Saucy Jones is recruited to join Starbright and Starlight's League of Naughty Space Vixens, alongside Caress, Flare, Titania, the Silver Slasher, Esper Lass, Spider-Girl, Princess Pain, Gladiatrix and the Terror Twins, Phebe and Demi!
In a place that is not a place, two sisters regard each other warily. They are surrounded by a glorious garden, filled with crystalline brooks that circle through flowering meadows and trees heavy with sweet-smelling fruit, but they are oblivious to their surroundings, as they are to the melodious calls of the brightly colored exotic birds that flutter amidst the trees, or the captivating dances of the butterflies frolicking over the stream. One sister has hair like the night sky, a wave of black filled with sparkling stars, and skin that gleams like polished brass. The other sister has instead of hair dancing golden flames, burning like a pyre atop a body of dark crimson jade. Each wears similar attire, silken veils that move like serpents of smoke, coiling around their bodies, and many trinkets of jewelry, of gold and many precious stones in a dazzling array of colors.
"It is a good plan, sister."
"Indeed. Thirty centuries it has taken…" begins the other, before she is interrupted.
"Thirty four centuries."
"Must you always correct me!"
"If you weren't so sloppy about details…"
"Enough! We must cooperate to see this through! Our vengeance will be legendary!"
"You are right. We cannot bicker now, that our moment is so close at hand…"
They resume staring at each other, as if waiting for something before the darker-haired of the two closes her eyes and says simply, "Begin gathering them. I trust you, my sister."
They join hands and the flame-haired sister's exotic outfit transforms into something very much like a costume, form-fitting, with all traces of exotic jewelry gone. She fades like smoke and vanishes, leaving her night-tressed sister alone in the garden.
The woman's eyes narrow slightly, but she shows no other sign of concern at the sight of the half-dozen cartel thugs and the business ends of their blasters. She can see in their minds that they have already decided to kill her, quickly, before she can take action against them, but it is amazing what a micro-second's hesitation can buy a woman of her talents. The seeds of doubt are sewn, and one of the gunmen is convinced that another has been bought off to betray his comrades and help her escape. Another is convinced of the same, but has a different companion in mind. She flits lightly from mind to mind, and in the long second it takes for the leader to order them to fire, he finds himself already staring down the barrel of one of his goon's guns. Before even the gunman realizes his decision to fire, she makes it for him, and the room is filled with sound and fury, as a half-dozen weapons discharge at once, most finding purchase in soft flesh. Only one man has the will to continue aiming at the telepath before him, and she smiles as he discharges his blaster into her smirking face. Or, at least, into where her smirking face appeared to be, as she had deceived their senses when they entered the room, and the blaster merely left a smoking hole in the wall. Within seconds, all of the men were down, including the strong-willed one, felled by one of his weaker-willed 'friends.' The sensations of pain from a man too long in dying disrupted her calm, and she seized control of his arm and caused him to slide his weapon across the floor to the chair where she sat, drink in hand. She leaned down to pick up the clumsy tool and fired a single shot into its owner, ending his pain, and leaving her mind mercifully untroubled by his interminable transition from person to object.
Setting down her drink with a sigh, wrinkling her nose at the stench of burnt flesh, Eve Aries was disappointed that the cartel would send a mere half-dozen men to try and collect the money that they claimed she had cheated them out of, using her powers at their gambling casinos. None of them were even mentally shielded. An expensive mistake, and one that would cost them further, as she now knew who had ordered her death, and intended to make her own 'object lesson' of that particular casino owner.
A sparkling shimmer of light cut through the still-smoky air, and she let the energy weapon hang limply in her hand, trusting to her most powerful weapon, the one within her skull. A woman appeared, one she recognized from research into potential allies for the Legion of Super-Villains, as the energy-creature Starbright, who came from the Starfinger ring. She had never been entirely sure where these mysterious super-powered women came from, or why they would serve such witless fools as typically ended up calling themselves Starfinger, but as her telepathy failed to encounter any mind at all, she dismissed the creature as an artificial construct of energy, a mere tool, and not a person. Still, the tool appeared to have a message…
"Saturn Queen, it is an honor to make your acquaintance." Flame-haired sister began, "I represent a group of women of power and ambition, who wish to make you an offer to join a fellowship that will not be sloppily mismanaged by men of small vision and petty dreams."
"Go on." Eve Aries said, increasingly frustrated with this creature for forcing her to sit and wait for her to finish speaking her message, as she was unable to rip it out of whatever passed for a mind, in such an entity.
"We offer a safe refuge from the trivial inconveniences of day to day life within the United Planets, one that cannot be reached by the authorities, and one from which we can travel anywhere, at a moments' notice."
The creature seemed to be warming up to its sales pitch, but Eve had already made her decision, and no longer wished to humor whoever was pulling this puppet's strings. "I have no interest in joining your little girl's team. And you are not welcome in the team *I* lead. Return to report your failure to your master now, slave-girl." Recognizing that she had succeeded in making the entity angry, and that her telepathy appeared to be of no use here, she raised the seemingly forgotten blaster and discharged it at the intruder as her face was contorting with some angry retort.
The blaster discharge seemed to tear right through Starbright like smoke, which waved and disappeared, still wearing a look of outrage and anger. Eve was satisfied now that the creature was more than a mindless construct, as she had fallen for classical emotional manipulation, and yet remained impervious to telepathy, which made her most strenuously not the sort of 'ally' with which she wished to have any sort of association. She would make her own way, with 'allies' that were blissfully defenseless against her own particular weapon…
Back in the garden, Starbright re-appeared, the smoldering hole in her torso sealing up and vanishing as her form coalesced like smoke.
"She shot me!" Starbright protested, flustered and outraged. "Send me back! I'll teach that miserable mortal creature a lesson she'll never forget, not if she lives 3000 years!"
"3400 years." Starlight said, petulantly.
"Don't you start with me!"
"Fine. But, I'm not sending you back. We have to stick to the plan." Starlight said decisively. "It is an ill omen that we have not tasted first success, but it's my turn now."
Starbright shot her sister a glare that promised that this discussion was not over, but finally calmed herself and took a deep breath, before saying, "I trust you sister," through gritted teeth. Again, their hands linked, and Starlight vanished suddenly, like a candle snuffed out by wind.
