Batman ran through the fog-laden park, the lenses in his cowl affording him some visibility. Finding the source of the chaos—and Superman—was not very difficult; just follow the noise. There were blasts like cannon shots resounding through the park.
Batman approached the scene and immediately summed up the situation: Superman was standing in front of a pile of human bodies—unconscious berserkers—as what could only be described as a horde of stone gargoyles closed in around them. Any time a gargoyle got too close, Superman blasted it with a well-placed punch, shattering it to pieces in a loud explosion of force. He followed the punch with a blast of Superbreath, sending the shattered pieces sailing backward away from the bodies. Batman realized the necessity for the blast of breath as the pieces reconstituted into complete gargoyles mere seconds after they shattered.
It was a standoff—the gargoyles slowly circled the mass of bodies, their stone eyes never leaving the brightly-clad protector. Superman watched them all intently, blasting any gargoyle that crossed his invisible boundary line. Several of the gargoyles attempted to rush in at once, but were instantly shattered in a blur of motion as Superman flew around the bodies in a circle at lightning speed.
Sensing the stalemate, Batman rushed toward the scene, scouting out the weakest point in the gargoyle circle where only one monster stood between him and the Man of Steel. He leapt into the air, planting a foot in the center of the gargoyle’s back and sending the stone fiend tumbling forward to the ground. As soon as they landed, Batman sprung forward, flipping in midair and landing expertly at Superman’s side.
Instinctively, The World’s Finest heroes stood back to back in defensive stances, their eyes trained on the circle of foes. Superman turned his head slightly, speaking back over his shoulder to his compatriot.
“Glad you could make it.”
“Details,” was the Dark Knight’s only reply.
Superman quickly and concisely explained the situation to Batman—Janus, the unconscious berserkers at their feet, the mass of other berserkers he had already moved away from the battlefield, the battle with the gargoyles—pausing only momentarily to dispatch any gargoyle that moved in too close.
“Any idea of the cause?” Superman asked as he finished his report.
“Poison Ivy,” Batman growled as he tossed an acid vial at a gargoyle coming in on his side. The vial exploded into the monster’s thigh and immediately began eating through the stone. With its next step, the gargoyle toppled over as its leg suddenly broke away.
“Ivy?” Superman asked curiously, blasting another gargoyle and blowing the pieces away. “I didn’t know she used magic…”
“She doesn’t,” Batman replied disgustedly. “She was dabbling in things she had no experience with and this is the unintended result.”
“So how do we shut it down? How do we send these things back to where they came from?”
“I’ve got…” Batman paused, realizing that telling Clark that his wife was currently working along side Catwoman and the proprietor of The Curiosity Shop to conjure up a solution was not exactly the best of ideas. “… people working on that now.”
I should have expected this. Pammy was having a Really Bad Day. She’d want to be with plantlife. The park was a fogged-in Hellmouth overrun with Berserkers. So the nearest patch of greenery was the Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court. Lois took me inside and pointed her out to me. I took a seat beside her, remembering her stunt at the Highland Games, remembering what she did when it all went sour. I really should have seen this coming.
“You’ve been sucking down cosmopolitans,” I said. It wasn’t a question, but she confirmed it anyway.
“Couple,” she hiccupped.
That’s: Poison Ivy + Really Bad Day + the nearest patch of flora serves alcohol. Some days, Gotham can’t catch a break.
Gaia’s Chosen snapped her fingers high in the air and pointed down to the tabletop. One of the giant palms for which the room is named bent down across my shoulder, holding a pitcher of pink liquid in its leafy fronds. It topped off her glass and then hovered, waiting, as some kind of creeping ivy snaked out of its planter. The vine crawled across my lap and deposited a chilled glass on the table in front of me, and the hovering palm poured from the pitcher.
“Unless you want a murtinni,” Pam slurred hospitably.
I let my head tip forward until the bridge of my nose could rest between my fingers and massaged. Ivy’s biochemistry is such that she is completely immune to poisons—meaning it should be physically impossible for her to get drunk. The catch is that she can control it; she can let alcohol affect her if she chooses. On a Really Bad Day she chooses to. Who wouldn’t?
What I didn’t know was if, having decided to let herself get snookered in the first place, could she then switch it off or did she have to sober up the regular way like anybody else. I decided the best way to find out was to push her and see what happened.
