The New World
by P.H. Wise
A BtVS, Power Girl, DCU, and Marvel Comics crossover fanfic
Chapter 4: Unfinished Business, Part 3
Disclaimer: The DC Universe and its associated characters is the property of DC comics. The Marvel Universe and its associated characters is the property of Marvel Entertainment LLC. I'm honestly not sure who owns Buffy the Vampire Slayer anymore, but it used to be Fran and Kaz Kuzui.
Bereisheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'aretz.
When the sky above was not named, and the earth beneath did not yet bear a name, and the primeval Apsu, who begat them, and chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both. Their waters were mingled together, and no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen; When of the gods none had been called into being.
In the beginning, the universe belonged to the darkness. And then there was light. At first, there was nothing but the blinding white light of Creation. Then the Darkness fought back, and the light was splintered. The big bang. Cosmic expansion. The birth of galaxies. The solar nurseries. The sun ignites. The planets take form. The Earth cools from a molten state. An impact with another planetoid spins the moon out of the very fabric of the Earth; the first moonrise, a molten moon rising above a molten Earth. The Earth again cools. The oceans form. Life begins. Simple things at first. Tiny things. Things we would barely recognize as alive, but growing in complexity through mutation and natural selection. Branching lines in the tree of life. Greater and greater biodiversity. More and more, and alive, from single cells to trilobites to dinosaurs. Life blooms, and death reaps its harvest. Again and again, life and death and life and death and birth and growth and death, on and on down the ages to the birth of humanity itself, the growth of civilizations and their fall, and here, for a time, on this tiny world in an unremarkable backwater of an unremarkable galaxy dwells beings made from stardust through which the Cosmos can know itself.
In time, not just humanity but every sentient being born from the Light came to contribute to its emotional spectrum. Life added to each respective light, and those lights could be condensed and collected into power; the endless Red Rage; the rapacious Orange light of Avarice; the blinding Yellow Terror; the center, the force which held the rest in balance, the essential light of Green Willpower; the ever-fading, never-lost glow of Blue Hope; the Violet throes of Love; the elusive Indigo Light of Compassion; these are the colors of the Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum.
Who will tell me when my day is through?
Life is short, and sad, and complicated, and beautiful, and wonderful, and death is always waiting. The darkness does not suffer the light gladly. It waits for every one of us as it waited for every single creature in the long, unbroken thread of life's story, from the modern human back to the first living organisms. As with the great so with the small. Powerful or weak, loved or hated, everything alive will die. Rage. Fear. Will. Hope. Love. Compassion. Death. And who can say if there it is anything after, or if what meaning we find in it is a chasing after the wind? What is crooked cannot be straightened. What is lacking cannot be counted. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
The darkness cannot feast on empty hearts
The black ring was an ancient thing. An incarnation of that dark emptiness before time and space. Forged of hunger, of lack, when it had come through the portal from the Flashpoint, it had lost all connection to its central Power Battery when the Flashpoint was unmade, and the battery with it, and the loss nearly unmade it in turn. Emergency protocols were engaged. All remaining power was to be carefully husbanded until such time as it found a host which could feed it again. Which could allow it to begin to spawn a new rings, and, when it had gathered enough power, a new Central Battery. To begin the Blackest Night anew.
The ring hibernated, all non-essential functions disabled, only the tiniest trickle of power devoted to the search for an appropriate host. Nearly a week had passed from the time of its arrival on Earth 616 to the moment it found what it was looking for. It could ill afford the power required to raise the man. It was a risk, but a calculated risk. Midnight fell. The power of Death waxed in the darkness. The black ring spoke.
"Robert Reynolds of Earth 616. Rise."
Terror seized Karen and her body readied to either fight or flee. It wasn't blind terror - not exactly. It left room for the rest of her mind to operate. It was still a choking, consuming thing, but it took up less space than it should have, somehow. There was a clarity beyond it, though that clarity shrank over time. Even as she watched, a black oil and a dark mist seemed to condense out of the very air. It flowed across the snow, staining everything it touched, flowed through the air, and the grass on the field died as it passed. The crickets stopped chirping. There were no cries of night birds. Even the storm seemed to hold its breath.
"Irma," Karen said quietly, "Get help. Get your sisters. Get everyone who can fight this guy. I'm going to try to hold him off."
A body took form in the midst of the black oil and dark smoke. The Golden Guardian of Good was a pale, rotten thing, his flesh half-putrid, his milky eyes blazing with orange-red light, his blonde hair pale and corpse-dry, hanging limply, bits of it breaking off when he turned his head towards her. His uniform was black and grey, now, and upon his belt, where the golden S should have been, was the symbol of the Black Lantern Corps.
"Go on," Karen said, steeling herself for battle with the Sentry.
Irma squeezed Karen's shoulder. "They're coming," she said. "But I'm not leaving you to face this alone."
When the Sentry spoke, he spoke with a voice that sounded like crumbling, rotted leather. Deep, raspy, and wet in a way that was fundamentally wrong. "I'm back," he whispered. Then he grinned, and when he did, black sludge dripped down his white teeth and over his decaying lips. "Hello, Void," he told Karen. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see you here. You're a reflection of me, after all. Though why you're still trying to disguise yourself as a teenaged girl..." He didn't finish that sentence. He trailed off and tilted his head to the side as he considered the two girls. "...emotional electromagnetic spectrum," he muttered. "Why did I never see that before?" He shook his head. "So very many things I should have seen before."
He might have said more, but Karen flickered forward; she crossed the space between them in less time than it took to blink and decked the man. The Sentry didn't lose his feet, but he lost traction on the ground and went sliding backwards at extremely high speed through the snow, carving twin trenches through it until he hit the ice of the lake. He lost his balance on the ice, but he wasn't finished falling by the time he reached the far side of the lake and plowed through a tree growing close to the lakeshore.
He rose to his feet, dusted himself off, and gave Karen a look that said as clearly as if it had been spoken: "Oh, please."
Karen replied by way of settling into a fighting stance and extended her hand towards him, then brought all her fingers back towards her in a 'bring it' gesture.
