"It's your move, Hawkgirl," reminds Aquaman dryly.
Aquaman – Arthur – for reasons that escape is playing chess once more with the woman once known by many as Hawkgirl or Lieutenant Hol of the Thanagarian Military. Once both a heroine and an undercover agent, now nobody, not even her can resolve the questions she feels there are no answers for. She does not meet his irritated stare for it reminds her too much of Batman at times despite how cold yet understanding Batman could be – Arthur seems far from either quality in the moment. Every move is contemplated, thought out, sometimes made, and sometimes not made for it is chess.
She finally makes a move only to have the piece taken by his next move.
"Check in five moves," predicts Aquaman.
"We'll see," responds Shayera.
She again doesn't meet his eyes and it something that is clearly bugging him though nobody, not even he would admit that openly.
"Diana told me you used to regularly beat Batman," reminds Aquaman flatly.
Still she does not look up or show any reaction, which is contrary to his earliest encounters with her during her time as a member of the original Justice League roster.
"Difficult to believe from the current pitiful level of your game," insinuates Aquaman acidly.
She only moves another piece, says nothing, it is unnerving in a way given the way he perceived as being during their first encounter in this very tower only a few short years ago.
"I should have known better than to expect a proper challenge from a woman," snorts Aquaman.
He makes another insult and move thinking this time it would have to provoke her – make her show some signs of the woman she used to be, but something told him much of that woman is gone.
"Such scintillating repartee – I get better conversation from the android," mocks Aquaman.
No words, just another move of a piece on her part and her silences are really starting to grate him, but mostly her silence is self-induced since she neither cares to respond nor can she find the words necessary to stop him from trying to infuriate her. In the past, she would have hit him halfway across the room by now, but she stopped living by 'strike first or die' rule after leaving everything behind.
"You are aware I'm in the room?" queries A.M.A.Z.O.
Aquaman makes his fifth move.
She tips over her king piece.
"I win again!"
He glares at her unmoving before him even after losing another chess game to him.
"Huzzah," remarks Aquaman sarcastically.
"It's just a game," reminds Shayera flatly.
Aquaman bolts to his feet and knocks aside the chessboard with his harpoon, the one that many know replaced his self-amputated left hand. To this day, the loss of a hand seems minor compared to the prospect of losing his firstborn son to his brother's treachery.
The chalkboard, the pieces, and the table sail across the room.
Shayera rises to her feet to meet Aquaman's grimace.
"You disgust me," snaps Aquaman.
"Join the club," responds Shayera sadly.
Shayera just walks away and Dr. Fate appears at Aquaman's side.
"I could have told you that wouldn't work," says Fate knowingly.
"She was once one of the fiercest warriors I'd ever met," asserts Aquaman.
He looks back to Shayera's retreating backside.
"What's she doing here?" questions Aquaman.
"Trying to find her way. Leaving the Justice League was difficult for her. I provided sanctuary for her, a place to meditate on her life and future. We must allow her the time she needs to…" responds Fate.
Fate's words trail off and then he touches the forehead of his helmet. Something is wrong as to what that had yet to be determined though the disturbance felt vaguely familiar to Fate.
"Excuse me," continues Fate.
Fate hovers off the ground and vanishes through a self-made ankh shaped portal.
A.M.A.Z.O. telekinetically summons the knocked aside chess set and table back to where he is sitting.
"New game?" offers the android.
A challenge at last it seems, but what did he look surprised to be getting the offer from a machine.
The disturbance Fate felt led him to an all too unforgettable headstone. One he had been near not so long ago when he found the wayward Thanagarian Shayera Hol. She did not look all too well that stormy night. He rarely seen in anyone in such a state yet it felt like an echo of someone they bought met not that long ago. She had made many difficult decisions as of late by that night. As he would learn by degrees those decisions were not easily made or to live with daily when she is met with a hostile unaware of her sacrifices for their survival not unlike the sacrifices made by their mutual dead friend.
There is a hole in the ground just before Solomon Grundy's grave. The disturbance had come from the resurrection of Solomon Grundy so he would have to follow the trail and alert the League though he would also have others to tell as well as – those now within his Tower including Shayera.
