Just as a quick mention, the fate of Mia Dearden is presented to you thanks to the imagination of deathwing17.
Chapter 42: Eye of the Storm pt. V
9 days after beginning of Chaos invasion.
Krieg had to admit, watching people dig trenches was an oddly soothing experience to him. It gave him calm and clarity, allowed him to focus in a time when it felt like his mind was being torn in every which direction. Who would have guessed planning the defense of an entire city would be so taxing? Not to mention cause so many headaches for him?
"The fuck are we even doing out here?" headache number 1 grumbled from her slouched position to his right.
"Observing," Krieg answered without even turning to look at her, his mind fully focused on the men and women hard at work demolishing buildings, setting up barbed wire, and digging wonderful trenches across the breadth of Cajon Junction. He dearly wished he could have joined them, but duty called him at every turn.
"Heads up, we've got incoming," speak of the devil, and he shall appear. Roaring in on ridiculously pimped out motorbikes and dressed like your average street gang, Krieg instinctively reached for his holstered pistol at the sight of these gang-based hooligans. Reluctantly, he suppressed the urge to kill these filthy criminals, and remained where he was.
"Sure this is a good idea?" Ravager asked, having already drawn her swords.
"No," Krieg simply replied as the leader of the bikers came to a stop in front of Krieg. With the kind of swagger that only came with an over-abundance of arrogance, he dismounted his bike and strolled up to Krieg with a cocky smirk in place.
"You this Krieg fellow we've been hearing about?" he asked.
"Indeed, and to whom do I have the great misfortune of speaking with?" Krieg countered, not even bothering to hide his disgust at the man's mere existence.
"Name's Johnny Rancid, and I'm here to kick some cultist ass," he proclaimed.
"An odd choice, considering you have far more in common with those cultists than you have with us," Krieg pointed out, hand visibly resting on his gun now. Either Johnny was even denser than Krieg gave him credit for, or he cared not for the obvious threat.
"Hey, I may be a criminal scum, but I'm an American criminal scum. Ain't no way in hell I'm letting these global doomsday wannabes muscle in on my turf like this!" Johnny stated, actually managing to look offended at being compared to the cultists.
"I suppose that is good enough in these times. Very well, welcome to the Los Angeles PDF. You'll be stationed outside the city and commence a hit-and-run campaign against Chaos forces," Krieg began, and already Johnny looked as happy as can be.
"Heh, easy enough, I suppose, though we're definitively gonna need-"
"I was not quite finished yet," Krieg interrupted. "As I do not trust you one bit, you and your men are prohibited from entering Los Angeles proper without direct approval of either me or my chief of staff. If any of you are seen trying to enter the city without approval, you will be shot on sight. Do we have an understanding?"
Now that served to wipe his infuriating smirk away. "Hold up here! How the fuck are we supposed to get stuff like weapons and ammo then?!"
"Those will be provided at drop-off points outside the city limits. Now, if you have further complaints, or find these terms unreasonable, feel free to leave Los Angeles. I can assure you, you will not be missed," a tense standoff ensued between the two of them, with Johnny glaring murderously into Krieg's impassive mask.
"Fine then," Johnny eventually spat out. "We'll play it by your rules. But don't come crying to me if this shit blows up in our faces,"
"Duly noted. Now then, recent intelligence has placed the largest concentration of enemies to the north of us, I suggest that you focus your attention in that direction," Krieg informed.
Johnny openly sneered at him. "Don't get any funny ideas about you being my boss now or anything,"
Then he was stalking back to his bike and roaring off back the way he came, his posse of hooligans close behind. Leaving Krieg and his entourage quite literally in the dust.
"Fucking cough cough biker gangs!" Steele complained as he tried to wave the dust out of his face.
"A rambunctious lot, to be sure, and one that will need to be dealt with once our common enemy is defeated, but they will serve their purpose adequately," Krieg stated as he stood motionless like a statue amidst the dust cloud.
"Well I can't wait for that. Useless fucking shitstains," Ravager complained as she valiantly fought the urge to cough.
"I believe your statement is an apt example of the phrase: the pot calling the kettle black," Krieg pointed out, earning himself the stink eye from her.
"Hardy har har," she grumbled back.
"In any case, we still have another meeting to attend," and with that said, Krieg turned on his heels and marched back into the city, his entourage of improvised officers following close behind. Not far off, they found Roy Morgan seated in their little staff HQ convoy, already in deep conversation through a radio.
"Report," Krieg requested as he came to stand next to Roy.
