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Within the shadowed realm of her room, Mar'i Grayson, attired in a loose tank top and boxer shorts, partook of a restless sleep, turning and twisting about as she sought out a position that would allow her to drift into a deeper slumber. The purple sheets upon the circular bed were wildly twined about her figure and the ranks of pillows had been scattered as she shifted between them. Several had found themselves thrown from the confines of the bed to rest upon the floor until morning. Outside her window, the radiance of the full moon was reflected in the gently lapping waters, but the serenity did nothing to assuage her apparent unease.
As she sought her elusive slumber, the shadows within her room seem to shift and dance before Penumbra, clad in the black attire of her trade, emerged from a shadow in the canopy of the bed. She briefly regarded the lavish bed and the room it was kept in with contempt, comparing it to her own miserable cot packed amongst the other trainees before she manifested a dagger from the shadows. Raising it overhead, she brought it down with fearsome speed, but it never found its mark.
Instead, her wrist was caught by golden fingers and she was suddenly staring into violet eyes that conveyed a sense of weary agitation. Mar'i flatly said, "My granddad's the Batman. It's going to take a lot more than some junior assassin to sneak up on me."
"Thank you for the lesson," she nodded as she manifested an extra set of arms equipped with punching daggers that fired at the raven-haired girl's head. With a grunt, Mar'i ripped her attack from the shadows and hurled her across the room, narrowly dodging the softly glowing weapons. Turning in the air, Penumbra expertly landed upon her feet and launched shadow knives at her target who shot them out of the air with her starbolts. Rising over her bed, she summoned more of the purple orbs about her hands before launching them at the young killer who nimbly dodged out of the way and bounded off of the wall to tackle her back to the ground.
They landed with Penumbra on top and she recovered with trained quickness, rising to her knees, which she drove into her foe's arms to prevent her from stabilizing herself before she began to pummel her. Mar'i brought up her arms to defend herself, moving them to ward off the strikes as ground her teeth together.
"You know, this only works when the person your fighting isn't a metahuman," Mar'i noted as she suddenly sat up, launching Penumbra off of her. She grabbed the front of her dark shirt and spun, slamming her into the window, which shuddered under the impact. "Mostly if they have super strength, but the point still stands."
In place of a worded response, Penumbra coiled her legs and lashed out, catching Mar'i on the chin and disorienting her. As she recovered, her hand released and the lithe girl dropped to the ground from which she immediately sprang into a spinning kick that slammed against her foe's abdomen. Thrown off-balance by the strike, she could not dodge the next strike and the shadowy knife skimmed along the side of her neck, opening a nick in her skin. She hissed in pain and instinctively slapped a hand against it as she threw a sloppy punch with the other that Penumbra easily parried before sliding towards her. Mar'i managed to catch the elbow aimed for her throat and grunted as she threw her foe away from her, sending her crashing into the window.
Penumbra ducked and scrambled out of the way to evade the punch that sent cracks along the bulletproof glass. Both girls turned towards each other, bringing their arms up and a spear of shadows pressed against Mar'i's jugular as Penumbra found herself staring into a violet starbolt. For a moment, neither of them moved and they both took the opportunity to catch their breaths.
"You're surprisingly tough," Penumbra admitted.
"Likewise," she nodded.
"It would be a shame to slay one such as you," she said. "Why don't you let us leave with Damian, and we'll let the rest of you live?"
"Not a chance. And I'm guessing the whole 'us' and 'we' means you have back-up now? What's the matter? Don't think they can handle us?"
"I could handle your entire team on my own," she snarled. "I was merely . . . unprepared for our last encounter."
"Right. Listen, we aren't giving Dami up. So, why don't -"
"Wait. What did you call him?"
"Dami? I've been calling him that forever. Well, not forever, but -"
Penumbra froze, her gaze growing wide as she pointed a finger at her foe and accused, "You-you like him. You have a-a-a-a crush on him."