Inza is tending her garden which exists in a separate dimensional plane as do many areas that further instill notions that the outward appearance of Fate's Tower is contradictory to all its planes and rooms. Behind her Inza can hear the cascading rhythm of the waterfall, around her she can see the buzzing of insects going about their work on her flowers, she can smell the scent of her flowers, and feel the tranquility of the water pouring from the pail to the flowers underneath them. The stillness finds only interruption from the appearance of ankh portal.
She knows it is not her husband for he is out investigating a disturbance and Arthur is still playing chess with the android, which leaves who is coming through now. Shayera often wonders through the dimensions if only to lose her self in them, to separate from all the things that prey on her mind, to push away dreams, nightmares, and memories of a life that no longer seems her own.
"I wasn't expecting you back so soon. The garden still needed work," begins Inza.
She starts to walk away suspecting Shayera wants solitude if her countenance means what she reads it as meaning though soon she feels Shayera's gentle clasp on her shoulder.
"Don't go Inza. This is your place, I'm just a visitor here," insists Shayera.
"My husband and I offered you our hospitality. We respect your privacy. Treat this area as you would your own home," remarks Inza.
Shayera felt like she had no home anywhere. She is pariah to Thanagar, traitor to Earth, betrayer of her people and of the Justice League – her Earth clan.
Inza resumes walking away from Shayera.
"Aquaman thinks I've been here too long," interjects Shayera.
"Flowers bloom when they're ready, Shayera. Not before," reminds Inza.
She particularly detests aphorisms at times especially that one when she is standing a garden.
"I'm no flower. I don't know what I am. I'm not Lieutenant Shayera Hol of the Thanagarian Empire."
She tilts her gaze slightly downward.
"Not anymore. I've been stripped of my rank, exiled from my home world."
She looks to the sky. Flying she used to love that especially here on Earth because here she was the only woman with wings, not one among billions on Thanagar where wings only held purpose for battle, but nothing else. They are not revered on Thanagar, but on Earth that's a different tale altogether between aircraft and angels.
"I'm not Hawkgirl. That was always a sham."
In the corner of her eye, she sees Inza looking down yet she knows Inza is listening because it is the same way that Fate listens, that Batman listened – taking all that someone is saying and then consider what response would be best to give in the situation.
"Most people on Earth will never trust me again, and I can't blame them."
Eventually her eyes and Inza's meet as these next words are likely to be the ones that need not only hearing, but also require seeing for the intensity behind to be seen as well as felt when spoken.
"When I do my job, people get hurt. People I care about," finishes Shayera sharply.
"And what happens when you don't do your job?" asks Inza suggestively.
Inza's question certainly hit upon something, but the answer would not be found. It would find her.
"Checkmate," claims A.M.A.Z.O.
Aquaman's repeated attempts to defeat the android are meeting less than stellar success.
"You are improving. This time it took me 16 moves to defeat you. That's nearly double the number it took last time," reports A.M.A.Z.O.
The Atlantean King is merely frustrated yet undeterred with the Evolving Machine. It is marketable contrast to how he felt during all his chess matches with Shayera. He merely scoffs at his latest defeat at the hands of a machine, which is decidedly different than losing or winning against flesh and blood.
"Set up the board," says Aquaman.
Fate emerges from an ankh shaped portal as both players heard its opening.
"Solomon Grundy's grave is empty," informs Fate quickly.
Both the King and the Android stand up fast.
"Tell me where to find those responsible. Then dig more graves," retorts Aquaman.
"We are dealing with something far more sinister than mere human avarice. Grundy's grave was forced open from the inside. The site reeks of chaos magic," continues Fate.
"He left under his own power?" guesses A.M.A.Z.O.
"Far more power than he has ever evidenced before," replies Fate.
Fate conjures up an orb to reveal what the resurrected Grundy is up to at present. It shows him fighting at least three League members. Superman appears to be losing badly, Green Lantern is hit by a chunk of pavement, and someone new is with – she fares little better than the others.
"They need our help," implores Aquaman.
"So does Grundy," adds Shayera.
All three turn to face the unexpected arrival of Shayera.
"Let's try to get there before the League kills him," continues Shayera.
The live play of the battle continues to show Grundy as an implacable foe to some and unforgotten friend to others.
