgical scars covering his head. I don't remember what his costume looked like in the comics. This one has a pale grey armoured bodysuit with a darker grey 'feathered' cape, each feather lined with red. And he's so small. I've grown accustomed to Robin but this is clearly a child. I'd find the idea of him fighting as ridiculous as I found the Damian Wayne version of Robin in the comics. And he built a bomb a good deal more powerful than my alter ego said it was using parts Lex had lying around.

    Robin stands up. "It's real, and it's disarmed." He turns his head to look at his opposite number. "Why did you do this?"

    "Ultraboy's revised mission profile was bound to fail. I had to create a contingency."

    His emotions are suppressed. That certainly isn't discipline. Or the implant. No, that's trauma. They've shrunk away so they can't be used against him.

    "You created a bomb to kill hundreds of people. I'm not even sure what some of this-."

    "Yes." Talon turns his head to look at me. "I have fulfilled our part of the agreement. I would like to leave now."

    "Why?"

    Talon's eyes unfocus slightly. "Rich-" I immediately create a soundproof and opaque barrier around us. "-ard Grayson. Have you wondered why I'm not you?"

    Robin doesn't look surprised that Talon knows who he is. "Things happened differently on your world. If there even was a 'Richard Grayson'."

    "There was. I remember him. And I saw the autopsy. Owlman-" There's a tiny tremor. "-liked using street people as test subjects. Richard Grayson died. Everyone else died. But I was the youngest. My brain could adapt better."

    "Who… Who are you?"

    "It doesn't matter." He turns to leave, his cape sweeping behind him. "I'm leaving."

    "You don't have to go back!" Talon stops next to my barrier. "If the world you come from is that crazy, there's no point in you going back. You could stay-!"

    "No point but the one I choose to make." He reaches out with his right hand and pushes against the barrier. "Lantern."

    I attach filaments to both of them and rapidly make the series of transitions necessary to take us back to the auditorium, where a decidedly uneasy peace has broken out. I drop Robin and Talon as Lamprey studies Kaldur with undisguised fascination. "Is that the Trident of Oceanus? I have seen it but I never had the courage to take it for myself."

    "It is the Trident of Neptune."

    "Ah. Of course. The revolt of the Low-Born against the Titans was successful here. And Arthur Curry-"

    "Orin."

    "-rules as King. And what was that I tasted in the boy's blood? Some.. form of alchemy…"

    My alter ego bows his head slightly. "Lamprey, you're creeping everyone out again. Knock it off."

    "My apologies, Seneschal."

    Kaldur takes the opportunity to study his opposite in return. I suppose that now we're not fighting one another it's only natural that there'd be some curiosity. "How did you become… This?"

    "I was taken from my home on Kadavu Island at a young age by shark-man raiders. Life as a slave did not suit me. I bided my time until an opportunity to escape presented itself and then used my owner's own magic against him. He was the first person I ate and I wear his skin even now." He runs his right hand over his armour, an expression of… Fondness? On his face. "His skull I presented to my Shogun as proof of my skill, and I have been his loyal vassal ever since."

    "Dakuwaqa is a peaceful deity. He would not approve of murder and.. cannibalism."

    "Here, perhaps. Our Dakuwaqa consumes his foes and makes their strength his. Once, a foolish Octopus Goddess confronted him at the height of his rage. Though she entangled him, he was able to taste her flesh and then shortly meet her arms with his own. He could match her while she had no way to match him." He pointedly looks around the still-frozen room. "Still, your magic is powerful. Perhaps it would be beneficial if I were to expand my diet."

    "Lamprey, what did I say?"

    Lamprey bows his head slightly and walks away. Kaldur turns to me. "The bomb?"

    "Made safe."

    Wallace looks up from the third OMAC. I repaired her organs and Zatanna's magic stripped the outer casing more gently than my blades could, but she's remained catatonic since. That might well have been my doing. I don't know. It could just as well have been the consequences of the invasive cybernetics. Hopefully STAR Labs can come up with something to help them. Having not seen Mister Lynch, Wallace is still reacting with shock to their appearance. "If the bomb's turned off, what's to stop us making you stay and pay for what you've done!?"

    "Same thing that keeps me on Earth a month after I knew I could leave with no consequence. Because we said they could. And from what I've seen Earth negative fourteen isn't exactly a soft option." To say nothing of the fact that they almost certainly know the secret identities of most -if not all- of the Justice League. I would not want these people in Belle Reve, even under Waller.

    I nod to Artemis and she sprays solvent on the rubbery material still coating Mary Mayhem's mouth. Mary claws at it, spitting and coughing as soon as her mouth is free. Her eyes blaze as she tries to burn us with the force of her hatred. Artemis backs off as quickly as she can without looking like she's afraid. "Oggar!" The air darkens and.. black.. lightning? Radiates out from her for a moment. When light can once again reach her she's back in her uniform, her fists balled and her breathing heavy.

    "Easy, Mayhem." Ultraboy looks at her. She meets his eyes for a moment and then turns away with a snort.

    "Well." The Blue Lantern smiles at our group. "This has been.. interesting, but-."

    Lex raises his eyebrows slightly. "Forgetting something?"

    "Ah. Yes. Let me get that for you." Two devices -looking like smaller versions of the thing we saw just before the OMAC attacked us in the corridor- appear just in front of myself and Lex. "Shouldn't be too hard for you to work out. If you put a few in orbit that should be enough to stop anyone planeshifting here using a device like the one we use."

    Lex delicately reaches out to take it but Mercy interposes herself with a shake of her head. He makes a barely audible snort, then indicates the device with a wave of his right hand. She wasn't happy about not being included in the attack, but having someone we aren't used to working with -particularly one inclined to shoot to kill as a first response- fighting alongside us was a recipe for disaster. She takes hold of the object and then steps back behind Lex. I attach a filament to mine and deposit it in my subspace pocket.

    My alter ego looks at me for a moment. I see a series of uncomfortable memories, fear and desperation all too evident. Then he tosses his head and returns his attention to his team mates. "If we're all ready?" He mostly gets grunts in return. I fixed Arrowette up but Zauriel can barely stand upright. Perhaps my Mage Slayers impeded his regeneration? Worth knowing. Blue Lantern takes the planeshifter out of subspace and appears to hesitate for a moment. When no one takes the opportunity to attack he actually manages a weak smile before making eye contact with me again. "I'll keep an eye out for any other versions of us."

    "Don't go to any trouble on my account."

    He dips his head again, then holds out the planeshifter and pulls the trigger. The purple afterimages appear once more, lingering for several seconds before they and their team finally disappear.

    Lex waits a moment or two, then smiles at the rest of us. "Orange Lantern, I'd like to thank your team for your assistance. I dread to think what would have happened if you hadn't been around to help. All of you, in fact."

    I nearly correct him and tell him that Kaldur is in charge. But no. "Job's not over quite yet, Mister Luthor. We still need to check the whole building for nasty surprises. And you need to deactivate the force field."

    "Of course. It's a fairly involved process, but I'll get started right away." He starts walking towards the door, then stops in front of Kon. He's looking at… Kon's shaven head. "I do hope you aren't trying to imitate me with that look, son. I treasured my hair while I had it and I advise you to do the same. My father Lionel was bald by my age. It seems to run in the male line."

    "I got Superman's hair. It'll grow back." Lex considers for a moment, then nods, pats Kon on his right shoulder and walks on. Kon watches him go for a moment and then turns back to me. "It will, right?"
     
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    19:31 GMT -5


    "…death today of the author Erasmus Fry in his home in…"

    I lean back into the settee, regarding with some amusement the intent expressions on the faces of Garth and Tula. Both of them prefer news programs to any form of entertainment surface media has to offer. I suppose this is a work placement for them; they're not so much 'off the clock' as studying surface culture.

    Batman pretty much ordered us back to the mountain after the LexCorp thing was resolved. Fortunately for myself and Zatanna, Nabu's busy doing.. something, and isn't here. That meant that I could justify not arguing the point with Batman to myself. Batman agreed that making the deal was the most sensible thing to do and will be passing on the designs for the planeshift blocker to 'corporations working with the League' for study and development. Could be Wayne Enterprises, could be Kord Tech. I can find out Tuesday which it is.

    "M'gann, what is it?" Over on the settee to my left, Kon nudges his girlfriend with his left elbow. "You've been distracted all day."

    M'gann looks up, then at him, then around the room as the rest of us turn our attention on her. "It's… Her. The other M'gann."

    "You're not hurt, are you?"

    "No, it…" She looks away for a moment. "When we were fighting, one of the things she said was…"

    Kaldur leans forward. "Whatever she said was most likely simply an attempt to undermine your self confidence."

    "Most of it was, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about…" She hesitates for a moment, ordering her thoughts. "I told you.. about Martian skin color."

    Kon nods, not quite getting it. "Yeah, but no one on Earth cares about what color Martians are."

    She smiles at him. "I know. It's just… I'm used to the idea that it matters. Seeing her just.. being White… She was offended by me pretending to be green and… I think she may have a point."

    Kon puts his left arm around her shoulders. "You can make your skin white if you want." He fidgets slightly. "Um, but maybe you could give the shark teeth a miss?"

    She chuckles. "Oh, I don't want to change how I look, just the color scheme. How about…" Green colour disappears across her visible skin in a ripple. There isn't any gradual fading, it just switches from medium green to the pearl white colour she wore when we were spending quality time with Mister J'aarkn. "I don't know. Does red hair work with this?"

    "If we're a public spectacle now-" I glance at the television screen where the cycling news headlines have switched back to a picture of our group outside of LexCorp after the mission was completed. "-it might be a good idea to have more.. visual distinction between Megan Morse and M'gann M'orzz."

    Kon shrugs. "Doesn't matter to me."

    She rolls her eyes. "Maybe I need to ask someone who's not a guy. Tula? Zatanna? Miss Reilly?"

    "Hm?" Tula jerks her head around. "I'm sorry, were you talking to me?"

    "Creating visual space between your costumed identity and your private identity is a sound move. I do not think I am.. properly equipped to render aesthetic judgement."

    Zatanna looks at M'gann's hair with a critical eye. "I don't think blonde would work with skin that white. What other color did you have in mind?"

    "I can make it any color." Her hair shifts from red to deep blue. "But last time I had my skin like this I made it black." It changes to black as I start to turn my attention away from the girl-talk and back to the screen.

    "…with Bialya. Queen Beatrice has not been seen in public for over a week, uncharacteristically cancelling several scheduled appearances."

    "That's odd. I mean, she needs to be around people for her mind control pheromones to work."

    Danni keeps looking at the screen as well. "Pheromones are not her sole means of enforcing her rule."

    "No, but a thinking dictator has to at least try and keep people on side."

    "Palace staff were quick to deny rumours that their monarch was in poor health, saying instead that she was 'focusing her energies on the governance of her people'."

    "Appearing in public at anything less than her best would risk giving the impression of weakness. She will most likely not do so until her burns have healed."

    I frown. "Burns?"

    Without turning she holds up her right fist and ignites the air around it. "Burns."

    O-kay.

    "…try black out for a while." Looks like M'gann's gone back to monochrome. I think it works, but I don't really know anything about colour matching. I wear orange with everything, for goodness sake.

    "I wonder what happened to the other versions of-" Garth glances at Tula. "-us."

    Kaldur considers for a moment. "It would be unrealistic to assume that all of us have surviving alter egos. And I would not be quick to regret the lack of such an encounter. I do not think that I would surprise anyone by saying that I was extremely disturbed by 'Lamprey's'.. dietary preferences."

    M'gann frowns at him. "Who's.. 'Arthur Curry'?"

    Ah, that's.. interesting. All three Atlanteans looked uncomfortable at the mention of that name. I know King Orin doesn't really use it any more but I don't see why it would be a problem.

    The other two look to Kaldur to respond. "Why do you ask?"

    "When Lamprey called Aquaman that, I could feel how angry you were. But, Aquaman's name is Orin…"

    The Atlanteans exchange glances and it looks like Kaldur gets volunteered. "My King… His father was not Atlantean, and he was not born in Atlantis."

    "Really?"

    "I'm taking Tom Curry to meet his new grandson on Monday." I shrug at M'gann's puzzlement. "He's a baseline Human; couldn't take the pressure on his own, or breathe the water."

    Kaldur inclines his head slightly. "King Orin is the elder son of our previous queen, Queen Atlanna and.. an American Harbor Master named Thomas Curry. King Orin grew up in a town named Amnesty Bay on the coast of Maine."

    Zatanna looks interested. "They weren't married?"

    "No." Kaldur actually looks uncomfortable. "King Orin was two when Queen Atlanna married General Theon, Orm's father. Few in the Atlantean court even knew that Orin existed until well after King Theon's death. When Queen Atlanna announced that she was designating as her heir her son by a surface worlder rather than the son of a popular General whom most had assumed would succeed her…"

    "It didn't go down particularly well."

    Garth nods. "That is a significant understatement. My parents talked about it with me once; there were moves in the Senate to have her decision overturned."

    Zatanna's eye flick from one Atlantean to another. "Could they do that?"

    Tula nods. "Atlantis is a democracy. Sort of. Individual City-States send representatives to the national Senate in Poseidonis and the Senate makes the laws. Some Senators are elected by the citizens of their cities, some are appointed by the city's rulers…"

    Garth huffs. "Nanaue's Senators have to fight for their seats."

    Kaldur nods. "The Senate could in theory have overridden her, but they were reluctant to do so. There is a balance of power between the Senate and the Crown, and so blatant an interference would have violated that. As such, the motion was unable to gather sufficient support to be passed. Those who disagree most vehemently with the decision made it their custom to refer to King Orin as 'Arthur Curry' in an attempt to indicate that he was not truly Atlantean and as such should not be a candidate for the throne."

    "The files my alter ego gave me say that their version of Aquaman has no problem being called by his surface name. I doubt Lamprey had any idea that it would be a problem to call him that."

    Kaldur nods. "I realize that. But my emotional response to hearing.. me.. call him that was not guided by dispassionate analysis."

    I nod and lean back into the settee. "Anyone have any idea how long Batman wants us to stay here?"
     
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  5. Threadmarks: Prayer
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Prayer

    7th February
    07:17 GMT -5


    "Would you like me to help you with that, sir?"

    Thomas Curry looks around from his chest of drawers for a moment and sighs. "I can manage perfectly well. The other two are bad enough but it'll be a sad day when Tom Curry can't carry his own pack."

    I was half-expecting someone older, but I suppose with King Orin only being twenty nine there was no reason why his father would be old old. He's fifty three and still physically fit. His hair's grey and his bushy beard puts me in mind of how my own father wore his in my youth.

    The 'other two' being his Atlantean close protection officers.. or whatever they're properly called. Seeing as the king's father had no desire to live in what they considered an adequately secure environment they ended up having to move here to Amnesty Bay. They have to work their cover too. I suppose their resulting unusual familiarity with surface world culture might open up interesting opportunities for them as Atlantean-Surface World relations become closer. One of them -Alpheus- is awaiting our return to the kitchen with Mister Curry's wife, Mary Curry née Sullivan. The other bodyguard couldn't justify taking time off from his cover job to join us.

    I never really had any interest in Aquaman in the comic so I've got no idea if that version of him had as many land-dwelling relatives as the one I know does. One much younger half-brother, currently at college, along with several cousins living in and around the Amnesty Bay area. Aquaman doesn't exactly have a secret identity but knowledge that Arthur Curry equals Orin is a secret, if only to make sure the rest of the clan have some privacy and don’t become target-of-the-week for supervillains with a grudge against him.

    Mister Curry checks his hair in the mirror, lifts the holdall over his shoulder and then turns around. "Alright then… What was your name again?" I hold up a business card. He frowns at it then at me before dismissing the oddity. "Lead on, Paul."

    I nod and exit his bedroom, starting the walk down the staircase. The Curry family home is the old lighthouse keeper's cottage. Apparently Mister Curry's forebears used to operate it before the network was automated. The lighthouse itself is still in use and from the various pictures and nautical knickknacks attached to the walls I gather that this is something of a source of pride. Thinking about it, it can't have been easy, a single man with a full time job which often requires significant amounts overtime bringing up a child more or less on his own.

    As I enter the kitchen I nod to Alpheus. This isn't in any way a high risk journey and I'm going to be there. Missus Curry also won't be joining us so it'll just be the three of us. As I understand it, King Orin always regarded Queen Atlanna as being his real mother and while relations between them aren't bad exactly they aren't particularly close.

    "I'll be off then, Mary." Mister Curry crosses the kitchen and embraces his wife. "Should be back in time for dinner."

    She leans in and kisses him on the cheek. "Give Arthur and Mera my best. And little Artur too."

    "I will."

    I hadn't realised that 'Artur' was even a name before Kaldur told me that was what the new prince was called. Still, I suppose it was a lucky escape; one more letter and he'd have been 'Prince Junior'.

    Mister Curry smiles fondly at his wife as he pulls away, turning towards the back door. Alpheus exits first and I notice him do a quick check for possible threats before stepping aside from the door for Mister Curry to pass. To keep with the secrecy thing I'm wearing clothes which contain no orange along with a black bobble hat. And glasses. I mean, they work for Superman, right?

    The local zeta tube terminus isn't anywhere near the lighthouse. It would be too hard to disguise the electricity consumption if it was connected to the town's energy grid and fairly difficult to hide the electromagnetic and heat radiation if it had its own system. Similarly, I could transfer us straight to Poseidonis but the orange glow was judged to be too much of a risk. Instead, we're going for a short drive in Mister Curry's car down towards the docks where the zeta tube terminal is housed in a warehouse owned -through a front company- by the Atlantean crown. They do occasionally use it for its alleged purpose but it's mostly here for King Orin's benefit.

    Amnesty Bay isn't a big harbour but it is just about big enough to cope with smaller container ships and has much lower docking fees than the larger port cities of Portland or Portsmouth to the south. Most of what goes out here is manufactured goods heading towards Europe and the constant demand is more than enough to keep the docks and the local workforce busy. Back home… No idea if this place exists. If it does it's probably been hit pretty hard by the recession. I did a quick check here and apparently 'sub prime' mortgages were never a thing here due to some unusually farsighted legislation that attracted a surprising amount of cross-bench support. Even free market friendly Senators and Congresspeople have been heard publicly talking of the need to avoid perverse incentives in a way that only happened post-crash back home.

    I really need to get around to looking into why.

    As Harbour Master, Mister Curry does have a legitimate reason for checking up on warehouses near the waterfront. If anyone asks that's exactly what we're doing. If anyone watches they'll probably be curious about why we walked into a warehouse and didn't come out for twelve hours but if anyone's that interested then we're probably rumbled anyway. As it is no one's around when we get out of the car and Alpheus heads towards the door, the key for the padlock already in his hand.

    We follow him inside. It's hard to spot unless you know what you're looking for, but this building is designed to shield any emissions generated within from external detection. A shipping container over to my right contains an Atlantean lightning generator and the transformer required to turn that into power a circuit can usefully use. Sephtian and I could probably replace the generator with something a fraction of the size… But if we're going to aim to replace the network anyway there probably isn't much point. I had some trouble explaining to Sephtian exactly how much electrical energy the surface world uses. Atlanteans don't, for obvious reasons. Since I'm.. fairly sure that I want to introduce a xenotech power generation system rather than a magitech one I don't think I'll bother focusing on that.

    Alpheus pulls open the doors to the shipping container holding the zeta tube. This isn't part of the main system; it's strictly point to point. Too much risk of someone putting two and two together if they walk in on something. Mister Curry looks the device over as I give it a scan. No problems that I can detect. Alpheus pulls a lever and the interior of the tube runs through its start up sequence.

    I wave my left hand and connect myself to Mister Curry with a thick line of orange, extending an environmental shield around him. He looks at it and then turns over to me. "What.. exactly should I expect?"

    I shrug. "You'll be able to walk around with little more difficulty than you can on the surface. And breathe normally and speak normally. Though.. I ttthink they're setting up an air-room for you."

    "Are you going to be hanging around all day?"

    "I'll be one guard among many, Mister Curry."

    He nods. "I suppose privacy's one of those things kings have to do without."

    "Three." This zeta tube actually has a count down. "Two. One."

    7th February
    10:17 GMT -2


    And we're in the water before the Poseidonis tube. Mister Curry doesn't start, but he does look a little apprehensively curious about the situation. Alpheus on the other hand looks a little happier. Purebloods don't need constant exposure to water but they certainly prefer it. "If you're ready, sir?" He hesitates for a moment, then nods. Plot route, open a tube and transition.

    And we're inside the palace, near the royal quarters. After the incident last year where Ocean Master and his followers were basically able to swim into the royal bedchambers they've upgraded security somewhat; I certainly couldn't transition directly inside there any longer. The guards outside tense for a moment, but a moment later recognise us -it's probably the orange glow- and one of them turns to press the rune on the doorway.

    Another swims forwards. "Identify yourselves, please."

    "Guardsman Alpheus, with Thomas Curry and Orange Lantern, here to see their majesties."

    The guard raises some sort of runic stone and waves it at us. He looks at it for a moment and then nods. "Identities confirmed." He turns his attention to Mister Curry. "Welcome to Atlantis, sir. This way please-."

    The door opens and King Orin swims out towards his father, smiling broadly. "Dad! Glad you could make it."

    For a moment Mister Curry Senior tries to swim up to his son's level. Realising that he can't, he waits for King Orin to drop to floor level in front of him. "As if I'd miss this." They embrace, and I note that their beards follow the same contours along their faces. "Mary sends her love. Now, where's this grandson of mine?"
     
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    09:43 GMT -5


    I nod. It's not really a surprise but I had rather hoped they would choose differently. "Well, if that's your choice, Mister Lynch, Miss Barstow. I'm sure that LexCorp will do everything they can to help you."

    Lex favours them with a paternal smile. "Of course. It's the very least a mere businessman can do to try to live up to the reputation of so heroic an alter ego."

    On Earth negative fourteen Lex Luthor is famous for his tireless struggle against the Crime Syndicate. Neither Noah Lynch nor Vienna Barstow knew that the Management had been defeated. Once I told them about the role he played in it they both decided that they'd rather stay with LexCorp for their treatment rather than go to STAR Labs, which on negative fourteen is some sort of Syndicate front company. If I had hard evidence I could present them about Lex's nefarious associates I might have been able to talk them out of it, but… I know that if someone is a hero on a negative parallel they're probably a villain on a positive one, but try explaining that logically to someone. You'd sound like an idiot. And my lack of a smoking gun is why I'm uncertain about how I should deal with Lex.

