Author's Note:

So, as promised, here's some of my design stuff for the plot and characters, as well as some musings and potential scenes that didn't really cut it. Enjoy!

When I started planning this, it was basically a really vague idea. I was frequenting the We're All Dreaming of Sunshine forum on this site fairly regularly, and there had been a lot of Marvel crosses in the crossovers thread, and some interesting speedster!Shikako snippets for Young Justice that I'd pitched in on tossing ideas around for, but no real DC crosses worth noting other than that. I'd been thinking about this a little, and had some very basic stuff planned out: Cloud trying a kidnapping, dumping four ninjas (I'd already chosen Hanabi, Shikako, Chiyako, and Shiho) into a DC universe… and that was pretty much it. I hit a wall.

I also had a vague idea that I wanted to do something with the Life Entity and Shikako but I didn't want to have to deal with the huge amount of characters and plot from DC canon's Blackest Night and Brightest Day storylines. I didn't initially see how this could be combined with the prior plotline.

On page 102 of the DoS Crossover Plotting thread, I tossed the (very little) I had out into the ether and nothing came of it immediately. It wasn't an idea that seemed to resonate with anyone, though authors did turn their attention to a number of DC crosses featuring Shikako becoming Batman's first Robin.

Through some burst of inspiration, or perhaps ignited by the frustration that authors pretend not to have when other people don't write our stories for us and let us enjoy reading them without doing any work, something clicked into place and I wrote the first chapter of this story up.

So what was it that made this work? Well, I basically decided that I liked Nekron and the Life Entity, but threw out the entire Blackest Night plotline, didn't involve the Green Lantern cast except for Kyle Rayner, and reimagined Nekron and the Life Entity as extremely powerful elementals who embodied the Black Light of Death and the White Light of Life, and lived on their respective elemental planes. Now that I'd simplified their mythology, I just grabbed the idea and ran with it.

Let's talk about the characters for a bit.

The interesting thing about the Justice League is how much they have in common, character-wise, yet still are very different. All of them are idealists that genuinely believe their work makes a difference in the world, and though they all had different reasons for getting into the superhero business, they share similar morals and are optimistic about the future they are helping safeguard. So what are the differences?

Batman thinks of himself as Batman. He likes to plan for the worst, not because he expects it, but because he knows that it sometimes happens and believes in his ability to prevent it by being careful. Likes to keep an image as a stoic, loner badass because he thinks it helps him maintain the effectiveness of his solo vigilante work, but actually has a larger social network than everyone but Wonder Woman, who has been around pretty much forever. Likes children, though he isn't sure whether he wants to have any himself. Really doesn't like guns, not only because of his personal experiences, but also because they make it too easy to kill people, even by accident. Being Batman is like breathing to him.

Wonder Woman is the old granny of the superhero community and knows it. She's been in the business longer than anyone else, and has a very different social background. While not quick to resort to killing, being a strong believer in the value of mercy, she has done so in the past and will do so again if she has to and knows it. (Most of the others think they might if absolutely necessary, and do everything in their power to avoid it, but J'onn is the only other one who has actually had to.) Has a tendency to mother people she takes a liking to. She's the team's rock. Being Wonder Woman is a, largely self-appointed, duty that she takes pride in.

Superman doesn't know the limits of his own strength. He's never come up short yet, but he's very much aware that the day will probably come when his invulnerability will face something that it just can't handle. The first time he stepped in front of a gun, he was legitimately afraid that the bullet might kill him. He did it anyway. He's the team's heart, and the others tend to look to him for guidance even though the Justice League doesn't really have a leader. Being Superman is how he decided to make a stand for the things he believes in.

Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) used to be a rookie, but now has confidence in his abilities. Actively cultivates and employs his creativity whenever possible, because he considers it to be his greatest strength. Believes that his job means he will always keep running into the most horrible facets of the universe. He's right. He believes that this lets him make the universe a better place, and that the work he does is meaningful. He's right about that, too. Defers to the rest of the team, especially Superman. Being Green Lantern is a job to him. It's an important job that he takes pride in, but as far as he is concerned he's working in law enforcement rather than being a vigilante.

Martian Manhunter had to kill a crook to save his senior partner's life when he was a rookie cop on Mars. For a telepath, this is naturally a traumatic experience. But where others might have given up or flinched back, he accepted it and pressed forward, determining that he would advance his abilities to the point where he would never need to do the same thing again. He considers the ability to be merciful to any enemy reliant on his own strength. He's never had to take a life in the line of duty since. Has taken to Earth as his new home and tried to adapt. He's succeeded at the 'reading minds is an invasion of privacy' thing, but that hasn't done wonders for his social competence. Still working on body language and vocal intonation. He goes by Martian Manhunter because it just seems to be a thing that heroes on Earth do? It's not a disguise or anything, it's basically him just saying that he's an officer of the law from Mars.