“Nope, no time for a quick one,” I said, standing. “But I’m glad you’ve had your share because liquid courage is better than none. We’re going into the park, Pammy. You’re going to help us summon Hel-Blostiban.”
She gave me the same look Nutmeg does when I get out the cat carrier. Like I can’t possibly be suggesting that she get into it and let herself be taken back to that vet with the long needles.
“You can’t possibly be suggesting—”
“No. I’m not. Because that would be a conversation, and this isn’t one. We are going in there and you’re coming. And the reason I know that, Pamela, is because you don’t have any choice here. I know I don’t need to remind you: you got into this because you fight like a girl. So you can either get your ass off that chair and come with us willingly, or you can follow your hair.”
I have to assume the reason I didn’t smell a cloud of lemon pledge at this announcement was that either all the cosmopolitans had short-circuited her pheromones, or else the comparatively mild scent of lemon couldn’t punch through the fourteen layers of herb oils Miriam had me coated in.
It turns out the prospect of being taken back into a park full of rampaging Berserkers will sober Ivy up very nicely, thank you. She snapped into full goddess mode the minute we stepped outside. It was the sight of that fog wall that did it. Coming through the revolving door, she saw it there: black, opaque, and twenty-feet high, right where the edge of the park should be. She stopped dead in her tracks. Lois was still pushing through the door behind her, her arms full of Miriam’s ritual-supplies. She careened right into Pam’s back, pushing her forward towards the park and setting off full goddess-mode.
“No, no, nonononono, I am NOT going back in there. I am going to repeat that, because it bears repeating: I –shall– –not– set foot in that park again until it has been cleansed of all the—”
“—of all the Hell lords and rampaging Berserkers that you unleashed? Yes, Pammy, you will. You’re going back in. And your new pets can come.” I added the last because the trees and vines from the Palm Court were now pouring out of the revolving door behind Lois, undoubtedly summoned by Ivy once she sobered up enough to realize what I was prepared to make her do.
“And before you bother having the shrubbery grab us, I’ll tell you right now that it won’t do you a bit of good. You’re going to help us, Pamela, not because I can kick your ass, although I can and I will—but because you conjured that stuff in the first place. You summoned Janus because he has two faces and you couldn’t keep your mind off Harvey. And if you don’t want Harvey to know that, you’re going to have to make me happy. Clear? Good. The trees can help Lois carry the ritual supplies.”
“We’ve got to get these people out of here!” Superman landed in his spot at Batman’s back after dispatching another round of gargoyles. He was starting to feel the pointlessness of their guardian mission.
“I agree,” Batman grunted, flinging another acid vial. “Remove their target.”
“I came up with an idea to get them all out in one move, but I couldn’t risk leaving them unattended for a few seconds. Can you hold the line long enough for me to…”
“Go!” Batman instructed.
That was all that was needed. Had it been a League mission, plans would be arranged and in-field strategies would be formulated. But this was just the two of them and Superman knew… Clark knew… that no matter what, Bruce would keep the civilians safe long enough for Superman to carry out his plan.
Superman launched himself into the air and spun around, instantly blasting the ground in between the gargoyles and the unconscious berserkers with a high-intensity blast of his heat vision.
The instant Superman had left the ground, the gargoyles began moving in. Batman reached under his cape and pulled out his second grapnel gun, aiming it through the crowd of stone monsters directly at the hulking figure of Janus. He didn’t fire—he’d never planned to. Merely the sight of the line-firing device in Batman’s hand had garnered the reaction he was looking for. Several of the gargoyles became highly agitated at the sight of it—just as the Blostiban gargoyle had. Batman knew he’d used several of these gargoyles, perched in their immovable positions on the rooftops across Gotham’s skyline, as swinging points on many a night.
The enraged gargoyles started knocking aside the others to get at the dark-covered man. No longer concerned about Janus’s instructions, they now had one sole purpose: revenge. Revenge on the Dark One. O he of the pinching metal claws and the hard swinging cords.
General chaos erupted through the ranks as those that were shoved took obvious exception to the shoving and shoved back. It didn’t take long for Janus to realize what was happening. He increased the level of his chanting, snapping the gargoyles back into line and onto the appropriate targets. But it had taken long enough.
Within seconds, Superman had carved a ten-foot wide, ten-foot deep circular trench in the ground around the pile of bodies. Some of the gargoyles had been standing a little too close and suddenly found themselves tumbling into the trench. Superman dove into the trench, flying around the length of it twice, blasting those unfortunate few, then immediately turned in and burrowed through to the central point of the “island” he’d just created.
