All's Fair, part 5
by ChicagoDisclaimers in "part 0"
The monitor womb was largely taken up by a huge display of a world map onto which Batman was entering notes and calculations with startling speed. It was one of the few times Zatanna had seen him actually sitting in the chair that floated in the room rather than perched somewhere in an expectant crouch. She secretly suspected that he simply found the chair uncomfortable, especially since she'd realized how carefully customized his chair at the conference table was. But now he needed to type to enter data, so he was seated for a change. He didn't acknowledge her entrance, but she knew he was aware of her.
The other figure in the room surprised her since she hadn't felt his presence over the telepathic link. Tempest stood in front of the giant map, staring up at it with intense concentration and a little frown. He did turn at Zatanna's entrance, his face betraying a sense of relief.
"Zatanna," he greeted.
"Tempest," she replied. "What are we dealing with?"
Tempest glanced uncertainly at Batman, still furiously running calculations. "Magic," Batman grunted. "Brief her."
Tempest sighed and Zatanna smiled encouragingly. "I can see the gist," she began, nodding toward the map and the notes on it. "Ocean desalination, salt and ice domes in the lakes, missing persons -" She paused, registering suddenly why Tempest must be here. "Atlantic Corridor closing."
Tempest nodded. "Yes. I don't have the experience to read or understand the spells, but it's related to Poseidonis. As much sense as I can make of it, it's like a stalemate - as if they're trying to get back and something's stopping them."
Zatanna fixed him with a hard stare. "They're trying to get back," she restated, watching him flinch.
She was surprised when Batman suddenly jumped in. "Arthur appeared to him in a dream."
Tempest looked decidedly relieved at Batman's intervention, and Zatanna wondered if the Dark Knight had shared the information out of sympathy or impatience with the young man in front of her. "Recently?" she asked.
"Less than an hour ago," he confessed.
She turned to the map. "And these phenomena?"
"Started setting off our sensors within the last eight hours." Yes, that was Batman. To his mind they might have started at the beginning of time and just become noticeable. Given what she knew about the Watchtower's monitoring capabilities? The crisis couldn't be much older than that.
She studied the map for a moment more. This was big magic - simple enough to see, she decided, even if she wasn't quite sure what to look for. "Laever slleps," she ordered. Then, "Laever wen slleps," she quickly amended, blinking against the incandescent flare that had greeted her words. She smiled wryly at the rookie mistake - the Watchtower had more spells laid upon it than anything short of magician's stronghold, the signatures of the contributing mages overriding the decaying light of old magical attacks. Her vision cleared and she studied the array around her - or rather the relative lack of array.
"Zatanna?" Garth's voice emerged from a fuzzy halo of light, tangled like a net but hopelessly unclear. It lacked any of the usual magical telltales, although she noted one slim band of spell tapping into another kind of power.
"It's not entirely conventional magic," she explained, studying the spell net carefully. "And it's not very strong, which is strange. Something with this scale -" She thought for a moment. When leads are slim, follow the ones available, she advised herself. "Laever cihtap sknil," she intoned.
Well, this was interesting, she mused to herself, if not terribly enlightening. There was more going on than she expected. There was of course J'onn's steady link webbing all of them together, beaming directly between them all and then outward toward the planet below. Mixed in, though - there was a separate link between J'onn and Tempest. That was pure J'onn, offering mental support and comfort. Not surprising, although inconvenient when she was trying to read other links to Garth. There was also a very subtle link between Tempest and Batman, again with J'onn's signature. It was almost as if J'onn was trying to give Batman an empathy he didn't naturally posses. Batman wouldn't like that if he was aware of it, she reflected, tracing the link back with her eyes to the still calculating Dark Knight.
What she saw there made her raise an eyebrow. J'onn also had a separate link to Batman, but it was decidedly different in character than the others. This one tangled through Batman's limbs and around his body, constantly shifting and caressing rather than J'onn's usual steady beam. There was no way Batman was unaware of that one, but he seemed unfazed, still plugging his calculations as if there were no one else in the room. There was a story there, she thought, then shook herself. Back to the task at hand.