"What?" she scoffed in unconvincing disbelief. "That's totally ridiculous. I mean, yeah, he's got that whole mysterious, kinda dangerous vibe going on . . ."
"He hides his compassion beneath that tough exterior . . ."
"He's just got that . . . that . . ."
"That's it! I was trying to think of a better word than 'arrogance.'"
"He has plenty of that, too."
"Oh, no doubt. He's lucky that he's so easy on the eyes . . ."
"And with a parentage like his, he shall only become easier upon them . . ."
There was a sudden hammering at the door and the girls, whose eyes had begun to stray and limbs began to lower, straightened just before it ripped open and Abuse barreled into the room. He stumbled to a halt and righted his hat as he shouted, "Mar'i, wake up! We've got intru - oh. Never mind then."
Glancing between the two, Penumbra produced a shadow crossbow that launched a bolt into Abuse's shoulder before she dove into the darkness, disappearing within it. The towering redhead grunted as he grabbed the bolt only for it to dissipate and he looked up to Mar'i who gave a growl of frustration as she snuffed out the starbolt.
"Heyijustcheckedtysroomandhesnotthereand - whoawhathappenedhere?" Impulse peered about the edge of the doorway, glancing about the room in wonderment.
"Let's go," Mar'i commanded, brushing past the pair. "Damian's in trouble."
Ty landed on the ground of his mind on all fours, standing before a towering gateway that had once been made of polished marble only to lose its sheen to the relentless march of time. Dark veins, the hue of dried blood, wound about its pillars in a campaign to tear it down, but it stood firm against their creeping assault, refusing to be cowed by their efforts. The arch overhead was decorated with a myriad of carved animals and as he watched them, they began to move about, others coming to the forefront as others roamed out of triangular arch's area. Tearing his gaze from the motile imagery, he stared down the path, largely lost to thorny vegetation and flanked by thick forests, leading from the gate and slowly began to proceed down it.
His bones shifted under his skin in constant motion, never resting in a single form longer than a few seconds before assuming a new one. Flesh rippled, sprouting fur, scales, feathers, and then going bare in the matter of seconds before repeating the process in a new order. His senses shuffled about as though playing musical chairs for which was dominant while his limbs multiplied or dwindled away with each of his steps. Heedless of the changes, he forged onward, entirely aware of the gleaming eyes that followed his motions but too focused upon his task to spare them any diversion. However, when the ground began to quake and the air was filled with a roar that struck to the very core of his being, he paused upon the trail.
Trees shook and creaked as branches snapped until finally a T. rex burst from the forestry to land upon the path, earth shaking under his impact. Blank eyes that seemed to glow a deep green regarded Ty closely before the saurian snorted and reared back up to unleash a fearsome cry towards the sky, accentuated by a bolt of curiously timed lightning. Ty watched the show dispassionately, and courteously waited for the performance to end.
"I have no time for this," Ty noted as the echoes faded. "Finish your posturing and move aside."
The immense dinosaur lowered its immense head to regard Ty in a cold stare and, with a voice that sounded as though it came from a bottomless pit, growled, "You let an intruder in."
"Really? I hadn't noticed," Ty said. A warm breath washed over him as the dinosaur snorted disdainfully.
"If it is this easy for an unknown intruder to seize control, how easy is it going to be for it to do so?" he demanded. "You are going to doom us all. You are weak. Pitiful. Cowardly."
"What I am," Ty snarled as his form suddenly swelled and he loomed over the dinosaur who, to his credit, showed no signs of fear even as the claw slammed down, pinning him to the ground. "What I am, is in charge. Not you or any of the other splinters. I'll handle the intruder and I'll stay in control."
"And never muster up the courage to admit your feelings to-"
Before he could finish the sentence, Ty's neck craned down and he clamped his terrifying jaws about the saurian before hurling him skyward, watching him sail over the trees for a second before he turned his gaze forward. His form shrank as he proceeded along the pathway once again, hidden eyes gazing upon him with renewed interest.
"Jonah! I could use a little bit of focus here!" Blood Mage shrieked frantically as their target vaulted over the blood knights once again.
