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Teen Titans #8 - Who is Cassie Sandsmark?

Teen Titans #8 - Who is Cassie Sandsmark?

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Author: AdamantAce
Book: Teen Titans
Arc: Illumination
Event: Who is Donna Troy?
Set: 20
 
 
Blüdhaven wasn’t good for much. An old whaling town, the dirty, industrial cityscape was later transformed by wealthy, criminal investors, building its industrial district into a neon paradise, a city-sized casino idyllic as long as you never looked beneath the surface.
And though the Teen Titans were almost always preoccupied with minimising the rampaging of emerging metahumans, they would often strive to tackle the crime that lurked in the shadows cast by the neon lights. One such criminal was André LeBlanc.
See, the smarmy and greasy Angel Marin, one of the ‘philanthropists’ so cherished in Blüdhaven had held an exhibition to show off the depths of his riches, including his star piece: the Night Diamond, a priceless gemstone. This naturally presented a challenge for the self-styled ‘world's greatest jewel thief’ LeBlanc.
He was a wanted man internationally due to his masterful skills and cutting edge tactics, but targeting the home of such a dangerous man as Angel Marin, LeBlanc was - even to his own admission - pushing his luck.
The thief darted silently down the crime lord’s corridor, his footfalls suppressed by his rebalancing boots and his hi-tech jumpsuit hiding him from thermal sensors despite its garish white colour. On his cracked face sat a green monocle, which LeBlanc used to scan for traps in real time. As he ran, LeBlanc gripped the azure jewel tightly, the diamond no bigger than a golf ball despite its exorbitant worth. The man’s agility and resolve was unmatched for someone of his age, but unfortunately his resistance came in the form of three meddlesome teenagers.
Angel Marin slept soundly in his bed, LeBlanc having eluded all of his security, but the Teen Titans had already seen the thief’s approach. Thanks to a recent upgrade to Cyborg’s tech, the teen was able to piece together a wealth of technological information sources to track LeBlanc all the way from his previous heist, and now they were moments from thwarting him.
LeBlanc pushed into the drawing room, the window he had entered through still cracked open. But as the man emerged through the open doorway, the oak door immediately pushed shut. The thief turned back towards the door, drawing a glowing, white knife to slash out at whoever had pushed the door to, only to find an empty place. Furiously, he pivoted back toward the window, now to find the shadowy figure of the blue-clad vigilante blocking his path. Nightwing. LeBlanc threw his arm out, slashing at the slender assailant, only for Nightwing to strafe aside with a boastful cartwheel. “No thanks!” Nightwing spat, springing off of the ground and throwing himself at the thief. Quickly, he struck with his twin sticks, aiming to disarm the thief as well as snatch the stone from him in one fell swoop, but André wouldn’t unhand his prize so easily.
The thief swung out once more, with Nightwing this time much closer. Before the vigilante could bounce back, he cried as the searing hot blade streaked across his chest, cutting through his black-and-blue armour as if it were butter, exposing his pale and bleeding flesh.
“Heh.”
Recoiling, the vigilante brought his hand across his chest, wiping the blood aside before clutching at his sticks once again. Nightwing leapt vertically and hooked his sticks around the industrial-looking chandelier above, using it to fling himself across the room to intercept the white-clad thief who continued his way to the open window. He landed and - stick still in hand - threw a fist out, striking LeBlanc cleanly in the nose.
The thief staggered, dazed. He would have just shot the kid if he had even brought a gun, though in his line of work a firearm was such a clumsy weapon. Narrowing his gaze on the dark figure he faced, LeBlanc focused himself. How strong could one kid be? Arrogant as ever, he then threw his knife aside and slipped the Night Diamond into his white satchel. He brought up his fists, ready to exchange blows.
The two men clashed, and quickly LeBlanc began to impress Nightwing as he dealt fast and powerful strikes. As they traded attacks, blocking and leaping up and down, they almost seemed to dance with each other, with LeBlanc using his streamlined gauntlets to deflect strikes from Nightwing’s escrima sticks. But LeBlanc caught Nightwing off-guard when he delivered a spinning kick to the vigilante’s head, flooring him with a manoeuvre Nightwing never would have expected from a man approaching forty. Though as LeBlanc turned away with a sneer, seemingly having bested the Gotham crimefighter, he turned to find himself face-to-face with none other than a towering, green gorilla. With a single punch, he was out.
“You know, I don’t know why you didn’t just let me just punch him sooner,” Gar grinned, morphing back to human form. As he rose from the ground, Dick produced a pair of black boxer shorts from his belt compartment, unfurling them and throwing them the way of the nude, green child as if it were a regular occurrence (which, by this point, it was).
“That’ll be because we’re sitting in the house of a dangerous gangster,” Dick smiled coolly, his hand pouring over his throbbing head, “Ever heard of ‘lowkey’?”
“Ah, you got me there!” Gar exclaimed, slightly quieter this time, “I’m many things but lowkey isn’t one of them.”
“Nice work though,” Dick replied, before activating his communicator, “Cyborg: you still on overwatch?”
Beat.
“Cyborg?”
Vic spluttered, suddenly bursting in over comms, “Yeah. Of course, sorry just got distracted by… things...”
“Finlay,” Dick continued, “Of course. I’m sorry. Look, head back to the roof of Iris Cove Casino, and we’ll regroup with you there.”
“Got it.”
Since Dick had discovered that it was an associate of Vic’s father, Jacob Finlay, who was responsible for stealing the Cyborg blueprints, as well as springing the metahumans that almost killed Vic, he had wanted nothing less than see the crooked physicist see what was coming to him. But what he couldn’t have expected was for the doctor to turn up dead - his neck wrenched - in Gotham River. It was a tragedy, and not at all what the man deserved.
The Teen Titans had attempted to follow up on the death, but had found nothing. That was until Dick received a clandestine call from Silas Stone.
 
