Chapter 20: Darkseid's Inferno
A giant. A giant living statue. That was what immediately Oliver thought of when the most dreaded person of the universe appeared in front of him and his friends. They were in shock and dare he say it, afraid. The fact that Darkseid was the image of self-control himself wasn't helping.
He did nothing but stand there for minutes, watching them silently, his arms folded behind his back. His face never giving away anything but a barely noticeable furrowed brow.
The background sounds of panic, weapons and death were soon covered by the deep intimidating voice of the new god. "I just ended a months-long journey after I learned the consequences of your... incompetence, Zod." Despite the context, his voice was unbelievably calm, so calm it gave the humans chills. "We made a deal, General, and you haven't respected your engagements."
"I... I got betrayed and-" Zod tried to explain himself frenetically, all the while trying to look at anywhere but him.
"Failure shall never be unpunished." Darkseid whispered but it was enough to cut off Zod's desperate attempt at explaining himself. Approaching slowly, Zod was left alone as with every step forward the Lord of darkness took, the humans reached backward.
"Look at me, Zod."
The kryptonian shook his head, his gaze on the ground as his shoulders began to shake dementedly "Nononono!" Zod choked on a sob. "Please, my lord, be merciful! I can still-... I can still give you what you want! I swear, I-"
The man in question kept on babbling and crying, barely taking the time to take a breath as he begged for Darkseid's pity. The only thing, everybody knew he would never get.
The young group of heroes watched the scene playing before them, mesmerized by the unconventional threatening presence of the god towering over a fallen psychotic dictator, Zod. They were shocked to see the General's breakdown as they always thought he would rather die than ask for mercy. Clearly they were wrong. The man had clearly gone insane.
No one moved, not even Kal-El. They were all frozen by the complete lack of emotions in Darkseid's voice and they all wondered how dangerous this... beast, could be. How could they manage to get away from the purest form of living evil.
Surprisingly, Zod raised his head slowly to meet his Lord's eyes. Everyone watched as the two aliens did nothing else but look at each other for several long moments until... the faintest line of a smirk appeared on the rock-like face of Darkseid.
"No compromise." He declared solemnly. "Your punishment will equal the extent of your failure."
Sheer terror crossed the human's faces as they watched Darkseid's huge fist plunge into Zod's chest, making him scream in raw agony. A second later, the god pulled his hand out of the kryptonian's body only to throw a heart on the ground. Zod's heart.
It beat twice and stopped definitively at the same moment the General's body slumped to the soil, dead.
"Weak." Darkseid whispered.
He turned towards the young people's group, taking in the expressions on their faces that made him feel something akin to satisfaction inside of him. His face never gave away anything as he walked forward and made a stop in front of the tall blond human he recognized as Oliver Queen.
The Green Arrow... The man who destroyed his minions. He raged internally at the memory but consoled himself by the fact that they weren't going to be alive much longer anyway...
"I am many things, humans..." Darkseid spoke coldly. "But here, I am God."
"What do you want?" the young Kal-El asked and he couldn't help but wonder if it was an act or if he was just naive by nature.
"Looks pretty clear to me..." Oliver interrupted very quietly as he began to back away slowly from Darkseid, Chloe still in his arms. "He's here to kill us too."
The god of evil smirked internally. Well said, he thought. He had been right not to underestimate the humans, they had caused him a lot of damage in the past. He wasn't about to let that happen again.
"Very insightful, Green Arrow." He replied smoothly. "My hell will be the place of your demise, after all this time I finally have the chance to stop the threat before it causes me any problem."
"You want us dead? Kill me first then!" Victor jumped forward, standing defiantly in front of the powerful entity.
"...You dare?" his voice held a hint of incredulity. "You dare telling me what to do?" The rage he felt was well hidden but the human's defiance was too much to take.
"VICTOR! DON'T!" Oliver yelled but it was too late.
The white rays had already left Darkseid's eyes, engulfing the cyborg's body in a sort of halo. The latter screamed in the most unbearable kind of agony.
"Enjoy the pain I'm giving you, human." the alien said, effortlessly heard over Victor's yells of anguish. "This is the last thing you will ever feel!"
His screams were too much to bear for the humans, there was nothing they could do and Chloe yelled at the top of her lungs as Victor's body disappeared, leaving nothing but a faint smoke behind. Unable to process the fact that another one of her friends just died, she didn't even realize the tears that dropped from her eyes. Her emotions drained the last of her strengths and her vision quickly became unfocused and blurred.
