Chapter 8: Dealing with Defeat
Things were starting to become hazy. They both were getting closer and closer to succumbing under grip of such a powerful being, their life force siphoning away from both of the most powerful members of the Justice League. It wasn't supposed to be this way. They were supposed to be strong enough to overcome any obstacle placed before them. How could one man have contained the strength to defeat Wonder Woman and Superman without even breaking into a sweat?
Superman forced his eyes to open despite his body's insistence of doing the exact opposite. He had almost no life left in him, and glanced toward the individual that was going to be his end, this First Born. He was just about to give up hope when, from the corner of his eye, a green hue began to infiltrate his vision. Sure enough, his eyes didn't deceive him, as a giant pair of green scissors appeared, dividing himself and Wonder Woman from the First Born's leaching tethers.
The scissors pinched shut quickly, ripping through the vein-like strings attached to the First Born's cloak, and temporarily freed from the life draining strings, both Superman and Wonder Woman gasped for air, sucking it in as if they'd been held under water to the point of drowning. The First Born snarled, telepathically commanding the veins to latch onto the heroes once again, but Green Lantern was quick in changing the scissors into a catapult, launching his teammates away from immediate danger.
"Who the hell is this guy?" Hal asked as he floated next to an almost fully recovered Shazam. "And how was he able to take down both Superman and Wonder Woman?"
"Don't know," Shazam replied. "But whatever he did, I know neither of them could get away. It almost looked like he was slowly killing them."
"Well, what are we waiting for, an invitation?" Lantern rhetorically questioned, preparing to join in the battle.
"No!" Cyborg shouted, temporarily halting Hal from advancing on the enemy, who was already heading their way. "He took Shazam and I out too. Even quicker than he did Superman and Wonder Woman. We can't win facing him head on like this."
"Then what do we do? Run and hide?" Hal incredulously asked.
"We fall back and regroup." Cyborg answered just as his cybernetics activated a boom tube hidden inside his circuitry. "Get Diana and Superman. We're getting out of here while we still can."
Lantern hesitated initially, noticing how the First Born had increased his pace. He didn't know what he was actually up against, but if the guy was powerful enough to take out four members of the Justice League singlehandedly, then perhaps discretion was the best course of action. So, using his ring once again, he formed a basket around the two highest powered League members, and carried them closer to the rest of the team.
Cyborg then opened up a boom tube, and led the rest of the team into it, only looking back after all of them had safely entered into the portal, and seeing the First Born charging straight for them. He knew without a doubt that they were no match for the First Born, especially in their current condition. So he quickly stepped in and closed the boom tube, preventing the First Born from following after them.
The boom tube shut just as the First Born reached where it'd been mere seconds before. He was furious at having the Justice League slip through his grasp, and especially due to the realization that one of them was of his father's creation. His first initial message to Zeus managed to evade him, and he wanted to draw her back out to him once again so he could finish her off. Then he would be able to point his focus more toward his usurping his father's rule.
Wonder Woman and Superman each jumped with a start before realizing they'd been moved into a safer locale. Each of them were somewhat shaken after their encounter with the First Born. Both had given him their all, and despite their enhanced strength, they'd been literally no match for the villain. No member of the Justice League appeared to be. "What happened?" Wonder Woman asked, breaking the silence that was beginning to linger around the group.
"That's what I'd like to know." Hal added.
"I remember those things protruding off the First Born." Superman described. "Once they latched on, I couldn't get away. It felt...like I was dying."
"It was as if those things were sucking the life from you." Diana added.
"Whoever the First Born is, he's incredibly powerful." Cyborg stated. "He took all of our best shots, and just kept on coming for more. It seemed like he was just toying with all of us."
"Toying with you?" Hal responded in utter disbelief. It was beginning to sound like the most powerful weapon in the universe may not have been enough either. "Well, we can't just let him keep killing people. What are we going to do?"
