The Inheritors/Alterverse

© Eldric
 

Chapter 31: Thorn!

Part 3: The Shattered Sword

 

 

 

 

Earth: Coast City

 

Steve Rogers walked down the nearly deserted city streets, his costume and shield carefully tucked in the canvas bag he draped over his shoulder.  As he walked, he realized that this particular city had suffered far less damage than many of its fellow cities, but still it was a city in wartime.  What little fuel remained was strictly rationed; there were few vehicles in the streets.

The ocean wind blew over him.  Stopping to smell the air, he looked towards the west, to the ocean that lay beyond.  Consulting his maps, he marched southward, towards the old Ferris aircraft company.

It would not be a long walk; the JLA transporter in that city had been close and recently tested.  And he found the smell of the ocean invigorating.

He walked for another half an hour, closing in on his destination: the armed fortress that had replaced Ferris aircraft.  Coast City was marginally within the bounds of Lex Luthor’s territory and tended to remain that way, although Mongul’s forces had threatened from the South in earlier times.

The Inheritors’ battles with Mongul had, at least, brought respite to this area.  With less ammunition and fewer troop replacements, Mongul’s forces attacked much less frequently and to much less effect.  Still…this was a world at war and the threat remained.

“Mr. Rogers?”  He heard a young woman’s voice.

“Yes?”  He turned, facing a brown-haired and brown-eyed woman of medium height in soldier’s gear.  Her semi-automatic weapon rested comfortably in her right arm, its muzzle pointed away from him, but just barely.  She remained wary, but so did he…while Oracle had allies in Coast City, they were few and far between.  Oracle had provided two names to him: Carol Ferris and Thomas Kalmaku.  And this was clearly neither of them.

“Tom Kalmaku said you would be arriving.”  She lowered her weapon a bit more.  “Something about wanting to talk about my Uncle Hal.”  She grinned at him.  “And Carol Ferris and Tom Kalmaku never turn down a chance to talk about Hal Jordan!”

“Pleased to meet you.”  Steve relaxed.  “Steve Rogers, at your service.”

“Helen Katherine Jordan.”  She inclined her head slightly and motioned back towards Ferris Aircraft.  “Carol still runs the place with an iron hand,” she related as they walked, “a good thing from my point of view.  Carol kind of has a Green Lantern museum, with the things she’s accumulated over the years.  Luthor keeps trying to get rid of it and her, but she’s too useful.”  Helen walked with her weapon cradled in her forearms.  “And the troops trust her…she masterminded the defense of this area some years back…keeping Mongul out.”

“So, it’s more an alliance with Luthor than chain of command?”  He suggested.

“Usually.”  Helen confirmed.  “Luthor probably suspects Carol’s ties to Oracle, but probably feels it’s not worth the effort to try to remove her, not while he has so many other challenges.  And we hope to keep it that way.”  She tugged at her belt removing what appeared to be a walkie-talkie, similar to the ones that Steve had seen in the Free Zone.  “This is Oa 2814.  I’ve found the merry wanderer.”  She flashed a grin at Steve.

“I thought it was my turn to be Oa 2814!”  A young male voice taunted.  “I’ll pass it on; they’re waiting.  Out.”

“My twin brother, Jason.”  Helen confirmed as they walked.  “Carol trusts us; she knows Luthor would shoot the whole lot of us on sight, rather than take any chances.”

“I can see why.”  He nodded as they approached the checkpoint.  He waited for her to negotiate their way through the checkpoint and restart their journey before speaking again.  “Never know if the Guardians might someday come back to the same cabbage patch.”

“Not likely…”  She argued.  “Rumor is that Uncle Hal’s backup, whoever he is, got the ring...or someone who looks a lot like him.  And someone else seems to have gotten the other Green Lantern’s ring…someone who probably isn’t related to the first one.”

I’ll have to be careful.  Steve realized.  These people are Oracle’s agents, but not part of the inner circle.  Of course, Carol and Tom may know more.

Still, this is a reminder of the access I have and the trust that has been placed in me.  I wonder if I’ll meet this world’s original Captain America; I’ll have to say ‘Thank you’.  Part of the reason I have gained so much trust is because he earned it over the course of his career.

“Even so,” he suggested, “Earth is down at least one power ring.”

“There is that.”  A flash of…something…passed through her eyes.  Steve wondered if her brother would react the same way.  “I have to admit, that I’ve always wondered what it would be like to hold that much power.”  She motioned towards a small building.  “I wonder who I’d go after first…Mongul or Luthor?”  She chuckled at the thought, leading him to a closed door, and retrieving a key to open it.

 

Alterverse: the Great Portal

 

Lannie chatted into her comms device while Faith watched.  Inside the bubble, Donna briefed her relatives, Ray Palmer, and Scooter Gand, who had just entered.

“This is Lannie Kyle’s home universe.  If anything, it is in much more dire straits than our own.”  She looked around.  “I’ve been here once before…we fought a battle to save a small galactic cloud.  We succeeded, but then we had to take on an even more dangerous foe before we were able to return home…a Starheart gone wild.  Remember that green sun we just passed?”

“Yes.”  Destiny confirmed.

“That is a thing of pure mystic power.”  Donna related.  “The one that was defeated was much smaller, but still almost as deadly…it had been the sole survivor of its universe and had become unhinged…”  She shuddered at the thought.

“Alterverse is a conquered universe, mostly controlled by what we call the Kayzik hive.”  Donna added.  “The hive is a mystic menace, the daughter colony of one from the Great Portal’s universe.  Jade, who you will meet, slew the mother queen of that universe, almost at the cost of her own life.”

“You will see counterparts of heroes we once knew here.”  She assured.  “The boy who will be Superman is not yet a teenager.”

“He’s my age!”  Scooter piped up.  “And he has a dog, too!  Krypto!”  Donna nodded and continued.

“His sister, Supergirl, is a young woman, who I like very much.”  Donna stated.  “Their mother is a mystery…Lyla Lerrol, the Kryptonian military officer turned actress.  Hal Jordan and Alan Scott both live in this universe; that is Alan’s voice you hear.  Diana’s counterpart is still alive here, although Paradise Island is a place of those between life and death.  My counterpart here has claws and an adamantium skeleton.”

“I’ll keep the one I have.”  Duncan pretended to shiver.  “Thenk yew very much!”

“Smart boy!”  Destiny chuckled.

“Why, thank you!”  Donna inclined her head.  “The Green Lantern Corps only exists in a limited form here…most of the Guardians have been killed by the Kayzik swarm and it is only by the Guardian’s combining with the Zamarons that they can make any efforts to defend their universe at all…they do run the Green Lantern Express between the Sentinel’s Lair and the Shantar Empire…the empire of an ancient elf-like race that defends the remaining free zones of the Alterverse universe.”

“Sentinel’s Lair?”  Donald asked.  “What is a Sentinel?”

The bubble began to move, picking up speed and shifting into hyperspace.  Donna watched the shifting stars.

“It is a class of Green Lantern that does not need a ring to project power.  Depending on the universe, some are cosmic powered and some are mystically powered.  That is a Sentinel.”  She pointed through the bubble at her cousin.  “Although, she isn’t the most powerful, because she does not have a Starheart to tap for power, like Alan Scott and Linda Scott Kyle of Alterverse do.  Linda is Lannie’s younger sister and Alan is their genetic grandfather.  Of course, he is the counterpart to Faith’s father, but I do not know if her mother’s counterpart exists in this world.  And likely we won’t find out.  My counterpart is not related to the Thorn in any way—completely different parents.”

“We haven’t discovered if I have a counterpart yet.”  Ray Palmer noted.  “Dawn’s is named Iris Grayson, who is Dick Grayson’s sister.  But neither he nor his wife, Barbara Gordon Grayson, have anything to do with Batman.”

“This Earth is a conquered world in a conquered galaxy.”  Donna sighed.  “There is no Myrg alliance, no life on Oa.  There is only a very small population remaining on this world…and the Kayzik have no idea who lives on the hidden Shantar base named after Alan Scott.”

They dropped from hyperspace close to a solar system that resembled their own.  Closing in, they approached Earth, the newcomers soon realizing that four massive pyramids floated in orbit around this world.”

“Kayzik base ships, with hyperspace teleporters.”  Donna warned.

“Ugly…dark.”  Jesse exclaimed.  “Hey!  I can almost see through you, Violet!”

“We’re probably invisible for approach.”  Donna suggested.  Peering out, they could not see Lannie, although they could barely see Faith.  They were hurtling through the atmosphere, passing through the upper atmosphere into the middle layers of the atmosphere above the Eastern Pacific Ocean, dropping and speeding up as they flew.

“Nothing mechanical is going to track us at this speed.”  Ray remarked.  “Not given the low level of tech that this world is supposed to retain…it was attacked in its version of the 1940s…never even saw nuclear power…no bombs ever dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.”

They passed over Kansas, slowing, but just barely, and banked slightly south, heading for Georgia, dropping even closer to the terrain, only a hundred feet or so above the landscape.  The spring foliage burst into view beneath them as they began to rise again, beginning the ascent into the Appalachian Mountain chain in eastern North America and banking northward.  And, as Donna turned around, she saw another streak of emerald energy approach from behind, with four other streaks of red light in close pursuit.

“Calendar quirk.”  Ray caught the group’s attention.  “Alterverse is 4 years, nine months ahead of us.  It’s March, 2010 here; Spring is just beginning.”

“We’re almost there!”  Donna recognized the terrain.  “We’re going to slow down, fast.”

And they flew into the side of a mountain, rapidly decelerating, coming to a stop just as they passed through the holographic projection that disguised the Lair’s main entrance.

The second streak of emerald light flew into the Lair behind them, aiming for Lannie, and knocking her off her feet, leaving a tangle of two young women laughing, hugging on the floor.  Another flash of emerald energy passed through the floor, lifting both young women up before forming into the shape of a man, almost identical to the first Green Lantern of the Inheritors’ Universe, except for the altered costume and greater size.

As the red streaks arrived, the yip of a flying dog and its young master approached Scooter, who flew to greet them.

A beautiful blonde-haired young woman laughed and flew to greet Donna Troy: Kira Jor-El, Supergirl. 

A slightly taller woman of a slightly heavier build landed behind them.  Not as effusive as the others, Lyla Lerrol still approached Faith and embraced her quickly.