"Just got word in, our guests will be here in 30 minutes,"
"Then we best get moving," soon enough, the whole group had piled into the cars and were off. The journey itself proved a zigzagging endeavor as the drivers navigated their way through a maze of trenches, roadblocks, minefields and barricades.
"Gee, you trying to make us get lost here or something?" Ravager commented.
"No, simply making sure that there are no straight and clear roads for the enemy to advance down," Krieg answered as he went through the logistics in his head. As it stood, they had enough ammunition to last four days, and he very much doubted that the enemy could be defeated in such short amount of time. Hopefully, this next meeting would help solve some of these issues.
Finally, they arrived at the airport, just in time to hear the telltale noise of incoming helicopters from over the horizon. Already, trucks and personnel stood at the ready to receive their visitors.
"Let's hope the message was true and not some sneaky attempt by the cultists to trick us," Steele commented.
"I can assure you, it was the genuine deal," Roy sneered at him, clearly not appreciating his Intel being questioned like that.
"Enough, we shall see if it is true or not soon enough anyway," Krieg stated, just before the first helicopter came into view. Then another, and another, and another, until well over a dozen Black Hawks circled above, accompanied by smaller ones and two much bigger ones. A tense moment followed, but everyone relaxed as no bullets rained down on them and the helicopters began setting down.
"See? Told you it was real," Roy informed with more than a hint of smugness. Krieg for his part barely paid him any attention to him as he walked over to the nearest helicopter that had touched down. One of its occupants was quick to jump out and make his way towards him as well.
"Krieg, former Justice League associate and current leader of the Los Angeles PDF," Krieg greeted as he made the sign of the Aquila. The man opposite him gave a raised eyebrow at the gesture, but said nothing about it and instead snapped into a crisp military salute.
"Captain Jack Mayborne, U.S. Army Rangers. I come with compliments from General Wade Eiling. Your little stunt has got the rebels all riled up and they're mobilizing every poor soul they've got along the east coast to get you. Since this gives us the breathing room we need to regroup and plan a counter attack, we're here to provide all the assistance we can to make sure you hold out for as long as possible,"
"Your presence here is most welcome, though I trust you brought more than soldiers. We are in desperate need of weapons and ammunition," Krieg explained.
"No need to worry about that, we packed with us as much as we could fit aboard, and I can have further supplies dropped in if need be," well, at least that solved one of his many issues.
"Very well, though there is one other matter that needs to be addressed. As I am now officially a rogue vigilante acting without the direct approval of the Justice League, and you are an officer in the United States Army with the authority of a General behind you, will there be issues with the chain of command?" an awkward silence ensued, with everyone waiting for the answer.
"Officially speaking…" Jack began. "… I would be duty-bound to arrest you on so many charges that I don't even wanna try and count them all. However, General Eiling recognizes the dire straits we're all in, and is more than happy to look the other way, and even let you completely off the hook, on the condition that this army of yours is disbanded once the crisis has been averted,"
A very lenient and even generous ultimatum, but an ultimatum nonetheless. Not that Krieg had expected anything less. If he was to be completely honest with himself, he very much doubted that he would have been as generous had their roles been reversed.
"I take it the situation would escalate dangerously should the PDF refuse to disband later," Krieg observed.
"To put it mildly," Jack answered. It was basic facts at that point: disband after the enemy was vanquished, or go to war with the United States as well.
Krieg just shrugged his shoulders. "I find those terms to be acceptable. Now, if you will come this way, we can begin discussing strategy more thoroughly,"
"What do you think you're doing?" Azkillon demanded as he glared at his khornate ally Saareban, who just gave him a shark-like grin in response.
"You're gonna have to be more specific than that, I've done a lot of things in my time," Saareban countered smugly.
But Azkillon was not in the mood today. "Spare me your infantile attempts at trading barbs with me, you'll only embarrass yourself. Now tell me what you've done to my pawn,"
Deprived of a verbal sparring, Saareban scowled at him. "Simple really, I gave her the blessing of the World Eaters. Seemed fitting with her temperament,"
Just as he said this, the noise of whirring machinery came from behind the steel door they were conversing in front of, followed by a high-pitched shriek of agony.
"No anesthetic," Azkillon clinically observed as the screams continued unabated.
"Of course not. What kind of weakling would ever use that when walking the path of Khorne?" Saareban asked, being punctuated by what their enhanced ears could identify as the machinery successfully drilling through a human skull and beginning the process of implanting the necessary components. The screaming somehow managed to get louder from that.
"And I suppose you did this out of a desire to aid a fellow disciple of the Blood God?" Azkillon sneered, and Saareban just scoffed.
