League of Justice
Diana scrambled back to her feet with a feral smile. Now this was a challenge worthy of her. Her godly strength may not be able to hurt the creature, but she certainly could stun it, and her lasso was able to slice through the creature with astounding ease. The only real problem was that it was very durable, and it didn’t look like it was going to bleed out anytime soon. It probably didn’t even have organs to damage.
Burning arrows kept slamming into the monster’s hide, Faith’s aim improving with the monster staying relatively still as it battled Diana. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no end to the tentacles that flailed about, and every time Diana severed one with her lasso, two more took their place. What was worse, the wounds she caused with her lasso healed at rapid speed, new tentacles sprouting from the stumps of the severed ones. Thousands of eyes focused more and more upon the demigoddess, and she was being pushed to her limits to keep the beast under control. While she reveled in the challenge, people were dying for every moment she hadn’t yet killed the beast.
Horror rose in Diana as the creature wrapped several tentacles around a tour bus, screams coming from inside making her all too aware of the innocents trapped within. She braced herself as the bus was hurtled her way, hoping she could somehow stop it without killing everyone inside.
Only at the last second, the bus lifted away from her, drifting almost like a feather until it was set down on the ground. Everything seemed to still for a moment as a handsome young man in black set the bus down carefully, giving the tourists inside a gentle smile. “Don’t worry folks. I gotcha.”
A shocked voice came from inside, high-pitched with fright and shock. “Who’s got you?!”
With a smile, Diana turned back to the creature, which seemed to be losing focus on her. That moment of hesitation cost her though, as it coiled up its tentacles and with a resounding roar, flung itself like a cannonball toward the glittering towers of downtown LA. “By Hera, no!” Diana shouted.
A white and blue blur smashed into it in midair, dropping the immense creature to the ground before it could go further than half a mile. Pavement cracked and the pavement shuddered as it smashed into the ground, and a frustrated howl rose from the monster, dust and debris flying high into the air as the beast tried to right itself.
“Damn, that actually stung!” The second blur said as it, or rather she, landed next to Diana. She was wearing a jean jacket and a white shirt, her short blonde hair looking frazzled. “That big guy’s tough.”
Diana nodded quickly. “We need to keep it away from the downtown core. Someone’s released a toxin in the air over there, judging from how desperately the creature wants to get there. If it gets into that place, it’ll become much more powerful, as the fears of the people feed it.”
The young man was at her side in a blur, nodding at that. “Any idea how to stop this thing?.”
Diana nodded. “We must hurry. It’s a creature of fear, it’s trying to reach the place where the reaction to it is strongest. My lasso can harm it, but nothing else seems to have done anything more than slow it down.”
The man nodded. “Right. I’ll help out here.”
Faith came running up from behind, panting for breath. It took her a moment to get the words out, clenching her hand tightly on the burning bow in her grasp. “Whatever, you guys, do, do it, quick.” She quickly drew back the string and released, the magical arrow slamming into the beast, white fluid spurting out as the arrow pierced one of its many eyes. The howl of pain made all four stagger, tentacles writhing everywhere.
The blonde nodded quickly. “Right. I’ll see about calming the downtown area. You guys be good here?”
The young man smiled, cracking his knuckles. “Yeah. I was up for a change of pace, anyway.”
Diana smiled as she coiled her lasso, running toward the monster as the young man blurred toward it, giving it a powerful tackle that broke the sound barrier, staggering the tentacled monstrosity. This just got more interesting.
Batman scrambled his way up a fire escape, grimacing as the shadows around him twisted into enemies. In his mind, the Joker’s cackles kept echoing, the taunts of his past failures flooding in and out of his vision. His body climbed and scrambled almost without his knowledge, automatic responses taking over where reason weakened.
The fog below was thick now, and he could see people running around and screaming, jumping at shadows and each other. From experience he knew it would take time for it to wear off, and forcing ones’ way through the difference between reality and hallucination wasn’t easy. The air was chilly in the extreme, a result of the rapid evaporation of whatever they used in the tank. Probably liquid nitrogen or oxygen, maybe even liquid helium. Smart. Whatever it was, the evaporation was going to carry the fear toxins mixed in quite far.
Clambering his way to a rooftop, he looked down on the tanker, spewing the thick mist into the air. The mob below, which had threatened his life just moments before, were scattering as their own internal fears were given free reign over their bodies. Some collapsed into babbling heaps while others ran screaming away. All were avoiding the tanker, the extreme cold radiating from it dissuading everyone.
“That’s a stupid idea.” Buffy said next to his ear. Instinctively he jerked away, gritting his teeth. The familiar voice taunted him, tearing at his mind. “You’re good for nothing, Xander. You tried to help me, and I died. You went and had a relationship with my replacement, and she turned against you. You tried to play hero, and you failed, like you’re failing right now. Even if your friend manages to subdue the beastie from the Hellmouth, all these people below you are going to be scarred for life because you. Couldn’t. Fix. It. You’re nothing.”
“You’re wrong.” He muttered, focusing his will to shut out the words.
“A failure, a freak, a disgrace. That’s all you are, and that’s all you’ll ever be, Alexander Lavelle Harris.” Buffy’s face filled his vision, skull showing through where rotted skin gave way. But something was wrong. There was something about her eyes that he focused on, something that didn’t fit. It wasn’t Buffy, he knew that on an intellectual level, but now it sank in on an emotional level. This was something else. Something that didn’t want him to succeed. Something that had pushed him before, and he never realized.
Cold rage filled him, and he grasped it, honed it, icy clarity working to clear his mind. “Got you.”
The phantom blinked. “What?”
A grim smile rose on Batman’s lips as his mind cleared before his focus, the hallucinations peeling back before his steady gaze. “I never told Buffy my middle name. And I almost never think about it. You’re not some figment of my imagination trying to tear me down. If you were, you would be Tony Harris, not Buffy. And if you were Buffy’s ghost, you would be trying to help me stop this, not delaying me. So get the hell out of my way.”
