Janet struggled to remove the vines. Thorns, sharp as spikes, prevented her from escaping. Slowly they dug into her throat, causing small trickles of blood to run down her porcelain skin. They started to suffocate her. No one noticed. The others had their own problems defending not only themselves but the partygoers as well. Making sure nobody was hurt was the top priority.
"Need a hand?" a voice inquired, popping out of nowhere. A blonde woman with pale blue eyes came out from behind Janet. Her ruffled dark pink dress surprisingly had few stains, grass and blood. Energy Drainer touched the vine; it shriveled and died.
"Thanks," Wasp smiled, laughing at Heather Hawk's word choice. She meant that literally. Janet shrunk and flew off to join the others.
Nightmare retreated to the edge of the Tower. Her work was done; she had always stayed on the sidelines, manipulating soldiers. It best suited her power set. Leading the soldiers was all Magneto asked. Not necessarily expected. He expected her to help turn the tide of the coming war with her unique abilities. She would stay under his protection until a tide-turner was needed. But if the time came, she would be out there in a heartbeat, fighting to prove she was worthy of attention. She did not realize her time would never come.
When all the civilians escaped, the heroes were free to unleash their powers to the fullest extent. Lightning bolts struck the ground courtesy of Storm. Hexes flew past from the Scarlet Witch. Flora fought against each other as Everglade fought to keep Plantress from gaining control. Teleport kept the villains from toppling the Eiffel Tower. Arrows flew past with bristling force thanks to the Hawkeyes. American Dream and Mockingbird teamed up to defeat Giganta. And the great Iron Man and Captain America did their best to keep the strange helmets most wore from being placed on the hero's heads. Captain America turned around only to see a helmet slowly lowered onto Persuasioner's head. He watched helplessly as the fingers clawing at the metal dropped.
Kayla Frost never could have guessed persuasion would not work on the merciless pink-haired woman with the helmet. No matter how many times her fingers touched Pinkie's skin, she kept knocking her senseless. Then came the helmet. Her eyes widened in fear as she fought to keep the machine off her head. Once the deed was done, her eyes widened inside with a new realization. Everything became clearer. She stood straight and glanced at the martial artist, her savior. With a nod of approval, Kayla lunged for the closest hero.
Iron Man saw the fight was hopeless. The minute his toy indicated an unknown number being called in the middle of a speech, he wondered who possessed an untraceable phone and why. He turned around, not that he regretted it. In the few seconds his head was turned, he spotted the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. Plus she was naked. His eyes were glued to her body, failing to recognize the bushy white hair, the unique purple eyes, the plants sprouting from her fingertips, and her sheer gorgeousness. To think he called himself smart. He should have realized the clues pointed to the woman being Plantress. He should have alerted the others so they might prepare themselves. So many things I should have done. Tony watched as a helmet covered Lunar Eclipse's head. He flew over, sending blasts over his shoulder, grabbing Brielle by the neck. "I'm sorry, Miss Tea," he said, firing energy at her head. She thrashed for a moment, opening a dimensional portal, and then slumped over his arm. Tony raised his speakers to full volume.
"Everyone, find someone and run!"
"What did you say?" Angel asked, turning to Crystal.
Bending down to pick up her daughter, the Inhuman reiterated, "Darkseid. I don't know how or why, but I have a hunch it's him. Who else could have complete and utter control over so many villains?"
At the very thought of such a thing, a collective shudder echoed through the small group. If Darkseid really was behind it, they knew they were doomed. Even the mighty Superman could hardly keep the god in check. If he somehow gained control over so many powerful villains they fought long and hard to keep in prison every day, and used them to capture heroes, Earth was as good as dead. The prospect of it made Golden Beam want to scream. Her reason behind returning to this time did not involve Darkseid. Apocalypse provided her with incentive to save all mutants, from Professor Xavier to Plantress. No one was too far gone for her to protect.
"What should we do?" Translator asked in a small voice. She inched closer to a fire.
Janette realized the people with her needed a leader. Angel was a close second, but the X-Men were nothing without Xavier. Her strategic mind teemed with tactics on how to figure out the problem. "We need to go back to the States. At the very least Canada. Something big is coming, and the others need our help. Let's get going."
