By Ravager4 7 Comments
This story is part of the DC Mayhem continuity
Continued from Guardian of Earth #3
“Keep it up!” said the Green Lantern known as John Stewart. He fired off another aerial assault, creating a series of incoming missiles with his power ring. The rockets scattered in a wide burst, covering a rather large spread. Were they to impact the ground, the damage they could cause would be immense to the surrounding training grounds, let alone his opponent.
But they never would impact. One by one they exploded in mid air, green lasers puncturing them in rapid succession. Within seconds, every single missile had detonated prematurely and harmlessly overhead. With a little smirk, Barbara Gordon (the one who had fired each beam from her own power ring) folded her arms and shifted her weight to the side. She then casually blew away a faint wisp from her ring that she had purposefully created for added effect, as if a smoking gun.
“Well, I'd say your accuracy is improving...” John muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. “Want to go again?”
“Do you think I need to?”
“Well, your efficiency is only at ninety eight percent, so there' s still room for improvement.”
Barbara lifted an unamused eyebrow. “And that two percent was back five months ago when I first started.”
“Well, uh... doesn't hurt to be thorough.” John cleared his throat, then brought his hands to his hips and shrugged. “But you're right, that's probably enough for today anyway. I'd say you're plenty up to speed with the other new recruits... a lot more so, actually.”
“It's the photographic memory,” Barbara said, tapping the side of her head. “Helps with a lot of that.” She then paused a moment, as if thinking about something. With a sudden smile, she added, “Oh, we haven't done any close range combat training yet today.”
As soon as it was mentioned, John instinctively shuddered and brought a careful hand up to his jaw. He rubbed. “Yeah, about that... I'd say you're good in that area. Really... really good.”
Barbara tried to stifle back a chuckle, but failed miserably. “Ah, tired of getting your behind handed to you by a girl, is that it? I see how it is.”
She had never met much of John back on earth, even with all her years as part of the super hero community, and even as an acting member of the Justice League as Oracle. Really, all she had known about him was just 'another Green Lantern'. Seeing as how they were mostly off world, it left little room to get to know any of them, and she was pretty sure that she had seen less of John than any of the others.
Now that she had spent five months training with him on Oa, however, she was almost surprised at how normal he was. A little stern and serious a lot of the time, sure, but he had an almost brotherly air about him that Barbara liked a lot. He could even crack a joke or two when he was in the mood, even if they were pretty bad.
“Joke all you want, but I swear I've never fought better up close and personal like that... save maybe a small handful of other Lanterns. Kilowog comes to mind...” John's thoughts drifted away momentarily, until finally he pulled himself back with a sigh. “All I can say is I pray I never meet another eskrima master without my ring to back me up.”
“Heh, yeah a lot of people have trouble against that,” Barbara said. “The thing they don't tell you about it is that 'eskrima' translates roughly to 'beat the crap out of you with sticks'.”
Before John could reply, another voice called out from above. “Hey guys, already started training with out me? That's cool, I needed the extra Z's anyway.”
When Barbara looked up to see the new arrival, she uttered a quiet groan and just as quickly bowed her gaze again. If ever 'self-absorbed' had physical personification, it was Guy Gardner. Though she wouldn't try to argue against him being a skilled Lantern... most of the time, she largely preferred working with John, for obvious reasons.
“And how is my favorite Green Lantern this morning?” Guy said, as he floated down to ground level.
John let out his own audible sigh. “Guy, now's not-”
“For the record, that question wasn't directed at you, buddy,” Guy said, giving the other Lantern an elbow nudge to the ribs. “Was talking to Babs, you understand.”
Barbara frowned. “What have I told you about calling me Babs?”
“If I remember correctly, something about only you friends calling you Babs,” Guy said, holding a contemplative hand to his chin. “And you know what, you're absolutely right. I should have guessed you wanted to be more than friends, I can see it in your eyes. I'm thinking... Barb.”
“Alright, I see how it is,” Guy said, holding his hands up in defeat. “We'll just have to go with 'Hunny'.”
Planting her hands on her hips, Barbara deepened her frown and lifted an unamused eyebrow at him. A second later, a giant hand construct erupted from her ring and situated right in front of Guy in a 'flick' position.
“Oh, man...” Guy said, eyes widening a little. “This is gonna- oof!”
The construct abruptly flicked him through the air, disappearing into the clouds as a tiny green speck. Several seconds later, he came zooming back towards them with a hand held to his head and a dazed look on his faze. “Okay, okay,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Point taken.”
“So anyway... is there some sort of test now, or what?” Barbara said, looking back to John. “Who decides when I'm ready to go back to Earth?”
“No, no test or anything like that,” John said. “Your training is completed as determined by your peers, the ones training you.”
“That means us,” Guy added, pointing both his thumbs at himself. “And you, my gorgeous friend, have passed with flying colors. Or, just one col- 'cuz the green. You know.”
Barbara pursed her lips and took a few steps back, looking up to the sky. “Well, then where's Sinestro? He trained me, too, even if he was a lot more...”
“Brutal?” John suggested.
Guy nodded. “Sadistic?”
“I was going to say strict... but yeah, those work, too.”
“Sinestro's gone back to his home planet, Korugar, for now,” John explained. “He was long overdue for another patrol run, anyway, went to relieve his sector's other Lantern.”
At the mention of that sector's 'other Lantern', Guy gave the man a sidelong look and grinned. “Ah, yeah that's right. Katma.” He chuckled, nudging his elbow into John's ribs. “You dog.”