A look of surprise came on Buffy’s face as he spoke, the rotten skin sealing up in an instant. “Now listen, you-”
“I’m done listening to you.” Batman spoke, his voice gaining strength. He rose to his full height, the presence and strength of both the mask and the man wearing it rising to the occasion. “I am not a disgrace, I am not a failure. I am her vengeance. I am the master of the night.” His voice rose to a yell as he advanced on the now-shrinking phantom, his will sharpening itself into a honed weapon against her words. “I am Batman!”
‘Buffy’ flinched away, her form shifting and twisting into that of Joyce Summers. At his renewed glare, it shifted again, into the Master. The ages-old vampire sneered, his yellow eyes glittering. “Not bad, boy. Not bad at all. You’ve got potential.” A twisted smile rose on the dead vampire’s face. “You’re in for a hell of a time, kid. You’re going to wish you died here.”
“Get lost.” Batman said darkly.
The Master smiled more widely at that. “That might be difficult, considering I’m everywhere. Above you, I call down fire, and from beneath you, I devour. Enjoy your remaining years, kid.” With that, the phantom shifted into an immense, transparent and demonic shape, passing through Batman as if it was mist before vanishing completely.
Batman shook his head, feeling better than he had for months. Looking down at the flowing mist and the chilly air rising from the stopped tanker, he quickly glanced around, smiling when he saw what he was hoping to see. He linked his last grappling hook to the roof’s edge, leaping from it and using the rope to slow his fall, his cape snapping out like the wings of a giant bat. People screamed and ran away from him as he landed on the ground, no doubt looking like a demonic creature from the depths of Hell itself to their warped senses. That suited him fine. He didn’t need more people shooting at him.
The shutoff valves for the tanker were too close to the pouring liquid, and it was no doubt too cold for him to be able to move it anyway, even assuming the liquid didn’t turn him into a solid statue. But he didn’t have to move the valves. All he had to do was cap the flow. Quickly turning to a fire hydrant that was near the extremely cold liquid pouring out of the tanker, he noted with some satisfaction that it was encrusted in ice and cracking from the pressure within. It wouldn’t take much to make it break. The only problem was giving it enough force.
Glancing about quickly, he smiled as he saw a trash can. It wouldn’t normally be enough, but with the hydrant already weakened, it just might do. Picking up the can, he hefted it, nodding with satisfaction. It was about halfway full, and the extra mass would freeze as it got closer to the rushing torrent. Grimacing as he stepped closer to the tanker, the air growing colder by an astounding amount with each step, he stopped as close as he dared, some twenty feet away from the hydrant, itself ten feet from the tanker.
He threw the can as hard as he could at the hydrant, and it smashed into it with a crack. The trash can shattered into a thousand pieces, frozen trash fluttering about as the boiling liquid carried the bits up into the air before falling and shattering on the ground. He groaned, already trying to think of another solution.
Then there was another crack and the hydrant shattered as if it were glass. Water streamed up into the air, freezing before it hit the ground, shards of ice falling in a torrent toward the truck. The water snap-froze almost before it left the pipes, only making it through because of the sheer amount of pressure it was under. His smile grew as the water formed a growing patch of ice, piling up with surprising quickness over the side of the truck in one solid mass. The torrent of boiling white mist began to slow as its path was obstructed by the rapidly forming ice, the sheer cold of the liquid aiding the formation of its own cap. After only a minute, the onrushing flow of fear gas had stopped completely, the ice holding it at bay. It was a temporary solution at best, but it would work until more prepared manpower could take care of it.
There was a whoosh of displaced air, then suddenly there was a girl floating there, looking at the makeshift cap on the flow. She looked at him and blinked, a roguish smile rising on her face. “Nice. I wouldn’t have thought of that. Though I’d have just thrown the whole thing somewhere in the Arctic.”
Batman blinked, before regaining his voice. “Right. Lot of superpowered types lately.” He nodded to the truck. “The flow’s stopped for now, but there’s still a lot of the toxin in the air. It’ll take a while to dissipate, more time than we’ve got. Can you deal with the mist, preferably without more people being affected by it?”
She grinned. “No problem.” She lifted into the air again, quickly flying around in a circle again and again, going faster and faster as she did. The wind began to pick up as the young woman went, the toxic mist being sucked into the growing funnel. The mist thinned noticeably, rising upward and high into the air. Once it floated above in a thick mass, looking like a low-hanging cloud, the woman stopped flying around it. Before it could begin to settle, she blew hard, and contrary to all expectations, the high-force winds released sent the mass away, blowing out to sea.
As the mist cleared, Batman could see the results of the attack. People were on the ground, some catatonic, others writhing and whimpering in fear. Still others wept at the wounds they inflicted on themselves or others, adrenalin fighting against the fear gas. Batman’s hand’s clenched at the sight, a low growl rising in his throat as he stepped into the darkness, making his way back to the rooftops.
Ducard was going to pay for this.
He gave a start as a whoosh of air signaled the flying woman’s return. He watched with fascination as she blew her supercooled breath over the tanker, freezing the ice over the valves even more tightly. She then cut away the tanker from the tractor with a quick chop of her hand, picking up the whole tanker as easily as he might lift a milk carton.
He shouted down to her as she paused. “Throw it out to sea! It won’t be doing much damage a few miles down!”
She gave him a mischievous grin as she drifted closer to him, holding the tanker above her head. “I’ve got a better idea. Just hang on, I’ll take care of this.” She started flying upward, picking up speed as she did, and soon the tank was a pinprick in the night sky, before that too, vanished.
Batman shook his head, a smile slowly rising on his lips. “Right. Throw it in space. I’d have thought of that, if I had a rocket to spare.”