"Don't be ridiculous, I did it just to spite you," he admitted without a shred of guilt.
"You're playing a dangerous game here, I do not like simple-minded brutes like you meddling in my plans," Azkillon warned as his staff started crackling with infernal power. But Saareban was undaunted and simply squared up against the sorcerer.
"Careful there, little wizard, Markoth's already distrustful of you as it is, and you're no longer as vital a component for his plans as you used to be. Make a scene out of this, and we'll see who he favors the most," he countered, teeth bared in open challenge. From behind the door, the noises began to change. The screams of a tortured girl turned into roars of an enraged beast.
"Take heed, my friend, changes are on the horizon. Burn too many bridges, and you'll find yourself swept away in its currents," Azkillon declared even as he released his grip on the Warp.
"Heh, you speak as if you think a few paltry threats is enough to intimidate me," Saareban countered as the howling from beyond the door continued unabated.
"Threats are for the feeble and the cowardly, I make promises," Azkillon stated before turning to walk away. "And I expect you to return my pawn to me once she's sufficiently calmed down. I still have some uses for her,"
"Have no fear on that. My work is already done. Whatever happens to her next is none of my concern," Saareban assured, once again smirking with all his sharpened teeth on display.
Stepping out of his accomplice's portal, Vandal Savage beheld what to any other onlooker would appear as nothing more than a couple of sand dunes and an unremarkable mountain range beyond them.
"Yo, what are we even doing out here to begin with? Nothing but sand, rocks and the occasional shrubbery," his accomplice easily fell into that category. Not that Vandal had expected anything else from the bratty daemon.
"Appearances can be quite deceiving, Klarion. You of all people should have an understanding of that," he lectured before he began walking.
"Whatever. I did not drag your sorry ass out here just so you can lecture me about whatever stupid nonsense you're on about," Klarion grumbled, his familiar voicing its support from atop its master's shoulders.
"Be patient, our guides will soon be here to show us the rest of the way," Vandal assured him, to his visible confusion.
"Our guides?" he repeated, just as black-clad assassins sprung up from around and behind the dunes. With swords and rifles in hand, they quickly surrounded the duo, who looked more bored than threatened by the display.
"I am Vandal Savage, and this here is my companion Klarion the Witch Boy. We are here to speak with the Demon's Head," Vandal spoke up. No verbal response came from the assassins, but they lowered their weapons and opened a path through their numbers. Without even sparing the grunts so much as a second look, the duo marched on, now guided along by the escort of assassins.
"The hell are the League of Shadows doing all the way out here?" Klarion suddenly questioned.
"If you paid more attention at meetings, you would know that Infinity Island was only their latest base of operations. This here used to be their very first stronghold ever raised," Vandal patiently explained to his notoriously impatient partner.
"Bah, most of those meetings are so boring anyway," Klarion merely dismissed, just as they came before the entrance of what looked like a castle carved straight into the mountainside itself, with the elderly Sensei waiting at the gates.
"Welcome to Nanda Parbat, gentlemen," he began as he bowed before the two of them, then gesturing towards the open gates. "Please, if you would follow me,"
Wordlessly, they fell in line behind Sensei as he guided them deeper into the ancient fortress. Everywhere they passed, they saw a strange mix of old and new. Ancient statues and vaulted ceilings whose design harkened back to the days of chivalry and beyond, now barely visible behind stacks of military grade crates packed to the brim with all the tools of modern warfare.
"Nanda Parbat has not been in use for generations now, with only a small garrison to maintain basic security. Our retreat here after the fall of Infinity Island was one of last resort, as all other bases had already fallen to the enemy. Fortunately, the garrison here still remained loyal to the al Ghul name," Sensei explained as they weaved through the frantic work of getting light and electricity running in this place for the first time in all of its history.
"A blessing in disguise, it would seem. Its remoteness and lack of modern technology made it isolated from the greater whole, and thus immune to the disease that has been spreading in our ranks," Vandal observed.
"Indeed. When we first arrived here, the local commander had not even been aware of any uprisings, nor of the war currently sweeping across the continent," then the conversation was cut short as they arrived at what would have in older times served as the throne room, now serving as makeshift HQ with radios and monitors being hastily erected all over the place. And at the center of it all, standing like the eye of a storm, was Talia al Ghul, currently busy barking orders left and right. But the instant she noticed their presence, she broke off from this chaotic storm and approached them.
"Vandal, Klarion, it is good to see that you managed to escape the ambush," she greeted them with a small nod.