The Flash likes to inject levity into conversation to serve as social lubricant, in part because super-speed makes awkward silences even more hellish than normal. Takes his superheroing really seriously, though he doesn't always act like it. He considers it a calling, and treats being the Flash as if it means he's part of a knightly order; he didn't claim the title until Jay Garrick said it was his, and that was the proudest moment of his life. Likes children, and he and his wife Iris plan on having them in the near future.


Green Lantern (Alan Scott) wrote the book on willpower, and considers it his greatest strength. Once he decides to do something, he does it. He's not the best physically, these days, but he's come to terms with a lot of the things that troubled him during his younger years which means he's probably better with his ring... but it's hard to tell, because he was always damn impressive. Was looking forward to living out his twilight years in peace, then going on to eternal rest and seeing all his loved ones in heaven, but recent events have lit a fire under him.

Chiyako Aburame wants to be awesome. She wants to be able to protect the people she cares about, have the fortitude to face both good times and bad with strength, and a Will of Fire to drive back the evil things in the world and set them on fire and make sure they never harm anyone ever again. Metaphorically. She's super nice, and would never dream of actually setting someone on fire. She might kill someone, but she'll never want them to be in pain. She's a bit of a crybaby, but she's very reliable: she'll never leave a friend in need wanting, no matter what inner turmoil she might be going through. Idolizes Shikako very obviously and unashamedly. By far the most childish of the mini-ninjas.

Hanabi Hyuuga wants to have enough strength to be kind. She doesn't think you can afford to present anything less than your strongest face unless you have other, more practical, varieties of strength to ensure you can't be taken advantage of and hurt. She's growing into a more nuanced position on the subject as she gets socialization outside of her clan. Very protective of the things and people that she cares about, like her sister (and much more recently, Chiyako). Thinks that the Caged Bird Seal is a sign of weakness on the part of the Main House, and wishes there was a less evil version that could be applied to everyone in the clan so the kidnapping attempts would stop (please, please, please stop). Thinks the world of her sister, and thinks that if Hinata just stood up for herself a little more, everyone else would also agree that Hinata is amazing. Respects Shikako because Hinata respects her, initially, now respects her and is grateful to her because of recent events. Is not nearly as grown up as she likes to pretend.

Shiho wants to be safe and useful. She's not jealous of the jounin-track ninja, but... it's more like she used to take them and what they did for the village for granted. She had a role which she was good at and was important and she never had to actually be in any danger but still got the benefits of being part of the military. That said, takes Konoha's ideals very much to heart. It never occurred to her to not try to protect Chiyako and Hanabi - they were children of Konoha and she was a ninja, so she would absolutely die for them if she had to. By most standards, she's actually a badass - she'd cut her way through most baseline normals with minimal difficulty. She's just really, really outclassed by the people around her. Her main problem with the current situation is that she isn't useful. The skills she's cultivated are totally inapplicable here, and she's desperate to be helpful in some fashion.

Shikako Nara doesn't have time spend on being scared. She has to keep moving, keep working, keep as many people alive as possible, make them as strong as possible, get as many of them as possible to work together. She has so little time. Less than three years now. We have to be ready. We have to save the world. (She stopped to help Chiyako just because she was a little girl who needed somebody, anybody, to be there and she decided that she would be that person. She protects the people she cares about. She has a strong moral code. She's a good person. But she's so damaged already... somebody needs to give this girl a hug.) She's a legitimate genius in many areas. Which is useful, because I can have her create a trans-universal portal in like two weeks and nobody questions it. And she's a combat specialist who focuses on shadows and sealing and high-impact ninjutsu which really means that she can make anything she touches explode in a variety of ways. Can transform into living shadow, and has learned to keep an illusion up that lets her appear to still be normal. From an outside point of view this occasionally makes her look like some sort of horror movie child.

Elementals 101:

Nekron and the Life Entity are major characters in this story. You get to see a lot of Nekron's thinking process, but I decided to keep what was driving the Life Entity a little more ambiguous. Writers are tricksy fiends that like making their audience figure things out. It makes us feel clever.

Before I explain about what was up with the Life Entity, a brief discussion about elemental psychology, all of which I more or less made up on the spot when I started this fanfic. People who read carefully probably guessed some or all of this, so keep score if you want to feel smart!

