Spøkelse

by 'rith


Rating: PG for perfectly gen
Disclaimer: DC's, based on SECRET ORIGINS v.2 #33 and SWAMP THING #50.
Author's notes: Just shortly post-Crisis (shortly after which Zatanna's father died), before the fall and disbanding of the Detroit Justice League. Set after Tora joins the Global Guardians and--let's call it a year--before the Guardians disband and she joins the JLI (and thereafter changes her name from Ice Maiden to Ice).
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Smitty and Siviusx for handholding, Evadne for the Secret Origins reference, Sevenall for research above and beyond the call, and MEL for the plot.
Summary: Everything freezes, even grief.



Zatanna stared out over the Arctic plain and huddled a little deeper into her conjured parka. Her incantations might protect her from the cold physically, but the psychological impact of all this surrounding *white* still had a distinctly chilling effect.

There was... *something* off here, that much was obvious, but even her most carefully worded divinatory spell hadn't made that something any clearer. The locals hadn't been able to tell her any more than the geological surveys and reports. This area at the far tip of Scandinavia had been subject to an inordinate number of disturbances lately: landslides, avalanches, and bitter cold even beyond the norm for the region.

It had sounded more like an El Niño phenomenon than anything else, and not a League matter by any means, but J'onn had been not-subtly trying to distract her from

(red skies and all the universes smashing into one)

recent events.

Batman was in Gotham and not to be disturbed, Ralph was off-duty and spending the weekend with Sue, and J'onn had his hands full with training the newer Leaguers. "But if you wouldn't mind," he'd said, red eyes knowing and compassionate on hers.

She had agreed despite everything only because J'onn had asked; who ever had been able to refuse J'onn anything? Certainly not her.

So. Make-work or not, she was here and therefore obligated to resolve whatever trouble needed resolving. Her investigation had failed to provide more specific information; this situation called for an expert. Fortunately, she knew of one from the League files. "Tropelet ot eht emoD!"



Paris. Zatanna liked Paris; pity this wasn't a social call. She raised her hand and rang the bell on the front door of the Dome, home base of the Global Guardians.

Within seconds a man in formal servant's attire opened the door. Before she could introduce herself he bowed slightly and said, "Ms. Zatara, welcome to the Dome. Dr. Mist said you'd be arriving now."

She'd never met Mist, but knew by reputation that he had deliberately fostered a certain aura of mystery. She could appreciate that, to a point. "Did he also," Zatanna asked, amused, "say why?"

"Ah. No, ma'am." The look on the man's face indicated that he'd just realized how foolish it might be to irritate a sorcerer who could, quite literally, turn him into a frog with a word. Fortunately for him, Zatanna was neither irritated nor did she have any particular need for a frog.

"I'd like to speak with Ice Maiden, if she's available."

"Y-yes, ma'am. This way." As they walked down the corridor, he added diffidently, "Dr. Mist did also say that you were welcome to whatever resources the Global Guardians have to offer."

"Most kind," she replied, thinking that if nothing else, J'onn knew better than to volunteer his teammates' time and effort without consulting them. The servant glanced sideways at her but refrained from further comment.

They walked down a number of long hallways, passing any number of doorways before Zatanna caught the scent of chlorine and they entered a sizable area dominated by a large swimming pool. The servant bowed again, indicated a woman with short white hair reading by the pool in a swimsuit, and scuttled back up the corridor in as neat a vanishing act as

(her father)

she'd ever managed.

She cleared her throat as she approached, because startling an energy-projector was never a good idea. "Ice Maiden?"

The young woman looked up with blue and innocent eyes. "Yes?"

Zatanna smiled, because not smiling into that gaze would have felt akin to kicking a puppy. "I'm Zatanna. I'm--"

"You're a League--a member of the Justice League!" the girl said excitedly, her words thick with Scandinavian accent and laced with sing-song inflections. "I know you from the pictures. With the tall hat."

Most people--most *men,* anyway--remembered the fishnets first. And she hadn't worn that costume in awhile, anyway. "That's right. I've got a puzzle that I think suits your talents, if you're willing to lend a hand."