"It is likewise good to see you unharmed, my lady. But where is your father? There's much we need to discuss concerning recent events," the instant he had uttered those words, Vandal knew that something was wrong as everyone around them ceased their activities, many even casting uncertain glances at Talia as she stared at Vandal with sudden steel in her eyes.
"My father is dead, I am the Demon's Head now," she declared, showing not an ounce of sorrow at the fact. Ra's raised her well.
"The Lazarus Pit could not save him?" he questioned, having seen his colleague rise from even death itself in the past.
"We were unable to recover his body. Not that it would have done us much good, as he was killed with the Soultaker blade," outwardly, he remained unmoving. But on the inside, he winced at that particular piece of information. He had seen that accursed blade in action before, in the hands of killers and warlords throughout the ages. It was not a weapon to be trifled with.
"I see. My condolences, he and I had been friends for many years," Vandal offered, but Talia waved his words aside.
"There will be plenty of time to mourn our losses later. For now, let us focus on the enemy," she stated, to which Vandal wholeheartedly agreed.
"Indeed. To begin with then, do we have confirmation about the other members of the Light?"
There was no hiding the sneer that appeared on Talia's face now. "Luthor's still alive, but he's besieged in Metropolis with what's left of his security force. Meanwhile, I finally managed to make contact with Ocean Master just a day ago, but that coward is content to just hide in Atlantis and let us do the fighting,"
"We'll deal with him at a later date, now what about Queen Bee and the Brain?"
"Nothing. No word from either of them, and I haven't been able to contact any of their underlings either. I'd say it's safe to assume that both of them are dead at this point," it was what Vandal had been expecting himself, as his own attempts to contact them had been equally fruitless, but it was still an annoyance to have it confirmed.
"A shame, but little we can do about. And what about our agents? How many can we still count upon?"
"Not many as it is," a new voice joined in, its owner seemingly stepping out of the very shadows to the untrained eye.
"Lady Shiva, I trust you mission was a success then?" Talia asked of her deadliest assassin, who nodded her head.
"The traitors were silenced, and I was able to acquire the information you desired," a USB drive was then brought forth and flicked at Talia, who caught it deftly between her fingers.
"Good work. You're dismissed for now," Talia instructed. Shiva in turned bowed at the waist then wordlessly walked out of the hall, vanishing to who knew where.
"I sent Shiva on a mission to Infinity Island to eliminate some of the highest ranking leaders among the rebels, as well as steal whatever intel she could find," then Talia brought up the USB drive to eye level. "Let's hope now that there's something useful on this thing for us,"
"Blah, blah, blah! All you two do is talk and talk! Just call me whenever there's something fun to be had! Like blowing traitors to pieces!" Klarion suddenly declared, right before summoning a portal and storming through it, the walking definition of a petulant child.
"Sometimes I wonder how both you and father managed to put up with that brat," Talia commented dryly.
"He's powerful, that's all there is to it," Vandal answered before turning his full attention to her. "Now then, I believe we have much to talk about in the coming hours,"
"Approaching Los Angeles," Miss Martian announced from the pilot's seat, with the bioship even now passing over the mountains.
"Alright, lower the cloak and announce our presence, but be ready to retreat at the first sign of hostilities," Aqualad instructed as he checked over his equipment for the third time.
"Dude, Krieg's the one in charge down there. You honestly think he'd let those guys just blow us out of the sky?" Kid Flash tried to act laid back with his comment. Aqualad said nothing, merely giving him a very pointed look. Whatever humor Kid Flash had attempted to summon forth evaporated in an instant.
"Right, dumb question," he admitted, just as the radio crackled to life.
"Unidentified vessel, you have entered restricted airspace. Identify yourself immediately or we will consider you hostile," a gruff and very grumpy voice growled at them from the other end.
"This is Aqualad, protégé of Aquaman and member of the Justice League. We are requesting permission to land," there was a moment of silence from the other end, and then what sounded like a weird mixture of a laugh and a scoff.
"Took you bastards long enough to get your fat asses here. Standby, I'll check in with the brass," then the line went dead again, and the tension began creeping back.
"Seriously, he can't be crazy enough to have us blown out of the sky," Kid Flash interjected again. No one said anything.
"You're clear to approach. Krieg is expecting you at Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood. Best hurry up, he's quite the busy man these days," and that announcement brought a sense of relief to the team.
"Let's head out. We've delayed this long enough as it is," Aqualad stated, and the bioship moved onward. They found Krieg atop the building's roof, surrounded by a collection of police officers, military personnel, and-
"That's Ravager and Deathstroke!" Robin burst out, hands already fumbling with his utility belt.