She fought to keep her eyes open to see Darkseid approaching them. For a moment she thought that this truly was the end for all of them, that the battle against Zod had been for nothing. However, relief and hope crashed over her as she caught sight of Kal-El's fist colliding with the Lord of Evil's face, sending him thanks to his incredible strength flying out of her sight.
The incomprehension marring the human's faces made Kal-El's stomach clench. He opened his mouth to say something but didn't even have time to begin his phrase that already the ground violently shook under their feet, a loud rumble filling their ears. The tremor was so powerful it made them fall to the agitated soil. Looking around, they saw buildings falling down under the strong waves of the seism.
Shaken by Victor's sudden death and the lasting tremor, Oliver's mind was having a hard time realizing what was currently happening. Eventually, Dinah's muffled voice broke into his ears.
"It's happening! Brainiac's reaching the planet's core!"
That much sprung him into action. He knew they had to act fast or they were all going to die there. "Kal-El!" he yelled so he could be heard over the noise. "Find J'onn! Tell him to spread the word: Everyone has to evacuate, NOW!"
The alien nodded and took off the next second meanwhile Oliver helped Chloe up who looked at him with wide eyes. "We're gonna get out of here." he promised and saw her nod trustingly.
The humans made a circle to work out a plan of escape. "Our best shot at leaving this hell alive are the spaceships close to the prison!" Dinah announced promptly.
"This is gonna be a huge mess!" Bart looked skeptical. "Everyone's gonna rush there, by the time we reach them they'll already be gone!"
"This is our only chance!" Oliver sealed the conversation. "We have no choice."
Bart sighed in defeat. "Okay."
"Let's go now, the faster we get there, the better." Dinah finished and began to lead the way.
Bart was doing his best to drag along an uncooperative Tess while Oliver scooped Chloe up in his arms. The backlash of her healing him was beginning to show and she could barely stand on her own so he figured it would be faster that way.
They were about to run in the direction of the prison when a loud crashing sound made them stop suddenly. Looking back, Oliver could see the imposing form of Darkseid at the other end of the area.
"Run! Now!" he shouted and before Darkseid could try anything else, they were gone. Leaving him alone... with Zod's dead figure.
They ran like their lives depended on it, which actually wasn't far from the truth. During the first moments of their escape, Oliver thought Darkseid was going to show up and kill them all thanks to some sort of super-speed power or teleportation. After several minutes, the tension in his body became to loosen. Apparently, Their new foe wasn't coming after them.
Either he wasn't in a rush to get them or he had other preoccupations. The second option seemed to be the good one since the entire planet was going to be blown up in a matter of minutes. Oliver figured even the great Darkseid couldn't survive this no matter what kind of twisted alien race he belonged to. He had enough of aliens with superiority complex and actually cherished the old time when the Green Arrow only had in front of him the usual muggers that filled the cities of Earth. Even a drug dealer would do.
He sighed. Maybe things would come down to it once again when Darkseid was gone, for good. Seeing the large alien aircraft from afar, his mind focused back on the present time and their need of escape. As Bart predicted, the place was filled with people, they were already tamping the ships with as much people as they could. Fortunately, these persons, being the worst enemies of Darkseid and Zod often were heroes on their planets, didn't fight to get on board. That was very refreshing to the young humans and it made things easier.
"Bart!" Oliver demanded and in an instant, the speedster was in front of him. "Do a quick sweep of the place and find us some ship that isn't ready to crack."
"On it, boss!" Bart sped off and in a matter of minutes he was back in front of them. "Found a guy who's got five seats for us!" he announced hurriedly.
"Only four will be enough." Oliver said as he followed Bart to the ship.
"Oliver?" Chloe's voice was barely a whisper but he heard her and looked down only to see her fighting to keep her eyes open.
"Shh, Chloe keep your strengths, don't try to talk." Oliver tried to avoid the subject as they finally reached the ship. There, one alien was keeping the door open, obviously waiting for them. However, Chloe wasn't going to drop the matter anytime soon.
"Don't... sweet-talk me, Oliver, what are you going to do?" she asked softly, feeling lightheaded.
"I'm going to get AC." Oliver announced, not surprised when he heard the disapproving noises his friends made.
"No way!" Bart refused.
"This is suicide! You wanna kill yourself?" Tess yelled.
Only Dinah didn't say anything, she just watched as Chloe lifted a hand to Oliver's cheek, drawing his attention to her.
