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

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

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    29th November
    19:33 GMT -6


    "Not that I am in any sense complaining-" Admiral Oswin gives me a look of mild curiosity. "-but is there any particular reason for this change of heart?"

    I lean back in the 'important visitor' chair on the balcony overlooking his flagship's bridge. I wonder if this is just how big this sort of chair always is, or if he had it upgraded just for this occasion? Can't see any wear…

    "I was distracted by home affairs." I shrug. "With the psions bottled up, the situation on Karna and the anti-pirate crusade, it didn't seem urgent… But I had a chat with Princess Komand'r and she made it clear that she -and Tamaran- want this campaign completed." He nods. "I do hope that I haven't thrown your own plans into any sort of turmoil."

    "I.. would probably have sought to tie you down to a date before New Year, Karaltine time. We have laws about leaving Fleet Admirals out in the field for too long."

    "They think you need a break? I'm sure that Tamaran would be happy to offer you hospitality and shore leave."

    "I'm sure they would, but no." He smiles. "The law is in place to prevent Admirals building up an independent base of support with which to threaten the Crown. It wouldn't be an actual problem, but there's a…" He makes a circling motion with his right hand. "A certain poetry to being finished at that point."

    "You have plans?"

    "A.. gradual transition from war admiral to administrative admiral… And then hopefully dominion over one of our new colonies. With a.. title to match, naturally."

    "No desire to stay in harness?"

    "And do what? There aren't any other foes in this region to win acclaim against, not at the level of Fleet Admiral. And I certainly don't want Her Majesty to have time to forget about me."

    "You're not concerned about the Spider Guild?"

    "If they could bring a fleet to bear now, certainly. But given the amount of time our analysts believe it will take them, I'm perfectly happy to take a back seat and let some other young buck lead the defence. I assume that we can rely on Tamaranian cooperation in that fight?"

    I nod. "Barring something truly bizarre happening. We should.. probably talk to the Queen and her Cabinet about future cooperation at some point… Get a few things down on paper."

    "As long as you don't mind it being after New Year. That sort of discussion is best conducted when the celebratory hangovers have had a chance to wear off."

    "Whenever you think best. I'm perfectly-."

    The small hologram generator in front of us activates, the bust of the ship's flag captain appearing. "Admiral? My Lord Lantern? All ships report ready."

    Oswin smirks, bowing his head slightly. "Think they're expecting us?"

    I nod. "At this point I suspect that us turning up will be more of a relief than anything." I stand, nodding to the image. "Thank you, Captain. I'll get started right away. We should be finished by the time you arrive."

    He nods formally. "Good hunting."

    "Mother Box, hush tube."

    "Ping."

    I step through the portal, appearing at the very edge of the Wombworld's defence zone. The psions haven't exactly been lazy as their few remaining allies were hunted down and exterminated like the vermin they are, but they appear not to have wanted to be too overt in case that's what sets us off. I can see new weapon platforms, interdiction field and a.. defence fleet. Such as it is. The psions were never ones for risking their own necks if they could get someone else to do it for them, but they were never stupid enough to have no power projection.

    Interestingly, no one else who used to be on the Citadelian side retreated here. Can't imagine why not.

    I raise my left fist to my mouth. "First Lantern Grayven to the Orange Lantern Corps. One last obstacle lies between us and the liberation of Vega. Our job is to ensure that the combined fleet can bombard the place unopposed. Resistance will be stiffer than what the Citadel was able to provide, but you're all a good deal more skilled than you were back then. I have every confidence in your abilities."

    I generate a singularity beam construct.

    "Attack on my signal."

    I aim at the nearest defence station, remembering everything I've learned about psion history and culture from Vegan and Crown Imperium archives. I can't really castigate them in absolute terms -compared to Apokolips they're positively small potatoes- but they have done enough to the people I now call mine to justify everything we're about to do to them.

    Fire.

    Immediately an area of space twenty centimetres across and millions of miles long gains a gravitational attractiveness equal to the event horizon of a black hole. The platform I targeted shudders and snaps as its gravitational control system is effortlessly overloaded, falling into two parts as I turn my weapon towards the planet.

    Alert. Enemy countermeasures detected.

    Graviton manipulation isn't a psion speciality, but when someone starts pointing a weapon like this at you, you learn to solve the equation very quickly. I've barely gone more than a couple of degrees before the beam fades out, but that's fine.

    Ping.

    Throughout the system my Lanterns are flying through hush tubes into and around psion defence systems. Already I can see flashes of orange, both from their constructs and from the burning atmospheres of those platforms which until a few moments ago had living crew.

    "Gravyen to psion Wombworld. I request contact with whoever down there is authorised to issue a general surrender."

    "You will be neither the first nor the last Lantern we have killed."

    "I thought you might say that. So I'm not going to bullshit you by saying that when we win we'll leave a significant proportion of you alive or anything dishonest like that."

    Ping.

    "But we don't have to render you entirely extinct. We're prepared to accept any of your neonates who are no more than halfway through your indoctrination process. They will be apprenticed to the Controllers, who will take responsibility for teaching them not to be heartless blights upon the universe like you were. And who knows? Given enough time they might even learn to access the emotional spectrum. And you people were basically the maltusians' pets anyway."

    Lantern deceased.

    No, don't bother notifying me unless the fatalities reach ten percent. I knew there'd be deaths here, but… It's got to be done.

    "Deranged alien, you will never take the Wombworld."

    "As you will." Ring, cut communication with their command, and open a link to their crèche.

    By your command.

    Play them that exchange.

    By your command.

    In near-Wombworld space, the psions' last line is collapsing. But I won't say they're not giving it their all. Construct-defying shields flare into being, protecting spaceborne citadels for a few moments before hush tubes open to their interiors. That tactic is immediately abandoned throughout the battle zone in favour of using those shields to hem Lanterns in so they can be shot. That works a little better, but it swiftly becomes apparent that whatever their intellectual abilities they have no good counter to widespread hush tube use.

    Exchange replayed.

    I nod to myself. "Hello, lads. Remember me?"

    "Y-yeah..?"

    Space shudders as the Crown Imperium's fleet jumps in, swiftly followed by the few Tamaranian and Karnan ships that were available to take part.

    "How would you like to be the last adults of your species left alive?"
     
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    30th November
    17:04 GMT -5


    "…something I ever thought I'd have to worry about." Professor Palmer shrugs. "I read Batman's report, but-" I'm nodding. "-that interpretation didn't occur to me."

    "And I don't imagine you've dealt with a lot of magic users."

    "No, but… That wasn't it. I know there are biologists who've transplanted their brain into a new body and physicists who've uploaded themselves into robots or AI mainframes. The idea of one intelligence being transferred to another form isn't new to me. I didn't even consider the idea that Giovanni wasn't getting any time to himself." He bows his head slightly. "Though I don't imagine the fact that no one in the League did is improving your opinion of us."

    I shake my head. "Actually… I don't know. When Batman told me to do this, I thought that it was going to be a waste of time, but… Surprisingly, I'm feeling a lot less hostile now that I can… Put fallible human faces to your judgement errors."

    "Oh, thanks."

    "Actually, Professor: your name is public knowledge. Why does your costume have a mask?"

    "It's a combination of hair net and part of the system which defines the 'shrink area'. When I go really small I don't want to leave hairs behind inside something expensive or fragile, like a quantum chip or someone's brain." I nod. "Plus, I… Wanted to look like a superhero. It's not as uncomfortable as you'd think."

    "Well, ah… Thank you for your time." I start to rise from my chair, then stop myself. "Is there anything you wanted to ask me about the situation?"

    "About the..? Nabu?" I nod my head and he gives his a quick shake. "No, I think you made your point very clearly. If I had known how you felt about it, I don't think I'd have done what you did, but I don't know whether I'd have been more successful or not. You didn't do anything illegal… But…" He exhales. "What would I need to say to convince you to talk to-. I don’t know, not me, but maybe Diana next time?"

    I chuckle darkly. "You won't have to worry about that. I fully intend to make my feelings known as loudly and directly as possible."

    "Good. Good." He smiles, and we both stand. "You said you were doing the whole Justice League. Who have you got left to go?"

    "King Orin, Captain Marvel and Red Tornado."

    He frowns. "I know Red is working on his secret identity, but what's the hold up with the other two?"

    "Given the situation with his son, I'm a bit-."

    "Oh yeah." He chuckles. "Guy said I should ask you if you had any dirt on me."

    "On you?" I shake my head. "No."

    "That's a.. rather specific reply."

    "If I had information on someone else -naming no names- I wouldn't consider it appropriate to share it, even if it tangentially involved you."

    "That's… Not worrying at all. But I guess I understand where you're coming from. How about Captain Marvel?"

    "Captain Marvel works for a Lord of Order. And I don't think there's any way he'd be okay with my ruthlessness."

    Professor Palmer nods. "True, but if you want to get back on the team and you have to talk to everyone…"

    "Yeah, got to bite the bullet some time." He holds out his right hand to me, and I shake it before heading out of his office.

    He's not wrong, but who should I start with? I can get in touch with William via Beautia and Red Tornado via Danni. Getting a message to King Orin would be similarly simple-.

    "Hey, you're Orange Lantern, right?" I look up as a student walks towards me, pointing a little hesitantly with his right forefinger.

    "That's me. Anything I can do for you?"

    "Nah man, but my boss wanted me to pass a message on."

    I wince internally. "If this 'boss' is involved in any sort of criminal enterprise-."

    "No, dude." He shakes his head. "Gimme a sec." He takes an inhaler out of his jacket pocket and takes a puff.

    Ah. Is that-?

    The student shudders, and his face twists slightly. "Orange Lantern."

    "Mammon." Because of course Mammon has his own cultists. And his own Devil Jizz variant. "What can I do for you?"

    "I have the location you requested. Multiple damned souls tell the same story, and there's a taste on their souls that I can't readily identify. My own scrying attempts failed and I don't have any… 'Operatives' in the area."

    "Tell me."

    "What do I get out of it?"

    "That taste on their souls. Does it improve the flavour?"

    "I'm a collector, not a renderer. It gives them a certain uniqueness. But… I wouldn't like it to become wider spread."

    "I suspect that it's Anti-Life. And as I understand it, the enemy believe that it would allow them to control demons just as well as everything else. I intend to attack their holdings on Earth with a view to expunging them from the universe entirely."

    "That's not exactly a direct benefit."

    "Superheroes are a long term investment. Insurance against apocalyptic problems that you don't ever want to have to deal with yourself. Trying to negotiate a better deal in situations like this is ultimately self-defeating."

    "I… Suppose. It's in Saudi Arabia. Here." His host reaches into his jacket pocket again and pulls out a slip of paper. "Directions. The souls I interrogated weren't sure, but you could reasonably expect a degree of government collusion. Someone has been turning a blind eye for too long for it to be chance."

    I take the note and look over the writing. Not somewhere I've been before, but I'm familiar with it. "Any idea of defences?"

    "Strange guns. They guessed 'alien', but the people I've been interrogating weren't much more than gang masters. Some foreign mercenaries too. Nothing that should give you any difficulty."

    "Thank you, Mammon. I will act on this at once."

    "Happy to be of service. For a given value of 'happy'."

    The student's face twitches again, then resumes its normal dimensions. "Ugh." He takes a moment to steady himself. "You get everything you needed?"

    "Yes. Thank you." He smiles, nods, and starts to turn away. "And you're under arrest."

    "What? What for?"

    "You just used a controlled substance right in front of me. What do you think I'm arresting you for?"
     
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st December
    09:04 GMT +3


    "…surprised that this country signed the League's charter."

    I frown mockingly. "Alan. If the workers are getting paid a pittance then it's technically not slavery. And there's no international ban on serfdom."

    "Ah…" William looks from me to Alan and then back again. "Isn't there?"

    "Sorry, Captain. Black humour. It's officially discouraged, but not outright banned as chattel slavery is and it hasn't reached a level of cruelty in Saudi Arabia which outweighs their use as a US air base. And when a permanent member of the Security Council has your back, you can get away with an awful lot."

    He watches me for a moment. "You're.. not just annoyed about Doctor Fate, are you?"

    "The Justice League does good work. But I would advise against you being unaware of some-"

    "Batman to Justice League."

    "-of the limits of what it does."

    "Doctor Mist has completed his preparations. Lanterns, on my signal."

    Inside my armour I nod, take a deep breath and close my eyes. Feel the orange light around me. William's light is weak and diffuse, his strongest desires relating to the familial and comradely bonds he was denied in early childhood. Adom hasn't done much more than grunt since we arrived and his desires are strong and sharp. His soon-to-be brother-in-law is down there and he refused to give Batman any guarantees about his conduct. As a consequence, he's technically here on his own and not part of the group.

    Major Adams's strongest desires relate to preserving his honour and reputation, which given what happened when he lost it isn't really surprising. Mr Yao has a burning need to serve his fellow man so intense that it's bordering on self-destructive. Or maybe self destructive. Barda wants to smash people, which is a desire that is sure to be realised soon.

    And Alan? Well, I know his desires well enough but right now I can't see a gosh darn thing. He's gotten very good at channelling his hopes, even in abstract ways like this.

    We strongly suspect that there's Anti-Life technology down there, and while Adom, William and Barda should be able to protect themselves, we don't intend to take chances we can avoid.

    "Now."

    Enkindle avarice.

    Orange light flashes through the metaphysiques of the assault team, almost immediately mirrored by equivalent blue. That should keep out the Anti-Life, though sadly we don’t have other colours of Lantern trained in this technique. Zatanna is going nowhere near this, no one thought that calling Sinestro was a good idea and what sort of lunatic would make a red ring?

    "Done."

    A moment passes.

    "Done here as well."

    "Assault team, confirm readiness status."

    "Woophf. Captain Marvel, ready." He looks at Adom and gets a curt nod.

    "Captain Atom, ready."

    "Physician ready."

    "Barda, ready."

    "Begin the attack as soon as you can access the facility. Report all enemy contacts. Doctor Mist."

    How do you destroy a stealth system when you can't even detect enough of it to know that there's a system there to disrupt? Simple. Simpleish. We know that the internal section is still metaphysically part of the Earth; if it wasn't, the souls of those who die inside couldn't pass into Hell. So getting in roughly the right area and supercharging that link with the most capable non-evil magic user on the planet-.

    The landscape below us shudders and ripples, the small number of disused shorefront industrial buildings bending and then separating as new and far more technologically sophisticated buildings appear in between.

    "Apokolips."

    There's a certain similarity between the buildings and those I've seen in the images the League took while they were on Apokolips, but it looks like they mostly took existing buildings and added things. Four stationary gun points, positioned-

    Adom and William dive, Adom pulling ahead and annihilating the gun he dove towards-. Through. William pulls up early and punches, the force field protecting it failing as the gunner tries to bring it to bear on him. His jaw tight, William pulls the man from his seat with his right hand and slaps the gun with his left, sending it flying from the roof.

    -that they can -could- cover both the sky and any obvious approaches. A series of… Poles? Antennae or aerials? Are positioned at intervals in two rough circles around the buildings. Not generating a force field so I'm not sure what they're about, but Barda's prioritising them over the stationary guns as she dives down on her aero-discs. Two light jeeps that were on the far side of the complex accelerate around the side, rear-mounted blasters being brought to bear by the men standing in the back. One note from Mr Yao and the sand underneath them behaves like liquid for two seconds, solidifying once the jeeps are sunk up to their windscreens. And second note, and the men crewing it slump over, unconscious.

    More or less by pure luck one of the fixed guns is pointing at Adom as he looks for a new target. The gunner fires, a beam of luminous purple something striking him in the chest. Adom grimaces and then flies into it, wisps of purple… Stuff decaying into mist as it washes over him.
    Purpose=Failure

    Barda misses a swing as… The aerials sort of shimmer for a moment. "It's started."
    Purpose=Failure

    William flits under a shot from the fourth gun and smashes through the roof before coming up underneath it and hurling it into the sky! The gunner is strapped in, and from the look on William's face he didn't take that into account. As Adom tanks the incoming fire a brilliant beam of energy from Captain Atom's forearms breaks the shield and reduces the front portion of the gun to mist.
    Purpose=Failure

    William hurries after his turret and catches it. The shield activates in response, and he breathes a sigh of relief before hurling it into the river. The shield triggers on impact but doesn't do anything to make the gun buoyant, the weapon and crew sinking under the water.
    Purpose=Failure

    Barda draws her sidearm and shoots out three more aerials. "It will only get stronger."
    Purpose=Failure

    "Doctor Mist to assault team. The device they used to exist outside of the world is still active. I must remain here to counteract it."
    Purpose=Failure

    William floats towards Mr Yao. "Doc?"
    Purpose=Failure

    A piercing note, and one aerial sparks and collapses. The rest don't.
    Purpose=Failure

    "I cannot counter it, Captain."
    Purpose=Failure

    Adom blurs, force fields failing and aerials breaking in his wake. The perimeter cleared, he floats to a halt next to William. "I see no difficulty."

    Barda holsters her pistol and hefts her mega rod, stomping towards the front doors. "Thanks."

    She swings the rod, the door snapping into seven pieces as the weapon's discharge radiates out from the point of impact!

    "Let's find whoever's in charge of this place, and do the same to them."
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st December
    09:08 GMT +3

    Beneath us, Batman drives toward the facility on a motorcycle. The men who had been on the turret William threw into the river swim to shore, just in time to be hit by a shot from Batman's bike-mounted bolas launcher. Not sure that he'll get anything useful out of them, but every little helps. While Mr J'onzz was available, Batman felt that including a natural telepath against a known memetic hazard was a bad idea.

    Adom's already charged inside, Barda and William just behind. Mr Yao enters next at a slower pace. His job is to heal any prisoners with physical injuries… And any militants Adom doesn't flat out kill. Who even are these people?

    "Lanterns, report."

    "No problem here sir. Felt… Something when those aerials activated, but I'm not being hard pressed."

    "I'd find it a darn sight easier to keep my hopes up if Black Adam was a little less eager to kill people who clearly weren't a threat to him. But I'm managing."

    Purpose=Failure

    "No it doesn't!"

    "Orange Lantern, report."

    "Didn't you hear that? The.. creepy voice saying 'purpose equals failure'?"

    "I did not. Assault team, be advised-."

    "It's the Anti-Life." I hear a crashing noise through Barda's communicator. "I've been hearing it since we got here."

    "What does it do?"

    "It tries to convince you that everything you've valued-"

    "Captain Atom to Batman."

    "-and tried to achieve was inherently pointless."

    "The locals are wearing Apokoliptian armor matching the description of the people who attacked Shiruta. I think we've found the group responsible."

    So much for getting Adom to leave any of them alive, then.

    "But they are. No purpose has intrinsic value. It's all extrinsic. 'Why' never finds an answer. We -ultimately- value things because we value them."

    "Not sure I agree with that."

    "And that's why you've got a blue ring and I've got an orange one."

    "Physician to Batman. I have found a.. holding pen. The people within are malnourished and unresponsive, but do not appear dangerous."

    "If they're not in any danger, leave them where they are. The trucks carrying aid supplies will be here in an hour."

    "I am moving on."

    Purpose=Failure

    "Okay, explain to me why people who get exposed to the Anti-Life want to fight or.. do anything? I can see why getting magically convinced that your convictions are facile-."

    "It doesn't convince. It proves. It runs in your brain and shows you the meaninglessness in your own life. Most people break from that. Some don't. Some New Gods make it a part of them, and when that happens they see it as good. Natural."

    "I.. still don't see-."

    "Be thankful." I hear another grunt and a thud. "I can't answer the questions you want to ask. I was a warrior, not a researcher."

    "Captain Atom to Batman. I'm… I think I'm hearing voices. Not 'purpose equals failure', some kind of telepathic noise. Running my anti-telepathy training."

    And… None of them took psi-shock grenades, did they? Batman should have one or two on him.

    "Understood. Teth Adom and Captain Marvel are innately resistant. If you need to pull back, do so."

    "Understood."

    "Captain Marvel to Batman. I'm in a drugs lab. They were making something here. I think it's some sort of hallucinogen, but I don't recognise the formula."

    "I'll investigate once the facility is clear."

    "Okay. Moving on."

    "Adom to Barda. Does this mean that a God of Apokolips is here?"

    "I hope so."

