William Knight, better known in his current company as the White Knight, stared off into the distance, at the cloud of ravens that rapidly approached. He clenched his fists and his teeth, bracing himself for the fight that was about to begin.
“What do we know about the Queen of Ravens?” William demanded of the Face, who stood beside him.
The Face was silent for several seconds before admitting, “Not much. I have heard of the Queen of Ravens…from an account, written by someone who claimed to be a refugee from another world.”
“And what did this account say?” William asked, worried about what the answer would be.
“The writer said that the Queen of Ravens arrived on their world with an army,” the Face answered. His expression was unreadable beneath his mask, but his voice was grim. “Shortly afterwards, their world was smothered by darkness, fear, and death. The writer claimed that these invaders actually fed on the fear they caused…and from what I know of Baron Nevermore and the way he gains power from fear, this sounds disturbingly possible. I’d just never connected Baron Nevermore to this story before…”
William just grunted at that. “This story also sounds a little too much like my daughter’s vision…”
William scowled, finding it hard to believe that it had only been that morning, when Joselyn woke up from her nightmare with a warning. It had been a very VERY long day, and unfortunately, it wasn’t over yet.
Taking a deep breath, William looked around the camp, which they’d set up well away from any civilians. Fortunately, this meant that they only had to worry about protecting themselves in this fight, not about evacuating civilians at the same time. And thanks to the heroes, especially Lady Hexx, they’d done a good job of preparing the camp for a fight…at least as much as they could in such a short time. They had walls, barricades, and trenches, all designed to give them cover and high ground while slowing down the invaders.
“I don’t think we’re going to have the high ground on this one,” William mused as he looked up at the rapidly approaching flock of ravens.
With that, William changed his focus from the battleground to his family, most of whom were currently present. His sister Gina and brother Leon were present, along with Gina’s children Ryan and Angie. And then of course, there were his own daughters Joselyn and Evie. And Daphne.
William looked to Ms. Miracle, still stunned by the idea that she was his daughter. She looked exactly like her mother, so much so that the first time they’d met, he had thought she was her mother. It was only after he made an ‘in joke’ that she didn’t catch, that he became suspicious. After that, it hadn’t taken very long at all to realize that she wasn’t the original, but a new hero who had somehow taken over that appearance and identity.
Since she had proven that she truly was a hero to him, as well as a good person, he hadn’t really questioned who had taken up the mantle of the Ms. Miracle…at least not too much. However, he’d never once imagined that she might be his own daughter.
“Ellen is going to kill me,” William muttered with a sigh. His wife was still unhappy to about the Fallen…about Jessica, the other daughter that had been conceived before he’d ever even met her. “Hopefully, I survive this so she has the chance…”
Mere seconds later, the cloud of ravens arrived, circling overhead and nearly blocking out the sun. From a short distance away, Counterweight asked, “Why do I suddenly feel like I’m in a Hitchcock movie?”
Suddenly, the ravens began to dive down, but instead of attacking the heroes, they swooped past them and into the large empty area nearby. As the ravens landed, each quickly transformed into a man or woman, though each and every one was dressed in black. An army formed while William braced himself, wondering why they were waiting.
Once the wave of black feathers had faded away, William saw two figures standing in front of the newly formed army. His eyes were immediately drawn to Baron Nevermore, one of the most powerful and feared villains in the world. It was hard to believe that the elegant looking woman who stood beside him was even more dangerous.
“I think we’re a little outnumbered,” William said wryly, trying to keep the fear and concern out of his voice.
“I just hope the reinforcements we called are able to arrive soon,” Icarus stated with a deep grimace.
“These are the champions of this world?” the Queen of Ravens exclaimed with an unfamiliar accent, though the arrogance that filled her voice was unmistakable. She was clearly not impressed. “There are so few of them…”
“Indeed, my queen,” Baron Nevermore responded with a faint bow. “Some of them are actually quite powerful, though certainly not powerful enough to prove a threat.”
The Queen of Ravens smiled faintly at that, though it was a cold and cruel smile. “Very well then,” she responded dismissively. “These few shall suffice, for the moment.” Then, in a louder voice so that her forces could hear, she announced, “Crush their hopes. Drive terror into their pitiful hearts. The shattered souls of these fallen champions shall herald my arrival upon this world.”
With those words, army of ravens began to charge forward, and without a word of prompting, Lady Hexx performed her part. She bent down to touch the ground, sending a wave of stone and dirt towards the approaching army, knocking the first wave entirely off their feet and sending them crashing backwards.
Then, as more ravens rushed forward, right over the tops of their comrades, Lady Hexx moved to the next phase. The ground beneath their feet became soft and began to pull them down, as though they’d stepped into quicksand. Nearly two dozen solders were captured by the ground, their feet and lower bodies held immobilized by ground that had become as hard as stone.
