Stealing Life Through the Skies
Zatara Manor – 8:51 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
"Say that you move into a new home or apartment and reside there for an extended period of time. The basic structural elements and general usages of the items that you place within the domicile will remain largely unchanged but every living creature is ingrained with a determination to reshape or adjust their environments to fit the needs and desires that they assemble throughout their very existences. Just as an expectant mother cardinal will expand and deepen the base of their nests to provide room and greater comfort for their hatchlings, creatures who are able to employ and manipulate supernatural energy can either consciously or unconsciously employ this energy to reshape the very devices that allow them to draw the comfort and emotional clarity required to summon the strength of will to pull off feats that others without such power would believe to be impossible. One could even consider it as an extrapolation of an illusionist designing their props to manipulate the audience into believing that the impossible is possible. These preparations enable them to grow more comfortable with the feat they wish to perform and it is that thirst for familiarity and assurance that is the very basis of supernatural transference."
Naomi Mitchell interrupted her explanation to cast her glance about the room to examine the others that were sitting around the table. Noting Jason Blood's obvious boredom, the patient interest on the expressions of Lloyd, Roy and Zatanna, and the utter befuddlement that seemed to radiate from Eddie's glimmering tawny eyes, the doctor identified nothing unexpected of note and returned to her work.
"Please bear in mind that this practice is not merely limited towards the reshaping of items that are integral to the role of casting magic," the Oxford graduate tactfully mentioned while running the flat of her left hand across her shoulder to smooth out a minute ruffle that had cropped up along her white blouse. "Lloyd, you mentioned Stephanie's continued coagulation between her Oan power ring and her altering physiology? Though I am not an expert on the instruments of the Green Lanterns I can safely hypothesize that Robin was equipped with enough will power, the fuel that ignites the nucleus of the ring's base of energy as it were, to subconsciously craft a more efficient way of dispersing her supernatural energy. It would be no different than a wizard crafting a stave or wand to serve as a focal point for gathering the energy to perform a feat that they could not accomplish otherwise or, to bring the metaphor full circle, expanding a bookshelf to hold more books or moving a chair or table that you would believe would look nicer someone else."
"A suitable explanation, if utterly devoid of any description of the eldritch undertakings involved or anything outside humanity's forced compliance with science and principles."
Still well within her own secure milieu, Naomi raised her eyebrows at Jason Blood's dubious retort and felt quite equal to the gentleman that was several millennia her senior. "Or let us use Mister Blood's linkage with the greater demon Etrigan as an example," she said simply with only a hint of tart. "Mister Blood knows enough of supernatural combat to recognize that restrictive attire like the expensive suits he tends to wear can be detrimental in combat. That is why his demonic half employs loose-fitting attire that allows for greater dexterity and comfort when performing black magic. Jason clearly fears, or is at least nervous of, any window of opportunity that allows Etrigan to gain greater control over his body than it is already allowed and thusly he seeks environments and situations that allow him confinement and control. He prefers living in simple apartment lofts rather than employing his boundless fortune to buy a mansion or other sprawling residence. He keeps his emotions inward and dispenses them in unsavory fashions to avoid allowing grander examples to escape and thus offer greater room for a creature with far greater emotional wherewithal."
There was more than a hint of pride in Lloyd's smirk as he watched Jason stiffen with each true statement. Still, to the elder enchanter's credit, the human host of Etrigan calmly undid a single button on the cuff of his right wrist and the relenting gesture forced The Black Dog to rein in a chuckle. "Okay. So that's all we need to know about how it could happen," Lloyd pointed out as he watched Blood place his palms on the table. "The question now is if it's happened and that's why Luthor and Sabbac are so interested in the blade."
Naomi made certain to look straight away at the boy she had watched grow into a man and communicated what was necessary with a sour smile. "Vincent always had a more visceral approach as it came to the magic given to him by his demon, Lloyd. Magical transference requires a degree of cognitive clarity that I don't believe that he could ever achieve." The doctor watched the truth hit close to Lloyd's heart and the sight felt like a punch to her gut. To think that a child who had been through so much could have that kind of loyalty in a monster that had stolen so much from him. . . "There is also the matter that any creature who would imbue supernatural force within something other than his own vessel must have the confidence to believe that those who could gain access to that object would use it for purposes that they would approve of. Vincent never felt any reason to trust anyone and thus it is highly unlikely that he would have taken such a gambit even if he were capable of doing so."
"Then maybe his demon was the responsible party," Zatanna reasoned as she placed her elbows on the luxuriant dining table, her tanned limbs mixing awkwardly with the purely black oak. "I know the enchantments that Immanuel Lugae placed on these demons were pretty strong but maybe the creature within Vincent finally found a way to gain a foothold?"
Naomi resolutely shook her head from one side then back to the other. "Highly unlikely. Let us not dismiss the most likely possibility, ladies and gentlemen. The Kikuichi-monji was a blade crafted by nothing less than history's most renowned master of the forge. The sheer bulk of eldritch force required to simply craft the katana would make it a valuable weapon."
"Well, if there is truly foreign energy within the blade and we have no way of being certain about its potency then all we discuss here is speculation," Jason Blood said rather casually. "However, I would be interested in discussing the matter of the demon that inhabited this Vincent Culp. I am afraid that Etrigan only knows of passing tales that were rendered to fables for children while I have even less to draw from."
All eyes turned back to Naomi as the scholar moved the tip of her tongue against her teeth while carefully picking her words. "Mister Blood, I am afraid that Lugae was the expert as it came to the origin of the demons he employed within his experiments. What little that I could pull from my position as project supervisor was mostly limited to the tales that your demonic half was told thousands of years ago." Looking somewhat dismayed to be on shaky ground after so much time in the metaphorical sunlight, the doctor's face grew another shade paler than her already snow-white countenance while tucking an errant strand of black hair back behind her left ear. "The demon implanted within Vincent Culp was a powerful spirit of vengeance appointed to punish creatures and entities that strayed from ushering the souls of the damned into Dabura's nether dimensions."