And then an alien, Elvin woman spoke.

“I am Command Assassin Elise Zoldar of the Shantar Empire.”  She announced with good humor.  “Welcome to Alterverse and the Sentinel’s menagerie!”

 

The Inheritors

 

As the teams greeted each other and made introductions, no one observed the almost non-existent tagalong…the imperceptible pattern of energy that had once been Alan Scott of the Inheritors’ universe.

And no one sensed his regret as his daughter greeted the Alan Scott of Alterverse: the young woman lifted into the air by the larger man…the resemblance unmistakable.  The gathering did not see the ‘might-have-beens’ and the regrets passing through the specter of the Inheritors’ Alan Scott.

Nor could they sense his iron will.

 

Inheritors’ Universe: Coast City

 

Steve Rogers entered the rear of the building, passing into an open office.  He faced a grey haired woman of middle age.  Slightly chubby and with short hair, she radiated authority.  She stood as he entered, and with a gesture, directed Helen to close the door and depart.

“Mr. Rogers, I’m Carol Ferris.”  Carol listened for the sound of departing footsteps before relaxing.  “Lois told me that you were coming.  Please pardon my caution, but while Hal’s niece and nephew know of Oracle, they are not operatives.”

“I understand.”  He reassured.  “I know that I’ve been fortunate to have the trust of Oracle Prime.”

“Not to mention access to its facilities.”  Carol nodded.  “Even I don’t know where it is, nor do I want to.”

“I am not there very often.”  Steve acknowledged.  “Usually, I’m in the Free Zone.”

“Luthor howls about that zone frequently.”  Carol smiled.  “He would roll over it, but it’s too well defended and Mongul is to the south.  But you know that and I’m afraid time is limited for both of us.  How can I help?”

“I am doing a research project.”  Steve acknowledged.  “As you may know, this is not my native Earth.”

“Lois mentioned that.”  Carol agreed.  “And that there were no metas on your world and apparently no Green Lantern Corps to come to your world’s rescue before Darkseid destroyed it.”

“No…”  Steve acknowledged.  “And I’m trying to understand how our worlds were so different…one of the things I don’t understand is how the more powerful metas of this world gained the confidence of the populace.”

“Not all of them were good people, Steve.”  Carol related.  “And not all of them won much confidence.  Those that did, earned it the hard way, by coming through time and time and time again.”

She rose, looking out the window to her left as the afternoon sun poured in.

“Hal was the companion of my youth, my shining star…trying to make the universe a safer place.  Could he be arrogant at times?  Yes, very.  And his niece and nephew both display their share of it…but they are talented and hard working…they have potential.”

“And both are utterly without fear.”  She turned to him again.  “Someday, the Guardians might just look our way again.”

“Everyone has some kind of fear.”  Steve suggested.  “Even Hal Jordan had to have something he feared.”

“He did.”  Carol admitted.  “But he never feared for himself or for his life.  That’s a little different than most of us, who have to conquer our fear.”

“I guess,” Steve admitted with a chuckle, “that the Guardians will not be calling me anytime soon.”

“Nor me.”  Carol smiled wistfully.  “The Guardians have a hard time finding champions.  They have to be fearless, yet have enough sense to keep from getting killed.  And that is a difficult balance to maintain.”

“But, Steve, there is the flip side of the coin.”  Carol warned.

“The flip side?”  Steve asked with genuine curiosity.

“Steve, do you know the real reason Lois sent you here?”

“No.”  He admitted.

“I used to be a super-villain.”  Carol related.  “Star Sapphire, Queen of the Zamorans, the women of the Guardians’ race.  Although I was not in my right mind when I did it, I remember it well.  The last time I was Star Sapphire, I almost killed Katma Tui…yep…that Katma Tui.”

She leaned forward in her chair, across her desk.

“I had as much power as a Green Lantern…maybe more, and I used it for the most silly and asinine things…for the most bizarre reasons.  I fully abused that power and continued to do so until Hal was able to bring me to my senses.  I wasn’t like Catwoman, who was no more than a thief…I was deadly…dangerous.”

“I had no idea…”  Steve recoiled.

“You see, Steve,” her eyes drilled into him, “I can’t be trusted with real power of that type.  I could never take on a power ring…that part of my personality would return to the surface.  Like Luthor, I’m a bit of a megalomaniac, but I know I am and now I use that understanding to my advantage and to focus my efforts in a better direction.”

“I miss Hal.”  Carol admitted.  “But our relationship was always complicated…never easy.  At times, I would like to travel the stars again, even though that was never my focus.  But I do occasionally wonder what it would have been like to be someone who could be trusted with that kind of power…to feel the power coursing through me in answer to my commands again.”

“Steve, we are who we are, and the power we possess doesn’t change that.”  She counseled.  “You are a better person than I am…Captain America, a hero on your world as well as this one.  But could anyone trust you with the power to core a planet?  I can’t tell you that.”

“I do miss them all, Steve…Hal, Ollie, Dinah, John, even Katma Tui and Arisia Fentura.  I miss them and I will never stop missing them.  But I will never be one of them…no more than Hal could have been the Star Sapphire.  I don’t possess the special wisdom that makes them who they are.  Maybe Hal’s niece and nephew do…I don’t know, but I can hope.”

“Helen certainly seems fearless enough.”  He acknowledged.

“She is.”  Carol walked around the desk towards Steve.  “Now that I’ve delivered my lecture, let me show you the sights…my little Green Lantern collection…mostly Hal’s stuff, but some of John’s things as well as the first Green Lantern of Earth, I think his name was Alan Scott…I’ve spoken briefly to Molly Mayne in Gotham, my counterpart…odd that their situation was just as complicated…”  She snorted as they walked out the back door of the building.

 

Sentinel’s Lair conference room, 40 minutes later

 

Alan and Faith stood at opposite ends of the elongated table, a holographic image of Neron floating in the air between them.  Lannie, Linda, Elise Zoldar, and Selina Kyle Wayne sat on one side.  Destiny Lance, Donald Canton, Donna Troy, and Duncan MacLeod sat at the other.  Ray Palmer stood behind Faith.

“Quite an incredible tale…”  Alan related.  “I can’t say I’m surprised though…Lannie and Linda’s father had quite an interesting family, too…the key to more than a few problems.”  He laughed.

“He means me.”  Selina admitted.  “I am their first cousin.  He’s also referring to a misadventure we had with a cosmic key, of which Lannie and I each carried half.  We no longer carry the key and the threat has been resolved.”  (Elf note:  Alterverse Book 1: The Search for Kal-el)

“Life was pretty ugly for a while.”  Lannie admitted.  “Not that it is without challenges now.”  She shrugged.

“We are very happy that you have a future.”  Elise complimented.  “We just wish you were home more often.”

“She’s afraid of bringing Wally here!”  Linda teased.

“Wouldn’t you be?”  Lannie teased back.

“And to think,” Faith slowly shook her head, speaking mockingly, “I have been trying to convince my mother’s relatives that they would actually be safe here!”

“Truthfully,” Alan responded, “they are much safer here, at least for the moment.”

“How so?”  Faith asked, curious.

“Hell dimensions.”  Linda answered.  “We don’t have the same ones.  I got lots of friends in ours…even Hades will talk to me...even without Gaea.”

“That sounds absurd!”  Destiny replied.

“No, it isn’t.”  Faith sighed.  “It’s Linda’s second gift…the opposite of Lannie’s.  We need Kent Nelson’s guidance…”

“Agreed.”  Alan stated.  “Diana is already on her way to the Rock of Eternity.  She will tell Kent what we knew when you first arrived in our universe.  He’ll be expecting us, so we’ll leave in about fifteen minutes…He’ll need time to set up.  Lyla will take the kids to the farm…this conversation will be far beyond them.”

“Absolutely,” Ray nodded, “hopefully, they won’t have to be involved at all.”

 

Sentinel’s Lair observation room, beneath the Command Center

 

Destiny gazed out the window as she chatted with Donna.

“I must admit that I find the concept to be mind-boggling.  I am a millennium old, but I never suspected the existence of other worlds, especially like this one…so beautiful, but so deadly…in more danger than even our world.”

“It faces different dangers.”  Donna explained.  “Until recently, our world was in even more dire straits…we were alone and helpless against the universe.  Alterverse Earth is, quite frankly, just one more world in a common situation for this universe.”

“Still,” Duncan stepped towards them, handing them each a glass of what appeared to be wine, “it is in a more dangerous situation today.  On our world, Mongul is starved for supplies and will someday be removed…our greater threat may be our inability to govern ourselves.”

“But we aren’t there yet, Duncan.”  Donna disagreed.  “Still…” she looked out over the horizon where one of the pyramids had come into view.  “…at least there are places where we can operate in the open.”

Footsteps struck the floor as Donald approached.

“I find this all very humbling.”  He admitted as he joined them.  “I think we were happily ignorant before today…fighting our own little battles.”

“Don’t think those battles aren’t important.”  Lannie approached from behind them.  “I’m sorry for interrupting…but I’m only here because Neron botched several battles in your universe.  What you do makes other victories possible.  Don’t discount them.”

“You really do have the angel’s touch, child.”  Destiny observed.

“I like to think so…”  Lannie admitted.  “But I have made my mistakes…in my earlier incarnation, I sinned against the natural order…pulled a soul back from beyond.  And, someday, I fear I will learn the consequences of that action.  So even the angel has a touch of the dark.”

She looked out.

“I grew up on this world, under those pyramids.  I know what it is like to live in fear every moment of your days.”  She shivered.  “And the darkness that gave me the power to survive was slowly killing me…driving me insane…”  She shuddered, shivering once more.  “And I wonder…how long can I be here before it comes for me again?”  She looked off into the corner where Alan spoke to Faith.  “Not that I’m the only one who’s had problems.”

“I’m sorry about Sam.”  Destiny overheard Alan speaking to Faith before turning back to face Donna.  Across the room, Alan had placed a reassuring hand on Faith’s shoulder, consoling her.

“I had hoped that would work.”  Alan offered.

“I did, too.”  A haunted look came into Faith’s eyes.  “But the demands of Empire took its toll, I guess.  And I’m no competition for an amorous Kryptonian…a woman of Sam’s own species.”

“Karen Starr?”  Alan surmised.  “In another life, she was your best friend…I know that hurts.”

