Year Omega: Revanche
Author's Note: And this is is it. The Last chapter.
Great Speeches: President Bruce Wayne – Post-Imperiex Invasion, May 20, 2056
Mr. Speaker, Madame President Pro Tempore, members of Congress, fellow Americans … and fellow citizens of Earth.
In sane times, presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the Union. Tonight, no such report is needed. We, all of us, American and citizens of this great world alike, know what has happened. Tonight, we are gathered to celebrate a hard-won victory and to mourn our losses.
We come together to rejoice that the guns have finally stopped, that no longer are our men and women selling their lives dearly to slow the advance of a terrible enemy. And we come together so we may grieve over those who cannot be with us tonight because they made the ultimate sacrifice.
We have already begun to tally our losses and the cost was high. There are no estimates yet about exactly how many we have lost, nor will there be for a very long time. All that we know is that each person will be mourned. Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, friends and lovers and neighbors … so many of us have lost someone that we knew, someone that we loved, someone that we went to church with or worked alongside or watched sports with. Even someone we may have just seen or met in passing.
We grieve for the Marines who lost their lives retaking California from the enemy and for the airmen who defended our skies, for the sailors who died in the blood-soaked oceans of this world and for the soldiers who stood firm in our cities and would not yield. We mourn for the police officers who stood alongside the military when the forces of Imperiex stormed them, and for the firemen who charged into burning buildings to rescue trapped civilians even as our great enemy was still shooting. We acknowledge the great price our doctors and nurses and paramedics paid in this bloody onslaught, and yes, we honor the heroes who stood and gave their all. Heroes like Kara Zor-El of Krypton and William Batson of Earth who came back when we needed them the most and sacrificed everything they were to stop Imperiex for good.
The skyline of 31st Century Metropolis did not feel like home to him.
Kal-El stood quietly in the sky over the immense city, staring down at it from behind the shield of invisibility that Dox and Lyle had generated for him after the last time he'd ventured off Legion World. It had been immediately the latest unexplained disappearance of a planet, this time Daxam, and he'd been asked to testify before the United Planets Senate about what the Legion was doing to combat this threat – though why he was asked to speak instead of the actual team leaders was never made clear – but the terrified citizens crowding around the Senate building had almost gone insane the moment he touched down. Too many among the crowd were catastrophists – fanatics who believed the galaxy was a corrupt and decaying entity that could be cleaned only by the intervention of an unnamed godly force bearing more than a passing resemblance to Darkseid, and they were the likely culprits for the madness, especially when combined with the other large group present. The resulting riot between the Science-Police and the terribly misguided Sons of El cult had taken three days to finally calm, left seventy-four badly injured and three dead. Lar had given him an understanding look and Diana let him vent over the folly of Man, listening with that knowing look on her face. She had more than enough to complain about herself – the New Amazons, a misandrist cult devoted to a distorted view of her history and the teachings of her Themysciran sisters, had just been officially labeled a terrorist organization following a string of illegal activities aimed at 'overthrowing the patriarchy.' It did not seem to matter to the New Amazons that the current United Planets president was a woman or that females, at the moment, held a majority of UP Senate seats, but then, the so-called Sons of El seemed utterly uninterested in adhering to any of the precepts Kal had stood for most of his life.
Not for the first time, he wondered if staying in the 31st Century had been the correct choice. He missed being Clark.
It was still difficult to believe that ten years had elapsed since he and Diana left Asgard, eight since they visited the 21st Century to say their goodbyes to Bruce and Kara, and in that time, it seemed like they had done nothing but rush from one crisis to another. First, key planets had started vanishing – Daxam, Thanagar, Rann, even the desolate wasteland that was Trom – and then, like clockwork, immensely powerful Servants of Darkseid began appearing throughout the galaxy. They struck hard and fast, targeting planets like Talok VIII and Avalon, but vanishing without any sign of what they were after.
And then, the wider attacks began.
Colonies on the outskirts of the United Planets were hit first and by the time anyone was able to reach them, all that was left were smoking craters and shattered bodies. Commerce planets were next, though the Legion was not entirely unprepared by that point and warded off several of the attacks, learning very quickly that these new Servants were exactly as everyone feared: Daxamites bent to Darkseid's will.
As one of the Legion's most powerful, Kal had spearheaded their counter-attacks, blunting the Daxamite offensive and saving as many lives as he could manage. Diana was there when she could, but more often than not, she was on the other side of the quadrant, handling an identical assault on a different world by the same kind of monsters. The whole of the remaining Green Lantern Corps – the last of the surviving ring wielders, in fact, as the centuries had not been kind to the Red Lanterns or the Yellows or even the Star Sapphires – lent their assistance, but even then, it was becoming more and more clear that this was just a holding action. You don't win a game by playing defense, the old football fan in him murmured and Kal knew this to be true, even though he also knew they had no choice. No one could find Apokolips.
So this asymmetrical, low intensity war dragged on and on and on. It was completely different than the constant onslaught he'd witnessed at Asgard, which indicated that Darkseid had some other plan in action, something they remained ignorant of at the moment. The entire galaxy seemed to be holding its breath, waiting in silent terror for the next shoe to drop.
"Here you are." Diana floated down to join him, her own invisibility field active. Stormbreaker hung off her belt and her hair was drawn back in the braided style she'd adopted in recent years. Today, her brilliant, beautiful eyes weren't swimming with electricity – which he took to mean that she had the lightning under control at the moment – but they were definitely concerned. It had been a very long time since they'd been on the same planet but the crushing emotional exhaustion riding on his shoulders kept him from doing more than giving her a sad smile.
"Here I am," he said softly, returning his attention to the city below. Even as he spoke, he realized that they were using Asgardian – it was a difficult habit to break after a thousand years or so of it being the only language they used. "Where did we go wrong?" he asked. She gave him a questioning look. "These people. How did they distort what we stood for so easily?"
"Because they're human," Diana replied. She took his hand. "Weak and strong. Insane and brilliant. Utterly mad but somehow gloriously sane, all at the same time." She smiled. "Human," she repeated. Kal chuckled softly at her description. He wondered how she always managed to cheer him with just a few words.
