Justice League of America: The Beginning of the Ennead, Chapter 1: Group of Nine

by HarveyKent

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“Sue, hi!” Zatanna said with a wide smile as she opened the door. “I’m so glad you could make it!”

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Sue Dibny said, stepping into Zatanna’s apartment. “Thanks so much for inviting me!”

“Like there was any question of that,” Dinah Lance said, stepping up to take her old friend’s hand in greeting. “I wouldn’t dream of having my bachelorette party without you!”

“Oh, am I the last one to arrive?” Sue asked, looking around the room. She saw Shayera Hall, Kristin Wells, and Nubia seated in the living room. All were wearing ordinary street clothes; Nubia looked fidgety and uncomfortable in them, as she always did. Sue had to hide a smile, as she remembered the first time Nubia — trying to assimilate into the world she had chosen as her new home — had tried on pantyhose. She doubted any super-villain was ever met with more rage.

“Yes, but you’re not late or anything,” Dinah said. “We’ve all just been sitting around chatting; our dinner reservation isn’t for an hour yet.”

“Can I get you something to drink, Sue?” Zatanna asked, heading to the kitchen. “I’ve got iced tea, hot tea, or if you prefer something stronger…”

“I hate to be a bother, but you wouldn’t happen to have a Diet Pepsi?” Sue asked. “I’m still trying to lose the last of the baby weight, you know!”

Zatanna whispered some words into her hand. A blue and white can, ice cold and dripping condensation, appeared on the kitchen table. “Coming right up,” she called, opening the can to decant its contents into a glass.

“Thanks,” Sue called back, and turned to Dinah. “Congratulations again, Dinah. It’s been a long time coming!”

“It certainly has,” Dinah said. “Frankly I doubted it would ever come!”

“You’re not the only one,” Shayera said slyly. “Katar has to do the dishes for a month, now. Lost a bet.”

“Well, it’s wonderful to have another member of the JLA Wives’ Club,” Sue joked. “Even if it is a JLAer herself!”

“We’re a small organization, aren’t we?” Dinah asked. “It’s a shame Mera couldn’t make it tonight.”

Sue looked away, not desiring to comment on that. The other JLA wives, the ones who weren’t super-heroes themselves, had always found Aquaman’s wife somewhat standoffish with them. There were different theories about why. Iris Allen had believed that Mera somewhat resented the League, because it kept her husband away from his home and family so much. Jean Palmer had thought that she was so used to being a queen, both in Atlantis and in her own homeworld, that she preferred not to associate with non-royalty.

“Well, here’s your drink, Sue,” Zatanna said, handing the glass to Sue. “So let’s have a toast, ladies!” Zatanna raised her own iced tea glass. “To the happy couple, Ollie and Dinah!”

“Here, here,” Kristin agreed.

“Aye!” Nubia called, mightily.

“All the happiness in the world,” Shayera said. “Nobody deserves it more.”

“All my hopes, Dinah Lance,” another voice said.

“Thanks, you guys,” Dinah said, fighting down a blush. “You’re the — wait a minute. Who said that? That last bit?”

Six female heads turned in the direction of the door. A stunningly beautiful, dark-haired woman stood there, a grim smile on her face.

“I truly hate to interrupt such a joyous occasion,” Madame Xanadu said. “But I’m afraid you’re needed.”

“Wha’ — who?” Sue cried.

“How did she get in here?” Nubia demanded, leaping to her feet. The trained warrior intended to spring into a position of battle readiness; unfortunately, one of her high heels twisted under her as she leaped up, spoiling the effect. “Vulcan’s pit!” Nubia swore, kicking the offending shoe from her foot.

“Stand down, Nubia,” Zatanna said firmly, never taking her gaze from Madame Xanadu. “I know this — lady. She helped Won — your predecessor and I against the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (*) But this is my home, Madame, and I don’t appreciate visitors entering without my knowledge or consent.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Countdown to Chaos,” Wonder Woman #293 (July, 1982).]

“Forgive me, Zatanna,” Madame Xanadu said in a conciliatory tone. “I’m afraid the urgency of the situation outweighed the need for conventional manners.”

“All right, you’ve got our attention,” Dinah said. “What do you want?”

“I’m certain that some of you recognize the name of Tala?” Madame Xanadu asked.

“Tala?” Shayera asked. “Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter?”

