by Starsky Hutch 76
Of all the members of the Junior JSA, Batwing was probably the most prepared for everything that had happened to them, as horrible as it was. Before being taken in by Dick Grayson, Jason Todd had been a product of the streets. He had seen people beaten, robbed, and worse. He himself had done things he wasn’t proud of in the name of survival before being shown a better way by his new mentor. As much as he respected his teammates’ abilities, though, he doubted any of them had ever had to deal with a struggle for survival on a daily basis as he had.
His struggle now was to make the team keep it together for the sake of the mission. It was all he could do to keep Superboy and Damage from charging forth when they spotted the two they now knew to be Bluestreak and Stretch O’Brien exiting Savant’s building. He was finally able to convince them of the logic of waiting to see what happened next. Better to have something solid to pin on them. After all, they were the only witnesses to their attacks, and if the Senate hearings that led to the long absence of the JSA proved anything, it was the difficulty for costumed adventurers to testify.
Arrowette, Flare, and Star Sapphire were far less enthusiastic about their next encounter with the Junior Injustice Society. The archer and her partner were no longer as sure as they once had been of their ability to make a legitimate contribution in the coming battle. Star Sapphire was simply traumatized, as anyone who had undergone what she had would be. Batwing knew she needed a victory most of all.
“Hear anything interesting, Bats?” Flare said, walking up beside him. Her close proximity to him, as well as the scent of her perfume, made him briefly lose his train of thought.
“Um… nothing yet. I wish I could have found out where Bluestreak and Stretch O’Brien were headed,” Batwing said. “I think Dollface and Kid Grundy might’ve been joining them. I figure it’s only a matter of time until we know something, though.”
“So that… thing is still in there,” Flare said nervously, resting her hand on Batwing’s shoulder for balance as she took a seat next to him on the rooftop ledge.
“Apparently,” he said, noticing the hand on his shoulder out of the corner of his eye. “So are Henrietta King, who’s now calling herself Savant, and someone named Faust who shares leadership with her.”
“There was someone with the monster who attacked me,” Star Sapphire said with a shudder. “That must have been Faust.” Damage put a comforting hand around her shoulders. He was relieved when she didn’t push it away.
“It probably was,” Batwing said. He lifted his binoculars and peered down at the penthouse apartment. “Would it kill them to open the curtains once in a while? You see anything, Superboy?”
“This is a waste of time,” Superboy grumbled. “We should be following the others.”
“Sure,” Batwing said. “If your objective is to nab the goons while the brains of the operation go free to regroup and plot again. Yeah, I’m sure Coral would really appreciate that.”
Superboy turned red and grumbled unintelligibly under his breath as he concentrated his x-ray vision on the walls of the penthouse apartment. “Savant and Faust are moving into the living area. They don’t look happy.”
“Well, let’s listen in, shall we?” Batwing said, adjusting his earpiece to better listen to the listening devices he had planted earlier in the day while disguised as a member of the cleaning crew.
“I leave things in your hands, and our entire team just up and walks out?” Faust said, waving his arms dramatically.
“Don’t you even try to blame this on me,” Savant said. “If there’s a morale problem, it’s your doing. The way you skulk around here trying to be Mr. Mysterious.”
“Oh, and I’m sure your primadonna routine had nothing to do with it,” Faust sneered. “Tell me, has that videotape of Cleopatra worn out yet?”
“Primadonna? I’ll show you who’s a primadonna!” Savant said, lifting up a sofa table telekinetically and hurling it at him.
With a gesture, Faust made it disappear in a burst of light.
Savant let out a horrified shriek. “Do you realize how much that piece was worth?”
“Oh? Is that why you threw it at me?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, insurance might’ve paid for it, if…” Savant began.
“If I’d let it hit me?” Faust finished. Both burst into laughter. “Snapping at each other won’t tell us what our missing team is up to,” he said. “But the Mists of Agamom might.” He reached into an unseen fold of his robe and then brought his hands up. Mists issued from the palms of his hands and collected in the space between them. A picture began to form in the space, growing in clarity until it was as if they were watching a movie.
“It’s them!” Savant said. “What are they doing?”
“It looks as if they’re about to stage a robbery,” Faust said. “And without inviting us. The ingrates. I know there’s no such thing as honor among thieves, but if it were to be found anywhere, you’d think it would be in the grandchildren of super-heroes.”
“Grandchildren?!” Superboy exclaimed, listening in with his super-hearing.
“I thought the name O’Brien sounded familiar,” Batwing said.
“What are you guys talking about?” Arrowette whispered, walking up and leaning her head between them.
“Shhh,” Batwing said. “This is getting interesting.”
“I can’t believe it!” Savant screeched, waving her fists as she paced about the room. “The Eye of Qurac. Of all things they could have picked! Prince Aman will never forgive me if he ever connects me to this! That rock has all sorts of symbolic meaning to his people. I’ll be out on my keister!”
“Oh, you poor thing,” Faust said with a wry grin. “Wherever will you go? Maybe Ibiza this time? Or perhaps the Riviera?”
“You think this is funny?” Savant said, aghast.