♦ ♦ T ♦ ♦
 
The fifteen-year-old Cassandra Sandsmark emerged from the Music Box Theatre wide-eyed, her mind blown. Growing up in Buckinghamshire, England, Cassie had always dreamed of seeing a Broadway show, and it was every bit as amazing as she had expected it to be.
Her mother was an archaeologist, and therefore was often away for long periods of time, and when Cassie wasn’t couped up at her boarding school, her grandparents were too old and untrusting - despite their riches - to fly her out to New York. And though Cassie had finally gotten her wish, it was through the most distressing of circumstances. Now, though Cassie was raised by a strictly Christian family, she always found difficulty in believing in a God for one reason or another, so imagine her surprise when she was visited by the image of what appeared to be an angel, imploring her to flee to New York City, of all places, that she was being hunted and would only be safe within the bounds of that city so far across the pond. No answers, only urgency.
And so, the Fear of God firmly instilled in her, the fifteen-year-old stole as much money as she could from her grandfather’s bank account and grabbed the first plane ticket to the United States.
Though Cassie honestly didn't know what to expect. Upon arriving in the ‘greatest city in the world’ she had heard nothing from the otherworldly figure that had addressed her before, and she quickly began to realise that she couldn't occupy herself in her hotel room for very long. And hence, she decided to indulge herself in an overpriced visit to Broadway, and it was worth every penny to the young girl.
But now Cassie was lost once again. Cars hurtled past her along the wide road, as monolithic buildings stretched high into the jet black sky. There wasn't a moment of silence, the city filled with a cacophony of noise, even at this hour. Quickly, she pushed over to the nearest taxi, pulling her red hoodie up tight over her slender shoulders to keep out the quickly emerging chill. As the driver rolled his window down, Cassie doubled over, peering through the window to address him.
“Hello? Do you go to the White Ram Hotel?” she chirped in a polite tone.
“Do I!?” the driver exclaimed. He was a middle aged man with olive skin and a sleazy black tracksuit. “This ain't the subway. I’ll take you anywhere you want, hot stuff!”
“Excuse me?!” Cassie cried, pulling herself up. Sure, she was more developed than other girls in her year at school, but she was only fifteen. Surely he could see that! Right?
“I love me a British accent,” the driver sneered, “Say somethin’ sexy and I’ll give you half fare!”
Cassie was flustered and infuriated. Slamming her foot down on the pavement, she pushed away. “I’ll think I’ll walk, thank you very much!!”
And so Cassie took off down the street, walking against the flow of heavy traffic, the sounds of the city growing more fierce. Quickly, the black of the night seemed to slowly seep in around her, the darkness consuming her, but Cassie kept plodding on towards the White Ram.
As Cassie walked, a enigmatic presence lurked in the distance, watching her; stalking her from the shadows. There was a quality to Cassie, something powerful that just made her unignorable, something that called to the presence in the dark.
Unbeknown to this, Cassie continued on, eventually coming to pass the exterior of an old Irish pub that stretched along the street. Nervously, Cassie pulled up the hood of her red hoodie and picked up her pace, the footfalls of her black Chucks growing heavier against the concrete sidewalk. Something she’d call the pavement.
Though Cassie wouldn’t get off so easy as from the pub, right as she passed its doors, emerged three men of varying levels of intoxication, all swaying with the breeze. They each looked around thirty and each similarly struggled to keep their balance as they poured out onto the street. Quickly, one caught a glimpse of the young girl attempting to hurriedly make away, catching the side of her face as she walked past. “Hey!” He blurted out, steadying his lacking weight on his friend’s shoulder, bottle in hand. “You’re very pretty!! You should be… v… very proud.”
She ignored him and continued down the street, still a while off the next corner.
“Hey–” he repeated before bursting into a cry, “I SAID HEY!!”
Cassie jolted, glancing over her shoulder for just half second, enough time for a few of the boys to catch her eye. She turned away and continued on.
“HEY!!” Another man called after Cassie, this time annoyed, “He’s talking to you!!”
“Fucking bitch…” the first man mumbled to himself.
“No!” the third man called out, pulling the first man forward and snapping him out of his sulk, “N– No she doesn’t get to ignore you like that!!”
The third took off in a sprint after Cassie, continuing to define call out, “My friend wants to talk to you!!”
The first and second men looked to each other, too drunk to roll their eyes, and began to stumble after their leading friend. Cassie looked over her shoulder once more to see the three men clambering towards her. But before she could run, the man threw himself in the way of her path.
“No need to be rude…” he grumbled, his friends then catching up behind.
None of the men were cruel, but all were plenty menacing as they surrounded the 15-year-old girl, who stood alone and afraid in a city mostly unknown to her.
“Get out of my way…” Cassie seethed, her breath unsteady as she pretended to be as tough as she could muster.
“Ah! British!” exclaimed the youngest of the men, the one who had first noticed Cassie, “I like British!”
He placed a hand forcefully on Cassie’s shoulder as she faced away from him, and pulled her around to face him. “C’mere.” Instinctually, Cassie reacted, flinging herself back, and crashed into the chest of the man who had first pursued her.
“We ain’t gonna hurt ya!” the crushing man cried, only for Cassie to react by delivering a swift kick to the man’s groin. He fell quickly, groaning in pain.
“What the fuck, lady!?”
The man behind her jostled Cassie’s shoulder, threatened and enraged. Taking no shit, Cassie turned socked the man in the jaw, causing him to stagger back.
“Stay away from me!!” she cried before punching him once again, unaware of the third man behind her as he drew a knife.
But as the man threw himself forward to slash out at the increasingly violent young girl, out of nowhere flew a glowing gold chain that seemed to magically wrap itself around the wrist of the man’s knife hand. And with one quick tug, the man went flying several feet. Though as Cassie turned to see just what had occurred behind her, she saw not the floor assailant, but a woman, tall and draped in black, her skin lightly tanned and her hair as dark as her plated armour. “You need to come with me.”
 
