Marvel Mayhem: The Runaways #1

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Runaways characters (even though I wish I did and could probably--scratch that, definitely--do something better with them than Marvel is currently doing).

Rating: T+

Note: This is a part of the Marvel Mayhem continuity

My Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/profile/nico4ever/blog/nico4ever-s-fan-fic-archives/79374/

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The city bus screeched to a halt outside the Slaton Enterprises building, a massive skyscraper that housed the main offices of all the major divisions of one of the largest conglomerates in the world. Slaton Enterprises had its fingers in numerous different industries. From food, to technology, to media, to shipping, to electrical, engineering, medical, entertainment, you name it they did it. It was also responsible for opening up tens of thousands of jobs all across the U.S. and other countries. By all accounts, it was a great and well respected business.

Only one person stepped off the bus before it continued on its way, a teenage girl with long, oddly styled black hair: Nico Minoru. She stared down at the music player in her hand, scrolling through a lists of songs with her thumb. Her black-painted nail clacked against the screen steadily as she went. When she reached one she felt in a mood to listen to, she hit play and turned the volume up, music pumping and pounding out of her ear buds.

With a small sigh, she finally glanced up at the building and frowned. Here she was, just like everyday for the past four years, her traditional after school 'hangout'. She didn't know why her parents insisted on her coming to their job and waiting for them to get out before going home, instead of just going home to begin with. 'It's not safe' they'd tell her. 'We work late' they'd add. Aside from the occasional after school venture to the mall or the movies, Slaton Enterprises was where she spent her afternoons and evenings, doing her homework and like a good student and trying desperately not to go insane from boredom. Grumbling under her breath, she finally trudged forward through the entrance.

The security guard at the front desk—Mike, she thought his name was—gave her a simple wave as she went on by. After four years, he knew her face well enough to send her up without stopping her. Those first few months, though, had been a pain in the ass, not least because there had been a different guard every few days. Now, they didn't change shifts as often, so Mike was typically the one she saw on the way up. On the way down, it was... Daniel. Maybe. Nico never bothered to remember.

Just as she reached the elevator, however, she overheard a commotion above the music pulsing through her ears. Pulling a single ear bud out of her ear, she looked back and noticed a teenage boy with shaggy blonde hair rolling through the lobby on a skateboard. He gave a single kick-flip as he zoomed by the desk, waving at the guard with a grin.

“Mr. Stein!” the guard called, bolting upright from his seat. “No skateboards in the lobby! You know that!”

“Yeah, yeah,” the boy replied, jumping off a second later. He landed with a jogging stop and reached down to pick up the skateboard, tucking it under his arm. “Nice to see you, too, Mikey.”

He joined Nico at the elevator just as the doors opened. She gave him a sidelong look before turning her attention straight ahead of her and walking into the elevator, doors closing swiftly behind them. When she turned around to hit the button for her floor, she noticed him look over at her.

“Fifty-two,” he said, giving a slight chin nod.

Nico furrowed her brow and glanced back at him. “Oh... that's where I'm going.”

“You don't say,” he replied, chuckling quietly. “Weird coincidence. Name's Chase, by the way.”

He held her hand out to her as the elevator began to descend, and for a brief moment she just stared at it. Then, finally, she reached out and shook it. “Nico.”

“Nico... Nico... wait, Minoru?”

“Uh... yeah? Have we met before, or...?”

Chase gave a smile, pointing his thumb at himself. “Yeah, yeah last summer, remember? My family had yours over for a cookout, kind of a work related thing or something? I almost didn't recognize you with all the, um...” His eyes traveled up and down a moment, no doubt taking in her... unique style of dress, which she had only recently taken a liking to. “...all the eye shadow.”

“Uh huh,” she replied, pursing his lips. “I think I remember. You were a lot shorter then.”

“Oh, yeah... this past year was good to me, I guess. So what are you doing here, anyway?”

Nico shrugged. “I'm here pretty much every day.”

Chase lifted an eyebrow. “Oh, you work for your parents or something?”

“More like I have to come here after school so they can keep an eye on me. You know... parents.”

“Ah, weird. Same thing with my parents. Normally on the twentieth, but they had some big meeting or something today on the fifty-second, told me to wait up there.”

Nico lifted her own brow this time. “Huh, so did mine.”

The elevator doors opened again a few moments later. Nico stepped out first onto the fifty-second floor lobby with Chase following closely behind. The lobby was small, with a couple of couches set up around a coffee table, potted plants in the corners of the room, and a front desk at the opposite end. Several doorways behind the front desk led off into separate hallways with offices, boardrooms, labs, and the like.

Two other individuals were already present in the lobby. The first was a teen girl with glasses and her hair dyed purple, sitting on one of the couches and scribbling away in a notebook. A calculus textbook lay open on the coffee table in front of her, and a graphing calculator sat next to it. The second was a a younger girl, maybe eleven years old, with long brown hair and a funny pink hat. She stood at the front desk, leaning over it with her hands occupied by a hand-held gaming system. The secretary sitting behind the desk did not seem at all amused by the girl's presence.

“See, if you combine the web and the golden silk, you get a special net that lets you capture the diamond unicorn!” the girl said. “And once you have the unicorn you can fly to the castle and fight the dragon! It's seriously awesome.”

“That's... lovely,” the secretary muttered, trying to keep her attention on the computer screen in front of her.

The purple haired girl looked up from her notebook and sighed quietly. “Molly, come back over to the couch.”

Molly rolled her eyes and huffed out an annoyed breath. “Fiiiine.” Pushing herself away from the desk, she marched back over to the opposite couch and plopped herself down, eyes concentrating on the game.

“Looks like it's a regular party up here,” Chase said, approaching the other two. “Don't tell me, you both have parents who work here, too.”

“Yup.” The purple-haired girl glanced up from her notebook at him, then quickly moved her focus to Nico. “Oh, hey, Nico.”

“Uh... hi?” She blinked, lifting an eyebrow. “Do I know you?”

“Well, not like-- I mean, we don't know each other. We're in the same gym class, though.”

It took Nico a moment to put things together, but eventually the light bulb went off in her head. “You're the girl that got beaned in the face during dodgeball last week! Gertrude, right?”

Gertrude pursed her lips, then looked back down at her notebook. She erased something, then quickly filled in a correction. “Yeah, that's me. And you're the one who sits on the bleachers all class and listens to music.”

“Er...” Nico muttered, scratching the back of her head. “I'm not really a gym oriented person.”

“Neither am I, but I still want to pass the class,” Gert said, with a shrug.

“So what are you doing here?”

“Like I said, parents work here. They make me come after school, do my homework and all that. Then we go home when they get out.” Gertrude reached forward and grabbed her calculator, rapidly punching in an equation. “'Course, they usually work in R&D down on the thirty-third floor. Something about being in a big meeting or something today, though.”

Nico paused a moment, sitting down on the couch next to Gertrude. “Huh... same with mine and Chase's. You think they all work together?” She glanced back at Chase. “Chase, do your--”

“No, no, no, you gotta use the silver dagger!” Chase proclaimed. He leaned over Molly's shoulder, staring at the screen of her gaming device. “Look out, dodge the spikes!”

“I'm trying!” Molly said. She lowered her face closer to the screen, thumbs clicking buttons like mad.

“Watch out for the lava! Left! No, your other left!”

“You're distracting me!” Molly tried to lean away from Chase, holding her hand-held device out at arm's length.

“Wait, no, not the--!”

A low pitched rumble burst from the system's speakers, followed by a sorrowful, 'game over' type chime. Molly groaned, falling back against the couch with her head tilted backwards. “Way to go, you got me killed!”

“Hey, I was just trying to help,” Chase insisted. “I told you not to use the hammer, it doesn't work on the mud guardian.”

“Ugh, now I gotta do the whole temple over again,” she muttered, holding the game back up close to her face. “And no help this time.”

“Fine, fine,” he said, scooting away to the other side of the couch. “But don't come crying to me when you can't get to the eternal forest.” A few moments passed, and then he noticed Nico and Gertrude staring at him. He raised an eyebrow, returning the gaze. “What?”

“...Never mind,” Nico said.

The elevator at the end of the lobby dinged open again, this time revealing two more young individuals. The first, a teen girl with long blonde hair tied back in a braid, walked forward with a cell phone held to her ear, engaged fully in her conversation. She made her way straight to the couch and sat down next to Nico, but didn't actually look at anyone.

“No, no it's fine, really,” she said, with a small sigh. She held her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes, groaning under her breath. “Really, it wasn't that important anyway, I just thought I'd try and see how it went. Yeah, it's no big deal. No, Stace, you don't need to do that. Let them say what they want, it doesn't make a difference. Really. Yeah, I know... thanks. I'll see you tonight? Great. Love you, too. Later.”

When she hung up her phone, she fell back against the couch and huffed out a loud breath, blowing a few stray hairs away from her face.

“Karolina?” Gertrude said, leaning forward to look around Nico. “You okay?”

“Yuh huh,” she replied, though her tone was unconvincing. “Just dandy.”

“Was that about the cheerleader try outs?”

“Yeah. It's a no go.” Karolina folded her arms and looked away, frowning. “Not because I wasn't good enough, not because they didn't have any spots on the team--they just didn't want me. God, it's like they're afraid I'll stare at them while they change or something.”

Gertrude frowned, turning back to her homework. “People are jerks.”

Karolina shrugged. “You know what, though? I'm glad I didn't get accepted. More than that, I'm glad I never tried out the past three years, either. I don't want to be a part of that kind of group.”

A small pause followed, during which time Nico looked back and forth between Karolina and Gertrude. After a brief moment, she asked, “So, you two know each other?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah,” Karolina said, looking back at her. She gave a smile and held out her hand. “Sorry, forgot to introduce myself. Karolina Dean. I think we go to the same school?”

Nico reached out and shook her hand. “Uh, maybe, yeah. You do look kind of familiar. I'm Nico.”

"Nice to meet you, Nico," she replied, smiling warmly. "Awesome outfit, by the way. Looks great on you."

Nico lifted her eyebrows, then glanced back down at her jacket, unaware of a smile of her own beginning to form. "Oh, thanks. Made it myself."

“And I'm Alex, in case anyone was wondering,” said the boy standing off to the side of the group. He had entered the lobby at the same time as Karolina, but had up until this point remained silent. “Alex Wilder. Gotta say, it's nice seeing some other faces up here for a change.”

Chase puffed out a small laugh. “Why, you up here alone often?”

“Usually,” Alex replied, leaning against the side of one of the couches. “Parents work on this floor. I'm going to assume all of you are in the same boat as I am.”

“You mean forced to sit around a stuffy office building every day, do our homework, and wait for our parents to get out and brings us home?” Nico said. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Alex shook his head head slowly. “Parents, right?”

She sighed, rolling her eyes in agreement. “Yeah, parents.”

“So I take you're all up here because of the meeting?”

Karolina shrugged. “I guess so. My folks said to wait on this floor today, said they were working on something.”

“Mine, too,” Molly said, not taking her eyes off her game. She tilted her head slightly, tongue easing out between her lips as her thumbs pounded away on the buttons; she was the epitome of concentration. “Big meeting, different floor. Booooring.”

“No one else finds it a little weird that all our parents work in the same company, and are in the same meeting on the same day?” Gertrude said, glancing up from her notebook. Her pencil had stopped for the moment. “And that they all make us wait for them every day?”

“I dunno, I guess,” Chase said, with a small shrug. “I mean, it's like one of the biggest companies in the world... so it can't be that weird that they all work here, right?”

“I guess, maybe.”

“So how long is this meeting supposed to be anyway?” Nico asked. She finally leaned forward and unzipped her bag; might as well get started on her homework. “I really don't want to be here until seven.”

“My mom said it was going all day...” Karolina muttered, folding her arms. “Didn't really have a set time, though.”

“Oh, I'm sure they won't be too long,” Alex said. “How long could a meeting possibly take?”

Evidently, a long time. The group sat together there in that lobby for hours. They finished their homework before long, and aside from Molly, who had her game, the others had nothing else to do. Even Nico got bored of her music after listening through the playlist four times. So, with nothing else to do... they talked. For over two hours. They told each other about their parents, about their interests, about their lives, really got to know each other.

Alex was applying for an internship over the summer to work at the company, while Chase already had a job delivering pizzas on a bicycle (once Gertrude thought about it, she recalled seeing him biking down 32nd street one time and nearly flip himself over a taxi cab). Gertrude herself was in the middle of college applications, aiming for some of the top universities in the country. Come to find out, Nico was applying to a lot of the same schools. In spite of her less than stellar gym performances, she had near straight A's in all her other classes. Karolina wanted to go to art school; she loved to paint, and loved photography. With any luck, she'd get accepted to the same school as Stacy, her girlfriend. And Molly... well, Molly had made a point of going through her entire collection of games and explaining what made them awesome. Crystal Kingdom, Princess Powerful, Rainbow Kart Racing, Adventure Planet, she had them all.

“Man,” Chase said, leaning back on the couch and uttering a long yawn, “anyone got the time?”

“It is...” Karolina started, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “...eight-thirty.”

Nico groaned. “Seriously? The heck is taking them so long?”

“Wish I had an answer,” Gertrude replied. “You'd think they were plotting world domination or something.”

Alex tapped his fingers gently on his arms, looking over at the nearby desk. The secretary had gone on break about ten minutes ago, leaving them completely alone in the lobby. “Well, we could always go find out for ourselves. My guess is they're in the boardroom down the hall.”

“What, you mean like spy on them?” Gertrude said. “I don't really think we need to go that far. They'll be done... eventually.”

“I don't know, would be nice to know what the heck they're doing in there, right?” Chase suggested. “I mean come on, we've been here for like six hours already.”

Nico folded her arms, lips gently pursing. “Well... I am all pretty much talked out, I don't know about the rest of you.”

Karolina glanced back over at the empty desk, then towards the doorways behind it. With a contemplative breath, she turned to the others. “I guess we could... but couldn't we get in trouble for that? Not exactly sure we're supposed to be snooping around back there.”

“Don't worry about, everyone on this floor knows me,” Alex assured. “We get caught and I can talk our way out of it pretty quick. So, who's in?”

Molly gave him a studying stare, arms crossed. “So this is gonna be like an adventure?”

“About as big an adventure as you can have in an office building, I suppose,” he said.

Instantly, the young girl grew a large grin on her face and jumped up from the couch. “I'm in!”

Five minutes later, the six kids were walking down one of the long hallways on the fifty-second floor. Most of the adjoining offices were dark and empty, completely unused this late in the day. Most of the nine-to-fivers were already gone, having left hours ago. But not their parents, no. Their parents were still up here somewhere, doing who knew what.

Alex led the way, poking his head around the corner of the hallway and motioning for the others to follow when the coast was clear. They continued until they found themselves outside a large, empty boardroom, with glass walls along the corridor. The lights were out, chairs empty.

“Huh, I don't get it,” Alex said, scratching the side of his head. “This is where they should be.”

Suddenly, a faint, shrill cry echoed down the hall. It was barely audible, but Nico still picked it up, turning her head sharply and staring. “You hear that?”

“Hear what?” Chase asked.

“I don't know... something.” Before Nico realized what she was doing, she was leading the others farther along. A few moments later, the cry rang out again, only this time it was slightly more audible.

“Okay, I heard something that time,” Karolina said. “Any idea what it is?”

“Not a clue,” Gertrude stated. “If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was someone screaming.”

They group soon found their way to the very end of the winding hallway, which seemed to go on for a lot longer than should have been possible on a single office floor. In front of them stood a heavy, metal, bolted door, with a small Plexiglass window. Beyond the window, it was dark, mostly, though every now and then a flicker of colored lights glowed from within.

“You see anything?” Chase asked.

Nico peered inside the window, squinting in attempts to make out the muddled shapes within. Before long, her eyes adjusted. A variety of expensive looking equipment lined the walls of the large, circular room beyond. In the center was a single, cylindrical tube, about the size of a person, with numerous cords and smaller tubes connected to it.

“I... think so,” she said. “I see my parents. They're in the back, working on... something. I can't make it out clearly, looks like their hands are glowing.”

“Let me see,” Alex said, easing his own face towards the window. “Okay, those are my parents in the middle of the room. Don't know what they're doing, though.”

Before long, Gertrude, Karolina, and Chase all poked their way towards the window to get a good look inside.

“And those're my folks at the computer over there in the corner,” Chase said.

“Mine are right next to them,” Gertrude added. “And by the way, there's no corner, Chase. The room is round.”

“Whatever.”

Karolina squinted a little harder, trying to find her parents. Whatever was causing those flickering rainbow lights, however, was really messing with her eyes' ability to adjust. “I... think I see my parents. On the other side of that cylinder thing. Damn thing is glowing too bright, though.”

“Hey!” Molly said, trying to push her way through the others to get a look. Even if she did, however, she wasn't tall enough to see into the window. “I want to look, too! Are my parents in there? What are they doing?”

Inside the room, Mr. Wilder made some kind of gesture to his wife, who hit a few buttons on the electric panel in front of her. The Steins looked back at them and said something they couldn't hear, then pointed to the Minorus. The Minorus pulled their hands back (which, unless the lighting was causing an optical illusion, were in fact glowing) and shrugged, marching off to the side, while the Hayes both began to rotate a pair of levers on the other side of the room, with the Yorkes working busily on a computer screen nearby. A second later, another pair of adults came out from the other side of the room, the Deans... both of whom were glowing—their entire bodies, glowing like rainbows and emanating wisps of energy.

Karolina's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “What the hell?”

“Uh... anyone know what's going on?” Chase asked. “I don't think humans are supposed to do that.”

A second later, the cylinder in the center of the room began to raise upward, revealing a mass of metal restraints, hinges, and wires within. It was what those restraints contained, however, that caused the kids looking on to recoil and very nearly shout out loud. A young, sickly woman hung from her wrists, wires attached to numerous parts of her body. She was frail, her skin ghostly white, and blood leaked from her eyes. She looked very much near death.

“Oh my god,” Gertrude uttered, her voice no more than a hoarse whisper. “Ohmigod, ohmi-”

“What the hell are they doing?!” Nico shrieked, barely keeping her voice down.

Mr. Wilder released the restraints and pulled the woman free, only to quickly drop her to the floor. He sighed and shook his head, while Mrs. Wilder shrugged and scribbled something down on her clip board.

“I don't... what are they—” Alex said, pressing his face closer to the window.

“What is it?” Molly pleaded, desperately wanting to know what the others were looking at. It was probably something amazing. “What's going on!”

At this point, Mr. Minoru walked over and handed Mr. Wilder what looked like... some kind of ceremonial knife. Without even flinching, the large man reached down and grabbed a fistful of the woman's hair, lifting her head upwards.

“No... no, no, no,” Alex said. “They're not... they're going to...”

With one swift motion, Mr. Wilder cut the sharpened blade of the knife across the woman's neck, spilling out a spray of crimson onto the floor. The woman sputtered, twitched, and then crumpled. Cold. Motionless.

Dead.

12 Comments

Trying To Make Something Horrible Into Something... Not As Horrible

Because let's be honest, there's no way to make what happened today to Nico Minoru, one of my all time favorite characters, good. The amount of hate and disgust I have for Dennis Hopeless right now is just.... it shouldn't be legal to hate someone this much. It really shouldn't. But I do. More than anything. And as far as I'm concerned, he's the biggest hack in the industry. I do not want to elaborate on that, or discuss it, or whatever. I just want to try to forget it and move on. To help with that, I wrote up this one shot fan fic today, detailing what, in my mind, happens to Nico after today's horrendous turn of events. Because, god knows, she won't ever be getting an actual send off. So, I might as well write one myself, out of respect and an attempt to heal from this tragedy.

Oh, and on a side note, I realize that the "explanation" I give here for why Nico's staff wasn't working properly is stupid at best... but there isn't anything else that could make sense with how stupidly Hopeless depowered her without explanation, without it making Nico look like an idiot for not trying spells earlier. So, blame him.

Anyway... here it is.

---

...help...

...help...

...HELP...

“Help!” Nico shouted, bolting upright. She took in several deep, exasperated breaths and looked around with wild eyes. Images came in fuzzy at first, as her vision adjusted slowly to her surroundings. It was dark, no lights... Where was she? How did she get here? What was going on?! The last thing she remembered, she was... she was...

Why couldn't she remember?

“What happened?” she wondered aloud, rubbing a hand to the back of her head, fingers raking briefly through her long, silky black hair. Glancing downward, she noticed that she was lying in what looked to be a bed—nothing out of the ordinary about it, just a normal bed. Above the blankets, the Staff of One lay across her lap. Why was it out in the open? If she wasn't using it, it should have absorbed back into her body.

Slowly, hesitantly, she lowered her hand towards the staff. Her fingers paused only briefly before clasping around the shaft, and almost instantly flashes began running through her mind. She saw pain, blood, death, panic, horror... so many memories flooding back to her at once. Almost immediately, she let go and recoiled backwards, throwing herself out of bed and landing with a thud on the floor. The staff followed suit, clattering next to her and lying still.

Now she remembered. Now everything started coming back to her. She saw it all: Arcade, Murder World, the kids forced into a sick game of kill or be killed. And she was... she had been fighting, she had been crawling, clawing, she was...

“Oh my god,” she uttered, voice going hoarse in her throat. “I'm dead.”

“Bingo,” answered another voice, this one old and scratchy. A shadow moved from the back of the room and approached her, its shape and features filling out the closer it came. It was a woman... an old woman. A woman that Nico recognized immediately.

“You!” Nico slowly pulled herself back to her feet, grabbing at the bed beside her. When she made it to her feet, she swallowed back a hard lump and glared at the woman, the woman with no name, only a title.

Witchbreaker.

Otherwise known as Nico's great grandmother. It was this woman who had tortured her back when she and her friends and time traveled to 1907 New York. A test, it was supposed to be. A test that had unlocked hidden power within Nico, and that, when it was over, had transformed the Staff of One into something greater.

At least, at one time it had. But now...

“I see the staff has regressed back to its former state,” Witchbreaker said, glaring down at the artifact. “You must have gone soft. Again. And here I thought I brought out the best in you during our time together.”

Nico said nothing at first, staring at the woman coldly. “You don't know anything about it...”

“I don't know anything about the staff that I had over sixty years worth of experience with?” Witchbreaker scoffed, a sour grin curling across her face. “Try again.”

“I...” she started, only to find herself at a loss for words. Her head bowed again, gaze falling towards the staff. With a deep, heavy sigh, she wrapped her arms around herself and swallowed, as a cold, numb sensation built in her gust. “...I'm really dead.”

Witchbreaker nodded. “If you're standing in front of my old mug again, I'd say that's an accurate assumption.”

That numb feeling grew stronger, building steadily towards nausea. Within moments, however, it all swiftly transformed into rage. Her eyes grew cross, jaw tightened, and her hands clenched into fists. With an incoherent shriek of anger, she kicked the staff; it flew from floor across the room—which she could now make out to be a simple, normal bedroom—and crashed into the desk across from the bed.

“I can't be d- I'm not- I...” Hands coming to her head, she grabbed fistfuls of her hair and shut her eyes tight, trying to hold back the tears, tears fueled by a sickening mix of panic, anger, and despair. “I failed, I... I couldn't help them, I- I-”

Witchbreaker did nothing to interrupt her, for the moment. Instead, she merely watched the girl gradually come to terms with her predicament.

“All because of that... that staff... the stupid... argh!” Nico stumbled backwards and sat on the edge of the bed, staring blankly at the floor. She felt ready to vomit. “I tried everything. I went through every spell I could think of to get us out of there. But nothing worked... the staff wouldn't work. Not the way it should have. If I could have just... if I could have made it work... If I...”

Finally, she had run out of words. She reached her fingers up to her face and pressed them against her wet eyes in attempts to clear them. The flash of rage and panic was gone, and all that was left now was the nausea. She had failed. She had failed Chase, the other kids, she had failed herself.

“The staff didn't work because you believed it wouldn't,” Witchbreaker said calmly.

Nico swallowed again, slowly looking up at the old woman. “What are you talking about?”

“I was watching you,” she replied. “Keeping tabs. I saw everything.”

“You were... watching me?”

“Not much to do up here, you know. Not for someone of my tastes.” The old woman shrugged, then took a small step forward. “You were scared, Nico. I thought I had beat the fear out of you, but I suppose I was wrong. Wishful thinking on my part, maybe.”

Shaking her head, Nico twisted her face into confusion. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“After your staff transformed, it truly became a part of you,” Witchbreaker explained. “It wasn't just a tool anymore, it wasn't just bound to you—it was you. After what you witnessed there on day one on that island, you were scared. You wanted the staff to work, to help you and you friends, but deep down you didn't really think it would. And so it didn't.”

“That is... the lamest... most idiotic thing I've ever heard.”

Witchbreaker merely shrugged. “I didn't write the rules to that story, so don't whine about it to me.”

Nico returned her gaze to the ground. “So... now what? Where even am I? Is this... heaven?”

“It's a heaven, if that's how you want to think of it.”

Nico's brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Your own personal afterlife,” Witchbreaker said. “What happens here happens as you want it to, a way to be happy after passing on. People find peace in their own heavens—there are hundreds of billions of them. One for everyone who has ever died. Some of them have merged together, allowing individuals to share an afterlife. Others are capable of simply visiting, as I am to yours right now.”

A small sigh exuded from her lips. Running her hands through her hair again, Nico gently shook her head and leaned forward, elbows on her knees. “I don't even know what to make of that.”

“Oh come on, it's not that bad, really.”

That was... a different voice. Not Witchbreaker's, but... still a familiar one, one that she hadn't heard in a long time. Lifting her head slowly, she looked forward towards the open doorway. Standing there was a familiar girl, an old friend that been lost, a friend she had mourned, and a friend that she had never forgotten.

Gertrude Yorkes.

“Gert!” she exclaimed, jumping to her feet. She paused only briefly before running to the girl and embracing her with a tight hug. She didn't even realize the tears she had broken into until they began to blur her vision, forcing herself to rapidly blink them away. “I don't... holy crap, I missed you!”

“Ha, right back at you,” Gert replied. “Been a while, hasn't it?”

“And... and it's really, you right?” Nico asked, pulling back a step. “You're not just some personification of my subconscious or something, are you?”

Gert shook her head, smiling. “It's really me. I... heard what happened. Figured I'd better come greet you, help you adjust to, well... being dead.”

Nico sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. Her gaze drifted lazily off to the side. “I just... I still can't really believe it, you know? Feels like I'm in some kind of dream... like I'll just open my eyes one moment and wake up from it all.”

“You'll get used to it,” Gertrude stated, with a small shrug of her shoulders. “Took me a while to adjust, too, believe me. But then I found my parents again, and... I mean, I haven't been this happy in a long time, Nico.”

“Your... parents?” Nico blinked, confused. The last time that she or any of the Runaways had seen their parents, it had been to stop them from trying to essentially destroy the earth and kill everyone aside from themselves and their kids. “But... I mean...”

“Oh, I know, it was a nightmare at first.” Gertrude shook her head slightly, while adjusting her glasses on her nose. “I was still so mad at them for everything... but they're different now. They're not like we remember. I don't know if it was just being up here that helped them atone or what, but they're good people again, like back before we found out they were trying to burn the earth.”

Nico went quiet for a long moment, trying to take in that bit of information. Their parents as good people again? It... was hard to imagine. Everything she had loved about her own parents had been shattered that fateful night, but before that... before that things had been great. Even if her parents had never really understood her, or had been strict, or basically acted like any parent did, made her do her homework, made her turn down her music... she had longed for that again ever since her life got turned upside down.

“I guess... that's really awesome,” she said finally, with a bit of a chuckle. Then, she let out a puff of air and looked up at Gertrude again. “So... I mean, what's it like being dead anyway? I gotta say... I don't actually feel any different.”

“Oh, it's a lot like being alive,” Gert said. “Just without all the drama or horror or bad stuff. Seriously, when you're literally in charge of your own life, it's amazing. Granted, I just give my own little nudges... I still let things play out normally—I like the surprise. I just got accepted to a university, actually. I move out next month—kinda looking forward to it. I mean, love the 'rents and all, but man... is it good to get away now and then, you know?”

A hushed laugh burst from Nico's lips, and she smiled. “Yeah, I hear that.”

“And besides, it's only a matter of time before someone breaks the universe and screws with the time stream again,” she added. “Then we'll probably get spit back out again.”

“Riiiight,” Nico said, with a small roll of her eyes. “Only in the comics.”

“So come on, suppose you better get out of this stuffy bedroom already.”

Reaching forward, Gertrude took Nico's hand and led her out into the hallways. Nico knew this hallway. It was her hallway. Her house. Back before everything changed... Things only became more familiar as they rounded the corner and headed downstairs, through the living room and into the kitchen. Her kitchen. And in that kitchen, waiting for her...

“Mom?” Nico uttered, eyebrows lifting. “Dad?”

Robert Minoru, her father, looked up from the newspaper at the kitchen table. He took in a small breath and slowly let it out, as if disappointed she was there, but still accepting of it—after all, as happy as he was to see his daughter, her being here meant that she had passed on, the same as he and his wife.

Tina Minoru turned around from the stove—she was in the middle of cooking a breakfast of eggs and sausages—and smiled. “Sweetie... it's good to see you again. We've missed you, so much.”

At first, Nico had to fight down a bubbling rage growing in her gut. The last time she had seen her parents... well, it had been under very different circumstances. Eventually, she calmed herself, eliciting a long, slow breath. “You... I mean, it's really you? Both of you? Really you? You're not... not...”

“Honey... we made some mistakes,” Robert replied. He sighed, lowering his gaze down at the mug of coffee in front of him. “A lot of mistakes. When we were alive, we were so obsessed with the Pride that we lost sight of what was really important—you.”

Tina nodded slowly, joining her husband at the table. She put a hand on his arm and echoed his sentiments. “After being here, looking back on what we did, and watching everything that we put you through since then... I don't know if we can ever make it up to you, Nico. But we'd like to try. Now that we're together again... we can be a family. A real family. If... if that's what you want.”

Nico could barely hold it together. She swallowed a hard knot in her throat and fought back even more tears. She could barely even make sense of the emotions flooding her body right now... this whole thing was too surreal. Eventually, however, she managed to cross the kitchen floor. She stepped in front of her parents, gave them both a long look, and then dove in, arms wrapping around them. It was only then that she finally allowed her self to break down.

“I... I missed you, too,” she said, hiccuping out a sob.

Gertrude stood back with her arms folding, watching with a pleasant smile. “Now there's a quality Kodak moment.”

Witchbreaker, who had followed the pair in silence, furrowed her brow and glanced over at the girl. “A what?”

“Don't worry about it.”

Several minutes later, Nico sat with her parents at the kitchen table, eating quite possibly the most delicious breakfast she had ever had, and laughing like she had never laughed before. All the worry, all the panic, all the sorrow and grief and horror and everything that she had been feeling before... it was gone. All that was left was... contentment. Happiness. A feeling of security that she hadn't known in a long, long time.

“Oh, Gert,” Tina said, as she took a stack of dirty dishes to the sink. “Are your parents still on for tonight?”

“Yeah, they'll be there,” Gertrtude said. “They might be a bit late, though, something about wanting some alone time...” She finished the comment with a nonchalant clear of her throat and shifted her weight, clearly not wanting to linger on that thought.

Nico swallowed a mouthful of scrambled eggs and glanced back and forth between Gertrude and her parents. “What's tonight?”

“Oh, movie night,” Gertrude said. “We get together every Saturday. My parents, your parents... the Deans, too. And the Steins, and the Hayes. Been sort of a tradition ever since they got up here, I guess. I joined in once I got here, too."

And then, her thoughts wavered. Nico put down her fork slowly, lowering her gaze to her half eaten plate of food. She frowned, closed her eyes, and pressed a hand to her face. “Karolina... Molly, Chase, Victor. I... I never got to say goodbye to them.”

“Hey.” Gertrude came forward, sitting next to her friend and resting a hand on her shoulder. “Don't worry. It's not like we'll never see them again.”

Nico tilted her head, eyes narrowing. She didn't quite catch on in her current state. “What do you mean?”

“Have you forgotten where we are already?” Gertrude smirked, eyebrows raising. “Whether it's tomorrow or sixty years from now, they'll all make it up here eventually, too. We will see them again. I don't know about you, but that's a reunion I'm looking forward to.”

A very slight smile snaked its way across Nico's lips. “Yeah... yeah, so am I.”

“Now come on, we have a job to do,” Gertrude said, pulling Nico away from the table.

“What's that now?”

“We are going to find us a movie to watch tonight.” Pausing momentarily, she looked back over her shoulder and grinned. “And while we look, boy do I have some stories about Chase that you have to hear.”

2 Comments

The Ravager - Cutting the Strings (#89-97) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The thirteenth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better. Reaching the homestretch now... just two more to go.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #89

A crisp, cool breeze gusted gently through the city, typical of a quiet, October night. A light coating of grey slush covered the ground, the result of an early snowfall mixed with driving rain. Several men hurried back and forth between the warehouse and a large box truck parked out front, though they didn't pay much mind to the deep puddles. Time was of the essence right now, and they couldn't afford to be tiptoeing around a little water. This delivery needed to go out as soon as possible, before someone tipped off the cops, or worse.

One of the guys, Danny, was a newcomer to the operation, only there because his buddy told him it would be some easy money. Come in for a couple of hours, help load up the truck, make a hundred bucks. It seemed like a simple enough deal at the time, but now he wasn't so sure. He had heard the rumors, after all, that the capes of Silverstone were back in full force ever since a couple of months ago. It wasn't just that Ravager chick anymore, either. Rumors had been circulating about another woman in a hood and cloak who could teleport—freaking teleport! As if it could get any weirder, there was supposed to be a third one now, too, some indestructible broad made of metal

Danny hadn't ever actually seen any of these costumed crime fighters himself, but then he had never been involved in something like this before, transporting boxes of god knows what kinds of drugs, well past midnight. Knowing his luck, though, the one time he did, those vigilantes would show up. It was almost guaranteed.

“Hey, Ted, how much longer you think this is gonna take?” he asked.

His friend, Ted, uttered an annoyed sigh, as the two headed back into the warehouse for another load. “Relax, shouldn’t be more than another half hour. What’s got you so nervous anyway?”

“Well, you’ve heard the talk, right? What if those crime fighting chicks show up and—”

“Oh, for the last time, dude, they’re not gonna show up,” he said. “We were careful, you got that? We picked the right time, the right location, the right everything. I’d be more worried about the cops showing up than those loonies.”

Grabbing another box, Danny breathed out an unconvinced sigh and slowly shuffled his way back outside. “I hope you’re right, man. I really don’t feel like running into them. Not tonight, not ever.”

“I swear, Danny, you are such a girl.”

As the two emerged back outside into the loading area, they suddenly paused, noticing the other two loaders lying down on the ground behind the truck, unmoving. Ted hurried up to the truck to set down his box, then knelt to check on their two unconscious friends.

“What the hell? They’re out cold!” Ted said, looking around in a near panic.

“Aw man, I knew it! I told you! I’m getting out of here, dude, this isn’t worth a hundred bucks!” Dropping his box, Danny turned around and sprinted away, arms swinging wildly. He wanted to get as far from there as possible. No way he was going to let himself be—

Thump!

A sudden crack exploded across the back of his skull, crumpling him unconscious to the ground. Emerging from the inky shadows next to him, a female figure coated in a metallic shell looked down and shook her head in clear disappointment. With a brief sigh, she casually brushed off her hands and then brought her attention to the one man remaining.

Heart pounding in the midst of panic, Ted reached into the back of his pants and pulled out his handgun. Even as he aimed it at her, though, hand shaking and unsteady, he knew it wouldn't do any good. “Stay back! I’ll shoot!”

When the woman continued to approach him, he fired. Of course, the bullets ricocheted like ping pong balls off her metallic skin, exactly as he'd feared. Huffing out a breath of utter hopelessness, Ted stood there and hung his head; there was no point in running.

The woman came to a stop in front of him, pausing only briefly to shake her head at him, then grabbed the gun from his hand and crushed it with a single squeeze. “You know, shooting at a woman is really impolite.”

“Uh… s-sorry?”

“I’m sure you are. Now, be a good little boy and go to sleep.” She delivered a single, hard chop to the side of the man's neck, dropping him in an instant. For a moment, she worried that she might have put too much force into the blow, but a quick examination of the unconscious body revealed a steady pulse.

It had taken Becky quite a bit of practice to get a firm grasp on her newfound strength levels. In order for a blow like that to simply knock someone out and not, for example, take his head clean off, she had to really hold back.

“Well, I’d say that was simple enough,” Becky said, bringing her hands to her hips. “How’d I do?”

From atop the truck, Ravager walked into view, arms folded. “Hmm… I give it a B+.”

“What, that’s it? Come on, that had to be at least an A-.”

“Could have been, if you didn’t forget about the guy in the truck,” she said, glancing behind her. “If I didn't taken care of him, he’d have gotten away.”

“The guy in the…” Becky blinked, bowing her head. “Oh, right.”

“Hey, don’t sweat it. You’re getting better.” Ravager paused a moment to remove the faceplate of her helmet, revealing a pleased smile painted across her face. In a single, deft motion, she leaped down from the truck and landed softly on the balls of her feet. After straightening herself out again, she took a few careful steps over to Becky and leaned in close, pressing their lips together gently. The cold feel of Becky's metallic lips sent a pleasant chill down her spine, the kind of chill that made her tingle in all the right places.

“Well… at least I didn’t level half the warehouse by accident?” Becky said, with a slight chuckle.

“You mean like you did last week?”

“Hey, that place was condemned anyway,” she insisted. “If you think about it, I actually saved the city money from having to demolish it.”

Ravager smirked, as she slipped her faceplate back into place. Her voice resonated with a tin echo from behind the metal mask. “Spin it however you want, you still got a C.”

Becky lifted an eyebrow. “I thought it was a C+?”

“It was, but then you went and ripped a hole through that person’s car when you chased down the last guy, remember? I took off points for that.”

“Oh… right, I forgot about that.”

“And that's why I'm the one keeping track of your grades.”

Reaching down into one of the compartments of her utility belt, Ravager pulled out a small phone. It wasn't her normal phone, instead keeping this one around specifically to use while dressed up as Ravager. Only a small handful of numbers were stored on it, and this time her finger drifted over to the first speed dial button. Pacing several steps to the left, she waited patiently until the man on the other line picked up.

“Hey, Palmer. Yeah, it’s me. Listen, send down a couple squad cars to the old warehouse on Holland Street. Got you a box truck full of drugs and the guys moving it. Yeah, I’ll tell her. See you soon.” Hanging up the phone, she turned back to Becky and folded her arms across her chest. “Palmer says hi.”

“Oh he does, ah? He just saw me a few hours ago, too.”

“Probably still not over the whole you being alive again thing. Coming back from the dead tends to have an effect on people.”

“Ha, I suppose.” Becky grinned, shaking her head slightly. “You should have seen the looks I got on my first day back on the force. You’d think those guys saw a ghost. Hell, Stevens kept poking me with a pencil most of the day to make sure I was really there. Of course, he backed off when I crushed the pencil into powder.”

A small smile snaked its way across Ravager’s face at the thought of Becky flipping on Stevens. Then, her gaze drifted down to Becky's plain white T-shirt, now outfitted with several bullet holes. “You know, we should really consider getting you a costume or something. Maybe a codename, too. Just because Palmer and a couple other guys on the force know your identity, doesn’t mean everyone in the city has to.”

“Ah, s'alright,” Becky said, glancing down at the ruined shirt. “Never liked this shirt much anyway. Besides, the shiny metal skin is plenty; can't even tell it's me when I'm like this. And what would I call myself, anyway? The Super Metal Chica? Or maybe Silver Nanite Girl? Oh, how about The Shiny Avenger?”

“Alright, alright, I see your point. You’re fine as is.”

“That’s what I thought. So, where’s Ruby, anyway?”

“Working the East District, I believe,” Ravager said. “Something about investigating a string of weird murders involving razor blades and a hack saw.”

Becky cringed slightly at the thought. “Sounds riveting. She coming to the party tomorrow?”

“Well, I sure hope so. She said she’d pick up the cake on her way there.”

“Ha, so she did. Should be fun, ah?”

Ravager shifted her weight slightly, trying not to audibly groan. “If you don’t mind looking after a bunch of hyperactive, preteen kids, sure.”

“That’s why you got us girls to help you,” Becky replied, holding an arm around her girlfriend's shoulder. “God knows you couldn’t handle it on your own.”

Ravager let out a small, snorting laugh. “When you’re right, Becky, you really are right.”

---

It was a big day at Silverstone City Park. After all, what twelve-year-old girl’s birthday wasn't a big day? Any excuse to have a big party, open presents, and stuff yourself with cake was a good one in a kid’s eyes. For Holly, it was no different. Not since her last birthday had she had a chance to get together with all of her friends like this, and she had made sure to take advantage of it, inviting literally everyone she was even remotely friends with. The more people that attended, the more presents, after all! That and it made the party games (which, for Holly, consisted of things like flag football. Screw pin the tail on the jackass) a lot more exciting.

Of course, being responsible for twenty or so kids was more than a handful. If Rose had to do this herself, she probably would have gone insane. Fortunately, she had the likes of Becky, Circe, and Ruby to help her out. Ruby was especially advantageous; if things ever get too out of hand, she could always make the kids calm down with her empathic abilities. That was, of course, when she actually got there. As far as they knew, Ruby was still downtown picking up the cake.

“Holly, I’m open!” Lyta yelled, running out for a pass. “Throw it!”

Holly wasn't like most girls. While others her age were more concerned with dolls, pink ribbons, and pretty dresses, she was into things like sports and martial arts. Being raised by Rose for the last two and a half years probably had a bit of influence on that, but still. That being the case, most of her friends were actually boys, with the exception of Lyta—by far her best friend—and a few other more tomboyish girls from her class.

Right now, those kids were engaged in a heated flag football game, with Holly acting as quarterback and leader of her team. As Lyta broke out into the open, Holly pulled back the football and launched it through the air. It was far from a perfect spiral, of course, but it reached its mark, if a little overthrown. Still, Lyta managed to come down with a spectacular one handed grab in the end zone (a feat quite possibly aided by the girl’s magical abilities, but there was no need to mention that to anyone). Either way, it was cause for their team to erupt with excitement, while the opposing team could only bow their heads in disappointment.

“Nice catch!” Holly exclaimed, running up to her friend and giving a high five.

Lyta grinned. “I know, it was pretty awesome, right?”

At a nearby picnic table, the three adults watched the game carefully. Circe leaned back in her seat and folded her arms, smiling proudly. “Did you see that? My girl scored a goal.”

“It’s called a touchdown,” Becky said, trying to stifle a laugh, “and yes, we all saw it.”

Circe paused a moment, furrowing her brow and straightening her posture. “Touchdown, of course. That’s what I meant.”

Suuure you did.”

Walking around the side of the picnic table, Rose held one hand to her hip, while pointing absently at the food items in front of her, making sure that they had everything in order. “Okay, we have sandwiches, chips, potato salad, pizza, cheese and crackers, juice, soda… am I missing anything?”

“Relax, girl, we got everything on the list,” Becky assured. “Sit down and watch the game; Holly’s team is dominating.”

“Alright, so then we’re just missing the—”

“Cake, right?” Appearing behind them, Ruby casually walked over and to the table and set down the large chocolate cake in front of her. “Got it right here. All twelve candles, too.”

Rose huffed out a relieved sigh. “Oh, there you are, good. Alright, so I guess that’s everything. You guys want to help me getting this stuff ready for everyone to eat?”

Becky nodded, still focusing intently on the football game. “Yeah, just a second.”

A quarterback sneak this time, and Holly really started to put on the moves. The other team didn't have a prayer of catching her flags, not with the way she was darting around and spinning. Within seconds, she broke away and scored another touchdown, much to her own team's delight.

Growing a small smirk, Becky turned to Circe again. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say your girl hexed the other team or something.”

“If she did, then she’s putting her power to good use,” she replied, folding her arms.

“Ha, by cheating at a football game?”

“If you have it, flaunt it. That is how the saying goes, right?”

“Uh… something like that. Anyway, let’s help with the spread.”

Turning back around to the picnic table, Becky and Circe focused their efforts in assisting Rose and Ruby with organizing all the food. When the kids finished their game, they would be wanting to dig right in. Said game was just about over, of course, with how far ahead Holly's team was, but the kids were still having fun,, so for the time being the game pressed on.

Holly’s team was back in possession now. Dropping back for a pass, Holly's sharp sharp eyes carefully scanned the field for an open receiver. Lyta broke away from her defender again, waving her arms for the ball. Spotting her friend wide open in the end zone, Holly aired out a pass and… promptly overthrew her intended target by about ten feet. Well, they couldn't all be perfect passes.

Lyta uttered a small groan, as she chased after the ball. “Aw, I’m not that tall, Holly!”

“Sorry!”

The oblong ball bounced awkwardly across the ground, rolling behind a collection of bushes near the park gate. Huffing out a small breath, Lyta hurried over to look for it. She looked around for a few minutes, searching high and low for the pigskin, but for some reason she couldn't find it anywhere. It was as if the thing had just up and vanished into thin air.

A few moments later, Holly arrived to help search. “What’s taking so long over here?”

“I dunno, can’t find the football,” Lyta replied. “I thought it rolled over here somewhere.”

“It’s probably stuck in one of the bushes.” Pushing around to the back of the bushes, Holly looked around carefully, but she, too, found nothing.

As the two girls continued searching in confusion, a calm, smooth voice, thick with a French accent, interrupted them. “Are you girls looking for zis?”

Glancing towards the sound of the voice, they noticed a very young woman standing there; she couldn't have been older than nineteen or twenty. The woman was dressed in clean business attire, including a plain blue tie and long black pants. A narrow pair of glasses sat atop her nose, framing around her sharp, green eyes, and her long blonde hair was pulled back into a loose bun.

“Oh, hey yeah,” Holly said. “Thanks.”

As she went over to take the football away, however, the woman teasingly pulled it back. “You really should be more careful where you srow your toys.”

“Um… thanks, I guess. We’ll keep that in mind.”

“So, what are you girls doing out 'ere on zis fine day?”

Lyta frowned. “Um, can we just have our ball back? We’re not supposed to talk to strangers.”

“Euh, but of course,” the woman said. “You girls are very smart, non? Never know what kind of people you might meet in a big city like zis.”

“Right…” Holly muttered. “You want to give us the ball, please?”

“Why, certainly. 'Ere, all you 'ave to do is take it from me.”

Extending her hand forward again, the woman gave a small smile, as if daring one of the girls to take the football. Lyta furrowed her brow, looking at the woman curiously. Finally, she reached out to grab the ball. The instant her hands touched it, however, she fell forward to the ground, unconscious.

“Lyta!” Before Holly could make a move to come to her friend’s aid, the woman extended a single hand and touched her on the shoulder. Much the same as Lyta, she quickly fell unconscious, crumpling to the ground.

“Yes, I sink you girls will do nicely,” the woman said to herself, as she lifted them up with one hand each, effortlessly carrying the girls away.

Back at the picnic table, Rose was in the middle of setting up the candles on the birthday cake when one of Holly’s friends suddenly rushed up and pulled on her sleeve.

“Ms. Wilson! Ms. Wilson!” the boy called.

Curiously, Rose glanced at the kid. “Oh, what is it?”

“It’s Holly and Lyta!”

Blinking a couple of times, she looked up and carefully scanned the area. That was when she realized that she didn't see Holly or Lyta anywhere.

Circe, too, was now standing and looking around. “Where are they? Where are our daughters?”

“Over there! They were over there!” The boy pointed over near the park gate, specifically out at the nearby street. “They were looking for the ball, and then they started talking to this woman, and-and-and then she took them!”

Panic began to set in. Rose took a closer look at the street, and that was when she noticed a woman dressed in a business suit slamming closed the side door of a large white van, with the words ‘Blanchett Limelight’ written on it.

In an instant, Rose sprinted across the park towards the van. “Holly!!!”

“Dios mio, the hell is going on?” Becky said, walking up to the table.

“I… I don’t know,” Ruby replied. “Circe? Hey!”

Circe, too, ran after Rose, heading straight for the van. By now, though, the woman was in the front seat, already starting up the engine. “She took them! She took the girls!”

Chapter #90

With a shrill screech of the tires, the white van pulled out of its spot on the side of the road and sped away. By the time Rose raced through the park gates and made it to the street, the vehicle was already a small dot in the distance.

Holding her hands to her head, she took in a deep, slow breath to stop herself from panicking. “No, no that didn’t just happen. Tell me that didn’t just happen.”

Circe, on the other hand, who was normally able to remain surprisingly calm in these kinds of situations, failed to keep her composure. “She took them! She took our daughters!” Running her hands through her hair, Circe paced back and forth briefly, and then moved towards Rose. She reached outward, grabbed Rose by the shirt collar, and pulled her close. “Why are you just standing there?! Go after them! Do something!”

“Calm down, Circe, I’m trying to think.”

“Calm down? Our children were just kidnapped! How do you expect me to remain calm?”

“Circe—” With a soft exhale, Rose lifted her hands and pressed them to her friend’s cheeks, trying to offer some sort of comfort. Despite the comfort she was trying to give, however, she felt the same stinging anxiety beginning to bubble in her chest. “—we will find them, do you understand me? We will get them back.”

Swallowing a knot in her throat, Circe uttered a small breath and took a step back. “You’re right, of course you’re right. Our girls will be fine… they know how to handle themselves. I daresay that woman made a grave mistake in taking those two.”

A short moment later, Ruby and Becky arrived next to them. The other children from the party lingered somewhere behind, as if unsure whether or not they should approach the adults right now. Most of them looked confused, wondering what had happened. After all, they were there for Holly’s birthday party… so where was Holly?

“Would someone mind explainin' just what on earth is goin' on?” Ruby asked.

“It’s Holly and Lyta…” Rose uttered. “They were just kidnapped by some nut-job woman in a white van.”

Becky's eyes flew wide. “What?! Who? Who took them? I swear I’ll tear her arms off!”

“We’re not sure, but we’re going to find out, trust me on that.”

“Well I should bloody well hope so,” Ruby said. “What kind of demented person kidnaps a couple of kids in the middle of the afternoon?”

Digging into her pocket, Rose pulled out her phone and started dialing. “All kinds, Ruby. Anyway, the party’s over. Can you and Circe work on getting these kids home? I have to make a call.”

---

The van slowly rumbled through the mostly empty parking garage, stopping only when it reached the fourth level. After waiting a few, brief moments, the blonde woman stepped out of the vehicle and casually walked around to the side. She slid the door open and then raised a finger, causing the two unconscious girls inside to suddenly float up into the air and drift out of the van.

Turning around, the woman made her way towards the exit, which led directly to an elevator attached to an adjacent building. Holly and Lyta continued to float in midair behind her, following exactly where she went. Finding her way into the elevator, the woman pressed the button for the top floor and waited calmly for the ascent.

The elevator doors opened again, leading directly into a large office, brightly decorated with all the latest fashion trends. Mannequins wearing elegant dresses and other outlandish garments lined a red carpet walkway that led up to an ebony desk at the back of the room. Abstract sculptures dotted the sides of the room, nothing more than metal shapes open to interpretation. The far wall was one giant window, offering a stunning view of the city skyline beyond.

Sitting behind the office desk was a calm woman with long black hair coiling around her shockingly pale face. Though having reached the ripe old age of forty some months ago, her looks defied that age, retaining a certain sense of mature beauty. She wore a low cut top that fit around her torso rather tightly, specifically to accentuate her assets, and a skirt that barely found its way halfway down her thighs. This was Michelle Blanchett, head of the Blanchett Limelight Fashion/Modeling Agency.

As her assistant approached the desk, Blanchett's eyes shifted upward to look at her. “You were gone for quite some time, Sophie... you don't normally take that long. I trust you were successful?”

