The humid jungle air wavered not with heat, but with the arrival of the quintet of young heroes. Immediately as they’d materialized, Artemis and Redbird split apart to cover the flanks and Casey rose up into the air to act as a lookout. Though they hadn’t teleported directly into the thick of things in Gorilla City, the sounds of conflict and the smell of smoke carried over the damp air.
“I’m gonna pop up topside – see how close we are to the party,” Casey called down even as she ascended through the branches above them. The Blonde Bombshell broke through the canopy, revolving around to try and get their bearings in the sea of green.
Gorilla City – a technological wonder by any standards – was hidden from prying eyes by one of the most advanced cloaking systems in the world. Were it not for the smoke billowing up from seemingly random points in the jungle, Casey would surely be cursing her lack of x-ray vision. Casey made her descent, then passed on what she saw to those waiting at the jungle floor.
Redbird pursed her lips. “So now we found it, and that’s the easy part.” She held a pair of binoculars to her eyes. “Now comes the fun part.”
Those white lenses narrowed in that strip of black across Artemis’s face. “Now you’re getting into the spirit of things, Red,” she said with the slightest of grins.
She reached back and fingered the fetching from one of her arrows. She drew it and looked back over her shoulder where Garret Daniels stood, clad in Booster Gold’s old costume. Before he put it on it had been more the “gold” that had given Booster part of his name. When he put it on the golden weave seemed to take on an almost shimmering metallic blue instead.
“I hope you’re a quick study in addition to being very very smart, Rett,” she said to him ignoring the costume’s self adjustment. She sounded more encouraging than she had in all their previous encounters since pointing her bow at him thousands of miles above and maybe an hour ago. She felt for him and felt a little guilty for dragging him into this. It was true that he had stolen his way up to the Watchtower of his own accord, but whatever happened to him, to his life, would be on her head from here on out.
“Stick close to me for now. Stay sharp and keep your shield up.” She tapped his gauntlets with the end of the arrowhead. “Keep blasting and stay out of reach. Even with that shield a sock from a gorrilla’ll hurt like getting punched by an Ent.”
“I’ll stick as close to you as you like.” He smiled, only half joking. His thumb depressed the shield generator, encompassing the boy in protection. “And mad props for the Ent reference.”
She gave the young ‘will be hero’ a wink. “Speaking of which…” Her eyes rose, “Peeg, let’s keep low in the canopy for our approach. Once the element of surprise is shot, keep the skies clear and try and keep a wide birth between us and them as best you can even if you need to swing the whole damn forest like a bat.”
“One order of air superiority coming right up.”
Ishmael looked around at each of his companions, silently wondering where he would fit into the plan. Casey glanced down, seeming to read the unspoken question on his face. “If you’re anything like Aquaman, you can probably take it as well as you can dish it out. Just… try to take as little as you can, and if things get really bad,” she wiggled her fingers at him, “do that sparkly thing until one of us can get to you.”
“Watch our butts, Lagoon Lad. Keep them from getting around behind us.” She grumbled a little.”That would be unpleasant.”
Artemis put the arrow to her bow. “How we looking?”
Artemis turned toward where Redbird stood, but the blonde was gone.
“Yup she’s a bat alright.” Artemis rolled her eyes.
“She is a bat?” Ishmael cocked his head to one side.
Redbird was about twenty yards away, moving silently from tree to tree. At about five yards form the clearing that held Gorilla City, she stopped and pulled her binoculars up to her eyes. Scanning the area, she saw the opening she had been looking for. A Gorilla, she wasn’t sure if it was one of Grodd’s or not, lay prone half in and half out of the normally invisible entrance. The Scarlet Squire clicked on her comlink. “I’m going in. I will contact you when it’s clear.” Her com clicked off again.
“Typical Bat, going into Gorilla City solo to secure it all on her lonesome. Stupid.” She took the com, holding it at arms length and yelled at it in spite of its inactivity, “Nice teamwork, Robin!” She jammed it back into her ear, grumbling. “He was right. You’re not ready to operate.”
The teen huntress craned her head upward, “Case, don’t let her get killed.” Her tone implied that a great part of her felt rather differently than her words.
Casey nodded and sped off ahead to try and catch Redbird before she got herself in over her head. As if they weren’t in it deep enough.
Swerving through the branches, she cursed again her lack of x-ray vision and tacked on a few choice oaths for the bat-clan and their history of not being team players. As luck would have it, Casey caught the faintest glimpse of red not in the shape of some exotic flower. She kept to the shadows, hovering over and just behind Redbird she whispered, “You’re going to get yourself killed if you keep this crap up.”
