HOLY CRAP I'M ALIVE.
So sorry this update took so long. I promise there will be more to come!
"This is it."
Artemis stood with Zatanna in front of the rotting apartment building that was, apparently, her base of operations. She had no idea if her Hunters were still there. They might have moved on. Or they might be there waiting for her. Judging from what she had seen, they were very loyal to her. But loyalties could change depending on who was around.
"…could definitely use a touch-up," Zatanna said. She glanced at her friend and smiled apologetically. "But, hey, maybe you're in between evil lairs!"
"Funny." She marched forward, eager to get off the street and out of sight. This part of town was dangerous, especially when it was so close to nightfall. And Artemis wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing Batman again. For the first time in years, she feared the night. She feared the Batsignal burning in the sky. It wasn't a feeling she had missed. "I still want to know how my wish translates out to me being a criminal."
"You'd have to ask the person who cast the spell," Zatanna replied as they entered the building.
Artemis growled slightly. "Oh, I intend to."
Together, they ascended the stairs. The paint was peeling off the graffitied walls. Trash – some old, some new – was littered in the stairway. The entire building seemed eerily silent. When they got to the tenth floor, the door flew open. Two hunters rushed forward with crossbows pointed at them. Upon seeing Artemis, they dropped their weapons and hugged her.
"We knew you would come back to us!" The girls seemed overjoyed. "We knew you would never abandon us!"
"I…of course I wouldn't." Artemis returned the hug tentatively, looking towards Zatanna for help. All her friend could do was shrug. "This is my friend, Zatanna."
The girls went back to attention. They narrowed their eyes critically, looking the strange girl up and down.
"Forgive me, my lady, but doesn't she run with the League?" one of the girls said, kneeling to pick up her crossbow. Her eyes never left Zatanna.
Artemis's mind raced to find an answer that the girls would accept. "She's…uh…are you questioning my authority?"
The girls drew back, their eyes wide. The one who had spoken shook her head. "No! No my lady! I…I would never. You know best. Forgive me. Please."
The reaction was immediate and startling. What troubled her most was that Artemis couldn't tell if it was driven by sheer loyalty or fear. How did she act in this life? Was she that brutal? Had she killed someone before? There was no telling. Composing herself, Artemis spoke again. "You are forgiven. Get the others. We have business to attend to."
The girls obeyed without a second thought. They beckoned for the two to follow.
Her Hunters had gathered in one of the apartments. Artemis recognized it as the one she had woken up in. Her mattress was empty, the ratty blanket folded neatly over its top. The girls looked up when she walked in. Grins spread across their faces. After the torrent of greetings died down, Artemis introduced them to Zatanna. The Hunters looked her over skeptically, but nodded in respect. Anyone who was in Artemis' good graces seemed to earn an automatic free pass. Their eyes once again turned towards her, silently asking for an explanation about the strange new visitor.
"We've got a job," Artemis began. She tried her best to sound commanding, but in her ears it sounded hesitant. "Someone has hired us to break into Mount Justice."
Murmurs broke out among the Hunters. Some had heard of Mount Justice before. Half of them looked excited about the prospect of breaking in, the other half seemed slightly fearful. But many other girls looked at each other in confusion. They hadn't delved far enough into the criminal circuit to know what Mount Justice was.
"Silence!" Artemis barked, surprising herself. The girls obeyed at once. "Mount Justice is the old base of the Justice League. It's been abandoned for years now…but there could be something our clients could use in there. So we're getting in. No matter what."
A cheer ran through the girls.
"Well they didn't take much convincing," Zatanna muttered to Artemis.
"That's what worries me," Artemis replied with a frown. "They have no idea what dangers we'll be facing. What the pay-off will be…"
"Well, to be fair," Zatanna put in, "neither do we."
The run to Metropolis took a lot out of him. Wally was beginning to feel the effects of dashing here and there without getting much rest in between. He managed to deplete his stores of food on the run over, meaning he would have to restock in Metropolis after talking to Dick. But when he arrived at the Metropolis fairgrounds, he found that the entire area had been taped off by the police. Wally felt his heart stop. He halted in front of the police tape. What was going on? Had Dick's parents died after all?
"Back up from the tape, kid," an officer said. "We're searching this whole place from top to bottom."
"What happened?" Wally asked, half afraid of the answer.
"Some of the performers were attacked the night before last. Two of them were kidnapped. There's an Amber Alert out for them now." The officer answered. "Now step back, please."
Wally ignored his orders. "Kidnapped? Who were they?"
"The acrobat kids. One's thirteen, the other's eighteen." The officer answered.
Oh no. Oh no. Oh nononono. "Who were they attacked by?"
"The parents didn't get a good look at them. Now move along, kid." The officer's stern tone told Wally he wasn't getting any more information. Feeling cold all over, the young speedster began to walk away.
