Mindy bounced into the lair, full of energy and out of costume. She grinned as she saw Merlin and Karen asleep on the couch, having fallen asleep watching movies the night before, still in their costumes cuddled up together.
"Rise and shine!" Mindy said loudly, waking the two sleeping preteens.
Karen rolled off the couch, hand sliding under the cushions to come out with a large futuristic pistol that gave an ominous hum as she came to her feet, scanning for enemies.
Mindy kept still, waiting for Karen to come fully awake and recognize her.
"Morning," Karen said as she lowered her pistol.
"Sorry, didn't think you'd react like that," Mindy apologized.
Merlin had woken up an instant before Karen had and wondered why she had reacted so violently before realizing it was probably because they'd watched both Terminator movies the night before. While it hadn't given Karen flashbacks or upset her, it seemed to have put her on edge if her response to being suddenly woken up was anything to go by.
"It's okay," Karen said, setting the gun on the coffee table, "I'm still adjusting to not being hunted." She sat down on Merlin's stomach, smiling brightly.
Merlin snickered, amused at how the two casually dismissed Karen almost shooting Mindy as unimportant.
"That reminds me, I turned the ground floor of this building into a pizzeria run by self aware animatronic anthropomorphic animals," Merlin told her.
"Anthro-what?" Karen asked.
"Animals that look like cartoon characters," Mindy said. "You know, Bugs Bunny and shit."
"Why did you do that?" Karen asked.
"I was hungry and wanted some pizza," Merlin replied with a shrug. "I could have made it so they were people and not machines, but that'd leave a half dozen people in a world not their own."
"Threat level?" Karen asked.
"Nil," Merlin replied. "They aren't combat units and are probably only two to three times as strong as a normal human anyway."
"How about you two get ready, we'll grab some pizza, and then I'll introduce you to the rest of Justice Forever." Mindy said.
"Justice Forever?" Karen asked.
"It's the name of our team," Mindy said. "A bit dorky but Colonel Stars and Stripes really sold it. We have a secret lair beneath a bar."
"Cool," Karen said with a smile. "My brother and his friends had something similar in middle school, but the mayor requested they shut down when the death toll got too high."
"Lose a lot of heroes?" Mindy asked with a wince.
"Nah," Karen said as she got up. "Leo was playing Super Villain at the time and Eric always took things too far. Let's just say the collateral damage was a bit much. Are we going in costume or civvies?"
"In costume," Mindy said, "while we know who each other is, some of the gang still protect their identities."
"I'll be ready in five," Karen said before vanishing into the locker room.
"Were they just playing or…" Mindy asked, waving a hand.
"If even a quarter of the things I've seen in the cartoon series based on their world actually applies to their world… well, it's best not to think about it," Merlin said firmly, as he sat up.
"Cartoon series can get pretty wild," Mindy agreed.
"I didn't figure you for a cartoon kind of gal," Merlin said.
"I'm not, but Dave is," Mindy replied with a smirk, "so I end up watching a lot of weird shit."
Merlin shifted shadows for a breakfast pizza and some hot coffee.
"What is it with you and pizza?" Mindy asked.
"It's the perfect food," he replied while grabbing a slice. "Well, that and burritos."
"You got an irrational fear of silverware or something?" Mindy asked.
"No, I just prefer foods that don't require a lot of equipment to eat, especially when I first get up."
"Works," she agreed, helping herself to a slice.
"So, who all is in Justice Forever?" Merlin asked.
"Colonel and his dogs, me and Ass, Night Bitch, Dr Gravity, Insect-Man and finally Remembering Tommy," she listed off.
"Remembering Tommy?" he asked curiously.
"A husband and wife duo," Mindy explained. "Their son Tommy was kidnapped a few years back, but no body was ever found, so they became superheroes to keep people from forgetting about him."
Merlin nodded thoughtfully.
Karen came out of the locker room in costume. "I'm locked and loaded," she said, dropping onto the couch next to Merlin and grabbing a slice of pizza.