    Huh. Maybe negative fourteen Lex isn't actually any different to ours and he just happened to be right in his suspicions of superhumans?

    The two former OMACs look at each other. They're holding hands but all of the yellow… It's not a romantic gesture, it just so happens that the other person is the only one who knows what horrors they've gone through. Physically, they look to be in good condition. I think? There's a certain.. Sasha Bordeaux to them. Their skin is grey tinted as nanogoo grey replaces blood red. Mister Lynch is still noticeably darker and his-.

    "Akg." He closes his eyes, tilting his head down and putting his free hand over his eyes. "It's… It's doing it again."

    Miss Barstow looks towards the LexCorp medical researchers who are hurrying towards him. "Doctor?!"

    Doctor Kelley reaches him first, some sort of highly detailed optical scanner in her hand. "Mister Lynch, I need you to show me." He hesitates. "Can you do that?"

    "Uh. Yeah, yeah." He slowly moves his hand away from his eyes and looks up, wincing as he does so. His eyes are red in pupil and iris. Like the symbol on his chest used to be.

    "Hmm." The doctor moves in for a closer look and brings up her scanner. "Are you in any pain?"

    "No, not… Not much."

    "Any changes in your visual field?"

    "Yeah, it's like… Every time I look at something, the eyes're telling me what it is and how much of a threat it is. Telling me how to kill it."

    "I see. What's it saying about me?"

    He stares directly at her for a moment. "Civilian doctor. It thinks snapping your neck is the best way to kill you but that using you as a Human shield would be better. If I… I'm sorry, Orange Lantern, but when I look at you it starts freaking out. Messages… I can't look at you without getting the worst headache."

    Lex nods as Doctor Kelley continues her examination. "Doctor, I think we should leave you to it. Orange Lantern..?" He motions towards the door with his right hand.

    I nod as Mister Lynch is helped onto a gurney and wheeled towards a CT scanner. Miss Barstow remains latched to his side the whole time. "I'll let the League know that you're in good hands." I turn away as the medics start attaching monitors and walk out through the door.

    Lex follows on behind me, Mercy lurking behind him. "I don't suppose there's any chance we could have access to the one who killed himself? A dissection would allow us to gather all manner of data that we can't ethically get from living specimens."

    "Lex, the League are unhappy enough about this already. The best I could do was get Batman to promise that STAR Labs will share what they find. And they expect you to do the same in return."

    "Of course."

    I take a look around the corridor. "How are the repairs going?"

    "We estimate a month and a half until work is complete." He holds out his right hand without looking around. "Mercy, do you have-?" She hands him a tablet and he looks it over. "We only finished the security sweeps yesterday evening. We're hiring temporary office space to keep things running until the place is liveable again."

    "Find any of those… Pyramid things?"

    He presses the tablet. "No. Here." He passes it to me. It's showing what looks like security camera footage of one of them. "If you press 'play'…" I do. The timestamp runs forwards and with a purple blur the device shimmers and then vanishes. I press pause. The time is near as makes little difference to the time where my other self returned the Young Offenders to negative fourteen. "You see it?"

    I nod. "Which means they're probably somewhere on negative fourteen now."

    "Do you know if they appear in the same place, spatially?"

    "It seems like a logical assumption, but I really don't know."

    "I'm merely concerned that we may have inadvertently unleashed a group of superhuman thugs on my alter ego's place of work."

    I shake my head. "Ultraman took possession of the building years ago. These days Lex Luthor works out of the White House."

    "President Luthor?" He looks mildly amused by the idea. "I can't say I'd given the idea much thought…"

    "Vice President, though I'm told he's favourite for two thousand and twelve." I hand the tablet back and generate a construct image of Lex negative fourteen in full armour.

    "A rather dashing figure." He breathes out a little heavily. "Now, on to less pleasant matters-."

    "Why did you ward the whole building?" A slight grimace. "I could have wrapped this whole thing up in under a minute if you hadn't. Who did you even get to do it?"

    "Who… Is simpler. His name is Linton Smith-."

    !!!

    "Papa Midnite? You seriously got Papa Midnite in here?"

    "Until he's convicted of something, he's a legitimate businessman."

    "That doesn't make it a good idea. Did you know that he-?"

    Lex makes a placatory gesture. "Having.. seen his place of work I can understand your reservations, but if I may explain?" I nod. "LexCorp is.. my citadel. I spoke to you before of my distaste for the Justice League… If my worst fears were ever realized, if they ever turned on humanity, I need to know that this place is secure against whoever might assail it. The wards are a part of that, to allow us to better withstand assault from magic users or, yes-" He looks directly at me. "-Lanterns. It wasn't aimed at you specifically, but I couldn't risk trying to add an exception as I did with… Enginehead."

    "If it's that secure-."

    "There's a master override. I mistook Ultraboy for my son and his Martian for a Human. I invited them into my office-."

    "And you didn't have any blue kryptonite on hand." He nods. "Okay, that.. makes sense, but what was with all of the power armour I saw?"

    He taps the tablet rapidly and then hands it back to me. "Do you know what this is?"

    I hadn't seen this exact picture before, but yes. "Project Rocket Red. The AK forty seven of power armour. Nothing too exciting but highly mechanically reliable and cheap. Sort of. If they ever get it working properly."

    "They're close, and I don't want the SVR to have been peering over my shoulder when they finally crack it." He smiles. "Not everything I do is about the Justice League, you know."
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    23:21 GMT -5


    "Who ya tryin'n get crazy with, ese?"

    I frown slightly as I pull my mobile phone from my pocket with my right hand. What does he want?

    "Don't cha know I'm loco?"

    I drop the people smuggler I was holding in my left hand to the floor, where he reflexively curls up to protect his severely bruised stomach. In all probability Gotham is merely the point of arrival for the people he brings in before they are taken on to other locations in the US, but I find it amusing to believe instead that Gotham is so miserable a city that the inhabitants pay to be smuggled away from it.

    I find myself moving along to the rhythm of the brief instrumental section as I look for my partner-cum-supervisor. "Robin, you got this, right? I need to answer this."

    "To da one.. on da flamboyant tip."

    Oh, rude of me. I send an orange beam to connect to each of the fallen thugs -not that many really- and handcuff them.

    "I'll just toss that ham in the fryin' pan like spam."

    Richard looks at the people collapsed at my feet and strewn across the room. "How bad did you-?"

    "Just bruises!"

    "Get done when I come.. and slam."

    One man tries to rise to his feet, only to yelp in pain and collapse. "Okay, hairline fracture on that guy's left metatarsal, but that's it." His own fault for not having a proper grip on his crowbar, really.

    "Damn! I feel like the Son of Sam."

    "Just… Answer it."

    "Ta." I walk out towards the warehouse car park. I really think we've… If not actually bonded bonded, at least gained a greater appreciation for one another's style of working during my time in Gotham. Really, I just suggested it in order to suck up to Batman but it's been kind of fun.

    "Don't make me wreck shit-."

    Answer.

    The song cuts out and is replaced with silence. "Grayven here." Filter sound.

    By your command.

    "I'm free to talk. What's up?"

    "I wish to talk with you.. on behalf of our friends.. on a matter that has arisen."

    "Come on Brain, no need to talk around the subject." I walk through the loading area and out into the Gotham night. Thing about Brain is that without a body he just hooks a broadcaster up to his speech synthesiser. No background sound at all, not even crackling as wind passes over the receiver. "What is it?"

    "You no doubt recall that your entry into the Light is contingent on you removing Klarion from our number?"

    "Not likely to forget. Got Savage's little mutant hurry-up as well. I told you it would take a while when you gave me the job."

    "And you did not.. perhaps.. make some mistake with regard to the identity of your target?"

    Where's he.. going.. with this? "Don't.. think so..? The boy with the pale skin and the horn-hair? Glows purple when he hooks himself up to that Djinn thing?"

    "That is indeed his appearance. What is concerning to myself and my colleagues is that you have taken action against another of our number. While I acknowledge that you gave no formal undertaking that you would not do so, we had rather assumed that we would have a truce as we worked towards greater cooperation?"

    I shrug. "Yes? I mean, Savage's thing was somewhat annoying but it wasn't a major threat."

    "You mean to say that you have not been active in Bialya?"

    "Haven't been back since our meeting." Oh, wait. "Did Queen Beena try sending a snatch squad after the Logans?"

    "Something of that nature."

    Heh. "If the drones I had on guard duty actually hit anything I'll pay compensation. It was really just supposed to be a warning shot."

    "You can pay compensation to a dead woman, Mister Grayven?"

    What? "What?"

    "Queen Bee is dead, Mister Grayven."

    Shit. Even if I was going to kill my way through the Light I probably wouldn't have killed her. I know all too well the chaos that follows when you remove a Middle Eastern dictator. "How the hell did that happen?"

    "We are not entirely certain. Her.. personal assistant was somewhat distraught and not able to coherently answer. Not to mention that she is in the custody of the Quraci police."

    Fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck. "What do you know?"

    "She and her late employer crossed the border, hired an unmarked car from a local firm and drove to the Logan Animal Sanctuary. When they arrived Queen Bee instructed her to wait in the car. Shortly after Queen Bee exited the vehicle she was entirely destroyed by some form of energy weapon. The description of the weapon employed matches the description of your own combat drones."

    "What did the silly cow do that for?"

    "Possibly she was seeking to make good on the threat she made to your Martian friend? She did not volunteer that information to us ahead of time, Mister Grayven. And it is somewhat difficult to learn her mind after the fact."

    "But she must have known that threat was a dud as soon as I left? The only way I could maintain my position here was to nullify it. I just assumed she'd send a few squads or something, the drones would open fire at long range and they'd get a clue and fall back. She's… She's definitely dead, right?"

    "Unless your drone weapons have some other function of which I am not aware."

    "Well… Shit."

    "As you say."

    Ah, and it was shaping up to be such a nice evening. "Sooooooo… Guess I'm getting blackballed, then."

    "I would not assume that. Men such as ourselves tend to have a somewhat pragmatic view of mortality. While the instructions you gave to your weapons were ill-considered, if what you say is true then the fault lies in the most part with her."

    "Wait, seriously?"

    "I will.. investigate the matter further before speaking with my colleagues. Though.. if I may make the observation..? It is wise for you to deal with our Chaos Lord problem before that, is it not?"

    Fuck my complete lack of concrete leads. "Yeah, I'll… Prioritise it."

    "I will look forward to your success. Good evening, Mister Grayven."

    "'Bye, Brain." Oh, he's already gone. Arse. I put the phone back in my pocket. What did she have to go and do that for? I give it a week -two at the outside- before the civil war starts. And she wasn't even a particularly bad ruler! Mind control greases the wheels of government wonderfully. None of that shutting-down-the-country-because-a-room-full-of-adults-can't-agree-on-a-budget nonsense. She had a man publically flogged for trying that!

    But the social collapse isn't my problem unless I feel like marrying her sister and claiming the country myself.



    No.

    Ugh. How the hell am I going to kill Klarion within a reasonable timeframe? I mean, theoretically I could get mystically resilient enough to do it myself eventually but I wouldn't want to chance it anytime soon. Atlantean anti-magic gear is nowhere near strong enough to pull off something like that. There's no way Constantine would help me now, not after the Shadow Dog thing… Well, not without him stabbing me in the back as well. My search for high end mystic artefacts hasn't led me to anything I'd want to depend on. Rumours? What are the chances some crazy Nazi wizard really has the Spear of Destiny? No one in Klarion's weight class owes me any favours…

    The Ophidian?

    I consider for a moment the probable consequences of unleashing the Embodiment of Avarice on the Earth. Nooo. Quite aside from what it would do to me I'm not ready for the fight with Larfleeze that would inevitably trigger. Ugh, I'm going to have to go and have a chat with Nabu, aren't I?
     
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th February
    17:43 GMT -5


    I may not really be able to be physically tired when I'm wearing the ring but the exhaustion I experienced early today appears to be lingering in my mind. I'm not quite sure how I got roped into this but Jade's fellow inmates appear to be finding it amusing and I suppose that justifies it well enough.

    On the other side of the work surface Madison makes eye contact for a second as she adds the pine nuts to the couscous. "'sup with you? I though you said you didn't get tired."

    "I skipped a class and Diana… Wonder Woman made me run a marathon this morning." And afternoon. My construct knife cuts into the red pepper, neatly removing the stalk part.

    Jade stops next to me to check my work over my shoulder. "That's only twenty five miles. You should-."

    "A hundred and fifty." Slice in half, scrape the insides of seeds and flanges, put both halves onto the baking tray and pick up the next pepper. "The only reason why she didn't make me run the other leg as well is because I told her I was coming here."

    "Hm." She checks the tray and then picks it up to take it to the ovens.

    At least Madison looks impressed. "A hundred and fifty miles?"

    "From Athens to Sparta. What's particularly annoying-" Slice. "-about it-" Slice, plonk, new pepper. "-is that the Amazons went into isolation a thousand years before the journey the event's based on is supposed to have happened so there's no way she can know that's how far it actually was."

    "Thought you could fly?"

    "She confiscated the rings." I hold my left hand up and wiggle it. "Just had to use my legs." And post re-testosteroning I've become a bit wary about having the ring alter my mind. Hence, tiredness.

    Jade slams the oven door shut and then looks at me. "Less talking, more working."

    "Am I even allowed in here?"

    "You can leave whenever you want."

    "You couldn't replace me. No one else would volunteer for this."

    She gives me a small smile and an expression of scepticism. "Is that so?"

    "When most men think about women's prison? This isn't the bit they're thinking about." On my left the woman weighing out the olives… Reilly, that was her name. She snorts. "How come you've gone full vegetarian, anyway? I know you used to be fine eating meat."

    "You can't get meat worth eating for what New England's prepared to pay for prison meals. I'm just glad this place still has its own kitchens."

    Reilly nods. "Guess we're even cheaper than contractors."

    Madison passes her bowl along the production line and picks up the next couscous bowl to strain it. "Bet we eat better though."

    "No need to convince me. You can't even sell American meat in Europe because of all the crap they add to it."

    Jade takes a quick look around the kitchen. Dinner is getting served at half past six for the one hundred and sixty eight women housed here, as well as the thirty or so members of staff. The two guards over by the door have been watching me but that's mostly because I'm the only interesting thing happening here. The main course appears to be ratatouille and there's some sort of fruit jelly for pudding. Seeing nothing that requires her attention, Jade walks back to my station. "Why are you visiting today?"

    "Well. Month and a half to go. Doesn't seem to be much chance of you getting shanked." She pointedly looks away from me. "Given much thought to what you're going to do with yourself?"

    "I've considered my options."

    "Going.. back to.. Gotham? I mean.. I know that-."

    "You managed to get just about everyone I ever worked with arrested?"

    "Yes. I mean, if you're thinking about taking the chef thing forwards it's a great place to use your knife skills legally."

    Madison looks up as she picks up the couscous filled strainer and returns the grains to the bowl. "Knife skills?"

    Jade turns her head back towards me and gives me a warning look. Has she not..? "Knife skills I'm shutting up about." She relaxes again.

    "So…" Reilly looks from Jade to me and back again. "How long you two been together?"

    Madison shakes her head. "They're not."

    Reilly gives her a look of disbelief. "You being serious? He's here every week."

    "I have a lot of free time."

    Jade looks a little.. less annoyed. "What were you doing this week? There was something on the news about LexCorp."

    "Fighting robots, traps and evil parallel universe versions of my friends."

    "Am I included in that?"

    "There wasn't a version of you, buuuut…" I generate a construct. "There was this picture in the files my own opposite number gave me. Calls herself Sai."

    "That's original." Jade takes a closer look. "Nice mask though."

    "I'm not sure whether she's you or not."

    "Wait." Reilly take a fresh look at Jade. "You a supervillain or something?"

    "No." I remove the construct. "Her lawyer was very clear about that."

    "Oh. So does that mean-?"

    I turn to Jade, keeping half an eye on the peppers as I have the ring handle the chopping coordination. "See, I know this guy in Belle Reve. His name's Leonard Snart, Captain Cold. Man's a technological genius. Regularly beaten by his father growing up, barely passed S-. High School. No higher education at all. Somehow during his first period of incarceration he managed to learn enough about low temperature physics to make a freeze ray. Point, fire, zero degrees Kelvin."

    Jade looks a little interested. "I always thought he stole it."

    "Stole the parts but it's his own design. Heck, I know Batman thinks those Ice Fortresses were a joint effort, Mister Freeze, Icicle, Killer Frost, Icicle Junior and him working together. But I've spent a lot of time in the one I'm using on the North Pole and I'd say the design was eighty to ninety percent him."

    "Is this the 'why doesn't he sell it and make millions legally' speech?"

    "No, because I know why. I was going to try to work with him, but… Then I got a look at him. Now, he's not completely.. instinctively hostile. This is the guy who organises the Central City Rogues. His social skills are actually pretty good. When he's got an enemy. See, growing up.. like that? His primary caregiver hitting him… Randomly. That meant his brain developed.. constantly looking out for where the next thump was coming from. Put him up against the police or the Flash and he can function fine. Put him in an office and he wouldn't be able to cope. The lack of an aggressor would drive him bananas constantly looking for something that isn't there."

    Jade looks at me through narrowing eyes. Oh, she gets it. "He sounds like a mess."

    I nod. "He is, rather. Any ideas on how I could approach him?"
     
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  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th February
    20:02 GMT -5


    "Dana, hi!"

    Kaldur looks around as I wave towards the door. "Are you certain that this is wise?"

    "Nope!"

    "That is not reassuring."

    Dana spots my arm, waves back a little hesitantly and heads in our direction. She's dressed… Not quite date clothes, but certainly nicer than her breaking and entering clothes. Kaldur wasn't that hard to convince and it's not as if he had other plans tonight. Zatanna's doing homework and -hooray- only two more days until Nabu fucks off back to wherever. Diana's next on the rotation.

    "Hey.. guys." Dana walks up to our table and I wave my right hand at the seat across from us. "Thanks… Have you ordered yet?"

    "We have not. I.. cannot read French."

    Dana picks up a menu and opens it. "I can't either, but you can usually-."

    "Oh, sorry, right." I connect filaments to each of them and activate the ring's translator.

    Dana and Kaldur's eyes flash orange for a second. Dana blinks heavily for a moment and then looks anew at the menu. "What..? It's in English."

    "Power rings have an automatic translator feature. Otherwise a Lantern would have to learn every language spoken in their assigned Sector in order to do their job."

    "That's amazing."

    I give her a little frown. "They have built in faster than light travel as well."

    "But it's connecting to my mind. Can it transmit whole databases?"

    "E-errrr… It can transmit images, certainly. I don't think dumping an entire database into your brain would be a good idea."

    "But it's translating written words. I'm actually seeing something different."

    "I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I think the change happens in your visual cortex rather than your optic nerve. Your brain gets an instruction to interpret this signal as one thing rather than another. If you took a photograph of it then it would still be in French."

    "There are Atlantean spells which can achieve the same effect, though translations for spoken words are easier."

    Dana nods, setting the menu aside. "Aqualad, right? I've only seen pictures…"

    "That is the title given to me by my king. My name is Kaldur'ahm. Please, call me Kaldur."

    "Okay. Kaldur. I.. sort of assumed that Orange-" I hold my hands out to the side palms upwards and make a sad face. "-Paul would have trouble convincing anyone to talk to me."

    Kaldur's eyes flick down. How.. often does he deal with surface world people outside of a professional capacity? I feel a bit bad for not really paying attention to it before now. "Speaking with you is no great burden, though I wish to make clear that there are some matters I cannot discuss."

    "Oh, no problem."

    "Would Madam or Sirs like anything to drink?"

    We all look around at the waiter standing next to the table. "Orange juice for me, please."

    Kaldur hesitates for a moment before glancing at the drinks list. "Cola, please."

    "Glass of house red?" The waiter nods and heads off towards the bar. "So are you guys not supposed to drink or what?"

    "Neither of us are old enough to legally drink within the State of New York."

    "Seriously?"

    "I'm eighteen and Kaldur's sixteen." I turn my head to look at him. "Your birthday's in July, right?"

    "The Atlantean calendar is a little different, but, yes."

    "I just.. kind of assumed you were older than that."

    "It is a little difficult to distill alcohol in Atlantis."

    "Well, yeah, I.. suppose it would be."

    "In our society a person is considered to be an adult at sixteen. If we had alcoholic beverages I would be permitted to consume them."

    "I can't believe the age limit is actually twenty one."

    "It got changed in nineteen eight five after the National Minimum Drinking Age Act got through Congress."

    "I'd have thought that if you can trust someone to act responsibly with a power ring you could probably trust them to drink responsibly."

    "Does such a law not violate the twenty first Amendment to the Constitution?"

    "No, because…" She looks away for a moment. "Hang on, I remember this…"

    "The Act cuts off highways funding to States where the age isn't twenty one. They can have it lower if they don't mind losing the money… But it's a lot of money."

    Kaldur nods. "I see."

    "Can't help but wonder what would happen if they tried getting around the Second Amendment in the same way."

    Dana shakes her head. "It would kill the career of anyone who tried. Oh, thank you." The waiter leans over the table and hands out our drinks. "So, how old were you both when you started?"

    "Seventeen."

    "It depends what you consider to be 'starting'."

    "Wait a second. Should we order a starter now?" The waiter hesitates.

    Kaldur returns his attention to the menu. "Did Mister Luthor recommend anything in particular?"

    "He said either the grilled asparagus or the oysters." I shake my head. "I'm just going to go with the garlic mushrooms."

    "I think I will have the oysters, thank you."

    Dana's eyes widen. "Luthor Lex Luthor Luthor?"

    "Yes, we've worked together on a few things. Are you having-?"

    "Um. Asparagus?" The waiter nods and leaves the table once more. Dana returns her attention to Kaldur. "You were saying..?"

    "I began training with King Orin when I was fourteen after assisting him in combat with Ocean Master. Before that I was a student at the Conservatory of Sorcery in Poseidonis."

