"The information has already been released to a point that we can no longer hope to contain it," Batman informed me as I stumbled out of my bedroom, bleary-eyed and mentally exhausted. It was a long night, comforting Mom and talking. Mom wanted him buried with her family, but proper funerals were a thing of the past now. Not enough room for graveyards. Cremation was the most common now. The only real alternative, really.

I promised that Dad would get a proper burial. In his will he wanted to be buried under a plum blossom tree for it to grow from. I was going to make it happen. No matter what.

"Hm?" I grunted, looking at Batman and despite nearly looking the same as he ever did, I noticed slight differences in his posture. His skin was paler than normal. He smelled like copper, dust, sweat, and lead. Even his heart rate was pretty fast in comparison to the resting BPMs of my own heart and Mom's.

"The Heavenly White Tiger Fist secrets," Batman clarified, his tone clipped. I blinked at that and grunted again, stepping past him to head into the kitchen. "The main sources have been eliminated, but it has reached a self perpetuating stage. Black websites have taken to reposting it in public forums and host sites. The information is fundamentally dangerous."

"And I let them be released," I remarked, dragging a hand down my face as I went about making a cup of coffee.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Ren," Batman spoke up, the clipped tone fading for but a moment. "I didn't know your father well and that is my regret. By all standards, he was a great man."

But Batman was also here with a purpose. I had a night to sleep on what happened - Ming-Yue and my dad. And letting Jin release the secrets. I thought I would lament my decision - or, rather, lack of action, in the future at that moment. However, now that the future was here, I found something surprising.

I didn't.

"It is," I agreed, letting the pot drip as I turned around to look at Batman, who wore a frown on his face. He was willing to cut me some slack, I think. But that slack was on the condition that I showed some level of remorse. "I don't disagree with Jin."

"Not disagreeing and agreeing are fundamentally different things," Batman noted, and he was right about that. I would say that I agreed with Jin. I just didn't disagree with her. Not exactly. "This will lead to chaos, Ren. Normal people getting their hands on martial arts that's more dangerous than any gun. People suffering at the hands of those with power."

Like with Jin, I didn't disagree with Batman either. "I know," I admitted, matching his frown.

"It wasn't your call to make," Batman continued, his voice even. His tone told me that I was in trouble, but he didn't want to yell. If reminded me of Dad. A little too much, to be honest. He wouldn't yell or shout - he'd just look at you like he was dissapointed, told me in no uncertain terms that I fucked up, then told me to learn from it. I hated it growing up. Mostly because I was a stupid kid. Now…

"I'm not sure if it's anyone's call to make," I responded, digging my heels in. That caught Batman's attention, and he clearly wanted an elaboration. "If it was a couple of months ago? Before the Disaster? Then… yeah. I'd agree with you. Full stop. But, whether we like it or not, the world is different now. I think we need to look at what the world is instead of looking back at the good ol' days."

Batman went silent at that. The only source of noise in the kitchen was the coffee maker that made a pot. Grabbing it, I grabbed a mug and poured myself a cup. Cream and sugar. Life was short and bitter, so at the very least, coffee needed to be sweet. As I took my first sip, Batman spoke, "You've accepted that there's no going back."

Based on how he said that, it sounded like he was saying 'you too.'

"I think so," I admitted. Maybe it was possible. Maybe I could do it. Maybe Timothy could. Maybe, maybe, maybe. "If we find a way? Then great, but I'm done holding my breath for one. Can't live in the present if you're looking at the past." I took the moment to pour Batman a cup of coffee as well, sliding him the creamer and sugar. "I don't think there's was ever going to be a good way to bring cultivation to the wider public. Every possibility has its own set of problems."

Teaching it to heroes first and foremost? You're teaching it to people that already have a degree of power. Teach it to government agencies - the police? Military? Yeah, like that wasn't ever going to be abused. Sects? There was a real good example of why that was a fucking terrible idea summarized in two words - Song Dynasty.

No matter what, there were going to be problems. Issues. Abuses in power.

"But that's why we're here, right? To pick up the mess?" Maybe releasing it to the public wasn't the tidiest way to deliver it, but in the world that we lived in, normal people should have access to skills that could save their life. Not everyone was born with the metagene or magic or were the offshoot of a long line of cultivators. People needed to be able to save themselves in this brave new world we found ourselves in.

"You've given this a degree of thought," Batman allowed himself, admitting that he wasn't going to grill me for thoughtless action. Or inaction. And while he may not agree with me, I also didn't think he disagreed.