The Girl Wonder stopped and held her finger closely to her lips. She then pointed to where the half of the Gorilla was laying in the clearing. Her eyes narrowed behind the tinted yellow goggles. “We go through there, secure the area, and then tell Arrowette and her civilians we’re babysitting to come through.” She clicked the bird shaped symbol on her chest and her costume became darker and harder to see in the foliage. Redbird pulled up her hood, and without looking at the blond behind her spoke again. “You coming?”
Casey’s hand went to the earbud comlink. After a moment, she muttered a few choice expletives through clenched teeth. “Artemis has contact to the rear…” Indeed, the sounds of thrashing through the jungle had carried forward to them. “I don’t suppose asking you to wait, or maybe, I dunno, help,would do any good, would it?”
Without waiting for a reply, Casey rocketed back towards the others. At least that was her plan. An over-sized hand closed around her ankle and swung her into the massive trunk of a nearby umbrella-tree. Stars swirled before her eyes as she crumpled to the forest floor. Looking up at the unmistakable blur standing over her, Casey keyed her comlink, “Things aren’t looking so good on our end either, Arti- HURK!”
Her message was cut off as the giant ape snatched Casey by the throat and pinned her to the tree she’d just collided with.
There were several audible paffs as small marble sized gas grenades landed all around the gorilla.
“You want to hit him now?” Redbird said from a tree above.
The gorilla’s grip slackened just enough for Casey to pull free. She balled up a fist and struck the beast with bone-crunching uppercut hard enough to lift its 800-pound body off the ground. She rubbed at her neck, looking up at the teen wonder, “Thanks.”
Redbird nodded curtly. “I would say the element of surprise is gone.” She pulled her cable gun out of the utility belt that hung low on her hips. “Let’s go.”. The sentence was punctuated by a paff as she fired the gun and swung back towards Artemis and the others.
The boy with blue hair still troubled Ishmael. He spoke a lot but this was not the main problem. He was smart. Very smart. And liked being smart. He was like scientists. Like the scientists who…
Ishmael did not like him. He just didn’t. And he found it hard to not express this through a flashing of his lights. He had to focus hard. Instead he stood looking away from the boy in blue and looked into the trees.
Ishmael was still troubled by trees. They were like the great kelp plains but so tall and hard and motionless. And here especially they were full of sounds and colours. It would be very much like the sea, he thought, if only a few things were different. And the fact he couldn’t say what made him nervous.
So he stood silently looking away from them. He had been told to wait here while they did whatever needed to be done and this is exactly what he intended to do. He knew they could help find Jackson Hyde and to be very honest, he didn’t know that he could help them.
The archer stepped back from the tree she had been perched beside. She waved the boys forward.
“Let’s move in some. I’d rather we be near enough if they need back up.” She grumbled, “Not that a Bat ever admitted to needing backup.”
Re-affixing the black ponytail she looked at the stranger. She realized that she knew next to nothing about him. No skills, no abilities. Nothing. Quite possibly a lamb for the slaughter. Or perhaps a fish for the gutting. “You okay doing this?” she asked.
His head made an awkward motion that she took to be a nod. She gave him the thumbs up. “Then we’re off.” She jerked her own head in the direction Casey had flown and ducked through the brush.
Ishmael didnt’ follow right away. He stood, listening to the way their feet crunched over the leaves. He suspected they were trying to be quiet but even among all the sounds humans stood out. He was entranced, unmoving. In the centre of all the trees and plants he felt both peaceful and nervous. The others were clearly worried about something in this place. Gorilla City, they had said. Perhaps, Ishmael wondered, it would have been wise to ask what gorilla meant.
“Coming or staying,” Artemis had stuck her head out from under one of the low branches, “Which is it, Lagoon Lad?”
He nodded again and started toward her.
He realised then he didn’t know her name. Nor the boy’s. Though he might be called…rat? or red? Sometimes these people spoke to quickly to understand. At any rate Ishmael realised if he was to be among them sooner or later he should learn who they were.
As they moved he remembered his question.
“What is ‘gorilla’? I know they are…’less’ than men. Jackson Hyde said so. But I do not know…”
“Big, hairy,” Artemis’ footfalls fell between the fallen sticks. “Very short tempered,”
Ishmael’s head cocked to the side, looking back over his shoulder. “So,” he asked “would that make the creature chasing us a gorilla?”
They all heard the sound of thick branches snapping. It was faint at first but came louder with the thick rasps of heavy breathing and the pounding of large feet rushing toward them from behind.
“The kid’s learning quick!” He clapped the boy on the back. “Now let’s see if you can run quick!”
“Crap.” The Teen Huntress tapped her com as she spun on her heel. “Case. We’ve got company on our six already.” She paused, listening to the noise. “At least two big stinkies. Just FYI.”