As she vanished, Starbright shouted out, "You forgot to change your appearance!"
In a comfortable room, albeit one lacking any means of egress, a woman sits in meditation, her face a picture of quiet contemplation. She feels no comfort from her psychologically designed non-threatening, calming and life-affirming quarters, but takes great comfort indeed from the faintest sensation that comes from far away, like the memory of a lover's touch.
And so the unannounced arrival of some scarf-clad alien serving girl is an unwelcome intrusion, indeed. Starlight quickly recognizes from the clattering of her many golden bracelets that she has forgotten to 'change' to 'more suitable attire,' and by the time verdant eyes open, she is clad in the familiar uniform she wears as Starlight. "Majesty, it is a great pleasure to meet you, and I must say, your decision to recreate a new Fatal Five, with powerful women under your command was a legendary masterstroke, and very inspirational to other women who have chosen to bow to no man, and to take what we deserve from this universe."
Sarya finds the flattery amusing, although perhaps a bit over-strong, and nods her head regally, acknowledging the compliments laden her way.
"And so," Starlight continues, "we would be greatly honored if you would join us in the formation of our own such team, one that would take direction from no man, but will quite readily take anything else that strikes our fancy."
Feeling the calm fade from her fleeting mental contact with the Eye, a feat which her captors have assured her is utterly impossible, the Emerald Empresses mood turns. "In the weeks to come, during my mandated therapy sessions, councilors will show me newsvids of the exploits of your little band of rogues and misfits. Tales of your crimes, tales of your spectacular failures, and, oh so very much, recounts of your ignominious defeat, all part of the important lesson I am to learn here in Takron-Galtos, that crime does not pay."
Starlight is taken aback by the look on the Empress's face as she recounts these words, and is still trying to formulate a response when the Empress continues.
"Return to wherever you came from, little firefly. Allow an old woman to atone for her many, many sins here, in this place of redemption." Sarya's face is beatific as she clasps her hands in front of her, as if begging for forgiveness before a justice tribunal.
"I can whisk you from here, and you can be a queen again, an empress, but with the universe at your feet, not just one backwater world!" Starlight protests, unable to reconcile everything she has heard of this fearsome villainess with the seemingly repentant woman before her, and utterly oblivious to the sarcasm dripping from every word.
Sarya's expression changes to a calculating one, "Ah, but can you indeed whisk even yourself away if the security fields are increased to level four, such as in the case of a prisoner attempting to escape?" as she says this last, her fist lashes out to strike the security shielded walls, as if she was trying to punch her way out of her cell. Alarms begin sounding and the lighting in the room dims suddenly, as power is diverted to security systems.
"You have no idea what you are refusing," Starlight says, "and you certainly cannot trap me here, but you can stay here until your bones rot as surely as your mind has!" she snaps, as she allows her presence in the material world to fade, and returns to the garden.
Sarya watches her fade away, and composes herself again. She will be free, but only on her own terms, owing to no man, or woman. Soon, she will be able to forge a stronger connection to the Eye, and when that time comes, the screaming will begin…
As Starlight appears, her sister is there, arms crossed, favoring her with her best glower. "I thought you were going to succeed where I had failed, oh sister?"
"Do not try to turn this into an argument, sister. We have perhaps set our sights too high. Let the third time be the charm…" Starlight says, reaching out her hands once again. "I trust you sister…"
Saucy sat in the room, head pounding with pain, disoriented by the space-distorting fields that contained her despite her powers, at the cost of keeping her in a state of constant vertigo, and feeling as if she was being stretched like taffy in all directions at once, and that any slip in concentration would cause her to be torn apart by the fluctuating spatial distortions.
She had made her way back to the 30th century, and to Marzal, only to be imprisoned for her 'crimes' by her outraged people, and while she knew that the fields wouldn't actually tear her apart, as she had lost consciousness many times in whatever unknowable length of time had passed since her incarceration, she still was gripped by an instinctive fear and uncertainty as the spatial forces ebbed and flowed around her. Surely her people could not know how this prison was affecting her. They couldn't be so cruel. But she couldn't speak, couldn't stand, couldn't even lift an arm to feed herself, propped against a wall like a broken doll, fed by machines, as her every waking moment was an irrational and irresistible struggle to fight the unstable space around her, trying to impose order on the madness that seemed to hunger for her very sanity.
The flash of light meant nothing to her, and the words sped up and slowed down, moving oddly through space and time before reaching her uncomprehending ears. But when the golden woman extended a hand, Saucy reached out, flailing as space distorted around her and she hit the wall instead. The woman reached forward, seemingly unaffected, and suddenly they were in a garden, where everything remained blissfully solid and the surroundings didn't pulse and warp like a desert mirage. For the first time in months, Saucy slipped into unconsciousness with no fear of what would happen next…
The third time, as it happens, was indeed the charm. As was the fourth, fifth, sixth and so on, up unto the twelth time. The sisters float above the garden, conferring softly amongst themselves, while their new guests enjoy the comforts that the garden can provide.
Saucy has spent several pleasant hours in this garden, her ravaged senses recovering from the endless torment of her captivity, and she slowly has become aware that this place is in some extradimensional fold in space, warped somehow, both in space and time. She doesn't remember the transition here, only the blissful surrender as the fields that held her imprisoned on Marzal were left behind and she could finally rest. When she awoke, it was to the gentle trilling of songbirds that she did not recognize, and the heady fragrance of flowering trees and bushes. A tray of savory pastries sat beside the marble bench upon which she'd awoken, and pillows as soft as silk and satin supported her body above from the cold stone. Others have arrived, some she recognizes, some unknown to her, and it seemed that some sort of gathering was being called to order…
Saucy can see eleven other women, standing singly or in small familiar groups, and descending from above them, the golden woman who rescued her from the endless dissolution that was imprisonment in Marzal names herself as Starbright, and her dark-haired sister as Starlight. Together they outline their plan, to take, and take, and take again, immune to retaliation, here in the garden that lies outside of United Planets space, and able to go anywhere, past any security, with but a thought.
Caress and Flare have not seen each other since their short-lived introduction to the Emerald Empresses own Fatal Five, and are all-too aware that their former benefactor has abandoned them and returned to the company of her old teammates. They stand together, not out of any shared bonds of affection, or even trust, but simply because they do not know any of the others present.