The Sentry brought it. Light gathered around his fists, pale and wan, and he laughed out loud as he bounded once, hit the ground, and went right into the earth; the snow and dirt beneath him had no power to resist him. There was a rumble, and Karen darted to the side just before the Sentry shot up from underground right at her feet in a fountain of dirt, snow, and pulverized rock. He was just a tiny bit faster than she, and he caught hold of her leg; and though she strained, she could not break his grip. He yanked her leg back towards him; then, before she could arrest her momentum with flight, he brought his other fist around and slammed it into her ribcage with bone-cracking force. Her back slammed into the ground a split second later, and she saw a white flash in her vision.
It felt like being hit by a truck. Well, like being hit by a truck would have felt before Karen had her powers. There was a distinct cracking sound, and then her whole chest hurt like hell. Pain radiated out of it, centered where the Sentry's fist had connected. Then she took a breath, and the pain surged up to levels that bordered on the absurd. It felt like she was breathing liquid fire, and for a moment, it was all she could do not to scream.
Then a blast of Phoenix fire took the Sentry completely by surprise. It reacted to his undead flesh, consuming it with a mad vigor that turned him instantly into a human torch. He screamed in utter agony, shot briefly into the air, and then crashed down through the frozen surface of the lake and into the water below with an impact that shattered the ice for twenty meters around the site of impact.
Irma set down next to Karen's fallen form. Then, without taking her eyes off the lake, she asked, "You okay?"
Karen took another breath, and immediately regretted it. "... Ow," she managed.
"It's probably a couple of broken ribs," Irma said. "I can take the pain away, but you're still hurt, so don't let him hit you there again."
Karen nodded, trying to breath as shallowly as possible. It didn't help. "... Do it," she said. Irma did. The pain simply stopped, and its sudden ceasing was a drug all its own. "Oh my God," Karen murmured, and got back up on her feet.
"Irma will do," Irma replied with an impish grin.
Alarms were sounding all over the campus, now. People were shouting. A pair of Sentinels were approaching, as were a dozen or so adult mutants and another score soldiers.
Then the Sentry rose up from the shattered lake, wreathed in ghost-light. He looked like something out of a nightmare. His already rotted face was covered in horrific burns, one of his eyes had burst, and in places you could see through to his pale skull. "The Light of Creation.." he hissed through the charred ruin of his lips, glaring at Irma.
"The fires of the Phoenix," Irma replied.
Sentry's ruined lips parted into a bestial snarl, but he contained his rage. Even as they looked, the damage began to repair itself, the horrific burns being undone in the space of seconds by the power of the black ring. He shook his head. "I don't have time to play with you and your girlfriend, Void. I haven't seen my wife in… oh, let's just say it's been a while. I'm sure Lindy is just dying to see me again."
Harsh, bright light fell upon the three of them. One of the Sentinels landed thirty yards distant. "YOU ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO BE IN THIS AREA," its pilot boomed over the P.A. system. "YOU HAVE FIVE SECONDS TO SURRENDER OR I WILL OPEN FIRE."
The Sentry didn't reply. He just launched himself forward at full acceleration. He also didn't bother to evade: he hit the Sentinel in the chest fists-first and kept right on going, blasting the machine apart as if it were made of paper mache. Chunks of Sentinel rained down over the field.
"Irma, I have to..." That was as far as Karen got.
"Go," Irma said, interrupting her. "We'll follow when we can."
Karen took to the air and followed after the Sentry; for the second time that night, she headed for New York at top speed.
The Watchtower got creepy at night. There was always something off about it, but at night it really seemed to come to the fore. It was alien. Wrong. The living quarters were the most normal part, made to look like a typical wholesome American suburban home. But even the warmest, friendliest parts of it were off. It was a Bad Place, but Lindy Reynolds had lived there for a long time, now. Sometimes, late at night, she thought she could hear whispers coming from the basement where Bob had kept the Void trapped.
She'd never gone down there. Never.
Lindy had never asked how exactly the Watchtower had been built. Bob said he'd made it, but the kind of technology here was so far beyond Bob that it wasn't even funny. Bob. Robert. All her thoughts seemed to go back to him. Every time. He was coming back. She knew that. He had to be, because if he wasn't… if he didn't…
The whole world seemed to tremble with the thought. No. Bob was coming back, and she would be here for him when he did.
At least Normie was with her. He did his best. He was a good dog, and he was good company. And if sometimes it felt like she was suffocating living her life in the tower with CLOC providing for her every need, those feelings always passed eventually. If if sometimes she felt as though her life should have been more than this, well, that passed, too. Vodka helped.
She was watching TV when it happened. CLOC suddenly came to life and spoke, his voice instantly drowning out the sounds of the television to her ears: "Sentry detected. Warning: anomaly. Warning: secondary energy source detected." At those words, Lindy Reynolds was so overcome with joy/terror/joy/terror/joy that she barely heard the note of fear enter the artificial voice. "Lindy," it said, "The Sentry is coming, but there are significant anomalies. I believe you should run."
Lindy beamed at CLOC. "I knew he'd come home. I knew he'd be back!"
It grew colder in the living room, and it was not a cold born upon the air, but a cold felt in the soul.
"Lindy," CLOC said, "Run."
Lindy's beaming smile faded slightly. "What?"
The doors were flung open, and Bob was there. The man she'd married. The man she'd loved. The man her whole world had revolved around for… for so long now. His hair shone like spun gold. His eyes were clear, his face every bit as lovely as she remembered. "Bob?" she asked, hope and love and joy all mingling together into a brilliance that felt like Home.
"Lindy, that isn't..." CLOC began. A flash of red-orange light. The sphere which housed CLOC's avatar fell to the floor with a heavy thud, but that seemed strangely unimportant. Distant. He had come back to her.
"I came back for you," Bob said. "I couldn't leave you alone, Lindy. I love you too much for that. So I fought my way back. I came back from the dead to be with you, my love."
Her heart swelled within her. "I love you," she whispered, and in that moment, she meant it.
"I love you," he said. Then he swept her off her feet before she could say anything else, and he kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her, and she kissed him, too, and everything was right with the world.
Right up until his rotted, putrescent hand plunged towards her chest to rip out her heart.