Elementals can be thought of as a sentient piece of reality shorn of all mitigating influence. They aren't rational actors as we understand it. Their mentality revolves around their source. In Chapter Three the Life Entity used the phrase 'in life's name and for life's sake'. In addition to being a shout-out to Young Wizards this is a good way to think about elemental reasoning.

That's how elementals think - they entirely base their actions on their source. The Life Entity preserves, nourishes and propagates life, because life. A fire elemental does the same thing for fire, because fire. They aren't rational actors, and don't let yourself be fooled into thinking the Life Entity has anything approaching a conventional system of morals; its interests merely tend to align with ours. Fire doesn't have to be evil to cause you pain.

But Nekron is conventionally evil in a lot of ways. He's going out of his way to twirl his Snidely Whiplash moustache as he heads off to murder every person in the universe. This isn't exactly standard elemental behavior. A fire elemental that burns a planet to ashes would be legitimately puzzled if you tried to explain why it shouldn't have done that, then probably set you on fire. Not because you insulted it; that's just what it is, what it does.

Elementals gain existence and power from thought. They are conceptual beings, and can't exist without concepts and thus without sentient beings. They more or less run the gamut from 'dumb as a brick' to 'hard to say it isn't sapient' depending on what their concept is, and Nekron and the Life Entity, who exist due to the birth and death of sentient life, are right at the top of the heap. (Order elementals tend to be pretty smart, but inflexible, while chaos elementals are mediocre but very flexible, in case you were wondering about Nabu.) Like all sentient beings, they have free will and self-determination; however, their value systems kind of keep them stuck in mental pigeonholes most of the time.

Recently, something mentally unbalanced Nekron, knocking him out of his normal mindset (which is why a being that's existed for billions of years is only doing this now). If I kept this story going, this would be something to follow up on, but since I'm not… um, maybe it could be Darkseid deciding to summon Nekron for a chat? Anyway, Nekron decided that he wasn't happy just hanging around in the Elemental Plane of Death anymore, he wanted to go out and kill people. He feels very entitled; shouldn't death be able to end all life? That's kind of what he's thinking.

The Life Entity is kind of a sanctimonious ass, to be honest. They've got this whole non-interference thing going, always claim to know what's going on better than anyone else, have absolutely no sympathy for other people's problems... To be fair, it usually is right, it causes fewer problems than almost every other elemental in existence, and it is on the side of the heroes of the story. That doesn't make it nice. (Nekron is going to be getting lots of therapy from it. Nekron doesn't have a choice. The Life Entity is helping. The Life Entity is never going to shut up until Nekron listens to it. There's nothing Nekron can do to stop it, and he knows this.)

I made a point of never having the Life Entity tell a lie. That doesn't mean it explained things clearly. This was part of my design philosophy for it.

How elementals interact with the world:

Through people. They can tie themselves to objects (like Nabu and the Helmet of Fate) but they can't act without a person, because they need a link between the conceptual and the physical. Typically this works out very badly. It's kind of a 'don't call up what you can't put down' sort of thing. It's a lot harder to get rid of one than it is to summon one.

In Chapter 4 I suggested that things could have gone… very badly. Zatara was seriously worried going into this, though he kept his composure. As for the line about fertility spirits and the like... whatever you are imagining, Zatara's experiences are probably worse. When you shorn a concept of all reason and unleash it upon the universe, it will absolutely to incredibly horrible things. Shikako is insanely lucky in how this whole thing turns out. Some varieties of life elemental would, for example, give everything in their radius horrific cancers or something. It's just what such creatures do. And Shikako might have thought it was worth that sort of thing if it stopped Nekron. She might even be right, as horrible as the thought is. But, there's a reason he wasn't as worried about the death elemental. There are much worse things than just dying in the magic business.

It is also possible, though requiring specific circumstances and a lot of effort, for an elemental to interact with the world by answering those who desire a bit of their power – but interacting with people like this gets very complicated. Before you know it you're answering priests rather than magicians, and their worship is actually shaping you over a couple hundred or thousand years and eventually you aren't really an elemental anymore. Not all gods come about like this (some are created in the same way the Emperor of Mankind from Warhammer 40k was, for example, among other possibilities) but some do.

How much a host influences the elemental:

Elementals aren't well-rounded beings. I'll come right out and say that the Life Entity had, most notably, no idea how to socialize or employ tactics in battle. It knows what people are thinking and feeling, but it's missing the ability to really put that together in a useful fashion. Since it doesn't interfere with the physical world, it never had cause or reason to learn. But Shikako's brain was right there, and it could just use her to fill in the blanks. There's a reason that the way Nekron got crushed mentally and physically in the last battle was a very ninja-like plan, and that's because it was pretty much Shikako thinking it up. To be clear, Shikako had no real agency while the Life Entity was using her as a meat suit, but she definitely colored the Life Entity's actions and even its priorities.

