So... I've got a bit of a confession to make. This chapter was supposed to have been done a month ago, with only the very last details left to be put in. Now, I could say that real life got in the way, but that would be lying. Truth is, I bought Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous and then couldn't tear myself away from the game long enough to actually finish this chapter for a bloody month.
But hey, better late than never, right?
Chapter 45: Siege of Los Angeles pt. III
It was just before sunrise that they attacked again. Across the entire length of the frontline, cultist forces charged en masse, supported by heavy weaponry and makeshift war engines. Billy Jones was stationed at the Los Angeles River when the attack began.
"Fuck, bastards brought rafts this time!" someone hollered over the gunfire, and Billy peeked over the sandbags to confirm it with his own eyes. And yep, squads of cultists were indeed in the midst of launching an entire armada across the narrow river. It was a varied flotilla. Some brought actual boats, others carried inflatable versions, but the vast majority came charging with what was obviously makeshift junk just hammered together out of whatever material they had at hand.
"Don't let them get across!" the woman to Billy's left shouted as she let loose with controlled bursts from her assault rifle, with each squeeze of the trigger sending a cultist tumbling lifelessly into the water. Others quickly followed her example, turning the defenders' side of the river into a firing line that soon had the river running red with blood. Billy however could not take part in the firefight, for he had no gun of his own. Not enough to go around, and his aim was atrocious anyway.
But no matter how many they gunned down, more cultists would rush forward to take the place of the fallen, and then they began returning the favor. From windows and rooftops, cultist gunners let loose with their own fusillade of assault rifles and heavy machine guns. Brave defenders fell over, some screaming in pain whilst others never rose again, before the rest hastily dove for cover.
"Covering fire, dammit! We can't let them establish a beachhead!" the woman to his left shouted again with her back against the barricades whilst clutching a badly bleeding shoulder.
"No need to shout that fucking loudly," Billy muttered mostly to himself as his voice was swiftly drowned out by the screaming and the gunfire.
"Let 'em have it, boys!" a man to Billy's right hollered before he stood up, machine gun in hand, and fired away on full auto. Others followed suit, laying down a withering hail of fire. Billy could not see the results from where he was crouched, but he could see the return fire that sent one defender after the other falling over.
"Fuck, they're almost across!" the cry went up, and now Billy stood up. He had no gun of his own, would have been a waste with his atrocious aim. Did not need one anyway. Most only looked at his aged face and bulging belly, then they dismissed him as an old man way past his prime.
They never paid attention to his scarred knuckles, earned in his youth from countless street brawls. They never noticed the tattoos, given in and out of prison by old friends in the gangs, all long since dead now. They never noticed his arms, still thick with muscles rather than fat. A criminal once, then the proud owner of a butcher shop, where he spent hours every day hauling kilos of meat back and forth.
Now however, he had nothing left, nothing except his rage and his craving for revenge. He had no gun, but the Los Angeles PDF cared not as long as you could hold the line and kill the enemy. And as Billy stood up with a meat cleaver in one hand and a butcher's knife in the other, he was ready to prove that he could easily do both of those things.
The river was like a miniature version of Omaha beach, with bodies and wrecked boats floating in the water even as more and more boats steamed ahead. And indeed, the first wave had reached their side, with ladders and grappling hooks allowing the cultists to scamper up the side. Billy stood ready to greet each and ever last one of them with open arms.
First one over the rampart however was not a fighter. Fuck, it was not even an adult, but a little girl, no older than 14 at most. Poor thing did not even have a weapon in hand, and her armor was little more than args that might have once been clothes. She was cannon fodder, pure and simple, sent up first to make the defenders waste ammo on her before the real fighters got up.
Fuck, now that she was up on the rampart, she did not even try to defend herself, she just stood there, shaking like a leaf even as her wide and tearful eyes stared at Billy in absolute terror. She was a truly pitiful sight, and posed no real danger. But when Billy looked into her eyes, he remembered his own daughter.
A shy little thing, just 9 years old and already in love with books and music. The mind of an artist, that one, and it made Billy so proud that he was able to give his daughter the chance for a better life that he never got. In fact, her birthday was supposed to come up next week, and he had already bought several books and a new desk for her, having stashed them away as a surprise for her.
Then came the memories of when the cultists stormed into their house, of the things they did to his darling little girl before leaving him for dead in a burning building. There had not even been enough left of his little star to bury after that. He remembered it with perfect clarity, as if it had happened just yesterday. He remembered, and then he acted.
"DIE, CULTIST BITCH!" he roared before the meat cleaver split the girl's head in two down the middle. Then her body was shoved aside to make room for the next cultist. He got the knife stuck through his throat, and he spent his last seconds spitting out blood before the cleaver cracked his skull wide open. Third cultist was hauled over the rampart and had his chest cavity carved open by a few blows from the cleaver.
Human or animal, living or dead, it mattered not at this stage. Meat was meat, and Billy was an old hand at carving up meat. He once owned a small butcher shop, but that was now gone. Now, the battlefield was his shop, and he had work to do.
"Come on then! One at a time or all at once, makes no fucking difference to me! I'll carve you all up!" not like he had anything left to live for anyway.
"You look like shit," was the greeting he received from Ravager once she got a good look at him.
"At least you are honest with your assessment," Krieg replied from where he was laying in bed, his upper body stripped and with bandages wrapped around most of his head.
"I aim to please," she quipped before collapsing into a nearby chair with the grace of a walrus. Blasted woman even stole one of Krieg's sandwiches.
"That's my breakfast," he snarled out.
Ravager took a very big bite with what had to be deliberate slowness. "You snooze, you lose."
Krieg grunted. "At least pass me the apple. I haven't eaten anything in hours."
Said apple promptly bounced off his brow and landed in his lap.
"You're welcome." Ravager was all smiles as she said this before punctuating the sentence with another exaggeratedly big bite out of his sandwich.
Krieg just huffed as he took a bite. "Should you not be out in the field to help hold the line? You seemed very eager to kill last we spoke."
Ravager shrugged her shoulders. "Got boring doing it all by myself after a while. Decided I could use some time in the rear lines before going back to kicking ass."
"Then I trust you have an actual reason for disturbing me when I'm supposed to be resting." There was a challenge in his eyes as he glowered at her.
"Uh huh. Resting. Sure you were," Ravager drawled as she lounged in her chair, her one eye looking at him with a knowing glint.
Krieg was utterly unrepentant as he met her stare. "The team or the doctors?"
The smile was back again. "Both, actually. I guess they grew tired after your third escape attempt."
"Tactical redeployments to the front," Krieg hastily corrected, the look in his eyes daring her to contradict him. She raised her hands in a surrendering gesture, but was still smiling.
"So now you have me as your own personal nurse to make sure you're safe and comfortable. Aren't you a lucky boy," she continued, cheerful as ever. Krieg was very tempted to just punch her in the face.