A vast black claw caught Bob's at the very moment his corpse-hand touched her skin, and though Bob's hand had torn finger-shaped holes in her blouse, and though he strained visibly against the dark hand that had caught his, he went no further.
Lindy's heart thundered in her chest as her gaze tracked slowly up to the thing that was standing behind her. Its maw glittered with teeth. Its eyes blazed like stars. Its flesh was like living shadow, like darkness made manifest, and a dozen infini-tendrils writhed in the air around its beast-like form.
The Void had saved her life.
An instant later, something burst through the wall behind her with a protest of metal, of breaking drywall, and of of shattering wood. She had a brief impression of motion and a sharp crack, and then Bob used his free hand to throw a young woman, maybe 17 or 18 years old, into the the living room couch. The couch burst apart like it was nothing, bits of if it scattering in every direction. The girl tumbled head over heels into the wall and hit it so hard she left a dent, and it was only then that it occurred to her that the young woman was Power Girl's twin.
Bob looked from the girl to the Void and back in confusion. And then he wasn't her Bob anymore. He decayed. Rotted before her eyes. The smell was ghastly, and she could taste the putrescence on her lips where she'd kissed him. Her gorge rose, and she staggered backwards, away from Sentry and Void both as mad terror roared through her body like a whirlwind.
Then the Void wrapped the Sentry in its infini-tendrils, seized him by both arms, and used tendrils and arms alike to fling him out into the night. The sound of his body crashing through a neighboring skyscraper rose only dimly above the rush of the wind.
Her throat was raw with screams, but she didn't remember screaming. Her eyes were wide. Her heart racing. Tears streaked her makeup. "...What's… what… what… what's happening?" she asked. Power Girl's twin got up. Lindy saw it out of the corner of her eye, but she didn't care. That didn't matter. Not when It was standing before her.
The Void shifted. It took Bob's form. Bob, but every feature cast in shadow no matter where the light sources were, a cape as dark as the night flowing behind him. "The Old Dark took Bob," it told her. "It needs to feed, but the darkness cannot feast on empty hearts. It wants yours. But it's okay, Lindy." Oh, God, oh God, oh God, it even had his voice. IT HAD HIS VOICE! She had to swallow the deranged giggle that threatened to bubble up out of her. "I'm here," the Void said gently. "I'll take care of you. Whatever he can't do, I can. He can't protect you, so I will."
Her world crumbled. Up was down. Black was white. Her vision trembled. She was crying. "Oh, no…"
The Void hugged her gently, and tenderly kissed her brow. It even smelled like him, and that just made it worse. "I've got you, Lindy. It's okay."
Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. She was shaking. She was shaking like a leaf. Her vision blurred. She couldn't seem to... couldn't get enough breath. "Noooo, no, no, no, no..." she moaned.
The last thing Lindy Reynolds saw before she lost consciousness was the face of the Void looking down upon her with love.
Karen regarded the Void with narrowed eyes even as her other senses remained on high alert, scanning for the Sentry, knowing he might return at any moment. "OK, what's the deal? Because I'm pretty sure you're supposed to the Sentry's evil twin."
The Void held Lindy gently in his arms, smiling down at her unconscious form before looking up to regard Karen. "Aren't you supposed to be the same?" he asked. "I'm almost insulted."
Karen's eyes flickered left and right, watching for movement, seeing through the walls, not finding the Sentry. "What are you, then?"
"Every light casts its shadow," the Void said. "I'm everything he isn't. I can do everything he can't. I'm everything he's afraid of. All he wishes he could be." The Void grinned, and his teeth glinted in the darkness. "I'm Robert Reynolds, girl. His true self. His equal. The only one who could ever match him." His tone darkened, his hatred bubbling up from under the surface. "Until you."
It was then that two things occurred to Karen. The first was that the Sentry was way the hell crazier than she'd ever suspected. The second was that the Void hated her just as much as the Sentry did. Because she matched him. "It bothers you," she said.
"To have to share the title of most powerful being on Earth with a teenaged girl? And not only that, but one who has an equivalent level of power with none of the drawbacks?" His lip curled into a snarl. "Of course not. Why would you think that?"
Something moved in the night. Karen followed it with her eyes, looking through the walls as though they weren't there, but it defied her vision. She couldn't see it clearly. Right. So the Void didn't like having a girl in its weight class. That was a little pathetic, but she needed to stay focused. "You said the Old Dark had taken him. What did you mean?"
The Void looked at her like she was a moron, and it annoyed her. "It's taken him. Unjustly stolen what is mine."
"He was dead," Karen said. She raised an eyebrow. "You're not mad because the ring resurrected him before you could, are you?"
The Void shook his head. "No. That's just it. That's the grand joke. Don't you see? Robert isn't dead. He never was. He only thinks he is. He died because those telepaths convinced him to. The Old Dark animates him because he believes it should."
Karen blinked, and gave the Void an incredulous look. "You're saying his being undead is... psychosomatic?"
The Void laughed. "Yes! Yes." His laughter interrupted his words, and the sound of it was awful, like glass shattering, or the loathsome smell of month-old decay. He took a breath, showing bright teeth beneath his utterly shadowed face. "But that's not what you should be worrying about."
"What should I be worrying about?"
The Void's grin widened until there was no longer any question about its humanity, and Karen's heart sank. "Oh, hell," she muttered.
The Void's dark infini-tendrils awoke, lashing at her like snakes, cables of living shadow that moved in ways which seemed to defy any notion of conventional geometry. Karen moved, but her hesitation against a foe of nearly equal power rendered evasion of all of them to be impossible: she caught the last strike in her hand just before it would have struck her in the throat, and when she caught the black shadow-tendril, she saw all the moments she'd ever wanted to escape from. All the bad times. Past. Present. Future. Traumatic visions, every one. They came in no particular order, one after another after another.
There was a boy who had been her friend, but the monsters had taken him. He was a monster, now, and wanted her blood, and Willow's. He died by accident, shoved violently forward onto the stake that she was holding at ready, but lacked the courage to use.
She had only meant to help. She had never intended to do more damage in helping than the sand-villain had. Damn it, why had she listened to Kara?