♦ ♦ T ♦ ♦
 
The next morning, Dick Grayson pushed hurriedly through the S.T.A.R. Labs security checkpoint, already a registered visitor at this point. He didn’t know the cause of Silas summoning him, but he had guessed from the police cars lined up on the street outside that the scientist likely had information regarding Finlay’s death.
And as Dick entered the central lab, he was implicitly proved correct as he found Silas seated, the figure of a tall, muscular man in a beige coat and a black-banded, white cowboy hat. Immediately, Dick recognised the lone policeman as NYC Sheriff Saunders. It was rare that the man ever came out to investigate first hand since his election, and he and Dick had never crossed paths, especially while the latter was Nightwing.
“And… Dr Finlay: any reason to believe he had any enemies?” the Sheriff spoke in a gruff, deep tone, befitting of his fearsome silhouette and his fifty years of smoking. The man was no nonsense.
Silas took a second. A part of him wanted to pretend the man was a saint, but the truth was that he was far from it. Similarly Silas knew that what he had to said could incriminate himself, but was already worn down by the death of his coworker and his son shunning him for a second time. He had no time for lies.
“It was... I strongly suspect it was Finlay who allowed the meta thief - Selinda Flinders - to break into the lab. There, she not only freed her brother but also stole my blueprints for the cybernetics I used to treat my son from a safe that only myself and Finlay knew even existed.”
The Sheriff took a deep breath, still unaware of Dick standing in the doorway behind him. Carefully, he jotted down some notes in his small paper pad. “And what would Dr Finlay have wanted those… blueprints for? Industrial espionage?”
“No,” Silas sighed, “He wanted them so that he could save his brother the way I saved Victor, despite all my protests that the technology wasn’t ready.”
“His brother: This is Arthur Finlay, correct? Paralysed after a burglar attacked him in 2006.”
“That is correct.”
Saunders paused and took another long, deep breath, before launching into hurried speech. “Now it’s funny you should mention that as Arthur Finlay was nowhere to be found when we visited his estate earlier this week. Odd for a man who can't wipe his own ass.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying it’s entirely possible that Dr Finlay– that Jacob succeeded in ‘fixing’ his brother.”
Beat.
The Sheriff smiled. “But that’s for me to chase up. Sorry, I shouldn’t have divulged that with you, - it’s as of current - entirely unfounded.”
“It’s fine.” Silas smiled tiredly, “We can all speculate. Now, if you don’t mind, I have another visitor.” Silas gestured graciously towards the door, where Dick Grayson was standing.
Sheriff Saunders looked across and his face immediately dropped, realising his mistake. “Ah, I see. Well, I won’t keep you then. Thank you for your insight, Dr Stone. We’ll be in touch.”
Quickly, the Sheriff wrapped up his notepad and made his way over to the door. As he exited, he tipped his hat towards the young spectator. “Nice to meet you, young man.”
And he was gone.
Silas stood, meeting Dick in the centre of the lab. “You know, I thought he’d never leave.”
“Was that it, Dr Stone?” Dick asked, perturbed, “You think Jacob’s brother killed him?”
Silas sighed. “That seems to be the leading theory, but no, that’s not why I called you.”
“Then what–”