Similarly, Titania and the Silver Slasher, of the League of Super-Assassins, stand together, both radiating body language that promises great violence to anyone who encroaches upon their personal space.
Esper Lass and Spider-Girl, both occasional members of the Legion of Super-Villains, do not stand together, and, indeed, are separated by other women, avoiding each other for reasons that remain unstated.
The Winathian 'Terror Twins,' Pheba and Demi, stand together, holding hands, looking in opposite directions, so that, between them, they can watch the entire assemblage.
Standing alone, the Khundish cyborg Gladiatrix, the first female Khund to secure a champion standing at the Challenge Court, although with her freakish musculature, and cybernetic limbs and implants, it's hard to find anything 'female' about her, listens to the sisters without comment, although as she listens, metal blades extend and retract from the thick fingers of her left hand, prompting Esper Lass, standing to her side, to move out of arm's reach.
Also alone, Princess Pain radiates arrogance, fluttering her black bat-like wings for show and lightly tapping the handle of her agony whip against her leather-clad thigh, as if keeping time to a song that only she can hear.
Unlike Esper Lass, Spider-Girl is not standing alone, but is standing with Saucy Jones, the last 'recruit' to arrive, and while the two young villainesses only know each other by reputation, they seem to have found common ground.
The last of the sisters' recruits remains unseen, and unknown to most others in the garden, her concealment devices stealth-fields not lapsed for an instant, even in this apparent place of safety, as the Rimborian espionage expert, intrusion specialist and sometimes assassin known only as 'The Ghost,' considers their offer.
At the end of the presentation, the sisters ask for a show of hands, and slowly, every hand goes up, starting with Gladiatrix, who is apparently the most decisive of the lot, with a few sharing covert glances to verify that their allies from other teams are also agreeing to this new venture. It's hardly a surprise that Titania and Silver Slasher share a glance, and not unlikely that Caress and Flare compare responses, but anyone viewing might be surprised to see that Saucy Jones and Spider-Girl, who apparently just met, share a look before nodding and raising their hands simultaneously. Esper Lass and Princess Pain are the last holdouts, but Esper Lass finally nods, as if confirming something, and relents, and Princess Pain makes a show of coming to a decision before raising her hand, milking the moment for attention.
"This new crime wave is unprecedented." Brainiac Five says, unnecessarily. "The villains appear to be able to move interspatially, but in a manner that ignores force shielding or even quantum containment protocols!" He seems outraged, not that the villainesses are stealing priceless artifacts and cutting-edge technology, but that he hasn't figured out how they are doing it.
"Has this new League of Naughty Space Vixens shown any pattern to their attacks?" Wildfire asks. "Are they trying to build something out of all this stuff they are stealing?"
"Not that we've identified, and we're not even sure if they are calling themselves that.." Saturn Girl adds.
"Well, Princess Pain's last group was called the League of Naughty Space Vixens, and she certainly seems to be in charge here, from the way she was shouting out orders during the last attack." Wildfire replies.
"Regardless of what they are calling themselves, I suspect that the presence of Starlight and Starbright are key. We've never seen more than one of them on a raid, and it seems clear that they are somehow responsible for the transportation going on, as they do not seem to contribute to the actual crimes themselves." Brainiac says, attempting to get the conversation back on track.
"About these raids, what have we seen them do? I don't want to go into a fight against these people without knowing what they are capable of, and several of these villains we haven't faced before." Saturn Girl says, confident that Brainy will figure out whatever tangent he's on without their input.
"Well, I'm the most familiar with the Terror Twins, since they attacked me on Winath," Lightning Lad says, "They have a link that's as close to telepathic as it gets, and they can somehow share each others' strength, resilience, reaction speed and healing ability, making each individually twice as strong, fast and tough as you'd expect. Since then, they've worked with Princess Pain in her original League, and then gone freelance again."
Wildfire speaks up, "Princess Pain showed up at the Academy tryouts, demonstrated her ability to cause intense agony with a touch, and got her butt handed to her by a practice droid, since her powers were useless on machines. Since then, she's had serious cosmetic surgery, and has claws, fangs, wings and a funky prehensile tail, and we've learned that she can also cause paralyzing doses of intense pleasure, which she used to form her own pleasure-addicted cult. We still have no idea how she got out of Takron-Galtos, although it's rumored that mysticism was involved."
Brainy scoffs audibly at the notion, but makes no comment.
Phantom Girl calls up information on a data-pad. "While none of us have faced the Gladiatrix, review of the footage from the raids matches the publically available records of her hardware from the Khund Challenge Courts datasite, down to the model numbers on her parts. Apparently, the Khunds consider it cheating to use a weapon system or cybernetic upgrade that isn't publically listed… She's got enhanced strength, reaction speed and toughness, internal and external armor, and, more importantly, energy-absorbing force shields that draw power from energy attacks on her person. She's got a small arsenal of weaponry built into her, including explosive darts, poison darts and hypersonic flechettes, extending vibroblades and a monofilament whip. No energy weapons, 'though. They don't work in conjunction with her energy-absorbing shield."
As the screen flashes to Saucy Jones, all eyes turn to Tyroc's scowling face on the viewer, transmitting from Marzal. The Legionnaire shakes his head. "Saucy Jones is trouble. She can manipulate space and time, to speed herself up, slow you down, or teleport short distances, among other tricks. She was sneaky and out of control before she had super-powers, and now she thinks she's untouchable. But I never thought she'd be so far gone as to hook up with this crew."
"And we know what Esper Lass, Spider-Girl, Titania, the Silver Slasher, Caress and Flare can do, as well as Starbright and Starlight," Dream Girl says, rattling off the last names distractedly as she ticks them off on her carefully manicured nails, upon which tiny nano-thin flexible monitors are projecting a vista of white clouds soaring at ten times speed across blue skies.
Brainiac Five cuts in, "I have considered whether or not the machinery stolen could in some way be boosting Saucy Jones powers, as spatial / temporal manipulation could explain the otherwise inexplicable ability of this team to appear and disappear though any form of security containment."
"And?" Tyroc says impatiently, waiting for Brainiac to finish his thought.