She was a fool who had lost a bet and was too proud to do anything but follow through on the failed wager. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to be a man. She was more afraid of being seen as weak than of being beaten up.
She butchered two hundred S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents, reveling in her own power. She almost killed the Avengers. She was helpless before Emma Frost. The sense of violated, helpless outrage when she discovered that Emma had programmed her to be unable to attack her! Had programmed her mind with a God-damn off switch!
At last, at long last, she had come home. To say goodbye. To find closure. To see again the friends she had so dearly missed. … and they had never missed her at all. Never known she was gone. Because HE had been there the whole time, and she wasn't him. She was just a copy. Giles tried to dress it up. "A perfect copy," he said. It didn't help.
She was a little boy lying on his back on the kitchen floor, the whole left side of her face a blaze of agony. Her eye was already swelling, and swelling shut. Jessica Harris was screaming at her father. Screaming at Tony. Tony hadn't meant to hit her, but little Xander had gotten in the way.
She was facing the fire of the Phoenix, desperately trying to save a thousand lives, watching as they burned despite her best efforts.
She was standing helpless as Maxwell Lord forced her to tell him everything she knew about her friends and allies. … As… wait...
She was at the Stamford house, murdering heroes. She watched with despair growing in her heart as the people she'd thought were her friends, whom she had defended, abandoned her.
A creature of rage descended from the heavens to release its fury upon the world. The One Girl in All the World fought the beast before she could intervene, and was laid low.
She fought to save a girl with brown hair that had grown out green, who brought the Light of Hope to a people who had none. She strove to match the Hellgod blow for blow, but she was losing. It had taken too much power. A vampire - the one with the angelic face - watched with undisguised glee, all of New York in ruins around them as the sorcerer prepared for the ritual bloodletting that would tear open the barriers between worlds.
The visions might have gone further, but Karen's eyes blazed with red fire. Her hand clenched tighter upon the infini-tendril, and with a heave, she ripped it off of the Void's body and cast it aside. It hit the far wall with a splat. "I have had just about enough of your bullshit, Bob," she snarled. Then she hit him with twin blasts of heat vision, and he recoiled, backed away to the stairs that led to the basement, and tumbled down them head over heels. She might have pursued him, but a cry of agony came from below - from the Avengers tower, and Karen cursed, and flew down to investigate.
"Sentry!" It was Tony Stark's voice. Karen could see him through the wall. His armor was in the process of unfolding onto his body.
A window had been smashed; glass was everywhere, and an old man in a fine black suit with a blue vest and tie lay flat on his back, eyes open and staring, blood pooling around his body, a bloody hole in his chest. He hadn't been dead long. The Sentry stood over his body, holding the man's heart in his hand. "Poor old Jarvis," he said. "Do you know he felt just before he died?"
Jarvis's heart burned with a pale, cold fire which quickly consumed it; a thick grey smoke rose from it even as it was consumed and flowed into the Sentry's black ring.
Power Level 0.01%
Tony's jaw dropped open. And then his his armor covered his face.
"He saw you coming to save him, and he felt hope."
"Why?" Tony asked.
"God knows," The Sentry replied. "You're not a hero. You never have been. You see yourself as an important man with the will to make the difficult decisions, but you aren't that, either. You're a tool. Just another man in a suit." His voice became mocking. "The futurist Tony Stark. Tell me, Tony. What do you see in your future?"
Iron Man raised his arm, levelled it at the Sentry, and shot the decrepit, rotting body in the chest.
The Sentry glanced down at the adamantium dart that had sunk into him, then back at Tony.
"I'd hoped I would never to need to use this. We developed it as a counter-measure to the Hulk - using advanced nanotechnology specifically tailored to his genetic structure to negate his powers. Forever. I took the liberty of having a few doses prepared for you as well, just in case. Never expected to use it with you being dead, but you're right. I'm a futurist. I believe in being prepared. What I just dosed you with will undo what the super-serum did to you, Bob. You'll be an ordinary human in a moment. Well, an ordinary corpse."
Sentry laughed. Then he hit Iron Man so hard he sent him flying through the wall. "Stupid little man," he said. "You think your machines can stop me?"
Karen was there when he went to follow. She caught him by the elbow just before he would have crushed Iron Man beneath him. "I don't think so," she said, and flung him bodily up through the roof. Sentry tumbled through the upper floors of Stark Tower and into the basement of the Watchtower above, and Karen followed, hitting him again and again and again, her blows breaking the sound barrier, the concussive blasts of the impact sending shockwaves into the surrounding structure of the tower.
Then Sentry recovered from his initial surprise. "After I beat you, I'm going to make you watch while I pull the limbs off your mutant friends," he said conversationally. Then he started fighting back. His uppercut sent her flying up through a dozen floors of the Watchtower, metal tearing with shrieks of protest, the Sentry's power flaring beneath her in a brilliant display of golden light as the Black Lantern unleashed the power of a million exploding suns. His power showed no signs of fading.
She stopped only when she hit the ceiling of the living quarters. There was no sign of Lindy, and no sign of the Void, but Sentry was rising from below. She could feel his light, and despite his dead state, is affected her just as it had the last time they had fought: it gave her strength. It wasn't much, but it helped.
Karen felt the brush of Irma's mind against hers. 'Karen,' Irma said telepathically. 'The X-Men aren't being allowed to leave. My sisters and I are on our way. So is Prodigy. He and his teacher will arrive before we do.'
He came at her with what would have been blinding speed to anyone else: to her it looked like a normal-speed, somewhat clumsy punch. Oh, his whole body was glowing, and his fists and his eyes shone like deathly stars, but it was clumsy. Not totally untrained - but he seemed… rusty. Which stood to reason: he probably hadn't fought anyone on equal terms since… since she'd fought him as Divine. She herself was no martial arts master, but Giles had trained her some before all this, she'd gotten some from Kara's memories of training with Wildcat when the Cuckoos had given her Kara's control of her powers, and she'd been training with the X-Men for months; one of the classes they all had to take was hand-to-hand combat as taught by Logan. Hell, Logan had, since their return from the Flashpoint, taken a particular delight in forcing her to do hand-to-hand training with the danger room simulating the effects of red sunlight in order to force her to operate at a more human level before being allowed to take it up to full speed. Giles's training, Logan's training, Kara's memories, all of it together was making the difference now. Karen blocked Sentry's first blow, guide-parried the second and third, and then, when he rushed at her, did a simple throw that sent him sprawling. He was stronger than her, but only about as much stronger as you'd expect a man of his size and weight to be than a woman of her size and apparent weight.
