Damian awoke with a headache and blurred vision. He didn't remember falling asleep and quickly ran through a mental catalog of things which let effects like this on a person. Looking around the wrought iron cage he was in and the other kids locked inside, he quickly concluded it was no drug that put him under. He gritted his teeth.
"-tt-. I'm starting to hate Magic." his voice was quiet as to not rouse the other kids, who were still locked in the spells sleeping effects. His vision was slightly blurred, but he could see some of his surroundings.
He and the other kids were one cage among four being carried in a horse drawn carriage, though "horse" was a polite term for the insect-beast which obeyed the skeletal coach's tugs on the reigns. Around them was a massive cavern, hundreds of feet across and filled with children working the rock with picks and shovels. They were thin, filthy and obviously tired. He couldn't tell how long they had been working exactly, but it was far too long.
"Hey," A familiar voice picked Damian's ear, "Is that you, Damian?"
Damian's eyes focused on the listing form of Colin Wilkes. It took some effort but Damian crawled over to Colin. "Are you numb too?"
Colin nodded, "Do you know how we got here?"
Damian shook his head and spoke in a hushed voice. "Just play along for now. We need to assess the situation before you bulk up.”
"I-I'm not sure I can. I can barely move."
"-tt-, that's going to be a problem."
The Carriage didn't take long to reach its destination, an open courtyard that reminded Damian of that Renaissance Fair where he and Father had to fight a horde of knights to save a ‘princess.’
The cages were lowered to the ground and opened by large, green, brutish creatures whose under-bite was only matched by their vacantly stupid expression. The kids were then poured out of the cages in groups, spilling out like marbles as the collective moans filled the cavern.
"Ah," an aged, female voice cooed, "That's the sound I love to hear."
Damian turned his attention to the woman who spoke, and there was only one way to describe her figure: she was a hag. The monster was dressed in fine black clothing which was decorated in a menagerie of baubles, jewels and gems. Her nose was hooked, her back hunched, she was wrinkled and had a few warts to touch it off. Her skin was as green as the goons around the area. Her fingers were long and ended in nails that very well could double as claws. Damien couldn’t put a human skeletal structure inside the Hag. It was a monster, pure and simple.
The Hag smiled, revealing crooked teeth as she looked over the collection, "Such lovely children. So full of hopes and dreams." she picked one girl up by the chin, her face was hard as a rock as she stared down the hag. Unlike most of the others, not a single tear formed on her face, "And so full of spirit."
That's when the girl spit in the Hag's face. The hag dropped the girl and howled in surprise and disgust. The girl didn't move however, she fell to the ground, the magic continuing to paralyze her.
The Hag began to laugh again, "I'll enjoy seeing that spirit break." She picked the girl up again, "But Mama Bogie has a special treatment for you now. You're a fighter. I can tell."
Damian could see it too. She had Training. Training like his, but different. More martial, less diverse. He could feel his face scrunch up despite his efforts. He wasn’t jealous. Not in the slightest.
"You get the special jobs," The Hag dropped the girl harsher this time, causing her to bounce off the earthen floor.
"As for the rest of you? You'll dig up pretties. Forever."
Those who didn't work were beaten; those who fought back would get to fight until they had the fight beat out of them. Or they died. Damian tried to keep a low profile but Mama Bogie picked him out as one. Maybe it was his scowl, but he blamed magic. He did not resist when they through him a cage with almost a dozen others. The paralysis didn't let them move for some time, but they could still talk.
"Still, better than where I was," One boy with rough brown hair said as he lay on the ground, "How sad is that?"
"When my brother finds out where I am, he's so going to tear this witch apart!" A Mexican girl growled in a corner.
The girl who spit on Mama Bogie shook her head, "We should try to get out ourselves. We do not know how far away rescue will be."
A dual voice echoed, each repeating the same thing save one word: they could barely feel either “the Red” or “the Green”. They eyed each other instantly after that, leaving most of the other kids confused. But Damian read Batman’s files. He knew what they could be referring to.
Colin spoke up next, "I think there's a story there I never heard. We should introduce ourselves. My name's Colin, how about you guys?"
A light voiced red-haired girl immediately sat up, "My name's Irey and I really, really wish we were meeting under better circumstances."