“I’m not sure it’s all her.”  Faith shrugged.  “I may have changed too much and far too quickly.  I just know that I’ve done what I could…it’s time to move on.”

“At least for now.”  Alan echoed soothingly.  “I doubt you would lack for suitors.”  His comment brought laughter.

“Yes, that would be me…”  She chuckled.  “…the Empire’s most frequently requested mail-order bride.  Fortunately, the Empress set the example herself…she will not expect me to marry someone she selects for me.  Of course, given my history with men, that is probably more for their protection than mine.”  She grinned.

“Alanna…” he recanted at Faith’s uplifted brow, “…Lannie…it will take time to get used to that name.  She said you had quite an adventure…someone kidnapped the Empress?”

“Didn’t last long.”  Faith shrugged.  “The Empire brought its forces to bear and her kidnappers could not retain her.  Cassie Sandsmark, Hippolyta’s granddaughter through Steve Trevor, did an excellent job of keeping Ramia alive until she could be rescued.”

“You have a wonderful gift for understatement.”  Alan grinned.  “Some things never change, Princess.”

“How so?”  She challenged.  “Ah…Lannie played a critical role and I failed to credit her.  And she did such a smashing job!”  She smiled conspiratorially.

“Sometimes, Princess,” he chuckled, “sometimes when I talk to you, I feel sympathy for every mouse that has ever faced a cat.  But only sometimes.  Oh…Looks like Linda is back from taking the kids to Kansas.”  Linda waved from the top of the stairs.

“It appears to be show-time.”  Faith agreed, nodding to Alan.  “I shall have to drag Ray away from the Shantar science stations.”

We will continue this conversation.  Alan watched her walk towards the stairs.  I know what you did…managed to badger several dozen worlds into bankrolling and supporting a neat little war…outflanking Darkseid’s forces.  By now, Darkseid knows what you did and how you did it and he is going to go after your world, if only for revenge…and I can’t let that happen.

When he attacks you, your galaxy will erupt in civil war to defend you…the guardians won’t be able to stop it…no one will…not even you. 

Flameling, I know you’ve begun preparations for a counterattack…but they have to be the right plans.

And I have to think about something else…how did you manage to pull it off?  We’ve always been starved for resources…dependent on the whims of Shantar High Command.  Yet you simply wave a title and alien worlds hand you an attack fleet, just because you ask for it?

Man, I’m in the WRONG business…or I’m taking the wrong approach.

“Alan?”  He heard Elise call.

“Coming.”  He walked towards her voice. 

As he did, the shade of his Inheritors counterpart made a quick decision…even in his spectral form, that Alan Scott could not dare to risk the attention of Kent Nelson. 

While Faith might defend against mystic forces, she did not automatically scan for them and Alan’s low energy levels would not appear a threat to her, or to Lannie.  But Kent Nelson would be aware of any out of place energy at the Rock of Eternity.  The experience with Parallax had forced the Shazam Wizard to sharpen his defenses…he would not be caught unawares again.

Alan would wait outside the entry to the Rock…He had waited for many lifetimes: a few hours more would not be unbearable.  At least, that was what he told himself.

 

Twenty minutes later; en route to the Rock of Eternity

 

“I always doubt my sanity when we fly through here.”  Elise Zoldar floated in a bubble with Ray Palmer, Duncan MacLeod, and the family of the Thorn.  Alan Scott towed them towards the Rock, but, except for the three young Scott women in hot pursuit, they could see nothing.  “I wonder what would happen if we actually got lost in here.”

“You can rest assured that will not happen today.”  Faith spoke from outside the bubble.  “Kent will never turn down an opportunity to further my education…no matter how much I would prefer to remain ignorant!”

“Well…”  Lannie teased, “…if you weren’t in such dire need of it…”

“I cannot win…”  Faith grumbled as Lannie broke into laughter.

“There it is!”  Elise pointed as they approached what appeared to be the top of a hill floating with nothing surrounding it, except nothing.  At the crest of the hill, an ancient castle stood, firelight burning from several of the parapets. 

They landed, Alan with his bubble, followed by Linda, Lannie, and Faith.

“This way.”  Alan gestured towards an open door.  “Kent already knows we’re here.”  Destiny stopped, looking up at the castle.

“This looks very much like the German castles I remember on the Rheine River.”  She remarked, turning to Duncan.  “Doesn’t look like much of a river, though.”

“Not much forest, either.”  Duncan quipped, unable to find even a single shrub, although he did spy an area that appeared to be a garden.

“I wonder how Diana puts up with this place.”  Donna walked away from them, towards the door. 

“The physics behind this place must be astounding.”  Ray followed behind her.  “Physics is operating at least in part here, but I have to wonder about the gravity.”  He turned to wave as the Shazam Wizard stepped through the doorway.

“Perhaps it works because no one told it not to?”  Kent walked towards them from the doorway.  “Ah, the young princess has arrived.”  He inclined his head towards Faith.  “And I’m sure she has brought a very simple problem for my feeble mind to resolve!” 

She responded immediately, returning his warm humor.

“We certainly would not want you to feel overly challenged!”  She assured him as he laughed.

“Welcome back, Princess; it’s been too long.”  He held the door open for her as she entered.

“Must be the thorn I pulled out of his paw.”  She smiled as she passed.

“It was a pretty big thorn.”  Lannie noted as she followed.  “…named Parallax.”

“There is that…the Parallax Starheart that guards the Great Portal.  You saw it on your way into Alterverse, I’m sure.”  Kent led them up to a conference area.  “Make yourselves comfortable.  I’d like to have a quick conversation with Destiny and Donald first…I have Faith’s history already.”  He gestured them aside and led them into an inner sanctum.

“I would say he’s usually not that abrupt…but he’s usually more abrupt.”  An Amazon in full regalia approached: Princess Diana of Themyscira…Wonder Woman.  “Welcome back, Donna, it is a pleasure to see you again!”

“Thank you!”  Donna motioned to Duncan as he glanced at the Alterverse equivalent of the deceased Diana of Themyscira.  “This is my friend Duncan MacLeod…I think you’ve met everyone else, except for my father and Aunt Destiny, with whom Kent has already absconded.”

“He’ll be back with them, soon enough!”  Diana laughed.  “Kent loves the detective work behind this kind of problem.”

“If only it did not hit so close to home.”  Faith sighed.  “A sister I have never met…a brother who passed away years before I was born.  Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any stranger.”

“Which life?”  Lannie taunted. 

“Lannie…”  Elise cautioned.

“This one.”  Faith glared at Lannie.  “I am Faith Scott…I do not want to be anyone else…not Helena Wayne…not ‘Alex’ anything…just Faith.”  She closed her eyes for a moment, breathing out slowly, then in again, and beginning to smile.  “Well now, that was quite a lecture.”  Her left eyebrow rose.  “Shall I try for an encore?”

“No…”  Lannie replied, earnestly.  “I don’t think you could improve on that one.  Well truthfully, the statement to the population of Myrg and the Alliance was a little better…the one where you promised to take out Ramia’s abductors.  But, this will certainly do in a pinch.”

“Why, thank you!”  Faith quipped.  Across the room, Ray coughed.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” Ray whispered to Alan, “it’s to never get between the two of them.  If Darkseid ever tried to understand THAT conversation, his brain would explode and we’d win by default.”

“Perhaps we could bottle their logic and toss it to the Kayzik.”  Alan replied.  “Once they try to understand that logic…game over, universe saved.”

“They’re on to us!”  Faith whispered to Lannie, intentionally far too loudly.  Ray pointed to his ears.

“Careful…Destiny’s hearing is at least as good and Donald doesn’t let on how well he hears.  I know the twins can both hear very well, when they want to.”

“And there are others about.”  Elise warned from across the room.  “I understand the Andromedan Shantar can hear quite well.”

Alan shook his head

“And they wonder why there is a testosterone shortage in the Lair.”

 

Twenty minutes later

 

Kent walked from his inner sanctum with Destiny and Donald in tow, shaking his head.  He escorted them back to the main group and announced:

“Next I need to speak to the triplets.”

“Oh Gawd…”  Lannie looked at Faith and Linda.  “I think he is talking to us.”

“If so,” Faith countered, “he is either very brave, or very foolish.”  Linda snickered as they approached Kent.

“Maybe a bit of both.”  He agreed as he led them into his inner sanctum.  “Donna, please join us…someone has to protect me!”  She shrugged, rose and followed them into another room.  As he sealed the door, she took in the room.  An inner room, it had no windows.  Three walls out of four appeared to be covered by filled bookshelves, reaching twelve feet above the floor.  The other wall in the room featured a wooden desk with an overstuffed chair, several large tables with no chairs—each partially filled with papers, and a single conference table with eight chairs.

Kent gestured towards the chairs.  His normal humor seemed to escape him as he sat down at the head of the table with Donna and Faith on one side and with Alanna and Linda on the other.

“I confirm Will’s logic for sending you here.”  Kent stated.  “Neron’s dimension crosses neither Alterverse nor the Rock…although it may cross other probabilities in this sector…I have no way to know, but I would suspect it does.”  He heard Faith lightly tap on the table.

“Does he draw power or resources from those other probabilities?”  She asked, responding to Kent’s mood.

“No way to tell.”  Kent remarked.  “But, since he can draw on the entire power of his dimension, it is probably a moot point.  Regardless of what happens, you will not be able to truly defeat Neron and crew…just frustrate and delay them, which still should be more than enough.”  He smiled slightly.  “I have to do some scene setting first, though…mostly about revealing Linda’s secrets…the ones she doesn’t like to think about.”

“I got secrets?”  Linda replied.  “Didn’t know I had any left…I been poked, prodded, ripped apart, put together again...lots a’ fun stuff.  How could I have secrets after that?”  She shook her brown hair and rolled her brown eyes.

“Linda, you’re physically half demon.”  Kent answered gently.  “And I have to acknowledge why you do the things you do…it’s not that you know the right thing to do at all times, but that you can sense the evil, and you have always fought so hard against it.  And you at least deserve credit for that very hard thing you have always done.”

“I…I didn’t know.”  Lannie reacted.  “And you didn’t tell me…ever.”

“What’s right is right.”  Linda answered.  “And what isn’t, isn’t.”  She smiled.  “Hasn’t changed.”

