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The JSA was broken. Shattered. Split down the middle.
Kara Zor-L, Power Girl, let out a deep breath, holding back the natural kryptonian strength that threatened to burst from her lungs with even the simplest of gestures. Had she made the right decision? Had she made the right choice in giving the go-ahead on Etrigan's tactic?
She let the shower beat violently down on her head, matting her short, pale hair to the back of her neck. She'd set it to its highest setting – still, she didn't feel the pounding sting of the water against her skin. Not the way she had before the yellow sun made her the way she was. Made her Power Girl.
Being a kryptonian had been a curse, in a way. The rush of all that power, the freedom that it had given her, it was amazing. She could be a warrior, live the dream, save the world. But in an organization, taking place in something greater than herself, all that power had made the rest of the team look up to her. It had made her the leader, despite not having the experience or talent for the job. If Etrigan wasn't... well, Etrigan, she would have insisted he take the position instead of her.
But he was Etrigan, and it had been the demon's plot that had divided the team. Half of them were gone now – M'gann and Jaime had both returned to the Titans in search of a new position among them, and Kyle had returned to Oa. Even Riddler's status on the team couldn't be relied on; since the team had returned to Jason Blood's manor in Gotham, he had been acting more and more distant, mumbling to himself. Even with her kryptonian hearing she'd been unable to make out the things the ex-villain was saying – it sounded like a solid stream of syllables, a combination of mathematic equations, psychotic ramblings, and riddles. The man was brilliant, but was he right for the Justice Society?
Starfire had stayed with her, she gave the girl credit for that. Whether it was because she thought Etrigan's plan was the right one, or whether it was just to agree with the game plan, she had stayed by Kara and gave her what reassurance she could that things had gone alright. Bizarro was gone, and nobody had heard from him since the team returned from Mars.
A soft knock came at the bathroom door, and Kara – Karen? She barely remembered which secret identity was hers anymore – turned her head slowly, letting the shower's scalding-hot stream sizzle down her amazonian body. “Who is it?” she called out.
“Just me,” came a feminine voice, before the door opened. Koriand'r, she was sure of it. They'd had this conversation before, about showers being a private thing, but the tamaranian never seemed to... get it. The sound of hot water running always inspired her to show up, as if bathing was supposed to be a social event. On Tamaran, she supposed it probably was.
“Kory, can't you see I'm--”
“Cleansing yourself, yes,” Starfire said cheerfully, slipping the towel down from around her lean, fiery-skinned figure and slithering beside Kara in the shower. “I have come to provide companionship. Do you wish to be solitary during your ablutions?”
“That had been my plan, yeah. I thought we talked about this...?” The kryptonian turned awkwardly, attempting to cover what of herself she could.
“Indeed, we did! You claimed it was an intimate act. I consider us to be great friends – therefore it is appropriate for us to share this cleansing ritual. Though I do miss the great spas of my home planet.” Starfire beamed brightly, her luminescent green eyes bright with acceptance. It was those looks that tended to annoy Kara – they made the tamaranian girl too cute to turn down.
“...Fine. You can wash my back, then, if you don't mind.”
“Not at all, close friend Kara!” Another bright smile, and Kory squirted a thick glob of liquid soap between her palms, quickly beginning to dig her skilled fingers into the kryptonian's back. It was blissful, actually – Koriand'r hands were actually strong enough for the larger woman to feel them. Her rough rubbing was like the gentle massage the JSA's impromptu leader desperately needed. “Though I do have something I had planned to discuss with you.”
“Yeah, what is it?” Kara shuffled forward another step, letting the water beat down on her head once more and trying to enjoy Starfire's touch while simultaneously ignoring the uncomfortable closeness.
“I received a personal, written message – I believe you call it 'mail' on earth, or... a letter, though how it corresponds to your alphabet I am not sure – from an old acquaintance of mine. She is... troubled, in a way. Claims that there may very well be a threat against earth that she will need help quelling, one of great importance.”
“Why doesn't she call the JL? Or is Superman busy again?”
“She corresponded with me because we both served with the Teen Titans for a short time. She believes that I will consider her more seriously.”