Seeing that Karen had wiped down her costume to remove all the soot, reminded Merlin that he was going to upgrade Mindy's as well. He reached out through the shadows for what he wanted and a case formed in his hands. "Here," he said, handing it to Mindy, "like Kick-Ass' it should be made of super fabric etc."
Mindy's eyes lit up as she accepted the case and tried to open it. "Locked," she complained, before seeing the combination and entering her birthday. The case popped open and she grinned. "Thanks, I'll go put this on now, see how it fits."
"And I should get cleaned and costumed up as well," Merlin said as he got up and stretched, before heading for Dave's side of the locker room.
Dave came in, in costume as the two went to change, carrying a pizza. "I brought breakfast, but it looks like you guys already ate," he noted as he set the box on the table next to the one already there.
"Shadow shifting is awesome," Karen said cheerfully. Reaching out and exercising the aforementioned power, a glass of orange juice condensed out of the black mist that had formed around her hand.
"It's pretty cool," he replied before sitting down to eat. "What all did he give you anyway?"
"Well, first he gave us the power from Animorphs where you can copy DNA and take on another form," Karen explained.
"That was a cool series," Dave said, "the TV show… not so much."
"Well, I copied Merlin and let the morph lock, giving me all his inborn powers and then used the little blue box to give me the morphing ability again, but using his form as the base," the little blonde girl explained.
"You don't look like him," Dave noted while trying to figure out which trick she used to pull that off.
"He's a natural shape shifter," she explained with a grin, "so I can look like whatever I want. Anyway, since I have his DNA, I'm stronger, faster, and smarter than anyone human. On top of that it gives us shape shifting, shadow shifting, psionics, and being magically capable."
"Munchkin!" Dave blurted out without thinking about it.
Karen giggled. "He cheated and used another one of his powers that isn't part of his DNA to make us skilled at shadow shifting and using Trumps. He was too impatient to teach us, since it takes years to get really good at those and he wanted to make sure we were safe while he traveled around."
"Well... Skynet wouldn't be nearly as hard to deal with," Dave said, wondering if Merlin still had the Escafil device on him.
"All of this was after he took us away from that horrible place," Karen said cheerfully. "He took us to a world where a comet turned everyone into red sand so we could relax and be safe."
"Having your own city to play in would be awesome," Dave said. "No capes, no criminals, no… everything. I think I'd get a bit lonely, but I guess having your friends with you does make a big difference."
"I'll take the quiet over spending every moment fighting for survival," Karen said. "He says we're too screwed up to deal with normal people after everything we've gone through and that we're going to need people to fix our brains, so we don't flip out and go on a rampage-"
"I didn't put it like that," Merlin interrupted her as he came out dressed in a brighter version of Kick-Ass' costume.
"Yeah, but that's what you meant," Karen said unconcerned.
"True, but I was much more polite," he pointed out.
"He also used his power to increase our strength and toughness even more," Karen said, "so even if we run into a terminator we could take it in hand to hand."
"The best way to make someone feel safe is to make sure they are safe," Merlin replied.
"True," Hit-Girl said as she joined them in her new costume, which looked almost exactly like the old one, but was obviously newer and of better quality. "What are you guys talking about?"
"About all the powers he gave them," Dave answered. "Speaking of which… do you still have the Escafil device?" he asked hopefully.
"Not on me, but if you've got a copy of an Animorph book with it in it I can grab it," Merlin offered.
"That would be awesome," Dave said. "I'll bring a copy by later, for now, let's go meet the League."
The four rode down a service elevator in the alley behind a bar and Dave grinned as he reached down and pulled open the elevator door revealing… another bar.
Justice Forever was based inside a bar hidden beneath a bar and it was a nice one too, full of polished wood and stone walls that would have made an Irishman feel right at home.
Of course the differences between it and a normal bar were immediately obvious. Newspaper articles were taped up on the mirror behind the bar covering ninety percent of it, all of them about various crimes being foiled. One side of the room had the table and chairs cleared away to make room for practice mats, and there were a half dozen kennels each holding a large German shepherd near a jukebox.
Karen's eyes quickly swept the room inventorying the costumed individuals sitting at the bar.