"Sin" the Spitter said.
"Tefe," a white haired girl on one side of the cage said, “Tefe Holland.”
"Maxine Baker," a Reddish-brown haired girl said from the opposite corner, but added, "My dad is Animal Man."
"Really?" The Mexican girl's face lit up as she propped herself up against the bars, "That's awesome--Oh, um, my name's Milagro"
"I guess we do have cavalry coming for us," Colin let a smile creep up his face.
"Chris Kent," The scruffy haired kid said with emphasis on the last part, and in an instant, Damian knew. Though Kryptonian's were vulnerable to magic like any other person, Mama Bogie would be in for one hell of a surprise. And that was just with him, if the intel he had was true . . .
"My name is Damian," he said, "And I think I have a plan to get us out of here."
The paralysis wore off somewhat and Damian crawled to the center of the pen. "Sin, Milagro, can you keep a secret?"
After a moment, they both took on a look defining deeper secrets they held without words. They glanced at each other and saw the mutual look, and smiled.
"Gather round, we don't want any eaves droppers."
"Like the Shreks would notice," Maxine murmured as the nine all crawled into a small circle. The creatures stood at the only exit, staring blankly into space, stopping only to pick its nose and play with what it drew out. Damian fought a reflexive shiver of disgust at seeing it.
"Mama Bogie doesn't know it, but we're almost all related to super heroes," Damian said, "Except Sin, Colin and Milagro."
“Really?” Maxine scratched her chin.
“So I guess this is the big ‘secret identity reveal’ thing,” Colin smiled, “This is so cool.”
“It is,” Damian said, “so lay your cards on the table, kids.”
"Well, let me surprise you," Milagro's words echoed a bit in the dungeon, silencing everything for a long moment. She mumbled an apology and added "My big brother's the Blue Beetle."
"I cannot claim direct connections," Sin said, "But I was adopted by the great Black Canary, and trained to be the next Shiva."
Damian didn't expect that and did his best to hide his surprise, even though Colin cautiously asked "Who?"
"Shiva's the greatest martial artist in the world," Damian said.
"And how do you know that?" Irey put her hands on her hips shot Damian a hard look.
"Because I also know that you are one of the Flash’s kids; that Tefe's the daughter of the Swamp Thing; and Chris is a Kryptonian."
The kids all looked at each other in surprise.
Damian smirked, "We're a regular Young Justice League."
“What about Colin?” Chris asked, “No offense, but—“
“I don’t have a super hero connection, but I do have powers.” Colin said, confidence rising in his voice.
Milagro turned away and mumbled, “Lucky.”
"So how do you know all this?” Irey asked him, to Damian’s annoyance. He weighed his options. It was dark in this place, and he already used his first name. It would be risky, but he had to earn their trust.
"-tt-. I'm Robin," Damian folded his arms and stood a little taller in the huddled group, "This isn't just a coincidence. It's destiny that I lead you. It's just happening far sooner than I expected."
"I’ll say, short stuff," Tefe rolled her eyes.
Damian growled, "Are you mocking me?"
“Please,” Colin said, raising a hand, “We have enough problems without fighting amongst ourselves.”
Maxine huffed, "If you got a plan to get us out, let’s hear it."
Damian sized Tefe up. Tefe was the oldest, probably 14 or so, and her white hair and green eyes were very distinctive. She didn't mind standing out, but probably did for a long time.
"Here's what we need to do . . ."
"I don't like this plan," Milagro pouted quietly to Damian.
"You have neither powers nor training," Damian answered in a far harsher whisper than Milagro's, "Just stay alive and you'll be fine."
They couldn’t break out of their cages thanks to the enchantments (only having the paralysis begin to wear off as their cage was drawn to an amphitheater), so they were forced to watch one of Mama Bogie’s games.
It was barbaric. Damian had seen gladiatorial contests before, but with unskilled children involved: frightened and powered by adrenaline, the deaths were not clean or pretty, but rife with blood, terror and suffering as the losers mostly bled out. With a wave of her hand, friends turned on each other and attacked each other with primal savagery. It was a sight he had seen before.