"Woah, woah, woah," Roy butted in, the red-headed sharpshooter almost looking relieved that he could bring something relevant to the current discussion. "So what you're saying is that this was a demon that was assigned to punish angels?"
"For lack of a better term, yes," Naomi affirmed, her confidence slowly resurfacing in spite of being well aware of what needed to be said next. "Of course, demonic scholars would be far more interested in facts and stories that existed within their primordium of the mortals. Given its unique obligation, the handfuls of records that could be preserved throughout the millennia could offer little elucidation and had not even bothered to name the entity. In fact, I'm afraid that if you're going to want any information about this creature's history then your best possible source is Morrigan Aensland."
Lloyd was already groaning and slumping back in his seat even as Kid Devil leaned forward in his. "Um, is this anybody I should know about," the crimson-skinned Teen Titan asked even while shifting a curious gaze back at his fellow half blood.
"Perhaps the eldest creature on the surface world that still makes her presence known to mortals and immortals alike," Jason Blood provided, the sorcerer's smugness briefly rearing its ugly head in the wake of the dismay of his contemporaries. "I believe that she has a great deal of history with both The Condemner and Mister Thomas."
The realization hit Roy even as Eddie remained blissfully unaware. "Heyyyy, this is the same Morrigan chick that you always get worried about coming across whenever we go to Saizeru, right?" Arsenal asked while popping his beleaguered buddy on the shoulder. "She's the one who wants to jump your bones!"
"Well, I would hope that it would have a little bit more to do with it than that!" Zatanna exclaimed, her pithy candor prompting The Black Dog to wonder which of the potentially guilty parties she was speaking to in such a depreciatory manner. "Roy, Morrigan Aensland is the world's oldest succubus. She's managed to exist for a thousand lifetimes by feeding off the intense emotions of humans and demons alike. And, well, I would imagine that a human empowered by something as ancient and potent as The Condemner might look like a pretty tasty morsel to her." The sorceress noticed that Lloyd's glare now had some hints of good humor and she looked right back at the half-demon with pursed lips. "She also keeps the wells stocked by heading up the most prominent prostitution racket for anybody with a flavor for the supernatural."
"P. . . pro. . . prostitutes?" Eddie Bloomberg all but squeaked, the teen's already scarlet cheeks now turning a faint shade of pink at the prospect. "And. . . and we're going to see them?"
"Indeed we are," Jason Blood replied with a curl of his lip. "Of course, how much you will see shall most likely depend on how much money you're willing to spend."
"Well, praise be to Saint Wayne and a healthy monthly stipend," Roy threw in with a smirk and a hearty clap of his hands. "Oh, wait. Hold on a second. Her operation is all legal, right?"
"About as legal as anything involving the supernatural can be," Zatanna said airily, the witch already aware enough of the exploits of Roy's adoptive father to avoid being shocked by anything Arsenal was claiming to want to do. "Still, I think Naomi and I will stay behind here and keep an eye on things in case something goes wrong." Sporting a winning smile the witch was quick to add, "Besides, this will give you boys a chance to bond."
"I'M NOT BONDING WITH ANYONE!" Eddie shouted back, his tone so loud and defensive that the half-demon may as well have been a skunk raising its tail. "I've got a girlfriend!"
"Then perhaps you should telephone Miss Wilson and inform her of your future whereabouts," Jason Blood suggested while rising to his feet. "I am certain that a girl that willingly calls herself The Ravager would doubtlessly possess the poise and emotional reserve required to understand your frighteningly heavy burden."
Finding no sympathy from Lloyd's pensive frown, Naomi and Zatanna's aggrieved smiles, Roy's toothy grin or Jason's retreating back, Eddie found himself forced to turn to his final option. Thankfully, said "option" was looking right back at him with a patient gaze.
"There is no way that this can be a healthy way for a kid to grow up."
A half-empty glass of carrot juice planted firmly between her chubby hands, Lian merely shrugged her shoulders before leaping from her chair and dashing back into the innards of the manor.
San Francisco – Titans Tower – 6:02 P.M. Pacific Standard Time
The image in front of Kara presented a familiar figure not just in who it approximately represented but in how it so accurately symbolized two of the planet's most pivotal ideological figures over the past quarter of a century. She could easily identify the physical attributes that easily confirmed that the young man had inherited a great deal from Kal-El. There were the blue eyes that were several shades darker than the nearly translucent tint of sapphire pools that had nearly become a trademark of The House of El, the bulky but still efficient figure of the six-foot-two, 220-pound teenager whose impressive frame still somehow managed to look starved and hungry for even denser masses of muscle and sinew, and the thick, black hair cut short in a manner that allowed it to trickle down softly against the bridge of his forehead and the tip of his neck. To find the other half of the equation was a wee bit trickier but Kara managed to discern the rounded forehead and long fingers that seemed to be designed for stretching forward and snatching everything the world had to offer. There was also a hungry glow tucked away at the corner of the man's eyes, a flicker that presented the possibility of greed and hatred and things that didn't even seem to be part of the noble Last Son of Krypton.
"I know you met him on a handful of occasions but let me take some time to tell you a little bit about Connor Kent," Victor Stone began again, his pronounced chin flexing and tilting upward as he radiated the importance of his words. "This kid first started to make waves after that knockdown, drag out brawl with Doomsday that put your cousin into a severe, months long coma. Of course, at the time everybody thought that Superman was dead and so S.T.A.R. Labs figured that it was the best time to unveil what they had been working on: a teenaged clone of Superman. He couldn't match the feats or capture the hearts and minds of the public like who he was made out of but Connor learned how to play his part. He became Superboy."