    **Yes, it does.**
    Purpose=Failure
    I blink, and… About a third of the building is… Gone. It's not broken into rubble and I'm not even sure that it's dust. Where there was a building there is now a 'U' shape of cut off building and perfectly flat ground.
    Purpose=Failure
    Adom and William are struggling to rise, and I can see blood leaking through minor wounds on Adom's costume. Barda is off to one side slightly, her armour battered but unbroken.
    Purpose=Failure
    Major Adams is flat on his back at the far end of the blasted area, moving weakly. Mr Yao stands opposite Barda, staring in horror at the room cut in half by the effect-. Yes. Those are bodies, dead and maimed.
    Purpose=Failure
    The man in grey armour takes a few easy steps forward. His eyes glow dark red and his skin is a very pale grey which barely contrasts with the white of his hair.
    **I am The Key.** He raises an Apokoliptian-looking firearm, pointing it at Adom. **Welcome to my laboratory.**
    Purpose=Failure
    Adom growls before launching himself forward. The Key can't get his gun on target in time-.
    **No.**
    Adom convulses in mid-air and then drops to the smoothed rock below, hands gripping the sides of his head.
    **The Power of Atum and the Courage of Montu. A hard target.** The Key takes a step forward, raising his gun once more. **A closed mind, with a door soon to be opened to His Truth.**
    Purpose=Failure
    **But why aren't you listening?** He looks up, eyes pointing directly at Alan and me. **Ah.**
    Purpose=Failure
    Purpose=Failure Purpose=Failure Purpose=Failure
    Purpose=Failure
    "You-?" Alan pants. "You feeling that?"
    Purpose=Failure
    "Just more lies, Alan. Even when I was a nihilist, I didn't resent people for valuing things."
    Purpose=Failure
    A beautiful note, one which reminds me of Zauriel's singing, and The Key staggers drunkenly for a moment before switching his attention to Mr Yao.
    Purpose=Failure

    **One singer. I have a choir.**
    Purpose=Failure

    More militants emerge from the structure. Some carry blasters and wear all-enveloping body armour of the sort I remember from Shiruta. Others forgo the guns and have wires plugged into points all over their skulls. Their eyes are vacant, but they're looking at the downed superheroes.
    Purpose=Failure

    **Hear His voice through us.**
    Purpose=Failure
    Purpose=Failure
     
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st December
    09:11 GMT +3
    Purpose=Failure
    The Key strolls forward with a grin as his followers open fire! Barda activates her aero-discs, and manages to make it about ten metres into the air before they get shot repeatedly. They come apart, but she has enough momentum to go sailing out of the depression and out of the line of fire.
    Purpose=Failure
    Anti-riot mortars mounted on Batman's bike fire, launching two gas canisters in an arc into the oncoming militia. The Key smirks as exactly two of his followers aim their guns upwards and fire once each, effortlessly annihilating them.
    Purpose=Failure
    William doesn't bother standing. He just flies at The Key from his prone position, his eyes narrowing as he takes multiple hits from the blasters. Then-. He lurches in the air and all the shots hit him, his face taking on a decidedly burnt appearance and his uniform disintegrating.
    Purpose=Failure
    Mr Yao sings a harsh note, the air between him and the force following The Key rippling as he generates a shockwave! Three are knocked to the ground, while twenty or so others are forced to brace. Given the amount of force that particular song generates… That's some good armour. Mr Yao's song changes a moment later as fire gets redirected his way, the air just in front of him rippling as he does something to make it absorb the shots.
    Purpose=Failure
    "Batman to Lanterns, are you able to offer support?"
    Purpose=Failure
    I might be able to, but one glance at Alan"I'll try, but… Too much Anti-Life exposure. If we split our focus-."
    Purpose=Failure
    "Do what you can." He accelerates, keeping away from the depression as he drives around toward the far side of the building.
    Purpose=Failure
    The Key raises his gun and points it at William, a grey glow emanating from lines on his armour. **You'll do, then.**
    Purpose=Failure
    He raises his gun, jerking forward-
    Purpose=Failure
    -and takes a blast of energy to the chest from Major Adams. The Key is knocked off his feet and onto the ground, though he keeps hold of his gun.
    Purpose=Failure

    And suddenly it's a bit more bearable. Alan rallies, and I send a filament after The Key, who is pushing himself up as a squad of his soldiers dash forward to shield him. Major Adams isn't up, and he's visibly shaking from the effects of whatever that initial explosion was. A rushed and not entirely accurate spray of shots causes him to-
    Purpose=Failure

    "Uoough."
    Purpose=Failure

    -go limp, his beam cutting out entirely.
    Purpose=Failure

    My filament nears The Key.. and.. fizzles out before it can touch him. Fine, brute force it is, then. I generate a railgun and load a crumbler round.
    Purpose=Failure

    Adom recovers, rising slightly before diving into the ground and forcing it apart as the Key gets back onto his feet. I track and fire, my round striking him directly in.. the.. chest and he just takes it. Ah..?
    Purpose=Failure
    A volley of shots fly at Alan and me and I'm forced to focus on our defence. Though the blaster shots destroy individual barriers easily enough, the technique of using multiple small overlapping barriers which Guy and I developed during our spars appears to be holding them off. Of course, it's consuming ring power at a not-inconsiderable rate-.
    Purpose=Failure
    Barda leaps over the rim of the flattened area, passing over The Key and landing amongst his retinue! She swings her mega rod, armour fracturing and bones breaking with every swing.
    Purpose=Failure
    **Fine.**
    Purpose=Failure
    The Key turns her way, shoving aside his retinue as he tries to get a clear shot that doesn't result in him getting smashed apart by her mega-.
    Purpose=Failure
    The Key is already turning away and jabbing his gun forward as Adom erupts through the ground!
    Purpose=Failure
    **I'm a telepath.**
    Purpose=Failure
    The gun strikes Adom on the forehead and briefly glows the same colour as The Key's armour.
    Purpose=Failure
    **A sneak attack?**
    Purpose=Failure
    Purpose=Failure
    Purpose=Failure
    Gah!
    Purpose=Failure
    "A-ah!"
    Purpose=Failure
    I send my helmet back into subspace and make deliberate eye contact with Alan. "Kind of loud. You'd almost think he had something important to say."
    Purpose=Failure
    Purpose=Failure
    Purpose=Failure
    "I'm… I'm not sure I can-."
    Purpose=Failure
    "The people being held down there have been exposed to the Anti-Life equation for weeks, months… And now the League is here. And that means they're going to be freed, because that's what we do. We're superheroes. We beat the bad guys. And the fact that the Anti-Life is as bad as it gets just means that he's going to go down harder because these people do not get to win."
    Purpose=Failure
    He doesn't exactly look at ease, but he nods and his environmental shield strengthens. "And I ain't dead yet."
    Purpose=Failure
    I nod, and he manages a weak smile. "What was that thing you said? 'When I am confronted by the greatest evils of the universe, I will rejoice'."
    Purpose=Failure
    Down below us, Adom strains to reach for the gun-device being pressed against his head.
    Purpose=Failure
    "'For when I am done, there will be. One. Less'."
    Purpose=Failure
    "SHAZAM!"
    Purpose=Failure
    From a clear sky, a lightning bolt hits The Key's gun and disintegrates it. Adom flashes as he transforms, but he's still super strong and The Key is decidedly off balance.
    Purpose=Failure

    A blue pulse radiates outward from Alan, and I-. He usually looks like a well-preserved fifty, but I… For a moment, he looks like he's in his prime again.
    Purpose=Failure

    As the wave passes over the soldiers they shudder. Some drop their weapons, others fall to the ground. One of the ones with wires coming out of her head blinks, suddenly cognisant of her surroundings.
    Purpose=Failure

    "YAAAAGH!"
    Purpose=Failure

    Wires in the head. Some sort of control-? No, he's using Anti-Life, and we knew that telepaths were a risk.
    Purpose=Failure

    First, finish what Alan started. All Things Strive.
    Purpose=Failure

    Orange light radiates out from me, and this time none of the soldiers without the head-wires manage to stay upright. The Key himself appears unaffected, grabbing Adom's hands and forcing him back.
    Purpose=Failure

    **You're still too weak-**

    Yao stops his shielding song and fires off quick bursts of sonic energy, cutting neatly through the wires attached to the brains of the still-upright soldiers. And then collapses as The Key glances his way.

    **-to stop-.**

    Barda brings her mega rod down on his head.
     
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st December
    09:19 GMT +3

    There's a flash of yellow light as Barda reappears, mega rod held aloft.

    "So? Who was he?"

    The head dress makes it a little hard to tell, but I think that she's frowning. "He was not of Apokolips."

    "What?"

    Her hand tightens on her rod's grip. "He was biologically human. Someone had somehow turned him into one of us."

    "I'm not sure what that means."

    She shakes her head. "Where is Scott?"

    "Over at the triage centre with Physician and Blue Lantern, trying to work out how to fix The Key's victims."

    She nods, and starts marching in that direction. I tag along behind her. "What did Highfather say about-?"

    "Darkseid can give his comprehension of parts of the Anti-Life equation to anyone he wants, at the cost of losing the ability to use it himself. But The Key was just a relay. There's someone else using it."

    "Damn. Ah, yeah, Batman checked what was left of their laboratory. The Key had developed some sort of LSD-like telepathy booster. It turns out that while there aren't many human telepaths with significant power, low level telepathy is much more common. We think that the implants were doing something similar, but we just don't have good enough data on New God technology."

    "He and a handful of infected humans were able to dominate your most powerful heroes."

    "Most powerful? But I was fine."

    She stops, turns her head towards me and raises her eyebrows.

    "What? I was. I'm not sure how practical using Lanterns to shield their allies would usually be on a wider scale, but I think we've demonstrated the efficacy of the technique."

    She starts walking again. "How many other Blue Lanterns are there?"

    "None that I know of. I ordered Alan's ring as a custom job."

    "If the Green Lanterns haven't learned the technique yet then they probably can't. What other Corps are there?"

    "The only one I've encountered so far is the Indigo Lantern Corps, and they didn't give me contact details." She snorts in frustration. "What happens with The Key?"

    "Highfather will purge him of the Anti-Life, then he will be imprisoned until we're sure he isn't a threat."

    "Is Highfather likely to do anything about the rest of the Anti-Life problems we're encountering?"

    "He wants Scott and me to monitor the situation. If there are actual Apokoliptians here, he'll probably send more troops."

    "And if it's just humans whom Darkseid is sponsoring, we're on our own?"

    "Are you saying you can't manage?"

    "No, but there's a difference-" Barda pushes open the door to the room we're using as a triage area. "-between 'managing' and-."

    "This boy. Where is he?" Adom is holding up a picture of Amon -not a recent one, but the most recent Adrianna had- and pointing to it, while the few people who have been purged so far are trying to avoid meeting his eyes. "His name is Amon Tomaz, and he was recently here. Tell me."

    Barda's eyes narrow as they shrink back. "Does he not realise that-?"

    "I know, he's just worried. I'll.. get this."

    She nods, and I jog over to Adom. "Mighty-."

    "I know him." On a nearby bed a bald woman with plasters covering the holes in her head weakly turns her face Adom's way. "He was brought in with the same group as me."

    Immediately Adom crouches down next to her. "And where is he now?"

    She turns her head away, unwilling or unable to meet his eyes. "He wouldn't hear His voice. He wouldn't bend."

    Adom nods. "The Key could not break his will."

    "No. Everyone breaks. But The Key wasn't trying to break us. Just turn us. Amon kept resisting, right up until... I don't know if he is still alive, but I saw where they put him."

    Adom stands. "Show me. Orange Lantern, please fetch Adrianna."

    I'd ask him if he's sure… But it's Adom. I step out, and the tight bundle of focused desires that are Adrianna is easy enough to locate as I step back out into.. the road as the relief trucks drive past me. I rise off the ground and accelerate after the one she's riding in.

    "Adrianna!"

    She carefully rises from her seat and comes to the back of the lorry. "Orange Lantern. Have you found him?"

    "We know where he is. We don't know what state he's in or if he's alive. Adom thought that you'd want to-." She jumps out of the back of the lorry and I'm so surprised that it takes me at least a quarter of a second to extend a flight aura around her. "Right." Can't step out with passengers, and I'm not transitioning until all of the Apokoliptian technology in that place has been thoroughly dismantled. Instead, I rise into the air, generate booster constructs and accelerate back towards the facility.

    "What.. can I expect?"

    "Lots of people with psychological and spiritual injuries. Some of the recent intake are in a bad physical state, and the man running the place created some kind of disintegration effect which killed and maimed more people. The longer term residents are physically healthy but we're still trying to remove the Anti-Life infection from them."

    "And from Amon?"

    "He wouldn't bend, apparently." The facility appears, and I decelerate and aim for the entrance closest to the triage area. "So I doubt anything good." I set her down and lead the way-.

    "Then my choice is clear." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out the Amulet of Isis.

    "We don't.. actually know that's necessary. One of those lorries has a purple healing ray, and the Physician-."

    "I have berated Adom for not doing what is best for his people often enough that I do not wish for him to have cause to call me a hypocrite." She smiles faintly. "Perhaps it is a good thing that I did not receive any religious indoctrination."

    "Perhaps?"

    Without ceremony, she pulls the thong carrying the amulet over her head. "I am Isis."
     
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st December
    09:23 GMT +3

    Dirt explodes upward before being blown away by wind that swirls from nowhere, sparks flying from the short lived dust storm. As it calms, the.. newly transformed Adrianna freezes for a moment, then moves her left hand to keep her tiny skirt down while her right moves across her barely-covered and significantly larger breasts.



    Yes, I see why the normally conservatively dressing Adrianna might be a little disturbed to find herself wearing a… That. I mean, that golden belt is only a little bit smaller than the skirt and… That's not even a bra. It's providing no support at all. I can see it providing no support at all. And that necklace and those sandals can't be comfortable.

    On the positive side, she's about six inches taller and a good deal healthier-looking. Added muscles… Which I can see. I wonder who designed this costume, because if it was Shazam-.

    "Paul, do you have any clothing I could-?"

    While she's not quite as buff as Diana, the change of clothing I have in subspace for her more or less fits. Adrianna nods in gratitude before heading inside the building.

    Just missing Dr Balewa shimmering into existence, his eyes darting around as he tries to see what just happened. "What was thet?"

    "Adrianna putting on the Amulet of Isis, and becoming a living avatar of the goddess. Which should at least make tidying up here a little-"

    "Oh."

    "-easier. Which way did-?"

    My ring gleams, then Alan's face appears. Paul, get down here right now.

    Ring, location? And go.

    The somewhat dilapidated brick and mortar of the old parts of the facility and the more recent grey Apokoliptian synthetic stone zip past in an instant and-

    Purpose=Failure

    -agagakh!

    A sarcophagus… Medical table open casket thing. Very Apokoliptian. Devices my rings can't identify cover a young man's face and chest, his emaciated frame-

    "Ragh!"

    -suddenly more visible after Adom tears the front off the device. Bruises, cuts, visible ribs whose positioning suggests that they broke and healed without being set… Burns, three fingers missing from his right hand and none of the rest still have nails. Missing nails from his big toes. Emasculated. Left eye removed and nose… Flattened.

    Genetic match. Amon Tomaz.

    I remember the comic… He was injured, Adrianna couldn't fix his spinal injuries-.

    "Paul, he's been Anti-Lifed."

    I dart forward, stepping around the manfully horrified Adom and the stunned Adrianna. Enkindle avarice? Shit, there's nothing there to enkindle. I let the orange light join the blue which Alan is already trying to use…

    Stifling a sob, Adrianna gestures at Amon. Bruises vanish, nails regrow and scars fade, but… Yeah, accelerated natural healing. Some things the human body just can't fix by itself. I can do better on behalf of someone I'm invested in like Adom… Restore the eye, the testicles and the fingers, reset the ribs-.

    Adrianna gasps and looks at me, but I swiftly shake my head. He's… His soul is filled with Anti-Life, but… I see what she meant. He hasn't accepted it as part of himself. He's just suffered so much that he's switched off. The Anti-Life can't grab him because he's not there anymore. Which doesn't help us. Reminds me of that thing in Sword of Truth

    Adom glances back at the telepathic woman who directed him here, but he immediately controls himself. Not her fault. Heck, even if she was involved, which is well within the realms of possibility. "Can you help him?"

    "Not… Readily. There are things I could try…"

    "Can you tell what ails him?"

    "As far as I can tell, his mind has withdrawn from his body. With time and care, I'd normally be reasonably confident that he would eventually recover. However, there's still Anti-Life in there and it… I think it's preventing that. And because he's not there, Blue Lantern and I can't -at our current skill level- remove it for him. Highfather might be able to do something for him… I don't know."

    Telepathy? No, no, too dangerous to risk Anti-Life exposure. A perfect circle of Lanterns is my strongest chance, but how to get people like that working together? Sinestro would obviously have to g-.

    "Can he hear me?"

    "Ah… There's nothing physically wrong with his ears or auditory cortex. Maybe? The sound's going in, but I'm not sure that it's reaching him."

    Adom nods. "Please, step aside."

    I frown, but I step back to allow him closer. He approaches to within a metre then stops, bending slightly to bring his face closer to Amon's left ear. "Amon? My name is Teth Adom. I am a super hero, and the ruler of Kahndaq. But, more relevant to you, I am your sister's fiancé. She has refused to wed me until you are recovered, and so I must correct your current state myself."

    "A very long time ago, a.. wizard, granted me a portion of my gods' powers to serve as his warrior. In modern times, he did the same to a man who calls himself Captain Marvel. Perhaps you have heard of him? And in turn, Captain Marvel shared that power with his two closest friends, knowing that he would be all the stronger for having them fight beside him. When I was.. the wizard's champion, I could have done the same." He shakes his head. "I chose not to. I could not have.. imagined sharing the burden in that way. I told myself that I could not let someone that close to me, that I could not encourage someone I valued to share that danger." He shakes his head. "I was mistaken. I was simply trying to protect myself from further loss, as if every wound I took was one from which another was spared."

    "You are my love's brother, and you have survived tortures that would have killed a lesser man. I believe that you have a great deal to offer the world. And to rise from your bed, you must push these lies from your head, this Anti-Life. But you are barely alive. How can you do this?"

    "I could always have shared my power as Captain Marvel does, but I did not have a.. family with which to share it. And now I do." He lays his right hand on Amon's forehead. "Say my name."

    "T-th…"

    What?

    "TethAdom..!"

    I raise a construct barrier as lightning arcs from Adom into Amon! The black and gold body suit forms immediately, his muscles swell and his eyes focus! He staggers forward, then swings his right arm back and destroys the machines that had been holding him.

    "We could have… Studied that…"

    "Amon." Adom smiles broadly and grasps the bewildered youth by his right shoulder as Adrianna dashes forward to embrace him. "Do you understand me?"

    "Yes. Yes… My brother?"

    Adom bows his head slightly. "Not yet. But..? Soon?"

    Adrianna pulls her teary face away from her brother's head. "Yes. Soon. Very soon."

    Hm. Looks like I need to buy a new hat.
     
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd December
    06:08 GMT -5

    I watch as my porridge turns in the microwave. I've got a wedding invitation, but… What do you get the man who has everything? No, no, there are plenty of things Adom doesn't have, but while not without his vices he certainly doesn't include acquisitiveness amongst them. What do you get a man who already has everything he wants?

    My eyes drift sideways to a black and white picture of Alan with the rest of the Justice Society. Huh. Well… Sure, but I don't think necromancy's really on.

    Although

    "Something on your mind, or have microwave ovens started picking up TV signals?"

    "Hm? Oh." I take a half-step back, then turn to face Alan. "No, I was just.. thinking."

    He pushes a couple of slices of toast into the toaster, then glances my way with a wry smile on his lips. "Should I warn the Justice League?"

    "No, no, that won't-"

    "It's only fair to give them a running start."

    "-be necessary. I was just wondering… Hawkman, Mister Carter Hall. Did he.. talk about his past lives much?"

    "You mean, in detail?" Alan tilts his head back as he thinks about it. "No, not that I recall. At the time, I wasn't sure he wasn't just.. a little…" He taps his forehead with his right forefinger and I nod. "He mentioned having been to a few places… I think we were in Frankfurt, after the war, and he mentioned having lived not too far from there a couple of centuries ago. You might be better off asking-." He cuts himself off.

    "Asking..?"

    "I was going to say 'Ted Knight'. Aside from Shiera, Ted was the guy in the Society he was closest to." He sighs, then shrugs. "I guess.. in any group, you're going to have people you're closer to than others. If you were asking me anything about Ted Grant or Jay or Diana, I could tell you no problem." He frowns curiously. "What brought this on?"

    "Carter Hall was the reincarnation of Prince Khufu, right?"

    Alan nods. "That's what he said."

    "And he died… What, twenty nine years ago?"

    Alan nods again. "Sounds.. about right."

    "So his new incarnation would be twenty eight now."

    "Ahh…" Alan looks decidedly nonplussed. "Could be, I guess. Like I said, I wasn't all that sure the reincarnation thing wasn't just.. some sort of crackpot idea he somehow got into his head. I.. suppose… Well, it depends on how long he had to wait between reincarnations."

    "Did he or Mrs Hall say anything about how long that normally took?"

    "No, not that I-." He blinks. "Oh, hang on. There was one time… We got to talking about the transcontinental railroad, and he told me that he worked as a secure courier for the Pinkerton Agency in… Ah… Nineteen oh three? Or thereabouts? I wouldn't want to swear to the exact date, but it was definitely early twentieth century."

    "So even if he dropped dead the next day, it can't take more than a decade, because he joined the Justice Society as Carter Hall in the Forties."

    "Huh." His toast slices pop out of the toaster, and he carefully transfers them to his plate and starts to butter them. "I hadn't really thought about it, but you're probably right. What brought this on?"

    "Adom knew Khufu. And they were friends and colleagues, two things he's not exactly overflowing with at the moment."

    "He did tear a woman apart on worldwide television with his bare hands." Alan puts the lid back on the butter and sticks his knife in the peanut butter jar. "That kind of thing can put people off."

    "He's also a demigod ruling a country of people who revere him. Another friend or two would help prevent further.. ripping incidents."

    Alan chuckles quietly. "It's the way you say it."

    I take my porridge out of the microwave and squirt in a small amount of golden syrup. "Did he tell you whether or not he-"

    "Orange juice?" Alan shakes the carton at me.

    "-got-? Ah, yes, thank you. Whether he got all of his memories back from birth, or they gradually came through as he got older, or… What?"

    Alan pours two glasses of orange juice, puts the lid back on the peanut butter and then floats the glasses and his plate over to the dining table. I pick up my bowl and join him.

    "No, ah… He used to collect antique weapons. One of the ones he bought was…" He frowns and takes a small bite of his toast, taking his time to chew before swallowing. "It was the dagger that the man who murdered Khufu used. That was what made him remember. It was made of Nth metal, so it kinda stood out." He points in the general direction of the stairs with his toast. "I've still got it upstairs, actually."

    "You..?" I stop, porridge-laden spoon half way to my mouth. "Did everyone in the Justice Society just… Dump their old stuff on you? I mean, you had Diana's old clothes, Mister Nelson's books, Hugo Danner's research records and now I find out you've got Mister Hall's Nth metal dagger. I once bought a spaceship's central computer with one of those."

    Alan shrugs. "I.. guess I just had the loft space. You want it for something?"

    "If seeing it caused Mister Hall to get his past life memories back, it should have the same effect on whoever the current incarnation is."

    "Huh." Alan thinks as he chews on his toast. "You sure about that?"

    "No. Reincarnation is usually an iffy business because souls don't encode memories well. But if he could clearly remember multiple past lives well enough to hold conversations about things they'd seen, that's clearly not an issue here. The dagger.. should have the same significance to whoever he is now that it had to Mister Hall. Unless the trigger was a one-time thing which happened as a result of the shock of seeing it for the first time in thousands of years. I suppose that the only way to know for certain would be to try it."