"Go over every detail of what transpired, and come up with a calculated plan of attack." Batman announced as he'd silently joined the group in the Watchtower's conference room. Hal jumped the most out of the four of them, and Batman allowed his lips to curl ever so slightly from the sheer enjoyment of causing a mighty Green Lantern to jump so easily.
"Geez." Hal complained after regaining his composure. "Do you just wait for people to let their guard down before you step in to try giving them a heart attack?"
"No." Batman answered simply. "And I didn't scare everyone. Superman and Wonder Woman knew when I arrived."
Hal grumbled under his breath, thinking that Batman wouldn't pick up on the words he was uttering, but didn't want to spare the time on something so insignificant. This...First Born had thoroughly trounced two of the most powerful members of the Justice League, and even the actual reason he'd come up to the Watchtower had to take a back seat. He'd seen the group and how disheveled the four members appeared, and knew that the priority was discovering anything and everything he could in order to bring this First Born character down. "Cyborg," Batman barked. "Send me a video replay of the attack from beginning to end. I'll start dissecting it, looking for some clues or even weaknesses to exploit. As for the rest of you, file your mission reports, and if needed, head to the medical wing for any necessary treatment. Otherwise, I expect you to rest up and prepare for when we confront the First Born again."
Surprisingly, there were no arguments from anyone. Instead, Cyborg quietly loaded the videos into the Watchtower computer servers, and then joined the others in going their separate directions. Batman watched closely as each of them made their exits. In reading their body language, everyone seemed to have a somber tone about them, and especially so for Superman. Batman surmised that this instance might've been the first time someone had been noticeably more powerful than he was without the added use of Kryptonite. To put it simply, on the extremely rare instances where this occurred, Superman seemed to not know how to handle it.
The Man of Steel had become accustomed to being invulnerable and the most powerful being on Earth. It wasn't every day where a being such as him would encounter someone who could swat him away as if he were only a pest, and Batman wouldn't be able to help him through his struggle. He simply had no pity for Superman in such situations. It was never about being the strongest all the time. Regardless of one's power, there is always someone out there who is stronger. He needed to focus not on the fact that he'd been outmuscled, but rather on what he could do the next time to offset that disadvantage.
A few hours had passed by, and Batman was seated in front of a monitor screen, going over footage from the fight for what seemed to be the hundredth time. It was a constant pattern of playing a small portion, rewinding, and then replaying again and again until he felt he'd gleaned everything there was from a specific portion of footage. One certainty that needed no replaying was the fact that this First Born being was certainly as powerful as his teammates had described. Up to that point, there also didn't seem to be any glaring weakness to exploit.
Shazam's attacks didn't seem to faze him much at all, ruling out magic as an effective weapon. Victor's cybernetic cannons also appeared to be ineffective, and while Wonder Woman and Superman could knock him back a little, their attacks were all close range. At such a limited distance, they were effectively putting themselves into a compromising position of being latched onto again by those vein-like tethors, and this time the First Born would likely be expecting some form of attempted intervention.
That also led him to believe there was little Hal's power ring would offer as well. There was no footage available to back up that assumption, but it was a gut feeling, and he never went against such feelings without some solid evidence to offset his concerns.
"Where's Victor?" The feminine voice of Diana called out from behind, catching Batman off guard slightly. He'd been so entwined in his research, that he actually hadn't heard the doors opening, nor her footsteps as she approached him. It was almost enough to elicit the same reaction he'd gotten out of Hal earlier that day. Almost.
"Still repairing the damaged cybernetics." Batman answered as he went back to the beginning of the video, and started watching it again. "I offered to take his Monitor Duty until his repairs were completed. Speaking of, shouldn't you be resting and recovering?"
Normally, Diana would've argued that Batman needed to mind his own business, but something told her that this time, he wasn't trying to get under her skin, but rather was actually showing true concern for his teammates. She released a frustrated sigh as she took a seat next to him. "I've rested enough."