“No, that’s Talia,” Dinah corrected. “You mean that sorceress who fights the Phantom Stranger, right? The League has a file on her. Not much in it, though; we don’t know much about her.”

“No mortal does,” Madame Xanadu acknowledged. “Fortunately — for the world — I have my own methods of gathering information.”

“No kidding,” Shayera said. “Let me guess: Tala is up to something big and needs to be stopped. No offense, but why pick on us? I mean, there’s other super-heroes, right?”

“I’m afraid this problem requires unique attention,” Madame Xanadu said. “Tala is meddling in the oldest magicks on Earth now, and if she is not stopped, the results could be disastrous in the extreme.”

“The oldest magicks…” Zatanna repeated. “Good Lord, Madame, you don’t mean–”

“Precisely that,” Madame Xanadu said, nodding.

“What?” Dinah demanded.

“The oldest magick power on Earth,” Zatanna said, “is the magick of the life cycle itself. The power invested in a select portion of the human population.”

“The — wait, what?” Sue asked. “Life cycle? But Zee, all human people carry the life cycle, don’t they?”

“No,” Madame Xanadu said. “While all beings live, only some can create life.”

“Create — you mean women?” Kristin asked.

“But women can’t create life without men!” Dinah protested.

“Speak for yourself,” Nubia said mirthlessly.

“It is true that men have their role to play in the life cycle,” Madame Xanadu said. “But it is a minor, anonymous one. It is women who carry the seed of life, nurture it, experience its pains and its joys, and ultimately bring the new life into the world. That, my friends, is the oldest magick in the world.”

“And Tala is screwing around with this magick, somehow?” Shayera asked. “What’s she doing?”

“Tala plans to tap into the fundamental magick in all women,” Madame Xanadu reported. “Harness it for her own evil ends. Her ultimate goal is a spell that would use the magick inherent in all women… to wipe out all male life on Earth in a single instant.”

“What?!” Six female voices cried in unison. Unbidden, each woman thought immediately of the man who was special in their own lives — Katar, Ollie, J’onn, Clark, and Ralph. Zatanna had no particular man, but the thought still made her blood run cold.

“Tala believes that, with all men gone from the world, she can then assume control of it unhampered,” Madame Xanadu continued. “The Phantom Stranger, after all, is male, as are most of the world’s super-heroes.”

“We have to stop her!” Shayera declared, voicing what all of them thought.

“Indeed,” Madame Xanadu said. “That is why I came to you. Tala is using the magick of women to work her spell and to gather the materials necessary.”

What materials?” Nubia demanded.

“Three mystic talismans, long hidden from the eyes of man,” Madame Xanadu said. “Tala has gathered an ennead, a group of nine women, to do her bidding and procure the talismans for her. To oppose her I must gather a like number of women to engage her ennead and stop them.”

“Nine? Why nine?” Kristin asked. She was a woman of science from a future society where magic was a long-forgotten fairy tale; she was still overwhelmed by it, even after encountering so much of it in her association with twentieth-century heroes.

“Nine is an important number in female magic,” Madame Xanadu explained. “The Triple Goddess appears in three aspects, and nine is three multiplied by itself.”

“Yes, and mythology is rife with examples of groups of nine goddesses,” Zatanna added. “The Muses, the Valkyries, the Nabapatrika…”

“And thus we need a group of nine women to oppose Tala’s ennead,” Madame Xanadu concluded. “If we fail…”

“We won’t,” Dinah swore. “We’ll stop Tala and her nine hench-girls! There’s only five of us, but we can find–”

“Six,” Madame Xanadu corrected. “There are six of you. And I have already obtained the services of three more to make the required number.”

“Six?” Nubia repeated. “But–” Slowly, all eyes turned to Sue Dibny.

“M-me?” Sue stammered. “Oh, Madame Xanadu, I appreciate the compliment, b-but I’m not a super-hero!”

“Special powers are not required here, Susan Dibny,” Madame Xanadu said. “Courage, fortitude, resolve — those are what is needed. Those you possess in great reserve.”

“That’s true, you know,” Dinah acknowledged.

“I — well, I–” Sue stammered.

“Will you stand with us, Susan?” Madame Xanadu asked. “Fight beside your friends, and save a world?”

Sue’s stomach was churning nervously; silently, she told it to shut up. “I will,” she said firmly.

A smile spread across Madame Xanadu’s lips.

“Then let us go into battle!” Nubia cried. “Why do we waste time talking?