    "And what if.. whoever it is doesn't want to get their past life memories back?"

    "Then I stick it back in the loft. After making the same offer to the current Shiera Saunders, of course."

    "How would you find them?"

    "Scrying. If we used the dagger as the focus, even a fairly weak magic user should be able to find them."

    "I suppose the association would be pretty strong, huh." He thinks for a moment, then slowly nods. "I can dig the knife out after breakfast. One other thing I do remember, though."

    I nod, my mouth full of porridge.

    "It isn't just the two of them who reincarnate. The guy who killed them -Hath-Set- is supposed to get reincarnated too."

    I nod again, then swallow. "Alright, manageable. I can stick him in stasis or.. on a planet on the other side of the universe or something."

    "If this works… Have you thought about what you're going to tell Hector?"

    "I'd be astonished if he actually complained about his parents reincarnating, but I'm sure we'll be able to come to terms if he does."
     
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd December
    11:37 GMT -6


    "Of course, Queen Adilah. And I'm very pleased to know that your efforts are being met with such success."

    Amazing how quickly people can get a clue when they're totally dependent on you. Lex could supply Bialya's current ruler with more of the synthetic pheromone, but I strongly recommended that he not. It would be easy enough for -for example- the CIA to find out about and then he's broken the terms of his parole and I look like a fool for not spotting it. She was decidedly on edge after I vanished from the face of the Earth, and I've made it clear that I expect her to toe the party line if she wants me to keep helping her.

    And if I could find as much as a toenail clipping from her sister, I'd use a Lazarus Pit and dispense with her services entirely.

    "What freedom you allow me."

    It was moderately pleasng to find out that my assessment of her political abilities was about right. Things weren't getting to the 'open rebellion' stage when I got back in touch, but government officials found her 'more difficult to work with' than her predecessor. Which without the pheromone would probably have resulted in her getting formally sidelined and reduced to a purely ceremonial role at best.

    "If you were capable of exercising power sensibly without me then you wouldn't need me. But take heart; I've just the solution."

    "I am not expecting to like it."

    "I have in my employ a woman with significant experience in leadership roles. Her name is Miss Savage. She's been working as my PA for a little while, and it's a waste of her talents. Obviously, she's going to be representing my interests, but I've made it clear that she is otherwise there to help you."

    "Is she a deviant as well?"

    "Actually, yes." Oh, today is a good day to be me. "But you won't have to worry about the pheromone affecting her. We've been making marvellous strides in atmosphere filtration lately."

    Also, she has so far demonstrated better taste. Nothing happening with her and Knockout. I suppose that she hasn't had the opportunity to demonstrate any of the traits an Apokoliptian would find attractive. And Knockout hasn't spent anything like as much time on Earth as her comic counterpart had. Ah well. They can't all be winners.

    "I will endure her presence to the precise degree I am forced to."

    I sigh loudly enough that she can hear it. "Look… Queen Adilah… I know you hate both the situation and me. And I know you'll cut contact with me just as soon as you can survive doing so. That's fine: I admire the drive humans have to improve their situations… But I'm not seeing what your exit plan is. Ignoring Miss Savage would be completely in keeping with your behaviour to date, but all that means is that you're cutting yourself off from a capable teacher. Are you getting tuition from somewhere else? Because if not, you're acting hard against your own interests."

    "And why would you care?"

    "It's a New God thing." I lean back in my chair. "I get this itch when realms are being administered inefficiently. But, it's true, in the short term you continuing to shoot yourself in the foot is in my interests. So, fine, your next dose will be with you in a couple of minutes and Miss Savage will be presenting herself tomorrow. Have a nice day!"

    I dismiss the phone construct, before looking over to Miss Savage and Jean. "Alright, what's next on the agenda?"

    Miss Savage gives me a mild frown. "I don't think I've been sufficiently briefed on Queen Adilah."

    "I.. don't think I missed anything in my initial brief..? Incompetent, homophobic, play your cards right you'll basically be running the country..?" Especially since you'll have the pheromone as well.

    "Her background. What she likes, who she was friends with at school, what she does for fun. My job will be easier if I can become her friend."

    "Yeah…" I shake my head. "Not going to happen. When I say 'homophobe', I don't mean the occasional obscene barb." I smile. "Being around you will literally make her ill."

    "Then why did you tell her?"

    I… Huh. She.. has a point. It probably wasn't productive… "I don't respect her enough to want to make her happy with the situation. Honestly, it was a tossup between this and giving you a disguise ward so you could replace her entirely." I frown. "And hey; Bialya's the one country in the Middle East where-. No, you know what? I'm not happy with any member of my Elite being in the closet. Screw everyone else. Be resplendent."

    She doesn't appear to be quite sure what to make of that.

    "But if you really want to know anything else about the bitch, I've got the CIA's file and everything the g-gnomes have been taking from her brain since I prevented her assassination." I take the data stick out of subspace and pass it to her. "Yours to read -or not- as you choose."

    She gives me a slightly odd look as she takes it. To misquote Abaddon in Do The Daemon Primarchs Still Hang Out?, I wouldn't have made you one of my Chosen if I didn't value your opinion. Or a New God, in her case.

    "So as I was saying, anything else?"

    Jean nods. "Mister Near reports that the situation in Britain is as stable as it could reasonably be. I have also received requests from a number of bodies that they be given access to the prisoners."

    "Pick a handful of the least stupid and give them a tour of the facilities. No direct contact due to the prisoners being ritual magicians." Jean nods. "That it?"

    "I believe those are all the matters that require your immediate attention, Mister Grayven."

    "Good show." I get to my feet and step away from the table. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go and talk the Chinese government into helping Lex with his space program."

    Mother Box, boom tube.

    Ping.

    I walk through and-. "Oh, not again." The boom tube behind me closes as I look around the… Workshop? Foundry? Sinestro, still working this time?

    Yes, Lantern Grayven.

    "Alright, I'll give whoever hacked my boom tube until the count of five, and then I'm going to start-" I slowly turn around. "-getting irritable."

    "How much do you think I still care?"

    I narrow my eyes slightly at the small, goblin like man in the lab coat sitting opposite me. "Doctor Sivana. And here I'd thought that Captain Marvel finally killed you."

    "No. No, he didn't."

    "Something I can do for you? Or can I go back-?"

    He raises a small pistol. A radion blaster. I was somehow expecting be-.

    "You told Vandal Savage that something like this would only work when your ring-based defences were compromised."

    "Yes? That's true? What of it?"

    "I'm something of a perfectionist when it comes to technology. It occurred to me that if a sufficiently large weapon could knock down your energy shields, there was no real reason not to make that weapon itself radion-based."

    "I suppo-?"

    "Turn your head to the left."

    I turohhh. That's a big radion blaster, the end of the barrel just poking through the entrance of a subspace pocket. "Doctor Sivana, I'm not aware of any particular enmity existing between-."

    "Do you know who the Sheeda are?"

    I curl my lip. "The end result of a dying time line. Humanity's destiny if I fail."

    He nods slowly. "That was where the portal sent me. To their future. When they found out, they opened a portal back."

    I nod. "So we should expect a Harrowing. Worrying, but manag-."

    "No. When they realised I was coming back to now, they send an operative back to wait for me. It arrived during my family's annual meeting on Venus. My facility was destroyed. My wife is dead, along with three of my children."

    "I'm so sorry, Doctor. If there are any parts left-."

    "Do you think I didn't think of that? It was on Venus. Once the walls went down, there was nothing." I nod. "I want to exterminate the Sheeda. I want to kill every last one of them. And you are going to make that happen."

    I nod again. "Yes, I am. Would you mind dispensing with the gun so we can discuss how?"
     
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd December
    10:01 GMT -7

    I rise from my seat in the reception area of the University of Arizona's School of Anthropology as Mr Cantrell strolls in and looks around. He spots me and does a bit of a double take.

    "Mr Cantrell?"

    "Sorry, I was-" He crosses the room and holds out his right hand. "-expecting you to be wearing…" We shake hands. "Your armour."

    "I didn't really think I'd need it. I really only wear that when I'm expecting actual combat"

    "And I imagine it isn't all that comfortable." He half turns and gestures towards the door he came in through, and I follow him as he leads the way into the building. "Ah, you said you wanted me to take a look at something?"

    "Well, yes. I want you to check the provenance of a knife for me." I lift the padded box in my left hand. "I believe that it's Ancient Kahndaqi."

    "I am an expert, but… Why not ask Teth Adom? I thought the two of you were pretty close."

    I bow my head slightly. "He said that the style was about right, but he isn't an expert in ancient metallurgy. But… I'm afraid that the knife is only my.. secondary reason for being here."

    He looks mildly interested. "If there's anything else I can help with..?"

    "Tell me about your dreams."

    He stops, blinking in surprise. "Ah..? Excuse me?"

    "Let's see… It would be ancient Kahndaq, fifth century Britain-."

    "How-? What-?" He takes a moment. "Yes, I do-. How do you know about that?"

    "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

    His eyes grow a little distant. "I knew… I mean, I watched your interviews. I know there's more to the afterlife than Heaven and Hell. And I can-." He focuses on me again. "I have given lectures on different cultures' beliefs concerning religious and funeral practices. You think..? The reason I have these dreams is because they're..? Past life memories?"

    "Yes."

    "That still doesn't explain how you know about them. Am I on some kinda watch list or something?"

    "Technically, yes. Given the number of arcane artefacts which seem to get unearthed during digs, the NSA maintains a database of people who are 'at risk' or whom they might need to consult at short notice. But in my case it was a combination of your age and a short scrying ritual performed with the aid of some of your previous incarnation's-" I lift the box containing the dagger. "-property."

    He blinks, his mouth falling slightly open. "My God." He sort of huffs with amusement. "That's-. I mean, what does that mean about me, my character-. I mean, I'm a semi-practicing Christian. Reincarnation's never been part of the Christian religious tradition."

    "Obviously, not all of your forebears were Christian. And there was magic involved. Now, the reason why I'm bringing this up-."

    "Ah, would you mind if we did this in my office? You're kinda blowing my mind here."

    "Under the circumstances, I think that's entirely reasonable."

    Mr Cantrell leads the way through the Anthropology Department's corridors until we come to a small office on the second floor, walking in and dropping onto a soft chair held together by duct tape. "I'm just… Trying to get my head around it."

    I generate a construct chair and sit down opposite him. "Quite understandable."

    "So… Who am I?"

    "You are Frederick Cantrell, PhD student at the University of Arizona."

    He looks up. "Am I? Because I don't always remember the dreams clearly, but they always call me by other names. I mean…"

    "Those people are dead. You have the same soul, true, but you are as much a product of your era as they are theirs. You have your own memories, you're living your own life. Nothing about the fact that you reincarnate takes away from that. You aren't doomed to mindlessly repeat the actions of your predecessors; in point of fact none of them were archaeologists."

    He sits still for a moment. "The knife is the key. To.. fully… I don't know what the word is. Bring.. him… Them… Back."

    "It was what restored your predecessor's memories, certainly." His eyes flick up at me. "Though whether you look at it or not is entirely up to you. If you like, I can leave and… In eighty years or so I'll have this conversation with your successor."

    "I'm already dreaming their memories. Who's to say I won't just.. wake up as someone else one of these days?"

    I sit back slightly. "What did you have for lunch nine days ago?"

    He hesitates, then shakes his head. "I don't remember. I could.. guess."

    "Right. Very few people remember things like that for any length of time. And if we went through your diary, you ran through the day in your mind and you remembered?"

    "Okay, I'm not defined by my memories. But people in different eras think about things in very different ways, and those behaviors have their roots in their formative experiences."

    "A friend of mine spoke to your predecessor's friends and family about how he changed after getting his memories back. There was some change, but he was still the same man. He just.. remembered some things that he'd forgotten."

    He nods slowly. "It's tempting. Being able to remember what it was like living in an ancient culture rather than just guessing or working from fragmented records… Can I ask who my.. predecessor was?"

    "Telling you would involve violating a superhero's secret identity. If you got your memories back you'd know anyway. But if you don't"

    He nods again. "Can I sleep on it? And I should probably talk things through with Sharon as well-. That's my girlfriend, S-."

    "Sharon Parker. I was planning on contacting her myself, but if you'd-."

    "She's-?"

    "The two of you… As I understand it, something about the magic involved in your first death means that the two of you tend to find one another."

    "So much for free will."

    "Do you regret meeting her?"

    "No. No." He chuckles a little nervously. "Even when we first met, it was like we'd known…" His face falls slightly. "Known each other for years. And we have. It's-. Her. All those women, all one woman."

    "All those men, one man. Or many men with a few memories in common." I shrug. "As I said, it's entirely up to you."

    "Let me just.. call her real quick."
     
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd December
    22:18 GMT +8


    "..if I could. Everyone else thinks I'm crazy."

    Roy's entirely too proud to shiver. He's also too proud to slow down, despite the depth of snow we're walking through. He's been fairly uncommunicative since we arrived here, but this is going to be boring if I don't have someone to talk to.

    "So, ah… How come it took you this long to ask me?"

    "You don't exactly have the best reputation."

    "On the contrary: I've got an excellent reputation. Ask anyone."

    "Like the British government?"

    I grin. "Actually, yes. You think they'd dare say anything bad about me?"

    "Why didn't you tell me you knew where he was?"

    Oh. Yeah, it has been nearly a year. "Pretty much the same reason why I didn't know you were a clone before you told us."

    "And what was that?"

    I shrug. "You didn't matter to me. I keep medical records of people I like so I can heal them. I don't think we'd exchanged two words. I had absolutely no motive to do anything with you or for you and I still think a bow's a stupid weapon." I stop and bend down, wiping snow from a nearby rock pile with my right hand. Runic wards, but weak ones. Enough to fool a power ring… Until I reinforced it with the power of my own divinity.

    Just finding out that was even possible is making this trek worthwhile.

    Roy snorts. "I think the Celestial Archer club would argue that with you."

    "And how much better would they be as Celestial Gunmen? I could even make a purple healing pistol for them."

    He comes to a halt just in front of me, staring at the fortress monastery thing up ahead. "You sure he's in there?"

    "A lot of meat with his DNA is, yeah. I don't know whether he's alive or not. I wouldn't have left him alive. But there're quite a lot of things about this that I wouldn't have done."

    Construct Ra's was at least able to confirm that Original Roy was in cryogenic suspension when he last updated himself. Unfortunately for me, he didn't keep himself informed of exactly where he was being housed beyond the fact that it was somewhere in China. And then the Chinese killed everyone on their League of Shadows membership list, rather than capturing and interrogating any of them. I can only assume that they transported it here first, though whether the suspension unit is still working is anyone's guess.

    I stride forwards-.

    "What are you doing? We can climb the-."

    "It's not like they're a threat to me."

    "League of Shadows killer monks are definitely a threat to me. If-."

    "You picked that bow." Still, him coming back dead wouldn't exactly win me points with the League. "Fine, hush tube." The texture of the space in front of us changes slightly. "Just remember I don't have anything in the way of forward intelligence, and that you're much squishier than I am."

    "I'll manage."

    "Fine."

    I stride through the tube and into a.. red walled hallway just in front of two rather surprised spear-armed monks. I.. guess this isn't that Monastery of Alien Evil where Prometheus got his cosmic key, then. I reach forward, spears glancing off my hands and I grab their heads and smash them together.

    "The Chinese government okay about you having a body count?"

    "They insisted. Everyone here's dead." I stroll towards the end of the corridor. "There's a xeno-team a couple of miles away to finish off anyone who survives us."

    Lightly-stepping, arrow on string, he keeps pace with me. A point arrow, I notice. "The cryo unit's big. And heavy. There can't be too many places in here they can have brought him in."

    I stop and turn to face the wall. "Right." I trigger my aero-discs and punch, wood exploding outwards into the Tibetan night. Huh, hadn't really considered that aspect of things before. The Chinese love getting excuses to rough up-.

    "What the hell did you do that for?"

    I shrug and I float out and downwards. Yes, a helicopter could-

    An arrow hits me on the gorget. I raise my left hand and disintegrate the archer.

    -land there, which means that Roy and I would have gone through that courtyard, then through…

    Ah.

    I let myself drop, the roof under my feet collapsing and falling onto… Could be a dojo? A couple more monks, these ones with.. staves…

    Oh… Fucking

    Jade takes a half-step back, mopping her brow. "Grayven."

    "…" Um. "Jade." I take a step forward, and the closest monk charges me with a… Metal club thing? I swing my right arm and backhand him in half. "So, ah… This is where you've been?"

    "… Yes."

    Roy drops down through the roof hole and puts an arrow through the right leg of one of the monks. Out of the corner of my eye I see three others run at him.

    "Roy, you got-. You got this, right?"

    "Yeah, you handle Cheshire."

    Jade and I watch each other for a moment.

    I take her pardon out of subspace. "Look, I-."

    "You took your time tracking me down."

    "I haven't tracked you down. We're looking for the original Speedy. I didn't even know you were here." And what the heck do I do about that? I can't.. just.. let the Chinese kill her. If Roy hadn't seen her I'd just tube her somewhere…

    "So finishing the job of killing everyone I know is incidental, is it?"

    "I told you I was going to do that! The first time we had a conversation! Did you just forget!?"

    She thinks for a second. "That was months before you-!"

    "And? Infiltrating, finding out everything I needed to know, took time. And don’t try and tell me you've never infiltrated anywhere before!"

    "Not by telling them I was infiltrating them!"

    "It worked!"

    Someone -a monk- stumbles back into me. I grab her, twist her head 180 degrees and then toss the corpse aside. Jade and I just stare at each other for a moment, and I'm… I'm breathing rather quickly. Close your eyes. Slow your breathing. Calm, calm blue water.

    "Why didn't you tell me at the time?"

    "Because I didn't know how closely Ra's was monitoring you. I didn't want anyone without a vital role to play to know what was going on before we started. Telling you to make yourself scarce was the best I could do."

    "And you didn't try and get in contact afterwards."

    "My father visited me."

    "Your f-?" I nods. "What did he want?"

    "To say what a great job I was doing, and whisper a part of the Anti-Life Equation into my ear. I spent a week raving in agony, mostly reliving the moment where you tried to stab me."

    "A knife wouldn't have hurt y-."

    "It HURT me! I loved you! I don't care about the knife, I care about the fact that you tried to use it! RRREHHR." Calm… Calm blue waters. Oh… Marvellous, now I've relearned how to cry. "Fuck, it doesn't… Look, just take this." I throw the pardon to her, and she catches it. "From President Horne."

    She opens it and looks it over. "So when the Chinese government kill me the US won't be able to prosecute my dead body."

    "Just…" A somewhat battered-looking Roy stumbles into my line of sight. "Show us where the real Roy is, and Grayven can drop you off somewhere." He turns his head toward me. "Right?"

    I nod. "Actually, I…" She would be a good fit for Mr Near's team, but I don't… I don't think me being around her will be sensible for a while. "Yes. Yes, I can do that."

    Jade's eyes move from me to him and then back again. "I.. haven't seen him, but I know where they're keeping him. This way."
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2020
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd December
    06:22 GMT +5:30

    So while Mr Cantrell and Ms Parker are thinking things over… Who do we have left?

    No record of Manitou Raven or Dawn survives to the present day. With their base of operations sinking and the passage of five thousand years… And the fact that their people didn't go in for written records, that's hardly surprising. They might still be alive, they might have died centuries ago… If they didn't pass the magic power threshold for automatic life extensions, that would be my guess.

    There's a giant crater where Tezumak's people used to live, and good riddance. Power armour powered by the sacrifice of children is something the world can do without. If I found a surviving suit of armour in a cave somewhere I'm honestly not sure whether I'd hand it over for study or destroy it outright. I'd certainly kill Tezumak himself. Fortunately, I don't think that will be necessary.

    Sela? No idea. Whaler? No idea. The Anointed One? I don't even know what species he was, let alone where he ended up. I did find out what happened to Gamemnae, and now I know why Atlanteans looks uncomfortable whenever I mention her. According to Sephtian she was an exile who got very good at magic, conquered most of Atlantis by force majeure and set about reversing the sinking. Massive social upheaval, many many people dead… Her body is actually kept in the Temple of Orcus in the fervent hope that he keeps her in his domain permanently.

    On a more positive note, Hindu mythology has plenty of references to Jarhanpur. The location where it's supposed to be used to be a place of pilgrimage, selling cheap gimcrackery to tourists. Then Partition happened. There are still people in the region, but they reach for their guns when strangers arrive.

    One on a very long list…

    Anyway, there should be an entrance to Jarhanpur somewhere around here. So I'm just waving my upgraded rune stones around until I-.

    "Doctor Mist to Orange Lantern."

    "Orange Lantern here. What can I do for you?"

    "Batman.. did not send you?"

    "No? Should he?"

    The air just to my right shimmers and Dr Balewa appears, floating without apparent support. "After our confrontation in Saudi Arabia, Batman requested that I seek out other such sites. Places that are part of the world and yet apart from it. There is one here."

    "Jarhanpur."

    "If we are fortunate, yes. If we are not"

    "If we are not, shouldn't there be a few more League members on hand than just you?"

    "The Flash and Lantern Stewart can be here in moments. But I hope, as you say, that what I feel is Jarhanpur."

    "How much 'hope' are we talking about, here?"

    "If it is not, then there is an Apokoliptian factory the size of a small country sitting in the second most populous country on the planet."

    I nod. "I'm feeling lucky. But they might not be all that happy about you forcibly reintegrating them into the world."

    "Your message regarding the first such location afforded me little time to study the phenomenon. I believe that I can act with greater subtlety on this occasion."

    I nod, trying not to sigh. Then I call my armour out of subspace, add construct armour and a couple of railguns and expand my awareness outward. "If we encounter anything Anti-Life related, I would strongly suggest that you fall back."

    "The lies of the Anti-Life affect me no more then they do you." He descends slowly through the air, landing lightly on the ground. "Now, I will make my final preparations."

    "Go right ahead."

    He raises his hands, faint gusts of wind swirling around him. The only other outward indication I have that anything much is happening is the brilliant blaze that my rune stones are suddenly emitting.

