39 - Reunion

Female hero in red tights with flaming eyes talks with Dr. Ka.
Phoenix Witch speaks with Dr. Ka

Phoenix Witch landed in a cloud of flame outside the door to Dr. Ka's brownstone. She was dressed in red tights and a cape embroidered with stylized flames flowed behind her as she strode through the doorway. Sections of finely crafted spiked armor were strapped to her arms. Her identity was hidden by a mask that exposed only her mouth and her eyes, the latter literally aflame. Her red leather boots had wedge soles, adding a couple of inches to her slight frame.

She walked quickly through the halls of the brownstone, though her shoulders were slumped with exhaustion. She found Dr. Ka in his study and knocked on the door frame before entering.

"Phoenix," he said in relief, putting down the book he was reading and rising to greet her. "I was worried about you."

She waved off his concerns. "Papa Perrault had me running all over the Tangle. Took longer than I thought. But we hurt the Sovereign Sons. Baron Cimetiere's in custody so that's going to put a dent in their ability to raise zombies for a while. Of course that will get the other gangs moving to take advantage of them. I figure I'll hit the Dogz next." She rubbed her face tiredly.

Dr. Ka studied her with concern. "Phoenix, we appreciate your help but you don't have to do this alone. I'll send Black Mask to investigate the Dogz. You go get some sleep." She opened her mouth to object but he said sternly, "You are no good to anyone if you are exhausted."

Phoenix Witch grimaced but nodded. "Fine. I'll go get a couple of hours."

"You might speak with Robert first. He has been looking for you."

She made a disgusted noise. "I haven't got the energy to deal with him. I'll see him tomorrow."

"Very well," Ka said reluctantly. "But get more than a couple of hours of sleep. You may be superhuman, but that doesn't mean you are invincible."

Phoenix Witch shrugged and left him. As she headed back to the foyer she heard Caliburn's voice calling after her. "Hey, Phoenix. I need to talk to you."

"Later," she said without slowing down.

"It's important," he said sharply.

"Later!" she snapped and continued. She heard him mumble something but ignored him. He always thought what he had to say it was important. It could wait.

Phoenix Witch took to the skies as soon as she left the brownstone and rocketed off to the west. Dr. Ka had offered to put her up while she was visiting Vibora Bay but Caliburn got on her nerves too much. The Trismegistus Council had an enclave here and they were giving her a place to stay. They mostly left her alone and she could come and go as she pleased.

She arrived at the enclave and headed straight for her room, nodding greetings at the few wizards she saw. The room wasn't much, but she didn't need much. As soon as she saw her bed she realized how exhausted she was. She didn't even bother undressing as she collapsed face down onto the mattress. She would have been asleep in moments but was interrupted by a knock at the door.

"For fuck's sake, Caliburn," she mumbled. It would be just like him to follow her here, though if he went to that much trouble then maybe it really was important. With a groan she got to her feet and shuffled over to the door. She opened it and was surprised to see it wasn't Caliburn but rather a red-haired woman in a green dress.

The woman gave her a friendly smile and said, "Phoenix Witch? Hello, my name is Witchcraft. I'm visiting from Millennium-" She broke off as Phoenix Witch surged forward and grabbed her in a tight embrace. Witchcraft stood there awkwardly as the other woman buried her face in her shoulder and started to sob. Witchcraft's mouth moved soundlessly as she looked down at Phoenix Witch. After a moment, her brow furrowed and she looked at the woman more carefully. Puzzled, she asked, "Cataclysm?"

Cataclysm froze, realizing she had done something stupid. She quickly released Witchcraft and looked up and down the corridor. There was nobody there. "Come in. Quickly," she said, dragging the confused Witchcraft into her room. She closed the door and turned to face the other woman. She pulled off her mask and wiped away the tears. "God, Beth, you have no idea how good it is to see you. But what are you doing here?"

Witchcraft arched her eyebrows as she looked Cataclysm up and down. "I'm not sure that I'm the one who owes you an explanation but all right, I'll go first." She sat on the edge of the bed. "Juryrig came to Millennium City to consult with Dr. Silverback about something. I went to see him, looking for news from home. He was very nervous. Evasive. He said everything was fine and shuffled me out. He's really not a very good liar.

"I thought that was a bit strange. Things are slow so I decided to take a few days off and see how things were here. I came here, visited Dr. Ka and Robert and asked them how things were here. They said everything was fine and asked when was I leaving. They practically pushed me out the door. They may be slightly better liars than Juryrig but there was obviously something going on.

"I tried my own scrying spells and got nothing. And I mean nothing. The kind of nothing when you look out the window and find the window has been bricked over. Someone was blocking me. I got only one thing: the name Phoenix Witch. I investigated and found this fire-based hero had shown up in Vibora Bay a couple of months ago and has been working hard to clean up the city. I had no idea why that was relevant to me, but I've learned to trust my sources."

She shrugged and looked at Cataclysm. "And here I find you. That's my story. Your turn. What is happening?"

Reluctantly, Cataclysm shook her head. "I can't," she said. Witchcraft's face clouded and Cataclysm said quickly, "Do you trust me, Beth?"

Witchcraft studied her carefully. "I trust the woman who is back in Millennium City trying to recover some occult books stolen by DEMON." She cocked her head. "I'm not sure I know who you are."

Cataclysm sighed heavily. She knew Witchcraft wouldn't just go away, and if she kept digging she might complicate what was going on. "All right," she said reluctantly. "I'll tell you a little, but only a little. I am that woman from Millennium City, but from several months in the future. A future I'm here trying to make sure doesn't happen."

