Summary: No one was really sure where they had come from, only that they had arrived—by however means—with a fierce, violent vengeance. At this point, it no longer mattered.
AN: NO, I HAVEN'T LOST MY MIND. Yet. Maybe. *ahem* Anyways, this is the answer to the Tragedy Challenge posted on the YJ challenge forum by darkshadowblazeable. YAY. ANGST. My dears, please forgive the typo-ridden insanity that follows. It is now five-thirty AM, and I've been awake since this time YESTERDAY. With NO COFFEE. We all knew something nuts was going to happen. OH AND I KNOW I SCREWED UP HAWKWOMAN'S POWERS SO DEAL WITH IT.
Just a quick note: The saying "Two steps from hell" is basically heaven, the first step being earth (and then salvation... pretty simple math, there). Two steps toward hell is basically heading to hell itself after turning one's back on heaven (again, with earth being that awkward first step that somehow always ends up as the middle ground...). Enjoy! :D
Disclaimer: I... I DON'T OWN ANY OF THE DC CHARACTERS, OKAY? I JUST OWN THE MONSTERS. BECAUSE THE MONSTERS ARE COOL. AND MINE.
No one was really sure where they had come from, only that they had arrived—by however means—with a fierce, violent vengeance. Alien species enacting a hostile takeover to secure new breeding grounds? Ancient race that had somehow been thriving, dormant, near the Earth's core for millions of years? Top secret, ultra-hush-hush government-funded military mass-experiment gone horribly, terribly wrong? At this point, it no longer mattered. By now, the Justice League had not only taken out all the stops, but blown them up and pounded any remaining pieces blocking their way into dust. The heroes' sacred No Kill policy had temporarily been disbanded when it had become apparent that there was no reasoning with and no containing the things, and the safety of everyone—meaning the entire goddamn human race—became top priority number one. Well, more than it normally was, that is.
But after just a few days, the League's main goal had gone from watching over billions of people to simply surviving, and helping those who were left to do the same. They had come by the hundreds—then thousands—obliterating everything in their path, leaving only barren, ragged destruction in their wakes. No life was safe, and, with mass-murder on such a mind-baffling scale, what little contact was even attempted to be made leapt through the airwaves with a bitter, bordering-on-sarcastic tone that did little to hide the humans' growing desire to just punch the freaking things. And yet, no superhero could ever get close enough to discover if that would make any difference. Thirty-six million, both metahuman and man alike, were declared dead within the first three hours. At twenty-four hours, nearly one billion had perished. Three days, and less than two hundred earth-raised quadrupeds were assumed to remain.
Nearly a hundred of those survivors were now cramped in the somewhat-safe, only-slightly-compromised, supposedly-impenetrable, super-top-secret, underground levels deep below the Hall of Justice, unsure of what to do. Every so often, a nearly-indistinguishable, panicked voice would make it through the endless sea of white noise emanating from the enhanced two-way radio that Robin was manning, informing anyone who would listen of his or her little band of survivors hidden out somewhere. Some begged for help that would not—could not—come, others were resigned to the inevitable death that awaited them. Men scratched through, asking about their wives; mothers, their children. Everyone had lost someone; everyone would lose someone before this fight ended… if it ever did.
Just as the civilian's earth had felt the devastation all too close to home, so had the tight-knit superhero community. Perhaps that was the hardest part about the whole ordeal—to the people, their heroes were no longer indestructible, shining protectors that could save them from any danger and always emerge on top. To each of the heroes, yet another family member was lost to the cruel dagger of Fate.
"Batman," Robin called over the depressed din of the mass of people to his mentor, who was glued to the few still-functioning computer screens on the backup monitor womb, "we've got another distress signal coming in." He didn't ask what to tell the poor man on the other end, begging that his family be taken to refuge now that he knew that someone—anyone—was listening. He had done this too many times, already, over the last few days, and simply relayed the no-longer-simple plea to take cover and stay alive. The Dark Knight nodded once, adding five to the running tally of somewhat-known survivors. There was no guarantee that those marks would need to be up much longer, but it offered some bit of morbid solace that they were. Besides, no one would know whether they ought to be marked out or not when the time came—that is, unless the transmission cut out while the Boy Wonder talked to the man, trying to calm him down.
