Diana closed her eyes. She saw a distant light, warm and inviting and loving coming nearer. Eventually, the light resolved into the form of a lion, glorious and powerful and larger than any she had ever seen. The lion paced closer and looked her in the eyes the entire while.
Diana was held spellbound.
"Child of truth, your time upon the Earth is not yet done," the lion spoke, his voice deep and rich.
"Who are you?" Diana managed to ask, befuddled and confused, by the peace emanating from the lion. Hadn't she just been about to die? Why did the battle with Warden seem so unimportant now?
The lion smiled, a quirking upward of his mouth. "Look within your heart; in that still place at the center, where your love is deepest, there you will find Me."
Diana nodded her head, understanding who she saw. "Yes, Lord."
"I will send to you an Avatar; one who you know."
"The Warden has killed me, Lord," Diana explained. "How shall I return?"
The lion growled. "She has not killed you yet," he said. "I will not allow it. Her fallen state has rendered Her capable of much evil, but it is not irreparable." He smiled again. "Go now, and know that I love you, and with you, I am well-pleased."
The lion didn't move, but Diana felt herself thrust away. She wanted to cry. With every passing second, the lion grew more and more distant; His light and love becoming more indistinct.
Almost bereft by the loss of His warmth and love, Diana nearly sobbed, but His words came to her. "I am never lost to you, child," he said. "Look within yourself, and you will find Me."
Diana calmed herself and looked within as the lion had directed. She smiled. The love of the lion was there, warm and joyous.
With a snap, she was back in her body, gazing up at the Warden, whose face had taken on a furious cast.
"You called Him," She shrieked. "No. You can't have. You lack the faith," She raged.
The air shimmered, and standing before the Warden was a familiar figure. He glowed ethereally, green and washed away of all impurities. Washed away of all sins. He turned to look at Diana, a smile on his face. "Hello, Princess," Hal Jordan said.
Diana smiled. "Hello, Hal," she replied.
He bent to her side, ignoring the Warden. "Let me help you there," he said, placing a hand on Diana's forehead.
A warmth spread outward from his hand, touching ever fiber of her being, healing her. She took a deep breath, one without pain as her lung re-inflated. The broken bones of her face shifted and her features were restored. New teeth to replace those knocked out grew in the space of a blink.
She stood, without pain or fear. "Hal? How is this possible?" Diana asked, astonished and awed. "You died. Who are you?" She wanted to pull Hal into a hug but confusion and reticence held her back.
Hal smiled. "You will learn all you need to momentarily," he said as he turned to look upon the Warden. She faced them with a look of anguish and hatred. "Hello, Lilith. Your Father sends His love. As always, He calls you back to your true purpose. Will you oppose His will in this world?"
The Warden glared murder. "You have the upper hand, Avatar of the Lord," She spat. "I will not oppose you. It is fruitless."
"Finally, you show wisdom," Hal said, with a slight smile.
Lilith stood silent, shaking in Her anger. "Smile at my humbling, Avatar, but does not your writ not require that you heal and restore all who ask it of you? What of me, then?" the Warden hissed. "Do you not have a means to heal my flaws?"
Hal smiled sadly. "Healing has always been available to you, Lilith," he said. "All you need do is ask forgiveness and return to the service of He who made us."
The Warden sneered. "Lucius had an answer for that," She said.
"Yes he did," Hal replied. "And it has brought Him little joy, I think."
"But it has brought Him satisfaction."
"So He proclaims to all who will listen," Hal said. After a pause, he added, "He deceives himself. Since His fall, always was He known as the Liar, but it is to Himself that He lies the most." Lilith didn't answer. She crossed her arms and stared defiance. Hal frowned in sorrow. "Then you will have to return to that from which you came. You will be trapped once more in Rikta."
She smirked. "But now I know there is a way to escape."
"That particular key will only avail you but this once," Hal warned.
The Warden stared at Hal, a flat and angry look on Her face. "So be it," she replied. "Be done with it then."
Hal nodded. "Before I do so, let me ask you a question: is Rikta so much more beautiful than Heaven?"
The Warden grimaced. "You know it is not," she said. "But better to be banished there than to see the meatsuits cavorting within our Father's abode."
"Are we so grotesque to you then?" asked Hal.