“We are not prepared yet,” Madame Xanadu said. “First of all, your costumes.”

“Why take time for that?” Shayera asked.

“We fight to stop a mystic spell,” Madame Xanadu explained. “Ceremonial garb is important.”

Dinah shrugged. “Well, I didn’t bring along my fishnets and wig; wasn’t planning on being the Black Canary tonight.” She glanced at her longtime friend Zatanna. “Zee, would you mind…?”

“Semutsoc raeppa,” Zatanna chanted in her backwards magic. In the blink of an eye, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Zatanna, Hawkwoman, and Superwoman were garbed in their regular costumes. Nubia breathed a sigh of relief, feeling the armor upon her body again.

“Suddenly I feel underdressed,” Sue quipped.

“And now the ennead may be completed,” Madame Xanadu said. As she spoke, the shadows behind her deepened momentarily. When the full light returned, three more costumed women stood there: Batwoman, Katana, and Mera.

“How does she do that?” Superwoman whispered to Zatanna. The mistress of magic merely shrugged.

“Wow!” Batwoman cried. “Madame Xanadu said she knew where to find the rest of the group; she sure wasn’t kidding!”

“But she said nine were needed,” Mera said. “There are only eight of us.”

“We’ve been over that, Mera,” Hawkwoman said. “It’s the nine of us.”

“What, her?” Mera demanded, pointing at Sue. “But she’s not–”

She’s not getting left behind when so much is at stake!” Sue shot back.

Mera’s eyes widened. She was not used to being spoken to like that. She opened her mouth to reply, but Zatanna cut her off. “OK, so we’ve got nine,” she said. “What now, Madame Xanadu?”

“Now, I send you to the three places where Tala’s ennead is going,” the mysterious woman said. “You know what you must do then.”

“Indeed!” Nubia cried lustily, gripping the hilt of her sword.

Without another word, Madame Xanadu lifted her arms. The room filled with shadows. When she lowered her arms, the lights came back, and she was alone in the room.

“The card has been played,” Madame Xanadu said, perhaps only to herself. “May the Goddess grant it be enough.”

Somewhere, in a darkened room lit only by nine flickering candles, a dark-haired woman laughed.

***

Deep in the most impenetrable recesses of a lush tropical jungle, the air was thick and heavy with moisture, and insects of every known hue buzzed through its steamy vapors. Three women, brightly garbed, stood out against the green flora like tropical birds as they tromped through the undergrowth, searching.

“God, but it’s hot,” Killer Frost sighed, fanning her face with her own hand. “Of all places to hide a mystic doohickey!”

“Makes sense to me,” the Cheetah said, prowling around. “Nobody here to find it but the birds.” The panther-like villainess slapped the back of her own neck. “And about a zillion bugs.”

“I still don’t like it,” Golden Glider said. “This Tala chick promised we’d all be rich when this is all over. I’ve heard that before. I still wanted some payment up front.”

“You were shouted down on that, Goldie,” Killer Frost reminded her. “Why be so chintzy, anyway? You’d give up the chance at ruling the world for lack of a downpayment?”

“Hey, Frostie,” Glider retorted, “my dear mother, God rest her saintly soul, lived her whole life by one simple rule: never put out until the cash is on the dresser. And I’ve never seen anything that proved her wrong.”

“Charming mother,” Killer Frost muttered.

“What are we hanging around together yakking for?” the Cheetah asked. “These fancy necklaces Tala gave each of us are supposed to let us know when we get close to the thing we’re after; beep or glow or something. Let’s split up and cover more ground.”

“The only ground you’re going to cover,” said an authoritative voice, “is the exercise yard in the federal prison!”

The three villainess’ heads turned rapidly in the direction of the voice.

“Dear Lord,” Golden Glider asked, “besides my ex-boyfriend, who could possibly say something that corny?” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: Golden Glider was romantically involved with Captain Comet until very recently; see Captain Comet: A Higher Calling.]

Standing about fifty yards away from the felonious trio were Batwoman, Superwoman, and Katana, poised and ready for action.

“I might have known,” Glider sighed. “Say, Frostie, would you mind?”

“Not a bit,” Killer Frost said, gesturing at the ground. A beam of white light shot from her fingertips, creating a ramp of ice between the villainesses and the heroines.

“Thanks,” Golden Glider said, leaping into the air. As she came down she clicked the heels of her boots together, her razor-sharp skate blades popped out of the soles, and she landed on the ice-ramp, rocketing toward the heroines.