Cyborg wordlessly swapped the images on the nearby screen to photographs of newspaper clippings that briefly depicted some of the more noteworthy highlights of Superboy's career. "He spent some time on his own but eventually he found some other folks in capes and tights that he could get along with and that's how Young Justice came into being. Then when all that got blown to bits a couple years later he joined up with the Titans along with Cassandra Sandsmark and Tim Drake and the three of them went a long way towards proving that they could handle the responsibilities that came along with their power."
Kara blinked and the next image was on the screen. It was a press photograph of the original roster that Cyborg had brought together at a time when teenaged vigilantes were on the verge of becoming an endangered species. The half-Praxian couldn't help but smile as she was offered a cheerful glimpse of people she had come to know like Cassandra, Tim, and Victor before her gaze fell on Connor and another young gentleman whose presence prompted her to let out a pained sigh. She took a moment to look back at The Flash and saw what the speedster probably hoped would look like an expressionless stare but she could make out the creases over by the outer edges of his eyes where he couldn't hide his regret. She knew her friend was trying to avoid the jubilant expression on Bart Allen's face and how the golden lightning that wreathed around his yellow and red uniform stood dull and still in a manner that the former Kid Flash had rarely ever achieved while he was still among the living.
"Well, it turns out that somebody else had their own agenda when it came to what my team was meant to represent," Cyborg continued on with a scowl as he shifted the images once again. "I would still love to know how he managed to keep it all under wraps but the man who was truly at the control of Connor Kent's creation was Lex Luthor. The psycho even went so far as to include his own genes to make sure that Superboy was just as much a progeny of him as he was Superman's. Not only that but Lex eventually got together with Brainiac and used Connor as a sleeper agent in their attempt to wipe out two generations of superheroes in one fell swoop. Connor would eventually manage to break free of Lex's control but some of us found it damn hard to trust him again."
"Until the battle at Metropolis with Alexander Luthor's forces," Kara said dully, the warrior not wanting Victor to have to recount more painful memories than he had to. "When Connor was killed by Doomsday."
There was a flicker of relief on Cyborg's face as he turned to Kara and nodded. "And I'm guessing that Luthor was mightily angered by the fact that he had no way of stopping his own creation from being destroyed. Still, at least he could find somewhere to place the blame. Now I don't know if Lex harbored any kind of affection for Superboy but I know he's the kind of man who doesn't like failing. He couldn't put Superboy under his thumb and I'm guessing that he's all too keen on punishing us for twisting one of his pet projects into something he didn't want it to be."
Kara let out a huff and slumped her shoulders in a manner that coerced a wisp of blonde hair to fall just above her left eye. "Well, at least Brainiac isn't a problem anymore. I made certain of that."
"Yeah, well, the fact that Brainiac isn't around anymore might end up doing us more harm than good as it comes to what we're dealing with right now," Cyborg theorized as he shut down the visual projector with a wave of his fingers. "Say what you want about Vril Dox but at least he was somebody that Lex ended up having to look out for whenever he wanted to make a grand, sweeping alteration of the world. He knew that Brainiac had the brains and the resources to go toe-to-toe with him at any time. On top of that if the two of them ever did throw down and the scales weren't tipping in his favor than Luthor also knew that the only people that could help him regain the balance would be the same heroes that were getting in his way in the first place. Now he doesn't have to worry about Brainiac getting in the way of what he wants to do. He's going to be that much more eager to stoop to new depths when it comes to reshaping the world in his image."
Kara, faced with the rotten side of one of her own noble deeds, stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, if what we're looking for is people who could match wits with Lex Luthor then there's a detective in Gotham that I'd like you to meet. He's also on a bit of a winning streak when it comes to outsmarting ousted presidents."
"Bruce and Lex may be close to even money when it comes to smarts but Vic wasn't talking equals. He was talking about Brainiac being the bigger threat," The Flash piped in from his corner of the room. "Now Brainiac is gone and Bruce has already said that he's not going to support Luthor in what he wants to do so now Lex is thinking that it's all up to him." Having drawn the attention of his compatriots, the scarlet-garbed speedster suddenly hedged and shifted his shoulders. "Still we're just working on a bunch of guesses here. Just what is it that you want us to help you do?"
Cyborg smiled once again, the leader of The Teen Titans clearly keen on returning to the point. "Megadyne Industries, a former subsidiary of LexCorp, is planning on holding a press conference tomorrow morning in the very heart of downtown San Francisco. Rumors are still spinning around as to what the announcement is supposed to entail but Batman and I agree that Luthor is going to try and horn in on the event one way or another."
Kara glowered at the possibility of even more innocents being put into harm's way. Granted, the aim of serving and protecting was certainly a ways away from the kinds of objectives that Batman usually threw their way but there was still a portion of her that relished the possibility of protecting the prey rather than serving as a greater predator. "Okay. That's tomorrow," she then plainly remarked. "The Flash and I could have made the trip across the country in a matter of minutes and we could have held the briefing from Gotham. Why are we here now?"
"Woah, woah. Slow down there, boss lady," Wally cautioned, his phenomenal dexterity allowing him to reach his younger colleague in an instant. His right hand was hovering over Kara's shoulder but a look from the half-Kryptonian that combined annoyance with confusion was enough to deter him from making any actual contact. "Sorry, Vic. It's not that we think that what's going on here isn't important. . ."
Cyborg calmly waved away whatever insults that could be taken from the exchange. "Don't worry none, Flash. I was in the same shoes as her a couple years back. Hell, sometimes I still strap them on when my new ones don't fit." Victor let out a laugh that was soon joined by Wally's own chuckling and the gentlemen both watched as Kara's temperament quickly shifted from irritation to the kind of embarrassed amusement that only comes when somebody realizes that they're trying to make something out of nothing. With the room back on an even emotional keel, Victor then lifted the veil. "Actually I was wondering if you, Ollie, and Wally would be interested in spending the night here at the tower. Maybe get to know some of the kids that are looking up to ya?"