    "That's the capital city, isn't it?" He nods. "Do.. Atlanteans even.. have superheroes?"

    "Not precisely, no. I was training to become a battlemage before I came to my king's attention. Had things been different I would be undergoing my first field lessons now."

    I smile quietly to myself. Looks like Roy was right; give him something familiar to talk about and he opens up. Okay, so I've got just under an half an hour before Ted phones me with an emergency which requires my attention and I have to leave Kaldur in Dana's hands. Will I have time to finish the starter?
     
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    08:22 GMT -6


    There's a certain ghoulish fascination to the spectacle unfolding in front of me. Having realised that Teth Adom was almost guaranteed to be the new ruler of Kahndaq when the revolution finishes and that several members of the League had pretty good relations with him, someone from the State Department put a phone call in to the Themysciran Embassy. As a result, Teth Adom is getting a lecture on the wonders of democracy.

    From Captain Marvel.

    "…and that's how laws get made!" He looks rather pleased with himself. "Any questions?"

    Adom's not really making any facial expression at all. That's not necessarily a bad sign, that's pretty much his default for everything. But I don't think he found the argument nearly as convincing as William was aiming for. He thinks for a moment longer and then nods. "How long does that process usually take?"

    "Ah, well, it can vary a lot."

    He nods. "The committee stage makes sense to me. A proposal to alter national law should be reviewed by learned men." His eyes drift past me and over to the empowered Mary Bromfield who's sitting next to me. "Or women. I would have thought that there would be some difficulties in having each committee divided between two opposing political groupings, but perhaps that is to ensure that only important changes upon which there is broad agreement are made."

    We're sitting in a lecture theatre on the campus of the Fawcett City college. Mary Bromfield, Frederick Freeman and I are sitting a few rows back, Adom's near the front and William is standing in the lecturer's spot, a labelled diagram of the US governmental system on the display screen behind him. The doors are locked but I can see more than a few interested faces through the glass panels.

    "Oh, they can negotiate. I know having two political parties looks like it's going to jam things up but every Senator and Representative is their own person with their own constituencies. They don't just vote on party lines the whole time."

    Something about that doesn't sit quite right with Adom. "Negotiate?"

    "Yeah, you know. One guy wants support for his Bill and another guy wants support for his, so, they agree to vote for each other's Bills if the other guy votes for theirs."

    A tiny frown. Yikes. "They… Haggle? Like traders in a market place?"

    "Well…" Marvel realises that he's misstepped, his right hand going to the back of his head. "Kind of?"

    "And… If they are able to agree, it is passed on to one of America's two national debate chambers. The Senate, with one hundred members and the House of Representatives, with four hundred and forty one members."

    "Yeah! See, each state has two Senators but the number of Representatives depends on the number of people who live in the State they come from."

    Adom takes a moment to work out how to express his concerns. He doesn't want to seem ignorant of the modern world but clearly something about American governance does not compute. "How do they ever get anything done?"

    "Huh?"

    On the side opposite the female member of the triumvirate Frederick Freeman leans closer to me, grinning. "How bad is it?"

    "The good Captain would have been better served developing an understanding of other forms of governance rather than memorising the way the US government functions. He isn't arguing with reason, he's just presenting in the assumption that the wisdom of the system is self evident."

    Mary frowns. "Can Solomon have off days?"

    Looks like…

    "When I ruled Kahndaq I seldom had more than four advisors during court sessions, and even they would sometimes shame themselves with bickering. One hundred men discussing a topic, where each must be seen to have their say and to respond to one another's opinions?" He slowly shakes his head. "I cannot see how such a body could decide on even the simplest matter upon which they already agree with one another, to say nothing of situations where there was genuine disagreement. And you tell me there is another body with the same function that has more than four times as many members?"

    "Um…"

    "And for a proposal to become law, the committee must agree with it, both chambers must not merely agree with it but formally indicate their agreement within a set span of time… And then your President must agree with it and your courts must determine that it is not in violation of your Constitution?"

    "Oh, only if someone actually challenges it. And there's whole bunch of lower courts they have to go through first."

    "Would it not be more wise to seek their counsel in advance so that such a time consuming process was not needed?"

    "Ah, there's a bunch of lawyers who advise everyone involved the whole way through."

    "But what they say is not binding until your law makers are formally challenged?"

    "Um. No?"

    Adom remains silent for a moment. "And I have heard of a thing called a 'filibuster'? Did I understand correctly, in that a member of one of these chambers can simply talk and talk in order to frustrate more productive debate?"

    "Well, no, there're limits…"

    "And this collective is not even a supreme body? Each State in turn has its own House of Representatives and Senate and Governor?"

    "Of course. The splitting up of powers between different bodies is an important part of the US Constitution. It's supposed to stop any one part just doing whatever it likes."

    "Why would you want to do that?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "Each of these people has persuaded a great many others that they are worthy of having power bestowed upon them. And the system is designed to then prevent them from exercising it? I understand separating administrators from judges, but this is barely controlled chaos." He turns his head around and looks up at me. "Paul, are your people governed in this way?"

    "Queen Hippolyta has far more executive authority than any American President. Themyscira does have a Senate, but there are only seven elected Senators plus the High Priestess and either the Polemarch if there is one or the Guard Captain if there isn't. Of course, there's far less going on in Themyscira than there is in America."

    "And in your former homeland?"

    "A six hundred and fifty person elected body and a seven hundred or so person appointed body."

    There's a definite twitch. "Seven.. hundred..?"

    "We know it needs to get reformed. It's just that no one can agree on how."

    William folds his arms across his chest. "So how did it used to work in Kahndaq?"

    Adom turns back around. "I was Pharaoh. My word was law. I ruled the nation from what is now Cairo. Magistrates I appointed had the duty of making decisions on matters of law if I were occupied with other duties or if the matter under contention was not worthy of my attention. Larger towns would have their own Governors who would act in my name. In practice, unless a Governor proved particularly inept or corrupt they nominated their own successors. If I wanted to change the law I would consult with the gods and with my advisors. Having done so, if I believed that the change was a good one I would simply decree it. Much of the effort was in making the rest of the nation aware that it had been changed rather than-" He looks at the chart. "-requiring hundreds of otherwise sensible men to devote their lives to arguing the point."

    William nods. "What happened if you made a bad decision?"

    "Lord Zehuti guided me. If a decision I made was poor then I could be comforted by the knowledge that no other had a greater breadth of knowledge than I. There would have been no one able to make a better decision. But, by the end of my rule I had over a century of experience myself. I did not err significantly or often."

    "And you didn't have to worry about proving your legitimacy when you so clearly had the gods' favour."

    "Yes. Of course."

    William looks at his predecessor and breathes out. "This is going to take a while, isn't it?"
     
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    08:38 GMT -6


    "…why I have tried to ensure that people who do understand the modern age are there to tutor me. That does not mean that I wish to confuse…"

    I lean back in my chair and do my best to tune Adom and William out. "You two really have nothing better to do on a Saturday?"

    Frederick raises his eyebrows. "You really have nothing better to do on a Saturday? New York's probably finished your last cake by now."

    I nod to myself. "How long have you been saving that one?"

    "About a month."

    "Nice to know you're using the Wisdom of Solomon for something productive."

    "I got my homework done before we came out. And we can't really do much else until the Captain finishes."

    "I think he's interesting." Mary's still looking down at Adom. "I don't think I've ever really heard anyone argue against democracy before."

    "I was wondering. Since you two don't age up like he does, how come you don't leave your powers on all the time?"

    Frederick looks a little uncomfortable. "I'm paralyzed below the waist. I couldn't fake not being able to use my legs."

    "I can probably fix that."

    His eyes widen. "Really?"

    "Sure. You'll need to be able to lie to people about.. getting some sort of experimental stem cell treatment, but.. yeah."

    Mary looks around, frowning. "Why not do it to everyone?"

    I nod. "There's a few reasons. The big one is that I can't. Orange rings-."

    "Work on avarice. I know."

    "I can fudge it. A lot. I have to, really. But when you get right down to it, if I don't want a thing for me, I can't do it. You wear a funny costume and my brain decides that you're part of my ingroup. If I…" I look at Frederick. "Do you go to some sort of support group?" He nods. "I could probably use my desire for Human perfection to heal some of them. Maybe all of them. But after a while I wouldn't be able to keep going." The Metro Narrows Bridge appears in my mind's eye once more. "I've had that happen to me before. And then you've got more societal level reasons; if someone with a power ring turns up to fix people whenever they're ill, why would anyone learn medicine?"

    Mary doesn't seem to like it, but she reluctantly nods. "And they'd all be dependent on you."

    Frederick nods down towards Adom. "He doesn't have a problem with making everyone dependent on him."

    "He ruled Kahndaq for over a century while doing his duty as the wizard's champion. I'd assume that he thought that either he wasn't going to die or that the gods would pick his successor."

    Mary looks thoughtful. "How do we even know he was a good ruler? He's sort of our only source of information about that whole period."

    "Did you try asking the wizard?"

    "The Captain did. He didn't want to talk about it."

    "I suppose we can't know for sure. That said, he spent several weeks with Wonder Woman and she's got a built in lie detector. If he was lying about how things were during his rule I think she'd have said something to burst his bubble."

    "Still. I'm kinda suspicious of anyone who wants to set themselves up as a king."

    "Remind me again who your wisdom comes from?"

    He frowns. "King Solomon. You said-." Then he glares at me.

    "A king and autocrat, certainly not democratically inclined. And if the Bible is to be believed actually not all that wise."

    Mary shakes her head. "I've never really been sure if it literally comes from him, or the idea of him?"

    "I always thought the wizard was stuck for someone to be the 'S'. All of the gods who gave Adom power are Kahndaqi gods, right? Gods he actually worshipped?" I nod. "And we got-" Frederick counts off on his fingers. "-a Jewish king, the Roman name for a Greek demigod, a Greek Titan, the Greek god who led them when they overthrew the Titans, another Greek demigod and a Roman god. And I'm pretty sure I don't worship any of them."

    "Didn't the wizard explain it?"

    "No. I mean, what if it only works because he doesn't know it doesn't make sense? I don't want to ruin this."

    "You're being ridiculous."

    "You explain it, then."

    "No, I mean, the names don't make sense to me either but I don't think the magic only works because the wizard doesn't realize that."

    "While we're on the subject of nonsensical names, I was wondering something. Why is Captain Marvel called Captain Marvel?"

    Looks like Frederick never really thought about it. "What should he be called?"

    "Why not 'Shazam'?"

    "Nah, that sounds stupid. And he wouldn't be able to say his own name without transforming! Can you imagine it? 'Hello, my name's Shazam', then 'BOOM'!"

    "So..?"

    "I guess.. it's 'Marvel' because he's, you know, marvelous?"

    "And Captain because he's your team captain?"

    "Ah… Yeah."

    Now, I know perfectly well what the two of them call themselves. Frederick goes by the moniker 'Lieutenant Marvel' and Mary by 'Sergeant Marvel'. I have no idea why. I know that in the comics Frederick had to refer to himself as 'CM3' because if he said 'Captain Marvel Three' he transformed before he finished saying it, but… Lieutenant? Really? I mean, Kid Marvel or Marvel Boy would have been better than that. And don't even get me started on 'Sergeant'. I've been weighing up whether or not to try and persuade them to change them and they've both demonstrated that the Wisdom of Solomon has effectively made them mature enough that I won't need to feel too bad about doing so.

    "So what do the two of you call yourselves?"

    Frederick grins. "Lieutenant Marvel."

    "And… What are you a Lieutenant of?" He looks blank and I glance at Mary and then back to him. "Are you.. second in command?"

    Mary shakes her head emphatically. "No."

    "Ahhh… Well… The thing is-."

    I turn to Mary. "And what about you? Colonel Marvel? Major Marvel? Corporal Marvel?"

    I can see her thinking frantically. "I.. figured.. there were a lot of girls called 'Mary' so I decided I'd just call myself 'Mary Marvel'."

    Frederick stares at her. "Oh, you so totally-."

    There's a loud banging on the door to the lecture theatre, then a tall and heavily built blonde man shoves his way through. "Oi, M-" He hesitates for a half second upon seeing Adom but ploughs on anyway. "-arvel. We got a problem."
     
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    08:42 GMT -6


    William turns towards him, changing mental gears almost immediately. "What is it, Chief?"

    Frederick and Mary both fly directly upwards out of their seats before heading down towards the front of the lecture theatre and landing just behind William. Adom looks momentarily uncertain. The chair he's sitting on is fixed in place with a small writing surface attached to the left arm. Around us he didn't really worry about the lack of dignity such a simple seat provided but with the room invaded by a stranger that appears to no longer be the case. He can't fly up without damaging it, he can't walk around it without looking awkward… He's opting to lean back and wait for events to unfold.

    I just lean forwards slightly. I don't really know how things work in Fawcett City. It doesn't surprise me that William has good relations with the local police given his general demeanour and the threat level of the people he fights. Giant robots, mind control caterpillars and satanic supermen are three things no sane police force wants to have to deal with.

    "It's a bad one." Chief… Ring? Chief McGinnis stands slightly closer than I would consider polite to William. They're actually about the same height. The Chief's a big guy. "Some guy down in Satin Spring reported a bad smell coming from a storm drain. A couple of uniforms checked it out. Lost their lunch."

    Out of the corner of my eye I watch Adom extricate himself while the room's attention is elsewhere.

    "Has someone been murdered?"

    "Yeah." McGinnis nods. "But that's not the worst of it. They were mutilated. Whoever did it took the time to draw all over the walls with their blood." William straightens slightly, shock showing on his face. "We're still waiting for IDs, but I don't think they were local. They don't match anyone on our missing persons database."

    "We'll do whatever we can to help."

    McGinnis nods. "I know you will."

    I transition down. "What were the drawings?"

    I get a quick frown and another dismissal. "Weird diagrams and.. writing. Looked.. maybe.. Arabic? To me? But I'm not an expert."

    Frederick glances at William and then back to McGinnis. "Timothy Karnes is still in prison, isn't he?"

    "Still locked up, still muzzled and still inside that magic circle you guys drew after last time. Whoever this is, it isn't him."

    William nods. "We'll get over there right away. Come on, guys." He heads towards the door at a jog with Frederick and Mary close at his heels.

    McGinnis turns to follow them, then stops when he notices that I'm not following. "What, not joining in?"

    Adom floats alongside me. "Strange writings drawn in blood suggests either foul magics or a deranged mind. I am more familiar with both possibilities than the wizard's current champions. With your permission, I will accompany Captain Marvel."

    McGinnis sizes him up for a moment. "You're really not like that other guy. Eh, if Marvel says you're okay then you're okay with me."

    "If it is Magic… I'm going to see if John's available."

    "Hey. Who's 'John'?"

    Best dealing with out of their depth public servant smile on. "John Constantine, my.. advisor on magic. He's either seen or knows someone who's seen everything we could run into. If I could just show him pictures of-."

    "Fine. But he stays outside the police cordon unless he's being escorted."

    Oh. That was painless. I guess Chief McGinnis hasn't heard of John before.

    Adom's eyes narrow slightly. "You realise, if it is magic, it is unlikely that there will be only one. If these murders were an end in themselves we would already be observing the consequences."

    I nod. "Yes, and I doubt we'll find much at the site itself. I can start scanning the city when I get back."

    Adom nods and floats as fast as dignity allows towards the door. In William's wake the students have reappeared, blocking his exit off. "Excuse me." He waits, arms crossed across his chest as they organise themselves in backing off before going through the door and accelerating after the Marvels.

    I raise my left hand to my ear. Ring, contact John Constantine.

    Compliance.

    I hear John's dial tone. Hm-hm-hmm.

    "This guy a superhero?"

    "No."

    "Priest?"

    "No, just an unusually well travelled magician."

    "I'm asking because if this is a magic thing I've got to phone the local Catholic Bishop and see if they've got anyone in the area who can help. That going to be a problem?"

    "Shouldn't think s-."

    The dial tone stops. "Afternoon, mate."

    "Good morning, John. I've got a messy and possibly arcane murder I'd like you to take a look at. Are you available?"

    "Errr… Let me just-." I hear a giggle. "Get… Stop that." Nice to know that he's bounced back. "Can you, like, give… Give me a couple a'-."

    "I'll have a look around the crime scene. Wave a rune stone around."

    "Yeah, you-. Oi! Aw!"

    "Five minutes, John."

    "I'll be-. Hey! That-!" The phone cuts off.

    I lower my left hand. Maybe I should make that ten minutes. Ring, scan 'Satin Springs' area for a police cordon.

    Located.

    I transition to just outside the cordon, near a police car and just out of line of sight of the curious locals. They must have moved pretty quickly to contact us before the press arrived. Alright, time for work. I float off the ground a few centimetres and then take my armour out of subspace. Not power armour; this isn't a fight as yet and storm drains aren't usually all that big. After Zauriel wrecked my last set I've been thinking about what to do with the design. Do I make it bigger, have a flying mech sort of thing? Or go the other way and slim down? Mithril and orichalcum would let me have all of the resilience of the current design with much less mass. And do I want to use enchantments as part of the design? I'm a little concerned about maintenance on magic as I can't do it myself. In any case, my brain trust won't be able to get the maximum value from their combined expertise for a while yet.

    I step out into the open as the Marvels come in to land and a police sergeant walks over to greet them. "Captain Marvel! Am I glad you're here!"

    William nods. "Always here when Fawcett's finest need me."

    "You'll want to see… Them, I suppose."

    William's face falls slightly. "Not really, but I think I need to." He glances back at Frederick and Mary. "Guys, I think you should probably stay up here."

    Frederick shakes his head. "We've seen bodies before."

    The sergeant looks down for a moment. "Not like this you haven't, lad."

    Adom nods. "I would be reluctant to expose children to this sort of violence."

    Mary lays her right hand on Frederick's left shoulder. "We'll stay up here. You can tell us anything we need to know."

    "Thanks." William gives his friends a thin smile and then follows the sergeant towards the manhole cover.
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    08:49 GMT -6


    "Good Lord."

    William keeps his breakfast down, but his face noticeably pales as he regards the scene. Adom just narrows his eyes for a moment. He's certainly seen worse in his time. For myself, there's no real connection to the bodies attached to the walls. Intellectually I realise that what has been done to them is horrific but my empathy is.. just a little nudge in the back of my mind. It isn't controlling my reaction. A little way along I can see the pile of vomit where one of the discovering officers had a somewhat stronger response.

    So… Clinical. "Two male and one female bodies. Metal spikes driven through their wrists and legs and into the brickwork beyond are keeping them attached to the walls. Could indicate more than Human strength but it could also indicate some sort of pneumatic spike driver. Or just someone with a hammer and a lot of patience. Not a great deal of blood around the wounds, strongly suggesting that they were killed elsewhere and brought here."

    Adom nods as I step a little closer. Don't really want to use the ring to scan them until I know for certain that it wouldn't disrupt any arcane elements. "Their chest cavities have been sliced down the middle and their ribs pulled slightly apart. Cause of death.. probably exsanguination. Either from the wounds to the neck or where the heart was removed… Given the damage to the surrounding tissue, probably ripped out."

    "Ohshit." One of the officers who was waiting down here puts his right hand over his mouth and staggers up the storm drain away from us.

    "The pose is vaguely crucifixional but I shouldn't read too much into that at this stage. In addition to the heart, the eyeballs, testicles and ovaries have been removed, though the penis and womb are still in situ. Eyeballs may have been removed to hamper identification efforts, but given the other injuries ritual or superstition seem more likely. Fingers… Intact, so identification by fingerprints should still be possible." A brown mottling of the skin draws my attention. I run my eyes over the bodies once more. "Bruising around the wrists, ankles and necks suggests that they were bound for a period of time before their deaths, indicating premeditation and organisation." In fact… Not just bruising, there are cuts as well. "Subjects appear to have struggled against the bindings hard enough to cut their skin. Otherwise, ancillary injuries are almost nonexistent."

    The other policeman tears his eyes away from the bodies to look at me. "You, ah… You a CSI guy?"

    "Batman gives lessons. We visited the Gotham City police morgue once." I step back a little. "And a jolly good time was had by all." Wallace and M'gann didn't cope particularly well. "The writing… Blood on brick isn't a good combination for legibility. Editing where it's just dribbled down… 'Their souls shall be bound in eternity…'" The next bit's illegible already. "'Chorus of screaming prayers to.. King Asmodeus.'"

    Adom begins muttering a prayer to Nephthys.

    William reluctantly walks forwards and takes a look. "That's written in Avestan."

    "Mostly. There's a lot of loan words." I take a rune stone out of one of my armour's pockets and hold it out. Weak glow. "Some sort of ritual was either performed here or.. with them. I don't think there's anything ongoing."

    The police officer makes an effort to pull himself together. "So can we take them down? Or at least cover them up or something?"

    "Probably, but I wouldn't rush to do anything."

    Adom joins us in examining the writing, floating off the ground. "The rest praises the Demon's virtues. And the joys that can be found by following him." He turns to the policeman. "Ensure that no one else who understands this looks upon it. Take what images you need and then burn it from the walls."

    "That ain't.. really my call to make."

    He frowns. "I have seen good men corrupted by such texts, their minds turned-."

    "Mighty One. There's hardly anyone in the country who could read it even if they wanted to and none of them live in Fawcett City." He hesitates for a moment and then gives me a small nod.

    William looks at me. "Asmodeus is one of the Demons who powers Sabbac. I know the Chief said he was still in prison, but do you think he could be involved?"

    I shrug. "Mister Karnes is hardly the only one who can worship Demons." Wait, don't I..? There was a second Sabbac in the comics, wasn’t there? "Did you ever find out how he attracted their attention?"

    "After his parents died he got adopted by some people who turned out to be members of a Demon worshipping cult. They said that he was a descendant of the guy who founded it."

    Adom nods. "It is almost a pity they are dead. Putting them to the question might provide us with useful insights."

    William shakes his head. "No, they're not dead. They're just in prison."

    Adom's eyes widen slightly. "You let..? No, no, I understand. It is not your decision. The fault lies with the hundreds of people who should have ensured that your laws made sense."

    "But this does mean that we can question them. We're probably going to need to talk to Mister Karnes as well."