"He wouldn't want you to do this. You know it." She told him seriously, unfortunately her voice was very weak.
"That's why I'm going back." Oliver replied, determined. "He may still be alive, I have to find him. It'll be alright I'll go with... wait a minute!" Oliver looked around frantically. "Where's Bruce?!"
"He told Kal-El you've given him a mission..." Dinah answered, unconvinced.
Oliver swore. That made a second reason for him to go back into the city's heart, he wasn't going to abandon them. He just hoped Bruce wasn't doing anything stupid. "I'm going back." his tone left no room to discussion, his friends knew he wasn't going to change his mind.
"No!" Chloe disagreed.
"I'm coming with you then."
Oliver turned to Bart. "No."
"Look, you got no choice, dude!" Bart argued. "Someone has to watch your back or you'll end up killed!"
Oliver sighed deeply. "Okay." he acquiesced. "Now Dinah, get Tess and Chloe on board and never look behind, your destination is Earth no matter what happens to us. Alright?"
Despite Chloe and Tess's refusal, Dinah agreed. "No problem." she was flattered Oliver trusted her enough with Chloe's life.
Soon after, the three women had gotten inside the spaceship and Oliver and Bart were saying their goodbyes.
"I'll find my way back to you, I promise." Oliver whispered as he kissed Chloe's forehead gently.
"You're going to get yourself killed... I..."
"Shh!" Oliver silenced her with a finger on her lips, a tender smile on his own face. He bent down to kiss her lips sweetly. Opening his eyes again, he brushed away a silent tear on her cheek with his thumb and gazed into her eyes reflecting so many emotions at the moment. "I love you." he murmured.
She didn't say it back, but he knew with one look into her eyes that if he wanted to hear her say it, he was going to have to come back to her. Smiling to her one last time, he let her go gently and walked out of the aircraft. Chloe watched him as he made a stop at Dinah's side then, she passed out.
"Keep her safe, will you?" Oliver put a hand on her shoulder and she saw the fear he had in his eyes so she reassured him.
"She'll be safe, you got my word." Dinah replied firmly.
Oliver simply nodded. "Also, watch out for Tess, she's just barely holding up herself."
"Sure, take care."
"You too." Walking out, he reached Bart. They both knew that the planet could explode any minute now so there was no need for any other words than:
The streets were completely deserted, everyone has left for the spaceships and hearing the constant growl of the planet, Oliver was sure this was a good idea. It didn't make his resolve flinch though. He promised himself he would find Bruce and AC and nothing was going to stop him.
He only hoped they could find them and leave before Sedna went off. Being blown up with an entire planet wasn't an idea he cherished. The fact that Bart accompanied him only made his preoccupations grow. He couldn't accept that the young man died because of him. The poor kid had been through so many horrific trials already.
However, as they found the place where AC was supposed to be, their hopes vanished. He wasn't there.
"Damn it!" Oliver kicked a random barrel nearby. It rolled away with a clattering thud and as if on cue, the planet replied with a renewed wave of rumbling noises. The ground quaking in rapid succession. The end was coming, they realized.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Bart exclaimed, drawing his mentor's attention to him. "Watch this!" He pointed towards a semi-buried door from where an animated light caught both men's attention.
AC might be there. "We'll check it out, carefully." Oliver added as he saw Bart was ready to rush inside.
"Yeah, yeah..." The speedster waved in the air. "Proceed with caution as they say!"
The archer grinned. "Exactly!"
The next couple of minutes were spent trying to clear out the entry so they could get inside. They were running on borrowed time so they did it as quickly as they could. Fortunately, Bart's speed came in handy, proving to Oliver that he wouldn't have been able to do it without him in time. And the older man could only accept the fact that his recruit was extremely valuable to his team.
A couple more minutes of digging later and the door was open, letting the two men inside. The light was one of the narrow corridor that acted as the entryway, however, there wasn't any sign of anyone in there. That didn't mean AC wasn't inside though.
"Shh!" Oliver stopped abruptly. Craning his head towards his friend, he tapped his ear. Bart focused on his hearing for a second and heard it. A muffled sound that definitely wasn't one of an empty house.
Nodding at each other, they fisted their knives in case the person inside was dangerous. As they walked through the house, the muffled sound became more identifiable. Strangely it sounded like sobs. They looked at each other in wonder. What was going on in there?
Aww, no no no! The sobs continued.