“Oui, Madame. I found two for ze price of one. Would you like to inspect zem?”

Blanchett's gaze carefully moved over the two girls floating beside her assistant. They both appeared to be around twelve years old, which worked well enough. The prime age would have been fourteen, but some of her clients did prefer younger girls. Besides, they would grow into that age eventually.

Releasing a soft breath, she stood up and moved around the side of her desk, arms held behind her back. “Straighten them out a little. I want to get a good look at them.”

Sophie nodded. “As you wish, Madame.” Instantly, the two girls went from floating aimlessly to stiffening into a rigid, upright position, arms and legs straight at their sides.

Holding a hand to her chin, Blanchett began circling around them, looking closely. “The blonde should prove to be quite valuable; blondes have always been popular, and it looks like she has heterochromia, too. They'll eat that up. And the other one… is her hair purple? That can’t be its natural color… though if it is, she’ll fetch quite the fee from our clients with more exotic tastes. Hmm…”

Moving back around in front of them, Blanchett folded her arms. Her eyes narrowed, drifting slowly back and forth between the two girls. “Both seem rather well developed for their age, as well. Always a plus. Sophie, I daresay you’ve outdone yourself this time.”

“Merci, Madame. I do strive to do my best.”

“Yes, so you do. Go ahead and take these two to the others. We should have a full shipment ready for delivery tomorrow.”

“Oui, right away.” Giving her mistress a polite bow, Sophie turned and headed back towards the elevator, Holly and Lyta following closely behind.

“Oh, and Sophie?”

Sophie paused, glancing back over her shoulder.

“After you’re finished, you may join me in the sauna, if you like.”

Again, Sophie gave a simple nod. “You are too kind, Madame. I will return shortly.”

---

When the elevator door opened this time, it led into a sub basement level of the Blanchett building, to an area where the projected stock was kept until ready to be shipped out. The conditions of this holding area were actually quite pristine, more like an underground four-star hotel than anything. Each child was offered their own room, complete with television, a bathroom, shower, a refrigerator full of snacks, and a dresser full of clean clothes.

Of course, this lavish treatment was a ruse, designed to keep the children complacent until the time came when they were shipped away to potential clients. They weren't even allowed to leave their rooms, which made it a prison no matter how well one dressed it up. Still, Blanchett did her best to make sure that they were well cared for until that time came.

Sophie stopped at the last door on the left, at the end of the corridor. She opened it, then walked inside and floated the girls across the room, dropping each of them on one of the two beds. After waiting for a brief moment, she snapped her fingers, and in an instant the girls awoke, lurching upright with deep breaths.

“Welcome, girls,” she said. “Do try to make yourselves at ‘ome. Just don’t get too comfortable; we will be shipping you out tomorrow.”

“Shipping us… what?” Holly uttered, blinking up at the woman. “Who are you? Where are we?”

“My name is Sophie, and I ‘ave brought you to your new ‘ome, at least for ze night. You will be given a more permanent residence in good time.”

Lyta frowned, glowering at her. “You kidnapped us!”

“Euh, I would not call it zat. I have merely… relocated you for ze time being. You will be given a ‘ome soon.”

“We already have homes! We have families! Takes us back, right now!”

“Oh, I am afraid I cannot do zat,” Sophie said, shaking her head. “You see, Madame Blanchett is very strict, and she simply refuses to let any of you go. Zat would cause a loss of profits, and we can’t have zat, now can we?”

Holly's eyes widened, practically bugging out of her head. “Profits? Profits? You’re selling us?!”

“Oui, in a sense.”

“I don’t think so!” Lyta countered. “You’re gonna take us home right now!”

Lifting her hands, a surge of crackling energy rapidly built up in Lyta's palms. Sophie only had time to lift an eyebrow before a web of lightning burst forth from the girl’s fingertips, striking the woman square in the chest and throwing her backwards across the room. For several moments, Sophie lied there motionless on the floor, scant wisps of smoke billowing from her charred clothing.

“You got her!” Holly said, pumping her fist in the air. “Awesome!”

Lyta shrugged. “Yeah, well she shouldn’t have kidnapped us. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

As the girls hurried for the open doorway, however, Sophie suddenly sat upright, apparently unharmed by the lightning blast. With a simple wave of the hand, she sent the two girls flying back across the room, pinning them against the back wall. Instinctively, Lyta’s hands began to charge again with magic, but with another wave of the hand, Sophie extinguished the energy.

“So, I see we ‘ave a little witch,” Sophie stated. “Zat could be problematique, non? I fear we must find a way to fix zat, else our clients won’t be too 'appy.”

“Stop it!” Holly shouted. She struggled hard against the invisible hold pinning her to the wall, but it was useless. Try as she might, she couldn't budge a muscle. “Let us go!”

“Désolé, but I ‘ave already said why I cannot do zat. Now, your friend 'ere must go to sleep for ze time being, until I come back wiz a more permanent solution.” Walking forward across the room, Sophie lifted her hands up to press them to the side of Lyta’s head.

“No!” Lyta screamed. “Stay away from me!”

“Bonne nuit, ma petite.”

A second later, Lyta’s eyes rolled into the back of her head. She slumped forward fast asleep, a rush of air bursting from her lungs. Sophie then extended her hand, causing Lyta to float across the room and land gently on one of the beds, head resting against the pillow.

“If you hurt her, I’ll kill you!” Holly said. “You hear me? I’ll kill you!”

Sophie pursed her lips, looking back at the girl. “She is un’armed, merely asleep. I will be back later to wake 'er up, you ‘ave my word.”

“Screw your word, you... you stupid b*tch!”

“My, my, zat is no way for a young girl to speak.”

Holly narrowed her eyes, frowning. “Yeah, well my mom says I shouldn’t swear… but she’s not here right now.”

Breathing out an annoyed sigh, Sophie placed her hands on her hips and shook her head. “In any case, I must be going now. Try to relax, ma petite. It will make sings easier.” And with those parting words, she turned to walk back out the door, pausing only briefly to snap her fingers and allow Holly to fall back down from the wall. “Au revoir.”

---

“You have to do something, now!” Becky urged.

Leaning forward in his seat, Chief Palmer held a hand to his head, while repeatedly tapping the fingers of his other hand in front of him. Rose and Becky stood in front of his desk, poised over him and yelling; it was all he could do just to concentrate, let alone get a clear grasp on what they were telling him.

“And you're sure about this?” he said. “You actually saw this woman take the girls?”

“I saw enough,” Rose said. “One of Holly's friends pointed her out clear as day as the person they'd been talking to, and then she took off in a van! What more do you want?”

“I'd like to have more to go on than circumstantial evidence before we go knocking on someone's door and start throwing around accusations of kidnapping.”

Rose frowned, slamming her fists down on the desk. “Circumstantial, my ass! Who else took them, huh? The freaking phantom stalker of Silverstone Park?!”

Uttering a small breath, Palmer slowly rubbed his temples. He could feel the onset of a pounding headache. “I know it's likely, given what you've told me, but you didn't actually see her take them. Simply having a possible suspect doesn't make a person guilty, and it's not enough for a warrant.”

“Would you listen to yourself? Chief, this is Holly we're talking about here. You know her; Lyta, too. You've been to their soccer games for f*ck's sake.”

“Rose, believe me, I want to find them,” he insisted. “And when we do find them, I'll nail the b*stard who took them so hard that he'll be staring at the inside of a cell until goddamn judgment day. But you're not giving me enough to go on here. We need to conduct a proper investigation; there are procedures for this.”

“Forget procedure! We know who did this!” Becky exclaimed. “Jueputa, we gave you the name on the side of the van, now just go after the b*tch!”

“May I remind you, Chavez, that in spite of your recent and miraculous resurrection, and your nightly vigilante escapades, you're still a cop? Or have you forgotten that? We do things by the book.”

Becky scoffed, crossing her arms firmly across her chest. “Since when the hell have you ever cared about the book? Hell, you've been working with Rose for over a year now help clean up this city, and she hardly operates 'by the book'. Why can't you just let us do what we do best? Let us go in there and grill these assholes so we can find Holly and Lyta!”

Palmer remained silent, slowly bringing his hands in front of him on the desk and clasping them together. His gaze lowered, a long, tired sigh escaping his lips.

“Chief, what the hell is going on here?” Rose asked. “It's like you don't want us going after this Blanchett woman. What's so f*cking special about her?

“It’s not that she’s special, it’s just… it’s complicated.”

“Well then, by all means, enlighten us,” Becky said, throwing her hands up in annoyance.

“Michelle Blanchett owns the most prolific and profitable fashion and modeling agency in the country, arguably the world,” the chief explained. “That in and of itself isn’t the problem, of course; it’s more than that. She’s a very powerful woman, has a lot of pull in not just her own industry, but just about everywhere.”

“Uh huh,” Rose muttered. “So what, money is power? Big deal. What’s that have to do with us not storming her building and nailing her?”

“You have to understand, Blanchett is notorious for going out of her way to step on people to get what she wants. She's vindictive, spiteful, and power hungry, a plain lethal combination, and that isn’t exclusive to the fashion world; her lawyers could give Lex-friggin-Luthor’s a run for their money.” Slinking back in his seat, Palmer folded his arms and huffed out a sigh. “If we start going in and tossing around kidnapping charges at her and we’re wrong, or we can’t prove it, not only do we fail to expose her, but she'll do everything in her power to destroy us, whether it be financially or by reputation.”

Becky groaned, pacing back and forth for a moment. “Dios, so you’re saying we’re just supposed to sit around and do nothing?”

“No, I’m saying we need to be absolutely sure,” he said. “If you think that Blanchett might have had a part in kidnapping Holly and her friend, then we need proof, and we’ll need to conduct a proper investigation. We’re not going to arrest the woman on speculation. You got that?”

A brief wave of silence washed over the group. Rose folded her arms across her chest and looked off to the side, shaking her head slowly. She didn't want to admit that Palmer might have a point, but there wasn't a whole lot else she can do. As sure as she was on this, as much as she felt it in her gut, Palmer was right: they don’t have any proof.

“Fine then.” She suddenly reached out to grab Becky’s hand, starting to pull her out the door of Palmer’s office. “If you need proof, then we’ll get you proof. Just be ready to back us up.”

“Wilson… don’t you do anything stupid.”

“Don’t worry, Chief. I’m just gonna get my daughter back.”

Chapter #91

Sophie quietly opened the door, stepping forward into the room and flipping the light switch on. In her hands, she carried a very unique device, made to resemble a dog collar. It was, of course, much more advanced and high tech than a simple collar, with a very specific purpose. After closing the door behind her, she quickly headed across the room towards one of the beds, where Lyta slept soundly.

“Alright now, little witch girl. I have a solution for you.” Before she made it to the girl, however, a sudden thought caused her to pause. Curiously, she looked around the room, her eyes examining things closely. “Wait… where is ze ozer one?”

“Right here!”

Springing forward from behind, Holly delivered a hard kick to the back of the woman’s knee. Sophie's legs buckled, but she caught herself on the edge of the bed to maintain balance. Her efforts didn't serve her well for long, however, as another stiff blow exploded across the side of her face. Sophie fell to her hands and knees, only to then recoil at a third blow, this one driving straight into her gut.

“You let us go, right now!” Holly commanded.

As the young girl wound up for another strike, however, Sophie lifted a hand. Instantly, Holly’s body went stiff and flew across the room. She hit the wall with a hard thud, dropping to the floor a second later. Uttering a soft groan, Holly slowly sat upright. Her head throbbed; a dull, steady pulsing between her eyes.

Sophie, meanwhile, rose back to her feet and took a moment to straighten out her glasses.Zat is no way for a young girl to be'ave.”

“Well maybe I wouldn’t have to behave like this if you didn’t kidnap us!”

Grumbling with frustration, Holly sprang back to her feet and ran straight at the woman. With another simple wave of the hand, Sophie sent her crashing into the wall again, this time holding her there.

“Stay,” she said, glaring at the helpless girl.

Holly struggled for a few moments, trying to break free from the invisible force keeping her in place, but just like last time, it was useless. When she finally gave up, she looked over to see Sophie slipping the strange collar around Lyta’s neck.

“Hey! You leave her alone!”

“Zis will not ‘urt your friend. It is simply to keep ‘er from acting out, so she will be more… complacent for ‘omever purchases ‘er.”

“No, you’re not going to sell us!” Holly shrieked. “That’s illegal! And mean! You can’t treat kids like this!”

“Do not worry, ma petite; our clients are very wealsy people. Zey will take good care of you.”

“Take good care of us? They’re buying us! That makes us their slaves! So they can... they can do… things to us.”

Sophie abruptly stiffened and went silent. For a long moment, she simply stared at the wall in front of her, eyes going out of focus and demeanor slackening. Holly watched curiously, tilting her head to the side and narrowing her brow. Finally, Sophie held her arms around herself, as if needing a warm body to hug, yet finding only herself for comfort.

“Oui,” she uttered, quietly. “Zey will… most likely do many sings to you. But zey will… zey will love you.”

Tightening her jaw, Holly swallowed back a lump of nausea in her throat. “If you know what they’re going to do to us, then why are you helping them? Why are you doing this to us?”

“Because Madame Blanchett wishes it.”

“And if she wanted you to jump off a bridge, would you do that, too?”

Sophie gave a weak nod. “Oui, if zat is what she wanted. I live to follow ‘er command.”

Pausing, Holly furrowed her brow in confusion. “You can't be serious.”

“Euh, but I am serious. If Madame Blanchett wishes it, I make it ‘appen.”

She's like a robot or something... Holly thought, blinking at the woman in shock. Programmed to follow her master's orders.

“Why?” she asked.

Sophie paused, tilting her head. “...What do you mean?”

“Why do you listen to her like that? Can’t you think for yourself?”

“I… of course I can sink for myself. I simply choose to follow Madame Blanchett’s orders.”

“But why? What did she ever do for you?”

“She… saved my life.”

Holly frowned, hardening her glare. “And that’s why you help her ruin other children’s lives? That’s why you kidnap them and sell them to people as slaves?”

Sophie nodded again, this time with more conviction. “Oui, zat is why.”

A brief moment of silence passed between the pair. Holly stared at the woman, blinking several times in disbelief. Eventually, she slowly shook her head. “Lady, my mom says I shouldn’t talk badly about people, but you are so messed up.”

“I am... not sure I understand.”

“Your whole thought process is just… wrong,” she insisted.

“I sink zat is a matter of opinion, non?”

“Uh uh, not in this case.” When Sophie didn't respond, instead glancing off to the side and holding her arms tighter around herself, Holly's eyes softened. “What did that woman do to you?”

She didn't receive an answer, not at first. Sophie fidgeted where she stood, shifting her weight several times and looking down at the floor. Gently, her eyes closed, an attempt to stop a growing wetness from leaking down her cheeks. She failed, though, as the tears traced a wet path down her face.

“She did… nussing,” Sophie said, swallowing a hard knot in her throat. Her voice quivered, weak. “She saved me. Zat is all.”

“It’s okay if you want to talk about it. If she did bad things to you... you can tell me. I had someone do bad things to me once, too…” Breathing out a long, heavy sigh, Holly lowered her gaze sadly. “I know what it’s like.”

For a brief moment, Sophie glanced back at the girl, as if contemplating whether or not to say something. She opened her mouth, but paused, then looked away again. “Je suis désolé… I cannot say anysing. I… I must go. Your friend will wake up soon, I promise.” She quickly turned from the room, heading out the door and locking it behind her.

Holly dropped down to the floor a second later, the invisible hold releasing her. For a long moment, she just sat there, staring at the door. As a cold, numb sensation began to spread through her body, she bowed her head and tucked her knees up to her chest, holding her arms around them.

---

Becky's fingers firmly tightened around the metal cable, as she hoisted herself up through the elevator shaft. Ravager hung from her waist, arms gripping tightly as they ascended. Given Becky’s phenomenal new levels of strength, lifting both Ravager and herself upward proved to be a relatively simple task.

It was something that she still had trouble believing at times, how strong she was, though such disbelief was swiftly squashed whenever she accidentally ripped a door off its hinges, or something of an equally embarrassing nature. The amount she had to hold back on a daily basis to make sure she didn't tear through walls like tissue paper was astounding. Fortunately, her strength was greatly reduced when not coated in her nanite shell, like she was now, but it could be still a major headache at times.

“How much farther?” Ravager asked.

Becky glanced down at the elevator door below them. “I think we just passed the twentieth floor.”

“So thirty more to go before we get to Blanchett’s office.”

“Ah,” Becky said, growing a smirk, “so you’re not completely useless with math, I see.”

“Well, you know, when you were gone I had to help Holly with it,” she said, with a small shrug. “I learned a few things.”

A soft laugh emerged from Becky’s throat, as she continued to scale the elevator cable. “You’re sure the elevator isn’t going to suddenly activate, right? That could cause problems.”

“It’s disabled, don’t worry.”

“And the security cameras?”

“Also disabled. We just have to worry about not being seen by anyone.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem, then.” Becky grunted slightly, quickening her pace. “That Blanchett woman got off work hours ago, and I doubt she hires security guards to sit in her private office all night.”

“Not like it matters,” Ravager insisted. “We see any guards, and we do what we do best.”

A smirk curled its way across Becky’s metallic face. “A huevo.”

When they finally reached the top floor, Becky positioned herself in front of the elevator doors and effortlessly pulled them open. She then stepped out into the large office, which looked more like a fashion museum than anything. Letting go of her girlfriend, Ravager walked a short ways away and held her hands to her hips.

“Interesting setup she’s got here…” she muttered.

“You know, I will never understand the fashion world.” Moving up to one of the nearest mannequins, Becky disdainfully examined the shiny, gaudy garment. “Wouldn’t catch me dead wearing something like this. Looks ridiculous.”

“Well it’s a good thing we’re not here to shop, then. We’re here to look for clues.” Heading down the long carpet, Ravager approached the desk near the back of the office, right in front of the large window-wall. With a small, contemplative breath, she sat down at the desk and turned on the computer. “While I’m looking through her computer, check the drawers for any hard evidence.”

“Somehow, I don’t think she’d leave behind a paper in her desk that could tie her to recent kidnappings.” When Ravager slowly glared back up at her, Becky held her hands up and joined her girlfriend behind the desk. “But hey, I’ll look anyway.”

About twenty minutes later, the two hadn't found anything that could help them locate Holly and Lyta. While Becky had already gone through everything in the desk several times, Ravager hadn't found anything on the computer other than financial statements, fashion concepts, model profiles, and other such useless information.

“I’m beginning to think we aren’t going to find anything here,” Becky said, uttering a disappointed sigh. “Maybe we should just go straight for Blanchett herself and force her to give us some answers?”

Ravager shook her head. “Save that as a last resort. As much as I hate it, Palmer was right. Accusing someone like that of a crime is a big deal, and if we go after her directly, and we’re wrong, it won’t end well for anyone.”

“I just hate having to be so passive aggressive about this. I mean, this is Holly and Lyta. They’re counting on us. Circe’s counting on us. Mierda, everyone’s counting on us, it seems.”

“You think I don’t know that?” She lowered her gaze slightly, huffing out quick breath. “Sh*t, Becky, Holly’s my daughter for crying out loud. I want to get her back more than anything… but if we screw this up, then we might never find them.”

“I know, I know…”

“But trust me, if we find out Blanchett is behind this...” Ravager's gaze hardened at the computer screen, a frown forming behind her mask. “I’ll hit her so hard she’ll be spitting out teeth for a week. Now keep looking.”

---

Down in a lower level of the building, Michelle Blanchett lied back against the edge of a large bathtub, which was closer in resemblance to a hot tub than anything, complete with three separate faucets and multiple air jets. The hot water rose up just past her chest, soothing her tired body, while a light fog of steam filled the bathroom.

The bathroom itself was incredibly sleek and high end, with gold and silver fixtures, a marble floor, mirrored ceiling, even a waterproof television hanging from the wall in front of her. Right now, though, she wasn't watching television. She merely sat back and relaxed, enjoying the feel of the hot water soaking into her soft, alabaster skin.

After several minutes of peaceful silence, she raised a hand and snapped her fingers. “Sophie, be a dear and get me some soap.”

Sophie, who had up until now been waiting quietly off to the side, headed over to the nearby towel closet and opened the door. Several containers outfitted with all sorts of bath supplies—everything from soap and shampoo to bubbles and bath salts—hung from the back of the door. She grabbed the first bar of soap that she saw from one of these containers and brought it over to her mistress.

“‘Ere you are, Madame.”

Blanchett took the bar of soap from her, only to then pause and stare at it scornfully. “No, not this one! Uck, I hate the strawberry scented soap.” With a casual flip of the hand, she tossed the bar back over shoulder. Sophie caught it deftly in one hand. “Bring me the pomegranate.”

“Right away, Madame.” Sophie replaced the original bar of soap back in the closet, then grabbed a different bar and brought it to the bathing woman.

This time, Blanchett took the soap and began to wash herself. “Now, shampoo. Apple scented.”

Once again, Sophie returned to the closet, grabbing a large shampoo bottle. She then knelt behind Blanchett at the edge of the tub and took the bucket next to her, a bucket filled to the brim with warm, steaming water. Without warning, she dumped some of the water over the woman’s head, to wet her hair. Instantly, Blanchett recoiled, coughing and sputtering.

“You stupid girl! How many times have we been over this?!” Turning around, she rose up from the tub and delivered a biting slap to Sophie’s face, then sank back down to her previous position. Sophie just continued kneeling there, staring down at her and showing no change in emotion. “You don’t wet my hair until after I give you permission! Now, since you’ve already gone and done so, you may proceed with scrubbing.”

Swallowing briefly, Sophie took the shampoo, squirted a small amount into her hands, and then began to scrub Blanchett’s hair. “As you say, Madame.”

“Much better.” Blanchett relaxed back against the edge of the tub, uttering a long, satisfied breath and closing her eyes. After several minutes of scrubbing, Blanchett flippantly waved one of her hands. “You may rinse now.”

Sophie quickly obeyed, taking the bucket of water and gradually pouring it over the woman's head, to remove all the suds from her hair. When completely cleaned, Blanchett rose out of the tub and stepped up to the bathroom floor.

“Robe,” she ordered. Sophie brought her a soft, fluffy bathrobe, holding it open for her to slip into and then tying it off at the waist with a sash. The robe barely came midway down Blanchett's thighs. “Thank you, my dear. If you continue to behave, I may even let you join me next time. How does that sound?”

“Très bien, Madame,” she replied, bowing her head slightly. “I will be on my best behavior.”

Suddenly, the two were interrupted by a shrill, incessant beeping. Narrowing her eyes, Blanchett walked over to granite sink, where her mobile phone vibrated across the smooth surface. Clicking it on, she held the phone to her ear and uttered a very annoyed sigh. “Yes, Jake, what is it?”

“Uh, Ma'am, sorry to interrupt you so late, but you may want to take a look at something,” the voice replied. “I'm sending the feed to your bathroom monitor now.”

Turning towards the television screen, Blanchett watched as it flickered on, revealing a security camera feed of her office. In said office, two familiar individuals were rummaging around her desk, one on the computer and the other searching through the papers in her drawers. Instantly, her expression soured.

“What are those two rodents doing in my office, Jake?”

“I, uh, I honestly have no idea. We think they may have infiltrated the building some time ago. We found the security cameras disabled and were able to bring them back online fairly quick, but we still can't get the elevator to respond.”

Blanchett uttered a long sigh, rubbing her eyes tiredly. “Of course you can't. Fine then, I'll handle it. But as my chief of security, Jake, I expect you to prevent instances like this. Screw up again and you'll find your ass out on the curb, have I made myself understood?”

“Uh, Y-yes, Ma'am, of course. Very sorry.”

When she hung up the phone, Blanchett exhaled another breath and slowly looked over to her assistant. “Sophie, why do you suppose the local vigilantes are digging around my office?”

“I... I don't know, Madame.”

“Could it be because they suspect me for something? Say, kidnapping, perhaps?”

Sophie blinked, fidgeting nervously. “I don't see 'ow—”

“When you retrieved our latest two girls, Sophie, did anyone see you?” Blanchett took a couple steps closer, bringing a hand up and touching it tenderly to the girl's cheek. “Could anyone have known you took the girls and connected you to me?”

“I... I...”

“Speak up, Sophie!” she snapped, expression suddenly shifting into violent rage. “Did you f*ck up or not?!”

Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, Sophie slowly bowed her head and closed her eyes. “I-I might 'ave.”

Smack!

Blanchett delivered a staggering backhand to Sophie's face, causing the young woman to stumble back against the sink. Sophie held the edge of the sink tightly, barely able to maintain her balance as the sting of the blow flared across her face. Slowly, she lifted a hand to her now bright red cheek, and stared down at the floor, not daring to look her mistress in the eyes.

“How many more times, Sophie? How many more times are you going to screw up?!” Coming forward, Blanchett reached forward and grabbed the sides of the woman's face, forcing her to look straight forward. “ I saved you, don't you remember? I'm the one who gave you a better life. I raised you. I showed you love. And this is how you repay me? With utter incompetence?!”

“F-forgive me, Madame. I-I will fix zis.”

“You had better,” she said, voice stinging with menace.

Sophie sniffled, once again lowering her gaze and blinking the tears away from her eyes. Seeing this, Blanchett's demeanor suddenly softened. Leaning forward, she tenderly kissed the younger woman on the forehead.

“My dear, sweet Sophie... you know how much I hate having to hurt you,” she cooed, shaking her head idly. “But sometimes... you just don't leave me any choice.”

“Oui, Madame, I understand,” Sophie replied, slowly nodding. “I... I am sorry.”

“And I forgive you. Now, go and clean up your mess, hmm? Show those intruders what happens to those who mess with Michelle Blanchett.”

Chapter #92

With a long, frustrated sigh, Becky pushed the bottom drawer of the desk back in with a loud slam. Rising to her feet, she folded her arms callously across her chest and shifted her eyes over towards Ravager. “Fifth time I’ve been through her desk. There’s nothing here.”

Ravager bowed her head, uttering a sigh of equal disappointment. “I’m starting to think you’re right…”

Moving the cursor across the computer screen, she closed out of yet another dead end file. She had been through most of the documents on the computer now, yet hadn't found a single piece of useful information.

“I told you we weren’t going to find anything this way. No kidnapper is going to keep a record on their crimes.”

“Normally, I’d agree with you,” Ravager said, leaning back in her seat. “But consider the woman behind it. What possible purpose would Blanchett have to kidnap a bunch of children? She doesn’t need the petty cash she’d get from a ransom, and there can’t be any revenge involved since we’ve never crossed the woman before.”

Becky shrugged. “It could be for selfish reasons. Some kidnappers take children because they can’t have one of their own and they get desperate.”

“Then she would have taken a much younger kid, probably a baby so she could raise it herself. It doesn’t make much sense to take a couple of twelve year old girls who know what you did and will hate you for it.”

Becky paused a moment, uncomfortably shifting her weight and glancing absently off to the side. “Well, there is another reason why some people kidnap older children…”

“I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t want to think about it. But if that is the case, then there isn’t a damn place on this earth where Blanchett can hide from my wrath, that’s a promise.”

Suddenly, the soft hum of a moving elevator broke the silence of the office. The two woman slowly glanced across the room at the elevator doors to see the numbers above beginning to light up one at a time.

“I thought the elevator was disabled,” Becky said.

“It was.” Ravager quickly pushed herself back to her feet, staring at the elevator. She hesitated a moment, gaze drifting up towards the ceiling to a security camera pointed straight at the desk. A small red light glowed next to the lens, indicating that the camera was up and running. “And so were the security cameras. We took too long.”

“Time to go then, ah? I say we pay Blanchett a visit next. Her penthouse is just three blocks from here.”

Ravager pushed the chair into the desk and quickly powered down the computer. In spite of their predicament, she remained calm, cool. She had been in far more nerve-wracking situations before than being caught breaking into an office. No cause for alarm.

“At this point, we may have to,” she muttered. “Let’s just take care of the wayward security guards first, then we can be on our way.”

Becky smirked, while cracking her knuckles. “Now that I can do.”

Ravager took point, hurrying across the floor towards the elevator. The moment that it opened, she would ready ready to strike. It would be quick, brutal, and over before they goons inside even had a chance to react. At least, that was the plan. One thing she should have learned by now, though, was that things almost never went according to plan.

Right as the doors began to slide open, a powerful, invisible force pushed violently through the air and collided into Ravager’s chest. A surprised puff of air burst from her lungs, as her body lifted off the ground and flew airborne wildly. She crashed through several of the nearby mannequins, shattering the fiberglass figures into countless, glittering shards. Shortly after she rolled to a stop, Becky came to a harsh landing nearby, sliding straight into one of the abstract sculptures. The metal structure teetered momentarily and then finally toppled forward, landing with a crash atop her.

“Alright…” Groaning, Becky shoved the sculpture off herself with a single hand, sending it spinning into the wall next to her. “...wasn’t prepared for that.”

Ravager took a brief respite to gain her breath back, sucking in several large gulps of air. When the throbbing in her chest finally ceased, she pushed her way up to her hand and knees, then slowly rose to her feet. When she looked back over to the elevator, she momentarily froze at what she saw.

Or rather, who she saw.

“You…”

Sophie nodded, taking several steps forward and calmly straightening out her glasses. “Oui, moi.”

It was the same woman from the park, Ravager was sure of it. The hair was the same, the clothes were the same, the body type was the same… but now that she got a real good look at the woman's face, a strange grip of surprise took hold. She looks… my age. No, younger. She can't be out of her teens.

“You can’t be… Blanchett?”

“Non, I am not Madame Blanchett,” she replied. “I am ‘er assistant, Sophie.”

“Well, Sophie—” Standing straight on her feet, Becky marched towards the woman. Her hands tightened to fists, arms lifting slightly in preparation to attack. “—you took two girls from the park today. So, here’s the deal. You tell us where they are and I won’t rip your freaking arms off.”

Sophie shook her head, while retaining the same calm, stolid demeanor. “Non, I do not sink so.”

Without even turning to give Becky a look of acknowledgment, Sophie lifted a palm and held it straight out. Instantly, Becky levitated up from the floor and shot through the air with disturbing force into the wall next to her. Given her now considerable levels of durability, however, the impact barely dazed her, and in a short moment she was back on her feet.

“That the best you can do, ah?” Becky asked, pushing her way through the debris of plaster and Sheetrock. “Didn't even tickle.”

“Becky, calm down,” Ravager urged. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with here.”

“She took the girls!” Becky countered. “I don’t care who or what she is, I’m stopping her right now!”

Sophie held her hands casually to her hips, uttering a quiet sigh. “Zat would be most unwise.”

Ignoring the warning, Becky sprinted across the room again. This time, Sophie raised an arm and caused the metallic woman to fly straight upward, crashing violently into the ceiling. With another sweeping motion, she sent Becky plummeting back to the floor, cracking the tile.

“That’s enough!” Ravager called.

Slowly, Sophie turned her gaze. “Non, not yet. You broke into Madame Blanchett’s private office. Now, you must pay ze price.”

“We only broke in here because you kidnapped two innocent girls!”

“I am afraid I do not know what you speak of.”

“Oh bullsh*t!” Ravager took a few steps forward, pointing at the woman in accusation. “I saw you at the park today. I saw you take my daughter and her friend! You’re going to tell us where they are and what you’ve done to them, or so help me—”

“So 'elp you, what?” Sopihe asked. She lifted her eyebrows, head tilting in genuine curiosity. “What do you intend to do to me?”

“We’ll start by knocking those teeth out of your pretty face, how’s that?” Breathing in deeply, Becky slowly rose back to her feet, legs quivering. Whatever force that this woman had attacked her with had managed to form spidery cracks along her metallic shell, and left her body within numb and throbbing.

“What Madame Blanchett does is none of your concern,” Sophie said, “but I assure that you will not find 'olly or 'er friend 'ere.”

Ravager stiffened at the statement, eyes narrowing coldly behind her mask. “So then how did you know her name?”

With a brief intake of air, Sophie’s mouth opened partially, as if about to speak. She hesitated, though, no words finding their way out of her throat. Instead, she paused, thinking carefully and blinking in surprise. Eventually, her gaze lowered towards the floor, as she gradually realized her mistake.

“I… oh.”

“Yeah,” Ravager said, hands tightening to fists. “Oh.

Sophie shifted on her feet slightly, bringing up a hand to rub the back of her head. “Well, zis is embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry; you won’t be embarrassed much longer.” Reaching down to her belt, Ravager fumbled her fingers around inside one of the compartments momentarily. She pulled out a small, round pellet, cracked it open, and then threw it straight at the woman across from her. Sophie noticed the tiny object flying towards her and reacted instantly, holding up a hand to stop the pellet cold in the air. “Becky, eyes!”

A bright, blinding flash lit the room, allowing only a brief second for Ravager and Becky to shield their eyes. Sophie, on the other hand, was unprepared for the flash, staring straight at the pellet when it went off. She recoiled backwards, stumbling over her own two feet and holding her hands up against her face.

“My… my eyes!” she shrieked. “I can’t see!”

“That's the whole point!” Ravager retorted, whipping her whole arm forward in a wild, almost frenzied motion.

The backhand clubbed Sophie square in the jaw, knuckles cracking against bone. With a startled and pained cry, the woman fell back to one knee, clutching her cheek. “P-please, I can’t… I am sorry! Stop! Please! Arrêter!”

“You kidnap children and now you’re sorry? Mierda!” A scowl twisted across Becky’s silvery face. She marched forward, standing over Sophie for a moment. Then, she reached down to grab her by the front of her blouse. Effortlessly, she lifted the woman up with one arm and then pushed her up against the elevator. The doors dented inward upon impact, eliciting a pained cry from Sophie’s throat. “It doesn’t work that way! You don’t just get to apologize and walk away!”

“Becky,” Ravager said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Careful. Remember your strength.”

“Relax, I haven’t lost control. Yet.”

Sophie blinked several times. All she saw were vague, hazy shapes in front of her. She squinted, trying to better identify things, but her vision was only slowly returning. She quivered beneath Becky's grip, her face contorting into genuine fear and remorse. Tears, not only from the flash but also from fear of her own life, streaked down her cheeks. “I.. I am sorry. Please... Please.”

Ravager breathed outward, glaring at Sophie. “Why did you take the girls, Sophie?”

“I… I do nussing unless Madame Blanchett wishes it.”

“So then she’s the one who had them kidnapped?”

Sophie nodded quickly. “Oui… zem and many ozers.”

Ravager blinked, eyebrows lifting. “Wait, there’s more?”

“Oui.”

“Why?” Becky asked. “What does she want with them?!” When Sophie failed to answer right away, Becky pulled her back a few feet and then once again slammed her against the elevator doors, further denting the metal. “Cuéntanos!”

“Please, I cannot say!” Sophie squirmed frantically in Becky's grasp, fighting to get away. It was futile, though. “Ze Madame will… she wouldn’t like it.”

“Sophie, you need to tell us why Blanchett took them,” Ravager said. “And you need to tell us where they are.”

She shook her head wildly again, hiccuping out a sob. “Non… please, I cannot.”

“Sophie, it’s alright. You just need to—”

“Non!” Sophie squinted her eyes shut, blocking off another stream of tears. “I said, NON!”

Another massive wave of invisible energy burst forth, ripping Becky’s grip away from Sophie’s blouse. Uttering a surprised gasp, Becky tumbled backwards and smashed through several nearby mannequins. Ravager, however, received a much larger impact. An unseen hand reached out and grabbed her, dragging her across the room. She tried to struggle against the vice-like hold, but there was no escaping it, not until it released her of its own volition.

The large window wall behind Blanchett’s desk exploded outward in a cascading shower of glass shards, as Ravager crashed through it. For the briefest of moments, she hung there, suspended in midair.

“ROSE!” Becky called, scrambling back to her feet. She stumbled briefly before managing to sprint at the open window.

A brief moment later, Ravager plummeted, fifteen hundred feet of empty, open air between her and solid pavement. Becky didn't even think when she reached the window, didn't hesitated. No more than a second after Ravager fell, Becky leaped out the window and followed.

Ravager twisted her body around in midair, looking downward at the rapidly approaching ground. Though the descent took mere seconds, things went in slow motion for her, dragging for what felt like hours. All the while, her heart thumped madly in her chest, panic beginning to set in.

Not good, not good, not good!

It was the only thought she managed to formulate in her head, repeating it over and over again to herself like some kind of desperate mantra.

“Rose!”

A sudden flare of shock surged through her body. Twisting back around, she saw Becky plummeting through the air mere feet behind, body straight and rigid, arms down by her sides. She descended like a missile, quickly closing the distance between them.

“Becky, what the hell are you doing?!”

“Just... hold on!”

By the time Becky finally reached her, they were fractions of a second from hitting pavement. Instinctively, Ravager's body tensed up, preparing for her life to end in an explosive mess of blood and bone. But Becky grabbed onto her tightly, and suddenly a cold tingling spread its way across her entire body in an instant. In that last moment before they smacked against the concrete sidewalk, Becky flipped them both over so that she landed first with Ravager held in her arms.

When they finally hit the ground, the sidewalk shattered, opening up a small crater beneath them. Small chunks of concrete sprayed in all directions like shrapnel from a grenade, causing the few passersby to run away screaming. No one was sticking around long enough to determine just exactly caused the miniature quake that just blew apart the sidewalk. Once they were gone, the street was empty. No cars, no people, just Ravager and Becky lying in a human sized indent on the pavement.

For a long, quiet moment, Ravager just stared up at the sky. She blinked a few times, not really sure if she was still alive. Then, slowly, she sat up. Though a dull pain throbbed throughout her entire body, it wasn't that severe. In fact, she was able to roll over to her hands and knees without much difficulty. After taking another second to suck in several deep breaths, she glanced down at herself to finally noticed the hard, metallic shell coating her body. Within moments, however, the metal cracked apart and began to melt down into a liquid-like state, dripping onto the sidewalk.

“Well, that's... nifty,” she muttered.

“Hrrngh...” Slowly, Becky sat upright. Having taken the large brunt of that impact, her body was in a worse state. The only plus side was that her body was now built to handle damage like that. Regardless of the intense pain flaring through her chest, she would be fine. “Ay dios mio... promise me we'll never do that again, ah?”

“Right... promise.”

Becky exhaled another soft groan of discomfort, as she leaned over and held her hand to the silvery pool in front of Ravager. Instantly, the same metallic shell around her own body began to liquify, all merging together and then absorbing back into her skin. Now back in her normal form, Becky staggered up to her feet and sucked in a deep breath.

“Okay, so we learned two things tonight,” she said. “One, Blanchett definitely has Holly and Lyta, along with god knows how many others. We have find them, and we have to free them, no matter what it takes.”

“No argument there. Come on, let's get out of here and figure out a plan.” Swallowing back a nauseous lump in her throat, Ravager rose back up to her feet again and arched her back, cracking loose several tight knots. Then, she held an arm around Becky's shoulder and began walking with her down into the nearest alleyway. “So what's the second thing?”

Becky huffed out an annoyed breath. “Telekinetics really suck.”

---

Lyta sat next to Holly on the edge of the bed, staring down at her hands with a certain emptiness in her eyes. For the hundredth time, she splayed her fingers and concentrated, trying to summon her magical energy, and for the hundredth time nothing happened. Finally, she gave up, hanging her head and burying her face into her palms.

“It's no use,” she said. “I can't do anything.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you could—”

“I said I can't!”

Holly recoiled at the bitterness in her friend's tone. She didn't understand the first thing about having magical powers or what it would feel like to have them taken away, but apparently it was a very difficult thing for Lyta to deal with.

“I... I'm sorry,” Lyta uttered, bowing her head shamefully. “I didn't mean to yell, I just... if I could use my magic, I could get us out of here. Why can't I use it?”

“It must be the collar that Sophie person put on you last night.” Leaning forward cautiously, Holly gently poked at the metal choker clamped firmly around Lyta's throat. “I wonder if I could...”

She carefully gripped the sides of the collar. Once she had a firm grasp, she brought her other hand up to take hold of the opposite side. Then, she made an attempt to pull the thing apart, concentrating on the seam where it came together. Her fingers fumbled briefly, pushing and tugging at the metal band, until suddenly she yanked it just the wrong way.

A stinging electrical shock sparked to life, surging into her fingertips and through the rest of her body. With a startled yelp, she jolted backwards and stumbled to the floor. Lyta, too, suffered from the same shock, sliding forward off the bed and landing on her hands and knees. Unlike, Holly, however, whose pain ended the moment she let go, Lyta could not escape the shock ripping into her body.

“Lyta!”

“It HURTS!” she cried. “Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!”

Eventually, the electric shock ceased on its own, roughly fifteen seconds after it started. When the pain finally left, Lyta collapsed to the floor and curled up into a ball, body shaking and twitching. Her eyes squinted shut tightly, wet tears seeping out down the sides of her face. For several long moments, the only sounds she made were frightened, pained sobs.

“Oh my god, Lyta, I... I'm so sorry,” Holly uttered. Crawling her way across the ground, she sat at Lyta's side and gently lifted her up into a comforting hug. Lyta instinctively buried her face into Holly's shoulder, while reaching around with her arms to return the embrace. “I didn't mean to— I didn't know it would do that.”

“I don't like it here...” Lyta whimpered. “I want my mom.”

“I know, Lyta... but it'll be alright. I'll protect you, I promise.”

An abrupt slam interrupted their tender moment, as the door to the bedroom burst open. A thin, pale woman with long dark hair stepped into the room. Her movements were elegant, graceful, as if gliding across the floor. Behind her, a more familiar woman followed. Sophie gave the two girls a brief, careful look, then immediately bowed her gaze towards the floor.

“Oh, good, they're already awake,” Blanchett said. “Saves us the trouble of getting them up.”

“Who are you?” Holly asked. “What are you doing here?”

“My dear, you don't need to know who I am,” she replied. “All you need to know is that if you do exactly what you're told, we'll get along just fine, and no one has to get hurt. Do you understand?”

Holly didn't answer, instead holding Lyta closer, defensively.

Raising an eyebrow, Blanchett took a step forward and held her hands to her hips. “Don't feel like saying anything now, hmm? Fine, we don't have time to talk anyway. Sophie, see to it that they shower and change. We leave in an hour.”

“As you wish, Madame.”

Blanchett gave the two girls one more hard look, her eyes lingering over their bodies much too long for comfort. Then, she turned and left the room, swinging the door closed behind her. Sophie glanced back over her shoulder briefly, before bringing her full attention to Holly and Lyta.

“Let's go, girls, time to get ready,” Sophie stated, walking towards them. “We will be giving you a new 'ome very shortly.”

Chapter #93

A dead silence hung over the office; a calm before the storm, so to speak. The blinds were drawn down over the windows, casting most of the room in shadow, save for a series of small slits of light. Pungent wisps of cigar smoke billowed up from the used butts smoldering in an ashtray, choking the room in a thick, gray haze. Hovering over the desk, a man with slicked back, salt-and-pepper hair stared carefully at his phone in front of him.

This man, dressed in a clean pressed business suit, was Isaiah Slaton, an esteemed and highly accomplished businessman. Normally, he was quite the patient man, but as the afternoon dragged on, that patience began to wear thin. The call should have come an hour ago, yet that disdainful woman chose instead to make him wait. He did so hate it when she made him wait.

When at last the phone rang, Slaton narrowed his eyes at the phone and slowly reached out to answer it. His hand paused momentarily, allowing it to ring several more times, until finally he decided to answer. “I expected your call over an hour ago.”

Blanchett uttered an annoyed sigh from the other end of the line. “Yes, yes, so I had some things I needed to take care of, big deal. Besides, you’re a big boy. You can handle a little wait, can’t you?”

“Do you have the shipment prepared?”

“Don’t I always? Quite the selection this time around, too. Our best in years, I’d say.”

Slaton lifted an eyebrow. “Is that right? I look forward to… examining the product, then.”

“Just remember to keep your hands to yourself, this time,” she said. “Remember what happened last time? Our clients don’t want to bid on damaged goods.”

“You let me worry about that.” Leaning back against his chair, Slaton kicked his feet up on the desk in front of him and gazed emptily at the far wall. “I trust you’ll be here on time?”

“Of course. My assistant is taking the shipment up there shortly so you can prepare them for tonight. I’ll be meeting you later.”

He paused a moment, raising a hand to his chin in thought. “Your assistant… you mean that Sophie girl? How is she doing?”

“She’s a stupid, naïve girl,” Blanchett replied. A moment later, however, she uttered a swooning sigh. “And yet, she’s my stupid, naïve girl. No matter how many times she screws up, I can’t stay mad at her.”

“Hmph, if you ever get sick of her, send her my way. I wouldn’t mind a new… assistant.”

Blanchett snorted out a laugh. “Ha, you wish. She belongs to me, Isaiah, no one else. Even if I did get sick of her, she still has her uses.”

“If you say so,” he muttered. “I’m surprised that you kept her around after she grew up, though. Last I checked, you preferred younger girls.”

A soft breath echoed in over the phone, followed by the slam of a car door. The familiar sounds of a busy city street followed. “Preferences change, Slaton. I raised the girl, pulled her off the streets. We have a… connection.”

“Of course you do.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to be— yes? What is it?”

Slaton listened carefully, sitting up straighter in his seat. He could hear muffled voices in the background, voices directed at Blanchett, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“No, I don’t see what— hold on a moment.” The woman exuded an annoyed sigh from her lips, briefly bringing her attention back to her phone. “It appears I may be delayed a little while. Sophie should still be there on time, so be ready for her arrival. I’ll see you later.”

A small frown slowly formed its way across Slaton’s face, as the line clicked dead. Breathing outwardly, he lowered the phone and placed it back down on the desk, then casually leaned back again in his chair. So much to prepare for, and Blanchett feels the need to be ‘delayed’. She’d better have a good reason.

---

Quickly slipping her cell phone back into her purse, Blanchett lifted her gaze at the two officers in front of her, eying them contemptuously. She didn't recognize them, which wasn't a good thing. Over the years, she had managed to bribe quite a number of cops to leave her alone, but these two didn't appear to be on her payroll. Unfortunate, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

“Now, what is it you wanted with me?” she asked.

“We just need you to come down to the station with us, answer a few questions,” Becky said, narrowing her eyes coldly.

“Am I being charged with something?”

The other officer, Stevens, shook his head. “No, you’re not being charged with anything. Not yet, anyway.”

“And are you detaining me, or am I free to go?”

“Not detaining you either,” Stevens replied. “As we said, we'd just like to ask you some questions. You don't have to come with us... but we would hope that such a prominent and respected woman as yourself would be cooperative with local law enforcement, when requested.”

Blanchett’s gaze shifted between the two officers curiously, as if trying to decipher their thoughts. Several moments later, she exhaled a long sigh and lifted her shoulders with an indifferent shrug. “Very well, I'll play along with you for now. I do have a little time to spare. If it’s all the same to you, though, I’d prefer to take my own car; I can’t have some tabloid printing up a story of why I was being taken away in a police car. You can follow me, if you like, make sure I don’t flee.”

Officer Stevens briefly glanced over at his partner. Becky merely rolled her eyes and flippantly waved her hand, while turning to enter their squad car. “Alright, we’ll follow you back to the station. I assume you know the way?”

“Why yes, I assure you that I do.”

---

Blanchett sat calmly at the lone table in the middle of the interrogation room. She leaned forward, opening her purse and pulling out a compact makeup kit. Without a care or concern about where she was or why she was there, she casually began to touch up her makeup, carefully examining her reflection in the mirror.

“How long do you suppose she’ll stay that calm?” Rose asked.

In the next room, the small team of Rose, Chief Palmer, Becky, and Stevens stood around in the darkened interior, watching the woman closely from the other side of the large two-way mirror. While Palmer stood straight and stiff, his arms folded firmly across his chest, Rose and Becky leaned close to the glass, eyeing the woman intently. This was the woman responsible for Holly and Lyta being taken. This was the woman they were going to burn to the ground.

From the other side of the room, sitting lazily in a fold-up chair, Stevens widened his mouth in a long, tired yawn, before answering her question. “Give it another hour. Maybe two. Once she starts sweating, then we can grill her for some answers.”

“We may not have that much time,” Palmer stated. “We’re holding her now, sure, but we haven’t charged her with anything. We can’t charge her with anything, not yet. We don't even have enough evidence to detain her while conducting an investigation. Because of that, she's free to leave at any time; if she stops being cooperative, we're out of luck.”

“We got her assistant to confess,” Rose muttered, glancing back at the chief. “What more do you need?”

“With all due respect, Wilson,” he replied, “a coerced confession from the Ravager hardly qualifies as 'official' evidence. We know she's guilty, sure, but as far as the law and due process goes, it doesn't work that way.”

Becky huffed out a quiet breath. “He’s right. We should go in there and starting talking her down, get her to confess and tell us where she’s keeping those children.”

Palmer’s eyes slowly tured towards her. “With all due respect, Chavez, I don’t think you should be questioning her. Technically, you shouldn’t even be on this case, since you’re personally involved.”

“But, Sir—”

“No buts. You’ll have to sit this one out.”

“Then I’ll do it,” Rose said, cracking her knuckles. “I’ll have her talking in ten minutes. Hell, I’ll have singing.”

Palmer glared at her. “You’re not even a cop anymore, Wilson. You have even less of a chance of going in there than Rebecca. You’re lucky you’re even sitting back here with us.”

Clearing his throat, Stevens began to straighten himself in his seat. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but before a single word even left his throat, the chief was on him.

“And before you even speak, Stevens, need I remind you that you have one of the worst track records in interrogation? I’m not letting you anywhere near that room.”

“Jueputa,” Becky said. “Then who’s supposed to question her?”

“If the few detectives in this department weren’t busy on other cases, I’d have them in here,” Palmer said. “But, in the meantime… I’ll handle it.”

When the door to the interrogation room opened, Blanchett quickly flipped her compact closed and placed it back into her purse. Sitting up straight, she smoothed out the front of her blouse and folded her hands in front of her on the table, while her eyes ever so slightly shifted upwards to look at Palmer. “Afternoon, officer. What can I do for you?”

“I’m hoping that you can answer a few questions for me, Miss Banchett.”

“Please, call me Michelle.”

Palmer pulled up a seat on the other side of the table. He sat straight and rigid, arms resting calmly in front of him. “Very well… Michelle. Now, are you aware that there have been a growing number of kidnappings in the city over the past few months?”

“Oh yes, I’ve heard about it on the news,” she said, face twisting with sympathy. “It’s just awful, isn’t it?”

“Quite,” he said. “Did you also happen to hear that, most recently, two girls were taken from the park yesterday afternoon?”

“No, I’m afraid I didn’t hear that one. Sounds terrible.”

The chief’s eyes narrowed sternly at the woman. He knew a facade when he saw one, and this one was paper-thin. “I have several eyewitness claims that one of your vans was parked outside the gates that afternoon. Reports also say that your personal assistant—Sophie I believe her name is—was spotted entering the park at around the same time those girls were taken.”

“Is that correct?” Blanchett pursed her lips ever so slightly, thinking deeply. “Well, Sophie does love the park; I think she’s taken a liking to feeding the ducks at the pond. Between you and me, that girl is quite easily amused. I think she might actually be a little slow.”

“And does she often visit the park in the middle of a workday?”

“My employees are free to do what they wish during their lunch break,” she said, with a casual wave of her hand, “so long as they’re back at the office on time. So, yes, I’d say it’s not out of the ordinary.”

“And did you know that one eyewitness in particular claims she saw your assistant loading two girls into her van when she left?”

At this question, a delightfully amused chuckle emerged from Blanchett’s lips. Forming a wide smile across her face, she leaned back in her seat and folded her arms across her chest. “Well then I’m afraid that this witness must have been mistaken, because that is wholly impossible. I think I would have noticed if Sophie returned from her lunch with two kidnapped girls loaded into a van that we use multiple times throughout the day.”

