Red and Blue (Part 4)
It doesn't matter. None of it matters. Her arm was burnt but she couldn't feel it. Could she fell anything? It didn't seem like it. Maybe she was dead or alive or both. She felt herself floating, how or why wasn't important. She would just lay there and do nothing. Nothing might just be the only thing she could do anyway. She thought of herself laying there, just a slab of flesh on an invisible bed in an endless void. She tried to remember something. There had been three dots, small, they had formed a triangle…oh what did it matter? She tried opening her eyes, they might have been open already, or maybe she couldn't open them, either way it wasn't important. She couldn't hear herself breathing, maybe she wasn't. There wasn't even the sound of a heart beating, or the ringing of dead silence, or the pulse going through her veins. There was nothing to see or hear. Maybe she was dead.
There was something else here, something big. It was getting closer.
Thwump, thwump. Thwump, thwump.
Wings. That's what it was, wings. Their beating brought comfort, safety. There was something watching over your, looking out for danger. She felt her heart beating in her chest, matching the wings. It was warm. The pulse spread outward. The warmth went into her stomach, up her neck, through her arms. When it reached her fingers and her toes, it traveled all the way back. The beating inched its way back to the center, back to the heart. The pulse was now in balance.
Thwump, thwump. Thwump, thwump.
The wings stopped. Not sure whether her eyes were open or closed, the winged creature perched itself in front of her. It's plumage a radiant blue, sleek wings that were glossy as silk, and thick strong claws. The Eagle's greatest feature was its faces, three to be exact, one looked forward while the other two were to the sides, only their eyes overlapping with the middle ones'. It spoke without moving its mouths.
"Karen Cassidy. Many lives are at risk."
She recognized her name. "Where am I?" was Karen's first words.
"Be calm child, you are at your friend's home where you belong. But you are also here where you don't. You are at the borderlands between life and death. You have been stripped of your greatest weapons. That creature, the Manhunter, is an evil as old as they come. They were forged by the Guardians to protect the universe when it was young. However an altering of their programming caused them to wage war against all life, exterminating the inhabitants of Space Sector 666." The Bird's four eyes wept. "Such a waste of life. This one is different though; Manhunters should only be able to steal the power of the yellow and green rings. They shouldn't be able to steal your own emotions either, that is why you ended up here. You are to be one of my greatest heralds, and I cannot afford to lose you so soon. You must travel far within yourself to find your way back to the living."
"Oh is that all?" asked Karen.
While closed, the Eagle's three beaks laughed. "Bro'Dee does pick the spirited ones...The only way back is to start at the center and find both your ways out. I am sorry Karen Cassidy, but here is a harsh place for me to exist it."
The glossy blue wings began to beat. Karen felt them blowing her hair about. "Wait!" she dared, "Who are you?"
The Eagle's mouths opened, "I am Adara. I am the embodiment of blue, I am the first and last hope of the universe. I must leave you. Know that there are many dangers ahead, and while whatever path you take shall not be an easy one, in the end all will be well."
The bird flew off, leaving Karen alone once again. Start at the center…. What did any of that mean? There had to be something she could...cold. The warm blood began to retreat, creeping back. The beating of her heart was slowing. The blood had drawn back to her finger tips, they were icy. Karen shivered, the pulse was dwindling. There had to be something that gave her a reason, something that mattered. She felt something cold. It was small and curved. It fit right around her finger. Yes. She was alive, she knew that much. Life was certain. Now what? What's the point of me being alive? Again Karen felt the cold piece of metal around her finger. Right that. I am a…herald. I fought that one man with this ring. I helped people, I protected them. I'm a hero.
"No," spoke an insectile voice, "You're not. You were chosen by accident, you're just some teenager who got lucky. You don't deserve to wear that ring. You're just a scared little girl who wants to be important."
Another voice spoke. Its sound like that of the deep waters of the universe, "That doesn't matter, it doesn't matter if you deserve it or not. you have it now and there are people in danger. People you hold dear. They will not be able to fight. They're in danger, you must to help them."
"Ha! Like you really care about them," came a hiss. "They don't think you're worthy, both of them think it. They laughed at your failure, they doubt your abilities." There was a prickling sensation on Karen's face. "What do you owe them? Tell me, it hissed."