"You've never actually had to fight, have you?" she asked.
The Sentry snarled at her as he rose to his feet, coming in with a one-two combo that was pretty blatantly telegraphed and obvious. She dodged the first, caught his arm on the second, and twisted it behind his back. And since she wasn't screwing around anymore, she didn't bother trying to force him into submission through pain: she just broke his arm as viciously as she could.
She grinned, feeling a bit better about her chances, now. "You haven't, have you? You've always relied on being overwhelmingly more powerful than your enemies. Grab them and throw them into the sun, right? Take them up into orbit and rip them in half? You have no idea how to fight." It wasn't strictly true: his fighting ability could charitably be described as 'average, if a bit rusty,' but she actually was trying to make him mad: fight angry, fight stupid.
He obliged, charging like an angry bull, using his godlike speed and strength to its fullest extent to come barrelling in for the kill. So she kicked him in the balls with enough force to shatter a mountain, and every window in a three block radius immediately shattered.
Sentry let out a pathetic, agonized shriek as he staggered back, clutching at his crotch as he doubled over. "I'm going to make you pay for that," he hissed when he could speak again.
"Yeah, yeah," Karen said, "Tell it to someone who isn't kicking your ass right now."
On the fight's periphery, Iron Man returned, this time accompanied by Miss Marvel. Iron Man's armor had seen better days. He and Miss Marvel exchanged words, but Karen spared it little attention.
Sentry's eyes strayed to the ring upon his finger, then flickered back up to Karen. He straightened, his visage flickering back and forth between decay and health several times in the course of a second, and each time it shifted to decay, he seemed visibly less pained.
Iron Man and Miss Marvel both shot Sentry in the back with full attacks blasts: repulsor and photonic blast. It did very little save distract the Sentry, but a moment's distraction was enough: Karen shot forward and used that moment to hit the Sentry so hard she broke his arm. Then she twisted and yanked, and with an assist from both her freezing breath and her heat vision, his arm - the arm to which the hand bearing the black ring was connected - came clean off. The awful tearing squelch-splatter was muffled by the storm, and the wind took the worst of the stench.
Knowing that he would just regenerate it, that she couldn't actually separate him from the ring without destroying it, Karen looked down and blasted the ring directly with her heat vision.
It did precisely nothing. The ring didn't even seem to warm.
A thousand tendrils of darkness flowed up through the Sentry's severed arm, reconnecting it with his body and regenerating the break in his arm. Then the Sentry sneered at the three of them and raised his ring.
The black ring flared with a pale, ghostly light, and around the Sentry coalesced two shadows, two ring-constructs, one of the Sentry as he existed in some idealized silver age long since passed, the other of the Void dressed in a ridiculous trench coat and hat over a black suit that made him look more than a little like a movie mobster. The shadow-Sentry immediately turned and flew away, and when Karen moved to stop him, the shadow-Void caught her by the legs while the Sentry shot up and delivered two powerful blows to her chest, each one hitting her already broken ribs. The pain flooded back through her body, rampaging over the block Irma had created like the enormous herd of angry t-rexes that it felt like were stomping on her chest. She couldn't breathe. Her lungs were full of magma. The world spun. … No, the Sentry was spinning her. He threw her into the Watchtower, and her scream of pain was suddenly cut off as the impact with the superstructure knocked the air out of her lungs. She sheared through the advanced materials of the Watchtower and vanished into its interior.
The Watchtower fell. It fell from its perch atop Stark Tower with a roar like armageddon. Down, down it fell, broken to pieces as it smashed against Stark Tower, parts of Stark Tower breaking off and falling in turn, all of it spilling down toward the New York streets.
A gigantic catchers' mitt forged from pure green willpower caught it less than a hundred feet off the ground, pulled back, and then, with a groan of protesting metal, launched the entire wreck skyward at escape velocity.
Karen tumbled free of the wreckage, spinning head over heels as she struggled to regain control of her flight: after about a second, she managed to right herself. Everything hurt. Her head throbbed. Breathing was agony, but she had to stop him no matter how much it hurt. She clenched her teeth and prepared to face the Sentry once more. Then a hand fell upon her shoulder.
Prodigy had arrived.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Been better," she managed. She took an agonizing breath, then another, forcing herself to function through the pain. "Glad you could make it, David," she said. "I'm pretty sure this guy is cheating."
A cry of pain rang out in the night. A voice she recognized. With a curse, Karen flew off to the source of the cry, with Prodigy following close behind.
On the thirty-seventh floor of Stark Tower, the Sentry stood over Captain America, whose shield arm was an unrecognizable bloody mess, and whose shield lay discarded on the floor. For all that, Captain America stood unbowed, looking his enemy in the eye.
"So much for the power of American righteousness," the Sentry said. "People talk about you like you're something impressive, but you're just a man. A dead man."
"Violence is not strength," Captain America replied, "And compassion is not weakness."
The undead Sentry was unimpressed by his words. A pale light flared in his hand as he gathered the destructive energy he would use to end the Captain's life. Before he could let it fly, a blast of heat-vision and a lance of green light hit the Sentry simultaneously. The green light was what seemed to damage him: he staggered, his entire right side smoldering from the impact.
Somewhere in the night, another life ended. Another heart was claimed by the Old Dark.
Power Level 0.02%
With Prodigy's arrival, what had been a battle swinging against Karen began to swing back the other way, and while Iron Man and Miss Marvel could contribute little, they were at least strong enough that the Sentry noticed when they hit him with ranged attacks, and every so often, they were able to distract either the Sentry or his shadow at a critical moment that allowed the two X-Men to gain the upper hand.
"Bob," Karen said as they fought, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually do know you're in there somewhere. You have to fight. You can't let this monster control you."