“I see. That’s interesting.” Carefully scribbling down a few notes on his notepad, Palmer pressed his questioning. “I say it’s interesting because we’ve been told by a very reliable source that your assistant all but confessed to kidnapping them. She even knew one of their names, when the story and the identities of the girls has not yet been released.”

Blanchett stiffened in her seat, expression quickly souring. No longer was she smiling with amusement, but instead scowling. “I assure you, such a thing would be quite impossible. Sophie was with me all last night; I kept her working late, and she never left my presence. She could not have confessed such a thing to anyone without me knowing, especially considering she committed no such crime to begin with.” Gaze hardening even further, she slowly leaned forward against the table, her eyes locking on coldly to Palmer’s. “Or do you mean to tell me that perhaps one of your little hero pets illegally broke into my building last night and coerced a confession out of her? Is that what you would have me believe?”

Her statement caused Palmer to shift slightly in his chair. He crossed one leg over the other, tilting his notepad and writing down another few words. For now, he ignored her question and moved on. “And where is your assistant right now? I’d like to ask her a few questions, as well, see if she can corroborate your story.”

“She’s unavailable right now; I have her running an errand,” she explained. “Even if she were available, though, I would not have her come down here to suffer such accusations, as I have.”

“No one’s accusing you of anything. We’re just talking.”

Insinuations, then. Either way, we are quite done here. If I’m correct, you haven’t actually detained me for investigation, so I'm free to leave when I want. You’ve already wasted enough of my time, and I have a very important meeting in Gotham tonight. So, if you’ll excuse me.”

Pushing herself away from the table, Blanchett stood up quickly and grabbed her purse. She didn't give Palmer so much as a single glance as she stormed out of the room, slamming the door loudly behind her. Once she gone, Palmer exhaled a long breath and turned to look over at the mirror behind him.

“Could have gone worse,” he said, with a small shrug.

From behind the mirror, Rose slowly glanced over at Becky. “Did you hear what I heard?”

Becky nodded, smirking. “Si. We’re going to Gotham.”

---

“You’re going to Gotham?” Standing there in the middle of the apartment, Circe watched as Rose quickly packed the Ravager equipment into a large, sturdy duffel bag. Becky lounged on the couch behind them, next to Ruby.

“That’s where Blanchett is heading, yeah,” Rose replied. “Chances are, that’s where that Sophie girl is, too. If we’re lucky, they’ll lead us right to our daughters, and the other children. If not, we can corner them and get some real answers.”

“Then I’m going with you,” Circe said, folding her arms firmly across her chest.

Rose paused, looking up from her duffel bag and giving Circe a surprised gaze. “What do you mean you’re going?”

“You heard me. I’m not going to sit around again while my daughter is out there in trouble. How many times have I relied on you to help her? How many times have I sat back and waited for other people to solve my problems for me? Not this time.”

“But Circe… I mean, you’re not… you can’t…”

“Yes, Rose, I know I have no power, nor any skill.” Circe spat out an insulted breath and looked away, frowning. “Thank you oh so much for reminding me. You think I care? How can I be a good mother if I can’t even protect my daughter?

“Circe… I get how you feel, really,” Rose said. “But you can’t come with us. We already know that Blanchett has a girl with telekinesis trained to attack for her, and there’s no telling what else she’ll pull on us. You’d only be putting yourself in danger.”

Circe glared back at her. “I told you, I don’t care! I just want to help my daughter!”

Rose carefully walked up to the woman and put a hand on her shoulder. She breathed out a sigh of understanding and looked deeply into Circe’s eyes, trying to offer some form of comfort. “I know, Circe. But you won’t be much help to her if you get yourself killed. We’ll find her, I promise.”

Circe shrugged away from Rose’s touch. She turned around, taking several short steps and glaring at the floor. “You’d better.”

Sitting up in her seat, Becky offered a reassuring nod, hands clasping together in front of her. “We will, it’s a promise. Now, are we ready to head out or what?”

“Just a second,” Rose said. “Ruby, think you can handle the city on your own for a while?”

The blood-haired woman lounged back on the couch and uttered a tiny laugh. “I managed when you were retired for three months, didn’t I?

“Right, just help Palmer continue his investigation; see if anything turns up around here.”

“You got it,” she said, giving a firm thumbs-up. “Now, get out of here and go kick their bloody arses.”

Chapter #94

The large elevator doors glided open with an audible ding to announce their arrival. Cautiously, a group of twenty or so children shuffled out into the small lobby. The children ranged from age eight to sixteen, both boys and girls. They looked around nervously and huddled close to each other, as though it gave them some semblance of safety. A few sobbed to themselves, terrified of their impending fates. They sniffled and blinked their wet eyes, wiping away the tears leaking down their cheeks. Others hung their heads in silent contemplation, distant, broken expressions plastered across their faces. None of them spoke, though. They had already learned what happens when they speak.

“Zis way, children.” Moving quickly to the front of the group, Sophie waved them along. They hesitated, giving each other careful glances, until finally dragging their feet behind them and following.

The lobby they moved through looked like any other lobby you'd find in an office building like this, except for the fact that it was built underground. Two couches sat on either side of the central space, along with two end-tables, both with stacks of magazines. Near the back of the room was a large reception desk, behind which stood a portly man with glasses. He leaned forward, as the group approached, and gave Sophie a welcoming smile.

“Ah, Miss Blanchett's assistant, yes?” the receptionist asked.

“Oui, zat is correct. I am 'ere wis ze shipment.”

The man gave the group of young children a long, careful look. “Yes, yes I can see that. Looks like a lively bunch this year.”

“I sink our clients will be very 'appy, non?”

“Well, go on ahead,” he said, waving her through. “Mr. Slaton is waiting to conduct his own personal inspection so he can determine how to organize tonight's auctions.”

Sophie gave the man a polite bow. “Merci. Come, children, time is short.”

As the group continued to shuffle its way forward towards the long corridor in front of them, Holly took a few steps back. She reached out to tightly grab Lyta's hand, then pulled her back in front of the reception desk. With the receptionist now preoccupied with his computer, and the girls both shorter than the top of the desk, they went unnoticed for now.

Holly leaned in and held a finger over her lips, then whispered, “Just follow my lead.”

Placing her hands gently against the top of the counter, Holly suddenly jumped upward, pulling down with her arms and using her momentum to fling her body through the air. She landed on top of the desk with a loud thud, causing the receptionist to lurch backward with a shocked yelp, his hand flying to his chest and eyes wide. She didn't give him a chance to do much else, throwing herself at him wildly with her elbow swinging forward and cracking the man across the side of the face.

The receptionist stumbled backwards, tripping over his chair and plummeting to the floor. Holly was on him in an instant, landing on his chest and bringing both hands high above her head. With a viciousness the likes of which she had never had to show before, she delivered two powerful chops, one to either side of the man's neck. His eyes went wide momentarily, before rolling into the back of his head, unconscious.

“Whoa.” Peering around the side of the desk, Lyta blinked in astonishment. “Holly, that was amazing! You are so awesome!”

“Just did what I had to do...” she muttered, with a small shrug, “Now come on, let's get out of here quick.”

The two girls hurried back across the lobby towards the elevator. Holly repeatedly clicked the button to make the thing open, each passing second feeling more and more like an eternity. When finally the doors opened, they desperately stumbled inside. Frantically, Holly pushed the ground floor button and then took a few steps backwards, watching as the doors closed in front of them.

As the elevator began to rise, Lyta uttered a long, relieved breath, and smiled broadly. “We made it!”

“Now we just need to get out of here and contact our moms,” Holly said. “I know this city, too. I can get Batman here to help free the other kids.”

“Wait, you know Batman?

“Yeah, he and my mom are pretty good friends.”

Lyta grinned. “Wow... sweet.”

Suddenly, the elevator trembled. In seconds, the emergency brakes turned on, screeching loudly as they came to an abrupt halt. Holly and Lyta held on to the sides carefully, looking up at the flickering light above them.

“Holly... what's going on? Why did we stop?”

“I... I'm not sure.”

And then, the elevator plummeted down the shaft. The girls screamed in terror, certain that they were about to flatten against the ground when they crash landed. Before the lift smashed into a pile of twisted steel and cables, however, it rapidly decelerated, coming to a slow and easy stop. Then, the doors flew open. An invisible force wrapped around both girls, yanking them through the air back out into the basement lobby. When they finally came to a stop, they hovered there in midair, Sophie standing calmly in front of them.

“You should not 'ave done zat,” she said.

Holly squirmed, trying to break free. “Let us go!”

“You are beginning to sound like a broken record, non? Repeating again why I cannot let you go would be, 'ow you say, redundant.”

“Our moms are going to find us, you know,” Lyta said. Her eyes narrowed coldly. “And when they do, they're going to hurt you.”

Sophie shook her head. “Non, I don't sink so. Soon enough, you both will be 'alfway around ze world in a new 'ome.”

Holly gave the woman a long look, tightening her jaw and swallowing a hard lump in her throat. “You don't have to do this... you don't have to keep hurting people. I know you don't like to.”

A soft breath exuded from Sophie's lips. For a brief moment, her gaze shifted off to the side. “You are wrong, ma petite... zis is sumsing I must do. Sumsing I must always do. For what it is worth... I am sorry.”

“Saying you're sorry doesn't make up for what you're doing.”

“Oui, I know. But it is all I 'ave. Now come... Monsieur Slaton awaits.”

---

Slaton paced slowly back and forth across the office floor, his eyes drifting carefully from child to child. His gaze lingered a little longer over the last two, the blonde girl and her violet-haired friend. Their attempted escape did little to delay the proceedings, yet it was still cause for annoyance. He'd have to keep a close eye on those two; they were trouble.

“You weren't exaggerating, Sophie,” he said. “This crop is simply exquisite.”

“Merci. Madame Blanchett and I utilized all our resources to bring you ze very best that we could find. I sink your clients will be most impressed, non?”

“Yes, quite. Now, let's see...” Bringing a hand to his chin, he paused momentarily to think. Suddenly, a twinkle of revelation came to his eyes. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Sophie, smirking. “Yes, here's how we'll do it this year. Organize them by age first, gender second. We'll bring them out two at a time, one girl and one boy, then let the bidding commence as usual. But, we'll add a buyout price to entice our clients to purchase each pair outright for a greater fee. Set the buyouts at a twenty percent increase over last year's averages, and we should be able to increase our earnings by a significant amount.”

Sophie shifted slightly, holding one arm up to her shoulder and slowly nodding. “Zat sounds... like a good plan. I'm certain Madame Blanchett will approve, when she arrives.”

“Good, good...” He breathed in a deep, heavy gulp of air, then paced back and forth in front of the group once again, his shiny black dress shoes clacking methodically against the tile floor. After a brief second of contemplation, he began pointing out various individuals. “When you bring them to their chambers to prepare for tonight, pay special attention to her... her... him... her... him...” He continued pacing, eyes shifting back towards the end of the line. His icy, twisted gaze settled firmly on Holly and Lyta. “And those two. I have a good feeling about them, so make sure to dress them up nicely.”

“As you wish, Monsieur. Right away.”

---

“I'm not wearing this,” Holly said, adamantly.

“But you must,” Sophie replied.

“I don't care what you say, I'm not wearing it.” Standing in the middle of the small changing room, Holly held the white flowered sundress out at arm's length, as if trying to keep it as far from her body as possible. She glared contemptuously at it, a bubble of nausea building up in her gut just at the prospect of having to wear something like this again.

“Zis is what you 'ave been given to wear. Monsieur Slaton demands it.”

“I don't care what that bad man in there wants! I'm not wearing it!”

Sophie blinked in genuine confusion, looking back and forth between the girl and the dress. “I don't understand, ma petite. Why can't you just put it on?”

“I told you before that another bad man did things to me a long time ago,” Holly muttered. “Well he made me wear dresses just like this! Just looking at it makes me so... so mad... I am never, ever, never wearing another dress again!”

Crumpling up the dress into a ball, she whipped it across the room and then folded her arms across her chest with a pout. Her breaths eased in shakily, stuttering as she tried to calm herself down. She clenched her jaw tightly in attempts to fight back the growing numbness knotting itself in her throat, and her rage-filled eyes already glistened with small pools of tears that threatened to spill out down her cheeks.

“Euh... I see.” A brief, awkward moment of silence passed between them. Sophie shifted her weight, holding her hands out in front of her and clearing her throat. “Is it... I mean, do you wish to talk about it?”

“No, I don't want to talk about it! I've already talked about it!” Holly bowed her gaze, staring at the floor. The rage was starting to build up again. “I spent so long just trying to forget it... It's in the past now. That bad man is gone; my mom killed him, and he can't hurt me anymore.”

“Well, zat is a good sing, non? I am glad 'e is no longer able to 'urt you.”

Holly snapped her hateful gaze back at Sophie. “What the hell do you care?! You're trying to sell me off to someone else who'll do the same things to me! And not just me, to my friend, too, and all those other kids! Don't try to act all sympathetic and pretend you care! All those people out there who abuse us kids like this, those people you're selling us to? You're just as bad as they are!”

For a moment, Holly's words had a profound effect on the young woman. Sophie recoiled, as if physically struck, eyes going wide and mouth hanging open a little. At first, she appeared stunned, unable to formulate a response. Shortly, though, her eyebrows grew cross and a scowl slashed across her face. “I am nussing like zem! Zey are animals! Monsters! Zey... zey should all be locked up, or worse!”

“You're lying, trying to trick me,” Holly said, firmly shaking her head. “If you really thought that, then you wouldn't be helping them. You'd be trying to stop them.”

Sophie paused, blinking several times at the girl. With a huff, she crossed her arms across her chest and glared at the floor. “I can't! I... I must listen to Madame Blanchett.”

“Look, I dunno what kind of sick hold you think she has on you, but you don't have to listen to her,” she urged. “You can help us.”

“I wish, I could, ma petite... I wish I could. But ze Madame is... I owe everysing to 'er. No matter 'ow 'orrible she is, I... I cannot disobey.”

Holly swallowed a tight knot in her throat, sucking in a deep breath through her nostrils. “She really messed you up, didn't she?”

Sophie merely bowed her head, bringing her arms up to hold around herself. Then, she turned away and gingerly stepped over to the door. “I will... find sumsing else for you to wear.”

---

Ravager paced frantically back and forth across the rooftop, brimming with anxiety the likes of which she hadn't known in a long time. She hated waiting around like this, hated not being able to do anything. Yet, she knew that she had to if they wanted any hope of discovering where Blanchett had disappeared to, and hopefully where the girls were being held.

“Anything yet?” Becky asked.

Ravager shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Well, it's only been five minutes. Maybe she's working on something important? Batman did say it might take a few minutes to connect you.”

“I know, I know, it's just—”

Suddenly, a shrill hiss of static echoed loudly in her helmet's built-in comm. It cut out a moment later, followed by a strong, female voice. “Well, as I live and breath. The infamous Ravager.”

“And the all seeing Oracle,” she replied. “Pleasure, really.”

“Batman tells me you're in need of my services.”

“It would definitely be appreciated, yeah. I need to know where Michelle Blanchett is. She was supposed to be coming here for a meeting tonight, but we don't know where.”

Oracle chuckled. “And here I thought you'd give me a challenge.”

“So you can help?”

“Can do,” she affirmed. “Just let me run through my system files, see what I can dig up around the city. A high profile individual like that won't go unnoticed around Gotham.”

Ravager breathed out quick sigh of relief, then gave a silent thumbs-up to Becky. “Right, thanks.”

“So, Dick talks about you a lot, you know,” Oracle stated. “Says you've come a long way.”

“Oh does he, now? That's funny, because he talks about you a lot, too.”

“Is that right? And what does tall, dark, and mysterious have to say about me?”

“Oh, you know, he says lots of things,” Ravager said, leaning back against the rooftop parapet. “I think I recall him mentioning that you'd look good in white.”

“I see... and what exactly are you trying to say there?”

“You're smart; you'll figure it out.”

A brief pause followed, before Oracle's voice returned over the line. “Ah, here we go. Michelle Blanchett was scheduled for a meeting at Slaton Enterprises tonight. From what I can gather, she arrived just a short while ago.”

Ravager nodded. “Don't suppose you could give me the address?”

“Already sent you the coordinates to your helmet's GPS.”

“How did you...?”

“Please,” Oracle stated, with another laugh. “You forget who you're talking to?”

“Right... thanks.”

“I also heard that you might need some backup,” Oracle said. “Had a nasty run in with a telepath?”

Ravager folded her arms, grumbling quietly to herself. “Something like that... but really, we're fine. There's no need to send any of your Birds.”

“Oh, my Birds are busy with the mob right now,” she replied. “But I still found another couple of ladies to help you out.”

“Er... that's great, really. But we don't have time to wait around for—”

“I already sent them to your position five minutes ago. They should be there soon. Play nice, now.”

And with that, the line went dead. Ravager blinked a couple of times, then held her hands to her hips and slowly shook her head. What on earth does Dick see in that woman?

“Uh, Rose?” Becky said.

Ravager turned her gaze. Becky stood just a few feet away, staring over at the other side of the roof, where a dark, caped figure crouched atop the parapet. Squinting her eyes, Ravager cautiously walked forward to get a better look at the woman. It didn't take long to realize just who the new arrival was affiliated with, judging from the black suit, cowl, and bright red bat symbol across her chest.

“So... which one are you?” Ravager asked.

“Call me Batwoman,” she replied. “Oracle said you two required aid.”

“We don't require it... but I guess we'll take it. Where's the other one? We don't have time to sit around here.”

That's when she felt an ever so slight tug on the long hair coiling out the back of her helmet. Slowly, she turned her head to see another woman standing behind her and gently holding a few stray locks of her hair. This woman wore a suit and tie, trench coat, and fedora cap. Oh, and she didn't have a face, either.

“White hair...” the Question muttered. “Curious.”

Ravager frowned. “Please stop doing that.”

The woman's fingers suddenly released their hold on Ravager's hair. Tilting her head up, the Question stared intently at her. At least, probably. It was hard to tell when someone with no eyes was staring at you. “I think we know each other.”

“Uh, yeah, you're the woman with no face...” Ravager replied. “I think we met a long time ago, remember? You were trying to ask for Wonder Woman's autograph?”

“I remember, but that's not what I meant.”

Taking a few careful steps forward, Becky leaned in close, blinking intently at the woman. “She doesn't have a face... why doesn't she have a face?”

Ravager ignored Becky, still concentrating on the Question. “Wait a minute... say something else.”

“What am I supposed to say?” she replied.

“I know that voice...” Of course she knew that voice. She had spent three years—a relative three years, anyway—around that voice in Nanda Parbat. “...Renee?”

“Question.”

“Uh, yeah I asked you a question. What's the answer?”

“Now that's a good question.”

“Okay, now we're just wasting time.”

“Are we?”

Ravager paused, hands coming to her hips “...you're enjoying this way too much, aren't you?”

“You have no idea.”

“Alright, that's enough.” Jumping off her perch, Batwoman came to a soft landing and slowly straightened herself out to full height, cape draping around her body. “We have a job to do.”

The Question nodded. “To Slaton Enterprises, as I understand. Should be fun.”

As the group began to head off the roof, Becky continued staring at the Question, dumbfounded. “Okay, seriously. Why doesn't she have a face?”

Chapter #95

Ten years ago...

“<Damn it, come back here!>*”

(*translated from French.)

The bakery door burst open, as the large, portly store owner raced down the street. Snowflakes brushed past his face, icy air stinging at his face. A short distance from him, a young girl with short blonde hair sprinted away, clutching a baguette firmly against her chest. She glanced back only briefly at him before quickening her pace.

“<You have to pay for that!>”

Soon, the distance between them grew. By the time she turned the street corner, the store owner had slowed down, leaning forward and pressing his hands to his knees. He took in deep, exhausted breaths. By no means was he in the proper shape to be sprinting after a fleet-footed thief.

“<Damn kids...>” he muttered.

The young girl gradually slowed her pace down to a brisk walk. Already, the icy air began to numb her throat, but at least she had got away. Briefly, she paused to look around at the people walking by, going about their business and paying her no attention. She didn't come here often, to the nicer parts of Paris, but when she did she always took time to marvel at the fancy clothes and expensive jewelery that these people wore.

<They're so lucky...> she thought. <To be able to afford such nice things, it must be... wonderful.>

But her? She couldn't even afford one lousy loaf of bread. Glancing down at the baguette, she quickly tore off a piece with her teeth. She chewed the bread slowly, savoring the flavor. Even if it did taste a little stale, it beat digging through the trash for rancid leftovers any day. A small, tired sigh exuded from her lips as she swallowed, eyes drifting emptily toward the ground. She knew she couldn't eat a lot of it right now; this single baguette might have to last her the rest of the week.

Turning along another snowy street corner, the girl quickened her pace until reaching a particular back alley. She looked around briefly, making sure that no one was watching her. Of course, no one paid any attention to her. No one ever paid any attention to her. Quickly she darted into the alley, behind a dumpster and next to a large pile of empty cardboard boxes, with stacks of used newspapers nearby.

<I guess this will have to do for tonight...>

She carefully set down the baguette on one of the cardboard boxes, while opening another and turning it on its side. Then, she spread out a few of the newspapers inside it, creating a makeshift sleeping area. There should be plenty of other newspapers here to keep herself warm tonight... at least, she hoped so. The night was already cold enough, and with the snowflakes steadily drifting down overhead, it only threatened to get colder.

As she grabbed her long loaf of bread again and prepared to settle in for what was sure to be a very unpleasant night of sleep, several voices resonated from behind her.

“<What do we have here?>”

“<Looks like a little girl lost her way.>”

“<That's a nice looking loaf she's got there.>”

The young girl turned around in a panic, clutching the baguette close to her heart. The three boys were older than her, maybe thirteen or fourteen, and much larger, too. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence, homeless folk stealing from other homeless folk. On the streets, it was a constant struggle for survival, and sometimes you had to dirty your hands to see the sun rise again.

But she couldn't afford to go another week without food. The constant pangs of desperate hunger already burned uncomfortably in her gut. She needed this food. She couldn't let them take it!

“<This is mine!>” she exclaimed. “<You can't have it!>

“<Don't make this difficult, alright?>” Walking towards her, one of the boys reached out to grab the bread. A quick kick to the shins, however, abruptly forced him to jump back on one leg. “<Ow! Stupid girl kicked me!>”

She wasted no time in taking that opportunity to run from them. Turning tail, she sprinted down the length of the alley, hoping desperately that she would come out to another street where she could lose them. Unfortunately, these boys weren't as slow as the store owner she had run from earlier. They were able to keep pace with her, even close the distance. By the time she turned the corner, they were almost on her. She could see the mouth of the alley ahead, could see people walking down the sidewalk. She was almost there!

...and then she felt them on her. A blunt force exploded into her backside as one of the boys tackled her, dragging her to the ground. Desperately, she tried to hold on to her baguette, but the second boy effortlessly tore it from her arms, leaving her to clutch empty air. The third boy kicked her, hard. His worn, beaten shoe bounced violently off the side of her head, causing an explosion of bright lights in front of her eyes. She blinked, dazed, strength beginning to leave her.

“<Stupid bitch! Should have just given it up!>”

A second kick drove into her ribcage. She cringed, crying out loudly and curling into a ball. She was too young to handle pain very well, stomach already beginning to bubble with nausea. By the time the third kick struck her, she was sobbing and coughing in pain, wet, cold streaks staining her cheeks.

“<Ha, look, we made her cry!>”

“<Stop it! Please... please stop it!>” she yelled, desperately.

“<Gonna cry for your mommy? Go on!>”

The girl curled inward, holding her arms around her stomach. It hurt... it hurt so much. She was in pain, frightened... she just wanted it all to... to... “<STOP!>”

As her scream erupted into the cold winter air, a rush of invisible energy exploded from her body, rushing in all directions. Suddenly, the boys lifted from their feet, flying like missiles into the wall behind them. One boy hit the wall headfirst, neck snapping with a sickening crack. His limp body tumbled back down, landing face first in the snow, unmoving. The other two boys, while shaken and in need of a change in pants, managed to crawl away in a panic.

“<Sh-she killed him!>” one of the boys said, panicking. “<The crazy bitch killed him!>”

While the two remaining boys scrambled back to their feet and sprinted out into the streets, the young girl slowly sat up. She blinked several times, a mix of shock and horror over what she had just done twisting itself across her face. A cold knot formed in her throat, and she swallowed it back with great difficulty. She could not for the life of her tear her gaze away from the dead boy just five feet from her.

<How did I...? That isn't possible... what did I do?>

As she stared, utterly mesmerized by the boy's corpse, a silky smooth voice called out to her. “Well, well, what do we have here?”

The young girl slowly turned her head. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight of the woman: long dark hair, deathly pale skin, bright red lips, and such an amazing figure fit into the most elegant dress she had ever seen. Only one word could describe this woman. <Beautiful...>

But her English was nearly non existent, and so the woman's soothing words went understood to her ears. “Pardon? Je ne sais pas Anglais.”

“Oh, of course, where are my manners?” the woman said. “<Can you understand me now?>”

The girl nodded. “<Yes... who are you?>”

“<My name is Michelle Blanchett.>”

“<You're beautiful.>”

An amused chuckle found its way out of Blanchett's throat. She curled her soft lips into a smile, while one hand came up to rest on her perfectly shaped hips.”<Thank you, my dear. And what can I call you?>”

“<Sophie... my name is Sophie.>”

“<Well, Sophie, it is a pleasure to meet you. I saw what you did.>”

Instantly, Sophie's eyes widened, expression contorting into utter terror. “<No! I didn't mean to do it! I swear! They... they were hurting me, and I just got mad and... and then that happened! I didn't mean to kill him!>”

The woman held up a hand, attempting to soothe her. “<Calm yourself, Sophie. I don't care that you killed the boy.>”

“<You... you don't?>”

“<Not at all. In fact, I care about you. I see that you have a very special gift, Sophie... I would like to see more of it.>”

“<What do you mean?>”

“<I mean, I'm offering you to come with me,>” Taking a small step back, Blanchett motioned towards the street, where a shiny black limousine was parked behind her. The driver waited patiently, holding the rear door open.

Sophie's eyes widened, mouth hanging open slightly. “<That's yours?>”

Blanchett nodded. “<It is. As a matter of fact, I was just on my way to the airport. I'm heading back to America, you see.>”

“<You live in America?>”

“<That's right,>” she replied. “If you like, I can take you with me and give you a new life. A better life. What do you say?>”

“<I... I don't know if I should.>”

Despite her apparent hesitation, however, Sophie's nerves tingled like wildfire with excitement. The prospect of being miraculously taken off the streets by a wealthy woman in a limousine was simply unbelievable!

“<From what I can see, you have nowhere else to go.>” Blanchett said. “<What do you have to lose?>

---

Twelve hours later...

When the door opened, Sophie's eyes widened. Never before had she had the opportunity to set foot in such an amazing, lavish home as this. She had seen glimpses of wealthy lives before, yes, but she'd never been a part of it. All that appeared to be changing, though.

“<This I where I live,>” Blanchett said. “<And as of right now, so do you. Do you like it?>”

A huge grin formed across the girl's face. She ran across the penthouse apartment, carefully inspecting everything. Eventually, she found her way into the large, open living room, where she promptly threw herself down on the soft white sofa, snuggling against the pillows.

“<I love it!>” she exclaimed. “<This is amazing!>”

Blanchett smiled. “<That's good, I'm glad you like it. However, if you're going to be living here, we will need to work on your English.>”

Rolling off the couch, Sophie stood up straight and gazed out the window in front of her, and at the Silverstone City skyline beyond. A brief moment later, she turned and hurried back over to Blanchett, throwing her arms tightly around the woman. “<Thank you so much! I owe you everything!>”

“<You're quite welcome, my dear. Now...>” Widening a gentle smirk across her face, Blanchett reached down with one of her hands and tenderly stroked the side of Sophie's face. “<...let's get you out of those old clothes.>”

---

Present Day...

“Sophie?” Blanchett said, snapping her fingers in front of the girl's eyes. “Oh for Christ’s sake, Sophie, wake up!”

Snapping out of her daze, Sophie blinked and lurched up straight in her seat. She paused momentarily, glancing around the small, darkened room. “Oui, Madame?”

“You were daydreaming again. Honestly, I don't know why I put up with you sometimes.”

Sophie bowed her head. “Désolé... I will be more alert.”

“Good, because the festivities will be starting soon.”

Taking in a deep breath, Sophie rubbed her eyes. She couldn't believe she had actually drifted off like that again; she'd been doing it more and more lately, fading out and daydreaming about the past. Blanchett didn't like it very much when she did. Right now, she had to remain attentive. It was her job to keep track of the bids, after all, and she couldn't very well do that if she was half asleep.

Carefully, her eyes shifted around the room, moving first past Blanchett, and then to Slaton, who leaned back in a large leather armchair, one leg crossed over the other. On the table next to him, a spent cigar butt smoldered in a filled ashtray, adjacent to a half empty glass of whiskey. As the coordinator of this annual event, he was full prepared for things to commence.

The room they were in was not a large one, just space enough for the three of them. The large glass panel in front of them looked out into a staging area, some ten feet below. Encircling the staging area up above were ten more similar glass panels, each one leading into another private, darkened room. There, their clients had already arrived and awaited patiently for the bidding to begin.

“How much longer?” Blanchett asked.

“Five minutes,” Slaton said. “We're giving our clients a chance to get settled. Once they have their drinks, we can bring out the first pair.”

Sophie looked to Slaton. “Who is ze first pair?”

“How should I know? I don't bother to learn their names; that's your job. The only thing I care about is that they look nice and our clients place generous bids.”

“Euh... of course.” Going silent, Sophie returned her gaze to the table in front of her, specifically the glowing laptop screen. She watched the program carefully, as various indicators lit up next to certain names. Within several minutes, each name was lit. “Zey are all ready to commence.”

“Good. Bring them out.”

Down in the staging area below, the doors on the far wall slid open, revealing a young pair of children. Behind them, a muscled thug in a business suit shoved them forward. Though the boy was an unknown, the girl was strikingly familiar. No one else possessed such vibrant, violet colored hair, after all.

Lyta stumbled forward to the center of the stage, followed closely by the other boy next to her. Her eyes shifted around nervously, gazing up at the dark windows above her. She couldn't see any of them staring at her, but god she could feel them. Nausea abruptly tickled up within her small, shaking body, as she swallowed back a cold knot in her throat.

Slaton casually pressed a small button on the side of his arm chair, activating a speaker system and allowing his calm voice to resonate over the PA system. “Bidding for the girl will begin at two-hundred thousand. One-fifty for the boy. But remember, we've added a new feature this year. The buyout for the complete pair is two-point-five million. You may begin.”

“No!” Lyta shrieked. “Let us go! Please! I just want to go home! I just want my mom!”

Sophie lowered her gaze to the computer screen again, trying not to listen to the girl's frantic cries. She had to concentrate on the bidding. “Sree-'undred for ze girl. Two-'undred for ze boy. Four-fifty for ze girl... six-'undred for ze girl. Four for ze boy. Seven-'undred for ze girl.... eight-fifty for ze girl.” A sudden bell chimed in from the laptop's speakers. Sophie blinked, surprised. “We 'ave a buyout.”

Slaton's lips curled into a pleased grin. “Excellent. Take them to the waiting room.”

The large goon down below reached forward and clamped his iron grip down on either child's arm, pulling them back towards the doors.

“No!” Lyta struggled and twisted in the man's grip, trying to break free. “Let us go! Don't do this!” Of course, her cries went unheeded. Within moments, both she and the boy were gone.

“Bring in the next pair,” Slaton said.

When the doors opened again, a different thug pushed in the next two children. Holly glanced back at the guy and glared coldly at him. “Quite pushing!”

Slaton stared for a moment, rapping his fingers methodically against the arm of his chair. “A schoolgirl outfit? Really? I specifically ordered this one to wear the flowered dress.”

“Désolé, Monsieur... but she simply refused to wear ze dress,” Sophie explained. “I had to find sumsing else for 'er.”

A gruff, annoyed groan puffed from his lips. “I don't like it; it's too... gimmicky. But too late now, let's get on with it.” His finger firmly pressed down on the intercom button once again. “Bidding will start at four-hundred thousand for the girl, three-hundred for the—”

“NO!” Holly screamed.

The young girl suddenly sprang into action, throwing herself backwards at the guard behind her. Her attack was unexpected, taking the man by surprise. A grunt escaped his lips when her elbow drove into the center of his gut, causing him to stagger down to one knee. Quickly, he reached down to grab the gun holstered in his pants, but his fingers never even grazed it. Holly's foot swung up sharply, catching him in the jaw and sending him toppling backwards. She was on him in a heartbeat, exploding her knee into the bottom of his jaw and snapping his head back hard. He went limp nearly instantly.

“You're not going to sell me!”

Blurry figures appeared in the darkened glass frames up above, surprised bidders coming forward for closer observation. Soon after, their muffled voices sounded throughout the staging area, some shocked, some intrigued, and others angered. Holly took several steps back to the center of the stage, looking up at the shadowy forms. The boy accompanying her, meanwhile, had taken to cowering against the far wall.

Slaton's voice reappeared over the intercom. “As you can see, this one will require some... taming. Keep that in mind when placing your bids.” Removing his finger from the button, Slaton turned his gaze towards Blanchett. “Get someone down there to restrain that girl. Now!

“Sophie, if you would be so kind.”

Sophie didn't respond at first, her eyes instead drifting towards the defiant young girl down below. Eventually, however, she did stand from her seat, while sucking a large, slow breath of air into her lungs. “Oui, Madame, I will—”

CRASH!!!

Without any advanced warning, one of the glass window panes encircling the staging area shattered, exploding outward in a downpour of countless broken shards. Holly cried out, turning her body and covering her eyes for protection, but fortunately very little of the glass pieces reached her. With a sickening thud, a middle aged man with slicked back hair and a three-thousand dollar suit slammed into the stage, not getting up. The other clients went into a panic, faces pressed up closely to their windows and staring down at the mayhem. Smoke then began to fill the room, a thick gray haze that rapidly obstructed their view.

Slaton was on his feet now, fingers tightly digging into the arms of his chair. “What the hell is going on?!”

“I don't know, I can't see anything down there!” Blanchett replied. “Sophie, damn it, do something!”

“I- I can't see, eizer,” she stammered. “I don't know what—”

Smack!

Blanchett's backhand slapped violently into the side of Sophie's face, whipping her head to the side. “Then what good are you?!”

And that's when the smoke began to clear. Ever so gradually, the staging area came back into view, complete with two figures that were not there when the smog first appeared. Standing back to back, with Holly safeguarded between them, were Ravager and Becky. Slowly, Ravager's gaze moved up towards the window panels above them, hands reaching up to grab the sword hilts crossing behind each shoulder. Becky simply pounded her fist into her palm, a sharp, metallic clank echoing across the stage.

“Alright—” Ravager said.

Becky grinned. “—which one of you sick motherf*ckers is next, ah?”

Chapter #96

Holly's eyes instantly brightened at the sight of her mother. Even Becky came to help save her! Seeing both of them standing there, back to back and ready to put some serious hurt on, filled her previously desperate, frantic heart with a new sense of excitement and relief, the likes of which she hadn't known in a long, long time.

“Mom! Becky!” she proclaimed. “I knew you'd come!”

“Damn straight we came,” Ravager said. Her eyes darted up towards the darkened glass panels above them. “Now who wants their ass kicked first, huh?!”

The doors at the back of the room abruptly slid open, allowing a small group of thugs to rush into the staging area. They each carried a small pistol, already pointed and ready to fire. Unfortunately, the poor b*stards might as well have brought popguns. Becky charged at them, giving them no other choice in target. Bullets ripped through the air, ricocheting harmlessly off her metallic skin and doing absolutely nothing to slow her down.

She clotheslined the first guy she came to, spinning him through the air. His body crashed limply against the far wall, sliding back down to the floor with a sickening thud. Becky turned to the next nearest goon and sent her fist crashing into his face, effortlessly unhinging the man's jaw. By the time she kicked the third guy through one of the glass panels up above them, the other guards had turned tail to retreat.

“Get outta here!” one of the guards yelled. “They're crazy!”

“Oh no you don't!”

Becky gave chase, closing the distance between them in a matter of seconds. When she caught up, she tackled the first man she saw. They hit the wall, crashing straight through it in an explosion of steel and plaster. The entire floor quaked at the impact.

Ravager looked quickly to her daughter. “Holly where are the other kids?”

Taking her mother's hand, Holly started tugging her along, leading her out the staging area doors. “They're back this way!”

Watching the group flee through the doors, Slaton moved quickly up to the glass wall in front of him, staring intently. His arms shook violently at his sides, hands curled to tight fists. Turning his head sharply, he glared at Blanchett, eyes burning hatefully. “What the f*ck is this? Who are they?!”

“Just a couple of pests, nothing to worry about,” she replied. “Though, to think they'd have the gall to follow me here...”

“Nothing to worry about?! They're ruining everything! Stop them!”

Blanchett sighed, then snapped her fingers. “Sophie, make yourself useful, for once.”

“Oui, Madame.”

The young woman immediately rose from her chair. Holding her arms out, she began levitating her body towards the glass wall, and with a simple thought caused the pane to shatter outwards, allowing a clear path down into the staging area. Before she could pursue, however, the door behind them quite literally exploded inward, at the mercy of a miniature explosive. Slaton dove to the side, barely avoiding the projectile, but Sophie wasn't so lucky. With her back turned, she didn't notice it in time to get out of the way. When the door cracked across the back of her skull, she plummeted ten feet through the air and landed with loud smack against the floor.

“Oh for heaven's sake, what now?!” Blanchett exclaimed.

Two heads poked their way into the open doorway, one wearing a dark cowl with long red hair, and the other a fedora cap and no face at all.

“Looks like we got the right address,” the Question said.

Batwoman nodded. “I do hope we're not interrupting anything.”

“Goddamn it!” Slaton's face twists into an even more intense scowl, as he reached behind his back to grasp the gun tucked into his pants.

But by the time he brought the weapon around to take aim the the two intruders, the faceless one was already on him, kicking it out of his hands. The Question followed up with a crippling palm strike to the bottom of his jaw, pushing him backwards. Her spinning roundhouse kick caught him squarely in the chest, launching him out of the open window and plummeting the ten feet down to the floor below. Twitching and coughing in pain, he made no move to get up.

“Hmm, I think I may have over done it,” Question stated, leaning out to look at the injured man below.

“Sophie!” Blanchett called. “Sophie, I need you!”

Batwoman was already halfway to her. Blanchett stumbled backwards in a panic, throwing up her arms desperately to defend against the kick aimed at her head. While she deflected most of the impact, her feet twisted together, balance escaping her. She reached out, just managing to grab onto the side of the window frame to keep from suffering the same fate as Slaton.

“Sophie, damn it! Get up!”

Sophie uttered a pained groan, rolling over on the floor. A heavy pounding assaulted the back of her head as she pushed her way to her feet, but she tried to ignore it. Her mistress was in danger and required aid, so she... she needed go help.

“I am... on my way, Madame,” she said, wearily.

“Lady, you really don't want to make this any more difficult,” Batwoman insisted. “With what we got you on here, you're in for a world of hurt already.”

“Actually, I wouldn't mind so much if she wanted to make it more difficult,” the Question said, cracking her knuckles. “I could use the workout.”

Before they could make another move on Blanchett, however, the two crime fighters abruptly lifted off their feet and rocketed backwards into the wall. Sophie levitated back through the shattered glass wall, a single hand outstretched. For the first time since developing her power, her eyes glowed bright blue while using it.

“Leave ze Madame alone!”

The two woman struggle against the hold, but the grip is unyielding, pinning them firmly against the wall.

“I take it... we found the telepath,” Batwoman muttered.

“Telekinetic,” the Question corrected.

“What?”

“She's a... mmf... telekinetic. Telepaths have telepathy. She's using telekinesis.”

“Please, what telekinetic have you ever come across that didn't also have telepathy?”

“Well, that's... a good question.”

“Enough!” Sophie demanded.

Both Batwoman and the Question suddenly recoiled, throwing their heads back and screaming. A sharp, electric pain began to crawl its way up the backs of their spines, spreading through their skulls like wildfire.

“And there's the... ggaaargh... the answer!” Question said.

“Sophie, that's enough,” Blanchett stated. “Stop wasting your time with those two, just put them out of their misery and go after the others!”

“Oui, Madame.” Sophie's eyes glowed brighter, as she lifted her hand higher. “As you wish.”

The Question groaned, trying desperately to fight the explosive pain in her skull. “Any time, Kate. I know you... have something up your sleeve. You do have something up your sleeve, right?”

“You know me...” Batwoman replied.

Gritting her teeth, she curled her fingers inward, pushing down hard on a small button on the palm of her glove. Instantly, the sonic device built into her utility belt went off, emitting a high pitched, shrill, deafeningly annoying whistle. Sophie suddenly staggered, hands coming up to her ears. She dropped to one knee, squinting her eyes shut and screaming. Both the Question and Batwoman drop back down to the floor, the telekinetic hold releasing them. When they landed, both immediately covered their own ears, as well.

“...always with a plan!”

The Question glared at her. “Not quite what I had in mind!”

“Hey, it got the job done! Let's just finish her before—”

“STOP IT! STOP IT!

And then, both women were in the air, again. This time, they hit the wall and went straight through it, landing violently back out in the hallway. The shrill siren abruptly cut out, leaving the room in a cold, dead silence. Sophie sucked in several large gulps of air, slowly straightening herself out again and lowering her hands.

“It... it stopped,” she uttered, breathing out a sigh of relief. “Sank goodness, it stopped.”

“Yes, that's just lovely.” Blanchett brought her hands down from her ears, staring carefully at the new hole in the wall. Her attention turned quickly, however, as she scurried over to the broken window pane and began to lower herself down into the staging area. “Come, Sophie! We have to stop the others from escaping!”

---

The door to the waiting room burst inward with a loud crash, as an unconscious guard flew inside, coming to an abrupt halt by smacking against the far wall. The group of children within the room ran back in a panic, staring first at the unmoving thug on the floor, and then toward the open doorway.

“Everything's going to be okay!” Holly said.

Running into the room, she waved her arms over at the door, calling attention to the two women standing there. Almost instantly, the entire group shrank away in fear. Ravager and Becky carefully stepped into the room, lowering their guards to clearly indicate that they mean no harm.

“We're not here to hurt you kids,” Ravagers said. “We're here to help.”

“Si, we're gonna get you outta here,” Becky confirmed.

The trust came gradually, reluctantly. The children moved forward cautiously, giving each other nervous glances. None of them wanted to go along with another couple of adults they knew nothing about. What if these two women were just as bad as Blanchett? Or even worse? Yet, at the same time, they knew they really had no other choice. They either trusted the oddly dressed women, or waited here to be sold.

“That's it, come on,” Ravager urged. “Let's go.”

“No one is going anywhere.”

All attention turned instantly back to the open doorway. Michelle Blanchett stood there, hips cocked to the side and a sinister smirk cutting across her face. Sophie stood next to her patiently, awaiting orders.

“You...” Ravager curled her hands into fists, a scowl slashing across her face. “I'm going to tear your teeth out one at a time for all of this, you hear me?”

“Not before I do the same to her fingers,” Becky said. “And arms.”

Blanchett scoffed. “Your threats are amusing, but petty. After what happened last time, I would have expected you two to learn. It appears I vastly overestimated your intelligence.”

“Well that's the thing about us,” Ravager said. “We're slow learners.”

Becky punched her fist into her palm. “But damned if we don't hit hard. Just wait until we get our hands on you.”

“Too bad you won't. Sophie, be a dear.”

Sophie stepped forward, hand raising. “Oui, Madame. As you wish.”

---

Back in Silverstone, Circe shuffled frantically across the floor of her apartment, pacing back and forth. Hands clasped behind her, she kept her eyes planted firmly downward, too engrossed in her thoughts to look anywhere else. A growing sense of nausea burned strongly in the pit of her stomach. It hadn't been much, at first, but now she was about ready to double over and puke her guts out.

Something is wrong... I can feel it. Something with Lyta... She's in trouble, more now than before... I know she is.

Abruptly, she came to a stop, standing still. A twinge of pain tingled in her chest, and in seconds she dropped to her knees, a hand clutched at her heart. This wasn't a physical pain, though, no. This was something deeper. Emotional, spiritual, metaphysical, whatever the hell you want to call it. Something was most definitely wrong.

“Lyta... please be safe. Please be...”

As her words trailed off, Circe slowly lifted her gaze, first at the wall in front of her, and then up to the ceiling. For a long moment, she just stared blankly forward, vision going out of focus. Eventually, her fingers clenched into fists, jaw tightening.

“I am sick of this, do you hear me?” she said, glaring at the ceiling. “I'm sick of waiting around in worry, useless. What kind of torment is this supposed to be, reduced to being able to only hope that my daughter comes back to me safely? I should be doing something about it!”

No response came, of course. She hardly expected them to be listening to her, of all people.

“You know I'm not one to pray. And I know we never got along, not with any of you. But please... I can't do this any longer. If I can't protect my daughter... what good am I?”

Another long pause descended over the apartment. Circe continued waiting, hoping—or rather, praying—that one of them would respond. As the minutes ticked by, however, it soon became plainly apparent that her prayers would not be answered. Not now, not ever.

“Well fine!

She bowed her head again, holding a hand to her face and shrinking down closer to the floor on her knees. A numb, tight knot quickly formed in her throat. She couldn't even swallow it down, instead allowing it to sit there as she wallowed in self pity and loathing.

Then, something extraordinary happened. A bright, heavenly light beamed down upon her, opening up from the ceiling. Circe lowered her hand in surprise, just staring at the the floor. She feared that if she looked up at the light, it would disappear, just an illusion. She couldn't bear to have her hopes crushed like that. When the voice called out to her, however, she promptly looked up in awe.

Awe. There's something I never felt as an all powerful sorceress. But now, I... there is no other word for it.

“Circe.” The goddess Athena had appeared before her, standing there bathed in the light of Olympus. Her expression was stolid, yet at the same time filled with compassion, a compassion that perhaps Circe did no deserve. “Your prayers have been heard.”

Circe couldn't bring herself to speak, only able to stare at the goddess. Slowly, she pushed herself upright and rose to her feet, now making level eye contact.

“We understand you wish the ability to protect your daughter.”

“Y-yes,” she stuttered. It was strange. Years ago, when she had her power, when she was the most dangerous sorceress in the world, she would not have trembled so when in the presence of a goddess. Yet now, as a mortal... she could do nothing but. “More than anything. I gave up my power, my immortality, everything about my past life, all so I could raise her properly. But what point is there in that if I cannot protect her? What kind of mother does that make me?

Athena nodded. “We understand your concerns. You are, however, still under close watch by the gods. In spite of your parole, your past crimes have not been forgotten.”

“I have lived up to my promise!” she insisted. “I've done nothing criminal! Or spiteful, or cruel, or anything. I've lived to love my daughter. I... I have changed. For the better, I think.”

“So you have. The sincerity of your plea is genuine, and the goddess Aletheia confirms that you speak the truth about your intentions. You wish not to harm, not to maim, not to kill, not to control. Rather, you wish only to protect.”

“My daughter... she is my everything,” Circe said, softening her eyes. “I want to keep her safe. I must keep her save.”

“And so you will.”

The light began to glow more intensely, so strong now that Circe was forced to lift an arm upward to shield her eyes. No longer could she see the goddess. The light engulfed her, warmed her, and soon, her entire body began to surge with a sensation she hadn't known in a long, long time.

“For the protection of your daughter, we grant you this gift,” Athena stated. “Use it wisely, for we will be watching.”

Chapter #97

Becky and Ravager held their ground, preparing for whatever this woman decided to throw at them. When they had fought before, they had been uninformed. Sophie’s powers had taken them by surprise, but not this time. This time, they knew what they were dealing with, and they weren't about to give her a chance to get the upper hand. Ravager turned her body slightly to the side, shielding her opposite hand as she reached into a compartment on her utility belt. Her fingers grasped one of the flash pellets, which had been effective before.

From what Ravager had been able to gather then, Sophie could only maintain her telekinesis when concentrating. Break that concentration, or keep her from being able to concentrate, and she lost her edge. This time around, Ravager intended to break the woman’s concentration early and press a relentless attack, giving her no opportunity to focus. Doing that, they should be able to stop her before things get too out of hand.

“You two should not ‘ave come ‘ere,” Sophie stated. “I sought that you would ‘ave learned from our last meeting, but now… zis will not end well for you, non?”

“Speak for yourself, pendejo,” Becky said. “You don’t have a building to throw us out of this time.”

Slowly, Sophie raised a hand and pointed it at them. “I do not need to srow you off a building to ‘urt you.”

“Neither…” Spinning her body around again, Ravager whipped her arm and tossed the flash pellet. The small, round device rocketed through the air, straight at Sophie. “…do we!”

This time, however, when the pellet reached its target, Sophie caught it in a single hand and squeezed. From the center of her palm and leaking through the gaps in her fingers, a bright white light surged briefly and then extinguished. She then opened her hand and allowed the spent pellet to fall to the floor.

“Non, not zis time.”

Both Becky and Ravager abruptly flew backwards through the air. They hit the far wall hard, causing a web of thick cracks to slash across the concrete. Ravager clenched her fists tightly, struggling against the powerful psychic grip, but just as before there was no way to break free. Becky had better luck, slowly and strenuously pushing herself away from the wall inch by inch. But before she could do anything to significantly resist the telekinetic force, her arms went limp, and once again she smacked firmly against the wall. Even her super strength was overpowered.

“Excellent work, Sophie,” Blanchett said, with a grin. “Now, break their necks.”

“No, stop!” Holly ran forward and stood with her arms stretched out at her sides. She knew what Sophie could do with that power of hers; she knew that her mother and Becky were in trouble. “Please, don’t hurt them!”

“I… am sorry, ‘olly, but I must,” Sophie insisted. “Madame Blanchett—”

“I don’t care what she wants! That’s my mom and my friend you’re hurting!”

“Zey got involved when zey should not ‘ave. It is zeir own fault.”

Holly frowned, eyebrows going cross. “Their own fault? They were just trying to help me! Because they love me! You’re the one who kidnapped me! You’re the one who’s selling children like slaves! This is your fault!

Becky strenuously turned her head, giving her partner a curious look. “What’s she doing?”

“Shh, let her talk,” Ravager replied.

Ever so slightly, Sophie hesitated. Her hand lowered, eyes gently narrowing at the girl. “My… fault? Non, zis is… zis is not my fault. I just do what I am told! Ze Madame is the one who did zis, pas moi!”

Blanchett glared coldly. “Watch your mouth, you stupid girl. You don’t talk to me that way.”

“Euh… Je suis désolé, Madame,” she uttered, bowing her head. “Forgive me.”

“Would you listen to yourself?” Holly said. “Why do you let her talk that way to you?

“She… speaks like zat when I am out of line. When I make a mistake. When I… deserve it.”

Holly folded her arms across her chest and huffed out an annoyed breath. “And why do you deserve it? Because you don’t want to take her crap anymore? Because you’re actually thinking for yourself?”

“That’s enough, girl!” Blanchett snapped. “You’d do well to shut your pretty little mouth. Sophie, enough chatter. Just kill them already!”

Sophie nodded slowly. She swallowed a hard knot in her throat, trying to wipe the confusion from her face. “I… I must listen to ze Madame… she saved me. She raised me… she loves me.”

“You call that love?” Holly threw up her hands, gesturing towards Blanchett in disbelief. “She yells at you, she hits you, she… she did other bad things to you… that’s not love, Sophie. That’s abuse.”

Sophie’s hand lowered even more, now barely raised up past her waist. The psychic hold on both Ravager and Becky slipped, sliding them back down towards the floor, yet not completely releasing them yet.