Crystal led the way towards the plane. Luna clung to her mother in fear, sensing something was off. Angel lagged behind, surveying the damage left by the villains. The snow would take care of it soon enough. Everyone's mind traveled to what might be occurring all over the world. They knew of the signs, read the case files on the missing heroes, and studied the images left behind. None of it made any sense until this moment. Darkseid really had returned.
Butterfly recovered quickest, moving to protect Sunburst's body. Her eyes flashed. No matter her feelings on the arrogant fairy, she was still part of her group, making Free responsible for her life. If she were to die… Free shook her head. Nothing negative could be allowed, not while other's lives were on the line. She flew to the gun sticking out from a bush and bent the nozzle back. The person in hiding pulled it away, but she yanked him out and delivered a swift jab to the neck. He went slack. She dumped his body, making a signal to the rest of the group. They formed a circle around Sunburst's body, Azora taking point, Corel acting as lookout. Free forced back the trees, exposing the enemy.
Formerly hidden soldiers were now out in the open. One noted the white hot anger in the butterfly creature's eyes. Another waved his gun in the air. Corel recognized the signal and backed away from the group.
She tore the fake rainbow wings from her body. The pale pink skirt wrapped around her waist fell off. A thin leotard took its place. Her smile morphed into a menacing scowl. No more would she pretend to be the innocent fairy, playing games like a child. No more would she force back her disgust at laughing with fairies who would otherwise kill her. Now she was Sandrina, future ruler of Sector 3291, what the Green Lanterns dubbed the 26 dimension. Though her quarrel remained with the Guardian's pawns, she made do with these…pretenders. Especially that monster Azora and her lackey Mariposa. They would pay for their crimes.
Free spun around, her eyes wide. A traitor amongst us. How could she? the general thought, wishing she held her sword as to keep her grounded. "How could you?" As she spoke, she fingered the tattoo on her cheek. "How dare you!" she added angrily. Butterfly lifted Sandrina off the ground, squeezing her throat. Already upset with Sunburst's life threatened, Butterfly had no qualms about killing the evil witch.
"Simple. The will of my people ordered me here. I was promised this sector, beginning with the Land Once Forgotten. You will be my first victims." Sandrina curled her fingers, feeling the sandy ground move with them. All yet to happen rested on the pawn's shoulders. She brought sand raining down upon them. "Excuse me," she continued, "as I shed your friend's blood on the sacred shores."
The young woman leading the army doubted why she let herself be so easily persuaded. Why she had even listened to the deranged lunatic in the stupid hat in the first place outdistanced her. All H2O knew was she had let herself get talked into storming a concert jam-packed with superheroes in exchange for money to feed her family while she was gone. Lisa knew it smelled fishy. However, if they won, the god he spoke so highly of would provide for those who helped him in his conquest. So Lisa signed her name in blood, her blood, and led these men into a crowded arena.
She began by flipping a souvenir cart. Her men did the same. The singers onstage, several of which she had met and one she knew all too personally, broke off mid-note. H2O lived up to her name by bringing water from nearby coolers and using the bubble to clear a path. Several hundred paces in, the bubble met resistance. A head peeked around the edge. The permanently tanned skin, long brown hair pulled into a braid, and aqua eyes identified her as the X-Man Riptide.
"You know how hard I worked to get here in time?" she asked. "I am so not missing this song because a little girl decided to crash the party!"
Of course, Lani was probably younger and a lot smaller than the barely an adult in front of her, but she said it anyway. She pushed against the ball of water, feeling the currents swirling within it. She wasn't the best person to hold back the woman in front of her. Any number of teammates were here, teammates who would take her out in one move. Arcline could knock her out with a clap of the hands. Contact could teleport her to another dimension or the middle of the desert. Illusion could trap her in a dome and be done with it. Anything was better than controlling the currents.
"Big talk from someone who used to go by Current Girl."
"That is it!" Lani swept her hands, the water eager to be free. It spilled out, soaking its former master. The teen knew H2O would never take that lying down, and began to fight.
After overcoming their shock, the performers onstage bolted for the nearest exit. Kyera rushed her band to the staircase. Dazzler jumped for the nearest hooligan while binding any nearby. Jubilee thanked the gods for making her bring along her costume. Jenny wondered how she could unleash her sonic scream without hindering civilians as well. Down below was chaos. It seemed for every superhero, there were 100 people to protect, most doing nothing to defend them. Yes, some parents joined the fray shielding their children and mates, but most just stood in place, their faces saying "Come and hit me!" Whenever a hero moved to their side, they screamed. No one knew who to trust.