As soon as Lady Hexx was finished, she pulled back, creating a wall between her and the invaders, and using that cover to move back to an even safer position. However, while Lady Hexx was moving positions, most of the heroes with ranged powers took advantage of the opportunity to attack.
Shiver leapt atop one of the walls that Lady Hexx had previously built and opened fire, sending an arrow of icy white energy that struck one of the raven soldiers. The moment the arrow hit, there was a flash of white, leaving that soldier and the two standing beside him, frozen and covered in ice.
Splash stepped out from behind a wall, and using the water that had been gathered into a nearby pool, she began to blast the invaders. The water flew away from her in a focused stream, like a firehouse that knocked back the ravens. Then, Surge stepped into view and threw a glowing blue ball that exploded into a massive electrical shock, which was conducted by the water to hit a dozen soldiers. He immediately followed that up with a second ball of energy and then a third.
“DON’T HOLD BACK,” Warchild yelled as he flew above the crowd, firing blasts of energy down at the soldiers. “This isn’t a fight against a couple bank robbers. This is WAR!”
Most of the ranged fighters threw whatever they had at their enemies, then as they’d planned, the melee fighters took their turn. Chrome charged straight into the mass, the silver metal that covered his body forming into large blades that emerged from each of his arms. He swung them like swords, slicing through black clad soldiers.
Mega ran into the mass of enemy soldiers, growing larger so that she could stomp on them and kick them out of the way. William tried not to shudder as he thought about what she was doing…about what they were all doing to their enemies. After all, Warchild was right. This was no time to hold back and cling to the normal rules of superheroes. Not if they wanted to save the world.
“My turn,” William stated with a grim determination, forming a glowing white sword in his right hand and a shield on his left arm. Then, taking a deep breath, he flew up into the air, and quickly dove back down into the battle.
William swung his energy blade, slicing through the side of a soldier who wielded a spear. One with an axe came at him, but he raised his arm and used his shield to block the attack, then he kicked the man, sending him flying back. A moment later, William swung his blade at a third soldier.
After just a minute of fighting like this, several of the raven soldiers backed away, revealing a large one who was walking straight towards him. This raven was seven feet tall and dressed entirely in black armor, which made him resemble a medieval knight. The black knight held a large broadsword in hand.
The black knight spoke, though it was in a language that William had never heard before. However, William might not have known the language, but the meaning was clear enough. The black knight was challenging him to a fight.
“Appropriate,” William said, forming a suit of glowing white armor over his own body. He gave a nod to his opponent, then they simultaneously lunged at each other.
The black knight slashed at him, but William blocked with his shield and made a return swing, which was blocked by the knight’s shield. William smiled faintly as he threw himself into the fight, knowing that this was one of the few times that he could really put his sword skills to the test.
“You’re good,” William grudgingly admitted after a few more minutes. “And fast…” However, he grinned faintly to himself, he was strong. VERY strong.
With that, William focused more energy into his sword in order to make it more stable, and then swung the blade as hard as he could at the black knight. The black knight brought his own sword up in time to block the swing, but William’s blade sliced right through it…and through the black knight’s arm.
“Surrender,” William ordered the black knight, who was now missing his arm.
However, the black knight merely shifted position so as to use his shield, acting almost as though the missing arm was merely an inconvenience. From his body language, it was clear that he fully intended to continue the fight.
Suddenly, Joselyn called out, “Shouldn’t you be saying NI?”
William saw his daughter approaching, holding a spear in her hand. She suddenly snapped around, drove her spear tip into the stomach of an approaching soldier, then pulled back. All William could do was gasp in both pride and worry. He hated to see his daughter in such a dangerous situation, but he couldn’t help but feeling proud of how well she was handling herself.
“NI NI,” Joselyn taunted the black knight, who turned to face her.
It was then that William saw the black knight’s shoulder, where thick black tentacles were growing out from the severed limb, and were beginning to take a familiar form. William’s eyes widened in surprise as he realized that his opponent was already regrowing his arm.
William suddenly had a bad feeling and looked around the battlefield, watching as most of the heroes tore through the invading forces. Nike dove down and used her force field blades to slice through several raven soldiers at the same time. Quartz stomped right through the masses while Surge, Splash, and Counterweight used him as a shield. Marvel dove down, picked up two of the soldiers, and then flew back up into the air with them, before using them as projectiles to throw at their allies.
There was so much going on at once that William couldn’t keep track of it all. And everything was happening so fast…
“There’s something wrong,” William gasped, somehow feeling sure of it.
After a few seconds, William suddenly realized what it was that was bothering him. Most of the heroes were fighting, throwing nearly everything they had against the invading soldiers. However, not all of the enemy forces were fighting. Some of them were hold back, watching the battle with expressions of dark and twisted amusement.