Nekron is in truth much less reliant on William Hand, though he does need William's body. Nekron is intimately knowledgeable about moments of death, and thus is a halfway decent fighter, planner, and can even fake being sociable. It helps that Nekron is much more interested in the physical plane than the Life Entity and has made an effort to expand his horizons.

But the host is largely just a vehicle for them. They focused on using their own powers and their host's physical capabilities, and there was only one point in the story where the Life Entity used Shikako's own powers: to completely nullify Nekron's final strike, allowing the Life Entity to utterly crush Nekron's belief in his superiority over her.

Nekron's final strike:

Nekron could never have damaged the White Light in any meaningful fashion - he could have, if things went absolutely completely perfectly for him, maybe dissipated that version of the Life Entity, though another one would have arisen more or less immediately. He could have done a lot of damage and killed a lot of people. And by a lot, I mean that if things went well he could have probably depopulated a galaxy or two before a sufficiently powerful force could come together and crush him. Most worlds would be lucky to have even a handful of Justice League level combatants. (William's body is his real limiter. If his host had been a Malthusian or something things would absolutely have gone more the route of the Blackest Night storyline.) It would be wrong to say that Nekron wasn't a threat, though he was never the kind of threat he wanted to be. He could certainly have hurt the Life Entity with that last attack (which the Life Entity let hit to prove a point), if it hadn't taken steps, though killing it was more or less a lost cause at that point.

But Shikako's shadow transformation technique easily prevented her from suffering real harm. She probably still would have lost a decade or two off her lifespan or something like that without being suffused with the White Light, but she was physically unharmed. (The Life Entity thought it itched a little.)

The Justice Society:

I don't recall when I decided they were going to have a role; I guess it was kind of inevitable what with Nekron's necromancy thing. I mean, who would have cared if Axis Amerika was turned into zombies? Maybe the Justice League would have felt extra justified about punching them in the face or something. And at least some of the audience is familiar with some of the JSA.

Alan Scott was always going to be alive. I don't read comics much these days, but I did read the JSA Darkness Falls storyline years back and the finale of the battle with Obsidian really stuck with me. That's one reason part of the story was set in Milwaukee, if you're wondering. Early on, I wasn't sure how I was actually going to get rid of the Life Entity at the end of the story, before I realized that its characterization more or less required it leaving on its own if I wanted to be consistent. I toyed with the idea of continuing the grand tradition of Alan Scott and other JSA heroes conveniently getting de-aged and heading off to new adventures, and the Life Entity would have been a good vehicle for that…

But Alan's getting on in years and doesn't really want to put off seeing his old friends and loved ones again for another three or four decades or something. He's not going to put the Ring away after this, and I imagine he'll be more involved with the newest generation, but he's definitely transitioning into a mentor-type character with Diana's encouragement.

When I was writing what became Chapter Four, I seriously considered playing coy about who the old man was. I would have left hints, but I could have made Alan's inevitable dynamic entry into the fight with Nekron (and perhaps the identity of the revenants) surprising. As clever as this would have made me feel, I decided against it because it would have required me to end with Alan fleeing the cemetery, which would have grossly misrepresented his character to an audience that might not have known better. It would have just ended up being a mess, and I decided that I should just be true to the characters rather than try to pull something clever and inevitably mess up.

If you're wondering what the current fates of the JSA members are, here's the long list:

Died and left bodies behind, got zombified by Nekron: Wesley Dodds (Sandman), Ted Knight (the original Starman), Kent Nelson (Doctor Fate), Charles McNider (Doctor Mid-Nite), Jason "Jay" Garrick (the original Flash), and Carter Hall (Hawkman).

Of the others, Albert "Al" Pratt (the original Atom) and Terrence "Terry" Sloane (the original Mr. Terrific) were killed in ways that left no remains, Dinah Drake-Lance (the original Black Canary) and Ted Grant (Wildcat) are alive but quite geriatric (and Dinah's cancer prognosis isn't looking good), Rex Tyler (the original Hourman) was trapped in a region of frozen time to save his life, Abigail "Ma" Hunkel (the original Red Tornado) is the curator of the JSA museum in her old age, Jim Corrigan (the Spectre) was released from his duties and his soul has gone on to eternal peace (no one is entirely sure what happened to the body) and we've already seen what's become of Alan Scott (the original Green Lantern) and Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman).