    "Tell me: if you are not here to face the warriors of Apokolips, why are you here? What reason do you have for seeking Jarhanpur?"

    "Adom used to know its ruler, before they either got destroyed or went into supernatural isolation. I'm hoping that either he or his successor are still around." I frown. "Actually, wouldn't you have been around back then?"

    "I was alive, yes. It is hard to recall, but I think I spent the entirety of Teth Adom's reign in what is now Angola. I was not invited to join."

    "Did you.. know of him?"

    "I knew that some gods had blessed a mortal champion. Little more." I nod. "Ah. Yes, I have it."

    A point in the air just in front of us shimmers a white-yellow before expanding, swirling as it widens and parts in the centre. The space between the rim of the coloured ring shows a foreign landscape, one far removed from the sun beaten scrubland around us. I see woodlands in the distance, while close up there's a stone-paved road cutting through a meadow full of lush grass and wild flowers.

    Probably not Apokolips, then.

    The last good record of Jarhanpur comes from well before the rise of Islam or Sikhism. Heh. An outpost of India from when it was the most powerful nation on Earth, with none of the religious strife that exists in the modern day country. I'm assuming that we're going to see a medieval idyll rather than anything that suggests they've kept up to date… But one of these places might surprise me one day.

    "Are we going through?"

    Dr Balewa holds his right hand out towards the portal. "I feel nothing of the Anti-Life. And I have other sites to investigate."

    "Okay." Pretty reasonable, really. "Can you leave the portal open for me?"

    "Eh-h." He glances at me, then makes a circular gesture with his right hand. "It will remain open for one hour. If I do not hear from you, I will return tomorrow and reopen it."

    I let my construct armour evaporate and switch out my heavy combat armour for a far lighter version which leaves my face exposed. "Thank you. That should be plenty of time." I nod at the portal. "I just.. walk through?"

    "The magic does not transport you anywhere. What you see is what should be here, if it had not been taken ehway. Your tattoos, your wards? They will not affect it."

    I nod at him. "Right then. I'll report back in half an hour."

    He shimmers out of corporeality once more, and I fly through the portal.
     
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd December
    06:36 GMT +5:30

    That's a lorry.

    And I very much doubt that it was locally produced. The Daimler-Benz badge is still visible on the front of the cab and I'm reasonably confident that they don't sell to mythological Hindu princely states. I float down to just above the road. Quite a lot of wear and tear, including.. bullet damage..? Yes, aged blood stains and… It hit the fuel tank, causing a slow but ongoing leak. The tank's now empty, and since I doubt that they distil petrol in here there wouldn't have been a way for the owners to replenish their supply even if they did repair it.

    Someone's opened a portal before. Probably within the last fifty years. Interesting.

    But not strictly relevant.

    Hm. The only supervillain organisation in this part of the world is Kobra, and they've been… I wouldn't say 'quiet'.. lately… But less overt than they were. There was a… With Jeffrey Burr being recognised as Kobra, the organisation was gripped by whatever the Hindu equivalent of millennialist fervour is. With him gone and derecognised, the crazy outward attacks on civilisation have more or less stopped. These days they've mostly gone back to financially motivated crime and shooting each other, so I doubt that it was a group of Bestowed who opened the portal.

    India does have superheroes, but almost nothing in the way of higher organisation for them. The ones I've heard about come from major cities, and none of them are close to here. And most of them have spontaneously manifesting abilities, rather than being studied magic users. So not them either.

    Which is actually a very good thing for me. It means that the people in here aren't totally isolated and that Rama Khan -or his successor however generations removed- probably opened the barrier himself. Which is… Interesting. I remember that in Justice League he was a pretty strict isolationist.

    So… Ring, wide area scan, if you please.

    Compliance. Warning, limited feedback available due to-. Spell Eater-.

    The countryside disappears, replaced instantly with… An audience chamber. A richly dressed bearded man sits cross-legged on a pile of cushions. Armed guard surroundagh! I squeeze my eyes shut as looking at one sends a painful flash of light into my eyes!

    "You would be advised not to look too deeply into the spirits of my bodyguard, outsider."

    I return by attention to the entirely calm man sitting at the focus of the room. "I apologise." I bow my head slightly. "I was merely curious."

    "Curiosity would not be sufficient to bring you here. How did you breach the barrier protecting this land?"

    "An ancient and powerful wizard opened a portal while looking for one of our enemies, who use a similar technique to the one used to remove Jarhanpur from the world."

    "'Ancient'? Who is he?"

    "His name is Nommo Balewa, though he is also known as Doctor Mist."

    "Yes." He nods. "I have heard of him. Will he attempt to breach our protection again?"

    "I.. didn't ask, but I have no reason to believe so. He was specifically looking for anyone working with Apokolips, and since it was immediately evident that what he found here did not belong to them, he left." I risk a smile. "I rather get the impression that he's a bit overworked at the moment."

    "Why did you not leave with him? You have no place here."

    "I'm sorry, may I ask? You are Lord Rama Khan, sovereign prince of Jarhanpur?"

    He straightens slightly, expression firm and proud. "I am."

    "Excellent." I bow from the waist until my torso is parallel to the floor. "My lord, I humbly beg your pardon for my intrusion and thank you for permitting me to stand within your home."

    "My pardon will be granted as soon as you leave. Why did you come here when it was clear that we are not what you sought?"

    I straighten up. "You aren't what he sought. I would have stood with him against Apokoliptian soldiers, but I was looking for you."

    "And what do you want of me?"

    "One of my friends-. Two of my friends I should say, are getting married shortly. Since they don't really want for anything in the way of material possessions, I thought that I should try and work out something that they actually desire as a gift."

    He smiles very faintly. "You are free to visit the bazaar before you leave."

    "Thank you, but that wasn't what I meant. They're both somewhat short on family and friends, so I thought I'd try tracking down a few. Locating the current incarnations of Prince Khufu and-" His face falls and his eyes stare. "-Princess Chay-Ara was relatively straightforward-."

    "They would not retain their memories."

    "With all due respect my lord, you are mistaken. About eighty years ago his then-incarnation purchased the knife Hath-Set used to murder them. The moment he saw it, memories of his past lives filled his mind. The same thing happened with a woman named Shiera Sanders, Princess Chay-Ara's then-incarnation. Both have since died and been reborn again."

    "That is… Remarkable. They remember every detail?"

    "The current incarnations are trying to decide whether or not they want to remember everything. I'm expecting an answer tomorrow."

    "Who do you know who knows both myself and the Hawks?"

    "Teth Adom."

    That doesn't appear to have been well received. "Teth Adom is dead. Murdered by the treacherous wizard Jebediah of Canaan. And if he were alive, he would not remarry."

    "Yes, he was killed and his soul was bound to his corpse by the wizard. Five thousand years later an archaeological expedition opened the tomb and one of its members used a blood magic ritual to transfer Adom's soul from his corpse to an amulet, and used that to use the powers the gods of Kahndaq had granted him. He rampaged for a few years, then he met me. Teth Adom now controls the man's former body while he was consumed by Ammut. He has recently deposed the current Kahndaqi government and is establishing his own. A criminal gang tried to bribe him with slaves and he -predictably- killed them and freed the slaves. One of them decided that he needed someone close to him who wasn't in total awe of him and stuck around to berate him when she felt that he was failing in his duties." I shrug. "I suppose it was a choice between marrying her or exiling her."

    Lord Rama Khan looks to my left, and a robed functionary there gives him a cautious nod. Rama Khan blinks in astonishment, then his eyes drop. "I.. did not know that the wizard had interfered with his soul's passage. If I had, I would have undone whatever he had worked, or not rested until I found someone who could."

    "It was five thousand years ago. But can you come to the wedding?"

    He shakes his head. "No. Since my predecessor's death, I can no longer leave Jarhanpur. But." He raises his right hand and part of the stone floor liquefies and leaps into it, reshaping itself into an urn. "I can send an avatar. Please, take this in my place and break it open before him."

    A servant walks over to him, carefully takes the urn and carries it to me.

    "Thank you." I take it. "I know that he will be delighted to see you again."
     
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th December
    10:03 GMT -7

    Hector Hall looks at Frederick Cantrell more than a little nervously. "Hey… Dad..?"

    "Not… Ah…" Mr Cantrell glances at me, but really all I can do is shrug. I don't know exactly how it works. "If I… Understand this right, I'll end up with his memories and.. I might start to act a little like him… I'm not convinced I'll actually be him."

    "Right. No, of course."

    Mr Hall has kept rather more in shape than Mr King: he kept working as a superhero and while his armour is strength-enhancing it isn't actually powered. The silver outer surface is actually reflective enough that it's uncomfortable to look at, even out of direct sunlight. I'm not completely certain why; Nth metal is usually a dull grey. I can only assume that it's something to do with the impurities in it.

    Diana glances at Ms Parker, who hasn't stopped staring at the case containing the dagger since I put it on the table. "Sharon, if you don't want to look at it, no one is going to force you. Hawkman kept it in a display case and never once used it in combat."

    Ms Parker shakes her head. "No, I'm not-." She breathes out, smiling -nervously, but still smiling- for the first time since we arrived. "All the times I've had… Déjà vu, looking at something and… Thinking that I should remember something about it. When Freddy told me about…" She nods at the case. "This… It just.. made sense. Actually having that knowledge… I think it will be a relief more than anything."

    "But..?"

    "But I'm still a little worried that it's actually some sort of magic alien brain parasite, and as soon as I see it my mind gets eaten and I get replaced with whoever it took its first imprint from."

    Diana nods. "As Shiera explained it to me, she also remembered all of her other lives as well. The dagger was still in Libya for every incarnation between her and Chay-Ara, so I don't think that it could have recorded them."

    Ms Parker nods. "O-kay, that's a little reassuring."

    Mr Grant nudges me in the side from his wheelchair. "Never thought I'd see an old friend come back from the dead."

    "You saw Solomon Grundy come back from the dead, didn't you?"

    "I don't call people who break my left arm in three places 'friends'."

    "Ah… Wait, you really never saw anyone come back from the dead?"

    He looks up at me, frowning in bewilderment. "Alan, what have you been doing with this boy?"

    Alan shakes his head. "Oh no. He does that to himself."

    "Okay, smart guy." He nods at me. "How many people have you seen come back from the dead?"

    "Depending on what you count… Fifteen? Ra's al Ghul and company using the Lazarus Pit, Teth Adom taking Theodore Adam's body, Edward Clariss-."

    Mr Garrick winces. "Don't remind me. I won't say he didn't deserve Hell. I just wish he'd stay there."

    "On the plus side, if he does come back, we can probably contain him."

    "With a super speed demon, you ideally want to be a bit more sure than that. Doesn't the.. Justice League have an angel now?"

    "The Justice League has an ersatz angel who can perform theurgy but doesn't have any sort of direct line to God. Angelica can't just forward a zoning complaint."

    But Mammon was kind enough to offer to sit on him for me, so there's that.

    "And then there's my construct lanterns, who aren't exactly alive or dead. Actually…" I look around the room and note the obvious absence from amongst the surviving members of the Justice Society. "Do you know where.. Red Tornado put Doctor Morrow? I'm… Hinon said she was going to look into whether it was possible to turn them back into people, and I… People were pretty okay about me having demon constructs, but I think seeing a human would be a bit much."

    "I… Think…" Alan glances at Diana. "Diana said that Red was looking after him."

    "Um. At the Mountain, or in his civilian identity home? Because I don't think-."

    "Okay!" Mr Cantrell walks over to the case containing the dagger. "We might as well get on with this."

    Diana looks slightly concerned. "If you are not sure-."

    He and Ms Parker look at one another, reach down to take hold of one edge of the case each, then flip the lid and stare at the knife.

    And…

    "Ah…" / "How do we..?"

    Mr Cantrell picks up the dagger and takes a closer look at it. Then he offers it to his girlfriend with a shrug.

    "Hah!" Alan bows his head, grinning. "Guess maybe we were getting a bit ahead of ourselves, there."

    "Oh, come on Alan." Mr Cantrell turns around. "It was a reasonable enough assumption-." He blinks heavily. "You-. And-."

    "Ah. Are you okay?"

    "I just remembered that time in forty seven when Al P-. Ah, Atom, tried using a sun lamp on Eclipso. I…" He frowns. "Why are you blue?"

    "Diana." Ms Parker puts her hands on her hips, knife still in hand. "Your hair is still exactly the same." She walks over and.. runs her non-knife hand through Diana's hair. "It's been fifty years and I'm-." She jumps back as if Diana's hair became electrified. "I'm… Really sorry. I-I don't know what came over me."

    Diana doesn't seem particularly bothered. "I think it was Shiera. Though I should say that I grew my hair out when I returned to Themyscira. I didn't cut it down again until I joined the Justice League."

    "But you looked good with curls and I'm doing it again."

    Diana smiles beneficently. "It's good to see you again, Shiera."

    Behind them I see Mr Cantrell flex his right arm, then wince.

    "No. No, I'm… Still Sharon. But I can remember fighting Rakshasa with you in nineteen forty eight, after we tracked that band of Thule holdouts to Turkey. I remember when you broke that French guy's leg after he slapped you on the-. Ah…"

    Diana nods. "I remember the incident. He shouldn't have slapped me anywhere if he wasn't prepared to be slapped back."

    Sharon covers her mouth as she laughs. "Oh God, he ended up in the hospital! It was dreadful! Why am I laughing about it?"

    "Mom? D-dad?" Both Mr Cantrell and Ms Parker turn to the stunned Mr Hall. "It is-? I mean, you remember-?"

    "That you've still got that stupid beard I told you that you should shave off, yeah." Mr Cantrell blinks. "I'm-I'm sorry, that was-."

    "No, no, that's what you said before you died as well. I shouldn't have expected you to think different." He huffs quietly. "Lyta's fine with it. Daniel says it looks cool."

    Ms Parker smiles joyously. "Daniel?"

    "Our son-. You died before we even-." He shakes his head. "Well, you have to come meet him. I mean, it's going to be kind of weird…"

    "Hector." Mr Cantrell looks rather pointedly at his… Son's..? Armour. "Where did you get the Nth Metal to make that?"

    "Ah… You remember that spaceship you used to have?"

    "Used to-?"
     
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th December
    10:03 GMT +3

    "Intergang." Adom looks moodily down at what's left of Queen Beena's memorial. "They were behind the attack on Shiruta."

    I nod. "And they were probably the ones behind the theft from Metropolis Federal Reserve last year, and the people who sent the children from New Genesis to Apokolips in tribute."

    He nods slowly. "When I killed her, I did so for her attempt to dominate my mind. But I went to our meeting firmly believing that she was the one responsible. I know that she was far from innocent, but now I cannot help but feel that I have done her some injustice."

    "She did plenty of things for which it was worth despising her. But…" I look around at the abandoned centre of Al-Qawiya. "I don't think there can be any doubt that leaving her in post would have been… Better."

    "Who is her heir?"

    I shrug. "She had no children. Her father had only one other daughter, and she was killed a few days later. Her father's sister married into the Saudi royal family and his brother was sent into exile. He died a few years ago and does have surviving children… But not only did his exile formally remove him from the line of succession, the marriages of members of the royal family have to be approved by the monarch to be valid and his wasn't. After that…"

    "So. Not the youth the parliamentary faction have as their figurehead."

    "He might technically be? Monarchies aren't usually set up to cope with the death of that many people. Heck, there's a good chance that Queen Beena didn't produce an heir precisely so that anyone deposing her would know that doing so would cause chaos."

    "Hm." He doesn't sound too amused. "And have I not done the same?"

    "I thought that your preference was that no one follow you. Because without the Wisdom of Zehuti, they wouldn't be able to exercise your authority as well as you can."

    "But now I have a male heir." He sighs faintly. "If I were to die a year from now, with Amon more familiar to the public and my marriage to Adrianna sanctified, it may be that the governors would attempt to grant him sovereign authority regardless of my wishes."

    "And you don't want them to?"

    "Amon is a good boy, and he has all of the makings of a great man. But a year is not enough time to train the greatest man to be a king. And… I would not wish to set him against his nieces and nephews."

    I smile. "Oh, congratulations!"

    He turns to look at me, a slight frown on his-. "Ah. No, she is not yet pregnant. But we both wish to begin having children soon, and with the powers of Isis at her command, that will happen."

    "How is she adapting?"

    "Slowly but steadily. The powers of Isis are intuitive, but do not specifically come with the knowledge of how best to wield them. She has taken to experimenting with the desalinisation magics which Theodore Kord's company developed."

    "Oh no, did I cost him a sale?"

    "No." He shakes his head. "Adrianna will be focusing on using her magic to ensure the health of the plants we are using to de-desertify Kahndaq until the ecosystem stabilises. She will be taking water only to settle them in."

    "Why.. restrict herself?"

    "We have heard what both you and Doctor Balewa have said on the subject of the role of demi-gods within a society. Initially I wished to argue the point. Then I realised that my concerns regarding my successor were due to the very reasons he cited. And if I thought them true for that, then perhaps they were true for other issues as well. Turning the Sahara green by conventional means would be the work of centuries and require quantities of money which Kahndaq cannot provide. Providing water for ordinary uses should be something which the infrastructure of the nation is able to-" There are a series of gunshots and his head jerks away, his eyes searching for the source. "-do."

    Another second passes and then he's gone. Ring, track and follow.

    Compliance.

    The city blurs underneath me. The fighting was heaviest around the government buildings, and with both sides wanting them and the buildings themselves not really being designed for surviving combat there isn't much left of them beyond piles of rubble. Further out the buildings are more intact, and that part of the population which has stuck around has adapted to the collapse of their civilisation as well as can be expected. Under Queen Beena private gun ownership was only legal for military veterans, but just about everyone who has stayed in what used to be the largest and most prosperous city in the country has made sure to lay their hands on a gun of some sort.

    I come to a halt just behind Adom, staring down at the aid centre trying to keep the people here fed. People are fleeing from one part, but I see a smiling Amon intercept a volley of shots with his body before darting forwards and grabbing an ex-military AK-47 out of the gunman's hands.

    "You don't need this." Amon pulls the magazine free, then takes hold of the gun with his right hand on the barrel and his left on the main body. Then he squeezes, the metal deforming and crumpling.

    Adom shakes his head. "No, a poor choice. He should have shown the man that he was powerless, then demanded the gun."

    "We have enough food for everyone. We're trying to give it to you, it just takes time." A squad of UN Peacekeepers push their way through the crowd and move to arrest the man, but stop when Amon holds up his right hand. "Why did you do-?"

    "Your brother did this to us!" That.. guy really doesn't know when to quit. "He murdered the Queen-!"

    And now his brother is holding you off the ground by your neck. Given what Amon has been through recently I'm a little impressed that he's exercising that degree of control.

    "Your queen attempted to control his mind. This-" He points to where Kahndaqi civil engineers are overseeing the removal of rubble from a building levelled by artillery. "-is what happens when members of a government who had to be mind controlled into working together are no longer mind controlled. This is what happens when you give freedom to brutes and idiots. Are you a brute? An idiot?" He looks away, eyes scanning the crowd. "Are any of you? Your own military, your own government, they forced you from your homes with their fighting. We are the ones who are trying to build! Do you not want your country to work again? Together, we-."

    The man he's holding gets a stable grip and uses the leverage to spit in Amon's face. Amon stares at him for a moment and then lets go, wiping it off with the back of his left sleeve. The man hits the ground and falls onto his back. The Peacekeeper corporal looks to Amon for a moment, and Amon closes his eyes and shakes his head.

    "No. He's not worth it."

    The man looks around, but while the crowd might not be all that happy about Kahndaq being the main participants in this UN mission they aren't going to pick a fight with the brother of the man feeding them. He turns away, the crowd shrinking away as he strides towards the outskirts of the camp.

    "And if he comes back… Forget that this happened. Unless he has a gun."

    The corporal nods. "Yes, Excellency. Everyone else, get back in line. We're working as fast as we can."

    Amon rises a little way into the air, watching as order gets restored. Then he looks up at Adom and I and flies to join us, confusion written all over his face.

    "My brother, I do not understand. We bring food and shelter and we are barely tolerated! If someone had offered this to me when I was a prisoner I would have kissed their feet."

    Adom raises his eyebrows slightly. "Do you want someone to kiss your feet?"

    "No, of course not."

    "Then you are not here because you wish for one of them to kiss your feet. Why are you here?"

    "Because I want to help people, as I wish someone had helped me."

    "Yes. We do this because it helps them, not for their thanks. The work of a warrior or hero or leader is far more thankless than you know. You will meet many such as him." Adom looks down as the man leaves. "That man may have been wealthy once. He may have lost family. I am not solely to blame for what happened and you are not to blame at all, yet he lashes out because we are a part of it and we are in front of him. Others will do the same. Your conviction must be strong enough to hold true to what you know to be right when confronted with the mindless beast of their anger." He drifts forward and lays his right hand on Amon's left shoulder. "My brother, I approve of the way you handled the situation, but you should not assume that everyone will love you because you declare yourself a hero."

    Amon nods. "Okay. So… How do I become a better hero?"

    Adom thinks for a moment. "Perhaps… I should introduce you to the Justice League."

    Amon looks puzzled. "The who?"
     
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    6th December
    18:33 GMT -5

    Amon shakes his head a little nervously. "I am sorry, but I do not know who you are."

    Kal-El smiles. "It's nice to know there's still someone in the world who can honestly say that. Your parents not big on television?"

    "I don't remember. The people who controlled the Intergang slave factory where I worked for as long as I remember did not play television for the labourers."

    "Oh, I'm.. sorry. I knew you'd been in a place like that, but I didn't know how long for."

    Amon shrugs. "Neither do I. But you should not worry. Last week I was being tortured to breaking point by an evil god, now I am here, in the greatest city in the world, having breakfast with the Justice League."

    Lantern Stewart bows his head slightly. "Who you only just found out existed."

    "Yes, but I will read everything I can about you very quickly. And this is much better even if I do not know who you are."

    Kal-El nods. "I'm glad to hear it. I'm Superman. This is Green Lantern."