"They're your family. That's what you owe them. Your love is strong and they can't fight the battles ahead on their own." Karen felt water running down her face. "I love them and I'm not going to abandon them!"
Karen was back in the Waller's backyard, lying on the ground. She opened her eyes. The rain was coming down in buckets now, the drops pounding on the ground. Her fists were filled with oozing mud. "Alright," thought Karen, "Now get up." Nothing. "Fantastic." She managed to get a small twitch from her toes. "Get up." A couple fingers twitched in response and one of her calves flexed. "Awesome, progress." She worked the way up her limbs. Now she could move. She managed to sit herself up. Using her hands as support she tried standing. "Come on Karen, get up. Calvin and Alice need you…just…stand up." As she stood, her feet began sinking into the mud. She wobbled back and forth until her feet slipped out from under her. She hoped her arms could brace her fall. "No, No, N-"
She stopped. "No way, how could-" Her right hand had stopped her, Karen was putting all of her weight on that hand. Then she saw it, what her hand was resting on. It was a crack, just there, some kind of opening out of reality, the pocket dimension. It was like looking into a pool, radiating a blue glow as lights danced somewhere at the bottom, if it had bottom. It felt like a single movement would break the "watery" surface. Inside she saw a railway lantern with a beautiful deep blue color. Its center was a perfect sphere, two funnels pointing outward with a radiant glow, and a thin handle looping around to both sides. She broke the pool's tension and reached for it. Her arm felt little resistance as she stretched for the lantern. Her fingers wrapped around the thin handle, it was warm. Karen pulled back, pulling the lantern out of the pool. She had it. It felt hollow, light, like a balloon that's lost most of its air. Inside the beautiful baby blue light gazed back at her. She took the grey ring on her finger and placed it in one of the lantern's funnels.
Her ring's color returned. "Recite: In fearful day, in raging-"
"Ring," said Karen, "just shut up and charge."
The ring hummed as life was poured into it. Karen felt like she was being lifted up. Her damp clothes were suddenly dry. Her costume took form, white circle and all. The burn on her arm healed over. Karen saw Dex-Starr, still lying on the ground "Hey ring," she asked, "can you heal the cat?"
"Affirmative. Red Lantern Dex-Starr can be revived"
"Excellent…I've got an idea."
Alice huffed as she tried to run with Calvin hunched over her shoulder. Her footsteps splashed on the wet asphalt. Calvin was barely conscious and muttering something about how he "had him." It was like trying to carry a giant wet sack of sand. Alice hadn't even made it half way down the block. She knew carrying him around was pointless; they had barely gotten away from that thing in the first place. Alice wondered what had happened to Karen, the shuttered to assume the worst. Alice heard the whirr of the Manhunter's…whatever it used to fly. She pulled Calvin behind an ugly SUV, hoping that it would just go away. For some reason the rain felt heavier. Calvin's head slumped against her mutter something incoherent, in one hand he had what was left of the new guitar's neck. The sound was drawing closer. "Mzzuhbzz…wack yah." Alice closed her eyes and grabbed Calvin's hand. The whirring stopped. Alice gave a sigh of relief. She felt the car's suspension give way. Looking up, Alice saw the Manhunter peering down at her from on top of the car.
Its face lifted up and began draining her emotions. All of her determination, her hopes, her fears, her compassion, it all began to slip away into the three vacuous holes. "No one escapes the Manhunt-"
The Manhunter fell of the car and hit the ground. Something else landed on the asphalt street with a metallic thud. It was a glowing blue Lantern. Alice looked over from where the projectile had come from, and there was Karen; ring glowing bright, uniform on, the cat from before on her shoulder, and an all too confident grin.
"So, Manhunters….created by the Guardians as the first law enforcement, they went rogue and wiped out an entire sector. But you're different aren't you? That Lantern you've got for a head doesn't only feed off my ring, but my own emotions as well… " She saw Alice and Calvin lying against the car, "Oh…oh…. Now listen, trying to kill me I can understand, but hurting my friends and family…now you made me angry." Her ring started crackling. "So what do you think Dex-Starr? Care for round two?"
Dex-Starr hissed in agreement. The Manhunter stared at Teen Lantern, its face dropped back into place, its hands started glowing red.