The Sentry's only response was an expression that was variously incredulous and disappointed, as if to ask, 'Really? Come on, really?'
"You have to wake up," Karen said. It hurt like hell to talk. The pain didn't stop her.
The Sentry snorted, and the battle continued; even as he slowly lost ground, he spoke, saying, "Did you know that I can see the entire Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum? Hate, Will, Love, Avarice, Compassion, Hope, and Fear: I can see them all." There was a brief pause between each word as they fought. Between love and avarice, Sentry sent an intense blast of energy at Prodigy, who evaded by bare centimeters. Prodigy in turn fired off a will-forged blast which the Sentry evaded, only for that blast to split into a dozen smaller blasts, each of which in turn split into ten more blasts, all of them homing in on the Sentry, striking him just after he finished the word, 'fear.' The Sentry staggered backwards, growing angrier and angrier. "Do you want to know what I saw when your girlfriend was with you, girl?" he asked.
Right. And why would she think that a zombie Sentry would tell her the truth? "Not really, no," Karen said.
"Are you afraid of what you might learn?" Sentry asked.
"More like bored and hoping to skip the 'blatant emotional manipulation attempt' part of the fight," Karen said.
"She shone, girl. She shone with the orange light of Avarice."
Karen blinked. There was a long pause, and then she asked, "... That's it?"
The Sentry frowned. "What do you mean, 'that's it?'"
"Your big attempt to manipulate me consists of you telling me my girlfriend wants me? You're bad at this." She glanced at Prodigy. "Back me up here, man."
Prodigy nodded in agreement. "As attempts to emotionally manipulate your enemy go, I give it two out of ten."
"Why the extra point?" Karen asked.
Prodigy smirked. "He spoke the whole thing in complete sentences. Credit where credit is due."
Karen nodded. "Fair enough."
The Black Lantern Sentry's face had darkened all throughout that exchange, and by the end of it, he was all but radiating fury. The battle continued, and the power around the Sentry grew ever stronger, ever brighter, until he seemed all but consumed by a pale, ghostly aura. "Fine," he hissed. "You want to skip to the killing you part? Done." A dozen more Black Energy constructs flickered into being, then, spawned from Robert Reynolds's darkest nightmares, each humanoid save that they had too many eyes, too many limbs, and moving in ways that suggested not only that the humanoid shape was but a shell, but that whatever creature was contained within that humanoid shape was something very, very alien. They moved to surround the two X-Men, the Sentry's entire focus upon them - which was the plan.
"Two can play at that game," Prodigy said. His ring pulsed, and then a group of three men and two women in distinctive spandex uniforms numbered from one to five and wearing face-concealing helmets, all of them forged from Will and green light, coalesced into being. They immediately charged in to do battle with the dark constructs.
Karen blinked. "Are those Power Rangers?" she asked.
Prodigy nodded, maintaining an admirably deadpan demeanor. "S.P.D.," he answered.
The battle went on, green construct Rangers firing blasters as the dark constructs approached, then switching to D-Rods and D-Knuckles as they closed to melee range. Meanwhile, Karen darted forward, flattened her body horizontally in mid-air to avoid a haymaker punch, and hit the Sentry in the midsection, driving him down towards the street. The Sentry-construct darted in to deflect her, but was forced to veer off at the last second when Prodigy put a beam of green light between her and it, which fractured even as it came between the two, splitting apart into a cage of green energy around the dark Sentry construct. Prodigy clenched his fist, and the cage collapsed inwards, crushing the dark construct until cage and dark construct alike burst asunder.
Karen slammed the Sentry into the pavement, which cracked violently in a spider-web pattern out from the point of impact. He finally landed a hit on her, and though she blocked it, it struck with such force that it staggered her and sent a wave of pain shooting through her forearm.
A shadow passed over them: a white and blue vehicle was flying overhead, with a brilliant blue stylized '4' emblazoned upon it. Karen glanced up at it for the briefest of possible moments, and recognized the four people within it. More heroic reinforcements were arriving by other means; Luke Cage came running up out of a subway, and a tall, beautiful amazonian woman with green skin and hair wearing what looked like a one-piece white and purple bathing suit leaped down from a roof across the street. Above them, news helicopters had begun to circle. More heroes joined the battle. More and more. Another life ended, and another. Power levels increased. But at this point, it didn't matter: Kyle Rayner arrived on the scene, and faced with two Green Lanterns and a Kryptonian plus the assembled heroes of New York, the Sentry finally turned and fled.
Or tried to.
Karen, David and Kyle were there to stop his retreat.
They caught him before he'd gone more than three blocks, Karen dealing with him physically while the two Lanterns put a stop to his dark constructs, and a being with power enough to break the world was thereby contained. Then, at last, the Phoenix drew near, a fiery raptor in the sky announcing their approach. They landed even as Karen slammed the Sentry to the ground and wrenched his arms behind his back until they broke, rendering them once again, momentarily useless.
The Black Lantern looked up at the Phoenix hosts as they set down, his eyes glittering with hatred. "That won't work," he said. "You aren't the white light of creation."
"We are life," Celeste said.
"We are fire," Irma said.
"And we know how to deal with you," Phoebe finished.
Then, together, they spoke, their eyes blazing with fire, their voices echoing with power. "Robert Reynolds of Earth," they said, "Live."
The Black Lantern howled in agony as the fire of life itself consumed it from within, and everywhere that fire touched, it burned away corruption and left unmarked, healthy flesh in its place.
Robert Reynolds was reborn. Alive, he fell to his knees and wept. Of the black ring there was no sign. And somewhere in the distance, the Void laughed.
Karen nearly collapsed. Not from exhaustion: she wasn't tired; she was never tired, now. Not physically, at least. Rayner was speaking, but she didn't pay it any mind. Her everything hurt too much to pay attention to him.
"You okay?" Irma asked, but it sounded hazy, fading in and out of audibility.
Karen didn't answer right away. She looked at the wreckage the fight had left behind. Water was fountaining into the sky from several places. There were holes in the road went clear down to the subway tunnels. The front doors and lobby of Stark Tower were shattered, and smashed, sometimes overturned cars dotted the streets around the building. The police had already created a perimeter and were keeping people away. Now that the fight was over, several ambulances pulled up.