The Queen of Ravens wasn’t raising a hand, which might not have been surprising since she was their leader and may have thought herself above such direct involvement. However, Baron Nevermore stood beside her, watching with a sneer. William knew for a fact that he was powerful, dangerous, and quite willing to get his hands dirty.
“THEY’RE JUST PLAYING WITH US,” William yelled out to his friends, family and allies. “THEY’RE JUST TESTING US!”
“So,” an enemy woman commented from a short distance away. “The champions finally realize…”
The woman had long purple hair that had to be seven feet in length, though she hovered in the air high enough that the ends of her hair were still a foot above the ground. Her slinky dress seemed to be made entirely of black feathers, and hugged her body tight enough to reveal her every curve.
“Such amusing creatures,” the woman mused with an evil smirk. “Now, tremble in fear…”
As soon as the woman finished speaking, she made a sweeping gesture and threw more than dozen black feathers towards William. He raised his shield but the features tore through the energy projection and into his armor. The feathers penetrated deep into his armor, which was able to stop them, though barely.
“No,” William gasped as his energy projections shattered and dispersed.
William jumped back, gathering his willpower and energy to reform his armor and shield. In this kind of battle, he didn’t dare go without them.
“Watch out,” William called to his daughter, who was now fighting with the black knight. She threw seral blowing pink energy daggers at him and backed up while he swung at her with his newly regrown arm, which had long clawed fingers.
William was relieved to see that Joselyn was doing all right, since he couldn’t afford to aid her at the moment. The raven woman threw another handful of feathers, though this time, each feather transformed into a black bird, which flew off in different directions and began to attack the various heroes. Two of them came at him. The first, he was able to slice in half with his sword, only to have it explode in his face, sending him flying back. The second one then flew straight at him. He barely managed to get his shield up in time to block it. A second explosion destroyed his shield.
Nike suddenly slammed into the floating woman, driving her straight into the ground. Then, Nike landed on top of the woman to press her attack.
Taking advantage of the brief moment of respite, William looked around, seeing that the invaders who had been holding back, where no longer doing so. Until this point, he and the other heroes had been doing quite well, but now, they were suddenly overpowered.
A man in black garb charged forward, swinging a ridiculously long chain, which seemed to be made of fire. Leon, Ryan, and Angie were all trying to deal with him. A short distance away, a woman with six arms, each of them holding a glowing purple sword, was charging Gina, Rumor, and Diamond.
William grimaced, realizing that until this point, they’d only been fighting the foot soldiers…the cannon fodder. Now, the more powerful ravens were starting to get involved, and that was bad news for his side.
Then, when William was on the verge of convincing himself that they could still managed to defeat this invading army, Baron Nevermore decided to get involved. He still stood back, beside the Queen of Ravens, but he threw a ball of glowing green flamed straight at Radiant. Radiant barely managed to avoid the attack, but while she was distracted by that, another raven attacked her.
A ninja suddenly leapt high into the air, straight at Ms. Miracle…at Daphne. The ninja’s sword would have struck his newfound daughter, but she somehow noticed him coming and snapped around. A sword made of glowing golden energy appeared in her hand, just time to block the attack. From the look of surprise on Daphne’s face, she obviously hadn’t expected that.
“Good to see that she inherited something from me,” William muttered, feeling a small surge of pride.
“You’re not getting me that way again,” Daphne yelled, suddenly firing a blast of golden energy right into the ninja’s chest. His body collapsed to the ground, then she turned her attention to Baron Nevermore. “We have unfinished business…”
William would have liked to watch as his eldest child attacked Baron Nevermore, but another of the ravens suddenly transformed from a teenage girl in goth garb, into a giant black snake with glowing red eyes. He took a deep breath and then flew straight at her. He didn’t bother to use a weapon this time and just punched her as hard as he could. It had almost no effect.
The giant snake turned and hissed at William, then spat out a spray of green liquid. He barely threw a shield up between them in time, having a feeling that he didn’t want to come into contact with the stuff. From the steaming on the ground where the liquid struck, he knew his suspicion was correct.
“It’s a good thing Ellen isn’t here for this one,” William muttered to himself, thinking about how much his wife hated snakes.
William dodged back as the snake struck at him, then he formed a spear of glowing white energy and drove it down as hard as he could into the snake. Unfortunately, his spear couldn’t penetrate those hard scales, and he could swear the snake was laughing at him.
At that moment, William wished that he could look around and check on both his daughters…all three of his daughter’s, but he didn’t dare take his attention off the snake. He felt a knot of worry in his guts and considered the fact that it was easier to be a superhero than a father.