The ground began to tremble under Batman’s feet and he instantly realized Superman’s plan. The “island” slowly began to rise as Superman pushed up from below, lifting the entire mass of land slowly into the air. Janus realized it too, as he began barking orders at the gargoyles to stop them.
The gargoyles, though large and obviously powerful, were not built for agility. Several attempted to leap the distance to the slowly rising island but fell short and tumbled into the trench—now a ten-foot deep pit—instead. Just as Superman thought they were in the clear, one of the gargoyles leapt up, using one of his companions back as a step and managed to grab the edge of the island. The whole land mass tilted suddenly with the added weight. Superman was able to correct the tilt almost immediately, but several of the unconscious bodies shifted dangerously close to the edge.
Batman leapt forward and grabbed the sliding bodies, managing to keep them from falling off. The gargoyle kicked its legs violently in the air, trying to crawl up and over the edge of the island. Seeing the gargoyle’s climb and realizing that there were only fifteen feet or so off the ground, Batman leapt over the side, planting both feet squarely on the monster’s head and sending them both tumbling toward the ground.
As they fell, Batman curled his legs and sprung off the monster’s head, gaining little leverage in free fall, but just enough to use his cape to sail over the throng of gargoyles below. He landed hard on the ground, ducking into a roll and immediately springing back to his feet a few yards behind the gargoyles.
“Batman!” Superman called out after witnessing the display. He had no intention of leaving his friend behind to deal with a hundred agitated gargoyles.
But Batman left no room for debate as he shot an intense glare up at the rising landmass and the comparatively small figure underneath it.
Ivy’s entourage of palm trees and vines from the Plaza did come in handy as we made our way to the clearing. Berserkers are strong and quite stubborn, even when faced with the business end of a cat-o-nine tails. The greenery would hold them back while I knocked them out… while I tried to knock them out would be more accurate.
The first one to approach the clearing: we heard him coming. These guys might be strong, but they’re not subtle or cunning. The crunch-clomping as he approached sounded like Croc trudging through the Iceberg after last call. I was poised to attack as soon as he came off the path—caught him in the neck—drugged claws—should put a man out in seconds. Except it didn’t. It was a minute before he even slowed down. But the vines came through—they tangled through his legs, tripping him very neatly, and a well-placed kick took him the rest of the way down. One of the palms threw itself across his body and the vines quickly coiled around, tying him to the trunk. This guy just might have been strong enough to throw a tree aside if it was blocking his way, but he wasn’t nearly coordinated enough to maneuver while strapped to one. I punched him again—again—again—and finally his eyes rolled and he went limp.
So the plants were more helpful than either Pam or Lois, in that respect.
While the rainforest kickline helped me keep the clearing free of Berserkers, Pam helped Lois set up for the ritual. I got the best of that deal, believe me. Four feet of coiled vine was the only thing keeping a crazed woman from slashing my throat open with the blades of her rented ice skates and I had the best of the deal.
Miriam had said Hel wouldn’t answer the summons if she was with us. So she gave us everything we would need to call the goddess ourselves, along with a very explicit set of written instructions. Pammy took one look at the handwriting and got hysterical. Lois had to slap her. I heard it all playing out behind me while I clawed a viciously strong gardener trying to pull my arms off:
“Bun lady! NO! No bun lady to-do list. Bun lady is bad.”
Underneath that baseline, I heard Lois muttering: “Thank God I didn’t bring Jimmy. Last thing I need. Picture of me wearing the mask of Homenoptok, juggling candles and whacking Poison Ivy with an anointed shrub.”
“Bad things come from bun lady list!” “Can just see the headline: Pulitzer Prizer Pummels Plant Lady!” “No candles! No chanting! No list, nolist, nolist!”
And Lois slapped her.
It was probably a bad move under any circumstances, but right now…
This all started for Pammy at the Iceberg. This all started with a catfight. Now, Lois slapped her face and BINGO, Pammy must have flashed right back to that moment with Roxy. She let out a howling screech that even berserking-gardener turned to look at. That part was lucky and I swung the whip handle left across his throat, right across his temple, then down over his head once he doubled over. The drugged claws had finally dispatched demented ice-skater-woman, freeing me up to help Lois. Although I had no idea how.
