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My name may or may not be Victor Sage. I am a detective by birth, a creature born of curiosity. And I find myself a member of an organization that brings about many, many questions.
This “Justice Society of America” is strangely intriguing to me. In organizations such as the Justice League, death is shunned – any outcome is accepted, besides that which involves the loss of any form of life. This group, however... this JSA... is split down the middle between those who will take a life if they must, and those who are simply bloodthirsty in the name of doing good.
I occupy the former party. While I have nothing against doing what may need to be done, I have no desire to destroy for destruction's sake – as opposed to my new teammates Bleez, Etrigan, and the Creeper.
As is, however, I'm having fun. It's been a month since I joined the society now, and I'm finding myself immersed in colorful personalities. I never knew that being part of a team could be entertaining. During my time as a detective, as the Question, I have worked alone, and I understand the virtues of that path. Now, however, I am starting to feel as a part of a greater whole.
My teammates amuse me. Raven and the red lantern have finally gotten into a system, meditating together three times a week. Approximately two out of those three times end in property damage, but Mr. Blood has, thus far, been gracious.
Jack Ryder and Jason Blood are the 'smart ones', it seems, and are a joy to speak with... even if Mr. Ryder, on occasion, embellishes what fact he knows with fiction. We play chess from time to time, and I have found myself spending a great deal of time with them. They speak often of the man that came before me, the Gotham genius known as the Riddler. From their stories, I would surely like to meet him some day.
Etrigan shows up rarely, and when he does, he tends to give me the willies. You always think meeting a demon will be really scary, the lights with dim, you will feel a tingle in your skin. It isn't really like that – the experience is much more personal. It's the things he says, that unsettle me. The fact that, every time he speaks, he reminds me in some subtle way of where he is from. Etrigan is a demon born, and though he is noble in his way, he has never known true goodness. I often wonder why he is a part of the team. More often, I wonder if we will be able to contain him should he go rogue.
One of the most interesting cases, to me, is Starfire, and I assure you, dear diary, it has nothing to do with her cup size. If that were the case, then our kryptonian leader would obviously be the most intriguing specimen I've seen in years. Starfire – or Koriand'r, apparently not to be confused with the kitchen spice – is a tamaranean princess, and a warrior at heart. I have seen her fight in a few of our practice missions, such as that against the notorious (and impressively deadly) Killer Frost. She is a deadly combatant, of that I have no doubt. Her social habits among earthlings, however, tend to be questionable at best.
Bringing me to our illustrious leader, dear diary. Power Girl is not the way I imagined kryptonians, up until now. She is sensitive, delicate in her way. Obviously, I would likely have an experience with heat vision if I ever said this – even if she knew I said it to you, diary. She covers her lack of confidence in the team with quips and wisecracks, acting strong for us all but obviously showing to the more observant that she doesn't know if we are worthy. A massive threat looms on the horizon, a universal monstrosity that terrifies me and piques my curiosity all at once. While Kara Zor-L may fear that we cannot succeed, one question continues to ring throughout my mind, plaguing me day and night, through ever waking moment.
Can we win?
“Alright maggots, fall in line!” Etrigan roared as the team fell in around him, forming a diamond pattern. They had practiced this a few times, though the formation inevitably fell apart when combat began. “The kryptonian's sitting this one out, so you answer to me, all of you!”
“I answer to none, alien or demon!” Bleez hissed. Already, the formation was broken as she advanced. She'd never really dealt well with authority. “Learn to treat a red lantern with respect, scum!”
Raven clapped a hand across her face, letting it slowly drag down as Etrigan and Bleez locked into immediate combat, an unholy frenzy of blood and fire and claws and rage. The latest incarnation of the Royal Flush Gang had been spotted in the Metropolis area, and the JSA had made a quick trip there while Power Girl... well, took off. Nobody was entirely sure what was happening with her, but she had shown something on her mind over the past few weeks. Finally, the time had come, and she had sent the team off on a practice mission without her, while she set out into Gotham.
“You will learn to fear your superiors, alien slag!” Etrigan roared, one heavy claw batting Bleez backwards with the power of a titan. The havanian went soaring backwards about ten feet, the formation further splitting apart to give the two space. There wasn't much point in trying to break up the fight, at this point. Vic wasn't exactly “brawn”, Creeper insisted he had found something under his toenail, Raven encountered the splitting headache she always had to endure when Bleez got “frisky”, and Starfire alone had no chance against the team's two powerhouses. They just had to see how things went.
“Should we, perhaps do something?” Starfire fidgeted awkwardly as a puff of demonic flame blasted past her. The battle was, so far, fairly inconclusive, though the demon seemed to be the stronger. Physically, at least – the splatters of napalm-like gore gushing from Bleez's shrieking, fanged mouth seemed to burn even the demon. It burned with a different sort of heat, ancient and mystical in a way Etrigan had never encountered.