A brown haired couple in their mid-thirties wore matching blue track suits and masks that left the lower half of their faces uncovered with simple white shirts visible through their open jackets showing a picture of a preteen boy with the words missing above it and a phone number below it. They were obviously Remembering Tommy.
There was a thin man with red hair and thick black glasses that wore a red outfit with a black mesh over it that was cut away in a circle in the center of this chest showing a black fly. He was probably Insect-Man.
A broad-shouldered black man in a dark red costume with thick white bars and the symbol of an atom on his chest grinned as he spun around and saw the four. Karen guessed he was Doctor Gravity as he didn't look to be especially patriotic and he certainly wasn't Night Bitch.
A young woman wearing black leather boots and pants, a purple sequined sports bra, under a black vest with netted sleeves, leaned back on her stool as she looked them over. She wore a black domino mask, but had it pushed up on her forehead, helping hold back her dyed red hair that was loosely constrained by a pair of pig tails that stuck out of the sides of her head. If she wasn't Night Bitch then one of the guys had made a weird choice in cape names.
An older man with gray hair cut to military length to go with the set of military camo eyed the four from behind the bar. "I seriously hope you didn't call us all together to try and get your Mini-Me's approval to join," he said in a gravelly voice.
"Care to make a little wager on arm wrestling my Mini-Me?" Hit-Girl asked innocently.
"Hell no," Doctor Gravity said instantly. "I think we've all learned not to bet against you, Girl."
"Yeah," Night Bitch agreed, "with you the fix is always in."
Remembering Tommy stepped forward and offered their hands. "It's nice to meet you," they enthusiastically chorused.
Karen and Merlin shook their hands.
"I'm Merlin of Amber," Merlin said, already liking the friendly couple from what Mindy had told him earlier.
"Karen," Karen introduced herself and pulled off her mask.
"You have a younger sister?" Colonel asked, surprised.
"No, she doesn't," Karen said and her hair changed from pink back to its usual dirty blonde as she resumed her normal form.
"What the fuck?!" Doctor Gravity exclaimed, barely beating the others as he voiced his surprise.
"Calm down everyone!" Mindy yelled as she pulled off her mask and wig with a grin.
"How can we calm down, that was impossible!" Insect-Man said in a voice that was hopefully a little higher pitched than his normal tone.
"Have you ever wanted to have superpowers?" Merlin asked.
Kick-Ass leapt to the ceiling and stood on it, hanging upside down as if it was the floor.
"I thought we were going to ease them into things," Mindy complained.
"Easier just to yank the bandage off in one go," Karen told her.
"What's the cost?" Colonel Stars and Stripes asked, coming out from behind the bar, his voice held a note of caution, but he was definitely interested.
"It doesn't cost you guys a thing," Merlin assured him. "No tricks, no selling your souls or anything," he assured them. "Mindy and Dave said you're good people who are doing your best to clean up this town, that's good enough for me to hang around for the next week empowering you all."
"How?" Doctor Gravity asked intently.
"I am Merlin of Amber," Merlin said, "that comes with a few perks, one of which is every day I can empower people to a certain extent. I'm still learning all I can do."
Dave dropped to the floor, flipping to land on his feet. "We've come up with a decent power set based on Spider-Man."
"I can empower two people with it a day, leaving me with a little leftover power to personalize it a bit," Merlin said.
"Personalize?" Night Bitch asked, bouncing on her heels in excitement.
"Enhance things like balance, hearing, memory," Merlin explained. "Depends on what you want."
"Ah, I thought it would be something like allowing us to make our eyes look like a cat's or glowing fists," she said disappointed.
Merlin nodded. "Those are possible. As long as they aren't too power intensive, I should be able to handle them."
"I was actually hoping for something like Cat Woman," Night Bitch admitted.
"Totally doable," Merlin assured her, "it's only a minor physical change and some tweaks. Worse case I'll simply hang around an extra day."
"You real name wouldn't be Merlin Ambrose, would it?" Insect-Man asked.
"No, but he was named after me," Merlin replied, as he thought of his most well-known shadow.
"You're saying he existed?" Doctor Gravity asked.