"What's that lunatic thinking!?" Artemis added with an arrow already nocked and ready to let loose.
"Deploy, now!" and Aqualad's command had everyone leap out of the newly opened hole in the floor, ready for combat. At the sight of the adolescent team of crime fighters in combat formation, Ravager and Deathstroke drew their own weapons and everyone else hurriedly stepped aside, confused shouts of alarm on their lips. Except for one, that is.
"As I was trying to explain, this building is outside our defensive line, and so we need to destroy it so as to prevent the enemy from making use of it," Krieg continued, not even looking at the team and instead addressing the colonel currently standing well over a meter away.
"What?" was all said colonel could articulate, but Krieg had already turned to address Commissioner Steele.
"Furthermore, the Ventura Freeway is still too easily accessible to the enemy, an easy avenue from which to attack. More mines are required, or at least further demolition work to make it impassable for heavy vehicles," and still he refused to even glance in the team's general direction. An act which began to greatly irk them.
"I trust that demolitions are continuing on all the other buildings deemed too valuable to fall into enemy hands," and Krieg still refused to acknowledge their presence as he continued discussing matter with his staff. Ravager was downright laughing at their expressions now, and they could feel Deathstroke's amusement.
"Hey, Krieg, we need to have a serious talk right now!" Robin called out to be heard over Krieg's discussion, who just waved a dismissive hand in their general direction.
"In a moment, I have matters of strategy to discuss," then he was back to ignoring them as he walked to the roof's edge, grabbing a pair of binoculars to inspect the defensive lines. "The barricades across the Barham Boulevard Bridge are not sturdy enough. A school bus or heavier vehicle could ram through it in its current state,"
"Krieg, this is really important," Aqualad then spoke up, still keeping a wary eye on the one-eyed criminals. For a moment, it looked like Krieg was going to ignore him again, but then he gave a very audible sigh and turned to face him.
"Very well, but make it quick. I do not have much time to waste," he declared.
That was all the invitation that Aqualad needed as he gestured towards the criminals in their midst. "What do you think you are doing here?"
"Preparing for a siege, what else?" Krieg merely deadpanned.
"That is not what I meant. Working with criminals, conscripting civilians, building your own army, turning an entire city into your private fortress, and murdering unarmed and defeated prisoners. You have overstepped your boundaries here Krieg, as a hero and as an associate of the Justice League," once the proclamation was spoken, the tension in the air thickened. Concerned glances were cast at Krieg, the team stood firm before him, and Ravager looked ready to start a brawl then and there.
"Okay then," Krieg replied with an unconcerned shrug before turning to Commissioner Steele again. "Now, have we received word from the docks yet? I want a full inventory of all boats suitable for conversion into military vessels. Furthermore, I need to contact General Eiling about potential elite Special Forces. I have no intention of being purely defensive in the coming siege,"
Krieg even began walking away, prompting Aqualad to step forward and grasp his shoulder. "Now hold up there, we are far from-"
And then Krieg spun around and decked Aqualad straight in the face. Caught off guard by the sudden aggressive move, Aqualad ended up flat on his back and staring up at Krieg in befuddlement, more stunned by the move than actually hurt by it. Things then seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. One moment, everyone were merely staring each other down. Then, Superboy was squaring off against a dozen guns wielded by steel-eyed military personnel, Ravager had her left sword locked against Robin's staff, Zatanna had a spell ready to be fired off even as Steele had her dead to rights with his gun, Deathstroke stared down an arrow aimed squarely at his face whilst his pistol pressed against Artemis' forehead, Kid Flash frozen mid-step just behind Deathstroke with the tip of the man's sword resting squarely against his stomach, and Miss Martian hovering above them all with glowing eyes.
Amidst what was quickly devolving into a makeshift Mexican stand-off, Krieg stood unaffected by the threat of violence all around him. With eyes only for Aqualad, he placed a boot on the Atlantean's chest to keep him in place. It was not an appreciated gesture, as Aqualad glared up at Krieg even as sparks of electricity danced across Aqualad's skin, and some traveled up Krieg's leg. But apart from some miniscule twitches, he gave no signs of discomfort.
"You appear to be having issues with grasping the current state of affairs, so allow me to explain them to you in as simple of a manner as possible. I do not care what you or your precious Justice League think of my actions, nor do I care about whatever condemnation you wish to heap upon me," then, he leaned forward until he was looming above Aqualad, his voice turning into more of a growl.