"That scenario… seems unlikely," comments A.M.A.Z.O.
The orb dissipates as the 'team' discusses strategy.
"In any case, are you certain you're up to this?" queries Fate.
"Doesn't matter – Bad guy, or not, he sacrificed his life to save ours. We owe him the benefit of the doubt," answers Shayera.
Aquaman doesn't dare to smile yet in the moment she seems more like the warrior he remembers him being from their shared history of battle and sees she will go forth again for the bonds forged between them as well with the one they know as Solomon Grundy.
"Very well," concludes Fate.
A hole between dimensions opens before the four of them.
"I learned the hard way that the energy dampening properties of this device can disrupt elemental forces. So I've kept it hidden in a pocket dimension away from the magic that most flow freely in my home. But if you are truly ready to take up the fight again…"
Shayera reaches into the portal once the nth mace is near enough for her to grab it and so she takes it in both hands as the others stand at 's side awaiting their fourth member to stand at their side once more.
She goes forth not wholly for herself yet rather for the friend in need that she sees out there. She could not save him before she thought, but she would save him this time regardless of the costs even to herself.
Aquaman and his squid have secure the bridge. However a car is now flying off the bridge, which Shayera dives after with a charging nth mace. She quickly strikes off the roof of the car and grabs onto its occupants. The little girl leaps into Shayera's arms and then Shayera reaches out to the girl's mother for not saving both would upset the other in some way. How did she know they were mother and daughter call it intuition - call it instinct - call it whatever one will.
Once on the wharf mother and daughter embrace before walking away together.
Shayera in a defense posture turns to face her ex-lover John Stewart in his torn Green Lantern uniform.
His voice suggests surprise to see her and as for her she did not feel ready for this encounter either so maybe an icebreaker is in order – something typical of the old her.
"Hate the beard."
Superman comes out the water soaking wet and holding onto the hand railing of the wharf. Almost like old time with someone walking in, coming up, flying down, and all manner of conversation interruptions happen to them in the past. She could instantly recall any and this had just become another.
"You okay?" asks John.
"Do I look okay?" snaps Superman.
Obviously the pounding that Superman had gotten from Grundy is putting the hero in a foul mood.
"Better than Grundy's about to," assures John.
The familiar ankh portal appears besides Shayera as all hear the voice of Doctor Fate.
"Perhaps we can be of assistance," offers Fate.
Aquaman by water and A.M.A.Z.O by air take positions besides Fate and Shayera.
"Okay, let's throw a wave of big guns at him. Me, Fate, and the Android," suggests Superman.
Superman then steps closer to Fate while whispering some to the magician.
"We let him out of the Tower now?" notes Superman quietly.
"I'm curious to see how you would dissuade him," comments Fate.
Shayera steps between A.M.A.Z.O. and the others.
"Hold up! Before the golden boy teleports him into the sun, I want to try talking to him," implores Shayera.
"Shayera wait!" John calls out.
She quickly takes flight towards Grundy's general direction, which means follow the path of destruction to find her troubled and recently resurrected friend.
"Grundy!" shouts Shayera loudly.
He looks at her only seconds later with orange yellow eyes – not those black ones she had first seen up close years before. He speaks no words though he makes a soft growl at her. It means perhaps he remembers her, at least she hopes so.
"Remember? Birdnose?" whispers Shayera tenderly.
He unexpectedly to her suddenly slams her into a building.
I made a connection, he did not come at me swinging first, he knows who I am, but something else is driving him, something uncontrollable – I can't simply kill him – he already died for me once – not again. Better that maybe I should die by his hand than by any other's if you are going to kill me friend let me see it eyes open.
He looks as if he'll strike again except the familiar harpoon latches onto the swinging wrist in an attempt to pull him away from her. Shayera sees him knock Aquaman down then Fate comes flying in hitting him with magical energy, which he seems to absorb just as he does with the energy coming from John's ring.
Aquaman helps her out of the wall.
"What's happened to him?" asks Shayera lowly.
"I'm sorry. I sense nothing of the Grundy we know within that shell," confesses Fate apologetically.
Fate looks directly at her with the white lenses of his helmet.
"He is nothing, but rage," claims Fate.