“Christmas has come and passed, and this is the first year I’ve spent it without my Victor since he was born, the first year since my Elinore…”
Silas blinked.
“I wanted to give you a package. A gift. To give to Victor. A belated Christmas present.”
“He’s still not talking to you?”
Silas crawled along to his desk where, from a lower drawer, he produced a small purple box tied with a red bow, no bigger than a ring box. He held it out to Dick, his eyes so tired.
“Just please make sure Victor opens it,” he replied, “Won’t you do that for me, Richard?”
 
♦ ♦ T ♦ ♦
 
Silently, a robed figure approached the derelict apartment block in Avalon, Blüdhaven. This was the only known address for the Teen Titan known as Cyborg, but clearly circumstances had forced him to move on. The figure sighed, shaking her head before moving on.
 
♦ ♦ T ♦ ♦
 
“It was like my nan always said: that someday I’d feel something, and all that crap about burning bushes and… the big man in the sky would just slip into place.”
As Cassie spoke in the relative warmth of the drab, grey squat, her words were lost on Donna, who - despite having developed more than adequate conversation skills - had no idea what the young girl was talking about after she had asked her why she had come to New York City.
Cassie grinned, sat on the only chair in the apartment, as she registered her saviour’s bemusement. “I had a vision. It sounds crazy I know, but some angel came down and told me that… I was being hunted… and that I’d only be safe if I came to New York.” Her eyes were wild, as if she were reliving those impossible moments as she told the tale, “She told me some monster wanted to kill me, that it was the plan of the Gods that I remained safe. Truth is, I struggled believing in one God, never mind plural!”
Donna was beginning to understand, but remained bemused as she looked up from the floor to the girl she had found herself driven to protect. The idea that anyone could believe in just one God perplexed her. Surely there would be too many responsibilities for just one God to handle.
Shaking off her confusion, Donna stood up from the floor and made her way to the open window. Behind her, Cassie sat by the breakfast bar, wrapped in a shawl Donna had found in the bedroom. Donna needed to understand the connection she shared with this girl. They had to be connected somehow, or else what would explain the otherworldly, gut-wrenching pull towards her that Donna had experienced as soon as Cassie had stepped within a thousand mile radius.
Who was Cassie Sandsmark? That’s what Donna kept asking herself. What did Cassie mean to her? Though Donna supposed that to answer that question, she’d have to figure out just who she was herself.
Cassie sat up quickly, shrugging off her trepidation for the thrill of the adventure. “So is that it then?” she asked. Donna moved away from the glass to face her. “Are you my guardian angel? The person the vision said would protect me?” “I…?” Donna honestly didn’t know.
“Come to think of it: why are you wearing battle armour?” Cassie’s eyes were wide as she looked upon her fearsome protector, stood against the New York City skyline through the thin glass, “Are you - like - one of those Amazons? Like Wonder Woman?”
“NO.” Donna spat, suddenly recoiling. Immediately, she realised her mistake as she watched Cassie flinch back. Calmly, she elaborated. “No. I’m nothing like… I’m not Wonder Woman…”
“Oh.”
“But I think I am supposed to keep you safe… from whatever monster is trying to harm you.”
 