"But more importantly, I do not have time to waste on another of your inconsequential debates about justice, and I most certainly do not have time to be lectured again on your antiquated sense of morality. This is a war, plain and simple, and I am doing my sworn duty by striving for victory no matter what the cost may be," the boot then came off Aqualad's chest, and for the first time, Krieg looked upon the whole team. He let his eyes wander from member to member, showing no worry for the very tense stand-off everyone was locked in.
"It is simple," Krieg slowly began, his hand now blatantly resting on his holstered gun. "Get on board, or get out of the way," then he simply turned on his heel and marched away, his allies and officers lowering their weapons and falling in line behind him as they began disappearing down the stairway. Deathstroke and Ravager were the last to disengage from the stand-off, taking up the rear of the group with their swords still drawn and keeping the heroes well within their sight. The team did nothing to stop them, and simply watched with varying degrees of confusion and anger. Last to disappear down the stairway was Ravager, though not before she threw them a final taunting smirk and giving them the Loser sign.
"And here I thought he couldn't get any worse," Kid Flash finally snapped as he rubbed where Deathstroke's blade had poked him.
"Tell me about it," Artemis grudgingly agreed as she glared daggers at where their erstwhile teammate had disappeared to.
"So what now? We head back and report what's going on?" Robin asked, still visibly tense.
"No, we stay and defend the city," and Aqualad's decision had everyone look at him like he had grown a second head.
"What, you're gonna give in to that maniac?" Superboy snarled, fists clenched and very eager to punch a certain someone straight in the face.
"Bad idea if you ask me. We haven't exactly been on the best of terms for quite a while now," Artemis pointed out.
"Yeah. I've not been around as long as you guys, but even I can tell that Krieg's got more than a few screws loose. Ain't no way I'm trusting my back to him," Zatanna added.
"Maybe it would be best to call in the League, let them figure things out instead," Miss Martian hesitantly proposed.
But Aqualad silenced them all with a look. "This has nothing to do with trust or wants or even legality. Krieg has issued a challenge, and every rebel within a week's travel is headed this way. Would you then have us abandon these people to fight for themselves against the onslaught?"
That single question brought the whole team down, heads lowered in shame and guilt.
"Guess we got too caught up in personal issues," Robin reluctantly admitted. "But he's right. Regardless of what we think of Krieg, we're still heroes, and we've got a city to save,"
Aqualad nodded, grateful that they understood the situation. "Indeed we do. We'll have plenty of time to sort out our internal affairs once this crisis has been averted,"
It brought out a shrug from Superboy. "Good enough for me,"
Even without the use of the telepathic link, they all knew that none were in disagreement here. Protecting the innocent always came first.
"But even if we agree to work together, do you honestly think that Krieg will?" Miss Martian suddenly interjected, and no one could say so much as a word against that. With the absence of a proper counter argument, Aqualad stepped forward again.
"I'll talk to him, get things sorted out to at least an amendable degree. In the meantime, I want you to have a look around. See what the defenses are like and determine where you believe you would be most effective. We will formulate a plan once I return,"
"Sure thing. Be back in a Flash," a cocky grin later, and Kid Flash was gone before anyone even had the time to groan at his pitiful pun.
"When will he learn to stop with that stupid joke?" Artemis grumbled, and swore to deny the existence of fondness in her tone 'til the day she died.
"Like mentor, like sidekick," Robin quipped, to the quiet laughter of all. They did not know it at the time, but that would be the last laughter they would share together for a long time.
In the conference hall that once served as a place of gathering for the League, Azkillon summoned those acolytes of his that were still aboard the Watchtower.
"Gather around, children, for there is great work to be done," Azkillon beckoned, and the former heroes and villains gathered around him like eager disciples at the feet of the messiah.
"What are your order, master?" the Shade was the first to speak, eagerness all but oozing off of him, just as it did for many of the others. Gullible fools.
"The defenders of Earth are rallying behind their false idols, and a new challenger has risen in Los Angeles to contest our divine purpose. These obstacles must be cleared for the grand plan to proceed,"
"Give me a name, and I'll give you blood," the daemon inhabiting Katana's body declared with unrestrained glee, malice cloaking its vessel like a second skin. Some of his disciples looked upon her in concern and suspicion, and that sat ill with Azkillon. It would not do for the pawns to learn of their comrade's fate just yet.
"Katana, you will be sent to join up with Scandal and her forces. Though beaten, the Light is not yet broken, and could pose a threat if left unchecked. Find these blasphemers and teach them the errors of their ways," an easy solution to the problem. Scandal cared only for her revenge, she would not care about her allies' future, or her own for that matter, as long as that one desire of hers was satiated. A predictable and useful tool, that one.