Kryptonian fists slammed into the monstrous hide of the beast, sending it sprawling down the road. A screech rose from it, both of frustration and pain. Diana took the opportunity to lash her lasso out like a whip, scoring a deep strike through flesh and bone, another deafening howl of pain rising. As it flailed its tentacles, trying to right itself in increasing desperation, Clark focused his gaze on the parts of the beast spewing black blood, beginning to heal and spawn new tentacles. Heat sprung from his eyes, searing the wounds shut and causing more pain to the beast.
Faith found herself smiling at him. He was a hottie, and the fact that he was strong enough to crush bricks into powder was just a plus. Clark’s gaze swept from point to point, searing the wounds shut, preventing them from healing. Faith launched arrows at the monster’s sensitive eyes, distracting it to give Diana and Clark more opportunities to do grievous damage. It wasn’t as if she was lacking targets. While it was obvious that she was the lightest hitter of the three, the Bow of Apollo in her hands could injure it, and distract it. The godly weapon seemed to sing in her hands as arrow after arrow slammed into the Hellmouth monster’s hide, the occasional lucky hit against an eye making it shriek in extreme agony.
Clark blurred forward once more, slamming into the creature’s face with all the force of a guided missile. His fists came down again and again, blurring so quickly that they seemed to fade from existence as he did, the only sign of his hand’s movements the rapid sound of flesh on bone. The beast writhed on the ground under the assault, unable to even cry out with the blows striking it.
Diana took the opportunity and placed herself behind the monster’s great head. She slung her lasso out, wrapping the golden length around its neck, tentacles from its head searching for her blindly as it tried to catch and kill its tormentors. Taking each end of the lasso, Diana’s godly strength warred against the beast’s unholy constitution. The lasso started slicing into the creature’s neck as she gradually tightened her muscles, a pathetic squeal emerging from the monster. Diana let out a cry of exertion, and the lasso sliced through completely, blood spraying outward in all directions, drenching the three heroes. The immense body flailed. Incredibly, the wounds started sealing over, a stump beginning to form at the base of the creature’s neck. That was quickly stopped as Clark burned the wound shut, aided by Faith’s arrows as they launched into the twisting flesh.
For a moment, the three stood, panting as the monster before them lay still, gurgling and shifting flesh eventually stilling. Faith blinked and groaned as the helicopter from earlier lit up the trio, and she shook her head quickly. “D, I think we should go. Get to a shower real quick, and away from here.”
Clark nodded with a gentle smile. “Come on. I’ll give you a lift, and nobody’s going to be looking for you two where I’m going.”
Four hours later, Batman waited in a nice, clean apartment in Metropolis, sitting on the couch, head in his hands. He’d hung up the phone a moment earlier, events set in motion, and now all he could do was wait and see what happened. He wished he didn’t have to. Memories of the flight over kept flashing through his mind, and he really wished he had another way over on his own. He couldn’t stop trembling for a good half hour, and even then, his nerves felt like they were shot.
He looked up as Karen patted him on the shoulder, an amused smile on her face. “Welcome to the humble abode. Still shook up over the flight, huh?” At his nod, she patted his shoulder again. “Don’t worry about it. A lot of people can’t handle a flyover from LA to Metropolis. You did pretty well.”
“I thought I was pretty good with heights. Really. But the way you fly, that’s a bit more than I bargained for. Usually, when I fly, I’m in a plane. Not hanging on to a person’s back.” He replied, a shudder running through him. Taking a deep breath, he managed to put on an wry tone. “But I certainly didn’t mind the company during the flight.”
Karen chuckled. “Well, it’s not like you had much of a choice. Your friends were along with Clark, and I wanted to figure out more about you.”
Batman nodded. “I’ll wait til Faith gets out of her shower there.”
There was a whoosh of displaced air, then Clark and Diana were there. The demigoddess shook her head, putting on an affronted expression. “I am definitely going to have to speak with Athena about this. Some way of getting around that quickly without help would have been much more useful. Hermes could at least have given me a pair of his sandals.”
Clark looked apologetic. “Sorry for the rough ride. I don’t often have passengers.”
Diana shook her head. “It is of no moment. Where is Faith?”
As if summoned, Faith stepped out of the bathroom, dripping wet and wrapped in a bathrobe, her features still a bit smudged from the demon’s blood. “Great.” She spoke, frustration in her voice. “My clothes are completely wrecked and here we are, halfway across the country.” She pointed an accusing finger at Clark. “You owe me new leathers and boots.”
“Me!?” He protested.
Faith nodded. “Yes, you. It was your bright idea to bring us to Metropolis in the first place. I suggested a shack in the middle of nowhere, but no. You had to bring us to these shiny digs in Kansas.”
Batman sighed. “Please, everyone. We need to discuss what’s happening next.” Turning to Karen and Clark, he spoke. “First of all, thank you for showing up to help out. Things would have been much worse if you hadn’t flown in. Disposing of the tanker would have been a lot harder if Karen hadn’t helped.”
Karen smirked at that. “See, Clarkie? And you thought I was just hanging around and raiding your fridge.”
Clark sighed, shaking his head.
Diana smirked at the by-play, but then her expression became more serious. “Los Angeles was targeted as part of a plot. The League of Shadows intended for the Hellmouth there to manifest a monster, capable of destroying the city. A true god of fear. My interference broke their pattern before the emotions in the city could create such a being, but the resulting creature did more than enough damage as it was. And there’s no hiding the damage it caused or the fight, caught in the world’s eye.”
Faith grinned, running her fingers through her hair. “Yep. Kinda hard to hide Cthulu stomping around in Hollywood. All that was missing was Godzilla and Rodan, and it could have been a decent monster flick. We might have been luckier if it showed up in Tokyo instead, but nooo.”
Diana sighed. “Faith...”
Faith put on an air of innocence. “What?”