"Don't you mean my prison guard, here to endlessly torment me until I am cleared for frontline duty again?" Because apparently, not even the de facto commander of a whole city could outrank a doctor in matters of medical recovery. Made no sense to him, but for once, everyone had been dead-set against him.
Ravager shrugged her shoulders. "Eh. Tomayto, tomahto. Bottom line, you're stuck with me."
"Then make yourself useful and give me the rest of the sandwiches," he commanded as he held out an expectant hand. Ravager in turn, who had just finished her stolen sandwich, grabbed the plate and offered it to Krieg. Or at least, that was what he thought she did. It quickly became apparent it was not that simple when he made to grab it, only to find it yanked just out of his reach.
"What's the magic word?" she asked.
"What?" was his most eloquent response.
"C'mon, it ain't that hard," she all but purred as she waved the plate teasingly just out of his reach. "You want one of these goodies? Say the magic word."
Krieg growled with his teeth bared. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"Every second of it," she admitted without the least bit of shame, still holding the plate out of reach. Krieg made to rise from the bed, determined to get his breakfast, but quickly found Ravager now standing upright and using ONE arm to keep him pinned to the bed.
"Nuh uh, soldier boy. Doctor's orders, no getting out of bed unless in an emergency," she lectured with a smug grin in place, now holding the plate just above his head even as she kept him pinned in place no matter how much he struggled. Meta powers are the most unfair abomination of them all.
With a resigned sigh, Krieg ceased his struggles and simply settled for glaring murder at the insufferably smug Ravager, who was still holding the sandwiches out of his reach.
"Very well, you have made your point clear, and had your fun to boot. Now give me those sandwiches," he demanded.
"Didn't hear the magic word this time either," she sing-songed as she stepped back and seated herself again. And the sandwiches was still beyond his reach.
"I do not deal with heresy," Krieg declared, face set in stone. Ravager just burst out laughing.
"Heresy? Fuck man, you take things way too seriously," she guffawed, in the process losing focus and letting the plate drift too close to Krieg. One quick swipe later, and Krieg finally had his prize.
"Sloppy," he chastised before taking a bite. The taste was rather bland, but it was filling. And at least Ravager was no longer grinning at him.
"That's cheating," she huffed, but made no move to take the sandwiches from him.
"There is no such thing as cheating, there is only victory or defeat," he declared as he continued devouring his lunch. "In any case, have you heard anything about Deathstroke? I have not seen him since the siege began."
Ravager wiggled one of her hands. "Oh you know ..."
"PLEASE GODS SAVE US!" a cultist screamed just before his head was cleaved in half at the nose, his comrade to the right taking a bullet straight through the head while the one to the left had his throat crushed by a kick.
"Die, you cocksucking motherfucker!" another cultist screamed, minigun already revved up before a storm of lead was unleashed. Cars, sandbags and cultists were ripped to pieces by the barrage, but the actual target was never even touched. A broadsword sailed through the air, nailing the cultist through the stomach and pinning him to the wall behind him.
He tried shouting orders, but blood and wet gurgles were all that came out. Then he was in front of him. One hand on the hilt, then a tug to the side that split both the wall and the cultist wide open. Pistol was then in hand, three bullets emptied as he leaped aside. Three cultists fell over with holes going through their foreheads. Even more came up behind them, hordes of them.
"Only 50? I feel vaguely insulted," then the gun was emptied, felling another five targets. Four quick steps later, great leaps that the now terrified cultists could easily confuse with superspeed, and then death was among them.
Hack and slash, hack and slash. Slice and dice, slice and dice. He was no warrior fighting a battle, he was a lawnmower and they were the grass. Five seconds later, and well over a dozen already lay at his feet in a dismembered heap. He did not stop there, oh no. He was just getting started. Suddenly his gun was reloaded, and he was back spitting lead at all around him even as the sword continued to reap its bloody toll.
Headless bodies stumbled a few steps forward before death caught up with them. Cultists lay on the ground spending their last seconds wondering why their chests got so wet all of a sudden. Blood and entrails from a recent kill did not even have time to touch the ground before another three were added to the number.
Cultists charged forward with clubs and axes, thinking numbers and brute force will bring him down.
Cultists with Submachine guns and assault rifles were brought in, setting up a crosshair that cared not for friendly fire as long as the menace was brought down.
Drivers came charging in with their vehicles, running over the dead and dying without care as they sought to crush the enemy beneath their wheels.
A roar echoed down the road, more beast than man. He turned to where it came from, and saw a monster in human skin. Towering three heads above everyone else, with muscles so swollen that it had ripped its skin off. Blood constantly drippled down its grotesque arms, each as wide as its torso and long enough to touch the ground even when it stood upright. It roared again, blood and spittle flying everywhere, as it beat its chest like a demented gorilla straight out of hell.
Then it charged.
Using all four of its limbs, the creature made a mad dash straight towards him, heedless of anything else. Terrified cultists hastily tried to flee its path. Some succeeded, most did not. It did not slow down in the slightest, battering its own comrades aside like ragdolls or simply crushing them underfoot.
"Metas. Why is it always metas?" he sighed to himself as he gave his blade a wide swing to throw off excess blood. Then he planted his legs in a wide stance and waited for the creature. Closer and closer it came, leaving a path of crushed and mangled bodies in its path. Still he did nothing, lone eye almost lazily observing the creature.
Then, the creature took one final leap, coming straight at him with arms held wide as if to embrace him in bone-crushing hug. Time slowed down for him, the creature drifting through the air as if trying to swim through syrup. Not yet. He could smell its rancid breath now, reeking of rotting meat and other less savory things. Not yet. The arms began to close in around him, like the jaws of a giant predator. The thing smiled now, predator to prey, convinced it was all over now.
One second, he was within the monster's embrace. The next, he had slipped below it, letting the creature soar past overhead. His sword lashed out in passing, aiming at the back of both legs, just above the knees. They lacked the same density of muscles, appearing thin and gangly compared to the rest of the body. And when his sword struck, it cut deep into both with a spray of blood.
The monster crashed to the ground head-first, howling in pain all the while. It tried to rise again, but its legs refused to move anymore. Yet it refused to admit defeat, and tried to force itself back up with just its arms.
"Sloppy." Then he was behind it, sword held in a two-handed grip, tip of the blade aimed right at the neck.
"Undisciplined." One thrust, and the blade went all the way to the crossguard, the blade itself sticking out of the thing's mouth.
"A true waste of power." It gave a final twitch, then it fell over, never to rise again. A few tugs later, and the sword was free. He turned back to the surviving cultists, all of them stinking of fear. Often literally, based on the discoloration of their pants.
"Are any of you better?" A simple question, and it had the lot of them fleeing in terror, throwing their weapons away whilst screaming about daemons.
"Didn't think so." But a hunter does not let the hunted just walk away like that, and more blood needed to be shed before the day was over. So he chased, and the cultists tried all the harder to flee.