"Croc, you will remain aboard here until further-"
"That was not part of the agreement, sorcerer!" Croc suddenly interjected as he squared up against his master. "You promised me the flesh of Batman, yet I'm still stuck up here while that twat Anarky is down in Gotham having all the fun!"
"Calm down, your time will soon come, as will your promised reward," Azkillon soothed, even as he struggled to keep the sneer out of his voice. For this brutish simpleton to speak to me in such a tone, the arrogance.
"And when will that be?" Croc demanded again, and Azkillon felt his annoyance spike just the tiniest bit further.
"In due time, simply have a bit more patience," a fraction of his great power was infused with the words, and they were enough to slither into the reptilian's brutish mind and bring him to heel.
"Now then," Azkillon continued, content with the beast's chastisement. "The nuisance in Los Angeles. Metamorpho has already been informed of the situation and is heading there with all due haste," most eager for his revenge, I reckon.
"So all of us will head there then?" the Shade inquired, casting subtle looks of jealousy at the others. Ah, a true servant of the Four, one who understands the dangers of rivals to share in the glory.
"No, some of you are needed elsewhere," and Azkillon took some secret delight in the way the Shade's mood turned for the better. Good, remain blinded by your quest for greater favor. Stumble onward in the dark as you fail to see the pit right at your feet.
"Shade, Doctor Light, Gentleman Ghost, Doctor Destiny, you four will rendezvous with Metamorpho and take command of our forces assaulting Los Angeles. Do whatever you deem necessary, just make sure to deliver us victory," the four nominated acolytes all bowed as they stepped forward.
"It will be done, my lord," they all spoke in unison.
"Good. Now then…" next his eyes landed on the youngest member present and the older man by her side. "Terra, Yao Fei, you will head to Gotham and help Anarky. Batman's rogue gallery has proven itself less than cooperative and are now actively fighting with the GCPD against our forces, to say nothing of the caped crusader himself. You two will help with cleaning up these pests,"
Though Yao Fei only gave the tiniest of nods to indicate he had heard and understood his commands, Terra was all but vibrating with giddiness, eager to get into the field. Foolish, naïve child.
"Leave it to us, boss! We won't let you down!" she announced with the kind of enthusiasm only an energetic teenager could muster, and it took a great deal of willpower not to laugh at her stupidity. The lamb thanking the wolf for being invited to dinner, it never fails to amuse me.
"Now, Joker," and here he addressed the one acolyte that was universally despised by all the other members, and the one currently sulking in the back away from everyone else. "We have an army in the field in need of direction. You will assume command of it and lead it to Los Angeles. Cut off any avenues of reinforcements or retreat, and then begin tightening the noose,"
"… Understood," the Joker finally acknowledged. Satisfied, Azkillon turned to the last one present without a task.
"Finally, Killer Frost, your target is Metropolis. Metallo has been running into stiffer resistance than planned, and need further reinforcements,"
"Got it. I'll have it sorted out in no time," she assured him, and Azkillon never doubted for a second that she would fail. Still, it should be enough to keep the Kryptonian busy a little while longer.
"Hey, what about that brat Mia? Haven't seen her around for at least a day now," Frost then added, and Azkillon was very thankful for his helmet at that point.
"She has already been deployed to deal with Green Arrow," he replied. Hopefully she'll actually manage to kill someone important before expiring, or else she was just a wasted investment.
"In any case, I will pray for your success, all of you. Our final goal is within reach, and soon we will all bask in the glory that await us all," Azkillon lied with the same ease as breathing.
But unnoticed by all, Joker was watching it all with thinly veiled contempt, sneering at his master and the lickspittles gathered around him. And behind his feverish eyes, the twisted mind within churned with many an idea. Then, a smile began spreading across his scarred lips, and he could feel a cackle building up in his chest. And aboard the Watchtower, where the barrier between reality and the Immaterium grew weaker by the day, entities of pure malice peered in and beheld what was unfolding. They alone saw what was brewing in the Joker's mind.
And they approved.
As far as forward headquarters went, this one was not too shabby, though of poorer defensive construction than Krieg would have liked. Considering this used to be the home of the city's wealthy elite, it was to be expected, and it just created another sin for the wealthy in Krieg's eyes. Still, it served decently with its position, and it was not like they had many other options.
"What about the U.S.S. Iowa? Can it be salvaged?" Krieg inquired as he leaned over a table, a map of Los Angeles laid out before him.