“But…”  Faith interrupted, “it is very useful to know…especially in the regions we may be forced to travel.  Linda, I too owe you an apology.  I am sorry for not understanding.”

“What’s to be sorry for?”  Linda shrugged.  “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

“But you have the power that can make a difference here.”  Kent confirmed.  “You can channel Hellfire and Green Flame…the only one I know who can do it without harm.”

“What about Faith?”  Lannie queried.  “She has channeled Hellfire before.”

“But she can’t now.”  Kent shook his head.  “She hasn’t been able to since her body was destroyed during the battle of Myrg.”

“But…”  Faith began before Kent quickly interrupted.

“Faith…your first physical body was an exact duplicate of what it should have been…no question…it was human except for a few minor glitches.”  He gazed at her.  “It could handle both types of magic, although not easily.  Well, I’m making a mess of this explanation.  Think matter and antimatter.”

“Yes…”  Faith agreed.

“Apply the same concepts to mystic power.”  Kent explained.  “Hellfire and Emerald Fire are opposites and act to cancel each other out…they are not usually additive—not in their raw forms…not without the right knowledge and very specialized tools.  And consider what happened to you over Myrg…your physical body destroyed beyond repair, although your DNA could be recalled.  Yet you had to have a physical construct to operate, and quickly.  But, this time, your unconscious mind didn’t simply duplicate its earlier feat: slowly recreating a physical equivalent…it now had the benefit of your life experiences and came up with an original alternative: a mystic construct that solved a raft of other problems.  Perfect in every detail, except that it is based on a different type of matter: mystic matter.  What it means is that when you go ‘boom’, it doesn’t take days to rebuild your physical form.  But it does add limitations of its own.”

“Everything heals quickly but the heart…”  Faith acknowledged with a sad smile, a rare admission for her.  She looked up, waiting for him to continue, curious.

“As I said, you have other limits you may not have had before.”  He rubbed his neck.  “Lannie has the same limitations, but they don’t affect her the same way…not now, anyway.”

Lannie whispered across the table to Donna.

“This means the other shoe is about to drop.”

“Not at all.”  Kent assured.  “Faith, your internal power levels have somewhat increased recently and you have been more easily able to focus the power of other mystic entities, each of whom has or had power magnitudes greater than your own.  But there remain distinct limits on the power levels you yourself can retain…there is a reason for that.  And listen up, Lannie, this affects you, too.”

“I’m listening!”  She shook her blonde hair.  “Really!”

“You are both jumpers.  Yours is the power to transit between universes…but there is a maximum amount of mystic energy that can easily be moved between universes without harming those universes.  Not all universes suffer the same maximum threshold…but that maximum is pretty consistent for many that do.  And even those universes that do have a higher level of allowable mystic energy transfer will have some absolute limit.  But your power levels won’t ever be enough to present that problem.”

“And, beyond that, there is another set of limits.”  He looked at Linda.  “Once you exceed another level of power, you would not be able to leave the universe, or universes, that anchor you.  That’s why Starhearts don’t jump between universes…well usually they don’t…Gaea was problematic and we were lucky.”

Linda’s skin turned pasty white, shock coursing through her features.

“I coulda blown up other universes?”  Linda realized.  “I coulda killed universes full of living beings?”

“Yes.”  Kent acknowledged.  “But Gaea did not have as much power as other Starhearts…she had already begun to fade as life dwindled in her universe.  And you only left the Alterverse sector once…to visit Jenny.  I strongly suspect the Multiverse Starheart manipulated things to keep Jenny’s probability from suffering ill effects.”

“What I’m saying,” he continued, looking from Lannie to Faith, “is that neither of you will be able to accumulate that level of power.  You won’t be able to evolve into what could someday be a life-form too powerful to jump.  And that’s not a bad thing…that limitation saved Lannie’s life!”

“What!”  Lannie reacted with shock.

“The shadow powers…”  He scowled.  “They either would have killed you outright, or evolved you into an energy form, after stripping your mind.  But once they were blocked when you traveled to the Inheritors’ world, your natural powers kicked in, providing your powered form.  And those powers include your internal ability to jump…not the one provided by the shadow force…and your natural internal limitation on the power you can retain…which ended your value to the shadow realm.”  He smiled.  “Congratulations…”  He put his hand on hers.  “The shadow force has given up on you…you’re free of it!”

“I…I’m free!”  Lannie’s blue eyes lit up.  “I can have children?  I can live a normal life, without worrying how long I have before the shadow force attacks again?”  She glanced up into Kent’s eyes.  “This is all I ever wanted!  I…”  She stared into space, remembering, imagining possibilities.  Linda reached over to her and Faith rounded the table.

Kent spoke gently.

“I think it’s time for Wally to meet Alan.  I’ll even guarantee his safety.”  He winked.

“I love weddings.”  Donna reached across the table.  “A wedding between worlds…one of a kind…like the bride.”  She grinned. 

“The shadow force will pick a new champion at some point.”  Kent drew them back to reality.  “But it won’t be you.”  He turned to Donna.  “Donna, your lasso is, like much derived magic, a combination of both types of mystic force.  What that means is you can use it to sow up a Hell-mouth, the same way the Gate Guardians do…and we will have need of that ability.”

“I understand.”  She answered.

“Lannie,” he regained her attention, “you will have difficulty in this type of realm…your own power will push you out of it…and, without the shadow powers, you will have other difficulties in a dark realm.”

“But now, I can have a real life…”  Lannie reacted.  “I’m safe!”

“Linda…”  Kent smiled.  “You are going to have an interesting time of it as well…now, listen…this is what I recommend…the first thing we have to do is to find Rose…but if we give Neron exactly what he thinks he wants, we might get a pretty good head start!”

 

Twenty minutes later

 

The girls exited the inner sanctum, quietly contemplating their next moves.  As they approached, their comrades welcomed them.

“Everything OK?”  Alan asked as the two groups met.

“We have…”  Faith offered, frowning “we have a plan that will work…we hope.”

“It’s the right plan.”  Linda offered.

“We’ll make it work.”  Donna assured them.  “We’ll make it work because we have to.”

“And then…”  Lannie offered, “you can meet Wally.”

“Really!”  Alan’s eyebrows rose.  “You must be feeling confident.”

Kent approached, stepping from his inner sanctum.

“Destiny, can I speak to you?”  He called.  Then he realized that Donald had turned to follow her.  “Alone?”

She gestured to Donald, who shrugged and returned to the group.  Destiny followed Kent back into his inner sanctum, hearing the door close behind her.  Kent stopped, turning to face her on his feet.

“Destiny, I hate to interfere in other people’s families…”  He began.

“Then don’t.”  She rebutted.

“This may not turn out the way you want.”  Kent blurted.  “You’ve been at this far longer than any of the rest of us, but you need to understand…your world has changed and it isn’t going back to the way it was.”

“If we recover Rose, then for the most part it does.”  She countered.  “If not, we train Violet and support her work.”  She stepped away.  “You are very familiar, but not the Kent Nelson I remember…the Shazam Wizard, not the Dr. Fate I recall.”

“I, too, was Dr. Fate.”  He rebutted.  “I have fought my fair share of demons and other things that go bump in the night.  My grandson wears the helm now, and does a better job with it than I ever did.”

“Paternal pride…”  Destiny trumpeted, lightening the mood.  “My, my!”

“More than a bit…”  He grinned widely.  “In my children and in my champions.  They make my work worthwhile…and necessary.”  He stepped back to his desk, leaning on it.

“Your world has changed, Ms. Lance.”  He warned.  “Those two young women have more power than you could conceive.  And you may soon make a very serious mistake with them.”

“How so?”  Destiny challenged.

“You will welcome Donna with open arms, no matter what happens today.”  Kent stated.  “Donna is a woman Donald can be proud of.  He will not let her walk away from your family…nor would you…she has much to offer your on-going battles.”

“I have realized that.”  Destiny agreed.  “She is quite the woman.  I have never seen Donald’s eyes so bright.  And when I look in her eyes, I remember Lancelot of the Lake…her ancestor…and a man that I dearly loved.  She has many of his best qualities…loyalty…a warrior’s spirit…and the bearing that comes with strong discipline.  And any grandmother, no matter how many generations removed, could not help but be proud.”

“Just so.”  Kent acknowledged.  “Very much both warrior and lady.”

“Somehow,” Destiny raised an eyebrow, “Mr. Nelson, I do not believe you brought me here to extol the obvious.”

“I want to ask you,” Kent requested, “to keep an eye on Faith…she is not as closely related to you, I know…”

“Ms. Scott seems to have her fair share of admirers.”  Destiny rebutted.  “Not that we have been known to be unkind to any of our own.”

“No.”  He sighed.  “I am relying on instinct, emotions, which is unusual for me.”  He looked up.  “Our worlds are tied together, more all the time.  Neither of us will free our worlds alone, and we are just beginning to realize that.”

“An odd statement,” she suggested, “but continue.”

“Merlin did something.”  Kent stated.  “And I become very worried when someone like Merlin takes an interest in Faith.  The bizarre circumstances of her birth have always deeply disturbed her.  If he did something that causes her to further doubt her humanity, to further reduce Earth’s claim on her, she will return to the stars that also call her to defend them…and the Inheritors will lose her…their de-facto leader who has the contacts and the resources to protect your world.”  He gazed at her.  “And I worry that it may happen, in part, if you and yours reject her…because she is too…different…perhaps in ways that we have not even begun to suspect.”

“Our entire lineage is extremely ‘different’, Mr. Nelson.”  Destiny countered.  “The twins seem to like her well enough; Jesse is extremely fond of her.”  She observed.  “And I have no reason to dislike her.”

“But their mother may not.”  He prompted.  “…if she survives.”

“I cannot change that.”  Destiny warned.  “The Gate Guardians are notoriously strong-willed.”

“But you can affect it….”  He suggested.  “…even if only to a slight degree.”

“Yes…probably.”  She acknowledged, sighing.  “Still, this conversation seems a bit far-fetched, Mr. Nelson.  We cannot afford to be narrow-minded: not in our business.”

“I hope that I am just crying ‘wolf’.”  Kent asserted.  “And I do not usually interfere in family situations; frankly, in any other case I would have said nothing.”

“But we share a common cause.”  Destiny remarked, graciously.  “And you care very much about those under your tutelage…even if you sometimes like to pretend otherwise.”