"Not possible. The only factor I see in consideration between the relics and technology stolen is that it is of high value and easily resold. Indeed, I have found evidence that several pieces have already been illegally purchased, and have just forwarded the names of the buyers to the appropriate authorities."
"Fastest crime-solver, ever." Lightning Lad quips.
Ignoring their leader's compliment, Brainy continues his thought, "Which means that the presence of Starbright and Starlight is the only remaining avenue to explore. We must find the Starfinger ring, which was last seen in Khundish space…"
"How are we going to do that?" Wildfire asks.
Brainiac Five puts down his pad and looks at Wildfire, raising a single eyebrow. "If only one of us had a girlfriend who could find anything, anywhere, and happened to be a Legionnaire…"
"Seriously, they are calling us the Legion of Naughty Space Vixens?" Titania grumbled, tossing a holo-viewer to the ground with a crash.
Princess Pain admired her long black nails and shrugged her devil-wings, "It's a perfectly good name, I don't see what you are complaining about. It's certainly more truthful than the League of Haven't Actually Successfully Assassinated Anyone Yet."
Titania growled and the Silver Slasher rose from a golden couch where she was being fed grapes by a scantily clad male servant to back up her fellow Assassin. The Terror Twins also turned their heads as one, analyzing the situation, and no doubt communicating through whatever connection linked their minds and bodies.
Starlight recognized that yet another tiresome personality conflict was about to ensue, and while she noted that Esper Lass was watching it with interest, it was plain that the Titanian had no intention of interfering. Indeed, it seemed like the majority of the women in question would be more likely to place bets than attempt to intervene, and so Starlight sighed and took the initiative, "Enough. They can call us whatever they want. It doesn't change the fact that the universe is our plaything." As she exercised the ancient powers that she possessed within the ring, more shirtless muscular men appeared from within the scented pathways of the garden, carrying golden trays laden with exotic fruits and pastries, and crystal decanters of sweet-smelling liquors.
Titania seemed unwilling to forget a grudge, but Princess Pain turned immediately to snatch a goblet of Winathian honey-lemon rum, as always, surrendering to her love of decadence and hedonism. Seeing that the potential conflict is averted, the Silver Slasher as well turned to skewer a half-dozen sautéed vegetable on the ends of her long nails, popping them into her mouth one by one. Strange that a woman who made a living carving people up with her bladed hands would be a vegetarian, or, perhaps not so strange after all…
Sensing the arrival of her sister, Starlight turns just as Starbright appears in a shimmering cascade of golden glitter, typically attempting a dramatic appearance, but just succeeding in looking cheap.
"Good news, my sisters!" Starbright says excitedly, clapping her hands for attention. "A prize like no other has become known to me, as the Spiffany Collection is finally being taken out of hiding for a grand showing to commemorate the anniversary of Braal's admission to the United Planets! Each of the attending Ambassadors has been allotted a single item of Braalian-made jewelry from the collection, and this event will be our chance to collect them all!"
While several voices rise, Gladiatrix's eyes blur for a second, and then her mechanical voice booms over the others. "These shiny rocks will be impossible to fence."
Before Starbright can correct the cyborg, Esper Lass' saccharine-sweet mental voice chimes in, "Actually, we already have someone who can handle that. We just have to time our arrival for when the last Ambassador arrives, so that the jewels will all be in the same chamber…"
Gladiatrix's mechanical eyes are incapable of narrowing, but she turns her head and her eyes change colors several times, as she once again searches for the unseen member of their sisterhood. Once again, she finds only subtle heat-traces, indicating that another person is within the garden, and, once again, fails in her attempt to locate or identify this elusive thirteenth member.
Saturn Girl smiles a fake smile as she promises the Talokkian Ambassador that she'll 'do something about the lights.' She curses whoever thought it would be a good idea for a few Legionnaires to be physically present, in disguise, while they sprang Brainy's little trap, even as she acknowledges that the idea was her own. She can see Garth, chatting it up with a Carggite attaché, and is annoyed that he ended up disguised as a guest, while she plays the role of staff.
"Excuse me, miss… I asked for sparkling night-ale, and this has gone flat." The despondent looking aide held up his glass, and indeed, there was no sparkle left to his ale, which sat dark and flat in his glass, not responding with its customary scintillating effervescence as he tapped the side, hopefully.
'You have to go to the bathroom, now.' Imra thought, and even as she watched the aide's eyes widen and he hurried off to the facilities, chided herself for using her powers in such a petty way. Still, she had a job to do, and it wasn't to put the sparkle in someone's ale, it was to protect the Ambassadors from the impending attack.
A sudden flash of light filled the room, and quartet of super-villainesses appeared in mid-air, where some remained floating, while others dropped to floor. Blasts of radiant energy soared overhead from Flare and Starbright, as explosive micro-charges from Gladiatrix's fist detonated against the ceiling. Princess Pain's voice cut above the din, "We're here for the Spiffanies! Turn them over and nobody dies!"
'Well, I just saved the aide from being in the room for this, at least,' Imra consoled herself, before launching a telepathic broadcast to the civilians in the room, temporarily calming their panicky reactions, while simultaneously alerting Dawnstar that it was time.
Blistering waves of fire cut through the air as Sun Boy and Flare exchange fiery greetings. Flare narrowly avoided an explosive burst of fire from the more experienced Legionnaire, but was still reeling from having thrown herself into a wall to avoid being hit. Dirk smiled and kept up the pressure, forcing the villainess to dodge and weave erratically through the air, unable to spare a moment to launch a counter-attack, before narrowing her eyes and diving right into the crowd, knowing that the Legionnaire would be unwilling to keep up the barrage if she was surrounded by civilians.
Nearby, Gladiatrix' enhanced voice boomed her enthusiasm, as she roared, "At last! A challenge worthy of my skills!" as she launched a dozen venomous flechettes towards Cosmic Boy, who allowed them to ride the magnetic fields surrounding his body and form an outline of him on the wall behind him, leaving him untouched. Aware from their briefing that he could not directly affect her, due to her energy-absorbing fields, he instead picked up a dozen metal serving platters and carving utensils, keeping them swirling around the massive Khund, battering at her, but inflicting no real damage.