    Amon nods enthusiastically. "Like the Blue Lantern and the Orange Lantern."

    Stewart glances at me. "Not too much like. I couldn't settle those law suits."

    "I'm.. pretty sure that being on the Justice League gives you immunity, as long as you're on the job at the time."

    "And how exactly would I convince a court that I made a cake the size of Manhattan Island for Justice League related purposes?"

    "Attack by a deadly..? Christmas Cat..?" He gives me a look. "Yeah, I don’t know."

    Stewart exhales quietly and shakes his head. Kal-El seems… Almost lost for words. "Orange Lantern tells me you want to be a superhero?"

    "I think so? My brother wishes to train me himself, but he is busy running a country. And… Given how strong I am, I agree with him that it is best that I have some sort of supervision."

    "And having a social circle of people with the same sort of powers as you would probably be quite helpful as well."

    "Yes." He nods. "Everyone my age I knew growing up is dead, so it would be nice to meet new people my age."

    "Ah…" Kal-El tries to keep smiling, and just about manages it. Ah, Third World problems. "I'm… Yes, I'm sure it would be."

    "I tried to make friends in Kahndaq, but…" Amon shrugs. "They kept calling me 'my lord'. Given my brother's position, it is.. difficult…" His face actually falls a little, then he rallies. "But I am sure that things will be better here."

    "Recognised, Troia, B one two."

    The lights flare and then fade as Donna walks out into the Hall of Justice library. "Hey-"

    Amon smiles. "They are better here."

    "-guys." She flies across the room, Amon rising a little off the ground in an apparently unconscious response. "You're.. Amon, right?"

    "I was thinking of calling myself 'Osiris'."

    "Osiris? I thought Isis was your sister. Wouldn't-"

    "And that idea's strange to a Greek demi-titaness because..?"

    "-Horus make more sense?"

    Amon shrugs. "I was dead, my soul banished and my body placed in a coffin by an evil god. And then I was resurrected by the gods' power. That is closer to what happened to Osiris than what happened to any of the other gods."

    I roll my eyes. "You've got a public identity and 'Osiris' is three syllables to the two in 'Amon'. I barely remember to call Donna 'Troia' on missions as it is."

    He glances my way for a moment before deciding that he likes looking at Donna more. Something occurs to him and he holds out his right hand. "I am pleased to meet you?"

    Donna takes his hand, and.. he raises hers to his lips and lightly kisses her knuckle. She looks a little uncomfortable with the gesture but decides not to do anything about it. "Ah… Is Diana here yet?"

    Kal-El shakes his head. "No, something came up in India. She'll be along in a little while. Amon, why don't we head into the canteen and talk a little more about what we do here?"

    Amon nods, he and Donna land and the group-.

    "Orange Lantern. You got a minute?" Kal-El glances back, but Lantern Stewart just waves him on. He waits until the three of them are out of the room before turning back to me. "I thought of a couple of things after our talk in Argentina. About the situation with Nabu. You still talking to people about that?"

    I shrug. "Yes. You know, when Batman first suggested it, I thought it would be a waste of time that would just result in more arguments. But actually… It's… Generally been a good way of talking about the underlying disagreements about the superheroic modus operandi. But it's also a nuisance, because I'd much rather have rejoined the team right away and it's not as if I usually have much to do with most Justice League members. This week was the first time I'd ever spoken to The Atom one to one. So?"

    "So?"

    "What exactly did you want to talk about?"

    "You ever look at Doctor Fate's mission reports?"

    "Yes. I read all of them several times. And I don't forget."

    "Then you know how much work he was doing." I nod. "All the dangerous mystic artefacts he collected and put into storage, all the ancient evils sealed away he made sure stayed that way."

    "Yes, as I said-."

    "And we still don't have a replacement on the League."

    "I found you two perfectly capable replacements. Both of whom have more experience than the rest of the League put together. And you should have been looking for additional magic users anyway. Heck, I gave Batman a list of possibles last year. Look, if there's been some sort of magical break out-."

    "How about introducing us to the new Fate? You took him to Belle Reve before you brought him here."

    "I… Can, but he doesn't have Nabu's knowledge. Honestly, I think-."

    "Wonder Woman to the Justice League."

    Stewart raises his ring. "Green Lantern here."

    "Ram-uh. Rampaging earth elemental in India. If you can spare the time, I would appreciate your help."

    "On my way." He lowers his ring and heads for the zeta tube. "You coming?"

    I nod. "Might as well."
     
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    7th December
    05:08 GMT +5:30

    Two, one-.

    Lantern Stewart appears just in front of me. He spots me, and frowns. "You left after me."

    "I'm an Illustres." I point at where a depressingly familiar giant figure made of shapeshifting rock sends a volley of stone tentacles at Diana, who weaves around most of them and punches the last into gravel. "Wonder Woman appears to be covering the retreat of the civilians there."

    Five people: three adults, an adolescent and a child being carried by someone I presume to be his mother. They're carrying backpacks with food and cooking paraphernalia. They planned to travel. No other humans around. Terrain is rocky and lightly forested.

    The giant stone creature has two thick legs and a mound of a body which is currently projecting two limbs on each side. It could be local… But I read this issue of Justice League, and there are plenty of ways to ruin someone's day when you control earth that it -or more likely he- isn't using. Soil elements match what I scanned in Jarhanpur, and it's shifting density and composition as it moves. Stone to hit, sand to move. Most forms of earth elemental I've read up on can't do that.

    Diana punches the stone creature in the centre of its torso, rock cracking under the force of the impact! And then sealing back up again because it's a creature of magic. No blood to bleed, no permanent structures to break.

    "I'll shield the civilians. Your mage slayer rounds should deal with that thing pretty easily, right?"

    "No, not in this case. I'm afraid this is the time for reasoned discussion between intelligent adults."

    "I'll get the civilians anyway."

    He accelerates, the party ceasing their efforts to get away as they see him get into position to protect them. Diana-. Ah, yes. Not being limited to the human form for reasons other than convenience, the elemental fired a pillar of rock out at right angles from an existing arm, blindsiding Diana and slamming her into the ground. It stands still for a moment, then starts lumbering toward the refugees.

    "Excuse me!" I zip in front of it… Can't see anything that looks like an eye. Just have to hope that the rocks are photosensitive. "Excuse me!"

    Diana… Ah, I see. It's left a portion of its mass around her, reformed as carbon nanotubes and osmium. Her mouth is uncovered, but her arms and legs are bound and she's blindfolded by the stuff. I'm… Pretty sure that she can break out of that, given a few minutes to work at it. Assuming that the elemental can't remotely reform it. As soon as she feels the pressure forcing her into the ground ease up she shoots into the sky, attempting to get out of range.

    Against a normal earth elemental, getting off the ground is a sound move. In this case…

    "Excuse me?! May I have your attention for a moment, please?!"

    The elemental stops, 'facing' me.

    "Might I ask why you're doing this?"

    Rock shifts, the outline of a face…

    I bow in mid air. "Your highness. What brings you here?"

    A rendering in stone of Rama Khan's face scowls at me. "I am apprehending fugitives."

    "With all due respect, your highness, that's an awfully big avatar for chasing down five unarmed civilians."

    "It is a matter of supreme importance, and they had a four day head start. I have been lucky to find them so swiftly."

    Four day-? Ah. "Might I enquire as to why you are attempting to apprehend them? Or.. preferably, would you mind creating a smaller body so that we could discuss the subject like civilised people?"

    "So long as you guarantee that they will not use the opportunity to flee, yes."

    I glance over to Lantern Stewart. Ring, message him.

    Compliance.

    "Green Lantern, allow me to introduce His Highness Rama Khan, ruler of Jarhanpur. Since there could be legitimate reasons for him pursuing people and since Jarhanpur isn't a signatory to the League's charter, I'm going to request that you stay put for the moment."

    The people within his bubble hear and appear to be protesting, Stewart himself doesn't look entirely happy, but gives a grudging nod.

    "And could you possibly-?" Shards of something dense-. Osmium. "Wonder Woman-."

    She floats down until she's beside me, pulling the last of the binding material from her face. "I heard. If he had spoken when I first arrived, I would have negotiated with him myself."

    "You obstructed my attempt to enforce the law and save my people. I had no reason to speak to you."

    The bulk of the elemental avatar falls backwards in a controlled collapse, shifting and gaining colour as it does so. It flows into a decent replica of his audience chamber, pillars supporting a slatted roof while a rough stone humanoid body for Rama Khan himself sits on transformed cushions. Diana and I descend, landing at the entrance and walking inside. I hang back slightly, letting Diana take the lead. Since she actually has legal authority to act here and I'm technically just a powerful nosy person.

    "Lord Rama Khan. I am Princess Diana of Themyscira."

    A very slight inclination of his head.

    "Why are you pursuing these people?"

    "The boy Jivan is my heir." Expected. It was either going to be him or the teenager, and it was a young boy in the comic. "He must remain in Jarhanpur until his education is complete."

    "He is your son?"

    "No. Jarhanpur's rulers are chosen by the land itself. We form a unique bond with it, and are enabled to shape it in accordance with our will." He holds out his right hand and a section of faux-flagstone fountains up to wash over his fingers before resuming its former appearance. "I have occupied this role for a long time, and now the land has chosen another. My last responsibility is to see that he is fully trained for the role, that when I finally die he will be a capable prince."

    "Why does he flee from you?"

    A scowl. "He flees because his mother is deranged. Four years ago, a group of refugees approached the entry point to Jarhanpur, fleeing from units of the Indian military. I opened the border and allowed them inside to protect them, granted them citizenship, healed their sick and injured and saw that they were educated in our ways. The land chose the young son of one of the refugees and the next prince, and so he was brought into the palace to receive instruction."

    "And his family?"

    "His only living family is his mother. She was given rooms in the palace as well. It has been many years, but I remember my own instruction, and I would not separate a child from his mother without good cause."

    "I take it that his mother did not approve of the situation."

    "When the wizard Nommo Balewa forced open a portal and allowed Orange Lantern in-" Diana glances at me and I nod. "-she and a group of confederates took the opportunity to flee. It was an insult to the hospitality I had extended, but I would not have taken action had they not abducted my heir. He will be returned to me, or I will take him."
     
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    7th December
    05:15 GMT +5:30

    "What has he told you? When are we leaving?"

    Jivan is being comforted by one of the group's menfolk while his mother -her name is Ailani- speaks to me. Since an actual dialogue is taking place Lantern Stewart has dropped his bubble shield, while the glow from his ring strongly suggests to me that he could bring it back up very quickly.

    "He told us that your son is the person chosen by the spirit of Jarhanpur to succeed him, and that you kidnapped him."

    "I do not care what the demons in his head tell him! I will not have my son grow up in that place!"

    Hm. India has some… Interesting laws on religion, but on the whole they're merely 'stupid' rather than following the monstrous example set by its neighbour. Most Muslims here are of the conservative persuasion when it comes to both magic and innately magical beings: they're all either evil demon worshippers or actual demons, kill them with fire. Or whatever else is to hand. And if she actually feels like that then I'm not sure that any sort of rational arguments can work here.

    On the other hand, condemning thousands of people to death without their shaman-prince isn't something we want to do, and neither is having Jarhanpur declare war on India even if that is technically what happened when Rama Khan crossed the border. Or… If they accepted Jarhanpuri citizenship and violated Jarhanpuri law by doing anything to the shaman-prince then Rama Khan might be able to get them extradited. I haven't looked into how Indian courts handle this sort of thing.

    "I… Would respectfully suggest that you not.. use that approach to argue your case here. Wonder Woman and I are Hellenists, and are unlikely to be swayed by it." She frowns in puzzlement. "The religion of the pre-Christian Greeks. It's polytheistic." Her face takes on a decidedly dour cast. "Now, Lord Rama Khan has given us his version of events and opening arguments. We would like to hear from you as well." I step back and indicate the gazebo. "If you'd like to join us..?"

    "That madman tried to kill us! Why have you not taken us to safety?!"

    "Because the Justice League is not actually empowered to do whatever they like wherever they like. Your precise legal status is sufficiently debatable that a negotiated agreement which we would enforce is far better than trying to work it out. While Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are obliged to protect your life, they're also obliged to protect the people of Jarhanpur, and if your son being removed endangers them…" I shrug. "They're technically obliged not to do what you want them to do."

    Her face falls, then she gives her head a small shake and marches towards the pavilion. I.. seem to remember that in the comic version Diana admitted that she was wrong to insist that the child be put in the custody of his mother regardless of other factors, but I don't remember what else happened. Other than factually inaccurate beliefs briefly becoming true due to the broken lasso. I'm… Genuinely not sure which way Diana would jump on this one. Not even sure which way I want to go. Removing the child from the country seems stupid when he's not in any danger, but then again that system is inherently unstable. One guy falls off a horse and suddenly the whole nation falls apart. It would be safer in the medium term to return it to a normal relationship with the Earth. Why do they even need a shaman-king?

    "You going with her or what?"

    Right, yes. I raise my right hand to wave at Stewart, then fly rapidly back to the pavilion. Ailani hesitated at the steps, but glances my way as I approach, straightens her back and walks up them.

    Rama Khan glowers at her for a moment, then turns his head back to Diana. Diana on the other hand is far more gracious, smiling warmly at Ailani. "Thank you for joining us."

    Ailani's face unclenches slightly as she makes eye contact with Diana. "Thank you for protecting me from the demon."

    "You see?" Rama Khan gestures to Ailani with his right hand while keeping his eyes on Diana. "She has no understanding of magic. She has insulted me continuously since-."

    "Your evil has corrupted my son."

    "Since I allowed her to escape to safety in my lands." He sneers. "Do not expect a rational discussion."

    Diana keeps her attention on Ailani. "Ailani, why don't you tell me how you first entered Jarhanpur?"

    She shrugs. "Militants attack the Indian army, the army attacks everyone. That's life here. When they came for our village, I had no desire to be raped and murdered. As many of us as could fled before they arrived. We were not fast enough. Or perhaps they were more eager than usual. They pursued, shooting at us…"

    "You were not trying to enter Jarhanpur?"

    "I had never heard of Jarhanpur until the people who live there told us where we were."

    "Did the portal opening help you escape?"

    "Those who were still alive."

    Rama Khan frowns. "I had no way to move the portal to you. Nor do I seek to interfere in the internal affairs of other states. My people have known five thousand years of peace thanks to Jarhanpur's separation from the rest of the world."

    Diana turns her head his way. "My lord, please. I have listened to your version of events. Allow me to hear Ailani's version as well."

    "There are no mosques in that cursed land, no imams, and devils and sorcerers walk freely through the streets."

    "If they cut contact with the outside world five thousand years ago, that would have been long before the start of Islam. Lord Rama Khan, would you have any objection to an imam being brought in to provide pastoral care?"

    "As long as they do not constantly insult myself, my heir or my country as she is wont to do, I have no objection. We have any number of priests of any number of gods. One more will not make a difference."

    Okay, I can probably find a moderate imam somewhere. Probably Kahndaq. The religious establishment there has become noticeably disinclined to criticise Adom's choice of gods. He hasn't actually banned them doing so or anything, but he has gotten quite serious about the protection of religious minorities and… Well. They know how popular he is with their parishioners.

    "And what about his family? This is the first time you have allowed anyone to leave!"

    "Yes, because his instruction has barely begun! If I die before he is trained it will be nearly as big a disaster as if I allowed you to abduct him!"

    Diana raises her right hand slightly. "How much of his time do these lessons take?"

    Rama Khan shakes his head slightly. "I was older than he is when the land called me, and my family knew what an honour it was. It was decades after my mentor's death that I gained the same understanding of our power, our connection that he had. But… After six years, he considered that I had learned everything I could from lessons alone."

    "And he let you leave Jarhanpur?"

    Rama Khan nods. "Of course. I was a prince and his heir, not a prisoner. If my duties required me to sacrifice certain things then I accepted that. The heir.. has a great degree of freedom once they are capable of succeeding their mentor."

    "And that just involved them learning to communicate with the land?"

    "There are many other things they should learn. I am not just the land's priest, I am its temporal ruler, as he will be in turn. But the need is less desperate once he possesses that skill."

    "And once he rules in his own right?"

    "I will be dead. And no others may gainsay him."

    Ailani leans forward slightly. "You could not stop him leaving?"

    "I will either have transcended the wheel of life or been reborn to it. In either case I will not be involved in what comes after."

    Ailani's lip curls. "Your soul will lie in Hell."

    Rama Khan's gaze is contemptuous. "You have many lives still to live."
     
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    7th December
    05:19 GMT +5:30

    Diana sighs very slightly. "Ailani, do you want all of the people living in Jarhanpur to die?"

    Ailani-. Oh shit, she actually… Ah… Okay, so this is what real religious intolerance looks like. Yikes. I guess with Afghanistan being all moderate on Earth 16 all the craziness had to go somewhere.

    "I would point out that answering 'no' would give an opportunity for making converts to Islam unparalleled in modern history."

    I mean, that's… Basically how Islam worked. Egypt-. Kahndaq was Christian before Islam existed. And Hinduism in all its myriad forms was the religion of India until clerics and armies headed this way from the Middle East. Rama Khan was fine with his fellow Ancients -who didn't call themselves that, obviously- practising other religions… Probably a bit too fine in Tezumak's case. Without hundreds of years of invasions and intercommunity violence there's no real reason for Rama Khan to care about that aspect-.

    "So long as its priests can interact peacefully and respectfully. I will not have them tell my heir that his gifts are evil or demonic when they are essential to the wellbeing of our people."

    "Your people."

    "When you entered my country you accepted everything that came with it. You cannot simply pick and choose which laws you are subject to when you live in a place."

    "I did not want to enter your country!"

    "Then why did you?!"

    "Because I wasn't driving!"

    Rama Khan's lips turn down for a moment before he manages to return his face to neutral. Yeah. He made a point of what he thought was helping some refugees who were about to die, and not only were some of them really ungrateful but the mind of his country picked the son of one of them to succeed him.

    Diana seems a little nonplussed. "What exactly are the laws and customs regarding your office?"

    Rama Khan takes a moment to regain his equilibrium before responding. "I am the ruler of the state of Jarhanpur. I can make laws and unmake them at will, subject to the land itself replacing me if I err too greatly. As one of my abilities I -and Jivan- have an awareness of the state of our country and its people. This enables us to ensure that the laws and bureaucracy serve the civilisation. If a significant proportion of my people are unhappy about something I become aware of it and am able to make the appropriate changes."

    "Do you have to?"

    "I am only answerable to the land itself. But I am advised and aided by numerous functionaries. If my closest advisors all felt the same way it would be unusual for me to gainsay them, even if I could."

    "Have all of your predecessors felt the same way?"

    "No. Not all. There have been those who abused their position. Some through madness, some through self-indulgence and others through cruelty. My predecessor four times removed began the current tradition of bringing the heir to the palace to be trained and educated. Each of us who have lived in that way have held the good of our people to be the highest good."

    "Why can you not wait until he is an adult?"

    "Since the founding of Jarhanpur, there have not been enough rulers for us to have a firm idea of how long they usually last. I am the oldest there has ever been, but I am far from the first to live longer than the normal mortal span. What we do know for certain is that when a new heir is chosen the old ruler will not live much longer. By the time he is an adult I may be dead. I may be dead before he reaches his tenth year. I do not fear my own death. I fear failing in my duty to my people. And my duty to Jivan himself."

    I don't think he's lying, and if Diana's picking up anything she not giving an outward sign.

    "And what of his family?"

    "I do not like the idea of Jarhanpur opening its borders. If they wish to enter, they can do so. Then they must remain either until he reaches fifteen or until I die, whichever happens first."

    "Why are you so afraid of opening the borders?"

    "Have you seen this part of the world? The communal violence, the poverty, the simple lack of infrastructure? Jarhanpur is a shining jewel surrounded by detritus. No, there is nothing Jarhanpur needs from the rest of the world."

    Ailani scowls. "Except our children."

    "He is of Jarhanpur. I do not make a habit of it, and I did not choose him."

    "Then why not tell your demon to choose someone else?"

    "I cannot. And it is not a demon."

    "I-" Diana holds up her hands. "-don't think that's a helpful line of debate." Rama Khan and Ailani break eye contact with one another. "Ailani. Lord Rama Khan has agreed to allow you to stay with Jivan. You can have access to an imam, and once his training is complete he will be able to live his life as he chooses."

    "You're just.. abandoning us to this monster?"

    "If I thought that Jivan would be suffering at all, I would do everything in my power to rescue him. But so far I haven't heard anything which suggests to me that he would be hurt in any way by returning to Jarhanpur. You're asking me to condemn hundreds of thousands of people due to an.. inaccurate belief that magic is innately evil." Diana looks disquieted, but soldiers on. "And without a much better reason, I am not prepared to do that."

    Ailani's eyes widen in shock and horror. "But I am his mother! I love him, and I am the only person who can decide what is right for him!"

    "I don't.. like the situation, either. But if Jarhanpur will not choose someone else, you are asking me to condemn thousands of other children as well as their parents to destitution, if not death. Do you believe that they do not love their children as well?"

    "So they have to work for their bread rather than just having their demons make it for them! I grew up with less than that!"

    "No." Rama Khan slowly shakes his head. "When there is no one forming the link between the people of Jarhanpur and the land itself, the land is barren. And the weather is hostile. I never lived through such a period, but our oldest records speak of it, and… When my mentor died and I returned from Kahndaq, things had noticeably decayed. Healthy plants withered in the fields and the sky was grey and stormy as if the land itself mourned for her. The only alternative would be to resettle the entire population, and that would mean the end of our culture. Our history as a people."

    "What about my people! Jivan is all I have left of my h-husband…"

    "And I am not taking him from you! You would have been a princess, the mother of Jarhanpur's ruler! You could have watched over and guided him for your entire life, as he safeguarded an entire country! What could he learn to do here? Be a subsistence farmer until one group of bandits or another slew him?!"

    "What could he learn in Jarhanpur? You have no electricity, no machines, no radios or telephones-."

    "We do not need those things."

    I look pointedly at Diana. Feeling my eyes on the back of her neck, she bows her head slightly and then turns slightly to make eye contact with me.