"Hm," I grunted, taking a long sip of my coffee. "I'm going to start teaching a little about what I know. Foot techniques. Breathing techniques too," I told him outright, my tone telling him that I wasn't asking for permission. "I'll either continue my Dad's Sect or… I dunno. Could do online classes."

"People will abuse your techniques," Batman warned.

"I know," I agreed. That was just human nature when you came right down to it. What was the first thing I did when I got power? I posted a very unflattering video about myself to take advantage of people's outrage. It was natural for people to take something and try to leverage what they could out of it. "But I can't be so afraid of how it could be used that I don't let it be used for what it's intended - to protect people."

"Before you commit to anything," Batman returned after a moment of silence. "Take some time. Let yourself grieve. Throwing yourself into a project such as this so early on won't be healthy."

Part of me knew that he was right about that. Even retail stores had time for bereavement. Another part of me wanted to throw myself into establishing the sect, striking while the iron was hot. I hesitated before I offered a nod, and I'm pretty sure that Batman knew I was lying. If he did, he chose not to call me out on it. Instead, he returned the nod before he took the glass of coffee and knocked it back in one long go.

"If you need anything, Ren… then please talk to us. The Justice League is never too busy," Batman finished before he turned on a heel and stalked his way out of the door completely soundlessly. Only when I heard the door closing behind him that a sigh escaped me as a hand ran through my hair.

That went about as well as I had any hope that it would. Knew the conversation was coming. Be a lie to say that I prepared myself mentally for it, but I saw it coming and it didn't turn out so badly. As far as I knew, I guess. I finished off my cup as well, taking care of the dishes before I followed it up with a shower and brushing my teeth. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror, knowing that I would look exhausted.

I could hear Mom softly breathing in her room, telling me that she was still asleep. That was good. I had to go out and prepare the grounds for Dad's funeral. Made a promise.

Getting dressed in a pair of slippers, track pants, and a hoodie, I held out a hand for Gluttony to crawl into before heading out the door to find that Batman wasn't the only one looking to ambush me. Zatanna leaned on the railing, looking so alarmed by my arrival that she forgot whatever she wanted to say. I offered a slight smile, trying to reassure her, but I think that made her more unsteady than anything.

"Ren, are you- I mean, I know you're not alright, but-" she cut herself off twice in rapid succession, looking away for a second before her gaze snapped to me when she heard me chuckle.

"I'm going to be okay," I told Zatanna. I wasn't quite there yet, but I would be. "Were you waiting for me?"

"No- well, yeah, but not for anything. I was just…" Zatanna tried, realizing that she was getting tongue tied, paused, then took a breath. "Can I do anything? Everyone wants to be here, but we thought we should give you some time. And space. Sorry." She added, when she realized standing outside my door waiting for me wasn't exactly either. As far as ambushes went, this was a fair bit more preferable than the one Batman dropped on me.

Reaching out with a hand, I gave hers a squeeze, "I'm going to be okay, Zatanna. Really." I repeated, trying to get her to believe it. I didn't want to be treated like I was made out of glass. "Just heading out. Do… you know where Jin is?" I asked, starting to head down the stairs with Zatanna following close behind, hovering.

She shook her head as we reached the bottom of the stairs and I looked around to see that the living room was completely empty. Last I saw her, she was here. "Jin is being interrogated. Then she's going back to prison," she added. I made a sound of acknowledgment. I'm not sure I could say that I actually liked Jin - I knew I didn't as a person - but I was thankful for her. Failed or not, she tried to protect my Dad and lost an eye doing it. I didn't have to like her to respect her.

"Let's see how long that last this time," I muttered to myself, heading to the Zeta-Tube. I was starting to doubt that there was a prison that could hold Jin if she didn't want to leave.

"Can I come with you?" Zatanna questioned, her tone cautious. Clearly she wanted to, but wasn't sure if I wanted her to. It was tempting to say no. I'm not entirely sure I was going to make great company at the moment. But, I offered a shrug.

"If you want to," I decided, inputting a destination. "I'm heading out of the safe havens, though," I added, inputting the command for Happy Harbor. The Zeta-Tube made the connection and I glanced over my shoulder to see that Zatanna was nodding, coming along. "Need to pick up some things," I answered an unspoken question before heading into the Zeta-Tube itself.

In a flash of light, I appeared inside of the Mountain. It felt like it had been ages since I stepped foot here. Everything was dark, even to my eyes, telling me that there wasn't a spec of light to be seen. The air felt a bit stale, and when I walked over to flick the lightswitch on, I saw that the living room was covered in a fine layer of dust. Zatanna made a noise of interest, looking around the mountain with almost nostalgic eyes.