Seconds later, they localized the room hidden behind a closed traditional door. Sticking his ear to its wooden surface, he listened. That definitely sounded like someone was crying inside. His hand found the handle, and with one last look at Bart, Oliver pulled it open slowly.
The door opened with a conventional squeaking, giving way to a surreal as much as a very saddening sight to both humans.
The light was very poor but it was supported by a very much alive looking fire lit in the fireplace that looked strangely out of place in this room that could only be assimilated to a basement. The walls weren't even painted and the furniture was rustic.
That however wasn't what made both men's jaws drop to the floor in complete surprise because in the very middle of this room, lying on a large wooden table only covered by a used white blanket was Faora's unconscious form. Dried blood was staining the cotton but what was even more shocking was Bruce's prone body close to her. His hands were caressing her face the way only lovers would and his shoulders were shaking.
To complete the picture, a woman dressed in white stood on the other side of the table, facing the two men. The evident sorrow on her face was briefly replaced by surprise then suspicion as she proceeded to glare at them.
Oliver looked down at the newborn baby she was carrying in her arms. His eyes widened and for a second, he was completely clueless as to do what to do next. Eventually, catching the chilling glare directed their way, Oliver re-sheathed his dagger and raised a hand in a pacific gesture, proving he wasn't dangerous.
The woman nodded at him allowing him inside. Out of the corner of the eye, he saw Bart imitating him as he, almost tentatively, stepped inside the room. Oliver moved beside Bruce who apparently hadn't noticed him yet.
Looking down at Bruce drawing Faora's body closer to his, Oliver finally discovered the identity of the mysterious woman who saved his friend's life, the same woman who, through Bruce, contacted the resistance to inform them of Sedna's counted time. Without her, millions of people would be dead today. Instead, she was the one who gave up her life.
Hesitating slightly, Oliver put a hand on Bruce's shoulder. The other man stilled for a moment before looking up with red rimmed eyes at the tall blond man he considered as his brother.
Upon seeing Oliver, Bruce closed his eyes and looked down again but his friend had had time to notice the pain on his face. Bruce looked in so much pain it tore at his heart and the feeling worsened as his gaze landed on the baby in the nurse's arms.
Titling his head toward Faora and Bruce, Oliver saw nurse nod, silently answering his question as to who were the infant's parents. Oliver's breath caught in his throat at the realization, a tingling sensation in his eyes as he thought that this was Zod's last act of barbarity, an act that affected them all. In the end, Zod may have died and lost the battle against the resistance but he won the war.
Because of him, an entire planet was going to explode, hundreds of people lost their lives in a fight no one else but him wanted to carry on, a baby was born in this hell, its mother was dead and Bruce's life was shattered.
Damn you, Zod! May you rot in hell for the rest of eternity!
Blinking the tears away, Oliver swallowed heavily the lump in his throat, trying several times to find his voice. "I'm... sorry, Bruce." he barely managed to whisper. There was a long pause after his words as he gave him a few more seconds with Faora.
Outside, the rumbling sound was replaced by random explosions coming out of the ground, marking the imminent end of a planet that once was a place of peace and democracy. An entire planet's fate changed by one power hungry dictator.
"Bruce..." Oliver began quietly. "I... we've, got to go. I'm sorry." he repeated incapable of helping his friend and hating himself for it.
To his surprise, the older man finally acknowledged him. He managed to get out an almost inaudible 'okay', wiped his tears away with trembling fingers and stood up on weak legs. "She..." he swallowed, looking down at Faora. "She's coming with us."
Oliver could only nod and moved forward to carry her body but was stopped by his friend.
"No, it okay! It's... I'll do it." Bruce said with a raspy voice.
The other man could only watch with concern Bruce scooping Faora up and leaving the room with her without even once glancing at his baby.
Watching him leave, Oliver silently motioned for Bart to guide Bruce out and look out for him. He then turned towards the other woman in the room and looked down at the boy in her arms who appeared to be sleeping, oblivious to all the drama around him.
Looking up, he sighed and motioned for the nurse to follow him. The woman accepted, she apparently realized Oliver was somehow related to Bruce and trusted him enough not to say anything.
"What's your name?" Oliver asked.
Everything was shaking. Oliver could see the ground moving in waves like a real sea. That was when he truly doubted they could get out of here. How much time did they have left? Not enough to reach a spaceship and fly away he was afraid. Bart couldn't carry them all at once, that was another problem.
The group ran and ran through the deserted streets, trying to escape the planet's explosions. At one point, Oliver swore he had seen the soil open up and pour out magma. His heart began to beat erratically in his chest as he forced himself to run faster.