Blanchett scowled. “Don’t you listen to her, Sophie!”

“My mom says that if you love someone, you should never hurt them,” Holly continued. “But if for some reason you do, you should always apologize. So how can she love you if she always hurts you and never apologizes?”

Sophie took a step backwards, eyes drifting rapidly back and forth between Blanchett and Holly. The hurt was beginning to show. The pain, the scarring, the abuse.... all of it. “I… I don’t…”

“Sophie… I order you to attack them!” Blanchett said. “Now!

Holly shook her head. “She’s just using you, Sophie… she abused you and manipulated you for years, and now you're just a weapon for her… but you don’t have to be a weapon. You can be your own person.”

“That’s it!” Moving forward, Blanchett reached into the back of her skirt and pulled out a small handgun. It wasn't big or flashy, but it would still kill just as well as any other. She brushed past Sophie, giving the young woman a harsh shove. “Stupid girl, you can be so useless sometimes. Goddamn waste of space, that’s what you are. Have to make me do everything.”

Then, Blanchett aimed the gun forward, pointing it straight at Holly’s face. The girl went stiff, eyes widening.

Ravager's heart skipped a beat. She struggled, tried to break free. She had to help her daughter! “No! Don’t—”

BLAM!

“HOLLY!”

Holly cowered back, arms raised up in a desperate attempt to protect herself from the shot. She stood there for several moments, before slowly lowering her arms and peeking her eyes open. She didn't feel like she had just been shot… in fact, she felt no pain at all. She soon realized exactly why, as she noticed the bullet hovering in midair, still spinning rapidly just six inches from her eyes.

“Non!” Sophie declared. “I won’t let you ‘urt zem!”

Blanchett spun around, face livid. “Sophie, what the hell are you going?!”

“Sumsing I’ve always been too afraid to do. Until now!”

With a sweep of her arm, the bullet suddenly changed course and rifled its way through the air. Blanchett had no time to react before the projectile ripped into her shoulder and clean out the other side. A shocked, pained cry erupted from her throat as she crumpled to the floor. She clutched at the wound tightly, but could do nothing to stop the bleeding.

“Damn it! Sophie, how could you… aaargh!”

Sophie stood over the fallen woman. A scowl quickly formed across her face, as wet, angry tears began to leak down her face. “You promised to take care of me! You said… you said you would give me a better life!”

She extended a hand, pointing her palm downward. Blanchett’s body instantly lifted upwards several feet, only to then come crashing back down with astonishing force. The bleeding woman screamed, face twisting with agony.

“You said you loved me! You said I would be ‘appy!” Once again, she raised Blanchett into the air, then slammed her against the floor. “But I was miserable! You ‘urt me! You abused me! But I… I never said anysing. I sought I owed you sumsing for taking me off ze streets. I convinced myself zat I deserved everysing you did to me…”

The third time Blanchett crashed into the floor, her body started going limp, twitching. She blinked sporadically, gazing upward with a blank, glazed over look on her face.

“…Every time you 'it me, every time you… you touched me, I had to say to myself… Zis is just sumsing I’m supposed to do. You saved me, so I 'ave to… 'ave to let you do zese sings to me…” This time, Sophie raised her arm and sent Blanchett higher into the air, well above her head. “But zat wasn’t right. None of it was. You took… advantage of me. You did… ‘orrible sings to me. You are a bad woman, Madame… a very, very bad woman.”

Just as Sophie prepared to bring her arm down and send Blanchett slamming into the floor one final time, she felt a gentle hold on her wrist. Her gaze shifted slightly, slowly coming down to see Holly standing there.

“It’s okay, Sophie,” the young girl said. “You don’t have to hurt her anymore.”

“But she… she deserves it. For everysing she did to me, she…”

“I know. Believe me, I know. But killing her doesn’t solve anything. You stood up to her, and that’s enough… she can’t hurt you or anyone else again.”

Sophie paused, gradually bringing her hand down. Blanchett’s battered body followed suit, coming to a gentle rest on the floor. A numb lump suddenly knotted in her throat, accompanied by a nauseous wave of remorse and guilt. “I am… so sorry, ‘olly… for everysing I did, I…”

And then, Sophie collapsed to her knees. She buried her face into her hands, shrinking down and sobbing. Holly didn't even hesitate. She moved forward and warmly wrapped her arms around the woman, a selfless offer of comfort and compassion.

“It’s okay,” Holly said. “Everything will be okay. I promise.”

Now free from the telekinetic hold, Ravager slowly walked forward, arms folded across her chest. Standing next to her, Becky watched the scene closely for a long moment.

“That really is one special girl you got there,” Becky said.

Ravager nodded. “Yeah… she really is.”

Soon, two other figures appear in the doorway. They looked around inside the room briefly, carefully observing.

“Hmm, looks like we missed the party,” Question stated.

“Hey, how did things go on your end?” Ravager asked.

Batwoman stepped into the room, cracking her neck from side to side. “Took down everyone still floating around. Got Slaton and his clients tied up and waiting for the Gotham PD to find them.”

“Good… then we can finally get these kids out of here and end this nightmare.”

“Uh… Rose?” Becky’s eyes darted around the room frantically. She spun around several times, carefully inspecting each child in the room.

“What is it?”

“I don’t see Lyta anywhere.”

Ravager’s heart leaped into her throat. She, too, now scanned the group of children for any sign of Circe’s daughter. But, just like Becky, she found nothing.

“Lyta… oh no,” Holly said, pulling away from Sophie. “She went ahead of me. Someone already bought her before you guys got here!”

Becky's eyes went wide. “What?!”

“Shit!” Ravager spat. “So then where is she now?!”

Sophie slowly looked up at them, rubbing her fingers into her wet eyes in attempts to dry them. “She… she would have been brought back ‘ere to wait for ze one who purchased ‘er. But, if… if ze buyer already came to take ‘er, zen… zen she is gone.”

“No… no, no, no, no! How do we find her? How do we get her back?!”

“I… I don’t know,” Sophie said. “Ze clients always kept zeir identities anonymous, and Monsieur Slaton’s system designed zeir bank transfers to be untraceable.”

Becky lunged forward, grabbing the woman by the shirt collar and lifting her upright. “What are you saying? That we have no way of finding her now?”

“Oui… zeir is no way I know of to get ‘er back now.”

---

The limousine pulled up to a stop on the tarmac, just a short distance away from the small, private jet. When the driver opened the side door, a firm hand pushed the two kids out. Lyta stumbled to her hands and knees momentarily, while the boy, Nathan, fell flat on his face. Sliding out of the vehicle, the tall man looked down at the pathetic sight and shook his head.

“Get up,” he said, pulling the boy to his feet. “We’re leaving in five minutes.”

This man was Esteban Juarez, a very rich and powerful man in his home nation of Mexico. Though playing the part of the clean businessman, most of his funds came from the local drug trade, a system he had managed to amass near total control of.

“No… please, I just want to go home,” Lyta said, sobbing back a few tears.

“You are going home,” Esteban replied. He gave her a little grin, his eyes lingering over her tiny form. “Your new home. Don’t worry, niña chiquita, you will be very happy. I’ll take care of you. Both of you.”

Nathan shivered, panic and fear spreading through him like wildfire. Briefly, he contemplated making a run for it, but then his eyes caught sight of the large gun holstered to the man’s waist and he promptly reconsidered. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because, I bought you fair and square, si? You are mis hijos, now. You will come to like it, in time. I have others like you back home, too. Muchos amigos for you. Now, get on the plane!”

Suddenly, the sky opened up with a boom of thunder and lightning. Esteban shielded his himself with his arms, as a hot bolt of lightning struck the ground in front of them. A woman stood in its wake, appearing seemingly out of thin air. Her long, pinkish hair flowed elegantly in the wind, along with the long robes that adorned her body.

Esteban stared in wonder, taking several cautious steps backwards. “Qué diablos?”

“They’re not going anywhere with you,” Circe stated, taking calm steps forward. Miniature lightning bolts flickered around her body, and her eyes glowed bright purple in color.

“Mom!” Lyta proclaimed. A warm, relieved smile grew on her face, and her once panicked heart instantly began to soothe.

“Yes, Lyta, it’s me. Now stand back, while I deal with this insect.”

As Circe advanced, Esteban pulled his gun and aimed it at her. With a simple wave of her hand, however, the gun melted down into liquid metal. Esteban recoiled, pulling his own hand back and screaming in pain as the hot metal burned the flesh away from his hand.

“El diablo!” he screamed. “El diablo!”

“No, I'm not the devil.” With a simple snap of Circe's fingers, the man collapsed to the ground shrieking in pain. Countless skin boils began springing up across his face and hands, some bursting within seconds and leaking thick, white pus. “But I am no angel, either.”

“No... no please... I beg you!”

“Begging will get you nothing from me,” she said. Raising her hands, a surge of crackling energy jumps between her fingertips and brightened up the night air.

Esteban desperately crawled backwards, whimpering as each motion causes another boil to pop and ooze. “No! NO!!!”

Thirty seconds later...

Circe lowered her hands, turning away from the charred mess on the tarmac. The only thing left of Esteban now was the horrible smell of melted flesh and singed hair. And the stain on the pavement. Now, though, with her daughter safe, Circe's appearance altered. Her clothing magically morphed from flowing sorceress robes, back into a pair of plain blue jeans and a white sweater. She breathed outwardly, closing her eyes and holding a tired hand to her forehead.

Lyta cautiously approached, gazing in wonder up at her mother. “Mom? You... you have you power back?”

“Yes,” she replied. “So long as it is to protect you, dear child.” Dropping to one knee, Circe held her arms out and gave a broad, loving smile.

Lyta returned the grin, running forward and lunging into her mother's arms. “I love you, Mom. So much, you have no idea.”

“Oh, I believe I have some idea.” Holding her arms around her daughter, Circe leaned forward and gently kissed the girl's forehead. “I love you just as much, after all.”

Nathan, the other kid present, stared blankly at the woman, having no idea what to say or do around her. He had just witnessed her fry a man into ash, though considering the man had been about to take him and the other girl on a plane to who knows where, he wasn't all that broken up about it. Still, his lips simply refused to move. When Circe finally looked over at him, he stiffened up straight, arms tightening at his sides.

“What's your name?” she asked.

“N-Nathan...”

“Hmm, a fine name. Would you like to go home, Nathan?”

He slowly nodded his head up and down, eyes still wide. “Y-yes... I miss my parents.”

Circe nodded in return. “Then let's get going. I believe I should call a cab now.”

---

Rose leaned forward on the sofa, head buried in her hands. Becky stood next to her, arms folded and foot tapping methodically against the floor, while Holly curled up fast asleep on the armchair.

“Still nothing?” Becky asked.

Rose shook her head. “No. She's not answering her phone.” A long, exhausted breath seeped past her lips. “All the better, I suppose. Telling her that we couldn't find her daughter... probably something that should be done in person.”

“Right... but we can still find her, can't we? I mean, we got Oracle on the job.”

“I don't know, Becky,” she muttered, planting her elbows on her knees as she stared at the floor. “If anyone can trace those bank transactions it's her, no matter how encrypted they are. But if she can't...”

Another long moment of silence passed between. Shifting her weight tiredly, Becky abruptly plopped herself down on the couch. She reached an arm around Rose, holding the woman close. “You think that Sophie girl will be alright?”

“I hope so... can't imagine how messed up she is after a decade of abuse. With any luck, the therapy sessions will help sort her head out, now that she's free of Blanchett.”

“Should have just sent her to Belle Reve or something.”

“No, she deserves a chance to be her own person,” Rose said. “Any crimes she committed were a direct extension and result of her abuse. Holly showed us that much.”

Turning her head calmly, Becky gave the sleeping girl a long look. “So she did.”

A knock at the door suddenly drew their attention away. Rose blinked, glancing back over her shoulder at the front of the penthouse. With a tired yawn, she reluctantly stood up from the couch and ambled slowly down the hallway.

“Who on earth could that be this early?”

When she opened the door, however, they were greeted by the sight of Circe standing tall and calm. Rose's gut twisted with a knot of anxiety, knowing now that she would have to inform the woman about Lyta. She wasn't looking forward to it by any means.

“Circe...” she uttered, bowing her head shamefully.

But before she could get the words out, Lyta poked her head into view, looking around her mother and into the apartment. “Is Holly awake?”

“Wh-wha?” Rose sputtered, dumbfounded. “Lyta! You're- I mean, you- how...?”

“My mom's pretty much awesome, that's how.”

“We'll explain everything shortly, though first I could use some breakfast,” Circe said. “May we come in?”

Rose blinked dumbly several more times, until finally she shook out of her daze. An exasperated breath found its way out of her throat, as she stepped back and waved them inside, smiling widely. “Of course, come on in.”

Start the Conversation

The Ravager - Under Siege: Part 2 (#83-88) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The twelfth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #83

The night was uncharacteristically cool for summer, especially considering that the last few nights had been unbearably humid. That made it the perfect night for criminal scum to come out and do their dirty work, such as the weapon smugglers currently unloading a huge shipment from a nondescript cargo ship down at the docks. While some of the smaller crates were unloaded by hand, most of the larger containers were hoisted down by a crane onto loading trucks into the nearby holding yard.

The smugglers had come well prepared for any surprises, each of armed with an automatic weapon. Should anyone be stupid enough to stop by and try to uncover their operation, they would make that person disappear, no matter who it was. With hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cargo, they weren't about to let themselves get caught.

“Easy, easy!” one of the smugglers said, throwing his arms up to urge the man operating the crane to slow down. If that guy wasn't careful, he could end up dropping the massive shipping container and do who knew what kind of damage, to both the dock and the only truck they had. “Alright, take it down nice and slow! Slowly... slowly... alright, good. Set it down and release.”

When the container came to a firm rest on the back of the truck, the crane released it and then moved on to the next one, as the truck drove off to the yard to be unloaded by a second crane. Releasing a small breath, the smuggler adjusted the strap of the Uzi around his shoulder and waited for the next container to come down.

“My, my, what's this?” a voice said, promptly drawing his attention away. “A party I wasn't invited to?”

The smuggler, along with the several other men standing nearby, all turned towards the sound of the voice with weapons raised. A woman dressed in full black, with a dark face covering and blood red cloak, stood behind them.

“Who the hell are you supposed to be?” one of the smugglers asked.

“Just a concerned citizen, is all,” Apathy replied, tapping her fingers idly against her hip. “Kinda wonderin' what all the suspicious activity is about. A little late to be unloadin' cargo, wouldn't ya say?”

“Big mistake on your part, b*tch! Take her out!” The men all briefly pulled the triggers of their weapons, unloading a small burst gunfire. However, their bullets hit nothing but air, as the woman vanished instantly in a puff of smoke. “The f*ck? Where the hell did she go? Tell me I'm not the only one who saw that!”

“Nah, you all saw it.”

The group turned around behind them now to see the woman standing there. They tried to raise their weapons again, but for some reason they couldn't. For some reason, they started to feel themselves... relaxing.

“Feelin' good yet, boys? Nice and calm?” In seconds, the men stood straight with their weapons lowered and eyes drooping. Apathy came forward, raising her hands and tapping each of them on the forehead. “Go on, take a nap. You guys deserve it, workin' so hard.”

They dropped one by one, so incredibly relaxed and at peace that they began to drift off into a calm, dreamless sleep. Apathy waited a moment, holding her hands to her hips, and then nodded to herself in congratulations. “I'd say that does it.”

A short moment later, another figure appeared, coming out of the shadows of the shipping yard. Ravager paused a moment, gazing at all the now unconscious men. “It's like you don't even need me.”

Apathy smirked from behind her darkened mask. “Nah, of course I need you. Who else is gonna be my lookout?”

“Very funny.”

“I take it you took care of the stragglers, then?”

Ravager nodded. “All the ones I could find. A couple over in the yard, the guy working the crane, and a few more up on the ship. They won't be waking up for a while.”

“Ha,” Apathy said, punching her fist into her opposite palm, “that'll teach these loonies to bring illegal weapons into our city, ain't that right?”

Folding her arms across her chest, Ravager tilted her head to the side a little and shifted her weight. “Well, it might be good to at least check and make sure they were smuggling weapons. I mean, you took a bit of a leap of faith in making that guess.”

“Please, have I been wrong yet?”

The two headed over to the nearest shipping container, removed the chains on the doors, and then opened it to take a look at the contents. Inside, they found a large assortment of various weapons, including rows of assault rifles, boxes of grenades, RPGs, plastic explosives, and a whole lot more.

Apathy slowly turned her head and gave her a knowing look that, even without seeing her face, Ravager can feel exuding a playful smugness. “So, you were sayin'?”

“I was saying, let's give Palmer a call and get a squad down here to clean up the scene.”

“That's what I thought.”

Closing up the container again, Ravager and Apathy walked back towards the street together, where Ravager had parked her bike. She couldn't exactly recall what number bike this was... something like the fifth one she had been through. At least Batman never questioned it whenever she needed a new one.

“So, you about ready to call it a night?” Apathy asked.

“Yeah, I think so.” Ravager let out a small yawn behind her faceplate and stretched her arms out. “I've punched enough thugs for one day.”

“Ah, good. Then we can head over to that 24 hour coffee shop and maybe grab somethin'. How's that sound?”

Slowly turning her head, Ravager considered the suggestion for a moment before making a counter. “Or we could just skip the coffee and head back to my place.”

“Hmm,” Apathy muttered, thinking carefully, “I don't know. It is rather late, and if we're gonna be up for another couple of hours, I may need the caffeine first.”

As Ravager mounted her ride and took hold of the handlebars, she let out a small chuckle. “There are other ways to keep each other up than caffeine, you know.”

Getting on the seat behind her, Apathy moved forward and held her arms around Ravager's midsection, pulling herself tightly up against the woman. “So there are. Alright then... skip the coffee. Straight to the fun stuff.”

---

Though the clock read past four in the morning, Rose and Ruby were still wide awake, both lying in bed atop the covers and breathing heavily, sweat beading across their bodies. The night might be cool outside, but the inside of the bedroom was stifling.

“Alright,” Ruby stated, sucking in a deep breath, “so maybe you had a good idea in skippin' the coffee.”

“I told you,” Rose replied, “who needs caffeine when you have... well, that?

A small laugh found its way out of Ruby's throat, as she rolled over on top of Rose and gave a gentle kiss. “True enough, I suppose. But, you're sure that Holly can't hear us? I'd hate to wake her at this hour... especially with what we were doin'.”

“Relax. Like I've already told you three times, the walls are completely soundproof.”

“Well, if you say so.” Ruby shrugged idly, resting her head gently against her partner's shoulder. “I still can't help but worry a bit, though. I mean, have you even had the talk with her yet?”

Lifting her eyebrows, Rose raised an arm and held it around Ruby's waist. “Are you kidding me? I didn't have to have the talk with her.”

“What do you mean?”

“The thing about Holly is... well, she's very smart for her age,” she explained. “Mature, too. She sort of figured out a lot of it herself. I mean, sure she still had some questions, and I answered them, but you'd be surprised at how naturally she acquired in the information.”

Ruby lifted her eyebrows. “Really? So she learned about the birds and the bees all on her own?”

“And the birds and birds. And the bees and the bees. Then again, being around Rebecca and I probably had some influence on that part.”

Ruby chuckled again, holding herself up on her arms and looking down at Rose. “And she learned this from... what exactly? Television? Magazines? Oh god, not the internet, I hope.”

“Books, mostly.”

“And do you often keep books about sex lyin' around this place?”

Rose merely shrugged, shaking her head. “I honestly couldn't tell you what books or from where. All I know is that when I asked her where she learned all of it, she told me she read it in a book.”

“Ha, you don't say. Saved you from some awkward conversations in the future, didn't it?”

“You see, it pays to have a smart kid.”

Of course, there was another reason why Holly knew so much about it, a much darker reason concerning her past with Pavoni. The fact that the girl had been so tragically introduced to it at such a young age was no doubt part of why she knew so much about it now... Rose didn't mention any of this, though. It wasn't something she wanted to bring up right now, and it would just ruin a good moment.

Smirking, Ruby leaned down to give Rose another kiss, then gently rested her head against the woman's chest. She closed her eyes, taking in a deep, steady breath. “So, got the day off tomorrow, right? Any plans?”

“Yeah, actually,” Rose said. “Holly and I are taking a trip up to Whitmore Cemetery in the afternoon to visit Becky's grave. We go there every month.”

“Ah, that's sweet.”

“You're welcome to come along if you want. I mean, if you have nothing better to do.”

Opening her eyes again, Ruby calmly glanced up at Rose and smiled. “Please, there's nothin' I'd rather do.”

Rose returned the smile, then leaned forward to kiss Ruby's forehead. “Thanks.”

---

Sitting at the desk in his office, Jeremiah Belmont tapped his fingers gently in front of him. The old abandoned Silverstone Incineration Plant would not have been his first choice for a hideout, but it was out of the way enough from the rest of the city for his plan. Breathing out a slow sigh, he reached into his pocket and pulled out an old pocket watch. He stared at it, watching the second hand tick away. The time now read: 5:55 a.m.

Five more minutes and the final step in Rose Wilson's destruction could begin. Normally, he wouldn't be this anxious for things to start. Normally, he was quite reserved in his eagerness. But this was different. This time, he would beat her, once and for all. She had been a thorn in his side for far too long, and that could not go unpunished.

As the minute hand inched closer, the door to the office opened. Slowly, he glanced up at the woman standing there and lowered the pocket watch. “Well?”

“Just set the last one,” she replied. “It only took three months to spread them across the city, but they're all wired up and ready for the signal now.”

A small smile curled its way across Jerry's face. 'Good. Just another minute now and I begin the countdown. Then, you're free to do your part.”

“I look forward to it.”

“As well you should. Now...” Glancing back down at the watch, he straightened out the glasses on his face and then reached towards the desk to push the button on a large wireless radio transmitter. “Let's put Rose to her final test, shall we?”

---

Near the back corner of a boiler room located beneath the Silverstone General Hospital, sat a very large, two cylinder device, with wires connecting the tops of them. A small electronic panel rested between them, two tiny lights blinking on top of it. Suddenly, the lights stopped blinking and instead lit up continuously, a solid color. The panel on the front lit up as well, displaying numbers on it, numbers that read: 36:00:00. After a brief pause, the numbers began to count down.

Thirty six hours to go.

---

It was pretty warm by the time they arrived at the cemetery the next morning, though a nice breeze kept things from being too hot. A thick cloud cover started to drift in, as well, soon casting the area in shade. Rose, Holly, and Ruby, walked across the grass from the pathway behind them, making their way to the large headstone near the back of the cemetery.

“Can I put the flowers down?” Holly asked.

“Sure, honey,” Rose said, passing along the bundle of water lilies—Becky's favorite. “Here you go.”

Holly tentatively walked towards the gravestone, giving it a long look before gently resting the flowers down in front of it. For a few moments afterward, the girl just stood there, staring. She tried not to let her tears show, to be a strong girl, but she couldn't stop them. She sniffled, wiping the wetness from her eyes.

“Is there anything you want to say to her?” Rose asked.

“Well, I... I just want to say that I miss her,” Holly said. “A lot.”

“Don't tell me, tell her.”

“Oh, right.” Clearing her throat, Holly held her hands down in front of her and took in a deep breath. “I really miss you, Becky. We all do. It... hasn't really been the same with you gone. Um... oh, I got almost all A's again this year. Except for math. I don't really like math... you always helped me out with that. Rose really isn't as good at it as you were, either.”

“Hey now,” Rose said, playfully narrowing her eyes. “I know enough.”

Leaning in close, Ruby laughed out a small whisper. “Enough to get her a C, anyway.”

“Oh shush.”

“I wish you were still here...” Holly continued, lowering her gaze. Lifting up a hand to her face, she briefly wiped away the tears from her eyes again. “But Rose says you're watching over us, so I guess that's pretty cool. I promise I'll do better at math, if I can just remember those tricks you taught me. I... I love you, Becky.”

Rose took a step forward, holding a hand on the girl's shoulder and offering her comfort. “That was good, Holly.”

“Thanks...” Sniffling, Holly took a step back and sighed deeply. “I think I need to take a walk.”

“Come on, girl, I'll walk with you,” Ruby said, gently holding the girl's hand. “Give your mom some time alone.”

As the other two left, Rose sank down to the ground, sitting cross-legged and leaning back on her hands, just staring at the headstone. She breathed in deeply, slowly letting the air in through her nose, and then abruptly huffed it all out at once.

“You know I miss you, too, right?” she said, her eyes focusing on Rebecca's name etched into the granite. “I always will. You changed my life in so many ways... and I can't thank you enough for it. I mean, who knows where I'd be if I never met you? Probably the same old angry, disgruntled b*tch I used to be.”

She paused briefly, chuckling quietly to herself. “Well, okay, maybe not quite that bad. I mean, hell, Holly changed me a lot, too. But you... you showed me how to really enjoy life. That's something I never thought I'd be able to do again. You helped me grow into a person I never thought I'd be, Becky, and I'll never forget that.”

Uttering another small sigh, Rose bowed her head and smiled a little. “I, uh... I met someone else, you know. Her name's Ruby. I told you a little bit about her last time, you remember? She's really great. Fun, happy, free spirited... you'd like her.”

Another soft chuckle found its way out of her throat, as she folded her arms across her chest and stared back up at the headstone. “You know, it's funny. When we first got together, I told you I wasn't into women, that I was just into you... and yet lately women are all I've been attracted to. Strange how that works, huh? I guess you had a bit more of an impact on me than I realized, in that department. But I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Rose sucked in a large breath of air, then slowly stood up, touching her hand to the top of the headstone. “It was nice seeing you again, Becky. I'll be back again next month, promise.”

Before she could turn away from the grave, a slow, methodical, mocking clap rang out through the air, followed by a snide voice. “Bravo, bravo. That was touching. Can we get an encore?”

Stiffening slightly, Rose slowly turned her head to look behind her. There, a woman leaned up casually against a nearby tree, a woman dressed in black jeans, a white tank top, and black leather jacket. Instantly, Rose's entire body went numb at the sight.

“What... what is this?” she uttered, trying desperately to make sense of what she was seeing.

“Just a little reunion is all. Nothing special.”

Rose swallowed down a hard lump in her throat, but didn't answer. She couldn't bring herself to say anything.

“So, tell me. My funeral—” Rebecca Chavez smirked, pushing herself away from the tree and stuffing her hands in her jacket pockets as she walked forward. “—was it heartbreaking?”

Chapter #84

Six Months Ago...

Kubrick folded his arms across his chest, leaning a bit to the side as he eyed the man in front of him, curiously. Jeremiah Belmont, huh? So, apparently this was the guy who orchestrated everything from the start. Not the President, but an imposter. Intriguing...

Now the question remained: just what the hell did this Jeremiah guy have planned? And why the hell were they standing in a morgue late at night, hovering over two dead bodies on two separate tables in front of them, one of Rebecca Chavez and the other of the more recently deceased mortician?

“We have work to do?” Kubrick said, repeating the man's statement. “Exactly what kind of work?”

Jeremiah's gaze slowly shifted over to look at him from behind his small, round glasses. His eyes were... cold, intimidating. “I believe we all know of a woman named Rose Wilson, better known as the Ravager, correct?”

“She rings a bell...” Zaria muttered, arms folding across her chest. “B*tch tore up my bar.”

“Among other things,” Kubrick added. “So yeah, we have a history with her.”

Jerry nodded. “As do I. Quite the intricate one, in fact. Even my dear friend Hugo here has crossed paths with her before.”

Standing straighter, Hugo Strange clasped his hands behind his back and took in a deep breath. “Yes, I believe my jaw is still sore.”

“So it should come as no surprise that we all wouldn't mind seeing her... out of the way.”

“Well no sh*t, but what's the point?” Kubrick said. “We've tried killing her before, but she keeps coming back. She's like a cockroach.”

“My friends, I'm not proposing we kill her,” Jerry insisted, with a genuinely amused smile. “At least, not at first. Rather, this time around I wish to utterly break her. To destroy her entire reason for existing. To bring her down so far that she will beg for us to end it.”

Narrowing her eyes, Zaria leaned forward slightly, hands resting against the edge of one of the tables. “And how exactly do you intend to do that?”

“Ah, the details will come in time.” Jerry glanced down at the deceased Becky, clasping his hands behind his back. “First, we must finish up here, though I assure you this is part of my plan.”

Kubrick frowned. “It had better be a good plan.”

Smirking, Jerry moved forward and held his hand against the face of the dead mortician. Almost instantly, the flesh from his palm began to replicate and liquify, melting over the woman's pale visage. Within moments, that putty-like flesh spread from her face to the rest of her body, even her hair, then reshaped itself into a different image altogether. By the end of it, the mortician's body had become an exact duplicate of Rebecca's.

Kubrick widened his eyes, dumbfounded. “What the...”

“Now, Hugo,” Jerry said, giving the man a nod. “Go ahead and replace the body.”

“Of course. Help me with the clothes, will you, Michael?”

Glaring briefly at the bald man in the lab coat, Kubrick came forward to strip the clothes off the corpse, then assisted in carrying it over to the open, chilled drawer on the far wall, where they had taken Rebecca's body from. Once the duplicate body was in place, Strange slid the drawer in and closed the door.

“Alright, now what was the point of that?” Zaria asked. “We've replaced her body with a clone, so we can... do what, exactly?”

“So we can do this.” Stepping around the front of the table, Jerry reached forward with both hands and pressed either index finger to the Rebecca's ears. The flesh from his fingers begin to liquify again, turning into a silvery substance that drained down the corpse's ear canals. With that done, he took a step back and folded his arms, waiting.

“What did you do?” Kubrick said, giving the man a curious look.

“Wait a moment, give the nanites a chance to do their job.”

Several minutes ticked by. Soon, the massive bruising around the corpse's chest began to gradually disappear. Not only this, but color began to return to Rebecca's skin, no longer the ashen shade of death.

Kubrick furrowed his brow. “What's going on?”

“She is... regenerating,” Zaria said.”

Jerry nodded. “Correct. The nanites are repairing her body's damage, returning it to one hundred percent health.”

Glancing upward, Kubrick twisted his face in confusion. “But she's still dead. Repair all the damage you want, you can't just raise her from the grave.”

“Had we waited much longer, no, probably not,” he replied. “However, she has been deceased for a brief enough period that she can be brought back. Once the nanites fix her physical damage, they will integrate into her body's system, and from there they will self replicate. Her organs will begin to function again, restarting her heart, circulating her blood, filling her lungs with air... and then they will 'reboot' her brain, so to speak. Until...”

Several more moments went by, and then suddenly Becky's eyes flew open. Sucking in a deep, coughing breath of air, she lurched upright, swallowing and staring around at the people surrounding her. For nearly two minutes straight, all she did was sit there, heaving heavy breaths of air inward, and holding a hand to her heart. Finally, her breathing began to steady, as she slowly relaxed.

“W-where... where am I?” A second later, Becky glanced down at herself and flinched. She quickly curled up, bringing her knees to her chest and holding her arms around herself. “And jueputa, where are are my clothes?!”

Hugo came forward, as if on command, holding up a large blanket. Becky immediately took it and wrapped it around herself.

“I don't f*cking believe it...” Kubrick uttered, his jaw slacking open slightly.

Zaria stared in equal shock. “She's... you really brought her back.”

Turning her gaze, Becky stared at them in confusion. “Brought me back from from where? What the hell is going on?!”

“From death, my dear,” Jerry clarified. “I brought you back from death.”

“I was... I was dead?”

“Quite. You won't remember a lot of what happened at first, but give it time and your memories will come back to you. In the meantime, come with us. I have much to explain; like telling you all about the person who did this to you.”

Jerry extended his hand, offering it for Rebecca to take. For a long moment, she just stared at it. Eventually, however, she slowly reached up and took his hand in hers, accepting the offer.

“Alright...” she said, sucking in another deep breath of air. “Tell me everything.”

---

Present Day...

Rose briefly lifted her hands up to rub her eyes, as if doing so would make the hallucination disappear. At least, she thought it was a hallucination. It had to be. How else could Rebecca be standing right in front of her? She wasn't in Trance's machine anymore, and Becky was dead. They had buried the body in the grave right behind where Rose was standing, plain and simple.

Wait... no, I know who this is, she thought, coming to the only logical conclusion.

“What's the matter, Rose?” Beck asked. “Cat got your tongue, ah?”

“You're not Becky.,” she said, eyes narrowing. “You're not going to fool me, Jerry, I know that's you.”

A small, amused chuckle found its way out of Becky's throat. She shook her head and uttered an exasperated breath, smirking. “A good guess, but no, I'm not Jerry.”

“Yes you are,” Rose insisted. “You have to be. There's nothing else that could... there's no one else who...”

“Oh, come on. I know you're not that dense, right? Alright, look. Ask me a question, any question. A question only I would know.

This is a trap... she thought to herself. it has to be a trap.

And yet she complied anyway. “When you took me out for my birthday, what happened when we came back to my apartment?”

Becky smirked, shifting her weight to the side and bringing a hand to her hip. “Going with the easy ones, ah? Well, okay then. I came on to you for the first time; kissed you. Of course, you rejected me, because you claimed you weren't a lesbian, though I was dumb enough to jump to that conclusion. So, I ended up running out in embarrassment.”

Rose's heart skipped a beat, throat going numb. She still couldn't believe it, so she tried again. “When you were in the hospital on your birthday, what did I bring you as a gift?”

“A birthday cake,” Becky said. “Vanilla, my favorite. You figured it was better than a 'glad you didn't die cake' that the force would have given me when I came back.”

Now Rose felt her legs growing weak, almost like jelly. Her heart beat a hundred times a second it felt like, and her eyes were beginning to water. “You... Becky?”

“I told you, it's all me.”

Rose swallowed a hard knot in her throat, taking a cautious step forward. “Then why... why do you seem so different?”

“Because I am different,” she replied. “I'm not the bubbly little pushover you used to know, not anymore.”

“What are you—”

“And it's kind of hard to look at a person the same way after they go and get you killed.”

“That's not fair...” Rose said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Don't you say that.”

“But it's true, ah?” Becky huffed out a breath and folded her arms across her chest, glaring. “You were supposed to watch my back, and what happened? Oh right, a goddamn building collapsed on me. After I got blown up.”

“How could I have stopped that?!” she countered. Her voice faltered slightly, frantic. “Tell me, Becky! If I could have... Christ, if I could have saved you, I would have. No matter what it took, I... I would have gladly traded places with you.”

Becky ignored the response, scoffing. “And then how long did it take after I was gone for you to start shacking up with another girl? What, three months? And here I thought you weren't into girls, Rose. Here I thought you were into me. Just me.”

“I loved you!” Rose swallowed again, choking back an onset of tears and emotion that were fit to bursting at any moment. “I'll always love you! Nothing changes that, don't you even think it. But you... I thought you were gone... I was trying to move on, Becky, I was trying to be happy, because I knew that's what you would have wanted.”

“And diving between the legs of the first woman you see makes you happy, does it?”

She shook her head, jaw clenching. “You're twisting my words.”

Becky shrugged. “Just asking a question. Is she good, Rose? Huh? Tell me, how does she taste?”

Rose swallowed again, then raised a hand briefly to wipe her eyes dry. What the hell was going on here? Why was this happening? This... this was a hundred times worse than Becky being dead. This was... this was torture. Every word out of Becky's mouth cut like daggers.

“So if you've been alive this whole time...” Rose uttered, sucking in a deep breath, “...where have you been, Becky? What have you been doing? Why... why didn't you come find me?”

“I've been watching,” she said. “Waiting. Planning. All for this moment.”

Rose faltered, heart dropping like a rock in her chest; the revelation hit her like a freight train. “Jerry... you're working with Jerry. Everything these past few months, everything he's done... it was you, too?”

“Si, it was me, too.”

“Then he did something to you.” Rose ran her fingers through her hair, brain working on overdrive to make sense of things. “He changed you, somehow he... a stem. He must have used one of his stems on you.”

Becky scoffed. “You wish, don't you? No, he hasn't done anything to me, Rose. All he's done is told me the truth and opened my eyes to just what a miserable waste of space you really are. Try as hard as you want, but you'll never be anything more than failure.”

Before Rose could make another response, a small, stunned voice interrupted their conversation. “...Becky?”

Turning their gazes, they noticed Holly standing there with Ruby beside her, having returned from their walk. At first, the girl just stood frozen in disbelief, eyes wide and blinking. Then, she suddenly pulled away from Ruby and ran across the grass. She was already tearing up, a large, overjoyed smile on her face.

“Becky!”

Rose took a step forward, reaching out in desperation. “No, Holly, stay away from—!”

Her words didn't make it in time. The moment that Holly comes into range, Rebecca wound up her arm and swatted the girl away with a surprisingly powerful backhand. Holly flew backwards several feet, hitting the ground hard and then rolling to a stop.

“HOLLY!” Sprinting to the girl's side, Rose knelt down and took her into her arms. “Holly? Holly, are you alright?”

The girl uttered a small groan, glancing up at her mother and blinking a couple of times. A small cut oozed a steady trickle of blood on her forehead. “She hit me... why did Becky hit me?”

“Shh, it'll be alright,” Rose said. “Everything will be fine.”

Walking past them, Ruby glared at the woman, while raising her hands forward. “Alright, I don't know who you are, lady, but you don't get to go around assaultin' children like that.”

“Ah... so this is the little slut you've been sleeping around with,” Becky mused, giving the woman a once over.

“Now you listen to me. I'm gonna need you to calm down a little. Maybe take a nap. You feelin' that? Yeah, you're gettin' nice and relaxed.” Ruby approached and held her hand up against Becky's forehead, staring into her eyes. “Just let yourself—oof!”

Becky's fist found its way to Ruby's gut, delivering a stunningly powerful blow. A second later, Ruby coughed out a harsh breath and doubled over, almost dropping to her knees.

“Yeah, don't bother with that empathic bullcrap,” Becky said. “Doesn't work on me.”

Swinging her leg forward, Becky sent the kick straight at the woman's face. Before the blow could connect, though, Ruby teleported away, vanishing into thin air. A second later, she reappeared directly behind Becky and sent a hard chop to the side of her neck. Becky didn't even flinch.

“That was... dumb,” she said, looking back over her shoulder at the Empath.

Becky's hand suddenly flew upward, grabbing Ruby's wrist and swinging the woman up over her head. The next thing Ruby knew, she was lying flat on her back and staring up at the sky, an intense pain throbbing through her chest.

“Leave her alone!” Rose called. She gently rested Holly on the ground and then stood up, hands already formed to fists.

Seeing this, Becky smirked. “What, you think you're going to stop me, Rose? The whole reason I came here was to put you in your place.”

“We'll see,” she said. “If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to beat some sense back into that head of yours. I don't know what Jerry did to you, but I am going to fix it.”

“Hmph, good luck.”

Wasting no more time, Rose ran forward, leading with flying kick aimed at Becky's chest. Her foot struck only air, however, as Becky turned her body to the side and effortlessly dodged. Landing slightly off balance, Rose followed up with a cross jab, but Becky grabbed her wrist and delivered an elbow to her jaw. Head snapping backward, Rose cringed, seeing bright spots of light flash in front of her eyes.

The next thing she knew, she was flying through the air. An explosive pain ripped through her body, as she crashed straight through Becky's headstone, the granite shattering to pieces. For a long moment, Rose lied there motionless on her back, gazing up at the sky. She tried to move, but she couldn't. Hell, she could barely even breathe after that.

“I can't believe I ever envied you,” Becky said, with a scornful laugh. “I mean, what are you, really? A glorified martial artist. That's it. You don't have any real power. Not like I do now.”

Her skin suddenly began to change. A thick, silver ooze flooded through her pores, coating her entire body. In seconds, the substance hardened, forming a hard metallic shell around her. As she walked forward, she casually swung her arm to the side, smashing her fist straight through another headstone. The granite blew apart as if hit by dynamite.

“How do you feel, Rose? Scared yet? Today, it's your turn to be the helpless one.”

Chapter #85

Rose sucked in a deep breath, struggling to get back to her own two feet. That last blow had been tremendous, considering it put her through a solid granite headstone. Every breath she took caused a sharp, stinging pain to flare through her chest, and yet she knew she couldn't let that hinder her. Somehow, someway, she had to get through to Becky.

“Becky, please...” she said. “You don't have to do this.”

“Oh shut up.”

Becky threw a quick punch, but Rose saw it coming ahead of time, allowing her to duck back out of the way. She countered with a kick to the gut, though her shin caromed harmlessly off of Becky's metallic skin. Grabbing onto Rose's leg, Becky swung her around and threw her again, sending her flying over thirty feet through the air. Rose hit the ground hard and slid into another gravestone, a stunned breath of air bursting from her lips.

“This isn't some cliché story where you use your feelings to get me to see the error of my ways,” Becky stated, walking over to the downed woman and delivering a thunderous kick to the gut. “You aren't going to fix things with a few words, Rose.”

Rose grunted in pain, holding her arms around her stomach and shrinking inward. “Then I'll just... have to figure out... a different way... to fix it,” she uttered, her voice coming out in barely more than a tiny squeak.

“No, you won't. You want to know why? Because there's nothing to fix!” Reaching down, Becky lifted her up into the air by her hair, using only a single hand. Her level of strength was astounding, especially for one who had previously displayed no such tendencies of power. “Consider this a humbling, Rose. I'm not going to kill you, but I am going to make you realize what a pathetic, useless waste you are. And when I'm done, I have a message to give you.

---

Deep in the basement of the Silverstone hospital, a timer ticked downward, a timer attached to two very large canisters full of volatile substances. For now, the substances were kept separate from each other, but when the timer reached zero and the two substances came into contact with each other, well...

3... 2... 1...

Up above in the main lobby of the hospital, doctors, visitors, patients, and secretaries all went about their business. Just another ordinary day for them. None of them were expecting the massive fireball that suddenly engulfed the building, bursting through the floor that cracked apart and ripped open with violent force. People ran screaming, horrified, but they couldn't get away. The entire building was consumed in a matter of moments.

All around Silverstone, similar explosions went off in various buildings spread throughout the city. Each one not only leveled the building in which it had been placed, but the also the several surrounding blocks, claiming countless lives.

Within minutes, pandemonium engulfed the entire city, hellish flames burning bright as the sun and torching all those caught in its path. The screams of horror were unbearable, and the sheer level of decimation unfathomable. In a single, gruesome moment, all of Silverstone was laid to waste.

---

Snapping her eyes open, Rose leaned forward and took in deep breaths, sweat beading down her forehead and dripping to the floor. She swallowed back a lump in her throat, then tried to stand up. Her legs barely responded, however, as she instead tumbled back to the floor, catching herself with her hands.

“She wasn't lying...” she said, squinting her eyes shut. “I saw it. Those bombs, whatever they are, they'll take out this entire city and everyone in it. Twenty hours, that's all that's left until the timers reach zero.”

Sitting across from her on the couch, Ruby leaned forward slightly and blinked in surprise. “You're serious?”

“Why wouldn't I be?”

“Well, I mean I just... I guess I never imagined Becky to be capable of somethin' that horrible, not with how you always described her.”

Rose gave the woman a sharp look. “That is not Becky. Not really. I mean, it's her, but... it's not. Jerry did something to her when he brought her back. I don't know what, but it's screwing with her head. I know I can fix it, if I can just figure out what's wrong.”

“You mean after we deal with the bombs, right?” Ruby asked.

Swallowing again, Rose nodded and slowly stood up up. She cringed at a sharp pain in her side, still suffering through the beating that Becky had given her earlier. “Right. I'll call Palmer, see if he can get the mayor to put together an evacuation or something.”

“Why don't you just get Zatanna to swoop in here and magically transport the bombs to Venus or somethin'?”

Rose shook her head and sighed. “She can't help us, Ruby... no one can. You remember what Becky said.”

---

Two hours ago...

Rose let out a harsh cough, spraying out several droplets of blood, as she lied there on the ground utterly defeated. Try as she might to defend herself, she didn't have her gear, and fighting against someone with invulnerable skin and super strength with just your fists was really a bit of a mismatch. Taking in a deep breath, she stared upward to see Becky now hovering over her.

Becky held her arm downward, causing the metal skin encasing her body to extend into the form of a long, razor sharp blade. The tip pressed against Rose's throat ever so slightly, just enough to draw the faintest trickle of blood.

“Here's how it works, Rose. There are fifty bombs spread throughout the city, bombs destructive enough to take out several city blocks each. When they all go off, the chain reaction they trigger will decimate Silverstone and everyone in it.”

“Why... why are you...?”

“Because, you're the protector of this city, right? So protect it.” Becky pushed the blade closer, drawing a slightly larger spurt of blood. “Or at least, try to. The countdown has already begun. There should be around twenty-two hours remaining by now, until everything goes up in smoke.”

Swallowing, Rose slowly raised herself from the ground with one arm, sitting upright. The blade point moved with her, remaining against her throat. “I mean why are you... telling me? Why not just set them off?”

“Jeremiah wants you to feel as though you have a chance,” she explained. “He wants you to try and stop it. And he wants you to fail. He's right of course; we both know you'll do exactly that: fail.”

Uttering a tired sigh, Rose collapsed back to the ground and lay there motionless, as she attempted to absorb this information. This isn't happening... it can't be happening. I'm dreaming. This is a nightmare.

“Oh, and to make sure you don't cheat...” The point of the blade suddenly liquified, dripping the silvery substance onto Rose's neck and seeping inside of her wound. Rose flinched, gritting her teeth and clenching her fists tight as the cold sensation spread through her veins. “Those nanites will monitor you. This way, I'll be able to keep track of everything you do. If you attempt to call for outside assistance—and by that I mean calling anyone outside of Silverstone—then you forfeit and the bombs will go off immediately. Got that?”

Rose didn't answer, instead closing her eyes and relaxing her head against the ground. She didn't want to look at Becky anymore; she couldn't look at Becky anymore. No, it's not Becky. Don't forget that. This is... something else, one of Jerry's creations. But the real Becky is in there somewhere... and god help me, I'll find her, if it's the last thing I do.

---

Ruby breathed outwardly and folded her arms across her chest, slowly bowing her head. “Right, no help. That puts a serious crimp in our chances.”

“That was the point.” Holding her head in her hands briefly, Rose marched across the living room to the phone. “Can you go check on Holly for me, please? I have to call Palmer.”

“Sure thing.” Getting up from the couch, Ruby made her way towards Holly's bedroom, where the girl was trying to recover from both the physical blow to her head, as well as the mental shock from seeing Becky come back as a bad guy.

When she was gone, Rose lifted the phone to her ear and dialed. A deep voice responded a short moment later. “Wilson, what is it?”

“Chief, we have a problem... a big problem.” She explained things as quickly and as succinctly as she could, while getting all the important information across. It sounded ridiculous even as it came out of her own mouth, and yet she knew it was the truth. A horrifying truth that she wished she could get away from, but the truth nonetheless.

“Now hold on just a minute,” Palmer said. “Chavez is alive? And she's working with that Belmont psychopath?”

“That's correct.”

A brief pause followed, before Palmer spoke again. “In the name of all that's... by god, I really am getting too old for this kind of crap. Okay, forget Chavez for the moment, I'll deal with that nugget later. These bombs, you're sure about them?”

“As sure as I can breathe,” she replied. “Is there anyway we can evacuate the city?”

“In less than twenty four hours? Not a snowman's chance in hell. Maybe if we had a few days, but that's not going to happen.”

“Sh*t, alright. So then we need to disarm them.”

Palmer scoffed. “Oh, is that all? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you said there were fifty of them. Even if we even knew where they were all located, there aren't enough members of the bomb squad to get to them all in time. We'd need to call in for outside backup, but we can't do that or we all get blown to kingdom come, isn't that right?”

“Yeah... that's right,” she muttered.

“Well, isn't that just fine and f*cking dandy?”

Rose sighed, hanging her head. “Yeah, I get it. We're screwed.”

“If we can't figure out a way to locate and disarm every single bomb,” Palmer said, “then you're damn right we are.”

“I know, I know... just give me a bit. Ruby and I will come up with something, and I'll get back to you.”

“You do that. Meanwhile, I have one hell of a conversation I need to have right now with the mayor.”

When the call ended, Rose set the phone back down and uttered a heavy sigh, lowering her face into her hand. Now, if only she could believe her own words as much as she wanted Palmer to believe them. The fact was, though, she didn't believe them. They had no way of finding the bombs, and they were running out of time.

“ Holly's fine,” Ruby said, returning to the living room. “She's just restin' for now.”

Looking up, Rose sighed and leaned against the back of the couch. “If we don't figure out something quick, this entire city is done.”

“Then we'll just have to figure somethin' out, now won't we?”

“Just wish I knew what.” She held her hands to her head and closed her eyes, trying to think. “God, I wish I could call Batman right about now... he'd know what to do.”

“I'm guessin' that's why you're not allowed,” Ruby said, with a small shrug. “But really, you're smart, too, Rose. You don't need someone else to tell you what to do.”

“I know, I know, I just... hold on a minute.”

“What is it?”

“I had a thought.” Rose held a hand to her chin, contemplating something. “In order for Jerry to have activated all the bombs at the same time, he would have needed to do it by using a wireless signal, right?”

“Uh, well I suppose.”

“So, if we could get to one of the bombs, then we could trace the signal back to its source.”

Ruby frowned, folding her arms. “If we could find one of them, and if we had a means to do so. But even then, what good would that do us? It wouldn't tell us where the other bombs are.”

“No, but it would tell us where the signal came from,” she explained. “In other words, where Jerry is hiding out. I'm willing to bet we can determine where the other bombs are from there.”

What exactly are you willin' to bet?” Ruby asked. “The lives of half a million people or more?”

Breathing out a heavy breath, Rose slowly bowed her head. “I wish I didn't have to bet that, but what else can we do? I don't suppose you have any better ideas?”

Ruby went silent for a moment, folding her arms and glancing off to the side. “No, no I suppose I don't. But we'd still need a way to find one of the bombs first, not to mention a way to trace its incomin' signal.”

“I already know where one is, I saw it in my vision: the basement of Silverstone General Hospital. We can use that one.”

“Then while we're at it, we should probably figure out how to disarm the bloody things.”

Rose nodded. “You let me worry about that. Go suit up and get ready.”

---

A sudden burst of smoke popped into the basement out of thin air, bringing with it three individuals. The two obvious ones included Ravager and Apathy, both now dressed in full costume and ready to get to work. The third individual was Mark Harris, head of Silverstone's bomb squad. After contacting Palmer about their plan, he had urged them to take Harris along in order to figure out exactly how to disarm these bombs.

“Alright,” Ravager said, “spread out and look. It's down here somewhere.”

“Uh... would that be it?” Pointing across the dimly lit room, Apathy gestured to the large structure near the far wall, a structure consisting of two large cylinders on either side of an electronic device in the middle, connected to each other by a bunch of wires. The countdown timer on the front panel read less than nineteen hours now.

“That... would definitely be it,” Harris affirmed. The bomb squad expert slowly walked up to the large device and gave it a careful inspection, his expression mixed with awe and confusion. “I've never seen a bomb quite like this before. Some kind of... chemical activation, maybe? But that wouldn't explain the level of devastation you described.”

“I'm not interested it what makes it so strong,” Ravager replied. “I'm just interested in how to keep it from going off.”

“Give me a moment, this might require a few minutes.” Moving up to the bomb, Harris took a closer look, examining every facet of the cylinders, the timer, and the electronic detonator. After several minutes, he apparently came a conclusion and knelt in front of it. Opening up his box of tools, he took out a screwdriver and began opening up a small metal panel on the front of the detonator. “As best as I can tell, the wires you see on the outside are dummy wires, made to detonate the device instantly if tampered with.”

“And the real wires?”