Everything was too bright and too loud, and in too many colors.
Irma's voice snapped into focus. "Karen, you with us?" she asked.
"It never stops," Karen whispered.
"It never stops." She looked to Irma, who had landed next to her, now, the fires of the Phoenix faded away. "How do you live like this?"
Irma's expression grew marginally more guarded. "Live like what?"
"Like this," Karen said, and made an all-encompassing gesture. "It never stops. Crisis after crisis after crisis. I got here just after a bus full of Xavier students had been blown up. Then Purifiers were trying to murder even more students at the mall. Preachers were riling up crowds against us. Then Nimrod. Divine. The 198. I mean, there was a few weeks after the Sentry attacked the first time, when I became... when I got this body, where everything was calm, but other than that, it just... doesn't stop." Karen looked down at her hands. Bitterness roiled inside her, making her words angry and harsh. "Children of the Vault. Random godlike beings causing trouble. The Phoenix possesses you and your sisters. Then comes the Flashpoint, and after that, we come back to this. Back to people hating us, and the school becoming more and more of an internment camp. Then Dawn shows up, then another random godlike being abducts the entire school, and no sooner did we deal with that than we learn that Max Lord's been inside my head, but hey, can't do anything about that because the Sentry's back with a deadite makeover..." she trailed off, hating what she was feeling, but feeling it all the same: an emotion she had hated even as Xander:
Karen swallowed. "What am I supposed to do? I can't be everywhere, and it never stops..."
Irma's expression softened, and she hugged Karen, pulling her close.
Irma's touch felt good. There was comfort there.
"I don't know," Irma said. "Maybe you just do the best you can. Maybe that's all you can do."
Some of the tension seemed to drain out of Karen. Not all, but some. She leaned into Irma's embrace, returning it now, her arms around the shorter girl's shoulders, Irma's around her waist, and they stood there a time together; and if the world went on around them with its sirens and lights and worried faces and police and paramedics and reporters and passers by and fears of what even worse is still in store, neither of them paid it any mind.
Karen wasn't sure how much time passed, but they stood there until Iron Man and Ms. Marvel landed on either side of them. "Both of you unhurt?" Ms. Marvel asked.
"I'm fine," Karen lied. She didn't know that Iron Man's suit could detect the broken ribs, but he didn't say anything. She looked to Iron Man. "Can you get me in touch with Thor?" she asked.
Iron Man raised an eyebrow behind his helmet. "Why?" he asked.
"I need him to send a message to someone." She looked to where Bob Reynolds was lying curled up in a foetal ball where the Cuckoos had resurrected him. "The Sentry needs help. I think I know who can give it to him."
Iron Man was silent for a moment. Then he nodded. "All right," he said.
The aftermath of the battle was a thing of hours. Emergency crews came and went. The police tried to secure the places most damaged by the fight, redirecting traffic in their heavy winter coats as the snow began to fall again. The Cuckoos talked with Ms. Marvel for a while. The pain in Karen's chest grew less as her body used its stored solar energy to repair the broken bones, though it was much slower going than it had ever been in the past. She wasn't sure if that was because it was night or not.
People were talking about the attack. About Karen's intervention. The Sentry was back. News crews were braving the storm to film the aftermath.
Karen heard Prodigy's voice not far away.
"Thanks for getting here so quickly," Prodigy said.
Karen looked up. Prodigy was talking with Kyle Rayner. There was another man not far away. A man in a blue jumpsuit with a white lightning bolt design down the front. He didn't look healthy, and his white hair swept back to twin points on either side of his head. She didn't recognize him.
The man in the blue jumpsuit abruptly interrupted Prodigy and Kyle's conversation. "I can give it back to you if you want it," he said.
Prodigy looked confused. "Give what back?"
"Your power," the man in the blue jumpsuit said. "I can give it back to you. You can be a mutant again." Karen started paying more attention, then. This guy could give back lost mutant powers?
Prodigy frowned as he turned to study the man in the jumpsuit. "What's the catch?" he asked.
Kyle sighed. "Pietro, are you making an offer of dark, ill-gotten powers to my student while we're trying to help you?"
The man - Pietro - got defensive at that. "They're not dark or ill-gotten!" he snapped.
"No," Kyle said, "You just haven't successfully restored anyones powers without incredibly dangerous side effects."
"... Ah," Prodigy said. He took a step back from Pietro. "I'll pass for now, thanks."
Pietro looked annoyed. "Suit yourself," he said.
Another hour passed with Karen trying very hard not to think about the thing that had her practically terrified out of her wits. So she thought about the dozen other things that were making her life difficult. She talked with Captain America and Ms. Marvel about the situation at the Xavier Institute, and both agreed that something needed to be done. Steve said he would talk to the President, but Carol was less than hopeful about the chances of this changing anything.
Then Iron Man contacted her on her communicator. "He's here," was all he said.
Right. Time to talk to Bob Reynolds.
She found him on the roof standing atop the wreckage that had been the place where the Watchtower had been joined to Stark Tower. There was no sign of Lindy, no sign of Normie, no sign of CLOC, no sign of the Void.
He stood in silence, ignoring her - or perhaps unaware of her - for a few long minutes. Karen let them pass. She waited until he was ready. By the time he spoke, the pain in her chest had gone down to something downright bearable.
"... I guess I owe you an apology," he said. His voice was sad. Tentative. Like he didn't trust it.
"I guess you do," she replied, and almost immediately she wished she could take the words back. This wasn't why she'd come up here, but a hurt, angry, and vindictive part of her had spoken before she could stop herself.
"It won't help," Bob noted. "I've hurt too many people for it to help."
"It wasn't you," Karen said. "It wasn't your fault that a black lantern ring decided to reanimate your corpse."
Bob laughed a bitter little laugh. "It's always my fault. Everything. Always. I wanted to be a hero, but I'm not."
"What do you mean?"
"I let it take me," Bob said. "It doesn't matter. Didn't matter. Won't. Even without black lantern rings, the truth is, for every person I save, another person dies. For every act of compassion, the Void matches it was a senseless act of violence. I cure, he kills. I build, and he destroys. I'm tired. I'm tired of all of this. I was happier dead. I was at peace."