"I spoke with Dox today," he said after a moment of silence. "He has no explanation for why I am no longer getting any older."
"You are not simply aging slowly as one would expect with your biology," the Coluan had told him in that terse manner of his. "Instead, your aging process appears to have been completely suspended. You are, Kal-El, functionally immortal and I have insufficient data to explain why."
"It is likely my fault," Diana murmured. She held up her other hand and Kal watched as lightning danced across her fingers. "The Olympians were immortal," she said, "and if I am the last of them … then …" She exhaled. "I did not mean to do this without your permission…"
"Stop." Diana's fumbling explanation was making him smile. "Were our places reversed," he said, "I would not want to face eternity without you either." Diana flashed a grin.
"Such a smooth tongue," she said brightly. "Have you been taking lessons?"
They stood there in silence, staring down at Metropolis as it stretched out below them. Once, Kal would have presumed that his senses were superior – with a bit of concentration, he could make out individual faces and hear specific conversations taking place, even at this vast distance – but, as Diana grew more comfortable with her father's mantle as the master of the Olympian thunderbolt, her abilities increased exponentially. Now, she was a goddess of the sky and possessed capabilities even he could not comprehend, let alone fathom.
Of course, he'd thought she was a goddess the first time he set eyes on her, even if he'd held his tongue at the time.
"Legion recall," a soft, disembodied voice announced, emerging from the flight rings they both wore. It was too low a frequency for most to hear, but to Kal (and likely to Diana), it was as loud as a shout. "This is a priority alpha Legion recall." Kal sighed heavily before half turning his attention to Diana. She nodded.
And together, they climbed back toward space.
By the time they reached the orbital facility that was the Legion's headquarters, everyone else had arrived.
Diana could not help but to note how so many eyes automatically turned toward her and Kal upon their approach or how Kal's body language instinctively altered. He had doubts and questions and fears just like the rest of them, but because these children – and no matter that most of them were now in their thirties, to her, to both of them, they were children – looked to him, he buried those thoughts and feelings under a layer of casual confidence. It did not matter that he was so emotionally strung out from century after century of constant conflict. For these children, he would force himself to be strong. To those who he considered friends – Lar, of course, but also Val Armorr, the young man they called 'Karate Kid' who, as it turned out, was descended from Bruce – he gave quick nods of greeting. To those who did not know him as well as she did, he was every inch the hero of their legend, the semi-mythical Superman who routinely faced impossible odds with a smile on his face. He buried his angst … for them.
Diana did not think she could love him more than she did in this very instant.
For her part, she completely understood how he felt. She too was utterly exhausted, more mentally than physically. It was so very, very hard to keep on struggling in the face of something like this. What was the old Earth saying? One step forward, two steps back? She felt like that only increased a thousandfold.
"Good." Jazmin Cullen, the so-called 'Kid Quantum' who was the current team leader, looked up from where she and Rokk Krinn – 'Cosmic Boy' though most everyone called him Cos – were huddled together over a holo-table. "We're all here." She turned to where Brainiac Five, the Coluan genius who was the fifth Dox of his line to bear the Brainiac title. "Go."
"We have confirmed that Darkseid has been extracting significant individuals from their own timelines to serve Apokolips," Dox stated calmly. "The Apokoliptians clearly require an army of powerful Servants to accomplish their plan and as we now know, it's monumental in scope. They are using mass boom-tube technology to drain matter from our galaxy, greatly reducing its mass." He frowned. "The matter is being siphoned away to a point about ten years in our past, creating a temporal dam."
"A what?" Kal was frowning.
"Increase mass, you increase gravity. Gravity distorts and bends time." Dox appeared annoyed at having to explain this, but the expressions on the faces of many Legion members indicated it was necessary.
"Someone's damming the timestream ten years ago?" Jazmin asked in a clear attempt to clarify.
"Dam. Breakwater." Lyle Norg, the 'Invisible Kid' and Dox's most common co-conspirator in all things technical, shrugged. "It's a loose analogy."
"Apokolips is building vast defenses against some mammoth upheaval in the time stream that's going to come from our past." Dox frowned ever so slightly before nodding in the direction of Earth's Green Lantern who stood apart from the Legion slightly, his emerald uniform pulsing. "More importantly, with Lantern Vidar's assistance," the Coluan announced, "we have finally identified the dimensional frequency necessary for us to threshold to Apokolips."
In that instant, alarms began sounding.
Before anyone could react, a horizontal line suddenly appeared in the air in the very center of the conference hall. Light burned from the tear in reality as the members of the Legion scrambled to put some distance between themselves and the sudden slice, automatically falling into combat postures. A second cut appeared, this one originating from the first but angling sharply down to just above the deck, and then, a third tear in the fabric of spacetime rose up to connect to the first in the form of a triangle with the point down. Everyone present recognized the shape – the threshold gates they used looked much the same once established – and the tear opened.
"Stand clear, please," a familiar voice declared. Diana was moving forward instantly – Kal was already there, his eyes wide.
"Gabriel?" he asked, exchanging a sudden, hopeful look with Diana.
"Hello, Father, Mother." Dressed in his familiar armor, complete with the face-concealing helmet, their son stepped through the shimmering triangle, though strangely, he looked to be almost translucent, as if he was not fully here. He glanced around, zeroing in on the Legion's tracker, Shikari Lonestar, the Kwai who originated from a different galaxy and was said to be capable of following a scent across a galactic sector. "I need your pathfinding capabilities, girl," he said. He offered his hand. The humanoid insect glanced toward Diana, but stepped forward at the nod Diana gave.
"Wait!" Dox exclaimed, but Shikari was already touching Gabriel's outstretched hand.
Light flared, so brilliant that it blinded. Diana threw up a hand to protect her eyes, but the flash was already fading. She could hear cries of surprise … and Shikari's delighted laughter. Spots danced in her vision, but Diana blinked them away as her innate sense of the sky told her that another body was now displacing air.
"Threshold is anchored and stable," Gabriel announced. He held up his hands – his solid, no-longer semi-transparent hands – and nodded before removing his helmet. "Hello, Mother, Father."