“Right... here.” Popping off the panel, he revealed a neat set of wires on the inside of the device. After returning the screwdriver to the box, he pulled out a pair of wire cutters and snipped the top wire, then every second wire after that. Once he severed the last wire, the numbers on the front of the timer disappeared. “And that should do it, for now. I'll have to get the rest of the bomb squad down here later to dismantle it, but in the meantime you two should—”

Suddenly, the timer switched back on, displaying a much lower time of thirty seconds. For a couple of those seconds they all stared at the thing, stunned.

“I thought you disarmed it!” Ravager said, looking at the guy in a panic.

“So did I!” Harris dropped back in front of the device and started examining the open display of wires again. He snipped another wire, but nothing changed. Trying to retain his cool, he snipped all the remaining wires, but still nothing. The timer hit fifteen seconds and kept going.

“Runnin' out of time!” Apathy called, taking a step forward. She had to be ready to teleport the three of them away if they couldn't disarm it.

“I can see that!” Harris replied.

Twelve seconds.

“This doesn't make any sense, there shouldn't be a—”

Eight seconds.

He suddenly noticed something out of the ordinary on the detonator and tore off the front display. “The thing had a whole dummy section to it!”

Five seconds.

“Well disarm the real ones then!” Ravager urged.

Three seconds.

Snip, snip, snip.

Three quick motions, three severed wires. The timer froze at one second remaining. Blinking in surprise, Harris bowed his head and fell back to a seated position. An exasperated breath found its way out of his throat, as he wiped sweat from his brow.

“Is it... is it good?” Apathy asked, still staring at the frozen timer. “Are we alive?”

“It's disarmed,” Harris replied.

Ravager huffed out a breath, staring at the man. “Cutting it really close there.”

“Better than not cutting it at all.”

Taking in several deep breaths to still her pounding heart, Ravager moved forward to the bomb and took out a small, round, electronic device. She stuck it to the top of the detonator, pressed a couple of buttons on the top, and then folded her arms, waiting.

“What exactly is that?” Harris asked.

“It's a... a wireless bugging... thing,” She responded, rubbing the back of her neck. “I don't remember what Batman called it. All I know is that it's supposed to trace the last incoming wireless signal received by various devices. It should tell us where the signal came from that started the timer. Just glad I still had some of these things lying around...”

Several minutes went by before the 'wireless bugging thing' started to blink and beep in completion. Removing it from the detonator, Ravager pulled out a GPS device and connected the two with a wire. A short moment later, the GPS began to zero in on the signal.

Apathy looked over her shoulder curiously. “You got it?”

A quiet, steady beeping answered her question. “Oh yeah, I got it. Come on; let's go pay Jeremiah a little visit.”

Chapter #86

Police Chief Gerald Palmer stood behind his desk, leaning forward with one hand resting against the flat top and his other hand holding a phone to his ear. He could hear the chaos outside already: the screaming, the panic, the cars honking, screeching tires, the smashing of abrupt collisions. This whole situation was a mess.

“I know that evacuating the city would be the best course of action, Mr. Mayor, but only if it could be done safely and efficiently,” Palmer said into the phone. “Telling everyone that they have less than a day to get out of Silverstone before the whole place gets blown sky high was not the way to do it!”

He paused, listening to the idiotic justification he received on the other line. Sighing, he held his palm to his hand and shook his head. “Have you even looked out your window in the last hour? It's goddamn pandemonium out there! The streets are clogged, people are panicking, stores are being looted, suicide reports are coming in; people are dying, you understand that?”

Another pause. Palmer rubbed his eyes with his fingers, uttering a frustrated groan. He then turned to his window and pushed open the blinds so he could get a better look. The entire street outside the station was backed up bumper to bumper; several citizens were standing outside their cars shouting at each other, and someone had even hit a damn fire hydrant, causing a towering spray of water to shoot into the air.

“Evacuations take time, it can't be done in a few hours. What you have now is a f*cking nightmare. Yes, I understand the gravity of— No, I've never— excuse me, Mr. Mayor, but don't use this sh*tstorm as an excuse to vent at me. I'm in the same goddamn boat as the rest of you!”

The next statement caused Palmer's eyes to go wide, as he turned back towards his desk.No! You contact the Justice League, and those bombs will go off as soon as they get here! We'll be dead before the League even gets a chance to help!” Sinking down into his seat, Palmer uttered a deep sigh and rubbed his eyes again, tiredly. “Two women in costumes. That's who we're relying on now. Yes, I do trust them... I hope so, too.”

---

Apathy and Ravager appeared out of thin air, popping into existence within the abandoned incineration plant. The place had at one point been used to dispose of the city's waste, but budget cuts had forced Silverstone to shut it down and outsource their waste disposal elsewhere. The only reason it hadn't been demolished yet was because the city couldn't afford it.

When they arrived, Ravager took a quick look around. They appeared to be in some kind of loading area, a sort of garage structure with an area for dump trucks to back into and unload their waste into a giant pit, which led down into the kiln, where the refuse would be burned to ash.

“Alright, so where exactly are we right now?” she said, moving cautiously forward across the empty space.

“Looks like the reception hall,” Apathy replied, “where the trucks would unload their garbage. That means straight ahead is the entire incineration structure, so I'm guessin' the offices are in the other direction, probably through those doors.”

Turning her gaze, Ravager noticed a small set of metal stairs leading up to a door on the side of the hall. Giving her partner a nod, she made her way towards towards it. “Alright, let's move. We have to find Jerry, or at least find the device he used to send the signal out to his bombs.”

“Which I'm bettin' is on his person. Of course, that's if he's even still here. The smart thing to do would have been to leave the city once he activated the detonators.”

Ravager shook her head. “No, you don't know him like I do. He wants to watch, wants to see me fail. No way he doesn't stick around to see the grand finale. I'll bet anything that there isn't a single bomb within destructive range of this plant.”

“I hope you're right...” Apathy muttered.

Lowering her gaze, Ravager breathed outwardly. Yeah, she hoped so, too, because if she wasn't, then she was out of ideas on how to save this city in time. As they arrived at the door, Ravager reached out to open it. Before her hand even made it to the handle, however, the door flew off its hinges like a missile and smashed directly into her. Apathy reacted quickly, saving them both from further injury by grabbing onto Ravager's shoulder mid impact and teleporting them safely back down to the floor of the reception hall.

When they rematerialized, Ravager staggered on her feet, holding a hand to her abdomen and groaning. “The f*ck was... that?”

Glancing upward, she quickly shook off her daze and blinked at the figure walking through the now open doorway. It was Becky, already coated in her metallic shell.

“I take it this means you were right,” Apathy said. “They're here.”

Walking down the stairs, Becky glared at them, arms lowered casually down at her sides. “You shouldn't be here, Rose. You should be looking for the bombs, unless you want Silverstone to go up in flames.”

“What do you think I'm doing?” she countered. “I'm stopping them from the source.”

“Please, you can barely stand on your own two feet right now. I know you heal fast, but even you need more than a few hours to recover from the beating I gave you.”

“I'll manage.”

Becky frowned. “I think you overestimate yourself.”

Taking in a deep breath, Ravager straightened herself, watching as Becky continued to approach across the large, open floor. “Ruby, you keep searching. I'll deal with her.”

“Are you out of bloody mind?” Apathy said, snapping her gaze to the battered woman. “I'm not leavin' you alone with her; she practically tore you apart last time!”

“Please, Ruby. This is something I have to do alone.”

“But—”

“Ruby!”

Apathy silenced herself, huffing out a breath and folding her arms. “Alright... just don't go gettin' yourself killed, okay?” A second later, she vanished in a cloud of smoke.

“So I take it Jerry still has you under his control,” Ravager said.

Becky frowned, hands coming to her hips. “Dios, when are you going to get it through that dense skull of yours? I'm not under anyone's control. This is all me; I'm doing this because I choose to, because I need to settle things with you once and for all.”

Ravager shook her head. “I don't believe that, not for a second. I love you, Becky, and I know you love me, too. When you died, I... I didn't know how I'd live through it.”

“Oh it seems like you lived through it just fine. Already got yourself a warm pair of legs to comfort you, ah?”

“Would you stop it with that? God, I hope I'm not wrong, I really do. I hope you are being controlled somehow, because this is... I mean, sh*t, tell me you're not doing this just out of jealousy or something.”

“Ha, you think I'm going through all this trouble just because I'm jealous of that b*tch?” she said, grinning. “If that were the case, I'd just kill her and be done with it. No, I've been working on this from the start, ever since Jeremiah brought me back six months ago.”

Bowing her head slightly, Ravager slowly curled her hands into fists. She was thankful that she was wearing a mask to hide her eyes right now, because she didn't know if she wanted Becky to see her tears, not under these circumstances. “So that's how you want it, huh?”

“I think you're finally starting to catch on.”

“Fine—” Ravager lowered her hands to her hips, grasping at a pair of small sword hilts attached to her belt. The handles weren't made of typical steel, though, as they weren't typical swords. Rather, the hilts were electronic, made of lighter materials and outfitted with a small button near her thumbs. She hesitated only briefly before clicking both buttons, causing a beam of energy to extend from either hilt.

The beams become solid a moment later, forming into sword blades of pure energy. It had been years since she had used these things, not since her earlier days on the Teen Titans, but she had always kept them, just in case.

Holding her energy weapons at the ready, Ravager took a fighting stance and exhaled. “—then let's get it over with.”

---

Elsewhere in the plant, Apathy found her way into the offices. She didn't exactly know what she was looking for other than Jeremiah himself, if he was even still here. Sure, Rebecca was there, probably left behind in order to deal with them if necessary, but there would have been no reason for Jerry to stay, too. Unless, of course, it was like Rose said and he really did want a front row seat to Silverstone's destruction.

I only pray she's right... we could really use a break right about—

Before she could even finish her thought, Ruby caught sight of something hurtling towards her from the side. Instantly, she teleported away, reappearing nearby and quickly locating the source of the attack. There he was, standing at the other end of the hallway that led through the multiple offices on the upper levels of the plant.

“Belmont.”

“Miss Lawson.”

“Well now that we've established we know each other's last name...” Apathy said, narrowing her eyes. She focused power directly towards the man, exuding forth a sense of pure terror and agony. She would send him deep down into the darkest pit of mental despair that he had ever been in, and when he was begging to for it to stop, she'd only amplify the effects.

At least, that was the plan.

“I hope you're not wasting your time trying to alter my emotions,” Jerry said, sounding slightly bored. “Because it isn't going to work.”

Apathy flinched at the proclamation, taking a step backward “What are you talking about?”

“Do you really think I would have hired you if I couldn't counteract your abilities?” he asked, gradually approaching her. “If I've learned anything by now, it is to always have insurance.”

“So you went and what, removed your emotions? I'd like to see the hospital bill for that.”

“Ah, sarcasm. Just like Rose...” The man shook his head, tut-tutting at her. “You two really do make a good match.” Walking closer, he raised a hand and morphed it slowly into varying shapes. “It's the nanites, you see. They've completely integrated into my body along with the mutated clay that makes up my flesh. You do know what nanites are, yes?”

“Microscopic machines,” she replied. “Big deal.”

“But it is a big deal, Ruby, at least as far as you should be concerned. Machines don't have emotions, and since they're a part of my brain now, they prevent you from altering my own.”

“Well how convenient for you. But that still doesn't prevent me from doing this.” Vanishing into thin air again, Apathy teleported around behind the man and reappeared with a vicious kick to the back of his head.

The blow barely even staggered him, as he uttered a simple, disappointed breath. Almost instantly, a large, sharpened spike extended out of his backside and pierced Apathy through the side of her abdomen. She flinched briefly, coughing up a small mouthful of blood inside her darkened mask, then teleported away again. When she rematerialized, she drops to one knee and held a hand to the wound, while wheezing in pained breaths.

“Such a waste...” Jerry muttered, shaking his head. “You could have been an invaluable asset to me. I could have even brought back your dear Jeanette. But then you felt the need to have a change of heart.”

“At least... I have one,” she groaned.

“Not much longer, once I tear it from your chest.”

---

Ravager lunged in for another strike, swinging her energy blades as swiftly and precisely as her body could manage. But yet again, she hit only air, as Becky seemingly walked around her attacks. Stumbling forward, Ravager uttered a surprised groan and collapsed to one knee. She felt sluggish, tired... what the hell was going on?

“What's the matter?” Becky asked. “Lost a bit of steam, ah?”

Taking a step forward, Becky delivered a hard kick to Ravager's gut and sent her rolling across the ground with astonishing force. The pain went right through her armored suit, driving the air from her lungs. She tried to push herself back up to her feet, but a sudden agony gripped her chest and forced her back to the floor.

Becky smirked. “Probably wondering why you're feeling all exhausted, right? And that burning in your chest has to be getting pretty aggravating.”

Ravager coughed several times, spraying out blood droplets onto the inside of her faceplate. Her arms instinctively curled around her stomach, hugging herself tightly.

“Those nanites I injected into your system weren't just for keeping an eye on you. Right now, they're slowly chewing through your vital organs. Your lungs, your heart, your liver, your kidneys... it'll be slow and excruciating, but eventually you'll die.”

“Nanites...” Groaning out another cough of pain, Ravager slowly shifted herself back up to her knees. Reaching forward shakily with one hand, she grabbed one of her fallen energy swords. “Like... tiny robots, right?”

“That's right.”

“In that case... I hope this works.” Suddenly, she took her energy blade and turned it on herself, cutting through the arm of her suit and driving the edge into her flesh. Of course, the bio-sensors disabled the weapon from cutting through organic material, meaning her skin was left unharmed. However, the resulting electrical charge that surged through her body was far, far more painful than a little cut on the arm would have been, eliciting a horrid, shrill scream from her throat.

Becky watched in confusion, eyes blinking. “Madre de Dios... what on earth are you doing?”

The pain only lasted a few seconds, though, and then everything just went numb. After what seemed an eternity, Ravager was finally able to release her grip on the sword, allowing the now inactive hilt to clatter to the floor. With a quiet moan, she fell motionless next to the weapon. Her suit was charred, torn, melted, and smoking as a result, and every now and then her fingers spontaneously twitched.

“Ah, I see... You disabled the nanites with a power surge; shorted them out. Clever. Too bad you did the same to yourself.” Standing over the unconscious woman, Becky stared downward and folded her arms across her chest. Slowly, she shook her head in disappointment. “How pathetic... I can't believe I ever had feelings for you.”

She stared a moment longer, then reached down to grab the woman by the throat. However, before her hand made it even halfway there, Ravager suddenly sprang to life again, rolling over and grabbing the fallen sword handle. With a click of the switch, she thrust it forward just as the energy blade extended, driving through Becky's metallic shell and coming into contact with her flesh beneath. Instantly, the same electrical surge ripped through Becky just as it had Ravager before. Her screams were deafening, at least in the few seconds before her voice abruptly cut out.

Becky fell forward limply, landing on top of Ravager. Uttering a long breath, Ravager discarded the energy sword and then slowly rolled the woman over onto her back, as the metallic shell coating her body began to melt off in the form of a thick, silvery ooze, revealing Becky's normal appearance beneath. Swallowing a lump in her throat, Ravager reached up and removed her helmet, then tossed it off to the side.

Rose stared down at Becky for a few moments, before lifting up a hand and pressing her fingers to her eyes, trying to fight back the growing wetness. After sniffling in a deep breath, she leaned down and gently planted her lips against Becky's. It was strange that something she had been longing for so badly—to hold the love of her life in her arms again, to kiss her again—could feel so heartbreaking and numb.

“I don't know what he did to you, Becky... but I promise I'll fix it. You hear me? I'll fix it... I'll fix everything.”

Chapter #87

Apathy crawled backwards, leaving behind a trail of blood as she went. The wound in her side was beginning to bleed more heavily now, but at least an artery hadn't been severed, otherwise she'd probably already be dead. Breathing in deeply, she watched as Jerry continued to advance towards her, lashing out his arm and extending it in the shape of another long blade. In a puff of smoke, she teleported again, this time reappearing about ten feet away.

“Your disappearing acts are getting less and less impressive,” Jerry said. “Finding it difficult to concentrate?”

She teleported again, this time reappearing in the next room. Leaning against the wall, she tilted her head back, slow, tired breaths bursting from her lips. The onset of pained exhaustion was already beginning to take hold.

“Come now, you managed to make it all the way to the hospital the last time I skewered you, and you were barely alive then. Why not do the same now? Why bother hiding?”

Because she had made Rose a promise, that was why, and she wasn't going to run away from that. Not to mention there was the whole bomb situation. If they failed here, then they were all dead anyway.

The door to the office abruptly flew inward off its hinges, clattering to the floor. Jerry took a step forward, eying Apathy curiously as she sat there against the wall. Slowly, a grin spread across his face. “There you are. Do try to stay still this time.”

Before he could attack, however, his attention was suddenly drawn away by a figure rushing him from behind. Turning, he leaped backwards and ducked his head, narrowly avoiding the bright, humming energy weapon.

“You almost had me, Rose. Just not quick enough.”

“I'm just getting started, you son of a b*tch.” Running forward again, Rose swung both her energy swords at him. She had no idea if his flesh counted as organic material anymore, but she was more than willing to find out. And even if she couldn't cut through him, she could still fry him with these blades.

She hit only air, though, as Jerry effortlessly weaved around her attacks. “You look a little sluggish. Did your reunion with Rebecca not go so well?”

“Shut up!”

She thrust one of her swords at him this time, but he turned his body to the side. Lashing his arm out, he hardened into the form of a blade again, this time slicing through Rose's damaged suit and opening a long gash along her rib cage. Rose uttered a pained cry of surprise, as she stumbled backwards, dropping one of her swords.

Rose grit her teeth, trying not to let the pain slow her down. “What did you do to her?!”

“You mean aside from bringing her back to life? Nothing at all, except for telling her the truth. I showed her exactly what you really are: a selfish, miserable, poor excuse for a human being.”

“You're lying... you changed her somehow. You did something to her!”

Jerry smirked, clasping his hands behind his back. “Don't you get it, Rose? This facade you wear of a kind, caring, nurturing woman is just that: a facade. Deep down, you're till the same dark, broody, sadistic, frightened little girl that you've always been. You can hide it behind however many layers of happiness and contentment you like, but you can't make it go away. Your friends may not be able to see it, but I see it, and I helped Rebecca to see it.”

“I don't believe you!” Uttering a loud, angry shout, she ran forward again, leaving behind a blood trail in her wake. She didn't care that she was bleeding. All she cared about is cutting this b*stard's head from his shoulders!

As she closed in on him, though, Apathy suddenly teleported next to her and grabbed her, then teleported the both of them away, returning back to the main reception hall, where they had arrived. Becky still lay unconscious just several yards away.

Blinking in surprise, Rose looked around and then turned to Apathy. She shot her hands forward, grabbing the woman by the brooch of her cloak. “What did you do that for?! I had him!”

“You were gonna get yourself killed!” the Empath countered. “Did you not see him swingin' at you from the side? You'd have run right into the attack!”

Rose paused a moment, then bowed her head and turned away.You need to go.”

“What on earth are you talkin' about? I'm not goin' anywhere.”

“You're injured,” she said, glancing at the puncture in Apathy's stomach. “You need to get yourself treated.”

Apathy folded her arms, glaring. “In case you haven't noticed, Rose, you're in worse shape than I am.”

“Please, Ruby... just go. Take Becky with you. Find Holly. Circe and Lyta, too. And Palmer. Get them all out of the city, get them to safety. Then, find someone who can help Becky... get her back to normal.”

“And just what the hell do you intend to do?”

Turning from her, Rose looked back towards the offices. “I'm stopping Jerry, and I'm stopping his bombs. Or I'm going to die trying.”

Narrowing her eyes, Apathy took a few steps forward and reached a hand out. She paused her hand momentarily, then rested it against Rose's shoulder. “You... you're serious?”

“Very.”

“But... but you could just come with us,” Apathy urged. “You don't have to stay here.”

“Jerry is my villain, Ruby,” she explained. “And Silverstone is my city. I promised myself I would protect it from freaks just like Jeremiah, and if I run now, then I've broken that promise. So no, I'm not going with you. I'm going to stay here and I'm going to clean up my mess. If I fail, then at least I know I tried, and if this city goes down, then I go down with it.”

“Rose...” Pausing a moment, Apathy reached up and pulled down the hood of her costume, as well as the darkened face covering. With a gentle touch, she turned Rose back around to face her, then leaned in to give a tender kiss. Rose didn't return the kiss, but she didn't reject it, either. She simply accepted it. “Don't fail.”

“Just tell Holly I love her, alright?”

“Of course.” Ruby nodded, taking a step back and breathing in deeply. She then limped her way over towards Becky's unconscious body, hesitating only briefly before touching her hand to the woman's shoulder. “Good luck, Rose.”

And with that, the two vanished into thin air. Rose stared briefly at the empty space where they had been just a moment before, then turned back around and waited. “Come on... where are you?”

As if on cue, the wall to the overhang extending above the large, open loading area suddenly burst outward, causing brick and plaster to explode in all directions. A second later, Jerry dropped down through the air and nimbly landed across from her. He remained in a small crouch for several moments before slowly rising back to his full height.

“Now you're just delaying,” he said, pushing his glasses back up on the bridge of his nose.

“No, not anymore,” she replied. “I'm right here.”

“So you are. Ready to finish this little feud once and all?”

“I've been ready. You're not gonna run away again, are you?

Jerry smirked. “Oh, no, Rose, no more running. You, me, a final climactic battle to the death... what more could your arch nemesis ask for?”

In spite of her predicament, Rose couldn't help it. She laughed. “My arch nemesis? How conceited can you get?”

“Do you not agree?” he asked. “Who else can say they've put you through what I have?”

“So you've screwed with my life, big deal,” she spat. “Plenty of people have screwed with my life. Yeah, you've been a big pain in my ass for a couple years, but get real. 'Arch nemesis'? You sound like a bad Saturday morning cartoon.”

“Sarcastic to the very end... How quaint.”

Smirking slightly, Rose raised the sword hilt again and clicked the button, causing the beam of energy to extend once more in the form of a blade. “Question is, whose end?”

Jerry responded in kind, morphing one arm into the shape of a long, razor-sharp blade. “Let's find out, shall we?”

And then, there were no more words. The two engaged in what would be their final conflict, one way or another. Rose knew it deep down, she could feel it in her gut; one of them would die today. But she had already come to terms with it. In this instance, she wasn't holding back. She would kill him if she could, and she wouldn't bat an eye at it, either.

As much as she had come to hate killing over the years, as much as she made a conscious effort to not be the murderer she used to be, some people just flat out deserved to die. The last person she came across to deserve such a fate was Pavoni, and that was for entirely different reasons. Jerry had found whole new ways to push her buttons, to place himself at the top of her 'no mercy' list. Any hope he had of her leaving him alive had ended a long time ago.

Of course, that was only if she could kill him. The way she was moving right now, the clumsiness of her actions, she would be entirely lucky if she managed it. Her body was beaten, fried, bleeding, and she could barely keep up with her precog. Jerry, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy leading her on, effortlessly avoiding her attacks. Before long, he played the part of the matador, and she the part of the bull. She lunged at him with as swift a strike as she could muster, and he simply stepped out of the way. All that was missing was a red cape to wave in front of her face.

Eventually, Rose's condition caught up with her and the beating commenced. She could see the attacks coming, but her body was too tired to do anything about it. Jerry could have ended it with one swift cut to her throat, but he didn't. His narcissistic ego got the better of him. He dragged it out, taking enjoyment out of her helplessness. Instead of blades, he formed his arms into blunt objects.

A hammer smashed into her chest and sent her flying. She hit the ground hard and rolled to a stop, only to recoil sharply from a solid club smacking into her backside. Then, Jerry's amorphous limb wrapped around her midsection. It became solid again, holding onto her firmly, and then swung her around, slamming her into the floor and the walls repeatedly.

After a while, Rose could barely feel her body. All she felt was one large, methodical throbbing, and the warm trickle of blood oozing down her side. By the time Jerry released her, she could barely move, every single motion requiring an obscene amount of effort and causing her to cringe in pain. There were definitely some broken bones in there, probably some internal bleeding, too. Desperately, she reached a hand down to her belt, fingers shaking and fumbling through one of the compartments.

Jerry casually approached her, hands once more clasped behind his back. “Are you broken, yet?”

Grunting out a pained response, Rose forced herself to roll over onto her hands and knees. She didn't make it much farther than that, though, unable to lift herself back up to her feet.

“Now, here's the part where I debate whether or not to kill you outright.” Reaching down, he grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up, holding her at arm's length. What he didn't notice, however, was her hand brushing up against his chest on the way up. “Finally being rid of you would be satisfying... but I'm not quite sure if it would be more satisfying than giving you a front row seat to Silverstone's Armageddon. Maybe I should let you decide, hmm? What do you say?”

“I say...” Rose wheezed, her voice barely squeaking out of her throat, “...boom.”

Jerry raised an eyebrow, then slowly glanced downward to see another one of those small explosive devices attached to his chest, the red light blinking faster and faster. Instantly, his expression slackened. “Oh, you little b—”

BOOM!

When the explosion went off, a hot fireball engulfed Jeremiah, forcing him to stagger backwards. While the force of the blast had mostly been concentrated in his direction, a smaller, less concentrated shockwave burst backwards, lifting Rose into the air and sending her hurtling into the wall behind her. For several moments, she just lied there, not having the strength to get back up.

Jerry, meanwhile, thrashed around and fell to his knees, as his malleable flesh began to melt off his bones. He did manage to escape the heat and flames a few moments later, but he had a little difficulty putting himself back together, unable to reform himself as quickly as he normally could.

“Again... with the incendiaries,” he growled. “This is proving to be an annoyance.”

Holding both hands to the floor, Jerry leaned over and closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. He was concentrating, trying to re-stabilize his molecular structure, though he found it increasingly difficult. Eventually, however, he did manage to reform his flesh around his bones, a slow, agonizing process. It was even harder to retain the form, however, as every few seconds he could feel his flesh beginning to melt off again.

“Just a little more... there we go.”

Finally, he managed to retain his shape completely, though his body wasn't without a few deformities along the way. Much of his flesh still hung loosely, half melted, but at least it was staying on his bones. Breathing in deeply again, he lifted his head and began to rise back to a standing position... only to then pause in momentary surprise as he saw Rose standing there in front of him. She may have barely been on her feet, staggering and teetering on shaky legs, but she was there, holding the point of her energy blade inches from his eyes.

“These weapons... can't cut organic material,” she uttered, breath whistling out of her throat unnaturally. “But they'll still... shock the f*ck out of you. Now, I'm curious... Does that flesh of yours... count as organic material?”

Jerry merely glared up at her. He attempted to form his body into some sort of weapon, but it wasn't responding to his commands. His molecules were still recovering, and they couldn't start reshaping themselves again so quickly.

“Nothing? Well then... let's find out. The fun way.”

On that note, she took a vicious swing with the sword, aiming it the man's neck. The edge of the blade sliced across his his throat, but didn't cut through. Instead, it delivered an explosive surge of electricity to his body. In seconds, Jerry was screaming. This wasn't just surprise, or mild annoyance; this was pain. True, honest, and utterly excruciating pain.

Rose held the sword against him for several minutes, reveling almost a little too much in the man's agony. Finally, she shut off the energy source, releasing Jerry from the torture. By now, his clay-like flesh had begun to melt off again, almost like liquid. She could see his muscles and tendons beneath, a sight that would be almost nauseating to her were it not actually rather satisfying right now.

“How do I shut off the bombs?” she asked.

“You... don't,” he uttered, wheezing in anguished breaths.

Frowning, she wrapped her hand around his sinewy throat and started squeezing. “You activated them through a wireless signal. You have to have a way to deactivate them, too.”

“If you really believe... that I would tell you, after all this... then you are a fool.”

“No... you will tell me,” she said. “You have to tell me!”

“I don't have to tell you anything.” A wicked grin slowly formed across the man's decaying face. “You may kill me, Rose... but you will still fail this city. In the end, I still win.”

A numb, sinking sensation began to bubble up in the pit of her stomach, as she realized exactly how hopeless her situation was right now. I can't deactivate them remotely... he won't let me. And we don't know where any of them are. And my suit is fried, so I can't even contact anyone to tell them it's safe to call for help now. No, there has to be... something I can do. There has to be a way I can save this city!

“Is it beginning to sink in yet? Just how badly you've failed?” Jerry chortled, growing a smug grin.

Rose's expression suddenly darkened, eyes narrowing and face scowling. She gripped her fingers tighter around the man's throat and began dragging him across the reception hall.

“What are you doing?”

No response.

“I asked you a question, Rose! Where are you going?”

“Right here,” she said.

She stopped at the ledge of the giant pit near the back of the loading area, the pit where the dump trucks would unload their waste. It led down to a conveyer belt below, which then guided the waste into the incinerator itself. Without so much as a shift in her demeanor, she extended her arm and held Jerry up over the void. He immediately grasped her wrist, desperately trying to hold on as his legs kicked helplessly in open space.

“You can't do this, Rose!”

“You're wrong, Jerry. I can do this. And f*ck, I'm going to enjoy it.”

At that comment, Jerry suddenly calmed himself, no longer struggling. He merely stared back at her with a grin. “You see? I was right all along. Nothing but a sadistic murderer. I win, Rose. I win.

Rose held her glare on him for several moments longer, her expression not once shifting into anything more than pure, venomous hate.If that's what you want to believe, then sure—” Her grip abruptly released him, causing Jerry to plummet down into the dark, empty pit. “—you win, Jeremiah. You win.”

---

Jerry hit bottom with a sickening thud, rolling down across the slanted conveyer belt until coming to a stop on a flatter surface. He uttered a small groan, then slowly pushed his way back to his hands and knees. He tried reforming his flesh again, but at this point it was futile. His body was far too fried to accomplish it, not without an extensive recovery time. Blinking a few times, he looked around and tried to adjust his eyes to the complete blackness surrounding him, not a single spark of light allowing him to see.

“The fall didn't kill me, Rose...” he said, with a small chuckle. “You failed again.”

Now, all he had to do was bide his time until he recovered, at which point he could easily break free of of this structure and finish Rose off once and for all. No more messing around next time, either. No more toying, no more dragging things out. He'd find her and gut her, plain and simple. It would be quick, and it would be satisfying.

A small grin twisted across his face, as he contemplated the act of ripping the heart out of her chest and watching her die. He normally wasn't one to enjoy such grotesque violence, but given the circumstances, he could make an exception.

A brief moment later, however, he quickly realized that something was wrong. He could hear something... a loud, shrill hissing. It sounded like... gas? And then, suddenly, he could see, as a dull glow of illumination found its way into the chamber. But it was what caused the illumination that made his eyes go wide. Small flames, all in a row, ignited on either side of him, as the metal conveyer belt began to move. When it brought him into the center of the chamber, and the flames around him began to grow, he slackened his posture and smiled a bewildered, defeated smile.

“Clever, clever girl...”

Not a moment later, the entire chamber filled with a massive, scorching wave of flames. In an instant, Jeremiah Belmont was completely engulfed, as his body rapidly disintegrated into a pile of ash, accompanied by shrill, horrid screams of pain.

---

Rose lowered her hand from the plant controls, then bowed her head and squinted her eyes shut. Had to be done... couldn't let him live. Not again. Not after the things he's done.

That was what she told herself anyway, how she justified it. Jeremiah may have been quite possibly the man most deserving of such a fate that she had come across, and yet the act of killing him still caused an unexplained sense of guilt. She hadn't been in a blind rage, consumed by anger, as she had been the last time she thought she killed him. This time, it was a premeditated, calculated decision. This time, she flat out chose to murder him. No matter how justified, the consequences of the act itself were still something she would be dealing with for a long time to come. Contrary to what she had told Jerry before she let him fall, she didn't enjoy it, not one bit.

Pushing herself away from the control panel, Rose stumbled across the floor. Her job wasn't done yet; she still had to find a way to disarm the bombs before Silverstone went up in flames, before hundreds of thousands of innocent people died. Since she had no way of contacting anyone at the moment, she couldn't give the word that it was now safe to call in outside help. If she could just get a hold of Dick, or another member of the Justice League, they could have the problem solved in no time. Instead, she had to do it the old fashioned way. She had to get out of this plant, and she has to physically find someone who could help, or at least find a working phone.

Unfortunately, she didn't make it very far before her injuries caught up with her. Without any advance warning, her legs give out. She collapsed to the floor and lied there, barely able to move. Aside from the broken bones and bruising all throughout her body, the gash in her side had spilled a little too much blood for her body's liking. Her entire body was beginning to shut down, she could feel it. Her arms and legs began to absently twitch and spasm, while her vision blurred. Finally unable to bear it any longer, she dropped her head down to the floor and shut her eyes.

I... couldn't do it... I failed...

And then, her entire world went dark.

Chapter #88

Rose's mind drifted around in inky darkness for what felt like an eternity. For once, she felt completely at peace. No more pain, no more stress, no more chaos. She almost didn't want it to end... but of course, it did have to end eventually, as consciousness slowly came back to her. At first, it was just a tiny flicker of light, accompanied by hazy images. Her eyes flickered again, a little wider this time, until finally they opened completely. Several long moments later, her vision began to clear up, allowing her to take in her surroundings.

Oh god, not another hospital room...

By now, she had come to really hate hospital rooms. They were dark, dingy, and smelled of death. The only thing good that came from the revelation was that it meant she was still alive, though from the looks of it she wasn't in very good condition. Or, at least she hadn't been. She should have been barely able to move, with broken bones, cuts, bruises, and all manner of other injuries riddling her body. Yet, for some reason, there was no pain. Even as she slowly sat up and ripped the oxygen mask off her face, she felt perfectly fine, almost as if her wounds had already completely healed.

Before she could contemplate her situation much longer, movement drew her attention. She looked to the side of her bed to see a figure sitting there in a chair, a figure that had, until a few seconds ago, been fast asleep.

“Hrrmmph... Rose?” Ruby uttered a long yawn, slowly awakening. She stretched her arms out, cracked her back, and then sat up straighter in her seat. “Oh god... you're awake. Thank goodness.”

“Ruby? I... what happened?”

Rubbing her eyes momentarily, Ruby stifled another yawn and set her hands down on her knees. “Well, after I got Holly and the others to safety, I came to see if I could help you. Found you out cold and near death... you were barely alive when I brought you here.”

Rose paused briefly, rubbing her eyes. “How long was I out?”

“You... well, I mean...” she started, looking away nervously.

“Ruby, how long?”

“You've... been in a coma for three weeks.”

Instantly, Rose straightened up in her bed, nearly lurching over the side in surprise. “Three weeks?!”

That explains why my injuries have healed, but... but what about...

“The bombs, what happened with the bombs?” she asked, frantically. “Are we even in Silverstone right now? Is the city—”

“Relax, the city's fine,” Ruby assured. “We're in Silverstone, safe and sound.”

A heavy, relieved breath found its way out of her throat. “How did you stop them?”

“Once we found out that Jeremiah was... no longer an issue, we called in help,” she explained. “Zatanna had the bombs deactivated and dismantled with just a few words.”

“I see... Good ol' Z.” As she took solace in their apparent victory, however, another thought hit her. Heart sinking, she looked up quickly at Ruby. “And... and Becky? Is she still...?”

At this question, Ruby calmly smiled. “Becky's doin' just fine.”

“She's... she's fine?”

“Yes, perfectly healthy and back to her old self,” Ruby said. “I believe she's out with Holly right now, makin' up for lost time.”

A numb, yet elated sensation began to bubble up in Rose's throat. She smiled, lowering her gaze and lifting a hand to her face, while struggling to hold back her relieved tears. “Then, I... I was right. He did do something to her.”

“That he did. From what your friend, Cyborg, could determine, the nanites that bonded to her system had been given very specific programming. When they integrated into her brain, they changed her, got her to think and act exactly how Jerry wanted her to. Fortunately, Cyborg disabled their programming, and they're no longer affectin' her behavior.”

A long silence descended over the pair. Rose continued staring down, lowering her hands and taking in a deep, contemplative breath. “So now she's... she's back. She's really back.”

Ruby nodded, offering a comforting smile. “And very lookin' forward to seein' you awake again.”

“But... how do I...?” She paused, briefly rubbing her eyes and then glancing back to Ruby. “I mean, what about... what about us?

“Rose, please,” she said, waving off the comment. “What we had was fun, enjoyable—oh god, was it enjoyable—but we don't have what you and Becky have. We don't have that kind of love. It really is amazin', the way she talks about you, the way she feels about you... You two are absolutely made for each other, and I'm not gettin' in the way of that.”

Rose took in the statement slowly, breathing in a steady breath and straightening herself further. Gradually, a small smile formed its way across her face, and she gave Ruby an appreciative nod. “Thank you.”

Getting up from her seat, Ruby leaned in close and gently kissed Rose's forehead. “My pleasure, darlin'.” Then, returning to her seat, she delivered a playful smirk. “But hey, if you two ever need a third party to spice things up in the bedroom, just give me a call.”

With a surprised look of confusion coming over her face, Rose's eyebrows slowly lifted. “Uh...”

“Kidding, kidding,” Ruby said, chuckling under breath. “Well, mostly... Really, though, call me.”

Rose cleared her throat, looking off to the side with a laugh of her own. “I'll, uh, I'll keep that in mind.”

“Anyway, I suppose I should get goin', let you get some rest.”

“Rest? Are you kidding me? I've been resting for three weeks. I need to stretch my legs, I need some food... and I need to see Becky.”

“Oh, well in that case—” Standing up from her chair again, Ruby reached an arm forward and pulled Rose out from the bed. Rose stumbled momentarily, her muscles weak from three weeks of not being used. “—let's get you out of this dreadful hospital, shall we?”

---

The days was... perfect. That was really the only way to describe it. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and just the right kind of breeze to keep the heat bearable. Add to that the relaxing scenery of the park, and there wasn't another place that Rose would have rather been right now. Then again, there was a much different reason she wanted to be here right now, a reason that she could see sitting just a short distance away.

Becky leaned back against the park bench, elbows propped up behind her. Circe sat next to her in a much less relaxed pose, posture straight and one leg crossed over the other. The two were currently engaged in a quiet conversation, as they watched Holly and Lyta running around the playground. Neither of them had yet noticed the two new arrivals, Rose and Ruby, approaching from down the stone walkway.

Taking in a deep breath, Rose steadied herself on her tired legs and gently pushed away from Ruby's supporting hold. “I got it from here.”

“Careful now, don't want to trip and fall,” Ruby cautioned. “That'd just ruin the moment.”

Smiling absently to herself, Rose took a few careful steps forward. When she felt comfortable standing on her own two feet, she started approaching the park bench. She made it halfway there before Becky looked up and saw her. Instantly, Becky sprang to her feet and ran forward, overwhelming joy washing over her face.

When Becky lunged forward into her arms, Rose uttered a small breath and sank into the embrace, arms coming up to wrap around her tightly. She tried to say something, but her voice caught numbly in her throat, so instead she merely closed her eyes and buried her face against Becky's shoulder. She wasn't even trying to fight the tears this time; they come naturally, and she let them flow.

“Miss me?” Becky asked, giving a gentle kiss to Rose's cheek.

“You have no idea,” she replied, sucking in a deep, shaky breath.

“I love you, Rose. Nothing will ever change that.”

“I know... I love you, too.”

Leaning back, Rose sniffled and wiped a few tears from her eyes. A second later, she came in with a firm, passionate kiss. The moment that their lips touched, an explosion of warmth and elation surged through her, the likes of which she hadn't known in a long time. When their kiss finally broke, she closed her eyes and rested her forehead against Becky's.

“Let's take a walk, just you and me,” she said. “There's... so much I want to talk about.”

Smiling broadly, Becky reached down and took one of Rose's hands in her own, interlocking their fingers together. “I'd like nothing better.”

After giving a brief wave to the others, Rose and Becky headed down the path, hand in hand. It was something that Rose never thought she'd experience ever again. She was almost afraid it wasn't real, that she was somehow dreaming, and once she woke up everything would be gone again. But no, not this time... this time, it was real. No more illusions, no more dreams, no more nightmares... It was just her and Becky.

As the two walked slowly across the pond bridge, Becky leaned in close and let out a long breath. Rose glanced over calmly, then brought up an arm to wrap around her shoulders.

“Rose... those things that I said,” Becky started, bowing her head shamefully. “I... I didn't mean any of it.”

“I know, Becky... I know.”

“And I'm sorry, for everything,” she continued. She squinted her eyes shut, trying to fight back her own tears. “For not listening, for being dense, for... for leaving you. I...”

“Shh.” Turning her head, Rose planted a gentle kiss on Becky's forehead. “It's alright, really. I'm just glad you're back.”

“You and me both, girl. You and me both.”

For a long while, the two just stood there in each other's embrace, looking out over the pond. That moment, just the two of them together... it was perfect.

Eventually, Rose glanced to her girlfriend and asked, “So, you been catching up while I was out?”

Becky nodded. “Si, been spending time with everyone. Holly, Circe, Lyta, even Ruby... you were right, by the way. I do like her.”

A small laugh found its way past Rose's lips. “I told you.”

After a brief pause, Becky glanced back at Rose. “So, you two were really...?”

“Yeah... but not anymore,” she said, sighing. “I mean, with you back now, we... well we're just friends.”

“She make you happy? When you were together, I mean.”

“Uh, well... yeah. Yeah, I guess she did.”

A smile curled its way across Becky's face. “Good.”

Furrowing her brow, Rose tilted her head in confusion. “Good?”

“That you were happy, yeah. That's all I've ever wanted for you, to be happy.”

Rose slowly returned the smile, turning towards Becky and wrapping her arms around the woman's waist. “Have I mentioned how much I love you?”

“Not in the last five minutes.”

Giving another kiss, Rose took hold of Becky's hand again and then continued walking across the pond bridge. “So, you gone back to the station yet?”

“And do what, waltz into Palmer's office and ask for my badge back? Ha, no, not yet. I figure I should give it a little more time... I'm just trying to enjoy things for the time being. Although...” She took in a deep breath, slowly exhaling. “ I am going to have to face my family again sooner or later. They'll be... well, to be honest, I'm not sure how they'll react to me coming back. It's not something that happens everyday, you know? Someone you love coming back from the dead.”

“Not outside comic books, anyway.”

Becky suddenly stopped walking and turned to Rose, holding both her hands with her own. “I want you there with me when I go see them.”

“Um... I don't really know if that's the best idea,” Rose said. “I'm not exactly their favorite person, seeing as how I got their daughter killed...”

“Please, I got myself killed. Never should have run ahead of you guys like that... was just a little overeager I guess.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Becky, but even if you can convince them that you dying wasn't my fault, there's the fact that... that we're, well...”

“That we're what?” Becky countered. “In a lesbian relationship? Yeah, we are. And so what?”

“Well, I just—”

Uttering a frustrated breath, Becky lifted a hand to her face and shook her head. “I spent such a conscious effort before to hide who I was. My sister was the only one who knew, and that's only because she caught me making out with my ex. But I was so... afraid of what people would think of me, I never told anyone else. Well not this time around. If my parents want me in their lives, they're going to have to accept me for who I am, plain and simple. I don't care how much they hate it.”

Rose lifted her eyebrows. “You mean that?”

“Si, I mean it.”

“Well... alright then,” she said. “I'll be there for you.”

With a soft smile, Becky leaned in and gave her another brief kiss on the cheek. “Thanks. Now, what do you say we go out for lunch? Then maybe we can head back to the apartment... make up for some lost time?”

“Becky... I thought you'd never ask,” she said, as a large, pleased grin spread across her face. Tightening her hold around Becky's hand, she quickened their pace through the park. After a brief moment of silence, however, Rose cleared her throat and added, “Oh, by the way... Ruby wanted me to ask you something.”

---

Two days later, Rose and Becky stood outside on the porch of the small, suburban home. Rose stood slightly off to the side, arms folded across her chest and posture slouched. She took in deep, slow breaths, trying to mentally prepare herself for what was about to come. She had faced killers, psychopaths, and mindless monsters, yet none of that could compare to the wrath of angry parents.

“You ready?” Becky asked.

“Not really,” she said. “You?”

“I wish I could say I was... Here goes nothing.”

Raising her fist up to the door, she gently rapped her knuckles against it several times, then stood back and waited. Several moments went by before the sound of shuffling feet came from inside. A second later, the door opened inward, revealing a short, thin woman with long, stringy hair. It was Emma Chavez, Becky's mother.

“Yes, how can I—?” Understandably, words escaped her when she saw the person standing across from her.

“Hey, Mom...” Becky said, with a tiny wave. “How are you?”

Emma stumbled forward, her legs seemingly refusing to obey her mental commands. When she finally made it to her daughter, she reached up with shaky hands to touch her face, as if wanting to make sure she wasn't seeing things, or that it wasn't a ghost come back to haunt her.

“Rebecca, is it... are you...?”

“It's me, Mamá. I'm here.”

Almost instantly, the woman broke down, a hand coming over her mouth as she began weeping with a mixture of overwhelming joy and sorrow. Becky reached outward, hugging her mother tightly, and for several long moments they just held each other, sobbing into each other's shoulders.

Finally, Emma turned back around to shout further inside the house. “Jorge! Jorge! Come here! Come here!”

The sound of more footsteps reached their ears, until a man appeared in the main hallway, heading for the door: Jorge Chavez, Rebecca's father. “I'm coming, I'm coming. What's so important that you need to be shouting at me?”

His question was answered when he reached the doorway and his eyes fell on his daughter, back from the dead. For a moment, he simply stood there staring at her, then slowly walked forward in disbelief. “Rebecca?”

Becky nodded, smiling broadly. “Si, Papá. It's me.”

Breaking down in a similar fashion to his wife, Jorge hurried forward and took his daughter into his arms, holding her tightly and fighting through his tears. “I don't believe it. My ángel... oh my little ángel. How is this possible?”

“I'll explain later,” Becky said, closing her eyes. “Right now, I just want to enjoy the moment.”

“Our baby has come back to us,” Emma stated, sniffling back her tears. “It is a miracle!”

The three remained in each other's embrace for several minutes longer. Rose continued standing there quietly, not daring to interrupt the tearful reunion. Eventually, though, Becky took a step back, briefly wiping her eyes before turning her parents around.

“Guys, there's... someone I want you to meet,” she said, gesturing towards Rose.

The reaction was exactly what Rose expected. Instantly, the emotions turned from joy to anger. The looks of hate that they gave her would have almost been unbearable, had Rose not been used to receiving those kinds of looks by now.

“What is she doing here?!” Jorge exclaimed.

“We told you to stay away from our family!” Emma added. “You took our daughter away from us!”

“It's not her fault,” Becky insisted, getting between her parents and Rose. “If you want to blame someone for what happened, blame me, please. I put myself in that situation; I'm the reason I was taken from you.”

“But Rebecca, she's—”

“No buts! I won't have you talking that way about my girlfriend!”

The comment caught them by surprise. Jorge and Emma gave each other brief looks of surprise, then turned back to their daughter.

“Then it... it's true?” Emma asked. “When she spoke at your funeral, we thought she was lying.”

Jorge frowned, shooting a spiteful glare at Rose. “Did she do this to you? Did she turn you into... into one of them?

“No, she didn't turn me into anything,” Becky said. “I've always been this way. I just never told you before, because I knew you'd react like this.”

“How else can we react?” Emma said, sounding genuinely baffled. “It's... it's unnatural.”

“The hell it is!” Becky went on the offensive now, staring her parents down. “Jueputa, this is who I am, and that makes it natural! Just because I like women, it doesn't change the fact that I'm still your daughter, the same daughter you've always known. I'm still me.”

“Rebecca, it's just...” Jorge started, shaking his head slowly. “I mean, we... oh, Dios.” Holding a hand to his head, he uttered a frustrated breath and turned away momentarily.

“Sweetie, we... we know you're still our daughter, but this is...” Emma took in a soft breath, looking back and forth between the two women. “We don't know if we can...”

“I'm not asking for you to approve of it,” Becky said. “I'm not even asking you to like it. I'm just asking you to accept it. This is who I am, and it's not going to change. Besides...” Walking over to Rose, Becky reached down and took hold of one of her hands. “I love her.”

Jorge lifted his eyebrows, looking back at them in surprise. “You... love her?”

“Si, with all my heart.”

Slowly, Jorge and Emma looked at each other, as if quietly trying to decipher the other's thoughts. Eventually, the two slowly glanced back at Rose and Becky. For a long while, an uncomfortable silence hung over them, until finally Emma broke it.

“Rose, was it?” she asked.

Clearing her throat, Rose cautiously nods. “Uh, yeah.”

“Would you... like to come in for some coffee?”

Breathing out a small breath of relief, Rose briefly glanced at Becky and smiled. “Yes... I'd like that.”

Start the Conversation

The Ravager - Under Siege: Part 1 (#77-82) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The eleventh arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better. Been... a bit of a while since the last one, but I'm hoping to finish the rest of them soon now that I have a spark of motivation again. Also, since the new site layout has made putting things in spoiler blocks kind of a pain, nor does it look as neat anymore... yeah, it's a giant wall. That will probably deter a whole lot of people, but then this is for someone who is already reading it, so... whatever.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #77

It was a peaceful day, a nice day. The sun shined brightly with not a cloud in the sky, and a cool breeze blew gently through Silverstone Park. Rose closed her eyes momentarily, taking time to enjoy the wind whipping through hair. It seemed like such a long time since she had actually been able to just relax and enjoy a day like today.

“Next,” the vendor said.

Opening her eyes again, Rose took a step forward up to the hot dog cart. “One with onions and relish, and one with everything.”

“Coming right up.”

When the vendor handed over the pair of hot dogs, Rose paid for them and then walked back across the grass towards the picnic table. There, Circe waited, watching the two girls, Holly and Lyta, having fun over on the playground a short distance away.

Sitting down across from the woman, Rose handed over one of the hot dogs. “And there you go, one with everything.”

“Much appreciated,” Circe said, taking a small bite. “You know, it's quite remarkable how much of a taste I've developed for these things. Such a simple food, yet so... savory.”

“Well, that cart does sell the best ones in the city, from my experience.”

The two ate quietly for a moment, though it didn't take long before Rose put her food down and released a long sigh.

“Something wrong?” Circe asked, giving her friend a curious look.

“No, that's the thing. Everything is... great,” she replied, pointing her gaze down at the picnic table. “I mean, as good as they can be, anyway.”

Circe lifted an eyebrow, a shade of confusion finding its way to her face. “Yes, well... some people would be happy about that.”

“And I am. There's just... a lot of things on my mind, is all.” Rose paused, breathing out another sigh. Slowly, she looked up at Circe. “You know, I still don't think I've thanked you for before, for setting me straight. So, thanks.”

“Please, I was only doing my duty as your friend,” Circe said. “Nothing more.”

“Yeah, well I still appreciate it. I think I really needed that slap.”

At this comment, Circe grinned slightly. “Now that part was a pleasure.”

Smirking slightly, Rose lifted her hot dog to take another bite. “If I ever act even remotely like that again in the future, promise you'll slap me harder.”

“Oh, I'll do more than just slap you. Count on it.”

Several more moments passed as the two finished their lunch. Eventually, Rose brought a hand down to the table and absently tapped her fingers, looking intently at Circe. “You know, I just realized something. We've known each other for quite a while now, and I still don't know much about you. Well, other than the fact that you used to be a deranged sorceress with god-like power.”

“And that's all there really is to know,” she said quickly. “Trust me, my history is a long and complicated one, and I'd very much like not to go into it. The past is the past, and that's where I want to leave it.”

“Guess I can't fault you for that,” Rose said, shrugging. “You were, like, a big Wonder Woman foe, though, right? I think I recall Wonder B*tch mentioning something about that before.”

Circe cleared her throat, then took a brief sip from her water bottle. “Yes, Diana and I have a... long and sordid history with one another.”

“But you aren't going to elaborate on that, are you?”