“You are very wise.”  Kent nodded appreciatively.

“I suspect we are not so different.”  She shrugged with a smile, walking towards the door, opening it and passing Diana.  Lucky woman…Pity they’re so well suited for each other.

 

Several hours later, the Inheritors’ universe, in the skies above the Macdonnell ranges, early morning

 

The emerald bubble descended from the sky…approaching the Hell-mouth from above.  Outside flew a young woman with skin of green, with an angel in pursuit.  Inside stood Donna Troy, a girl with blonde hair, and a raven-haired woman of more than a millennium in years.  They spoke not at all, except for Donna’s acknowledgement of a page from Oracle Prime.  Slowly, they descended, entering the cavern where Dr. and Mrs. Fate guarded the Hell-mouth.

Will Batson’s eyes widened when he saw them, then, understanding the reality of who they were and what they would do, he nodded as they landed, still not speaking.  Suddenly spotting and recognizing their ethereal companion, he almost broke his silence.  But, thinking better of it, Will Batson maintained his composure…only a brief and almost imperceptible gesture passed between him and the shade of the Inheritors’ Alan Scott.

Destiny pointed to the mystic vines surrounding the Hell-mouth; power flowed from her and the young blonde, undoing the vines.  The young blonde followed the emerald skinned girl and the angel inside, leaving behind Destiny and Donna with the Batsons to guard the opening.

Donna’s lasso snaked through the same holes the vines had occupied only seconds before, pulling the halves of the mouth closed.

“And now…”  Destiny whispered.  “We wait.”

“We’ll be watching.”  Will and Linda Batson vanished.

“Guard duty sucks.”  Donna observed, sighing to Destiny, but not for a second relaxing her intense concentration.

 

Five minutes later, Neron’s dimension

 

The young blonde rode on a platform of green as they flew, following the emerald-skinned girl and the angel.  They kept to the ceilings and sides of the flaming caverns of fire they entered.  Lannie’s power could guide them, at least to some extent, but the strain of remaining in the dimension showed in her eyes…if she remained much longer, she would be forced to jump out.

And in this dimension, her powers worked only partially…there was an instability to the dimension, constantly shifting, that interfered with her ability to focus.

And unseen hands pulled at her, seeking to rescue her from this place, where she clearly did not belong.  Still, the three of them were making progress, approaching their goal…the missing Rose Canton.  To his credit, their ethereal companion added nothing to their risk, remaining absolutely unobservable to the denizens of Neron’s dimension.  Alan’s time to act would be soon, but not yet.

Silently they flew, avoiding the touch of the flaming walls, floors, and ceilings…silently.  Then they passed through a narrow tunnel within the cavern.

“Well, well, what do we have here?”  Neron roared from in front of them as they emerged into a wider, but still low-ceilinged cavern.  “Clearly the dumbest mortals I’ve ever dealt with.  Flameling, I’m surprised at your thoughtfulness!  Bringing me my heart’s content: the Gate Guardian’s heir!” 

The three young women turned to flee.  As they did, a legion of the undead closed in ahead of them and another legion surged through the tunnel behind, flanking them.

“We need the blonde girl alive!”  Neron directed his followers.  “Kill the others!”

Almost immediately, Lannie faced projectiles raised and thrown in her direction.  Unseen hands blocked them, but increased the pressure on her to depart.  She struggled to no avail: her protectors strengthening their pressure upon her…flashes of white, the sight of white feathers on their wings becoming clearly visible.  Finally, forced to jump involuntarily, Lannie emerged in the Inheritors’ universe, a mile away from the Hell-mouth.

Speeding up, she quickly found the mouth of the cave and returned to where Destiny and Donna stood guard.

“It’s begun.”  She warned them, still breathing heavily, shifting out of her powered form.  “We were very close before we were found.”

“How soon before you can jump again?”  Donna asked.

“At this rate?”  Lannie rejoined.  “At least a few minutes, maybe longer…it’s harder for me to stay in that dimension than I thought.  But I’ll go as soon as I can…”

 

Neron’s domain

 

“Oh, come now.”  Neron crowed.  “You didn’t think it was going to be that easy?”

The emerald platform lowered and the blonde-haired girl jumped off, making contact with the soil of that realm.  And vines began to rise to defend her, smashing into creature after creature.

Emerald fire exploded from the other young woman, burning the demons on one side, causing them to scream as they vanished, as if hit by anti-matter.

The young women fought on, wordlessly, valiantly, pressing their way towards Lannie’s last direction…demons, howling as they vanished, then reappearing farther away, the sheer numbers of them finally enough to separate the two fighters…almost impossible for them to see with the smoke in the air…the stench of the demons almost unbearable.

The blonde girl thrashed at the demons with her vines, careful to maintain contact with the ground.  Neron, noting the determined contact, sensed a weakness, threw more and more of his undead legions towards her, then collapsing the side of a cavern around her, causing her to lose her footing and concentration…She fell towards the ground, her head striking the earth, leading her body to spasm as she ceased to move.

“Grab her!”  Neron screamed.  “Imprison her with her mother!”

The Mistress of the Emerald Fire continued her struggle…neither winning or losing, clearly unable to follow…as the blonde girl was carried farther and farther away…finally out of earshot as well as out of sight.

“And now you die!”  Neron’s legions grew in number, renewing their march towards her.

“Can’t…”  The young woman spoke, finally.  “Gotta get home…back to the farm!”  She fired again.

“Your power is limited here!”  Neron laughed as his legions attacked, pressing her even farther back.  “Soon, you’ll run out of Green Flame!”

“Better ta die a Green Lantern here, than run from the likes a’ you!”  She growled, firing once more.  “In brightest day…in blackest night…”  She prepared to fire again…hearing an echo as she did…in a weak, but familiar voice…

“…in blackest night…”

“No evil will escape my sight…”

“…sight”

“Let those who worship evil’s might…”

“…might”

“Beware my power…Green Lantern’s Light!”

“…light”

And then she roared, spinning as she did, her appearance transforming, growing from just over five feet tall to well over seven, leather wings erupting from her back, her skin turning reddish with scales, claws replacing fingernails, and a tail erupting from between her legs, thick, long, and ending with barbed point.

Horns grew from her head and her flow of emerald fire transformed to Hellfire, tapped from Neron’s own dimension.  And a man with an inverted pentagram on his chest appeared, mystic trident in his hands, blasting hellfire towards Neron’s demons.

“Neron, meet my friend, Damon Hellstrom!”  The demoness laughed.  “Hellstorm to you!”  She fired directly at Neron, forcing him back.  “And you can call me Jade!”

“You cannot defeat us, fools!”  Damon roared.  “You are but one Hell-Lord.  Mine is the power of many!”  He fired into the surrounding throng, decimating his opponents, but as he did, even more legions of the undead arose to take on the battle.

 

The Inheritors

 

A mile away, the young blonde girl felt herself being carried up stairs, towards a transom and back down a corridor.  As she roused, she debated her next move…how close would she come to Rose Canton before being moved farther away towards another cell.

“Drop her on the platform, over there!”  She heard another familiar voice…one of great evil that had tried to kill her once before.  “And don’t let her touch the floor!”

The guard at her head balked.

“Neron’s orders were to lock her up…alive.”

“He never said her brain had to be working.”  The familiar voice growled.  “But perhaps now I should kill the other one…sister of the one who damned me to be here…pull her out of her cell!”

The blonde girl heard a distant cell door open, and, soon after, a pair of feet dragging…and she prepared to move.

 

Neron’s battle

 

Bamf!  The demoness vanished in a flash of brimstone.  Bamf!  Neron felt claws and Hellfire rip through him before he could block it.

“Not as pretty as Damon…”  The Demoness giggled behind him, breathing Hellfire down his neck.  “Want to go for a ride?”  Bamf!  She vanished with Neron, quickly reappearing without him…forcing the Hell-Lord to find his way back to the battle…and forcing a delay as his denizens lost their sense of direction…especially one that seemed to be drifting away…towards the jail.

Linda considered firing towards the drifter…but, at the last moment, found another target for her Hellfire.

 

The jail cells

 

“Put that one over there!”  The evil, familiar voice crowed.  “Yes, yes, the rest of you come down and witness the revenge of Sinestro upon the Flameling’s family!”  The blonde felt herself being moved away, towards a more distant part of the cavern and, she imagined, a new form of torture, well insulated from the earthen floor.  Then she heard Sinestro issue a new command to his troops.

“The next generation of Gate Guardian will be born here, no matter which of them we kill first…so bring the elder one here…maybe she’ll regain consciousness before we kill her!  Her screams will be delicious and the look of horror in her child’s eyes will be delightful!” 

The blonde heard a rusty metallic hinge open…tried to pull a vine, but was not in contact with the floor…no vine would come.  Sinestro laughed, confident of his triumph against his tiny and now-helpless opponent.

But she was not alone; her ethereal companion understood the full truth of the situation…his time to act was almost upon him.  Alan Scott prepared himself; his gamble would pay off now or never… 

And twisting from her captors’ grip, the blonde abandoned the pretense of being Violet Canton, instead firing a bolt of emerald fire at Sinestro, and flying towards the unconscious Rose.  Faith’s eyes now open, she took in the size of the cavern; huge and Sinestro had a force of hundreds within it.

Rose Canton remained unconscious, trapped neatly within an ancient iron maiden.  Once closed, the spikes in the front would kill her quickly…unless Sinestro closed the door very slowly, prolonging her agony. 

“Ah!”  Sinestro crowed, immediately firing back.  “The Flameling herself!  Even better!”

“I have defeated you before…”  Faith growled, abandoning her disguise to become Veridian.  She appeared to fire at Sinestro, but intentionally missed…instead melting the hinge on the iron maiden…immobilizing it.  “…and I will do so once more!”

“Look at where you are.”  He fired Hellfire at her, forcing her to raise her shields, and pushing her back.  “Do you think you can stop me with a cross-bow bolt, here?”  He laughed.

“Now that you mention it…”  She transformed to Huntress, using her greater speed to dodge his Hellfire, pulling her crossbow from her boot.  “Remember this?”

He shuddered involuntarily, the sight having the intended effect.

But then the crossbow fell into two parts…she caught the second as it fell away from her.

“Wha…”  She jumped as Sinestro fired again, barely grazing the falling end of the crossbow…she quickly erected shields, shifting back to Veridian, with the two parts of the crossbow still in her hands.