Men and women began spilling out from the threshold, some wearing the distinctive armor of the Einherjar while others wore uniforms and clothes Diana did not immediately recognize. She pushed them out of her mind the moment she saw Lyta – with a laugh, Diana sprang forward and seized her daughter in a tight embrace even as Kal did the same with Gabriel. There was chaos, of course, as the heavily armed warriors continued to spill into the conference hall and the Legion tried to run herd on them. Diana and Kal switched children and she kissed her son upon his brow, aware of but not caring about the tears trickling down her face. For a change, they were of happiness.
"You are preparing an attack upon Apokolips," Lyta said to the Legion once the noise had eased somewhat. She was speaking Asgardian, but the translators built into the flight rings turned her words into Interlac for those who could not understand that language. Dressed in the unmistakable armor of a Valkyrie, she had added a stylized combination of the Themysciran eagle and the House of El sigil upon her breastplate and stood at the forefront of the Einherjar who were arrayed around her like a bodyguard detachment.
"We are," Jazmin replied, her eyes darting to the warriors even now still emerging from the glittering threshold.
"Then Asgard stands with you!" Lyta announced loudly. The Einherjar roared their approval, rapping their energy spears and monofilament swords against shields that would not melt even if they were plunged in the corona of a star. There were others who held aloft great, heavy guns, and yet others who carried weapons that shimmered and glittered with raw power. More than a handful of the Asgardian refugees were not native to that realm – Diana saw all four of the children she'd rescued from Apokolips when she faced them on Zenn-La, and there were dozens of others she knew to have been freed from Darkseid's control when she wielded the Gauntlet – but all of them had the same simmering anger and rage in their eyes. They wanted vengeance. They wanted justice.
"Gaining access to Apokolips will not be easy even with your knowledge of the dimensional frequency," Gabriel declared, mostly addressing his remarks to Jazmin and Dox. He gave Shikari another appraising look. "With this girl's assistance," he said calmly, "I believe we can aid you in finding the path to that world."
"And all who march with me," Lyta stated, "have faced Apokolips before." She scowled. "This is an Enemy we know."
"I like her," Jo Nah, the erstwhile 'Ultra Boy,' murmured. He was across the conference hall, leaning against a wall, and his companion, the energy entity who called himself Wildfire, chuckled, the sound coming strange from the environment suit he was bound within.
"Almost as pretty as her mom," he said, just as softly. "Sculpted from clay, do you think, or made the old-fashioned way?"
"I know which one I'd choose," Jo replied with a lecherous grin in his voice.
Diana turned cold, unblinking eyes toward the two, vaguely aware that Kal and Gabriel had done the same (though theirs were a bit harder and angrier.) Jo blanched slightly and looked down almost sheepishly, even as Wildfire shrugged apologetically. She heard the air shift as Lar shook his head and murmur something under his breath about fools and reckless tongues. It had the sound of a proverb, perhaps something he'd grown up hearing on Daxam so very long ago.
"Then let's get to work," Jazmin said.
Thunder exploded over the dead skies above Apokolips as the Legion arrived.
The boom-tube that Dox, Gabriel and Shikari fashioned was immense, wide enough for the Asgardian war-skiffs accompanying them to utilize without any difficulty. Below them, the scorched and ruined surface of a dead world stretched out, kilometer after kilometer of shattered terrain and ruined buildings long abandoned. The air tasted of death and decay – nothing could thrive here – and an angry blue star glared down upon the surface of the planet. Kal-El frowned.
Something wasn't right.
His memories of Apokolips were scattered and vague, but the color of the sun was something he recalled perfectly well. It had been a sullen old red star, barely warm enough to sustain life, not this unbelievably hot blue supergiant. He felt the star overhead try to burn away his concerns – if he was not already nearly bursting at the seams with an abundance of energy thanks to the belt Lyta had brought with him, the blue sun above would have done it. Dear God, he felt like he could break a world in half with his bare hands right now and automatically, his fingers went to the belt.
"Hephaestus crafted it for you," Lyta had told him. "He and Eitri were working on it right up to the end of our war." She'd grinned fiercely then. "Apollo plucked a yellow star out of the sky and fit it into that." Centuries of dealing with Asgardian tech had eased his automatic, instinctive rejection of the very concept of magic and Kal had simply nodded. Dox, the consummate scientist devoted to pure logic however, had nearly experienced a psychotic break as he tried to calculate how such a thing was even possible.
We're all on the telepathic channel, Imra declared as the Legion continued to spill out of the boom-tube. Emerald glows announced the arrival of the few remaining Green Lanterns accompanying Vidar – Kal knew none of them, but they all stepped carefully around him and Diana for some reason. At the moment, he didn't care why, not as his enhanced vision allowed him to make out the millions of figures hurling themselves into the smoking craters. More Catastrophists, it seemed. They were crying out prayers or pleas before plunging into the darkness of the immense craters that flared briefly as the madmen died. Their intent seemed clear: they sought to reignite the fires of Apokolips.
Something tugged at his attention – it was Diana, drawing his attention to something she had noticed, though how he realized that was what she wanted wasn't something he gave much thought to – and he twisted in place, grimacing at the wall of bodies hurtling through the sky toward them at subsonic speeds. In the far distance, looming over the horizon, was a familiar mountain range. Kal's eyes widened. This wasn't Apokolips, he realized grimly. It was Daxam. Darkseid had moved Daxam!
Hyper-Swan formation! Cos exclaimed through Imra's psi-link, but Kal was already blurring forward, intent on blunting the thrust of the airborne onslaught. Alone, a Daxamite was more than a match for most members of the Legion – he could handle a whole lot of them, of course, and Diana, Lar and possibly even Jo could stand against them; Lyta also, though she was likely the only one among the Asgardians thus capable since Gabriel had been unable to abandon his post as Watchman – but an entire planet of men and women with his powers? A mere handful of Kryptonians had nearly destroyed Earth when Zod invaded so very long ago. Dear God, this could be a massacre.