"Couldn't sleep anymore?" He asked, although if she were honest, it sounded more like he was announcing the obvious than asking for confirmation.
"No." She confirmed. "I'm not used to being on the side of defeat in battle, and I grew tired of tossing and turning. I want to find this First Born and give him the taste of my blade that he so rightly deserves."
Upon hearing her statement, Batman paused the video and turned to face her. "While tossing and turning, did you happen to come up with some sort of epiphany on just how to go about doing that?" He doubtfully questioned.
"I'm aware now of the leeching strings he commands, and I just need to avoid those while also using the entirety of my abilities in order to achieve victory." Diana defiantly announced. "As an Amazon warrior, I won't stop until the First Born is defeated."
"You'll die." Batman bluntly responded.
Wonder Woman's ire instantly rose a few ticks after hearing his doubt in her. "Not before he does." She defiantly retorted.
"George Santayana would disagree with you." Batman said before turning back to the video.
"Who?" Diana questioned. "Why?"
"Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." He answered as he went to play the video again before pausing and turning ever so slightly toward her. "You already rushed in once without a well conceived plan of attack, and if it weren't for Hal and Victor, both you and Superman would've died. If you go in again thinking that just trying harder will get you any further, then you're only submitting to your own demise."
"You really think I am so ignorant as to try the same tactics when they failed in battle before?" Diana heatedly asked. "I have knowledge from my previous engagement with the First Born. I know of his tactics now, and with that knowledge I will be better prepared.
"But you're still planning a frontal assault after it didn't work the first time." Batman responded. "Even with the knowledge of what he can do, I've watched the video. Neither you or Superman were able to even harm him. I highly doubt using your sword this time will have much more of an effect."
"Then what do you suggest?" Diana sarcastically questioned.
"I'd start by looking into why he seemed to be interested in you." Batman suggested, noting her attitude but choosing to look past it. "It's obvious that Superman pulled his attention away from Cyborg and Shazam, but as soon as he saw you there, the First Born charged after you, completely ignoring Clark too even though he was still in the fight. Also, I may not be able to read every word due to the video angles, but it appears that he knows a bit about your history, especially if I'm right that he mentioned Hades to you while he had you in a choke hold."
"He called me a fellow child of Zeus." Diana admitted. "It seems that he believes Zeus is his father, but I've never heard or seen anything comparable to him before. Certainly no one who referred to themselves as the First Born. Also, he wanted Zeus to be informed that he's next."
"He seems incredibly confident, bordering on narcissism. Especially if he truly intends to take on a being as powerful as Zeus is said to be." Batman commented, speeding through the video to its end. "Perhaps that's the key. Maybe you should deliver his message to Zeus as an offer for information that might help us defeat him."
"I could reach out to Ares." Diana offered. "He may be able to provide me with the information we need."
"That's as good a place to start as any." Batman agreed. "See what you can find out, and we'll add it to my notes from the first encounter."
Diana smiled, ready to do what was needed in order to aid them in achieving victory over such a powerful foe. Having a direct course of action reinvigorated her, and she practically bounced up from her seated position, headed toward her altar. She wasn't about to waste any time in contacting her mentor, not wanting to give the First Born any more time to take innocent lives from the world if she could help it.
Superman touched down as silently as a feather onto the balcony of his apartment. His mood was absolutely somber as he kept replaying the fight over and over in his mind. The battle with the First Born rocked him mentally. He'd never been beaten so easily before, and was at a loss as to how the League would be able to stop such a monster before he murdered millions more innocent people. To make matters worse, Superman also felt absolutely powerless at the moment even though his strength had already fully returned to him.
When they'd all limped away in defeat to the Watchtower, all he wanted to do was get away. Doubt permeated his thoughts, and he needed some time to himself so he could clear his mind. So as soon as he could, he made his exit, returning to his sanctuary of Metropolis. He wasn't really going in any true direction, as it was more like he was going through the motions, changing clothing, putting on his black rimmed glasses, and heading out through his apartment door.