The boy in question glanced up, blinking at his surroundings before shaking his head to clear the confusion and strange roar that echoed within it. Straightening, he ground his teeth together and dashed forward, leaping into a kick that connected with Damian's side, sending him rolling off of the young sorcerer. Reaching down, the assassin dragged him to his feet and took a second to growl at him.
"If you'd stop playing with all your magic, you might actually learn how to defend yourself."
"We all have our specialties, Jonah. December's is party tricks, yours is getting kicked around by me," Damian declared as he jumped back into the fray. His bunched legs uncoiled, connecting with Jonah's borrowed chest and launching him from his feet as his fist slammed into Blood Mage's throat. The long-haired boy stumbled away, coughing as he tried to regain his breath, as Damian's other arm shot out to land upon the mat. He twisted his body, sending a kick at the head of an approaching blood knight who was thrown off-balance and crashed into his brothers-in-arms. They fell to the floor together and the magic holding them together cracked, resulting in their sudden evaporation.
A grin crossed Damian's face before it was wiped away by a shin kick delivered to his stomach that almost sent its contents surging along his throat. He crashed to the floor as lights danced before his vision, and he barely made out Jonah looming over him, eyes burning with anger.
"What a waste," he hissed. "You are given the opportunity to change the world, to do real good, and you throw it all away. Did you learn nothing? People do not need salvation, they need punishment. Then, once the sinful have been culled, we can start to fix this broken world."
"What I learned," Damian gasped as he rolled onto his knees, clutching at his stomach as he pressed his forehead to the ground. "Is that you talk too much."
He shot upward with astounding speed and braced himself for impact as he drove his head into Jonah's chin, closing his mouth with a sharp snap. Reeling backwards, he tried to recover only for Damian to swing onto his back and secure a choke, stopping the passage of air to his lungs. Grunting and gasping, Jonah grabbed at his arm and tried to pull it loose as he sunk to his knees, but the shorter boy gave no quarter and merely tightened his hold as he planted his feet upon the ground. Jonah could feel himself slipping and within the mind he had seized control of, he felt something begin to stir and an inexplicable dread filled him.
Suddenly the grip slackened and he dropped to his hands, gulping in air before angling his head to glance behind him. A shadowy scarf was wound about Damian's throat and pulled tight, though he had managed to slip a hand to keep it from constricting his airway. His glare was focused upon Penumbra who grunted before turning suddenly, twisting the scarf and hurling him over her shoulder. He sprawled across the mat as the supple cloth dissipated and was replaced with a warhammer that smashed into the ground as he rolled out of the way and back onto his feet, striking back with his heel to catch Blood Mage in the gut and send him crashing to the floor.
"I was wondering when you were going to show up," he said to her as he readied his stance.
"I had other business to attend to," she returned coolly as the hammer transformed into a length of chain with a weight at the end. She tossed it forward, but he caught it in midair. With a soft flick of her wrist, the links leapt over his hand to wrap about his wrist and she gave a sharp tug, pulling him off-balance. Jonah charged forward, slamming his knee into the target's ribs with a savage yell and Damian lost his breath as he crashed to the floor.
His muscles burned, flooded with lactic acid, and sweat pooled in his eyes, stinging and blinding him. The blows and injuries were starting to wear on him and he struggled to draw breath as he ordered his limbs back into action. However, they gave no heed to him, content in the sudden stillness and lack of tension that had plagued them for hours. He slammed his eyelids shut, channeling every last bit of his will into his body as he felt the trio of figures closing about him. Ignored orders for his arms and legs to spring into action spilled from his mouth as he sucked in ragged breaths.
"Blood Mage, open a portal," Penumbra commanded.
"How about you give me a second here, huh? I didn't see you getting your ass kicked from here to-"
"We don't have time for this. You need to open a doorway now, or they'll -"
There was the shriek of metal followed by a cool breeze as gloved hands wrapped under Damian's arms, tugging him away before halting. He opened his eyes to find Impulse beaming down at him and he groaned, "I would've preferred them."