Clark nodded, ignoring the commentary. “Still, we’re stuck. People didn’t just catch the big guy on TV, they caught us. Only you,” He nodded to Batman. “Weren’t onscreen for the battle.”
Batman shook his head. “When I was stopping the tanker, some people took pictures of me. I’ll be known, though not as much as you will be. Still, people are going to know there are threats out there, monsters in the shadows. My...friend, was just telling me the group responsible, the League of Shadows, is already releasing the information to the masses. They didn’t succeed in destroying LA, but they succeeded in their larger goal.”
Karen slowly nodded, her pleasant voice serious. “So what’s the deal?”
Silence reigned for a moment, then Clark spoke. “There’s no hiding anymore. People are going to panic if they think they’re alone out there, with the...things, hiding in every shadow. They need a symbol, someone they can turn to. People who can deal with this new, scary world that’s been thrust on them. If we don’t step up, then people are going to exploit this. Governments will either clamp down on it or they’ll use it.”
Karen nodded at that. “Politicians are going to exploit it anyway. Still, if they get free reign, then a lot of people are going to be persecuted. If nothing else, some of those up top are going to use this to get their hands on more power. We have to limit the damage as best we can.”
Batman spoke lowly. “I think I have a solution. It’s not ideal, but we have to try.”
Giles set down his phone, lips tightened. On the one hand, he was now in position to take control of the Council, in truth if not visibly. On the other, his mentor had betrayed everything the Watcher’s Council ostensibly stood for.
It was always so easy to make sacrifices, when it wasn’t your own blood being spilt. Always so easy to take control of events without paying attention to the numbers of innocents who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The images on the television set left him with no illusions. The carnage across Los Angeles, both the dead from the creature’s rampage, and the maimed and catatonic from the fear gas, were a direct result of Henri Ducard’s orders.
Picking up his phone once more, he considered his course of action. On the one hand, if he did as he thought, then he would lose any chance of taking the reins of the League of Shadows. On the other, if he did not, then he would be part of an organization that would throw millions in the path of danger for its own agenda.
Gathering his resolve, he dialed quickly. When the other end picked up, he spoke quickly. “Willow. This is important. Have you seen the news today?”
Willow’s voice was tired as she spoke into her phone. “Yeah, that was nasty. What’s going on?”
“Listen closely, Willow. Here’s what I need you to do, to keep this from ever happening again. I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning. We’re going to rip through the ones who caused this.”
She awoke around daybreak at the construction site she’d been stranded at. It took her two hours at a dead run to reach LA, as the psychiatric facility under construction was well outside the city limits. When she’d been searching for a phone to report back in to Ducard, she happened to pass a shop selling TV sets, which happened to have the news on.
Destruction in the heart of Hollywood reigned outward, the path of the creature plain. The immense black body of the beast was covered by a tent, being studied and surrounded by a cordon, but the damage to the surroundings was easy to see. Buildings smashed, ashes smouldering, people weeping and crying, searching with desperation. What was worse, in its own way, was the next set of pictures. The bodies of people all over the downtown core, some alive, many not, and the emergency personnel picking their way through the crowd, separating the survivors from the dead.
Her heart caught on seeing that. She had seen the like before, in Sunnydale. The results of the Joker’s poisoning the water supply of the town with PCP looked much like this. Then, she had felt disgust at the crazed lunatic. But, she could take some solace in the fact that it had been the actions of a demented psychopath, not something planned for a greater scheme. That had been the Joker’s whims, a natural disaster in human form, not a higher purpose she understood.
But this had been. Her master planned it. Faces flashed by on the screen, a woman’s face torn by hands, a man lying on the ground, missing his head, children crying out in fear. Every one of the people hurt in the city had been because her master wanted them to be. And she had a part in it, too. She knew the purpose behind this, and at the time she agreed with it. Kill a few to save many. But it was one thing to make the choice when they were just faceless numbers, people in the abstract.
Quite another to see it on the ground, the direct results of her actions, and the people whimpering, crying, broken.
Clenching her hands, the Slayer in her reared up, her eyes burning with sorrow and self-hatred. She set off to the east, moving almost mechanically as she did. League protocol insisted she report in, to allow herself to be ready for the next task. There was always a next task.
She ignored protocol.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I’m glad to see you all here today.” Senator Robert O’Leary spoke, looking at the crowd before him. The day was sunny and bright, which would have ordinarily made for a wonderful day. But the shock of the attacks, and the damage done right in the heart of Hollywood dampened spirits all the way across Los Angeles. The senator looked tired, haggard even, from doing everything he could to calm his constituents. It felt as if his efforts meant nothing in the face of the disasters that kept rocking California. “I know that over the past two weeks, we’ve been reeling from both the damage done here is Los Angeles, and the revelations of what’s happened.”
The elderly man took a deep breath, squeezing his hands on the podium. “Four thousand dead, fifteen thousand injured, from this attack on Los Angeles. And yet, we have it on good authority that if not for the actions of a select group, of which we know little about, the death toll would have been far, far higher. Speculation has run rampant about the five figures who played a role in stopping this crisis. Investigations have revealed nothing about them, only rumors and hearsay. Still less was known about those who launched the attack to begin with, and those who published the information to every news station across the world are quite unknown.” Whispers rose, and a few started shouting, trying to get the first question in.
He rose his hand, stilling the crowd as he spoke. “Then I received word from a certain gentleman, who said he would explain all he could. I’ve arranged this conference, and I’ve been told that he should be arriving momentarily.”
A clear strong voice came from above. “And indeed, we have.” The crowd stilled as two figures descended from the sky, one male one female, holding each other as they touched down. The man, who had spoken, wore red and blue tights, a crimson cape hanging from his shoulders, a red and gold S-shield on his chest. The dark-haired woman wore armor, much like that of ancient Greek warriors, a golden breastplate and blue kilt protecting her muscular frame. The pair ought to have looked silly, but somehow, they pulled it off.