Saturn Girl had stopped Princess Pain in the middle of lashing out at the crowd with her pain-transmitting whip, but the girl, for all her issues and her posturing, had a powerful will, and turned her powers on herself. A crippling wave of agony, so intense as to drop Imra to her knees and make her feel as if she was about to vomit, was transmitted through her telepathic link, forcing her to release the villainess, who smiled and recovered unnaturally quickly from the pain she had just inflicted upon herself, cracking her whip menacingly and advancing on Imra while she was still trying to recover.
Starbright was pleased to see that the Legion had prepared a trap for them, as a confrontation with the team suited her larger plans. She was somewhat surprised to see how well her cannon fodder recruits were doing. Sun Boy was held at bay by Flare, who stood behind a hostage, her hand smoldering as she pressed it against the man's head and warned the Legionnaire to back away. Cosmic Boy seemed to be doing all he could do to survive the constant barrages of missiles and projectiles from Gladiatrix, while his own feeble counter-attacks did nothing but annoy the large woman. And, most unlikely of all, Saturn Girl seemed about to fall before the lash of Princess Pain.
Her sister's voice rang in her head, and she felt the call. Success, at last! She called out, "Enough! We are needed elsewhere." as she transported her team, even in the midst of their seeming victories, back to the Garden, to answer her sisters call. Gladiatrix' booming mechanical voice echoed in protest, "Noooo! I was winning…" as they faded like smoke.
Dawnstar received Saturn Girl's mental signal that the League was now engaged, and distracted. She allowed her senses to flow outward, like an enormous winged creature whose span covered the entire universe. Somewhere in that eternal moment, she lost perception of her body, and was truly a creature of the cosmos, imperceptible and immeasurably vast, but she steeled herself against the distraction and focused, resisting the temptation to just float here and be part of everything and nothing, all at once. She had a mission to do, one that no other could accomplish. Beneath her, twinkling in the unfathomable shadow she cast, the ring she sought sparkled like a fish, and she allowed herself to be drawn towards it, her form shuddering with the speed of her passage, feeling herself becoming smaller and more real the closer she got, pushing aside the sense of loss as she became again, merely Dawnstar, as she flew into Khundish space at several times the speed of light. Behind her, Wildfire struggled to keep up, and she could feel the burn of his anti-energy tearing up space behind him, streaming the forces of destruction in his wake, as if he was strapped to a world-destroying bomb that would never stop exploding.
Through her Flight Ring, she could hear that the Coluan was talking again, but she already knew the mission, and was well aware of his habit of explaining and repeating himself many times, as if his team-mates were children. She did not allow his chatter to disrupt her focus, and tuned him out, just as she tuned out the stars that had turned into horizontal lines of light, streaking past her like the bars of an infinitely tall cage, with herself falling towards a floor that only she could see.
And there was the ring, decorating the dessicated hand of a man who once called himself Starfinger, left here floating in space by the Khunds who killed the fool. She was somewhat startled to see the man's body, as the universe slammed to a half around her, reforming into little pinpricks of light on a black curtain. She had seen the ring clearly, but been so focused, that she had been utterly unaware that it was still being worn by the corpse of its last owner.
Her moment of thought was disrupted as blasts of energy flew towards her, and with a flutter of her wings, they sailed past her without more than scorching her feathers. One of the Starfinger women, whom she did not know well enough to tell apart, floated above the corpse now, along with several other villainesses, none of which she recognized as any significant threat to her, as neither Titania nor the Silver Slasher would ever reach her, and lacked ranged attacks, and Spider Girl and Saucy Jones seemed similarly helpless. Only the Starfinger woman, who was clad in an unfamiliar outfit of silks and jewelry that seemed ridiculously impractical, seemed a threat, until suddenly space grew hostile and slammed in around her. She saw only the smirking face of Esper Lass as the sudden agoraphobia tore at her, with a sensation of falling uncontrollably in all directions at once, and being powerless before an implacable void. Through the madness, she was dimly aware of Titania lazily drifting towards her using some sort of thruster pack to propel herself through space, but was unable to do anything other than huddle in a ball, attempting to stave off the crippling terror that the thrice-cursed Titanian witch was projecting into her mind.
"Dawny!" came a familiar voice through her Flight Ring, and she could feel space shudder around her as Wildfire caught up, his explosive journey ending equally explosively as he slammed into Titania and knocked her back into her gloating teammates (and far, far beyond), sending the villainous Titanian reeling from a casual collision with her hurtling teammate.
"Two for one!" Drake shouted with enthusiasm, before space around him began to shimmer with the arrival of new foes…
Their moment of quiet relief never came, as the remaining members of the League appeared around them, including a still-complaining Gladiatrix, protesting that, "I was winning!" Wildfire began sending explosive bursts in all directions, firing blindly, trusting that Dawnstar had the ability to anticipate and avoid his wild and directionless fire. The League scattered in a dozen directions, all but Flare and Starlight limited by the slow speed of the thruster-packs they were using to navigate the cold of space. Dawnstar moved like the shadow of an angel, at speeds near that of light, streaking among the blistering barrage to strike out first at Esper Lass, whom she now recognized as the greatest threat and left unconscious and tumbling out of control in her wake, and then at Flare, who managed to avoid her attack entirely, when space itself seemed to distort around her. She could perceive the source of the spatial disruption, and followed it back to Saucy Jones, sending the Marzalian rogue flying out of control, her thruster-pack damaged by Dawnstar's flyby attack. At some point, Gladiatrix had gotten a fix on Dawnstar, and a dozen tiny missiles followed along behind her, having some sort of homing technology. They could never catch her, but she couldn't stay moving in this confined area for long, not and remain here to help Drake against the onslaught of a dozen villainesses. The Silver Slasher had already gotten close enough to tear open his suit, before he blasted her away again, and their plan would be for naught if Drake fell…
From the distance, Dawnstar became aware of a new threat, as a meteor came flying in (a special delivery from Titania, who was still several kilometers from the field of battle, thanks to the gift of momentum imparted to her invulnerable body by Wildfire's dramatic arrival), and in the process of dodging it, she brushed against Spider-Girl, whose steel-hard hair wrapped around her like cables. Her Flight Ring picked up the villain's excited transmission to her allies, "I got her!" as she turned to see Gladiatrix's missiles turn in mid-flight, locking on her new stationary position. Spider-Girl's eyes widened as she realized that in capturing Dawnstar, she might have sealed her own fate…
As quickly, the animate hair uncoiled and thrust Dawnstar away, head over heels, as Spider-Girl attempted to get clear, and while Dawnstar attempted to orient herself, aware that she was too late, space again shuddered and the missiles exploded, slamming into each other before reaching her person. She rode out the shockwave, accelerating along with it, allowing it to carry her clear of the worst of it, and was aware that the spatial disruption that may have saved her life also came from the young Marzalian.