“You can’t win here…”  Sinestro laughed, firing again at her.

“I must…For you are evil…”  She snarled as she felt the Hellfire push her back, draining her shields.  “You are a disgrace to Green Lantern’s light.”

“…Green Lantern’s light…”

She heard the words in a familiar voice…too familiar.  But something was happening to the crossbow in her hands…it shifted, altered, finally forming into two halves of a shattered steel sword.

The unexpected sudden change in weight toppled her and Sinestro closed in for the kill.

“Die!”  He crowed, furiously firing Hellfire at her, forcing her back, slamming her into the wall behind her, a cracking sound confirming that he had broken her left ankle.

“NO!”  She shouted with gritted teeth, her eyes burning green behind an emerald shield as her broken ankle burned with a healing flame.  “I…AM…HEIR…TO…GREEN…LANTERN!”

Floating above, Alan knew what was to come, precisely when to act to attain his goal.  But he had reached his limits…knowledge or no, he would not risk his daughter’s life.  His desperate gamble had come to an end….

But then, as if responding to her determination, the two halves of the sword rose into the air, the rising hilt raising her left hand.  White hot light separated Faith from Sinestro as the sword came back together in a flash of furiously blinding radience, its intensity forcing Sinestro’s legions back.  It remained in her hand as the flash of light faded…an entire sword…restored, glowing with a furious white fire: its power surging, protecting her even as emerald fire restored her ankle.  Faith now stood on both feet, feeling her will-force surging.

“Fire on her, you fools!”  Sinestro charged his legions.  Obeying, they added their efforts and their power to his, increasing his onslaught, once more forcing her back.

Then she sensed…something…in the sword and poured her growing will-force into it, even as she felt Sinestro firing at her, forcing her to step even farther back…but the sword was doing…something…to this place…were the demons changing?…at least one of them seemed to be, even though Sinestro only increased his attack.

“Last words, Flameling?”  Sinestro taunted as he increased the flow of Hellfire in her direction.

“In Brightest day…”  She challenged him, his Hellfire suddenly reflected away, back towards his legions.  The sword was doing something…deflecting his Hellfire…a conduit…a weapon…far better than a crossbow…almost a ring of power…

She snarled…feeling the effects of his power diminish and her own grow…and prepared to counterattack…to take him out long enough to get to Rose and jump from Neron’s realm.  But then she sensed another too familiar presence, raging with fury.

“Get the Hell away from my daughter!”  A voice from across the cavern screamed, blasting Hellfire at Sinestro.  The denizen who had abandoned Neron’s battle targeted the Korugand.

And the denizen’s form shifted…its features forming into the face and uniform of an Oan Green Lantern.  Sinestro counterattacked, forgetting Faith for the moment.  At the same time, his confused legions ceased their supporting attacks.

“Foolish denizen!”  Sinestro crowed.  “You will be punished!”

“Never again!”  The reddish cast of the demoness became ever more human.  “You will never harm my family again!”  She snarled, firing with absolute concentration…the face of an aging Selina Kyle glaring at Sinestro.

Faith, holding the sword, prepared to fire her will-force through it…holding only at the last minute as she felt another presence asserting itself…her hidden ethereal companion…not of this realm.  He manifested, gesturing to her, pleading with a glance for her to hold her fire.

“Daddy?”  She turned to face him…Blonde of hair, then brunette, he drew her to one side.  She knew immediately who he was…he had been her father twice; once as the father of Helena Wayne of Earth-2 and now as the father of Faith Powers Scott.

“So long I have waited…”  She heard Bruce Wayne’s voice, then Alan Scott’s.  “Waited…for this.”  He held her with one arm, careful to avoid the sword.  “I am so proud of you!”  He guided her out of the line of fire.  “But now, it’s up to your mother.”

“Fool!”  Sinestro howled at the approaching Selina Kyle.  “I do not know who you are…but die, now!”  He fired back at Selina, raising his shields.

“Mother?”  Faith whispered to Alan.  He glanced confirmation to her.

“More than once.”  He whispered as Selina fired back at Sinestro.

“Fool before!”  Selina cursed.  “But not any more!”  Sinestro felt his shields shred, crumple as she chanted:

“In Brightest Day,

In Blackest Night,

No evil shall escape my sight!

Let those who worship evil’s might

Beware my power, Green Lantern’s Light!”

 

Sinestro screamed as her power, fury, and force of will overwhelmed him.  He shuddered, fading into a temporary non-existence; while his essence would eventually reform in another part of that realm, Sinestro had clearly been stopped for the moment.

“Helena?  Bruce?”  Selina looked around, panting with her hands on her knees.  “What are we doing here?”  She shook her head, trying to reconcile the images she saw with the names she knew.  “Alan, Faith…what?”

“Our long nightmare is at an end…It is over.”  Alan/Bruce assured her as he stepped towards her.  “And it is time for us to move on…together.”

“I don’t understand…”  She looked up at him with confusion.  “Helena?”

“She can’t come where we’re going.”  Alan/Bruce replied.  “But maybe someday…”

Faith felt Alan/Bruce touch her…telling her, in an instant, their story…their love, too long denied…and telling her so much more: his love for his daughter, his regrets, his secrets…before he vanished with Selina.

And she knew that somewhere…somewhere, Prince Khufu Maat Kha-Tar and his beloved Chay-ara would rise up in ancient Egypt to do battle against Hath-Set, together…always together, the future Hawkman and Hawkwoman of a distant world.

She felt a sense of loss, but then something more.  She now knew the history of the Thorn, who she really was…and why.

The sword transformed once more, not back into a crossbow, but into a tiny ring, anchoring itself around her left hand’s little finger…a tiny ring…its power hidden...for the moment…its origins a mystery for another time.  She would have to find Merlin and thank him for its use.

But...a certainty swept through her…the ring would not leave her hand; it would even transmute to energy when she did.  Odd.

Faith put the thought aside and gestured towards the unconscious form she knew was her sister, lifting the older woman into the air with emerald fire.  Faith flew back towards the sounds of the melee, with Rose Canton safely in tow, feeling the power of the ring reaching out to deflect the stray bits of Hellfire launched in their direction.  She heartened at the sheer joy in Linda’s voice as the younger woman targeted Neron for even more mischief.

“Time to go, children!”  Faith called, gleefully.

“But we were having so much fun!”  Jade replaced the Demoness as Faith approached, with Damon Hellstrom in flight close behind.

“One of our more enjoyable outings, too soon ending!”  Damon chuckled.

And then they vanished in a flash of Emerald Fire.

 

The Huntress’ Wood

 

Diana walked with Steve Rogers down the winding trails, the early evening breeze providing a pleasant respite from the summer heat.  He wore his costume, but had left the mask and the shield in the Oracle caverns.  He looked up to the clear sky above, spotting something that could have been an alien craft…or simply a meteor.

“You seem at peace with yourself, Steve.”  Diana observed.  “Did the conversation with Carol Ferris help?”

“It confirmed things I already knew,” Steve answered her.  “What counts is the person who holds the power…not the power itself.  That was the lesson that my world never learned.”

“It’s the lesson this world still strains to learn.”  Diana admitted.

“It’s about personal responsibility, too.”  Steve stated, “Being willing to be responsible for your actions…and their consequences.”

“Very true…”  She turned towards the railroad wreck, suddenly distracted.  “What?  Something is happening down there!”  She vanished and Steve began to run towards the old wreck.  He charged down the trail, rounding the corner by the old plaque, slowing only when he spied Diana.  She stood in front of the now-blazing green lantern, the ring suspended in the air between them.

“Diana?”  He asked; she shook her head and pointed to the ring.

“No…”  She stated simply.  “It does not call to me.  I cannot be the one…I can only guide.”

“You are the chosen one, Steven Grant Rogers.”  The Green Lantern spoke.  “The sole survivor of your world, you understand my purpose in a way that no person born of this world can.”

“You are Alan Scott’s lantern.”  He replied.  “The gift of power was his.  How can it now be mine?”

“With my re-creation,” the lantern announced, “I was reset.  And, now that my previous champion has been freed of the last of his earthly bonds, I am free to serve another; the power of my flame renewed.  And I have chosen a true champion; forged by murder most foul and sworn to be a champion of life.  Steven Rogers, this world must have a Green Lantern.  And only you may wear my ring.”

“I…do not know what to say…”

“Do not say…act!  And remember that this ring must be recharged every 24 hours.  It may retain a slight amount of power beyond that…but very little.  I am not quite as I once was…you will understand my limitations and your own as you use my power.  Act in their names…”

A vision of the peoples of his original world passed through his mind, followed by the faces of the fallen heroes of his new Earth…so many, too many to remember.

And he heard an ancient refrain play through his mind, with a multitude of voices.

“In brightest day,” the face and voice of Alan Scott

In darkest night,” the slightly darker expression of Hal Jordan

“No evil shall escape my sight!”  He recognized the face of Arisia Fentura…Sentinel of the Multiverse probabilities.

“Let those who worship evil’s might…”  He now saw the face of Kara Gand

And suddenly, he was back in the holding cell in the gulag, waiting to for the end, with no hope…no chance, but refusing to cower, to die.  And then he remembered the first Green Lantern he had ever seen, injured, barely back from the brink of death, but primed for battle…resolute, determined...

“Thank you for my life, Mr. Rogers.”  The young meta smiled grimly.  “I’m called Veridian and I’d like your permission to remove you from this place.  I can’t tell you if we’ll make it home, but we are certainly not staying here.” (Elf note:  The Inheritors, Chapter 19: The Gulag)

“Thank you for my life…my chance to make a difference.”  He whispered.

“Beware my power.”  He heard her words, saw her face once more.

“Green Lantern’s light.”  He finished, staring down at the ring that settled on the middle finger of his left hand.

His clothes began to change, alter into the costume of the first Green Lantern of this world.  He knew that he could change it back, but he had chosen to take on a tradition…a legacy.

“Steve…”  He heard Diana’s voice, felt her touch on his shoulder.  “Just remember that you are not alone…I will always be here and you can always find me through the ring.”

“Thank you.”  He answered.  “I’ll be back.”  Pushing his willpower into the ring, he drove it to flare, lifting him from the ground, carrying him into the night sky, into space.