By the time he'd even realized what he was doing, he'd already managed to walk all the way into the lobby of the Dailey Planet. It was really early in the morning, and there was hardly anyone around. For possibly the first time ever, he didn't even have a companion in the elevator, but his solitude only lasted until he reached his desk. Just off to the side, he could make out the soft clicking of computer keys, and glanced around to see who was already hard at work.
"Early morning, Smallville?" Came from the female voice of the most competitive reporter in the world, none only than the one and only Lois Lane. She looked like she'd already downed an entire pot of coffee on her own, her fingers deftly flying about her keyboard at presumably hundreds of words per minute.
"Hot story?" Clark asked as he took his seat and pressed the power button to his own PC.
"Early bird Smallville, early bird." Lois offhandedly replied as she continued typing, focusing completely on finishing her story.
Clark couldn't help but smile at her response. Lois always was the type to try and remain one or even two steps ahead of every other reporter. She'd earned that right through her diligence, hard work, and unrivaled stubbornness over the years. She definitely had a fascinating personality.
"What about you?" Lois casually added, snapping Clark back into the moment. "Hot story?"
"Couldn't sleep." He answered simply. "Growing up in Smallville, if you couldn't sleep, there was always work that could be done. I just figured since I wasn't getting any rest, I could at least get a jumpstart on the day."
"Ah, the many fabled lessons learned from the farm life in Smallville." Lois pretended to regale before refocusing back onto her story.
"I'll just...go get some coffee." Clark replied as he left Lois to her work. She'd been polite enough to pause in her work to talk to him, and that was more than he'd honestly expected as she was more like a one way locomotive when it came to finishing a story. It seemed like there was almost nothing more important once she dove into a topic that peaked her interest.
In fact, the only other person he knew of who might be more singularly focused than Lois was perhaps Batman, and it was a fairly close race when it came to a hot story Lois happened to stumble across. He only hoped he could find something worth diving into with such passion, if only so he could just stop thinking about what'd happened with the First Born, even if it was only going to be a temporary distraction.
"What word have you regarding the ones responsible for slaughtering those involved in potential conflicts?" Ares asked as he appeared before Diana's kneeling form.
"My colleagues and I came across a being, War God." Diana described. "He was incredibly powerful, and I'm disappointed to say that the might of the Justice League wasn't enough to stop him."
"This being must indeed by powerful." Ares mused. "Tell me about him."
"He calls himself the First Born." Diana answered. "And from what little he did reveal to us, he seems to believe that both he and I share Zeus as a father, and he seems to be hell bent on gaining Zeus' direct attention."
Ares began to pace in front of Diana, deep in thought as she continued to share the details of her encounter with this powerful being. It was concerning to hear just how easily the Kryptonian and Diana were defeated against the First Born. Although neither of them were gods, combined they were still a powerful force to contend with. However, there was also something else troubling him.
The motive on gaining the attention of Zeus didn't quite make sense, in that aside from the occasional tryst behind Hera's back, Zeus didn't really pay much attention to mortals. Their deaths were inconsequential to a being such as him. Perhaps Diana was the primary focus, being another child of Zeus? He couldn't be certain, as that would require a knowledge of the current goings in the world, and someone as powerful as the First Born would certainly have struck before now, especially if his goal was a future confrontation with his father.
Ares stopped in his pacing directly in front of Diana. "If what you have described is accurate, this being may very well be a child of Zeus." Ares surmised. "His power being above the Kryptonian's combined with yours is quite troubling. Travel to Lemnos and seek out Hephaestus. He will know what form of weaponry would be required to defeat this enemy. Meanwhile, I shall seek an audience with Zeus to discover just who this First Born really is."