“Not a chance.” Retaining her cool demeanor, Circe leaned back in her seat and folded her arms, sighing. “Though, I imagine that if she could see me right now, see how far I've fallen, she'd have herself a good laugh.”

“I don't know...” Glancing to her left, Rose watched Holly and Lyta for a moment, both girls traversing the monkey bars. “Can you really call living a happy life with your daughter 'falling'?”

Circe, too, looked over at the two girls again. After watching them for several long moments, she finally exhaled a deep breath and curled a small smile onto her face. “No, no I suppose I can't.”

Rose smiled, too, watching the girls for a couple more moments before giving Circe a sly look. “So, now I'm not usually the one to pry on these things, but I'm curious. Are you ever going to get a date?”

At this question, Circe let out a very amused, very genuine laugh. She widened her smile, holding a hand to her face and shaking her head.

“Didn't realize I was telling a joke,” Rose muttered.

“I'm sorry, but the concept of mingling with these mortal men is just so... ridiculous,” Circe said. “I may be a mortal woman now, but that doesn't mean I'm going to give myself to any of these weak minded, self centered pigs.”

Rose thought a moment, lifting an eyebrow. “Well... I suppose when your former partner is the god war, it's hard to find someone who really measures up, huh?”

“Quite. I've yet to meet a man who I find worthy of my affections, as if I even have many affections to give.”

“I'm sure there's somebody out there for you.”

Circe shrugged. “Perhaps, but I've yet to find him. One of your fellow superheroes, maybe, should I ever meet one. Some of them seem like they could be rather... virile.”

It was Rose's turn to laugh, though hers was a much quieter, more reserved sort of laugh. A broad smirk snaked across her face, as she shook her head and let out a long sigh. “I will say, you are a unique woman.”

“Something I pride myself on very much, thank you.”

As they continued to sit there, watching their daughters play, Rose's phone rang. She didn't want to answer it, but for all she knew it could be Dick calling about something important. Best to just pick it up. Finally pulling the phone out of her pocket, she held it up to her ear.

“Hello? Uh, yes, this is she... yes, I know a Ruby Lawson. She's what?!” A brief burst of panic exploded in her gut. Quickly, she stifled it and calmed herself. “O- okay, I'll be right there. Yes, thank you.”

Circe lifted a curious eyebrow, as Rose hung up and stuffed the phone back in her pocket. “Who on earth was that?”

“That was the hospital,” Rose said. “Ruby's in their intensive care wing, admitted last night.”

“Isn't that the woman who messed with your emotions these past couple weeks?”

Rose shrugged. “So what if she is?”

“Well, then why should you care?” she queried, eyes narrowing. “I say, good riddance.”

“She isn't a bad person,” Rose said. “She just made bad choices. That's something we're all guilty of. Anyway, I have to go. Can you let Holly know what's going on? I'll be by to pick her up later.”

Exhaling deeply, Circe merely shrugged her shoulders. “Of course. That's what I'm here for, isn't it?”

---

After pushing her way through the hospital entrance, Rose hurried up to the front desk in the main lobby. She hadn't realized that she would be this worried over something happening to Ruby like this, and yet she could already feel a sense of anxiety setting in. Ruby really wasn't a bad person; yes, she made some bad decisions and did some bad things, but who hadn’t? Rose was guilty of that a hundred times over throughout her own life. She'd be a hypocrite to condemn the woman for that.

“Hi, I just got a call about a friend admitted here last night,” Rose said. “Her name's Ruby Lawson. What room is she in?”

The secretary briefly glanced up at her, then turned to the computer, pulling up the information. “Let's see... here it is. Ruby Lawson, room 38B. I'm going to need to ask you to sign in on the visitor's list, please, while I alert Doctor Watson that his patient is expecting a visitor.”

Rose quickly signed off her name on the clipboard, along with her time of arrival, and then hurried off to the elevator. She hit the third floor button, then leaned back against the elevator wall and uttered a long breath, one hand brushing her hair out of her face. When the doors finally opened again, she moved out down the hallway, keeping her eyes on the numbers. When she finally made it to 38B, a doctor was already standing outside, waiting to greet her.

“Dr. Watson?” she asked.

The doctor looked up from his clipboard, putting the pen into his front pocket and extending his hand. “Miss Wilson, I presume?”

Reaching forward, she briefly shook the man's hand. “That's me, yeah. How is she?”

“Well, she's stable right now, but her injuries are rather severe,” he explained. “I'm not going to lie, she's lucky to even be alive. We barely managed to stop the bleeding before we could get her in for an emergency transfusion and surgery. We've been working on her all night.”

“Uh, okay, so... do you know what happened?”

Dr. Watson huffed out a small breath, shaking his head. “I haven't the slightest clue. She quite literally appeared out of thin air in our waiting room last night, around midnight. Bleeding everywhere, too— the janitorial staff is still scrubbing the carpets.”

Flipping through his clipboard, he pulled out the medical report and let Rose take a look. “Six puncture wounds; three through her abdomen, two through her chest, one through the shoulder. Miraculously enough, most of her vital organs went undamaged; that's the only thing that saved her. She would have bled out in a matter of minutes, though, if she hadn't... I don't know, teleported here when she did.”

“Who could have done this to her?” Rose uttered, mostly just thinking out loud, as she looked over the details on Ruby's injuries. The doctor was right; Ruby was lucky to be alive.

“I'm afraid that isn't my area,” the doctor replied. “Best leave that to the police. Though, if I had to make a guess, I'd say some gangbanger got a hold of her. When she arrived here, she was dressed in some fancy costume like those superhero folk. Maybe she just got unlucky.”

“Yeah... maybe,” she said. Not a chance. No way some random goon takes out a teleporting empath.

A few moments later, she glanced back up from the notes and asked, “By the way, how did you know to contact me?”

“Oh, right, almost forgot.” Rummaging through his pockets momentarily, Doctor Watson eventually pulled out a small, crumpled, and bloody slip of paper. “Before she passed out, she managed to scribble this down, said to call you when we got a chance.”

Rose tentatively took the paper from him, opening it up and staring at the writing. Parts of it were barely legible beneath a thick, dry crust of crimson, but she could still read it. In addition to her name and number, there were another two words: 'They're coming'.

They're coming? Who's coming?

She stared at the paper for a few more seconds, then turned it over. On the other side was an address: 586 Fiske Avenue. “I don't suppose she's awake right now, is she?”

“Out cold, and will be for a while,” he said. “You can go in and see her if you want, but be brief.”

“Right... I'll just be a few minutes.”

Giving her a nod, Doctor Watson headed back down the hall to attend to his other patients. Rose uttered a long sigh and pushed through the hospital room door. It was exactly what she had come to expect from this place by now: dark, quiet, heart monitor beeping methodically... she really hated that it felt so familiar, with how much she'd been in this place over the past couple years. Rose sat at the bedside, just staring at the patient beneath the covers. An oxygen mask was fixed around Ruby's mouth, and of course the multitude of wires and tubes keeping her alive.

Eventually, Rose bowed her head, staring at the floor. “What did you get yourself into, Ruby?”

For a few long moments, she sat there in silence. Each passing minute, the feeling welling up inside her grew more intense. At first, she didn’t know what it was, but she soon she understood: anger, with a little dash of determination. And maybe guilt. She hadn't felt quite like this in a long time, and now that she felt it again, she knew exactly what she had to do.

Raising the bloody note back up to her face, she stared at the words written on it. Her eyes narrowed, and then her fingers clenched, crumpling the paper into her fist. I don't know who did this to you, Ruby. I don't know who they are... but I'm damn sure going to find out.

---

Setting the glass of water on the nightstand, Rose leaned forward and gave Holly a gentle kiss on the forehead. The girl smiled, settling down against her pillow and gazing back up at her mother. For a brief moment, the two just looked at each other, until finally Rose stood up straight.

“Alright, you know the drill by now,” Rose said. “Security system is up, doors are locked, and if anything happens, you know where the panic room is.”

Holly playfully rolled her eyes. “I know, Mom, I'll be fine. Not the first time we've done this.”

“Yeah... just like old times, right?”

“Right.”

The two smiled at each other again, and then Rose made her way back over to the door, flicking the light switch off.

Before she could leave the room, however, Holly stopped her. “Hey, mom?”

“Yeah, hun?”

“I'm glad you're helping people again.”

Rose smiled, holding a hand gently against the door frame. “It's like you said, Holly: if you can help people, you should. Well, I can. So I will.”

A small laugh found its way out of Holly's throat. “You said that, remember?”

“But you reminded me.”

A brief silence went by, and then Holly's tone grew a little more solemn. “You're gonna find the guys who hurt Ruby, right?”

Rose nodded firmly. “Yeah, I am.”

“Promise?”

Rose paused a moment, then reached up and slid the faceplate down over the front of her helmet. “I promise.”

Holly gave another smile, reassured by those words. If her mother said it, then it had to be true. “Good.”

---

Ravager stopped outside the front of the building, gazing up at it carefully. From the looks of things, it was pretty deserted. As a matter of fact, it looked more like it was condemned, with how run down it was. It certainly didn't look like any place important... so then why was the building's address on the note that Ruby had left for her?

After taking a calm look around the area to make sure that no one else was in the immediate vicinity, she walked up to the front of the building and gazed inside one of the boarded up windows. Through a small gap in the wood she could see the interior. As she thought, the place was just about empty, and pretty dark, too. She didn't really see what kind of clue she was supposed to find by breaking in there. But there had to be a reason that Ruby sent her here.

Narrowing her eyes slightly, she took a step backwards, paused, and then looked up, a thought suddenly coming to her. I wonder...

Moving around the side of the building, Ravager found the rusted over fire escape and hoisted herself upward, scaling towards the roof. When she made it to the top, she paused momentarily and looked around. There wasn't a lot up here, just an access door leading inside the building, an old air conditioning unit, and a few stray pipes. Narrowing her gaze, she continued moving forward across the roof, further examining things.

That's when she saw it: a large, dark brown stain near one corner of the roof, the remains of a thick pool of blood. Kneeling down close to the stain, she tentatively dabbed it with her gloved fingers. It was still wet and sticky in some areas, mostly beneath the dried surface. The pool had been quite thick in some areas.

Definitely lucky to be alive... what the hell did this to you, Ruby?

Lifting her gaze, Ravager took another long look around, trying to find anything that could be considered a clue. Ruby had gone out of her way to send Ravager to the place where she'd been attacked, so there had to be something she could use. Her gaze stopped on the top of a second fire escape across from her. Looking closer, she noticed something curious. Caught in the metal of the hand rails was a small tuft of brown hair.

Interesting...

Could it belong to the attacker? Approaching the fire escape, she leaned closer to examine the hair. Before she got a chance to take the evidence, however, she suddenly stiffened up as another presence arrived. It looked like she would have to deal with this before she can continue her investigation.

Uttering a long, annoyed sigh, Ravager turned around and stared at the figure standing across from her. “I was wondering when you'd make your move. You've only been following me since Levitt Street.”

“Disappointed I didn't attack sooner?” Lady Shiva asked.

“Disappointed you even decided to come back,” she replied. “Seriously, is this your new thing now? Showing up randomly when I'm in the middle of something more important?”

Lady Shiva's eyes narrowed, her arms folding across her chest. “Yes, well... we were interrupted last time, if you recall. I loathe having my fights interrupted.”

“And so now you're back to 'settle' things, right? Took you long enough.”

“I would have returned sooner, had I not ended up in Hong Kong before regaining my drive to combat you,” the assassin explained. “I don't know what that woman did to me, but if I ever see her again...”

“—she'll probably end up doing the same thing, so don't waste your time.” Turning her back on the woman, Ravager moved her attention back to the tuft of hair caught in the hand rail. Reaching into her belt, she pulled out a small plastic bag and placed the sample inside it. “Anyway, I don't really have time to 'settle' things right now, so why don't you come back later? Book an appointment with my secretary and I'll get back to you. I think I have an opening next Tuesday...”

“Oh no, you do not get off again that easily,” Lady Shiva said. “Our rematch has been delayed quite enough, and I sense that you've recovered from the depression that held you back last time. We finish things now.”

With no further hesitation, Lady Shiva sprinted across the rooftop, ready to attack. Ravager breathed outwardly, eyes narrowing and head slightly turning back to look at the approaching woman. When Shiva lunged in with an expert, vicious palm strike to the back of the head, Ravager idly sidestepped, spun around, and caught the woman's arm.

“Big mistake.”

Chapter #78

Shiva's eyes went wide, as she suddenly flipped around through the air. Instinctively, she twisted her body to land on her feet in a crouch, only to then raise her arms to defend against an incoming knee strike. The force of the blow knocked her backwards regardless. As she stumbled off balance, she turned and rolled, springing back up to her feet again in an instant and taking a defensive stance.

“Now that is what I expected from you,” she said, sucking in a deep, slow breath.

“Yeah, I got better,” Ravager stated, eyes narrowing behind her mask. “A lot better.”

Shiva paused a moment, shifting her stance and spreading a very small smile across her face. “So you have. Good, then my time won't be wasted here.”

She lunged forward again, this time leading with a quick side kick. Ravager leaned to the side, pushing Shiva's leg away, then countered with a spinning kick of her own. Lady Shiva ducked, pivoted, and then lashed out with a lightning quick uppercut. The attack struck only air, though, as Ravager moved around the strike with ease, then delivered a powerful kick to the gut that sent the assassin reeling.

Lady Shiva recovered quickly, ignoring the throbbing in her stomach as she rushed in again. This time, she was done testing. This time, she unleashed everything she had into a series of vicious, relentless strikes meant to cripple her opponent.

It wasn't nearly enough.

Ravager did more than keep up with the attacks; she was one step ahead the entire way. She didn't even need her precog to tell her where the strikes were coming from, instead blocking and dodging with pure skill and reflexes, which had risen to completely new levels ever since her training in Nanda Parbat. She played on the defensive for a few moments longer, then decided to finish things.

Leaning away from one attack, Ravager spun around her opponent and drove her elbow into the back of Shiva's head. When the blow didn't put the woman down, she kept going, throwing a hard kick to back of the leg, causing Shiva to stumble to one knee. Then, she grabbed one of Shiva's arms, twisted it around, and jerked it violently backwards. With a loud snap, it broke.

A surprised cry of pain erupted from Lady Shiva's throat, but she stifled it a moment later, just kneeling there on the roof and clutching her broken arm.

“I may not be wasting your time, but you're wasting mine,” Ravager said. “I have better things to do right now.”

Shiva said nothing for several moments, instead examining the odd angle that her arm had been bent. An injury like this... her arm would never be the same, even she managed to reset the bones properly. “That was... impressive. I've not seen anyone fight like that since my daughter.”

“Your daughter...” Ravager paused a moment, thinking. “You mean Bat Chick, right? Cassandra? Yeah, I beat her. Funny enough, she wants another rematch, too. Must run in the family.”

Stifling a groan of pain, Lady Shiva slowly rose back to her feet, turning to give Ravager a long look. “Where did you train this past year? I knew you had potential, but you could not have accomplished this level of improvement on your own.”

“A very long way from here.”

A small moment passed between them, as a sudden sense of understanding found its way to Shiva. “I thought I recognized some of those movements. You trained with Dragon, didn't you? For how long?”

Ravager shrugged, turning her gaze to the streets below. “Hell if I know. A month and a half, out here. In there... I don't know, years, maybe. However you want to calculate the time warp thing.”

“I see...” Lady Shiva's lips slowly curled into a very slight, barely noticeable smirk. When she spoke again, it was barely more than a whisper, a statement meant mostly for herself. “Congratulations, Richard... you found a way to beat me.”

“Anyway, are we done here yet?” Ravager asked. “I have places I need to be.”

“Of course,” she replied. “I, too, have other obligations that must be taken care of.”

“You mean assassinations.”

“Do I?”

Ravager's eyes narrowed. “Count yourself lucky that I have something more important to do right now than drag you to prison.”

With her smirk widening ever so slightly, Lady Shiva turned and headed towards the ledge of the roof. Her broken arm didn't appear to be slowing her down very much. Before jumping down to the fire escape below, she glanced back over her shoulder and gave Ravager a subtle nod. “Until next time, Rose.”

---

The heavy, reinforced door slid open after Rose inputted the security code. The panic room/command center was cleverly hidden inside her apartment, the entrance disguised as part of the far wall in her living room. Just another thing she owed Dick and could never pay him back for. She wasn't in here for the computer system or the protection, though. Rather, she was here for the more scientific aspects, specifically the small lab station. She had never needed to use it before, but right now it was sure going to come in handy.

Moving over to the work table, she took out the small plastic bag and removed its contents, the clump of brown hair. She could use it to get a DNA sample, then maybe have Dick run it through a database and see if it brought up any suspects. At least, she hoped that would work. She wasn't exactly an expert at this whole detective thing. Her specialty involved beating people to a pulp.

After taking off her gloves and helmet, she lifted up the hair and closely inspected it, felt it between her fingers. Something about it seemed... off. It was quite shiny, and very soft. Either the person it belonged to used amazing conditioner, or...

It's not hair at all... it's fur.

But what kind of fur? The more she thought about it, the more her hopes sank. She probably just got a sample of some stray animal, and that wasn't going to help her cause at all. Though, if it did belong to a stray, like a dog or maybe a cat, then what on earth had it been doing on the roof? Narrowing her eyes, she reached over and grabbed the nearby microscope, then pinned the tuft of fur down on a slide and put it in place to be inspected.

During the next twenty minutes, Rose carefully examined the fur, while cross referencing its microscopic appearance with records in the computer system next to her. She'd have to thank Dick later for such an extensive database on... well, just about anything she could ever need, really, even the composition of different animal furs.

Eventually, she had her answer. Wolf fur? That can't be right. What the hell would a wolf be doing in—?

Her thoughts suddenly ceased, as an unfortunate revelation came to her. No, it couldn't be. Could it? Breathing outwardly, she hurried out of the command room and made her way into her bedroom. There was one way to find our for sure. Entering the passcode on the wall panel, she waited for the back wall to turn over, revealing all her gear on the other side. And by all, that meant all, including any equipment that had been damaged in the past. She never threw any of it away, because she never knew when she might have a use for it. Like now, for example.

Pulling open a small box, she reached in and grabbed the sword hilt. It belonged to one of her old, broken blades, with only maybe a few inches of sharp steel still attached. But the blade itself wasn't what she was after. Rather, she was after the crimson substance still plastered on the blade: dried smears of blood. In seconds, Rose exited the room and arrived back at her work station.

“Alright... I'm going to need some help with this,” she said to herself.

Reaching into her belt, she pulled out that special communicator that Dick had given her so long ago. She just hoped that he wasn't busy right now. Pushing the button, she waited for a response.

“Whoever this is, I can't talk right now!” the voice responded, after several moments of silence.

In the background, she could hear the sounds of fighting; some yelling, some grunting, some crashing. “Dick, it's me. I need your help with something.”

“Rose?” Some more shouting. Some goon shouted about his nose, and another crashed through what sounded like glass. “Give me a minute!”

Rose waited patiently, tapping her fingers against the table as Batman finished up with whatever it was he was doing. Several minutes later, things finally quieted down.

“Alright, I'm done,” Batman said.

“Sounds like one hell of a party you're throwing down there.”

“It's a regular blast,” he muttered. “What do you need?”

“I need you to walk me through how to do a DNA match,” she said.

Batman paused briefly, an unsettling silence coming in over the comm link. “...don't you have those manuals I gave you?”

Clearing her throat slightly, Rose absently twirled a stray strand of hair around her finger. “I, uh... might have neglected to read them. I don't have the time right now, either. Please, this is urgent.”

“Alright... give me a bit,” he said, with a small sigh. “I still have to check out this area, then I'll walk you through it.”

Two hours later...

Rose leaned back in her chair, just staring up at the large screen in front of her. She'd been sitting like this for the past hour now, after going through the whole process of getting the materials prepared for sequencing. All that was left to do now was wait... though she could be waiting for a while. Right now, the progress bar read: 17%. Uttering a long yawn, she glanced at the clock. It was 3:24 in the morning. At least she didn't have to be up in the morning, with tomorrow being Sunday.

Several minutes later, a tired voice came from behind her. “Mom?”

Spinning around in her chair, Rose saw Holly (looking absolutely adorable in her pink pajamas and mussed up hair) standing in the doorway. The girl let out a long yawn and rubbed her eyes, before walking into the room.

“Hey, what are you doing up?” Rose asked. “You should be sleeping.”

“I had to go to the bathroom, then I saw the light.” Holly approached the computer station, looking up curiously at the screen. “Whatcha doing?”

“Well, right now I'm waiting for a DNA analysis to finish,” she said.

Holly furrowed her brow, tilting her head slightly to the side. “What's a DNA analysis?”

“Here—” Rose reached down to help the girl up into her lap, then turned the chair around back to the computer and started pulling up a screen of information. “— I'll explain in just a second.”

“Will it help you catch who hurt Ruby?” Holly asked, leaning forward against the desk.

A long breath seeped out of Rose's lips. Tenderly, she brought up a hand to brush back Holly's hair. “I hope so, sweetie. I hope so.”

---

The parking garage was mostly empty, save for a few cars scattered here and there. At this hour, very few people were out and about. One couple, however, Billy and Dana, drunkenly stumbled their way across the third level towards their car, the only one in the immediate vicinity. They were both all smiles and laughs, after having enjoyed yet another late night out partying. Neither cared that they were in no condition to be driving home.

“You was totally kickin' tonight, babe,” Billy said, holding his arm around her shoulder.

“Mmmhm, I know I was,” she said, giggling softly under her breath.

As they reached their car, Billy suddenly moved in with an aggressive kiss to her neck. Even more aggressively, he pushed her back against the car and started slipping his hands beneath her skirt. Dana giggled again, playfully attempting to push his hands away.

“Hey, easy there bad boy,” she said. “Someone might see us.”

“All part of the fun, babe. Come on, just a quickie; ain't no one around.”

A shadow abruptly moved across the open space of the parking garage, slipping behind one of the pillars lining the center of it. Dana caught this out of the corner of her eye and recoiled sharply, uttering a startled gasp.

“Oh, sounds like I got ya all revved up already,” Billy said, grinning widely.

“No, I think... I think I saw sumtin'. Over there.”

Looking back over his shoulder, Billy narrowed his eyes and took a close look at where his girlfriend pointed. Of course, with how blurred his vision was at the moment, he wasn't seeing much of anything. With a drunken smirk, he turned back around and started pulling down her skirt. “You're jus' seein' things.”

“No, Billy, I really thought I-”

Crunch.

Something big and heavy landed atop their car, caving in the roof. Dana uttered another shocked yelp, while Billy slowly looked upwards. When he saw the thing standing there, his eyes went wide with disbelief.

“What the f—”A large furry arm suddenly lashed downward and grabbed onto his throat. With one swift jerk, the arm pulled him up and over the car, leaving a trail of blood in its wake.

Dana screamed in horror, briefly falling to the ground in a panic. “BILLY!!!” When her legs finally started working again, she fought her way back up to her feet and ran (or rather staggered, in her inebriated state) across the parking garage. Rounding the corner of a nearby pillar, she pressed herself flat up against the concrete and closed her eyes. “Omigod, omigod, omigod.”

After several moments, Dana opened her teary eyes again and sniffled, looking back around he edge of the pillar. She saw nothing but an empty lot. Maybe the attacker was gone? As soon as that thought ran through her head, however, a shadow cast over her. Blinking, she eased her gaze upward to see some kind of horrifying, scaly shark creature crawling its way along the upper half of the pillar.

“No, no! AAAHHHH!!!”

Her scream abruptly cut off, as the creature descended upon her, claws and teeth ripping into flesh, blood spraying everywhere. Within seconds, the creature dragged Dana's lifeless corpse back into the shadows and began to consume her.

---

A short while later, two naked figures stood casually in the shadows of one corner of the parking garage. The man licked his bloody fingers clean, savoring the flavor. The tattooed woman, on the other hand, turned her head and spat out a thick glob.

“I hate drunks,” Zaria said, grimacing slightly. “Can taste the alcohol in their blood.”

“Tasted fine to me,” Kubrick replied, with a small shrug. “And since when have you hated alcohol?”

“Always, when it's in my food. Makes the blood bitter.”

“Huh, different taste buds, I guess.”

Leaning back against the wall, Zaria folded her hands over her bare chest and gave him a hard look. “You did remember the change of clothes, right?”

“In the car,” he said. “You know... one of these days I'd like to find an outfit that doesn't shred every time I wolf out.”

“What's the matter, embarrassed?”

Kubrick returned her gaze, a small grin forming across his face. “I got nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Slowly, Zaria's gaze drifted downwards, her own amused grin forming. “Clearly.”

Moving forward, Kubrick lashed out a hand and took hold of her by the throat, then leaned in and planted a lustful kiss on her lips. She returned the act in kind, pressing back firmly against him, only for him to then turn her around and force her up against the wall. Bringing himself up close behind her, he roughly bit into her shoulder, drawing blood. The sharp, sudden twinge elicited an excited gasp from Zaria's throat.

“Mmm... just how I like it,” she groaned.

“That's why you're with me, Zee.” Kubrick spread his grin wider, as he took a step back and pushed her farther forward, bending her over. His eyes were already starting to change into something more feral. “I know how to give it to ya.”

Chapter #79

Rose uttered a tired groan as she awoke the next morning. Shifting up straighter in her chair, she stretched her arms out and opened her mouth wide with a heavy yawn, then rubbed her eyes to get the sleep out. As her vision began to clear, she realized that she wasn't alone. Holly still sat in her lap, leaning forward against the desk with her eyes locked onto one of the three computer screens.

“Holly? You're still up?” The young girl didn't answer at first, instead using the computer mouse to scroll down the information on the screen. Now fully awake, Rose sat completely upright and brought a hand up to Holly's shoulder. “Holly?”

“I'm just reading still,” she said, without looking away from the screen. “There's a lot of interesting stuff on this computer.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Like, it tells you all about how to be a detective, and there's a bunch of files on bad guys, and it says whether they're in jail or if someone still needs to catch them, and all sorts of stuff!”

Rose narrowed her eyes slightly, looking past her to the computer. “And you've been reading all night?”

“Yup,” Holly replied, smiling widely. “I'm not even tired or anything.”

Leaning forward, Rose gently took the mouse from her daughter. “Hold on a second, hun, I need to check on the DNA thing.”

“ Oh, that? That finished hours ago.”

“It did?”

Holly nodded. “Uh huh. It said the match was positive. So... that means the blood on your knife and the hair you found came from the same person, right?”

A cold, numb sensation sank into her gut at the information. She had been hoping that her initial guess was wrong, but apparently she wasn't that lucky. Not that she couldn't handle him, because she could. Quiet easily, in fact. That wasn't the problem, though. The problem was the kind of damage he can cause before she found him.

“Yes, Holly, that's exactly what it means.”

So, Kubrick's back in Silverstone. And where he is, so is his shark b*tch. They're not so bad by themselves, but together they're a problem. A big problem.

But why had they come back? Were they just looking to leave their mark on the city again, to stake out their previous territory, or were they back for something more? Revenge, perhaps? They did know who she was—at least she assumed they did, since they had been working for Jerry in the VRA—so maybe they were looking to get back at her for the trouble she had caused them. If that were the case, though, then why hadn't they made a move on her already?

“Come on Holly, let's get going,” she said. “Why don't you go take a nap, and then we can go see Ruby in the hospital later today, alright?”

“Awww, but I told you, I'm not even tired!”

“No arguing, Missy, you were up way too late. Go take a nap.”

Releasing a disappointed breath, Holly slid off the chair and started heading back to her room. “Alright...”

Rose, too, got up from her chair and headed back into the main apartment. After falling asleep in her Ravager uniform, she could really use a shower. A few minutes later, she stripped down and relaxed beneath a spray of hot water.

Ruby wrote on her note that 'they're coming'. So she must have meant Kubrick and Zaria. But if she knows those two, then that means she was working with them when she was trying to break down my emotions along with Trance. Narrowing her eyes, Rose took a glob of shampoo and began to scrub her long white hair. But that doesn't make any sense. Only Kubrick and Zaria would have a grudge against me out of that group, and psychological warfare is definitely not a part of their M.O. No, someone else is pulling the strings here... but who?

When Rose got out of the shower, the phone rang. Putting a towel around herself, she walked out of the bathroom and answered. “Hello?”

“Wilson, morning. It's Palmer.”

“I know your voice, Chief,” she said. “Why are you calling?”

“I just arrived at a crime scene,” he explained. “A very... strange crime scene.”

“And why are you telling me this? I'm not a cop anymore.”

“When I say it's a strange crime scene, Wilson... I mean it's a strange crime scene.”

Rose furrowed her brow, rubbing her forehead tiredly. “That doesn't exactly tell me anything.”

“Let's just say I could use your special kind of expertise, and pronto,” Palmer said. “That is, if you're feeling up to it.”

Pausing for a moment, Rose sat on the edge of her bed and bowed her head, contemplating. “Uh... yeah, sure, whatever you need. Where are you?”

“The parking garage next to the Keifer Chemicals building, third level. Just get here as soon as you can.”

When the chief hung up, Rose uttered a small sigh and then placed another call, waiting a few moments before someone picked up. “Hey, Circe? Yeah, what are you and Lyta doing right now? Listen, could you come over for a while and watch Holly? She's asleep right now and I have... business I need to take care of. Great, thanks.”

---

The third level of the parking garage was crawling with squad cars and police officers, as well as several unmarked vehicles and a forensics team. As Ravager drove her bike up to the scene, all eyes turned towards her, some curious, others cautious, and others still concerned. Bringing her ride to a stop, she slid off and headed over towards where Chief Palmer was standing, behind a wall of police tape.

Before she could cross the line, however, a familiar officer ran up to stop her. “Hey, hold it there, Ro— uh, Ravager. This is a police line, you can't cross.”

“Stevens... I see they gave you your job back,” she muttered.

“Yeah, well, when they found out I was being mind controlled, they kind of let me off the hook. But I still can't let you—”

“Cool your jets, Stevens.” Palmer approached the two, waving Ravager across the tape. “I called her.”

Taking a step back, Officer Stevens blinked at the chief, confused. “Oh, ah, I didn't realize, sir. Was that necessary?”

“Go take another look at the bodies and then ask me that question again.”

“Uh... right, sorry.”

Stepping past the police line, Ravager walked with Palmer towards a lone car with its roof caved in. “So what's the deal?”

“Some poor sap found a couple of Does this morning,” he explained. “It's pretty brutal.”

“Chief, I appreciate that you want my help,” Ravager said, “but if you start calling me in for every homicide, I'm never going to get a break.”

“This isn't exactly what you'd call a normal homicide, Ravager. This is... well, see for yourself.”

As they came around the other side of the car, Ravager froze, gaze lowering towards the ground. Her stomach turned over briefly, but she fought the nausea down. Huge splatters and pools of crimson were everywhere, while the man's limbs and head had been torn off, and chest cavity ripped open and emptied.

Taking in a deep breath, Ravager folded her arms. “I see what you mean...”

“We figured this was weird enough to get your attention,” he said. “You should see the other one, she's in even worse shape. Any idea who—or what—did this?”

Ravager paused a moment, narrowing her eyes. “I might have a few ideas.”

“Care to share?”

She glanced back over her shoulder, eying the other officers carefully—in particular, Stevens, who was still hovering over them. “I'll explain tonight, when we can be alone. In the meantime... stock up on silver.”

---

When Ravager parked her ride in the dirty, dank alley, she sat up straight and took a careful look around. Definitely the right spot. It might have been a long time since she had been here, but she remembered it well enough. Hopefully, she could find some more clues here, too.

“Alright, I'm here,” she said.

Palmer's voice crackled over her comm link in response. “You know, Wilson, when you said you'd explain things when we were alone, this isn't quite what I had in mind.”

“What, you didn't expect me to take you to dinner and tell you over a bottle of wine, did you?”

“Hardly,” he muttered. “I just wasn't expecting you to break into my office again, leave behind a headset, and then take off.”

“You want me to work with you, we do it my way,” she insisted.

Palmer breathed out a small sigh. After a brief moment, he asked, “So you're serious about this? Detective Kubrick, a werewolf?”

“Hold a second.” Knocking on the door, she waited for the little window slot to slide open, revealing a beady pair of eyes on the other side. Those eyes went wide a second later, as Ravager gave a mocking wave, then spun and kicked the door off its hinges. Moving inside, she swiftly knocked the man out cold and then proceeded down the hallway. “To answer your question, yes, he's a werewolf. You never wondered where he disappeared to?”

A frustrated groan came in over the line. “Damn it, well that's not good.”

“Well if that isn't stating the obvious,” she said. “You seem rather quick to believe in werewolves, though.”

“Let's just say, I have experience with monsters.”

As Ravager reached the top of the stairs at the end of the hallway, she paused, holding a hand to her ear in order to hear more clearly. “What do you mean?” The only response she received was stone dead silence. “Chief?”

Another moment of silence passed before he answered her. “Never mind, it's not important. Just keep moving and do your thing.”

Narrowing her eyes, Ravager pushed the thought to the back of her mind. If it wasn't something he wanted to talk about, then she couldn't force him. Right now, she had more important matters to take care of. When she descended the steps into the underground pool hall, the patrons immediately ceased their activities and looked her way, most caught somewhere between surprise and confusion.

“Hello, boys,” she said. “Which one of you b*stards can tell me where to find Zaria?”

The three nearest men instantly lunged in to attack her. They knew who she was, and they knew that she knew who they were. Not specifically, maybe, but only the biggest criminal scum of the city found their way down here. Unfortunately for them, they didn't know just how hopeless their attack was. It didn't take very long for her to put down the initial few assailants with a few hard, crippling blows. Even when the rest of the place swarmed her, she didn't break a sweat. She barely even had to move from her spot to beat them all senseless. By the end of things, broken, unconscious bodies were strewn everywhere amongst snapped pool sticks and upturned tables and chairs. The only person left standing was the bartender, behind the counter.

“So, tell me, where's Zaria?” Ravager asked, leaning against the counter. “She used to own this joint, didn't she?”

“Uh... I have no idea, really,” he said, giving a nervous smile. “I just sort of picked the place up when she vanished. But, can I interest you in a shot of my finest vodka?”

Reaching back behind her, Ravager drew one of her swords and swung it at him, halting the razor edge just inches from his throat. “Here's how it works. Either you tell me where Zaria and that flea ridden boyfriend of hers is, or I start making incisions.”

The bartender's face suddenly went into full on panic mode. “W-what the- but I told you, I don't know! I haven't seen her in months!”

“Wilson, what the hell are you doing?” Palmer asked, his voice echoing in her ear. “You can't just torture the guy!”

“I'll do what I have to in order to get the information I need,” she said. “Those two have to be found.”

The poor bartender was terrified, practically in tears over the sharpened blade pressed to his throat. A hair's breadth closer and it would be drawing blood. “P-please, man, I don't know! I swear!”

As if that weren't enough, Palmer continued shouting into her ear. “You're walking an extremely thin line here, Wilson! Keep in mind, I will not hesitate to put you in cuffs if you go too far!”

Several moments later, Ravager uttered a frustrated breath and pulled her sword back, sheathing it. Still glowering, she turned from the cowering man and marched away. “Well, this was a waste of time.”

---

A short time later, Ravager found herself back outside again, perched atop one of the many low roofs of the surrounding apartment buildings. Leaning forward against the parapet and holding herself up with her arms, she took in a long look around the neighborhood. After a brief moment, she hung her head and lets out a heavy sigh. “Sorry for getting carried away back there. It's just... this is personal.”

“No matter how personal something is, you can't let it control you,” Palmer replied. “Take it from a man who knows. Lose your cool and you'll likely lose your head.”

“Yeah, right,” she muttered. “Just wish I could clean up all these loose ends I still have hanging around. Even with Jeremiah gone, there's Kubrick, Zaria, and god knows who else out there still gunning for me.”

“We'll find them, Wilson. Don't you worry.”

Exhaling another long breath Ravager hoisted herself up on the ledge of the roof and jumped over to the next one. “I need to figure out a better way to track them down...” She paused a moment, thinking carefully. Suddenly, an idea came to her. “And I think I might know how.”

---

An hour later...

The bartender frowned to himself, as he swept up some of the broken wood and glass littering the floor. Whoever that b*tch was, she had certainly left behind one hell of a mess for him to clean up. And of course that was before threatening to slice and dice him for information that he didn't have. He never would have taken over this bar if he had known something like this was going to happen. This wasn't the kind of thing he liked to deal with.

As he started sweeping some of the glass and wood into his dustpan, he suddenly became aware that he wasn't alone. Looking up sharply, he saw two figures standing there, one a large man with shaggy, unkempt hair and the other... well, the other was all too familiar. Those tattoos, that body, that ass... really hard to forget.

“Zaria, you're back!” he exclaimed. “W-where have you been?”

“None of your concern, Jason.” Pausing, she took a moment to look around the place. Her eyes eventually settled back on him. “I can't say I like what you've done with the place.”

“Oh, it's not my fault, I swear! There was some crazy chick in here looking for you, she tore the place apart, beat up the customers.”

Zaria lifted an eyebrow, glancing back at the man next to her. “Is that right? I believe that sounds like someone we know...”

“So, she knows we're here,” Kubrick muttered. “Doesn't matter; won't do her any good either way.”

“And I didn't tell her anything, honest,” Jason said. “Not that I could have anyway. I mean, I didn't know anything at all. But I looked after the place just like you asked me to!”

Folding her arms across her chest, Zaria uttered an annoyed breath and gave Kubrick a sidelong glance. He simply shrugged, then started heading behind the bar counter, paying no more attention. Eventually, Zaria's gaze found its way back to Jason, while she licked her lips. “Yes, Jason, you've done your part, and I must thank you for doing such a good job.”

“Oh, it was my pleasure. No trouble at all.”

He flashed her a big smile, just happy that she had recognized how well he had taken care of her bar for her. Maybe if he was lucky, she'd give him some 'special' thanks later! Of course, that didn't happen. Instead, his smile quickly shifted into a horrified, slack-jawed expression, as he witnessed Zaria abruptly begin transforming into her more monstrous, threatening form, clothes shredding from her body.

“W-wha the hell?! No, no! S-stay back! NOOO!!!!”

His voice cut off sharply, replaced by a bloody gurgle, as claws ripped open his throat. A second later, Zaria pounced, knocking him to the floor and tearing his body apart. From behind the bar, Kubrick merely poured himself a glass of whiskey while he watched, an amused grin on his face. Midway into the festivities, though, his phone rang.

“What is it?” he said, holding the phone to his ear. He paused a moment, listening to the commands coming in from the other line and uttering a sigh. “Yes, of course... right away. Whatever you say.”

Hanging up the phone, he placed it back into his pocket and went back to his glass of whiskey. Several minutes later, Zaria approached the counter and sat down on one of the stools, now back in her human form. Thick, wet splotches of crimson stained her naked body, most of it concentrated around her mouth and chin.

“Was that him?” she asked.

“Who else would it be?” he said.

“So then it's time.”

A pleasant grin found its way across Kubrick's face. “Let the fun begin.”

Chapter #80

Sitting quietly at the living room couch, Circe sipped from a warm cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. This was how most of her afternoons went, at least on her days off. There was peace to be had in the simple things, like relaxing and catching up on current events. For a long time, she had isolated herself from the world, but now she took a great interest in keeping up with it.

Turning the page, she took in a deep breath and set her mug down on the coffee table in front of her, then sank back into her seat and lifted the newspaper closer, carefully reading a front page story. No sooner than did she get invested in the story, though, a knock sounded on the apartment door, drawing her attention away. She uttered a deep sigh, as she got up from the couch.

“I swear, Rose, what is it you need this time?” Circe said, as she opened the door, fully expecting Rose to be standing there. But it wasn't not Rose. Rather, it was a man, a man she recognized instantly. The hair was a bit mangier than she remembered, and his face covered with more stubble, but she never forgot a face. “You!”

The man grinned widely, bringing a hand up to smack her violently across the face. Circe tumbled to the floor, her cheek throbbing. If she still had her magic, she could fry him in an instant, or turn him into a pig, or otherwise horribly mutilate him... but she didn't have her magic anymore. She was mortal now, the price of freedom from Tartarus.

“You remember me,” Kubrick said. “I'm flattered.”

Still dizzy from the blow, Circe crawled back towards the living room. “What are you doing here?”

“What do you think I'm doing here? Getting a little revenge, is all. When I heard you were hanging around with that Wilson b*tch, I jumped at the chance to take care of you personally.”

“You sound a little upset. What's the matter, couldn't handle the fleas?”

Narrowing his eyes, Kubrick reached down and lifted Circe up by the throat. “You turned me into a monster! For a crime I didn't commit!”

“But that you had every intention of committing,” Circe countered. “You just picked the wrong target.”

“Shut up!”

With an angry shout, he threw her across the room. She landed on the glass coffee table, crashing through it and hitting the floor hard. For several moments, she could barely move, groaning and lying there in a pile of broken glass and splinters.

“Do you have any idea what it was like? Having to go through what you cursed me with?” Moving forward into the living room, Kubrick stood over her briefly and then delivered a hard kick to her gut. She recoiled sharply, a pained grunt bursting from her lips. “I've come to terms with it now, sure. Hell, I even enjoy it. But for five long years, I hated myself. The things I did, the things you forced me to do... I wanted to die. I wanted to off myself and be done with it, but I couldn't. Too much of a coward, I guess.”

Circe finally managed to right herself, getting on her hands and knees and breathing deeply. Her hands were cut up from the broken glass, and her stomach bubbled with nausea, but she had to concentrate. Somehow, in spite of her daze, she looked up and found the end-table. Kubrick struck her again, this time a kick to the face, but at least it pushed her closer.

“But I'm not a coward anymore, no,” Kubrick said. “I'm a monster, and I love it. The power is... unreal. Looks like your little curse came full circle and backfired big time, doesn't it?”

Sniffling back a trickle of blood, Circe slowly pushed her way back to her feet, using the end-table for support. “That may have been a lack of foresight on my part, I admit. Should have just turned you into a warthog while I had the chance.”

Smirking, Kubrick came closer and grabbed her again, pulling her by the hair. Circe managed to make a desperate reach for an object on the end-table, the only thing that could help her right now. “But you didn't, and now you get to suffer for—AAAHHHH!!!

He recoiled violently, dropping Circe and staggering backwards. With horrifying agony ripping through his body, he glanced downward to see the back end of a letter opener sticking out of his chest. A silver letter opener. Falling to one knee, he grabbed at it, tugging. It barely moved. By now, the wound was starting to burn, emitting small wisps of smoke.

“What was that about suffering?” Circe asked.

“You... goddamn... b*tch!”

Leaning up against the couch momentarily, Circe took in a deep breath and wiped her nose clean. Then, she began hobbling towards the exit. She had to get away, had to find Rose.

“NO!” Kubrick's body suddenly began to change, going through the rapid transformation into his werewolf form. Doing this with a silver blade jabbed into his chest, though, caused him excruciating agony, a pained howl ripping from his throat as his larger, clawed hand took a firmer grip on the letter opener. With one final yank, his massively increased strength ripped it from his body. Then, he turned his gaze over to the retreating Circe, his wolf eyes glowering with pure hate. “Where do you think you're going?”

In a single leap, he pounced on her, knocking her to the floor and slicing his claws into her backside, opening long wounds and shredding most of her shirt. Instantly, Circe's muscles tensed up, eyes closing and throat erupting with a loud scream of pain. She could already feel the warm blood beginning to flow down her back.

“You know, I was just going to kill you. But since you had to go and be difficult—” Bringing his snout in closer, a low growl emerges from his mouth, his hot breath stinging the back of her neck. “—I might as well commit the crime you already condemned me for. Then, I can enjoy ripping you limb from limb.”

---

The hospital room was, as usual, dark and quiet. Ruby still hadn't awoken yet since her attack, lying now motionless in bed. A short time later, her doctor entered the room, clipboard in hand. At least, it was supposed to be her doctor. It was a man dressed in a doctor's uniform, but the round glasses and bald head did not belong to the one who normally checked in on her.

Moving forward silently, the man lifted a filled syringe and jabbed the needle end of it into Ruby's IV bag. When the contents of the syringe completely emptied into the bag, the man turned away and left as quickly as he came, glancing back only briefly to give the woman a long glare.

“Sorry, my dear, but it is necessary,” he said, before disappearing.

The hospital room remained largely quiet for several minutes after he was gone. Eventually, though, the beeping from the monitor rapidly began increasing, as Ruby's heart rate picked up. A short few moments later, her body began to spasm uncontrollably. A small team of doctors and nurses suddenly rushed into the room in a panic, checking on her status and working to calm her down.

It didn't work.

Within seconds, the monitor flatlined, and her body settled down. The most prominent sound in the room now was the high pitched whining of the monitor, a very loud and unceremonious death knell to the newly departed.

---

As school got out for the day, Holly and Lyta walked across the front lawn in search of their mothers. Normally, neither Rose nor Circe were ever late in picking the girls up, but neither seemed to be here at the moment.

“I don't see my mom's car, do you?” Lyta asked.

“No, and I don't see mine, either,” Holly replied.

Furrowing her brow in confusion, Lyta scratched the side of her head. “That's odd... my mom's never late.”

Before they could become too concerned, however, a friendly voice called to them. “ Hey!”

The girls looked over towards the far side of the school lawn to see Rose running up to them and waving. “Sorry I'm late, got caught up in traffic.”

Holly smiled a large smile, coming forward to give her mother a brief hug. “S'alright, we weren't waiting too long.”

“Hiya, Rose,” Lyta said, giving a wave. “Have you seen my mom anywhere?”

“Oh, yeah she just had something she needed to take care of. I'll bring you home.”

The group moved around towards the back of the school, which was mostly deserted at this time. Even the parking lot contained but a few cars scattered here and there. None of them, however, belonged to Rose.

“Where's the car?” Holly asked, looking around curiously.

“I had to park on one of the back streets,” Rose said. “I was so late that I couldn't get around to the front of the school before it all filled up, and this lot was a lot fuller five minutes ago, I swear.”

They continued along, turning onto a very deserted side street. There wasn't another person in sight, and the only car parked nearby was a large van with tinted windows.

“Wait a minute,” Lyta said. She gave the van a hard look, not recognizing it. “That's not your—”

But her voice cut off abruptly, as a damp cloth came up over her mouth and nose. Before Holly would react, the same thing happened to her. Her instinct was to fight back, but consciousness quickly slipped away, leaving her without a chance to do anything. In seconds, both girls were out cold. Wrapping an arm around either girl, Rose lifted them up effortlessly and carried them towards the van, a wicked grin forming across her face.

“There, that's better.”

---

Palmer uttered a long breath, as he pushed his way into his apartment with his phone pressed to his ear. After numerous unanswered rings, he groaned and hung up, stuffing the phone back into his pocket. He really wished that Rose would pick up her phone more often; it was starting to become a real guessing game when it came to getting ahold of her. She had said that she'd check in again tonight, but by the time midnight had rolled around he still hadn't heard from her.

Pulling out an odd assortment of food containers from the refrigerator, Palmer just stared at them for a moment. Eventually, a disappointed sigh escaped his lips. “Leftovers it is.”

After filling out a plate of various leftovers, he popped it in the microwave and waited calmly. Nearby, on the counter, was a small picture frame with a photograph inside. The photograph depicted Palmer, as well as a woman and a young girl, smiling at the camera. It had been taken a long time ago.

When his food was done heating up, he took the plate of food and headed into the living room, where he intended to watch the late night news while he ate. Things didn't exactly go as he expected, however. The moment that the living room came into view, he dropped his plate of food and pulled his gun, aiming it at the woman sitting on his couch.

“Hey there, Chief. How's the family?” Zaria gave him a malicious grin, lounging almost lazily on the couch.

“You!” he exclaimed. “What the hell are you doing back here?!”

An anger that he hadn't known in a long, long time began to bubble up in his chest. He had though he'd managed to put these emotions behind him after moving on, but then again he never thought he'd see her again.

“Please, put that thing away before you hurt someone,” she said, giving him a flippant wave. Of course, Palmer's aim didn't budge. With a huff, she stood up and walked calmly towards him. “So serious.”

“They never believed me when I told them what killed my family.” Palmer's finger grazed the trigger of his pistol, a mere hair's breadth away from firing. “But I knew. Oh, I always knew. You don't forget something like that. You don't forget a monster!”

Finally squeezing the trigger, Palmer fired off a shot. But his target was already moving out of the way, avoiding the bullet before the gun even went off. He tried to follow her with his aim, but her movements were too quick, too inhuman. She ducked behind the couch, then suddenly leaped over it, flipping through the air and knocking the gun from his hand with the barbed tail now protruding from her lower back.

“I thought I told you to put that away,” she growled.

Raising her leg, she smashed her foot into his chest, sending him flying backwards into the wall behind him. The plaster cracked and caved inward upon impact, and for a brief moment he remained there, embedded into the wall. Soon, though, he eventually fell forward to the ground, barely holding himself up on his elbows and knees.

“Oooh, that looked like it hurt.” Zaria reached downward, grabbing the top of the man's skull and lifting him upwards with a single hand. “Your wife was delicious, by the way. Sweet, savory... but the girl, mmm. Better than the finest veal on the market.”

Palmer promptly spit directly in the woman's face, the glob of saliva hitting her in the corner of the eye. “Go to hell, demon.”

An amused grin slowly spread along Zaria's face. Holding her free hand up, she transforms it into its natural appearance, large claws extending from her fingertips. “You first.”

Wasting no more time, she swings her hand forward, slashing her claws through man's neck. A short second later, Palmer's body dropped away from his head and crumpled to the floor. Zaria then held one of her clawed fingers forward, catching out a few drops of blood dripping down from the severed skull. She licks the blood clean, eyes closing and breath exhaling through her nose.

“Mmm... delectable.”

---

Rose groggily opened her eyes, flinching briefly at a sharp pain in the back of her head. It felt like a damn sledgehammer hit her, with how hard her skull was throbbing. Looking around, she uttered a small groan, having no idea where the hell she was; everything was dark and blurry at the moment. When she tried to move, she realized that she was strapped in and restrained vertically against a wall.

The lights abruptly turned on. For a short moment, she flinched at the intense brightness, only amplified by the migraine assaulting her head. Fortunately, she managed to fight through it and blink away the haze, vision clearing up. What she saw, though, caught her instantly off guard. She was looking at... herself? No, it was just her reflection... a mirror or something.

However, that theory was instantly squashed when the face just half a foot away from her began to speak. “Wakey, wakey, Rose.”

Rose's eyes went wide. “What in the...?”

A delighted sneer formed across the impostor's face, eyes narrowing wickedly. “We have so much we need to discuss.”

Chapter #81

A cold, numb sensation began to well up in Rose's chest. For a long moment, she just stared at the impostor standing in front of her in stunned silence. This didn't make any sense, none of it did. How could she be staring at herself right now? She didn't know anyone who could do this that would have a bone to pick with her. So what the hell was going on?

“This... this isn't possible,” she uttered.

“Oh, but isn't it?” The clone turned away and began walking over to a nearby table, where a few garments of clothing resided, including a long coat, a fedora hat, and a pair of round glasses.

Rose narrowed her eyes. “Who are you?”

“Come on, Rose, you're not that dense,” she said. “You already know the answer; you just don't want to believe it.”

Deep down, she did. That stabbing sense of dread in her gut didn't lie. She knew who this was... but that didn't mean she wanted it to be true. “You were dead. I killed you... I cut your goddamn head off.”

“No, you killed a stand in-” The impostor began to put on the long coat, followed by the hat. “-with a very specific neural stem designed to replicate my personality. The appearance was not difficult to accomplish for someone of my... talent.”

Turning towards Rose again, the impostor slipped on the glass and grinned, as her face began to morph and change into something different, along with the rest of her body. Within seconds, someone else stood in her place, someone very familiar. Sickeningly familiar.