    "My lord Rama Khan, might it not be in Jivan's interests to be educated in as many matters as possible? Discharging his core duties would obviously be most important, but he could not make decisions on what degree of contact with the external world was appropriate without knowing anything about it. It would be a simple matter to arrange additional tutors."

    "That… Is not unreasonable." Not that he looks happy about it. "I know little of Islam. Could you also locate a priest who could be relied upon to conduct themselves appropriately?"

    "Not personally, but I can introduce you to Adom's religious advisor. He's an extremely reasonable man."

    Rama Khan nods. "Then I will accept. And in return, you-" He glares at Ailani. "-will cease your slanders and will agree not to attempt to remove Jarhanpur's heir again."

    Ailani is shaking, tears quietly running down her face. "It seems that I have little choice."
     
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th December
    09:44 GMT +2:00

    Arm in arm, Jade and I walk towards Adom and Adrianna's reception room. Ancient Kahndaq didn't actually have a formal wedding ceremony, and there isn't anyone still living to whom Adom could pay a bride price. For the same reason, the Ancient Kahndaqi custom of a prenuptial agreement isn't exactly… Appropriate. Again, Adom isn't gaining a father-in-law and.. doesn't actually own a great deal of property in his capacity as a private citizen. He wasn't even getting paid until quite recently, and his remuneration isn't exactly exorbitant now. He's certainly the least well paid Middle Eastern head of state.

    "Orange Lantern!" Amon swoops down, coming to a relative stop in the air just before us. "Thank you for coming!"

    "I'm delighted to be here. How did your meeting with the team go?"

    "Ah… Well? I think?" He frowns a little. "Canis Minor was very friendly. It was…" He shakes his head and stops frowning. "Perhaps I am not used to people being so nice."

    I wince internally. "He wanted to ask all about your Anti-Life exposure, didn’t he?"

    "And paint pictures of my time there. He showed me a sketch. It was… Disturbing."

    "Canis grew up in a place where nearly everyone lives like they did in that place. He finds everything else weird."

    Amon looks distant for a moment, then nods. "I… Yes, I think I understand how he feels."

    I reach forward and pat his right shoulder with my left hand. "No. No you don't. And you should be glad of that, because he is a very strange man-" Jade coughs. "-indeed." I smile. "May I present my paramour, Jade Nguyen."

    Who insisted on keeping her right hand free just in case she needed to save a half second on drawing a knife. And is wearing a tang suit because she wasn't willing to compromise her mobility -she can be so mission-focused- and that was the best we could do which met with Kahndaq's clothing… Customs, for women. Burka aren't required -and are actually pretty uncommon- but the local standards for 'modest dress' are quite a bit less generous than in America.

    "Miss Jade, I am pleased to meet you." He holds out his right hand, which is now strong enough for him to squeeze iron through his fingers if he clenches.

    Jade smiles politely and takes it with hers. "And you're Amon Tomaz."

    "Ah, when I am in costume, please call me 'Osiris'."

    "Oh? Was I supposed to bring my 'Cheshire' mask?"

    Amon beams. "Are you a member of the Justice League too?"

    Jade… Doesn't look sure whether he's serious or not. "No, but I.. have been known to work as a vigilante."

    Amon nods. "We should fight crime together sometime."

    For want of a better response, she nods. "Yes, that's certainly something we could-" Amon's head jerks away "-do."

    His head snaps back. "I am sorry, but the chief steward is calling for me. I hope that you enjoy the service."

    There's a slight gust of air as he speeds away. Jade blinks. "He seemed… Nice?"

    "He's a very nice young man. He had a horrifying upbringing but appears to have responded by deciding never to behave-" Her eyes are already rolling. "-like the people who-." And that's why she's rolling them. "Not.. that I was… Making that comparison… In my head."

    "No, I'm sure you weren't." We start walking again. "But if the people you associate with have certain similarities in their lives…"

    "Then they can relate to one another's experiences and my friends can become friends with each other. Amon probably would help out in Gotham. And he does want to make new friends."

    "Hm." She looks around at the corridor's wedding decorations. "What do you think their chances are?"

    "Who? Adom and Adrianna?" She nods. "Pretty good. They're both working in fields they find very rewarding and can't be fired or made homeless. That means that two of the major sources of relationship stress aren't a problem. They've hashed out all of their disagreements ahead of time -quite loudly, at some points- and they know where each other stand. They trust and love one another. And… There aren't really any supervillains with both the power and motive to attack them." Jade gives me a decidedly patient look. "Oh. Ah, did you..? Make a.. decision about the Darkstars?"

    "I'm going to join. It's just a question of when, really. I want to study Reach periphery languages and culture so that I know what I'm getting into. And I want to practice with an exo-mantle."

    "Okay. But… I can visit Maltus whenever I want, but if you're training or being deployed, I'm not going to be able to communicate with you."

    "I know. When you left-."

    "We're not in that-." I shake my head. "We're not in that place. I'll miss you, but I'm not-" I get a small smile. "-breaking up with you over it. But… I don't.. want to get married until we're actually… Living together in one place. I'm not complaining; if this is what you need to do for your career then do-"

    She leans into me, clearly not entirely happy about the situation. "I think it is."

    "-it." I tilt my head over until my cheek presses against the top of her head. "If I could ignore the catgirl throwing herself at me, and the planet of the orange swimsuit models-"

    "And the giant spider."

    "-then I can-. I didn't ignore her, but… Yeah. Are you planning on saying 'no' to that corporate intelligence company?"

    "I've already said 'yes'. I can quit without notice during the first three months. Assuming that the Darkstars accept my application."

    I nod. "How… Hands off do you want me to be about that?"

    "I want to know everything about their recruitment criteria. I don't want to get the job because you pulled strings."

    "They… Usually only recruit people from the Periphery. Taking a human -or anyone from this far away- at all is going to be an oddity, regardless of your prior experience."

    "You said that the Reach will eventually take control of Earth."

    "Time travel… Yes. They might. And… That might be enough, and there are other Darkstars who don't look like any of the species in the Periphery. But they might turn you down for that reason."

    "I've failed job applications before. And the corporate intelligence job would probably pay better."

    "I.. don’t know." I hadn't really… Thought of myself as marrying anyone. Not in the 'don't want to be tied down, not a one woman guy' sort of way. Just… Never imagined myself ever being in this position. If.. the Darkstars say 'no'…

    We slow as we approach the door. "Ready to say 'hello' to Adom?"
     
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th December
    09:48 GMT +2:00

    "Paul!" Adom is openly smiling. I mean, sure, he's got cause, it's just a little strange to actually see it. "Thank you for coming!"

    He walks towards me, arms outstretched-. Ah. Whaw. Okay. We embrace, Adrianna smiling fondly at him. And I can see why. This is a huge transition from where he started.

    He pulls away slightly, still smiling. "Mighty One. It's going to be an impressive celebration, especially given how quickly you put everything together."

    Adrianna shakes her head as Adom returns to her side. "He had been arranging matters secretly since I agreed to marry him once we rescued Amon. I think that he is a repressed romantic."

    Pretty heavily repressed. "Who did you decide to have perform the ceremony?"

    Adom bows his head slightly. "None of those who came forward professing to worship Isis knew anything of any significance about the old ways of the religion. There are… A few whom I have been instructing, but having them bind us would be absurd."

    Adrianna nods. "And since we commune with our gods directly, we have no need to seek their approval for our union. We decided to have a civil wedding ceremony instead. The Chief Justice will be solemnising our vows."

    "I suppose that having an imam do it would be a bit awkward. Is now a good time to present my wedding gift?"

    Adom shrugs. "If you like. But it was unnecessary for you to get us anything. We are not in need of the crockery or furniture with which to provision a new home."

    Adrianna watches me with interest. "What did you get?"

    "A jar of dirt." I pull said jar of dirt out of the bag hanging from my shoulder and hold it out slightly. "Which I will now break." I drop the jar, using a weak construct spike to crack it because on a carpeted floor it probably wouldn't break.

    My hosts say nothing, content to stare at me and at the mess I just made. Adrianna shakes her head in confusion. "Is it..? Symbolic..?"

    Something occurs to Adom. "No. Paul is a Discordian, a member of the Themysciran cult of their Goddess of Chaos. I do not believe that there is-" The soil shifts slightly under its own power. "-any greater meaning here. Or perhaps-" The material of the pot itself is absorbed into the loose earth, which rises upwards. "-the meaning…"

    Adom looks mildly alarmed as the earth takes on a humanoid form, then his eyes widen further as features begin to appear.

    "Rama?"

    A moment more passes, and his features are fully formed. Next, coloured crystals are shifted to the outer surface to replicate the colours of his robes. It's still clearly not a person, but it's a far more lifelike facsimile.

    Then his eyes glow light green and the face gains animation. "Adom. It has been some time."

    "How-? I… How.. is..?"

    "Your friend Paul visited me in Jarhanpur to invite me. And you-" He turns his attention to Adrianna. "-are the new Isis. You must be a remarkable woman to have found a place in Adom's heart. I am pleased that you have found one another."

    "Who are you?"

    Adom looks a little unsteady as he takes a step towards his old friend. "But… Jarhanpur is gone. I looked. It was the fourth place I went after I regained a body. I thought-."

    "Husband."

    "This is-. This is Lord Rama Khan, prince of Jarhanpur, and… He was a friend of mine, in my first life. It is you, not a successor?"

    The living statue nods. "I am still me, my friend. I would have come in person if I could, but my mentor returned to the wheel a mere eight years after your own passing and I can no longer leave Jarhanpur."

    Adom nervously holds out his hands, then embraces Rama Khan as he did me. "How? Where did Jarhanpur go?"

    Rama Khan pulls away slightly, his eyes downcast. "Do you know what became of us after your death?" Adom shakes his head. "Then… I should leave it until another day. It is not a happy tale." Adom nods sombrely. "When I returned to my homeland, I altered its connection to the rest of the world… Cutting it off and making it physically inaccessible. Unless you flew very close to the entry point I would not have seen you."

    "It does not matter. I am…" He turns his head in my direction. "This is your gift? This is more than I-."

    "No. That's a third of the gift." I hold up my left hand and tap my ring twice. "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing with an insane intensity until it is completed to the most perfect extent possible. That's the Orange Lantern Corps way."

    Adom's mouth opens slightly, then closes. He blinks. "Khufu."

    Rama Khan's eyebrows rise. "Khufu?"

    I look out of the window. "He was supposed to be-."

    His mostly repaired spacecraft flashes across the Shiruta skyline and halts just outside. Adom marches out onto the balcony, Rama Khan and Adrianna following a little way behind him. Repairing the ship's system from Hector's… Work took the rest of my Nth metal, and it's still not entirely fixed. But it's at least a generation in advance of what the League's Hawks use and easily capable of supersonic no-shockwave inertially dampened flight.

    A flicker of ruby coloured light, and Mr Cantrell and Ms Parker materialise. They're wearing slightly updated versions of their Justice Society era costumes, including the wing harnesses which they recovered from their son. Mildly ghoulish things, but Mr Cantrell's is the one he used as Prince Khufu so it's nothing that Adom hasn't seen before.

    "Mighty One! It has been some time." Mr Cantrell strides forward and offers Adom his right hand. "Forgive me if my Ancient Kahndaqi is less good than it once was. I have never before spoken it with this mouth."

    "Your-." Adom takes his hand. "The visions were true. You reincarnated."

    Ms Parker walks towards them, Adom offering her his other hand. "We have both died and been reborn many times since we last spoke to you, Mighty One."

    "You have no need to call me that." Careful to avoid touching their wing harnesses, he embraces them both.

    Adrianna looks a little puzzled, clearly unused to Adom being this demonstrative. Rama Khan inclines his head towards her. "Millennia ago, a great evil arose who would have burned the entire world to ash. His followers acted against many peoples, and those of us who overcame them formed an alliance to slay the monster and exterminate his devotees to ensure that he could never rise again. And in the fires of that conflict we formed a lasting friendship, which bound us together in a hundred battles against the greatest monstrosities this world has ever known."

    "An ancient Justice League?"

    "I think that the League would consider us far too brutal, but the purpose was the same. And then Gamemnae…" He shakes his head. "I had thought that I had outlived all of my comrades. It is pleasant to know that I was wrong."

    Mr Cantrell looks up. "Rama!"

    "Your pardon." Rama Khan walks forward to join his old comrades.
     
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    29th September 2004
    01:09 GMT -5:00


    "Young lady, I don't think that belongs to you."

    The figure in the hood stands completely still at the sound of the man's voice, freezing just inside the shopping mall fire exit. Green light shines down from the sky, leaving her in no doubt as to who had spotted her. Exactly why her dad decided to make the family home in a city protected by the most experienced superhero on Earth was a mystery to her, but 'why' wasn't any help right now.

    Weapons? None that would make any difference. She'd seen recordings of Green Lantern catching anti-tank missiles, then ignoring them as they exploded against his barriers. Heard from her dad about him blocking super strength punches without flinching, or training against the new Green Lanterns two-on-one and knocking them both into the Atlantic.

    Evasion might be possible. She had smoke bombs-. But only a couple. And those would make it obvious that she wasn't a normal thief. Assuming that he couldn't just blow the smoke aside with a glowing emerald fan before she could get away. Running through the building and trying to lose him that way? No, that wouldn't work. His constructs weren't light speed, but they were faster than it was possible to run through a shopping mall. Assuming that he didn't just put a glowing green wall around the whole building, or fly through the walls like a ghost.

    Damn it!

    Head slightly down, hat covering most of her face, she slowly raises her hands and takes a step outside. Getting away from a top tier superhero is way too difficult. But once he leaves, escaping from the police should be far easier.

    "Little young to be out this late, aren't you? Whereabouts do you live?"

    She doesn't say anything, trying to judge from the surrounding illumination exactly how close he is. Staring directly at a glowing object at night would ruin her night vision for when the time to run arrived. Just wait for him to call the police-.

    "Oh, f-." The light dims dramatically. "How old are you?"

    The voice is coming from just in front of her. She looks up.

    Dull green translucent flame drips off him, failing to quite obscure his brilliant red pullover and the lantern symbol in the center of his chest. Loose green jogging trousers are held up by a thick black belt, and from his neck trails a green and black cloak. Originally, she'd assumed that the cloak's black outer surface was there to allow him to conceal himself at night. But when she'd mentioned it to dad, he just laughed.

    He said that Green Lantern doesn't hide. He was too powerful to need to, and in any case his green glow would make it impossible. Of course, being dad, he'd also said that Green Lantern probably wore the cloak because he picked it up in a costume shop seventy years ago, thought it made him look cool and hadn't ever thought about changing it.

    For some reason, that made her think of the mask in her rucksack.

    She looks up, making eye contact with him for the first time. His eyes are impossible to see. He wears a domino mask across them, and the eye pieces which she assumes are either holes in the material or clear plastic are glowing green. His hair is gelled back, and she knows that under the green glow it's blonde-. No. No, it isn't. With the green light reflecting off it, it should look slightly darker. But it looks the same green as the rest of him.

    He holds out his left hand. "Hand it over."

    She grudgingly passes over the satchel she picked up from the department store, along with the things she was keeping in it. Not most of the cash -that went into her jacket's inner pockets- but the things she was going to use to maintain herself while she got out of Gotham. That would mean breaking into somewhere else before she left. Perhaps in Blüdhaven? She didn't know the gangs there quite so well, but if it was just a snatch and grab before leaving the city anyway that shouldn't be a problem.

    Huh. Lying publicity photos, taken from fifty years ago. Either that or he forgot to take his Clairol this morning. His skin looks older than it does in his usual photos as well. Less flesh on his face, wrinkles on his forehead and… Yes, his hairline is further back.

    "If you take a photograph, it'll last longer." He nods at her. "Come on. Tell me where you live and I'll give you a ride back there."

    Not the police? She's not sure whether the insult is worse-. No, take the opportunities you're presented with.

    "I'm sure your parents are really worried."

    She can't help but snort faintly. "I doubt it." Mom's in prison, and dad-. Why exactly isn't the world-famous superhero going after the internationally wanted mercenary assassin, instead of a teenage shoplifter?

    "You'd be surprised. This won't exactly be the first time I've brought someone back home."

    "Why do you even bother?"

    "Because it's the decent thing to do." A green tendril conveys the satchel back through the door. Probably to be stolen by the first person to get in later this morning. Having someone else get the benefit of her work irks. "If you've had some kind of falling out-."

    "Was stopping me really the most important thing you could be doing right now?"

    "Anywhere in the world? Probably not. But it was the thing happening right in front of me."

    So she didn't set off a silent alarm. "No, not in the world. In Gotham."

    "Are you getting at something? Is someone making you do this?"

    Another snort, this one with a little black humor in it. "Do you know the name 'Sportsmaster'?

    "Yeah. He's a mercenary. I don't think he uses children to steal for him, though."

    She glares, pulls her hat from her head. "My name is Jade Crock. Lawrence Crock -Sportsmaster- is my father."

    A slight intake of breath. "In that case-."

    "He's been living in this city for fifteen years."

    "What?"

    The green flames surge, brightening and filling the surrounding area. She folds her arms, trying not to squint as she settles her weight slightly on her right hip. "Yeah, him and Mom decided to move here when they found out she was pregnant with me. We've been living here on and off ever since." The green flames flick outwards, and she forces herself not to flinch as they touch her. "I think Uncle David spent a couple of years here as well. David Cain? The most dangerous assassin in the world?"

    "In my city?"

    "So when I ask if this is the most important thing you could be doing… I know it's not. So why don't you go and bother dad and leave me-."

    The flames are sucked inwards, the green glow from the Green Lantern growing in intensity. "Is he here right now?"

    "No, but he'll be back in a couple of days."

    "You gunna tell me where he lives?"

    She shrugs. "What's in it for me?"

    "A serial killer gets the chair. And I don't think you'd be telling me about this if you cared what happened to him."

    "No. I want to be there when you take him in. He's broken out of prisons before. I want to make sure you make it stick."

    "Okay." The Green Lantern nods. "I can live with that. You got somewhere you can stay until then?"

    She shrugs again.

    "Alright. Let me make a call real quick."
     
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd October 2004
    21:34 GMT -5:00


    "…funny!"

    A giant green hand swings the plainly dressed man hard into the station concourse by his legs, a hastily thrown explosive discus being effortlessly intercepted by a construct brick wall. The man gasps as his right shoulder breaks in two places, but barely has time to react before the hand moves again, lifting him up and then slamming him down on his back! A flash of green and the hand transforms into a pair of manacles.

    "I surr-."

    [​IMG]

    A pile driver construct appears over his stomach and slams down far harder than his concealed armor can withstand. The air rushes out of his lungs as the pile driver rises again and this time-.

    From behind the police cordon, his eldest daughter smiles as her father's ribs fracture.

    Green Lantern floats a little closer, though not too close. No need to give the man a cheap shot. "Had enough, Crock?"

    Unable to respond verbally, the man has the wherewithal to visibly tap out with his still functioning left hand.

    "Glad to hear it. I strongly advise you not to give the police any trouble, because right now they're the one thing protecting you from me."

    Lawrence Crock, the Sportsmaster, lays back bonelessly and tries not to die. Green Lantern rises a little higher in the air, maintaining watch as the riot police with heavy chains come forward to bind his victim. He keeps watching as Crock is loaded onto a gurney and chained to it before being wheeled towards the armored police transport borrowed from New York.

    Then he flies back towards the police lines, and his informant. Commissioner Bradley watches him a little cautiously, while the young woman looks at him with no expression at all.

    "Took him down a little hard there, Lantern."

    "He's killed at least thirty police officers arresting or transporting him. I thought that you would rather avoid adding to that number." He drops to ground level, landing a small distance away from him. "And I sure didn't hear him surrendering."

    "I.. suppose not." Commissioner Bradley turns toward the young woman. "We're going to need to do a formal interview with you at some point, but there isn't any hurry. Are you willing to testify ag-?"

    "Yes."

    Bradley nods. "I'm glad to hear it. We.. have counselling ser-."

    The young woman shakes her head. "I don't need therapy."

    "And what about your sister?" The young woman's eyes dip for a moment. "Look, you said you don't have any other family in America. With both of your parents in prison, you need-."

    "Does she need to decide anything right away?"

    Bradley sighs. "No, but this isn't going to go away. I can have someone from child services visit your apartment tomorrow."

    "What was the bounty on dad, anyway?"

    "I don't know. And I'm not sure it can get paid to family members. But I'll find out for you and let you know. Do you need someone to give you a ride home?"

    "Don't worry. I'll take her home myself. Ready, Jade?"

    She looks at him cautiously for a moment, then nods. Green flames flicker around her for a moment, then she and Green Lantern shoot into the sky. The Commissioner, the station and eventually the city itself become impossible to distinguish from their surroundings as they vanish below.

    Then the Green Lantern stops. "Bradley had a point. I think I went a little overboard, there."

    "He had it coming."

    "A lot of them do. But if you let it get to you, you end up like Judson Caspian." They look at each other for a moment. Her expression gives nothing away, while his… At this range it's easy to see through his aura and study his face. He doesn't just look old, he doesn't even just look old and tired. He looks drained, like someone sucked the life right out of him. "How many others are there?"

    "Other master criminals?" He nods. "Not many. Dad said that you being here makes it too much of a risk. Most crime in Gotham is a lot more subtle."

    He nods sadly. "There's a lot more of that going on than I think there is, isn't there?"

    "If you want to operate in a city with a powerful superhero, you have to know how to bypass them. You're too powerful for robberies or assassinations to be profitable, but there are plenty of ways to make money that don't need those."

    "You got anything specific you want to share with me?" She shrugs. "Alright. What do you want in return?"

    "I don't want Artemis to end up in a children's home."

    "Not worried about that yourself?"

    She rolls her eyes. "They couldn't keep me anywhere I didn't want to be."

    "Would you be okay with a foster carer? No offense, but you don't strike me as the maternal type."

    "That… Depends."

    "Alright. How about I find a couple of places and you tell me what you think?" She nods. "Anything else?"

    "I want to be there. When you take down the mob, I want to watch."