***

In the dark depths of a murky swamp, where the overhanging branches of leafy trees hid the fetid waters from the rays of the sun, the only living things to be found were predatory beasts prowling for sustenance: alligators, water snakes, and the occasional super-villainess.

“What was it Tala called us?” Gem Girl asked, wading through the water in her thigh-high vinyl boots.

“Sisters?” New-Wave asked, propelling her own liquid form through the waters of the swamp.

“No, it was something else,” Gem Girl said. “N-something, I think.”

Ennead,” Sea Tigress responded, paddling through the filmy muck in her swim fins. “It means a group of nine.”

“I like that,” Gem Girl said. “The Ennead of Evil! What do you think?”

Ripples in the water betrayed New-Wave’s slight shrug. “Beats the Crime Champions,” she said.

Gem Girl took out her jewel-weapons and played with them, bouncing them on her gloved fingers. “I can’t wait until we find these mystic thingies,” she cooed. “When all the men in the world are gone, I’ll own all the beautiful jewels in the world!” The one-time super-villainess sighed at the thought. She had never known how much she had wanted jewels until those black spheres from space had given her the power to take what she wanted. When she was stripped of the power, she tried to go back to a normal life, but having had a taste of power, could not live without it. She giggled at the thought of the contract she had signed with those two old weird-beard scientists to create new jewel-weapons for her — sixty percent of her stolen take for the next five years. Try to collect it where you’re going, boys!

“Hey, look!” Sea Tigress called out, pointing. “Down there!” A huge, rotting wooden hulk sat in the shadows in a little tributary off the swamp. “An old riverboat! It’s probably been rotting there for a hundred and fifty years!”

“So what?” New-Wave asked. “We’re after a mystic talisman, not an old riverboat!”

“So how do we know it’s not there?” Sea Tigress asked. “I’m going to take a closer look.”

“Go no farther!” a new voice barked a command. The three villainesses turned to see that they were no longer alone in the swamp; Wonder Woman, Mera, and Sue Dibny stood before them.

“Wonder Woman!” Gem Girl cried out in fear. “Wait, when did she go Affirmative Action?”

Nubia’s eyes narrowed in rage. “Unfortunately for you,” she said coolly, “Green Arrow told me what that means.”

***

“Jesus, it’s cold!” Mirror Mistress said, hugging herself. “What are we doing on top of this ridiculous mountain?”

“You know what we’re doing,” Poison Ivy snapped. “We’re looking for the talisman that’s gonna wipe out all the men in the world! Now quit griping and find it!”

“She’s right, though,” the Queen of Spades said. “It is freezing up here!” As she trudged through the ankle-deep snow, the Queen reached into her pocket and withdrew a small metal flask, rectangular and flat, with the playing card that was her symbol painted on it. She unscrewed the cap and took a quick swallow. “Ohhh, that’s better. Want some, Pammy?”

“No,” Poison Ivy said. “And don’t call me Pammy.”

The Queen chuckled. “I’m surprised that you’re so anxious to get rid of all the men,” she teased. “Doesn’t sound like much fun for you.”

“There’s other ways to enjoy yourself,” Poison Ivy said. “Now come on, let’s find this thing!”

Mirror Mistress kept mostly silent. These two had been fighting super-heroes for years; at least she thought so. Wasn’t this the second Queen of the Royal Flush Gang, or something? She wasn’t sure. One thing she was sure of: she was the new kid in the class, and felt it.

“So when we find the thingamajig,” Queen continued, “we’ll just pop back to Tala’s hideout automatically, like?”

“That’s how I understand it,” Poison Ivy said. She cast a roving eye over Mirror Mistress and chuckled. “Sam is probably spinning in his grave, now.”

The young villainess looked up sharply at Poison Ivy. “You and the Mirror Master were friends, weren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t call it that,” Poison Ivy said. “Co-workers, more like.”

“Now you and the new Mirror Mistress can be cellmates,” a new voice cried out.

“What — no! I refuse to believe it! Here?!” Queen screamed. Black Canary, Hawkwoman, and Zatanna stood in the snow, facing them down, ready for battle.

Poison Ivy shrugged. “Of course, Queen. We knew we wouldn’t get through this without a fight. Deep down, we knew.”

“So let’s fight, then!” Queen yelled, hurling spade-shaped throwing darts at the heroines.

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