"I will leave for Lemnos immediately, War God." Diana confirmed, and received a nod from Ares before he disappeared in a flash of bright fire, indicating that he'd likely traveled to Mount Olympus to do his part. She now had to do hers, but knew she needed to contact two others before departing. The first person she needed to speak with was solely for the purpose of the mission, whereas the second person was more personal than anything else.
First things first, she thought as she reached up to her ear and pressed on her communicator. "Wonder Woman to Batman." She announced.
There was a period of silence, but not long enough to irk her impatience before he responded. "Go ahead."
"I've spoken to the War God, and he is seeking answers from Zeus regarding our new enemy." She detailed. "He has also ordered that I locate the Smithing God, Hephaestus, as he would be able to provide the necessary weapon to take down someone as powerful as I described."
"I wouldn't think it will take more than a couple days, but if it does I'll be certain to inform you and the others." Diana answered.
"Good." Batman replied. "Add what you find to my notes from the previous fight with the First Born. Then I want everyone to report in for a meeting to formulate a plan of attack."
"Even J'onn?" Diana questioned, seeing just how dangerous Batman believed the First Born to be.
"...Yes." He eventually conceded before quickly reigning the conversation in, preventing Diana from saying something that would make him regret his response. "Just contact me when you find out about the weapon. I've got other cases to investigate. Batman out."
Diana smiled upon hearing Batman's hasty exit. She could tell from the tone even through his altered voice that she'd made him uncomfortable. She knew to suggest he wasn't a trusting person was a vast understatement, and she had to admit that she was slightly surprised he was willing to say yes in allowing J'onn to become involved. She'd been expecting either a blatant "no", or at the most, a "we'll see" type of response.
If it weren't for the situation, she would've gotten a laugh out of it, but for Batman to involve J'onn indicated just how dangerous he believed the First Born to be. For Batman to trust a probationary member on a mission revealed as much as anything on just how he felt about a situation. His research had obviously caused him to believe that even when they attained the weapon from Hephaestus, the League would still need all of its members to have a legitimate chance.
Though in thinking about it, she had to agree. The League likely would still need everyone involved. Some would only be able to serve as a distraction while others would have to help keep innocent civilians out of harm's way, and the rest would have to focus on taking the powerful brute down with the weapon.
Thoughts of the weapon caused her to focus back onto her task at hand, and she made to leave the Watchtower, heading for the Javelin bay. She would have to make her other call while en route to Lemnos.
Lois was fighting to regain her composure after laughing heartily at her co-worker's expense. "Oh, that has to be something you picked up from the Kansas lifestyle, eh Smallville?" She teased.
Clark smiled in response. He enjoyed it when pieces of his childhood life shown brightly for others to see. It was a sense of pride with regard to his upbringing, and he didn't mind at all even if others found his qualities humorous. Looking at it from another angle, it also revealed more about the woman who'd finally managed to stop laughing. Lois had obviously been living in a big city more so than not.
Coming in early seemed to be a blessing for him. He'd never gotten along so well with the Daily Planet's top investigative reporter before, and it also helped take his mind off of the beating he'd been on the receiving end of. However, as the saying went, all good things must come to an end, and this good bit of banter with Lois was halted by the dinging of the elevator bell, indicating they were about to have a third person join them.
Perry White stepped out once the elevator doors slid open, but stopped dead in his tracks at the sight before him. Never before had anyone other than Lois beaten him into the office, and now on this morning, he was apparently a distant third. They'd both been there for a while, as evidenced by the half empty coffee pot one of them had taken to Lois' desk. He wasn't about to be discouraged though as he looked to his watch for the time, and then smiled as he continued to trek toward his office.
"Taking notes from Lane are you Kent?" He lightly questioned. "I was wondering if anyone had the fortitude to step up to her level of effort. Good to see you taking the initiative."
"Umm, err...yeah chief." Clark replied, not wanting to lie to Mr. White, but immediately thinking better of ruining what appeared to be the good mood Perry was in. He glanced over to the other person who knew the truth to his being there, and her nod confirmed to him that he'd made the correct choice in his response.