Unnoticed by all, a dessicated body spinning slowly in the void all these years crumbles to powder in the wake of the shockwave, leaving behind only a thin grey dust, spiraling like a miniature nebula around a proto-star, if proto-stars were shaped like gleaming golden rings...
As the villains regrouped, Dawnstar recognized that this dangerous game could not continue, and was relieved to sense a larger spatial disruption imminent. Seeing the Spider-Girl was directly in the path, she swooped in and grabbed the surprised woman, hauling her bodily out of the way as the Legion Cruiser shuddered into view, smoking and with several hull panels tearing off and flying into the distance, having pushed far beyond its traditional speed limitations attempting to follow the path of bruised and violated space left behind by Wildfire's trailblazing. With her senses already attuned to spatial distortions, Dawnstar recognized that the cruiser may have gotten their allies to the field of battle, but that its engines were shutting down and that it would be in no shape to get them home, having given its all in the precipitous journey to this place. In her moment's distraction, the Silver Slasher has come within arms' length of Dawnstars position, and only an unexpected and violent tugging motion drags her out of reach of a vicious attack that might have cut her open like a hulled cruiser. She is surprised to see a band of scarlet hair unwrap itself from her waist and Spider-Girl just nods to her, acknowledging a debt repaid.
Phantom Girl emerged from the hull itself, phasing into the field of battle, and Ultra Boy streaked out of an airlock seconds later at ultra-speed, hurling his invulnerable body into the Silver Slasher, who had once again managed to close on Wildfire's position, but once again failed to deliver the blow that would tear him from his containment suit.
Lightning Lad is next out, and the blue-white flare of the Terror Twins jump-packs ignite as one as they turn and unleash a blistering torrent of laser fire towards their fellow Winathian. He twists and whirls like a mad dervish, but takes glancing blows to the thigh, shoulder and temple in their initial volley, even as a desperate attempt to block some of their fire with lightning fails utterly, as the coherent light passes unaffected through the wildly-aimed burst of electrical plasma. Garth can see them adjusting their aim mechanically, using their previous shots to force him into a position where he cannot evade their follow-up shots. Silently, they grin in eerie unison, aware that he can't evade their next volley.
Saucy recognizes that the Legionnaire can't possibly evade the barrage of laser fire the twins are putting down, especially with the psychic link between the Terror Twins allowing them to sight off of one another. Having seen how the winged Legionnaire risked her own safety to push Spider-Girl out of danger, while her own 'allies' had been the ones to endanger her in the first place, Saucy makes her choice and gently warps spacetime around the frantically dodging Winathian, causing his image to appear several decimeters behind his current position, showing only where he had been, not where he was, and causing their seemingly unavoidable carpet of fire to miss him by scant millimeters, or to only inflict grazing blows, instead of lethal hits.
The twins turn in unison, clearly having deduced her interference, through whatever heightened intellect their conjoined psychic state affords them, and Saucy recognizes a cold promise of retribution before they turn as one back to their attacks on their hated foe. As they raise fire their laser pistols again, Saucy attempts to concentrate, but a stray bolt of fire from Flare flies between her arm and torso, searing her skin even through the environmental suit, which begins beeping out a warning about temperature thresholds. She despairs, but the laser blasts disappear into an inky cloud of darkness that manifests between the Legionnaire and the twin assassins, and from her perspective to the side, it seems almost as if the stars between the two sides had been swallowed up. She sees the Talokkian Legionnaire descend into the fray, and when the lasers turn in her direction, the darkness rears up like a living thing and conceals her from view as well. From her perspective, Saucy can see the lasers enter the living darkness, but never come out the other side, somehow negated or absorbed by the light-negating field. Again the darkness surges forward like some terrible creature, but the Terror Twins fly apart in opposite direction, each passing around the cloud with incredible speed as they push their thruster-packs to limits of acceleration that would knock any normal person unconscious, trusting to their inhuman reactions and stamina to allow them to override the jump-systems safety overrides.
Shadow Lass attempts to expand the darkness to ensnare them again, but blasts of fire sear through the darkness unaffected, and she is forced to hurl herself to the side, losing her focus as Flare hurls bolt after bolt into the field of darkness, forcing Tasmia to continue moving evasively and losing her ability to concentrate on assisting Lightning Lad.
Having evaded Shadow Lasses field of darkness, the Twins converge from opposite directions on the Legion Leader, but Garth has had a moment to catch his breath, and launches a bolt of lightning at Phebe and Demi, who contemptuously evade the errant blasts, only to react with uncharacteristic shock as the bolt twists in mid-space and hurls itself into their backs, causing their bodies to convulse as tiny serpents of electricity writhe and slither along their environmental suits until they reach the laser pistols in their grasp, where they suddenly strike in unison, causing the weapons to begin sparking and smoldering. The Twins react instantly, hurling the now-useless laser pistols aside, and one of them explodes silently in the void of space, while the others tumble away, melting into debris. And yet the effort of twisting these twin lightning bolts around and targeting them so specifically, against targets closing in from opposite directions, has taken every scrap of concentration the Legionnaire has, and while Garth manages to avoid Phebe's frontal assault, it just sets him up for Demi's attack. Her leg strikes the side of his head with such strength that he's lucky she didn't snap his neck, and Garth's vision goes black for a moment as he reels from the force of the blow. They are upon him like a wave, striking with small fists and slender legs that hit with relentless mechanical speed and precision, feeling more like plasteel training batons than flesh and bone. His only hope is to get clear before they tear him apart, and he focuses on his Flight Ring, flying backwards as fast as he can, blindly throwing lightning bursts at the blurry figures he still can't even see clearly. His arm slams against something hard, and he flings a lightning bolt in the direction, only to hear Polar Boy's exclamation of surprise, and realize belatedly that he's recklessly flown into one of his teammates. Polar Boy has avoided the errant surge of electricity from his near-blind teammate, and turns to the approaching Twins, freezing the reaction mass in Phebe's pack, causing it to sputter and die. The effect is more than he had anticipated, as the Twins have been more than exceeding the safe use of their jump-packs, and the sudden seizure is followed by a flash of reaction mass flying forth as the pack detonates, and Phebe flies forward, spinning out of control, unconscious from the force of the explosion, and 'bleeding' a plume of atmospheric gases from her breached environmental suit. Demi reacts as if the explosion had struck her as well, spiraling out of control, and then turning away from the combat to rocket to her sisters side. Polar Boy broadcomms on his Flight Ring, using the frequency that the villainesses have been 'heard' using on previous jobs, "I have a spare transsuit, hold her steady!" but Demi ignores his offer, if she hears it at all, and slaps a patch from her own suit over the breach on Phebe's suit, before taking the breath-tube from her own suit and using it to recharge her sisters suit, at the cost of using her own air supply. Before he can reach their position, Demi turns to him and growls over the same frequency, "Back off, hero." as her jump-pack flares white with acceleration and moves them away, Phebe clutched in her arms like a child.