Kara thought it best to not pay any attention to the pleased grin that was doubtlessly on Wally's face. After all, it probably wasn't proper to face such geniality while she was still blanching at the possibilities of what had been thrust upon her.
Oa – Green Lantern Corps Training Facility
The two familiar figures that strolled through the expansive grounds had drawn more than their fair share of attention and onlookers as they meandered around the various exercise zones and sparring arenas where thousands upon thousands of intergalactic peacekeepers had come to hone their craft at one time or another. As one might imagine, this place had a wealthy bulk of history and stories that arose from the labor and toil and thus perhaps it was only understandable that two figures that had been able to draw crowds of millions of admirers would only receive a fraction of such attraction from those that surrounded them in the here and now. Of course, there always tended to be an exception to the rule and the two travelers had come upon it as they made their way towards a gaggle of Green Lanterns whose battlefield expertise ranged from simple trainees to hardened field veterans all centered around a single speaker. This orator was predictably lively and loud with her delivery, the more intriguing aspects of her tale often punctuated with physical blocking that often times mirrored the activities that brought the stories to life.
"So Desaad's big critter has us cornered on one side of the laboratory and, of course, by this time Kylie has gotten all whiny and dramatic. 'Oh, no! I'm bleeding! This totally clashes with my battle armor!'" The vigorous entertainer dramatically flung the back of her right hand against her forehead in a melodramatic manner that summoned another gale of laughter from the surrounding throng. "So I'm just tired of hearing everybody talking so I push Rayner out of the laboratory, lock myself inside, and go toe-to-toe with this 125 ton beast! I mean, we're talking about something with teeth that was bigger than I am!"
The calmer of the two traveling onlookers curled up his lips. "I trust that your fellow Earthling is being rather gratuitous as it comes to the details of retrieving The Anti-Life Equation from Apokolips?"
His companion twisted his own lips in response. "Well, maybe her interpretation of Kyle is a little theatrical," the veteran Green Lantern allowed. "Still, I've found that one of Stephanie's more irritating qualities is to pull off something that makes for a ridiculous story."
"Yes, I've often thought so myself," the quieter of the two agreed before folding his hands against his miniscule hips as Stephanie continued on.
"So I fire a spiral beam right through his skull and Desaad just outright WAILS that I killed his little baby hell beast," Stephanie crowed while joining her right ring and middle finger in the same matter that she often employed before launching one of those aforementioned spiraling beams of eldritch energy. "Then I threaten to pants him and he runs off leaving me alone. Now by then the mission is already pretty much over but I don't want to let a perfectly good kill go to waste! And, well, that's why Donna has a Hidon beast stuffed and mounted to her home on New Kronus."
The youngest of Earth's Green Lanterns extended her arms wide to soak in the laughter and applause before twisting her body into a pirouette and a bow. After completing her contortions she found that a noticeable fraction of her attention was being taken away from her. Perturbed by that happenstance, the Gotham-based Robin looked up and grinned as Ganthet and Hal Jordan made their way through the surprised crowd.
"Is it time for my dramatic departure, Brigadier General Blueberry?
Ganthet found himself frowning in the wake of Stephanie's unique challenge of his authority. "Walk with us, Lieutenant Brown," the Guardian said politely, his polite words coupling with a calm glare that easily allowed him to save face in front of the Green Lanterns that Stephanie had briefly captured under her spell. Being a godlike immortal now spending his 21st millennium in a state of sentience, the white-haired Guardian was able to summon enough patience to allow for the crowd to disperse and for Stephanie to begin walking by his side. "I reviewed the results of your report and would like to commend you for establishing a grander connection with your Oan ring. That being said, I must confess that I am somewhat concerned with sending you out on another mission after your ordeal with Leokar Kurkosaw."
Stephanie frowned at that. She already had several sarcastic comments forming a queue at the tip of her tongue before a more reserved portion of her brain helped her recall the moments of sympathy and support that Ganthet had shown during her ascendancy into The Green Lantern Corps and that was enough to beat back her rebellious inclinations. "Well, thank you for both the compliments and the time and resources put into researching my case, Ganthet. Still, there's no use in somebody as special as I apparently am to sit on the sidelines when there are things to do."
The Oan Guardian allowed a slight smile in the wake of the double-sided endorsement. "Very well. You may be interested in knowing that Kurkosaw has once again slipped out of the public limelight but his capture and retrieval remains to be a high priority. However, as for your current matters, our sources indicate that the Earthling known to you as Alexander Luthor apparently succeeded in contacting two other recently cultivated power players after his woeful negotiations with Kurkosaw."
"Oh, and I'm sure that they were just misunderstood angels who only want what's best for everybody!" Stephanie offered brightly, her statement quickly followed with an overtly toothy smile that looked to be stern enough to crack her jawbone.
"Yeah, these bastards are real winners," Jordan replied, the Green Lantern easily sliding into his duty. "The less likely subject is a mass murderer named Larfleeze, a former child slave who was apparently so hungry for power that he eliminated every sentient life on his home world so that he would be the lone possessor of some kind of magical reservoir that appears to be similar to our own Green Lantern battery."
"Jeez," Stephanie noted while running her right hand through her hair. "Wait. This is the first time I've heard about this guy. How come? I mean, you'd think that a guy that committed a planet-wide genocide wouldn't have to wait too long in line to get near the top of the intergalactic wanted list."