“What's the matter?” Jerry asked. “You didn't think you'd really seen the last of me, did you? No, you're too much fun.”

“So what, I ruined your big scheme and now you're falling back on petty revenge?”

“Petty, is it?” He lifted his eyebrows in mock surprise. “As I recall, you delivered your own petty revenge not too long ago, when you thought you killed me. Calling the kettle black, are we?”

Rose clenched her jaw, but said nothing, merely staring back at the man.

“But no, this isn't just simple revenge,” he assured. “This is so much more than that; this is the absolute mutilation of a person's life. When we're done, you will be begging for me to end it.”

“So that was you orchestrating Ruby and Dr. Atkinson, to tear me down psychologically.”

“Yes, so it was. But, when that failed, I had to move up the next stage of the plan.”

“Which is...?”

A wicked sneer curled its way across Jerry's face. “Tearing away from your life everything and everyone that you hold dear. Which, I have to say, was an amazing success.”

Rose paused, stiffening up at the declaration. No, he was bluffing. He had to be. “I don't believe you.”

“I thought you might not, so I brought a few things for you.” Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out three items: two photographs and a written document. He held them up one at a time. :You recognize the apartment in this picture, yes? It belongs to your friend, Circe, the witch turned mortal. What do you suppose that bloody stain on the carpet is?”

Her jaw clenched up again, a numb knot tightening in her throat. She tried not to let her shock show, her grief show.

“Not even a guess?” Jerry pursed his lips, glancing back down at the photo. “Well, if you're curious, that stain is all that's left of her. I did ask Kubrick to leave behind some evidence, but I guess he was hungry.”

Though her mind tried to deny it, Rose's gut was already telling her that Jeremiah was telling the truth. It sickened her, but she believed him.

“And this picture is a little more graphic, but... well, it speaks for itself.”

The image depicted a head, just a head, severed from its body. It was Palmer, the Silverstone City Police Chief, also a friend. The numbness in her throat grew, eyes beginning to water.

When Jerry felt that she had looked at the picture enough, he pulled it back and then held up the document. “And this is Ruby's death certificate. She died yesterday afternoon when her heart gave out. An unfortunate turn of luck, because last I heard she was due to make a full recovery.”

Finally, Rose closed her eyes and turned her head, her entire body burning with a burning blend of anger and grief. “The girls...”

“What's that?”

“Where are the girls?!” she screamed, snapping her gaze back towards him. “What did you do with them?!”

“Ah, yes, the girls. I figured you'd want to see them, so I had them prepared. Just a moment.” Turning away from Rose, Jerry made his way over to the door at the back of the small, empty room. When he opened the door, he stuck his head out and motioned with his hand for someone to come in. “Right this way now, don't be shy.”

Returning into the room, he was followed by two more individuals. Holly and Lyta walked obediently behind him, their faces expressionless. They simply stared blankly forward, standing straight and rigid.

Rose's muscles tensed up at the sight, her hands curling into tight fists. “What did you do to them?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Jerry said. “I merely used up the last couple of stems I had lying around. I think they'll make good pets, don't you?”

“You son of a b*tch! I'll kill you for this!”

“You already tried that once, remember? It didn't go so well.” Smirking, he slowly walked around behind the two girls and put a hand on either of their shoulders. “The witch girl shows the most promise, of course, with what I've seen of her magic so far. But this Holly girl has some real talent, too. You've already trained her very well, and with the stem increasing her bodily functions, well... I'm sure I can find a use for her.”

Rose's gut churned, rage fueling her body. “Get your hands off them, you twisted freak!”

“Please, you worry too much,” he replied, waving off her comment. “I'm not Pavoni. No, I think I'll make them into my personal bodyguards. I'll raise them, train them further, and eventually they'll be unstoppable. We'll be unstoppable.”

“Unstoppable for what?”

“For the next stage of the plan, of course.”

Rose slowly narrowed her eyes. “And just what the hell is that?”

“The city.” Holding his arms out wide, a large smile twisted across his face. “Your city. I'm going to raze it to the ground, burn it into ash, and then when it's gone I'm going to show it to you, so that you can witness just exactly how much of a colossal failure you really are, to this city, to the people who trusted you, and to yourself. Then, when you've finally realized just what a pathetic waste of air you are, I will kill you. It will be slow, and it will be excruciating. The entire time, you will be begging for me to simply end it, but I won't. I will drag it out, make you suffer, and only once I have finally destroyed who you are as a human being, will I finally put you out of your misery.

A small flash flickered in front of Rose's eyes, and suddenly she wasn't held captive anymore. No, instead she was kneeling in the middle of rubble. Just rubble. The skeletal remains of a few buildings still stood, but for the most part the entire city was no more than a smoldering pile of steel, concrete, bricks, and bodies. For a long moment, she just stared in disbelief, her gaze slowly circling the area.

The sky was dark and cloudy, opening up a sudden downpour that soaked her to the bone. She didn't make a move to get out of the rain, though. She couldn't; her legs simply wouldn't let her. All she could do was kneel there in utter defeat, horrified at what she was seeing. Silverstone City, the place she had called home, the place that she had built a life for herself, was gone, all its people dead. Anything and everything that she had held dear no longer existed, and she could feel the pain of it in her chest, the absolute mortification of guilt consuming her.

She caused this. Everything she had done here in this city, it had all led up to this moment, her biggest failure. Jeremiah had not just beaten her, he had destroyed her, as promised. Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, Rose bowed her head in shame, hands digging into the bloody dirt beneath her and eyes squinting shut. As she did this, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Such a touch should have been one of comfort, of condolence. But it wasn't.

All she felt was malice.

“Isn't it grand?” Jerry asked, gripping her shoulder tighter. “Of everything you've accomplished in your life, this is what you will be remembered for.”

She said nothing, instead sinking her head lower and holding a hand up to her face.

“It's over, Rose. I win.”

“No...”

Lifting an eyebrow, Jerry slowly lowered his gaze at her. “I'm sorry, what was that?”

“You haven't won... not yet.”

“Look around you, Rose. Of course I have.”

Rose shook her head. “No.”

“Yes... I have,” he insisted, tilting his head in confusion.

“No!”

Do stop saying that.”

“No! No! NO!”

---

“NOOOO!!!”

Eyes snapping open, Rose took in deep, heavy breaths, chest heaving. She was sitting cross legged on the floor, dressed in a pair of gym shorts and a tank top, with a thick sheen of sweat beading across her body. Falling back on her hands, she stared blankly forward for several moments, then squinted her eyes shut again.

That vision... it felt so real. Too real.

And extensive, far more so than any other vision she had ever had before. It hadn't just covered a small period of time, it had covered days. It had shown her the exact layout of a possible future, what could happen if she failed. She knew that now, and she knew that she had to stop it. Otherwise, everything she loved would disappear in a cloud of smoke and ash.

Opening her eyes again, she glanced up at the clock and cringed. It was one o'clock. Scrambling back up to her feet, she rushed into her bedroom and flipped her gear wall around. She didn't have a lot of time before things started.

You're not going to beat me, Jeremiah. Not this time. Not ever.

---

Ravager sped down the street, weaving in and out of traffic on her bike. She wasn't messing around right now. Clicking a button on her handle bar, she pulled up the phone application on the screen built into her dashboard. She clicked another button, dialing one of the numbers on her speed dial, which activated the built in communication system in her helmet. The phone rang, and rang, and rang...

Come on, come on, pick up!

“Hello?” Circe's voice came in crystal clear.

“Circe!” she exclaimed, relief flooding through her body. “Listen to me carefully!”

“Rose? What is it?”

“It's Kubrick, he's on his way to your apartment! He's going to kill you!”

A small pause came in on the other line before Circe responded. “Is that so...? A shame I don't still have my magic. Though, I do believe I have a silver letter opener I could-”

“That won't work!” Ravager insisted.

“Then what do you propose I do?”

“Don't worry, I've already called a friend,” she said. “She should be there shortly to help you.”

“And what are you doing?”

“Heading to the school! It's Jeremiah; he's still alive, and he's going to abduct our daughters and turn them into his personal slaves!” She swallowed a hard knot in her throat, then sharply turned her bike down another side street. “He also means to have Ruby and Palmer killed!”

“Oh my—” The woman's voice cut out in surprise. When it came back, she sounded shaky, afraid. “H-how do you know all this?”

“I saw it.”

“What do you mean, 'you saw it'?”

“I had a vision,” she explained. “I'm pretty sure I've figured out how to have them at will now; just requires a little time and meditation.”

“...What are you saying, Rose?”

“I'm saying, I'm not just a precog anymore.” Gunning the engine, she turned another corner of a street continued her mad drive through traffic. She could see the school in the distance. “I'm a seer now.”

---

Circe blinked down at her phone as Rose hung up. A seer? Did she say that she was a seer? As in, one who can foretell the future? Ridiculous, such an ability could not be acquired by a mortal girl like her, certainly not without some connection to magic forces. Gaining brief glimpses of the future with precognition is one thing. Seeing full blown visions of things to come, and doing it at will, was on a completely different level.

But Circe couldn't dwell on that right now. Kubrick was on his way, after all. She had to deal with him first. Glancing down at the end-table next to her, she stared at the silver letter opener for a brief second, then reached out to grab it. If Rose's friend didn't get here in time, it may be her only way to defend herself. Of course, no sooner than did she grab the letter opener, a small flash flickered in the room, accompanied by a quiet boom of thunder. When everything went quiet again, another woman was standing there.

Circe blinked in surprise, narrowing her eyes at the woman. “You...”

Grinning, the magician took a bow, removing her top hat and holding her arm in front of her chest as she did so. “Zatanna Zatara, at your service.”

---

As school got out for the day, Holly and Lyta walked across the front lawn in search of their mothers. Normally, neither Rose nor Circe were ever late in picking the girls up, but neither seemed to be here at the moment.

“I don't see my mom's car, do you?” Lyta asked.

“No, and I don't see mine, either,” Holly replied.

Furrowing her brow in confusion, Lyta scratched the side of her head. “That's odd... my mom's never late.”

Before they can become too concerned, however, a friendly voice called to them. “ Hey!”

The girls looked over towards the far side of the school lawn to see Rose running up to them and waving. “Sorry I'm late, got caught up in traffic.”

Holly smiled a large smile, coming forward to give her mother a brief hug. “S'alright, we weren't waiting too long.”

“Hiya, Rose,” Lyta said, giving a wave. “Have you seen my mom anywhere?”

“Oh, yeah she just had something she needed to take care of. I'll bring you home.”

They never got the chance to head back to the car, however. Within moments, as they turned to leave the school, the roaring sound of a motorcycle engine erupted in the air. Turning towards the road, they saw a small figure in the distance rapidly approaching: Ravager speeding along atop her bike like a bat out of hell. In a panic, Holly and Lyta ran out out of the way, screaming. Rose, on the other hand, just stood there, glaring intently at the incoming Ravager.

In mere seconds, Ravager reached the school grounds. In a single, deft motion, she flipped herself backwards off the bike, hitting the ground hard and rolling several yards before springing back up to her feet. The bike, on the other hand, rocketed straight forward and crashed with a thunderous explosion as it smashed into Rose, the impostor Rose.

“ROSE!” Holly screamed, running forward in horror. She soon realized, however, that her distress is misplaced, when she noticed that the apparent attacker was dressed in her mother's familiar costume. “..mom?”

“It's me, Holly,” Ravager said, giving a small nod. “But that was not.”

She focused on the burning wreckage, positioning herself between it and the girls. She was ready for anything. A few moments later, several larger pieces of her ruined bike scattered and flew through the air. A silhouetted figure emerged, tendrils of flesh twisting and rippling as it pulled itself back together.

“Holly, Lyta, run,” she commanded. “Get as far away from here as you can, and look out for each other.”

Holly looked up at her mother, eyes brimming with worry. “But mom—”

“Just do it, Holly! Run now!”

But the girl was still frozen in fear, watching the scene with wide eyes and shaking legs. However, a sudden wave of comfort filled her, when a hand reached out to grab her own. Turning her head, she saw Lyta standing there next to her, giving a caring and consoling look.

“Come on, Holly,” Lyta urged. “Your mom can handle herself.”

Swallowing nervously, Holly nodded in affirmation, then quickly ran away from the school with her friend, holding her hand tightly for support. When the two were safely gone, Ravager moved forward and reached back over her shoulders, drawing both of her blades.

“Did you really think I wouldn't figure out who was behind it?” she asked. “Did you really think I'd let you destroy my life?!”

Walking out of the wreckage, the now fully regenerated Jeremiah Belmont clasped his hands behind his back and glared at her. “Once again, Rose, you do not fail to impress. But I'm afraid those girls weren't my only targets.”

“Oh, yeah, you mean Circe, Palmer, and Ruby, right? I wouldn't worry too much about them. I have a friend on the job.”

This comment actually caught Jerry off guard. Lifting an eyebrow, he straightened himself and then slowly formed a grin. “Clever girl.”

Wasting no more time, Ravager sprinted forward, both blades extended and ready for use. “Let's finish this, Belmont! Just you and me!”

Chapter #82

Circe narrowed her eyes at the magician woman, then folded her arms across her chest and frowned. She didn't like this one bit, having to be aided by another magic user that would have been inferior to her own power, if she still had any power. “You must be joking. You're the one she called to help me?”

“You sound surprised,” Zatanna said, holding a contemplative finger to her chin.

“Disappointed,” she replied. “With all the other hero friends she has, I would have expected someone... different.”

Zatanna smirked a little. It was almost satisfying, seeing a once superior, villainous sorceress put off like this. “Considering what I can do and how I can help, she thought I was best for the job. Now, if you're done complaining, I believe you have a wolf problem that needs taken care of, yes?”

Circe paused, looking off to the side. “So I do...”

“From the sound of things, he should be here soon. I wonder if—” A knock on the apartment door suddenly drew their attention. “Ah, that should be him now. Shall we let him in?”

Eying Zatanna for another brief moment, Circe then glanced over to the door and sighed. Might as well get this over with. “It's open!”

The door abruptly flew off its hinges, crashing into the floor. Kubrick stepped into the apartment, a wicked grin slashing across his face. “Circe! Remember me?” He got halfway into the living room before he saw Zatanna, causing his eyes to instantly widen. He hadn't forgotten their last encounter. “Son of a—”

“Teg kcab!”

Kubrick suddenly lifted off his feet and rocketed backwards, crashing into the kitchen table and breaking it in half. He continued across the floor until smashing against the refrigerator, causing it to topple over on top of him.

“Would you watch what you're doing?!” Circe exclaimed. “That's my apartment you're destroying!”

“Uh... whoops,” Zatanna stated, clearing her throat. “I'll fix it in a minute, soon as I'm done with big ugly here.”

The fallen refrigerator suddenly burst upright, launching forward through the air. Circe and Zatanna lunged out of the way, both narrowly avoiding the massive projectile as it crashed against the nearby china cabinet, sending shards of broken glass and wood everywhere.

Circe sat upright, mouth dropping open in anguish at the broken china. “Damn it all, that cost money!

“Quit your whining,” the magician said. “I told you I can fix it.”

Kubrick lunged through the air, now in his werewolf form. He went straight for Zatanna, knowing that he'd have to take her out first if he was to have any chance at getting to Circe. Unfortunately for him, getting to Zatanna was going to be its own challenge.

The magician woman was ready for him, already standing back on her feet with a hand held forward. “Nruter ot namuh!”

Instantly, Kubrick reverted back to his normal form and crashed into an end-table, his jaw smacking against the edge. He probably should have seen that one coming, considering she had done the exact same thing to him the last time they fought. Groaning, he slowly pushed himself back to his feet and wiped the blood from his chin.

“Mangy b*tch,” he growled. “I'll tear you heart out, I swear.”

“Yeah, I don't think so. Teg kcab!”

Once again, Kubrick flew backwards as though struck by some incredible, invisible force. This time, he launched directly against the back wall of the apartment, which just happened to be the wall that faced the street. Bursting through the wood and plaster, the man plummeted down ten stories into the streets below.

Zatanna blinked, a little surprised. “Uh... oops. I might have put a little too much 'oomph' into that.”

“Did you just... kill him?” Circe asked, slowly approaching the hole in her wall.

“Nah, I'm sure he'll be fine. Mostly.”

---

The disturbance down on the city streets was extremely abrupt, as a body smashed atop a car parked on the sidewalk, caving the roof inward and literally exploding the windows apart. People screamed and ran in a panic, though a few more curious individuals rushed over to see just what the hell had happened.

“Someone call an ambulance or something!” a woman yelled.

Lying there atop the ruined vehicle, Kubrick uttered a very long, very weak groan, coughing out a small mouthful of blood. He may have been much more durable than a normal person with his werewolf physiology, but that really hurt.

“Stupid... b*tch... ugh.”

---

The hospital room was, as usual, dark and quiet. The only sound breaking the silence was the familiar, steady beeping of the heart monitor, assuring that the patient lying beneath the covers was very much alive. A doctor soon entered, clipboard in hand. At least, it was a man dressed in a doctor's uniform, but the round glasses and bald head did not belong to this patient's doctor. Rather, they belonged to one Hugo Strange.

Moving forward silently, the man lifted a filled syringe and jabbed the needle end of it into Ruby's IV bag. When the contents of the syringe had been completely emptied into the bag, the man let out a heavy breath and looked over to the form beneath the covers. “Sorry, my dear, but it is necessary.”

“And what, exactly, is so necessary?”

Blinking in surprise, Strange spun around to look behind him. Standing there in full costume was Ruby Lawson, otherwise known by the superhero alias of Apathy. She leaned casually against the far wall, arms folded across her chest, while staring at the man from behind the shadowed face covering of her hood.

“What in the name of—” Briefly, he turned back to the bed and threw off the covers, only to reveal a row of pillows beneath, not the patient that should have been there. “How is this possible? You should be crippled!”

“Shoulda, coulda, woulda,” she said, with a flippant hand wave. “But I'm not. Hell, I'm feeling better than ever.”

Narrowing his eyes, Strange reached into the front pocket of his lab coat and pulled out another syringe, this one full of the same substance he had just injected into the IV bag.

Apathy responded with an amused, snorting laugh. “Pfft, really there, doctor? What exactly do you hope to accomplish with that?”

“I have a job to do, my dear. I won't let one small set back keep me from it!”

“Keep talkin', buddy.”

Before Strange could act, Apathy vanished in a small puff of smoke, only to then reappear right behind him in the middle of a spinning kick aimed at the back of his head. He stumbled forward, trying to maintain his balance, but Apathy teleported again, this time to his side while delivering a hard punch to his face. She repeated this several more times, beating the crap out of him. By the end of it, Strange lay motionless on the floor, unconscious.

“Y'know, I could have drained your will to fight, or made you quiver in the corner in utter terror,” she mused, “but that was so much more satisfyin'.”

---

Ravager spun quickly, evading Jerry's incoming bladed arm. Whirling her swords around, she sliced them towards his neck, but he ducked and jumped back a bit to put distance between them. He then extended his other arm, shaping it into a whip and lashing outward. Ravager jumped over the initial strike, while throwing one of her swords at him. The blade plunged straight into his chest, forcing him to take a couple steps backward.

“Please, Rose. You should know by now—” Reaching up, he grabbed the hilt of the sword in his chest and effortlessly pulled it from his body. It didn't cause him any pain or even draw any blood. With an amused grin, he tossed the blade back at his opponent's feet. “—that isn't going work.”

“Then I'm just going to have to find something that does!” Retrieving the fallen weapon, she sprinted towards him again. “If I recall, taking your head off should be pretty effective!”

This time, Jerry didn't move. He simply stood there with a large smirk on his face, watching Ravager's blades swing forward at his neck. Just as they were about to lop off his head, however, he raised up a cone shaped shield from his surrounding flesh, hardening it plenty enough to block the weapons from cutting through. He then formed one of his arms into a large mallet and clobbered Ravager across the chest, sending her flying back through the air. The blow only slightly stunned her, though, as she flipped around in mid air to land back on her feet.

“You didn't think I was actually going to let you take my head this time, did you?” Jerry asked.

Ravager frowned. “I'll get it eventually... one way or another.”

“Your determination is... admirable. Futile, but admirable.”

Taking in a few deep breaths, Ravager briefly contemplated her next plan of attack before sprinting towards him again. As she lunged in, swinging her blades, Jerry pulled back his hammer-hand in preparation. In mid leap, Rose threw one of her swords at him, forcing him to deflect it. In that brief instant, her now free hand flew to a compartment on her belt, and when she reached him, she braced herself for impact, while extending that same hand forward. The hammer bashed into her chest again, sending her rolling across the ground.

“I thought we just went over that,” Jerry said. “That isn't going to work.”

“Then it's a good thing I tried something different.”

Narrowing his eyes, Jerry slowly turned his gaze down to his shoulder, where a small, round device had been attached. The device blinked rapidly with a red light. “Clever g—”

His voice cut off abruptly as the device exploded, causing Jerry to become engulfed in a fireball. Ravager held her arm up in front of herself, trying to shield herself from the wave of heat that followed. She had never used those explosives before... apparently they were highly potent. That was good. She needed potent.

When the smoke and flames begin to clear up, she saw Jerry kneeling there on his hands and knees. A good deal of his flesh dripped from his body, as if melting. It also looked as though he was actually in pain, something he hadn't expressed since acquiring his new abilities.

Standing up, Ravager took in a deep breath and walked over to him, holding her blade up against his throat. “Not so tough now, are you?”

“That was... well played, Rose,” he uttered, coughing out a melted glob of flesh from his throat. “Well played.”

Suddenly, police sirens filled the air. Ravager briefly glanced to the side, noticing a swarm of cop cars speeding towards the school grounds. In that instant, Jerry lashed one of his arms out, forming another hammer that smashed against her chest and stumbled her backwards. He took this opportunity to hobble back up to his feet and then sprint away. His flesh was already starting to reform itself.

“We'll finish this another time, Rose!” he called, disappearing around the side of the school.

Ravager briefly contemplated chasing after him. By the time she got back up to her feet, though, the cop cars were pulling up next to her. Officers burst out of their vehicles a moment later, pointing their weapons at her. They didn't know the details, after all. All they knew is that she had caused a couple of explosions on a school's front lawn.

“Down on the ground!” one of the officers shouted.

Before Ravager could comply, however, another voice interrupted them.

“Weapons down, damn it!” The chief of police, Gerald Palmer, made his way forward past the line of other cops. They reluctantly obeyed, lowering their guns. “You'd better have a damn good explanation for this, Wilson! What in the hell is going on here?!”

“It was him,” she stated, jaw clenching. “Jeremiah Belmont.”

A small, shocked pause passed between them. Eventually, Palmer's gaze narrowed. “Belmont? You mean the guy behind the VRA sh*tstorm?”

“That's the one.”

“I thought he died. Twice.”

“Looks like he keeps finding a way to come back.” Ravager placed her hands on her hips and stared at the ground, sucking in a deep breath. “I caught him here trying to abduct Holly and her friend. He also had his goons attempt to kill two more of my friends, and a third later tonight.”

“And you're sure of that?”

She nodded. “Chief, I've never been more sure.”

Palmer paused again, taking a careful look around at the scorched schoolyard. The remains of Ravager's bike were still burning just a few yards away. “This guy really has it out for you, huh?”

“You don't know the half of it. But he's gone for now... I threw another wrench in his plans. In the meantime, I need to talk with you.” Her gaze slowly moved back over to the other surrounding cops. “Privately.”

---

The interior of the apartment was dark and silent. After all, the owner wasn't due to get home from work for another hour or so. That gave the infiltrator ample time to get in and make herself at home before getting to work. At least, that was what she expected, as she opened the window and slipped inside from the fire escape.

Closing the window behind her, Zaria took in a deep breath and grinned. “Oh this is going to be fun.”

No sooner than she said that, the lights flickered on. Palmer, standing by the light switch, glared at her. “You're right, it is.”

Zaria immediately stiffened in shock, glancing rapidly from person to person. Not only was Palmer there waiting for her, but also Ravager, Zatanna, and Apathy. This was definitely not supposed to happen!

“What's the matter?” Ravager asked, arms folding across her chest. “Didn't expect to see us?”

Without saying anything, Zaria turned and tried to get the window open again so she could retreat. She didn't get very far, though, before a backwards spell stopped her in her tracks.

“Pots!” Zatanna exclaimed.

Instantly, Zaria's actions ceased, as she froze up like a statue. She could still move her eyes, though, which she did to carefully glance back over at them.

“Well, that was rather... anticlimactic,” Apathy stated.

“I'm not complaining.” Moving forward, Palmer walked right up in front of the immobile alien woman, glaring at her with pure, intense hate. In a quick motion, he drew his gun and pointed it against her forehead. No one made an attempt to stop him. “This b*tch murdered my family. By all rights, I should blow her away right now.”

Ravager cleared her throat and casually turned her head away. “I'm not seeing anything.”

After a long moment of silence, Palmer breathed out a sigh and pulled the gun away. “But I'm better than that.”

“We have a team ready to take her to a place where they have the equipment necessary to hold someone like her,” Zatanna informed. “Same place we sent Kubrick to earlier.”

“And I can have her there in a second,” Apathy said. Moving forward, she took a hold of the woman's arm. “Literally.” A second later, they both disappeared in a wisp of smoke.

Once they were gone, Palmer released another heavy breath and then sank into a nearby arm chair. “Well, that's one less weight on my shoulders. Thanks.”

“You couldn't expect that I would have just let her kill you, could you?” Walking over farther into the living room, Ravager sat down on the living room sofa, then reached up to remove the faceplate and helmet of her costume. “But you're welcome. And speaking of thanks—” She turned to look over at Zatanna now. “—I owe you a big one for helping out with Circe and healing Ruby.”

“Please, happy to help,” the magician stated, with a smile. “How are the girls, by the way?”

“They're with Circe now,” she replied. “A little shaken after what happened today, but they'll be fine.”

“Ah, well that's good. Hey, mind if I grab a glass of water?”

“Please, help yourself.” Palmer said, waving her towards the kitchen.

When Zatanna left the room, Rose glanced over at the end-table next to her and noticed a framed picture of Palmer and two other people, a woman and a young girl, probably around Holly's age. Curiously, she lifted it up to take a better look.

“This them?”

He nodded slowly. “Yeah, that's them.”

“They're beautiful.”

“Yeah... they really were.” Another long breath escaped Palmer's lips, as he sank further back into his seat, holding a hand up to his forehead.

“Listen, Chief... I'm sorry about what I said before,” Rose said, giving the man an apologetic gaze. “When I... well, I didn't realize...”

“Don't worry about it, Wilson. You weren't yourself then.”

“Still doesn't excuse it, and I'm still sorry.”

Slowly turning his head to look at her, Palmer gave a subtle nod. “Thank you.”

A brief moment later, Apathy reappeared in the center of the living room. “Well, that's all taken care of. Those two should be locked up for a good long time, same with that crazy doctor who tried to off me.”

Walking back into the room, now with a glass of water in hand, Zatanna smiled and sat down on the sofa next to Rose. “So, what's next on the agenda, then?”

“Anyone up for drinks?” Apathy suggested. “I'm buyin'.”

A gruff laugh emerged from Palmer's throat. “I could use a whole damn liquor cabinet right about now.”

“Well, she did say she was buying,” Rose said.

“Well in that case, I'm in.”

“Can count me in, too,” Zatanna said, quickly downing her glass of water.

Apathy grinned from behind her mask, hands coming to hips. “Then what the bloody hell are we still doin' here? Let's get a move on!”

---

Jerry stood in front of a mirror, carefully inspecting his face. His flesh was still partially melted from the explosion, and wasn't healing as fast as it normally did. “Interesting... it appears that fire creates instability in my new molecular structure. I'll have to remember that.”

From behind him, an a woman standing in the shadows uttered an amused laugh. “She really took it to you, ah?”

“I underestimated her.”

“Again.”

Jerry frowned, looking back over his shoulder. “I was careless.”

“Need I repeat myself?”

Taking in a small breath, Jerry turned to the woman behind him and folded his arms across his chest. “And not only that, but I lost three of my best people today. It's just you and me now.”

“Oy, sounds like a real party,” the woman said, rolling her eyes.

“We'll have to move up stage three of the plan,” he said, rubbing his chin contemplatively. “Contrary to what she thinks, Rose hasn't won. Not yet.”

“But she's pretty damn close, ah?”

Narrowing his eyes, Jerry turned back to the mirror, prodding his scorched flesh tenderly. “When the time comes, you will take care of her, won't you?”

The woman nodded. “That's my job, isn't it?”

“I wasn't asking if you'll follow the order. I was asking if you can handle it.”

A small pause passed, as the woman slowly curled her lips into a smirk. “Si, I can handle it.”

Start the Conversation

DC Mayhem: Secret Six #12

PREVIOUS CHAPTERS HERE

Written by Ravager4 and Joygirl

-----------------------------------------------

"Aww man, I liked 'Fab Five' a lot. Are y'sure we need one more?" Harley moaned, sitting cross-legged on the couch with a pout.

"You know we'd never get away with that," Rose retorted. "Have to keep the gender status quo intact. Without at least an equal share of guys to girls, we'll become a chick team. I hate chick teams.'“

"Don't think Ragdoll counts as male anyway," Scandal interjected.

"Well chick teams are cool!" the resident clown insisted. "I was on a chick team for a while and it was aweso--"

"I do not believe our opinion is of great importance," Bane stated simply as the meeting room's large, dark screen flickered to life. A dark silhouette of a mockingbird against a white background. A heavy, blank voice that everyone knew belonged to their employer.

"That is correct, Bane.” The members of the Secret Six turned suddenly to the sound of Mockingbird's voice. He waited a moment for their full attention before continuing. “Regardless of what you think, we need another member, and as I told you before, I found a suitable replacement.”

“So who is it, huh?” Rose asked, lounging back in her seat with her hands held behind her head. She was missing out on her daily workout at the moment, and wanted these introductions to be over with quickly.

See for yourself."

A short moment later, the door at the other end of the room opened, revealing a red haired man in some kind of red and black leather outfit and domino mask. He stepped into the room standing stiff and saying nothing. He looked... angry.

I give you your new teammate,” Mockingbird stated. “Arsenal.”

There was a long moment of silence, before the room's most jarring voice spat out a harmlessly insulting, "Well he doesn't look all that tough."

"I believe you will feel differently when you see him work, Ms. Quinn," Mockingbird's voice buzzed out deeply. "Mr. Harper is an experienced and intelligent combatant, trained by one of Star City's best. He may look like a simple man, but I chose him as a replacement for both Mr. Blake and Mr. Cash. I make decisions very carefully."

Arsenal slowly scanned the room. He knew some of the people gathered here: Bane, the man who broke Batman's back, and Harley Quinn, former sidekick to the Joker. The others he didn't recognize, but he was sure that they were the same type. Criminals. Villains. If he didn't need this Mockingbird and his team to get Lian back, he'd be trying to bring these guys down and turn them over to the authorities, not working with them. As it stood, however... he was one of them.

For now.

Scandal was the first to step forward, offering an accepting hand to the man. "Welcome to the team, Arsenal. I'm sure you'll be a valuable and respected member." The smile she offered was genuine but not particularly sincere -- she was reserved about any new member, especially ones she knew nothing about.

Arsenal merely stared at Scandal's extended hand. He could bring himself to work with these criminals because he needed to, but that didn't mean he had to like it. "I'm not here to make friends," he said plainly, taking a few steps past the woman without returning the handshake. "Let's keep this strictly business."

Any comfort Scandal Savage may have extended, however, was quickly shattered when Peter Merkel, Jr. found his elastic, twisted limbs curling around one of Roy's legs, his hollow eyes gazing adoringly up at the man. "Have you ever tried wearing a baseball cap? I feel you would look positively lovely in a baseball cap. Maybe with some tattoos."

"Let go," Arsenal stated, glaring down at the flexible, bandage-faced individual. He shook his leg a couple of times to force Ragdoll away. "Don't make me force you."

Arsenal shook his leg a few more times, but when it became clear that Ragdoll was not going to let go, he reached into one of the small pouches on his belt and pulled out a device that could only be described as what it would look like if a medical injector and a pistol had a baby. He then promptly pointed it at the man, or rather thing, attached to his leg and fired a small dart into his neck.

"Just a sedative," he said, promptly removing the contortionist from his person. "He'll be woozy for a couple hours, but otherwise fine."

"Tastes like bliss and cream cheese," Ragdoll said swimmingly, his eyes crossing before his entire body idly flopped down onto the floor beside Roy Harper.

"Ooh, I'ma have to borrow some of that. S'not too expensive is it?" Harley tilted her head, somersaulting forward and inspecting the little... syringe-gun-thingy. "It's pretty too."

Giving the clown a narrow look, Arsenal replaced the injector gun back into its pouch. “Not for sale. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to set up things.”

"Yeah, this has been great and all, but I have better things to do," Rose said, sharing the same sentiments as Arsenal. Their new team member had been revealed, so that was good enough for her. No need for further introductions. Shifting off her seat, she marched out of the room, with Cassandra following closely behind her. "I'll be finishing my workout if anyone needs me."

"I'm afraid I won't be able to join you today, Ms. Wilson," Bane said, offering Arsenal only a very brief, acknowledging nod. "Scandal and I have plans later, in the 'War Room'. I hope you do not mind."

The War Room was new, and was so understocked nobody could quite mention it with a straight face. A small section of the O.R. containing a monitor that, as far as Scandal could tell, had not been plugged into Mockingbird.

"Whatever you say, big man," Rose replied, with a flippant wave as she disappeared through the doorway. "More than capable by myself."

---

Harley Quinn laid on her own little bed, her head draped across the footboard and her feet perched up against the wall. In each hand, held above her face, was a small doll -- handstitched and designed by Harley herself, and well-worn from use. One was red and black, with a white face. A simple design. The other was purple, with a little green cap and similarly white face.

"Oh yeah, puddin'? What about when you tossed me out of a helicopter into an alligator pit?" the clown whispered to herself, her voice squeaky but normal. "Did ya love me then?"

Suddenly, the harlequin's voice grew a little deeper, and far more raspy, though still soft. Despite her lack of general inhibitions, certain things she... didn't need other people to hear. "Of course I did, punkinpie, that was just for kicks is all. You forgive me, doncha?" One subtle finger flicked a small switch built into the purple doll's back, causing a small metal sliver to shoot out of his 'glove'.

"I... of course I do, puddin'... but... how can I...."

"You really miss him, don't you?"

Harley scrambled from the bed, tumbling onto the floor and barely catching her feet, tossing the dolls under the bed. Perched on her sofa, in the door-side corner of her bedroom, his limbs coiled pleasantly around himself, was Peter Merkel, Jr -- Ragdoll.

"Get out! Shuttup! You don't know nothin', ya nasty little bendy creep!" Harley squawked, quickly grabbing a plastic McDonald's toy and throwing it forcefully in Ragdoll's direction. The bandaged creature took the hit, not seeming to notice.

"Deepest apologies. I did not mean to offend," Peter chittered, tilting his head to the side very slightly, staring at the clowngirl. "But normally people don't act out the forgiveness of people they've already killed. Except me. But I am supposed to be unique."

The pajama-clad jester girl inhaled deeply, looking down at her own feet. Her crouched position mirrored that of Peter's, on the other side of the room. "Just because I sometimes wonder how things coulda been different don't mean I regret what I did. He needed what he got, and he deserved to get it from me." She paused for a moment, blinking her eyes shut before exhaling fully. "Still don't mean I don't get sad sometimes."

A small smile crinkled Peter's bandages, the expression barely visible. "You know, a carnival opened up a few days ago. Scandal gave me the two tickets she won online, but I honestly am not sure who to take with me... unless you're interested."

Harley sniffed. "They got fresh peanuts? With the little salt packets?"

"They do. And you're allowed to feed all of the animals."

"...all the animals?"

"ALL the animals."

---

Rose wound up her leg and delivered a solid kick to the gym's heavy bag, bending it almost completely in half from the force of the blow. After ruining the first couple bags by hitting them too hard, she had learned to hold back enough to keep from breaking them. It was too much of a pain to take the time and replace the busted bags with a new one.

As she continued her workout, Cassandra sat nearby on one of the benches, flipping over flashcards with two-syllable words on them. Her vocabulary was increasing by the day, and thus far she had almost mastered one-syllable words, if she put enough thought into them. She was still a long way away from talking in complete sentences, but her ability to communicate with others had grown leaps and bounds since they first met three years ago in Tibet, when the girl couldn't say anything.

Huffing out a heavy breath, Rose took a few steps back and wiped sweat from her brow, then brought her hands to her hips, breathing heavily. She had been at it now for a good couple hours straight, never letting up. First weights, then cardio, then skill practice, repeated several times. She could have stopped ages ago, could have done the bare minimum, but to her that wasn't an option. She didn't train to be adequate, she trained to be the best. She would have to be the best when she found her father again... she wouldn't have a chance against him otherwise.

“Break?” Cassandra asked, looking up from her flashcards.

“Just a quick one,” she replied, grabbing a nearby towel and wiping herself down. She'd really need a shower once her workout was done.

Sitting up straighter, Cass shifted her weight a little and rubbed her elbow. Looking off to the side, she hesitated a moment before saying, “Prac...tice. With me?”

Rose lifted a confused eyebrow. “What? You want to train with me?”

The young girl have an earnest nod.

“If... you want to, I suppose. But Cass... I thought we talked about this. With how you were used before, by your dad, by the Syndicate... don't you want to be normal?” Taking a seat on the bench, she leaned back on her hands and gave the girl a consoling look. “Well, I mean as normal as you can be around these people.”

Cassandra swung her legs back and forth beneath her, looking at the floor. “For pr... protec... um...”

“Protection?”

Another nod. “My... choice. Not used by... them.”

Rose breathed outwardly, nodding slowly in understanding. “I get it... you want to keep your skills sharp, to protect yourself if I'm not around, right?”

“Yes.”

“Hrm... guess that makes sense,” Rose said, tapping her fingers gently against the bench. “Alright, let's see what you got, then.”

The two girls got into position on the floor mat, squaring off against each other. Cassandra might only be fourteen years old, and she might have looked like just any other girl, but Rose knew well that she was much more than that. Trained since she could stand to be the perfect fighter by reading body movements... she could make a grown man cry with a single punch.

Rose wasted no time, attacking swiftly, fiercely. She didn't hold back too much, though; it wouldn't do Cassandra any good to fight an opponent who wasn't trying as hard as they could, after all. Still, she wasn't actually trying to hurt the girl, either, instead focusing on placing her attacks in places that, if she hit, wouldn't cause too much damage.

She didn't need to worry, though. Cassandra could see most of the attacks coming before they even started, eying every little muscle twitch and shift in weight with expert clarity. She ducked, blocked, spun, and otherwise perfectly defended herself. It was when the less experienced girl tried to switch to the offensive, however, that she faltered. Attacking was a little different than defending. You weren't sitting back and reacting, you were the one making the first move. If your opponent was as skilled or more skilled than you, you opened yourself up to counters if your attack failed.

That was exactly what happened shortly into Cassandra's assault. She came in fast, fierce, forcing Rose on the defensive for several moments. Then, she made the mistake of overextending with one of her kicks. Rose blocked, pushed the kick away, and spun in low with a sweeping kick that flipped the girl off her feet onto her back, an action that took mere fractions of a second to complete.

“Impressive,” a voice interrupted, as Rose helped Cassandra back to her feet.

Rose looked over to the gym entrance to see their newest member, Arsenal, walking in and setting a duffel bag down next to the weight bench. “What are you doing here?”

“Working out,” he replied. “That is what you do in a gym, right?”

“Hrmph...” she muttered, folding her arms. “So you're the special new teammate, huh?”

Arsenal shrugged. “Wouldn't use the word special... but I am your teammate, for the time being at least.”

“Uh huh. You know, you don't really look the type to roll with this kind of crowd. You give off a major... 'hero' vibe.”

“I'm here because I have to be,” he said, as he unzipped his bag. He pulled out a towel and water bottle, setting them next to the bench. “Not because I want to. And what about you? Little young to be throwing your life away, aren't you?”

Rose narrowed her eyes. “Throwing my life away?”

“Just being here,” he explained. “With these people... I know some of them, and they're not exactly stand-up citizens. I don't know what you're doing with them, but if you don't get out soon, you'll dig yourself into a hole you can't get out of. I've seen it too many times, young kids like yourself falling into the wrong crowd, thinking they have no other options. That doesn't have to be you.”

“Look pal,” Rose said, taking a few steps forward, hands on her hips. She glared at him, eyebrows crossing low over her eyes. “You don't know a damn thing about me. I've seen more shit by the time I was thirteen than you have in your whole life, I guarantee it. I'm here because I have to be; they're a means to an end, an end that I'm not going to let anything stop me from achieving. Don't fool yourself by thinking I'm like the other kids you know. I'm not a normal kid. I'm a fighter. I'm a survivor. And yeah... a killer.” Breathing out a small sigh, she glanced back at the silent Cassandra, who stood there motionless, watching the two. “But that doesn't mean I'm throwing my life away. Just the opposite. I'm taking control of it for the first time.”

Arsenal was quiet for a moment. He stared at the one-eyed girl for a long while, before finally turning away and setting some weights on the bar. “And what about your friend there? What's her story?”

“Cass? She's my... sister.” Might as well stick with that story; it had been working so far. “We look out for each other... we're all we have.”

“So I take it your lives haven't exactly been sunshine and rainbows, huh?”

Rose snorted out a laugh and rolled her eye. “Yeah... you could say that.”

A silence passed between them for several moments. Arsenal lay down on the bench and began lifting the bar, hoisting it up and down in a steady rhythm. Eventually, he glanced over at them huffed out a slow breath. “So... her name is Cass, huh? What's yours?”

“Rose,” she replied.

“And you're how old?”

“Fifteen. Cass is fourteen.”

“Got a lot of skill for a couple of girls so young.”

“Yeah, just a part of our 'sunshine and rainbows' lives, I suppose.” Rose folded her arms, watching the man bench the weights for a few more moments. “So as long as we're giving away names and ages, what's your story?”

Arsenal didn't answer at first, bringing the bar low to his chest. As he pushed it upward, he replied, “Call me Roy.”

“Okay, Roy... and how old are you? Can't be that embarrassed to give it away.”

“Thirty-three...” he answered, after a brief moment's hesitation. “I know, I'm an old man.”

“Uh huh.” Rose watched the man for a few moments longer, then waved to Cassandra to come back to the mat so they could continue their sparring. “Try not to hurt yourself, old man.”

---

"I do not like the idea of Mr. Merkel and Ms. Quinn getting along. It causes me great discomfort." Bane clucked, his arms folded across his massive chest as he, and Scandal Savage, went to the War Room. After Arsenal's introduction, everyone had gone their separate ways, aside from Scandal and Bane. Harley and Ragdoll, however, had been seen leaving together. More importantly, leaving the House of Secrets to go to a carnival that had just opened in town.

"Scares me too, Bane. But they're grown-ups, we can't keep them apart... even if Ragdoll is probably going to try to crush her in the gears turning the ferris wheel."

"Indeed. It makes me wonder, at times, exactly what happened to the Mad Hatter, all those years ago."

"Mneh. If I'm bein' honest, he creeped me out anyway. What's Mockingbird waiting for?"

"For your conversation to end," Mockingbird buzzed across the brightened monitor. "I didn't wish to interrupt. I have time."

Scandal grunted idly before turning to the screen. "Well I've got better things to do, so what's the big secret? What's with Arsenal, what's the mission?"

"This mission may be your most difficult yet. Mr. Harper's young daughter has been kidnapped, and his home destroyed. This was the opportunity I needed to enlist him, but if we do not direct our efforts to relocating his daughter, Lian Harper, he will grow more and more ornery until he becomes more a liability than an asset."

"Very well," Bane rumbled gently. "Then do you know who has the girl? Where do we direct our fist?"

"Three of Gotham's most notorious criminals who had recently vanished from their... Bat-protected home turf. They were quiet, and the unusual alliance made them difficult to track down. But the movements of criminal activities and funds from Gotham to Star City allowed me the leads necessary to find them."

"Mhm, you're really smart," Scandal sighed, flopping down onto the couch and resting her legs across the furniture's arm. "So who are we going after?"

Brief, flickering silence over the television's speakers, before Mockingbird spoke once more. "A triad of Gotham's most wanted. Firefly, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy."

9 Comments

DC Mayhem: Secret Six #11

PREVIOUS CHAPTERS HERE

Written by Ravager4 and Joygirl

--------------------------------------------------------

“Remember,” Roy said, as he grabbed his jacket on his way out the door, “make sure that Lian does her homework. And bedtime is at nine. Not nine thirty, not ten, nine. She might try to convince you otherwise, but don't fall for it—trust me, she knows she's adorable, she'll use it to her advantage. She's crafty like that.”

Behind him, Mia Dearden huffed out a small breath and placed her hands firmly on her hips. “Jeez, would you relax? Not my first time babysitting. Not even my first time babysitting Lian. I know how to handle her. Well, provided you don't leave her to me hopped up on sugar again. That was a fun time.”

“Hey, that was once,” Roy insisted. He shifted his weight slightly, though, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. “And it wasn't on purpose. I mean, who knew Gummy Bears could pack such a punch?”

“Riiiight,” Mia replied, with lifted eyebrows. She then proceeded to practically push him out the door of the house. “Now go on, stop the bad guys already. I got this.”

Roy looked back over his shoulder, almost tripping over his own two feet through the doorway. “There's a twenty on the counter, so order a pizza for dinner. But put some vegetables on it at least!”

“Roy. Seriously. Go.” Mia promptly swung the door shut behind him and shook her head. “Honestly, it's like he thinks those mobsters are going to turn themselves in.” Clapping her hands together once, she turned around and marched back through the house. “Okay, Lian! Let's get that homework out of the way. When you're done, I got a Thundercats DVD with your name on it.”

---

It was a seemingly ordinary afternoon in the House of Secrets when Rose walked casually into the kitchen, many days now after she and Cass and officially joined the Secret Six. Aside from Rose's brief encounter with Harley, the Savage girl showing up the other night, and Rose's rivalry with Bane, the two newcomers had not really become acquainted with the other members of the group. Though, since they seemed to be dropping like flies, the only one left to be acquainted with was the doll-thing... which was not a meeting she relished.

As it was, the white-haired girl swaggered into the kitchen, her single eye still somewhat moist and bleary from the tap-water of the House's shower. Cass had already awoken and now sat at the kitchen table, legs swinging idly beneath her as she chewed at a pop-tart. The rest of the team—sans the harlequin, who was "sleeping in"—sat around the table in a semi-circle, staring at the small Asian girl with only about fifteen words in her vocabulary. It was as though they were afraid of her, or studying her, or something. Knowing Cass, the poor girl was either incredibly uncomfortable or studying them right back, depending on what mood she was in.

Rose, on the other hand, had no real reservations about the group. She could probably beat them all with one arm tied behind her back if she wanted to (perhaps a slight exaggeration, considering the fight she had already been in with Harley), and to be honest, none of them scared her that much. Without so much as a passing glance, she marched straight by the group and opened the refrigerator in search of something to drink. straight through the kitchen to the refrigerator, she moved directly in front of them on the way by and offered no words as she searched for something to drink.

"You're out of towels," she said, briefly adjusting the blanket wrapped around her in a toga-style fashion. She instead opened the refrigerator and leaned inside.

"That is an issue," Bane stated simply, only looking up momentarily from his eggs benedict. "Our bendy friend here has a bad habit of monopolizing our cloth resources. He refers to them as 'changes of clothes'."

"I don't use that many towels..." Ragdoll chattered idly. "Only when my wrappings get covered with blood... or when my imaginary friends are in the mood for bondage. Or when our first aid kits are out of bandages... or when my blankets say that they are afraid of me and they want me to be cold."

"I will endeavor to stock up on them sometime soon, if you desire," the big man continued.

"Would be nice," Rose said, ignoring the critter of gray flesh, wrappings, and stitches. She took a long drink of her glass of orange juice, seemingly caught unawares by a small burp. "I just hate spending ten minutes air-drying."

"And honestly, that thing looks like it's about to fall apart any second," Scandal Savage said with a small smirk, reaching across the table with her fork to grab a bite of Bane's breakfast. The man growled, but allowed it... for now.

"Hmr, maybe," she replied, glancing down at the makeshift toga."In hindsight, I suppose I should have just dressed normally..."

"Rose?" There was a pause, before a small voice finally continued. "Good... mmmorning." Cass Cain, the Ravager's ward, glanced over at her companion, chirping idly and extending her hand, which still held half a pop-tart. Offering. The girl was still dressed for bed, pink pajama pants and a Batman t-shirt replacing her more mobile attire.

Rose turned towards the quiet, tentative call. Instantly, she softened her demeanor and took a step over towards the girl, reaching up to gently brush her hand through the girl's hair. "Hey there, Cass, sleep well?" The white-haired teen then paused and plucked the sugary snack from Cass's hand, arching a brow. "Hey, who gave you this? These aren't good for you, kiddo."

"The small one looks thin, is she receiving proper nutrition?" Bane clucked with a concerned voice. "Perhaps heavy starches would be fitting for her diet."

Rose smiled, holding the girl close and breathing out a long sigh. If she could be thankful for anything from the time of her capture with the Syndicate, it was meeting this girl. At Bane's question, she glanced over at the massive man and shifted her weight, pulling back from the girl a bit.

"Oh, she might look thin and tiny, but you'd be a fool to think she's undernourished," she said, stroking Cass's hair gently a couple more times. "Get on her bad side and she'll snap your arm like a twig. I've seen it."

"Hm. She is still too small for combat. She needs more protein, fat, and whole grains introduced into her diet if she is going to become truly competent. She appears strong but frail, a combination that builds overconfidence." Bane flexed the muscles in his back briefly, as if part of a routine exercise, and took a long swig from his protein shake.

Cass merely tilted her head at the exchange, glancing from the huge man down to her own figure, as if questioning her own body's size.

"Hrm, so you'd have her over-muscle herself like you?" Rose commented, with a small frown. It wasn't one of mockery or contempt, more one of curiosity. "Keep in mind she's still developing, so she'll grow into her skill. I suppose she could use a better diet—actually, we both could; hasn't been great this past year in the food department—but I've seen the way she fights. Agility over power, accuracy over brute force. Still, I'm not going to force her to train either... long story, but she's only ever been fighting. I want her... to be normal. At least, as much as she can, in this kind of company. Leave the fighting to us."

"Respectable," Scandal said, gulping from the mimosa in front of her. "Kids should stay away from the battlefield... I should know. If not for dear old dad's bloodline I'd be dead a hundred times over."

"We have sparred before, Ms. Wilson," Bane grunted. "I have shown you already that strength, and size, need not detract from agility. I admit that she appears fit. But I stand by her also appearing frail. I could snap her in half with one hand—not that I would. You and she are now part of our team, and under my—" Bane paused briefly, and inhaled, glancing towards Scandal. "Under Ms. Savage's leadership."

"And I should have shown you that agility and speed trump strength any day," Rose commented, giving Bane a challenging grin. "Of course, I'm willing to bet I'm stronger than you, too, big man. I might not look it, but I can lift a car, you know."

"Lifting a car is less impressive than most make it seem," Bane scoffed, determined to retain a bit of pride. He knew the girl was enhanced—he had already taken a blow not long ago when the clowngirl got the better of him. One day, one day soon, he would prove his worth to the team. They would understand that there was a reason he was Bane, a reason that he, and none of them, had broken the Bat.

"Hrm, if you say so."

The convict turned his head to face the smaller, nearly-mute teen, tilting slightly. "I suggest you decrease your amount of repetitions, Cassandra, and increase the amount of weight you lift. And we shall discuss diet after my studies." Bane said conversationally, taking another bite of his eggs.