Ice Maiden put her book aside and gave Zatanna her full attention. "Yes, of course, I would be happy to help if I can."

Zatanna could remember being that eager, once upon a time. "Here's the problem, Ice Maiden. There's a--"

"My name is Tora," the girl said. "Tora Olafsdotter."

Names had power, Zatanna wanted to caution her, but the aura of cool energy that surrounded Tora was certainly enough to protect her from casual misuse. Even without spells Zee could sense that power, a very specific and focused ability, but one that ran deep.

Her own name was layered in the mystical symbology of her mother's people. "All right then, Tora. Zatanna is my personal name as well as my professional one." She grinned, calling on her stage-patter skills to break the... ice. "You should see the looks I get whenever I use my credit cards."

The girl smiled back, a little uncertainly. "It's a very pretty name!"

"Yours, too." Time, she thought, to get this show on the road. "So... there's been some minor trouble north of the Arctic Circle, mostly geological, and I was hoping your powers would be able to pinpoint the source of the disturbances."

Tora seemed doubtful. "I... make ice. I'm not sure how much help..."

"You'll have more of a feel for anything that seems out of place than I do," Zatanna reassured her. "It's a kind of sympathetic magic. Even on an unconscious level, your perception of what's going on in the area is likely to be deeper simply because of your powers." And if worst came to worst, she could tap into Ice Maiden's powers to focus her arcane sight... but Zatanna had worked with J'onn long enough to know that he'd want her to encourage Tora to stretch her own abilities first.

Tora bit her lip. "Maybe Bea should come too?"

"Bea?"

"Green Flame. She has been teaching me English."

And Flame was likely Tora's closest--maybe only--friend here. But this situation didn't call for either a fire-caster or a crowd. "I think you and I can handle it, if you're willing. Dr. Mist," she added with a private touch of disdain, "has already given his consent."

She watched as the girl--Zatanna was really going to have to stop thinking of her that way--thought it over and finally nodded. "Let me just get my boots."

She stood and Zee realized that the swimsuit doubled as a costume. Which, considering Tora's powers-- "You're immune to cold, I take it?"

"It doesn't bother me." Tora grinned a little. "Bea always says my room is an icebox, but she is from Brazil and never saw snow before she left there."

Zatanna smiled and followed Tora down another length of corridors until they came to what was evidently her room. Tora opened the door and said, "I'll just be a minute!" before slipping inside.

She was content to wait on the threshold. There were good and compelling reasons for a magician not to enter a personal space unless specifically invited. In a broader context, that was the basis of the vampire legend; so much of their personal necromantic energy was required simply to remain animate, and entering another's uninvited space disrupted and drained that delicate balance of power. That was also why they were vulnerable to personal energy in the form of faith-based defenses, and--

Zatanna shook her head to break the irrelevant train of thought and glanced through the open doorway into Tora's room. It was neat, almost sparse, with few apparent personal possessions aside from the pile of books on the bedside table and the picture of an older man with a long white beard prominently displayed on the dresser.

Tora reentered her frame of vision through the door and followed her gaze. "My father. We thought..." she ducked her head and blushed. "We thought the camera was magic."

"Only because you didn't know how it worked," Zatanna said. "It might as well have been magic."

"Yes, exactly!" Tora looked fondly at the picture. "He didn't want me to leave, but..."

"Fathers can be that way," she managed,

(her father's hand in hers, burning and charring to ash even as he kept chanting, dying to save the world)

before the *smell* came back in too-acute memory and she had to grit her teeth to keep from vomiting.

"Zatanna!" Tora had taken her arm and brought her into the room to sit before Zee could protest. "You look so pale! Should I get the doctor?"

"No! Just--" she breathed in deeply, banishing the vision. "I haven't... gotten much sleep lately." That was true enough, if not the whole truth. But it wouldn't do to alarm her new working partner, so. "I'm all right. Honestly," she assured Tora's worried expression. "I wouldn't have taken an active mission if I wasn't."