"Feel's like its been forever since we were last here," Zatanna echoed my thoughts. There was little point in lingering since the mountain was already cleared out. Happy Harbor was a little too far off from the centers of action - the havens - to maintain a presence. The Zeta-Tube remained online because of convenience, but the Mountain returned to what it was before the Team. Inactive and all but forgotten.

"It's only been a couple of months," I agreed, heading to one of the exits. I was half surprised that I didn't have some nest of insects or a giant bird in something inside. A good surprise, certainly, just a surprise. "Feels like a lot longer," I continued, the bulkhead door sliding open and a sea side breeze swept into the Mountain, stirring the stale air. I breathed in deeply, going to the ledge of an outcropping that gave us a perfect view of the beach with Happy Harbor off in the distance.

"It's quiet," Zatanna realized. It was. Eerily so. In the havens, there was so many people packed into them that there was always some kind of noise. Now, the closest person to me in a hundred miles was Zatanna, and she was silently basking in the view alongside me. But, far beyond the beach, in Happy Harbor itself, I noticed an unnatural outcropping. Something that didn't belong to a building or the city.

"Hold on," I told Zatanna, wrapping an arm around her waist, giving her a moment to hold onto me before I flash stepped. The increase in stats made themselves known. In a single step, I moved from the Mountain to the heart of Happy Harbor, perfectly aware of my surroundings as I moved. I stood on top of a convenience store and I realized that the outcropping had been the high school that we converted into a shelter during the disaster.

Only now it had changed into something else. An anthill based on the looks of things. The ants that came and went through the tunnels that were weaved through the school that was slowly being buried underneath whatever ant made their hills out of were smaller. Roughly the size of a large bear - so still way too big for comfort, but not as big as some of the goliaths that were created during the Disaster. The ants were building wide and up. The anthill would be the size of the Mountain by the time that they were done. A childish impulse bade me to kick the anthill over, but I ignored it.

Wasn't here for a fight.

Flash stepping again, I arrived with Zatanna in tow to stand before the small house that I lived in for a handful of months. Looked far worse for wear than when we first moved in, I had to say. Mostly because the front half of the building looked like it was stepped on. Along with my motorbike. That sucked. Swallowing a sigh, I walked forward, stepping into the building and feeling almost like an intruder. My parents bedroom was mostly intact, even if the ceiling was caving in and sagging.

"You didn't get your things after?" Zatanna questioned and I shook my head, going to a dresser and letting Gluttony swallow the contents without really looking at them.

"Nah. Felt like there was never time, and they're just things, you know? I think Mom wanted the old photo albums, but not enough to send us here to get them," I said, looking for them. I never touched the photo albums without Mom bringing it out first, so I never knew where she put it. Gluttony scooted under the bed to gobble up whatever he found before turning his attention to the nightstands. Zatanna lingered by the door, not stepping in until I opened up the closest.

Bunch of clothes, mostly Mom's, but on a rack were a bunch of books. Grabbing them, I realized that they were the photo albums. Cracking it open to a random page, I was so distracted by the pictures that I didn't even notice that Zatanna had appeared behind me. "You were a goofy looking kid," Zatanna teased, looking at a photo of me when I was around eight. Goofy looking was a big generous, to be honest. But I seemed happy.

So did Dad.

"I'm sure your kid photos won't be much better," I remarked, feeding the photo album to Gluttony. Zatanna let out a scoffing sound, but a glance at her face told me that I would never see any pictures of her as a kid if she had anything to say about it. Letting Gluttony let loose, I started to walk away until I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Next to the doorframe, in the edge where the wall met was a thin, hardly noticeable, line.

A hidden panel.

Near effortlessly, a finger dug through the drywall and ripping it to the side. Inside the compartment was a long but narrow box that was tied off with a red ribbon that had a note posted to it. Dad's handwriting - damn near perfect calgrifity that spelled out 'Ren.' swallowing a lump in my throat, I grabbed the letter and unfolded it.

If you've found this and I'm still alive, then you shouldn't be poking around your parents' things. Put this back where you found it and pray that I don't notice.

If you've found this, and I am dead, then well done. I don't know the circumstances of my death, nor does it truly matter. What matters is the love I hold for you and your mother. It pains me to think that one day I will not be there, but in this world, nothing is certain. The future least of all.