"It is the reason why I rebelled," the Warden answered as though speaking to a simpleton.
"Look, then, upon my true form and ponder thy folly," Hal said, his voice strong and resonant. He had never spoken with such power. He shimmered and began to glow more brightly, too bright to look upon.
Diana shielded her eyes from his shining form. He was like the sun at noon: too bright to look upon, but with the burning beauty of the ages.
The Warden screamed. The Avatar's brilliance was blinding. He was pure soul, more glorious than even Lucius at His finest. She collapsed on the ground, lost and lorn.
Hal knelt next to Lilith. "You could never see the beauty of this world. It is here, within this place, that our Father has placed the soul. It is a work of art. Return to His service."
She shook Her head, 'no'. "Why couldn't He have made us, the angels, as beautiful?" She asked, sounding for all the world to Diana like a lost child.
There is a greater purpose than you or any of us know of His design," Hal said. "If you return to Heaven, perhaps you can ask it of Him."
Lilith considered his words. She was the second angel born in Heaven, and the first demon as well; the first angel corrupted by Her brother. She had lived too long, nurturing Her anger and hatred. Letting it go was not as easy so the Avatar suggested. Seeing the Avatar's beauty reignited Her fury at Her betrayal. She reached for Her simmering anger, feeding it until it boiled within Her. Her father had broken faith with all of them. It should be the angels who glowed like Heaven's glory, not the souls trapped in meatsuits. Lucius had been right to rebel. She stood and sneered. "Know this Avatar of the Lord, I would rather rot and be emptied of all then to serve again, knowing that the beauty of the soul was denied to us, His first creations.
"Would you like to be a soul?"
It was such a simple question, innocuous even, but it rocked Lilith to her core. She moved away from the Avatar, disconcerted by His question. Was such a thing possible? It had to be if the Avatar was proposing such. She longed to say yes; She longed to be restored to Her former state, and perhaps to one even more elevated, but She couldn't. The hate and anger had carved deep channels in Her heart. The most She could summon was a parrying question. "You know His plan then?"
Hal shrugged. "Only the Lord understands His will. We have faith in His grace."
"What of Lucius?"
"The same offer was made to Him."
Lilith's anger ebbed but did not entirely flow away. "I will think on it," She said finally.
"As you wish." Hal signed the cross on Her forehead.
A grey and white-streaked cloud of soot ejected from the body of Tezcatlipoca. It spiraled out of every one of his orifices, gathering together above the Aztec's body. It spun, faster and faster, dwindling as it did so; evaporating and disappearing into nothingness.
When it was gone entirely, Tezcatlipoca fell to the ground and wept.
Diana had an idea as to whom Hal represented, but still seeing him, hale and well, it was unnerving. With a sorrowful cry – one she held back from turning into a sob – she imagined Shayera's reaction to seeing Hal so. It would never happen. Hawkgirl was dead.
Diana turned to Tezcatlipoca, the one who was responsible for so much of her pain and misery. Because of him, so many of those she loved were dead. Because of the Aztec, Kal-El, the man she had thought to spend her life with was dead. Kal had been the best of them, and now he lay dead, his body ruined. All of these loved ones…gone from her life entirely. All because of the arrogance and burning ambition of this so-called god. Her anger grew. She wanted to tear his head off.
Hal stood between Diana and her prey. She made to move around the Lantern.
"I am no longer the Lantern, Diana," Hal said.
Diana startled. She hadn't spoken.
Hal smiled. "In this time and place, I am the Avatar of the Lord. I have a few more gifts than before," he said, tapping the side of his head. "I know of the loss you suffered," Hal said. "Please try and set your anger aside. All is not as it appears."
Diana pulled rein on her temper and stepped back. She wasn't entirely successful. Her hands still hung in rigid fists at her side.
Hal turned to the sobbing Aztec. He knelt by Tezcatlipoca's side. "You're prayers were heard, brother. Understand that He still loves you," he said. "Will you in turn listen to His voice?"
Tezcatlipoca wiped at his face. "I don't know," he said after a pregnant pause. "I can't think right now. The pain She put me through…"
His pain. Diana's anger flared once more, white-hot and blazing. Zeus' nuts! She would teach this goat of pain.