She stood before Tora had the chance to question her further. "Ready to go?"

Tora nodded after one last dubious glance. "How are we going? Do you have a plane?"

"I have magic," Zatanna said, and without further delay spoke the words to send them both north.



She'd brought them to the center of the ice plain, hoping to use Ice Maiden's powers as a compass to point to a more specific location. Zee hurriedly renewed her protection spell ("Arua fo htmraw, retnec no em," skipping the superfluous parka this time) and turned to her companion, who seemed to have taken the teleport in stride. Others had been known to react badly to the dislocation, but there was no way to tell who might be affected ahead of time and a warning might very well have triggered the effect. It really was, she had learned long ago, easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Ice Maiden was looking around, clearly not at all uncomfortable in the frozen chill surrounding them. "What do you think, Tora?"

"Dr. Mist says we should always use code-names while on a mission," she said, looking vaguely scandalized.

"He's right in general," Zatanna replied gently, because it was impossible to do otherwise, "but since it's just you and me, I think we can dispense with the formality."

"Oh. All right." Tora turned to peer east, then south. "What should I look for? No, wait," she said, answering herself, "you said I might be able to feel what was out of place." She glanced at Zatanna for confirmation, and Zee nodded.

Tora took a few steps, her face furrowed with concentration. After a minute, though, she looked back at Zatanna. "I don't feel any--"

"Give it time," Zatanna said, hearing J'onn's even 'coaching' voice in her head, "Don't try so hard. Let's move around the area a bit. Relax and let your subconscious perceptions do the work."

She started walking, Tora following after, in a widening circle. Before long Tora moved up to pace her, and they hiked in silence for a good half-hour while Tora examined the landscape. Zatanna watched Tora's footsteps and saw their arcs eventually take an increasingly northern bent.

"You're leading us to it," she said softly, and Ice Maiden started in surprise. "Let's keep going north and see what we see."

It only took another 15 minutes before the girl stopped in her tracks and stared down at the ground. "This isn't right," Tora said, frowning. "The ice, it--it *hurts.*"

That was a more specific description than Zatanna had been able to give J'onn. It *felt* right, and Zatanna was willing to give Tora's instincts more credence than the vague results of her own magical divinations. The magic of Tora's people was specifically keyed to ice and cold; Zatanna's spells might have broader and frankly more powerful applications, but she wasn't inclined to dispute the word of a specialist in her own territory.

"Can you tell why?"

"No, but..." Tora looked around, then pointed firmly toward the northeast. "It's worse that way."

She led Zatanna, following a path only she could sense, until they came to an area of caves cut into the side of a rising series of cliffs.

It *was* colder here. Zatanna was feeling it even through her shielding spell. "Let's try," she started, when the ground trembled minutely under their feet. Another atypical phenomenon for the region and definitely a sign they were in the right place.

"Something's watching us," Tora said abruptly, but before she could elaborate there was a rumble, and a shift, and the cliff above them began to fall in a massive shower of ice and stone.

"Dlei--" Zatanna started to scream, and then black.



The nightmare begins to replay again, so much worse than a dream because this isn't a fabrication of her unconscious mind; this is what *happened.*

John, who her father calls a conman and a liar, comes to ask for their help. The red skies were only the beginning, as it turns out; the superheroes in their capes and primary colors can deal with the crisis on the physical plane. The deeper threat is the damage to the spiritual realms, and that's where the magicians play their part.

They gather in Baron Winter's house: John and Winter and Zatanna and her father, Sargon the Sorcerer and Dr. Occult, and incongruously, Steve Dayton with his Mento helmet to provide a psychic link to the darkness they oppose. Their role, John says, is to direct their mystical energy to the allies fighting on the spirit planes.

They join hands. No matter what happens, John says, the circle cannot be broken.

Very, very shortly thereafter they all realize that Constantine--of *course*--has neglected to tell them the full truth. The enemy is overwhelming, their allies include *demons* no less terrible than the darkness itself, and since they can see the enemy through Dayton's link...

