The Bloch Spa for Women hosted CEOs, supermodels, actresses, heiresses, and royalty. Yet never had the secluded resort and its all-female staff hosted such a striking group of women as the four New Titans.
Koriand’r, wearing a peach sun dress, smiled as she felt like herself again. She truly bore Raven no malice. It was part of her loving nature to forgive a friend of almost any action, especially one that sprang out of love.
She wondered if her homeworld of Tamaran was thriving. Her sister Komand’r had been chosen queen and had resisted an invitation to join the Alien Alliance’s attack on Earth. That spoke well of Komand’r, but Kory had her doubts. She prayed that her family would be safe and hoped to be back in her old relationship with Dick Grayson when he returned from Gotham City. She had to make him see, make him feel, that their love was stronger than any trivial ceremony of state.
Poor Karras had loved another as well. He had only wed Kory for political reasons. The service was not the true Tamaranian wedding ceremony for spiritual union, but a treaty signing and nothing more. Surely Dick would come to accept that. Now Karras was dead at the hands of the Alliance, and he surely could not feel as if he was wooing a married woman. His principles seemed so rigid to Kory, but she would never stop loving him.
She smiled as she saw that Kole looked a bit happier as of late. She had felt as if something troubled the girl, but Kole had always kept her sorrows locked within, much like Raven used to do. Kory hoped Joe Wilson could become to Kole what Dick had been — no, still was — to her.
Kory also noticed that Raven, though back to her more reserved manner, wasn’t letting guilt over her actions cripple her. She watched as she laughed at Donna’s joke, which was definitely a healthy sign. Raven wore a black miniskirt and a white blouse, and if the one garment was rather severe, the other was almost daring. Perhaps, in time, Raven would find a happy medium.
Donna Troy Long sighed in relief, now that her friends were back to normal. She wondered if Dick really would go back to his relationship with Kory. She hoped so, yet she could never say with certainty what the pair would do. Their romance was somewhat star-crossed, and she was fascinated by it. She also hoped that Terry Long, her husband, would be able to find a good job. He put on a bold front, but beneath the act, he had suffered a loss of pride, and she ached for him.
A loud noise rang out, and the women stood to see four newcomers. All four costumed women charged directly for the Titans, and any pretense of secret identities went out the door. They were alone with the invaders, anyway, since all the other guests and staffers had slowly departed, unseen.
“Athena preserve us!” cried Artemis as she faced a woman in a tiger-striped costume and mask. She reeled as the woman’s super-strong punch knocked her flat.
Starfire kicked out at a second woman in a black cape and costume. The woman agilely rolled with the kick and flipped through the air to attack anew. She is good! thought Starfire. She moves like one trained on Okaara!
The third woman wore a green dress and boots. She thrust one hand toward Kole, and the girl gasped as her leg dissolved into a puddle.
“Help me!” cried Kole as the woman in green laughed.
The final woman wore a Robin Hood-style outfit and swung in on a rope to tackle Raven. “These Titan broads aren’t so tough!” she snorted. “I’ve had tougher brawls in the back seat of a car!”
Raven felt the woman’s malice and something deeper beneath the surface layer of hate — something powerful in its hatred and its madness.
Artemis grappled with the woman in tiger stripes. “Who are you?” she demanded. “And why do you attack us?”
“We’re here to take you down,” said the woman behind the fanged mask that concealed her features. “That’s enough to be a job for Tigerwoman” She fought well and had greater strength than Artemis, yet Artemis was a better fighter. She rolled backward and used her larger foe’s momentum against her. She kicked up and flipped the woman called Tigerwoman into a wall.
Starfire blasted out with her star-bolts as the black-clad woman spun around and hurled a pellet toward her. It burst, and freezing cold erupted around Kory. She shuddered as her solar-powered might drained.
The woman in black laughed and high-kicked to send Kory falling. She rolled out of reach to fight anew. “I’m Nightwoman, as in… I put out your lights, bimbo,” said the woman in a low, menacing tone.
“Do not do this,” Raven told her attacker. “I sense you are not what you seem. I feel your pain.” She vanished in a puff of smoke to teleport away toward what she felt was the heart of the matter.
Her Robin Hood-like foe fired an arrow at the spot in which the girl had last stood, but she had already escaped. “Coward!” called the brash woman called Swashbuckler.
Kole desperately generated a shield of crystal between her and her leering foe. Her right leg was gone, turned into a runny puddle of something. And as the woman called the Molder touched the barrier, it melted as well. Kole was unprotected, and the evil woman’s touch was inches from her face.
Before the Molder could reach Kole, Starfire slammed into her with all her considerable power. “You can’t hurt anyone without touching them!” said the alien princess. “I saw that! I’ll teach you about relying too much on a power!” Gripping each of the Molder’s wrists, Starfire flew her skyward.