Diverting Poison Ivy’s attention from herself for ten blessed seconds is not something I’d ever seen done, let alone attempted personally. The plants that were helping me against the Berserkers were starting to weaken from the lack of sunlight, and I was beginning to realize that we wouldn’t get very far with the ritual if I had to stop every few minutes to beat off another attack.
At that moment, a hero arrived to save the day. I don’t have the “Look up in the sky!” admiration for Superman that most do, but I don’t shrink from admitting his arrival at that moment saved the day. As I said, it is no mean feat pulling Ivy’s attention away from herself, but a great big mass of blue, white, and red swooshing through the sky with a large slab of land, that got a looksee. The arms and heads of what one could only hope were unconscious berserkers dangling over the edge of the flying landmass, that got even Queen Chlorophyll to stop and focus.
He obviously noticed us too, because he doubled back as soon as he’d taken those bodies wherever they were going.
were those “people” you had working on the problem?::
is my wife doing in the park with Catwoman and Poison Ivy?!?::
Hopefully, reversing Ivy’s spell…::
With a Man of Steel hovering nearby, I figured it was safe to focus on the ritual. I took my place, sitting on the ground between Pam and Lois. We joined hands around the gemstones, just like at Miriam’s, forming a circle around the arrangement of incense, candles, and runestones.
I began the invocation Miriam wrote out for us…
The sound of a
stone on stone collision resounded across the field as Batman launched off of
one gargoyle’s shoulders, sending it careening into another one. He knew that
trying to take these things on was suicide, so he was simply dodging and
avoiding them as much as possible while he made his way closer and closer to Janus. The only way to stop these things was at the source.
neared, Janus called to him in a tone that sounded half like a deep, guttural voice and half like the barking of a large dog. “You and that other
mortal may have moved my claim farther away, but rest assured, they shall be
another clubbing blow from an approaching gargoyle and lithely slid between two
others. He could hear the chanting now, low and droning, coming from behind
Janus. He realized—as Superman had before—that the chanting was coming from
Janus’s second face in the back.
The front face
continued its taunting. “And you will make the perfect genesis, Dark
One. The grandest soldier to lead the… NO!!”
All of the
gargoyles stopped their assault at once and immediately turned to their master. However, Janus’s attention was not on them, nor was it on the “Dark
One” quickly approaching. His eyes squinted slightly as he scanned a great
distance, trying to focus on the waves of magic that he suddenly felt shuddering
through the park.
bitches!” the demon howled. Quite similar to the tone Blostiban had
used when she had mentally screamed the same words, Batman realized with a small
snorting, barking and grunting at the gargoyles, which Batman surmised to be some
sort of strange language. All of the gargoyles immediately turned and started
running off in the same direction Superman had gone only moments before. Flapping his massive wings, Janus rose into the air and began to follow them
his grapnel gun again and fired, the line wrapping around Janus’s taloned foot. Either the demon didn’t notice or was too intent on this new problem to care. Batman’s shoulder almost dislocated as he was yanked off of the ground, sailing
along behind the fast-moving demon. He barked a quick order and the Comm Unit
::Superman. They’re headed your way.::
Hella of Nifelheim, Daughter of Loki,
Perhaps I should explain why I don’t share the rest of the world’s wide-eyed “Look, up in the sky!” opinion of Superman. It isn’t because the one time I pulled a job in Metropolis, I found I could play him like a three-dollar fiddle. It isn’t because when Prometheus attacked the Watchtower, he had Superman sitting quietly in the corner like a good dog while he beat the shit out of Batman. It isn’t even because he sent his wife into the powder room to find out when I was going to let Bruce put a collar on my neck.
like this. I was trying
to concentrate ‘the focus of my spirit’ on Hella and our entreaty to join us
for a sisterly sitdown. While I’m
trying to concentrate, Earth’s greatest hero decides to whip up a protective
cyclone to hold back any marauding threats.
You try focusing your spirit with a guy in a bright red cape buzzing
around your head at subatomic speed.
If our message
to Hella was anything other than what it was, we would have been totally
screwed. But as it
turned out, annoyance at Superman—or more likely Lois’s annoyance
at her husband—proved to be just the thing.
The same suffocating clamminess we felt at Miriam’s seemed to
descend on our circle. The fog
congealed around us, right inside the eye of SuperCyclone.
Then it solidified at the very center of the circle, and took on the womanly shape in which we saw her last. I was glad of that; I wasn’t sure how stable Pammy was at the moment or if she could handle the gargoyle form.
