Mar. 7th, 2011

interrogoiterum: (*mask: yes'm)
Here's the thing: The world once again might very well be about to end, only this time it might turn out to be all Renee Montoya's fault.

Well, not her fault exactly – more like her responsibility.

Anti-Life, that's what it is. It's an equation, or a virus or a – something, and it's likely to take over the world and turn Earth into a new home for Darkseid and all the evil gods of Apocalyps. Renee found the descriptions in the Crime Bible to be a little too Dawn of the Dead for her liking. (Tot said it was very I am Legend). The signs have been building, and now everyone's paying attention, from the Justice League on down. Renee's even been recruited by some shadowy Government Organisation for purposes not yet explained.

Thing is, though: This has been foretold, and it's been what the Order of the Stone has been working towards; that pesky crime-worshipping evil cult Renee somehow managed to make herself leader of. It all ties together with their ultimate purpose – to recover the Spear of Destiny and use it to resurrect Cain. And that will bring the end of it all.

“It goes like this,” she explained shortly to the press gang who forcibly recruited her into their Secret Government Conspiracy, “all this stuff – the murder of the gods, the meta kidnappings, even the Manhunter – that's just shit, and we're swimming in it, sure.

“This spear – that's the fan, and you really don't want them to switch it on.”
interrogoiterum: (*mask: kickass)
She thought they might fly her out first class, but instead they recruited a teleporter to get her to England, and that gave her stomach cramps that shouldn't be believed. And then there's the whole having to fight cultists again.

Seriously, these people never stop trying to kill her, do they?

But Renee's got a boat to catch, even if she has to run and leap off the pier onto the deck as the boat pulls away in order to catch it. The boat, hired by the Order of the Stone to excavate the Spear, which has been tracked to the mid-Atlantic. Stowing away on board, Renee waits behind her mask, as they send down a member to retrieve the artefact.

Sister Wrack has made herself the de facto leader after Flay's death and Renee's refusal to lead. So it's hardly surprising that it's Wrack who takes the spear and unwraps it in front of her companions and the captain of the ship.

“What... what is this?”

“Power,” Wrack purrs, caressing the spear. It glows red in the full moonlight, the only lights this far out to sea. “Power to kill a false god, or to raise a new one!”

“Don't!” Dammit, why was Renee so slow to act. She rushes out of her hiding place just in time to see the man run through with the spear that once pierced the Christ. Flush with bloodlust, Wrack pulls it out only to turn it on Renee, blasting her with a vengeful red energy that sends the Question hurtling backwards into the cabin through the solid wall.

It hurts.

Renee is determined, as ever, to make it as difficult as possible to kill her. She is not armed with a magical spear of God-killing power. She is not armed at all, and to be honest, she isn't exactly sure how she plans to win. But for now, she concentrates on not dying, which is harder than it sounds, even with Renee's possibly legendary good luck with flying by the seat of her pants.

But it's still hardly surprising with Wrack corners her, pointing the spear at her face.

“You don't know how many times I have imagined killing you for our Lord.”

“No, but if you hum a few bars, I'll fake it.”

Look, what do you want from Renee? She's in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, facing down death, trying to stop the Apocalypse, and she hasn't slept for a few day. And the fight that looks like it was about to end in her death has suddenly been thrown off by a change in the ambient light and a sudden new arrival.

Renee Montoya. Your judgement is at hand.”

Having the Spectre appear in the middle of a fight really throws you off your game. In fact, it completely changes the game.

She knows this guy; she's seen him before, looming in the sky over Gotham City back when she carried a gold shield – back when she thought being a detective would give her the answers she wanted. He's called the Spectre. He's the spirit of Vengeance, or so she's been told.

Last time she saw the Spectre, her partner was standing beside her. Her partner and friend, Detective Crispus Allen. But Cris Allen was murdered. But...

“...Cris?”

You are a murderer.” It's Cris' voice, but it isn't his voice. Something is using his voice, but Cris is still saying it. “The leader of a blasphemous cult, the Order of the Stone, born of a heretical religion built upon vile acts and depraved cruelty.

“Don't forget the kick-ass Sunday Bingo. Is it you? Is it really you?”

The sins of your Order are beyond number,” and his voice cracks; less Spectre, more Crispus, “I'm sorry, Renee. I don't have a choice. God commands this. I'll make it as painless as I...

But Renee's distracted – or rather, Wrack is distracted by the appearance of the Spectre and had to rethink her game. On a final attempt to kill Renee, the Question steps up and kicks the cultist in the face, wrenching the Spear from her. “You mind? We're talking here!”

She has the spear, and for the briefest of brief flashes everything might work out. “Cris, listen to me...”

Come. I offer you a last kindness before the end.”

“I don't want a kind...”