♦ ♦ T ♦ ♦
 
Vic fumbled with his keys, half distracted by his conversation with Gar as he stood in the hallway of his new apartment block on Payton Street, attempting to unlock the door. He’d gotten into his new place over Christmas, his last home desolated when Shimmer and Mammoth attacked him at his home.
“So the guy goes through all the trouble of hiring these supervillains to steal your… thing and then just mysteriously ends up dead?” Gar jested, his voice animated and non-serious.
Finally, Vic turned the key and the two entered into his new apartment. The place was much more spacious than Vic’s previous place, with a more open-planned layout which Gar definitely considered an upgrade. Though a winter chill emanated through the place, visually it was quite warm, the Christmas decorations still up and on full display almost a month later.
The guy was my dad’s friend, Gar.” Vic replied, irritated. “If he weren’t such a jackass, he’d be like my uncle, so please take this seriously.”
Vic pushed forward, pulling off his thick, grey hoodie and laying it across the arm of his couch along with his keys.
“Dude, he tried to kill you!” exclaimed Gar, “That doesn’t exactly scream close family friend.”
“A man is dead!” Vic snapped, his tone now deadly serious, something entirely unheard by Gar until now from his usually somber but amicable friend, “Get a grip.”
Gar lingered in the doorway. He took a deep breath. Vic was right. “I– I’m sorry, man. I guess that’s just how I cope with... things. He was your friend, I get it.” He stepped forward, slowly pushing the door shut behind him.
Jacob Finlay wasn’t a friend of Victor’s. In fact, Vic could never stand the man. But it saddened Vic deeply to know that he was gone, even after all the hurt he had caused him.
Slowly, Vic made his way over to the fridge, feeling his stomach yearn for a snack. He opened the metallic white door and looked upon its contents with disappointment. He sighed.
“I know we just got in, but do you fancy heading back out for food?” Gar suggested earnestly, “I know a diner that’s cool with people like us in downtown Blüd.”
’People like us’. Vic was used to that meaning something else, but he supposed he did have that in common with his plucky, if not crass, young friend. They were both outcasts due to their appearance. Vic was half-metal, Gar was green. On the rare occasions Vic had left the house as himself (rather than the superhero Cyborg) he made sure to never stay too long in one place, as to avoid anyone noticing his horrific visage under his shadowy hood.
“How do you mean?”
“This old couple owns the place,” Gar explained, “Man’s blind and the lady’s… well, actually open-minded and reasonable.”
Vic froze, actually considering the proposal. It’d been a long time since he’d sat down in a restaurant - however fancy - and eaten out. He looked to the empty, open fridge and then back to his discarded hoodie. His eyes flashed.
“Sure,” he smiled, “You wanna grab your coat this time? You’ve been complaining about the cold all day!”
Gar grinned back at Vic, deeply pleased by his response. “Yeah, one sec!” He ran, bounding across the floor and over to the hat stand Vic rarely seemed to use. From there, Gar pulled down his orange-red Parka and pulled it on in one fluid motion. As he did, Vic made his way to the couch and slipped back into his hoodie, zipping it up slowly.
The two smiled at each other and Vic - now stood closer to the door - pushed forward, wrapping his metal grip around the door handle and pulled it down. As he swung the door open, there stood a startled Dick Grayson, moments from ringing the doorbell"
“Woah!” Dick jumped.
“Dick!” Gar exclaimed, “We’re heading out to eat, you coming?”
“You?” Dick replied, pleasantly surprised to see Vic trying something new. “Uh, yeah… sure!”
From the pocket of his black pea coat, Dick produced the purple box he’d been handed earlier, nervously fidgeting with it between his hands slightly as he glanced up and down from it to Vic. “Though, uh… I actually came to give you this, Vic.”
Dick held the box out. Vic looked open-eyed to Gar and then back to him. “Dick, you already got me a Christmas present,” he laughed, walking over and taking the purple-wrapped present, eyeing it curiously.
“No, it’s… it’s from your dad. Cos you missed Christmas.”
Beat.
Vic looked back up to Dick. “Dick, I missed Christmas cos I can’t stand the man. He made me into this… thing, and it was his lies that almost got me killed.” Without even looking, Vic tossed the box over his shoulder, it hitting the ceiling and ricocheting before landing between the couch and the television.
“Vic…” Gar moaned disappointedly.
“What?!” Vic cried, “He’s human garbage. Has that brilliant mind and uses it to constantly fuck with my life. I don't need him. He’d be better off dead.”
Dick and Gar both looked at him in stunned silence. Dick’s eyes flitted back and forth and his moved out of the doorway and into the apartment. He looked to Gar, an orphan like himself, and then to Vic. He nodded. “How about we go get that dinner?”
Vic took a breath, calming himself. He nodded reluctantly, his confidence shaken but determined not to let his dad ruin his victory. “Right, yeah. Sure!” he affirmed himself. “I– I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to–”
“It’s fine.” Dick smiled, turning to face the open doorway, “Let’s just g–”
Just as Dick had moved, replacing him in the doorway was a tall, hooded figure: one none of the teens had met before yet one that all three recognised.
“Holy fuck!” Gar exclaimed, “It’s Wonder Woman!”
 