They touched down lightly on the stage before the now-silent crowd. The man stepped forward and gently shook the Senator’s limp hand. “It’s alright. We’re here to help.” His tone was gentle, even friendly, but it held a tone of command that was almost hypnotic. “If I may?” He gestured to the microphone, at which the stunned Senator stepped back to allow the man access.
With a gentle smile, he spoke. “Two weeks ago, Los Angeles came under attack. The creature that we defeated was just the most visible part of it. This city is still reeling from the damage it caused. It, however, was only a symptom, a small part of the darkness, the unknown, and the things that many of us have whispered about. There are many monsters of legend out there, and many of you are afraid of them, even now. It doesn’t help that all of this has been forcibly shown to everyone. They did this to manipulate you through fear. I know a lot of you have been reeling, all this information suddenly revealed, and you don’t know what to do with it.
“Well, we’re here to tell you something else. As long as monsters have been out there in the night, so have good people, fighting to protect others from it. Some are like us, extraordinary people with gifts, who have chosen to fight. Others are merely those who have seen the darkness, and chose to make a difference. Events have forced our hands, but people like us have always been there, and will always be there.” His tone softened. “I know many of you are brimming with questions. Many of you are afraid. Many of you are in mourning. I won’t tell you not to be afraid, I won’t tell you to cheer up. It’s perfectly okay to be afraid of the unknown. Some of you are even afraid of us. That’s natural. You don’t know anything about us. So I’m going to help fix that, right now.”
He took a moment to gather his thoughts, leaning slightly over the podium, his face gentle and warm. “My name is Kal-El. Before today, I did my work in the shadows, helping people without letting myself be seen. Many of you have known me as the Metropolis Blur. I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be. I haven’t always saved everyone I’ve tried to help, but even with all my abilities, I am still like any of you, imperfect at heart. Two weeks ago, a group called the League of Shadows tried to use fear to control you, to fulfil their agenda. To make you do what they want. Well, I’m here before you today to tell them this.
“You failed. This is a battle that’s now been drawn out in the open. You sought to bring this into the light, well, you’ve got it. Today, I’m here to tell the world that they’re not alone in this fight. That we’re here to help you, and every one of us will willingly give our lives to protect this world. Today, I’m announcing the creation of the Justice League. And everyone, ordinary or extraordinary who wants to help protect this world is free to contact us. There is a lot of darkness out there. Today, I pledge to stand against it.”
He stepped back from the podium, and the armored woman took his place. Her demeanor was much more hard than Kal-El’s, but at the same time she was purposeful and righteous. “I am Diana of Themyscira. I left my homeland, which has been guarding against this same darkness for over two thousand years. In my time here, I have met many people, both good and evil. I come to you as an ambassador, and as a champion. There are many great things here, things that have filled my heart with wonder and joy, and yet at the same time I have seen injustices that have made my heart weep.
“I pledge today, that I will stand against the darkness, to help the innocent and stop the wicked, to be a champion not of just of Themyscira, not of America, but of this entire world.” Her expression softened. “I have had the privilege of seeing this world in pictures, the Earth as seen from the moon. And I see that it is fragile, far too fragile. It needs not only us, but people like you, ordinary people who will stand against the darkness. I’m not advocating militancy, I’m not telling you to attack those who are different. If you do, then the people who orchestrated this tragedy will have won. I am telling you to be ready, to protect your homes and neighborhoods, to stand with those who are willing to stand with you. I am strong, but I would not have won against the creature without help. And now, we ask for yours. Thank you.”
Hands quickly went up, every reporter in the crowd shouting, trying to get the questions in. O’Leary pointed at the front, calling out. “Carl, come on, you first.”
As the crowd on the lawn quieted, Carl straightened his tie and spoke. “Carl Jeong of the Los Angeles Times. How long have you known about these things?”
Diana nodded with a gentle smile. “All of my life. I have prepared for events like this since I was a child. My people are isolated, but we’ve always kept an eye on things, ready to intervene.”
As questions rose again and again for the two heroes, the crowd began to calm, curiosity and hope rising within. The carefully orchestrated panic wasn’t gone yet, of course, but that there were genuine superheroes fighting to protect them made things that much brighter.
Angel flipped his coin as he watched the TV set. Sunlight spread into his new office, giving him a feeling of warmth he’d missed ever since he became a vampire. This was going to be a problem. As if Batman wasn’t bad enough.
Still, he was quick enough to realize that as powerful as these heroes were, they couldn’t be everywhere at once. And there were others who were, if not quite as powerful, they were more flexible in what they’d do. Wolfram & Hart had a lot of contacts in the dark side of things, and he knew that no matter how brightly this ‘Justice League’ might shine, they would only cast a darker shadow elsewhere. And he would be ready to exploit.
Clicking a button on his phone, he spoke softly. “Send Lilah in.”
It took a few minutes, but Lilah Morgan strode into his office. She stopped for a moment on seeing Angel in the sunlight, swallowing. “The window’s not...”
He smirked, the exposed and burnt flesh on the side of his face shifting horribly with the gesture. “Necro-tempered? Nope. Found out where your boss stashed the Gem of Amara.” He lifted his left hand, which was mostly healed. It was still maimed, the flesh waxy and grotesque, but functional. The Gem of Amara was just slightly visible, the band embedded in his flesh. “You find odd things in a person’s notes after you’ve killed them. The prick tried to manipulate me. Too bad for him.” The coin sang as it flipped in the air, the vampire’s preternatural reflexes catching it easily. His eye focused on her, unblinking. “I’ve just been briefed on the ritual. Your flunkies are sure it’ll work?”
Lilah nodded. “Vocah is needed, but it’ll work. Wolfram & Hart can provide you with anything, after all.”