"Maybe, though I wouldn't bet on it. That old girl's been a museum for years now, and hasn't seen active service for decades. We might get the gun turrets in action, but then the question of ammunition comes into play," a local dockworker reported.
"Not to mention the lack of a trained crew," Captain Jack added from the back.
"Still, see what can be done. Even if we only get the guns operable, that would still be a huge boost to our artillery," Krieg ordered.
"Right, I'll get right to it, sir," the dockworker assured him before giving a quick salute and running off. Krieg had already dismissed the man from his mind as he turned his attention back to the map.
"And you are sure your men can hold the Angeles Crest Highway by themselves?" he next addressed the Captain, who he could feel was smirking at him.
"Rangers lead the way, boy. You worry about the city itself, me and the boys will keep your flanks clear all year 'round if need be,"
"Good enough, I suppose," Krieg grudgingly agreed. He would have preferred them holding the actual line rather than skirmishing in the hills and canyons, but he would trust the experienced soldier in this instance and hope he could deliver.
"Oi, heads up," the Captain suddenly warned, causing Krieg to turn around and come face to face with his former commanding officer.
"Aqualad," was all he said.
"Krieg," the abhuman greeted.
"Still in the city, I see? Planning to detain me for murder?" there was no way for Krieg to keep the scorn out of his voice, but Aqualad remained impassive.
"Nothing of that sort, we're here to help," he merely answered. By now, everyone within the room was watching the exchange, but Krieg gave the onlookers no thought as he glared at the abhuman.
"Help, you say? You are aware that we are not fighting some sorry excuses for criminals here, but a relentless horde of traitors and heretics. Your methods of helping are neither useful nor appreciated here," he stated.
To his credit, the abhuman stood firm. "I am well aware of that. Nevertheless, we are here to stay, and we will help fighting the enemy,"
Something in the abhuman's tone made Krieg pause, and made him truly look at him for the first time. He saw something he had not expected.
"You do know that there will be no quarter given by either side here. Bodies will pile up before the first day is even over," he remarked.
"Of course. War never changes, after all," Aqualad stated, refusing to budge. Krieg would never go as far as to actually feel respect for an abhuman, or anything beyond contempt. But still, credit where credit was due.
"I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to achieve victory. Are you?" he instead asked.
That brought out the first sign of hesitation in the abhuman. "We won't kill, but we won't stop you either,"
"Disappointing, but expected," Krieg commented. "Still, as long as you don't hinder my forces from doing their job, I can live with that,"
"I suppose this is the closest we'll ever get to an acceptable agreement between us," Aqualad observed.
"Sir!" a radio operator suddenly shouts as she all but flies out of her seat. "We just got word from Rancid! Says that a column of rebels are motoring through Gorman along Interstate 5, and it looks big!"
And just like that, the place became a disturbed hornet nest, and the radio chatter exploded to life as orders and confirmations were shouted on nearly every frequency. Amidst this chaos, Krieg and Aqualad stood unmoving.
"If you and your team end up dying, please do so far away from the frontlines. Seeing super powered individual fall in battle to the enemy could be damaging to morale," Krieg requested of the abhuman, who gave him a smile without any real humor behind it.
"Is that the closest thing to a 'be careful' as I'm ever going to get from you?" he asked. Krieg did not bother answering, and instead turned his attention back to the map.
"Not going to join the frontline?" he heard Aqualad ask from behind him.
"You have a team to lead, I have a whole city. I will join the fray once I know where my presence is most needed," he responded, eyes still glued to the map.
"Sir! Forward units report having engaged the enemy vanguard! No casualties so far, but they're seeing thousands of rebels coming straight at us!"
"Order them to pull back to our lines immediately. Evacuate the outlying towns, engage all defenses," then, he turned to point a single finger at Aqualad. "And get this abhuman a comm unit,"
Aqualad said nothing, merely accepting the comm bead offered to him and then striding out as Krieg turned back to the map. But the second the abhuman was out of the building, Krieg sent him a quick message.
"We will settle things between us another day, abhuman," he whispered, his words being lost in the cacophony around him.
"I suppose we will," Aqualad answered.
10 days after beginning of Chaos invasion.
Day 1 of the Siege of Los Angeles.
Right, so someone pointed out to me that the old battleship U.S.S. Iowa is currently sitting in Los Angeles, and wondered whether she would take part in the fighting. However, she is currently serving as a museum, and I have no idea what state she's in or what kind of work is needed to get her combat ready again.
So I'm reaching out to the community here in the hopes that one of you have the answer to this one question: would it be feasible to get the Iowa combat ready, or is she a lost cause for the war effort?