---

It was quiet that night, in the small suburban town just outside of Star City. The streets were empty, deserted, only a slight breeze breaking the eerie calm of night. Nothing of interest ever happened in this town. Nothing important. This late at night, things were peaceful, barely a soul still awake.

It made the explosion that much more abrupt and horrifying, splitting the peace and quiet of the neighborhood with all the subtly of a train wreck. Giant towers of flames poured out the shattered windows of the house—now missing its entire south wall—and bathed the street in a rippling orange light. Yet, in spite of this, it would still be a couple of minutes before anyone realized what had happened, before the sleeping neighbors awoke enough to look outside and call the fire department.

Those two minutes were all he needed.

“Let me GO!” the shrill voice of Lian Harper shrieked. She fought and twisted and kicked against the grasp of the much stronger man, whose face was hidden behind a dark ski mask. No matter how hard she struggled, however, he easily pulled her along down the driveway towards the black van with tinted windows. “NO! I have to help Mia! She's still in there! Let go!”

“Don't worry about her right now,” the man replied, his voice gruff and deep. “I'd be a little more concerned about yourself if I were you.”

Lian beat her fists against his leg and tugged at his hands, trying to break free, but it was useless. A surprised gasp burst from her lips as the man effortlessly tossed her into the open van, and when she tried to jump out, the man merely shoved her back inside. “No! Mia! Daddy!”

“Quiet,” the man stated, reaching up to grip the meat of her neck. Almost instantly, she seized up and slumped over unconscious. With an annoyed sigh, the man then slid the van door shut and got into the driver's seat. By the time the sirens blared out over the roaring inferno, the van was gone.

---

At first, Roy thought he had taken a wrong turn. When he saw the firetrucks, the ambulance, the police cars, and the gathering of neighbors all standing around and gawking at the burning remains of the house, he was sure that he had missed his street again. The sign was covered by a low hanging tree branch, making it hard to see, especially at night. Surely he had driven past it again. He did that pretty often, when he was exhausted after a long night of patrolling Star City.

Within moments, however, it hit him. He noticed familiar faces, his neighbors, gathered in the crowd. He saw Mia's car parked in the driveway. The tree out front with the tire swing he had built for Lian... It was his house, his home... and it was in ashes.

Slowing his motorcycle to a halt, he sat atop the seat for a moment and stared with disbelief, jaw slackening and eyes going wide. He then broke himself out of the trance and tore his helmet off, sprinting from his bike. He didn't even bother to set the kickstand, allowing the vehicle to topple over. At least he had already changed into civilian clothes, otherwise he would have blown his secret identity right there and not even cared.

“LIAN!” he screamed, trying to push his way past the crowd, past the firefighters, and past the police line. “MIA!”

“Sir!” an officer stated, pushing in front of him. “Sir, you have to stay back, the fire hasn't been put out yet.”

“No, let me go!” Roy retorted, pulling away from the man's grasp and shoving himself forward. “My daughter's in there!”

“Sir, everyone that was in the house has been pulled out,” the officer stated. “You'd just be running into a hazard.”

Roy paused a moment, taking a step back and trying to gather his wits, trying to make sense of things. “You mean she... they... Lian is okay?”

The officer nodded over towards the ambulance. “They're loading her into the ambulance right now.”

Without so much as a second's hesitation, he turned from the officer and bolted towards the ambulance. “Lian! Lian!” When he finally made it there, however, he stopped and felt the air rush out of his lungs. Only a single gurney was being loaded into the ambulance, on which lay an unconscious and burned teenager. “Mia... god, Mia...”

But where was Lian?

“Officer,” Roy said, looking frantically back over his shoulder. “Officer!” When he finally got the man's attention, he stumbled over to him, legs barely functioning. “That's not... That's the babysitter, Mia, she... My daughter, she's ten. She was in there, she... she would have been in her room, she... where is she?”

The officer appeared confused, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. “Uh, there... there wasn't... the babysitter, you said? She... she was the only one they found.”

Roy's legs gave out right there. He collapsed almost completely to the ground, barely holding himself up on his hands. “No... no no no no no... “ He felt sick, dizzy. Tears were already streaking down his face, filling his eyes and blurring his vision. He felt ready to throw up. “Lian... LIAN!”

---

Beep...beep...beep...

The steady rhythm of the heart monitor was the only sound that broke the mind numbing silence in the small hospital room. Mia Dearden lay still unconscious in the bed in the center of the room, bandages covering the burned areas of her body. Roy sat in a chair next to the bed, slumped forward with his elbows on his knees and face pointed at the floor. He had remained at the ruins of his home for for as long as he could bare, digging through the charred wreckage, and had since come to stay by Mia's side. If she woke up... someone had to be here, and Ollie was out of town.

He hadn't found a body. No one had found a body. Lian hadn't just died... she was gone. Just gone. Lost in the flames that had taken everything from him, including the brightest gem in his life. He felt cold inside. Hollow. He didn't even feel like he was really there, but rather watching from the outside, almost out of body. It wasn't just the lack of sleep. It was the loss. The pain. The grief. Everything. How... How was someone supposed to keep going after this?

“Lian...” he uttered, bringing his hands up to his face. His eyes had long since run out of tears, leaving behind only dried, sticky remains. He wanted to keep crying, wanted to express his grief... but his body was too exhausted, too wiped.

A faint humming slowly brought him out of his stupor. It took a few moments to realize that it was his phone vibrating in his pocket. He made no rush to answer it, hand moving slowly and fumbling around in his pocket before finally pulling it free. Staring blankly at the Mia in the hospital bed, he flipped the phone open and pressed it to his ear. “...hello?”

“Your daughter is still alive, Mr. Harper,” a deep, distorted voice said.

Roy stiffened, throat going numb. “Who the f**k is this?”

“At the moment, I'm your best possible friend,” was the reply. “Lian is alive; she wasn't in the fire. Rather, she was taken. As far as I know, she is safe.”

“She's...” he started, disbelief pouring over him. Disbelief combined with an overwhelming sense of relief and elation. Soon, however, it all turned to rage. “You son of a b*ch, if you hurt one hair on her head, I swear I'll-!”

“You misunderstand me,” the voice replied. “I don't have your daughter. I'm not the one who took her. However... I know who did.”

Roy grit his teeth, swallowing a knot in his throat. “Why the hell should I believe you?”

“Because I'm the only chance you have of seeing your daughter again, alive.” When no reply came, the voice continued, “That fire was no accident. It was intentional. Fortunately for you, I've been keeping tabs on a certain organization lately, the same organization that has, for some reason, targeted you. I don't know how you made an enemy of them, but they've made a pretty loud statement against you by kidnapping your daughter. I imagine you'll be hearing from them soon with some sort of ultimatum to get her back... after which they'll likely kill her anyway.”

“What are you talking about?” Roy asked, sitting straighter in his chair. “What organization? Who's targeting me?”

“I can't answer that over the phone, but I could provide more details in person—relatively speaking, anyway.” There was a small pause, until finally the voice continued again. “You see, I've made tracking down this organization a personal... hobby of mine, and also find myself currently shorthanded in the task. I could use the assistance of someone with your particular... talents.”

Roy remained silent for a moment, thinking carefully. This man, did he mean...? He had to... somehow, this man knew his secret identity. Those were the only talents he could be talking about. “So you need my help... I want my daughter, and you want to take these guys down. We both win, is that it?”

“That's correct, Mr. Harper. So... what do you say?”

6 Comments

DC Mayhem: Secret Six #8

PREVIOUS CHAPTERS HERE

Written by Ravager4 and Joygirl

---

The House of Secrets was quiet, mostly. At least, when compared to the high speed pursuit they had found themselves in not too long ago. Bane, Catman, and Ragdoll all sat around the main lobby of the used-to-be hospital, trying to settle down after the rather eventful evening. Thankfully, no one had been seriously hurt or worse. The extent of their injuries was Bane's bruised elbow, and a few cuts and scrapes. Amazingly--or perhaps, ironically--Ragdoll had come out of the crash without so much as a scratch.

"I swear, you ever do something like that again and I'll string your bony body up in the back," Catman muttered, rubbing the back of his stiff neck.

Ragdoll crouched low on the floor, legs bent high and head tilting. "You had as much fun as I did, I can see it." A few swift, eerily springy movements later, he was hanging off of the man's shoulders. "Admit it."

"Get. Off."

Ragdoll uttered a short breath, dropping back to the floor. "Could have at least kept the ice cream truck."

"Though I am sure we all would have... loved a truck full of frozen sugar," Bane said, standing still with his arms folded, "the truck was totaled. There was no salvaging it."

A short moment later, movement drew their attention from one of the nearby hallways. Grifter appeared, stumbling a bit as he walked. Sweat beaded across his forehead, and his hair was loose, unkempt. Though it had been a few hours since he touched a drink, and he was beginning to sober, ever so slightly, things were still a little... dizzying.

"Cole, there you are... you alright?" Catman asked.

"Been better," he replied, falling into an old, dusty couch. He grunted, then looked up at them. His gaze lingered, drifting back and forth between Catman and Bane. "The hell happened to you two? You look like you were in a car crash."

"Ragdoll and an ice cream truck," was all Bane said. "That is what happened to us."

Cole lifted his eyebrows, needing no further explanation. "Ah... got it."

"Where's Scandal and Harley?" Blake asked, as he gazed farther down the darkened hallway. "They back yet?"

"Nope," Grifter replied. "Haven't seen them in a while. It's getting late, too..."

A different voice answered him, coming from the partially opened building entrance. "We're here." Scandal pushed the door open, working her way inside with a groggy Harley Quinn supported against her. The clown was conscious, but had a hard time supporting herself on her own two feet. Everything in her line of sight was still spinning something awful.

"Jesus, what the hell happened to her?" Grifter asked, sitting up straighter. It seemed to be the question of the hour.

"She did," Scandal replied, gesturing with her thumb behind her. A short moment later, another figure appeared through the doorway, this one a younger girl with long white hair and an eye patch over her left eye.

"Well, this is a sorry bunch..." the girl muttered, taking a long look around at the group.

The others were silent, staring at the girl for a long while before saying anything. Finally, Catman raised a hand and uttered, "Uh... okay. Who are you?"

"Rose," she replied. "Rose Wilson. But when I'm in costume you can call me Ravager. So, you guys are the Secret Six, huh? Don't look like much to me."

"Uh, Scandal?" Grifter said, giving the woman a questioning look.

"Long story short, there was a misunderstanding," Scandal explained, still holding up Harley against her. "These two fought, I stopped it, and now Rose here... wants to join the team."

Catman sputtered out a surprised cough. "She what?"

"She is... just a child," Bane remarked, giving her a long look. "What is she, fourteen?"

"Fifteen," Rose said, frowning. "And I bet I could take you in a fight, big man."

"You do that to Harley over there?" Grifter asked. He was the only one of the group who didn't seem rather put off to have her show up.

"Took a bit longer than I thought it would," she said with a shrug, "but yeah."

"Hmm... we do need all the muscle we can get, you know."

Catman looked back at him quickly. "She's still just a kid! You're not seriously proposing we take her in on a group of... well, us, are you?"

"Like it or not, she's here," Scandal said, starting to head towards the hallway. "I'm going to take Harley back to her room for some rest, you guys get acquainted, then take Rose to the briefing room to meet with Mockingbird. He'll need to approve her."

When Scandal was gone, Ragdoll came forward, jumping up on top of a table and holding a hand to his chin, head tilted at her. "So, where do you keep your buccaneers?"

Rose furrowed her brow, confused. "Uh... what?"

A second later, Ragdoll leaped closer and hung off her shoulders, reaching up to flip up her eye patch. "Are they under your buccanpatch?"

"What the f- get off!" she yelled, throwing the clingy contortionist back to the floor. She shuddered a bit, taking a step back. "Creepy b**tard."

"Just... ignore him," Grifter said, clearing his throat. "He does that. So, Rose, huh? Cute name."

"Uh huh," she said, hands coming to her hips. She wasn't really in the mood for chatting with these losers right now. "So, when do I get to talk to the almighty Mockingbird?"

Bane paused a moment, then looked back over his shoulder. "We contact him through the briefing room. That is where you can... meet him."

"Good, take me there."

Without another word, the mountain of a man waved for her to follow, leading her down one of the hallways.

"This is a bad idea..." Catman muttered, shaking his head.

---

"You can go in now," Bane said, as he exited the briefing room door. "I have taken the liberty of informing Mockingbird of your desire to join the team. He is waiting."

"About time," she said, pushing past him into the room.

"We will be waiting outside." With that, he closed the door behind her.

Rose walked towards the center of the small room beyond. There wasn't much inside except for a table and a television screen, which right now was currently blank. "So, anyone there?"

A long moment of silence lingered throughout the room. Rose lifted an eyebrow at the screen and folded her arms, beginning to grow annoyed that the mysterious Mockingbird was seemingly ignoring her.

“Uh, hello?” she said, trying to keep her tone sounding civil. Any more of this, though, and she'd probably start spouting off a few choice words.

“I'm here,” came the distorted voice of Mockingbird, a short few moments later. The screen in front of her flickered on, revealing a blank screen save for a white silhouette of a, well, mockingbird. “So... you're the one who wishes to join my team?”

“I don't see anyone else, do you?”

Another pause. “No... no, I suppose I don't,” Mockingbird replied. “And... why do you want to join the team?”

It was Rose's turn to pause. She lowered her gaze, eye narrowing at the floor. A cool, soft breath flowed freely past her lips. “There's someone I need to find... someone who hurt me, someone I thought I loved and who loved me back.” She scoffed, folding her arms. "Couldn't have been more wrong."

"And this person... does he have a name?" Mockingbird asked.

"Slade Wilson," she said, gaze narrowing. A certain venom found its way to her voice at the mention of his name. "Also goes by Deathstroke the Terminator... and he's my father. He... he sold me out." Hands balled to fists, a growing rage consuming her body. "He...he used me, he got my mother killed, he..." She forced herself to swallow back an oncoming shout, forced herself to calm.

"He was the one person I had in my life who cared about me, but he betrayed me... he ruined my life and I... I want the bastard dead." The screen went silent again, longer this time. Rose expression grew sour, glare hardening and hands dropping to her hips. “Hey! Pal, you there? Kinda getting a little p*ssed-”

“I'm here,” the voice responded. “And I've taken your words into consideration. However... I'm afraid I have to decline you joining this team.”

“Oh, is that so?” Rose spat, her demanor really starting to go south. She didn't enjoy having her time wasted like this. “And why might that be? Please, enlighten me.”

“This team isn't a personal revenge service," Mockingbird explained. "It's a special ops force that runs the missions I tell them to, nothing else. I don't have time to waste going after your own personal vendettas. Furthermore, this isn't a place for someone like you. You're young, you still have your whole life ahead of you. My advice: forget your revenge, forget fighting, forget this life... and find something normal. You'll just end up dead.”

Rose's eye darkened, a very annoyed, very angry frown curling across her face. She took two steps closer to the screen and pointed at it. “Now you listen to me, Mr. Hides-Behind-A-TV. I might just look like some poor little girl, but I'm not. I've experienced a lot more shit than most people do in a life time, and I want some closure on that dark hell of my life. Any of that getting through to you? I don't know who the hell you think you are to tell me what I can and can't do, but news flash: you aren't my father. Which is a good thing, too, because if you were I'd jump through that screen right now and rip your throat out myself.”

She took another step closer, this time leaning close to the screen, so the man behind it could get a good look at her. “I don't expect you to magically find out where my father is hiding or pool all your efforts into making it happen, but you do have better resources than I do, so I could use the help. In the meantime I'll do whatever the hell you want me to do, and I'll do a damn good job of it, probably better than any of those losers waiting outside. Any of that work for you, you little-"

“Alright,” Mockingbird said, finally cutting off Rose's tirade. “Alright. You can work with us. But know this: you do what I say, how I say it, and when I tell you to. Those 'losers' waiting outside, your new teammates? They're in charge in the field. They call the shots. If you can live with that, then I'll find you Deathstroke. I'll find you father.”

Pausing a moment, Rose lifted and eyebrow. "Hmph... fine. Good. There's just one more thing that I need."

Mockingbird sighed, already beginning to regret his change of mind. "And that is...?"

"This base of yours looks pretty safe, at least more secure than the holes I've been living in lately... and there's someone else with me, someone I'm responsible for looking after," Rose said. "She'll need to stay here, too."

"Who?"

"My, uh... sister."

Another long pause. "Your... sister?"

"Yeah, she... well, we're all we have. I'm responsible for keeping her safe, so where I go, she goes. At least, she'll need a safe place to stay whenever I'm out doing... whatever you have me do. I hope that won't be a problem."

"No... no problem."

"Good." Rose then turned from the screen and marched back out of the room, giving a flippant wave. "In that case, I got a few things to do and I'll be back."

When she exited the briefing room and returned to the lobby, those present turned to face her. Grifter in particular stood a little straighter and asked, "So... what's the word, kid?"

"Say hello to your new team member, boys," she said, holding her hands to her hips and giving a little smirk. "And don't call me 'kid'... unless you enjoy broken arms."

Catman groaned slightly, holding a palm to his forehead. "And now the Secret Six is a babysitting service... wonderful."

Rose said nothing as she walked by them, though when she came next to Catman she gave a swift kick directly to the side of his leg. He grunted slightly and toppled against the chair next to him, just barely holding himself up.

"Oh this is going to be real fun..." he muttered, rubbing his leg.

Grifter chuckled under his breath, arms crossing over his chest. "I don't know, I like her."

Ragdoll watched as Rose disappeared, then brought his hands together in a single clap. "Me, too. I've always thought that this team could use a pirate."

Catman huffed out an annoyed groan, then limped away towards the kitchen. "Whatever. I know it's late, but I'm making some dinner. Anyone else hungry?"

"Might as well," Grifter said, with a small shrug, following after the man. "Could use something to wash the taste of alcohol off my breath.

---

Some time later...

"Keep in mind this is probably just temporary," Rose said. She worked on unpacking the few duffel bags full of their belongings, mostly clothes (and one bag of weapons, for Rose).

Her companion--Cassandra Cain, a year younger than Rose herself--sat at the small desk near the bed and studied her stack of flashcards closely. In the past year, those cards had grown from single letters to simple words, such as "cat" or "stop". Most of those words she couldn't say, nor could she read them yet, except a few (Currently, her normal vocabulary consisted of about eight words: "we", "you", "Rose", "stop", "kill", "please", "no", and "ever", though she could manage a few more if she gave it proper thought).

Rose let out a small breath, as she folded a shirt and stuffed it in one of the drawers. "We're just here until I find my dad, which they can help with. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later and we can be on our way again. Where, I don't know..." After Rose found her father and took her revenge, what then? She was supposed to protect Cass, look after her, but could she really expect the two of them to live a normal life, after everything they had been through?

That trail of introspection was abruptly cut short by a knock on the door. Short but polite, three knocks. To the point, yet not brash. "Um, Ravager?" came a feminine, accented voice from the other side of the door.

Rose glanced back at the door, feeling a brief wave of annoyance flow through her. She half expected clown girl to be standing there, but much to her relief that was no the case. She didn't know if she could put up with that freak anymore tonight. Still, she wasn't sure of this Scandal Savage, either. They had just met, after all, and Rose was wary of all new acquaintances, no matter how friendly they tried to be.

"I told you, it's just Rose," she said, folding a pair of jeans against her chest. "I'm not in costume." Rather, she was dressed down in a simple pair of sweatpants and a white T-shirt, her typical sleep attire. Cassandra's attire, meanwhile, consisted of pink pajama pants and a black shirt with a yellow Batman symbol on it—she had picked it out herself, the last time they went shopping.

"Sure, Rose," the Brazilian woman said with a nod, folding her arms across her chest. "I was just wondering how you're settling in—I don't really like to think of myself as den mother, but someone's gotta do it." She then paused, eyes shifting towards Cassandra. "And... who's the kid, by the way? This team isn't exactly rated PG, she may want to keep a blindfold handy. Especially if Ragdoll starts sleepwalking...."

"I've been traveling non stop and living in shitty hotels for the past year," Rose said, with a cursory glance. "Compared to that, this is the Four Seasons as far as I'm concerned. So yeah, we're settling in fine." She sifted back through one of her duffel bags, pulling out her swords, armor, some spare knives, grenades, and an assortment of other weapons that she started to organize on the table nearby.

"And that's Cassandra, or just Cass. She's my... uh, sister." Rose cleared her throat, averting her gaze and digging back through her bag. Sisters... it was just easier to explain that way. She didn't really feel like long, drawn out stories right now. "Don't worry about her, though—our life hasn't exactly been PG. She'll be fine."

Sisters, of course. It might have been over a hundred years since she had traveled Asia, but Scandal could still easily tell the difference between someone of Cambodian descent, and one of Chinese descent. So yes, they were clearly sisters. She supposed they could have had different fathers or mothers, half-sisters... but she wouldn't bet on it.

"I suppose that's for the best," Scandal said. "I hate to see innocence lost—" she turned her gaze back to Cassandra for a moment, leaning her shoulder against the door frame. "—But if it's already gone then I don't suppose I'll complain."

Rose uttered a quiet sigh and bowed her head, staring at the knife in her hands. She flipped it around a couple times, then dropped it next to the others. "Just don't assume you know anything about us, alright? We've been through... a lot." That was an understatement, if there ever was one. "But it's my responsibility to take care of her, got it? I can hope she'll be safe here, but if any one of you do something to hurt her, I will gut you. That's a promise, not a threat."

Cassandra looked up from her flashcards momentarily. She glanced between the two, as if thinking about what to say. Eventually, she came out with, "W... we... l, um... luuuv."

Rose drew her lips into a small smile. "Yeah... that."

"Hmm, cute," Scandal said, half-serious. "Don't worry, kid. We may be criminals but we aren't really bad people. 'Cept maybe me." She snickered playfully before gritting her teeth, bringing her hand to her temple and grinding her palm along it gruffly. Hangover. She had to remember to, when she drank, not drink so bloody much.

"The kid want something to drink, or whatever? I don't think she'll like beer, but I might be able to pilfer one of Bane's protein shakes," the immortal offered after a moment, reopening her eyes as the dehydration pangs settled.

Pausing a moment, Rose looked back to Cass, now busily pouring over her flashcards again. "Uh... maybe just some water, if you got any. Cass?"

The younger girl lifted her gaze again and blinked, head tilting to the side.

"Water?"

A brief pause, followed by a quick nod.

"Yeah, just water."

"Water, then," Scandal said with a soft nod, slipping from the doorway and back into the new House of Secrets. A few moments of cluttering and banging passed before the immortal's voice rang out. "Blake, do we have any bottled water left?!" An even more muffled response returned a second later, and then another minute of time, leaving Rose and Cassandra alone.

Rose glanced calmly towards the open doorway, listening to the shouting from farther within the hideout. Delicacy was clearly not a priority in this group. While she and Cassandra were alone, she removed her white-colored eye patch and set it down on the table next to her gear, revealing a rather nasty combination of scars over where her left eye used to be. Most of it was burns from the explosion that took the eye, but there were also quite a few slashing scars, reminders of the hot glass that had torn into her skull like grenade shrapnel. Simply put, the upper left portion of her face was nothing but a mess of scar tissue.

Finally, Scandal returned, covered with soot and with a small, bleeding cut on her forehead. One extended hand held a glass of water. "Here you go... shouldn't kill her."

Cassandra looked up from her seat and made a quick dash over to the woman. She grabbed the glass with both hands and pulled it to her lips, gulping down most of the contents in a single swig. Then, she returned to her seat and looked back, taking in a breath of air and pausing, thinking. Then, finally, "Th... tha... um... Thhhanka..." Furrowing her brow, she turned back to her flash cards and rifled through them, until pulling up one in particular. "Thank... you."

"Not a problem," Scandal said with a warm smirk. She was never entirely sure what to think of kids. Conflicting natures within her made her unsure whether she should hate them, or find them quaintly adorable. In Cass' case, however, she was already tending towards the latter. "Your sister's cute, Rose."

"Hrm," Rose muttered, as she finally emptied the last of her equipment onto the table. Perhaps tomorrow she would find a more suitable way to organize it all, but it was already far too late. Looking back at Cass, she exhaled a small breath and tried to keep from smiling too much. She failed, though. "Yeah... she is."

A moment later, she opened her mouth in a long yawn stood up, arms stretching outward. "So what do you people do around here, anyway? I mean, when you're not being criminals and stuff."

Scandal took a long swig of the beer that she had surreptitiously swiped during her escapade in the kitchen. "That really depends on the individual, I've found. While Blake watches the Discovery channel and chastises it for not being 'realistic', Peter will be using my old medieval torture equipment to see how far his limbs will stretch. While Bane makes editorial notes on Sun Tzu's Art of War, Harley tries to apply her doctorate to the perfect nacho, and Cole watches porn on the internet." She grinned darkly, finally closing the invisible boundary of the doorway, the one she had not crossed yet. "That was last Sunday. As for me, I'm usually getting drunk or reading. Day in the life of the mysterious Secret Six."

Rose snorted out a half-laugh, half-scoff. "Porn on the internet... why am I not surprised? Remind me to knock before entering any closed doors." Still, aside from whatever that bit was about torture devices, the group seemed fairly normal... for costumed criminals, anyway. She'd have to make a point of chatting with Bane later on. Someone who actively studied things like the Art of War would definitely be worth a conversation or two. Her father had made her read through that book several times, dissecting it backwards and forwards to help with her tactical and strategic mind. "Sorry about your friend, by the way. The clown... um, Harley? Didn't mean to beat her so bad, but, you know, honest mistakes and all. How she feeling?"

"Harley? Hah, she's fine, actually; she's a quick healer. Last I checked she was taking out her frustrations with a video game."

Rose lifted an eyebrow and puffed out a bemused breath. "Video games...? What, is she twelve?"

Scandal smiled slightly. "She can be... quite innocent, at times."

---

“Na na na, na na na, na na na na na NA, na na na, na na na, na na na NA na na!” Harley sang along excitedly with the atmospheric soundtrack as she readied her Ebony Warhammer (gosh, that thing was beautiful). The dragon was coming closer and closer now, swirling around her in mid-air and peppering her with long gouts of fire-breath.

“Aw, stop kitin' me stupidface, come on, bring it! FUS RO DAH--! Aw, crap-- will ya just land already?!” Harley squawked in exasperation, hopping up and down and swinging the warhammer from side to side. The stupid dragon just wasn't landing. “Come taste the fury of the Dragonborn, bozo! See if ya like that! FUS RO-- crap, land ya freakin' stupid lizard!”

“Harleeeeey, I got dinner here if you want any!” came a call from the kitchen, about two doors down the hall from her room. Catman was cooking tonight. Catman always made goofy stuff like bread served with like twenty different kinds of paste.

“I ain't hungryyy!” she squawked back, frantically jamming her fingers down on the buttons of her controller, sending her awkwardly-dressed breton into a frenzy of action. She smirked at the character on the 40” screen in front of her – Scandal had helped her make a mod that turned Cicero's Outfit into a cooler-looking Harlequin costume.

“I made macaroni and cheese!”

Harley's eyes widened. She immediately slammed her thumb onto the start button, leaving the pause menu open as she scrambled from her room. “Macaroni and cheeeeese!” she squealed.

---

"I must say, though, that I am impressed," Scandal continued. "The 'clown' has done some impressive things since she's been here." Scandal winced from another hangover-pang and sat down on the edge of Rose's bed. "What kind of powers and training do you have, anyway? Some kind of meta? You're tough for someone so young."

Rose was quiet a moment, as she stuffed the empty duffel bags beneath the bed. She walked over to the small mirror hanging on the wall and exhaled sharply, staring into her reflection. "I have... a bunch of stuff, I guess. Was trained since I was five by my father in all sorts of martial arts. Karate, ninjutsu, sambo, judo, krav maga, muay thai, you name it I've probably studied it in one form or another, plus a long list of weapons training. I'm also, well, 'enhanced', I suppose you'd call it. Strength, stamina, agility, reflexes, all that. I've never really tested my limits, but I can sprint close to 40 miles per hours at least, for a good hour before I tire, and I can bench about fifteen hundred pounds. On top of that, though, I... see things. Like, little flashes in my head, you know? Attacks, danger, things like that. If you were planning on jumping up from that bed and attacking me, for example, I'd probably already know a good two seconds beforehand."

"I see... you new kids always come in and make my own gimmick seem so tame," the older woman said, her eyes following Rose as the girl bustled around the room. She was built well, for her age, Scandal had to admit, and even though matters such as age had long ago stopped meaning much to her, she still had to cleanse her mind of a few impure thoughts. "Have you ever heard of a man named Vandal Savage?"

Rose looked back over her shoulder, giving the name a long thought. It sounded... familiar, and yet for some reason she couldn't place it. "I'm not sure, actually. I think... my father might have mentioned him once in passing, but I'm afraid I don't remember. Why, is he important or something?"

The auburn-haired woman offered a shrug in return. "He's my father. Also the longest-living human being in existence, and just about every historical figure anyone's ever feared. Kind of a big shadow." A part of her was still annoyed at the fact that she was still, more than anything else, defined by her last name. 'Savage'. She'd always be his daughter, no many how many times they renounced one another.

Rose lifted an eyebrow at the woman. "What, really?" When Scandal didn't so much as twitch, she puffed out a short breath of air and held her hands to her hips. "You're serious... no kidding. So, how old we talking?"

"He used to be a caveman," she said simply, taking another long drag off of her beer and putting one palm on the bed behind her, propping herself on it. "Some kind of magical meteor, I guess."

Rose felt her mouth open a tiny bit in surprise, no words coming out at first. At first, she thought that maybe Scandal was joking... but then, in the world that they lived in, it was hardly impossible, even if hard to believe. "Okay, so... really, really old. I don't suppose you got anything special out of the deal, too, did you?"

"Well, I was born during the Renaissance, if that's any indication." Scandal leaned back a bit more, her eyes turning back to Cassie and her flash cards. Something peculiar about that girl. "So, I've had a lot of time to learn a lot of things. Also, I'm not particularly easy to kill by normal methods, either. I just tend to... well, get better. Pretty quickly."

"Huh, not a bad deal," Rose said, tapping her fingers lightly against her arms. "So you're, what immortal or something? I suppose I'll live longer than normal with this body—it heals pretty fast, too—but nowhere near that long."

She followed the woman's gaze back to Cassandra, who sat still, completely focused on her flashcards with her legs swinging below her on the chair. The girl didn't seem to be paying any attention to the conversation. "You know, um... I don't think I've actually thanked you guys or anything for taking us in, since, well, I'm not big on the whole thanking thing. But... all we have is each other, you know, Cass and I, and we've been on the move a lot. It's nice to have a place we can settle down in... even if only for a while. So, yeah, you know... thanks."

"You're, uh... welcome. The Six does start to feel like a family after a while, even with the new members and whatnot. Despite all the chaos and the bloodshed, the horrible deeds and the cheap booze, we more or less have each other's backs." Scandal breathed in deeply. She considered herself a decent leader, but Rose was different. It seemed more like she needed a mother than a band of cutthroat psychopaths to take care of her. She allowed herself a light snicker at the prospect of siccing Bane on her—at least it'd get him off of her back for a while.

"Family..." Rose muttered. Something she had never really had much of, not for a long, long time. Shaking the thought from her mind, she pushed herself away from the wall and gave Cassandra a little wave towards the bed. "Come on, Cass, time for bed."

The girl flipped through one more flashcard before putting the stack down and then sliding out of her seat to head towards the bed. She stopped momentarily, giving Scandal a long look, as the woman was currently sitting where they would be sleeping.

"Scandal, you mind?" Rose said. "We need to use that bed."

"Yes, I absolutely mind. No bed for you," the woman said playfully as she stood up, smoothing out the blankets where she had been sitting on them and heading for the door. "Goodnight, you two. Don't have too much fun without me."

"Uh... right," Rose said, giving the woman a puzzled look. Too much fun? What? They were just going to sleep... With a small shrug, she pulled the blankets back, allowing Cass to crawl in a second later and curl up in the sheets, eyes closing. Rose followed, pulling the blanket back over them; instantly, Cass reached her arms out and latched them around her midsection, holding tightly. "Later. Hit the light on your way out, would you?"

"Yeah, sure." Scandal paused, reaching for the wall to flick the light before closing the door and heading back out into the 'living room', which had once been the lobby of this strange, clinical new House of Secrets. Hopefully everything turned out well for Rose and the kid, even if it didn't sound like she was searching for her father for hugs and kisses. The woman inhaled steadily and poured herself a rocks-glass full of brandy, drinking about half of it in a single, steep swig.

---

(Have no idea what Rose and Cassandra are doing together? Read Deathstroke and Ravager to find out their story!)

6 Comments

Ravager Respect Thread

So, Rose Wilson, AKA Ravager, has been around for twenty years now, first appearing back in October 1992. While she just started off as Deathstroke's love child, she really grew and developed into an awesome character all her own! After two decades of appearances, she is a badass of the highest order, and has some awesome showings to back it up. This thread is dedicated to all of her badassity (which is only one part of why she's such an awesome character). I've managed to gather scans from most, if not all, of her significant appearances since she first debuted, but if I've missed any please feel free to add some! I've also arranged them in chronological order, as well listing her approzimate age at the time, to get a better understanding of just what an awesome fighter she is.

Note that this does not include her New 52 feats, as those are covered in my Rose Wilson New 52 Feat List.

---------------------------------------

Approx. age: 14

Even when kidnapped, Rose shows retains her cool and shows no pain or fear, while managing to free herself.

Running for her life, Rose takes the fight to her uncle, Wade DeFarge, and shows no mercy in the wake of her mother's death.

Still grieving, Rose takes a walk and settles her nerves by beating the tar out of some thugs.

No one threatens kids while Rose is around.

Rose displays her precognitive abilities for the first time, by seeing into the future.

Approx. age: 15

While training with the Titans, Rose shows off her skill.

When push comes to shove, Rose shows a cold ruthlessness and brutality.

Rose is given the same serum as her father, giving her the same enhanced speed, strength, reflexes, healing, etc. (Though this scan came much later, it took place here as far as in-universe chronology).

Rose makes her debut as the new Ravager.

Though inexperienced, Ravager gives Batgirl (Cassandra Cain), a worthy fight. Although Ravager ultimately loses the fight, Batgirl acknowledges that she will only get better (which she does. A lot).

Approx. age: 16

Deathstroke forces Nightwing (who is posing as a villain at the time) to train his daughter. Under his tutelage, Rose learns a variety of skills and values, and learns that her father is only using her, prompting her to finally run away and be free from his control.

Approx. age: 17

Ravager defends against a rampaging Cyborg.

Rose (partially intoxicated at the time) fights with Wonder Girl before being pulled away by Cyborg.

Ravager saves the rest of the Teen Titans.

Ravager shows off her skill and some of her enhanced attributes.

Ravager gets her rematch with Batgirl, ending with the advantage before the fight is interrupted.

Ravager easily evades Starro-controlled Rampage and Livewire, then helps free them with Kid Devil.

Ravager shows off some acrobatics.

Ravager sets a trap for, and captures, Batgirl and Marquee.

Ravager manhandles Copperhead, Dreadbolt, and Persuader, shows off how strong her precog ability is, and gives it her all to defend her home.

Ravager sneaks into the Terror Titans' hideout.

Ravager to the rescue!

Ravager defeats Fever, the former Dark Side Club chamption, in one kick.

Ravager stomps the Terror Titans (Copperhead, Dreadbolt, Persuader, and Disruptor) in what she calls 'a warm up'. (To put that into perspective, the Terror Titans previously defeated the team of Aquagirl, Terra, Offspring, Molecule, Zacharay Zatara, and Star Spangled Kid, as seen below).

Ravager defeats TNTeena.

Ravager defeats Aquagirl.

Ravager holds her own against a bloodlusted Static, and shows little actual damage in spite of taking a direct hit (Also apparently loses the fight, even though she wasn't hurt... I guess rules say you lose if you get knocked down?)

Ravager defeats Clock King (whose precognitive abilities surpass even her own).

With some prep, Ravager defeats both Bombshell and then Wonder Girl in short order.

Don't get on Rose's bad side, if you know what's good for you.

Ravager foresees an attack on her hideout, makes a brutal counter attack, and then escapes.

Ravager holds her breath for a very long time, while enduring subzero temperatures below the frozen lake, and makes use of survival skills to keep from freezing to death.

Ravager shows off her incredible strength by snapping her restraints (while already drugged and weakened at the time).

Her driving (and crashing) skills are top notch.

Ravager displays her superhuman agility and acrobatics to dismantle a group of slavers, and proves once again that you do not f**k with innocent women and children in her presence.

Ravager gives everything she has to save a group of captured women and children.

Ravager comes to terms with who she is, who she wants to be, and decides to live by her own personal morals.

Ravager defeats Deathstroke (who might not have been giving it his all, but still).

Ravager, along with Deathstroke, holds her own against Black Lanterns.

Approx. age: 18

Ravager and Robin lay the smackdown on a horde of crazed zombie kids.

Ravager easily outfights Persuader and Indigo.

Evil Superboy clone? No problem.

13 Comments

DC Mayhem Mini: Renee Montoya #2

The second chapter of the DC Mayhem mini series starring Renee Montoya. You can catch the first chapter here! Remember that this is a direct spin off of the Riddle Me This series, so be sure to read that as well!

----------------------

Ten years ago...

Cheers and applause erupted throughout the stands of the high school football field. There was nothing quite like a homecoming game to excite the crowd. It did help when the home team was up by twenty points going into the final quarter, of course. Benny Montoya stood near the edge of the sidelines, in front of the stands but behind where the players stood. He had always loved football, and wanted to get as close a view as possible.

“Can you believe this, man?” said one of his friends, standing nearby. “We're totally wrecking them!”

“Yeah, no kidding,” he replied, grinning. “Just fifteen minutes to go, too.”

“Say, where's that sister of yours?” his other friend asked. “Thought she was a fan?”

Benny shrugged. “I saw her earlier, but I think she left early or something. Seemed to be in a hurry.”

“Ah, sucks, was hoping to see her.”

“Yeah, man, your sister's totally hot.”

Benny groaned, rolling his eyes a little. This was far from the first time he had to hear his friends commenting on how hot his sister was. He remained quiet, though, allowing the subject to drop; it was hardly something he wanted to talk about. As the fourth quarter began on the field, however, a low grumble bellowed in his stomach.

“Ugh, hey I'm gonna grab a burger at the snack shack,” he said, pushing his way back through the others gathered near the field. “Be right back.”

Making his way through the crowd, Benny headed towards the small snack shack, just a short walk a way from the stands. As he did, however, he caught sight of someone familiar running around out of view behind the stands. With a quick turn of the head, he recognized it as his sister, Renee, before she disappeared.

I thought she left...

Suddenly, the grumbling in his stomach was forgotten, overwhelmed by a growing curiosity. He took one brief look back at the field, then hurried back around the stands, actually ending up in the heavily shadowed area beneath them. Since the stands were built right up against a sheer embankment, there was no open space behind them, just a natural, earthy wall.

At first glance, he didn't see anything there beneath the bleachers, not until he neared the far end. There, he saw what looked like two figures closely embraced, faces pressed close together.

Oh, shit.

His first instinct was to quickly make his retreat before being noticed; after all, what kind of brother would he be if he interrupted his sister and what could only be a new boyfriend? It was hardly any of his business. She was eighteen, a senior, and perfectly capable of making her own decisions.

But then, he gave the scene a closer look... and when he realized who she was kissing, his heart thumped up into his throat. “Renee!”

Renee recoiled, pulling back and turning behind her. When she did, the person embracing her pulled away, as well: Bethany Smith, Renee's 'best friend'.

“Benny!” she proclaimed. “What are you doing?”

“What am I doing? What are you doing?!” He gave Bethany a quick look before turning his attention back on his sister and continuing in Spanish. “<You're kissing a girl!>”

Renee faltered, eyes flickering as if she were trying to think up an excuse. “<This isn't... it's not what it looks like!>”

“<Then what the hell is it>?” Benny may have only been fifteen, but he wasn't stupid. It was pretty clear what this was. “<Renee... are you gay?>

“<N-No! I'm not- >”

“<Because mom and dad say that gay people-- You know how they feel about-->”

“<Benny, I'm not gay>!” Renee snapped. “<I'm just... this is just...>”

He folded his arms over his chest, glaring. “<You're just what?>”

“<I'm just... practicing,>” she said. <“You know... for boys. Since I've never kissed a boy before, Beth was just... showing me how. You know? It's not like we were... I mean it's just practice. Just... a phase.>”

Benny lifted an eyebrow, looking back and forth between the two girls. “Just... practice?”

“Uh... well, yeah,” Bethany assured, with a little laugh. “I mean, what did you think, that we were-- ha, no... no, we're not, no.”

“That's... boys don't do that,” Benny muttered.

Renee cleared her throat and shifted her weight uneasily. “It's a girl thing, Benny. You wouldn't understand. But, you know... don't tell Mom and Pop either way, alright? They wouldn't understand, either. You know how they get...”

“Uh huh,” he said, nodding slowly. “Yeah, they... they'd totally freak.” He paused a moment, then looked back the way he came and started walking away. “Sorry, Renee, I just... you know it looked like... and I'm just gonna go.”

“Uh... yeah, later.” When he was gone, Renee bowed her head and huffed out a relieved breath. Whether he just didn't want to believe that she was gay, or if he was actually that naïve, he bought it.

“That was close,” Bethany said. “Really, really close.”

“Yeah... and you know what this means, now.”

“What's that?”

Renee sighed, rolling her eyes. “I'm gonna have to get a fake boyfriend.”

---

Present Day...

“Renee, what the hell is going on?!” Benny shouted. He ignored the stares from the passersby. Right now, he focused only on his sister standing across from him, and the girl hanging off her arm.

“Benny, this isn't--”

“Don't tell me it's not what it looks like! I'm not fifteen anymore!” A few more people passing them on the sidewalk gave awkward stares, then quickly hurried past them. Benny still didn't care. “You going to tell me it's just another 'phase'? You really expect me to believe that again?”

Renee swallowed, jaw tightening. This was not what she needed right now. She was a little more than buzzed, and if they kept shouting at each other she was bound to do or say something she regretted.

“Uh, h-hey,” Stacy uttered, turning to Renee. She was trying her hardest not to shrink behind the older woman and hide, as nervous as she was. “What's going... I mean, who's--”

“You stay out of this!” Benny snapped, pointing a finger at her.

Renee shot forward, shoving his finger away. “Hey! You don't talk to her like that!”

Pulling his hand back, Benny glared at his sister again. “<Just admit what this is, Renee!>”

“Benny-”

<Just say it!>”

“<Fine!>” she declared, throwing her hands up. “<I'm gay, alright?! I like women! You happy?>”

He went quiet, jaw quivering as if to say something. He said nothing, though, not at first, instead pulling back and rubbing his fingers against the bridge of his nose. His date, Rebecca, took a step towards him but he held a hand up, forcing her back.

“<I... didn't believe it back then because I didn't want to...>” he said finally, sighing. “<But I was always afraid it might still be true. Goddamn it... why the hell would you do this, Renee? Why would you choose this?>”

“<Choose it? Who the hell says I chose anything?>” Renee folded her arms. “<This is just how I am, how I've always been.>”

“<You chose to pursue it! You could have just... just let it go, but here you are tonguing another woman, anyway! If mom and dad ever found out, you know what that would do to them?>” He suddenly paused, eyes going wide. “<Wait, they... they don't know, do they?>”

Renee groaned, holding her head in her hand. “<No, no they don't know. And you can't tell them.>”

“<I'm not going to tell them, Renee,>” he said, with a sharp breath. “<And neither should you. You'll destroy them if you do.>”

“<I'm not going to tell them...>” she uttered, turning her gaze away. She wrapped her arms around herself, a seemingly desperate attempt to gain a little warmth in the chilly night air. In reality, she just needed the embrace, even if it was her own.

Standing off to the side now, Stacy looked back and forth between the two siblings, not understanding a word of what they were saying and still not really sure what was going on. With a tiny sigh, she glanced over to the equally confused Rebecca. “So, uh... nice night, huh?”

“Oh, uh... yeah,” Rebecca said, looking away uneasily. “Nice night...”

Benny gave another disappointed breath and shook his head, then turned from Renee and put his arm around Rebecca's waist, leading her away. “<If you know what's good for you, and for your family, you'll stop this. See you around.>”

Once they were gone, Stacy moved next to Renee. “Hey... what was all that about?”

Taking in a deep breath, Renee swallowed a tight knot, doing everything she could to keep on a straight, strong face for Stacy. God, she couldn't start crying now, not over this. “That was just... that was my brother, and...”

She didn't need to finish the sentence, Stacy understood. “Oh.... oh. I'm sorry, I didn't... I mean, I-”

“It's fine,” she said, shaking her head. Putting an arm around the girl's shoulders, Renee led them back down the sidewalk. “Let's just... go back to your place. I need some sleep.”

---

Two days later...

Renee walked up to the door of the apartment with her gaze pointed at the floor, hands stuffed in her pockets, and mind lost in another place. She should have been by to check on Nigma sooner, probably, but she honestly hadn't been in the mood to put up with him. If not for a call from Gordon, she likely wouldn't have left her apartment today at all. But now here she was, standing outside of the home of the new 'reformed' Edward Nigma, formerly The Riddler.

“It's open,” a voice came from inside, as she knocked on the door.

With a small sigh, she turned the knob and pushed her way into the apartment. The place was still a wreck, at least by normal standards. Her own apartment was nothing special, but this particular one was the epitome of run down. And it still cost $800 a month?

Walking past a couple of old take out containers left haphazardly on the coffee table, she made her way over to the kitchen table, where Edward sat hunched over his laptop and typing away like a madman. He looked... tired, exhausted even, and he kept muttering to himself under his breath incoherently, his words stringing together in a way that almost didn't make sense.

It wasn't until she sat down across from him that he finally glanced up for a moment to say, “Ah, Miss Montoya, how good of you to show up at last.”

“What are you doing?”

Bringing his attention back to his computer, he replied, “Trying to figure out who thinks they can out-riddle the great Detective Nigma.”

Renee lifted an eyebrow. “Um... what?”

“Not long ago, I received a very mysterious message sent to me on my laptop,” he explained. “But not just sent—hacked. Whoever sent it is covering his tracks pretty well, but we'll see just how well soon enough.”

“That's... great,” Renee muttered, leaning back in her seat. She tapped her fingers idly against the table, gaze drifting aimlessly around the room.

“So, aren't you supposed to be asking how I'm doing, seeing if I'm staying out of trouble, all that? I know you're nothing more than a glorified babysitter right now, but I'd think even you would show some kind of enthusiasm for your work.”

She rolled her eyes, arms crossing over her chest. “Not now, alright, Nigma? Not in the mood. Gordon wanted me here today, so I'm here. That's it.”

“Hrm,” he muttered, glancing up from the screen. “Irritable, defensive, yes, passiveaggressiveanduncaring-”

His words melded together again, making no sense to Renee. She ignored him, though, instead getting up from her seat and walking over to the couch. After a short few moments of searching she found the remote for the tiny television in front of her and turned it on... only to be met with a screen of static.

“Damn it!” she said, dropping her head back against the couch. She couldn't even watch TV while stuck in this place!

“If I didn't know any better, I'd say something was bothering you,” Edward said.

“Gee, what gave it away?”

“Hmm.” He uttered a small breath and frowned at the computer screen, pausing his fingers. A moment later, he started typing again. “So what's wrong? Someone discover your penchant for the fairer sex?”

Renee's head lifted abruptly from the couch, as she turned to stare at the man, eyebrows lifted. “You-- how did you--”

“Please, Miss Montoya,” he said, with a flippant wave of the hand. “You're not the only detective in the room. Besides, it's not like you were hiding it very well to begin with.”

Finding herself at a loss for words, she lowered her head into her hands and huffed out a tired groan.

“You know, the closet is a pretty lonely place, from what I've seen. You really should just come out, make it easier on yourself.”

“I can't do that,” she muttered, looking away. “My parents...”

“Ah, the parents.” Edward again looked up from his computer, this time stopping his fingers and leaning forward to look at her. “Let me guess, devoutly Catholic, ignorant, hateful, always wondering why you never have a boyfriend?”

Renee frowned, feeling her heart climbing higher into her throat. “That's... one way to put it, yeah.”

“Hmm, yes, I see... the plot thickens.”

A long silence passed between the pair, the only sound being the continued clack-clack-clacking of Edward's keyboard. Renee leaned forward on the couch, elbows resting against her knees. She stared at the old floorboards until her vision began to blur, then finally closed her eyes and hung her head.

“I just... hate having this secret,” she said. “A secret I can't tell to anyone.”

“In my own experience, secrets cause nothing but problems,” Edward said, absently licking his top lip as he drew his face closer to the screen. “If you ask my opinion--”

“I didn't.”

“--it's best to put it all out there.”

Renee turned her head, sighing again. “And what would that accomplish, huh? The only thing it would do is kill my parents. That's just what I need, them wondering how they failed as parents... or telling me I'm going to Hell when I die.”

“Well, for what it's worth I couldn't care less about your personal preferences.” Leaning on one arm, he puffed out a tired breath and rubbed his eyes. In a small whisper, he muttered, “Oh yes, you're good... but I'll find you.”

Unable to think of a response, Renee stood up from the couch and shoved her hands back into her jean pockets. She stood there for a bit, just staring at the static on the television screen, then finally started pacing around the small apartment, examining things. Nothing really caught her interest until she happened by the waste bin near the table. Looking down into it, she noticed that it was empty save for a needle and syringe at the bottom.

“Speaking of secrets...” she said, bending down to pick up the syringe, “you're supposed to be getting clean, Nigma. What, two days on the job and you're giving up already?” Her tone soured, as she grabbed the needle and straightened herself. “Super villain, junkie, you're all the-” She stopped, however, when she realized that the syringe was still full; it hadn't been used. “...same.”

“Noticed that I didn't use it?” Edward asked, glancing up from his screen again. “I've been trying to kick the stuff... succeeding for the most part. But it's not, well...”

“It's not easy... I know.”

Tilting his head to the side, Edward raised his eyebrows. “Why Miss Montoya, I didn't take you for a druggie.”

“Alcohol,” she muttered, dropping the needle back into the basket. “I was... I drank a lot some years back. Was in a bad place, depressed. Fortunately, I had some people help me out that rut.. I manage my drinking a lot better now.” She stared at the syringe for a few moments, then lifted her gaze back to the man at the table. “Give it to me.”

“What?”

“Your stash.”

“Please, don't insult me,” Edward said, with an amused chortle. “You really think I'd keep a stash here, at my apartment? I use a dead drop, naturally.”

Renee said nothing, but held her hands to her hips and stared him down. Her expression, nor her posture, budged an inch. Somewhere in the back of her head, Gordon's words echoed: If there's anyone he can't BS, it's you.

Finally, Edward released a tired breath and bowed his head. He rubbed his eyes for a moment, then slid off his seat and walked over to one of the cupboards in the kitchen. Opening it, he pulled out a rolled up paper bag and then stuffed it into Renee's awaiting hands. “Actually, I think this might be for the best... I am serious, you know. About getting things right this time.”

“Yeah... we'll see.” Unrolling the paper bag, Renee leaned back over the waste bin and grabbed the needle, then dropped it inside. “I'm going to dispose of this... I suppose I'll be back.”

“As you say, Miss Montoya,” he replied, sitting back in front of his laptop.

As she reached the front door, she stopped, hand on the knob. Exhaling a long breath, she looked back over her shoulder and said, “For the record... it's just Renee.”

Edward flicked his eyes up at her, head lifting ever so slightly. “Of course... Renee. And, likewise, it's Eddie.”

Renee opened the door, hesitating before going through it. With a small nod, she finally turned and left. “Eddie.”

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