˜˜It is not for mortals to summon me,˜˜ Hella said in our minds. I could practically feel Ivy freaking beside me, so I decided to step in.
“Um, excuse me,” I addressed the calmer goddess. “Could you not do that? I mean, could you possibly talk the regular way we do north of the underworld, by making sound? The head-chatter is a little unsettling, and she’s holding on by a thread as it is.”
Ivy squeezed my hand so hard I damn near dropped the tiger eye, but Hella nodded. When she spoke, it was a cold, dead voice, but it was a voice-voice, coming from her mouth and sounding in our ears rather than in our brains.
“What is so pressing,” she said very slowly, “that it could not wait until thou, like all mortal flesh, enter my realm?”
Batman hit the ground hard and released the grapnel as Janus swooped in toward a massive cyclone in the middle of the park. It was obviously where the women had set up shop because the gargoyles had already started circling around the tornado. Clark was running defense.
Janus landed behind the gargoyles, the chanting from his backward facing mouth getting louder. Batman couldn’t hear what was being said inside the massive funnel, but he doubted he would have been able to over Janus’s chanting/snarling combination anyway. He could barely make out several shapes in the center of Superman’s defense—but there appeared to be four figures inside.
The moment was here. Lois was looking at me like it was my show and mine alone. I took a deep breath.
“We think you should reconsider letting Janus go through with this,” I said gamely. “Six thousand Berserkers is a pretty big gift no matter what, but Hella, honey, letting him right your wrong for you?”
Before Hella could reply, Ivy snapped to attention.
“THAT’s what’s going on. You’re letting a man right your—”
“Technically a god,” Lois corrected.
“A mangod,” Ivy insisted. “What are you thinking, girl?”
“Do you have any idea what they’re like if you let them help? I mean, look at this self-appointed Lois-protector flying around our heads right now. Do you think she asked for this kind of interference when we wanted to ask you here for some private girltalk?”
“He is listening in, you know,” Lois added acidly.
Hella looked up at the horizontal streaks of blue and red clearly visible within the cyclone.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “He is listening as if it concerns him. Because it involves thee…” She turned to Lois. “…because it involves thee, he thinks it concerns him. Outrageous.” Then she turned slowly to the left and seemed to peer intently through the wall of the cyclone. “And the other. He watches. This concerns thee not, Dark Mortal.”
“Oh, good luck with that,” I told her. “You just try getting Batman to back off something because it’s none of his business.”
Ivy snorted her agreement.
Frustrated that he couldn’t tell what was going on and realizing that Superman couldn’t relay the information without potentially being heard by the people inside—or worse, outside—the cyclone, Batman decided to refocus his efforts on Janus. Several of the gargoyles had been smashed getting too close to the cyclone, but immediately reassembled a few steps back.
The chanting. Janus’s chanting was keeping them going. Batman sprinted up behind Janus, meeting the demon’s backward facing gaze with a glare of his own, and flung a smoke bomb toward the thing’s massive maw.
Janus managed to move his head just enough to avoid swallowing the projectile, but the vial smashed against his rear forehead, smoke instantly surrounding his head. He spun violently, smacking Batman with the back of his massive hand and sending the Dark Knight hurling backward.
“This concerns you no more, Dark One!” Janus’s front mouth bellowed as he swatted the smoke away from his faces. Batman landed in a roll, then immediately sprung back into action. The smoke bomb hadn’t hit its intended target, but the smoke had obviously provided Batman with another opening. The rear eyes were clamped shut now, still fighting the effects of the stinging smoke. Janus could no longer see Batman approaching.
As he bolted toward the demon’s back, Batman reached up, disconnected the cape from his suit and brought the whole cape in front of him—holding it by both ends. He leapt up, planting one foot on the base of Janus’s tail and the other directly between where the demon’s wings connected to its back. Continuing his momentum, he thrust the middle of the cape across the chanting mouth, looped his hands and the ends of the cape around the front and pulled back, effectively gagging both mouths at once.
Janus howled behind the gags, twisting and swatting violently at the gnat on his back with arms and wings. Batman, both feet now firmly placed between the monstrous wings, reared back on the cape ends like a stagecoach driver trying to stop an out-of-control team of horses.
The demon thrashed around, unable to reach Batman and screamed a muffled scream of rage.
“And then comes the pouty anger,” Ivy said.