They still died.
"… he's doing decently enough for an old man," Ravager finished.
"As long as he helps holding the line, that will suffice." Was all Krieg said on the matter before returning to his breakfast. Barely had he managed a few bites before Ravager's stare grew too much for even him.
"If you have something to say, just say it," he ordered, eyes still on his sandwich.
"Do you feel lucky?" But that question had him facing Ravager once again, one eyebrow raised.
"Elaborate," he requested. For once, he was not met by her insufferable grin or any anger of her own. Her face was just… blank. Unreadable. Unknown.
"With all the attention you're getting, all the responsibilities, all the power. Does it make you feel lucky? Or even special?" Some might have taken the time to ponder such a question. Krieg did not.
"No, merely content that I now have the tools and the resources to carry out my duty with greater efficiency," at his admission, her head tilted to the side, like an inquisitive dog, but made no comment. Again, Krieg was unable to decipher the look on her face, so vastly different from her usual expression, so he gave up and went back to his sandwich.
"I don't know whether to feel envy or pity at such a single-minded focus," she finally admitted, but Krieg just shrugged his shoulders as he took another bite.
"How about neither and instead focus on the enemy?" he asked. No further conversation broke out after that, and the two of them sat and ate in silence.
Infinity Island sure had changed since the last time she visited. The once lush jungles that covered the island was being bulldozed down, with bunkers and vast trench lines taking its place. Where once verdant gardens stood, now artillery and anti-aircraft guns were being erected. Not to mention the fortress itself, the ancient architecture being gutted and reinforced by all the hallmarks of modern warfare and fortifications.
Bottom line, this was no longer a secret base of shadowy assassins, the entire island was now a military fortress. One built to withstand a full-on siege by modern armies. Once, Scandal might have been saddened by the desecration of what used to be a place of beauty and tranquility. Now, she just smiled as she saw yet another fallen pillar of father's work.
"We've been cleared to land, ma'am," the pilot reported, barely audible over the helicopter's rotor blades. Scandal in turn only gave a small grunt of acknowledgment, eyes locked on the heli-pad they were approaching. People were already gathered there, waiting for her. And when the helicopter landed, they all fell to one knee once she stepped out.
"My lady, the faithful welcome you with open arm. We stand ready to serve you," the one at the front proclaimed, still kneeling before her. Black Spider, if memory served her right. An assassin of middling rank in the past, now the de facto leader of those assassins who chose the Daemons over the Demon.
"Good. Anything to report on my father and his surviving loyalists?" she asked of him, uncaring eyes sweeping over her servants. Vaguely, she remembered a time when she desired power like this, for her father to see her as a daughter and worthy successor rather than just another pawn in his games. Those memories now left her with the taste of ash in her mouth, and set her face into a deep sneer.
"A-As a m-matter of fact, we m-managed to capture some of his s-spies, my lady," Black Spider stammered out, a barely visible tremor in his body speaking of a sudden deep fear for his well-being. He must have misinterpreted her sneer as being directed at him, and Scandal felt no need to correct him on that as she simply nodded her head.
"Then take me to them," she commanded, and Black Spider hurriedly rose to his feet and led the way. The others still remained kneeling as she walked past. They dared not rise yet, for she had not given them leave yet. Loyal little dogs, aren't you all?
She did not even glance at them, and she most certainly did not bother giving them any orders. She just left them behind to remain kneeling on the heli-pad. Idly, she wondered if boredom would eventually win over discipline, or if they would remain like that until told otherwise. For the briefest of moments, the thought made her smile in amusement. Then she remembered the last time she had truly smiled, and the darkness swallowed her whole again.
"Katana arrived just before you, and she's been hard at work interrogating these spies. Unfortunately, they've proven far more resilient than expected," Black Spider explained as they walked, passing by soldiers and slaves alike. All of them hard at work reinforcing the place, and all of them hastily bowing as she walked passed. She did not deign them with even the faintest of glances.
"Were they not your former comrades? I would have expected you to know all the secrets to breaking them. Or did we draw the short straw here and got the lesser caste of assassins?" Scandal mocked. And even though she could not see his face behind the mask, she could feel how he bristled at her words.
"These men," he began slowly, all but swallowing his anger. "Are not members of the Shadows that I recognize, and they killed 20 of our men before they were subdued. No doubt they are some form of elite force kept secret from everyone but the higher echelons,"
"Of which you were never a part of." The barb hit home, and she could see Black Spider visibly go for his knife on reflex. He never drew it though, and just continued to lead the way. Scandal made no indication that she had noticed the action, and simply followed. Once, she would have taken some amount of pleasure out of teasing and mocking those around her. Now? It just felt so pointless to her, done more out of habit than any real sense of enjoyment.
Soon enough, they had entered the dungeons, the only place left free of modern technology. Here, it's medieval design remained as it had always been, and it was in fact seeing more use than it had in centuries. Torches were lit all over the place, revealing hundreds of poor souls strapped to all manner of diabolical machinery, their bodies tormented over and over to the symphony of their own screams and their captors' gleeful laughter.
For the briefest of moments, Scandal pondered how many of these people actually deserved their current fate, and how many were just innocent bystanders caught at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Then the moment passed, and Scandal found she did not care and so kept on walking through the charnel house of misery.
Finally, she was led into a separate chamber, located in the deepest and darkest parts of the castle. Had this place ever been in use until today? Scandal honestly could not tell. And honestly, neither did she really care. And once she stepped into the chamber, Scandal found that Katana had indeed already been at work.
Sloppily so as well.
"I very much doubt she will be able to tell you anything now," she casually remarked as she stepped towards where Katana was leaning over what Scandal suspected might have once been a woman. It was kind of hard to tell at this stage, what with most of her entrails and vital organs now residing outside of her body.
"Really? You quite sure about that?" Katana asked, one hand holding the woman's heart whilst the other went to slap the woman's skinned head. "Hey, feel like answering some questions now? Or maybe just spit a few more curses my way?"
The head just rolled lifelessly to the side from the pat, and the corpse remained completely silent. Scandal directed a very flat look at her companion, not saying a word.
Katana threw her hands up in the air. "Okay, fine! So I went a little overboard with this one! We still got three more to go through!" Then she took a large chomp out of the heart and began loudly chewing. "Honestly, humans are way too squishy for their own good."
Then she seemed to notice that she very much had an audience to her little display, and offered the heart up to Scandal. "Want a bite?"
"I'll pass," Scandal's tone was disinterested, but her eyes were sharp. Even without that display, she could tell that Katana was… different. And different, she had learned, could be very dangerous.
"You're awfully cheerful all of a sudden. Any particular reason?" she asked, and Katana smiled at her. It was a smile far wider than the human body should be able to stretch, and it displayed rows of needle-like teeth. Ah, so that's what happened.