...it can see *them.*

The backlash comes in the form of a wave of energy, seeking a weak spot in their circle. She feels the power move through her like a flare of heat that sears, then passes. If it lingers, if it finds purchase, the magician would go up like a torch.

Which is when Sargon's body begins to smoke, and he screams. Zatara tells him to die like a sorcerer, with dignity, and he does.

So they sit, diminished by one in spirit but not in form because Sargon's corpse lies between John and Winter, still clutching their hands. The circle hasn't broken, cannot break. If it breaks, they *all* die.

The battle goes on as the darkness advances toward upper realms. The energy wave washes over them again and her father--

No. *She* begins to burn, wisps of flame coming up from her skin, and John Zatara tells his daughter that he loves her and takes the fire into himself. Dying for the world. Dying for *her.*

John *knew* this, she realizes through her tears. He knew this would happen and brought them into the circle regardless. She stares at him, eyes full of hate, while he tells them not to let go.

Finally it's over, they've won. Sargon is dead, Zatara is dead, Dayton's mind is broken. Zatanna can feel fragments of her father's burnt dead skin under her fingernails and wonders if they can ever be scrubbed free. If she'll ever feel clean again.

Only it's not over, the wave has come back for her, but this time it's not hot but *cold,* freezing the breath in her lungs so that she can't speak, ice crystals forming over her eyes--

And then mercifully, a voice that might be her own or *his.*

"Tegrof dna ekaw."




Zatanna woke cold, in pain, and surrounded by darkness. "Thgil raeppa!" she snapped, and was immeasurably relieved when the ball of light instantly began shining above her outstretched hand. She sat up gingerly, feeling bruises but nothing broken, and only barely managed to avoid banging the top of her head against the low dome illuminated by her conjured light.

The *white* dome. The *ice* dome that Tora had evidently managed to conjure when Zatanna hadn't been fast enough with her own spell.

"Thank all the gods and little spirits," she muttered, and glanced around. Tora lay three feet away, unmoving. Zatanna crawled over to her, mindful of their impromptu shelter's small area, and reached to feel her pulse. It beat steady and strong under her fingers, and she could see that the girl was still breathing. Zatanna offered another quietly sincere prayer of thanks that Tora's constructs didn't dissolve when she wasn't concentrating on them, as her own warmth-spell had.

First things first. She renewed that spell and cast another to get rid of the ache in her head--nothing disrupted spellcasting more surely than an incipient migraine, unless it was a ton of ice falling onto her head. Then a quick diagnostic spell on Tora, and a follow-up to restore her right arm, which had fractured in the avalanche. She was grateful there was nothing more dire than simple broken bones to deal with; healing magic had its very definite limits.

Finally she reached out to touch the girl's forehead. "Ekawa."

Blue eyes fluttered open and Zatanna held up a cautionary hand. "Don't move--we're in a tight spot but alive, thanks to you."

Tora nodded, winced, and looked up. "It--it worked."

No need to restate the obvious. "Careful, now, your arm's probably still sore."

Tora bent her elbow slowly. "I thought it broke when I fell."

"It had," Zatanna told her. "I've mended the bones, but you've still got some strained muscles and pulled tendons."

"Your magic is so *powerful.*" Tora's tone was bordering on worship, and that was the last thing Zee wanted to hear.

"Your powers saved us both, not mine," she reminded the girl. "So I think we make a pretty good team."

Tora blushed, but nodded. "Dr. Mist is always saying that teamwork is the most important thing."

It was a lesson the JLA could stand to remember a little more often. "With that in mind, while we've got a moment of breathing room, let's figure out our next move."

"When the cliff fell, I thought I felt--" Tora hesitated, then finished, "a person. A presence. In the ice."

In this, again, Tora's intuition was likely to be more accurate than Zatanna's own. But she wanted to be clear. "Underneath? Or *in* it?"

"In the ice." Tora sounded more confident now. "Part of it, not separate. A-- a spøkelse, a ghost. Can--can that be?"