“Because you don’t want to do it his way.”
“You’re just being stubborn”
“Like he’s doing you a big favor letting you
put the TV on after sex to drown out the frightfully inorganic city sounds that make it
impossible to get to sleep.”
“Good… Will… Humping?” Hella asked.
“Never mind,” I told her. “You don’t want to know. Where were we?” I looked to Lois who chimed right in with the next item on the agenda.
and Ego. You would not believe how
long a straight man can stand in front of a mirror and preen until you’re
standing there yourself and see it, waiting for a zipup.”
I glanced up at the SuperCyclone and stifled a grin.
Added to the surprising discoveries made since entering Bruce’s world:
that natural spit curl wasn’t so “natural.”
In the walls of the spinning vortex, the noise was tremendous. The rushing wind was distorting all of the surrounding sound, making recognition of the things said inside the protective center impossible—at least, that’s what Clark was telling himself. There was no way he was hearing what he thought he was hearing…
He was pushing himself to the limit of his speed, blocking the four women from the onslaught of a hundred rampaging stone gargoyles, selflessly putting his life in harm’s way to protect them… there was no way that they were sitting around having a First Wives Club-style girl-chat—especially one about him and Bruce!
Speaking of Bruce, what in Rao’s name was going on outside? Bruce appeared to be riding around on the flailing Janus like some demented rodeo cowboy…
Then it hit him. Bruce was distracting the demon, preventing him from keeping the chant going. Superman forged ahead stronger, widening the berth of the tornado. He started slowly blasting through the ranks of the gargoyles, pleasantly surprised when they didn’t start rematerializing as he went. If he could just keep the cyclone under control…
“Of course it’s all about control,” Lois was saying. “That’s why he won’t label a VHS tape or a computer disk and just lets them all sit there looking identical. You can’t straighten up the room because he has ‘a system.’ He knows what they are that way. Whereas if he’d just write on the label so anybody that can read will know what’s on the damn thing, then you could put it away.”
I sighed. I couldn’t help her out on this new topic. Bruce was a labeler. He won’t let me near a disk until it’s been catalogued, backed up, affixed with a printed label, and filed appropriately. And if, God forbid, something gets put back wrong! You think traipsing off with the museum’s Monet is a big deal? “Why are ‘03May Police Reports’ in front of ‘03May Police Feeds?’”
Naturally I couldn’t say that. Here we were trying to point out what stubborn, inflexible, controlling jackasses men can be, and because Ivy was with us, I couldn’t mention Bruce. Other men might hog the remote, Bruce has an emergency override in his watch. And I couldn’t say a word.
I guess I could have complained about the Fop, but Ivy’s presence was a hindrance there too. Not so much because of his identity, but because of my own pride. What could I say? That his women were accessories? Black tie affair: the Armani tux, DKNY cummerbund, the Bentley, and you. Just another ornament, bought and paid for—in this case, for the bargain price of six thousand berserkers.
Actually 5,999 because the Dark Mortal is taken, Honey.
And I couldn’t say any of it.
The corded muscles in Batman’s arms strained as he continued pulling back. Janus was snarling now, trying to gnaw through the cape. Thankfully, the Kevlar mesh was holding, but Batman didn’t know for how much longer.
He managed a quick glance to see that the vortex was widening, taking out the first row of gargoyles. Without the chanting from Janus, the gargoyles had stopped rematerializing after being destroyed and, instead, the dust and debris was getting sucked up into the spiraling winds and scattered across the park.
Batman held on tightly, wrapping the ends of the cape around his hands for a better grip. He bent his legs slightly, trying to keep himself in line with Janus’s center of gravity as the demon bucked and thrashed. But it was getting more and more difficult as Janus’s movements got more and more erratic.
Whatever the women were doing inside the protective cyclone, he silently implored them to do it quickly.
As our talk went on, I began to see Ivy’s inclusion as
more of a blessing than a curse. Because
she was with us, there were a great many things I hadn’t said—thank God!
As it was, without knowing anything of the real particulars about
my relationship with Bruce, Ivy had declared me —
“Oh, give it up, Catty, you’re bat-whipped. From day one, you let him get under your fur.”
I was speechless. All
I could think was: It will be a
small private service, plants and family only.
“Now that’s true, Selina,” Lois chimed in. “That time you took me hostage in Metropolis. The second he showed up with Superman, your focus changed entirely, it was all about him.”
