Dragons? Van's voice asked in her mind. While their mind-link creeped her out sometimes, there were many situations when it was extremely useful, like now.
Dragons. Chloe disobeyed Zod and Whitney because that was what she did. Though, to be fair, she knew that by now there had to be people at the borders, and she was scared that if the Dragons didn't see her they'd attack. Despite that she had a feeling that they hadn't come here to fight. They'd let her know they were coming and were by the south border. They wanted to talk. And that made her curious. Why exactly were these strange Dragons here to talk to her?
She finally found herself standing in front of the border, and she'd been right that she wasn't alone. Bradley was already there, as well as other members of the VI. Conant, Jake and Justin stood in silence, amongst the VI. The instructors kept their eyes narrowed on the border, which was translucent yet still visible, pulsating at the threat on the other side.
Bradley turned towards hers. The others are circling the border. This could be an attempt to draw our attention while they attack somewhere else.
She smiled at him and nodded, pleased that that possibility had been taken into account. Jake was truly doing a marvelous job as head of the VI. His training with the Witch Hunters had taught him to be a predator, to think like one, and he was using his ability to their advantage.
"Chloe Darkseid," a voice called from the other side of the border as a man stepped forwards. "You are a mere Hatchling. Have your scales even changed color as yet?"
"I don't think she's gone through her first molt," another replied. "I believe those are her shiny first scales."
On her end more and more warriors, human and witch alike, appeared all around her.
Chloe'd kept her eyes reptilian, and knew that those on the other side were referring to the dusting of scales over her cheekbones which appeared whenever she let a bit of her Dragon free.
"You're outnumbered, Hatchling," the first male to speak, spoke once more. "We do not want to hurt you, but if you resist what has to happen we will be forced to punish you for your disrespect towards your elders."
"And what exactly is supposed to happen?" She asked, hands on her hips.
"Death, destruction." The Dragon moved closed. "These humans need to die. So do the witches. That's their only purpose."
"These people are under my protection," Chloe responded easily. They were trying to bait her. They saw her as nothing but a baby. It didn't insult her. Compared to their ages she was a babe. "I don't want to hurt you, but if you try to touch even one person under my protection I'll be forced to punish you for overstepping your bounds."
One of the Dragons hissed.
The other narrowed his eyes at her.
The third chuckled.
How many Dragons were on earth and had they all sworn loyalty to Rao?
"You know who I am," Chloe declared as she raised her chin high. "I think it's only fair I get introductions."
"You are out of order, Hatchling," the first Dragon hissed once more.
"And you are out of place, Coats," a voice hissed behind her.
Chloe turned to see Zod pushing through the throng, Councilman Jorl-El surprisingly enough outside of the caves and by his side.
"Major." Coats straightened. "You are alive."
"Major Zod." The other Dragon, the one who'd commented that he believed she had yet to undergo her first molting, stepped forwards.
"Basqat." Zod raised an eyebrow as he stared at the two Dragons next to them. "I see Rao has you running intimidation tactics." He sneered. "They will fail."
"I see you have survived, brother." The third Dragon, who had been silent up until that time stepped forwards into the light.
Chloe turned to look at Zod in shock, and yet while surprise lit his face it wasn't his voice who answered.
"Zor?" Jorl-El stumbled forwards, face ashen.
"You always manage to find a way, don't you Gatekeeper?" Councilman Zor-El asked as he moved closer, much taller and elegant than the other two Dragons he was with. "It frustrates me how luck shines down on you with such unfair favoritism."
"It was you." Jor-El looked about to break, his horror plain on his face. "You are the only one with access to the things Rao would need - to the Steppenwolf - to the essence of Black Zero's leader - to the Stones of Power and…" His eyes widened. "The Orb." He turned to look at Chloe before his gaze returned to his brother. "It wasyou who intercepted Chloe Darkseid on her first day in Apokalips. It was you who implanted the Orb within her and started the sequence!"