“Who's Katma?” Barbara asked.
“Katma Tui,” John said, clearing his throat. “She's the second Green Lantern of Sector 1417. We're, uh... sort of engaged.”
Barbara let out a tiny laugh, raising her eyebrows. “Oh! That's great, congratulations. Funny how you never mentioned her in five months.”
John shrugged. “It never really came up. Ceremony is next month, though. Right here on Oa, actually. You're welcome to stick around before heading home.”
Giving a wide smile, she folded her arms across her chest and gave a firm nod. “It'd be an honor.”
As Sinestro came out of faster than light travel and descended into the atmosphere of Korugar, he let out a long sigh and gradually slowed down to a cruising speed. As much as he enjoyed his time on Oa and in deep space, he still had a place for his home world, and there wasn't anything quite like returning to it after a long time away. People often said he was disagreeable, or just naturally cruel. True, he was not the most pleasant person to be around at times, but even he could be docile and at peace on occasion. Coming home to Korugar often did that for him—he had his family to thank for that.
Yet, as he neared Korugar City, something felt wrong. The buildings came into sight normally enough, tall pointed spires rising like daggers into the sky. Their glossy surfaces reflected a powerful glare in his direction, forcing him to shield his eyes as he grew closer. When he drew closer, however, to a point where the glare no longer affected him, he saw nothing, heard nothing. The citizens of Korugar city... they were nowhere to be seen.
This didn't make any sense. The city never slowed down, no matter what time of day. It was the busiest center on the entire planet. How could it be empty? He flew faster now, zipping between the city buildings. That's when he noticed it: a dark black burn mark on the side of the spire next to him. He stopped, turning to inspect it closely. It looked as though some kind of blast had exploded against the siding...
“Great Divines...” he uttered, eyes going wide. He saw more than just the one blast now. There were dozens—no, hundreds—of similar markings all through the city. Not only the burnt markings, but also rent open gaps in walls, exploded portions of streets, and even the central bridge had crumbled. Now that he took a careful view of the entire city, he could see the destruction all around him... but still no people.
Until he looked down, really focusing on the streets. What he had at first passed off as debris now took on completely different shapes. Bodies, thousands of them, littered about the city like rag dolls. They lay twisted, broken, motionless, frozen horror plastered upon their lifeless faces.
All of Korugar City was dead.
In a sudden panic, Sinestro took off like a rocket, flying across the sky towards the western end of the city. Slipping through a narrow gap between two buildings, he took a sharp turn and burst through the open window of his home.
“Arin!” he called. “Soranik!”
He went to call for his family again, but the words caught suddenly in his throat when he noticed the condition of his home—charred, ransacked, portions of the ceiling collapsed, shattered glass. Papers and furniture lay scattered all throughout the house. Even his prized Thorin tusk was in pieces, shattered in the center of the floor. But where was-
Sinestro's voice fell cold and quiet as he saw a pair of legs sticking out from behind the central partition. After standing there a long moment with a blank stare on his face, he marched forward around the partition to discover exactly what he feared. Arin Sur, his wife, lay motionless in the hallway. He dropped to his knees at her side to inspect her; a cauterized hole punctured through the entirety of her chest and out the other side. No blood, no mess... just the ice cold chill of death.
He said nothing, as he leaned forward to hold her, take her in his arms, bowing his forehead against hers. The last time he had ever shed a tear was the day their daughter had been born, and never before that. He found it difficult for even his unpleasant heart to hold it in now.
But he would not get a chance to grieve, as he heard someone enter through the window of the gathering room. Instantly, he went into defensive mode, pressing himself back against the wall, waiting a moment, and then lunging around the corner with his ring at the lead. A giant green, clawed hand lashed out from the ring and grabbed the figure standing in his home. When he realized who it was, however, he dispersed the construct.
“Sinestro...” she uttered, barely holding herself up on two feel. Her uniform was torn, left arm twisted and broken, knees shook, and blood streamed down the side of her face. How she was still standing was anyone's guess.
“Katma!” he called, hurrying to her side. She slumped against him a moment later, losing all strength in her legs. “Katma, what happened here?!”
A bloody cough sprayed out from the Lantern's throat, a pained groan following. “Th- they came... tried to.. to stop them... killed every... everyone.”
“What do you mean everyone?” Sinestro said, eyes flickering with concern. “My daughter... Katma, have you seen Sora?”
“Sh.. she...” Her words faded out, and it took several shaky breaths for Katma Tui to finally speak again. “They... they're coming, Thaal... been... running.. so long... can't...”
“Who's coming?” No answer. Sinestro's heart thumped harder in his chest. “Katma, who are 'they'?!”
The side wall to his home abruptly exploded inward, sending a field of stone shrapnel tearing through the air. A bubble construct instantly formed itself around the two Lanterns, emanating from Sinestro's ring. He strained his eyes against the translucent green barrier to see what had caused the violent display. Against the bright sun behind the figures, he heard them before his vision adjusted.
And then, finally, he was able to see his attackers, as they brought both hands to their power staffs. “No... not possible.”
In unison, their metallic voices echoed between his ears. “No man escapes the Manhunters.”
For the first time in his life, Sinestro found himself stricken with something he had long since overcome, something he had long since removed from his heart. It tore through his body, rooted him to the spot as the automatons moved in on him. He almost didn't even know what it was, until, as his heart seized in his chest, he realized...
It was fear.