When he was no longer in danger of being overhead, Wally turned on his communicator. "Kaldur. We have a problem. A big, big problem."
"What has happened?" Kaldur asked, his concern evident.
"Robin was kidnapped. No one knows where he is, they've got an Amber Alert out for him and everything." This had to be part of the illusion. Or pocket dimension. Or whatever it was. "What do we do?"
Kaldur was silent on the other end. Wally was bouncing on his heels impatiently, waiting for a decision to be made. This wasn't part of the plan. What if Dick was hurt? Or worse, dead? Why had they been attacked in the first place? Were the kidnappers wanting ransom? Didtheyplanonsellingthemorki llingor-?
Slow it down, Wally, slow it down! Wally's thoughts were racing. His best friend was in possible mortal danger, and he had no idea what to do about it. Had Kaldur answered yet? "Kal?"
With a sigh, Kaldur spoke. "Find out what you can. We will continue with the operation as planned without you. Be careful my friend."
"Youtoo." Wally ended the communication quickly, and dashed off towards the police station. His best shot at finding Dick would be to talk to Dick's family. They would probably still be in custody. When kids went mission, the police questioned the family first. After they were cleared of suspicion they would have to tell their story over and over again. Every detail counted. But Wally knew the clock was ticking. If Dick and his cousin had gone missing the night before last, it was already nearing the 48 hour mark. And, usually, kids weren't seen again after they'd been gone for two days.
The station was humming with activity. It was surprisingly (almost alarmingly so) easy to slip into the back. He found Dick's family sitting alone in the hallway, talking quietly to themselves.
"…I don't think he believed us," Dick's mother was saying.
"I hope he doesn't. We should go to jail for what we did," his aunt replied, her head in her hands.
At this point Wally pressed his back against the wall, standing just around the corner from the family.
"What choice did we have?" his uncle asked. "We can't stand up against the Court, Karla."
"They're our children, Rick!" Karla cried, almost hysterical. Dick's mother wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. She dissolved into heaving sobs. "My little boy…my poor little John…"
The family fell silent, save for the loud sobs of Karla Grayson. The commissioner emerged his office and ushered the family in to speak with them. Wally stayed in place, his heart beating rapidly. He tried not to jump to conclusions. But just going off of what he had heard, the evidence was stacked against Dick's family. Did they have some involvement? Who was the Court? Another word for the mob? The mafia?
Why can't these things ever be simple? Wally asked himself and ran his hands through his hair.
Conner stood with Kaldur in front of the entrance. It was strange, seeing the mountain in disuse. The grass was overgrown. The area around was oddly silent. It felt eerie. The mountain was the only home he had ever known, other than Cadmus. Seeing it abandoned brought about a strange feeling. Like time had gone forwards or backwards, while Conner remained ageless.
"Where is Wally?" Conner asked, crossing his arms.
"He was detained in Metropolis," Kaldur replied with a frown. "It seems that Robin has gone missing."
"Missing?" Conner repeated. Before he could get any more information out of him, Kaldur turned away. He watched him press two fingers to his ear as someone spoke over the communicator.
"Good. Their willingness to follow you works in our favor. Get here as quickly as you can. Time is of the essence," Kaldur said. "Be careful, my friend." With that, he lowered his hand. "Artemis and Zatanna are on their way with the Hunters. If all goes well, we could have contact with M'gann by tonight."
Conner looked at him hopefully. Talking to M'gann…that was all he wanted. He needed to hear her voice, see her smile, know that she was ok in this twisted world. The rest of the team was safe, which meant he could focus on her. (Well, Robin was missing…but his anger at him lessened his sympathy considerably. He could get himself out of that mess.) Was she miserable back on Mars? Conner had a guess as to what changed when she made her wish. Would that truly make her happy? Would she be like Robin, deciding to embrace her new life?
These thoughts weighed heavy on Conner's mind. Perhaps if he had just told her before…that he knew, that he didn't care, that she was beautiful to him no matter what. Perhaps this wouldn't happen. Perhaps he wouldn't be on the verge of losing her.
"Something is troubling you." Kaldur said, interrupting these thoughts. "Are you worried about M'gann?"
"I'm worried about a lot of things," Conner answered with a frown, "but M'gann is definitely one of them."
Kaldur set a comforting hand on his shoulder. "We will make contact with her, one way or another my friend. And then we will fix this. Somehow."
"…you do want to fix this, don't you?" Conner asked, giving Kaldur a suspicious sideways glance. He had no idea what Kaldur had wished for that caused him to end up in Atlantis, or if he liked the change. "You don't like this better?"
Kaldur was silent, looking at the abandoned mountain. "That is not an easy question to answer. My heart prefers this world. My mind, however, tells me it is wrong. If these things were meant to happen, they would happen on their own."
Conner nodded. Neither of them spoke again until Artemis and Zatanna arrived.