"The incident happened only recently," Ganthet replied, the immortal catching Hal's pointed stare only a moment after Stephanie had spotted it. "For all his avarice, Larfleeze was quite efficient in fulfilling his purposes upon receiving the resources he required to accomplish them. Moreover the source of his supernatural energy supply was surfaced only recently and The Guardians did not have the authority to investigate the matter outside of observations from afar."
"Well, I'm sure that's a great comfort to anybody who had friends on Larfleeze's new planet," Robin ruefully noted, her seemingly ingrained sarcasm winning the point over her patience. "Okay. And you said that he was the second most likely suspect so who's at the top of our list?"
Hal's eyes briefly met Ganthet's as the two of them seemed to reach a silent accord. "The prime suspect is a creature named Atrocitus," the veteran Green Lantern began, the brown-haired former stunt pilot paying notice that Stephanie did recognize that name. "Much like Larfleeze, he gained a great deal of power in a short while and has been using that to establish an assemblage of planets under a self-proclaimed order of rage."
Robin's first reaction to the distressing development was a thoughtful frown. "Order of Rage? Sounds like a Children of Bodom cover band. So I imagine that Atrocitus managed to rack up an impressive body count of his own?"
"Not anything like the figures tallied up by Sinestro or Larfleeze," Jordan admitted, his voice remaining impressively neutral as the trio strolled past the training perimeter into an expansive promenade on the western edge of the facility. "Still, the fact remains that Atrocitus has been very vocal about his desires to expand both his sphere of influence and his personal philosophies. It isn't until only recently that his group would even accept our invitations for a mutual conference."
"Which we're planning on going to?" Robin asked, her question earning nods from both Ganthet and Jordan. Her impatience was already beginning to bubble over and the forceful energy that seemed to hum through her didn't fit as well on the peaceful walkways than on the battlefields they had left behind. She briefly reminded herself of Batman's training, his insistence to remain calm and collected and therefore able to take in all the information that people were willing to allow.
Then again, he also taught her to ask the right questions once she knew what those questions were.
"So would you mind telling me what we're really being sent to do?"
The blunt inquiry prompted Hal to suck in a breath and lightly clench his teeth while Ganthet maintained the same patience that Stephanie had been kind enough to provide for him only minutes before. "Lieutenant Brown, please recognize that you are, first and foremost, a member of The Green Lantern Corps. The Guardians acknowledge that you are proud of your self-appointed duties upon your home world and have granted you a lenient amount of duties to your destined station but we will not allow that clemency as it concerns how you will be expected to conduct yourself when you choose to be called upon."
"Oh, so I'm not 'conducting myself properly' because I asked a question?" Stephanie snapped back, her sharp suspicions proving caustic enough to convince Hal into wondering if he should break up the scene before he wisely chose to hang back and watch matters unfold. "And don't even try to give me grief about my attitude, Ganthet, because there's somebody back on Earth that's a helluva lot better than you are at the guilt game and he's still trying to get the job done."
The flash of annoyance that briefly ticked through Ganthet's black eyes paled in comparison to the overt righteousness that rumbled through the rebellious Green Lantern. The Guardian's power would have allowed him to strip the Earthling of her powers with only a series of somewhat complicated enchantments but the outrage that came with such a temptation ultimately gave in to a sorrowful frown. "Exercise caution within these matters, Earthlings. Keep faith in the strength of your will."
The nebulous retort meandered Stephanie into a moment of silence that lasted long enough for Ganthet to turn his back to her before blinking away from sight. Then, as she was wont to do in situations where she didn't have the answers she liked, Robin cinched up her facial muscles while her annoyed exuberance sought at the nearest convenient target. "Oh, yeah, there's nothing suspicious going on here!" she barked out as Hal looked upon her with an impressive degree of reverent calm. "Damn it, we might as well just go ahead and ask how high we should jump when they tell us to hop!"
Hal let out a weighty sigh. "Just leave Ganthet alone for a little bit, Stephanie," the veteran Green Lantern advised, his voice carrying a tired kind of conviction that had taken years for him to cultivate. "There's a whole lot of things swirling around the pot right now and it's going to take some time for even them to find the answers."
"Well, then maybe they shouldn't speak of themselves so highly if they don't want to deal with the pressure that comes with it!" Robin spat back. "For God's sake, they're supposed to be the entity that directs the largest police force in the cosmos yet Vincent and Sinestro were able to form their own army of Yellow Lanterns right underneath their noses! And Leokar Kurkosaw was drawing his power from a black ring, Hal! That just can't be some kind of wild coincidence that the almighty Guardians couldn't have possibly expected!"
"Of course not," Hal replied, his tone just as tranquil as Stephanie's was filled with agitation. "Still you knew well before you got to Solur that you were probably walking into a trap. That was something you accepted, that the Lanterns alongside you accepted, because we're the frontline soldiers in a battle that is always going to be changing. We may have the right to question what we're doing but we ultimately have to recognize that we need to get the job done so somebody else doesn't have to suffer because of what we didn't do."
Robin growled in the face of the rationalization, the fair-haired Gothamite slightly slumping her shoulders in the same gesture of mock surrender that she would present to Batman when she sensed that she had snagged on to a nerve of his that she wished to unravel. Unfortunately for her, Hal Jordan was gifted with more significant social graces than Gotham's gloomiest investigator and countered her with the cocky smile of a pilot that had zeroed in on an opponent's six.
"Well, do you at least trust me, Lieutenant Brown?"
Stephanie rolled her eyes until her pale blue irises seemed to run the risk of twisting back into her skull. "Yeeeeeees," she let out with a huff, the young Green Lantern momentarily defeated. "Stupid Paul Newman lookalike with the lethal weapon grin. Ruggurugruggrug."
"I'm sorry. What was that?" Hal asked with upturned eyebrows.
Stephanie set her Robinglare to maximum snark. "I was saying that you still probably can't take a punch."