"Keep after her Kent." Perry said as he reached his office door and stopped to look back at his eager reporters. "If you do, then in no time I'll be able to boast about having the best tandem of reporters for any paper on the globe."
"Speaking of chief..." Lois chimed in, hopping up out of her seat and following Perry into his office before closing the door behind her. Clark shook his head as he returned to his own desk, ready to take Perry's advice and actually start working on his next story until he was interrupted by a beep from his communicator.
Clark sighed, not really wanting to have League work already, but knowing that it was his duty as a hero to respond. So he grabbed the coffee pot on the premise that Clark Kent was returning it to the break room, and enabled his communicator while using his x-ray vision to ensure no one would be within earshot. "Superman here. Go ahead."
"Hello Superman." Diana responded.
The trip to Lemnos was quite uneventful and quiet aboard Diana's invisible jet. She was able to pass a short amount of time informing Superman of her departure, and started going into greater detail, telling him how long to potentially expect her absence from the League, but the conversation was forced to end abruptly as other people started to swarm around where he'd been at the time. He was actually forced to cut the line off in mid-sentence, and she assumed someone must've walked directly into earshot of where he'd been standing.
Having to tiptoe around the populous happened to be one of the quirks Diana found to be confounding in the sheer necessity of it all. She knew that the majority of the Justice League had secret identities of their own, but at times, with her being around Superman, it seemed to be more of a wasted effort with little to gain from it. Aside from the occasional blending in to have some form of normalcy, she just couldn't wrap her mind around the need for it. Especially having a job and secondary home.
She could certainly understand someone such as J'onn having one. He'd been under heavy scrutiny just because he was an alien who didn't appear human in his natural form. Superman didn't have this problem, and aside from Cyborg, the rest of the League members could all blend in to the populous. Or at least she could assume as much from most of the others. Flash and Batman had the majority of their faces covered after all. Who knew if they were hiding some horrendous disfigurement or not.
She spent the remainder of the trip pondering such confusing things from Patriarch's world until she'd reached her destination and touched the plane down in a discreet little field. It wasn't far from the hidden entrance to the Smithing God's workshop, and she guessed that would be the best place to seek him out. Everything she'd been taught about him gave her the impression that he rarely left, always keeping himself occupied with his works.
As she moved in closer, she began to hear the sounds of a hammer smashing into what was likely heated metal, and it wasn't long before she reached an opening, revealing the Smithing God before her, hard at work.
"Been a long time since an Amazon thought it wise to stop by for a visit, Princess." Hephaestus grumbled as he inspected his latest creation. His speaking up caught her off guard at being discovered, but she soon realized she should've known better than to think her silent entrance would prevent the Smithing God from noticing her.
"I come at the order of the War God." She announced.
"Hasn't Ares received enough of my artwork?" Hephaestus complained. "What more could he want for his collection?"
"This isn't for Ares' collection." Diana explained. "I've recently come across a powerful being who claims to be a child of Zeus. He refers to himself of the First Born."
"First Born eh." Hephaestus repeated as he set what looked like the beginning of another masterpiece aside to cool. "And you as an Amazon child of Zeus weren't already more than an match for him?"
"Unfortunately, no I, nor the rest of the Justice League were a match for him." Diana replied. "In fact, we could hardly even cause any harm to him. Had Green Lantern and Cyborg not thought quickly and created an escape route, it is entirely possible the First Born would've killed us all. Upon hearing this, Ares made mention of a weapon powerful enough to defeat our enemy, and he believed you would know of it and how to attain it."
"Oh I know of it." Hephaestus confirmed, moving to stoke his furnace fire a bit. "But it's not just one thing you would need. If this First Born is as powerful as you say, it would seem you need a weapon powerful enough to kill a God. You'll have to retrieve two items and combine them to have any chance, and if you retrieve these items, you'll still only have one shot to defeat a God."