After somewhat-successfully managing to convince him that it was in everyone's best interest that they stay hidden, Robin switched out of the broadcast and sighed. For the millionth time that day—or was it night, now? It had been so long, he had no idea anymore…-his eyes swept over the herd of humans that crowded the open cavern. What remained of families huddled together, grieving over losses and supporting each other during the darkest time's that their race had ever faced. There was no laughter, no smiling, but that did not mean that there was no love. In times of crisis, the brothers and sisters of man banded together, offering refuge to their fellow victim. Those that had nothing, no one left were welcomed into a new, mismatched family, and given a small spark of the hope that was already stretched too thin to be shared. And yet, it was.
Though the civilian's seemed to exist on in their own, living in the moment and trying to deal with their own demons, fears, losses, the heroes were not allowed such luxury. As mankind always had, it did not worry; the superheroes would protect them, save them, and, so, what heroes remained had to take on all of the responsibility left. Batman had assumed the role as leader of the entire operation, a heavy task that he appeared suited for. To the outsider, it seemed that the burden bore no weight—he had always been stoic, quiet, brooding, and now was no different. To those who knew him—Robin, especially—faint cracks were beginning slowly but steadily visible in his armor. Not even the revered Dark Knight himself could stand the weight of the world on his shoulders for too long without buckling, but never would it be said that he succumbed to gravity without a fierce fight.
Robin watched as M'Gann, trailed by a tiny girl clutching to her tattered cape, wove her way through the crowds, briefly speaking with people and offering what peace she could. Gone was the characteristic blush and endearing grin that everyone, both on and off the team, had come to love, replaced by tear-stained cheeks and a tight-lipped grimace. Still, though, her caring personality persisted, and she was slave to her nature's desire to comfort those in need rather than be comforted, herself. He understood, though—as long as she cared for the humans, there was no need to think of the aliens she had lost. Her uncle had been one of the first heroes to die, and Superboy had given himself for the very orphaned girl that now clung to the Martian, saving her from a collapsing structure just as he, himself, was crushed, buried under rubble side-by-side with the corpses of the toddler's parents and siblings.
Roy, full of anger now more than ever, was off to the side, away from the group, deep in a heated conversation with a group of vengeful-looking young men. The violence that had always been present within the boy's soul had grown, multiplied ten-fold, and flourished in the chaos after roaming, unattended. There was no stopping it—him—now, no matter what was done. There simply was not enough by way of resources, both physical and emotional, to dissuade Red Arrow from whatever suicide mission he was preparing to lead those men—boys, really—onto. Too soon, Robin knew—though he was too naïve to admit it to himself—they would be marking off several more tallies from the count, and another of his brothers would be lost.
Several more heroes hovered about, either trying to mix with their charges or attempting—and failing—to assist the brooding Bat in some way. Hawkwoman, now unable to fly thanks to a shattered wing, conversed animatedly with a group of women, regaling their distraught children with stories from her home planet. Dr. Mid-Night had done all he could to salvage the Thanagarian, and was now tending to other injured men, women, and young ones, assisted by Zatanna.