Phoenix snuck behind a rack of costumes. Earlier she had created the stage name Dark Force and broadcasted low telepathic waves to everyone in the arena. They believed she was an accomplished singer. Not even the Martian Manhunter suspected she was one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy. She donned a leather jacket and prepared to unleash a brutal assault.
Contact sensed Phoenix's thoughts. "Nikki!" she cried to her best friend, fighting nearby. "Something's happening that's planned to wipe us out! I'm going to teleport us out of here!"
"Good idea!" The young teacher weaved her way to Danielle, who now floated several inches in the air. Her sundress fluttered in the wind. Someone grabbed for her leg, but Illusion made a flamethrower forcing people back. Slowly their bodies materialized in a random building. Too late did they realize it was a trap.
Dancecraze's action caused an uproar. The unconscious bodies were forgotten as Baton raced to her sister. "Grace? You promised you'd behave tonight!"
"I lied." She thrust a feather into her twin's chest, not deep enough to cause damage, but it made her collapse. "Darkseid is in control now."
"What?" Giant Girl gained no answer, since she grew and knocked her aside. From her height she could see the play, children shouting for help as Nightcrawler and Artemis attacked them. "Someone, get to the kids!"
Mary Marvel currently helped Topaz defend herself from Hairwave and Sleeper, simultaneously teaching her how to fight with the strength she just discovered. At the giant's call, she shot in the direction of the stage. Nightcrawler somehow managed to sneak a sword through airport security. Now slashing away, Mary grabbed her hand and snapped it back. Her tail curled around Mary's throat. With hardly a breath to spare, she choked out, "Shazam." The magical bolt of lightning shocked the ex-X-Man into troubled sleep.
Honestly, Topaz had no idea what she was doing. On their way to Africa her mother explained she may never get powers. That was based off her father's genes being the dominant ones. But as soon as Dancecraze went crazy, as soon as Hairwave tried to strangle her, strength came. At least Mommy thinks fast, she thought. Then her mother left. She was tempted to follow, to give up, to have one of those weird helmets placed on her head. Anything but fighting alone. Yet she continued to attack. All went well until they got Photon. Sure, she fought off most of them, but the enemy slowly overwhelmed them. Photon was the edge they needed. Topaz stood and stared, unable to move as an energy blast flew towards her.
Wildcat noticed and jumped to save her. Topaz was safe in his arms, but his foot caught the brunt of the blast. Still, he ran. "You're safe with me, kid," Ted assured her. "Not sure about your mom, though." A blood curling shriek from Mary Batson punctuated his remark.
"Are you sure?" Superwoman asked, squeezing her way through to get a better view.
"She's definitely dead," Dark Flame confirmed. Her powers drained people of their energy, sometimes all of it, so she knew what a dead body looked like. Her team dealt with it all the time. "Nobody can be that pale and still live."
Silvermist searched her body for signs of death, eventually finding two small holes perfectly aligned on her neck. They were perfectly round, an equal distance apart, with minimal blood. Who might accomplish a wound like that raced through the detective's mind, faces coming and going. No one she had ever apprehended in her career was capable of that. There was a file she had read once, out of curiosity, detailing a villainess whose power set originated from this type of wound. Still, why would she see Gotham as a hunting ground? Did she not think drug-addled and starving crooks were her inferior, that they were not fit to die by her hands? Victoria sent a glance to Bruce, who nodded and took off, hopefully to the Batcave.
Before the detective announced anything to the group, the glass window shattered. Everyone ducked, even those with the power to withstand it. Lana mentally cursed herself. Stupid! I should've realized not everyone was here. Including… "Vampire," she whispered.
The black haired, pale skinned woman in front of them laughed. "Perhaps once, but now no more. Let me introduce Cold Heart." With that she lunged for the closest person. Once his blood was completely drained she moved on to those she recognized, starting with the Kents. Luckily most of the Gothamites fled, leaving those that remained to wonder how a dorky teenager and a nerdy man could take out a vampire.
Meanwhile an old woman led a group through the kitchens. When they stepped into the brisk night air, the woman's wrinkled skin tightened and turned blue. Her white hair became red. "Annoka's out there getting her ass kicked, which means you need to hurry up," she addressed the men Magneto assigned her. "Hatter, step on helmet distribution. Electro, Vulture, no one in or out until my say-so. Executioner, find Bruce Wayne and keep him down. Duplicator," she turned to the kitchen maid, "Start getting those helmets on people." The villains rushed to their stations, not wanting to experience the shape-shifter's wrath. Mystique turned to Duplicator. "You spreading yourself too thin?"