She ducked, letting Garrett rush by her followed by Ismael. She pulled her bow, and knocked the arrow. Her keen eyes narrowed as the whole forest in front of her seemed to move. Her breath held a moment, then she let the arrow fly.
“Move!” she called back behind her. She heard the arrow connect and the angry howl of its target immediately after. “Find cover. Or a clearing.” She was reaching into her quiver and knocking two arrows. “Someplace we can get an upper hand.”
When she turned back she could see the first gorilla. Her eyes widened a little but only for a quick flash. It was massive. Its right shoulder had a dark glisten to its matted fur. Blood. “Well that slowed you down, didn’t it?” The two arrows shot. “And by slowed down I mean made more angry.”
Two more little balls flew from the air and hit the gorilla in the chest and gas surrounded it. “I can’t leave you for a second can I, Arrowette.” Redbird appeared in the tree above Artemis. Redbird leaped from the trees, her tonfa connecting with the hardened skull of a Gorilla-City native.
“Bite me, Cardinal.” Artemis pulled from her quiver. “Maybe if we set up a plan before you go trotting off we wouldn’t have these problems.” Artemis continued oscillating her position and released her arrows as another great ape burst onto the scene with a roar.
The stream of arrows lodged in the thick muscled arm and hand of the beast. It closed its fist, snapping the shaft like a balsa twig. Its speed was monstrous and it was on top of her before she could reach her quiver.
Getting backhanded by it was like being hit with a meaty boulder. “Argh!” She fell back against the thick trunk of a tree, bow falling to the side. The archer twirled the arrow shaft in her hand around, grabbing it like a knife. “Alright then, stinky.” She leaped forward and jabbed it into the Gorilla’s eye.
Rett and Ishmael tore through the underbrush, presumably away from danger. Out of danger however looked shockingly similar to exactly how danger had looked when a monstrous furry beast exploded from the trees and straight into their path. Behind them Ishmael heard the two combatants but even he struggled to hear through the thundering bellow of the ape.
Instinctively Ishmael’s gill fins expanded to make him appear larger and the bio-luminescent lights across his body flickered in a pulsating pattern and, in a moment of sheer relief, the gorilla stopped and rocked to the rhythm of its own breathing.
Rett looked at Ishmael and added “You really are learning quick.”
The two young men began to wonder, for the briefest of moments what would come next, until a second voice replied with a heavy chuckle.
“Not quick enough, little human. It would seem you’ve never met a proud citizen of the mighty Gorilla City before.” with this the beast shook off Ishmael’s pitiful assault and lunged toward them with its tree-trunk arms held wide.
Beetle-black eyes went from anger to shock and the two teens watched as the huge ape flew into the air, much higher than could have possibly leaped. Broken branches and bits of tree bark rained down from the heights to which the ape had risen and there was only a moments pause when the great beast came crashing back through the jungle canopy, causing the ground to vibrate beneath their feet.
Casey followed the fall of the primate, hovering over its unconscious form. “Damn, I think I managed to miss a limb or three…”
“You missed more than that, pink flesh!” Two incredible powerful fists crashed down onto Powergirl’s back slamming her hard into the trunk of the nearest tree.
“Powergirl!” Redbird called out, her hands reaching for her utility belt. She fingered for more of the smoke pellets, when something grabbed her from behind pinning her arms to her side.
“You will make a pretty trophy.” The ape behind her laughed.
Casey struggled to her feet. She shook her head, trying to clear the fog of the impact. She straitened suddenly, looking down at herself with unfocused eyes. When she spoke, her voice was deeper, more gravelly.
“Oh yes, this will do nicely,”[pg] Casey said, clenching and un-clenching her fists. [pg]”This will do nicely, indeed…”
She rounded on the struggling Redbird, “Let’s see what happens when I flip this switch…” Casey’s eyes finally came into focus as she peered at the dynamic damsel. Red beams shot from her eyes, striking the buckle of Redbird’s utility belt and sending it flying into the underbrush. “You Bats are so much easier to manage without your little belt of tricks.”
Her blond hair swept past her shoulder as she looked back to the two young men behind her. A thin and wicked grin curled along her lips and she stared them down, her eyes flickering along the metallic blue clad Garrett first. The hum that surrounded him was almost imperceptible, but those ears heard it. “Force field? Impressive.” Her eyes filled with that fiery glow. “Care to put it to a test?”
The searing beam blasted through the brush, but Garret was thrown aside moments before it hit him. Artemis was on top of him. “Grab Lagoon Lad and get to cover.” She sat up and loaded her bow with several bolts. “Apes can’t fly.”