He is rage yet not rage alone. Why else would he hesitate to continue to hitting me unlike he had done with the others. I got to him even if only for mere seconds.
"Then it is time I brought this to an end," interjects A.M.A.Z.O.
Shayera tries to stop him yet to no avail as he pushes her aside using his powers that due to his travels beyond Earth's star system made him one of the most powerful beings in the universe.
"In all my travels in space, I have obtained mastery of forces all but incomprehensible to humans," claims A.M.A.Z.O.
It seems even limitless power is nothing against a walking lightning rod.
"Something is wrong. The creature is somehow feeding on my energies. He adds my power to his own."
A.M.A.Z.O. is as useless against the resurrected as the magics that Fate wields and the energy that comes from Green Lantern's ring. No amount of physical strength available to Aquaman or Superman is going to do much damage. It is in that moment that Shayera starts to realize what the only thing that can stop Grundy is for it is clipped to her belt at this very moment and it was the only thing capable of disrupting the magics used by in the ritual sacrifice attempted by Fate a few years back. The very same she messed up, the one that led to her friendship with Solomon Grundy, and ultimately the one that eventually lead her to questions she holds in mind to this particular night.
The League trio had broken through the barrier by way of Hawkgirl's mace as Fate expected, but they would not interfere with this spell, they must not otherwise the Old Ones would come and then the end of the world as they all know it would soon follow the crossing.
"Stop!" shouts Wonder Woman.
Inza summons a barrier to enclose the Circle of Power. Neither Superman nor Wonder Woman would be able to breach it. Wonder Woman is instantly thrown backwards and then the magic from the barrier rapidly starts to wrap around her body. Hawkgirl shatters the barrier with her mace and the feedback knocks out Inza. Hawkgirl moves towards Fate and he tries to slow her down by using the Helmet's Eyes to stun her except she uses her mace once more. Fate realizes too late that Hawkgirl would ruin the spell and the feedback of his own magic thrown back at him knocks him to the ground.
"Do you realize what you have done? Leave here now!" snaps Aquaman.
"Not without Grundy and a good explanation," rebukes Superman.
"You've ruined everything! Aquaman stop them!" fumes Fate.
Fate walks towards Grundy who is distraught because he perhaps felt closer to his soul as his pain worsened through the channeling of the magic into him.
"I'll try to improvise something, but I must be allowed to concentrate!" continues Fate.
"Go away! Superman always takes everything from Grundy, but not this time! This time, Grundy crush!"
Grundy tackles Superman. Aquaman goes after Wonder Woman.
"I've got Aquaman. You take the Magician. Your mace seems to be giving him fits," says Wonder Woman.
"Just for the record, I didn't start this fight," remarks Hawkgirl.
"First time for everything," cracks Wonder Woman.
Hawkgirl flies after Fate, but he bolts upward to avoid her flying charge.
"Too much noise. Away!" shouts Fate.
Fate first opens a portal beneath Aquaman and Wonder Woman. They drop through it instantly. Next another portal swallows up Grundy and Superman. His attempt to summon a third to draw away Hawkgirl fails because of her mace. It is the metal's ability to disrupt magic that makes any attacks against her useless because as long as she has the mace no magic can do anything to her.
"Really not your day is it?" implies Hawkgirl.
It is from there that an unofficial team up is made to travel to the Icthultu's home dimension something she recalls thinking of as a story told to scare children including her when she was still a little girl. Everything seems so much simpler from a child's perspective or that's an assumption sustained by time.
"Grundy hates stupid screaming man," utters Grundy.
Hawkgirl finds herself snickering at what he just said despite the fact if not for him she might not be alive to laugh at his unintended humor even though it probably is not meant to be funny though in the moment she finds it to be so.
Fate's mystical projectiles rip through a whole wave of 'screaming men'. Grundy leaps up to the 'high ground' above the fight. Hawkgirl goes to join the others advancing through the 'low ground'. A boulder lands on the 'screamers' in front of her crushing them into 'dust'. She sees that it was thrown by Grundy, she is again at a loss for words, but overly glad for Grundy as backup, he is well on his way to becoming her friend.
Her surprise look morphs into a slight smile.