Liana smirked. "Why, Raven, you seem to forget I am a god."
"Of course, milady. My apologies." Mystique bowed her head respectfully. Not even she wanted to be blasted to pieces by the goddess of duplication and multiples.
Liana left for the front doors. Numerous copies of herself separated from her body, forming an impenetrable barrier. One left to gather any ready helmets. The rest took notice of a young girl, no older than 16, running towards them, her eyes wide in panic. "The spitting image of an Amazonian," one said.
"A shame to ruin."
Raquelle took a guess at what that meant. "Carol!" she shouted. "Mindy! Anyone! Help!"
At once the actors began tending to Veronica, leaving Jessie to deal with the problem. Oh, bless them, she thought. She jumped off the stage to be met with a punch to the face. Then a kick to the abdomen. Blood spurted from her nose. Captured civilians clawed at her stage costume: jeans and a tight blue sweater, unluckily prohibiting much movement. "Guess we're gonna have to do this the hard way." Jessie cleared her mind in order to give the entity a clear hold. A bright light flashed, replacing the human Jessie Cross with the servant of God, the Angel of Death. A gold toga was draped over her body. Feathered wings sprouted from her shoulder blades. Light and power radiated from her core. Her long, delicately curled white hair supported the only giveaway: a black halo sending an aura of death. She sent out waves of energy, knocking her enemies back, giving the others time to escape. "I grow tired of these fools," Death Angel scoffed.
A mighty bellow signaled a new foe. Hercules rumbled forwards, his fist prepared to land. The Angel of Death threw up a barrier. Thin cracks spread from the epicenter. "A worthy opponent!" Another hit sent her flying back. She summoned her energy for her most powerful attack. Death exploded from her chest, sucking everyone in a 30 foot radius into the vortex. Darkness spread throughout the room. As it cleared it revealed a vulnerable and weakened Jessie. "Save…coming," she managed to utter before passing out.
"On that level you are incorrect," Peter reminded him, turning his skin to steel. Bullets bounced harmlessly off. Amanda cowered behind him, praying she would not be hit by a stray bullet.
At the sound of gunshots Stryker's taskforce teleported in under a smokescreen. "Remember, I want hostages," Nero instructed. To the X-Men, "Enjoy fighting under the name of good while you can." He then ran down a hallway leading to the grand staircase.
"The kids!" Amanda realized. She may still be a kid herself, but she possessed more experience in dealing with fear. She really wished she could help her friend, but her less than combatable powers prevented her from doing so. The young mimic dove out of reach only to be almost vaporized. She climbed on the ping pong table, jumped up, and clung to a ceiling lamp. When Colossus looked her way, she mouthed, "I'm leaving."
Upstairs she could hear Nero terrorizing the students, too frightened to fight back. Amanda desperately searched for a plan before she went into a panic attack. Nero was getting closer. Then she saw Rogue's empty bedroom. A plan formed in her mind; crazy, but it was all she had. Hoping her voice sounded like the genuine Rogue, she said, "Run, Remy! Out da window!" Mimicry proceeded to enter the nearest room, which happened to belong to Power Gem. She grabbed a stick of fused diamonds. At the last possible second she stuck it out. Nero ran straight into it, leaving a large lump on his forehead. Amanda stood over his body, wanting to join him. Instead she rejoined her fellow students.
"The heck was that?" May asked her winged companion.
"No idea," Shiera responded, shoving her way through the cheering crowd. She unbuttoned her blouse so her wings could unfold as May shed her clothes, revealing the classic spider logo. "But we're obliged to check it out. Hurry up."
May stashed her clothes in a bush. One last click of the webshooters and she was ready. Hawkgirl took to the sky. Spider-Girl climbed to the top of the announcer's box. So far nobody suspected a thing. "Check it out, Danika's in the lead," she noticed, her voice slightly muffled by her mask.
"Keep your head in the game," Shiera warned, sensing something was up. No sooner did the words leave her mouth then a wave of smoke puffed up in the center of the track. "See what I mean?" She hovered next to her young companion.