The ring protected him as he flew into and through the atmosphere, into the reaches of outer spaces, towards the moon.

He approached the lunar surface, landing next to the remains of an old Apollo mission and looked back at the world that had become his new home.  He remembered his native world, wondering if even the moon still remained, and now understanding just exactly what the ring on his finger meant, what it stood for.

He watched a vessel approach…one of Mongul’s fleet, he imagined.  He flew towards it and hailed it.  It attacked without warning.

He fired upon it, utterly destroying it, before heading for home.

 

An hour later, the Rock of Eternity

 

Rose Canton floated in the air of a room best considered an infirmary, although no drugs could be found in the room.  Instead, her unconscious body lay several feet above the ground, warmed by a healing spell, as her family watched.  Destiny and Donald were the closest, with Donna and Duncan near them and Lannie, Faith, and Linda farther to the back.

“I can’t begin to guess what was done to her.”  Kent sighed.  “It’s not just her body, but her soul that was under attack.  Neron and crew inflicted some damage…I just can’t say how much or how soon she will be able to recover.”

“Well,” Destiny remarked, “at least she is out of his hands.  There is a lot to be said for that.  Rose, at least, has an opportunity to recover…hopefully she won’t suffer the same fate as Alex.”

“She will not.”  Faith reassured.  “I know what happened to Alex, now.  I wish I had met her, even once.”

“What?”  Destiny rebutted.  “Certainly, you did!”

“No.”  Faith stared at the ground.  “I am not Alex’s child…she died in 1946 with her husband…only her body survived.”

Kent fired a warning glance to Destiny; she glared back at him.

“Faith…”  Duncan interjected, “I have to admit I don’t understand…what about the Thorn?”

“Souls wind up in Hell for a variety of reasons.”  Faith responded.  “Most are firmly under control of the Hell-Lords, but some are not quite as pliable.”  She flexed her left hand, feeling the almost imperceptible ring on her finger.  “Alex Florin had been killed by an attack that removed her soul, but left her body intact and Hell was quick to seize the advantage…preparing to place one of their own into the form of a Gate Guardian.”  She stared at the floor.  Lannie approached her, placing hands upon Faith’s shoulders giving the Flameling the strength to continue.

“At the last minute, a different soul stole the body and fled with it back to the world of the living.”  Faith recounted.  “This soul was at war with itself, the battles manifesting in frequent changes of appearance between Rose and Thorn.  But while the soul appeared to retain few memories, it had a clear, if unconscious agenda…find my father…and find a way to be with him.”

“It worked after a while…”  Faith smiled weakly.  “She found him...and had a child by him—me…but only after she was forced to run from him, no longer able to control her nature…our tragedy, I guess.  Still, even then she protected me from the evil forces that overcame our world…fighting her nature…as a loving mother would want to do.  And then she passed on, and with the body of Alex Florin finally devoid of life, Rose Canton received her full birthright.”

“Crisis…”  Lannie barely whispered as Faith nodded.

“You see,” Faith confirmed, “souls may try the wheel of life many times…but sometimes a soul cannot resolve its death and may be doomed to the nether reaches…in this case, a Green Lantern of another universe who failed to rescue her fellow and was slain by the Sinestro of that universe.”  Faith closed her eyes…only force of will kept the tears away.

“In the first life I remember,” Faith related, “I was Helena Wayne…daughter of the Batman and his wife, the former Catwoman.  My father died in battle just before he would have died of brain cancer.  My mother had died several years before, felled by a bullet during the execution of a robbery she was tricked into committing.  You see, she had been blackmailed and we did not know.”

“I am sorry.”  Destiny admitted.

“My life as I knew it ended with my universe…” Faith admitted bitterly, “and I was reborn here…not knowing what had occurred in my absence.  But, long before my return, in another pair of conjoined universes, far from here, my parents had been reborn…my mother as a different Selina Kyle, my father as Alan Scott, the Green Lantern, later the Sentinel of their realm…but Sentinel only after Selina’s untimely death at the hands of the Sinestro of that realm.  Her failure to protect a fellow Green Lantern, who died because Selina disobeyed orders to protect him, tormented her soul, casting her into Hell…and left my father, each time he was between lives, looking for ways to retrieve her.”

“And finally he saw his opportunity…because Selina’s beloved Helena would, for the first time in far too many years, be returned to life in the same cycle as he was…an opportunity to further loosen Hell’s hold on Selina.  And he had guessed correctly about another thing; Selina’s time as the Thorn would weaken Hell’s control over her even more…Sinestro’s most recent threat to me ended it absolutely…and they were free to move on…this time, together.”

“I am sorry for what was done to Alex Florin.”  Faith admitted, biting her lip hard.  “I benefited from your tragedy and that was not right…it was evil...”

“Faith…”  Donna tried to console her.  “None of that was your fault…”

“I’m sorry…”  Faith shrank back.  “This has been far too much for me and I do not want to intrude…Now that Steve Rogers has assumed my father’s role of Green Lantern, Earth finally has the Green Lantern it needs.  When we return, I will be departing for Myrg…where I can better serve…”  She turned to leave, stepping towards the hall, Lannie in close pursuit.

“Faith!”

Destiny watched the young women depart…the tale of Faith’s origin horrifying the elder woman… the phrase ‘hell-spawn’ entered her mind…years of fighting demons and those like them etched firmly into her consciousness.

But then she recalled Kent’s words…wondered how he had known.  And then Queen Hippolyta’s words passed through her mind.

“Welcome to the Huntress’ Wood.”  Queen Hippolyta greeted.  “This is a place of magic.  This is where tragedy turns to triumph.  And this is where love grows.”

“Destiny?”  Donald prompted, revealing a personal strength Destiny had not expected.  “We can argue about this later…but to turn our backs on her...that would truly be evil.”

She watched him…the twin brother of Alex Florin…as he made his way to the hall.  And, for some odd reason, she thought for a moment of the tale of the sword…the broken sword that healed in battle…sudden realization chilled her…a promise she had made so long ago.

“Gwen?”  She wondered if she had felt her sister’s presence…recalling one memory that she had never shared with anyone except her sister.  Gwen, this I do in memory of you.  Destiny felt her resolve stiffen, strengthen…and she gazed at Donald’s back, determined to intercept him.

“Donald…wait!”  She called.  “I’m coming with you!”  She ran down the hall after him.

Unusual for her, when she caught him, she grasped his hand and walked down the stairs with him, slowly gaining on the young women.

“I’ll be all right, Lannie…I know I will.”  They heard Faith speak at the bottom of the stairs.  “It’s just…finally…I might have had a family of my own…no longer just the orphan in the Wood Ray Palmer took in…I’m happy for Donna…she really deserves Donald…it’s just…Please let me go, Lannie, I need to leave…”

“Faith!”  Lannie argued as she followed Faith out of the castle and onto the surface of the Rock.  “You are not leaving.  And if you try to leave, I will come find you…there isn’t any place in Heaven or Hell where you can hide from me!  And you know that!”

“Wait…” Destiny called as she and Donald hurried to approach the young woman, whose eyes burned with the fury of the Emerald Fire that would soon carry her away, “please wait…we’ve all analyzed this to death…but missed the obvious!  I have to tell you who you really are…what your roots are…why you are who you are.”

“I am the spawn of an ancient magic who dared to think it was human!”  Faith countered.  “And now I know better…I am the child of Hell instead.  And I am so sorry for the misery I have caused you.”

“No…please don’t believe that.”  Destiny countered softly as she caught up to the younger women.  “Yours is a human soul, no matter how traumatic, how horrific your origin.  And I have been wrong to doubt you.”

“I do not understand…”  Faith replied, genuinely surprised by Destiny’s gentleness and warmth.

“The sword…”  Destiny gestured at Faith’s hand.  Faith lifted her left hand, the hilt of the sword appearing in it, the whole blade projecting from the hilt.  And a blinding light shone forth from the blade once more.

“Oh my!”  Lannie exclaimed at the sight of the shining sword.  “I had no idea!”

“But that sword was broken in battle…”  Donald argued as he peered at the hilt.  “I have seen it!  And now it is whole?”

“It is…where it belongs…”  Destiny assured, a smile beginning to form on her lips, the pieces of a puzzle finally coming together in her mind, falling so neatly into place after so long.  “Faith, you must understand the true circumstances of your birth…and they have nothing at all to do with Helena Wayne, or anyone else.  The Starheart’s gift was the key to your survival, but only that.”

“What?”  Lannie asked before anyone else, clearly confused.  Destiny chuckled.

“You don’t understand…and until a moment ago, even I did not.  Faith, Neron’s attack at your birth was not about obtaining your body, not at all; it was about preventing YOUR birth, the entry of YOUR soul into our world.  The stolen body itself was simply a useful trophy.”

“What?”  Faith reeled with confusion, stepping back.  “MY birth?”

“Do you know why your Mother’s insanity increased the night of your parents’ marriage?”  Destiny asked, quickly answering.  “Because Neron feared their coupling, and any issue of their marriage.  And he had good reason to fear it.” 

“Merlin created this sword many years ago.”  Destiny announced.  “But the owner never understood its true capabilities…and so it was broken in battle…replaced by another sword of even greater legend, much more suited to his very physical style of combat…but still, this sword has never been forgotten.”

“I can’t get near it.”  Donald held his hand in the air, pushing.  Destiny smiled, pressing against the air in front of her, feeling the same resistance.

“Now that it is in her hand, only she can…”  Destiny emphasized.  “It is her birthright…and only hers.”  She stepped back.  “It is a very powerful sword…it protected its owner in ways he never understood…he was such a handsome, honorable man…my sister loved him so.”

“…Arthur?”  Faith stammered, “Arthur Pendragon?  This was his?”

Destiny nodded and, as they watched, the sword reshaped itself, reforming itself to Faith’s grip, the blade and hilt receding to a size she could comfortably wield, the symbol of Uther Pendragon remaining at the end of the hilt.

“Excalibur?”  Lannie asked, curious.

“No.”  Destiny admitted.  “That sword belonged to the Lady of the Lake…it was only loaned to Arthur.  No, Faith, this sword represents your true heritage through your father’s line.  When it was broken, Merlin placed a spell on it…no human being other than one who is issue of both Arthur and the Gate Guardians would be able to handle it…we have only been able to handle the parts because they had been heavily wrapped when we did.  And now not even we can approach.”