♦ ♦ T ♦ ♦
 
“I was speaking with my former teacher Athena after I sla–” “Wait, Athena?” Gar interrupted, starstruck, as if he were taking notes, “As in Popped Out of Zeus’ Forehead Athena?” Diana nodded solemnly. The Amazon sat on a kitchen chair, comfortably at a level to explain herself to the three young men, who each stood.
“Athena revealed to me a child of both Ares and Circe roamed the man’s world, that… an adversary of mine sought to hurt the child, for the misdoings Circe had committed against her.”
Diana told the tale, her eyes hollow as she seemed to hold back some inconvenient truths, something Dick picked up on easily, “I was told that I would find the child in New York City, and knew that Batman had established a strike team nearby. So here I am, hoping you can lend me your assistance.”
Dick sighed, running his hand through the front tuft of his dark hair. He’d never met the Amazon warrior before, but knew that she and Bruce were friendly, with Diana being part of his ‘Justice League’ initiative. But Dick was disappointed to hear how the Teen Titans were perceived by the older heroes. “Batman had nothing to do with it. I formed this team, uh… we formed this team. Together.”
Diana smiled. “Of course.”
“So that’s all you know?” Vic replied, addressing the matter at hand, “Some kid is in danger in New York City. No idea whereabouts?”
“That was where I was hoping that you could help me,” said Diana, addressing Vic directly.
Vic smiled softly to have garnered any sort of attention from somebody as powerful and well… beautiful as Wonder Woman. “Well I suppose we could tr–”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with that other Wonder Chick running about New York? Does it?” Gar interjected, perhaps a bit louder than he had intended.
Diana cocked her head, moving her vision away from Vic and towards Gar, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“This amazing, gorgeous warrior. Long, flowing black hair. This awesome armour, all jet black and mysterious. She looked a lot like you actually.”
Diana’s eyes darted open as she bolted to her feet. Could it be? The doppelganger she had faced in the Trials, who had fought with her own skill and ferocity.* Had Ares sent her here? It was more than possible that she was an emissary of Ares, posthumously working to secure Ares’ progeny.
It was as Athena had said to Diana: death was the only way to transfer the mantle of God of War.*
“Gods…” she groaned, “I’ve fought her before. She is far more dangerous than the woman I seek to stop. If she gets her hands on Ares’ daughter, the consequences could be dire. We need to find them both and pray that she hasn’t already found her.”
Dick stepped forward. “I’ve been trying to locate this black-armoured Amazon since Gar ran into her a couple months back. She’s been being very discrete. I’ve tried everything.”
Vic stepped forward. “I haven’t.”
 