"It can," Zatanna said slowly, thinking it through, "and it makes sense based on what we've seen." Inwardly, she was cursing herself for a rookie. No wonder her subconscious had been musing about the unquiet dead earlier. True, the poltergeist hadn't manifested with the traditional signs, but--

"Zatanna?" Tora was watching her with apprehension. "Are you angry?"

"Just--irritated with myself that I didn't see that sooner. But now I think I know what we need to do." She smiled a little. "In fact, I'm here with the perfect person to do it. Your powers are going to make this *much* easier."

Tora looked both inquisitive and pleased. "If I can help--"

"Frankly, I think you're going to be doing most of the heavy lifting on this one," she said, and laughed to Tora's bewildered expression. "The hard work, I mean."

"What do you want me to do?"

If only all of her teammates were this agreeable. "I'll show you once we teleport back up. Ready?"

Tora nodded. Zatanna smiled again, took her hand, and brought them out from under the ice.



Zatanna made sure that they reappeared away from the cliff wall and on solid open ground, without overhangs or crevasses. She didn't think the being was malevolent, merely careless, but she didn't intend to stake either of their lives on her conjecture. She glanced around, nodded, and turned to Tora.

"Call to it," she said.

Tora's eyes went wide. "Me?"

"It's a spirit of ice," Zatanna explained, "You have an innate connection to ice. Feel for what you know is out of place and... draw it to you. And Tora, this is important--we need its *name.*"

"I-- I'll do my best." Tora visibly gathered herself, then closed her eyes. Her outstretched hands, positioned parallel to the ground, began to radiate cold. Zatanna had thought she might need to coax Tora into a light trance, but that clearly wasn't necessary. Even without a specific connection to the surrounding element, she could feel the ice responding to Tora's power.

The wind picked up and the snow blew around them in great drifts, circling but never touching. The ice under Zatanna's feet heaved upward and then settled back again. When Tora's eyes flew open in surprise, Zatanna knew that they were no longer alone. The sense of *manifestation* was palpable.

"Who are you?" Tora called out. "What is your name?"

"I-- name?" The words were a breath only, carried on an errant and chill breeze.

"Your name," Tora said again, more firmly. "Tell me!"

Now the wind brought a sound like a hollow laugh. "I am a herald of Fimbulwinter--"

This time Tora's voice cracked like a whip, though Zatanna could see she was shaken by those words. As well she should be, if they were true. "Tell me your name!"

"Nils." A pause. "Nils Hansen."

Tora glanced at her and Zatanna nodded. "Nils Hansen," she repeated, and quickly, "Wohs su sih yrots!"

They had it all in an instant. It was an old, familiar tale: A young shaman on his first vision quest, Nils had been fascinated with the patterns of summer thaw and winter freeze on the glaciers, how each year added another layer to the millions already there. He'd gone too far inward, delved too deeply, and forgotten himself in the ice. It was the first lesson magicians learned and the last, if they didn't learn it well.

The search for wisdom never came without a price. Odin had been fortunate merely to sacrifice an eye. This young shaman had lost his life. She had lost--

(Zatara's hand in hers, burning)

--her own innocence.

Nils had been so engrossed in his contemplations that he hadn't even seen Death, black-haired and ashen-skinned, when she'd come for him. He'd remained trapped in his own meditations even after his body turned to dust, his spirit becoming *part* of the ice, disrupting its natural flow.

No wonder Tora's perception had told her the ice hurt. Nils' presence was like a splinter, driven into foreign flesh so deeply it had caused an infection. The earthquakes, the avalanches, they were all symptoms of the ice itself rejecting the alien spirit.

Necromancy wasn't Zatanna's favorite art, and far from a specialty. She couldn't force him to go--that kind of coercion was John's forte, not hers--but she could at least point the way for the lost shaman.

It wasn't a matter of spellcasting, but of awareness. Nils had lost his identity in the ice. He needed to find it again, to separate himself from the landscape. It wouldn't take much; even in his obsession, he probably already had some understanding that the element he loved no longer loved him back.

Tora's eyes were glimmering with tears. "We have to help him!"