But there's a flash, and everything's gone.

“...ness! I want answers!” They're stuck in an alleyway that smells of damp and blood in the way only Gotham can smell. And Renee is empty handed.

“Where's the Spear? It was in my hand! Where'd it go? You left it with Wrack? Do you realise what she's prophesied to do with it? That was the Spear of Destiny! They're going to...”

YOU. BE. SILENT.” The Spectre's is deafening, undeniable in a way Batman could only dream of, filling not just the air but Renee's very soul. And he's angry.

“What happened to you?” She asks her friend.

I died. And I was given a choice, to join with the Spectre, to become him. I chose poorly.”

(With all the running around after the Spear of Destiny, Renee had been resisting the urge to make Indiana Jones references. She is disappointed in Cris)

Now you must be punished for your crimes.”

“I don't get an appeal?”

Look...

“A chance to speak in my defence, or...”

Look upon her for the final time.”

A gloved hand emerges from the Spectre's green cape like the Ghost of Future Yet To Come, and points down the alley, Renee's gaze behind the mask, follows.

There's a fight going on. Killer Croc, and three or four heavily armed henchmen, facing down one woman who's reckless enough to take them on herself.

Helena.

Helena Bertenelli. Huntress.

How does he know? Renee's only ever interacted with her in Milliways. Cris was dead when she came into Renee's life.

(God, look at her.)

That's when Renee realises it.

It's all for real. This last kindness. He's really going to do it. He's going to kill her.

Everything flashes away again, and when the night air returns, it's colder, windier. They're on a roof. The roof.

“You're going to execute me in front of the Batsignal?”

This place holds meaning for you.”

“But not for you? Cris, we spent four years working opposite each other just one floor below where you're standing. Floating. Whatever it is you're doing. Don't tell me you can't remember that.”

When he speaks, it's with all the heavy weight of God's Vengeance, pulled down even further by a dead man's regret.

I remember everything, Renee Montoya. It is time. Make your peace.”

There's something in his voice, something lurking beneath the unearthly resonance. He doesn't want to do this.

“Cris, these crimes I'm accused of... I'm innocent. I haven't done them!”

“God does not make mistakes, Renee. You are the leader of the Order of the Stone: an unholy clutch of murderers and rapists, or men and women who sin and abandon with blasphemous delight. An order whose members rampage around the world even now, ushering the arrival of Gehenna. And you are named their head.

“They called me their leader, that much is true. They made me their leader. But you've got to know that I fought them! God must know that! And if you know that, then you know the rest of it, too! What they did to me! What they made me do! And you know what I learned, how I escaped, how I've been trying to stop them ever since! What I told Turpin...”

“I know. God knows.”

“Cris, don't do this.”

“God just doesn't care.”

She's not scared; it's beyond time for scared. Renee's just filled with regret and sadness and frustration at everything that is left undone. Everything she won't be able to prevent. But the Spectre reaches forward, and for all he seems to suck the light out of the air around them, his hand is glowing blue sparks.

This is it, Renee has time to think. I'm going to die. I'm not ready to die, not yet.

He reaches for Renee, and Renee tries not to cry.

“Of course God cares.

It's a new voice. Female, as much as the spectre's is male, but also not. Something bigger than mere sex, than mere humanity. Something Divine.

And then there's the Light.

The Light hurts Renee's eyes, blinds her for a second. And then she sees Her. She's so bright – the way light seems to fall into Cris, it radiates out of her.

God has always cared.”

Renee – who has been told since she was sixteen the God hates her – gets it. The spirit of Vengence, the spirit of Mercy.

This time, when Cris – the Spectre – speaks, Renee hears the power in his voice, and a fury she swears could bring the whole city down.

Does God forbid me my office once again? First I am denied Libra, now this?

The Almighty commends you your office, Spectre. For this one I am sent to bring mercy.” Her voice isn't just musical – it's music, but Renee can tell it's a song he doesn't want to hear.

Mercy? MERCY!?White lightning flashes across the rooftop, as the Spectre lights up the sky with his anger, and Renee doesn't understand why. This isn't like Cris.

But then, what Renee does understand about the situation could be listed on the back of a postage stamp. With a Sharpie. As the capes rise into the sky above her, facing off with each other, she's nothing more than a spectator.

Don't you dare speak to me of God's mercy!”

How can I do else, Spectre, when that is what I am. So the Spectre is God's spirit of vengeance, thus the Radiant is God's spirit of mercy.”

No!” Cris – and Renee's sure this is Cris, acting through the Spectre, but don't quiz her as to why – lashes out at the woman, hitting her face through the hood of her white cape. “God HAS no mercy!

With his fist clenched, the woman speaks, quietly but with all the power of the Divine behind her. “But I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him thy other also.”