"Alternate realities exist," Merlin told them, "everything you can imagine is real somewhere. Me and Karen are from another reality. This reality has magic, but it's pretty complicated and weak compared to a lot of other realities, so Merlin probably did exist here, but he was a lot weaker than you're thinking of."
"Well, I'm in," Doctor Gravity said. "Got any gravity powers to hand out in addition to Spider-Man?"
"I'd almost forgotten about those," Merlin said.
"Those?" Colonel asked.
"I picked up a five pack of power vials somewhere," Merlin replied, "I've used three of them, but one of the two I have left is Gravity."
"What's the other one?" Mindy asked.
"Energy," Merlin replied. "I have no idea what they do, but the powers they grant are connected to what's written on them."
"I don't suppose you'd care to part with one," Doc asked hopefully.
"Sure," Merlin agreed, "it's not like I need them." He reached into his shadow and pulled out a pair of vials. He passed the one labelled gravity to Doc. "They taste like crap, but they work."
Doctor Gravity grinned. "I can practically hear it urging me to drink it." He pulled the stopper out. "Well, bottoms up!"
A wave of dizziness washed over Merlin and it took him a moment to shake it off as Doctor Gravity slumped over and started to fall, Kick-Ass leaping forward to catch him.
"Was that supposed to happen?" Hit-Girl asked.
"Yeah, when I drank the Mass vial I passed out and when I woke up I had the ability to alter my density," Merlin replied. "Of course by the time I woke up Murphy had drank one and fed another to Pudge."
"That's how Pudge controls the weather!" Karen exclaimed.
"No, that's where he got his psychic abilities like astral projection, before I added in telekinesis anyway, and multipresence," Merlin said.
"How long is he going to be out for?" Night Bitch asked as Kick-Ass laid Doc on the training mats.
"No idea," Merlin replied with a shrug. "I was tired when I drank one, so I'm pretty sure I slept longer than I needed to."
"What are you?" Colonel Stars and Stripes asked. "I've got no clue what's going on here and if I didn't know better, I'd swear I was asleep and dreaming. What's your deal?"
Merlin smiled. "There are an infinite number of realities out there and you were lucky enough to have me stumble into yours and run across your friends. I'm an Amberite born of the Courts of Chaos. Of course none of that will mean anything to you. I've been pretending to be a genie lately and not doing too bad at it, so why not work with that?"
"If I could have any wish… I'd wish to have Tommy back," his mother said softly, her husband leaning over to hug her.
Everyone fell silent. You didn't have to be a mind reader to know they were all wishing there was some way to help her.
Karen's eyes met Merlin's and he nodded.
"Flip on the TV," he told her.
Karen grinned and scanned the top of the bar. Spotting a TV remote, she snatched it up, pointing it at the TV that hung from the ceiling at the end of the bar.
Merlin took hold of the shadow they were in, got a feel for how much his batteries recharged since attuning the lair and was pleased to find those abilities were growing as well. He laid his will upon the world and made a small change.
"-this just in," the new anchor said, as the TV came on, "the FBI received a call from a young man early this morning named Tommy Dolan. New York may remember Tommy Dolan as an 8-year-old boy who went missing seven years ago. Apparently, he and a number of other children from across the US were abducted by a religious group who believed that the apocalypse was coming and they had to prepare. They chose to prepare by kidnapping a number of children and training them to be 'The Army of the Lord'. Well, as it turns out, taking children away from their family and training them to be able to overcome any obstacle in their way isn't a very wise decision, especially when you set yourself up as the obstacle for them to overcome. Let's join our channel five news team, live at the scene."
The screen changed to show a group of teens dressed in camouflage, standing in front of a walled compound with police taking away numerous adults in somewhat battered condition behind them.
"Tommy," the young man's parents said in wonder as the fifteen-year-old stood next to a reporter.
The rest of Justice Forever turned to stare at Merlin.
"Wish granted," Merlin said with a smile.
Sure he may have to fight Godzilla in the future, but moments like this made him feel like he was being well paid for it; being an Amberite was awesome!
Typing by: fyrewolf5
TN: The Coon going overboard? Never, and totally wouldn't join up with Cthulhu . .
AN: Cartman is a great character, he keeps things interesting.