Elves pride themselves on their grace and poise. But a lack thereof can be forgiven when leaping out of the way of a huge pony thundering after a fleeing human. Deep, enchanting eyes, wide with amazement, peeped from the shelter of intricately carved doorways or behind spreading oak trees.
Not that Beetle got a good look at any of them as he blurred past.
One brave elf threw open an arching doorway as he bawled, "AND HERE IS YOUR GUEST ROOM, HONORED GUESTS!" before diving out of the way. The Azure Avenger skidded inside with Omen hot on his heels and Booster running after both of them. Ted shot through the doorway, barely managing to stop before crashing into the mirrored vanity at the far end of the room. He rested his hands on his knees, panting, as Omen galloped into the room tossing his purple mane.
"What did you do that for? Stabbing me with a fork?" The pony stomped his hoof, causing a mass of hairline fractures to spiderweb up the red clay coating his leg. Nearly invisible flakes of dust settled on the polished hardwood floor.
"That's why!" Beetle's finger jammed up against his reflection's as he pointed at the mirror.
"Oh shades, I don't believe this," the pony grumbled, staring at disgust at the image of a lumpy, red pony . . . with pure white lips. He poked at them with a hoof, causing yet more clay to sloop off and reveal his snowy white hide.
Booster snickered as he closed the door. "You look like a clown. A sad clown."
"More like an angry clown," Beetle grinned.
"Maybe they won't notice," the blue-themed superhero shrugged with easy optimism. "And if they do-"
"We'll say it's part of your horrible skin condition!"
"I must have been crazy to let you talk me into coming here in the first place," Omen groaned.
"That reminds me . . . Why are you hiding from the elves anyway?" Booster asked.
"You know all that stuff he had in his saddlebags?" said Beetle. "It was all stolen from the elves."
"That's not true," Omen snapped, shaking his purple mane.
"Oh, sorry, I forgot . . . He stole some from the elves and the rest from the ponies in the castle."
"Omen!" Booster's blue eyes were wide with shock.
"Oh, come on. A pony's got to make a living."
"But by stealing?"
"Booster, to be fair, you took-"
Omen raised an eyebrow. "What's different?"f
"Ahhh, nevermind, it's Booster's tale to tell."
The Clydesdale turned to the blond. "What tale?"
"He's talking about how I got my costume," Booster said sulkily. "Even though that was completely different circumstances."
"The suit and the time machine," Blue Beetle reminded him.
A smile began to stretch across Omen's face. "You stole them?"
"Totally different," the Corporate Crusader fumed, arms crossed. "They were in a museum getting all dusty, no one was using them, it wasn't really stealing . . . "
"The stuff Omen took was in a vault getting all dusty," Beetle pointed out. "Anyway, I think we should stop obsessing about the past and think about what we're going to do next."
"Yeah. I can't stay here looking like this." Omen glanced in the mirror again.
"But where can we go? Not back to that castle." Booster poked at one of the stately beds furnishing the room before sitting on it.
Omen paced the length of the room. "Dreamquay, that's where. No one could find us there."
"Where's that?" Beetle asked.
"South of here. Way south. It's the biggest port in Ponyland. You can catch a ship to anywhere, you can hide anywhere, and they get all kind of species visiting on ships. It's perfect!"
"That sounds like a long trip." Booster looked dubious. "We aren't exactly expert travelers, in case you haven't noticed."
"Oh, I have, I have," Omen assured him with a grimace. "But needs must when the devil drives."
Booster blinked in confusion. "What?"
"He means people do what they gotta do," Beetle translated. "Listen, you two talk about it, I'm going to see if the elves can't get my cowl off. It's driving me crazy."
"Good luck." Booster made sure the door latched shut after Ted left.
"So, you want to hear about Dreamquay?" Omen asked, flopping onto one of the beds.
"Sure, I guess," Booster shrugged, his foot swaying in an arc aimed at nothing in particular. "But it's a moot point for me and Beetle, you know? We don't know how to get home from your world."
"Get a pegasus to fly you across the rainbow," Omen suggested. "That's where other humans come from."
"If I meet any pegasuses that aren't trying to tar and feather me, I'll keep that in mind."
"Pegasi," Omen corrected, then paused as he remembered something. "Didn't you say that 'Justice League' of yours had special powers? Maybe they'll show up."
"More likely renting out our rooms as we speak," Booster said. They fell into silence. The human studied the door for a while before dragging a heavy oaken chair in front of it. "There! That should hold off any unwelcome guests!"
The Corporate Crusader stopped dusting off his hands. "What?"
"It might. If the door opened inward."
The blond groaned, throwing himself into the chair with one leg hanging over the arm. "Well, I'm not moving it. It's too heavy!"
"Lazy," scoffed the pony.
"You move it."
"Hey, it's not my chair."
"Hrrrm." Booster did his best Batman impression, but the pony was unmoved. Catching sight of himself in the mirror, the blond had to admit that he didn't look that impressive with ribbons tied through his hair. Reaching up, he fumbled with the knots. "Man, Munchy really did a number on me," he muttered.