"Well, we all have stuff to work on," Jordan countered, the whimsy within prompting both Green Lanterns to let out some deeply necessary laughter.
8:57 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Noah Kuttler took a brief glance at the dwindling supply of ungraded term papers sitting on the desk at his right hand side while sipping his precisely prepared cup of Earl Grey (medium warm, a teaspoon of cane sugar and just a sliver of honey). The infusion of carbohydrates from the consumption of the common herbal remedy proved quite beneficial against the threatening pulses of a potential headache that had cropped up along the tops of his temples and he let out a relieved sigh as the liquid rolled downed his throat. His cameras and communication equipment were still all operating soundly as they monitored the three separate teams of Misfits that were carrying out their respective tasks and the relative calm had given him plenty of opportunities to focus on the book reports for Helena's fourth-grade English class. He believed that he carried his tasks out soundly, his red pen quick to present errors that would not be expected of a preadolescent reader and writer while his sharp eyes observed Batman, Huntress and Nightwing searching over another abandoned Intergang facility. Next he regarded The Black Dog's team entering The Rusty Sambo in order to secure both information and lodgings for the night and grew even more convinced that he had a quiet evening to look forward to.
In fact, the only sign that anything was amiss arose from his third monitoring assignment and it was that dilemma that delivered whatever consternation there was to be had during this otherwise calm evening.
"It is not a matter of hesitation as it comes to discussing the topic. The quandary lies in the simple matter that I have little personal experience as it comes to Lex Luthor. After all, the version of The Secret Society that I was assigned to infiltrate did not have the real Luthor at the head of command. Furthermore the genuine Lex wouldn't have had anything to do with an information broker that would only serve to infringe upon his sphere of influence."
The beleaguered sigh that rose from the other end of the comm. link was entirely expected and Noah took the brief moment to snap up another juvenile commentary on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. "I know, I know. And, I mean, it's not like that I don't know why he's so interested in me. I have a connection to the person he hates the most and he thinks that he can exploit that. I guess I've just gotten more than a little tired of people coming after me because of who I'm related to."
"Well, such anticipations are to be expected, Kara," Noah considered, his thin lips tilting into a frown as he pointed out to young Colin Randolph that there were only two e's in receive. "Luthor has made no reservations as it comes to his desire to acquire a greater vantage point to mount his seemingly endless campaign against your cousin. His apparent fascination in gathering radioactive extraterrestrial rocks provided enough proof of that. There is also the possibility that Lex had somehow gained access to Brainiac's database and the information the Coulan scientist had gathered about you before his timely demise. Perhaps, with that information at hand, he believes that he could find something to subvert and twist you under his sway much as he had in his early work with the cloned Superman."
"Well, I've worked too hard to earn my freedom and eliminate the triggers installed by my father. I'm not about to let Luthor get his claws into me."
"I would have expected no less," The Calculator noted as the hacker and ad hoc counselor judged that Mister Randolph's sound concluding statement as it came to what he thought of Mark Twain's classic tale earned the boy a B-plus. "Still I feel that I must apologize for not unearthing more salient data as it comes to Luthor's ambitions and the details behind his apparent fascination for all things Kryptonian. After all, I have made it my life's duty to acquire and accumulate information that would better prepare my colleagues and fellow agents for whatever they may encounter in the field."
Noah heard a gloomy sigh from the other end of the comm. link and used the transition towards the inevitable to stretch and snag another paper from the stack. He was nearly prepared to scrutinize Colette Renner's opening statement with the utmost of professionalism when he heard what he had been waiting for.
"Why aren't you reprimanding me?"
The Calculator raised his eyebrows at that, the 41-year-old data gatherer surprised with how the gambit began. "I'm sorry but I'm afraid that I don't understand," he replied while craning his long legs against the other half of the paper-stacked desk. He took it to be a blessing that Kara could not hear his heartbeat from 4,000 miles away and realize that he was lying through his well-maintained teeth.
"Well, just look at this," Kara went on, the request tempting Noah into checking the surveillance feed that showcased the eclectic social gathering taking place in Titans Tower and two rooms away from the isolated half-Kryptonian warrior. "Green Arrow is talking to them. Wally is talking to them. I mean, I know that they both have known the Titans for a lot longer than I have but why can't I be social? I can't think of anything to say!"
Briefly sifting through his options, Noah then simply decided to resort to his firstly gathered instinct. "Well, I for one have rarely seen any problems with choosing to maintain a status of social isolationism. I have found that the vast majority of humanity has rarely ever provided me with anything that I could construe to be useful as it comes to maintaining my continued comfortable state of mind."
"You know that's not what I mean," Kara crossly replied while digging the heel of her left foot against the kitchen floor. "Bruce and Lloyd hate hanging around with most people too but they know how to pull through and take the lead when it really matters. Even you are still helping Mia out with computers and trying to get to know Zatanna's friends! So why can I take on 200-foot Abyssal worms without even blinking an eye but now I'm in a crowded room with a bunch of people that I should get to know and I'm doing everything I can to avoid them."
Noah tilted his eyebrows once again as he put the finishing touches on the smiling face that graced the top of Miss Renner's A-plus worthy performance. "Well, you're currently standing in the Titan Tower kitchen if we're needling over the particulars." Met with a silence whose chill could be felt from across the country, The Calculator snatched his spectacles off the bridge of his nose. "I am sure that Lloyd has already informed you that you are placing far too much pressure on yourself as it comes to examining these potential possibilities for social growth. Your fears of becoming the embittered madwoman you confronted during your foray into the future are certainly valid but such rapid changes in personal philosophy will take time. And, in your defense, this "Afflicted" character does not strike me as the type of woman who would incessantly fret over what others thought of her conduct in a social situation."