Kara turned her head slightly, looking at the tamaranian out of the corner of her eye. “Who is this... acquaintance?”
“Her name is Raven.”
“I'm afraid not.” Edward Nigma leaned back into the overstuffed chair of Jason Blood's study, a grin tightening his lean cheeks as he crossed his legs up onto the chess board. “You underestimate minor players. If you had destroyed that pawn in the twenty-seventh round instead of accepting the sacrifice of my rook, your king would be able to move to E5. As is, however, I'm afraid you've met a superior opponent.”
Jason leaned forward to examine the board, dragging one hand through his fine auburn hair. “...Dammit. You're right. You win.” The other man sat back straight in his own seat, popping his pipe back into his mouth and taking a long puff at it. “I can't believe I didn't see that.”
“I can. Bobby Fisher doesn't have all the answers, my fine, dual-formed friend.” Riddler cracked his neck to the side idly before reaching to the side-table next to him, raising his glass of scotch to his lips. “You were a good match, but you didn't think far enough ahead. Which I find quite the riddle – at your age, you'd think you'd have great skill with the bigger picture.”
“Age isn't everything. I have skill in my own realm of study, and I have enough field experience to call myself an expert. But I've never claimed to be a mastermind like you, Joker, Ra's, Bane, or Bruce. At this point in my career I honestly feel like little more than a vessel for the demon.”
“The most beautiful flowers are merely plants without a proper vase, Mr. Blood,” Riddler said with a soft smile, rattling the remaining ice cubes in his glass before taking another small sip. “I must admit to finding your company more pleasurable than that of your counterpart – you can hold an intelligent conversation.”
Riddler turned his gaze around the study the two had been playing in, and breathed in deeply as he observed the rows of old books, the polished, hardwood shelves, the closed velvet drapes. “You also have the most elegant little abode. It was decent of you to offer the team a place of shelter, even if for a short time.”
“Speaking of the team,” Jason mused. “Will you be staying? Or is the hero's life... ill-fitting, for a man of your taste and reputation?”
“I've considered it. I've also been weighing the options of leaving, striking off on my own. Finding out how the new Riddler works without the interfering values of other heroes and... yourself. There's been trouble brewing in Gotham for some time now – a new Secret Six has been sighting operating at various points, and we all know that Bruce has his hands full with the other rogues.”
“You're considering investigating the Secret Six?”
“Me? Heavens, no. Perhaps just contemplating their mysteries, discovering what they have to hide, before moving on. I have no quarrel with what they're doing. Did you hear what happened to a certain clown?”
“I did,” Jason almost-whispered. “I also heard that they didn't find his corpse.”
“Yet another riddle, and the first one I plan to investigate. 'What happened to the Joker'... it's dangerous, but the points cracking it would score me with the GCPD would get me on my feet again as a private investigator.” Edward's pale brown eyes went out of focus for a moment as he stared down at the chess board between the two men. “I could be Detective Nigma, again. Let the Riddler die.”
“Please, Edward--” Jason said, taking another hard puff at his pipe before continuing, the thick smoke billowing from between his lips and staining the oak shelves and old books with its scent. “You know as well as I do that the Riddler will never truly die.”
“Jason? Where's Eddie?”
“He's gone... left last night.” Jason Blood tugged his deep red smoking jacket a little more firmly around his athletic figure, his slippered feet resting on the plush, sable ottoman that said in front of his reading chair.
Kara groaned quietly. This wasn't what she needed. Riddler wasn't stable but he was smart, he was an asset. She'd have to give him a call later, if she could find him. Find out what all of that was about, find out what Edward was up to. Whatever it was... she doubted it was noble.
“You may be pleased to know that he left the suit he and Mr. Irons designed? It's in the armory where we left it. I checked, upon awakening.”
“Could be worse.” The kryptonian flopped down onto the couch on the far end of the room, taking a quick guzzle from her coffee cup. She had managed to scrounge up a half-decent outfit out of Jason's guest closet, pajamas that one of his ex-girlfriends had left behind. The shirt was... snug, and she found herself folding her arms across her chest frequently to retain what little modesty she had left, but the pink fleece bottoms were stretchy – even if they were a bit short in the legs. “At least we don't have him running around Gotham with a suit that could reasonably go toe-to-toe with Wonder Girl.”
