All's Fair, part 4
by ChicagoDisclaimers in "part 0"
He swam through the streets, aware there were eyes on him as he went to palace. He had to get to the palace, he knew. It was important. He'd swum this way for nights and nights, the dreamscape of his subconscious always bringing him a bit nearer to the palace but never even as far as the main gates.
An old woman suddenly sidled across his path, intercepting him with wild eyes. "YOU!" she spat. "They said you would mean our doom...doom...doom..."
Her repetition was picked up by other voices, a rising cadence...
"...doom... doom...DOOM... DOOM... DOOM..."
He shook himself free of the woman, hastening his pace toward the palace. The waterways twisted unfamiliarly, taking him off the direct path as the chanting seemed to echo from every parapet, resound from every shell.
He wanted to cover his ears, but he needed his hands to aid him more quickly through the water. He needed to get to the palace, needed to -
There! The gates. They were heavily guarded, at ready. At ready for him, he realized, his head reeling under the accusations of an entire city. He would have to fight them. They couldn't keep him from the palace. He had to get there. It was important.
The first of the guards swam at him, trident drawn. He meant to grapple him, but before he could think he felt his eyes flare and the water lit purple then bled red as a scream echoed over the doom, doom, doom.
"NO!" he cried, throwing one arm up over his eyes as he blindly struggled for the gate, reaching out against spears that cut at him, not knowing why, but knowing only the need to get in.
The voices of the city rose in intensity, and he could feel eyes burning into him.
"DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!"
"I TRIED TO SAVE YOU!" he protested, but his voice could not cut through the clash of arms and the chanting. He swung wildly, his hand finally grasping hold of the bars of the entrance gate. He needed his eyes now, his magic - brute strength would not get him through.
He lowered the arm over his eyes, striking back with it at the guards still struggling against him. But he couldn't bring himself to open his eyes.
The chanting grew stronger.
"DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!"
The guards struck at the arm grasping the gate, but he would not let go. He must get in, must -
Something metal encircled his wrist, reaching from inside the gates. He gasped and opened his eyes.
Orin, King of Atlantis, stared out from the bars, his hook around Garth's wrist. He opened his mouth -
Garth started awake, feeling the sweat layering between himself and the water.
Dolphin was sleeping in the other room of their Titan's Tower apartment with the baby; his nightmares had become too much for a shared bed. Probably for the best, as the phone was still -
"Tempest here," he answered groggily.
"Sorry, Garth." Roy's voice. "But I've got Oracle on the line for you. I think you want to get in here."
"Oracle?" Garth puzzled.
"JLA stuff, man. Get a move on."
"I'll be right there," he promised, dragging himself from the water and pulling on his uniform.
"Garth?" That was Dolphin, wakened by the phone.
"That was Roy. The JLA is on line for me."
"Orin?" He saw a wild hope flare in her eyes. That he could only extinguish it made it feel like an accusation.
"Not likely." He at least managed to keep his tone gentle. "But I don't know. I have to go."
"Will they need you long?"
"I have no idea. They might just want to ask me something. But I have to be prepared to leave." He reached for her, drawing her into an embrace. "If they need me, I'll just teleport straight there." He kissed her forehead. "I don't want to wake Ian-"
"He'll be waiting for you when you come back," she promised. She grasped his hand for a moment. This was the time, Garth realized, for her to say, "I love you," before she kissed him farewell.
She didn't, and neither did he. Just the kiss, and they parted. Not for the first time, he wished it could be different, but wishing wasn't answering the JLA summons. He left their quarters and joined Roy in the comm center.
The Oracle mask floated imperturbably on the main monitor as Roy shot him a worried look. "This sounds big," he whispered, giving over the manager's chair.
Garth nodded. "Tempest here, Oracle."
"Good," the electronic voice acknowledged. "We have a situation developing for which we need your expertise."
"Expertise," Garth said slowly. "A water related problem?"
"Several, in fact. And magic."
"The magic I can't really help with." He couldn't keep a certain regretful bitterness out of his tone, but Oracle did not react to it.
"The Atlantic Corridor is closing."
Garth heard Roy gasp behind him. "Closing?"
"Affirmative. At a rate of approximated 3 centimeters per hour. This phenomenon is possibly related to an escalating ocean desalination problem, which is likely tied to the appearance of domes of salt and ice on several lake bottoms throughout the world."
"You said magic?"
"There is a recurrence of combinations of 3 in all the incidents we're tracking, including sets of missing persons which appear to relate to the lake issue."
Roy let out a low whistle. "Any ideas about what's going on?"
"Negative," Oracle replied, the electronic voice inflectionless. "Tempest, in the absence of Aquaman the JLA needs your take on this."
Garth winced slightly. He didn't want to fill Orin's shoes. Ever. His mind flashed to the look in Orin's eyes in his nightmare. "Where do you need me?" he asked.
"Batman will give you a full briefing at the Watchtower."
He thought for a moment. How had he missed this? He should've been patrolling the deeps, keeping every sense open... "I need to check the ocean first."
"Understood. You should have a JLA transmitter at the Tower."
Garth glanced across the communications array. The device was there. "Yes."
"Take that with you and signal when you're ready to 'port up. I'll let Martian Manhunter know to bring you into the telepathic link."
Tempest? a voice sounded in his head, startling him. He'd done the telepathic link before, but more often through Orin. It gave him a pang, but he focused past it.
I read you, he answered, then aloud. "I'm linked. I'll report when I get to the moon."
"Roger that," Oracle replied. "Oracle out."
The Oracle window on the monitor winked out.
"Heavy stuff," Roy commented, setting a hand on his teammate's shoulder. "You need us -"
"I know," Garth said heavily, grateful for what Roy wasn't saying. About those steps to fill the emptiness left by a lost mentor. The never spoken assumption that this is why any of them had mentors at all - to step in as trained when that mentor had fallen. Roy knew. "You'll look after-"
"Of course," Roy acknowledged easily. "Lian loves playing the big sister. Just get out there and do what you've got to do. We're here for you."
Garth nodded, rising from his seat and claiming the JLA transmitter. The Titans were always there. In his mind, the JLA link exuded a touch of comfort. J'onn. Reminding him the JLA cared too, that Wally was among their ranks, that though they would demand much, they knew how to support as well. "I'll go out the river tunnel," he said for no reason other than it felt wrong just to leave in silence. Roy said nothing more and let him depart.
Orin would have noticed earlier - noticed instantly, he thought as he slipped into the autumn chill water of the river. Sure strokes carried him quickly along to and through the estuary. The estuary that stretched a trifle further into the briny waters than it had before. Not much, but enough. Enough to let him feel the unease of the deep, a sense of foreboding beneath the waves. A sense of doom.
He closed his eyes tightly and again Orin's eyes stared out at him from behind the palace gates. He sighed and hit the transmitter, feeling one final taste of despair as the teleport beam carried him to the moon.