"Hey, look! I think our rockin' Robin's found his sense of humor."
"I'm fairly certain he had that surgically removed and then eradicated with extreme prejudice."
"Would you two focus and help me figure out why Ty looks like he's getting ready to punch us?"
"S'not Ty," Damian grumbled, forcing his eyes open. "Possessed. League of Assassins."
"So, put him down?" Abuse asked.
"Gently," Mar'i confirmed. "But the shadow chick is mine."
"Which means I get the Marilyn Manson-lookalike!" Impulse cheered as the opposing sides sprang into action.
"Y-y-y-you a-aren't g-g-going t-t make it. Why bother?"
Ty paused at the dull voice and glanced down to find a shrew cowering in his aberrant shadow, eyes glowing a soft grey. He sighed and continued on the path and the tiny creature glanced at the sky fearfully before charging after him, hiding under his bulk.
"Even if you get rid of him, it's still out there. It'll always be out there."
"And it only needs to win one fight. I know. Trust me, I know. But I'm not going to let it win. Ever. So either stop worrying or stop following me."
The shrew hesitated, quivering at the bark in his voice, but it still scampered to match his pace.
"But if-if you win, then won't it just go to -"
A whimper escaped the little animal's snout as it tried to make itself even tinier at Ty's snarl and the glare the young boy turned on it. He winced at his tone and sighed, shaking his heads before an arm sprouted from his side, scooping up the quailing beast and setting him upon his back where it slowly uncurled, startled by the new landscape.
"I won't let it take over anyone. No matter what happens, I'll keep it here."
"With the rest of us," he whimpered miserably.
"If that's what it takes. Now, I must continue. If you want to come along -"
"Oh, nonononono," he chattered, jumping from his back. He paused on the edge of the trail to look back towards him. "You're on your own. You couldn't drive me in there with a stampede of . . . I guess anything, really."
"Very well," Ty nodded and the shrew hesitated before returning the gesture and darting into the grass. Ty looked up at the arch, no different from the others he had passed through before taking a deep breath to fortify himself, an entirely unconscious action, and stepping across the gate's threshold. When nothing happened, he released the breath he had not realized he had been holding and began to plod along the path when a whooping cry cut through the air.
"Whoo-weehehehehe! Look out below! Kzzt - ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Please strap on your barf bags and tighten your sphincters - this is gonna be a bumpy landing!"
Ty threw himself to the ground in time to avoid the ashen green hawk that tumbled through the air and straight into a tree. He gave an involuntary wince as several leaves fell from the branches and the bird slid to the earth. The grass began to rustle and he watched it apprehensively before the bird waltzed out of it, pink eyes shining excitedly.
"What'cha think? C'mon, be honest. Pretty awesome, right? Especially when I was all like 'whoosh' and 'swish' and all that, huh?"
"I'm afraid that I only caught the tail end of the performance," Ty said before striding away.
"What? Really? Dagnabbit," the avian grumbled before flapping after him. "Well, if you're really interested -"
"- I guess I could be persuaded -"
"No, it's fine."
"- to do an encore."
"No, thank you."
"But this time with a partner!"
"That's really not - wait, whaAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
The roc that had replaced the hawk scooped his shifting form in his talons, cradling him gently between his claws as he carried him and his scream towards the dark sky. A laugh boomed from the giant's beak, sounding like the crack of thunder across the ominous clouds and the flap of his wings produced gales that reached to the distant ground, flattening the wild grass. With a merry cheer, he folded his wings and tucked into a twist before flaring them again and climbing higher while Ty struggled to slip from the confines of the scaly grip. His form shifted in an attempt to break the organic binds that seemed to modify themselves to holding him, and he grunted before roaring at his captor.
"Your word is my command," he chuckled and released his grip. Ty dropped a few feet before he sprouted wings and glided the rest of the way to the ground upon which he landed softly as his wings folded themselves back into his body.