He felt Stormbreaker streak past him, striking one of the Daxamites square in the chest with sufficient force to send him spinning back into a larger group. Less than a heartbeat later, great sheets of lightning stabbed downward, tearing into the Servants with near perfect precision. Hundreds tumbled to the ground, smoke curling up from their dead or (far more likely) unconscious bodies, but by then, Kal was among them.
This close, he could see that not all of them were Daxamites – there were Thanagarians and Khundish warriors augmented by the parademon virus, not to mention a dozen other species he did not immediately recognize – but Kal did not allow the realization to slow his attack in the slightest. All thoughts of mercy and compassion were pushed aside – he hated that these poor fools were being used as pawns, but there was no time to pause or even try to find a better way. More than just this world was at stake. If Dox's calculations were correct – and they always were; he was even worse than Bruce had ever been – whatever it was Darkseid was doing here had the potential to undo the whole of reality. He could not risk pulling any punches, could not risk trying to simply subdue or incapacitate, not when everything was at stake.
So he struck hard and, when absolutely necessary, he killed.
And as always, he hated himself for it.
The sky over Daxam came suddenly alive with explosions and energy. Asgardian battle skiffs maneuvered into position and their guns erupted with fierce salvos of crimson and violet fire. Barely visible energy fields flickered and sizzled as the Servants of Apokolips retaliated, often with their heat vision but also with their bodies. One skiff vanished in a fiery burst of flame, and then another and another. Columns of emerald light swept across the battlefield, battering the Servants aside and hurling hundreds into the blackened soil below. A flicker of green announced the departure of an Oan power ring, which meant its bearer was dead.
At the same time, the Legion hurled their own talents against this Enemy. XS, one of Barry Allen's descendants, was a solid blur of white and blue as she crisscrossed the landscape, vibrating through hostiles and buildings alike, though she intentionally did not do so perfectly and inanimate objects exploded at her passage, peppering the Servants with deadly shrapnel; the Servants she flashed through fell, screaming at the sudden, violent readjustment of their molecular bonds. Ultra Boy and M'Onel carried the fight straight to the Daxamite horde, their mighty blows and 'flash' vision scorching flesh; Lar especially was roaring in rage, but then, these were his people, turned into weapons by a dark and terrible god. Thom Kallor, aka Star Boy, altered the density of the Servants, suddenly multiplying their weight by factors of ten. Cosmic Boy wielded his magnetic abilities as only one born to them could. And on and on and on. There were so many in action, so many of these talented children using their gifts to hold the line…
And at the very center of the maelstrom was Diana.
Unlike the others, she was not a blur of motion. Instead, she stood firmly in the sky, a bastion of Absolute Truth. Her Lariat coiled around her, flashing out without warning and wrapping around any of the Servants who came too close. They would shriek with agony and surprise, but then, the light of reason once more burned in their eyes, searing away the madness. Rage would follow then, a terrible earth-shaking fury that they had been turned into weapons of mass destruction by an unspeakable evil, and in that very instant, the Lariat would release its captive so he or she could join the fight against Darkseid. Thus freed, the former Servants hurled themselves against their brothers and sisters, fighting to contain them or, in many cases, to get them within striking distance of the Lariat. Stormbreaker never once ceased moving, slamming into other Servants to drive them into the dirt before springing back to her hand and, on occasion, she even sent jagged bolts of lightning at those who needed it.
A sudden boom echoed across the sky and Kal instantly oriented toward it, almost immediately locating the massive form of Darkseid seated upon a broken throne. He looked nothing like Kal recalled, instead appearing to be nothing more than a millennium old stone statue losing its eternal battle with the elements. Weathered cracks and fractures were everywhere upon his body, and as he moved toward the new boom-tube now before him, Kal could hear rock grinding against stone.
Stormbreaker was suddenly there, in his hand, and Kal gave no thought to how it had come to him as he spun it, faster than ever before. Lightning erupted from the hammer as the air around the Asgardian weapon burst into flames, but he spun it quicker and quicker. Darkseid was lumbering toward the boom-tube before him and Kal had no intentions of letting him escape.
But escape was not his intent.
Because then, without warning, the sky turned white.
Reality was shattering around her.
Diana could feel the sky revolting against Darkseid's actions, could feel all of existence shudder as the foul monster braced himself before the swirling boom-tube and spread his fractured arms. Ribbons of dark energy coursed from the transdimensional vortex, bathing Darkseid in its terrible glory. He was absorbing the galactic mass leeched from their universe, Diana realized suddenly, in an attempt to regain the lost vitality that was missing from him, sucking the very life from reality like a vampire. She had done this to him. When she cast him out of Asgard with the Infinity Gauntlet, she had apparently damaged him more badly than she'd anticipated or even hoped. Hera, but it was unfortunate that Gabriel's Reality Gem did nothing in this universe – they might have been able to simply eradicate the monster with just that!
Her eyes flickered to Kal – he was in the midst of an immense formation of the Daxamite Servants, laying about with Stormbreaker and his own considerable abilities as he tried to win free to take the battle to Darkseid so far below, but there were so many of them and they kept coming, kept attacking whether with fist or with heat vision. It was a delaying tactic, but as those went, she had to admit that it was an exceptional one. Stall the Kryptonian by hurling foes at him with similar powers if admittedly far less powerful. Her perfect recall allowed her to instantly call to mind the memory of the recordings of his battle against Zod and the other Kryptonians – these Servants were much more powerful, yet would slow him for only moments. Multiple those moments a hundredfold, though, then a thousandfold…
Back to Darkseid she looked, and a flood of comprehension washed through her as she observed him growing stronger, more capable. Was this her father's mantle? How else could she know that he was rebuilding his power like a vampire, draining the very essence of life from the past? This was the purpose of his temporal dam, to buffer this isolated point in reality from the resulting backlash that would inevitably come as he killed worlds in the past. And here, in this dimension, he would be at his strongest.
Father Zeus' plan unfolded before her and Diana Knew. Everything in her life was meant to lead to this very point, this very place. The Olympians had sacrificed their lives so she and Kal would be elsewhere, away from Earth and Themyscira when Darkseid assaulted. They were the key to stopping him … but how? What was it that they were intended to do?