"I am Mysterio!" a voice chanted.
"Always did have a flair for dramatics." Hawkgirl flew down with her mace in hand. She swung, only to discover no resistance. "Wait…where?" Her question was answered by the same voice, this time near the lanes. Again, no physical form, but May struggled to escape from a snake's tight hold. It bared its fangs and circled her head, as if searching for the perfect spot to bite.
The moon shone brighter. Felecia stepped back to admire her work. Her Webslinger clenched his fists, almost like he thought he could physically fight the equation. Like he stood a chance. Heroes more powerful than he stood no chance. "Sorry to break it to you the hard way. I'd much rather you join willingly, but alas, Lord Darkseid takes no chances." A garbled voice came from Peter. "What was that, sweetie?"
"Anti-Life is the answer. We should begin now."
"Of course we can, sweetie. Lead the way." Felecia followed her lover across the rooftops, wondering if the mindset would hold without the equation constantly pumping in his ears. If it did, then oh, the fun to be had. Spider-Man led her to the not-so-nice part of town. "Oh, you want to help the others? We can do that." Felecia placed a hand on his shoulder. "Watch, then attack. Entertainment, alone, kind of like a date. Let's enjoy it."
The Heroes for Hire burst into the room. Parker Robbins looked up, ordered his men to defend the carriers. If at all possible the heroes were to be knocked unconscious, then translated. The team put up an incredible fight. Luke Cage took on member after member with nothing but his bare hands. Iron Fist tried his hardest to get to the Hood. Dr. Strange convinced the enemies to fight each other. Parker held his own, but Strange managed to fight his way to the back, where the hostages were kept. Parker never realized.
"Now's where we jump in," said Felecia. From his perch Spider-Man webbed the handcuff locks. The Black Cat leaped down and retrieved a gun from the Hood's stash. She aimed and fired. Strange howled. He attempted to reach where the bullet entered his body but couldn't. He could feel his body shutting down. "And that, Sorcerer Supreme," Black Cat gloated, "is how you stop the good guys."
Women danced, men beat on drums, and children sang. The chief and his wife watched with amusement. Chief Afan smiled at his wife Olaini, signaling it was time for their special dance. The others retreated to the outskirts, alternating between their ruler's favorite songs. During her rendition of a classic lullaby, Jalelou inched towards her lover. She wanted to share the news before the night was over. Knowing him, he would be ecstatic. Now only a few paces away, she smiled, finishing her lullaby: "Ca în ultimele luminile sunt pe moarte."
Light applause circled around the ring as someone else took up singing. They were not for long because a drummer in the outskirts noticed a being crouching in the shadows, red eyes and diamond giving away its position. He hurriedly informed Afan's advisor, who told the chief. About to open his mouth to issue orders, he froze. Everyone stopped midstep. The being revealed himself by releasing Afan, Olaini, and Jalelou. The latter moved to protect the former. Olaini placed her hand on Jalelou's shoulder, signaling for her to back down, that they were not leaders for nothing.
"Reveal yourself," Afan commanded.
"No need for that. I believe this one knows." He gestured to Jalelou.
Ignoring the surprised looks, she exclaimed, "Sinister, now is not good. Try again, say, in 50 years?"
Not one for useless communication, Mister Sinister began his plan by holding the young warrior in place. Slowly he stretched her limbs, rearranging her innards, holding the two that could stop him in place. They watched in agony. She opened her mouth in a silent scream, wondering how they were to survive. Only the timely intervention of a Doombot could save her. Lo and behold, a Doombot teleported in, breaking Sinister's concentration. They battled, teleported away, saving the rest from their mind freeze. Their shaman noticed Afan and Olaini huddled around a woman's prone form. Something told him a war was coming.
A/N: Yes, I know it's been over a year since the last update, and for that I'm truly sorry. Seriously, there aren't enough words in the English language for me to apologize properly. Especially to the people that have read every chapter, including CrimsonMercenary, who has not only read but also reviewed. Speaking of CrimsonMercenary, each of your reviews has proved insightful and thought-provoking, besides rekindling my excitement over this story. Thank you for your words of encouragement. In all honesty I never planned acutely pass this chapter. If anyone is willing to offer up ideas or even possibly co-write, please let me know, whether it be in a review or PM. Updates will be posted whenever I finish a chapter, which, as already been proven, is incredibly sporadic. Until next time, excelsior!