This letter is not to inform you of my regrets or lament what could be. Know that while I do have them, they are only that I will not be there to see the man you shall become. The last thing I can provide for you as your father is a tool to carry you into the future. A sword that once belonged to our ancestors, stolen on the night that I left the compound.

I hope it serves you well, my son. Use it wisely. And should you fail, know that failure is a lesson in wisdom should you choose to learn.

-Xin Song

"Dad did love his fortune cookie wisdom," I muttered under my breath. I heard less of it after getting shot. Mostly because the lessons would change- huh. At the base of the compartment was a fishbowl that was full of fortune cookie sayings. Son of a bitch. Dad seriously was pulling the wisdom out of actual fortune cookies. Despite it all, folding the letter and tucking it in my pocket, I found myself smiling ever so slightly as I took a dust covered black box out. Undoing the ribbon and popping open the top.

Inside was a Jian sword. A little longer than the one I saw Jin fighting with. The handle was wrapped in black leather, but the metal of the pommel was white in hue while the sheath itself was black. Picking it up, I slid it out of the sheath to find that it was a milky white long double edged blade. It felt nice in my hand and I felt oddly terrified holding it. I didn't have a great track record with swords. Pretty sure that I was thirty to zero at this point.

I almost didn't want to use it. The idea of breaking it like I have with literally every sword I've had so far wasn't a pleasant thought. But, giving it an experimental twirl, I Reinforced the blade and I felt it just… absorb the Qi that flowed into it. Almost like it was a sponge. Huh.

"... Are you okay, Ren?" Zatanna questioned, standing at the doorway, her expression concerned.

I took a bracing breath and nodded, sliding the blade back into the sheath. "I'm good," I returned, this time meaning it. A knot of tension that had been building in me was unleashed with the letter and the sword. I had been there when he died. Didn't get to hear his final words. Didn't get to say goodbye. But the letter helped. My mind settled, breathing was a little easier, and I only realized how unsettled my mind had been when it cleared up. Mostly because of the presence that I sensed slowly making its way towards us.

Haki was pretty weird. It wasn't something that I was used to feeling yet, but it was almost like… light? Kind of like there was a shining light in the corner of my eye and, apparently, I was listening to the soul of whatever the light? Which got complicated because there were a shit ton of lights, they were just less bright. The one that was coming felt… angry. Bitter. Cheated, almost? It was a bit muddled since I was hearing a sight.

"I got what we came for," I told Zatanna, brushing past her. She didn't seem like she believed me, but that wasn't the point. I still had a few boxes to check off before heading back. She followed me out as I jumped out of the building, looking left…

I suspected what I was going to see before I saw it. "It's you," I remarked as a twelve foot tall praying mantis walked down the broken asphalt road. It certainly looked different since the last time I saw it when the Disaster first began, but there was no mistaking the creature that used my arm as a one up mushroom. It was taller, for one. Its exoskeleton was a dark red that almost seemed black in the early morning light. Torso was bulkier, as were the legs.

Biggest change was the extra pair of arms underneath the ones that I knew could pop out supersonic speeds.

The praying mantis hissed in response, clearly recognizing me as well. This wasn't the reunion I had been hoping for if I had to reunite with anyone. Guppy had been missing in action since the Disaster and I refused to believe that he got eaten by some jumped up insect.

Seemed like a good time to test out the new sword as any. Feeding the sheath to Gluttony, who seemed overjoyed by the meal, I Reinforced the blade, but not myself. The fight between us last time had been a hard-pressed one but given that I lost an arm during the encounter, it felt safe to say that I lost that round. Things were clearly different for the two of us since we last ran into each other.

"Ren?" Zatanna questioned, but I ignored her for now. The praying mantis seemed cautious, but its soul betrayed its eagerness. I knew the exact moment it was going to lunge for me even before it had a chance to. The monster shot forward, launching itself at me at high speeds. There was a crack as the asphalt and the sound barrier shattered and in an instant, it was directly in front of me, lashing out with all four arms at once.

My expression didn't so much as twitch as I stepped out of the way of the attacks even before they arrived. It felt like I had all the time in the world too. The displaced air pressure from the attacks was so sharp and powerful that it tipped through a sedan parked on the side of the road like it was made of wet tissue paper.

It wasn't even close, I thought to myself, swinging upward and with a single slice, the praying mantis lost all four of its arms. It reared back, an awful sounding screech escaping from its mouth that I silenced by taking its head. The entire exchange lasted barely more than a second.

I flicked bug guts off of my blade before looking at Zatanna, offering a satisfied smile as she cautiously removed the hands from her ears.

"Let's get out of here. No point in staying."