“Your ride?” Static said, clarifying what the Thunderbolt had said to him. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean.”
“My… brother has been in contact with me,” Death told the boys.
“Man,” Static remarked, “for someone who is supposed to be a prisoner, he sure seems to have a lot of freedom.”
“Morpheus could have ended this as soon as it started,” said Death, “but Teggarimor needed to be taught a lesson. By allowing children — the very ones he threatens — to be the instruments of his defeat, my brother believes that he will not soon attempt something like this again.”
“But what does he mean about my being his…?” Static began, when the answer suddenly came to him. “Oh, I get it.”
Death smiled warmly at the boy. “Since the usurper believes Cei-U to be dead, he assumes the Thunderbolt is lost to him.”
“And that means we’re going to sneak him back into the fight,” the Sleeper said, grinning.
Death looked at Cei-U. “Once when you were young, we met, and I gave you a command.” The Thunderbolt gave her a curious look. “Why do you think it is so hard for you to kill?”
“I always thought it was because I was one of the good guys,” Cei-U said. “That, plus the fact that one of the elders once told me it was prohibited.”
The girl gave him a knowing smile. “I was that elder,” she told him. “I know the manner in which all men shall enter my realm…”
The Sleeper and Static exchanged glances.
“…and none are to die by your hand,” Death continued. “I now give you another command.”
“Pardon me for asking, but — how is it that you can command me?” Cei-U wondered.
“Death has the final say in all things,” was her only answer.
Death gently placed her hand on the Thunderbolt’s shoulder. “You are commanded to never let Teggarimor possess Johnny Thunder’s mind again.”
Cei-U smiled. “Now that’s one command I will gladly obey.”
“Not to interrupt,” said Sandy Hawkins, “but shouldn’t we be going?”
“Of course,” Death agreed. She looked at Static. “Jeffrey, if you please.”
Jeffrey Pierce stepped up to Cei-U and stretched out his hands, and the Thunderbolt did likewise. As their fingertips touched, Static closed his eyes and began to concentrate. If time had existed in Death’s realm, several seconds would have passed before the evidence of Static’s attempts would manifest.
Where their fingertips met, tiny arcs of pink lightning began to leap from the Thunderbolt to the young hero. Soon the tiny arcs became a steady stream as Cei-U felt himself being drawn into Static. His first reaction was to resist, but once he opened himself up to the boy’s power, the steady stream became a torrent. Almost immediately, he vanished.
When Static finally lowered his hands and opened his eyes, he turned to the Sleeper and grinned. “Whoa.”
“I’ve seen some pretty wild stuff while hanging around with the Justice Society and the Young All-Stars,” the Sleeper remarked, “but this pretty much tops them all.”
Static’s lips began to move again, but it was Cei-U’s voice that issued forth. “I believe I might just have to agree.”
“Although you are welcome to stay as long as you wish,” said Death, “it is time to go to your friends and draw this matter to its rightful end.”
The Man of Steel lightly touched down in front of the brownstone that housed the headquarters of the Justice Society and went inside. Upon entering, he noticed that a few of his teammates were missing — Doctor Fate, Johnny Thunder, and the Sandman — and a few non-members were there in their stead.
“Miss Terrific,” he said as he approached the young woman standing and talking to Wildcat and the Atom. At the mention of her name, Miss Terrific turned around and, smiling, gave Superman a hug. “What brings you to our little gathering?” he asked her as she stepped back.
“I was just telling Ted and Al about something that happened at one of the daycare centers. One of the children attacked a worker.”
Superman’s mouth dropped open. “That’s horrible. If there is anything I can do to help…”
“Thanks,” she said, “but Child Welfare is looking into it.”
The Man of Steel made small talk for a few more seconds before excusing himself. Another visitor had caught his attention. “William Twotrees?” he said. “My, but this is a surprise.”
“Johnny Thunder has laryngitis,” Twotrees said, “and I felt that I should offer my services.”
“That’s odd,” said Green Lantern. “Inza told Molly that Kent had a headache that nothing could get rid of.”
“What about the Sandman?” Superman asked.
“No one has heard from him,” Hawkman spoke up, “but then again, he’s always been as mysterious as Batman was at times.”
Superman glanced back at the doorway. “Red Robin and Power Girl should be here any moment.” As if on cue, the two entered.
“I hated to do that to them,” the Spectre said as he watched the gathering from a dimension separate from material world.
“THOU HAST DONE AS YOU WERE BID.”
The Voice had come from everywhere and nowhere. Despite his power, the Spectre was still bound to his higher calling.
“I just don’t understand. With the combined might of my allies, we could have halted this threat to my children.”
“THERE IS MORE TO THIS THAN JUST YOUR CHILDREN.”
The Spectre bristled at this but wisely said nothing.
“I KNOW YOUR DESIRE IS TO KEEP THEM SAFE, BUT RIGHT NOW THEY HAVE OTHER GUARDIANS. I KNOW THE PAIN OF LOSING A CHILD, SO I WILL OVERLOOK THIS BRASH ACT.”
Both the Voice and the Spectre were silent for a moment.
“THIS MENACE WILL BE DEALT WITH, BUT NOT BY YOU OR YOUR FRIENDS.”
The Voice went silent, and the Spectre felt the Presence depart. He watched his friends a moment longer until he felt a peace enter him. With a sigh, he turned away. As he did so, the pale white of his flesh regained its earthly hue, and his flowing green cloak became a suit once again. Without looking back, Jim Corrigan stepped out of this realm and into his living room.