♦ ♦ T ♦ ♦
 
“Don’t you have any games? Or a telly or something?” Cassie sighed, stood peering out of the frosted window onto the New York skyline.
Telly?” Donna asked, standing a few feet behind Cassie, surrounded by a whole load of nothing. “I’m afraid not. This place doesn’t have much outside of shelter, and sometimes warmth.”
“Then what do you do for fun?” Cassie had been cooped up in Donna’s squat for some time now and was beginning to grow restless. Despite the drab decor, the place was an improvement on sitting alone in her hotel room, but the boredom was killing her.
“I’ve found the city to be the best source of entertainment,” Donna explained very matter-of-factly, “Although I think it might be best for us to stay put until we know you are safe.”
“And when is that? When the thing hunting me gets bored? When I get a follow up message from the angel?”
“I don’t think that was an angel.”
“That isn’t the point!” Cassie groaned, frustrated. “I just wanna have some fun!”
Donna stopped. She thought for a moment and then nodded. “Alright.”
Donna couldn’t recall much of her past, but did remember one thing that she had always enjoyed: combat. She didn’t remember all the details, but Donna used to love sparring as a child, with Diana, the monster that now plagued her nightmares. It was always so exciting, and it really seemed to develop an interpersonal closeness between the combatants. She smiled before removing her silver gauntlets slowly.
“Here.”
“What?” Cassie asked.
“Take them.” Donna held the gauntlets out for Cassie, one in each hand. Carefully, the younger girl took them and slipped her wrists into them.
“They’re too big.”
Donna grinned as the gauntlets seemed to magically adjust, twisting and forming into a perfect fit around Cassie’s forearms. Donna then flicked her own wrist forward, causing a cloud of black smoke to erupt from the palm of her hand. Cassie recoiled, watching the black smoke move and stretch before giving way to the form of a solid, golden sword. Donna gripped the blade tightly and pointed it forward.
“Wait, what?”
“We shall fight?”
Fight?!
“Well, you won’t have a weapon, so it’s more like exchanging blows. I’ve found it quite enjoyable.”
“Right…” Cassie replied, reluctant, “So what’s gonna happen?”
“I will make an attack with my blade, and you shall bring up your gauntlets to intercept. You’ll find them more than capable of deflecting my attacks.”
“Like…?” Cassie practiced thrusting her arms back and forward, flashing the silver gauntlets as she moved.
“Exactly! We’ll start slow.”
And they did. Beat-by-beat, Donna would move the sword towards Cassie, giving her plenty of time to bring up her gauntlets to clink against the blade. One strike. Two strikes. Three strikes. Four. Gradually, Donna increased her speed, and with her Cassie would begin to move with increasing ease and agility. She was a natural.
As they grew more and more rapid, their movements also increased in intensity. Before they knew it, both began to shift their footing until they were dancing back and forth around the room, sparks flying each time Donna’s blade crashed against Cassie’s forearms. First, Cassie began to cackle with laughter, then allowing Donna to join with a more conservative chuckle. But all this ceased with a knock at the door.
They stopped. Cassie glanced over to the door first, then Donna. They weren’t expecting visitors. Donna flourished the blade in her hand, furrowing her brow and narrowing her gaze, ready to attack whatever came through.
And just as expected, the door came crashing, the wood obliterated into splinters. Through it leapt a fearsome warrior clad in red and gold, a beast of a woman, a terrifying figure. The demon Diana.
Nightwing had tried to knock, but the Amazon warrior wasn’t willing to wait. Bursting into the room, Diana charged at Ares’ puppet, seeing her with her blade drawn, the young Cassie Sandsmark terrified beside her.
Donna slashed out as Diana came crashing down on her, unarmed yet incredibly dangerous, but the strike was fruitless as Diana evaded with ease, delivering a mighty punch to the centre of Donna’s chest. Diana of Themyscira didn’t need a weapon.
Donna stumbled, kicking over a small coffee table as Cassie scrambled out of the way. The demon moved incredibly quickly, far faster than Donna could comfortably comprehend. She hadn’t been this fast when they’d fought before. First, another punch to the chest, then grabbing Donna by the arm - catching her sword strike - to pull her close, only to pound her back into the ground.
As Donna hit the ground, she skidded, whipping back around onto her feet, beaten but ready to persist. “Your master is dead,” Diana seethed, “And you shall fall with the rest of his forces!”