“I was unaware that the suit was that powerful,” Jason mused, lowering his reading glasses at last and glancing up from whatever it was that he was reading.
“Then you obviously aren't familiar with John Henry Irons.” Kara sighed, draining her mug and pulling herself up from the couch to refill it. “What are you reading, anyway? Monsters 101?”
Kara's lips pressed together suddenly, her body starting to shudder from repressed laughter. “Mmkmhppgffffpphmkk....”
“Out with it.”
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You're reading Harry Potter? The big demonologist? Jason Blood, who just got back from his summer home in Hell?”
“It's light reading. Everyone has their guilty pleasures.” Jason pushed his wire-rimmed glasses back up and glanced down to his book. “Where's the other alien?”
“She's off to meet with Raven, I guess. Some great big catastrophe is supposedly on its way and she's gonna try to scrounge up a team of some sort, seeing as ours is pretty much non-existent.” The smirk still hadn't left Kara's lips, but she did allow herself to ponder what exactly Starfire was up to, what the issue was, and most importantly... well, who she'd return with.
“What are you searching for, Raven?” Kory floated lazily beside her cloaked friend, her head tilted curiously to the side.
“Those that he's... touched. There are several of them, people that he's marked. Possible scions.” Raven lowered her head, seeming exhausted, and opened her eyes. She glanced to Starfire, offering the alien woman a strained smile for just a moment. “I can detect four, but one... his mind is blocked to me. The other three are not familiar, but are known to me. I may require... assistance... in convincing them to join our cause.”
“Of course, my close friend,” Starfire said helpfully. “But what are you speaking of? What scions?”
“Trigon, my... father. He's marking people he think will be helpful to him, trying to recruit for his coming attack. Turning his own marks against him may be the only way to defeat him this time, if he's already choosing scions. I have let him sit idle for too long.” Raven slowly settled to her feet, her back craning forward very slightly. She looked like she had already been across the world and back, though doing what, Koriand'r could not be entirely sure.
“There are three,” Raven continued after an uncomfortably long pause. “It may take time to gather them, but... Starfire....”
“Yes?” Kory swiveled around, flying in front of the other girl and smiling.
“Thank you for coming. Thank you for... listening. Thanks for believing me.” She offered a strained smile, as if that mere gesture was almost more expression than she could muster without breaking down. “Thank you.”
“Anytime, close friend Raven.”
“You won't be saying that soon.”
“Alright... I'm in.” The havanian looked up with a deep breath, her eyes meeting Raven's for a moment. The half-demon was flanked by three individuals – an orange-skinned alien, and two men in trenchcoats, the first of which seemed to be utterly faceless.
Raven nodded slowly, her gut churning already. A frenzy was bursting within her heart, one she could barely describe. One she had never felt before. It was agonizing and uncalled-for. “You'll join us to face my father?”
“Rather than be his slave? I would chew off my own wings. Besides... it isn't like I haven't pretended to be a team player before.” A slow, fanged smile spread across the woman's face, and she pulled her dark hood back up over her head, settling the mask in place. “Where is your base of operations?”
“Gotham.” Raven whispered, turning her eyes away from the other woman's.
Starfire held up one hand, her fingers spread out wide in a sort of static wave. “It is a great pleasure to hear that you will be joining us, Miss Bleez.”
Kara Zor-L, the kryptonian from Earth-2 known as Power Girl.
The demon, Etrigan.
Princess Koriand'r, the tamaranian known as Starfire.
The reporter Jack Ryder – at least, when he isn't the Creeper.
The Red Lantern of Havania, Bleez.
The detective and philosopher Victor Sage, better known as the Question.
And Rachel Roth – the daughter of Trigon. The sorceress and empath known as Raven.
Together, they'll do whatever it takes to protect Earth from possible threats. Together, they'll do what the Justice League won't.
Together, they are the Justice Society of America.