"She did indeed." Omen watched as Booster pulled a blue ribbon down a lock of hair. "If you wanted to trade those for a little something, I could arrange it."
Booster arched an eyebrow. "What would you do with ribbons? You're a boy."
"Huh!" Omen's purple tail flicked. "Shows what you know. Stallions wear ribbons all the time!"
"All the time?"
"Well, not literally all the time, that would be ridiculous." The pony blew out his lips in annoyance. "On special occasions."
"Better you than me." He tugged the last of the ribbons off a lock of his blond hair.
Omen raised his broad shoulders in a shrug. "They fetch a good price on the market."
Booster rested an elbow on the arm of the chair as he leaned forward. "Oh, so that's why you want them."
Omen snorted. "So what? You don't want 'em. And besides," he added in a persuasive tone, "I'll give you a fair price."
Booster Gold looked at the damp, rather beraggled ribbons in his hand. "Nah."
"Suit yourself," Omen grumbled, rubbing some clay out of his eyes.
"I hope Munchy's all right," Booster sighed as he tucked the ribbons into his pocket.
"That pony," Omen said, "could eat her way out of any danger."
"Hey, you know what we should do?" Booster sat up in the chair. "We should look for her!"
Underneath the crust of red clay, Omen blanched. "You're joking, right? Ha ha! Good one, Booster!"
"I'm serious," the human insisted, confirming the pony's worst fears. "She's all alone out there-"
"-devouring hapless woodland creatures-"
"-and she helped us out before," Booster went on, ignoring the interruption. "That makes her part of the team."
"Team? What team?" Omen sputtered.
"Oh, Omen. Don't you know how these things work?" Booster graced him with a sad, knowing smile. "When you meet someone new, first you fight them. Then you join forces against a common enemy and bond. And then you're a team! And then you get a secret headquarters and design a team logo and create a team theme song-well, actually J'onn said I'd live to regret it if I recorded the theme song, but I think he was joking-"
"I think you've taken one too many blows to the head."
"No, no, that's Guy Gardner. And it's true," Booster insisted. "Munchy's part of the team. We should rescue her."
Booster tilted his head, brow furrowed. "From . . . from herself?"
"Oh, fine," Omen grumbled, getting to his hooves. "But I want to know who's going to save us when we find her."
"We should leave a note," the superhero said in the bright, cheery tone of voice that Omen was beginning to hate. "Let's see, I'm sure they've got a pen around here somewhere . . ." He opened a shallow drawer inset in the dresser and was pulling out a quill when a knock at the door caused human and pony alike to freeze.
The blond wetted his lips nervously. "Ted? Is that you?"
"I am not this Ted of whom you speak," a melodious voice came from the other side of the door. "I am Gwendreilla of the elvenkind. May I enter?" To their horror, the knob began to turn.
"NO!" Booster grabbed the handle and threw his weight backwards, bracing one leg against the wall to keep the door firmly shut. "I mean, uh, no, not just yet . . ."
Omen broke from his horrified trance and leaped onto the closest bed, pulling a blanket over his head. Booster let go of the door handle and discovered, from the way the door swung wildly into the hall, that the elf had still been tugging on it.
"Sorry about that," Booster apologized as a dark-haired elf of unearthly beauty entered, though perhaps she would have appeared both more unearthly and more beautiful if she hadn't been rubbing a bruise on her elbow and frowning. Booster awkwardly dragged the heavy chair away from the door. "So, what can I do for you?"
"Ah! I come rather to see what I may do for you," the elf said, recovering her smile. "I have come to invite you to our festival tonight, travellers . . . three." Confusion dawned on her face as she glanced around the room.
"Oh, the other two travellers, right . . . Well, Om-Woodland-is asleep-" Horrible, guttural snores began to issue from the pile of blankets on the bed. "-and my buddy Ted just stepped out."
"Ah, perhaps he is already at the festival, then," the elf said.
"Could be. He always likes a party."
"Oh, let us wake your pony friend and join the festivities!" the elf exclaimed, flitting past Booster to reach her thin, delicate hand towards the blanket.
"NO!" Booster grabbed her wrist pulled her away so quickly that she spun up against him. He cleared his throat and let go. "Uh, no. He's got . . . a sleeping disorder, you see."
"Not . . . not the dread nacrolepsy?" Her eyes widened.
"Yes. Yes, that's exactly what he has." Booster wished Omen would stop snoring so damn loud.
"How tragic." Her eyelashes lowered, pearly tears welling in sympathy.
"Um." Booster tried to think of what to say to this and failed. His arms swung slightly, like uncertain pendulums.
"Still, there is nothing to prevent you from joining our celebration, good sir," Gwendreilla smiled, tears disappearing.
"Oh no. No, I don't think so. I have to be here in case he wakes up."