"Oh, you know, just had a really good day, that's all," the thing possessing Katana spoke, and Scandal could only shake her head in disappointment.
"Will you at least be able to focus on our common enemy?" Scandal continued, to which Katana eagerly licked her lips with a serpentine tongue.
"Just point me at all the juicy flesh, and I'll handle the rest," she purred with delight, and Scandal simply nodded her head.
"Good, then we shall have no trouble between us," she declared, already dismissing Katana's folly in favor of approaching one of the other prisoners. Said prisoner only glared up defiantly at her.
"You may torture me all you like, it won't change anything, like my sister before me, I'll die before I break," he spat at her, but Scandal cared not. She just stood there and stared at him in silence. No commands to bring her any tools, no ultimatums offered to her victims, no attempts to play mind games. Just complete silence.
"My lady?" Black Spider hesitantly spoke up, still lurking by the door. He went completely ignored by Scandal as she continued to stare at the prisoner.
"Well? Are you going to do anything? Or are you trying to bore me to death?" And evidently, even the prisoner could left feeling uncertain by these turn of events.
"You're a long way from Nanda Parbat, aren't you?" she suddenly asked out of nowhere, and that got the prisoner to give the tiniest of flinches. Small, barely noticeable, but Scandal had seen it. And now she was smiling at him. For the first time in a very long while, she was smiling in joy at something.
It was not a pleasant smile.
"Thank you for that confirmation," she said, then she simply turned around and marched straight out, with Black Spider and Katana falling in line on either side of her along the way.
"How did you know?" Black Spider found himself asking.
"I didn't," Scandal admitted. Black Spider's stunned silence indicated that he had most certainly not expected that answer. "It was mostly just guesswork, though one based on solid Intel. Nanda Parbat is the oldest fortress still in use by the Shadows, its existence only known to a select few." A list that most definitively would not have included her if not for a rare moment of parental instincts from her father. Boy, was he going to regret that decision soon.
"Perfect place for a hideout then? Liking where this is going," Katana giggled like a child at christmas. Black Spider looked suitably perturbed by the behavior, but wisely kept his mouth shut. With that kind of attitude, maybe he would actually survive to see the end?
"Indeed, you'll have plenty of opportunity to satisfy your appetites," Scandal answered before turning her full attention to Black Spider. "Sound the muster. Assemble all the forces at our disposal, and have them ready to depart as soon as possible."
Black Spider was quick to bow in deference. "As you command, my lady." then he was off to carry out his orders, and Scandal continued on her way with hatred burning brighter than ever in her shriveled soul. You'll not escape me a second time, dad. Nanda Parbat will be a tomb for you and your precious Light.
They were coming again, Green Arrow could all but feel it. The cultists had been far too quiet as of late, far too passive and withdrawn compared to their earlier bouts of madness, and Murphy's Law dictated that they must be preparing for something truly huge. They all knew this, and dreaded the outcome.
Even the police and National Guard, huddled all around inside the city hall, were constantly casting nervous glances at the windows while fiddling with their guns. As a hero, it should have been Green Arrow's responsibility to put these people at ease, to assure them that the Justice League was here and that things would be better.
Sitting in the still smoking ruins of his home, those ideals tasted like ash in his mouth.
"Anything yet?" a soothing voice asked before a pair of slender hands came to rest on his tense and soot-stained shoulders.
"Nothing, all quiet so far," Green Arrow responded, peering intently through his binoculars at the streets below where vague shapes could be seen darting between covers or crawling through the debris to avoid snipers and machine gun nests. Cultists, literally just across the street, and there was nothing he could do about, just like the previous days. Was this how Stalingrad was like?
"Awfully patient of them. What exactly are they waiting for?" Black Canary asked once she crouched down next to him. The two of them sat huddled together atop the city hall's roof, hidden inside of an alcove created by a lucky grenade throw and a stubborn gargoyle statue that refused to tip over.
"Wish I knew. This waiting game is driving me nuts." Then he spared a quick glance at her face, smeared with dirt and distinctly haggard. He imagined it was close to what he looked as well. "Any word from Red Arrow?"
She gave a faint nod. "Still patrolling around the hospital. There's been small skirmishes, but no true offensive yet." It should have calmed them both down, assured them that things were stable.
It did not.
Eyes still firmly watching the roads down below, Green Arrow reached for his communicator. "Major Jones, any word from up high?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. We've got confirmation that the rebels are swarming towards Los Angeles, so we don't need to worry about further enemy reinforcements. But apart from that? Nothing."
A frown now marred Green Arrow's face. "No reinforcements for us?"
There was no hiding the defeated sigh that came first. "Word from high command says that they're still spread too thinly, and we're not a priority target. That maniac Krieg and his little stunt has helped take some of the pressure off, but most of the country is still in enemy hands and all military assets are under attack. Bottom line: they're leaving us hanging to consolidate what they can."
Green Arrow cursed that decision, he cursed it vehemently. He cursed it even more when he understood that it was the best decision in an otherwise hopeless situation.
"I'm sorry we couldn't do more, that I couldn't do more," he found himself saying, admitting the thing that had been eating away at his soul ever since this whole mess started.
"Hey, don't start selling yourself too short here. We all got caught with our pants down, so we're all equally to blame for not seeing this coming. Besides, you're here with us, still fighting the good fight. That counts in my book."
A look was shared between Green Arrow and Black Canary. Communication with other League members were still spotty, made worse by the loss of the Watchtower through unknown means, but word still circulated. The whole world had been hit pretty hard, but there were survivors, there were holdouts still fighting on. Across the globe, frontlines were finally being established and safe zones set up for refugees. The situation was not hopeful quite yet, but it was stable at long last.
But as things became stable, it gave people time to catch their breath and truly look around for a perspective of things. And with that perspective came anger, which blossomed into hatred, and which culminated in blame. They blamed the government, they blamed the army, they blamed the media, they blamed religion, they blamed nationalities, they blamed ethnicities. Most of all, they blamed heroes.
These days, people like Major Jones were becoming a rarity. Most preferred to simply point fingers and blame others of having failed to see the threat coming, ignoring the fact that more often than not, someone they once knew was sitting in the opposite trench sharpening his knife.
"We appreciate the sentiment, Major. But let's hold off on being thankful until after we've survived this mess," Green Arrow tried to put some cheer into his voice, tried to sound like the upbeat optimist he was known to be. It sounded hollow even to his ears.
"Sound advice, I suppose. Anyway, I'll let you know if something else comes up," then the line went dead and the two heroes returned to their duty.
"Whatever's going on, it will happen soon," Green Arrow suddenly announced, receiving a raised eyebrow from Black Canary.
"Intuition?" she asked, and he nodded.
"You can feel it too, can't you? There's tension in the air, waiting to snap. The cultists have held themselves back quite a bit now, but it's reaching breaking point." She made no comment to the contrary, and instead began slowly creeping back.