Her mind raced as she claimed her rightful place at Kal's side. Instinct took over and had Diana known how … terrifying the two of them suddenly became to all who could see, even the Servants of Apokolips, she might have laughed. It was more than just that they knew how the other thought or acted and had been partners for over a thousand years – no, in this moment, they were a single entity comprised of two separate bodies. The Lariat and Stormbreaker belonged to both of them and nothing, not a billion brainwashed Daxamites or even a dark god from an earlier era, could stop them.
Kal struck out with Stormbreaker, then almost casually tossed it in her direction just as she was twirling around to dash one of the Servants into the ground. The hammer fell into her hand just in time for her to angle it up to intercept a flash of heat vision from yet another Servant. She casually backhanded the woman away, allowing the momentum of the strike to carry her into another spin. This time, though, she released her hold on Stormbreaker at the apex of her twist and it streaked away, battering a quartet of Daxamites into the ground. Simultaneously, the Lariat struck like a serpent, coiling briefly around Kal's right arm before yanking him hard in the opposite direction. He barreled into another thick formation of Servants, Daxamite and Thanagarian alike, kicking out with both legs and driving another ten of the Enemy into their insane cousins. The Lariat released him, just as Stormbreaker screamed back to his hand, and Kal almost perfectly recreated her earlier spin. Diana was dropping down as he did and the hammer's passage missed her head by barely a centimeter … exactly as she knew it would. She hit the ground hard a fraction of a second later, and shards of splintered ferrocrete spun up into the air – it would not injure or even seriously slow the Daxamites, not with their Kryptonian-like powers, but she was more interested in the shock value. They were still relatively new to their abilities and most beings reacted with surprise when billions of tiny fragments were streaking toward their face. Back into the sky she climbed.
On and on they fought, creeping closer and closer to where Darkseid stood. She was partially aware of the rest of the battlefield, of how the Asgardians were pushing against the ground-based Servants, Lyta in the vanguard as ever, or how the Legion and the Lanterns continued their attempts to batter aside the aerial slaves of Apokolips. There were casualties, but Diana could not let her thoughts turn to the fallen, not with more and more of the Daxamite Servants hurtling toward her and Kal. She was aware that none of the Oan power rings were now wielded by their original masters – all but one had been drawn to Legionnaires, and that one did not because it was shattered and broken – and knew that their new wielders might be inadequate.
This was not enough. They could not hold.
As if in answer to her prayers, the Bifrost opened with a brilliant flash of light. A column of dazzling light stabbed down out of the dark sky and when it was gone, more Asgardians spilled out into the battle. Ullr was at their forefront, bellowing a war-cry that rattled the ground as he charged. Again and again, the Bifrost flashed, each time depositing more troops, more warriors, more guns. It was madness: Gabriel was threading an impossibly narrow needle, hurling men and materiel through the cracks between universes and then, bouncing them through the threshold gate still hanging in the sky. Diana could not even begin to comprehend how difficult that had to be. The Servants of Apokolips wavered in surprise – they had the numbers, but this sudden arrival had momentarily disrupted their attack. Even Darkseid reacted, turning his head and frowning.
Now. They had to strike now. She looked at Kal.
But he was already gone.
The air screamed as he dove toward Darkseid.
His cape was long gone, torn free by a Daxamite Servant who was, even now, fighting alongside the Legion after the Lariat's caress, but Kal gave it no thought as he reached deep inside him and demanded more speed. Time had run out. Darkseid was but moments away from recovering his full power and then? He had not been able to stop the monster at Asgard and that had been when he was fighting alongside Thor and Hercules.
Fire boiled off him as he unleashed his heat vision to its full effect. The air around Darkseid exploded as the molecules around him were flash-fried and the giant rocked back with surprise. He reacted with blinding speed, twisting in place and springing toward Kal, his single good eye burning.
The resulting shockwave smashed apart the nearby throne that Darkseid had been sitting on earlier, tore apart the ferrocrete and durasteel fragments of buildings, hammered into Daxamite Servants and threw them dozens of kilometers away. Dust and debris exploded outward, enveloping the entire battlefield and hurling up a mushroom-shaped cloud of condensed water vapor and debris. Kal felt reality shiver around them – the blowback from the collision had fractured the boom-tube and it flickered, twisted, and sparked.
"Impressive." Darkseid rose from where he'd been thrown. His armor hung off his dark gray skin in tattered fragments. "You continually impress me, Kal-El."
"Oh, I'm just getting started," Kal replied through clenched teeth and a dark smile. "By the way, the Batman sends his regards."
He blurred forward, ducking under Darkseid's lightning fast counterstrike, and struck hard. Again, Darkseid rocked back – from the startled expression on his face, the old monster had not expected the level of power behind the blow – but Kal struck again and again. He caught nearly as many strikes as he handed out and each one of them hurt. Hephaestus' belt did its job, though, and his injuries vanished almost as soon as they appeared.
But then, without warning, time slowed to a crawl.
Darkseid was unaffected – in fact, he was likely responsible as he easily caught Kal's punch and hurled him into the fragments of the throne that still remained. It shattered on his impact, not quite exploding but coming pretty close, and Kal pushed against the planetary gravity, freezing in the air as he instantly reoriented on Darkseid. Heat bubbled out of his eyes – he carved a wicked furrow across the monster's chest, so whatever was slowing him down wasn't affecting the physics of lightspeed – and he hurled himself back, straining for every bit of speed.
He did not blur.
"Fool," Darkseid snarled as he battered Kal into the ground once more. "This is my seat of power, Kryptonian. What did you expect would happen when you came here?" Kal caught the monster's blurring blow with one hand, twisting it hard while kicking up with his left leg. His boot slammed into Darkseid's chest with enough power to shatter a moon. Darkseid grunted.
And then, he screamed.