Angel nodded slowly, turning back to the TV set. His lip tightened as his emotions rolled and boiled within him, self-hatred, longing, regret, and of course, the ever-constant pain. Even the Gem of Amara couldn’t heal him. It made him invincible, but it couldn’t heal him. For the first time in his long undead life, he felt truly damned. What was one more step?
With a raspy tone, he spoke. “Make it happen.”
“Got it.” Willow spoke. “Four hundred and ten accounts. Thirty of them paid out to Greencorp, funneled through ten subsidiary companies. The compound had to be delivered through Arris, because they filled the tanker with liquid nitrogen.” She paused for a moment. “When did you find out about this, anyway?”
“Xander gave me a call.” Giles spoke dryly. “He realized one of the men releasing the gas was a Watcher.” He frowned as he looked over Willow’s shoulder, at the computer screen. “This may not be enough by itself to convince the Royal Government of the Watcher’s complicity in this. I’m certain they have the ears of a number of military officials, as well. We’re going to have to get them in one fell swoop.”
Willow smiled and cracked her fingers, typing quickly. “You guys don’t have a lot online. But tracking account dates and payouts? That’s easy. Especially when you fund things overseas. You just have to know where to look. Any idea where a big compound is with potential Slayers?”
“A few.” Giles spoke. He stroked his lip, thinking back. “There’s a large one, about five hundred girls. They’re officially listed as a high-class boarding school, the Greenhills Country School. It’s set about fifty miles from London.” A vicious smile slowly rose on the older man’s face. “If they happened to be raided, they’d find about five hundred girls with low education, being trained to fight and kill, with medieval weapons at that. They’ll leap to the conclusion that it’s a militia group. Add that to the fact that quite a number of these girls have been kidnapped from less wealthy countries, or their parents were pressured into giving them up in the case of wealthier ones...”
Willow nodded, copying information down quickly, ripping her way through databases as easily as Giles would tear a piece of paper out of a book. Not that he ever would. She slowed down for a moment, looking to him. “Okay. I’ve got it. They were funding the school directly, and with the paper trail, the release of the gas in LA ends at their doorstep. If it goes any further, I can’t find it here. It would probably be in a filing cabinet, somewhere.” Willow gave him a worried look, biting her lip for a moment. “You’re sure about this, Giles? I mean, we’ll be taking down the Watchers. You’re going to have to vanish, too. I mean, sitting in a cell? Probably wouldn’t suit you.”
He nodded. “I’ve thought of that. Rupert Giles is currently on a flight, headed to Abu Dubai. As far as anyone’s concerned, he’ll disappear there. I may resume my identity in time, but only after the Council is brought down, or at least the current leadership is removed. Unfortunately, whether here or in Los Angeles, I can’t leave the Hellmouth unguarded.”
Willow looked at him dubiously. “But without Buffy, how are we going to do it?”
Giles sighed, rubbing his eyes underneath his glasses. He looked at her seriously. “We’ll have to find a way. Xander is scouting things out on the ground over there. Whether Kendra will do her duty or not is another question. If she does, then we’ll have a fighting chance. If not, we’ll have to find ways to fill in the gap. Not everyplace has a Slayer to protect it. We’ll have to fight without one, if need be. Though, it should certainly help if those champions on the television help out now and again.”
Willow nodded at that. “Alright.” She frowned as she looked at the account numbers, a thoughtful look coming into her eyes. “Hmm. They’re sitting on a lot of money here, Giles. If we just knock them out, everything they’ve got will probably be seized. It won’t do anybody any good, then.”
Giles sighed again. “Yes, but if we took it and tried to use it, we’d be in a cell right next to them. We would have to end up explaining where that money came from.”
Willow grinned. “A challenge. Alright, here goes.” She started to explain as she worked, siphoning and moving money electronically.
As she spoke, Giles’ smile widened. This was a very dangerous young woman.
Travers scribbled his notes quickly. What on earth was Ducard thinking? Choosing Giles to be the next Voice, and eventually Ra’s himself? Ducard had to have been drugged, or driven insane, or having been insane to begin with for his entire existence, to consider such an action.
Slipping a bottle of whiskey from his desk, he opened it and took a pull, straight from the bottle. It burned as it went down his throat, but he paid that no mind. Travers growled softly as he flipped through page after page of reports. This scheme of Ducard’s certainly put the vampires and monsters on the run. That same evening as the debacle in Los Angeles, reported attacks and rituals dropped by half. They continued to plummet as armies were mobilized, ripping into the supernatural communities. It certainly made things easier, as far as manpower went, but it also made the supernatural community desperate. Those that didn’t care about humanity as a whole before now would have serious motivation for joining those who hated them.
He would adapt. This was still a war, the battlefield just changed. If he couldn’t change with it, someone would replace him. He would be Ra’s Al Ghul. It was just a matter of time.
There was a knock on his door, and he slid the whiskey away before calling out. “Yes, what is it?”
The doors swung open to reveal Wesley, the latest in a long line of spoiled brats amongst the Watcher’s Council. If he still had two Slayers to work with, Travers likely would have sent the man off to the Hellmouth, preferably to get both the Summers girl and himself killed. Wesley had a fine mind for research, but no backbone. Having him killed would have been quite useful for ensuring his hold on power in the Council.
Wesley looked panicked. That by itself wasn’t too concerning. He would panic if he found a mouse in his shoe. But his words drew Travers up short. “The accounts are locked down!”
Travers sprung to his feet, only to sway a moment later. “What are you talking about?”
Wesley just waved Travers over, nearly running down the hall. Bemused, the head of the Watcher’s Council followed at a more sedate pace, his mind whirling with possibilities. Perhaps he was mistaken, perhaps there was a...computer foul? Accounting error? Sheer stupidity?