“You see, Faith,” Destiny smiled at a memory, “you are not a Princess because a series of coincidences and a gift of power brought you a title…not in the least.  It is because in our planet’s darkest hour, the House of Pendragon has dared to rise again…and now even Hell fears its issue.”

“Oh…my!”  Lannie shivered.  “I never imagined…what an amazing story, even more so because it is true…and it makes sense…Donna is the heir to Lancelot of the Lake and her early years were every bit as dangerous.  And she was so horribly injured during the meta war.”

“I am sorry…this is a bit too much to absorb…”  Faith gazed at the sword in her hand.  “…even for me.”

“And, if anyone but me told you the story,” Destiny asserted, “it could be fiction.  But you see, I was there, so long ago…when I saw Arthur retrieve that sword for the very first time.  It is absolute proof of your ancestry…both of Arthur and of Guinevere…and your birthright.  For this was once the Sword in the Stone.”

 

Epilogue 1

 

Myrg, Veridian City, two weeks later, Military High Command

 

Faith sat alone in a conference room, another day’s briefings and planning at an end, pondering the several preceding weeks.  Finally, she walked out of the conference room, past the Admiral’s staff.

“Good night, Princess!”  The Admiral’s receptionist called.

“Good night, and thank you for everything today!”  Faith replied graciously.

“Oh, Princess?  You have a visitor at the palace.  The Prince Consort asks that you return as quickly as you can.”

“Please tell the Prince Consort that I’m on my way.”  Faith smiled.  “Thank you.”  She rose, flying down the halls and up through a parapet that had been adapted to accommodate her use.  Flying up the stairs, she flew toward the peak of the parapet, saluting the guards as she exited.

Her emerald fire blazed behind her as she flew into the night sky…she knew that the populace down below would be looking up to see her as she passed on her way back to the castle.

Down below, she spotted the private entrance to her quarters and flew down to the balcony.  An expansive view in its own right, it granted a beautiful view of the city surrounding the castle.  She landed and strode in to find a handsome young man waiting for her, in a familiar black and green uniform.

“Karik Gand?”  She greeted warmly.  “Welcome to my not-so-humble abode!  What brings you here?”

“Mom said you’ve been having more than your share of adventures recently.”  He asserted.  “That you had found family.  I wanted to congratulate you and wish you well.”

“Well, yes.”  She smiled back at him.  “If you can call finding your mother to be a demon in a borrowed body family, I suppose so.  Still, the family of the Gate Guardians has been most kind to me, more than I ever dared hope.”  She gazed warmly at him.  “It turns out that I have a sister through them, something I never imagined, and she has children who actually seem to like me, despite my origins.  And I even got a smashing piece of jewelry out of the deal…how cool is that?”

“Very!”  He grinned.  “Oh, speaking of jewelry and rings, Katma and I have been spending time with Steve.  He’s going to make a fine Green Lantern.  He did very well sparring with Kilowog…Kilowog still swears that Steve cheated!”

“I appreciate the time you are taking with him.”  Faith nodded.  “Steve is a very good man who has been through some trying times.  He is going to be quite an inspiration.”

“Thank you.”  He replied graciously, turning to look at her.  “Faith, have you been able to spend time with your sister?”

“Not yet.”  Faith gestured back towards the balcony; they walked out, gazing at the three moons overhead.  “It has been a slow road to recovery for her and, frankly, the thought of meeting her makes me feel a bit like Selinastein’s monster.  But I will, I plan to go back in a few days more.  It has been too long and I understand that my nephew, Jesse, is quite peeved at me.”  She grinned mischievously.  “He is almost as bad as Lannie in his way, but I must admit that I quite enjoy it.”

He cleared his throat.

“I wanted to tell you…my Mom told me the story of what happened to you there, in that other realm, all of it.  When I first heard the story, I thought it was the most bizarre thing I had ever heard.”

“You are not the only one to share that opinion.”  She replied quietly.

“And then it hit me…”  He smiled mysteriously.  “When it did, I must have had a very odd expression…Katma was more than a little concerned about me.”  He chuckled at the memory.

“I am all ears…”  She assured gently, her interest renewed.  A pair of oversized emerald ears wiggled between them, then vanished.

“Faith, I realized that that is the most extraordinary story I’ve ever heard!”  His eyes widened.  “Think of it…how much your father loved her…to have waited…to have planned the way he did…to have found a way to be there for her in that darkest of places when it would matter most to her.”

She nodded, agreeing.

“If he had not been there, I would have defeated Sinestro alone, and Selina would not have been able to return.  I still do not know how he was able arrange his presence.”  She smiled graciously.  “But I do know that wherever they are, they are there together.  And that’s as it should be.  Still, I wish I could have had more time with them…but they could not stay.”  She turned, gazing at him.  “Karik, are you all right?”

“Just a little awestruck.”  He confided, his cheeks reddening slightly.  “And this is such a beautiful night.”

“It truly is, isn’t it?”  She acknowledged.  “And such a beautiful view.”

“My mother can be so funny sometimes.”  His voice became more distant.  “She has been telling me that being a Green Lantern can’t be the only thing I am…that there is more to life…”  He shook his head, becoming more animated.  “And then I heard that incredible story and I began to think that sometimes I really miss the obvious…  Damn, I am making a mess of this!”

“I don’t think so…”  She replied, too quietly.

“Thank you.”  He smiled awkwardly, trying too hard to be casual.  “Anyway, I have reservations for two this evening at the Crystal Falls on Zindrith Four.  Doiby says your calendar is clear and I was wondering…”

“I would love to…”

 

Epilogue 2

 

Cornwall, England, early evening

 

Darkseid’s lieutenant gazed into the sky from her hiding place in a grove of trees.  Cir-El watched with interest as two figures streaked through the air above her, at just below the speed of sound.

Cir-El decided to follow at a distance, staying out of range of sight and sound of any non-Kryptonian, watching and listening with her alien powers.

“I still don’t understand what we’re doing here.”  Cassie Sandsmark confided to Donna Troy as she followed the raven-haired woman through the dusk-colored sky.

“Something here is calling me.”  Donna explained.  “It was a minor tug when we first returned from Alterverse…barely noticeable when we introduced the Sentinel to Wally.”

“I understand that was quite a show…”  Cassie chuckled.  “Poor Sentinel…with all the firepower aimed at him, he was probably too frightened to sneeze!”

“Actually, that meeting went very, very well…”  Donna remarked.  “But since then, the calling has gotten worse.  And, since we’ve had enough training for one day, I figured we’d check it out.”

“In other words,” Cassie deduced, “you wanted backup.”

“You’re learning!”  Donna smiled warmly, before banking southward, towards a region of small lakes.  “Helps that you know the geography, too.”

“There…there is where you’ll be going.”  Cassie pointed towards a particular lake.  “We came here once.”

“Exactly right…”  Donna turned to look at her as they slowed to land.  “How did you know?”

Cassie looked out over the lake.

“Here…because you are the best warrior I know…you know how to use a weapon and it will be you that leads us the Amazon Nation into its next battle.  It only makes sense.”

“Cassie?”  Donna questioned, already knowing the answer, “where are we?”

“Dozmary Pool.”  Cassie pointed towards the water…something was happening out in the waves…something was rising.  “I think it’s neat…the Lady of the Lake raised Lancelot…if he had busted his own sword, this one might have been his.”

“We’ll never know.”  Donna eyed the blade of a sword rising from the water, reflecting more than the setting sun.  And a woman’s hand held the hilt, touching the blade to water three times…the intensity of the shine increasing each time.  And then the hand hurled the sword towards Donna.

Super-speed reflexes caught the hilt.  A true weapon of war, Donna examined the sword, understanding just what, who it was…and recalling the known history of the blade before it had come into her hands…the legends…the unstoppable blade: chained lightning: Excalibur.

“Never know?”  Cassie finally spoke.  “I already do.”

 

Epilogue 3

 

Not far away…

 

Merlin stood in a high-ceiling chamber of his cave watching his over-sized crystal ball as the hilt of the sword made its way into Donna’s hand.  Three companions surrounded him; their ethereal appearances marked them as former residents of the realm of the living.

“It is done.”  Arthur Pendragon asserted.  “The House of Pendragon had risen once more and our children now have the best tools that we could provide for them.  From this day forward, the battles must be theirs alone.  At long last, it is time for us to depart.”

“So soon, Arthur?”  Merlin asked, hoping to delay the inevitable.  “The real entertainment is just about to begin!”

“That may be true,” Guinevere asserted, “but ’tis our time; we can delay no longer.  The cycle of life begins anew and it is our time to begin a new journey…together.”  She reached out to the magician…his magic allowing her hand to physically touch him.  “Farewell, Uncle Merlin.  Please remember us fondly.”  She and the King vanished together…leaving only the third member of their party with Merlin.

“Must you leave as well?”  Merlin asked his remaining guest.

“Perhaps soon.”  Lancelot answered.  “But perhaps not.  Please…I would like to watch just a little bit longer.”

The scene before them shifted to the Australian Outback…a brunette woman helping an orangish-red haired woman to raise from her bed, Rose Canton’s children at their feet as she struggled to rise.  Now standing, Rose felt the loving embrace of her children, the steadying hand of her aunt…Destiny’s strong support to her niece never wavering.

And Merlin knew that Lancelot would stay, would watch Destiny Lance to the end of her days if he could…and, once more, the magician felt humbled by something he knew he would never understand.

True love never dies…Merlin marveled at his companion.  Not now…not ever…and yours is the truest of all…

 

 

End—Thorn!

Part 3: Conclusion: The Shattered Sword

-- Story written and copyrighted (C) 2006 by Eldric

-- and may not be reprinted without permission. 

-- Otherverse and Multiverse, as depicted in the Continuum Worlds,

-- are original creations of Dylan Clearbrook.

-- Alterverse and The Inheritors and their associated universes, as depicted in the

-- Continuum Worlds, are the original creations of Eldric.

-- The Realm and Shadowverse, as depicted in the Continuum Worlds,

-- are original creations of John P. and Jason G respectively.

-- Some characters in Continuum Worlds stories are original

-- creations of Dylan Clearbrook, Michael Liebhart,

-- Jake H., Jason Froikin, Eldric, Jason G, or Andrew Shields and may not

-- be used without express permission of the respective author

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