They weren't far from the alien military airport when Bart barely avoided collision with Kal-El who appeared in front of them, relief crossing his face when he found them.
"Aren't you supposed to be gone already?" Bart almost shouted to be heard over the planet's vacarm.
"J'onn's flying people away from here but I came back on my own." The alien replied quickly. "Had a feeling you would need some he-" his words were cut short when he noticed Bruce carrying the body of his adoptive mother.
"Kal-El!" Oliver felt bad for forcing him out of his grief but they truly had no time for this. "Are there any ships left?"
The kryptonian looked unsteady on his feet for a moment before he got a grip on himself. "There... No!" he began incoherently.
"Come on, focus Kal, I'm sorry we got no time for this!" Oliver pressed.
"There... is nothing left, but I know another way!" Kal-El swallowed his emotions and began to lead the group quickly to the place where Hal had last been with Zod.
The space-transportation machine.
"Do you know how to turn it on?" Diana asked.
"I've used it in the past, I only need a minute!"
Oliver nodded. "Get inside!" he shouted, the explosions became louder with each passing second. However, he stood rooted to his spot, hesitating.
Bart noticed that and approached his mentor. "Come on, Ollie!"
"We need to get AC!" the other man said.
"I want to but we can't, you have to accept that!" Bart reasoned him. "Come on!"
Bart's insistent words snapped him out of his trance and he reluctantly agreed to get inside the machine. There were two places left. The first one had Bart, Diana, and the baby inside while the second one was occupied by Bruce, Faora's body and Oliver. Kal-El was entering the Earth coordinates.
"Let's go home." The archer said, already thinking about how he could help Bruce get through his pain.
"And to death we commit, through the insides's fire we shall salvage ourselves," A voice filled the room, momentarily covering the sound of the seisms. "Seek redemption, and completion. We hereby agree to let millions die to protect billions."
Kal-El's movements stilled. He knew who stood behind him, that voice was unmistakably Darkseid's. Turning around, he got confirmation. Hiding his fear, he faced the god of evil with a carefully composed poker face.
"Rao's last chapter, the final achievement." Kal-El referenced the lines pronounced by Darkseid.
"How fitting, right?"
Kal-El heard his friends calling for him to leave before Darkseid killed him, but he didn't move. "It's too late, everyone's left. This is the first chapter of your fall, Darkseid!"
After that, things were a bit blurry in his memory. Kal-El vaguely recalled pressing the last button that turned the machine on, hopping into the closest bubble merely a second before it took off, barely missing being grabbed by Darkseid. The only thing he was sure of, was that he managed to get himself and his friends away from Sedna and the Lord of Darkness.
As he and Oliver, Bart, Bruce and Diana watched from afar the Big Red's demolition, consumed by its core: a spectacle of successive devastating explosions leaving nothing but an infinite amount of small rocks accompanied by the huge burning halo engulfing them, soundlessly. They thought of their friends, the one who they hoped, made it out alive, and the ones who lost their lives so the others could live.
Hal... AC... Victor...
Their deaths would not be vain, Oliver was going to do everything in his power to find again his friends and Chloe. Yes, he was going to find them and create the resistance on Earth, this one at least, was not going to explode. They wouldn't let it happen again.
And Darkseid? Even a god couldn't survive the explosion of a planet, that was impossible. Still, after everything he'd seen, Oliver wouldn't be surprised if he managed to wind up surviving this. Nothing was impossible in this dangerous universe, probably the most dangerous of all the universes.
And Oliver Queen was right, a simple explosion, no matter how big it was, could not kill Darkseid, the Great Lord of Apokolips, the master of a universe he'd been conquering for more than sixty years.
No, Darkseid wasn't dead, he would not die as long as his eternal wrath was there. His conquered lands were in danger with Zod's prisoners out of their cells and on their ways to their respective planets. He wasn't going to let it go without a fight, the fight of his life.
Oh no, this was not over. Not by a long shot.
Here we are! After more than a year and a half we have reached the end of the story! I couldn't have done it without you, my reviewers. This story is dedicated to you all who have been supporting me.
Now of course, a sequel will follow as well as some one-shots I will put online very soon. In the meantime, my focus goes back to my Eternal Wrath series which has been dormant for a long time now.
Stay tuned, there is a lot more to come. As we often say, this is just the beginning!
Special thanks: Ica013 and Hellzz-on-Earth who have been there since the very beginning! You two are awesome!