Tongues of white fire lanced down, out of the sky, piercing through the monster's body. Fragments of stone and armor exploded outward as the lightning moved like something alive, actively seeking him out while intentionally avoiding Kal. A bare heartbeat later, Diana's feet smashed into the small of Darkseid's back, knocking him to one knee. Stormbreaker was in his wife's hand, but she almost leisurely released her grip on the haft, allowing it to fall squarely into Kal's waiting hand. They struck at the same time, him with the uru hammer forged in a different universe, her with a gloved fist that could tear through the hardest metals known to exist, and the twin blows picked Darkseid up and hurled him a dozen yards away. His impact carved a ten meter long trench before he could arrest his tumble, and when he rose, his face was contorted with fury.
"In another time," the monster snarled, his eye gleaming crimson, "I would have admired your persistence." He straightened. "But I grow weary of this game."
"Well that makes two of us," Kal-El hissed. He began to twirl Stormbreaker as Diana floated to one side, lightning flickering down the length of the Lariat. His wife's presence was more than just a balm – he could feel his speed return, could sense some unseen … power pulsing off her and brushing aside whatever it was that Darkseid had done to slow him down. She was studying the giant intently – Kal recognized her expression; she had a plan and was attempting to formulate the best way to accomplish it – so he kept talking, fully intent on drawing Darkseid's attention. "This ends only one way," he said coldly.
"Indeed it does, Kal-El," the tyrant replied. "It is appropriate that we three should stand here. The Last Kryptonian. The Last Olympian. And the Last of the Fourth World." He gave them a malicious smile. "The two of you have interfered with my plans for the last time." Darkseid gestured. "Come Kryptonian. Come Olympian. Let us end this."
For the span of a single heartbeat, all was silent.
As she expected, Kal struck first, blurring forward with Stormbreaker screaming as he attacked, but Diana was less than a nanosecond behind him, the Lariat coiling around her fingers as she dove to flank the monster. She pulled lightning from the sky, arcing it around Kal, where it exploded almost harmlessly against Darkseid's defensive wards, but she had never intended for the blasts to be more than a distraction to cover her husband's strike. Great plumes of heat rolled off him, so intense that it turned the sand underfoot to glass which promptly burst into flames. At the same time, Darkseid's own eye blast streaked out, slamming into Kal's chest and ripping apart what was left of his Legion uniform. It didn't slow him, though, and another hundredth of a second later, Stormbreaker struck home.
The resulting explosion rocked the entire continent. Diana could feel the shockwave rip through the air, hurling the entire Legion attack force back – the new wielders of the Oan power rings reacted just in time, throwing up protective barriers around their allies as they desperately tried to ride out this storm – and they were dozens of kilometers away. Apokoliptian Servants were smashed out of the sky with terrific force. The Daxamites were the fortunate ones – their enhanced durability under the blue sun allowed many of them to survive the impact – but the others, the Khunds and Thanagarians and Ranns, were swept aside before they even realized their danger.
She twisted around Kal, completing an aerial somersault over Darkseid's violent counterstrike, and then hit the ground just long enough to be ready for Stormbreaker as the smoking hammer tumbled end over end to her hand. Kal's punches were blurs – each impact caused another ground-rattling shockwave – and the star in his belt was growing brighter with each blow, but he was absorbing just as much punishment from Darkseid who seemed to moving fractionally faster. The Lariat coiled around the tyrant's leg and then, without warning, grew taut – the intent was simply to overbalance him, especially as she slammed the hammer into his other leg, but instead, Darkseid cried out in shocked pain. He flickered, vanishing and reappearing meters away, but smoke still curled up from his leg and Diana barely had time to intercept his eye blast with her bracers. She reflected the beam right back at him, though he casually batted it aside as Kal reached him in another blurring half run, half jump.
Diana's eyes flickered ever so quickly to the Lariat and then up, to the sky where even now she could sense the Daxamite Servants. They were staggered, frozen … of course! She smiled then, fiercely and dangerously, meeting the monster's good eye with her own hard gaze. Darkseid must have seen something in her face, something that told him things were about to change from the way his expression shifted. It was to be expected, of course.
Because she had a plan.
Lightning poured through her once more and she threw herself up into the air, as if she meant to seek a much higher altitude. Barely twenty yards up, she rolled and fell, the Lariat shimmering and dancing around her. She sent her lightning ahead along with Stormbreaker and both struck at the same instant, blinding Darkseid's good eye for the mere fraction of a second she needed. With a whisper, the Lariat moved.
And in that moment, as he recognized her intent, Kal lunged forward to wrap both arms around Darkseid in an unmistakable Amazon wrestling move.
The Lariat drew taut around them both and the light of Absolute Truth burned away Darkseid's deceptions. A being like him? How many lies had blackened whatever was left of his soul? How much deception had he drenched himself in over the millennia? He strained – his power was immense, greater than any of the Olympians, and Diana knew that if the Lariat could be burst, he was the one who could do it – but Kal responded by squeezing as well. Muscles that could shatter planets fought against each other, but her husband was not waging a three-pronged war, was not facing the Truth about himself while struggling to break free from a man who hated him with the passion to ignite stars. Again and again, the Lariat coiled around Kal and Darkseid and the monster suddenly howled with agony as Diana slammed Stormbreaker into his good eye with every bit of her strength.
"You are the last of the Fourth World," she hissed, feeling his hold on his Servants falter and fail. The Lariat was only as strong as her will, as her belief in Truth, and right now, there was nothing in the whole of creation stronger. She released her grip upon Stormbreaker and the hammer dropped onto the ground with a loud boom, splintering the flash-fried glass. Stepping closer, she joined Kal in the hold – it was a perverted embrace, and just touching this creature made her flesh crawl. "You have no place here!" Kal met her eyes and he nodded.
And then, together, without hesitation or regret, they hurled themselves into the open boom-tube.
Reality splintered around them. Time and space warped as they fell sideways, tumbling and spinning and sliding. Darkseid was still struggling, still fighting, still roaring with rage, and Kal was screaming his defiance. His voice … she focused on his beautiful, beautiful voice and joined hers with his.
She had no destination in mind, no plan beyond ensuring that this monster could harm no one else. Anger coursed through her then and Diana gave Kal a horrified look – she could not release her touch on the Lariat and he could not let go of Darkseid. Regret came, thick and bitter. He deserved so much better. They would fall through the cracks of existence forever, locked in this timeless struggle.