The groan was accompanied by a ruffle of feathers and he looked up to see a penguin perched in a tree, clucking disappointedly at him.
"It woulda been so much funnier if you hadn't done that. I totally woulda caught you. Promise."
"I'm sure. Now, in case you didn't notice, we've had something of a takeover. So, I'll be going -"
"Oh, c'mon. How about a quick swim first? A few laps around the pond. Oooh! As camels. Yes. That would be awesome," he grinned as he slid into the form of a snake that looped about the branch and then dangled from it.
"Maybe later," he said before continuing onward.
"Okay then," the snake agreed as he began to swing himself back and forth. "But that's a lotta 'laters' you already owe me!"
Releasing a soft sigh, Ty followed the barely existent trail to a looming battlement overgrown with vines and other creeping vegetation. Its imagery had been lost under the bush but the deep gashes and cracks running along had not. For a brief moment, he was bipedal and he ran a hand over one of them before glancing up the hill beyond the gate and squaring his shoulders before they melted away. Slithering forward, he began the trek upon the hill, the grass under his belly and then feet soon replaced with dust and stone as he neared its apex. As he crested it, he gazed into a barren valley in which a humanoid figure of purple sat in a meditative pose, floating several inches off the ground.
He pushed off, gliding on a mix of feathered and leathery wings, to land within the valley and gaze upon the youth occupying his mind. His head was shaved bald and his attire was simple, merely an undecorated sash and leggings that stopped before his ankles. Muscles stretched under the astral flesh of his lean frame, a representative of his physical body, and as Ty neared, his eyes snapped open, revealing twin fields of white.
"Jonah, right?" Ty asked and the boy nodded.
"Yes. And I believe that your name is Tyson," he said conversationally. "It took you long enough to get here."
"I was . . . waylaid."
"Yes. I had picked up on that. Your mind is rather fractured, isn't it?"
"Most are. My division is just more prominently illustrated than most."
"I suppose. So, is this the point where you give some grandiose speech and wrestle me for control of your own mind to save your friends?"
"No. This is the part where I send you crying all the way home."
He sprang forward with a suddenness that surprised Jonah and a paw batted him out of the way, sending him tumbling across the barren landscape and into the far wall. Dust filled the air at his impact only to be thrown aside by the velocity of his return, hurtling from it to slam into Ty and lift him by his throat. The shape shifter struggled before he was slammed into the ground and treated to a kick that launched him into the other wall. Jonah grinned viciously as his figure began to grow until he rose like some great monolith over the valley.
"I have been conquering far sterner minds than yours for years!" he boomed. "This is going to be as painful as you allow it to be, but the victor is already decided!"
"We're talking about uncle Victor, right?"
Jonah started and turned to the innocuous-looking rabbit with pink eyes seated upon the ridge. He bent down to study the tiny creature and his gaze narrowed as he thundered, "You're not . . . him. What are you?"
"A killer rabbit," he replied simply before baring his teeth. "Note the huge fangs. Anyway, if you're the new guy in charge, I was thinking about staging a war on Worry's territory. Not that I'm complaining or anything, but I'd really like the room to stretch my legs and nobody's really gonna care if -"
"What are you?" Jonah rumbled again, anger beginning to dawn upon his features.
"Yeesh, I thought that was obvious by now," the rabbit sighed, dropping his face into a paw before looking back up, spreading his forelimbs. "I'm a distraction, you big dope."
Jonah blinked but froze at the grumble behind him, turning slowly to face the monstrosity perched upon the other side of the valley. It matched him in size and likely exceeded him in bulk, but it moved with unnatural fluidity as it pounced, claws stabbing into his astral flesh and multiple mouths clamping down upon his form. He cried out and reached to tear away the beast only for powerful arms to spring forward and catch his wrists, holding them at bay as a serpentine tail coiled about his legs, binding them together and driving him to the ground.
"Ooh, I wish I had some popcorn," the rabbit said with a small chuckle as it peered over the edge to watch the fight. "That's it, boss-man! Give 'em the left! Give 'em the right! Give 'em - oh. Huh. I didn't even know that you could use that that way."