Even so, no one seemed to teeter more on the edge of a complete breakdown than Wally. He sat alone, quietly staring off into space, partially hidden in the shadows. What worried his best friend most, though, was how utterly, deathly still the speedster was, a feat that should have been almost physically impossible for the Kid Flash. He had been in this semi-comatose state ever since Aquaman had managed to fish him from the ocean where he had been found after a scout mission gone horribly wrong. The task had been simple, easy—but, then again, they should have known that nothing would go according to plan in these times—sneak in, get the information needed, and get out without alerting the invading forces that they were watching. He had gone with Artemis in a stealthily-morphed BioShip, as the covert op would be easier with two rather than the entire team. Unfortunately, without M'Gann aboard, the pair only had so much control over the ship thanks to their limited experience. After gathering what they had come for and heading to return home, Wally had suddenly—accidently!—deactivated the invisibility cloak on the vessel, and they had immediately been shot down. Thanks to his body's abilities, he had managed to fight his way to air and skim along the surface to safety. His partner had not been so lucky, and he blamed himself. There he sat, in agony, mourning the death of the girl he—
Suddenly, there was an earsplitting crack, and the entire bunker shook. Immediately, Robin sprung to action, which essentially consisted of him jumping from his chair and assuming a fighting stance directed toward no particular source. He turned to Batman, who was furiously typing on his keyboard, hunched over and glaring at the flickering screens. "What was that?" he called to his mentor, walking forward a bit and jumping as another tremor rocked the building. The other heroes immediately attempted to calm the now-slightly-panicking crowd.
"I'm not sure," came the gruff reply. "I'm not sure what can be done, though." Robin only nodded, knowing that—if something did manage to break through their last barriers, there was, essentially, no shred of hope left. Hiding was never the superhero way; not unless it was as an absolute last resort, when it could no longer be viewed as cowardice, only sensibility. Just then, the radio's fuzzing spiked into crackling static once more, and the Boy Wonder was forced to return to his post.
Hello? Hello? Is anyone there? Oh, God, please—
"This is Robin of the Justice League of America; do you come in?"
Oh, God—Thank God. Please, please you have to help us. We're trapped here in the storm cellar, all of us. Except… except Maggie. They got Maggie. Please, you have to get us out of here! You have to save—
"I'm sorry, sir. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. What's best for you and your family at the moment, though, is to stay put and wait out the attacks above you. When we are able, the Justice League will send someone to retrieve you and bring you to our safe area. Do you understand, sir?"
No, no—you have to come now! They've already got Maggie, and we're next! They can't get the rest of my family—my babies—you can't let them die. Please, please help us—please!
"We are working as fast as we can, sir, and we will send help shortly. I repeat: you are advised to stay underground and not make yourselves known, for the safety of you and those with you."
We're at 4567 West Borough Dri—Oh, God! They're coming—they're breaking through the door! Annie, Mark, come here now—I love you. I love you. Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy na—
The transmission cut off abruptly, and Robin stood in silence, watching the little machine. There was nothing to be done. He had lied to the man—there was no party coming to rescue him. But, now, it seemed, there would be no need for rescuing anyway. A wave of utter despair and devastation washed over the thirteen-year-old boy that had witness too much in his short life—more than most people did in decades. Too much pain, too much suffering, too much tragedy. Another tremor reverberated through the hall, this time knocking free bits of loose rubble. There was no major damage done, as Miss Martian was able to telepathically move some of the larger pieces away from potential victims. Just as everything seemed to be in the clear, however, another quake struck—if they were even quakes at all.
The shakes increased in frequency, and soon the heroes had abandoned all other duties to help herd people from the dangerously crumbling areas of wall and ceiling. Soon, pedestrians started receiving the memo, and several men began helping their protectors. Constantly, there existed a fine line between chaos and a method to the semi-balanced madness—one that no person, hero or otherwise, dared cross, for fear of the extreme and deadly consequences. Then, just as they had come, the tremors, stopped, throwing the hall into an eerie quiet that was somehow more unnerving than the roaring cracks of the stone around them. Ten seconds, fifteen seconds, twenty seconds… nothing happened. After a minute, the stillness continued. Two, three, four. Robin let out a breath, thankful to whatever deity he believed in—the forces of Chaos and Fate, maybe?—that the entire structure had not collapsed.
Suddenly, the wall farthest to the right of him exploded, spewing deadly debris across the people faster than any telepath—no matter how strong—sorceress, archer, winged policewoman, dark vigilante, doctor, or trapeze artist could prevent, and masking everything in a fine, brown dust that choked the lungs and burned the eyes of anyone—everyone—in the area. It took Robin a moment to collect his bearings and step toward his temporary salvation—his mentor—before one horrifying, terrible, appalling, disturbing, realization entered his mind: that was the wall Wally had been leaning up against. There was no time to mourn the loss of his closest, best friend, as one of the creatures emerged from the hole in the wall that the explosion had created.