Not so. A distant, halfway familiar voice whispered across time. Athena. When she had Touched Diana on Themyscira, she must have left something behind. The tiniest of splinters of her mind, set aside should this moment come to pass. There was a place, the ghost of a memory murmured. It was far away, at the very edge of the last frontier, where all roads ended…
The Source Wall.
Diana smiled. She knew the way, knew how to transit through this dimensional vortex to that place of eternal torment. There was a path already trod by her brother Hermes centuries ago in preparation for this very instant. He had come here, Diana suddenly knew, to strengthen Kal when her husband was a prisoner of Darkseid, but always – always – visited the Wall when he left. Father Zeus had wanted this road ready for her, ready for them. Centuries of planning, centuries of hope … could she not honor their sacrifice? Kal did not believe in fate, argued that only individuals crafted their own destiny, but Diana had grown up paying careful homage to the Moirai, the three white-robed women who spun out the thread of a person's life. Father Zeus had chosen this path for her. Could she not see it through to the end even if it claimed her life?
No. She could not.
The ground was still shaking.
From where she crouched, sheltered behind the fractured emerald construct wrought by the boy with the magic ring, Lyta Kal-El could see nothing. Clouds of dust and debris yet filled the air but the titanic thunder that had rocked the very world was finally gone. Kneeling at her side, his shield still held aloft, Sjofin gave her a wide-eyed look. He was the last of her father's Redcloaks still serving – the others were long dead or retired from the field due to injury.
"In Thor's name," he murmured, seemingly unable to determine whether he should be elated, horrified and ecstatic at how powerful her parents had become. Though she had struggled to hide it, Lyta herself had been stunned when she watched them fight together. Had they always been so deadly together? During the Asgard War, they were rarely on the same side of the battle …
In the far distance, Lyta heard a muted boom and recognized the sound instantly. A tube had opened or closed somewhere. She sprang up from the dirt and threw herself into the sky.
The ringbearer wisely let her pass – it was the dark-haired Legionnaire who possessed Father's powers; the M'Onel, she thought they had called him – and Lyta landed roughly in the dirt a kilometer distant, jumping back into the sky the instant her feet touched the ground. Gabriel insisted she was capable of unassisted flight like him – that little brat of his could already fly too but then, it might be magic given who the mother was – but she'd never been able to do more than these awkward jumps without the use of her armor's energy wings and those were long since torn away.
She touched down long seconds later, landing in an immense crater that had not been here before. The ground crunched underfoot – glass, she realized – and heat was still rising, causing sweat to instantly begin trickling down her face. Lyta could taste the smell of a recently collapsed boom-tube and cast around for a moment, intent on trying to find it. Gabriel had said the Kwai girl was an exceptional tracker. If she survived, perhaps she could …
Her eyes fell on Stormbreaker a moment later.
It was resting there, head down in the glassed dirt, and Lyta felt her entire world lurch out of balance. Mother loved that hammer and it loved her. King Thor had been furious when Gabriel returned their parents to their own reality, and then astounded when Stormbreaker sprang up of its own volition and pursued them through the closing Bifrost. Mother would not part with Stormbreaker unless … unless … no. That was not possible. Not them. Anyone but them. They were invincible. She dropped to her knees before the hammer, her mind frozen upon the impossibility before her.
"I'm not seeing any trace of them or of Darkseid," the M'Onel told her softly. He hovered a half foot above the ground and was slowly rotating in place, his eyes narrowed in that strange way Father had when he was using his enhanced vision. "I heard their battle but …"
Whispers of movement warned Lyta that the Servants were approaching, but her mind was stuck on the hammer and she could not make her body move. Voices erupted in a senseless babble around her – the Servants were freed, it appeared, and terribly confused – and she was aware that the M'Onel was addressing them in a language that was so much gibberish to her. Such a strange name, that. Was it a title? Or some other bizarre tradition of his reality that made no sense? He had pretty eyes, though. Like Father's.
She was still kneeling there, in the dirt and glass, when Ullr reached her side. With barely a grunt, Sif's son took in the hammer and promptly dropped to his knees beside her, wrapping one of his meaty hands around her shoulder. Lyta wanted to let him comfort her, desperately wanted to just let her body go limp, but dammit, she could not tear her eyes from the unmoving hammer. It taunted her, scoffed at her, laughed at her pain.
"Lyta." It was her brother's voice, whispering across distances so unbelievably vast that her mind shied away from even trying to fathom them. With great effort, she ripped her eyes away from the hammer and glanced up – it probably wasn't accurate, especially here since he had opened the Bifrost through the threshold gate, but in the times she'd traveled via the Rainbow Bridge, she'd always envisioned him as floating in the heavens above her. "Lyta."
"I hear you, dammit," she muttered. Ullr gave her a sidelong look, his thick eyebrows climbing up before he too glanced skyward.
"I need you to listen to me," Gabriel said before continuing on. His words were garbled nonsense that did not make sense to her mind and Lyta realized with some surprise shock was setting in. She blinked as she tried to turn her brother's patient words into something that made sense. What did he mean? What wall? There was no wall here. There was nothing here but death and destruction.
It was barely noticeable, but Lyta was still intently aware of the mystical hammer, and her eyes instantly locked on the weapon. Her muscles tensed – she felt Ullr's arm fall away as he went into combat mode as well, even though he obviously did not know her mind; that was one of the reasons she loved this silly, stupid man. He trusted her so completely, so utterly, that if she suggested they march to Niflheim and punch Loki's daughter, Hela, in the face, he would be a hundred leagues away from Asgard before asking her why they were challenging the goddess of death.
Lyta held her breath, wondering if she had imagined the movement – no! There it was again! It was trembling. That could only mean…
Stormbreaker shot up from the ground, streaking higher and higher, vanishing into the cloudless, blue sky with a boom that rattled the air. The fierce red sun – when had it changed? Lyta did not know nor did she care – stared down balefully. She could no longer see her Mother's hammer but somehow, she knew where it was going. Suddenly, impossibly, her brother's words made sense. The fog of shock lifted from her mind, leaving her once more in charge of her faculties.