    William thinks for a moment. "We can probably talk to the cult guys, but I don't think they'll let us take Timothy's muzzle off. Sabbac's just too dangerous."

    "I can attach a construct to his brain, let him speak without risking him transforming again."

    "That could work. I'll need to talk to some people to get it set up."

    "I'll go and fetch John Constantine. There's a chance he can work out whatever ritual was used even if the cultists can't be persuaded to help."

    William nods, and we both turn away from the remains to head back towards the manhole.

    "Orange Lantern." I stop and look back at Adom. "If we must fight another Sabbac, it would be helpful to me if I could have access to Justice League records."

    "I don't have that authority, but-" I take a tablet out of subspace and load it with records -written and live recordings- of Sabbac's two rampages to date. "-this is what we've got on him." He nods, takes hold of it and with the air of someone still quite unfamiliar with the technology pokes at it. He can use computers but it will be a very long time before he's completely happy with them.

    I turn away and follow William to the rungs set into the wall. He bends his knees slightly as a prelude to flying up, then hesitates. "That can't happen, can it?"

    "What?"

    "These people were horribly murdered. The writing said that they went to hell… That was a lie, right?"

    "Depends."

    "But if they lived good lives-."

    "We don't know that they did. It's perfectly possible that whoever did this chose them because he or she knew that they would go to hell anyway. And… There are magics that can send souls to places they shouldn't go. It's not impossible..."

    "That's disgusting."

    "Yes, it is. Why did you think Adom hates Shazam so much?"

    His eyes widen slightly, then he looks away. "It's not the same. He didn’t just do it because he enjoyed it. I heard Green Lantern talk about Sinestro; the Wizard thought Adom was heading in the same direction and that would have been a disaster."

    "If he really thought that, I understand killing him. But why did he bind his soul to his corpse?"

    "I don't know. But I'm not going to worry about it while there's a murderer loose in my city." He flies upwards towards daylight and I follow after him.
     
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    09:43 GMT -6


    John peers through the bars at Mister Karnes. "Well… You're a miserable lookin' sod, aren't you?"

    From his stool in his cell Mister Karnes glowers back. I don't really remember him from the comics but he certainly doesn't cut a very imposing figure here. Short, skinny and bald, the heavy metal collar and constant red-eyed glare make for an almost comical contrast. Under the light orange prison shirt covering his chest there's a burn in the shape of a pentagram where his adoptive parents branded him.

    What sort of complete bastard would do this to a twelve year old?

    "Ah, Mister Constantine?" William doesn't quite raise his hand to ask, but I see his right twitch for a moment. "Is this really necessary?"

    "'Fraid so." He gets out a cigarette. "Those people were posed after bein' ritually sacrificed. By someone who knows their business an' all. No easy way to track it back to them. Could try summonin' up their souls but if Asmodeus got them -an' he probably did- that'd mean pickin' a fight with him. Don't know about you, but I've had all the fights with Hell Kings I want, thank you very much."

    A woman in a suit narrows her eyes at him. "This is a no smoking zone, sir."

    "I can hold it, can't I? Land of the sodding free my arse.." He raises his hand and moves it between his fingers for a moment, just to get a rise out of her. "What're you here for, anyway?"

    "Timothy Karnes has no next of kin. I'm here to act on his behalf."

    "Oh yeah? Where were you two years ago?"

    She stiffens. "I wasn't involved in the decision to put Timothy in the care of.. those people. But I've seen the case review documents. Do you really think he'd have been put there if there was any sign that-. That they would subject him to Satanistic abuse?"

    "First place I'd look for the culprit, actually." She breathes in sharply but John's already focusing on the circle around Mister Karnes' cell. Well, call it what it is: his cage. "Marvel, you do the design on the floor yourself?"

    "Yeah. I didn't design it, but I copied the design just right."

    "Did a good job." He looks at me and nods at Mister Karnes. "Alright then; plug him in."

    The woman steps forwards a bit, though she's careful to stay outside the circle. "Mister Karnes, these people want to ask you some questions." I can see him grinning under the metal collar. "They're going to use a device that will let you speak without using your mouth." The grin disappears.

    John edges towards me as Mister Karnes focuses on her. "Any chance you could copy the design on the floor and project it around me?" I nod. "Nice one."

    "Excuse me, ma'am." William politely waits until she… Ring, what's her name? Sharon Glover, right. Until Mrs Glover steps out of the way. "Timothy, do you remember me?" A jerky nod. "Timothy, we think that some of the people who did this to you might still be free. Now, I don't want anyone else to go through what you went through and I don't believe for a moment that you do either."

    John shakes his head. "Not going to work."

    "What makes you so sure?"

    "He can't get at the power any more but the Demons left their grubby fingerprints all over his soul. You can't touch hell without it rubbin' off on you. Amazin' he can think clearly at all, really."

    "If there's anything, anything at all you can tell us at all about them, about anyone we missed when we arrested them, it would be a great help." There's a sort of gurgling sound from Mister Karnes. William looks at me and shrugs. "I guess you better hook him up."

    No real way to avoid the construct passing through the circle. I.. think it's just designed to block one type of magic, if I'm recognising the design properly. But I'm sure Shazam knows rather more about it than I do. Karnes looks at the glowing filaments as they approach. He doesn't look scared, more.. annoyed that anyone would dare intrude on him in this way. Right, connect to voice box. Ring, remember to edit out anything involving the word 'Sabbac'. Change it to 'kittens' or something.

    Compliance.

    The speaker construct hangs in the air next to him. He looks at it for a moment and then leaps excitedly to his feet. "Kittens!" He freezes for a second. "Kittens! Kittens!"

    "That's not going to work."

    "When I get my power back I WILL END YOU."

    William looks down for a moment, but then rallies. "The ones who did this to you are killing people, Timothy. I just came from looking at the bodies."

    "Good. They will work to free me and then you will suffer."

    John walks across the circle towards the bars. I put the runic construct he requested at his feet. "Hello Timmy. My name's John Constantine." No reaction. "Oh, fuck me, someone messin' round with Demons who hasn't heard of me." He turns back to his audience. "What were the chances of that?"

    "What do you want?"

    John jabs the cigarette in his direction. "See, Timmy, the thing about Demons… They're not exactly sentimental. Sitting in here, you're not doing anything for them."

    "They can't use anyone else. My bloodline is special. Human and Demon both."

    John nods. "Funny story. Few years ago now I had to make a deal with Nergal. The Angels were up to something and we both wanted them stopped. Him bein' a Demon, he couldn't get anywhere near the place they were doin' the ritual. But I could. Problem bein'-" John takes out a lighter and plays the flame over the end of his cigarette. "-I'd 'ad seven shades of shit knocked out of me and was in no state to fix anything. So…" He takes a drag. "Nergal cut open his arm and poured a pint or two of his blood into my drip. With that in my system everything healed up in a few hours."

    "No!"

    "Not that hard to get hold of Demon blood. Hell,-" He turns his head to the side and exhales smoke. "-might even be worth givin' the whole 'Sabbac' thing a shot meself. No way I'm gettin' into Heaven. I mean, Asmodeus favours lust as a tool of corruption. You're twelve! I'm sure he'd-."

    "It won't work! I'm special!"

    John glares at him at full intensity. "Someone's tryin' t' replace you. You're in prison, we don't know where they are and the Demons don't care. You're out on your arse, mate."

    Mister Karnes' eyes widen. "No!"

    "Only chance you got is to start helping." Karnes turns away from John. He can't hide as his cell permits him no privacy at all but it looks like he's trying to pretend John isn't there. "If you help out, there's a chance that you might get the power back at some point. Don't, and someone else will. Maybe me, maybe someone who's going t' make them wonder why they ever bothered with a useless.. lump.. like.. you."

    Mister Karnes bends, chest pressing against his legs and arms over his head. "Nghuuuuhuuuuh."

    "'Course, if you did find out who it was, that would mean they're even more useless than you are. They'll dump them even faster than they dumped you." John pauses for a moment, frowning. "Craeteis, Asmodeus, Beelzebub, Belial, Aym and.. Satan, wasn't it? Got to be a couple o' them I haven't pissed off yet."

    "Satanus." Mister Karnes straightens up slightly, still looking away. "He said that his name was Satanus."

    "Oh yeah? Answers my next question I suppose."

    "I hate you. I hate everything. Everyone. And the only thing I can remember before hating is being afraid. If I could I would kill you, kill everyone in this city… Rampage across the world leaving fire and devastation in my wake. But for now I will START WITH WHOEVER IS STEALING MY POWER!"
     
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    10:23 GMT -6


    Frederick looks through the security glass at the ritual space. "Are you guys sure this is safe?"

    John shrugs. "Safe as we can make it." They turn around as I approach. "Any news?"

    I nod. "I found one other location. Looked like it was slightly older. Same.. sort of thing."

    "Which-?"

    "Beelzebub."

    John nods. "They're still arguing about letting him out. I mean, if whoever this is thinks they can get him with five superheroes standing right there then I don't see why they'd bother sneaking around with the rest of it."

    "Anything else happening?"

    "McGinnis phoned the Bishop, which means in a couple of weeks we might get someone who actually knows-."

    "So pessimistic, Mister Constantine." Father Mattias strolls into the room from the corridor to our right. "In situations like this, where there is proven diabolic interest, we have a way to bypass the normal bureaucracy."

    "Father Mattias. Nice to see you again."

    He smiles beneficently at me. "And you as well, Paul. My sister sends her regards. Though I'm afraid that she's taken to crediting God with acting through you rather than thanking your snake."

    John rolls his eyes. "Never an Alexin around when you need one."

    Mattias' smile fades slightly. "It seems to me that the Alexins'.. muscular approach is not what is required here."

    Frederick looks lost. "Who are the Alexins?"

    John smiles the smug smile of someone who knows that someone they don't like is about to have to say something they'd rather have kept quiet about. "You want to tell him, or..?"

    "The Closed Order of the Alexins are an order of Demon hunting warrior monks."

    Frederick frowns. "I didn't think the Catholic Church had anything like that until the Second Vatican Council."

    "We.. used to. They were declared excommunicate a little over four hundred years ago and violently persecuted until they found sanctuary with King James the First of England."

    John's eyebrows rise slightly. "Huh. Actually a bit impressed you said that. Usually your lot are a whole lot more cagey about the whole thing."

    "I prefer to take inspiration from His Holiness Pope Leo the Fourteenth. When the Church does wrong it is the responsibility of all of its servants to confront it openly. And the continued good service of the Alexin to the Anglican Communion is a clear sign that they were ill used."

    "Never did finish his pilgrimage, did he?"

    "And no doubt you are now eager to inform me that his successor chose not to continue it in his place. I know, Mister Constantine. The Pilgrimage of Repentance was an act of great piety but it was completely impractical for the head of the Church to spend years walking to the home of every victim. Though, had his heart been a little stronger, I am sure that he would have tried."

    "But getting back to the job at hand…"

    Father Mattias nods. "I take it that you could not simply.. detect…"

    I shake my head. "Ring scans are easy to fool with magic. I have a more advanced technique, but that could take days to come up with anything."

    "Prison records say that the only visitor Timmy had while he was here was his foster brother, Frederick Freeman." John looks at me while Frederick himself starts to look a little uncomfortable. "Think it's worth following up on?"

    "No, I… Spoke to him earlier. Mister Karnes only became involved in the demonic after he was handed over to the cultists. Frederick knew him before that. Frederick's natural parents were fostering Mister Karnes up until they were murdered."

    Father Mattias nods. "A truly lamentable situation. Mister Constantine, I would appreciate it if you would take the time to explain the magics you have used to me."

    "Need to know what setting to put your hexing hammer on?"

    "Mister Constantine, I am trying to help a badly damaged boy. I am willing to give you whatever assurances you want. Please, your hostility towards me is not going to help anyone."

    "John..?"

    There's a momentary look of truculence on his face, then he nods his head to the side. "Fine. You actually know anything about magic?"

    "I doubt that my practical experience is anything like as comprehensive as yours, but I am competent enough to recognise my own ignorance."

    "Alright, come on then. I'll show you what I've done." He nods to the corridor leading towards where we're holding Mister Karnes and the two of them head off in that direction.

    Frederick watches them go, breathing out only once they pass out of sight. "Thanks for cov-" I erect a sound baffle. "-ering for me."

    "No problem. I just hope he didn't see a picture; your appearance doesn't change at all."

    "Where are the others?"

    "The Captain, Adom and Mary are flying a search pattern. According to Adom you should be able to feel magic, at least when you get close enough."

    He nods. "Yeah, Captain Marvel said Adom was teaching him how to use our powers better. I know I should.. join in…"

    "You wanted to be here for Mister Karnes."

    "He didn't use to be like this. If this works…" He looks away and shuffles his feet. "Maybe he won't be afterwards."

    "That's a bit optimistic."

    He smiles. "I try never to give up on people. And Mom and Dad wouldn't want me to give up on him."

    I nod. "I don't think he's in any fit state to appreciate you being here… But I respect what you're doing."

    What now? I've already checked the storm drain system. Checking the whole city with optical constructs is beyond me without fully merging with the Ophidian. Though… The police have released a statement about what is going on. They skipped the goriest details, but the press are eagerly awaiting any more information. If I asked the police to put the word out ahead of time to keep panic to a minimum, would the Praexis be able to sniff it out? Worth trying.

    William already sent a message to Batman about what's happening. They decided that bringing in the whole League at this point would be unproductive. Nabu might be useful but he's decided to absent himself from the Watchtower and turn off his communicator. If we need heavy duty magic…

    "What's the normal process for contacting Shazam?"

    "He calls us. The way to get into his base changes each time we go there, and… It takes a lot out of him. Mostly, we take care of things without him."

    I nod. I don't really want to call in the team. Batman made it clear that we -as a group- are supposed to keep a low profile until the media interest in the group that dealt with the LexCorp situation has died down a little. The fallback position involves the older members of the group making a public appearance and that would be pretty awkward for Kon.

    The sound of feet running down the corridor causes us both to look around as a policeman hurries in. "Lieutenant Marvel, Orange Lantern?" Who else are we going to-? "They've found another one."
     
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    10:38 GMT -6


    Chief McGinnis looks at me warily. "Didn't think you people needed guns."

    I work the lever on the Ace of Winchesters. "Most of us don't need them. Superman -for example- has a capital ship grade infrared laser built into each eyeball. I carry a power ring which is capable of destruction beyond the fever dreams of most Khundians. This, is a tool of Demon fighting. In testing we steered away from summoning the really major Demons -including Sabbac's traditional sponsors- but nothing else survived more than one hit." I open the breech and feed in the four rounds that are all it can take at one time. Shouldn't need more than that… Sephtian had a brief look at adding some sort of expanded magazine coming out of the top but he's not sure what that would do to the magics which make the gun so useful. I decided that it probably wasn't worth pursuing.

    "What happens if you miss?"

    "Muzzle speed and calibre aren't anything special and it uses normal rounds. If I hit someone, there's a special effect only if they're lousy with demonic magic." Turns out that it doesn't do all that much to Elementals. A hit -if they're tangible- disrupts their avatar but doesn't do much to their core self. Also, I need to avoid Silt Elementals from now on.

    An image appears in my head. Chubbs has found something of interest. Having two sites didn't really help much but with three… The first thing we all thought to do was draw a circle with them on the perimeter. Depending on the exact design whoever is doing this is using there are a variety of combinations of location, but… This is Fawcett, not Gotham. I don't think you could hide a full pentagram design's worth of bodies and they're only trying to please six Demons.

    Chubbs is just about intelligent enough to recognise Human corpses but he doesn't understand writing. If I wanted to read what it's seeing I'd have to go there myself. The state of the bodies… Taken apart, tissues separated out. "They've found the site for Aym."

    "Shit." Chief McGinnis shakes his head. "I'll send some guys to secure the site. You.. sure you're alright..?"

    "It doesn't really affect me."

    "I've had guys say that before…"

    "Well… If I freak out you can say I told you so."

    "Look, I'm not trying to make this a macho pissing match. We're going to be sending everyone who saw those bodies to the counsellors. I'm going to be going."

    "I appreciate what you're saying, but I'm fine."

    "Alright." He picks a pen up from his desk and makes another cross on the map. Five of them, equidistant around a circle. "Which one was Aym?"

    "Indestructible body."

    "So, if it's worked then the guy's got indestructibility, flight, fire control, 'evil courage' and 'evil wisdom'. You got any idea what 'evil wisdom' is?"

    "I'd guess that he'd be able to instinctively understand any technique that could be used for evil. Like.. how to torture people?" Or make biological weapons..? I still don't really get what 'evil' is as far as magic is concerned. Whether it would be concerned with the application of a thing or the nature of the thing. If whoever it is just gets a dollop of knowledge straight from a Demon then bearing in mind what John told me about Demons and modernity we probably don't have to worry about them doing anything really clever.

    "Let's just assume it means he's smart. This isn't the time for a philosophical argument. Okay." He taps the pen in the middle of the circle. "We've got all four Marvels hanging around the center of this circle. Seen nothing so far."

    "What's there?"

    "Depends how big an area we're talking about. Far as we can tell, dead center is a multi story parking lot. Whoever this is, they need to do something to earn Satan's favor."

    "Satanus' favour."

    "What's the difference?"

    "Satan doesn't exist, Satanus does. Real names are important when dealing with Demons. 'Satan' is who every single Demon claims to be when an idiot who doesn't know what they're doing summons them. 'Yes, I'm totally Satan, you should sell me your soul right now.'"

    "Heh."

    The door to his office is opened from the outside and a detective walks in with a file. "Chief, we've got IDs on the first few victims. All of them had missing person reports."

    "Where they from?"

    "Looks like Saskatchewan."

    "Ah, hell." He pauses for a moment as he realises what he just said, then dismisses it. "Orange Lantern, you've got my authorization to take Karnes and your wizards into the area. Whatever they were planning, I want it stopped. I'd like whoever did this taken alive but don't take any dumb risks. This is a gun friendly state for a reason."

    "And just as soon as the United States government starts issuing in situ death warrants for supervillains I'll be happy to execute them. As it is the Justice League requires me to strenuously try to keep them alive."

    "Hey, if someone wants to pass laws like that they'd have my vote."

    Yours and probably quite a few other people's as well. "Right… If you'll excuse me."

    "Go on. I need to make a call to the Canadian embassy."

    Gun in hand I transition to the air above the car park. Adom spots me first, acknowledging me with a nod. First things first. I hold out my left hand and release all of my Praexis Demons, making a little effort to pull Fatty and Chubbs back from their search. Disturbingly fat demonic dwarfs tumble from the ring before stabilising in the air and spreading outwards in accordance with my wishes.

    Next, I raise the ring to my ear. "Contact John."

    The phone rings for a second before he picks it up. "We on?"

    "Yes." I wave my right hand to attract William's attention. He nods and heads downwards. "Marvel's heading your way now. The rest of us will stay airborne. Shout if you need us."

    "Don't need to remind me to do that."

    "Sure you don't want the Ace with you?"

    "Don't have a lot of experience with guns. Look, this whole thing has 'supervillain' written all over it. When we go in there either nothing's going to happen or the sky's going to darken and all the forces a' hell are going to be let loose."

    "All of them?"

    "No, but they could get a bunch of little Demons. Still do a lot of damage. You need to stay up high and keep an eye out. Marvel's taken Sabbac down before on his own and Mattias an' me can deal with the magic stuff."

    "Alright. Good luck." I move the ring away from my ear as Mary, Frederick and Adom float my way. "They're moving in now." I look down and magnify my view. Karnes is wearing his collar with an added straitjacket. He's walking a little way ahead of William, with John and Mattias further back. Behind them a police cordon is in place to keep interested civilians away. The local SWAT unit is on hand but they know full well that they aren't equipped to deal with the sorts of things the Marvel family fight. Things will have to have gone very badly before they get involved.

    I've already scanned the whole building, both with regular scan and with optical sensors. It all just looks like a hurriedly evacuated car park to me. Just have to wait to see what the magic users can find out.
     
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    10:42 GMT -6


    "It does not surprise me that Satanus is the ringleader." Adom glances at me for a moment before going back to studying the ground far below us. "He was always intelligent and strong willed."

    Mary looks curious. "You knew him from before?"

    "Yes. His sister was a-" A hesitation of a fraction of a second. Interesting. "-friend of mine."

    "Demons have families?"

    "I am not certain that he is truly a Demon. I know that his mother was, but the Wizard was his father."

    Wait, what?

    "No way."

    That gets her a glance and a slightly raised left eyebrow. "I would not lie on such a matter."

    "No, I'm not saying you're lying, it's just… I can't imagine him…"

    "He was not always the old man you have met. Once, long even before he met me, he was a vigorous and powerful warrior. Hm, and clearly one not untroubled by mankind's baser nature."

    "Anything you remember about Satanus would be very helpful."

    "On the few occasions I had cause to treat with him, he wore simple armour and robes of white cloth. That may have been an acknowledgement of his father's status. The proportions of his body are Human, his skin is a red-brown colour and he usually wears a helm that covers his head." Adom shakes his head. "But, it has been long since I have spoken with him. His appearance may have changed in the intervening time."

    "I'm assuming that he was fairly powerful."

    "Yes, and I would assume that he has grown more powerful still."

    Mary's eyes widen. "You mean the reason he can give power to Sabbac is because he learned it from the Wizard?"

    Adom nods. "I believe it is so. Blaze -his sister- showed a considerable understanding of the process. When he first approached me, the Wizard presumed to offer me the power of the gods who empowered him. Since they were not my gods I at first refused. It was Blaze who suggested that the Kahndaqi gods might be willing to provide equivalent power. She also accompanied me on my pilgrimage to the great temples of each of the gods whose power I bear."

    Something appears to occur to Frederick. "Didn't the Wizard talk to your gods before that?"

    "Not so far as I am aware."

    "'Cause I was wondering… When you two fell out… Why didn't he just turn off your power?" Adom looks a little puzzled. "The Captain can turn off mine, the Wizard can turn off his…" Comprehension dawns. "I don't think he'd have fought you if he didn’t have to. I think he didn't turn off your powers because he couldn't."

    "Because he was not the one who mediated the exchange. The power flows directly from my gods." Adom nods. "I do not know that it is true, but there is a logic to it."