The Molder struggled, but she still could not touch Starfire, and neither could she break her hold. As Starfire crashed into the roof and let the other woman bear the brunt of the impact, she groaned in pain. As she passed out, the Molder reverted to her original form, that of a frail woman Kory had seen earlier waiting tables.
“X’hal!” she cried.
Meanwhile, Artemis yelled, “Kole, I need a crystal cage now!”
Battling her own fears, Kole gestured and spun a ramp of crystal that spiraled across the room to crash into the agile Nightwoman, who fell, while the crystal sheath pinned her to the ground. Artemis kicked Tigerwoman back and into Swashbuckler, who fell and did not rise again.
“You’re pretty smart for a wimp!” growled Tigerwoman. “I can bend steel in my bare hands — imagine what I could do to a prom queen like you!”
Artemis frowned. “Let’s not.” Looping her rope over the hulking woman, she pulled her directly into her own smashing fists.
Tigerwoman fell back, and Kole gasped as her leg returned to normal. “Thank goodness!” she cried in relief. “I’m normal again!”
Spotting Swashbuckler’s fallen quiver, Kole grabbed an arrow. “This little code-thing seems to indicate this shaft gives off gas,” she mused, and sent a wave of crystal to carry the arrow directly under Tigerwoman’s chin. The head burst, and the gas sent the woman crashing down.
“Well done, Kole!” cried Artemis.
Kole smiled. “I figured I could aim my crystals better than I could fire an arrow.”
Starfire carried the altered Molder back down. “She was a staffer here,” she said. “She changed back to that woman — back to normal — after I knocked her out cold.”
Artemis nodded. “Same thing just happened to Tigerwoman, Nightwoman, and Swashbuckler. Notice the utility belt Nightwoman was wearing? Makes me think of Nightwing or Batman. Same for the raw power of Tigerwoman and Superman. I bet we’ve just fought the Superman, Batman, and other JLA types Lilith saw in her vision.”
“I don’t understand,” said Starfire. “You mean these women are versions of the JLAers? So Swashbuckler with her bow is like a female Green Arrow?”
“I believe so,” replied Artemis.
“But what about the Molder?” asked Kole. “Which Justice Leaguer could she represent?”
“I’m not sure… perhaps Firestorm?” suggested Donna. “Anyway, I’ll bet a search of our criminal databanks might tie these identities more firmly to the JLA. It’s the only way I can explain Lilith’s vision. Now, where’s Raven?”
“She vanished during the fight,” said Kole.
“Let’s find her,” said Kory. “I’m worried about her.”
They rushed toward the resort’s main office, where they found Raven standing alone.
“Raven, what did you find?” asked Artemis. “What was behind these attacks?”
“You’ll learn,” said Raven. “Oh, how you’ll learn most of all!” She smiled wickedly, and a blast of mental energy stunned all three women. As they fell before their friend, her form shimmered to reveal that of a dazed staffer.
“Well done, indeed!” chuckled a little man who emerged from behind a wall. “I never tried to make an ectoplasmic double of a foe before — only counterparts drawn from their minds or my own fevered imagination.”
The short man caressed the fallen Raven, whom he had concealed as well. “You, my pretty, will make a wonderful medium to boost my powers and help me turn every hated woman who comes here into my plaything,” he cackled. Kicking Artemis, he screeched madly, “You are the sister of my old foe. I’ll have special plans for you — before I kill you!”
Artemis woke up to find herself fully costumed and staring up at familiar red and white boots. She pushed herself to her feet to see — Diana.
“Diana? But how?” she gasped as Wonder Woman raised her by her arm.
“‘How’?” she said coldly. “Do you think Athena and Aphrodite would countenance the folly of leaving inept failures like you and Nubia in my role as representatives of Amazon ideals? Nubia is nothing but a savage raised by Mars, no less. As for you, you no longer wear my colors, and I praise Hera for that blessing lest you soil my image even further.”
Artemis frowned. “Soil your image? You can’t be the true Diana. You speak without her warmth, her love, her passion.”
Wonder Woman laughed. “Must you return to being the pony-tailed girl who aped my legend? You still cannot prove yourself worthy of our heritage. I should have left you in the fire.”
Artemis grabbed her arm. “Hold on! That proves you aren’t Wonder Woman. You copy her body language and her voice, but not her personality. Your venom seeps through the deception.”
Her foe swung a hard left, and Artemis dodged, only to flip her over one hip. She followed up with a swift blow to the false Diana’s chin.
Meanwhile, Starfire rubbed her green eyes and glanced left and right, but saw no sign of her foes or her friends.