Witchcraft didn't seem surprised. Time travel wasn't the weirdest thing she'd come across in her career. "How bad is it?" she asked with concern.

"Bad," Cataclysm said. "Battle of Detroit bad." She shook her head. "Worse."

In exasperation, Witchcraft said, "Then let me help! I can get the entire team down here in a matter of hours."

"No!" Cataclysm said loudly. She swallowed and forced herself to calm down. "No. Look, things are complicated here. We have to alter a historical event that has a lot of momentum, and yet we have to tread very, very lightly to avoid a paradox. We're trying to divert a battleship with a feather." She shrugged. "Or something like that. You know what it's like talking to Juryrig." She gave Witchcraft a pleading look. "I need you to trust me, to let me handle it."

Witchcraft caught the emphasis. "Why you?"

"Because it was my fault," Cataclysm said, her voice catching.

"Why? What happened?" Witchcraft asked in concern.

Cataclysm shook her head. "No. That's all you get. I'm sorry. It has to be that way."

Witchcraft frowned and tapped her foot nervously. "All right. Can I help at all?"

"You can go back to Millennium City and stay out of this. And listen, you can't tell anyone anything. Not Defender and certainly not me. Even the little bit I've told you tonight you can't ever repeat. At least until Juryrig figures out the temporal something or other and if it's safe and if it will blow up the universe if I shake hands with myself." She rubbed her temples. "God I hate time travel."

Witchcraft was silent for a long time. "It's harder to do nothing," she said after a while. Cataclysm didn't bother replying. "OK, on one condition. You swear to me that if you need help, you'll call. I mean it!"

Cataclysm held up a hand. "Promise," she swore. She thought about the upcoming Blood Moon and sighed sadly. She couldn't warn Witchcraft about it even though she knew it was going to be brutal. "And I hate to say this but you need to leave now. If you stick around, I'm going to say something I shouldn't."

Witchcraft stood. "Very well." She walked to the door and stopped. She looked Cataclysm up and down. She gestured at her outfit and said, "Can you at least explain this?"

Cataclysm shrugged, a little embarrassed. "I can't exactly go around as Cataclysm, can I? Juryrig's the only one who knows who I really am. Ka and Caliburn just know I have knowledge of future events, though they don't know all the details. I had to adopt a new identity so I could act."

Witchcraft unsuccessfully suppressed a smile. "Well, it's a very cute outfit."

"God, don't start with me, woman. I feel like enough of a tool in this getup as it is. I spend half my day picking these tights out of my ass. And capes are just stupid. It keeps getting in the way and catching on things."

"People don't appreciate the wardrobe difficulties that come with the job," Witchcraft said with a smile.

Cataclysm grinned back and then gave her a hug goodbye. After a few seconds Witchcraft started to pull back but Cataclysm wouldn't let her go. Witchcraft looked concerned and asked, "It's that bad?"

"It's that bad," Cataclysm confirmed, finally releasing her. "Stay safe, Beth."

"You, too," Witchcraft replied, squeezing her arm before leaving.

"So that's the plan," Cataclysm said to the group. It was one of five, the other four being led by Dr. Ka, Caliburn, Redsnake and Black Mask. Each squad was made up of heroes recruited from all over the world, though at her request members of the Champions had been excluded. The five teams were going to assault Therakiel's Temple and end this once and for all.

Like the others, Cataclysm had chosen her team herself. She referred to them as the Bitch Brigade. In addition to herself, still known as Phoenix Witch, the team was made up of Enamor, touched by the power of one of the Elder Gods to punish DEMON for trying to harness his power; Madlight, escaped mental patient who discovered the use of her powers drove back the madness that normally crippled her; Pariah, a Qliphothic demon banished to Earth after questioning why her people tormented humans; and Gramma Gamma, a woman who had been in her 70s when she gained metahuman abilities after being doused in radioactive sludge.

"This is where I say something clichéd like 'Failure is not an option'. Well in this case, that's really true. We aren't trying to save the city or even the country. There are seven billion people depending on us, and our world is well and truly fucked if we fail. We aren’t going to try; we are going to succeed. We aren't going to fall back. We aren't going to come back on another day. We are going to go in and we are going to kick some ass, right?"

There was a muted mumble of assent from the others and she said, "I can't hear you. Are we going to kick some ass?"

"Yeah!" they said with more enthusiasm.

"Damn straight we are," she said forcefully. "Now, I'm not going to lie to you. This isn't an easy fight. It's the toughest thing any of us have ever tried to do. And there is a good chance that one or more of us isn't going to make it back. But that's what we do. We take the chances other people don't. We make the sacrifices other people can't. We get it done no matter what. Are you ready to make that sacrifice?"

"Yeah!" they shouted again. She searched each of their faces, looking for any sign of hesitation but didn't see it.

"We aren't just going to win," Cataclysm said. "I come from the streets, and on the streets if you just win a fight then the other guy comes back tomorrow for a rematch. It's not enough to win. You have to beat the shit out of the other guy. You have to bloody him so badly that he spends the rest of his life afraid of you. Therakiel thinks this is the middle ground between Heaven and Hell. Well he's wrong. We are going to show him that we are worse than the most horrifying things he can find in the other planes. He's going to spend eternity running from us. He's never going to come back here, right?"


She put her hand out and the other put their hands on hers. "Bitch Brigade on three. One, two, three."

"Bitch Brigade!"

She was feeling pumped up and proud of her team. "Let's go make an angel cry!"