Kara mulled that over as Noah happily went to work cleaning a smudge of his left bifocal. "Well, maybe it was these kinds of forced social events that provided the impetus for my future insanity." The chuckling she heard from the other side of the wire ultimately coerced into a clenched smile. "Okay. Okay. I know I'm just making excuses. I'll try harder and thanks for taking the time to talk me through it."
Hanging up the phone a moment after The Calculator said his goodbyes, the golden-haired champion rose to her full height and took a deep, cleansing breath. She gathered the lessons and skills she had been accumulating in the 57 months since her spaceship crashed in the western edge of Gotham Bay and brought them to the forefront of her cerebral cortex. As she strode back into the common area, her steps confident and measured, she was still mapping out her strategy.
Use your strengths to mark your place within a battlefield. Try to find the situation that you believe that you would feel most comfortable in and negotiate with those already there to determine what conduct the moment calls for. What rules that need to be followed.
Scanning the 35 by 30 foot room with its high ceilings, cushy couches and ottomans, and a variety of long tables sparsely populated with a variety of snacks, Kara first brought her attention to the 80-inch, high-definition television in the center of the room. Wally was seated at the couch across from the mammoth audiovisual device along with Beast Boy and Cyborg while Rose Wilson leaned against the right arm of the leather settee.
Hey! They're playing video games! We do that at the manor all the time. Let's just go over there and talk about what they're playing. That shouldn't be too hard. . .
"AWWWWWW YEAH!" Garfield Logan roared as he leapt triumphantly off the couch as The Flash cursed softly and a digital equivalent of Rashard Mendenhall celebrated an especially long touchdown run. "TOUCHDOWN, STEELERS!" Apparently not feeling an ounce of the hesitance that Kara had been warring over, the green-furred Teen Titan known more commonly as Beast Boy sauntered over to the distracted speedster. Coming within a foot or so of The Fastest Man Alive, the animorph quickly broke into an awkward looking dance that didn't appear to have a lot of form or structure and centered a great deal around pelvic thrusting. "Yeah. You know whut it iz. Black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow!"
Kara wisely steered her attentions away as Rose and Victor began to sing along with their celebrating colleague while The Flash threw his arms out to keep Beast Boy from trying to teabag him. Seeking something a bit more predictable, she felt herself relaxing at the sight of Green Arrow having a quiet chat with Cassandra, Mia Dearden and Tim Drake about martial arts. Although she was never one to be fully comfortable with such shop talk before launching off into the unknown Kara felt her confidence building as she caught Ollie's gaze and was given a reassuring nod.
"Did you need help?"
The icy voice got Kara right back into "jumping out of her skin" territory. Her Praxian gifts did allow her to sniff out the surrounding magic in an instant and she turned to meet the impassive stare of a woman with shoulder-length hair so richly black that it seemed more like a deep shade of indigo. She was deathly pale and her petite frame would have given the daintiest of ballerinas a run for their money but Kara felt the strength within the girl's eyes and all but felt the determination that had managed to ward off the toxic influence over a father figure that was most likely even more unsavory than her own.
"Oh, hi. You must be Raven." Kara had blurted the realization out and immediately felt foolish for saying it in the first place. Not only had she met the half-demon sorceress on a small handful of occasions but it was also relatively safe to say that Raven would know her own name. And, given that their few meetings involved relatively little interaction (and pretty much all of it being awkward or altogether antisocial), it wasn't as if she needed to pour more fuel on the quiet fire. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound so startled."
"That's okay," Raven softly replied. There was a brief moment as a flicker ran through her violet eyes as if even she was surprised to find that there was nothing wrong. "I remember you. You accompanied Lloyd and Zatanna several months ago when they traveled to the nether dimensions to prevent my father from breaking into the surface world. I. . . wanted to thank you for your help but. . ."
Kara suddenly found a bolt of courage as Raven took her turn at feeling awkward. She knew from Mister Wayne's reports that Raven had spent her entire adulthood holding off the dark influences of her father Trigon, a greater demon whose existence on the surface world had been dominated with an unending feast upon the darkest of human emotions. The unending fight forced Raven to suppress her emotions and keep her demonic nature in check lest she give any opportunity for her father to exert his sinister influence through her. "No. No, it's all right. I know the whole astral plane can be really confusing when there's numerous source points. And I was working in Wayne Manor and Lloyd and Zatanna were in that hell dimension and you were in San Francisco. . ."
"Yes, yes. . ." Raven trailed off before catching Kara's open expression and gathering her own nerve. "You're in a relationship with the human occupied by The Condemner. He has always been very kind to me when he travels to San Francisco. You are very fortunate to have him."
The smile that Kara provided in response to the blunt admittance somehow managed to combine hopefulness with shyness. "Oh, well, thank you very much. And. . . and Garfield is a really nice guy."
The witch couldn't help but allow her seemingly eternal skepticism to grab the reins as she raised her eyebrows. Kara followed the gesture immediately and joined Raven in looking over as Beast Boy was engaged in an animated argument with Cyborg as The Flash and Ravager cackled like asylum inmates. "That is a matter that's always up for debate," Raven said flatly, her tone drawing a slight smile from her audience. "This may sound. . . weird. . . but would you be interested in joining me for my daily meditation?" It appeared that the effort required in the question seemed to drain the half-demon and she briefly looked away. "It's. . . it's not silent or anything. Just a sharing of thoughts. . . If you're not interested. . ."
"No, no! That'd be great!" Kara exclaimed, the quick agreement drawing first shock then relief from both parties. Then, drawing up another round of worry she added, "But what about the other Titans? I mean, you guys must be busy and not have a whole lot of spare time to just relax. Wouldn't you like to spend some time with them?"
Raven briefly fixed Kara's well-meaning recommendation with another pointed stare. Trying her best not to radiate any annoyance from her retort, the witch only ticked her head to one side and again provided a silent invitation for Kara to turn around and look at the scenes in the common room. They then silently looked on as Garfield and Rose were participating in a belching contest while a friendly sparring session had broken out between Mia and Tim as Ollie and Cassandra cheered on their respective persons of interest.