    "You lot still up there?" Adom looks to the side for a moment before appearing to remember his earpiece.

    "Yes, John. Anything to report?"

    "I dunno, mate. Feels like there's something here. This place wasn’t built on some sort of Indian burial ground or something, was it?"

    Mary looks offended. "No."

    "John, if there's something there it isn't anything I can detect. Captain Marvel?"

    "I was trying to do that 'focusing on the Power of Zeus' thing Adom showed me." The ghost of a smile flickers on Adom's lips. "Maybe I'm just doing it wrong."

    "It takes time to master, Captain. Perhaps when I entertain you in Shiruta-."

    "Wait." There's concern in Father Mattias' voice. "John, did you feel-?"

    A cloud of sulphurous smoke explodes outwards from the car park! Shit, no, don't just transfer in. Accelerate. Scan. Not getting anything. Beam. A bar of orange projects towards the cloud, which is maintaining a set distance from the car park's exterior walls. Or am I just thinking too fast for the spread to be noticeable? Next to me Adom's muscles tense as he gets ready to dive in. The beam… It keeps going through the cloud past the point where the wall should be. What does that remind me-? The water near the hell portal in London.

    And that's when the Demons erupt from the cloud. The first wave are small and fast. Knives with wings. Behind them, clusters of flaming skulls bound together with black chains. Craeteis' and Beelzebub's contributions and there are probably more coming.

    I snap back to normal speed. "Mary, Lieutenant, destroy those things. Praexis Demons, feed on any enemy Demons you can catch. Mighty One, with me." I reinforce my armour construct and head towards the cloud at high speed, rail gun constructs appearing around me. I'm not wasting Mage Slayers on minor Demons, but silver with cold iron should be enough. A vaguely demonic gas bag cum Jellyfish thing appears in the haze and becomes my first target, smashed to shreds by my guns.

    Two more appear and are targeted in turn as Adom pulls ahead of me. A second before the one on our left is destroyed a large dark something leaps from the top of it towards him. Adom slows slightly, turns in mid air to move around it as it passes him by and grabs hold of it by the right horn.

    "RAAAAAHH!"

    "Mauler." It reminds me a little of the Horned Demon from Heroes of Might and Magic five. Without slowing further Adom moves his right hand to its jaw and twists, snapping its neck. He then drops it into the mists below us. "Minor Demons in the service of Aym. It heals any wound to its flesh almost instantly. Be careful not to rip them in half or you would have two of them to fight."

    Can't see far enough to target with my eyes. I send out a pulse of orange in all directions and the guns go into full automatic in a target rich environment. Adom accelerates, blurring as he takes full advantage of the Speed of Aker. He doesn't have much to fear from minor Demons, unlike the people of Fawcett City. Where are we going? "John, you there?" Nothing. Ah, shit. I turn up my empathic vision, searching for ukkgh the patterns of desire I associate with John. Nothing, nothing, there!

    "Adom, this way!" I shine a brilliant beam of orange towards John and then accelerate my own flight speed, pulses of orange continuing to radiate outwards from me to guide my guns. Assuming that we're in Hell -or some suburb of it- I've.. really got no idea what to expect. A tower of darker coloured cloud in the direction of John suggests that the car park made it through intact, which is…

    I get a momentary clear view of the ground below me. Which appears to be a field of writhing torsos. Okay, not looking at that again. The tower… If that was the car park then it's had an extra coating of black stone around the exterior. No matter. The railguns open up, first with silver and cold iron and then with Crumblers. Rock disintegrates and I see a clear entrance. Faster.

    I shoot past John and the party before stopping and turning. William-! Shit, he's down with a freely bleeding slash across his chest. Mattias is trying to bandage it while John is shouting something at-.

    I watch as the large man stripped to the waist slams Timothy Karnes into a wall. Railguns reload with Mage Slayers and lock on target. He turns his head towards me and blurs away even as the railguns come to bear, rounds flying through empty air and smashing into the wall behind him.

    "AAEEIIghhuh!"

    At the other end of the chamber -it looks like they took the car park and retextured it from eighties brutalism to medieval dungeon- the man pulls Timothy's heart from his chest and holds it aloft, tossing his broken body aside. "SABBAC!"

    Black lightning crackles around him as his skin reddens and a burning pentagram appears on his chest. Demonically enhanced muscles bulge as he crushes the heart and draws… Oh shit, that's what he used on William.

    It's a short sword, barely a dagger in his hand. Further adding to the oddity of the sword it's gold in colour and the blade is split in two.

    The Sword of Second and Third.

    ThatReally isn't good.
     
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    10:46 GMT -6


    AccelerateAccelerateAccelerate!

    I feel the orange light from the rings suffuse my body. I can't do true super speed but linking the force fields around every part of my body to my mind via the rings lets me sort of nearly fake it.

    "Domine-"

    For a subjective half second as I raise the Ace to point at the new Sabbac I consider calling in the Ophidian. Could that.. sword..? Can't risk it. Additional railguns begin to manifest and the two I currently have pointing at him reload and track. A web of orange filaments begins extending outwards from my body. Demon-worshipping serial killer? I think I can live with killing him.

    "-Iesu,-"

    In power armour I can't use a traditional rifle firing pose but I don't need to. Even without the rings my armour has automatic targeting systems. The Ace comes level, barrel pointing at the burning pentagram on his chest. The forefinger of my right gauntlet tightens slightly, divinely empowered bullet blasting forth slightly behind the best anti-magic ammunition available to Atlantean arcanotechnology.

    "-dimitte-"

    He brings the Sword up into a guard position as I start cursing super speed. There's a golden blur as he -calculating trajectory- slices the first two Mage Slayers in half. He actually sidesteps the round from the Ace as I use a construct to work the lever action, cuts the next two Mage Slayers and raises his left hand. For a fraction of a second I see him actually sweat fire before flames the colour of dried blood billow fully into life in his palm. He sidesteps as I fire the Ace again, pushes his left hand forwards and lets loose a cone of demonic flame directly towards me!

    "-nobis-"

    My flight aura drags me aside, flames roiling around the construct armour protecting my left arm. Shit, William, John and Mattias aren't that far behin-. The ring shows me the flame bend around Mattias, standing protectively between Sabbac and William. John isn't there. Where is he?

    "-debita-"

    I feel my filaments reach him just as the additional railguns finish forming. Can't waste more Mage Slayers that won't hit anything. Cold iron and silver, maximum saturation. The howling as the force of the rounds ignites whatever passes for air around here is weirdly distorted in my accelerated state. Filaments! Brand! Shock Crown!

    "-nostra,-"

    A wave of orange passes up Sabbac until it reaches his pentagram. Then it-

    Connection lost.

    -melts away. Power of Satanus, presumably. The filaments are actually retreating away from him. Before I'm forced to drop them entirely I surround him with neural chaff generators and vertigo inducers. There's a slight.. look of something on his face as they trigger, then his flames leap outwards from his entire body and incinerate every one of them.

    "-salva-"

    Drop filaments firefirefire! Iron and silver fill the space between us and he turns slightly and dips towards me. I'm hitting now but I'm not sure if the shots are reaching his skin. I'm certainly not Bluggh! Ah, duh, agh! He shoulder charged me! I barely saw him move! The only reason I didn't go flying back outside is that the wall stopped me! If he'd used the sword I'd probably have died. Okay, demonically empowered supervillain in Hell. That's probably helping him.

    "-nos ab igne-"

    He takes a few steps closer to Father Mattias' barrier and the fallen Captain Marvel. "Hehh." Then he draws a completely mundane shotgun. Railguns! Iron and silver blast towards him again but he doesn't even bother turning in my direction as his flaming aura consumes the shots.

    "-inferiori,-"

    Then a blur of black and gold shoots past me as Teth Adom flies straight into Sabbac's side with both fists extended. My hearing's too distorted to rely on but I think I heard something crack. Sabbac is knocked back by the hit, but only by a little. Adom swings his right fist into Sabbac's face as a follow up. Sabbac staggers and loses hold of his gun. But he keeps hold of the Sword. Shit, does Adom know what it can do? He might guess that it's demonic, but...

    "-perduc-"

    Sword aside, they should be an even match. Adom has experience and Sabbac has hellfire. Sabbac slashes at Adom with the Sword only for Adom to step inside his reach, push his sword arm aside with his right hand and slam his left fist into Sabbac's gut. He should win that fight if not for the Sword. I need to get William and Mattias out of here. Ring, power remaining?

    One hundred eighty eight percent remaining.

    Subspacing magic items drains power massively, in proportion to their power. That sword was made from the remains of the two great Demons that got sent here to keep the First of the Fallen from doing anything too creative.

    "-in caelum-"

    I can't tell how much of a drain it'll be. My armour's built in weapons should do alright against minor Demons… Sabbac spits fire into Adom's eyes and zips backwards as Adom takes a wild swing. Sabbac brings the sword back-.

    Fuck it.

    I transition forwards and slam both of my hands into the fist holding the sword. Crumble!

    "Bhlg!"

    His radiant power is already pushing against my construct armour but his grip loosens just a little. Grab it! Subspace it! Filaments connect to the hilt and pommel and… Gone!

    "No!"

    And I'm into the wall again and this time he's following up, diving at me. Adom catches his trailing left leg and spins, hurling him across the room. Ring, what's the damage?

    "-omnes-"

    Twelve percent remaining.

    Actually not as bad as I thought it would be. Can't transition back out to Fawcett but I'm not sure trying that in hell would be a good idea anyway. Can't fight meaningfully at twelve percent, but I wasn't making all that much headway in that direction even with a full charge. Is two percent enough to fly Mattias and William out? Have to be.

    Sabbac rallies, catching Adom right on the underside of his chin with his right elbow. Can't pay attention to that. Have to trust Adom. I fly across the room towards my fallen ally. William's rapidly losing consciousness and that's a lot of blood. I think it's gone through several ribs as well. Did the sword just bypass his resilience or is it also impeding his healing? Can he heal something like this? I actually don't know. I spare a glance in what I think was Timothy Karnes' direction but all I see is ash and rock.

    "-animas-"

    I stick a body cast construct around William, put a flight aura around both of them and then head for the opening. Ring, fly back the way we came, maximum speed. And drop personal acceleration.

    Compliance.

    "-praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent."

    The mists of this part of Hell shoot past us. Fewer shapes around us than there were on the way in, though I don't know whether that's because Adom killed them or because they've reached the exit. William manages to look at me for a moment and then closes his eyes and sags slightly. Given his injury losing consciousness is probably a mercy.

    "Where are we?"

    "Hell, Father."

    I think there's some sort of light up ahead. With luck, that's the Fawcett City sky I can see. Frederick, Mary and the Praexis swarm should have been able to deal with the lesser Demons. For a moment I try reaching out towards Fatty and Chubbs… Can't feel anything. Probably just the effect of being in Hell. If they'd been destroyed they'd just have fallen out of the ring again.

    The three of us zoom between the reaching tentacles of two of the Jellyfish Demons and out into the air. A quick glance shows me the mangled remains of some Imps, a couple of Praexis flying towards a head-on collision with what looks like a cross between a tadpole and a rock drill. Several rooftops are on fire but I rapidly select one that isn't and fly towards it. I land between twin slopes on the tiled structure. Okay, I can drop off Father Mattias and then see about-.

    In a burst of flame Sabbac appears in the air above the combat zone. A second later he's right in front of me, his face a rictus of hate and his right fist pulled back to deliver a hammer blow! "Die!"
     
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  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    10:49 GMT -6


    Shit! Reinforce! My construct armour's already cracking up as I accelerate my perception back to something that lets me actually see him. Maybe..? When Guy and I fight we use ablative layers of bubbles. Only really works in the air and I'm going to lose flight capacity-.

    Sabbac takes a pace back and gestures forwards with both hands. Shit, can it..? Father Mattias is frantically trying to drag Captain Marvel out of the danger zone. I can't afford to move! "Lieutenant, Mary, could really use-" The torrent of flame roars over me, rapidly eating through my construct armour. In fact, given the way my environmental shield is shuddering I think it's at least partially bypassing-.

    Warning: Spell Eater approaching critical temperature.

    I take another out of subspace before sending my current one there. "-some help here. We've got a new Sabbac-"

    Warning: low power. Ten percent remaining.

    "-and Captain Marvel's critically injured."

    The flames stop. For a second I wonder if-. Sabbac draws his shotgun and raises it in the direction of Father Mattias. I start bringing up the Ace. I've really got no reason to assume that he's somehow forgotten how to dodge-.

    A black streak flies out of the clouds and slams into Sabbac, carrying them both off into the Fawcett City skies. A moment later Frederick lands next to me. "Cap-? Oh no."

    I'm restoring my armour as I hurry over to William. "Lieutenant, does the Stamina of Atlas give you regeneration?"

    "I don't know!? I've never been hurt that bad before!"

    I send a pulse of orange light into William's injury. Blood pressure's way down, but… The bleeding should have slowed down by now. Clots aren't forming. It's like even normal healing has just been turned off. Heal. No reaction. Okay, I can block the damaged blood vessels to prevent further blood loss. Maybe replace the veins and arteries? Analyse blood type.

    Unable to analyse.

    Power of fucking Zeus. Aaaahh… One of the others could turn it off-. There's a very loud crash somewhere in the distance. Off, but the injury might kill William in his normal form.

    "How did Sabbac do this? Timothy never-."

    "Magic sword." Okay, what happened to the First when he got hit? Chantinelle stabbed him from behind, he asked what would happen to him… Can't remember anything else. "Demons taken care of?"

    "But… Sabbac…"

    "Let Adom deal with Sabbac."

    He nods. "I think we missed a few but there aren't any more coming out and your orange Demon things are chasing them down."

    "In that case I need you to try getting hold of the Wizard. The sword Sabbac used was designed to kill magic life forms and I don't know how to heal this." Frederick's eye's widen. "He won't die while I've got ring power. I'm going to head straight for the Fawcett City zeta tube and go back to.. base. Recharge, then.. put whatever solution the Wizard suggests into effect."

    Father Mattias looks seriously concerned as I bend to pick up William. Turns out that he doesn't weigh more than a man of his proportions should. "Constantine, John Constantine. Where is he?"

    I manoeuvre William into a fireman's carry. Don't want to waste ring power keeping him comfortable. "Still in Hell. He wasn't there when I evacuated and I couldn't track him. "

    "Merciful Lord."

    "Bloody hope so." I look at Frederick as I activate my flight belt. "Go!" I think I see him nod before he disappears in a blue blur.

    Okay, Fawcett City zeta tube is west of here. I rise off the ground and get myself pointed in the direction of my HUD marker, five Praexis Demons floating into a flanking position. The impression I'm getting from the others is that several of the fast Imps have headed away from the portal as fast as they can. I.. don't.. think that Demons can last on Earth without getting more power from somewhere, so as long as the Praexis have their scent they shouldn't be much trouble. The flock's expanded by.. nine..? And a quick look at the roads around the portal shows that the two smaller Marvels have done an excellent job of halting the demonic advance.

    I accelerate through the air. Estimated flight time, ninety seconds. Worth a construct booster rocket? No. I might need what little power I have left to fight off Sabbac if he breaks away from Adom. To say nothing of keeping William alive.

    Okay, going alright so far. My HUD shows me Father Mattias climb down from the roof onto a fourth floor balcony. Mary's over near part of the police cordon. I hear the sharp cracks as police marksmen start shooting at her! Why are they..? One of the Jellyfish Demons has attached tentacles to the officers and appears to be puppeting them. Pistols like those can't do anything like enough damage to injure Mary and she knows it full well, making sure to remain clearly visible so there's no chance of a shot missing and hitting someone who isn't bulletpro-. Bullet resistant. She moves, her right hand darting out, pulling guns out of their hands and crushing them one by one. Once the officers are disarmed they charge her while the Demon extends a tentacle along the ground towards her. Mary flies up in the air to bypass the police and then blasts towards the Demon, punching right through the body section and out the other side. A moment later the police slump to the ground.

    Nicely done. Next order of business, Justice League. "Orange Lantern to Watc- bwuh!" Street street fuckgetoutofthe way!

    "Aaaaagh!" / "Nonono!"

    Rubbernecking civilians flee in all directions as I hit the tarmac! The flight belt's kinetic absorption function sucks in the energy of the impact as I swing wildly with three x-ionised blades in a frantic attempt to keep Sabbac away! Keep them moving keep them moving! He's being forced to keep moving but his strikes-

    Warning: low power. Eight percent remaining.

    -are wearing my reserves down. I really need to make some kind of x-ionised air caltrop at some point. Come on Adom, don’t keep me waiting!

    "Gh." My three blades stop, one trapped inside Sabbac's left arm and the other two in the right side of his chest.

    Connection lost.

    The filaments tethering them to me wink out. How are they getting stuck? Those things should cut through any mundane material, and if the Indestructible Body of Aym didn't stop them cutting into him then they should just have kept going! Sabbac lunges forwards at me, grabs into my construct armour and squeezes, wisps of dark red fire flaring where he's holding on. Yet again the construct-disrupting effect he has starts to work. Bringing the Ace up forces him to evade for a second and I replenish-

    Warning: low power. Six percent remaining.

    -my armour but I'm forced to waste my remaining shots. Reloading from subspace costs power I can't really spare from my armour construct. Try flying up and hope someone on my side-?

    "Get away from him!" A blur of red as Mary flies at Sabbac and he's forced to evade before enveloping the street with his hellfire.

    I use the opportunity to break for the sky only for someone -Sabbac!- to grab hold of my right leg and squeeze! Have to-! Destruction pulse! The orange bolt strikes him directly in the face but he just takes it!

    Warning: low power. Five percent remaining.

    "No you don't!" Mary appears, arms locked around his neck and raised arm in a half nelson. "Shazam!"
     
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  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    10:52 GMT -6


    Lightning slams into them from a clear sky, brilliant gold as natural lightning never is.

    "UuH!" Sabbac shakes as it hits and loses his grip on my leg. I go for height as quickly as I can. Good job that didn't hit William.

    Good job Sabbac can't move either. Mary is reduced to her mortal form, her uniform being replaced by a dark blue t-shirt and white denim shorts. Oh shit, that's not-.

    "Shazam!"

    Boom!

    "RAaaaaaagggghhhhh!" Mary throws the still-twitching and smoking Sabbac across the road into the front of a building. The facade crumbles under the force of his impact.

    Back in her red dress Mary puts her hands on her hips. "And there's more where that oop!" Sabbac turns around with his right arm extended, throwing a torrent of fire straight at her head! She flies to evade and I accelerate in the direction of the zeta tube. Think I'll start looking into personal teleporters as well.

    "Orange Lantern to Watchtower. Situation in Fawcett City. Captain Marvel's down, there's a new Sabbac and he's opened a portal to Hell in the middle of the city."

    "Reading you loud and clear, Orange Lantern." Hawkwoman. I was.. sort of hoping for Guy or Mister Allen, but okay. "Who else is on site?"

    "Teth Adom, Lieutenant Marvel and Mary Marvel." Back on the ground Mary dodges a lunge and flies under Sabbac just as my supposed Praexis escort arrive. Without really looking around Sabbac throws fire at one as he tries to grabble Mary. The Praexis in question sucks the fire down Kirby-style, turning slightly purple as it does so. "And quite a lot of Praexis Demons and more than a few other Demons of various types."

    "Do you need assistance?"

    "If the Physician is available, please send him to the mountain. Sabbac swung a sword clean through the left side of Captain Marvel's chest. I can't heal it myself."

    "He'll be there kreeen shhhhuaaa-."

    Under five percent. "Sorry, I just lost translation. Say again?"

    "A few minutes. Rhr. Orange Lantern, I just ran a check on the Fawcett City zeta tube. It's non-responsive."

    "A minor technical glitch, or did something hit it?"

    "This morning's check showed no problems. Next nearest zeta tube is-."

    "Dakota City, too far."

    "I thought you could go faster than light and make zeta tube constructs."

    "Not on low power, and I don't want to risk Marvel starting bleeding again. I don't suppose that the Flash is available?"

    "Trickster's got him occupied."

    And neither Wallace or Jay are fast enough to cover the distance in a meaningful time. "I'll head to the Fawcett City zeta tube and see if I can make repairs. Shouldn't be much-." Bloof! I get just enough time to think 'again, really?' before slamming face first into the edge of a roof, spinning -shit, the belt's not working-, armoured zorb construct! Another strike and William and I are knocked flying, bouncing-

    Warning: low power. Three percent remaining.

    -like some sort of demented skipping stone from one building to the next. I focus on maintaining the zorb as Adom gets back from whatever he was doing to assail Sabbac once more. Maybe I could try and get Diana to include him in her sessions with Barda?

    "Orange Lantern! Report!"

    Yeah, give me a-. We clip the corner of a building and spin out into an empty car park. Luckily the ring's keeping my inner ear stable. I project a couple of construct hook-chains to the outside of the zorb and they dig into the cracked tarmac to bring us to a halt. "I'm okay. Sabbac got away from Teth Adom and went after me to try and get his sword back." I dismiss the zorb. "Flight belt's wrecked and I don't want to waste power repairing it. I'll head…" Someone walks out from one of the dilapidated industrial buildings at the far side of the car park. Short, thin man wearing a dull green suit. Bit of an odd place to be going for a walk. "I'll head towards the zeta tube on foot."

    "The Physician is in the mountain awaiting your arrival."

    "We should think about putting a zeta tube actually inside the medical bay. It really makes more sense than having it in the briefing room."

    "Katar said the same thing." I check my HUD again. Okay. Nine hundred metres. I shift William back into a proper fireman's carry. "We decided against it because if the system got infiltrated they'd come out amongst our wounded."

    I start walking in the direction of the zeta tube. "Yes, if only you had access to all of Mars' telepathic biotech. Then you could use telepathic identity checks using devices not compatible with Earth technology."

    "Ah. I suppose that could-."

    "And it's not as if you people use automated defences anyway. Unless someone's actually standing in the briefing room when someone comes in-."

    "Good morning." The man I spotted leaving the building raises his right hand in a cheerful greeting.

    "Excuse me." I switch to external. "Good morning, sir. I'm sorry I can't stop-."

    "Looks like Captain Marvel's been through the wringer, hey?"