As they entered the Council’s accounting office, workers around stilled on seeing the pair, avoiding eye contact. Travers ignored them, shifting on his feet as he looked at the computer screen Wesley directed him to.To whom it may concern:
Since you poopy-heads decided to risk everyone’s lives on a zany scheme, certain parties have decided that you’re not worthy of possessing all your shiny goodies. They’ll be going to a good cause. Don’t worry, it’s just your assets online that I’ve nabbed. You still have your gold, silver, and sharp objects in your vaults. But they’re not likely to do you much good.
Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of your money. We’re going to do what you idiots should have been doing in the first place. And don’t bother trying to track us down and get your comeuppance. You’re going to have more important things on your mind in a minute.
Travers blinked at the account numbers following the letter. Each one was an investment account, set up and guided by seers over the years. And each one was showing the same thing. Lockdown. Approximately ten percent missing from each...
“How is this possible?” He muttered. “There was over two hundred million pounds in those accounts, total.”
A hesitant voice piped up from behind him, Gwendolen Post. “Sir? We have a problem.”
Travers turned with fury on his face. “I know, damn it, let me think!”
Her next words drained the blood from his face. “The army’s surrounded the building.”
Silence reigned in the room, until Wesley broke it.
Ra’s Al Ghul scowled at the screen. It was too soon. Straightening his collar, he took up the gauntlet that had served him well so many times before. He would have to change bodies, someone not in the League or in the Council, and start rebuilding from the ground up. He’d done it before, but it would no doubt be that much harder this time. He’d hoped to take Giles’ place, and in time, perhaps ten years, replace the young Harris, after ensuring the resources he’d stockpiled would be put to good use. Now all of that was in jeopardy. Replacing Rupert carried too many risks now, and no doubt much of the League’s resources would be under close scrutiny. The Council’s resources were more visible, and those would likely be seized, if that odd man was telling the truth.
He resigned himself with a sigh, slipping the gauntlet onto his hand. He felt the familiar tingle, the magic of the relic well-known to him now. All he had to do was press it on someone’s skin, and he would be in the clear for another few decades. He hadn’t lived to be over eight hundred without being very careful about what he did.
He drove away from Sunnydale, enjoying the sights as he passed into the desert outside of the town. It was so much like the land he was born in, so long ago. The desert forged bodies, strengthened the worthy and killed the weak. It was his role to perform that same duty for civilizations.
Ra’s found himself wondering just how bright and strong the sun he had kindled was. Hopefully, it would be enough to drive the darkness down. And then the next phase could begin. A world of order, preferably under his will.
The tree in Amy’s backyard twitched. It swayed in the wind, but that was not the only source of its movement. The large trunk swelled, a seam cracking up the center, and abruptly it split open, a torrent of fluid disgorging a wet, naked and faintly green figure.
Amy gasped for breath as she coughed fluid out of her lungs. It tasted like sap, a part of her expanded awareness fully entangled with the life in it, a life that was quickly fading as that which she didn’t get rid of she quickly absorbed into herself. She opened her eyes, her hands instinctively trying to cover herself. (She had hands! And eyes! And sensations! Oh goddess, how she missed sensations!) She blinked a few times on seeing the faint tinge of green in her skin. “Well, I did ask to be remade....”
Her breath caught. That didn’t sound like her. That sounded like...
She dashed into the house, quickly seeking out the bathroom. Despite the sticky sap covering her, the form and shape was unmistakable. It was all wrong. It was her recurring nightmare brought to life again. And this time there was no way back.
The face looking back at her was young and supple, her skin perfect, and her hair flaming red. But it wasn’t her face. It was the face of a twenty year old Catherine Madison. Just as she looked in the old cheerleading photos from twenty-five years ago.
She screamed, her fist smashing into the mirror, which cracked immediately. She proceeded throughout the house, smashing everything she could get her hands on, caught in the throes of her nightmare made flesh.
And unseen by her, or anyone else for that matter, the First watched, and smiled.
Harlene trembled as the door to her cell opened. The Joker walked in, grinning in his horrible way, a rolled-up newspaper in his hand. “Morning toots! How are you feeling? It’s such a bright and cheerful day out there! Everyone’s running around scared, jumping at shadows and turning on family members! It’s so delightful!”
She whimpered softly. “P-please, let me go. I want to go home. Please...”
Joker tutted softly, wagging a finger. “Now now, my little girl. Remember our little lessons. Now smile!”
Harlene screamed silently as she was pushed back, and ‘Harley’ flowed forward. A wide smile crossed her lips and she cooed. “Oh mista Jay! You’re so handsome and daring! What are we gonna do today?” She got to her feet and bounced happily, eager for his attentions.
He unrolled the paper, showing an article. It was the front page of the Los Angeles Enquirer, proudly bringing proof of alien abductions, government conspiracies and celebrity marriages to Bigfoot since 1985. The headline ran ‘Giant bat saves the day!’
Followed by a photoshopped picture of a bat clinging to the side of a truck. She blinked in confusion.
He chuckled at her expression. “Now now, Harley, don’t worry! We can take care of things.” His voice dipped low and menacing. “He broke my leg and stopped my fun the last time. So pack up your things, babe! We’ve got a bat to kill!”
Harley grinned at his tone. “Sounds good mista Jay!”
Cordelia moved with the music, the primal beat echoing in her room. With weights on her wrists, she shadowboxed. It was a routine she’d worked out over the years. Another Rupert Giles trained her, taught her what she needed to know to kill an assassin.
Only that Giles was gone. Her entire world was gone. Even her body was gone. The body of the Cordelia Chase she was inhabiting was a body suited for cheerleading. Fit, but not in the right way for her goals. She needed to be prepared to fight. To hunt. To kill if she had to. She had to get her fighting skills back up to the level she remembered. It wouldn’t be that difficult, it was her own body, after all.
A knock came on her door, and she paused, turning the CD player off. Her father’s voice came through the door. “Honey, we’re going out for a movie. Do you want to come along?”