No.”

The action that comes from these words knocks the fight out of the Spectre, and he collapses down, to the roof, towards Renee. The green cape begins to dissipate, leaving just Cris, kneeling in front of her.

God can't have mercy! Don't you understand? If God has mercy...

Then where were you?

Renee moves as soon as the Spectre goes from the voice – the instant she sees her friend in front of her.

“Where were you when God made me kill Malcolm?”

Cris' son. He'd been found in the same alley as the body Jim Corrigan – the man who killed his father. Mal had been holding the gun that killed Corrigan, but no cause of death was ever established for the boy himself. Renee has never regretted not killing Corrigan herself more than this very moment, kneeling on the roof of Gotham Police Headquarters, her hand on the shoulder of her dead best friend .

“I killed him, Renee. I killed my son.”

They stay there for five minutes, Cris finally giving way to the tears and fury and regret, Renee there for him as they were always there for each other in another life, the Radiant simply watching, with all of God's mercy shining down on them. No sign of the Spectre – vengeance has no part on this scene.


When it washes past, they stand and separate, saying nothing to acknowledge the moment that went. Renee takes off her mask, and asks the Radiant whether Cris had a choice in the matter. All she gets in return is a reiteration of the story of Abraham and Isaac. It's decidedly unsatisfactory.

Then the Radiant melts away the way the Spectre did, leaving just a woman in her place – a nun.

“Crispus,”

“It's Clarice, right? Sister Clarice... I don't know how I know that.”

“Yes you do. God told you.”

“I don't want to hear God anymore. I don't want any of this.”

“I know. But you and I, we can no more refuse the Lord's service than Jonah could. The spectre is needed, Crispus, more than you can imagine, he is needed...”

And just when Renee is settling back for another conversation she can't get involved in or really comprehend, another interruption comes. This time from a face and voice she knows, and hasn't seen for a long time.

“You guys shouldn't be up here.”

It's Stacy. The receptionist in the Major Crimes Unit. Renee used to see her every day when this was her workplace. Stacy was a compassionate person, idealistic without being naïve, a consistently incorruptible part of the GCPD, and as a civilian, the only person authorised to operate the Bat Signal.

It's very bad that she's here.

“It's not allowed,” Stacy continues, in a worrying monotone. “Not without permission.”

“They still have free will.” From behind the receptionist comes another familiar face, moving in the same rigid fashion, speaking in the same monotone. Maggie Sawyer. “That is not allowed.”

No. This wasn't supposed to happen until after Cain rises – which means they've already found him, given him the Spear.

“There is only one will,” Maggie continues. Her eyes – like the eyes of the entire police department appearing on the stairs behind her and Stacy – glow red in the night. “Darkseid's will. Submit – or die.”

The sound comes out of all of them at once. Not just the words “Surrender your will”, but a noise. Devoid of meaning, frequency of symbols defining nothing. Renee covers her ears to block it out, feeling her knees buckling beneath her. She's vaguely aware of the Spectre and Radiant snapping back into form, throwing up a shield, yelling at her not to submit.

Antilife equation = loneliness +

It burrows into her mind like a worm.

Alienation +

Renee feels her mind going – tries to grasp it, but has nothing to hang on to.

Fear +

All of Richard Dragon's mental training falls away from her like a shield of paper.

Despair +

A void forms, filling her mind with one awful thought...

Self worth ÷ mockery

DARKSEID

There's another flash of everything changing, and suddenly Renee's down on street level. She'll admit, she's getting very tired of being teleported around like that, but at least her mind's her own.

Renee breaks open the mask and the gas, and waits for the cloud to clear. Gotham is dark and damp; this is not unusual. What is unusual is the silence, broken frequently by a single phrase, repeated at intervals by separate, lone voices echoing to the accompaniment of feet all walking in the same direction.

“Anti-life justifies my hate.”

And beyond the shambling mindless people: A figure lying in the gutter, defeated, shrouded in a black cape and a shock of red hair.

Oh God.

Renee races out of the alley, towards the fallen figure.

“Kate! Please be alright, Kate, it's...”

That's when a red glove shoots up around Renee's neck, clamping tight.

“All is one in Darkseid.”

Batwoman shambles to a standing position, hurling Renee through the air into the hood of a car recklessly parked inside Gotham City. The windshield shatters and the hood crumples under her, in a shock that includes at least one broken rib and some horrible leg bruising.

“Kate, stop!”

There's no pleading with her, and very little fighting her. It's hard enough that Renee can't bring herself to seriously hurt the woman she once loved, whose will is not her own, it's also that the thing in Kate right now is making her even stronger than she was, and she was already a match for Renee. Renee's wrist crunches in her fist, her arm twists almost out of the socket, and when she's smashed down, she feels her ribs moving, and there are pains in parts of her body she had forgotten she had.