"Yes." Zor-El nodded. "She was not supposed to be fused with the Orb until after I joined the others in this realm, but when she appeared right before me what could I do but use such a golden opportunity?" He chuckled. "It was also I who performed the Meld between Chloe Darkseid and Major Dru-Zod."
Zod's eyes narrowed as he tilted his head. "Why would you do that?"
Zor merely smiled at him, cunningness in his eyes before he returned his gaze to Jor. "And it was I who helped Rao bring an end to the corrupted shell that our world had become."
Jor-El visibly shook, his voice taunt, filled with emotion. "You killed everyone. You killed my wife, my son. You killed your own daughter!"
"You never deserved Lara." Zor's voice darkened viciously at her name. "I loved her long before you ever even noticed her! But as always, luck was on your side, and the El she loved was you. I was left with my unfaithful bitch of a wife and a daughter too stupid enough to choose the right side." He stepped closer, and closer, to the barrier. "I gave Lara a chance. I told her to come with me, that I would protect her, but like Kara she preferred to die than join Rao's side." He sneered. "Stupid women."
Jor-El went still, his voice soft and even as he spoke. "I will kill you."
"Not tonight." Another voice announced behind them as Dax-Ur emerged from the darkness, his dark eyes on the other Dragons. "You all come from strong, pure bloodlines." He tilted his head thoughtfully. "Why he saved you is curious indeed considering that he wishes to create a new Apokalips in his own image. Why bring on you except that he knows there is a battle and he'll need the backup?"
Basqat snorted in laughter. "You are senile and have not seen what he has become. He does not need to cower behind an army."
"And what has he become?" Jor-El wanted to know.
Coats answered. "Death."
"You might've escaped his wrath last time," Basqat declared. "But do not be fooled that you will do so another time."
There's nothing and no one on the western border. Van's voice declared in her ear.
No one along the eastern border, Trevor quickly followed.
She narrowed her eyes, wary that she hadn't heard from those patrolling the northern border as yet.
Someone's along the northern border! Hank's voice yelled in her head.
"Look at her, she isn't even listening to us," Coats hissed. "This is not a game, Hatchling. If you do not—!"
She raised her hand to silence him, bringing her other to her temple. Hank? What's going on? Talk to me.
There's a large group of people here! Hank answered. They're coming closer! I don't know who they are—Greg? What the hell is he doing?!
Hank? She frowned when she got no answer. Hank!
Zor-El smiled. "She knows. Maybe not everything, but she knows." Suddenly he moved, rapidly, and his hand pierced through the barrier, reaching for Chloe.
Jordan's voice rung in her mind. Don't let him touch you!
Chloe's eyes widened, not only because he'd managed to pierce the barrier, but seconds before he could touch her, the ground shook and a large, thorny vine rose in the air. It wrapped itself around Zor-El's arm, drawing his blood as it yanked him away from her. Suckers that seemed covered in teeth chomped down at his arm.
The Dragon yelled and yanked his hand back out the barrier. It was burnt and bitten, blood draining down it.
Chloe stared at the plant as it quickly minimized in shape and disappeared back into the ground.
Zor-El held his arm and laughed. "Truly magnificent."
Coats and Basqat both stared in awe where the plant had been.
"Was that—?" Basqat hesitated.
Coats looked up at Chloe before he smiled, and it was all teeth. "Oh, this is going to be fun."
Basqat eased his hand towards the barrier and hissed, yanking it away as his palm burned the same way Zor-El's had, except he hadn't been able to penetrate the barrier.
Why could Zor-El?
Unease filled Chloe as she turned to glance at Dax-Ur. The Dragon didn't look surprised at this event, merely intrigued.
"Why did you find it so important to touch her that you would risk losing your arm?" The Dragon mused softly to himself. "Unless…"
They're kids! Hank's voice returned in her head. Chloe - they're all kids! They're being attacked! They're killing them! I didn't see the other witches - I - what do we do?