    Ah-? "Yes?"

    "Then this shouldn't take too long. IBAC!" Green fire- "Hahaha!" -billows around his body, the shadow it casts within them steadily expanding as I check my grip on William and start running. "Now I'll finally-! Wait, where are you going? Come back!"

    Ibac gets.. strength, toughness and aggression from his transformation, right? He can't fly, but then neither can I at the moment. If I put William down I'd give myself even odds of beating him, but why bother? Once I'm recharged beating him will be easy and there's no one between here and the zeta tube.

    "Orange Lantern to Watchtower. Just to keep you informed, Ibac's on the loose as well."

    "Come back here!"

    Worth using a neural chaff grenade? No. If a pile of them didn't work on Sabbac I doubt that one would work on Ibac. Reloading the Ace and then using it would risk killing him. I hit my stride, power armoured legs eating up the ground between me and my destination. Super strong people can run pretty fast but if you put too much force into it you end up just launching yourself upwards. Kon and M'gann found me trying to run around without ring assistance hilarious, but unlike sparring with Black Canary it was time well spent. I burst out from between the remains of the industrial complex, leaning to the right as I do so. I'm pretty much wrecking the pavement… And that car, whoops. Running like this, but now it's just a straight run down the road-.

    "Ahah!" Ibac sends up a cloud of paving slabs as he lands just ahead of me. What's the idiot going to-? I slam into him without slowing and.. somehow he stays on his feet, bracing himself against me while his heels cut a furrow in the surface of the road. "No one is stronger than I-!" He stops himself. "I'm not falling for that again."

    I bring my left arm around to try and toss him out of the way but with most of my momentum gone there's nothing to stop him turning aside and performing a throw. I twist, trying to shield William from the landing as I crash down. Think I was mostly successful. Ugh, I can actually see the wooden fence disguising the zeta tube entrance from here.

    "I will show you my strength! Put Marvel down and face me!"
     
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    10:56 GMT -6


    Right. Ibac. Strong, tough, not particularly skilled and thick as anything.

    Would that work?

    "I'm sorry, who are you?"

    "I am-!" His eyes widen and his face twists like he's desperately trying to prevent himself shitting after a three day Mexican binge. Then his eyes narrow. "Oooooh, a clever one. Trying to outsmart me, hey?"

    "Worth a try." Ring, don't help without specific instruction.

    Compliance.

    "You can't trick I-. Me! I'm guided by the spirits-."

    "Of Ivan the Terrible, Cesare Borgia, Attila the Hun and Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus."

    He frowns. "Who's that last one?"

    Oh, for goodness sake. Really? Isn't he supposed to be able to speak to their spirits or something? "Caligula, it's the proper full name of Caligula. Caligula literally meaning 'little boots'." He looks blank. "It was a nickname, it wasn't his… Never mind." I gently unsling the recumbent William and lower him to the ground. In the distance I think I can hear a vehicle heading this way, probably an ambulance heading towards the police cordon. "Your name's Stanley Printwhistle, isn't it?"

    "No, it's-." He cuts himself off. "Oooooh. You're not Marvel, but I think I'm going to enjoy beating you nearly as much."

    "If you could give me an hour or two I could probably get Captain Marvel back on his feet. Then you could fight him."

    He looks as close to thoughtful as he can. "Hey, that's not a bad-." He twitches. "No!" I honestly don't know whether to laugh or cry.

    Right. Flight belt got destroyed by.. something Sabbac did, but the armour's other systems appear to be fully operational. I have taken part in Diana's super strength brawling lessons, so I know-.

    A Praexis Demon falls out of my the left hand ring. "Huh?" Not Fatty or Tubbs. Alright, I can use that. Praexis Demon, get him.

    It blinks, bares its teeth at Ibac, actually hisses Gollum-style and then dives at him with its stubby little arms outstretched.

    Ibac lunges forwards, his left fist meeting the Demon halfway. It disintegrates in a cloud of orange. Reappearing? Looks like not. Ring?

    Repeated manifestation requires power consumption. Ibac continues his run, charging me. Do you wish to remanifest?

    No. I make an awkward sidestep right as he reaches me, causing his first wild swing to miss. As he tries to arrest his momentum I bend my legs and lunge left sideways, shoulder barging him with all of my armour's mass and knocking him off his feet. I suspect that he's stronger than me but I'm heavier. He just rolls to his feet none the worse for wear and takes another swing. I take a couple of frantic tiny steps as I fully appreciate that in this armour I can't bend nearly as well as him, then step towards him, sticking out both hands to catch hold of the side of his extended right arm and elbow him in the face.

    He takes the blow without flinching and grabs hold of my right arm with his left hand, trying to pry it off. The armour strains but holds. He swings his forehead forwards, striking my helmet and making my HUD glitch out. I bring my right foot down hard on his left-

    "Aw!"

    -and then take advantage of his grip on me and comparative light weight to lift him off the ground, stepping forwards and then dropping down so that he ends up on his back on the road. Still, heavy combat norms apply; a little drop like that might stun a normal person but won't do a thing to him except put him in a worse position.

    I pull back slightly and smash my left fist into his face, aiming for his eyes. I manage three powerful shots to his right eye before he tries pushing my right arm into the way while he sits up. My own bulk is preventing me hitting somewhere like his diaphragm while he's distracted with guarding his face. This armour really isn't designed for knee strikes. Um… I lean forwards, overbalancing onto his face elbow first. He turns his head aside to deflect the blow and I end up lying on his face. He's shouting so hard that I can feel the vibrations through my chestplate but I can't make out the actual words.

    He's pulling his right arm outwards while his left pulls my right in the opposite direction. Try holding on and risk the armour breaking or go with it? It's not like he can really strike at me from this position. I open my right hand in one go and his left arm pulls it out from between us so suddenly that he reflexively loses his grip on it as his wrist gets twisted.

    "Get off me!"

    Can't bend my arms far enough to hit his head. I could try pushing up, but-. He brings his right fist around in a clumsy blow which hits me in the side and knocks me sideways. I have to use my right arm in order to steady myself. He pulls his right arm back again and as it touches the road surface I grab his wrist with my left hand and lean into it. He strains for a moment but even as strong as he is he can't get any leverage. I feel a slight shudder as he tries to kick at me but I'm so far forwards he can barely make contact. A moment later the vibrations change as he tries to get enough momentum to jerk himself upright. No, that doesn't work. Next he tries pushing off the ground in a sort of crab posture but that isn't happening either.

    Well what n-?

    "Ibac."

    Aaaaaaghhhh! Green fire flares around me as he triggers his transformation. I feel my skin burning and dozens of damage warnings appear on my armour's HUD as components burn out. Focus! He's now much smaller and I can-.

    Warning: Spell Eater approaching critical temperature.

    "Ibac!"

    Grahhaaaghhah! Bloewgh! I'm thrown clear to his right, crashing onto the road and skidding along its surface! I nearly gag as the armour's control system detects my injuries and shoves a straw into my mouth to feed me a healing potion. Minor injuries only but it should help with my burns. I've… There was no report of Ibac being able to use his transformation effect as a weapon. Okay. Arms… Just about functioning. I clumsily plant my right hand on the ground and start to push myself up.

    "Hah. Haaah. You think… Ugh You think you can get the best of me?" Ibac's back on his feet, staggering slightly. "I fight the World's Mightiest-" Left hand plant, try moving my left knee. "-Mortal as an equal!" Not happening. Right? Yes, that's working. Would have been slightly further away. Oh dear, Ibac's heading this way. Plasma pistol out of subspace, shoot him repeatedly in the head and hope I can fix the zeta tube before William bleeds out? Not a good plan but I can't think of anything better right…

    Is the ground shaking?

    I can turn just enough to watch as a humvee drives straight into Ibac, driving him through the glass frontage of a shop called 'Oriental Teas' and into the inner wall. The driver -a blonde woman in purple denim trousers and a red turtleneck- shoves open the door on the passenger side and gets out, hurrying out into the street.

    Her eyes alight on me first. "Are you still alive in there?!"

    "I'm fine."

    There's a sound of shattering glass and shifting rubble as Ibac pushes the humvee backwards. The blonde woman looks around. "Hell." She dashes to the side, hopefully out of his line of sight as I renew my efforts to rise. Right knee.. down… Shift weight back

    Too slow. Ibac trudges out of the shop, eyes fixed on me. "I will deal with you. Then-."

    The blonde woman creeps up behind him, jumps and grasps his neck in a textbook carotid sleeper hold. Oh no, what's she thinking! He'll just..? Ibac.. staggers..? He brings his hands back to try and throw her off but she's maintaining her grip. Er, right, rock back slightly to get my right foot down, twist the left leg into a more supportive position. Ibac collapses beneath her and she maintains her hold for a moment before lifting herself off him. She dusts her hands off before jogging over to me and lifting me back onto my feet with little visible effort.

    Ah. Now I remember her face. "Thank you, Miss Sivana."
     
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    11:00 GMT -6


    "Doctor Sivana, thank you. I didn't spend six years at medical school to be referred to as 'Miss'. Now, where's Captain Marvel?"

    I take a hobbling step. I can sort of move, then. The motors in my right arm protest as I raise it to point. "Just behind that car." She turns away and hurries over to him. "And it wasn't supposed to be a sexist thing. There are nine different people called 'Doctor Sivana', you're just the only one who's an unmarried woman."

    "Nine?" She comes to a halt next to William and kneels down to examine him. "Oh God. What happened?"

    I step-drag in the direction of the wooden fence. The wood is just wood, so even with little strength or coordination I should be able to just crash through it. "Sivana's an unusual name, but it's hardly unique. Six in your family, not counting multiple doctorates, and three others I was able to locate."

    "What happened to-."

    "New Sabbac slashed him through the chest with a magical Demon sword. I'm using a power ring to stop him bleeding out but he's lost a lot of blood already. The sword appears to be preventing him from regenerating."

    "How deep?"

    "Clean through the ribs and the lung to a depth of about sev-. Three inches at the deepest. Didn't hit his spine or oesophagus."

    "We need to get him to a hospital." She bends down to lift him up. "I'll put you both in my hummer-."

    "Already in hand." I half punch/half shoulder barge through the fence and it disintegrates. "There's a Justice League zeta tube just through here. It'll take us directly to a specialist in metahuman medicine." The Fawcett City photo booth zeta terminus has been ripped from its mooring, a chunk of the outer casing torn off and the screen punched in. Easy enough fix…

    Wait. Did Ibac do that in Ibac-mode and then turn back?

    She moves William into a fireman's carry and walks past me into the alleyway. "One expert? This is a two person job at least! You're taking me with you." Doctor Sivana ♀ in the mountain. How would Batman-? "Don't even try to argue with me, you can barely move yourself." She's right, and she probably has the knowledge to help but I don't think this is going to win me Bat points. "Wait. That's the zeta tube?"

    "Ibac did some remodelling." What's the most energy efficient way to go about this? "Could you please pick up the front bit and set it back down where it used to be?"

    I get an annoyed glance. "Did your power ring stop working?"

    "It will in a moment. I'm using all remaining power to keep Captain Marvel alive. Why did you think I was having trouble with Ibac of all people?"

    "Ah, okay." She crouches to put William down. "I'm sorry, it's just… Seeing him like this…"

    "Don't worry, just do it."

    "Okay." She checks the outline of the cleaner part of the concrete, takes hold of the photo booth and lifts slightly before pulling it around. The back half snaps off and falls to the ground on its side but none of the important mechanisms are in there. "Now what?"

    "Now, I reconnect the torn cable-" Done. "-and hope that's all it needs. Orange Lantern to Hawkwoman?" No response. Armour's transmitter probably got fried. Okay, still manageable. "Stick Marvel in front of the camera and hold him there. I'm going to have to check the systems and I might run completely out of power part way through."

    She moves back to pick him up. "What happens if you do?"

    "The constructs keeping him from bleeding to death stop working and he dies in short order."

    "Okay."

    Ring, connect to the zeta tube's control systems.

    Compliance. Warning: low power. Two percent remaining.

    Physical strain shook loose a few components and tripped the safety. Probably would have worked anyway… Except the override is remote and I can't contact the Watchtower. Fix that, add Beautia Sivana to the system and reprogram it for multi-person transportation…

    Warning: low power. One percent remaining.

    Fucking made it. I limp within the transportation radius and activate the tube.

    12th February
    12:03 GMT -5


    "Recognised, Captain Marvel, one five, Orange Lantern, B zero six, Beautia Sivana, A three one."

    As the lights fade I see Mister Yao waiting for us, along with M'gann, Kon and Wallace. "Wait, who's tha-?" Wallace's question is cut off as Doctor Sivana strides past him with Captain Marvel. "Oh no."

    Mister Yao steps forwards and I can just about hear some sort of low pitch humming noise. "Wǒ cào." He breathes in sharply. "Miss Martian, take Captain Marvel to the medical centre immediately." Her eyes glow and William floats off Doctor Sivana ♀'s shoulder. "Explain, please, what has occurred."

    "Captain Marvel was struck by a sword forged from the remains of two immensely powerful Demons. It appears to have bypassed his normal resistances and is generally messing up his innate magics."

    "Yes, I heard that. Come." He turns to follow M'gann and Marvel towards the medical bay, sparing a moment to glance at Doctor Sivana ♀. "And who is this?"

    "Doctor Tia Sivana. I'm an MD and a friend of Captain Marvel."

    "Then I thank you for your assistance. Follow me."

    I stay standing inside the zeta tube as they go. Kon looks me over. "What's going on? I saw on the news that-."

    "Superboy, my armour's pretty much given out. I need you to carry me to my room at best possible speed please." He hesitates. "Right now."

    He jogs in, lifts me in a bridal carry and starts running. Not comfortable, but I'll live. Wallace hurries along besides us. "Was that Doctor Sivana as in Thaddeus Sivana?"

    "His eldest daughter. She's legal. Like Magnificus, only not a dick."

    "Is she allowed in here?"

    "Captain Marvel's mortally injured, so yes."

    "But what if I wasn't wearing my uniform? What if she'd seen my face?"

    "She doesn't know who you are, Wallace. Unless someone identified you by name -your full name- she still wouldn't be able to track you down."

    "Hey." I'm assuming that Kon's looking at me, I can't see his face from this position. "You okay?"

    "Mildly burned from Ibac's transformation effect. Thanks for the potion, Wallace. Prrrobably going to need another one."

    "You ran out of power that fast?"

    "Stole Sabbac's sword so Adom could fight him without ending up like Marvel. Used about a hundred and seventy percent power to move it into subspace. Then Sabbac hit me. A lot. Super speed, super toughness, super strength, construct resistance, I can deal with any one. Or two. All four at once was pushing it."

    Wallace goes ahead of Kon to push open the door to my room. Kon puts me down on my feet at the threshold and I stagger forwards towards salvation. "Reveal." My lantern shimmers into being and I wrench my gauntlets up to face it.

    "This is my cause…"
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    12:06 GMT -5


    Wallace looks sceptically at the sword. "That took a hundred and seventy percent of a normal power ring charge?" He reaches out-.

    I jerk it back. "Don't touch it."

    He pulls his hand back. "Just doesn't look like all that much. If it's a Demon sword, shouldn't it be all grey and on fire? And why's it split down the middle?"

    "It was made using the remains of the two most powerful Demons in Hell, the Second of the Fallen and the Third of the Fallen. If I had to guess, I'd say that one prong was created from each of them. And don't assume that Demons are always going to look appropriately demony. The Succubus who created it used to date an Angel."

    Kon nods. "Exactly how dangerous is it?"

    "The only time I know of it being used… Before Sabbac Two used it on Captain Marvel anyway, was to kill the First of the Fallen. The First is… There isn't a Satan, but if there was? It would be him. As for how dangerous it is, I haven't seen any exotic effects but Captain Marvel's.. top tier physical toughness and it cut through him like a hot knife through thin air and negated his healing."

    We've gathered in the gymnasium, which is the room closest to the medical bay. On the wall the television screen shows Mary and the Praexis Demons doing battle with some sort of strange flying burning dinosaur skeleton. The camera's given up on trying to keep up with Adom and Sabbac. They're just moving too fast. Adom appears to not only be holding his own but preventing Sabbac from disengaging.

    M'gann looks up as Doctor Sivana ♀ walks into the room. "Any improvement?"

    She shakes her head. "Three different forms of exotic cell regeneration, no effect. Doctor Yao's.. humming, hasn't done any better."

    "He's not actually a qualified medical doctor yet."

    "The point is, I haven't studied magic but I know dangerous spells when I see them. We'd need to nullify the magic, and according to you that's.. pretty much impossible."

    "The rune stone exploded. It didn't even do that when I waved it at Nabu." She blanks. "Fate… The.. gold and blue…" She nods. "Okay, stop me if I'm being stupid. Have you tried excising the tissue along the edge-."

    "Yes. No effect."

    "Bridging the gap artificially?"

    "Yes, but his cells won't engraft on the material we used. If he stays lying there for a few days we can bridge the important blood vessels and glue the bones but he'd.. almost certainly have to retire. How far away can you maintain the construct you're using?"

    I shake my head. "If it came to it I'd just give him a ring.. but.. that's not a good position for either of us."

    "Why not?"

    "If Sabbac was any guide Marvel's own magics would resist the construct. Power rings require you to think in certain ways to use them properly. Marvel doesn't think orange, so I'm not sure that he could maintain the construct properly on himself. Plus… Constructs don't stay on while you sleep. Whenever he slept I'd have to be in the building-."

    "Incoming communication from: Catherine Cobert."

    I look around. "Did we.. miss some sort of press conference?"

    Wallace frowns. "Don't think so."

    "Answer?"

    The news footage is replaced by Miss Cobert's face. "Orange Lantern, we've had a call from someone claiming to be 'Lieutenant Marvel'. Normally we'd just have screened it, but they described particulars of the situation in Fawcett-."

    I didn't give him my phone number and William hasn't shared League communication protocols with them. Darn it..! "Put him through. Actually, ring? Steal call."

    "Call acquired."

    "Thank you Miss Cobert. Off." The screen deactivates and I raise my left hand to my ear. "Got some good news for us?"

    "Orange Lantern? I thought they were going to leave me on hold forever. Is B-. The Captain okay?"

    "He's alive. Still unconscious and we can't fix the injury. Was Shazam able to tell you anything?"

    "Yeah, he thinks that the sword is only stopping the magic we normally use fixing him. He said if we got hold of some other kind of healing magic that should work fine."

    Ring, thought to speech.

    Compliance.

    What happens to injuries you take in a fight when you change back?

    "Cuts open up again and we bruise a whole lot worse. Why, you're not turning him back-!"

    No, but the only magic based healing I have is the Danner Formula and I can't use it on him while he's transformed. Except… Why did the wizard choose him?

    "What? 'Cause he's a really nice guy. Pure of heart.. and.. rejected the Enemies of Man without thinking about it."

    "Okay, got a possibility. I'll phone you back when I have something concrete."

    "Hey." Kon's floating slightly off the ground, having just finished donning his armour. "Ask if they want some help."

    "Ring, end call." I lower the ring slightly. "Kon, Batman authorises us to go on missions."

    "Well, yeah, but if it's an emergency…"

    "You heard what he said after the LexCorp thing. Are you ready for full exposure?"

    "No, but-."

    "If you want to go to Fawcett -and I don't recommend it- you need Batman's permission, not mine. Ring, contact Cornwall Boy."

    "Compliance."

    "You're sending him?"

    "No. The Sword of Beowulf works properly for the pure of heart. I'm hoping it will work for Captain Marvel. I'm going to try and get-."

    "Yeah mate, what is it?"

    "Cornwall, I need you to drop whatever you're doing and come to the mountain immediately. And bring the Sword. I'm sorry, but you might not be getting it back."

    "Why, what'd I do?"

    "Nothing, but Captain Marvel's in critical condition and he needs it more."

    "Oh, right, yeah, okay, it'll… Wait, so how come you're not picking me up?"

    "I'm preventing him from bleeding out. Can't leave."

    "Er. Okay, you know how that guy you know said that standing stones kept geomantic energy focused but didn't really create it? I've found a place where it naturally pools. If I teleport from there… I should be there in about.. ten minutes? That alright?"

    "It'll have to be. Go."
     
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    12:14 GMT -5


    "You were wrong." Robin looks around from the recording of Hell he's had playing on the monitor since he ran in. "They're not writhing. I think they're.. praying."

    Reluctantly, I turn my attention to the clip he's got paused. The field of torsos. I was actively trying not to think about it particularly hard but the ring recorded the whole thing. The torsos are naked, a mix of male and female and none of them in good condition. Wounds of various kinds, burns and boils… Most don't have heads, and on those that do they're sort of.. pulled into the neck. Most have both arms intact and some even have hands. They're not all facing the same direction, but… There's a sort of uneven arc

    "They're all facing the tower."

    Robin nods. "Looks like. Computer, play, one quarter speed."

    I watch a small group in the bottom left of the screen. They can't see each other and there's no effort being made at coordination. But each one… Bow forwards, circle left to come upright, bow forwards, circle right to come upright. Repeat. Sometimes they get in each other's way, but otherwise…

    M'gann's face couldn't get any whiter, but her eyes are wide with horror. "Is that what.. happens to Humans..? When they die? Their souls.. end up.. like that?"

    "Only monotheists who don't live up to their own standards. That's why you should kill every missionary you-" I hear running feet outside the gym. "-come across."

    Rob bursts into the room at an appreciable fraction of Wallace. "Whereis'e?" Then he drops the Swift Wind spell, bends over with his hands on his thighs and starts panting.

    I stand. "Thank you for coming so promptly. He's currently in the medical bay, I'll take you through."

    "Uuh. Ran all the…" He breaks off to pant some more. "Sodding. Way."

    "I'm sure Captain Marvel will appreciate it when he wakes up."

    Robin turns away from the screen with a frown. "Why do you think the Sword of Beowulf has healing properties? Artemis and Zatanna's report only mentioned Harm throwing lightning."

    "I compared the level of force Artemis can exert with the injuries Mister Hayes was recorded as having after the event and his post-arrest recovery time. He should have been down far longer than he was and he tested negative both for metahuman traits and magic use. That only really leaves the sword."

    "Hope you're right."