The smell of smoke started to fill the forest as Power Girl’s heat vision had sparked on the bark of a tree. Behind it in the thick cloud Ishmael was looking uncertainly between Power Girl, Redbird and Artemis. “What about you? I’m not leaving you here with them.” He pointed at the angry and powerful Apes, one still clutching a struggling Redbird, and Power Girl with her new attitude.
The archer let the arrows fly. “You will and you are. Apes can’t fly, but,” Casey’s arms moved in a blur catching and snapping every shaft as it reached her, “she can.” She shot a glace to Garrett with a small smile before pushing him with her elbow. “Go. I’ll keep her off you.”
Artemis turned and bolted for the blond bombshell. Beside her the fire was spreading. It’s smoke thickened, and she rushed into it drawing more from her quiver and knocking the arrows back. One after another she let them fly. Knowing not a single one could actually injure their mark she let them all seem to focus on Power Girl, eyeing the way she would bat them away.
Some shot just a little wide or high, looking like weak and hurried shots. They weren’t, and the girl didn’t bother with them. The bolts plunged into the wood beside her or the ground behind her. The archer bit back the grin as the string of her bow was pulled taut, loaded with three arrows from her quiver. She let them fly, and two spun in a flash for the girl’s throat and her shoulder.
Casey’s hand slapped through the sharp head of the first and almost missed grabbing the fletching of the second. The third had gone wide, and she hadn’t bothered with it. It, however, hit its target perfectly. The ape howled in pained anger. The arrow had slit its way into its wrist and right up its muscled forearm.
With the gorilla pulling back, it was enough for Redbird to wrestle herself aside. She landed an elbow into the arrow shaped bulge along the beast’s arm and that sickening cry grew louder. She continued her assault unrelenting. Every calculated blow helping to put the creature down and out.
“You stupid, pink…” Power Girl sneered. Her head shot around and Artemis burst from the fire’s smoke.
“Stuff it, Grodd,” before the possessed girl could blink the Archer threw a fist full of dirt in her eyes and mouth. Her fist felt like it had punched a stone wall. She didn’t stop, throwing her weight into it and knocking Power Girl back against a tree with her shoulder. “And get out of her brain before I hunt you down and dig your own out with a rusty spoon!”
A backhand sent the emerald archer hurtling away. Artemis twisted in mid-air, landing a gracefully as she could manage with a cathedral’s compliment of bells ringing in her head. Casey started towards her once more, but her motions were stilted and jerky. Knowing full well that the blond was powerful enough to knock her into the next country, a small sliver of hope welled up from within. Casey was fighting it.
A battle that she was clearly losing as the area around Artemis was peppered with blasts of heat vision. Artemis continued to dodge, giving Rett and Ishmael time to escape, and Casey time to try and fight off Grodd’s control. Unfortunately, the archer was either beginning to wear down, or Casey was getting more accurate, though Dee would only be willing to admit to the latter…
“I don’t want to do this, Case…” Artemis said, dodging a particularly close call. Her chest heaved as she readied herself to release the metagene gift she’d inherited from her mother. In the short space of time that it had taken her to inhale, Casey was upon her. A vice-like grip clamped down on Artemis’s throat as she felt herself being lifted off the ground.
Before the blackness took her, Artemis looked down into the sneering face of her friend. “All this talk of brains and spoons… I must say it has certainly whetted my appetite.”
Ishmael stood in the underbrush with Garrett. Both boys suddenly showed their inexperience in combat, and while Rett felt a twinge of guilt in this Ishmael stood bewildered by what happened. He did not know the world of superhuman antics that included, among other phenomena, the prolific use of mind control.
“The blonde girl is our enemy?” he whispered to the Booster clad boy-genius.
“Right now…I’m not entirely sure.”
Beyond them the girls battled foes far greater than themselves. Redbird continued to use the impaled arrow and the naturally mushy bits of the creature’s body to drive home ever increasingly painful blows.
Artemis and Power Girl were locked in some kind of battle that existed beyond the realms of what was visible, Artemis battled with hope and Power Girl with will power. It was hard to say if either succeeded. Only when Power Girl’s eyes flashed red on and off or her arms shook violently was their any sign of her internal conflict.
“The archer, Artemis, she- she should have come with us.”
Guilt muddied Garett’s voice. “If she had, we wouldn’t have had to opportunity to get away.” The boy ran thin fingers through his brilliant spikes. “She’s the hero. It was her job to stay.” Those fingers came to rest on the back of his neck, squeezing the muscles to try and ease the anxiety that got worse with every step.
“She saved us.”
“Seems so, doesn’t it.”
“Then we must respect her. We do as she says.”
Rett thought about this for a moment; thought about arguing. But if there was anything he most certainly wasn’t it was an idiot. He sighed heavily and then the two disappeared into the undergrowth.