Chloe stared at the Dragons in front of her. They had to know. Dragons had superior senses. This was a test. These kids had survived only the gods knew what, and Darkseid's people had allowed them to get close enough to Smallville before attacking so that they could show them the massacre. Could prove to her how powerless she was to protect. Show me.
Hank hesitated. What?
And then Chloe wasn't standing in front of the Dragons anymore. She stood at the northern gates, watching as kids in tattered school uniforms were slaughtered all around her. "No." She took a step towards the barrier and hesitated. To help the kids tehy'd have to lower the barrier—that was why the Dragons were doing this. They were dangling these kids' lives in front of her! If she didn't go out those kids would be mutilated corpses in seconds… but the second she lowered the barrier they'd get in.
The childrens' screams filled her ears.
She couldn't let them die.
In seconds she was back in her body, out of Hank's, and turned to Bradley. "I need your phone."
He eyed her curiously before digging into his pocket and handing the device to her.
"It's decision time, little Hatchling." Coats' voice was taunting.
Zod didn't look away from the Dragon. "Chloe, do not do it."
He knew. He knew.
Chloe took a picture of where she was and then sent it with a text before she gazed up at her Dragons to realize that they'd known all along. But as always, human life meant nothing to Dragons.
"What's going on?" Whitney asked, confused, obviously sensing an undercurrent, but unlike the Dragons he couldn't smell the blood being shed.
There was a burst of green, and someone grabbed Chloe seconds before the world exploded and when it rematerialized Chloe wasn't by the southern border any longer, instead, she and Alicia were outside the northern walls. "Go!" Chloe turned and gathered energy within her, slamming it into her younger sister. "That's enough to get you to the other side, go!"
Alicia looked around her at the death and confusion and grabbed a kid bleeding on the ground before she did as told, teleporting, Chloe's energy only just enough to get her and the injured kid through the barrier and safely inside.
Turning towards the massacre, Chloe felt darkness swirling suffocatingly inside of her. "GET TO THE BARRIER!" She yelled to the kids. "DON'T TOUCH IT BUT GET THERE!NOW!"
The children did as told, fending off the other witches as best as they could while helping their wounded friends.
An eleven year old lay dead at Chloe's feet. The blonde knelt down in front of the child and reached down to tenderly close her eyes before she looked up at her father's witches, anger and hatred filling her unlike anything she'd ever felt before. She couldn't even speak as the witches continued to attack the kids even as they fled.
All around them, darkness gathered as that pressure in her chest grew more and more until Chloe couldn't keep it in any longer. She let it out in a scream so loud every single person turned to look at her. And yet, they didn't look at her for long. All around them, darkness began to take form as creatures emerged, formed in the shadows as they raced passed the fleeing students and charged the witches. They were sleek yet powerful, their bodies resembling panthers. Chloe had never seen them before, didn't know what they were or where they'd come from, but she could feel her mark upon each and every one of them as they attacked the witches. Spells wounded them. Those things were alive, but they were pissed and determined. They charged and pounced on Rao's witches, scratching them with their blood-red claws and biting down on their victim's necks.
The screams were now those of the witches as they were torn to pieces by those feral, ferocious beasts.
Alicia appeared by Chloe, half of her face burnt, obviously a repercussion of teleporting through the barrier without enough of Chloe's energy. "We've got to get you out of here."
Chloe stood immediately and looked at her sister, cradling her face carefully. "You need to get to the Healing Caverns."
Alicia shook her head. "You need to get back on that side of the barrier. You and these kids."
Chloe stared at her blonde sister, who was so very much a stranger, and yet she saw hints of Cassie and Diana within her, and she couldn't help but smile. But that smile disappeared as she felt it. It was her desperation that had her reaching up, had her ignoring Alicia's look of horror and her cry for Chloe to STOP IT as she tore off one of the scales on her cheekbone. It was gossamer covered in blood as she handed it to Alicia, closing the girl's fingers over it tightly. "Get these kids inside the barrier." And with that she turned and flung her hands out, the force blowing trees back and slamming into the Dragons as they emerged from the darkness - sending them flying backwards. "NOW!"