Seeing a new and wounded target, and hoping to kill many birds with one stone, Gladiatrix sends a half-dozen missiles streaking towards the cruiser, passing directly through Phantom Girl on the way, only for them to be intercepted by Ultra Boy, who switches to ultra-invulnerability and allows them to detonate harmlessly against his body. As Phantom Girl approaches, Gladiatrix smiles and activates her sonic cannon, only to remember a split-second too late it is useless in the vacuum of space. Tinya mockingly holds up a hand to her ear in an 'I can't hear you' gesture as the destructive sonic resonances hum and throb impotently in Gladiatrix' weapon arm and then reaches forward and phases the mechanical appendage right off of Gladiatrix's body, causing a small explosion and a shower of sparks from the damaged cyborg.
Flare continues to pepper the area with indiscriminately thrown bolts of fire, laughing enthusiastically, and not seeming to care that she hasn't yet hit anyone (and, indeed, as much a danger to friend as foe), and she seems to have forgotten Shadow Lass entirely. For her part, Tasmia Mallor has just beaten Princess Pain to within an inch of her life, taking a single excruciating burst of pain from the touch of the devil-skinned villainous, but then wresting her agony whip out of her clawed hands and bludgeoning her into unconsciousness with the handle of her own weapon.
Flares old teammate Caress has failed to even get near Wildfire or Dawnstar, due to their speed and her own unfamiliarity with the jump-packs and the zero gravity conditions, and so is relieved to see that more Legionnaires have arrived, some of whom don't seem quite so fast or maneuverable. Chameleon Boy flies forth from the Legion cruiser, orange flesh melting into the form of a monstrous violet-hued space squid with many raspy-toothed tentacles and Caress jumps right into his grasp, counting on his half-dozen elongated limbs to give her plenty of opportunity to use her deadly corrosive touch. She is pleased as his revolting Durlan flesh recoils and smoulders at her touch, and can feel the shuddering of an unheard scream reverberate through the pseudopods holding her. The pleasure is short-lived as the Durlan's flesh shudders around her, becoming powerfully alkaline, and causing her hands to begin to burn in an equal corrosive reaction. Her own scream is not as silent, echoing through her helmet, and when the Legionnaire hurls her away contemptuously, she merely drifts aimlessly, clutching her ravaged hands to her chest and trying to resist the temptation to slide into shock.
As Element lad flies out of the cruiser, he can see that the battle seems to have turned increasingly hopeless for the villainesses, and he moves to Lightning Lad, who is still floating in space, attempting to recover his bearings and clearly staggered. Abruptly, the Vixens vanish en masse, leaving only Starbright, smirking.
"I've sent them to sanctuary, Legionnaires. You can never beat us. You can't even reach us…" the fire-haired woman gloated, before vanishing into a wisp of smoke, that seemed to curl into the ring itself, still floating on the remnants of its last 'owner.'
Brainiac 5 emerged from the cruiser, and examined the scene, before turning to his companions. "Ultra Boy, Polar Boy, see what you can do." The two Legionnaires in question turned to the ring, one projecting intense amounts of cold that 'cause even the faint traces of interstellar hydrogen in the void of space to begin forming frost patterns on the ring, and the other gazing at it with eyes that flared with sun-intensity heat. The energy discharge was blinding, but when it faded down, the ring was intact, and appeared undamaged.
Within the garden, in the crystalline 'sky,' the villainesses could see the massive forms of the Legionnaires floating above them, pouring forth unfathomable energies. As one, they began protesting, but Starlight and Starbright ignored them, their faces ecstatic as they watched the Legionnaires attempting to destroy the ring containing their garden paradise. Princess Pain's whip lashed out and struck Starbrights leg, as the bat-winged villain protested, "Don't ignore us! We're all going to die if they destroy this place, why aren't we out there stopping them?" Starlight turns with an expression of annoyance, apparently unaffected by whatever torment Princess Pain is attempting to inflict, and with an absent gesture, every villainess but Spider-Girl and Saucy Jones vanish. "We don't [i]want[/i] to stop them, fools." Starbright says, not even turning to look at the villainesses as they vanish.
As Spider-Girl and Saucy look around, surprised that they too have not vanished, Starlight looks at them. "I saw how you worked against us. I have sent the others back to where I found them. But I have a special place for traitors," she hissed, as Spider-Girl and Saucy Jones vanished, their environmental suits and thrusterpacks falling to the ground where they had stood.
One last time she looked at a point in the garden, and a figure appeared, a slender Rimborian woman, with a belt and harness of high-tech equipment. Starlight nodded her head, almost respectfully, "Thank you for your services. They are no longer required. Where would you like to be transported?"
The Ghost responded with a location, and Starlight's ebon brow rose. "Well, that's an interesting choice. As you wish. Good fortune be with you." With a gesture, the Ghost vanished again, and Starlight returned to regard the towering Legionnaries outside the ring, discussing means by which it could be destroyed.