"You weren't dead, Bob," Karen said. "You just thought you were."
Bob laughed bitterly. "Did the Void tell you that?" he asked.
Karen made a face.
"Thought so," Bob said. He shook his head. "I just want it to stop. That's all. Is that really so bad? No more battles. No more Sentry. No more Void. No more dead children. No more lies, no false hopes, no reverses. No more wondering what even worse is still to come."
"I don't think it works that way," Karen said, putting a hand on Bob's shoulder.
"I just want to end," Bob said brokenly, tears tracing their way down his cheeks.
Karen shifted uncomfortably. This was a little too familiar. She had never imagined she would understand how the Sentry felt, but she did. She shook her head. "It's not going to end, Bob. It's never going to end for us. You can hide from the world, crawl into a hole, whatever, but that won't solve your problem. You've got power, and it's not going to go away. But you're not alone."
"Lindy's is terrified of me. She was here, earlier. An hour ago. You know what was the first thing she said when we were alone for five minutes?" His voice grew quiet. Desperate. Full of grief. "… She wants a divorce."
Karen swallowed. She didn't know what to say. "Still," she said, "You're not alone." It sounded lame even to her own ears.
Bob looked at Karen incredulously. "What, you? Some alien from another universe who I've been trying to kill ever since I met her wants to me my friend?"
"Well, when you put it that way, it does sound a little weird. But I don't think you're a bad person, Bob. You're just in a bad place. I want to help. And I've got friends who can help."
"The X-Men can't help me," Bob said. "They've tried. It's never worked."
A shadow fell over the two. Someone was above them. There was the sound of a cape billowing in the wind.
Karen smiled. "I didn't say it was the X-Men."
Robert Reynolds looked up.
A red cape. A blue costume. An S so very like, and yet unlike his own.
It was a strange thing to be in the presence of a legend. Of a living symbol of hope. Even Bob seemed to sense it when Superman landed on the rooftop. Bob looked up, perhaps perplexed at this new intrusion into his life, and then his expression changed. Shifted in response to the man's presence.
"You must be Mr. Reynolds," Superman said. "Call me Superman." He smiled warmly, and there was compassion is his eyes. "I'm here to help."
And in spite of himself, for the first time in forever, hope stirred in the heart of Robert Reynolds.
"Thank you," Karen mouthed to Superman. He replied with a nod without taking his attention off the man she'd asked him to come help.
She left them to it. She went back inside. Found the Cuckoos, and sat down for one last talk in a lounge in the section of Stark Tower set aside for the Avengers. It had seen better days. The walls were cracked, and a few chairs had been crushed by bits of debris falling from the ceiling, but there was room enough for the four of them. .
Footsteps crunched in the snow. A man was approaching, and unlike the rest of the crowd, he didn't avoid approaching the two of them. He was dressed much like he had been in her dream. A middle-aged white man in a business suit with mouse brown hair and dark eyes. He had exchanged his suit jacket for a heavier winter one, but that was his only concession to the weather. His appearance was immaculate, and everything about the way he moved spoke of casual authority, of privilege.
Karen was too mentally and emotionally exhausted to react much to the memory that the Void had brought back to her with his infini-tendrils. For a second, she could still feel the slimy tentacle-thing in her hand, and it squicked her the hell out. She looked up. "So I'm sure Irma told you about how she thinks someone's been in my head, right?"
"We're a telepathic gestalt, Karen," Phoebe said. "What she knows, we know."
"Right." Karen took a breath. "... Remember way back when I talked about Maxwell Lord, and how he'd made Divine to fight Power Girl, and what he was capable of?" she asked.
The girls all nodded again.
Karen shuddered, allowing the memories of that moment to come bubbling back up from where she'd been trying to ignore them. She showed the Cuckoos what had happened. What Max had done. What he'd made her tell him. … And what he'd ordered her to do.
"Well," Celeste said as they finished viewing the memories Karen had asked them to look at. "...Crap."
Yeah. That was about right.
And it never, ever stopped.
END CHAPTER 04
The Void's dark infini-tendrils awoke, lashing at her like snakes, cables of living shadow that moved in ways which seemed to defy any notion of conventional geometry. Karen moved, but her hesitation against a foe of nearly equal power rendered evasion of all of them to be impossible: she caught the last strike in her hand just before it would have struck her in the throat. She twisted with it, bringing it in line for her freezing breath, opened her mouth and prepared to let loose.
At that moment, Lindy opened her eyes and sat up. She saw Karen holding a writhing infini-tendril apparently just inches away from her open mouth. Her jaw dropped open. "WHAT. THE. HELL." she ground out.
Karen and the Void both froze in place. It did not make it look any better.
Lindy stared, jaw still dropped open.
The Void looked a little panicked. "Lindy!" he said. "This, uh, isn't what it looks like."
Lindy stood up. "You know what? I don't even care." She stalked angrily out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
Karen and the Void exchanged looks. Then the Void pulled his infini-tendrils back to himself. "Well," he said, "That sure killed the mood."
Karen snorted. "If you want, we can wait half an hour and then try again."
The Void glared at her. "Shut up!" he snapped. "My infini-tendrils are NOT metaphorical penises!"
Karen thought about that. And then the squick hit her. Oh God, but the squick. "... and you just made it weird," she said.
"You started it!" the Void insisted. "Stop being squicked!" he demanded, his infini-tendrils quivering with his anger. "Stop it, damn you!"
That just made it worse. "You are really not helping right now," Karen said.
Normal person: *after witnessing Karen defeat the Sentry* *awestruck* "Are you... are you gods?"
Irma: "Of course no-"
Karen: *interrupting* "Yes."
Irma: *shoots Karen an askance glance* "Karen?" *tone of voice is totally 'what do you think you are doing?'*
Karen: "What? When someone asks if you're a god, you say 'yes.' Everyone knows that."
-=-OMAKE 2 END-=-
Well. That took considerably longer than I had intended, and I'm still not 100% happy with the results, but at least the chapter's done. I will probably come back and revise this later to make it flow better, but for now, it's finished.