Cordelia set the weights down, tears coming to her eyes before she blinked them back. This was the hardest thing to get used to. Being her father’s princess again. “I’ll be there, dad. Let me take a quick shower!” She put her things away, grabbing a towel. This world was so bright, compared to the one she left. She enjoyed every moment of it.
If only Buffy was here with her.
It was a cloudy night in LA. ‘That works pretty well.’
Gordon reflected as he waited, standing near the spotlight directed up at the sky. ‘At least the smog is good for something around here.’
Idly, he wondered what the city councilors would make of the modification he made to it. A spotlight shining a bat-symbol on the clouds. It was pretty ostentatious.
A pair of knuckles wrapped on the light, drawing his attention. Gordon turned to see Batman, who looked faintly amused. “Nice.” The masked man spoke.
Ruefully, Gordon replied. “It would be a lot easier if you gave me a phone number.”
Batman nodded at that, his lip twitching. “Well, Sergeant?”
Gordon shook his head. “Lieutenant, now.” The cheerful mood dimmed somewhat. “We’ve got some serious problems out there. Still, thanks to you and your friends, it’s a lot better than it could have been. With everyone knowing the demons are out there, there’s a lot of people scared, and a lot of hucksters taking advantage.” He shuddered slightly. “Then there’s the lawyers. Some of them are wrangling over whether or not demons count as people, deserving rights and all. That can only get bigger.”
Batman sighed softly. “It’s going to be a pretty interesting decade ahead. What’s your take on this?”
Gordon shrugged. “Some are fine, others, not so much. It would be best if we could settle things on a case by case basis. Otherwise, if we just wipe out entire types of demons just because of what they are, we’ll be setting a dangerous precedent. A lot of people have some demon blood, after all. If some of the howling fanatics have it their way, well over half the population isn’t going to qualify as ‘human’ anymore.” He shook his head sadly. “My father came back from liberating the camps a changed man. I don’t want my son to see the same kinds of things he did.”
Batman nodded seriously. “We’re looking into finding a few demons or halfbreeds who’ll work with the Justice League. It’s a bit slow going, though. Those that might be good are hesitant to step forward. Others may try to infiltrate just to do damage. It’s going to be rough, but we’re going to have to deal with things, like it or not.”
“‘May you live in interesting times.’” Gordon quoted. “I’m glad to know you’re sticking around here, though. You can impact things in a far more widespread way than I can. Until the mess gets sorted out a bit more, both people and demons are going to need something to fear out there.”
Batman smiled slightly. “That’s what I do.”
As Batman turned to step toward the roof’s edge, Gordon held up a hand. “One other thing.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph, one with a familiar face, a divided face. “Surveillance found our old friend at Wolfram & Hart. Top floor, head office.”
Batman took the photo, his white eyes narrowing. He nodded. “I’ll look into it.” Tucking the photo away, Batman stepped off the roof, a whistle rushing through the air as the man swung from his grappling hook.
Gordon just watched and smiled. It looked like it would be a good night.
Setting down on the rooftop of a building in LA’s slums, Batman went into the room he’d temporarily claimed. He kept on the move, finding a new place to sleep every few days. Until Giles came through, it was the best he could hope for. It wasn’t so bad. At least there wasn’t shouting from below every day.
Setting the photos down on the floor, he looked at Angel’s burned and seared face, memorizing it. It was the first time he’d got a real good look at what happened to the vampire. He heard about it from Gordon and Kendra, but when he'd encountered the vampire during his rescue of Faith, it had been quick, in the midst of action, and details slipped by in the aftermath. Seeing the still picture, the exposed bone and muscle, it let the details sink in. It was worse than he’d imagined. “Damn.” He muttered lowly. “I never liked you, but you don’t deserve that, Deadboy.”
“I’ll say.” A voice came from over his shoulder. He jumped and whirled around, his fists being easily caught by Karen Kent. She smiled as she released him, shaking her head. “Easy, Batsy. I thought I’d drop in, say hello.”
He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose through his mask. He took a good look at her uniform, now that she’d decided on one. White suit, red cape, blue gloves and a black and silver S-shield prominently featured on her chest. “Power Girl.” He spoke softly. “May I ask why you’re here?”
Power Girl shrugged. “Superman is getting antsy about me hanging around his place. Besides, he’s been making eyes at this reporter friend of his. It’s just not so much fun teasing him when he’s so busy staring off into space, or playing long-distance courtship.” She made a playful smirk. “He really needs to get laid.”
Batman froze, swallowing hard. “That’s an image I could have lived without, thanks.”
She chuckled, looking around. “So, crashing here, huh?” She sniffed and frowned. “Okay, that’s not healthy. The plumbing below definitely has got to have a leak. At least I hope that’s a leak.”
He shrugged. “I’m a little lacking in funds, and I’m not going to stay over at Faith and Diana’s place. They’re moving on soon anyway.”
Power Girl frowned at him. “Well, you’re not staying here. My hotel happens to have a good couch. Come on.” She gripped the front of his armor, easily lifting him in the air and slinging him over her back.
“Hey!” He protested. “Don’t I get a say in this!?”
Her voice was firm. “Nope. Now hang on. I’ll try to make this flight easier this time.”
Batman nearly whimpered. Nearly. He just shut his eyes. ‘Why do I keep attracting superpowerful women?’
Aware of the contours of her body against his own, however, his libido managed a cheerful thought. ‘Well, at least there’s some pluses.’
Painfully aware of the wind rushing by him, however, came another thought. ‘And she can break you in half with her pinky. Shut up, hormones! I really need to get my own jet!’
Thus ends ‘Knights in Shadow.’ I hope you’ve enjoyed the fic, and please, let me know what you think. I’m not planning on ending the story here, there’s still more, but again, this is the natural end for this arc.
If anyone has suggestions or comments, I’ll be happy to hear them. If they’re particularly good, they’ll end up in here! It’s happened before! So please, say what you think.