Lyta laughed. She turned to Ullr and seized him in an embrace that caused him to groan, especially when she sprang up to her feet and whirled him around as if he weighed nothing. The ring of eyes upon her – filthy, wounded Legionnaires, shocked and confused Daxamites, hopeful Asgardians – did nothing to foul her mood.
This had been a glorious day!
"Sjofin!" she bellowed, pushing Ullr back with just enough force that he stumbled. His scowl made her giggle like a girl but Lyta thrust it away. "Where in the Nine Realms is Sjofin?!" She looked around. "Damn your eyes, man! We have work to do!"
In the wreckage of the dead world that had once been Daxam but had become Apokolips, the Legion found … nothing. No trace of Diana or Kal-El could be found, no matter the amount of effort put into finding even the slightest hint of their survival. The abilities at the Legion's disposal were beyond just considerable and when neither magic, nor science, nor post-mortal ability uncovered anything, concern set in. Eventually, concern turned to worry, and then became sadness and grief as the days turned into weeks. Surely if they had survived, was the refrain from the realists amongst their numbers, they would have revealed themselves. If they had survived, that was. As much as the dreamers and the optimists might hope otherwise, this seemed the most probable fate.
The Asgardians returned to their own reality soon after, transiting once more through the cracks between universes via the boom-tube threshold the Watchman of Bifrost had wrought. They left behind none of their number, not even the dead. Lyta Kal-El, the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman shed no tears for her lost parents, which some took as confidence that her parents yet lived, while yet others insisted she was physically incapable of weeping, that she was sculpted from iron much as her mother had been borne of clay.
Afterward, as the galaxy was recovering from the sudden and unexpected reappearance of the missing planets, Querl Dox, the Brainiac Five of the Legion, made a very rare error, voicing a possible theory about the fate of their lost allies based on his firsthand knowledge about the capabilities of the two. Though he was merely making a wild guess, as such things are wont to do, it grew in the telling until it became the agreed upon truth. The M'Onel, he who would centuries later be discovered to have been the Most Holy Valor, returned to bring justice to the galaxy he'd birthed, would scoff at these new tales, claiming they were mere fairy tales and wild supposition, but in time, even his words were discounted as the tale grew.
To truly destroy Darkseid, this new legend claimed, was beyond even the powers of the Superman or of the Wonder Woman, and only together could they accomplish it. The Last of the Olympians, it was said, embraced her father's mantle wholly and became a star, burning so brightly and so powerfully that she amplified her husband's powers to beyond even her own godly level, but in doing so, she was lost forever. Grief stricken and so enraged he could not be controlled at the death of his wife, the Last Kryptonian unleashed a wrath that shattered the foundations of time itself and obliterated Darkseid for all of eternity before he too was lost, though the various tellings invariably differed as to the specifics of his fate. It was this myth that would unite the Sons of El and the New Amazons in the decades to come, and the faith of this new unified organization would become the centerpiece of a new religion, a religion of Light that taught how two gods of Hope and Truth stood against darkness without yielding. These gods, the Prophets of the Chosen claimed, were why all of reality yet stood.
There were other rumors, of course, whispered stories of the two vanishing in the timestream to be reborn in a time when they would be most needed, or of them becoming one with the Source itself. Still others claimed that the Source had tasked them to watch over His Wall, to defend reality from the billions of unnamed monsters and tyrants who had sought out power to remake all of existence and, as penance, were forever imprisoned within that Wall. As time passed, these tales were told and retold, changing and evolving as all stories do, until finally, the Prophets of the Chosen adopted them as official dogma for their Church: She Who Was Diana and He Who Was Kal, it was prophesied, were the Gods of Truth and of Hope, mortals reborn as deities, who faced a terrible entity of evil and hate. They were lost to time, but the Source meant to send them back when they were most needed.
And indeed, through the centuries that passed, rumor and myth spread throughout the two universes of a man and a woman appearing at moments of terrible crises, to lend aid against the forces of entropy and hate only to vanish once more, disappearing without even the slightest indication that they had been there. The Prophets of the Chosen grew in authority and in prestige in two universes, but something unseen always kept them from abusing their power. Naturally, the Prophets would claim that this was due to their inner strength, their moral certainty, and even the Hopeful Truth underlying their teachings, but it was whispered by those outside their clergy that they were touched by the Gods themselves, watched by the Superman and the Wonder Woman for any signs of abuse. Stories of direct intervention by one or both of the mortals become gods abounded within the Universal Church of the Chosen, and in every instance, those Touched insisted that their patrons desired not to be worshipped, but rather emulated in deed and in action. Faith was all well and good, but it was by deeds alone that they were judged.
The most devout Seekers of Truth crossed universes in their desires to discover what truly happened that day and most would eventually find their way to the golden halls of Asgard. There, Lyta Kal-El, the daughter of the Superman and the Wonder Woman, would rise to great prominence amongst the Aesir, eventually wedding Prince Ullr a century after Darkseid fell, and there, the Silent Watchman stood a vigil before the Bifrost, his eyes seeing all. He knew the Truth about his parents and whether they yet roamed the cosmos, it was said, but he was not revealing the secrets that lurked deep within his heart and when petitioners sought him out, asking him what had happened to his mother and father, Gabriel the All-Seeing simply smiled.
As with all things, the stories about the Last Kryptonian and the Last Amazon became yet another myth. Arguments and disputes arose – all Amazons were sculpted from clay, not just She Who Was Diana, while others claimed she was unique or that none of them, even she, had been made thus; He Who Was Kal had never walked among mortals as one of them, some insisted, or perhaps he had been a mortal raised to godhood, or he was a mortal who spoke a Word to become a God – and the myths slowly became legend. Centuries marched on as the press of time unfolded. The stars grew dim and cool as both universes aged. All was forgotten …
But one truth remained: a man of steel loved a woman of clay, and she him, and their union changed two universes. Forever.
A/N #2: And that's all, folks. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did. Thank you for your feedback and support.
So please, drop me a line: let me know what you thought.