    "If it's safe. I'll probably need to bring you along anyway so I know where I'm going, but I'm not just going to leave you somewhere you could get killed."

    She nods. "And I want your ring."

    His eyebrows shoot up. "Excuse me?"

    "My parents were training me to be an assassin. I didn't-. I don't want that. I don't want to be anything they want me to be. I know how to fight and I want to fight against people like them." Her eyes narrow as she looks at his ring. "You're old. Tired. But Earth's got three Green Lanterns and you're still the strongest. I want you to teach me."

    He regards her for several moments.

    "I can't promise that. I've had people try and use my ring before, and they could barely do anything with it."

    "That's my problem."

    He thinks about it, his eyes drifting away from her and to the landscape below them. "We clean up the city, you stay in school and get decent reports, and you don't get into any trouble. You manage that, and I'll train you. You okay with that?"

    She nods.

    "Okay then." He reaches up with his left hand and peels his domino mask away from his face. His eyes… They certainly don't make him look any younger, but there's a certain softness in them that she hadn't expected. "My name is Alan Scott. And since you and your sister are looking for somewhere to stay... I've got a spare room."
     
  24. Threadmarks: Excavation
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Excavation

    10th December
    15:48 GMT


    "Mister Grayven."

    Lord Sheldrake stares up at me, generally affecting an air of being mildly displeased by my presence but also of being far too polite to mention it. I can't help but smile. Not sure exactly what the cause of his attitude is. I mean, yes, I toppled his country's government with very little notice, and… Despite my best efforts there has been a degree of civil unrest. Not sure what the point of protesting is when all of the offenders are already in prison, but…

    "Lord Sheldrake." I extend my right hand. "Good to see you again."

    He takes it, and I get exactly one shake before he releases it again. "Likewise."

    I watch out of the corner of my eye as Miss Amane twirls her scythe like a majorette's baton for a mildly impressed Miss Hutchinson.

    "How are things?

    "It could be worse."

    I nod slowly. "If there's anything I can do to help..?"

    "I'm not sure we'd survive more of your help." He sighs. "The acting Home Secretary signed off on the release paperwork. We're a bit short-staffed at the moment, so I hope you don't mind us not having a formal parole hearing."

    "No no, quite understandable. If anything I'm a little impressed that things have been turned around as quickly as they have."

    Lord Sheldrake turns away and starts walking into the grounds of the Tower of London. "If you'd like to come with me, I'll introduce you to the Chief Warder."

    Arms folded behind my back, I stroll after him. Miss Amane is talking about something to Miss Hutchinson, but cuts herself off as soon as she notices me leaving and blurs to my side. Scythe over her left shoulder, she smiles brightly up and me and has a decided spring in her step. Miss Hutchinson brings up the rear.

    Crowds are… We're definitely drawing attention, but the Yeomanry are on guard and keeping them back. Ordinary Yeoman, who include guarding John Dee's magical prison as part of their duties. They're wearing rather fetching red, gold and white uniforms and are armed with mostly-ceremonial-but-still-perfectly-sharp spears. No 'ER' on the clothes, but…

    Ah. Magic. Probably more of Magister Dee's work. I wonder exactly how tough it makes them?

    "I take it that you've familiarised yourself with exactly why Mister Fiendstein was imprisoned here?"

    "Certainly." And despite the convictions I'm personally not convinced that there was anything sexual in it. For him, at least. "But I don't think that we'll have anything to worry about."

    "They were children, Mister Grayven. And you're letting him out."

    "I am aware. And his family are as well. I have ensured that the agreed upon conditions will be fulfilled."

    He exhales with frustration, glancing back as he does so. "I know that you're lying. I know he doesn't have any family. What are you playing at?"

    I frown. "Hey. Family isn't just about blood, you know." I reach out and pat Miss Amane on the head to her obvious pleasure. "Even Mister Fiendstein has people who are concerned about him."

    "Un-Men." I glance back at Beryl Hutchinson, aka Squire, 'the brains of the outfit'. "You're talking about the Un-Men."

    Lord Sheldrake stops and turns around just before the entrance to the Tower itself. "Squire?"

    "Synthetic organic people created by Anton Arcane. Most of them live in the States now. Grayven's known to be working with them… I hadn't put it all together, but the time Fiendstein was out of Britain corresponds to when Arcane was still in Romania." She looks up at me. "Right?"

    I nod. "True. There's knowledge in his head that doesn't exist anywhere else. Shall we-?"

    Lord Sheldrake still isn't moving. "Are they dangerous?"

    "They do exotic medical research. Kobra stole some of their drugs back in January and people died, but that wasn't really their fault. I.. don't think that having Fiendstein is going to make them more dangerous, and they mostly keep to themselves. I'd.. say not." She gives me a hard look. "Except for the fact that Grayven was trying to avoid telling anyone."

    "They don't want news of the association getting around. They appreciate that they're unsightly-" Intellectually appreciate, at least. "-but they've got a good thing going on and don't want the bad press. And that's how you can be certain that they'll keep him under control."

    "And what do you get out of it?"

    "Improved biotechnology. Fiendstein will mostly likely be perfectly happy to share with them, and they can give him enough to do that he won't… Wander off, as it were." I pointedly nod toward the door. "Shall we?"

    Lord Sheldrake turns and stalks through the entrance, irritation visible in every motion. Well, what did he think I wanted the man for? I follow him inside, feeling a mild tingle as I pass through the outer wards. These were a later addition, and aren't anything like as potent as what Dee put on the cells beneath our feet. Inside, it looks like a prison reception. The interior doors are barred and locked, and the yeomanry on duty put the 'beef' in 'beefeater'.

    The Chief Warder exchanges nods with Lord Sheldrake, then approaches me with a clipboard. "Mister Grayven. If you could please sign here."

    I take it from him and give it a quick once-over. Looks simple enough. "Of course." Sign and date, sign and date… I pass it back, and he countersigns it and then nods to the yeoman at the desk.

    She picks up a phone. "Bring him up."

    Drama aside, the actual prison isn't particularly large and they knew I was coming. It shouldn't take-.

    The door opens with a clank, and a yeoman leads Mr Fiendstein out into the light.

    Mr Fiendstein's various 'procedures' have made him an odd-looking man, especially without the coat which he used to wear continuously. His mouth is constantly just a little open, granting his improved scent and taste receptors access to the air. It also grants anyone near him the opportunity to spot his extended incisors. Not sure why he bothered doing that. Nothing in the reports I read suggested that he ever bit anyone, though his teeth are hardened. Maybe it was a side effect?

    His head is unusually round due to his additional glands and jaw-broadening modifications. For similar reasons his neck is more or less nonexistent; the flesh of the lower part of his head merging seamlessly with his shoulders. The bones are still there and he actually doesn't have all that much body fat, but all of those modifications needed space. His ovoid blob of a torso similarly looks like he should be fat, while in fact it contains an advanced organic chemical plant that lets him digest almost anything and usefully utilise it. He legs are strangely thin and short, the result of his altered musculature and skeletal structure. His visible skin is a very pale grey and the texture is rough in a way which in anyone else would suggests an unpleasant skin disease.

    He grins as he spots me. "Oh, Mister Grayven! What a wonderful day! To be back in the bosom of my delightful family once more!"

    "Mister Fiendstein. Ready to go?"

    "Am I?" He sounds completely mystified as he turns to the desk. "Am I?"

    Two slightly mildewed bags are passed over the desk by a glove-wearing yeoman. "Please confirm the contents and sign here."

    Mr Fiendstein picks up the bag in both hands and flicks out his tongue, lassoing the proffered pen and pulling in into his mouth while he makes his search. I watch his grin grow as the yeoman recoils slightly.

    One down.
     
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th December
    08:02 GMT -5


    Sam sticks his head out into the waiting room and makes a beckoning motion with his right hand. I smile pleasantly and approach at a stroll as he heads back inside the complex proper.

    I'm not sure if Project M is still properly classified. I couldn't get the files easily, but I'm pretty much convinced that was because no one has bothered putting them onto computer rather than any sort of super-advanced security measure. Still, I managed to acquire a copy of Vincent Velcoro's suppressed biography and… Well, I'm not sure how accurate most of it was, but it gave me a decent overview.

    Sam glances back as he leads the way further into the Project's former home. "I take it there's no chance of you changing Luthor's mind about the starships?"

    The corridors are too narrow for me to walk alongside him, so I settle for hanging back at a non-neck-straining distance. "Legally acquiring designs and engaging in legitimate commercial activity is not something I've been asked to prevent. Neither of them are acts of supervillainy."

    "Until he sticks an armed ship in orbit. I've seen reports on how much damage Doctor Knight could do with the handheld version, and you can't tell me that Luthor doesn't already have bigger versions on the drawing board."

    "And if he fires them-" I step aside as a technician comes past. "-then I'll kill him. But there are a lot of dangerous things in space."

    Sam puts his hand on a palm print reader next to a heavy vault door. "Samuel Lane, delta seven five nine. Albuquerque."

    A moment passes, and it beeps a rejection.

    "Oh, God damn it." He sighs, and turns his head back towards me. "These old sites are a pain in the ass. We can stick all the new gizmos in we want, but the infrastructure is all so old that it's a coin toss whether any of it will work." He turns back to the device and leans closer. "Sam-u-el Lane, delta seven five nine. Albuquerque."

    This time there's a more pleasant beep, followed by a clank as the door unlocks.

    "Having trouble getting funding?"

    He shakes his head. "We're rationalising. I want to completely refurbish some sites and completely decommission whatever we're not going to use. Half of these places are only still going because no one checking the budget really knew what they were for." He leads the way inside, a couple of scientists within looking around as we enter. "The president's using his popularity surge to browbeat Congress into reorganising the defence budget. It's going to end up with a whole lot more useful spending and about twenty percent less barrels of pork."

    The door clanks shut behind us. "Only twenty percent?"

    Sam shrugs. "He's not a miracle worker. Maybe if he gets a real good result in the election next year."

    "Does he have your vote yet?"

    He looks mildly amused. "No comment. From an organizational point of view, Senator Knight has already said that he's firmly behind the new spending commitments, and I can't see any of the other potential Republican nominees doing much to reduce them. We'll be able to keep working on this whoever wins." He looks over to the scientists. "Doctor Castle?"

    The man steps forward. "General. Grayven." I nod politely. "We've had most of the surviving 'Creature Commandos' down here since the early fifties, in… Officially, it's 'suspended animation'. In practice -given how crude the techniques were- I don't know how they expected any of them to wake up again."

    Sam's jaw hardens. "We're working on that. These people sacrificed their humanity for their country. They shouldn't have been stuck down here and forgotten about."

    I frown. "I'm not even clear why the unit was created in the first place."

    "Simple, really." Doctor Castle looks a bit pleased with himself. "The allies were looking for ways to circumvent the Spear of Destiny. Professor Mazursky had been trying to get federal funding for a unit of enhanced… Monster soldiers. He got approval for a small unit… Essentially to see if they were affected by it. They weren't. The commandos undertook a number of missions on mainland Europe prior to D-Day… But the techniques used to create them…" He steps up to a control panel and presses a large green switch. "See for yourself."

    A heavy screen slides away from a… Bed? Open-fronted iron maiden? Given the tubes running into the poor bastard it looks like it was intended to be medicinal, but those manacles make it clear that he's staying medicated whether he wants to or not.

    "Warren Griffith, codename 'Wolfpack'. Werewolf, obviously, with all the enhancements that entails. The process also reduced his mental acuity, and it was progressive. By the time they hooked him up to this he could barely write his own name. We don't know whether that decay is inevitable -just something all werewolves go through- or a sign that there was a fault in the process."

    "Did you ever recover Mr Velcoro?"

    Sam shakes his head. "No, and given that he's a vampire there's a good chance that he's still alive. For a given value of 'alive'. We never had any contact after he went AWOL, but I haven't heard anything about exsanguinated bodies. As long as he's keeping his nose clean he's not really our problem."

    "And he wrote a book."

    "We think he wrote most of that while he was still with the Commandos." I get a sidelong glance. "And its content is still technically classified."

    I don't even dignify that comment with a chuckle.

    Doctor Castle presses another button and… Not who I'm looking for, but perhaps the next best thing. "Elliot Taylor, Project M's attempt to replicate Victor Frankenstein's work."

    "Fairly successfully, as I understand it."

    "No, not really. The original creature was sewn together from dead parts. Introducing its body fluids to a critically injured but still living man… He had difficulty forming sentences-. Though as far as the researchers could tell, his actual intelligence was as good as it was before the procedure. His flesh was numb, resulting in poor coordination… He needed infusions of electricity in order to regenerate, becoming increasingly tired if he didn't receive it. He had immense trouble sleeping normally, suffered from severe headaches…" He looks at the cryogenic unit storing the man. "He's in there at his own request. As is Doctor Rhodes."

    This bed doesn't have restraints, though it does have the refrigeration/drug combination. The images of her which I'm familiar with show her either as a baseline human or possessing that odd snake hair. Unlike Petra, the lines of her head stayed normal… Which presumably indicates magic rather than exotic biology.

    It appears… That the change didn't stop at snake hair. Goodness.

    No, irrelevant for now. "Have you considered inviting Cranius to take a look at them? It's his area of expertise."

    Sam nods. "Not a bad idea. But -I'm sorry to say it- the work he's doing for us right now is more valuable. And given how long these guys have been here, I doubt that another year or two will make much difference."

    "And the original creature?"

    "He's in suspended animation in the next room. Originally, they didn't want to wake him up because they didn't know how he'd behave. That's why they made Taylor. Then the base they were keeping him in got attacked, and it got taken out of their hands. He worked with the team for a few missions, but when he found out about Taylor he stopped cooperating. Shut himself down. The letter he wrote to the old project head said that he didn't want to be disturbed unless… The.. 'sheeda' returned."

    "Yes, and I need to brief you about them. But let's get the fellow back to his own people first."

    11th December
    07:33 GMT -7


    "Uuuuhhhhnnhhhhh."

    The figure on the slab stirs, his eyes flickering open.

    And the first thing he sees is a joyfully beaming Cranius.

    "Grandpapa!"
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2019
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th December
    10:14 GMT -5


    Missus DiCarlo nods to me. "Mister Grayven."

    This is a first for me, and the first time I've had a meeting like this that I've felt even slightly nervous.

    "Madam President, members of the Security Council."

    And Diana. Somewhat amusingly, she has actually been on the Security Council, as Themyscira's ambassador in the early fifties. I think that at the time the United States was hoping to encourage Themyscira to come out of isolation. And let them build an airbase in the Aegean. It.. didn't really work out. Diana in her early twenties might not have been the headstrong girl she was during the Second World War, but she had yet to become the Diana now who is in her early nineties.

    "I am here today to brief you on an upcoming threat to planetary security, and to encourage your nations to take such measures as to improve your defensive capacities in the build up to its arrival."

    Amusingly, the British Ambassador is absent. I couldn't find any hard evidence that London's woman in New York had done anything unpardonable, but she moved in the right circles. That, plus an understandable hesitancy in recognising a 'revolutionary' government means that the British seat is currently empty. Mildly irritating that it was China who insisted on waiting a little, but I suppose that even forty year delayed turnabout is still fair play.

    "The group in question call themselves the sheeda, and those amongst you whose nations have gravity distortion detectors most likely noticed the first sign of their activity last April when an individual referred to as 'The Huntsman'-" I bring up a selection of the best images Doctor Sivana was able to get. "-attacked a facility on Venus. He possesses super strength, virtual invulnerability and gravity manipulation, which by itself isn't too scary."

    "The scary thing is what happens during the main offensive. I will tell you now that while I have been aware of the existence of the sheeda for a while, a good deal of the intelligence I will be presenting to you comes from a single source. A criminal and scientific genius by the name of Thaddeus Sivana, who contacted me a short time ago with a view to forming an alliance to stop them."

    "The footage you're about to see is from approximately sixty six million years ago." I dismiss the image of the Huntsman… It's another Flash situation, isn't it? The Huntsman or the Huntsman. I dismiss the image and replace it with one of the skies over ancient Earth. Sivana wasn't sure exactly how many Harrowings there had ever been, but by observing periods of history that were harder to get to he could make educated guesses. Sending a camera back far enough to dodge the temporal eddies generated by their time displacement drives and still be capable of recording was difficult, but he came up with a working solution eventually. "I have more footage than I'm going to show you here, but I want to give you some idea of the scale."

    The silent image shows an inhuman city. A sprinkling of frost covers many of the buildings, while the bipedal near-reptilian inhabitants walk along the street protected by transparent heated passageways. No flying vehicles are in evidence, but their car-analogues float on low-thrust repulsors. The large buildings we can see are somewhat brutalist in their construction, the few windows being nearly entirely obscured by a complex network of heating and cooling pipes.

    Then for a fraction of a second, a series of glowing green lines appear in the sky above it all. They form a cylindrical web, shimmering and glowing for several seconds before the harvest ship appears. The angle isn't great and we couldn't make it show scale at this point, but it's clear from the reaction of those locals who spot it that it very much isn't supposed to be there. The armatures hanging from the lower cone immediately orientate themselves and start firing, while from the upper part a grey cloud emerges.

    I press another button and bring up a magnified image of the cloud. A swarm of winged arachnoids, each being ridden by a pair of sheeda soldiers.

    "Roughly as fast and manoeuvrable as an attack helicopter, roughly as tough as a modern main battle tank. And they can deploy legions of them over any city they want in moments. And those guns-"

    The rear soldier in each pair stands, aims the mounted weapon and fires.

    Towering skyscrapers fall.

    "-are far nastier than anything any earth polity has of an equivalent size. And these aren't the elite. They are completely standard air cavalry."

    The swarms descend, and the camera spins for a moment before cutting out.

    "Obvious questions, then. Where do they come from? Answer, in the vast majority of cases, the far future. Those are your descendants, circa one billion years from now. Who were those people? Sentient dinosaurs. The Earth has played host to civilisations before this one. Why isn't there any sign that they existed? Two reasons. Firstly, the sheeda are very thorough. Secondly, there are signs, but they're few and far between and often partially erased by subsequent cultures. How many times have they done this? We don’t know. They've levelled at least one civilisation raised by biologically modern humans, one of genius Neanderthals, the dinosaurs and an aquatic species who now survive only in an Atlantean protectorate. I have details on each, but I'm afraid that we can't check to see if there were any others due to the sheeda's temporal countermeasures."

    "When should we expect them? Their fleet will get here when it gets here. They're time travellers, so things like travel time are non-issues. They activate their temporal shift drives and they're here with perhaps a few seconds' warning at best. Their scouts are already here." I raise my right hand and make a beckoning motion.

    Magnificus Sivana pushes in a large containment unit containing a sheeda mood three mind destroyer. A humanoid form made of dull orange vapour gazes blankly at the assembled dignitaries. His father got to him shortly before he could follow through on its advice and kill himself. Working out how to contain it once they knew what it was didn't prove to be that difficult; apparently their programming doesn't allow them to retreat.

    "This model of scout attaches itself to people feeling particular emotions. In this case, shame. They then follow their victim around, learning from their mind even as they provoke them into destructive action. We haven't quite learned how to hack its operating system yet, but it's being worked on."

    "The other sort of scout that we need to be worried about is the spine rider. Mister Mayer, could you please lean forward slightly?"

    The German ambassador blinks, gazing around as if seeing the room for the first time. Magnificus already has his sidearm up, the dull green light of its targeting system strobing through the air until-. There! I generate a construct sphere around the blasted thing before it can fly away. Magnificus keeps the beam on it until its attempt to stab my construct is met with failure, then holsters his gun and pulls out a small containment unit. I move my construct until it is entirely inside the containment unit, then deactivate it, the captured sheeda creature inside now visible and unable to escape.

    I turn back to the Security Council. Most are on their feet, several slapping the backs of their own necks. Diana's watching the corners of the room. Her senses aren't kryptonian acute, but I always suspected that she was better at spotting things than the average Jane. Armed security rush in with pistols drawn, but hesitate in the absence of a target.

    I raise my right hand in their direction. "Thank you, gentlemen, but you can stand down. That was the only one in the room. But there are others, and they've been around for a while."

    The head of the detail looks at Missus DiCarlo and Diana. The first nods, while the second looks like she's already planning my next browbeating. Literal or metaphorical, I wonder? I'd have said metaphorical, but she's been spending a lot of time with Barda lately.

    Immediate panic over, the ambassadors start to return to their seats while a medic attends Mr Mayer.

    "Several people, including my friends in the American and Chinese governments, have queried why I'm assisting Lex Luthor in building a space fleet. The answer is simple. While I value the friendships of those nations, the continued existence of the world-spanning civilisation of which they are a part is far more important. Giving any one country a space fleet is a recipe for international conflict. Putting it in the hands of a man with operations in every corner of the world, a man genuinely committed to the future glory of your species, is a far superior option. The model works for the Justice League, and I think it also works here, for the collective defence of your homeworld. Before too long, he will be opening training centres for people wishing to join his space fleet. I would respectfully suggest that your nations all participate in the program."
     
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th December
    10:23 GMT


    Doctor Palmer slumps. "That's got to be the most depressing thing I've ever heard. One billion years later, and all that's left of the human species is a world full of sociopathic scavengers."

    Kal-El seems to be taking it more in his stride. "A billion years is a very long time. Maybe the human race just moved on?"

    I shrug. "The sheeda remains I've been able to examine are human. Different from modern humans, even before their augmentations are taken into account, but recognisably human. Which is.. not to say that mainstream humanity is not elsewhere and the sheeda are an escaped supervillainous science project."

    William smiles broadly. "I'm just glad that Doctor Sivana's still alive. I was really worried about him. Yeah, he's always come back before, but it doesn't usually take him this long. And now he's a good guy!"

    Diana gives him a sceptical look. "I would not be so quick to give him that accolade."

    "But he wants to help Earth fight against the sheeda. He's never done anything that helpful before. Maybe seeing the future all messed up changed him." He looks around at the rest of the Justice League, who for the most part duck his gaze. "It could happen."