“No, I don’t,” Faust said dryly. “Not after all the planning we’ve done. But panicking isn’t going to accomplish anything.” He waved his hands before the image of the large jewel, and the mists changed to show the Keystone City Museum of Art and History with an enormous banner displaying The Treasures of Qurac. His mouth turned into a sneer. “Rather, we need to confront the situation head on.”
The mists dispersed, and Faust walked over to the coat closet. He threw open the closet, and the shadows parted to reveal the occupant inside. Coral sat unmoving and unblinking in the pile of stuffed animals left by Dollface.
“I had far more interesting plans for you,” he said to the entranced girl, “but for now, I’m afraid I’ll be forced to use you as a weapon in case we need backup.” He took her hand and lifted her out of the pile of plush animals. He brought his hand up to the side of her face and sighed. “Such a pity.”
“OK, now we’re moving out,” Batwing said grimly.
“Time for some payback,” Superboy said, sounding far more confident than he felt.
Dollface danced through the Keystone City Museum lobby in an almost limbo-like postition, singing, “Coochy-coochy-coochy, coo… areba!” She was shaking her chest covered with priceless diamonds, long, dangly diamond earings hung from each ear, and a tiara that once belonged to a queen rested on her head. She was followed by Kid Grundy, wearing an authentic Viking helmet. “Dolly funny! Huh-huh-huh!” He had a marble statue under each arm.
“Heads up, Charo!” a voice suddenly called out. A bolero suddenly came out of nowhere, wrapping itself around her ankles.
“Whoop!” she yelped, landing on her rump as Batwing swung down on a cable, slamming into her.
“Doll-leee!” Kid Grundy growled, dropping one statue and bringing the other over his head, preparing to bring it down on Batwing.
Suddenly, a blur darted into the room, slamming into Kid Grundy. The priceless statue fell from his arms, and a ray of energy shot out to catch it.
“Nice work, Star Sapphire,” Batwing said.
“I hope I didn’t hurt the guy too bad,” Superboy said, looking down at the still figure of Kid Grundy as he placed the Viking helmet on a statue.
“What if you did?” Star Sapphire said. “He’s a monster!”
“We’re heroes,” Superboy said. “We don’t kill.”
“Grundy kill!” growled the monster, leaping up quickly. He smashed into Superboy, sending them both flying through the doors of the museum.
“I have a feeling Kid Grundy just bit off more than he can chew,” Batwing said.
Dollface, noticing that everyone was distracted, swung to her feet. She began hopping across the museum lobby floor and flipped into a somersault, launching herself at a suit of armor. The blade of the long axe sliced through the ropes of the bolero around her ankles, and she landed on her feet with a triumphant cry. “Hah!”
She looked up upon hearing a thud and let out a squeak as a trick arrow hit the wall above her.
“If there’s anything my mom taught me, it’s to always put my toys away,” Arrowette said.
Outside the museum, the street shook as Superboy and Kid Grundy exhchanged blow after blow. “Give it up, Kid,” Superboy said. “You can’t beat me!”
“Grundy smash!” Kid Grundy panted breathlessly.
“Looks like Grundy could use some help,” Stretch O’Brien said, watching from a museum window.
“On my way,” Bluestreak said, racing toward the two combatants. “Let’s see how tough Superboy is if I generate enough speed to yank his atoms apart.”
“That’s the thing about being fast,” a voice suddenly said. “There’s always someone who’s faster.”
Bluestreak let out a horrified cry as blow after blow rained down on him. He fell to the ground unconscious just as Superboy delivered the last right cross to Kid Grundy that felled him.
Whiz Kid stared down at Bluestreak and then at his own fists. “Whoah,” he gasped.
“Nice work, kid,” Superboy said.
“Thanks, Supes,” Whiz Kid said. “I hope this makes up for everything.”
“Sure, pal, I… Aigh!” Superboy fell to the ground, holding his head.
Superboy grimaced in agony from the mental blast while above him hovered Faust, Savant, and a captive Coral.
“If you can handle these two, I’ll check on the others,” Faust said nonchalantly.
“I can handle them,” Savant said, concentrating on Superboy, but looking at Whiz Kid sadly.
“Good. Then I’ll go take out the rest.” Faust and Coral disappeared, teleporting into the museum.
“Don’t do this, Henrietta,” Whiz Kid said.
“Don’t come any closer, John,” Savant said. “I… I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
“You’d do that?”
“If… if I have to,” Savant said nervously.
Whiz Kid watched as Damage approached her stealthily. His expression turned to one of horror as a shadowy substance began to creep up his legs and then began to cover his entire body. He reached for his throat as if suffocating.
“Damage! No!” Whiz Kid cried.
Savant turned and looked at him. “Did you think I was here by myself? Thanks for watching my back, Darkling.”
There was a sudden explosion, and Darkling gave a horrified, anguished scream that echoed and faded away. The blast knocked Savant unconscious, and she fell from the air and into Whiz Kid’s waiting arms.
“Wh-where is he?” Damage stammered. “D-did I kill ‘im? I wasn’t trying to kill him!”