Johnny Thunder wasn't part of the JSA because I can't think of any reasonable way to not have a character with super luck and an all-powerful genie not break the entire setting in half. (To be fair, DC couldn't manage it well either.)

Kyle Rayner as a White Lantern:

Well, it happened in DC canon, and the possibility was obliquely suggested at several points in this story. In-universe, the potential kick-off for this will be coming up soon after his arrival on Oa after the events of this story. It isn't a guaranteed thing, but it's likely enough that the Life Entity bothered leaving that flower with Alan.

I'm not sure how it would play out, because I really haven't given much thought to the Guardians of the Universe in this universe, and they'd play a rather large role in the story. The more sane and effective the Guardians are portrayed as, the more likely Kyle is to feel that staying part of the Corps will allow him to do more good than heading off on a quest to master the full Spectrum – so if I portray the Guardians positively, there would need to be a pressing danger forcing Kyle down this path.

The crux of the storyline would be a question of how important his humanity is to him. Being able to use one Ring already separates him mentally from those around him, but Green is the color that least changes him. Wielding each Light is a devastating psychological blow from one direction or another, and it would become clear that if he continues down this path he would become a very different person than he was at the beginning… Or die in the process. Or worse.

If he actually gets to the point where he uses the White Light, he wouldn't be back to normal. He'd be something else.

Were I to actually write that storyline out, I'm honestly not sure that I'd have him go through with it.

What the ninjas got from this:

Character development, some science books, and potentially someplace to try to run away to if everything goes to hell back home. I briefly toyed with the idea that Shikako might get something more than that, but it was never really likely. This experience changed Shikako, and somewhat for the better. She'll have to achieve the rest on her own.

Other thoughts:

As a result of the 'extremely orthodox magic missile' line from Chapter 5, I find that I now headcanon this version of Superman as a tabletop gamer. Like, maybe when he was in college he found that sports weren't his thing because he had to hold back too much, and he got into the tabletop RPG thing to socialize and found he liked stretching his creative muscles. These days, he tends to take the Dungeon Master role, and runs very inventive but somewhat fiendish campaigns that require players to really come together as a team to succeed. I wonder where he gets his source material from...

He tried getting the Justice League into it once, but the Queen of Fables (Wonder Woman villain with story powers) got involved and nobody talks about that week anymore.

It didn't really fit into the story, but he's going to have a foolish enemy sorcerer screw up a summoning in his next campaign. If the players fail to stop his chant before it finishes, the spell will appear to fizzle, but the character closest to the ritual circle will actually be possessed after a certain amount of time unless they manage to realize what is happening to them and take steps/pass a difficult will save. But even then, they'll have to hurry to figure out a way to stop it from coming back. If an enemy NPC is closest to the circle and manages to survive, he can try to spin them into a recurring villain. Clark figures it'll be a good subplot if it works out.

Another thing I might have added, but didn't, was a scene wherein the JSA members had their ashes interred. But I figure it would probably take a while to repair the cemetery, cremate the bodies, gather everyone for a ceremony… and then I figure a lot of readers would be left wondering who all these people were and why I was introducing them in the epilogue.

I could have added a bunch of stuff to the epilogue, probably, but I wanted to strike a balance between not tying up all the loose ends and bloating it. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

The ending:

I thought carefully about what I wanted the last lines to be. I wanted to wrap it up neatly and not have to continue for any significant length of time once they went home, yet also assure the readers that everything worked out okay.

So, Kakashi's there. Shikako's safe. Everything is going to be alright.

I think, from the reception, that I got that part right.

In conclusion:

Before editing, this project was about 28,000 words long, and took me a week from start to finish. After editing, more like 34,000 excluding these design notes. I went into this with the goal of writing a story that was for the most part complete and self-contained, and indeed the events herein drew to a close with Shikako's return home. Shikako stayed in the DC universe long enough that I could probably have stuck another short episode in there, but I had already told the story I was aiming to tell. Any further adventures are the product of speculation, and not something I'm currently planning to expand (though anyone interested is welcome to try).

This is the first full-length story arc I've written in years, and I'm pleased with the reception, especially since if you actually describe what fandom this falls under it sounds really, really niche. Anyone with further questions, just log in and leave a review so I can get back to you, or else send me a PM. Everyone who has read this far, thank you for your interest!

I'll dig out my notes on Graceful Degradation next weekend; hopefully I'll have some more of that for you before the end of the summer. Sorry for leaving everyone hanging indefinitely on that.

Finally, I'd like to thank Silver Queen for letting other authors play with her characters.