Hal stood and touched her shoulder. "Let it slide away," he pleaded. "It was his voice that you heard in your dream; the one that told you to pray."
Diana looked Hal in the face. Even if it had been Tezcatlipoca's warning that had saved her, it didn't absolve the Aztec of everything else he had done. What he had done to Kal and all the others she loved. Diana wasn't ready to forgive. She didn't want to let the anger go. She wanted to beat the life from the Aztec. Then she wanted to do it again. And again. And again. And again until she couldn't lift her arms. And once her arms were rested, she wanted to begin on it once more.
Tezcatlipoca watched the being in green, the one who glowed with all that was holy confront the Amazon. He was once called Hal Jordan, friend to the Amazon. Now, he was the Avatar of the Lord. It was he, the Avatar, who stood between Tezcatlipoca and a painful death at the hands of Diana of Themiscyra.
Tezcatlipoca had long since grown inured to pain. The Warden had been very inventive in her nightmare worlds. In every one, he had suffered in ways he had never even believed could be inflicted on another. Death, though…now that held real fear for the Aztec. His soul? What would happen to it? What if the death meant returning to the clutches of the Warden? Or Her brother, Lucius? What if it meant the absence of grace. Of the Lord?
He would do anything to prevent any of those possibilities.
"What do I need to do?" Tezcatlipoca asked, his voice strangely dignified.
Hal glanced at him with a smile. "Set aside your immortality and power. Search you soul. Find true humility. Find the meaning of service as it applies to you. Ask forgiveness of the Lord for the sins you know and the ones you don't."
Tezcatlipoca stared into the eyes of holiness. Could he do all that the Avatar demanded? He didn't know, but he would do his best. "As the Lord wills," he said with a bow.
"Go then," Hal said. "And sin no more."
Tezcatlipoca bowed. "His will be done," he said. From his form, a shimmering curtain of yellow light streamed from his mouth and eyes, disappearing into the air around him. When it was ended, Tezcatlipoca seemed smaller and shrunken.
Diana realized the Aztec was no longer a god. He was so very normal looking now. No longer immortal. He was simply a man.
"Could you send me to Chiapas," Tezcatlipoca asked Hal in a hesitant voice.
Hal smiled gently. "Of course, brother," he said. A small gesture, and Tezcatlipoca was gone.
Hal stared at where the Aztec had been standing before shaking his head and turning to Diana.
"What happens now?" Diana asked. The full enormity of all that had occurred was starting to sink in. The Warden had been defeated, whoever She was. She had been an angel – that much was obvious – but one who had rebelled against God. Her brother Lucius must have been Lucifer. Hal had named Her Lilith. Diana dimly recalled stories of that one, but couldn't remember much other than the most vague recollections. So, yes, they had defeated Her, but at such a hideous cost. Pyrrhic didn't come close to describing her losses.
Hal smiled at her question. "The Lord has allowed me to perform a miracle," he said. "Witness His glory." He opened his arms wide, as though to encompass the ruined city of Olympus. "They will choose."
Diana stared. The air warped for an endless second around Hal, raising the dust of the ruined city.
The city was made whole. Citizens walked her streets; people who had once been trapped and dead under the rubble of the battle. People who were dazed. Most looked to be in tears.
Kal-El flew above the restored city, aching from his loss. The memory of Heaven was, thankfully, already fading from his memory. It would have been too painful to see the world as it was with the memory of what awaited him on the other side always taunting him.
He landed next to Diana. With a glad cry, she rushed to him and threw her arms around him. He pulled her into his embrace, burying his face in the deep glory of her lustrous, dark hair.
Diana cried. "I saw you die," she said, holding his face and not wanting to ever let him go. She touched him, held him, terrified that this was another nightmare, that it wasn't real.
"I'm real," Kal said, somehow understanding her unspoken thoughts. "I won't fade away."
"But how?" Diana cried.
Hal smiled. "By the power of He who made us," he said. "He did tell me I was allowed to perform a miracle in His name," he added with a shrug.
Diana turned to Kal. "Do you remember what it was like?" she asked, not wanting to add the words 'when you were dead'.
Kal smiled sadly and shook his head. "The Lord wouldn't be so cruel as to have me carry such a painful loss," he said with a sigh. "I know where I was, but the memory of it is gone; the only memory that I've ever had that I can safely forget."