"I'll check the ground floor, make sure that they're ready for whatever's coming," she explained before casting a worried glance out at the ruined cityscape. "And it's gonna be a big thing."
"Most likely," Green Arrow agreed, and then he was alone as he resumed his silent vigil. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours, and Green Arrow refused to budge from his spot, silently watching for enemy activity. And in the end, his diligence paid off.
"Movement," he hastily warned through his communicator as on the streets below, cultists could be seen amassing behind their barricades. And in the distance, he could hear the rumble of engines approaching.
"How bad?" Black Canary was the first to ask. But before Green Arrow could answer, flares were fired all over the city, turning night to day. It was swiftly accompanied by distant gunfire, which krept closer and closer with every second.
"Very bad," Green Arrow finally replied as he put his binoculars aside and picked up his bow and quiver again. And so it begins again.
Less than a month ago, the sound of explosions would have sent the team scrambling for cover, desperately trying to get the bead on the enemy. Now however, they had become so desensitized to it that Artemis was able to take a nap even amidst the distant rumble of howitzer rounds and the near endless pitter patter of gunfire in the background.
"Maybe she has the right idea," Kid Flash grumbled from where he sat slumped against the wall, idly glancing between the sleeping girl and his best friend. A best friend who was meticulously going over his gear and sharpening his knives and home-made shurikens. He ran out of his signature birdarangs this morning and was making do.
"No one's stopping you," Robin mumbled back, eyes glued on his utility belt.
"Can't, really," Kid Flash answered with what he hoped would look like a nonchalant shrug. Even when not looking at the speedster, Robin was not fooled.
"Can't or won't?" he asked. Kid Flash was silent for a while, suddenly refusing to even glance in Robin's direction whilst chewing on his lips.
"I see them in my dreams, every damn night. The instant I close my eyes, they're all there, judging me," he finally admitted. This finally prompted Robin to turn his eyes away from his gear. Even with his domino mask, Kid Flash could still see he was just as exhausted.
"You didn't kill them," he answered, to which Kid Flash could only snort in bitterness.
"I may as well have," he spat out, the guilt gnawing at him yet again. Just as it had for days now. "Don't you have these dreams? Faces of all the people we failed? All the people we've seen die?"
"Yes." Not a moment's hesitation with that answer.
"And how do you cope with it?" Kid Flash found himself asking, even though a part of him dreaded the answer.
Robin had already returned to his work, resolutely keeping his eyes locked on his belt. "Experience. I've had dreams like that since I was nine."
It left Kid Flash with a suddenly dry mouth. They both knew each others true identities, they had shared some of their deepest fears and insecurities with one another. Still, what Robin had just insinuated, it was not something either had ever felt comfortable discussing, too many bad memories and bitter regrets involved.
Then Artemis started whimpering in her sleep, no doubt experiencing a nightmare of her own. There were plenty of those going around these days. Before he could even think, Kid Flash had already crossed the room and was now gently cradling Artemis' head in his lap. She still twitched occasionally after that, but she was at least silent.
Any other day, Robin might have teased his friend at his near panicked look when Artemis had started to whimper. Any other day, he most certainly would have teased him about how at peace he himself looked with Artemis in his hands. But today, he was just happy for the both of them. When in hell, you try to find whatever small shred of joy there is.
"You should sleep," Robin spoke again whilst polishing his shurikens with a rag.
"So should you," Kid Flash retorted, even though he himself was starting to sound a bit drowsy. Guess it was not just Artemis who was benefiting from close proximity.
"I've had worse," Robin replied and went back to his work. Five minutes later, and Kid Flash's breathing indicated that he too was asleep. Despite himself, Robin could not help but smile.
"Well, at least some of us can relax," Aqualad said as he stepped inside the relatively intact house that the team had claimed for themselves, Superboy a few steps behind.
"How are things out there?" Robin immediately asked, to which he received a shrug.
"Stable is probably the best word I can use. The enemy keeps attacking, but the lines are holding and we're still getting supplied by air. For the moment, we can take the day to rest and recover before heading out again. Zatanna though decided to remain at the hospital to help as best she could."
Robin visibly hesitated on the next question he wanted to ask. "And what of Krieg?"
There was no hiding the grimace on Aqualad's face. "Still as bullheaded as ever. Potential concussions are no laughing matter, but neither me or the doctors could dissuade him with reason. I had to enlist Ravager's help just to keep him at the hospital."
Robin outright winced at that. "Ouch."
Aqualad could only nod. "In truth, I think she only helped because it amused her to have authority over him in some capacity."
"Wouldn't surprise me in the least," Robin began, before he hesitated yet again with a sideways glance. "Did we not do enough, or were we simply blind to what was right in front of us the whole time?"
Aqualad did not need to ask to know what he was referring to. "We did all that we could to make him feel welcome. Maybe we were too overbearing on him, or maybe we were too distant."
"Or maybe he was always an asshole," Superboy then spoke up for the first time.
"Conner…" Aqualad began slowly, but was halted by a raised hand from Superboy.
"Look, I'm sure mistakes were made all around, and we could sit and discuss who's to blame until we all die of old age. Doesn't change the bottom line: we made our choices, and he made his. Now we all gotta deal with the consequences of those choices."
Despite his best efforts, Robin could not stop a small snort from slipping out. "Since when did you become the calm and reasonable among us?"
"Hey, I wasn't that bad before," Superboy protested, but the slight upturn of his lips assured everyone this was still all in good fun.
Aqualad too smiled at the short banter, but that smile did not last for long. "I suppose you're right about one thing at least: we have to live with the consequences. Too much has happened now for the team to be able to go back to the way things were."
Robin did not look the least bit surprised. "You think Krieg will try something bad once things calm down?"
"I think he's gone too far for him to be willing to just quietly return to the fold once this is all over," Aqualad answered. No one looked the least bit surprised by his reasoning.
Then Superboy shrugged his shoulders. "Well, it's a bit too early to be worrying about that, especially with the enemy still at our door. You know where M'gann is?"
"Still on the roof. Hasn't moved an inch," Robin's answer put a further dampener on their mood. Miss Martian was always the kindest and most gentle of them all. Yesterday hit her harder than everyone else.
"I'll talk to her," Superboy was already moving towards the stairs before he had even finished the sentence. No one tried to stop him or say a word to try and dissuade him. Once up on the roof, Superboy found Miss Martian seated just on the roof's edge. Exactly where she had been when he last saw her. She must have known he was nearby, but she remained as unmoving as ever.
Without saying a word to her, he walked up and took a seat right next to her. Her skin, which had always been a vibrant shade of green, had taken a pale tone to it. Her costume, which she could make as tidy as she pleased, looked dirty and ragged. And her eyes had an almost empty look to them. Still, Superboy said nothing, and just sat next to her.
"I had no choice, he was going to kill Krieg," she finally said with a voice as empty as her eyes.