She heard a dark, grating laugh and spun to see her sister Komand’r. She wore the official garments that marked her as the reigning ruler of Tamaran. Princess Koriand’r was also dressed in her traditional purple costume.
“X’hal! This is not Tamaran,” she said. “Has our world sent you to bring me homeward again?”
“I would rather die!” sneered Blackfire. “Our world holds you in revulsion and shame. The pretty little princess who fled to take sanctuary among primitives on Earth. The ex-slave who never should have removed her chains.”
“You have no right to speak to me like this!” shouted Starfire. “I bested you in combat before, and I’ll do it again — then get the truth of your arrival here out of you!”
She tackled her sneering sister, and they wrestled desperately and evenly as the passion of one and the malice of the other met in battle.
Meanwhile, Kole Weathers smoothed her wedding gown and gazed adoringly at Joe Wilson as he stood by her side. This is the happiest day of my life! she mused.
As he gently turned to lift her veil, he recoiled in silent but evident horror while looking at her. She shuddered and felt her face; where once had been smooth and pretty features, she now found shell-like ridges and insect form.
“Daddy’s experiment!” she shrieked. “It’s finally made me an insect like it did to mom and to him!”
Joe pulled away in fright and horror as Kole’s wings folded around her face, and she chittered in sorrow.
While her allies experienced the nightmarish visions created by their captor, Raven sat strapped to a chair in front of the evil little man called Doctor Psycho. She also wore her white gown and high heels.
Grinning at her, Doctor Psycho said, “My ectoplasmic encephaloscanner plucked the images of Tigerman, Nightman, Molder, and Swashbuckler from the minds of several JLAers. It also allowed me to overlay the images and powers upon several female pawns. I used them to capture you and your delightful playmates.
“My little spa, here, was designed to give me the means to humble and toy with the most influential women around. I have been using my machine to torment them during their visits. None ever realized their humiliating nightmares were more than just dreams, and none have ever been humble enough to speak of them. My lucky break came when I was able to acquire Mrs. Long’s assistant and program her to suggest this place to her boss. Oh, yes, I know Artemis is Donna Long. I’ve followed her actions for years. She has been careless with her secret, believe me!” He laughed.
“You wanted us here, but most of all, you wanted me,” said Raven.
Doctor Psycho capered about with mad glee. “Very bright. I wanted you, since my machine is failing with each use. The power source given me by the Monitor cannot be copied. Thus, I must go back to my original M.O. of relying upon a female medium. You fit that bill nicely with your empathic gifts.”
Raven shook her head. She looked calm, compassionate, and in control. “Your fear of women began when you were a child. Your hatred of them came from the petty and cruel rejection of a few during your teen years. Your abusive relationship with the late Marva formed you as well. I can sense that much. I must tell you that, while I want to help you, I will never be used as a pawn by anyone again.”
“We’ll just see, my beauty,” he chortled.
Thus, even as Artemis danced to avoid the attack of her pseudo-sibling, Starfire kicked out at her darting evil sister, and Kole wept in a monstrous new form, Raven fought a more deciding battle against the man who had engineered their traumas.
“I can feel your malice, your lust, and your fear,” said Raven. “Let me ease away such negative emotions. Let me relate to you as you would be treated within. We can understand each other, and through understanding can come peace.”
Doctor Psycho scowled as he adjusted a machine. “Bah!” he said. “I’ll drain it dry to make you crawl!”
Still, the empath fought on, projecting soothing emotions toward the warped little man even as he fought to bring forth her old demons.
She met his will in locked combat that would have remained unseen by any observer had there been one. Reaching within herself, she touched his own hidden rages and hurts until, finally, Raven triumphed.
Psycho wept at her feet as she ordered him to release her. He did so, and she caressed him gently on the cheek.
“We have broken through your barriers of hate, and now healing may be possible,” she said softly.
At that moment, Artemis frowned as Wonder Woman turned into Starfire. They gazed at each other in wonder, then hugged.
“I saw and heard you as Komand’r!” said Kory.
Artemis grinned ruefully. “And I felt your right cross while thinking you were a fake Wonder Woman.”
Kole rose from a corner. She had been unseen and unheard all this time. “I also had a nightmare,” she said slowly. “It was terrible!”
Kory hugged her. “It’s over now.”
Raven entered, leading a meek Doctor Psycho by the hand. “He caused this woe due to his own madness,” she said serenely. “We can find him help and healing.”
Artemis shook her head in amazement. “Wonder Woman tried to cure him before, but she had no luck,” she said. “You, on the other hand, have tamed him in minutes.”
“I have vowed to never be the pawn or victim of anyone who seeks to control my gifts again,” said Raven. Turning to Kole, she said, “Kole, we must talk. I can feel your pain as well. You may trust in Jericho to be true to you.”
Kole nodded ruefully as they exited.