    "Yeah. Me too." Rob straightens up and follows me as I walk out into the corridor. Of course, even if it does improve his healing that doesn't guarantee that he'll be up and about again within a timeframe useful to the Fawcett City situation. Just have to hope that he's well enough that I can go back. Adom and Sabbac are still battering each other and Mary, Frederick and the Praexis are just about able to destroy the things still coming out of the hellgate but they're not making any progress. We need to shut it down.

    I press the button to open the door to the medical bay and enter, Mister Yao and Doctor Sivana ♀ looking around as I do so. Mister Yao has his fingers on William's head… Some sort of pressure point stimulation? I haven't studied how his magic healing works. Probably an oversight but it's not like Sephtian has any spare time these days.

    William's costume has been removed from his torso so that Doctor Sivana ♀ and Mister Yao can better access the site of the injury. Doctor Sivana ♀'s pacing, apparently in an attempt to burn off nervous energy. Don't I remember something from the comics about her having a romantic interest in Captain Marvel? I take a closer look at her but the yellow is overshadowing everything at the moment. She rapidly walks over to us as Rob unslings the sheath of the Sword of Beowulf and holds it out. Doctor Sivana ♀ looks at it for a moment and wrinkles her nose. "Is that a.. hand? What are we supposed to do with that?"

    "I have reason to believe that it grants the user healing abilities. It's tested clean of demonic influences so.. it can't really make the situation worse."

    Doctor Sivana ♀ takes hold of it with obvious reluctance and walks back to William. Rob follows her and then stops suddenly. "Wait. If he's unconscious, how's he gunna say the words?"

    "We have to wake him up. Doctors, were the blood tests alright?"

    Mister Yao nods. "I could sense no rejection between the blood taken from Captain Marvel and the donated blood Robin was able to acquire. The sample you cloned, it… It felt wrong. None of my past lives remember encountering such a lack of spiritual substance."

    I nod. With time, we could probably set up some sort of mana infusion system for cloned blood samples but that's time we don't have now. "Donor samples it is then."

    Doctor Sivana ♀ shakes her head. "I'm not sure that's a good idea at all. We have no idea how the magic empowering Captain Marvel will react to donated blood."

    "The alternative is I call one of the other Marvels in here to force him to change back, and that could well kill him by itself, as well as reducing Fawcett City's defences."

    "Could you use your ring to force his larynx to move and make him speak that way?"

    "The Power of Zeus makes his body resist my constructs. I can give it a go" She nods as she places the scabbard on William's chest before taking hold of his right hand and folding it around the grip. "You should.. probably stand back… You too, Mister Yao."

    She pats William's hand before stepping away from the table. Mister Yao nods sadly. "You are correct. I am.. too impure to stand before such a sword. Be well, Captain." He steps backwards to clear the space around William's bed.

    Right then. I hold up my left hand slightly and send filaments down William's throat. No problem so far; I was a little worried his mouth would act like a warding circle and prevent entry. In my mind's eye the ring shows me the filaments connecting to the muscles in his throat. Immediately they start to fade out. I use more power, thickening the orange lines into something that's clearly visible. Those last better but I can't make contact over a small enough area to precisely manipulate his body.

    "Eynn. Aann."

    I shake my head. "Sorry, it's not happening."

    Rob stares at William's recumbent body. "Good, 'cause that was creepy."

    Doctor Sivana ♀ nods. "Alright, donor blood it is." She looks at a blood bag in a nearby tray and I pick it up with a construct. "Bring his pressure up gradually. None of the exposed veins are ideal for this procedure. Mister Yao, monitor him constantly. Inform me at once of any changes."

    Mister Yao nods as I hook the blood bag up to the constructs I have keeping his lungs working properly. I'd like to speed this up, but she's right. We just don't know enough about what the effect of rapidly increasing the blood pressure of someone like Captain Marvel would be. "Blood going in now." Not a lot changes visually. The construct tubes I'm using are narrow enough and bright enough that the passage of the dull red blood through them doesn't change their colour noticeably. Nothing else to do while that works, reall-. Oh, whoops. "Mister Yao, has anyone contacted.. um, Captain Marvel's… Contact? If he was watching the news he's probably frantic."

    "I do not believe so."

    Ah, poop. "Cornwall, would you mind? His number's on the system."

    "Sure, no problem. I'll just, um, leave you to it."

    "Thank you." I take a moment, watching William's chest weakly rise and fall.

    "His contact?"

    I glance at Doctor Sivana ♀ and nod. "Yes. Emergency contact. Someone who's in on your secret identity if you have one, and.. who gets notified if you're seriously injured. You saw on the news that Marvel was seriously injured so by now the whole city probably knows. It's a.. violent job we have, and maintaining a division between personal life and public life… There's only so many times work colleagues will believe 'skiing accident'."

    "Are you..? Can you tell me..?"

    "His uncle, but don't ask more than that."

    She nods, and pulls up a chair to wait for William to regain consciousness.
     
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    12:22 GMT -5


    "Uuu-Uuhhh?" William's eyelids flicker and the eyes behind them try to focus. Whatever else the Sword did to him at least it doesn't appear to be affecting the resilience of the other parts of his body. His right hand tightens around the hilt of the Sword of Beowulf and he blinks with a little more coordination. "What hit me?"

    I disconnect the blood bag and move it out of his line of sight. "Sabbac Two."

    "There's.. two of them? Wait, where am I?"

    I glance at Doctor Sivana ♀. Does she..? She rolls her eyes and mouths 'Mount Justice' at me. "You're in the mountain's medical bay. I'm sorry to say that you've been seriously injured."

    "Oh, that's not a problem. I've got the-" He tries to sit up. "Stamina of owowowowow." He lies back down. "Or not."

    "Captain, I realise that this is going to sound a little odd, but I need you to do something for me."

    He turns his head slightly so he can look at me, wincing slightly as he does so. "Um, okay?"

    "Please say: Abannan."

    "A bannan?"

    "Afol."

    "Afol."

    "Beowulf."

    A slight frown. "Isn't that what Cornwall Boy says when he uses…" He glances down. "Oh. Why have I got his sword?"

    Doctor Sivana ♀ steps around so he can see her. "Because we can't work out how to fix the wound Sabbac inflicted on you."

    "Oh, hey Miss Tia." Oh shit he didn't. William knows Doctor Sivana ♀ both as Captain Marvel (as the daughter of his enemy Doctor Sivana Senior) and William Batson (the tutor who's trying to make up for his years of missed schooling) but she doesn't know they're one and the same. And he's still woozy. He wouldn't call her 'Miss Tia' in Captain mode, would he? Is she going to notice? "What brings you here?"

    She lays her right hand on his shoulder. "You do. Now do what Orange Lantern says so you can get back to Fawcett."

    "I wasn't joking about keeping back, Doctor."

    William looks around the sword at his injury. "That looks deep. How.. bad is it?"

    "Captain, please."

    "Abannan.. afol.. Beowulf." There's a really quite unpleasant sound as the hand gripping the guard releases its hold, dead flesh shifting with an audible oozing cracking noise. "Oh, that's gross."

    Glad it worked anyway. "Now, you just need to draw the sword."

    "Why?"

    "We think it should heal the injury you took. The magic in the Sword doesn't start acting until it's drawn."

    He moves left hand to grip the scabbard, wincing as severed muscles try pulling on connections that aren't there anymore. He ends up just laying his forearm over the scabbard before starting to pull the sword free. Orange lightning crackles around the exposed metal of the blade, shining brilliantly as the point of the sword leaves its necromantic prison. William squeezes his eyes shut. "Does this have a dimmer switch?"

    Not really sure what happens next. Mister Hayes only killed the curator when he stole the sword but the police officers who we assume witnessed him activating it weren't in any state to remember exactly what they'd seen. Orange-gold lights the same colour as the lightning appear on William's skin directly over his heart. Looks like a sort of.. irregular spiky circle thing? I was expecting an actual rune but the pattern looks random. From there filaments of orange lightning flicker down William's right arm until they make contact with the blade and are drawn into it, giving it a white-orange glow. And then the light dims.

    William waits a moment, then narrowly opens his eyes. "Is that it? 'Caaaause I don't feel any better. And my chest is glowing."

    "Let me check… Ring?"

    "Cellular regeneration is occurring at the injury site."

    "Looks like we're good." At the deepest part of the wound I press the severed tissues together. Tiny amounts of orange lightning crackle around it in a way that looks like it should be excruciating, but… Cell growth occurs, holding lung tissue and blood vessels together. I pull my construct flesh back a little further and watch the same thing happen again. "Definitely working."

    "What's happening back in Fawcett?"

    "Adom's fighting Sabbac and Mary and Lieutenant Marvel are preventing any more Demons breaking out."

    William twitches as his ribs are fused back together. "And what about Father Mattias and Mister Constantine?"

    "Father Mattias was alright when I left. We.. 'misplaced' John in Hell."

    "Oh no."

    "He'll be fine. Any Demon that tries touching him would get burned to death by the Seal of Solomon tattoo he's got all over his skin." I flick my left hand, visibly dismissing the filaments connecting me to William's rapidly disappearing cut. Maybe that jolt nullified the effect of the sword and his normal abilities are kicking back in? Mister Hayes certainly didn't get up that quickly from the beating Artemis gave him. Though I suppose that could have been due to how widespread his injuries were or the fact that she returned the Sword to its scabbard as soon as he went down.

    William cautiously sits up. "That's better, but it still aches."

    "Captain, you just got cut open by the sword which killed the First of the Fallen. If Sabbac hadn't messed up his first strike you'd be dead. If Adom or I had been slower getting there, you'd be dead."

    "Okay, but I'm alive." He swivels his legs over the side of the bed. "So I need to get back out-."

    "You most certainly do not." Doctor Sivana ♀ firmly presses her left hand against his chest. "You are in no shape to leave this medical facility, let alone fight a demonically empowered superhuman."

    "I am too-." She pokes him in the bruise. "Ow!" She raises her eyebrows and he looks away. "Okay… Maybe I'm not."

    "I'll head back to Fawcett-."

    "Wait, why can't your power ring heal me?"

    "Because the Power of Zeus makes it very hard to alter you with external power."

    "So if I turned my powers off, you could fix me up, right?"

    "Well… Yes, in theory. You're healed enough the trauma shouldn't kill you now."

    Doctor Sivana ♀ looks puzzled. "You can turn your powers off?"

    "Great! Ah, yeah, I can. Um, could you.. step outside for a moment?"

    She looks at me and Mister Yao. "But these two can stay?"

    Mister Yao nods. "Orange Lantern and I are both familiar with Captain Marvel's secret identity. You are not."

    "Oh, fine. I'll be outside." She walks around the bed and heads towards the door.

    William peers around me until the door hums shut behind her. "Shazam!" Lightning crackles from nowhere and William Batson reappears. He immediately checks his chest and sees that the glowing circle over his heart is still there. "Cool!" He looks up at me. "Could you-?"

    The door hums open. "Oh, I just forgot to mention oh God you're a child." Doctor Sivana ♀ gapes. "You're William Batson?!" Awwww shit. "Billy?"

    William sheepishly raises his right hand to wave. "Hi.. Miss Tia… How's it going?"
     
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    12:26 GMT -5


    "Ring, heal William and revoke Doctor Sivana's zeta tube privileges. "

    Doctor Sivana ♀ leans against the medical bay wall, head bowed with her right hand pressed against her forehead. "oH gOd, I'm A pEdOpHiLe."

    "Compliance."

    "Ahhh..?"

    "William, you're as fixed as I can make you. I think that now would be an opportune moment to transform and return to Fawcett."

    Instead, he takes a few steps towards Doctor Sivana ♀. "Are you okay? I mean, I sort of knew you liked me… Captain Marvel-"

    "Oh God."

    "-but apart from that time you kissed-"

    "oH gOd."

    "-it really wasn't-."

    "William. City?"

    His head whips around to look at me. "Right." He turns back to Doctor Sivana ♀. "Just sit tight and we can talk about this when I get back. Shazam!" Another flare of electricity and Captain Marvel reappears, uniform fully intact. He checks himself over quickly and then looks thoughtfully at the sword in his hand. "What else does this do?"

    "Fires lightning at your discretion. Nothing else that we know of."

    "Does it have a.. less creepy scabbard?"

    Oh for goodness… I hold out my right hand. Ring, fabricate a scabbard. "It does now. Just leave the zombie thing here."

    He heads towards the door, picking the scabbard from my hand as he passes. "Thank you!"

    "I will accompany you also." Mister Yao straightens his jacket before heading after William. "I am not sure that I could meaningfully fight Sabbac, but I may be able to assist in closing the gateway to the nether realm."

    The door closes behind them as I regard Doctor Sivana ♀ for a moment. "Would you mind explaining what you thought you-?"

    "I just thought if I-! Ergh!"

    Still incoherent. Quick burst of empathic vision then. Ah. "You thought that if you knew his secret identity he'd be less formal with you when you met in public. And you wanted-."

    "I don't want it any more!" She manages to look up. "How does he even-?"

    "Just… Okay, look, he's ten, you're a Danner enhancile."

    A frown. "How do you know-?"

    "Your expected lifespan is at least three times that of a normal Human so by the time he's old enough-"

    She sags. "Please… Stop."

    "-for it not to be creepy you'll still be a young woman. " Maybe that wasn't the right thing to say. "Excuse me."

    I appear in the training area just ahead of William and Mister Yao. My team mates -Wallace, Kon, M'gann, Robin and Rob- and our pets -Wolf, Sphere and Teekl- are already there. Kon's in full armour, M'gann's in whiteface… Ah.

    Kon looks directly at me. "We're coming with you."

    I meet the eyes of each of my team mates. "I take it Batman hasn't signed off on this?"

    Robin glances to the side. "Batman's.. kinda busy."

    "I don't have the authority to deploy the team. If you choose to participate as individuals, I won't try to stop you. Miss Martian, do not use telepathy in the vicinity of Demons." She nods. "Unless you absolutely cannot avoid him, stay away from Sabbac. Leave him to Captain Marvel and Adom. Search and rescue and maybe a little Demon fighting." Nods from the group.

    Marvel flies towards the zeta tube, stopping just short. "You guys coming with?"

    "Looks like."

    "Cool. Let me go first, though. Ibac might have-."

    "Recognised, Teekl, C zero one."

    "Huh? Oh…" He hesitates for a moment before flying into the tube. "I'm next!"

    "Recognised, Captain Marvel, one five."

    "Sphere, you'll be carrying Robin and Accomplished Perfect Physician." The Sphere warbles at me. It's funny, I've gotten so used to seeing the Sphere around the cave that I don't really think about it. A sentient giant alien metal sphere is no longer worth noting. "Superboy, you're next. Head towards the combat zone and support the police cordon."

    He nods, then flies into the tube with Wolf loping after him. "Recognised, Superboy, B zero four, Wolf, C zero three."

    "Kid Flash-."

    He holds up his bandoleers. "Evacuation and potion supply duty. Got it." I nod.

    "Recognised, Kid Flash, B zero three."

    "Miss Martian, I don't know if invisibility will work on Demons. Focus on search and rescue."

    "Got it."

    "Recognised, Miss Martian, B zero five."

    "Cornwall, clear up any Demons that reach ground level." An unusually decorative x-ionised sword appears from subspace. "And if the American Department of Defence ask-. "

    He nods solemnly. "Bin in my family for generations."

    "Recognised, Cornwall Boy, B one zero."

    My turn. I'm taking the Sword with me in case something magic -like Satanus himself- turns up. I checked, and we're allowed to kill Demons. Since I'm sure that if I can get it from Sabbac he could certainly take it from me, I've got it in a warded scabbard which obscures its general shape. Hopefully he won't spot it until I have to use it. "Robin, keep watch on everything. I'm going to be busy so you'll need to coordinate."

    "You got it."

    I step into the tube. "Recognised, Orange Lantern-

    12th February
    11:29 GMT -6


    "-B zero six."

    I rise out of the alley, tossing Kon a set of enchanted manacles as he keeps Ibac's face firmly planted in the road with Wolf growling in his left ear. And I do mean in the road, his face has been smashed clean through the tarmac.

    "Recognised, Accomplished Perfect Physician, two zero."

    I recreate my armour construct and add a couple of autoturrets, with an armature for the Ace.

    "Recognised, Sphere, C zero three."

    I rise higher into the air as the Sphere transforms into her flying bike mode and Mister Yao takes the rear seat.

    "Recognised, Robin, B zero one."

    I get above the buildings and look towards the Hell portal. Yep, still billowing clouds. I can dimly feel the minds of the Praexis Demons as they chase a new Drill Wurm. Right, so the tower is the focus of the magic. With Sabbac busy I can head back into Hell-.

    The clouds around the tower billow upwards and outwards, covering the Fawcett City sky in a matter of seconds! Visibility drops and all around me on every flat surface praying torsos shimmer into being.

    Ah… Poop.
     
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    11:30 GMT -6


    There's no moaning. No blasphemous prayers. No chanting. Just a slightly damp slapping as their arms make contact with whatever surface they appeared on. And a slightly damp breathing sound as their lungs take in and breathe out air through their neck holes. A quick look through the windows of the nearby buildings shows that they appeared on external surfaces only.

    Kon roughly lifts the clearly surprised Ibac's face out of the road. "What happened!?"

    "I don't know! I was just supposed to watch the teleporter! What are they?"

    The Sphere pulls up alongside me with Robin in the front seat. "Look at the tower." Tower? What..? I look towards where the Hell portal used to be. The car park appears to have returned, though at this distance and with visibility this bad I'm making an assumption based on the silhouette. "Are you still in contact with the Praexis Demons?"

    "Yes." Fatty? Chubbs? Chubbs was chasing Imps near the city limits but Fatty is still near the portal. "The car park has been transformed into a demonic fortification. That'll be the focal point of the ritual so that's where I'm going."

    M'gann looks around. "Where are all the people?"

    "Either evacuating or staying inside." Wait, city limits. Chubbs, try flying… Fuck. "There's a barrier around the city. The Imps were tracing it out. I don't think the torsos so much left Hell as we got dragged in."

    Robin nods. "What now?"

    How do you stop ritual magic? Destroy the ritual space.

    "Have you brought incendiaries?"

    "Never leave home without 'em."

    I bring up a construct map of the city. "Go to the closest ritual point and incinerate everything. We were leaving it for evidence, but this takes priority. Kid Flash, Cornwall, Wolf: get in the Sphere-Bike and go with them." Wait. I look at Mister Yao. "If that's alright with you, sir?"

    He thinks for a moment, then nods. "The idea is sound. How does one steer-?" The Sphere lowers to just above street level, allowing Wallace and Rob to clamber on board.

    Kon looks up, continuing to hold Mister Printwhistle in place. "What do you want me to do with this guy?"

    "Mister Printwhistle, we don't have time to be nice to you. Change back and we'll put you somewhere safe. Stay as you are and we throw you at Sabbac as a distraction."

    "Ah. Ah. Ibac!" Green flame flares around him as he transforms back, causing Kon to pull away and nearly stumble into a praying torso. Mister Printwhistle takes the opportunity to sit up, taking in his environment with growing terror.

    Shockcrown. I unlock the front door of a nearby shop and deposit him inside as the Sphere-Bike pulls away. Kon rises up from the ground. "Right. I'll remind you both that lethal force is authorised against Demons. Don't hold back at all." A construct Firestorm appears around us and the force of the acceleration pushes us all back into our seats. Yes, we could all fly -an Imp is splattered across the left wing- but neither Kon nor M'gann have a top speed anything like mine.

    Fawcett City flashes past beneath us. That's not a car park, that's a Demon Fortress. Pointless spines, glowing runes… "The top surface looks like our best entry point. Destination in two…"

    M'gann nods. "Right."

    "One. Go." The Firestorm dissipates as I call all locally available Praexis Demons to me and instruct the rest to go after the smaller ritual sites. Hopefully, we'll only need one or two to get through. M'gann's eyes glow as she telekinetically pushes the vapours aside. Might give away our position, but thanks to Helios Kon's glowing enough to do that anyway.

    "Anyone on radio?" I give it a second but there's no reply. Alright then. Kon leading the way we rise, heading towards the top of the tower. I'd.. guess it's about a kilometre and a half tall and the stone carved decoration gets ridiculous towards the top. I really don't think that thing's structurally sound.

    "…wizard, but I do not need to touch you to feed this whole city to my masters."

    That was Sabbac's voice. Sounded like…

    We rise over the top of the tower. The outer surface is studded with glowing runes and there's a just visible dome of red light over the whole of the thing. On the roof Sabbac sits on a throne of black metal, decorated in skulls and bones. More hellish runes run in patterns all over the stonework. I can recognise a few of them… Transport… Power… And I think the markers nearest to the throne represent each of his patrons… No, wait, Satanus' sigil is missing. Is Sabbac serving as that himself? Anyway, the layout determines what they do, and that's far more complicated than anything I know how to puzzle out.

    Near the steps leading up to the roof John Constantine lights a cigarette as he steps over a particularly gruesome looking sigil. "Still not all that sure how you think that's gunna work, mate. You'll never get enough sacrifices for something that big stuck in here, an' if you go outside Adom'll-" The dome of red light shimmers for a moment and on the far side I see Adom pounding on it. William's next to him, shouting something I can't hear. "-rip you to pieces."

    "The spell will not be powered by living sacrifices." Sabbac holds his right hand out towards the symbol of Aym. "The super heroes are attacking Aym's lesser Demons in an attempt to reach his altar."

    "Sounds like a plan to me."

    "They are no longer relevant." Poop. "This spell is powered by the prayers of the damned. The altars were only needed to bind me to their infernal power." Sabbac pauses. "The Wisdom of Belial says that I should be wary of you, wizard. I think that when they walk freely among mortal men I shall ask them to grant me your soul as my bitch."

    "Blimey, I am popular today." John takes a drag and looks around. "So that's what this whole set up's for, is it? Bring the tower to Earth, build up power and pull the six of them through."

    Kon drifts closer to me. "Can we get in there?"

    "Maybe. But if this thing's channelling magic from the whole city…" I take out a rune stone and my vision dims as the ring reacts to stop the brilliant glow from blinding me. "I'm rather hoping John's doing something clever instead because I'm guessing that Sabbac can just reroute the whole thing through himself for a supercharge."