Vic turned to the tamaranean with a pensive expression on his lack-of-face. “When two king cobras do battle, do you put your hand in the middle?”
“What is a king cobra?”
The detective's blank face remained... well, blank. “I wouldn't recommend that we interfere.”
Etrigan was holding the red lantern up by her throat now, squeezing roughly with his claws while Bleez glared down at him, her body slowly writhing and contorting. Plasma drooled from her mouth and every open cut, sizzling into the demon's armor like acid. “You are insubordinate... weak...” Etrigan growled out hotly, plumes of smoke gushing from his nostrils.
“Fifteen dollars on the demon,” Vic said, folding his arms across his chest, content to simply watch for now.
“Accepted,” Raven deadpanned back, fingers at her temples. “I think there's more to Bleez than she lets on.” The pain was intense. It wasn't like she hadn't experienced her share of combat, and the unavoidable emotions that went along with it. But having a red lantern on board was the greatest test of her control. Even after a few successful meditations with the havanian, when Bleez grew truly enraged, Raven felt like her heart would burst.
“It is only a shame that your kind would not go to this Hell... it would be so amusing to take my enjoyment from you in your afterlife,” Etrigan growled, continuing to verbally torment the red lantern as she writhed beneath him. Red, viscous smoke seemed to pour out from her eyes, her fury literally unable to contain itself as it seeped from every orifice.
'Why not... hrrrgh... take your enjoyment from me now!” the havanian's body seemed to shudder and spasm, and she finally lurched forward, coughing out a full-sized harpoon that rocketed directly through the demon's eye. Etrigan let out a loud hiss and dropped her, staggering back for a moment before grinning.
“Not... bad...” he chuckled quietly, tugging the sizzling, barbed red spike from his skull and tossing it aside, the hole already beginning to close up. “Not bad at all. There may be hope for you yet, red lantern.”
“While I'm eager to see how this would play out... I'm afraid we have company,” Vic swallowed hard as five individuals began speeding towards them, a Metropolis skyscraper collapsing in on itself in their wake. Each one rode on a massive, rocket-powered playing card. No missing the Royal Flush Gang when they were on a good day.
Raven inhaled tiredly, pulling her hood back up and allowing it to create a gloomy, pointed shadow across her face, her countenance taking on the appearance of some manner of bird of prey. “You can pay me when we get back to Blood Manor, Sage,” she croaked.
“Oh, is something happening? Do I get to rip something's arms off?” Creeper started tugging his boots back on, scuttling up from a sitting position. “All that demonic combat kinda got my jimmies rustled, I'll admit.”
An ambitious demon, a rage-driven alien, a half-cosmic gothic sorceress, a criminally naïve warrior princess, and a manic psychopath. How did I end up on this team, again?
“Eddie?” Kara said. She spoke the name at a conversational volume, but in the decrepit shell of a seaside warehouse she was in, it echoed off the silence like the most piercing shout. “Ed?”
Silence, but for a heartbeat. Her kryptonian hearing couldn't miss him, couldn't miss the wild, palpitating THUMthumthumTHumtha-THUMthumthumth-thumTHUM of Edward Nigma's heartbeat. The sound of sweat rolling down his skin. The sound of his muscles shaking, spasming and contracting.
“Ed?” She said again, giving him ample warning before stepping past the threshold – a simple plastic curtain – into the emaciated man's little 'den'. It had only been a month since he had left the team. Barely a month at that. How had he fallen this far? He had been at the top of his game when he had abandoned Blood Manor that night. Forlorn, but sharp.
“P-please...” a soft voice rang out. Soft and weak. Broken, so unlike the Riddler she knew. “D-don't....”
“My God, Edward, what's happened to you?” Power Girl whispered as she wound her way around his kneeling form. He slowly turned his face up to look at her – pale brown eyes were spiderwebbed with an endless matrix of bloodshot veins, and a beard the likes of which she had never seen him with shamefully decorated his face. His green jacket was long-since lost, his shirt filthy, encrusted with dirt and various dried fluids.
“I'll trade what I need for what I want. What I want destroys me. Yet, with it, everything else means nothing... it's an easy one, Ms. Starr...” a weak giggle escaped dry, peeling lips. “What am I?”
He slowly turned his hands from facing-down to facing-up, revealing what he had been holding. What he had been clinging to. A syringe.
A breath caught in Kara's throat. She saw the answer – he was right, it had been an easy one – but she didn't want to say it.
Riddler spoke again, his voice more insistent. A simmering anger bubbled through him, and this time, he spat his words. “What am I?!”
Power Girl let out a soft breath. “You're an addict.”