Then more 'screamers' rip through the 'high ground' in an attempt to surround Grundy.
"Grundy knows how he can crush lots of screaming men," chuckles Grundy.
He raises his massive fists then slams them down faster than he brought them into the air. His fist smash shatters the 'high ground' and collapses the archway beneath it. The whole thing caves beneath him while crushing 'lots of screaming men'. He falls along with his dusted enemies yet as he drops Hawkgirl dives after him. She is glad that she caught him despite the strain of his weight on her wings. He had just down another impressive feat in her eyes and she is not willing to let her new friend die this way. She'll flap how hard she must to get him back to the unbroken 'ground' above them.
"Birdnose help Grundy?" asks Grundy in surprise.
His confusion fits how the others treat him, maybe even how she might have until now, but not anymore.
"But Birdnose and her friends hate Grundy," declares Grundy.
She wouldn't say she hated him. She just didn't like the disorder that his 'associates' brought with him around. Maybe they were the only people who didn't hate him though they did use him perhaps. Maybe all he wanted was someone to listen, to care, to want something other from him than what his body could offer to them, she cease to see him as she had before, he is more than what he appears to be.
"Grundy help Birdnose. Birdnose help Grundy, okay?" replies Hawkgirl.
His usual rock solid grimness softens as if she could almost see a smile on the dead man's face. There is almost something endearing about it. Something childlike and wonderful about him even though he had abilities well beyond that of what supposedly passes for an 'ordinary' human. To her, he just happens to be a dead man with supernatural abilities, to her, he had helped her and now she had done the same, maybe it really is that simple she thinks to herself.
"Excuse me, Hawkgirl smash," cracks Hawkgirl.
"Tell us something Doc," insists G.L.
"Grundy was revived using chaos magic, accumulative with no known outer limit. My magics are as useless as A.M.A.Z.O.'s technology," reports Fate.
Vixen elects to try a more direct approach by way of weakening the base of a nearby statue and then Aquaman topples by slamming into it with his arm. Shayera thought she could see surprise in his eyes as it fell on him or maybe recognition of something from his battle inside the Icthultu perhaps.
None could foresee that perhaps even someone like Solomon Grundy could be a hero too. She recalls watching him take several supernatural leaps to reach the top of what look like Icthultu's head then somehow force his way inside by pummeling the same spot multiple times.
The statue trick didn't work and the mistake nearly cost Vixen her life if not for Shayera hitting Grundy with the mace. It appears to weaken him instead of strengthening him thus providing an opening for Superman to slam him while John retrieves Vixen who is now quite battered from all her scraps with Grundy.
Shayera next intentionally put herself between Grundy and Superman as if telling him to back off as this is her mission to finish, not his.
"Don't make me do this Grundy!" pleads Shayera.
Both charge at each other head long yet with each strike Grundy gets slower and slower. However as she knows he doesn't quit until he is truly dead. Grundy makes another charge at her and she can her whole body shaking because now she would have to make good on her own vow which is that no one else would die because of her even it means killing whatever little is left of the Solomon Grundy she watched died not so long ago in her memories.
Another strike reveals the scar of the bite mark that slowly killed him inside the Icthultu. He turns to charge her again except she preempts him by smashing him through the pavement. There is no sign of him among the debris in the sewer tunnel, but in his current state he can't have gotten far.
"Why does it hurt him?" wonders Shayera aloud.
"It is because it is made of nth metal. Your people's technology was developed specifically to repel magical creatures. It disrupts the magic that animates him. The creature knows only rage and seeks oblivion," remarks Fate.
Her weapon – the only symbol left to her of Thanagar – is the very thing that would grant Grundy what he appears to seek if she follows Fate's explanation of what is happening at this very moment.
"Your mace may be the one object on Earth that can grant him peace," explains Fate.
John steps to Shayera's side before trying to get at the meaning of Fate's words.
"Your favorite movie's Old Yeller. You know exactly what he is saying," interjects Shayera.
She holds the mace a little higher as if contemplating once again the nature of her life, the purpose of her role, and all things that tie to this idea that she leaves only destruction in her wake.
"Is this my destiny? To be a destroyer? To betray yet another friend?" asks Shayera.