"I know," Superboy stated. There was no support or condemnation in his tone of voice, just a statement of fact.
"Not like he was innocent at that point, I've seen in his mind all the dozens of people he murdered in cold blood," Miss Martian continued, still in that hollow tone.
"I know," Superboy simply answered.
"Even if he had been allowed to kill Krieg, he would not have stopped. He had already fallen too deeply to just stop," Miss Martian explained further, still with the same energy as a walking corpse.
"I know," Superboy simply answered.
"I'm not the only one who thinks that. Several people have either congratulated me for taking out such a big threat or just told me that it was a necessary evil," Miss Martian continued on, a bit of heat now slipping into her tone.
"I know," Superboy simply answered.
"I did good. I saved a lot of people," she was getting fired up again, anger coloring her words now as some more color returned to her previously pale skin.
"I know," Superboy simply answered, and then it was like Miss Martian had been popped like a balloon as she sagged in on herself with tears now running down her cheeks.
"And yet it still hurts. I still hear his scream from when I ripped his mind apart, I can still feel his few seconds of panic before I rendered him braindead." Then she finally turned her eyes to Superboy, bloodshot and overflowing with tears. "I still feel like a despicable murderer."
"I know," Superboy simply answered. Silence existed between them for a short moment before Miss Martian let out a small snort.
"You're real bad at this whole pep talk thing," she murmured, still crying and hunched over, but there was the tiniest smile on her lips now. That was good enough for Superboy.
"I know," he simply answered with a smile of his own. There was the tiniest of giggle from Miss Martian, then the smile was gone as she scooted over and cuddled up to his side. He dutifully slung a comforting arm around her shoulders as she rested her head against his chest.
"All this death and horror…" she began with a quiver. "When will it all end?"
Superboy did not answer at first, eyes locked towards the horizon. A horizon alive with the fire and thunder of guns. A horizon where hundreds died every day. When he finally answered, it was with a whispered voice as tired as the rest of the team.
"I don't know."
And there went another armored truck, courtesy of Green Arrow's last explosive arrow straight into the engine compartment. Burning debris rained down all over the street as he charged headlong into packs of bewildered cultists, three new arrows already nocked and drawn.
One smooth release, and three cultists at the back fell over screaming with arrows stuck in their shoulders. Let's see if that paralyzing toxin was worth all the hassle. Next cultist was halfway to drawing a pistol when Green Arrow's bow struck him in the head like a club and knocked him out cold.
Sidestepping a knife from behind before an elbow left the offender flat on her back, then ducking under a crowbar to then come back with an uppercut before spinning around with a new arrow already nocked and sending it into another cultist's shoulder as gunfire then made him dive for cover behind a wrecked car.
Whoever the shooter was, he gunned down four of his own comrades before realizing his actual target was nowhere in sight. The instant his finger left the trigger, Green Arrow was back up with a new arrow nocked and sent the gunner flat on his back screaming with an arrow in the leg. None of them are getting back up again, so the toxin must work. Thank heavens, was starting to run out of my more expensive toys.
"For the dark gods!" a high-pitched and nasally voice cried out, urging the others onward. Even whilst in the thick of it, Green Arrow could tell that none of these poor sods had any fighting spirit left.
"You attack has failed, just like every other time. Continue to resist, and all you'll accomplish is throwing more of your lives away for a lost cause," he calmly explained as he stepped over the unconscious, the moaning, and the dead. The latter no longer bothered him, it just reminded him of that blasted island now.
"Do not listen to the unbeliever! Push on to final-" the rest of the cultist's words were lost thanks to a very familiar Canary Cry, one that left well over a dozen cultists on their backs writhing in pain with blood dripping out of their ears.
"Anyone else?" Black Canary challenged as she sauntered into view with two full squads at her back. The remaining cultists deflated like punctured tires and promptly threw down their weapons. Though remaining completely stoic on the outside, Green Arrow felt a great need to sigh in relief. Guess not all are completely beyond reason.
"Incoming," one of the soldiers suddenly warned, gun pointed down the street as a long motorcycle approached them at an almost leisurous pace. The driver set off far too many alarm bells in Green Arrow's for his liking. Dressed in blood-soaked armor that looked like a demented mix of sci-fi and old-school gladiator. The face was hidden behind a mask eerily reminiscent of a snarling skull, with a head shaved clean to make room for an alarming number of cables buried into it.
"Halt!" one of the squad leaders called out whilst the soldiers themselves began to fan out. The motorcyclist did in fact halt, but that might have had more to do with the individual having reached the cultists. Cultists who by now had turned about and were all prostrating themselves before this lone figure. Even more alarm bells.
"Shoot," Green Arrow warned, to the confusion of his allies.
"What?" one even asked.
"That one's dangerous. Don't let it gain momentum and just shoot right now!" he hissed out even as he nocked another arrow and aimed it at one of the joints. The rider then turned its gaze towards him, and his knees suddenly grew weak beneath him. It was like he was suddenly submerged in so much hatred and rage that he could hardly breathe. The arrow was fired, but it never even came close to its true target.
Around him, he barely made out other soldiers falling to their knees vomiting while others backed away with trembling hands. His own vision was getting spotty, his breathing erratic. Lungs felt like they were being filled with blood, everything getting a red tint around him. A hand was suddenly on his shoulder, keeping him steady.
"Oliver, it's a meta," she heard Black Canary whispering next to him, visibly shaking under whatever effect they were all subjected to. "It's affecting our minds somehow."
"She," Green Arrow clarified as he forced his body to breathe normally. In, out. In, out. This is only in our heads.
"She's affecting our minds somehow." Because even with the mask, even with all the obvious mutilation, Green Arrow knew on an almost instinctual level who that was. Mia, what have you done to yourself?
Mia herself had apparently lost interest in them for the moment and was now glaring at the cultist leader groveling at her feet on all fours.
"Do not punish us, we will not run from the enemy again!" the poor wretch begged with tears staining his cheeks, but Mia remained silent. A single gloved hand came forth to gently stroke the cultist's hair before slowly drifting down his cheek.
"Thank you… thank you master!" the cultist cried out, smiling widely. It proved a premature action, as then the hand suddenly clamped down around the bottom of the man's throat. He barely had enough time to make a gurgled scream before the other hand grabbed onto his neck and pulled. There was a scream, then a crack, and then finally a wet squelch as the head came loose and dragged the spine with it as Mia ripped both free in an eruption of blood and held them aloft.
"Blood…" she began with a hoarse and cracked voice, given a metallic echo to it thanks to the mask. "It matters not from where it flows, just as long as it does."
Her grizzly trophy was then thrown aside and her hands travelled towards the pair of sword handles poking out from behind her back. With what must have been deliberate slowness, she drew a pair of sawtoothed swords of such bulk that no girl of her size and age should be able to carry them with that much ease.