Eyes wide, Alicia nodded, teleporting to where the kids were, grabbing one, and teleporting back through the barrier.
Something slammed into Chloe from her right, sending her flying to the ground with a grunt of pain. Above her crouched a Dragon in his half form. She didn't know which of the three it was, but somehow she doubted it was Zor. It pushed her to the ground, snarling down at her, saliva dripping from its jaws and covering her face.
A figure moved in the darkness, taking them both by surprise as it barreled into Dragon and knocked it off of Chloe.
She looked up in shock.
Byron stood over her, his features twisted and eyes black as the night, veins pulsating blackness. "No one touches my sister." His voice was lower, harsher.
The shifted Dragon got to his feet and charged.
"Trip," Mikhail's accented voice ordered.
The half-formed Dragon collapsed face first into the ground.
Chloe turned to look at Mikhail in confusion. Was the barrier down?
And yet, as she glanced passed them towards the barrier, she saw Alicia returning, this time with Lex. It must've been his VI team at the northern border. Lex's hands glowed purple as he charged a witch who'd gotten past the panther-like creatures and raced at the children. Alicia grabbed another child and disappeared through the barrier, only to return seconds later with Bart, letting go of him long enough to grab another child and teleport back within once more.
Suddenly a Dragon she recognized in his half-form raced passed her and flung himself into another one racing towards her - one she hadn't even seen coming. Zod quickly got up to his feet, as did the other Dragon, and circled each other.
"Choke." Mikhail held his hand out towards the Dragon in half-form, the dark in his eyes beginning to pulsate before they slowly took over his orbs.
The Dragon collapsed to his knees, fighting the boy's magic as he came closer.
Byron picked up a large rock with his bare hands and smashed it down against the half-formed Dragon's head, propelling the creature downwards.
Where is Zor-El?
She looked around, confused. He had to be here. Where was he? And why wasn't he attacking?
And then she saw him, standing there, watching.
A roar sounded in the air. It was that of another Dragon.
How many of them are there? She didn't understand! Hadn't Rao's plan been to be one of the only Dragons alive on earth? If so - why had he brought in so many of them as allies? What was going on? What had changed?
The half-formed Dragon battling her brothers swung his tail, getting both of them and sending them flying backwards. He took the opportunity to run, a roar of outrage escaping his own mouth.
The one facing with Zod turned and ran as well.
By the time Chloe's gaze returned to where Zor-El was, she found him gone.
Zod turned to her, and even in his half form she could see the annoyance in his eyes.
"Chloe!" A broken cry filled the air.
Chloe's eyes widened as she turned towards the sound, seeing one of the students stumbling towards her, bloodied and bruised, and yet very familiar. "Lucy?"
Tough, ever resourceful and independent thirteen-year-old Lucy Lane collapsed onto her knees and held onto Chloe as she burst out crying.
Tears filled Chloe's eyes, unable to believe it. "We thought you were dead!" She hugged Lucy tightly, gazing at the students as the barrier, sensing no more threat, lowered, allowing those inside to help the children. Those uniforms - they were Ravensboro uniforms! She held her cousin so close she was sure she was hurting the girl, but Lucy didn't complain, she merely held on even tighter as she sobbed brokenly.
The jaguar creatures around them didn't disappear like the plant had. They remained where they were, seated and eyeing the cousins curiously. They were apparently here to stay. Chloe had no idea what she felt about that.
But now, that wasn't the most important thing.
Her gaze rose to where Byron and Mikhail were pushing to their feet. "Are you two okay?"
Byron nodded, the black of his eyes slowly seeping away as his features returned to normal.
"Are you suicidal?" Mikhail kept his back to her. "Do you understand what would've happened if you would've died?"