“Why did I let Evie and Joselyn come?” William bitterly asked himself, though he already knew the answer. They were his daughters, but they were also heroes as well. And as he knew first-hand, Evie was adept at remaining unseen and hidden, while Joselyn was surprisingly capable of taking care of herself. “Just be careful…”
Just then, Warchild flew towards them and opened fire, blasting the snake with his powerful energy blasts. The snake howled in pain, releasing a horrific sound that William never would have expected to come from such a creature. Unfortunately, though the snake was injured, even Warchild’s blasts weren’t enough to stop the creature.
William desperately looked for an opening, then he saw one. As the snake opened her mouth to spit more of that nasty venom, William dove at her, throwing his spear through the opening. The snake staggered back from having a spear thrown into her throat, and William seized advantage of her distraction to attack her again, this time forming a sword and driving it into her glowing red eye.
The snake howled and hissed as she pulled back and slithered away. She still wasn’t dead, but she’d retreated, which was at least a small victory.
William floated in the air and scowled as he looked around the chaos of the battlefield, seeing that the heroes were now being pushed back by the raven’s greater numbers and power. He silently wished that Mystik hadn’t used up the last of her power on Loki, because they could have used some of her powerful tricks right about then.
A moment later, William suddenly noticed a shadow above him. When he looked up, he saw an odd metal vehicle, which seemed to have no wings, rotors, or propellers. The underside was painted black, and as he watched, a large hatch opened and something emerged. Dozens…then hundreds of somethings emerged.
A swarm of giant insects poured out of the strange vehicle, each of which was the size of a softball. They quickly came down in a thick cloud, and William formed a new sword and shield as he prepared to deal with them.
“Bugs,” Joselyn cried out in surprise.
William glanced to his daughter, where he saw the black knight lying motionless on the ground in front of her. He wasn’t sure whether she’d beaten him in a fight, or whether she’d just used her mind control abilities to simply make him stop fighting. Either way, William was proud of her.
Snapping his attention back to the swarm, William was surprised to see the insects flying right past the heroes and going straight to the ravens. Each insect seemed to find a raven, then landed on them and clung tight. It wasn’t until one of those insects flew right past William, that he saw that they were actually insect shaped robots…with red and black wings.
Mere seconds later, each of these robot ladybugs began to explode, creating a wave of explosions that ran through the entire raven army. William stared in stunned amazement, as the enemies were struck by what almost appeared to be a cluster bomb.
“What the…?” William started to exclaim, only to notice that something else had just emerged from the strange aircraft.
A figure flew down from the aircraft, and as it got closer, William could see that it…that she was a woman in power armor. The armor was sleek, black, and somewhat chitinous looking. She had a black helmet, with the lower part of it open in order to expose her mouth. Crimson red hair cascaded out from the back side of the helmet. And then there were the wings, which were painted red with black spots. William had never seen this specific suit of armor before, but he recognized the style and knew exactly who was wearing it, or at least, her codename.
“Ladybug,” William exclaimed, recognizing the smalltime supervillain that he’d encountered back during his time with the Seven.
“White Knight,” Ladybug greeted him, pausing in the air as he flew closer.
“You helped us,” William said, glancing across the field of destruction that she’d created while taking out the raven army. He gave her a suspicious look before asking, “Why?”
“I live in this world too,” Ladybug answered, “and I sure as hell don’t want to see it overrun by monsters…”
William grudgingly admitted, “That makes sense…”
“Besides,” Ladybug continued with a grin, “I didn’t do it for you…” With that, she lowered herself to the ground, right beside where Kaboom was standing. “I did it for my girlfriend.”
To William’s surprise, Kaboom and Ladybug began to kiss, while Counterweight and Catalyst rushed over. And strangely, the two young heroines were both grinning, as though happy to see her.
“I’m glad you came,” Kaboom finally told Ladybug. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
“Yeah,” Ladybug responded with an amused smile. “I didn’t think I’d receive a warm welcome here, but you said you needed my help so here I am…”
“Glad you made it,” Counterweight said, putting a hand on Ladybug’s shoulder. “You really kicked their asses…”
William just stared at Ladybug, a little confused by the fact that the villainess actually seemed to be friends with the heroes. Then, as if reading his mind, Kaboom said, “Ladybug switched sides awhile ago. She’s one of us now…a member of the Crusaders.”
“I brought Dodger too,” Ladybug announced, looking to Catalyst. She gestured up towards the floating aircraft and added, “He’s still up there. Once we get him down, you can charge him up so he can help too…”
“Sounds good to me,” Catalyst responded with a smile.
“LOOK,” someone yelled, drawing William’s attention away from the villainess who’d just joined them, and towards the remains of the raven army.
Though William had suspected a decent percentage of the raven army to have survived the explosions, he hadn’t expected many of them to be willing to continue the fight. However, as he watched, the fallen ravens all began to get back to their feet. Missing limbs were already in the process of regrowing.
“I thought that attack would have ended this,” William gasped in surprise.
From the ground a short distance away, the Face answered, “I believe our real battle is only just beginning…”
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