Then she thumbed something on them both, and the sawtooth started spinning faster and faster until they were but a blur to the eye whilst the telltale noise of a chainsaw engine roared down the street. Green Arrow was stumped. What the…? A chainsaw combined with a sword? A… a fucking CHAINSWORD?!
"You're next." Even with the twin roars of her blades, Mia's hateful snarl was still heard by everyone. Then she was in motion. One second she was standing there, the next she was already halfway across the street, a trail of blood and gore still soaring through the air in her wake from the shredded remains of the remaining cultists. This sudden explosion of violence finally broke the terrified trance that had trapped them, and guns were raised.
"OPEN FIRE!" someone shouted, right before a fusillade of lead was spat at Mia. Bullets whizzed harmlessly past her or simply shattered against her armor. Green Arrow fired another arrow, and it was turned to splinters by a single swipe from Mia's blades. A Canary Cry sent debris flying and cracked the street, but Mia had already leaped ahead. Then she was amongst them, and the carnage began.
Arms held far out, she spun like a demented rotor blade as she crashed into their lines, vanishing into a red mist created by three soldiers that were too slow. Someone prepared to chuck a grenade, but the arm holding it was ripped apart at the elbow and kicked into the startled arms of a comrade down the street. By the time they realized the danger, four more vanished in a blast of fire and shrapnel.
Green Arrow had just nocked his next arrow when he was forced to duck under the dismembered torso that came flying towards him. Then once back on his feet, he found Mia as a literal whirlwind of roaring teeth, with another seven dead already left in her wake. Green Arrow let loose again, the arrow sailing harmlessly over her head as she ducked and weaved before taking a running leap straight at him.
Three arrows drawn and loosed, two shredded by blades while the last found a soft spot in the joint. Did not go deep, but it did not need to. Then Mia was on top of him, both blades swinging straight at him. A sidestep to her flank to drive a knee into her, only for her to spin around and nearly take his leg off before he managed to leap back.
"Mia, stop this! I don't want to hurt you!" he shouted at her, even though he already knew it was in vain. Even so, her response floored him. She did not speak to him, she did not shout at him. She did not even scream or shout to express her rage. No, she howled. Howled like a manic beast driven into a bloodfrenzy, and then she leapt at him again.
For a brief moment, their eyes met from behind their masks. He remembered looking into those eyes just a few months ago. There had been anger and bitterness there, brought about by her lot in life and his own bad choices. But there had still been a spark of hope and above all, determination there.
It was all gone now, even the anger. For what he was seeing now could not even begin to be described as anger. It was just rage. Blind, random, and utterly pointless rage. Rage directed at whatever happened to cross her line of sight at any moment. What have I done?
Then the moment passed, and Mia was leaping towards him like a blood-soaked cannonball. Green Arrow blocked one blade with his bow while a kick caught the other one on its flat side. It veered off course, missing him by but a hair's breath. The other did not, and chewed straight through his bow like it was cheap plywood. Still gave him enough time to lean back and let the blade pass him by.
Then he stepped inside her guard, taser suddenly in hand and jammed it into her armpit. Her scream was nearly enough to rob him of hearing, and her headbutt drove the air out of his lungs and made him stagger back. A stagger which then turned into a hasty retreat as she came in swinging again with her blades. Left, right, left, left, down, right, up, left, right, right. Green Arrow was in constant motion as de desperately tried to stay ahead of her mad swings.
Toxin should have taken effect by now, but she's still powering on. A most disconcerting observation as he leapt over a wrecked car. It created enough of a gap for Black Canary to enter the fray again. Her Canary Cry caught Mia dead center and slammed her through a mangled door and into a burned out shop. That hardly even slowed her down as she came barrelling out again barely a second later, blood dripping from her ears and various sharp debris stuck in her armor.
Another Canary Cry, but Mia sidestepped at the last moment and hurled one of her swords at Black Canary. She hastily dodged under the still roaring blade and turned it into a roll to evade Mia's second blade as she came at Canary with an overhead swing. Mia kept her momentum up and charged after her thrown sword, but Green Arrow came at her from the side with an arrow in hand. Please let this work. She can't possibly endure too many more.
Mia came to an abrupt stop, boots sliding across the ground as her roaring sword came for Arrow. A sidestep and a leap later, he was to her side and stabbed his arrow deep into her exposed and overextended armpit. The in-built taser triggered and pumped the girl full of electric discharges.
She roared to the heavens, but refused to be slowed down by the pain. If anything, that only seemed to have made her angrier. Green Arrow drove an elbow into her mask before jumping back, the chainsword just barely scraping across his vest as it came back around for an eviscerating strike. A mere nudge, and it chewed straight through the kevlar and ripped bits of skin loose from his chest. He staggered back with gritted teeth as Black Canary came in from behind, driving a knee into Mia's back and trapping her in a chokehold.
Mia just drove her head backwards into Canary's face, crushing her nose in an eruption of blood and sending her reeling back in a dazed state. Then Mia was whirling around with the chainsword, and then Canary fell over screaming with chunks of flesh ripped out of her stomach.
"Dinah!" Green Arrow cried out as he rushed forward, heedless of his own wound. Mia instantly turned towards him and charged with an overhead swing. Drawing two of arrows, he met the charge head-on. Sidestepping the first swing, he threw one arrow into her face before leaning back from the second swing and sliding around the third in time for the arrow in her face to detonate.
She screeched like a banshee as the flashbang flooded her senses with white noise, and Arrow was instantly on her as he drove his other arrow into her neck. Again, her nerves got bombarded by electric shocks. Again, she barely seemed to care. The elbow she drove into his stomach left him gasping for breath, but he still managed to give her a kick that sent her stumbling forward.
That was all he needed, as he turned around and ran over to Canary, on her knees with bloodsoaked hands clutching at her gushing stomach.
"Hold on there," he urged her as he grabbed his last containment foam arrow. A precious resource that he had stopped using on enemies days ago. Now it served a different purpose as he carefully sprayed a tiny amount of it over the wound, becoming a makeshift bandage. He could hear Mia roaring behind her, but he cared not as he grabbed another arrow.
"We can't fight her like this," Canary managed to gasp out.
"I know," Arrow acknowledged before he stabbed the arrow into the ground, triggering the smoke bomb. With Mia still half-blind and twitchy, it was all the cover the two of them needed to make a hobbled retreat. They left behind a blood-soaked street with a frothing Mia stalking back and forth screaming at the heavens, enraged at being denied her kills.
"You know, commanding an entire army is a hell of a lot harder than just a street gang," Doctor Light idly observed as he lounged in a chair with a beer in hand, seated inside one of the few relatively intact houses in the suburbs. The Shade felt his lips curl at the mere sight.
"And yet you seem perfectly content to just sit here and drink your troubles away while our army bleeds in the field," he sneered at him, to which Doctor Light just gave him a flat look.