She rubbed Lucy's hair and looked at her brother. Now wasn't the time to—.
"I do not want to be a part of your Circle if you will be this careless about it." Mikhail turned towards her, he looked so angry he could cry. "They were obvious bait, Chloe. Obvious bait! Some - if not all - probably bear his mark! And yet you—!" He growled and kicked at the ground before he stormed away like a child throwing a tantrum.
Byron watched him go. "He's right, you know."
"Lucy, this is my brother Byron." She pulled away and smiled at the girl. "He's going to take you and your friends to someplace where you'll be healed." The moment these kids stepped into the Caves Chloe would know if they were marked or not - she wasn't dumb. Still, she eased Lucy over to Byron and then got to her feet and ignored the look Zod was still giving her. "Don't. I have to talk to my brother." She brushed passed the Dragon in half form and hurried after Mikhail, who was still storming off. "Mik!"
He waved her back, not stopping. "I do not want to talk to you right now."
"We don't know what's in these woods." She quickly caught up to him and swung him around. "Mikhail, stop."
"I understand that you are different from our father, that you lead differently, but you cannot continue to be so foolish!" Mikhail snapped at her. "If you had died, what do you believe would happen in that town of yours?"
"It's not my—."
"Anarchy," he interrupted. "Humans against witches against dragons against everyone. There'd be a power vacuum, one no one will be able to fill. And the Dragons? They're not going to care about us if you don't make them." He let out a groan and leaned against a tree, sliding down. "I know I told you I wouldn't use my Voice,I know you said I wouldn't pass if I used it, but Chloe, you were going to die and I don't regret it." He looked up at her as rebelliously as a five-year-old. "So you better not say that this is why I can't—!"
"Mikhail," Chloe tried.
"No!" He brought his hands to his face. "I'm one of the only ones who hasn't been claimed yet! Everyone else gets chosen instead of me and I don't understand!" His voice shook. "I'm useful to you, I've proved it tonight again! I can be useful! Use me!"
Her heart broke at the tremor in his voice. "Mik."
"Why won't you just use me?"
Going towards him, Chloe knelt and reached out, brushing his hair softly. "Mikhail?" He wouldn't answer, his hands over his face, his body shaking. "Look at me. Look at me."
He pulled his hands from his face and looked at her, eyes bright with tears he refused to shed.
While one of the most normal of their siblings, Chloe sometimes forgot that Mikhail had his problems as well. He'd been raised by a father who'd never acted like he was important, who'd never shown him any love or trust, who'd always acted disappointed in him for his lack of Voice. He'd been raised by a father he'd felt would only value him for a talent he hid - desperate to gain his approval on his own and not through the very rare ability passed down through his mother's family.
"I'm not taking back anything that I just said," Mikhail muttered.
Oh my god - he was a kid! How had she not realized it before? She needed to pay this one more attention. The others were more visibly damaged, and that made her concentrate on them more, but Mikhail's wounds were all buried deep inside and they were hurting him.
Pressing her forehead to his, Chloe closed her eyes. "I'll never use you, Mikhail." When he stiffened she reached down and kissed his palm. "You're not a tool."
"But I am," Mikhail whispered.
"No, you're not. You're my brother and I love you." She pulled away and looked at him. "I'm sorry if I ever made you doubt that." She reached out and brushed his hair from his face. "Look down."
He frowned and then did so, and his eyes widened. "Did you—?"
"Nope." She shook her head. "I felt it happen the second you used your Voice." She trailed her fingers against the sound waves tattooed on his skin. "I think that's who you are, Mik, I think you're my Voice."
Mikhail looked up at her, eyes wide, and then he was hugging her and it hurt, but she hugged back as well, pressing a kiss to the side of his face.
She could feel Zod and a couple of the others keeping a watchful eye on them. They couldn't be too sure the others had truly retreated. But for now she merely hugged her brother, and welcomed him to her Circle.