The invader skidded along the ground as his form began to shrink and recovered to try to scramble away before the prison of claws descended over him, preventing his escape. His confines pressed in about him until it was finally Ty's humanoid form that kneeled next to him, hand about his throat. He glanced up into his face, which blurred between something human and a mass of things that were very much not, and he tried to offer a protest as he was dragged into the air, feet inches from the ground. There was a deep rumble, and the earth split open to a dark chasm that a rattling breath emerged from. Jonah clutched at the limb holding him and eyed the gap worriedly as a low chuckle began to issue from it.
"This is my head. It's messed up and dangerous and probably going to get me in a lot of trouble one day, but it's mine. And you, along with everybody else, aren't welcome here. Now. Get. Out," Ty growled, lips pulling back to bare his fangs as a stinger suddenly sprouted from his palm, stabbing through Jonah's astral throat. The boy gasped and stilled before his form turned immaterial and he sailed from Ty's grasp, into the dark clouds above. He watched his departure before looking to the unending maw at his feet and he focused as he began to close the fissure though not before a single word could escape it.
Tyson blinked and shook his head just before the fist the size of his head slammed into it, throwing him bodily to the floor. He winced at the sudden pain as well as the rush from everything that Jonah had been blocking suddenly flooded his pain receptors but he managed to spit out.
"Abuse! C-c-c-colin! St-stop! It-it's me. I'm b-b-b-back."
"Wyld? You're back in the driver's seat?"
In response, he whipped an arm forward that flowed into the long tendril of a squid that wrapped about Blood Mage's feet and ripped them out from under him. He slammed into the ground but was hauled into the air again to be hurled at Penumbra as she leapt at Mar'i. Abuse nodded appreciatively before reaching down to help his teammate to his feet, dusting him off in a form of apology.
"Sorry about all the bruises. The guy knew how to fight and he wasn't going down."
"I-i-it's all right," he winced as he clutched at his ribs. "I-I'm f-f-fairly certain y-you only c-c-c-collapsed one of my l-l-l-lungs."
"Hah! Umm. That was a joke, right?"
Abuse followed the snapped order immediately, throwing Ty to the ground and then sprawling atop him to cover him as Damian swung through the air, pushing off the ground with a staff to kick Blood Mage from the air. His knife flew from his grip as he bounced off the floor and the shorter boy landed upon his feet, readying the staff for another attack. Sweat drenched his body and his shoulders rose and fell drastically as he drew in shaky breaths, but he stood firm between the League of Assassins and his teammates. Penumbra scowled as she helped Blood Mage to his feet, who was wiping away the blood from his busted lip, and she spat at them.
"This isn't over. We will be back."
"As soon as we can sit down without remembering the spanking you just gave us," Blood Mage added before holding up the hand he had used to wipe away his blood. There was a bright flash of light that temporarily blinded the group and by the time their vision cleared, the assassins had disappeared. Damian released a breath and the staff before allowing himself to fall backwards, splaying across the mats.
"Damian?" Mar'i asked worriedly, floating over him.
"I'm fine," he assured her without opening his eyes. "Just . . . just give me a minute."
"Did you hear that? 'This isn't over. We'll be back!' That is so totally going in my collection of cliched villain dialogue," Impulse cheered ecstatically.
"You have a collection of cliched villain dialogue?" Abuse asked, raising an eyebrow as he stood.
"Well, I mean, it's all in a book, but of course. Don't you?"
"Logan," Damian grunted. His eyes remained closed and the others did not notice him speaking to the unmoving figure who seemed intent upon melding with the floor.
"Jonah is gone?"
"Pity," Damian sighed as he opened his eyes. "By the way, you still owe me a spar."
Here you go! As of now, this story is going on hiatus as we attend to other projects. We may restart this, but know that we are not done with it. We have many plans for it.
Thanks for everybody's support up until now and we hope to hear from you again!