Saucy and Sussa appeared in deep space, surrounded on all sides by cold unfamiliar stars, and with no life support equipment of any sort. As her breath exploded out of her, Sussa's hair wrapped around them like a cocoon, attempting to hold in their body heat, even if it would only delay their death by seconds, as Saucy attempted to use her powers as never before, if she could only do it before her blood began to boil…
"Not even a scuff. It isn't even warm!" Lightning Lad says, shaking his head, having unleashed his full power upon the ring resting in his palm. While the pale traces of dust that are all that remain of the last man to call himself Starfinger have been scattered in the fury of his teammates attacks, the ring itself shows no sign of harm.
"It's not made of any element that I can affect," Element Lad says, a quiet tone of disbelief coloring his statement as he regards the ring, now in his hand, with a perplexed expression. "It's as much a construct of coherent energy as any form of matter…"
"As I suspected," Brainiac 5 confirms, before speaking more loudly, "Everyone, back to the ship. This is Wildfire's show now."
"The ship is toast, Brainy," Lightning Lad says, "It's not going anywhere…"
"Ultra Boy will have to push us, and it's not going to be a short trip home." Brainiac 5 admits, sounding dour, "But I have a plan that may add some speed to the return trip…" he adds, obliquely.
Wildfire floats over to the ring, showing no sign of wear from the combined efforts of the other Legionnaires to destroy it and Dawnstar floats next to him, her arm on his shoulder, offering silent comfort.
"It's time. Get clear, Dawny."
Inside the garden, through the faceted dome that separates the garden from the void of space, a figure the size of planets looms over them. In the center of an orange head, larger than any moon and occupying the entire night sky above them, a dark blue visor begins to rise, revealing a hellish hungering light brighter than an exploding star and many times more destructive.
Looking up, Starlight reaches for her sisters hand, and while Starbright shoots her a look at first, she takes her sisters hand and they wait, trembling with anticipation,
Wildfire can see Dawnstar receding into the distance, and Brainiac 5 signals that it's time, as he sees flickering shields of force extend around the damaged Cruiser. He has no idea if Brainy's plan to get the others home is any less crazy than it sounds, but he's confident that he can take care of the immediate problem.
He regards the ring in his hand, so far resistant to everything his teammates have thrown at it. "Magic. Technology. It doesn't matter," he says quietly, "For I am death, destroyer of worlds."
His visor opens and the ring is illuminated for one terrible instant by the energized anti-matter plasma that pours forth. The explosion which follows rocks the shielded cruiser, which shudders and begins to ride the ever-expanding shockwave away from the site of the battle.
The explosion is dazzling, and Dawnstar can feel space warping again, as Brainy's impromptu shields use the force of the explosion to surf back towards UP space. Somewhere nearby, on a galactic scale, she can feel, like a differently colored speck of sand on an endless beach, a different spatial distortion. One that feels somewhat familiar…
Space parts around her, as she moves in the direction of the disturbance as effortlessly as a shark through water. Stars stretch like taffy with her passage, as she realizes that 'nearby' was perhaps not as close as she had thought, her own perspective on distance warped by the nature of her abilities. She sees a reddish mass, that resolves into the form of two huddled women, surrounded by a mass of hair that is flecked with ice-crystals. Space itself is strange and screaming around these women, bent into an unnatural symmetry, and she can see that they still retain some traces of body heat, against all odds, having spent many long minutes in the vacuum of space.
To her Flight Ring, she barks, "Ultra Boy, I need life-support for two, at my location, *NOW.*"
She grips onto the figures and uses her own abilities to begin accelerating them in the direction of the receding Legion cruiser, which looms large in her senses, meeting Ultra Boy halfway as they quickly place a support field around the half-dead women, and tow them back to the cruiser. As Dawnstar hauls them in through the air-lock, Jo remains outside to add to the velocity of the crippled ship with his powers.
Within the ship, attempts at life-support initially fail to have any marked effect on the two women, as it seems that whatever force has slowed their systems to prevent their immediate death is also slowing attempts to revive them and reverse the damage, but Element Lad and Sun Boy combine their powers to oxygenate their blood and gently warm their bodies, and the time-distortion that kept them alive for long minutes in the void of space fades away as Saucy Jones finally slips into unconsciousness.
Dawnstar takes the spare containment suit that Brainiac 5 insisted they bring for this mission and returns to the center of the explosion, relieved to feel no presence of the Starfinger ring with her tracking powers. She effortlessly tracks to the small whorl of energy circling at the center of the devastation, and triggering the suits circuits, draws the infinitely destructive forces back into the containment that protects the universe from his power.
"Hey." he says groggily, becoming re-acquainted to this approximation of human form. "Did it work?"
"Of course it did," she says, laying her hand upon what would be a shoulder, if he were a man. "Not a single molecule remains of the ring. Let's go home."
In the place where all things began, a million suns have died, and become part of a single mass so large that light cannot escape. Within that place, larger than the United Planets, and yet crushed into a space smaller than the head of a pin, there is a city, made of glistening metal, that has existed longer than life on Earth. Walking the streets of that city, are a pair of women, who have been away far too long. Three thousand years, one would say. Three thousand *four hundred* years, the other would insist.
Their expressions are of despair and confusion, as the city, although gleaming and flawless as ever, is deserted, and the great markets are quiet, only flapping cloth and empty stalls marking the great souk that was once the trading post of the endless folk. Great brazier stand cold, as even the smokeless fires have gone out, and as the two daughters of the great sultan approach the palace of their childhood, no courtiers bow, no trumpets flare and no guardsmen stand aside to allow them through obsidian portals a hundred men high.
"We are eternal," Aluriyah Firemane, the one so recently called Starbright, says in a tiny voice, like that of a frightened child. Her sister, Zarisse Nightmantle, also called Starlight, seemingly forgetting their undying enmity, holds her shoulders and walks beside her, unable to even speak.
They finally come to stand before the throne of their father, Sultan of the Ifrit and Master of Genies, and there too, nothing awaits them, just cold stone and silent metal, mockingly reflecting nothing but their own shocked faces.
Pushing her sister away, Aluriyah shrieks, "This is your fault! If you hadn't gotten us exiled in the first place, we would never have been cursed to that garden!"
Zarisse turns, eyes growing black as jet, "My fault? You are the one that could never let it go! It is your fault that it took us *millennia* to break free of our prison!"
Behind them, unseen by either, a sparkle in the air heralds the appearance of some small item, a trinket of some sort. A ring, perhaps.