    "Yes! They will come, infernal majesty undimmed by summoning rites, their glorious voices speaking in the souls of all who have the strength to discern their meaning! And when that-!"

    "SHAZAM!" / "SHAZAM!"

    Two colossal bolts of lightning blast through the sky towards William and Adom. They blur as they fly to evade and the bolts miss, smashing into the barrier protecting Sabbac's ritual space. Runes around the edge of the tower flare and several of them gutter out.

    "WEAK!" Sabbac looks away from John and towards the Wizard's champions. "Your magic is WEAK! I will show you the true power of Hell's sorcery!" He gets off his throne and kneels, right hand pressed on the symbol of Belial and lips moving in an inaudible prayer.

    "SHAZAM!" / "SHAZAM!"

    Two more bolts and a whole section of runes goes dead. Okay, that's… Sabbac bends his right elbow and hellfire flows from his hand and into the runes. William raises the Sword of Beowulf and orange lightning scours the barrier. Lower down the tower a new set of lights comes on. Those are on the tower's crenellations…

    A gigantic hand rises through the murk, catching William unawares and grabbing him around the chest! I'm forced to evade and more limbs rise towards us. Black stone, covered in sheets of what looks disturbingly like flayed skin. Lower down I can see glowing eyes and the outline of colossal faces. The three of us fly higher as I try and work out what I'm looking at. The limbs aren't physically connected to the tower proper but rather are bound to it by what looks like black lightning. On the far side Adom ducks around grasping fingers and strikes at the closest. The rock cracks into pieces and falls towards the ground but knits back together long before it reaches the ground and is pulled back into shape.

    I load mage slayers. "Superboy, Miss Martian, assist Marvel and Adom."
     
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    11:34 GMT -6


    I see six limbs flailing around the top of the tower, and for giant lumps of stone they can move bloody fast. One bends around the battlements, passing through the barrier as rocky finger tentacles scrabble for Kon and M'gann. They frantically try to evade it only to be caught by another limb moving in from the side! Kon tries to punch through it and though the first segment of finger is smashed to rubble that took all his momentum and the second strikes him in the chest. M'gann ducks, weaves and tries to phase through an outcrop of rock only to be caught by one of the flesh coverings.

    Ring, total mage slayers available?

    Forty six.

    Fuck it. I target the rocky limbs and open fire. A Mageslayer passes through the gap-joint of the finger grabbing at Kon and the black lightning holding the structure together disappears. Kon gets a grip as the digit starts to fall, turns in the air- "Nnruughh!"- and throws the limb at Sabbac. It flies through the air, strikes the barrier and bounces, lands on it again and rolls off to the far side.

    A shot from the Ace sets the flayed flesh covering the part of the limb entangling M'gann on fire, white flame rushing over the surface of the structure, over her… Without injuring her. Oh thank goodness. The rock begins to crumble away as she shifts to a protean form and flows around it before reforming and flying away from the other side.

    The second Mageslayer hits the barrier around the tower top, causing it to shimmer and -Ring?- a couple of runes flicker and die. Draining power from something that is constantly being replenished probably isn't going to work unless I can drain the whole thing.

    On the top of the tower I see John walking closer to Sabbac. "If I were you, I'd give up now mate."

    Praexis Demons swarm into the combat zone, sticking to the golem defences and the barrier like children unwisely trying to lick ice from freezing metal and getting their tongues stuck. It's a bizarre sight but I can.. feel them draining power from the system. Plus, their glowing bodies make it a good deal easier to track where exactly the limbs are.

    "Why in Lord Satanus' name would I do that when our final victory is so close?"

    Two more mage slayers slam into animated stone and two more pieces are blasted out of place. I work the Ace's lever action and fire a round at the tower barrier. Cracks of brilliant white shoot across the surface and strike the runes creating the shield.

    Sabbac looks up at it with his eyes wide. "A-aaaagh!" Blood red fire flashes from his right hand, enveloping the area being purified and suppressing it.

    "'Cause while you've been playing king of the hill with the superheroes, you haven't been keepin' track of me. I've been all over your tower, mate. You don't know what I've done."

    Orange light flares as William activates the Sword of Beowulf. The hand that had been holding him shatters just as another swings in his direction. He shifts the sword into a two handed grip and swings it! Ooh, that's not really designed to be used like… Huh, okay maybe it is. Orange light flares once more as the sword cleaves demonic stone in two.

    "I would have felt it if you changed anything significant!"

    "Wanna bet?"

    Never one to sit on the sidelines, Adom swoops lower, presumably going after the grotesque heads. I fly backwards as one of the now-regenerated limbs moves upwards near me… I'm not being attacked. Why aren't I being attacked?

    It can't see me. William and Adom are riddled with magic. Kon's carrying Helios' blessing and even M'gann's got an arcane presence magic can detect… It can't see me. Without M'gann pushing the clouds away from me even my orange glow is muted, camouflaged amongst the orange light shining from the Praexis Demons. How can I take advantage of that? More mage slayers fly towards golem limbs trying to intercept my friends as I work the lever once more, take aim at one of the stone heads and fire. Ugh, think I missed. Lever, correct for wind, fire again then reload. Hit! White fire briefly illuminates the structure as it begins to crumble.

    Sabbac isn't moving at maximum speed at the moment. Because he isn't drawing power from the ritual, perhaps? Makes sense, but -I glance at the Sword of Second and Third in my scabbard- if he sees me and the Sword he'd probably make a point of coming after me again. He's facing away from his throne. If I can fly around behind him…

    "You can't cow me, wizard. Hell comes to Earth, now!" He slams his left hand to the ground and infernal flames flare out across the top of the tower. A moment later the mists lift from the Fawcett City skies and I'm treated to a view of a city where every flat surface is covered in praying headless torsos. No, not all headless and not all praying. The smattering whose heads were merely squashed into their necks come to a halt as they sight the tower and raise their arms into the air with an indistinct moaning. At their signal the remaining torsos rear up for a moment and then fall onto their chests in supplication. "They come!" Flames roar around the runic network on the top of the tower as I frantically manoeuvre into position. Was John bullshitting a moment ago, or is this actually-?

    The flames roar towards a centre point and burn upwards into the air before dying. In their wake… There's a powerfully built man with dull red skin. He's wearing a sort of tattered grey skirt thing along with a high collared cape in brilliant red.

    That's the First of the Fallen! The being Hell grew up around after God told him to 'get out of my sight'! Oh yes, this is a Constantine plan alright! I drop down below the tower's parapet before he can cast his gaze my way. Okay, okay, I know he can't detect me with magic any more than he can Chantinelle. He can't see me if there's a solid object in the way. I've got.. a sword I know can hurt him. Okay. What's John playing at?

    "Keeping busy, John?"

    "What? Who are you? Why didn't ghuk?"

    "Oh, you know: 'get busy living…'"

    "Hmm. Headless torsos as far as the eye can see. I could get used to this."

    "What..? Who are you?"

    "Scraping the bottom of the barrel this time?"

    "Oh, I've never liked this sort of thing. Gives them ideas above their station."

    "I remember your contract with Brendan."

    "I don't understand. The ritual-."

    "I'm the First of the Fallen, you pathetic waste of flesh. John redirected the spell from your sponsors to me. Though I'm still waiting for an explanation as to why exactly he thought that would help the situation. It's not as if I'm going to stop you."

    "Majesty! I am not worthy!"

    "No, you're not. Well? Let's hear it, John. You've got about five minutes before me simply being here starts making the population tear their own faces off and I'm assuming you'd rather that didn't happen."

    Down below I see Adom finish tearing the demon golem structure off the side of the tower. He looks up at me and I hold out my right hand in a 'stop' gesture.

    "Take a butchers at this."

    "It's a phone. And that's a nice one of the back of the Batson boy's cape."

    "Next picture."

    There's a pause. "What's this?"

    "Majesty?"

    "It's a simple question. What is it?"

    "A.. sword, majesty. A gift from Lord Satanus in exchange for my service. I used it to cut down Captain Marvel!"

    "And where is this sword now?"

    "It… It was taken from me, majesty. But I will recover it! As soon as my masters arrive on Earth I will leave no body unbroken in my pursuit of the one who took it!"

    "You had the sword.. made from the remains of my 'brothers'.. and it got stolen from you by one of John's fuckwit friends. Is that what happened?"

    "No normal man, majesty! A superhero of great renown!"

    "If you're int' cake."

    "What's your name?"

    "Majesty?"

    "Your name. What is it?"

    "It was Ishmael Gregor, majesty. But now my name is Sabbac, Hell's Mightiest Champion!"

    "No. YOUR NAME IS SHIT!"
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    11:37 GMT -6


    "graAAAAAAAGGGHHHHHH!"

    "AND YOU! YOUR NAME IS SHIT AS WELL!"

    Still making the 'stop' gesture to Adom I carefully float upwards towards the edge of the upper platform.

    "AND YOUR NAME IS SHIT!"

    Periscope construct… The First is facing away from me. He's holding Sabbac off the ground by the neck with his left hand. Next to them are two small dazed looking Demons. One has slightly larger wings and a more streamlined head while the other has a more developed musculature.

    "AND YOU;-" The First shoves his right hand forwards into Sabbac's chest! It passes into the pentagram up to the elbow, his muscles tense and then he pulls it back. "-SHIT!" In his hand is another small Demon with fire crackling around its horns. Wait, fast looking, tough looking, fiery… Craeteis, Asmodeus and Beelzebub? The First's hand darts forwards again. "YOU ARE SHIT AS WELL!" This Demon has an extra set of forearms and a small pair of glasses. Belial. Into the pentagram again. This Demon has a hard carapace. Aym. " YOU ARE MOST CERTAINLY SHIT." The First throws him into the others with force, sending them sprawling. "BUT THE KING SIZED NUCLEAR DIARRHEA SHIT-." The pentagram on Sabbac's chest flares and vanishes. "Oh you did not just do that." The First throws his head back. "Hear me, Satanus. There are torments known to me undreamt of by the most deranged Demon of my realm-" Sabbac shrinks in the First's grip, skin lightening as being severed from his patrons causes him to resume his Human form. "-BUT FOR YOU I WILL SURPASS THEM YOU FUCKING MORONIC SHAAAAAAAAAAAATTT!"

    The now greatly reduced Lords of Hell cower at his wrath. Craeteis in particular looks like he's giving serious thought to just legging it. Mister Gregor on the other hand looks like he's about to burst into tears. "Majesty, I-."

    "You just don't know when to shut up, do you? I'll use you for practice until Satanus comes out of hiding." The First bends and slams Mister Gregor to the ground, fire flaring around him as he disappears. Bodily sent to Hell? Might be possible to recover him, but… Don't think I'll bother.

    Asmodeus shifts to a grovelling position. "We… Satanus never mentioned a sword, oh First. We thought only of the torment of mortals! If we'd-."

    The First raises his right foot and stamps him into mush. "If you hadn't been getting a massive evil hard-on at the prospect maybe you'd have fucking thought it through a bit." The other four edge away as the First examines the mush. "Well? Belial? You're supposed to be the brains of this operation."

    The four armed Demon cringes. "It is as you say, Oh First. We were.. overwhelmed with enthusiasm for our task."

    The First sighs and I duck down as he glances at John. "You know, this is the sort of initiative I normally wouldn't mind seeing from Demons. Some evidence that they actually are an intelligent form of life." Belial risks a small smile at the compliment. "But even when they manage to come up with something intelligent, they manage to do it in a fucking stupid way." Splat! Belial is crushed under the First's foot.

    John drops the butt of his cigarette to the floor and treads on it. "Always the way, innit? Still; no need to drag this out, hey?"

    "I suppose not. Anyone else want to add anything?" The remaining three Demons nervously look at each other, then fall on their faces. "Thought not. Down you go." The Demons' bodies twist and deform, getting pulled into a single point on the stone ground like water running down a plug hole. "You know, John, faced with a situation like this… I'm forced to acknowledge a rather uncomfortable truth."

    "Oh yeah? What's that?"

    "After my trip to Greece, when in a moment of weakness I offered to give you whatever you wanted if you'd work for me and you told me to sling my hook. I should have offered you less. You might have taken it then."

    "Not bloody likely."

    "You've taken worse deals before. I had a good laugh about what you did to that stupid Fuckpig."

    John nods. "Guess you'll be heading back to Hell yourself. Don't want to keep Satanus -or anyone else- waiting."

    Anyone else? What, the Demo- oh. I unsheathe the Sword of Second and Third.

    "Think I'll hang around for a little while. Drive a few dozen people mad, corrupt a few innocents. I wouldn't want you to get the idea you can use me to do your dirty work without any consequence at all. Though I'm glad you did. This whole situation reeks of something that could have snowballed-."

    I swing the Sword through stone, runes and magic barrier. Stone parts, runes die and the barrier vanishes. I transition up behind the First and swing the sword horizontally through his neck. Golden light shines out of the stump as the severed head flies across the stony ground, an expression of shock on his face as it bounces twice and then comes to a rest on the left side of its face.

    Then, as William, Adom, Kon and M'gann come in to land? I go Raiden on his arse. I accelerate myself, arms blurring as I slice the Sword back and forth through the First's torso, arms and then when that's cut thin enough to be used as sandwich meat I yank my legs back, float down and repeat the process with his still upright legs. Then I transition to his head in a crouch, updownupdownupdownupdownupdownupdown-

    "I believe that you have killed him."

    Aaaaand rest.

    I nod to Adom as I return the Sword to its sheath. "Not the first time he's been killed. I wanted to be sure."

    The runes covering the top of the tower change from red to gold, starting with those nearest the First's remains and spreading outwards towards the edge.

    Kon looks confused. "What just happened?"

    John nudges a piece of First with his left foot, then nods. "Short version, I changed the spells on the tower so that rather than summoning Sabbac's bosses, it summoned their boss. He wasn't happy about-" The Fawcett skyline goes rushing upwards as the tower's hellish alterations revert. The rest of us brace but John barely reacts. "-the one weapon that could kill him getting out into the wild again, so-" And we come to a halt, standing on top of the car park. Sabbac's throne is gone and the abandoned cars have reappeared. "-he used Sabbac's connection to the Demons sponsoring him to drag them here for a bollocking."

    Adom checks his surroundings for a moment, then crosses his arms across his chest. "But not Satanus."

    John considers, then nods. "Lucky escape for him." He turns to William. "Captain Marvel."

    William's looking out across Fawcett City as a wave of golden light flashes across it, genuflecting torsos vanishing in its wake.

    "…to Orange Lantern. Robin-."

    I raise the ring to my left ear. "Orange Lantern here. Sabbac's gone to Hell and spell on the car park's finished."

    "The Demons we were fighting just evaporated."

    "Good to know. If you can, do a flight over the city and check they're gone from everywhere. Then fire fighting. Some of those flaming skull things set light to buildings."

    "Will do."

    "Captain?" William turns to face John, eyebrows raised. "Last time someone killed the First he incarnated in Greece as a Human. Ended up murdering four men before Buer found out how to power him back up. If that happens again, it'd be a lot better if your lot picked him up right away."

    William nods. "I'll get on that as soon as we know for sure all the Demons are gone."

    "Heh." John smiles and shakes his head. "They're never gone, mate, they just-."

    "Rrrrrrrrrrr." We all look around as Teekl stalks out of the stairwell in big cat mode, dragging.. John's doppelgänger in her jaws and growling the whole time. She stops next to the First's remains, drops the Demon Constantine, sits down and starts washing her right forepaw. Then she stops, leans down to sniff the pile of flesh, opens her mouth-.

    "Teekl. No."
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th February
    11:41 GMT -6


    William looks down at the Demon Constantine. "Ah, is that your.. brother?"

    "Interesting story, there. About-."

    Adom's eyes narrow. "It is a Demon."

    "About three years ago there was a Demon named Buer. Big fan of the First of the Fallen. He knew that after Chantinelle killed the First he'd ended up in Greece -which, at the time, I didn't- and he thought he knew how to bring him back to top form. And since I was the one who arranged his death, that meant that I had to sacrifice meself to make it happen."

    "Except you didn't, did you, you bastard." The Demon Constantine looks up, his pupils glowing red.

    "I was getting-" The Demon surges to his feet and lunges at John. M'gann's eyes glow and he's jerked off the ground. "-to that." The Demon doesn't bother looking around, his eyes remaining fixed on John. "Hurt you more than it would me, mate." John opens the first three buttons of his shirt and pulls the collar aside to show the top of his tattoos. "Seal of Solomon, remember."

    The Demon glowers at him. "Be worth it."

    Kon frowns. "Why would you go along with that?"

    John returns his attention to the rest of us. "Friend of mine… Former friend, now… Has a son. Buer specialises in tormenting children who end up in Hell. He put a curse on little Syder and said he'd only let him go if I gave meself up. So, I created a golem. Earth, my blood-."

    "Half your soul."

    "Yeah. And a load of thoughts, feelings and memories I didn't want to have any more. I made him." He jabs his right forefinger in the Demon's direction.

    "Fuck right off you cowardly dog turd."

    "Took the deal though, didn't you? Buer had to free all of his collection and he still got what was coming to him. The First was pissed, 'cause we managed to make them look like a pair of berks an' you got to skip Hell's whole 'endless torture' phase and go straight to becoming a Demon. We won."

    "Have you seen Hell lately? You think because I was a Demon everyone down there decided to be me mate?! You haven't got a bloody clue."

    "Oh, cry me a fucking river."

    "You know what really pisses me off about this? Gregor ripped that boy's heart out while you watched. Time was, when you led a child to their death you actually felt bad about it. Or did you just give all that to me?"

    "No." John nods to himself. "Still got that."

    "Stop being so fucking calm! You had no idea how Gregor would act under pressure! You didn't know what was really going on here until he told you! You won through sheer bloody luck!"

    John smiles, shaking his head. "Not this time, mate. I mean, I'd never heard of Ishmael Gregor until he announced himself…"

    "What are you talking about?"

    John turns away from him, taking us all in. "I just explained how I made you to the gallery. Can you really not work it out?"

    The Demon Constantine relaxes slightly, looking away with a slight squint as he tries to work it out. Then his eyes widen and he glares at John. "It wasn't Timothy Karnes!"

    John grins. "Of course it wasn't Timothy Karnes, you fucking knobbler. Timothy Karnes is still in the Fawcett City prison hospital."

    "It was a fucking golem!"

    "He'll be right as rain in a few weeks. Minus every memory since his foster parents' funeral. Six months to a year observation…" John nods his head to the side. "They might even let him out again. Marvel's got a lot of pull around here. Oh come on!" John spreads his arms out to the side. "How stupid would I have to be to take the one thing anyone who wanted to become Sabbac needed into what was obviously a trap?"

    "… A golem."

    "Added a little of me own blood. We knew Gregor -or whoever it was- would have to kill the golem and absorb the magic residue. I spiked it. I've had a connection to him this whole time, feeling his thoughts and nudging them along. Had a bit of a fright when Marvel got hit in the chest but other than that…" He nods again. "Pretty much according to plan. Actually killing the First was an unexpected bonus, but once Orange Lantern got the sword away from Sabbac-."

    "Um." He looks at me. "Hate to say this, but I almost didn't bring the Sword back with me."

    John flinches. "Why the hell wouldn't you bring it?"

    "In case Sabbac wrestled it off me and used it on the other Marvels."

    "… Fuck me."

    Kon gestures at the Demon. "Are we arresting him?"

    Adom's face hardens slightly. "It is a Demon. Were it up to me I would not have it pollute the world for a moment longer. What is the custom in this country for dealing with such things?"

    "We all heard him confessing. On the other hand, I'm not sure that putting a Demon in Belle Reve is really such a good idea..." I glance at John. "Or a Constantine." John looks a little pleased as I think about it. Obvious solution… I raise the Ace slightly.

    William spots it. "You put that down right.. now."

    "As a point of order, Justice League rules of engagement-."

    "The fight's over and you're not shooting a defenseless prisoner!"

    "You're in charge, Captain. What would you like to do with him?"

    William strokes his chin with his right hand. "If we sent him back to Hell, could he get out again?"

    John nods. "Yes, but not immediately."

    "Can you do that?"

    "Don't bother." The Demon straightens his coat. "If you let me go I can send meself back easy enough."

    William nods at M'gann, and the Demon is deposited onto the floor. He opens his coat, taking out a stick of chalk as he flashes us with an interior almost entirely filled with packets of Silk Cuts. He then crouches, draws a circle around himself and then starts adding the necessary demonic runes.

    John's eyes narrow slightly. "Why are you in such a rush? Doubt Satanus is going to be all that happy with you."

    The Demon keeps drawing for a moment then stops, apparently satisfied. "Oh, I don't know. The First dead, five rivals crippled... And since he pulled out before the First could grab him he didn't really lose anything doing it." Wait… What? "You're not the only one who can plan, you know? Be seeing you around, John." Fire flares around the edge of the chalk circle and he drops out of view in a puff of sulphur.

    Adom makes a contemptuous noise. "Demon politics." He looks at me. "Orange Lantern, does the zeta tube function?"

    "It did when I left it."

    "Then I will return to Kahndaq. Pleasant though it has been to fight the good fight once more, I should not absent myself for extended periods." I nod. "I should also like to apologise for not more adequately covering your retreat. It took me some time to understand the form of teleportation he was using and I could only block it at close range."

    "Don't worry about it. I was just glad you managed it when you did. Oh, and we've got-" I turn to William. "-Ibac tied up in a shop near the tube. You should probably get someone to pick him up."

    "I'll ask the Chief to get someone on it." Adom looks out across Fawcett City and rises higher into the air. "Adom, wait a second!" Adom stops and looks down at him. "When I was bleeding to death I figured out how to convince you to make Kahndaq a democracy!"

    Adom regards him calmly. "I am sceptical, but I will hear your argument."

    "Because President Asim Muhunnad wouldn't." Adom blinks. "You're a better man than he is, but if you run everything using the same structures he used everyone who doesn’t know you personally will just think of you as being the new him. You deserve better than that. And so does Kahndaq."

    Adom's eyes flick to the side for a moment, taking a moment to think about it. "There may be something in what you say. I will give the matter further thought."

    William beams at Adom as he turns away to fly towards the zeta tube.
     
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