Damian could not help but think back to Victor Zsasz’s fighting pit, the one hundred twenty seven kids slaughtered similarly there. From the bone piles he’d seen lining several places, this had been going on for far longer. He couldn’t blame Milagro for being sickened by it, or Maxine from bursting into tears.
And that was before she unleashed the Jabberwock on a group of unsuspecting ‘captives’.
With each blow, with each drop of blood spilled, and with each death, Mama Bogie’ smiled and to Damian looked stronger. A horrid thought crossed his mind. This was her fuel. Her food. She was going to ‘eat’ them all, either all at once with the ‘gladiators’, or slowly with the workers. Their suffering was her nourishment. Enchanted to fight or to work until they could no longer stand. Or breathe.
Those that made it out alive from the more standard games were cut up, bruised and bloodied. Damian doubted they'd get treatment unless they ended this nightmare now.
Once they reached the sands of the amphitheater, the guards left them. Damian leaned in to Chris, "Do you think you have enough?"
"I think so," Chris answered nervously.
"We turned Tefe's hand into a small sun," Maxine answered before Chris could, her voice weak and eyes still with tears, but hardened by anger as well, "It better have."
"I think sitting still for that long was more miraculous."
"They're not you, Irey," Milagro teased.
"Naughty Children should be punished," Mama Bogie’s voice echoed in the theater, "But if they want to fight, I think a proper avenue for all that aggression. Fight until only one of you is standing!"
Focused, together, they felt the magic hit them, and wash against them. They were rocks in a river.
Mama Bogie blinked in surprise at first, but her face quickly twisted with rage.
Colin let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding, "Thank god those mud paintings worked. I was afraid I'd sweat mine off."
"I'll have to thank Uncle John again for that one," Tefe sighed.
Irey shivered, “I still can’t get over that they’re made with pee!”
Damian turned to the new Young Justice and smiled, "Alright, just as we planned."
They nodded and all together raised one finger in 'salute' to Mama Bogie.
Mama Bogie’s face twisted in anger, she stood and shouted, "RELEASE THE JABERWOCK!"
Rocks in the arena wall slid open and a large, dragon-like beast with horns along its back and glowing red eyes bellowed its hate.
"And there’s the pet monster," Damian smirked, glad to kill the beast which had earlier rent five kids to shreds moments before. Now it would pay. They all would. "Right on schedule. Go for it!"
Chris and Colin slammed into Mama Bogie so hard that the ground beneath her cracked open and they fell through the floor into one of the lower levels, scattering the ogres.
Colin learned something very important that day: Kryptonian’s were vulnerable to magic. Mama Bogie was focusing on keeping Chris down, with purple outlined black tendrils of energy from her hands. It had to be magic. As ‘Abuse’, Colin was big and stronger than any man, but nowhere near as strong as Chris could be, but her distraction was his boon.
Instead of trying to punch her rubbery flesh, he grabbed onto the jewelry and yanked with all his might. The clasps snapped and rings clattered to the ground.
“MY PRETTIES!” Mama Bogie shrieked, her teeth sharp and needle-like, “YOU BROKE MY PRETTIES!”
Some of the baubles shattered, releasing magical energy. Others bounced about and made sounds like firecrackers.
“I don’t like being ignored,” As battle banter went, that was the best Colin had ever managed.
Unbeknownst to any of the combatants, one of the lost baubles flew off with a green glow.
Inside the Arena, Damian felt a lot better. In a flash, Irey had filled his hands with what he asked for: swords, just his size. Knives for sin and a shield for Milagro.
"Now go find a safe spot!" Damian barked.
"And leave the dragon for you two?!" Milagro shouted as Sin immediately began to hack at the beast's legs, cutting only shallowly into it thighs.
“We got the training. They got the powers. You don’t have either.” Damian called back as he ran to help Sin as she deftly dodged the snapping jaws and rending claws. But they were close. When Damian finally joined Sin he seamlessly mirrored her actions. Still, they were not doing much damage. At the very least they keeping the beast busy. Milagro was torn. She couldn't just leave them to the monster, but she didn't know how to help.
She wanted to help Irey as she sped by each child and unlocked their cages and shackles, but she'd only slow her down.