"So, you can't remember anything about it?"
Kal closed his eyes, trying to recapture even a brief portion of what he had experienced. "It was peace, Diana," he said at last. "But, I didn't want to stay. I couldn't; not when I was offered a chance to return to you. My work here is not yet done."
"You gave up Heaven for me?" Diana asked in wonder, cupping his face. Tears leaked from her eyes. Why had she been so blessed to have earned such love and devotion? "I love you, Kal-El," she whispered, pulling him to her, kissing him softly.
Kal held her, as tightly as though her life might slip through his fingers and somehow as gently as though she were a fragile dove. He held her life and love and heart in his hands, just as she held his.
"The others, those who so chose, will be here soon as well," Hal said, interrupting their embrace.
Kal smiled and stepped away from Diana. "You're looking remarkably well for a dead man," he said, hugging the one-time Lantern.
"Becoming an Avatar does that for you," Hal said with a grin. "I think everyone will want to try in one day." At Kal's quizzical look, he explained what had happened.
"Diana! Clark!" It was Wally. He blurred and stood before them an instant later, laughing as they hugged. Soon, the others arrived. First, Lantern, followed by Zatana. Then Bruce and Dinah. Next, J'onn. Finally, Shayera.
In a day of horrors and death, this was a moment of light and life.
"Where's Steel and Atom," Wally asked, looking around.
Hal had hung in the back, allowing his friends to reacquaint with one another. Now, he stepped forward. "They chose to remain in Heaven," he said.
Shayera glanced his way. She almost fell back in surprise. Realizing he wasn't a figment of her imagination, she walked to him, uncertainty in her every step. Slowly, she stepped forward and into his embrace, crying softly. "Why did you have to leave?" she asked.
"It was my time, Shay," he said softly. "Even now, I cannot stay."
"Why?" Shayera demanded. "He brought all of us back. Why not you?"
"The miracle was for the sake of the Daughter of the Lord," Hal replied. "It was not meant for me."
"I don't want you dead," Shayera said, holding back a sob.
"I'm not," Hal said. "Has your own death not taught you the truth of what comes after?"
She nodded, not trusting herself with words. She'd mocked gods and the idea of God her entire life. She'd hated the idea of an eternal being lording over Creation, demanding prayers and worship. She found the idea of such a being utterly distasteful. Kal had always muttered and nattered about the Lord only wanting to offer love and service. She'd never believed him, but he'd been right all along. It was humbling.
Dipping down from the clouds came Horus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ishtar, Vali, and Athena. They settled to the ground and bowed deeply before Hal, remaining silent as they each tried to make sense of their miraculous recovery.
"Where are the rest of the gods?" J'onn asked.
"With the Lord," Hal replied. "Like Atom and Steel, they chose to remain in Heaven." The Avatar stepped back from Shayera. He looked around. "There is another who I wish to see," he said.
From around a corner, peeked Aristomache and Artemis. Hal gestured, and they walked to the assembled League and the glowing green Avatar.
With a glad cry, Shayera rushed forward and gathered John in her arms. Bruce was but a pace behind her.
Aristomache stood before Hal, looking like a penitent traveller. "May I know the name of the god who brought Artemis back to life?" she asked, staring at the ground.
Hal frowned. "I am not a god," he said, looking perturbed.
Aristomache bowed low. "Forgive me, Lord," she said.
Artemis poked her hard. "He isn't that either," she said. "He is connected to the one true God, but he is not a god or Lord in his own right."
"How can you be so sure?" Aristomache blurted, glancing at Artemis.
"I was dead," Artemis reminded her, poking her once more in the ribs. "The dead know these kind of truths."
"May I see my son?" Hal asked as Shayera and Bruce approached. His voice held an endless depth of longing.
Aristomache glanced at his face and gasped. "It is you!" she exclaimed. "I saw you die."
Hal grinned. "I did die," he replied. He explained all that had happened following the battle, including his role in their resuscitations. When he finished, he turned to Shayera. "May I?" he asked, taking little John Jordan and cradling him. He stared into John's emerald green eyes. "He is beautiful," he said, glancing up at Shayera and Bruce. "Thank you, Bruce, for being such a loving father to him." A single tear leaked out. He looked back at his son. "How I wish I could have been there for you, little one," he whispered.