A small private double service…
This couldn’t be happening.
“Oh, like you’re in a position to talk,” Ivy turned on Lois.
I am not bat-whipped, okay? The whatever-it-is between Catwoman and Batman… is. It’s always been. And I have always managed to keep it in its proper place in relation to everything else in my life. If I had the choice of falling for someone that wasn’t quite so much an overbearing control freak, would I? Well… …No, probably not. Because he wouldn’t be Bruce if he was easygoing and accommodating and—and—and you don’t GET that choice anyway—which Pammy should know better than anybody.
“Pamela,” I found my tongue once the shock wore off, “May I remind you that you CONJURED JANUS because you COULDN’T GET YOUR MIND OFF TWO-FACE!”
I turned to Hella.
“That’s what we’re up against here, Hella. That’s what they do. You give them just the tiniest opening, you let them in THAT much, look how they take over. Pammy, help me out here, vegetation example.”
“I am over Harvey Dent,” she declared.
“What’s the big tree in south Florida,” Lois asked, “with the roots all over sucking up the aquifer?”
We all looked at her—even Hella.
“You wanted a plant metaphor for how men infiltrate and take over?”
“Kudzu,” Ivy said happily. “Men are like the kudzu vine. Grows over everything, trees, power poles, everything. Sixty feet a year. Japanese brought it in for an exhibition in 1876, now it covers seven million acres of the Southeastern United States. Can’t stop it. Herbicides, best ones, take ten years of repeated treatments.”
“See, there you go, men are kudzu.” I figured I better bring us back to the point before Pammy got carried away.
“And that’s just human men,” Lois added, “Can you imagine what an infernal-testosterone case like Janus could be like if you let him get away with this? He’ll turn Nifilheim into his den!”
“He’ll start ordering you around like it’s Taming of the Shrew,” I said.
Hella looked again in the direction she had before, as if peering farther into the distance than any of us could see.
“Too little payment for so great a debt,” I quoted.
Hella stepped out from the center of our circle in the direction she was staring. I broke the circle and stood, moving behind her. I’d finally worked out how to frame the thought that was gnawing at me.
“When you get right down to it,” I told her quietly, “He’s giving you a whole lot of nothing-really-useful-anymore. Ragnarok is over. You lost. What are you going to do with six thousand berserkers now? It’s not about you anymore; it’s about him. It’s about him getting them for you. And I don’t think it’s a sweet ‘Honey, look what I did,’ either. I think it’s a cage. I think it’s putting us in a box like a thing, something owned, their personal property. They don’t have to think about it or worry about it, it’s just there, waiting, right where it should be next to the Nintendo. And you realize one day that all of the party announcements are for ‘Mr. Janus & Guest’—not that there’s any question who he’s going to be bringing because you’re a foregone conclusion.”
She turned to me but didn’t speak. Instead I heard that eerie mind-voice once again: ˜˜Like an accessory. Bought and paid for. For the bargain price of six thousand Berserkers?˜˜
All the magic types do it. Why did I expect more consideration from an actual goddess.
“My private thoughts are private,” I told her bitterly.
˜˜Or 5,999. Because the Dark Mortal is taken.˜˜
“Peace, sisters,” she said aloud before disappearing
through the wall of the protective cyclone.
Then the mind-voice returned.
is wisdom in thy counsel; I thank thee for thy pains.˜˜
At first, I didn’t realize we all heard the last statement. Not until Ivy started sputtering. First she made a gasping hiss, like those big steam presses at the dry cleaners, then she began the slow ramp up to Leaf Bitch with a grievance: Hella, Roxy, Kazaa, Men-Men-Men, bartender at the Palm Court, Bun Lady…
She had held on pretty well, all things considered. At least, that was my take. Lois wasn’t so generous. Either that or she thought the ramp up to Leaf Bitch might be Ivy succumbing to the enchantment and turning full-blown Berserker on us. (Harvey has never, to my knowledge, seen a real Berserker in action, but I’m sure he would back me up that it’s an easy mistake to make. He would have loved what happened next.)
Lois tapped Ivy sweetly on the shoulder, and as Ivy turned, Lois socked her square in the jaw. There’s something poetic about a one-punch knockout, even if it does send the punchee flailing back onto the ritual cloth… overturning the anointed gourd, scattering the sacred gems, kicking over the herbal candles and setting the ritual cloth on fire.
To be continued…