Once again she focused on Tempest. "Edih naitram sknil," she directed, fading the strong signals to allow her to see what else wasthere. "Oh!" she gasped.
"What is it?" Garth asked, his eyes holding hope and fear.
Zatanna reached out to the link manifesting itself as blue-green light. "Arthur's alive," she said wonderingly, barely noticing how Tempest almost staggered at this revelation. She hadn't realized how fully she had accepted that the king of Atlantis was actually dead, but the tenuous link to Tempest was unquestionably from Arthur's mind.
"You're sure." That was Batman, finally pausing for a moment to give Zatanna a penetrating look. It wasn't a question, but she answered anyway.
"He's using an empathic signal to home in on Tempest. There's a spell -" she studied the spell that trailed into Arthur's link- "wherever he is, they must need to connect to the source of the original magic. Not tap it -" Now her fingers passed along the spell net, making sense of it. "No, they just need the link. But they're coming across so strangely. It's like they're cutting through a dimensional wall. They've got some high powered magic at the other end, but by the time it gets here it's almost bled dry." She offered Garth a faint nod of reassurance as she spoke, realizing how rigidly he stood listening.
"And the interference Tempest noted?"
She shook her head. "It doesn't come through him. I'd have to get down to one of the sites to see. But -" She hesitated, wanting to be sure of what she was reading. She realized that the chatter between teammates had stopped - J'onn must be broadcasting her words to everyone. "It seems that this is drawing magic from the spiritual realm. Is Dr. Fate -?"
"The JSA is on their own mission - he's unavailable," Batman reported.
She thought for a minute. "I don't think we could get the Spectre or Zauriel. Although John Con-"
"Negative," Batman said flatly.
I have to agree with Batman, Superman's voice came over the link. At least, not unless absolutely necessary. We don't need to be cleaning up another mess.
She nodded, understanding. "Then I should get down to the Corridor, see what I can read there."
"We need to move quickly," Batman added. "Flash, report."
The speedster's voice sounded grim. STAR Labs is taking emergency measures to prevent some species extinction. The desalination appears to have tapered off, but there's already been enough that some of the more sensitive organisms are in a bad way. And, he added significantly, the Corridor closing seems to have halted at the same time as the desalination.
Definitely sea salt. The domes have stabilized, though. The ice layer seems to be buffering the salt from getting into the fresh water supply.
"Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern have already discovered that there is strange ice movement in the Arctic and the Himalayas. WonderWoman?"
So far, there are three persons missing from each lake site, as we suspected. They seem to be opportunity driven, though, aside from the fact that all the missing are women. You have my data on the times they were taken, Batman.
"Yes." The Dark Knight appeared to think for a moment. "Atom, Superman - any sense of when the dome phenomena began?"
It's inconsistent. Lake Victoria shows about 14 hours old, although it looks like it also stabilized before the others. If the ice layers were laid in reaction to the salt intrusion, then it looks like there is a consistent sequence to how these things grew. I'm sending my data now.
We should regroup, Superman decided as Batman accepted the uplink and began downloading information into the Watchtower computer. But we need Zatanna's eyes on the ground. J'onn, meet her at the Corridor beacon and stay linked. Everyone else teleport back to the Watchtower as soon as Zatanna gets clear.
"Tempest should come with me," Zatanna pointed out.
I'll meet you both there, J'onn projected.
Zatanna waved away her fading spells, taking in Garth's wan expression. His eyes showed determination, though - along with a shadowing of self-doubt. He had power, and he had likely saved Poseidonis and his mentor, but she could see his own power troubling him. She only hoped that action would bring the fire she knew he had to the fore. "Let's go," she said, and he nodded.
"Tempest," Batman suddenly said, startling them both. Garth turned. "We'll get them back."
The words had the force of a promise, and Zatanna could see how they galvanized the younger man. "We will," he agreed forcefully. Now he took the lead, and she followed him to the teleporter with a hint of relief. If the Corridor showed the kind of magics she suspected, it was likely they would both need to be full strength.