"Don't go acting all high and mighty with me, good sir. Not when you're the one feeding the rabble into the meatgrinder with no regard for casualties. For Gods' sake, you haven't even bothered deploying our mutants and spawns to the frontline," he snapped back.
The Shade could not have looked any less concerned. "Easily replaceable losses that helps exhaust the enemy's resources. Besides, Deathstroke has made it very difficult to deploy any heavy hitters in force."
Even Doctor Light winced at that. Deathstroke the Terminator sure was living up to his grizzly moniker, leaving a trail of dead through cultist lines as he prowled the city looking for the biggest and nastiest fighters and monsters around. Fucker was completely on his own far behind the lines without support, and yet he still walked as he saw fit.
"Even so, you expect to win this siege with this rate of attrition? What, you're hoping the enemy will just surrender out of pity at the mounds of corpses we keep stacking up in front of their lines?" Shade merely laughed at the accusation.
"While I would most certainly welcome such a turn of events, I've actually had a deeper goal behind this one-sided slaughter." Apart from just causing as many casualties as I can possibly manage, as per lord Azkillon's command. That last part remained unsaid though. If Doctor Light had deserved to know the deeper goals, he would have been informed before the siege started.
"And that would be?" Doctor Light inquired as he put aside his beer. The only sign so far that he gave a damn.
"Apart from probing the enemy lines to see where they're at their strongest and their weakest, it also serves to lull them into a fall sense of security," the Shade began to explain. Doctor Light said nothing, but a raised eyebrow assured Shade that he had the man's attention.
"Days of non-stop fighting where we just hurl wave after wave of bodies at their lines, exhausting the soldiers at the front and creating a routine of slaughter. Every morning they get up to empty magazines into hordes of screaming lunatics, and every evening they go to sleep to the noise of even more gunfire. Whether they want to or not, that will start creating expectations that they will adhere to."
If the Shade was to be honest with himself, he was very proud of his plan. Especially when one considered it was the very first one he has made on this kind of scale.
"That's the stupidest plan I've ever heard." Evidently, Doctor Light did not share this opinion.
"Well no one asked your opinion," the Shade retorted.
"You did by virtue of telling me your plan," Doctor Light countered. Both were now glaring daggers at one another, and violence looked imminent between the two.
"My lords! They've arrived!" but violence was averted by the arrival of a cultist messenger, who quickly backtracked when he saw the state of his two supreme commanders.
"Ah, excellent! Right on time, too!" the Shade announced, his earlier anger forgotten as he strolled out of the building with a cheerful grin. Doctor Light was left gaping at his back before he hastily scrambled out of his chair and rushed after him.
"I'm sorry, who's on time?" he asked once he caught up, and the Shade's smile turned a tad bit smug.
"Even though I had a brilliant plan ongoing." The Shade very pointedly ignored the scoff from Doctor Light. "I realized that some heavier firepower was needed to finally break the lines. So I called in some favors and got us some reinforcements."
The conversation carried on as they both strolled through bombed out streets crawling with turncoats and cultists, all of whom hastily vacated their path and bowed deeply at their passing. Not too long ago, the Shade reveled in the kind of power he wielded. Now, it was just tedious.
"What kind of reinforcements?" Doctor Light inquired, and received and answer once they stepped onto a parking lot crammed full of trucks and busses of all sizes. The Shade would treasure the memory of Doctor Light's stupefied look for years to come.
"What the…" was the doctor's most eloquent reply as he beheld the menagerie of inhuman creatures being disgorged out of the transports. Some small and sinewy, with sharp teeth and claws like daggers. Others hulking behemoths, akin to hairless gorillas the size of elephants with vicious tusks jutting out of their mouths.
More clung to the vehicle roofs, shrieking to the heavens as they stretched out huge leathery wings. Scattered amongst them were diminutive imp-like creatures, silently observing their much larger kin with small glowing horns.
"Impressive creatures, are they not?" the Shade asked with a satisfied smile.
"I… suppose that's one way to describe them," Doctor Light began with a much hesitant look at the various creatures.
"And a description I would much appreciate if you did not use. We Genomorphs are more than just some animals for you to gawk at," a third voice cut in, voice dull and alien to human ears. The Shade was quick to turn towards where the voice came from and giving a slight bow.
"My apologies, Dubbilex, it was not meant as a slight to your people," he spoke to the rake-thin creature staring at him with uncaring red eyes.
"If you say so," Dubbilex began, voice and face the epitome of indifference. "But I didn't come all this way to discuss labels, I'm here to wage war."
"The Shade nodded his head. "Straight to the point, I can respect that. Very well, we'll soon begin discussing strategy, once the last one arrives."
"Acceptable. However, there is one thing that I request in return for my help," then suddenly Dubbilex's face turned decidedly deadly. "I've been informed that the Justice League's team of young sidekicks is present in Los Angeles. Superboy, the young Kryptonian, he is mine. This is not negotiable."
The Shade raised a very much surprised eyebrow from behind his shades. "An odd request. Any particular reason why?"
The rebuttal was instant. "None of your business, and my price is final. I want the Kryptonian, alive and in one piece, or I withdraw my support."
The Shade was decidedly less than amused by the ultimatum. "Brave of you to make demands of me, considering who holds the most favor with our masters."
"I serve the Chaos Gods for the sake of my people. I could not possibly care less about your or your masters, let alone about whatever childish games of power you play with each other." Dubbilex's declaration brought the tension up.
"Careful there, those words could easily be interpreted as treason," the Shade warned even as his shadow began writhing around on its own. Dubbilex just scoffed.
"Spoken by the greedy gangster who betrayed his kind for his own selfish desires," he spat back at him, his horns glowing an eerie red color.
Shadowy tendrils were now rising out the shadows. "You're playing a dangerous game here, friend. And there's only one way it ends for those who lose."
"I don't play games, mister, but I always strive to win," Dubbilex challenged in turn with pieces of debris beginning the float around him.
"This just got interesting," Doctor Light commented from the sidelines with glee, smiling at the possibility of imminent violence between allies.
"More like annoying," Doctor Destiny grumbled from where he stood next to Doctor Light, who in turn just gave a dismissive wave before he brain caught up to the fact that someone was standing next to him.
"GAH!" he shrieked as he leaped back, drawing the attention of the two others. "When on Earth did you get there?!"
"Wouldn't you like to know," Doctor Destiny sneered before he turned his attention to the other two. "And if you're done with your little pissing contest, we have a city to take with all haste."
The glare shared between Shade and Dubbilex assured everyone that there was something else entirely they wanted to do at the moment. But the Shade stepped back with a slow nod.
"Right you are. Come then, we have plans to make, and a city to burn," he announced before striding towards the rebel headquarter, the others reluctantly falling in line behind him. But every step of the way, an aura of suspicion and hostility clung to all four men, strong enough to send all else scurrying for cover at their mere presence.