“If you did, it wasn’t your fault,” Whiz Kid said. “But somehow, wherever he is, I don’t think he’s dead.”
Stretch O’Brien craned his elongated neck around the corner to see who was there. He was met by a nunchuk to the face, which bounced off his rubbery forehead.
“You bitch!” Stretch cried, rubbing his forehead. “That really hurt!”
Flare stared at him as if in shock. Most opponents would be unconscious now.
Stretch elongated his body and his arm even more. He shaped his hand into a huge mallet, raising his arm far above his head. “My turn.” The hammering blow connected with the floor as Flare swiftly dodged out of the way.
His other arm shot up, taking on the shape of a hammer as well. He began slamming the hammers down one after another as he chased after her down the hallway.
“Batwing! Arrowette! Now!” Flare cried, jumping as he narrowly missed her with another powerful blow.
As O’Brien’s arm stretched out farther and came even more dangerously close to flattening her, Arrowette and Batwing appeared from either side of the hallway. Batwing hurled an object that exploded into a cloud of smoke when it struck the malleable youth. Stretch stopped moving, coughing and distracted. Arrowette fired a specially designed trick arrow into the coud of smoke, striking its intended target. There was a loud, creaking noise, and when the smoke cleared, Stretch O’Brien was frozen solid.
“Let those fools trade fisticuffs,” Faust said, staring greedily down at the enormous jewel, the Eye of Qurac, as it sparkled within its display case. Light played off of its rounded, many faceted surface and the mirrored walls of the room designed for its showing. “They can hold back the heroes long enough for me to leave with the prize. Those idiots didn’t know what they were after! Such a prize should be mine, and mine alone. With it, I’ll be able to channel mystic energy such as the Wizard and Wotan have never dreamed. They’ll be calling me master! I’ll usher in an era of darkness such as this world has never seen before.”
“Hold it right there,” a feminine voice said shakily.
Faust turned and saw Star Sapphire enter the large mirrored room. Light danced around them as the round jewel turned on its pedestal.
“You?” Faust laughed. “Shouldn’t you be cringing in a corner somewhere? What have I got to do to kill that spirit of yours?”
“M-more than you’ve got,” Star Sapphire said.
“Really? Good thing I brought a friend, then. You remember Mina, don’t you?” Faust said, raising an eyebrow as he pointed to a spot directly behind her. She turned just in time for Coral’s hand to connect with a backhanded slap that knocked her to her knees.
“Mina, no!” Star Sapphire cried.
“I’m afraid she can’t hear you right now,” Faust said. “She’s not all there. Kind of like your last assailant. Though I must say I’m getting a much bigger kick out of watching her slap you around than Kid Grundy. But what red-blooded young man doesn’t love a good cat fight?” As Coral delivered slap after slap, the same panic, the same feeling of helplessness Star Sapphire had experienced before came over her.
“Think you’ll be able to recover from such a beating again?” Faust taunted. “I’m not so sure.”
“Nooo!” Star Sapphire screamed. She threw out her hands and levelled a blast that threw Mina backward across the room to hit the floor with a loud thud. Seeing what she’d done, a feeling of horror came over her. “Mina!” she cried, worried that she’d just harmed her friend.
“Isn’t that touching,” Faust mocked. “Still such concern in your voice after all that’s happened. Well, as much fun as this has been, I really must take my rock and be going.” He flicked his hand outward, and Star Sapphire suddenly found herself lifted off her feet and flung across the room, striking one of the mirrored panels with a loud crash.
“That’s seven years bad luck, you know,” Faust said.
“Only for the one who causes it to be broken,” Star Sapphire said, starting to move forward.
“No, for you, I’m afraid,” Faust said. “For, you see, mirrors are a portal, and I’m afraid you just got too close.”
Ghoulish arms suddenly reached out and grabbed Star Sapphire by her upper arms and ankles. “Even I’m not quite sure what’s on the other side of that one, and I’m not sure I want to,” said Faust. “Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll soon be longing for the gentle caress of Kid Grundy’s touch.”
Star Sapphire strained her wrist and was just barely able to aim it. As Faust waved his hands and caused the jewel case to shatter, Star Sapphire fired a bolt of energy into the jewel.
Out of every point of its multifaceted surface, a ray of concentrated light shot forth. Three fired directly into Faust’s torso as he stepped forward in an attempt to grab the jewel. He doubled over in pain.
Faust let out a cry of agony, and the ghoulish hands let go of Star Sapphire and retreated back into the mirror.
The rays that didn’t strike Faust hit the mirrors and reflected back down or off other mirrors. The room was suddenly filled with bouncing rays of light. Star Sapphire barely had time to fly to Coral’s side and throw up a shield.
Faust found himself buffeted by ray after ray, burning into his flesh. One seared past his arm. Another creased his skull. Another lanced his thigh. He fell back from the jewel case, staggering under the attack as more and more beams struck him. With a shaking, tremulous voice, he cast a spell of teleportation. Many spells of healing would follow. As he faded away, he said, “This isn’t over between us, girl…”
Star Sapphire absorbed the light rays as they struck her shield and then helped Coral up. The two of them walked from the room on shaky legs toward the lobby.