The half-demon's tone was forcibly dull and emotionless.
"I don't like noise."
Day 2 of Investigations - 9:21 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Just as those that had watched and participated in the digital football games at Titans Tower, the solitary viewer seated deeply within his lounging chair could make out every crease and crevice on the judge's face. The calm, knowing silence broadcasted by the women's furrowed countenance was playing its part of an old but efficient snare and the silent observer drew a dark smile from the anticipation of what was to come. He stretched his squat arm so that the beefy fingertips of his right hand could grasp the decanter that lay on the nearby end table before quickly settling back in while drawing a swig of the modestly aged Cognac. The marbled liquor left a burning sensation in his throat that lingered for far longer than it should have, a clear sign that he was nearing a mild case of dehydration but the quiet spectator simply could not work up the resolve to rise up to his feet.
His source for entertainment finally chose to speak. "No, you listen to me, young man! What you should have done was recognize your responsibilities and carry them out. If you did that then you wouldn't have had to come here asking for help from somebody who is no longer legally obligated to provide for you! You went into this relationship looking for an easy way out and now you're calling foul because she wants her share of the pie."
"Hmm. The reveal of the gentleman's selfishness could not have been delivered with greater efficiency," the onlooker grumbled while heaving another drag from his carafe. In a gesture that he would have normally considered to be an unforgiveable act of vulgarity, he employed his spare hand to wipe away the thin sliver of spittle and spirits that remained on his lips rather than reach for the handkerchief that hung loosely on the left side of his seat. It was enough to give the portly gentleman pause and consider his stock in life before a buzzing sound rose from an intercom seated at his dusty yet luxuriant black-oak office desk. The device let out a second harsh drone as the purveyor of fine scotch stumbled to his pudgy feet, the sound of a sympathetic caw ruffling through his pointed ears as he shuffled to the insistent machine.
"Hang it all. Right at the precise moment when Judge Judy was preparing to rain down her vengeance. . ." The avian aficionado roughly placed his bottle aside and pressed the audio feed button on the communication device. "Please observe the sign so prominently posted at the front. We are closed."
His definitive rejoinder was met only by another buzz from the speaker and that was enough to spark the gentleman's ire into action. Letting out a whispered but pedantic insult while waddling his way towards the hallway that ran along his chambers, he took a moment to reach into a nearby umbrella stand and pull free a ragged black parasol with a thin barrel where the metal point should have been. A ragged cough tore free from his tired lungs as he shuffled down the unkempt foyer, the air dry, grimy, and the floors still riddled in wrecked plaster, pottery, and roofing material. The unwanted phlegm was a bad enough manner to deal with but soon the former social butterfly was assaulted with the memories of moments that he had once dreamed to be a part of. It was his phone buzzing with the summons of talent agents and A-list celebrities clamoring to perform at his behest, the ghostly laughter of starlets and perky waitresses reveling in the limelight and luxury that he had provided.
The matter only became more beleaguering as he made his way to the expansive dance floor, the once opulent theater of merriment rendered grey from the absent lighting and the gaping apertures in the surrounding walls that allowed the low lights of Gotham's evening to trickle through the once impenetrable defenses. He heard the clinking of glasses and the richly deserved applause and it all served to spurn the sadness that gave way to a dilapidated kind of ire as he approached the comm. link that bordered the bar.
"Perhaps you hail from beyond our borders and have yet to acquire the lingual aptitudes that my previous response conveyed," the portly chap offered with a sneer. "Se habla closed!"
A rustle of boot-clad feet against the scarred carpet alerted the involuntary host that his company had breached his meager defenses. Following the noise and finding its source he soon determined that the alert was voluntarily offered since there was little chance that the alluring woman walking across the dance floor would have been so brazen if she wished to remain hidden.
"Ah, Lady Canary, so nice to see you." Oswald Cobblepot offered with a mirthless smile. "The bar is closed but thank you very much for stopping by."
Dinah Laurel Lance, her hands still pressed against her hips, became acutely aware that she had her work cut out for her.
You know, the last couple months have really been a time for me to sit back and ponder over my own definition of stability. It's one thing to have a consistent writing schedule but it's a whole other thing to find yourself in a life that is more and more centered around making certain something doesn't go profoundly wrong rather than spending your time looking to do something better. It's been three years since I graduated from college and over six years since I started writing this project and a lot of things keep changing. I've stopped being a dreamer searching for something greater and become a traveler slogging down the road that life has offered me. There's certainly a variety of paths that are still available to me and there a lot of things that are on the table that I never thought I'd really have: a wife and a family and being an occasional social follower rather than a continuous leader being the two most prominent in mind.
So why did I drag you all through this little monologue? Well, I take a look at the comic book industry on the whole every now and again and I wonder why so many of the prominent creators are so intent on precipitating change. Universes are being rebooted, storylines are scrapped, and characters that don't immediately catch fire with a dominant section of the industry's dwindling audience are cut away with vicious heartlessness. Add on to that with the fact that the 100th issue of The Walking Dead, a series from an independent company that has maintained the same creative team nearly since its inception, is on the fast track to being the highest selling comic in nearly two decades and it makes you wonder why the dreamers can't stick with the same road for a little while.
Good things come to those who wait, lads and lasses.
Issue #146 Preview
So a blonde-haired songbird walks into a bar, two Green Lanterns are on their way to have some peaceful chats with two of the galaxy's most prominent criminals and Lloyd is taking his team to meet the world's most famous pimp. It's either the start of a really awkward joke or the tale of what's to come in the next installment of The Misfits: No Storm before The Calm. Until then, remember to say what you think and write what you feel!