“Submit.”

This is perhaps the fourth time in an hour that Renee's been about to die, and it ends the same way; in a blinding flash of white light, and Kate is torn away from her. The Spectre throws power at Batwoman, and Renee finds herself cradled, and then held back, by the Radiant.

“No! Don't hurt her! It's not her fault! It's Anti-Life, she's got no will of her own!”

And isn't that worse, Renee Montoya?” asks the Spectre, holding Kate in a cage of his power. “Would this not be a mercy?

The Radiant shakes her head. “Not while hope remains.

Renee can still barely think above the pain pulsing through her, but she's aware of the crowd of Darkseid's possessed minions closing in on her. There're things broken inside her, and hope might be all she has. She clutches weakly at the Radiant's robes, assuring herself that she can.

There's another bright flash. And then, there's peace.

Gotham Cathedral. Renee knows the inside of this place almost as well as her own childhood church downtown; she never visited until she wore a badge and her faith was wavering, but even as a lesbian who felt rejected by God, she'd never failed to feel His presence under the dome.

Until now. The Radiant teleported her in, but she's in too much pain to feel God's mercy right now; she can't straighten her legs, let alone take her own weight.

God wants this to happen,” Cris is saying. “Why else would we find ourselves powerless to stop it. Why else would He abandon us?”

God abandons no one,” says Clarice.

“Says you,” Renee butts in. “I don't know from God, but the black book, the Crime Bible, it foretold all of this...” she has to stop her explanations for a cough that stops in her chest, unable to make it any further past a wall of pain. It's getting too hard to breathe, so she pulls the mask off her face for clearer air. There are things moving inside her that she's sure aren't supposed to be.

She's trying not to pray at all, but she's especially fighting against the urge to pray that she'll get to see Charlie on her way.

Cris decides to use his super new X-Ray vision to give her a complete diagnosis of everything that's wrong inside her, but Clarice – Clarice just lays her hands on Renee.

The light, again, is blinding.

The blood clear from Renee's face and windpipe, the cough that's been fighting for the last minute shoots to the surface. “Did you just...”

No. God did.”

It's nice, in Renee's opinion, to be able to breathe and move again, but Cris has other opinions.

God will let you do that for her. While piece by piece my own power is whittled away. “

“And whose fault is that? God's for withholding it, or yours for denying it?”

My power is the power God gives me.”

You do not even begin to understand what power means, Spectre.”

Then explain it! At every instant I have done as commanded! At God's order I was prepared to kill my friend! At god's order, I killed my son!” The Spectre doesn't so much fade, as the force of Cris' anger pushes the man forward, out of the Spectre's visage. “And why was Renee spared, tell me that? Why was she spared when Jake was not?”

“Gee, thanks, partner.”

“Renee, that's not.... that's not what I meant.”

“It's OK, Cris. I understand.” And she does, really. She gets it. Renee doesn't say anything else, knowing she hasn't the power to address Cris' pain, and besides, she's interrupted by the Cathedral doors being pushed open, by the crowd outside.

It must have been the light of the healing, or maybe just Cris' rasied voices, because it feels like every remaining free person in Gotham is on the steps, clamouring to come in. For a few minutes, all Renee and her super companions can do is crowd control. And then push the doors to on the much much larger crowd of anti-life zombies outside.

(Shutting the door on Mr Freeze is easy. Seeing Jim Gordon outside in the crowd rends Renee's heart as much as Stacy)

They don't try to come inside, though. Not yet. And that's when Renee realises what's coming. Who's coming.

When the Spectre whisked her away from the boat, the Spear stayed behind -not because Sris had left it on purpose, but because he could affect it, the same way he couldn't affect Captain Sawyer and Stacy – the same way he can't now affect the mob outside. Now the Order of the Stone has the Spear, and the rise of Anti Life means they've already used it. To raise Cain.

“Cain?” Cris repeats. “As in 'and Abel?'”

“That's who they're waiting for,” Renee says, looking not at Cris but at the crowd “He's coming here. He's got the Spear.”

“Why?”

It's Clarice who answers – they've both been powered down and human looking since the cathedral turned into a refuge. “He needs it to kill the Spectre.

“It was you that marked Cain, and it is the Spectre Cain will have his revenge upon – his only means to revenge himself upon God.

“Let him try. I may hate God's guts, but I don't see the Almighty letting that happen.”

“I'm not so sure,” Renee says carefully. “I think God or whoever may be sitting this one out, Cri. Neither of you has been much good against Anti-Life, and if I'm right about why you couldn't affect the Spear...

“Let's just say I don't like your chances.”

“Then I'm right,” Cris responds, bitterly. “God has abandoned us.”

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