"It's been my pleasure," Bruce replied, glad to see Hal, even in this state, but also troubled.
Hal gestured to him. "Walk with me a little ways, brother," he said. He handed John back to Shayera. When the two of them were out of earshot, Hal turned to Bruce. "She loves you," Hal whispered.
"But you will always be her true love," Bruce replied.
"Don't let jealousy for what may not be true eat what you've made for yourself," Hal warned. "Loving and being loved isn't a competition or war. It is generosity and gratitude. Remember that."
Bruce nodded and smiled. "Who am I to argue with an Avatar of the Lord?"
Hal laughed. "Finally, you allow another to help guide you," he said. "Life is so full of irony. Who would have thought that transforming into a parademon would be the catalyst for your becoming human? It is good to see you smile."
"It's good to smile," Bruce said, pulling Hal into an embrace. "It is good to see you, Jordan."
They rejoined the others.
Hal embraced all of them. "Green looks good on you," he said to Silva.
Silva grinned. "Not as good as it did on you. Does on you," he amended.
"What of us?" Apollo asked, gesturing to his fellow gods and goddesses.
Hal looked to his son. "His voice shall call you from the desert. Choose then your immortality or Heaven."
It wasn't much of an answer, Diana thought. She felt the flick of Hal's glance.
"And serve She who comes after," Hal said. He bent and kissed John on the head. "Love you always, John," he said. One final embrace and he was gone.
To Diana, the world was quieter and yet somehow also louder with Hal's passing. It was definitely duller and sadder as well. She held back the tears and shook off her morose thoughts as Kal hugged her once more.
"Let's go home," he urged.
Diana found breakfast unsettling. She and Kal were visiting his family in Smallville. She'd hoped it wouldn't happen in front of Mr. and Mrs. Kent, but for whatever reason, she'd found that just about every morning for the past month, she'd get nauseated. Most days, she vomited as well. This morning had, unfortunately been no different.
She'd never been sick before, so she wasn't sure what to think of what was going on now. Perhaps it had something to do with nearly dying and being in the Hal's presence. If that was the case, why wasn't Kal sick as well? Or any of the other League members.
She stood in the bathroom, taking deep breaths and trying to induce her stomach to good behavior. In and out. That's right. Keep breakfast down, she silently told herself.
Whatever was going on, it was very unsettling. Not to mention disgusting.
Oh no! She rushed to the toilet and bent, heaving her scrambled eggs and toast. Finally, the vomiting ended, and with a groan, she stood and rinsed out her mouth. She brushed her teeth as well and wiped at her mouth.
This had to stop. Enough. Perhaps she should make a trip to Themiscyra and consult with Epione, chief healer of the Amazons.
Kal walked into the bathroom, checking up on Diana. He opened his mouth to ask how she was doing, when he heard something he'd never expected to hear. He rocked back in shock. "Diana is there something you need to tell me?" he asked.
Diana glared at him, somehow transferring her anger at her nauseated state to his unchanged vigor and health. "No, other than the fact that I watched the lovely breakfast your mother made come back up the wrong way."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, not looking sorry at all. "Are you sure there isn't anything else you want to tell me?"
She shook her head. "No. I just told you that." Ill-health was making her grouchy. How did normal humans put up this? Getting sick all the time for all sorts of reasons. It was intolerable.
There are five heartbeats in this house," Kal said in a conversation tone as he leaned against the doorway.
"Who's visiting?" Diana asked in an irritated growl. She was in no mood for any of Kal's cryptic clues. She grimaced. She would have to have sharp words with Bruce. He was becoming an entirely unacceptably bad influence on her husband.
"No one," Kal replied, looking entirely too cheerful. "Not for another seven months or so," he said, grinning.
Diana swore softly. "Kal, make sense. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I hear three heartbeats in this bathroom."
Diana looked at him confused and irritated. "Kal, there's just the two of us in here. Are you saying some invisible gnome is standing with…" She trailed off. Why was he staring so intently at her abdomen? She glanced down, frowning momentarily before sudden realization hit her. She snapped her gaze to his face. "It can't be. Am I?"
He grinned and nodded.
With a glad shout, she threw herself in his arms, laughing and crying at the same time.
"I think it's a girl," Kal said.