The monsters seemed like the product of some twisted joke—like God had taken a page from a bad horror comic and photocopied it on the scanner of reality. They were huge to begin with, rising on four of their six legs to the height of a seven story building. Slimy, tan, peeling skin was stretched too loosely across what seemed to be a lightweight skeleton, folds converging on the creature's back in the form of two, two-part leathery wings that, astonishingly, allowed the massive thing to actually get airborne to a certain point. Three rows of pointed yellow teeth protruded from the gaping black hole that served as a mouth. It had no eyes, but there was a single tentacle sticking from the center of its forehead, tipped by a sickly glowing red light that tinted everything in the room the color of fresh blood.
"Everyone, to the back wall!" Batman ordered, but his voice was drowned out by the awful screech of the creature's roaring. It was a sound that left everyone's ears ringing, and severely disoriented the heroes. Red Arrow, in an attempt to be heroic, shot three of his remaining seventeen arrows in rapid succession—all of which missed their intended target thanks to his thrown-off balance, but managed to hit relatively the same spot with each. The pressure resulted in the formation of another crack, though as long as no other monster decided to make an appearance it would be manageable. The noise and chaos, however, did manage to knock loose several more pieces of rubble, effectively injuring—and possibly killing—yet another few supposedly-safe humans. The tally of survivors was dropping with each passing second, thanks to the heavy string of mini-disasters that seemed to escalate with each new problem that arose.
The beast took a massive, lumbering step forward, and then everything just went to shit.
Its weight and close proximity caused the cavern to shake even more, and the already cave walls had taken on more damage than they could handle. Boulders and rocks of larger and larger sizes rained down on people, hero, and creature alike, just as the monster opened its colossal mouth once more. This was something that Robin had begged wouldn't happen—though, in reality, there had not been much time for any such pleas—and, yet, it did. One dramatically terrifying huff and puff later, the air was almost too stiflingly hot to breathe. Flames sprung up on paper, fabric, plastic objects, and metal became impossible to handle. Their safe Heaven had become a slow-cooking personal Hell that would surely roast all of them alive. Out of the corner of his eye, Robin saw Miss Martian fall to the ground, and he knew that she would not be getting up any time soon—if ever. More and more pedestrians were becoming trapped under falling rock as Dr. Mid-Night and Sheyera tried in vain to herd them somewhere, anywhere, to safety. Soon, the doctor suffered the same fate as many of his patients, followed by Red Arrow, who had managed to get too close to the beast and ended up welcoming a head-on hit with its next breath.
Still, it did not seem to faze the Boy Wonder in the slightest when he saw another devil appear behind the first, its thundering footsteps only adding to the anarchy that had taken hold of the only refuge mankind had left. Because that's what they seemed to be—monsters, taken a step from Hell onto earth for the sole purpose of destroying everything the young species of mankind had worked toward for centuries. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned in time to see Batman, bat-a-rangs at the ready, preparing to rush into the terribly one-sided fray. "Dick, stay back—stay alive." His mentor, protector, friend, father begged before turning, not waiting for a response.
"Batman, wait!" Robin called, putting a foot forward and reaching for the man. His words were lost amid another roar, and he could only watch as the scene played itself out before his eyes. "Bruce! Dad!"
So much agony. So much devastation. So much anger. His family, dead, twice, before his very eyes. His friends subject to the same painful fate, and he… he was powerless to stop it.
But that didn't mean he couldn't try.
One step toward Hell, resolve steeled like an impenetrable, ironclad safe.
Two steps toward Hell, weapons ready, prepared to fight for his losses, no turning back, no mercy. .
One step from Hell would seal his fate, his doom, his role as a tragic hero, forever never remembered among a people that no longer existed.
Two steps from Hell would save him—take him—from the world.
He stepped forward.