"But sir," she caught his hand in a grip as sleek and cool as ivory. "There will be songs and wonders and all manner of joyous celebration, long into the night!"
"That's nice . . ." He subtly tried to disengage his hand.
The elf leaned close, the lamplight catching on her raven hair as she smiled at him from under long lashes. "Do you not wish to frolic with me long into the night?"
Booster met her deep violet eyes, then flicked quickly to the lump of blankets on the bed. "You know what? I'm sure he'll be fine without me. Lead on!"
The elf giggled and pulled him out the door into the twilight.
Ted sighed with relief as he finally, finally dragged his goggled cowl off his head. Sure, it had taken three hours of lying on a bench leaning his head WAY back because the elven craftsman had insisted on releasing the catch rather than sawing through the strap, but it had been worth it. "Thanks again," he told the elven blacksmith.
The elf waved away his thanks. "Twas an honor for a welcome guest such as yourself! I only hope on day you will share with me the wisdom of your cunning locks and devices, oh Beetle of Blue!"
Ted smiled and retreated quickly; he could see why elves got on the nerves after a while. Well, no matter. The important thing-he ran his fingers through his auburn hair-the important thing was that his head was free of that sweat-dome he called a mask. Humming a happy little tune, he sauntered back towards the guest quarters. Some kind of celebration was taking place on the other side of the elven village, but he shook his head with a smile when a few elves dashing past called for him to join the fun. Tonight, Ted Kord was going to take it easy . . .
He pulled open the guestroom door and was greeted to the sight of a Clydesdale, white splotched with off-color reddish patches, sitting in front of the mirror.
"What the-" He pulled the door closed quickly. "Omen, what are you doing?"
Omen stopped gnawing at the feathering around his hooves to glare at him. "What does it look like? I'm getting back to normal, thank you very much."
"But your disguise," Beetle objected, eyeing the flakes of clay encircling the pony.
"They would've noticed anyway. 'Sad clown,' remember." Omen blew his lips out at Ted sarcastically.
"Hey, don't blame me for Booster's words," Beetle admonished. A fear crept into his soul as his eyes swept around the room. "Er, Omen? Where is Booster?"
The Clydesdale snickered. "'Frolicking' with an elf, unless I miss my guess."
"Oh, great. Prancing around in stolen clothes, just great."
"Maybe he's in them, maybe not," Omen leered.
"You're as bad as Guy Gardner . . . No, no, never mind who he is, it doesn't matter. Listen, now that you're denuded, so to speak-"
"Ponies are always nude. Except on special occasions."
Ted's forehead crinkled above his blue eyes. "Please. Please stop, I don't want to think about it that way, ever."
"Yet it's true."
"Anyway, now that your disguise is gone, we should think about leaving soon. Like tonight."
"While they're engrossed in the festival," Omen nodded thoughtfully. "Makes sense."
"Yeah, but before we can make tracks we need to find Booster."
"I knew you'd want to wait around for him." Omen heaved a sigh.
"Here's the plan. I'll go out looking for him and you-" He cut himself off at the sound of uneven footsteps in the hall.
Before Omen could even dive for the bedsheets, the door creaked open to reveal Booster Gold, his hair and ribbons disheveled and his expression sour. "When elves say 'frolic' they mean 'DANCE,'" he ground out, limping into the room.
Omen and Beetle exchanged looks. "Bwahahaha!"
"It's not funny! Those pointy-eared devils wouldn't let me off the sprocking dance floor! 'Oh, please dance with me, golden stranger!' 'Ah, I can't keep you to myself, dear sir, it would be a sore insult if I did not allow my ten sisters a turn!' Ten sisters!" Booster took on an expression of despair. "And nine brothers!"
By this time Blue Beetle's laughter came in such frequent waves that he was almost choking on his mirth, while Omen rolled on the floor, tears of merriment streaming from his eyes. They were laughing so loudly that none of the three noticed the firm footsteps marching down the hallway until the door swung open. Omen, Booster, and Beetle found themselves gaping at a group of stony-faced, well-armed elves.
"SO!" The tallest elf glared at them from under his helmet. "What do you have to say for yourselves, eh?"
"It's his fault," Booster and Beetle chorused, pointing at each other.
The guard was not amused. His eyes turned to Booster, recoiling slightly as if the sight of him was almost too awful much to bear. "So!" he gasped, "It's true! You are in league with the thief who ravaged our shops before stealing off in the night-the very threads you wear condemn you, you fiend!"
"Well, 'fiend' is a little harsh, don't you think?" Booster laughed nervously, but the elven guard was busy giving an even more dramatic gasp as he stabbed a finger towards Omen.
"And you, I recognize you! You are the deceiver who befooled us with false smiles before robbing our glade!"
"Charmed, I'm sure," Omen sneered, stepping backwards.
"Booster, ol' buddy?"
"I think it's time to do what we do best," Ted said solemnly.
Booster cocked his head in thought. "Run away?"
"Got it in one," Beetle said, diving for the window.