    I sigh. "Captain, I'm afraid that morality.. and.. human behaviour are a little more complicated than 'good guy team' and 'bad guy team'. Sivana never really hated you. The sheeda killed most of his family."

    Batman looks thoughtful. "Do you think that he can be relied upon to maintain his focus?"

    I stare incredulously at him. "You're asking me that? Yes, yes I think he will."

    Batman directs his attention toward Captain Marvel. "Captain?"

    He shifts in his chair. "Ah… I dunno. I mean, I hope so, but I've never really been in this situation before. Most of the people I fight don't really have rational goals. But he always got on well with his kids…" He looks at me. "You.. sure Miss Tia's dead?"

    "I only checked briefly myself, but the facility on Venus was almost completely destroyed. And I can't imagine him lying about it."

    William nods. Beautia Sivana tutored William in an attempt to bring his school marks up to par after he was fostered by Mr Dudley. He's taken the news of her death reasonably well, but I suppose that at his point he's painfully used to people dying on him.

    Kal-El looks down the table. "Green Lanterns? Does the Green Lantern Corps have any records of these sheeda?"

    Lantern Stewart shrugs. "About a civilisation that doesn't exist yet? I doubt it, but we might have recordings of their previous attacks. How long does this 'Harrowing' take?"

    I shake my head. "No idea. We weren't able to record the whole thing before they learned how to jam us. Aquaman?"

    King Orin shakes his head as well. "The Saremites who are living in Atlantis were in suspended animation when the Harrowing started. They say that if we can find any recording devices from their era they're happy to decode them for us, but given how much time has passed I doubt you'll have any luck doing so."

    Lantern Jordan sighs. "Both of our rings were made long after when the last Harrowing is supposed to have happened. I can take a trip to Oa and take a look in the archives."

    I frown. "What, you can't put in a request for a data transfer?"

    "The Guardians don't like messing around with time travel. Too much can go wrong when you don't know what you're doing. Any data relating to time travel can only be accessed on Oa."

    I.. suppose it's not that unreasonable.

    Stewart glances at him, takes a breath and then continues. "And.. then there's the risk that they might decide that it's not a problem for the Corps to deal with."

    I try not to grin. I fail. Yes, Sinestro was rather pleased to be able to tell me about that oddity in the Corps rules of engagement.

    Hawkwoman is.. probably frowning under her helmet. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "The Corps doesn't interfere in the internal political disputes of a society. Even if they're turning violent. That's… Part of what Sinestro got expelled."

    "The three major polities of my homeworld turned their radiological arsenals upon one another. I stopped the exchange and I stopped the war. I'm proud of what I did."

    "Yeah, and you also took over the planet as its dictator."

    "Jordan, would you rather I left the people who just tried to have an atomic war in office?"

    "Point of.. information. Sinestro fifty-" I point to my yellow ring with my left index finger. "-did rule as an autocrat. Sinestro sixteen was technically just an advisor to the regime of Coordinator Arsona."

    "Sure looked like he was running the show when he took me there." Jordan glares at the ring for a moment before dismissing it. "Point is, Guardians take a really long term view on 'internal'. If we're 'human'-. Ah…" His eyes flick to Kal-El and the Hawks. "I mean, if Earth's civilization is human and the sheeda are its descendants, then without any other treaty being in place they might decide-"

    I just throw my head back. "Hahahaha!"

    "-that we're part of the same civilization."

    "Hahahaha." I get more than a few hostile looks. Alright, alright. I wave my right hand. "Sorry, sorry. It's just-. The Prime Directive sounded like such a good idea on paper."

    Kal-El nods. "Until we know what the Guardians' position is, it seems premature to laugh about it. I'm more concerned about your preferred option of letting Lex Luthor build a space fleet."

    "H-a… Kal-El, maybe if you hadn't personally ripped off all the guns I built on this station last January I'd have given you first refusal. But you can't refuse my guns and act all surprised when I don't try giving you any more."

    "It's not that I think that the Earth doesn't need a military. It's just that I want to know why you didn’t pick anyone other than the only surviving member of the Light to run it. Even you running it would make a whole lot more sense to me."

    "Lex Luthor is considerably more intelligent than me, has a better contact network than me, understands business better than me and -no offence guys- likes humans a lot more than I do. There's no chance of him vanishing off to Tamaran for months on end… And.. he's got an ego: if I don't give him something important to do he'll just start acting out and I don't.. really want to kill him. And I'm keeping an eye on him anyway, and I'm.. pretty sure that you are as well."

    Nods from Kal-El and from Batman, who activates a holographic display. "Do you know what this is?"

    Scrub, desert, perimeter fenoh.

    Yeah. That's one of the sites Lex is using to dig down to the Doomsday. I still don't really know how we're going to get the thing out, but just getting access to the database would be a major boon.

    "I.. believe that's one of LexCorp's.. deep-bore sites in Texas? I think they were looking for oil originally, but with LexPower switching to cosmic converters I think they're going to use it for long term radiological material storage. I mean.. I haven't checked… It didn't seem important."

    "I've noted several LexCorp sites in Texas being expanded, with substantial volumes of soil and rock being removed. Since you're supposed to be keeping him under observation, I thought that I would draw your attention to it."

    "I'll ask next time I see him. I can't think of anything it could be that's more dangerous than the space fleet I've already okayed, but if it's worrying you… I'll check."

    Batman presses another button, and the image disappears.

    "Next item on the agenda: Magnificus Sivana's sheeda detection system…"
     
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th December
    11:22 GMT -5


    Lex pats the site foreman on the back, smiling and nodding as he does so. The man nods back, then walks back to his unsubtly-rubbernecking team, gesturing to them to get back to work. Lex's eyes follow him for a moment, then drift over the rest of the site.

    Earth's first starship factory.

    Or, rather, the building site that will eventually become a starship manufacturing factory. Three months from the official announcement and the site has been cleared and the shell of a building mostly completed. Clearance work is ongoing in the adjacent plots, but Lex didn't want to flood the depressed Detroit economy with short term employment which would suddenly vanish once the initial construction was completed. So he rushed the initial building but is content to go a little slower with the expansion.

    Which makes sense. Sivana's a once-in-a-generation genius, but we need him to focus on anti-sheeda technology. Mr Truggs is an excellent project manager and his neural enhancements make him good at cross-disciplinary coordination, but by his own admission he's not a genius or visionary. Dr Metcalf got burned hard by his experience with Mr Alva, and while Lex and I are going to continue trying to tempt him to come fully on board, at the moment he's limiting himself to designing equipment.

    So -much as we'd like to- we don't have a super-genius heading the design team. Which is not to disrespect Dr Vekko, in any normal situation his decades in aeronautic engineering would make him a prime candidate. It just means that we've got to put up with normal development cycles, rather than the ridiculously accelerated 'super science' ones. So that we can get something into space and have ships to train people in, the first generation are pretty much just going to be updated Starseekers. Then it's.. anti-sheeda warships until either the Harrowing is over or we're all dead, and only then will we be able to switch to the exploration, trade and colonisation mandate that we're telling the public that it's all about.

    His inspection finished, Lex walks towards me. "I think it's all coming along nicely."

    "I defer to your experience."

    "Really? You were only telling me last week how rapidly Tamaran's production facilities were expanding."

    "Yes, but that was in orbit, and largely seized as a prize of war. They haven't really had to build anything from scratch yet. And they didn't have to train everyone from scratch either; I arranged for their government to hire thousands of skilled workers from one of their neighbours. Which isn't an option here."

    Lex nods. "True. But my own ideological objections aside, could we?"

    "Hm." This region of space does have several spacefaring species… None of them use anything similar to a cosmic converter or a luminal drive, and the core technologies do rather define the form the ships need to take. "We could, but I'm not sure how much benefit there would be. There are plenty of ancillary technologies Earth doesn't need to import… There's some value in getting someone to consult with… But it's not necessary and I don't think it's worth it. What makes you ask?"

    "The sheeda's timetable." Lex turns away, making a sweeping gesture with his right arm. "Of all those earthly civilisations they extinguished, not one had the capacity for interstellar travel."

    "Not that we were able to confirm, but I'll remind you that were weren't specifically checking that."

    "But you didn't find any evidence in other parts of this system, did you?"

    I shake my head. "No. Though… At the end of a Harrowing, the sheeda aren't really in any sort of hurry. It wouldn't be that hard to destroy anything in-system."

    He nods. "And outside of the system?"

    "We didn't get any footage of them using faster than light travel. Problem with that is that I can't check with our stellar neighbours. None of them were spacefaring during the most recent Harrowing." Ugh. "Which might mean that asking the Green Lantern Corps is a waste of time. They might well not have had a Lantern in the Sector at the time."

    "With the luminal drive, we can slip the bounds of earth in a permanent way. We have stealth technology and a galaxy to choose from. If the Harrowing doesn't occur within the next twenty years, they'd have to scour the galaxy to find us. And from Doctor…" He glances around. "Sivana's report, we know that they don't have the manpower for that."

    "And I'm sure they know that. If it really comes to it, I can open boom tubes and perform evacuations. It'll suck, but…" He nods. "I.. don't think we'll have twenty years."

    "Neither do I, though I would still work on the assumption that we didn't even if I did."

    I nod. "Wise. Look, I need a quick word with you about something.. private."

    He turns back to me and gives a single nod. "My office?"

    Mother Box, hush tube.

    Ping.

    I stride through, walking over to the main window. Lex follows me while the ever-attentive Ms Graves walks over to his desk to activate the office's observation countermeasures. I spot the air in front of the window shimmer from the one-way hologram projector, but I wait until Ms Graves gives Lex the nod before saying anything.

    "Batman asked about Texas."

    "I see."

    "I told him it was for long term radiological storage, but since it's you and me I think he's suspicious."

    "How bad would it be if they knew what we were doing?"

    "My relationship with President Horne and General Lane would take a hit. They might want you killed, which I'd rather avoid."

    "Yes."

    "The US military getting the Doomsday would escalate international tensions in such a way that we'd probably be forced to share the luminal drive, and the Justice League getting it wouldn't be much better. Worst of all would be the sheeda getting it, especially if they don't have a faster than light drive of their own."

    "I've already started installing Magnificus's detection equipment at all LexCorp sites. But I agree." He glances down at the carpet. "I'd actually consider destroying the thing. If only I had a weapon that could reliably do it." He looks back up. "I can increase security checks, but using the genomorphs would be rather a giveaway."

    I nod. "That's probably for the best. Oh, and do you know a reliable, deniable, out of work mercenary? A professional, but not totally evil?"

    "The Light got good service out of Black Manta. He's a consummate professional. I assume that you're planning to move on Kahndaq?" I nod. "I can get in touch if you want. Though there would be the question of what guise I should use. "

    "Why not use L-3? I mean, did he know who you were?"

    "Not so far as I know. But he might suspect the channel, given that we've been out of contact and you so publically tore through our colleagues. He did know at least two of them."

    I shrug. "If he doesn't bite then he doesn't bite. But I didn't interact with him at all. It will be far easier for you to convince him."

    "I can do that." He looks past me, nodding to Ms Graves. "While we're in a secure environment, information has come to light which I feel I should share with you."

    "Oh?"

    "You recall decapitating Klarion the Witch Boy earlier this year?"

    "Yes, and I've got the pardon to remind me."

    "At the time I didn't question it, but you did intend to kill him, didn't you?"

    Where's he going with this? I frown. "Yes?"

    "Did the sword you used have any particular magical properties?"

    "Yes. Not sure exactly what they are, but it's been used for killing powerful magic lifeforms before."

    "'Killing'." Ms Graves presses a button, and an image appears. It's… It's not Klarion, but a youth who somewhat resembles him. "This was taken three weeks ago. Police in Pennsylvania arrested him for attempted murder. He gave his name as 'Klarion Bleak'. When they recognised the resemblance they were concerned, but as he demonstrated no arcane abilities they assumed that the name was an invention."



    Multiple Klarions or the old one stripped of his power? Does the Sword not kill people? I need to warn Mirabai. But first

    "Where exactly are they holding him?"
     
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th December
    09:29 GMT -7


    "Mister Constantine, do you have a minute?"

    A red-eyed John Constantine glances up from his mug of Sundollar tea and plastic-looking baguette. "It's too early for anything, and it's definitely too early for you."

    "Thanks." I generate a construct chair and sit down across from him. We're not in a café, of course; John's smoking habit hasn't slowed down since he got lung cancer and just about every establishment in San Francisco is smoke-free. He considers it to be a violation of his civil liberties. "Not got over the jetlag yet?"

    "Guess I'm feeling my age."

    "You certainly are if a sinister man sits down and asks for your help and you don't immediately leap at the chance. Maybe you're learning?"

    "Heh. Yeah, I doubt it." He takes a sip of tea and manages to only wince slightly. "What d'you want?"

    "I believe that you're familiar with this?" I pull the Sword of the Fallen out of its holster and hold it up.

    His eyes lock onto it. "Oh, cheers, I've been looking for that." He reaches out with his left hand.

    I raise my left eyebrow and pull it back. "Fuck off, Mister Constantine. I know full well that Chantinelle made this sword. What I want to know is: why a man I killed with it is up and about again?"

    "Did you check his body?"

    "Yes, his head was removed, his intestine and his brain pierced. I even got convicted of his murder." From the look on his face I think he knows who I'm talking about. I frown. "I'm starting to feel a little hard done by there."

    "So… What? You knew about that sword, but you didn't know what it did?"

    "I knew Chantinelle killed the First of the Fallen with-" He's grinning in a decidedly unfriendly way. "-it… What?"

    "No." He flicks his eyebrows up. "She didn't."

    Oooooooh dear. "She didn't?"

    "Oh, she stabbed him. Looked like he died. And then Buer found a way to bring him back. According to him, he got stuck somewhere in Greece for a bit."

    "'Stuck'?"

    "As a normal bloke." He takes another sip. "Which could mean that the same thing happened to whoever you killed with it. I've never touched the thing, and I didn't really have a chance to study it. Usually I'd just dig up something someone else wrote about it, but what with it being new and all there isn't anything to find."

    "Powerless normal bloke, or did the First retain his capacity for magic?"

    "I wouldn't be quite that quick to call a normal bloke 'powerless'… But, yeah, no magic."

    I nod. "Appreciate your input. What's your consultancy fee?"

    "If you can do anything about my head..?"

    I raise my left hand. Let's see… Oh, look at that, a combination of age and years of drug and alcohol abuse, how completely unexpected. "Mister Constantine, I don't understand. You've already had lung cancer."

    "Are you really going to nag me about smoking?"

    "No. They're your lungs, do what you like with them. What I don't understand is why you don't set up a.. sympathetic resonance with a rat or.. something, and transfer the poisonous aspect into them. Seems to me that would be a lot safer."

    "Yeah." He nods. "Right up until someone stole the rat and used the link to kill me."

    "As you will." I could leave him a copy of Miss Shimmer's notes, but he'll have access to all of that via Circe's school soon enough. Right, ring, give him the full detox.

    By your command.

    Orange light strobes over his face before heading down. His heart and lungs get a blast, and then his liver.

    "Right." I cut the beam off and close my left hand. "Feeling better?" He should, he looks like I took a decade off him.

    "Yeah." He puts down his tea and extracts a packet of Silk Cuts from his coat's inner pocket. "Ta very much."

    I close my eyes for a moment. I shouldn't be surprised. That's how he works. "Good day, Mister Constantine."

    Mother Box, hush tube.

    Ping.

    I toss the hologram generator through-

    13th December
    11:33 GMT -5


    -and then step through myself. Hm, cells aren't very big in this part of Pennsylvania. Klarion-.

    "What are you doing here?"

    Hmm. Seeing him with normal coloured flesh is weird. And.. no hair horns. Quick check… Yes. That's my murderee.

    "Give you three guesses?" He's making.. sort of.. clawing gestures in the air. "Huh. Guess you really are powerless. Did you resurrect fast enough to watch my trial? Because if so, dick move."

    "You stole my power!"

    "In point of fact-" The pillow hits me in the face. I ignore it. "-I killed you. As far as I know your 'power' was destroyed. I didn't steal anything. And then Mordru came back and I had to kill him… So how's life been treating you?"

    "YAAAAAGH!"

    He throws himself at me, spaghetti arms pounding against my armour like gentle snowfall.

    "Oh, come on, you're just embarrassing yourself. You couldn't beat me while you were at full power, this isn't going to work."

    "…HATEYOUIHATEYOUIHATEYOU..!"

    "So be it." I grab the top of his head with my left hand and lift him off the ground. Ring, assimilate this miserable waste of flesh. We will use his knowledge far better than he ever did.

    Identity theft in progress. One percent complete. Alert: intense hate detected. Intense hate will slow progress.

    Fair enough. Calculate

    I slam Klarion's head into the wall hard enough to stun him.

    Intense hate no longer detected. Progress accelerating. Ten percent complete.

    "Uuuuuggh?"

    "You know, I actually felt bad for some of the people I did this to. But you? No. You deserve this."
     
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th Lunar Conjugation
    Sun Ascendant


    Didn't there used to be a castle there?

    I mean, sure, the view is undoubtably much improved by its absence… And as castles go it wasn't particularly large. Presumably Mirabai could have ordered it destroyed by magicians under her command, banishing it along with the memory of its former owner. I'd have kept it as a holiday home, but then I wasn't the man's unwilling concubine.

    Sinestro, any ideas where she is?

    I'm afraid that what I suspect to be multiple layers of defensive spells are interfering with my scans, Lantern Grayven. I can direct you to the main metropolitan centres, but beyond that you'll have to get directions from elsewhere.

    That's going to be fun. Okay, okay, someone in the.. biggest building in the capital ought to know where she is. Mother Box?

    Ping.

    I can.. feel her approval. Oh, come on, it's not that out of character.

    Ping.

    Well somebox isn't getting a Christmas card this year. I fly through the hush tube and out into the sky over a… Huh. Puts me a little in mind of Themyscira, actually. Perhaps by way of the Academy or Canterlot. Technically there's a cleaned-up medieval city in there somewhere, but there's so much magic going on with its own-

    Four spheres of orange light materialise around me and crackle, wiggly orange lines wobbling into existence between them. The areas of space between those lines are then filled in with orange sheets.

    -purposes that it's clearly its own thing.

    "The lower council of Jejune cordially reminds you that unlicensed flying is prohibited within twenty miles of the city perimeter. Please remain where you are until the duty justicator arrives."

    Efficient, I approve.

    "Is this two-way?"

    "The imprisonment triamid is controlled by a simple geist, capable of answering basic enquiries. A justicator will be with you in.. eleven.. minutes."

    "Where do I find Queen Mirabai?"

    "No such person known. Do you mean: High Councillor Mirabai, also called 'The Forlorn', a member of the Council of Sorcerers. Defànt Mirabai, a noted painter of the-."

    "The first one."

    "The precise location of High Councillors is not a matter of public record. Her primary place of work is the Grand Senate, located in the south-west of the city."

    Yep, I think I can see it. Mother Box?

    Ping.

    No, of course not.

    "A justicator will be with you in.. thirteen.. minutes."

    "Thanks for your help."

    I walk through the hush tube and into the.. garden in the centre of the Grand Senate.. building? It's open air, plants in the full bloom of life intersecting artfully with carved stone. It's really quite delightful. Oh, and there are some guards in glowing armour and armed with glowing weapons heading my way, and behind them richly dressed folk, a couple of whom I recognise from Mordru's wall decorating detail.

    "Hello everyone, good to see you again."

    "Grayven." Queen High Councillor Mirabai stands from her not-throne. This time she's dressed in some decidedly non-slutty robes, and when she raises her right hand to halt the guards I catch a glimpse of Mordru's old ring on her hand. "What brings you to Zerox?"

    "I've recently discovered a small problem with the sword Doctor Robbins used to kill Mordru. Turns out-."

    "That it does not kill them so much of strip them of almost all arcane power, end any ongoing spells and recreate them in a mortal body."

    "… Y-eah. And you already knew that."

    She picks up a large staff with a glowing crystal embedded at the end and walks toward me. "I'm surprised to hear that you didn't."

    "I've had a lot on, okay? It's not like it came with a user manual. I don’t know where Mordru would have ended up, but if you need any help dealing with him, I'm considering it 'unfinished business'."

    Mirabai glances left and right at the assembled luminaries. "It turned out that the combined arcane might of the Planet of Sorcerers was enough to deal with one powerless man. He will trouble us no more."



    "Okay, clearly this was an unnecessary waste of everyone's time." I raise my hands. "Sorry to have intruded. I'll show myself-."

    "You came here to warn us?"

    "Yes? Oh, and I.. can't help but notice that you're not wearing a crown..?"

    She bows her head. "I had been working under the assumption that you were another violent conqueror, much like Mordru. I thought that a strong show of ambition would impress you more than stating that I wanted nothing more than a return to the status quo ante tyranny."

    I shrug, raising my hands in a gesture of ambivalence. "I am a violent conqueror, but the aim of my conquests is to create a stable and prosperous empire. The sort of place that a few generations on the people will thank you for making them part of. I wouldn't presume to think that I know better how to harness your people's abilities than their own unfettered civilisation."

    "It seems that I misjudged you."

    "Eh, I thought that you were going to use Mordru's ring to control the other councillors in the same way that he did… So I was doing just the same." Panic over, then. "Though while I'm here, an ally of mine is setting up a magic school-."

    "Your world has magic?" A middle-aged man with entirely too much wax in his facial hair stands, apparently fascinated by the idea.

    "Both Earth and Apokolips have active communities of magic users, but Earth's arcane education system is woefully underdeveloped. I'd be happy to.. brief a committee at your convenience."

    Mirabai glances back at the speaker before returning her attention to me. "I am sure that we have much to learn from one another. In light of this development, I am going to motion for a recess…"

    Wizards raise their left hands, most glowing blue.

    "Motion carried. Grayven, if you could spare me an hour or two, I would like to get relations off to a slightly more honest foot." I nod. "Councillor Endor, please join us."

    "But of course." Wax face lifts his robes as he leaves his bench, then hurries after her.

    "Tell me, Grayven." Mirabai walks past me and I turn to keep pace. "What became of Captain Atom?"
     
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