She looks straight at John in particular since she feels perhaps her betrayal of him is the worse for having fallen in love with him when she already promised herself to Hro over five years ago.
"It's not that simple… it never was," reminds Fate plainly.
The waxing is not something any wish to have even though Fate realizes Shayera's questions remain in limbo, but a decision must be on her part for she is Grundy's closest and dearest friend in this world.
"Only you have the power to put that creature of its misery," insists Aquaman sharply.
Every damn time someone calls him a creature I feel too many things including insult for he has a name, he is a person, he is someone to some of us even though not all admit including Aquaman.
"And to stop it before it hurts anyone else," adds Aquaman sympathetically.
She feels John's gloved hand on her arm.
"You don't have to do it Shayera… I'll do it for you…"
He reaches out with his other hand.
"Give me the mace."
Their green eyes meet intensely as ever.
"Forget it, John. He was my friend."
She looks away as she asserts this as her responsibility and that she is doing this thing herself. The mace crackles to life once more as she dives into the breach. Perhaps it is irony or better maybe it is not that all when it turns out the only illumination in the ever darkening breach is coming from her mace. She touches down after a short flight down the breach shaft.
Sewer tunnel water surrounds feet and ankles. There is rubble to her left and right – not quite the innards of the Icthultu, but in some ways close enough to recreate the mood.
"Grundy," gasps Hawkgirl.
She descends to his position to find her brave friend mortally wounded even for a dead man.
"Grundy can't move. Birdnose get Grundy's soul for him?"
"Rest, I'll finish what you started," promises Hawkgirl.
She positions herself for an attack run to kill the Icthultu.
"You will do not do this thing, Shayera Hol of Thanagar. Icthultu still has faith in you."
"So do I," admits Hawkgirl.
She dives charging her mace as she goes and delivers the killing blow for Grundy. The explosion from the hit throws her backwards and the glowing light starts to fade rapidly.
Not further into the sewers is where Grundy lies in a condition not unlike the one she found him after the fatal sting and the slaying of the last defense mechanism inside the Icthultu. She hears his weakening groans so she starts to walk finding that he torn off the grating not far where he must have landed she hit through the ground above these tunnels.
His labored breathing grows louder so she knows he is really close and then she finally spots him.
Their eyes meet as she walks towards him.
"Shh, it's okay," she assures him, "I know what you want."
She had never heard herself speak this way to anyone. Her voice hardly sounds her own yet somewhere inside her it feels true at least in this very moment here with Solomon once more.
"What you need."
She gestures to him to close his eyes. It would be brief enough to miss to anyone else except them. There is a momentary flash of light as the crackling mace lands its final blow giving peace to the rage driven Solomon Grundy and now she begins her long journey back to the street through the breach that brought him down to the sewers where he met his second death in her presence. The first in memory seems more heroic yet the second shares the intimacy of the first and perhaps more so.
"It's over," sighs Shayera sorrowfully.
She begins to walk away from them unsure what she could do now because she did what she had to do for Solomon, but beyond that she did not know yet the mystery of it did not bother her as much as it had before tonight. The uncertainty lingers and to one side of the street is a pack of reporters. Word had gotten out about her presence and naturally the 'vultures' were curious as usual. She knows no answer on that subject would satisfy anyone and what's more she knows somehow there are no words for such things – only that she either be forgiven or hated – each had their own decision to make about that instead of letting the press inform it.
She learns the vote was a tie, which Superman broke it, and some of her 'family' chose to believe that they could not weigh that event against all the good she had done despite the pretenses she had used as her cover while here on Earth during those years.
There were cries of denouement from the crowd, which John sought to silence yet she knows deep down some of that is deserved so she kept walking except a hand from the crowd grabs hers.
"You saved our lives. God bless you, Chica halcon."
"You deserve that too."
It is the mother and daughter she pulled out of that car which fell off the bridge last night. Shayera felt a little warmer inside because of her and her smiling daughter. The sun comes with the new dawn.
A/N 1: Second Wake The Dead chapter- back to Shayera - how past meets future with her coming out of seclusion to 'kill' a resurrected friend. Confronting her past decisions, her future role - concerns about being a destroyer are raised.
A/N 2: Past-Present scenes overlap - variation of ones from earlier chapters.