The thought crossed her mind: maybe Damian was right. She was useless here.
Then she saw a blue click inside the dragon's throat. She'd sent hat sort of thing before when her dad worked in the shop with the blowtorch.
She was scared, really scared, but she couldn't just sit still.
She ran forward and leapt at the beast's mouth to Damian's horror, and raised her shield just in time to intercept a gout of flames that would have caught the two warriors. The shield heated quickly, but she realized even as she helped them, the shield wouldn't protect her completely. Better she be burned than let them die.
The then heat stopped as a green light overwhelmed her. Her burns were cooled and disappeared almost instantly. As her brain was struggling to figure out what was going on.
"Milagro Reyes of Sector 2814. You have shown the ability to overcome great fear. Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps."
The shield Milagro was holding had turned into molten slag, but now, a green energy shield took its place.
"Oh. My. Gosh. I'm like just like Guy!" Her face lit up with a gigantic smile.
With a thrust of her ring, a muzzle formed around the dragon, to its surprise. A pull and the beast was flipped on its back, where Sin and Damian tore out its throat in a single fluid motion, as though they practiced it together for years.
"Ewww!" Milagro shivered as Sin and Damian eyed each other in part admiration and part competition.
That's when Colin and Chris were slammed back into the arena.
Mama Bogie crawled out of the hole, bloodied and partly broken, but driven by rage and hate. "You naughty children! You disobey Mama, you teach other children to be naughty! And now you steal from Mama! Mama Bogie will teach you all a lesson! GIVE ME BACK MY RING!"
As Chris and Colin got up to their feet, bruised and a little worse for wear, Milagro floated instinctively in the air above them, "This ring was never yours to begin with!"
Her ring glowed with power before she thrust it out in a beam off pure destructive force. Mama Bogie screamed in pain but kept walking forward until her beam was joined with Chris Kent's heat vision--which dropped him to one knee very quickly. Milagro fell to her feet too.
"MY RING! MY PRETTIES!"
"Oh, shut up!" Tefe rolled her eyes and extended her hands and will along with Maxine, ripping her apart with the force of the Red. Before, she looked at least somewhat human. Now, her true face was revealed, twisted into caricature of the vilest of fairy tale witches from the heart of the Black Forest. Skin peeled away, reveling the green hued proper skin beneath, feline eyes and sporadic hairs across her warty body.
Mama Bogie howled, "No child can raise their hand against me and live! I am Mama Bogie! I raise my hands against you! That is the order of things!"
Maxine's throat echoed with a feral growl, "WE are stopping you here and now, together we can kill you!"
Under pressure from the Red, the ring and raw heat from the sun, Mama Bogie was torn apart. Gurgling screams of hate echoed in the hall, causing all the ogres to first freeze and then drop their weapons and run as they saw their master die painfully. The four heroes were brought to their knees from the effort, but when the dusts settled, Mama Bogie was little more than a burning red stain on the ground.
After the last of the children were freed off their shackles did Zatanna rip a hole into Mama Bogie’s dimension, leading the entire Justice League to rescue the kids, finding them celebrating the heroes of the hour. Things rushed from there, moving at a high speed blur for Milagro as earths newest and youngest Green Lantern.
Hal was horrified, but she (and Guy) wouldn't let him take away the slightly damaged ring that saved them all. Her brother was worried as heck, but Guy promised to train her.
That didn't ease Jaime's fears.
Before leaving, Damian gave her a card.
"I've seen enough super hero stuff to know we made a great team. And that means that bad guys are gonna be after us even more. So give that number a call if you need help."
"How about if we just wanna hang out?" She asked him.
Damian jaw dropped a little bit, but he quickly closed it and regained his composure, "What?"
"Ya know, because it might be fun to do that."
"-tt-, I suppose that you could, but mostly it's for big problems like super villains and assassins and--"
"How about we all get together and see a movie?"
Irey immediately picked her up in a hug, "Oh totally! We have to go see a movie together!"
"I have not seen many movies," Sin admitted, "It might be fun to see one with all of you."
"B-But we're a super hero team!"
"That doesn't mean we can't have fun," Chris shrugged, “I like movies.”
Damian shrugged and turned away from them "-tt-, whatever."