Despite the fact that he had scoured the entire city, it didn’t take Whiz Kid long to find Batwing. Of course, he realized that if he would have initially looked up, he would not have wasted all of those seconds.
“Looking for me?” Batwing asked as his teammate ran up the outer wall of the converted warehouse.
Whiz Kid sat down beside him and let his feet dangle over the edge of the roof. “Yeah. You OK?”
“I… guess,” Batwing replied. “I bet I’m not real popular inside right now, am I?”
Whiz Kid gave him a sheepish grin. “We all said stuff without thinking.”
Batwing turned and looked at his friend. “I just wish Amanda wouldn’t have jumped on me like that. I didn’t mean to bite her head off, either, but I still have a problem with people telling me what I’m supposed to be.”
“Red Robin does it all the time,” Whiz Kid said.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Batwing said with a grin of his own, “but he can kick my butt from here to Hollywood and back.”
Both boys laughed.
“So why were you looking for me?” Batwing asked.
“To tell you that Ralph’s awake.”
Batwing’s eyes lit up as he climbed to his feet. “Finally, some good news. Well, let’s go talk to him.”
Stepping to the edge of the roof, the young hero dived off, executing a perfect midair somersault, then bounced off a trash bin below and landed gracefully on his feet. He smiled up at Whiz Kid.
“Showoff,” his friend said. Whiz Kid then stepped off the roof and — wiggling his hands in tight circles at a high rate of speed — generated a cushion of air that lowered him safely to the ground.
Batwing just shook his head.
Everyone half-expected another showdown when the two boys re-entered the lab. Without realizing what she was doing, Amanda Martin closed her hand tightly around her sapphire.
“Here it comes,” Coral whispered to no one in particular as Batwing approached Star Sapphire and took her by the arm.
“We need to talk,” he said softly. Amanda nodded and allowed him to lead her into another room.
Once they were alone, Batwing released her arm and began to pace. She waited patiently, hoping to prevent a repeat of what had happened moments before.
“This… isn’t easy for me,” he said as he stopped in front of her. “I’ve been trying live up to everyone’s expectations, you know — be the hero. It’s just that sometimes the ‘old me’ comes out, and I forget I don’t live that life anymore.” He looked at her for a moment. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“Oddly enough, I do,” Amanda told him. “Jason, I didn’t mean to push you like that, but when I saw Grant, well — something inside me just snapped.”
“Speaking of Grant, where is he?”
“Right after our fight, he came running out looking for the bathroom. He looked pretty sick.”
Jason Todd thought about that for a moment. “I’ll have a talk with him. I realize introducing him to alcohol was probably was the dumbest thing I’ve done since I became Batwing.”
Amanda put her hand on Jason’s arm. “The team looks up to you, I look up to you, and this just caught us by surprise. Hopefully, Grant is sick enough that he has had his fill of beer.”
“Oh, man,” Batwing said with a pained expression.
“What’s the matter?” Amanda asked.
“Red Robin is going to kill me when he finds out, not to mention what Grant’s dad is going to say.”
“Don’t worry,” she reassured him. “I’ll have a talk with the rest of the team. We’ll keep this to ourselves, if you promise not to do something like this again.”
“Oh, believe me — you have nothing to worry about.” As turned away, Jason touched her shoulder. “And, Amanda?”
“Come on,” she said, “you have to hear what Ralph has to say.”
“Something’s happened,” said Wesley Dodds.
“A veil has been placed around your friends — they no longer perceive the threat.”
The man in the trench coat began to mentally struggle against his restraints. “Where did Teggarimor gain such power?”
“It was not Teggarimor. This is the work of the Spectre.”
Morpheus cut his dreamer off. “He was acting on the authority of a Higher Power.”
“Oh,” was all Wes could say.
“The veil is only temporary — at the proper time it shall be lifted, and your friends shall know what has occurred.”
“But what about help?” Wesley asked.
“Even now, help comes.”
Wes began to suspect that Morpheus had orchestrated much more of what was happening than he had at first thought. With such things on his mind, Wes was not overly surprised when two young heroes strode boldly through the door.
The Sleeper rushed over to the two men. “It looks like they are in some kind of stasis field.”
Static nodded. “Since I’m still new at this, would you have any idea as to how we can free them?”
“I don’t think we have the power to do that.”
“Hmm.” Static thought for a second before an idea popped into his head. He saw that the Sleeper had the same thought. “Thunderbolt!”
Immediately, the Sleeper’s hopes faded. “I don’t think he can help.”
“Because,” the Sleeper began to explain, “Johnny Thunder isn’t here to command him.”
“Well, we could at least ask him,” Static said. “Say you, Thunderbolt.”
“Since I was kind enough to provide you a ride out of, uh, you know — do you think you could help us free these two?”
“Your wish is my command.”
Static felt Cei-U take control of his body and raise his arms. Twin bolts of pink eldritch lightning shot forth from his hands and engulfed the captives. As the energy began to dissipate, the stasis field began to fade as well. Once it was gone, their restraints dropped off, and the two figures began to slump to the floor before the two boys caught them. Almost immediately, they began to recover.
“That was incredible,” Static said as he regained control of his body.
“I’m proud of you boys,” Wes told them. He opened his mouth to say something else but turned to Morpheus instead. “Now what?”
“I will send these three to stand beside the other youngsters.”
“What about me?”
“You, my dreamer, shall return to your friends and wait.”
“Wait? For what?”
Morpheus placed his hand on Wesley’s shoulder and gave him a slight push that expelled him from the Dreaming. “You shall know in good time.”
The Lord of Dreams turned his attention to his rescuers.