If she could hold onto it, that compassion would prove her greatest strength. "We will. *You* will. Use your powers. Show him how you are in your element, and still yourself."

Tora looked uncertain. "How do I..."

"Show him your *life.*"

Ice Maiden stood for another moment, hesitating, and then she began to dance.

She moved lightly over the ground and solid translucent structures flowed out of the ice in the wake of her footsteps: crystal palaces constructed of delicate and eternal ice, a cave overhung with translucent stalactites, the Paris Dome and the Eiffel Tower. Images of people, the old man with the long beard from the photograph standing next to a woman about the same age, a young man with features similar to Tora, costumed adventurers Zatanna knew were the other Global Guardians. Pictures from her life, as clear as the photograph she'd once taken for magic.

Most important, Tora had grasped what Zatanna meant: in all of the conjurations she stood apart, surrounded by her element and never consumed by it.

Meanwhile Zatanna had been quietly summoning her power. Not a shaped spell, because there were no specific words for this, but a more complex and subtle gathering and sending of energies, creating a magical beacon for a very specific purpose. Not a summoning, because she would never dare, but a call for attention, for a guide to retrieve the spirit.

--and damned if despite the pathos of the situation, she wasn't *enjoying* this. There were too-few missions this clear cut, the JLA so rarely had exactly the right combination of powers and personalities to resolve a situation this *cleanly.*

She could sense Nils' presence held rapt by Tora's constructs, and the slow steady reawakening of his self as he remembered his own life and the people and places he'd left behind. She felt the shock as he remembered his *death,* his kinfolk coming to retrieve his body and the sorrow they carried with them back down to his former home.

Some ghosts, on learning their true state, retreated into denial or turned their fury on the ones who'd revealed it. As Zatanna had suspected, this was neither a malicious apparition nor one bound by anything more than his own obsession. And that had broken with the understanding that he was the aberration here, the interloper who'd disrupted the very thing he'd cherished.

The bonds that held him let go with his simple acceptance of that truth. The ice around them groaned, heaved once, and settled back as his spirit pulled free.

She heard for an instant only, and only because she was listening and attuned to it, the sound of wings.

The wind howled once more, and fell silent. All around them, the landscape stood in gleaming frozen stillness.

Tora stared at Zatanna as if coming out of a daze. "That's it? He's... gone?"

"That's it," Zatanna confirmed.

"What he said--about the Fimbulwinter--"

"Exaggeration," Zatanna said in her firmest and most confident voice. "Delusion as a result of the icemeld. I don't see any signs of that here." But it wouldn't do any harm to keep an eye on this region and general global temperature trends, just in case.

Tora sat down in the snow, clearly exhausted. "Was that... I mean, is that something you do a lot? With the Justice League?"

"No," Zatanna said, stifling the urge to break into hysterics in favor of a more moderate response. "Usually it's killer androids, alien invasions, and the fate of the universe itself." She wished she could smile, take the edge off her bitterness with a joke, but the literal truth of that last was still too raw. It *had* been the universe at stake. And among all the other fallen, her *father*--

"When the sky turned red," Tora said softly, "I thought it was Ragnarok."

...in a way, it had been. The destruction of the old order of the universe, giving rise to a new cycle. It should have felt like a rebirth, but all Zatanna tasted was death.

Even so, there was no reason to burden Tora with her loss. And *she* still had a father. "We're not far from your home, I think, if you'd like to--"

"No," Tora said, "thank you." She seemed very certain, and a little sad. "I... promised I would go back. But not yet."

Zatanna understood. It was hard enough to leave your homeland once.




Postscript:

A year later, Green Flame and Ice Maiden applied for JLI membership. It was Zatanna's note in Tora's file that convinced J'onn J'onzz to allow them probationary status. He never told Tora that.

These days, he wishes he had.


{end}





Notes:
The events of Zatanna's flashback/dream occurred in SWAMP THING #50.

"the sound of wings" TM Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN.

Fimbulwinter: in Norse myth, the winter that precedes Ragnarok, the end of the world.






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