As the two warriors clashed, Cassie scurried away, ducking and running for the door. However, she found herself blocked by the bodies of three young men: one some kind of robot man, one green and the other clad in blue and black spandex. “Ack!”
“We’re not gonna hurt you!” Cyborg panicked, holding his large, cold hands up.
“Like shit you don’t!” Cassie spat, her teeth clenched, pivoting back around to watch her friend fight off the red-and-gold blur of a woman. Wait... That was Wonder Woman!
Donna grumbled, moving her sword arm back and shifting her off-hand forward. She then allowed her bronze shield to materialise magically in her grip with a flash of amber light. “I see you have new toys.” Diana smirked, her gaze as steely as her black-clad doppelganger.
She was right. Donna recalled easily that in their last encounter, the one that haunted her, she fought Diana unarmed. Now, Donna couldn’t recall how she came to wield the magic required to summon her weapons, but she was more than happy to use them if it meant having an edge over the tyrant that had previously terrorised her.
Donna didn’t reply. Instead, she threw herself forward, shifting her weight rapidly across the wooden floorboards, heaving the mass of her shield against Diana enough to stagger her, giving her an opening to strike with her blade. Diana cried out and kicked, colliding her leg into her adversary’s shield and dragging her strike to the right.
Donna saw through this trick immediately, it was an attempt to disarm; to wrench the shield right from her hand. It wouldn’t work. Not if Donna kept as best a grip as she could. However, Donna had underestimated the strength of her foe, and subsequently found herself launched across the room along with the shield, leaving her sword by her feet, crashing down on a pile of wood in the corner of the shabby apartment.
She attempted to pull herself up, but couldn’t, her armour too heavy on top of the weight of her aching bones. Diana persisted however. Breathing heavily, she pulled herself over to her floored quarry, scooping her foe’s blade off of the ground as she moved. Finally, she stopped. Planting her crimson boots into the wooden floor, Diana loomed over Donna, a relentless, fearsome monster.
Diana looked upon her quarry, this supposed emissary of Ares, deliberating over her fate. Perhaps she had overestimated her, for the puppet Diana had fought during the Trials fought with such ferocity and intensity that she now found entirely lacking. It was as if she was another soul inhabiting the body of that abomination.
But that moment of hesitation on Diana’s part was exactly what Donna need to act. In one fluid motion, Donna burst from her pile on the floor with new mobility. After delivering a kick to the monster’s head, Donna swung her empty hand out in a wide arc. Instantly, the sword vanished from Diana’s grip, reappearing in Donna’s own with a black flicker.
As Diana staggered, Donna let loose with slash after slash before finally winding up for an overhead attack, a killing blow. However–
“STOP!!”
A shock wave exploded through the room, launching its contents as well as the two combatants. Donna hit the ground and skidded once more. Bloodied, she looked up to see Cassie between her and Diana, her silver gauntlets glowing white hot, her face mortified.
“She doesn’t want to hurt you!” she screamed to Donna before turning to look upon Diana, scraping herself off of the floor, “You don’t want to hurt each other.”
Donna stood up uneasily, her eyes still wild, waiting for Diana to attack once again.
“I…” Diana mumbled, gripping her bloodied arm.
“You’re Wonder Woman. You save people.” Cassie explained, her voice compassionate yet quivering, “And I don’t need saving. Not from Donna. She’s my friend.”
Diana painted, finally looking upon her adversary with new eyes, “... Donna?
Donna’s eyes flickered, filled with doubt. She looked to Cassie, then finally to Diana, and instead of a demon, saw an injured woman. She lowered her sword.
Diana saw this and recalled her parting words to the black-clad warrior, when Diana had pummeled her into the bloody waters during the Trials. 'Barely real and always a copy. What kind of emptiness must exist inside you?'
But when she focused on Donna’s eyes, those that so closely resembled her own, she saw not the rage she had seen during the Trials, but fear. Pure fear. There, she remembered.
“Great Hera, what have I done…” Diana groaned, looking upon her friend with a long forgotten familiarity. “Donna…”
But the moment wouldn’t last, for Gar was moments too late to cry out, warning them as a fearsome feline figure crashed through the window, emerging from the urban jungle of New York City’s skyline. There, the animal moved immediately for Diana, launching into an all out assault, no longer Dr Barbara Minerva, but The Cheetah.
 
 
Next: The Party is Divided in Wonder Woman #21
 
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