JUSTICE LEAGUE

10

Dates and Jarhead
 

"Well, see, I was thinking earlier when you guys were out saving the world..." Violet paused for dramatic effect. "I think we should have a Superhero Social!"

"A what?" Eric asked, looking up from the small children's toy he was playing with.

"A social, you know, like a dance?"

"Oh! With a theme? Maybe we could have a Hawaiian luau, or a mytho--" Scarlett began...

"Toga!" X-Raytor stood up. "Toga! Toga! Toga!" he chanted, soon several other males were chanting, too. Violet rolled her eyes.

"Fine...but you all have to wear undergarments...especially you, Studmuffin. I'd prefer not a repeat of that one time...yeah."

"So, when will it be?" Rosma asked.

"I'm thinking Thursday- this Thursday. Crime doesn't happen on Thursday."

"Or so the superheroes thought,” began the mysterious narrator type person as he drowned out the others. "But they would soon be proved wrong as their arch nemeses were plotting in a nearby building..."

"Excuse me! I'm still talking!" Violet shouted, thwacking the narrator on the head.

"Ow! Fine, continue--"

"Thank you." She smiled smugly. "Anyway- I think it should be Sadie Hawkins, too, so all us girls can ask the guys."

"But there are more guys then girls!" Twisk shouted.

"I'll take care of that," grinned Studmuffin. "Whoever doesn't have a date, can go with me. For some odd reason, everyone agreed.

"I already know who I’m asking,” Violet mentioned, stealing a glance at Iso who was coincidently not paying attention.

"What about food? I can take care of that, if you'd like," Oreo offered.

"No!" the superheroes shouted collectively.

"We can order food, there's a restaurant down the street," spoke Scarlett, picking up the phone.

"Where hungry people like to eat." someone randomly said, they were ignored.

"I'll organize decorations," Pinzz announced.

"Okay, so, I guess that’s all," Violet shrugged and sat down, letting her friends and associates talk and chatter amongst themselves about their plans.

***

Several hours later, the Violet Princess found herself sitting on Iso's bunk in his room as he worked away on his laptop. Still tracking supervillains, no doubt.

Looking up from her magazine, she pondered to herself. "Iso is quite handsome- I mean, he's my friend and all...but...would he...

"So, Iso, are you planning on going to the dance?" She asked nonchalantly.

"Probably not."

"Oh, well, in case you do-- I was wondering--"

Iso looked at Violet quizzically, almost with a sense of knowing.

"Well, it's a waste of time. I don't think I'll be going," he replied after some thought. He didn't sound too convincing, though.

"Oh." Violet returned in a very small voice and left the room, trying to conceal the tiny tear that traced down one cheek. Iso stood up from his chair and walked to the doorway, picking up the magazine that his friend had dropped and placed it on his bed, before sitting down on the comforter, his hands resting in his lap.

***

Isomorphix looked down at the magazine that he had picked up and placed on the bunk.

Then he seemed to look up at the spot Violet was standing.

Something stirred inside him. He couldn't place it... as if the feeling had been lost to him a long time ago.

Guilt?

Rubbish. It's a foolish dance, after all. Lives are saved through my actions... I can't go and attend a ridiculous gathering full of strobe lights and God knows what else. Isomorphix reasoned.

His eyes glanced back at the empty doorway.

Besides... it's not like one petty dance means much to a person...

With that, Isomorphix booted up the computer and began interfacing with the JL Database.

***

After the meeting where the social was announced, Scarlett looked at her prospects...

Hmmm... she thought to herself, scanning the room. She had a feeling Violet already had dibs on Iso. As for the other guys...well...

Studmuffin...eck. Not her type.

Superdude was out. He'd been chugging slushies in his off time ever since the Super Market incident, and he was pretty much worthless for any fun.

Eric...no way.

Omega kind of freaked her out.

She noticed Oreo chatting with X-Raytor, so she assumed he was already taken, too.

So. Looked like it would be Midnight Chatter.

That was fine with her. They got along pretty well, after all. And he had helped her clear her name and stuff. So she strode over to the kitchen, where Midnight was feeding Llama-Boy.

"Hey, Midnight?"

Midnight put up the bag of llama food and looked at Scarlett. "Yeah? Do you need me for something, 'cause I just finished feeding Llama-Boy and I really don't have anything to do. I guess I could run to the mall and try to find a toga for the party, but no one's-"

Scarlett cut him off. "You know, we've uh...these last few weeks have been a lot of fun with you as my nighthawking partner and stuff. And you were a great lawyer and all."

"Thanks. It wasn't really hard, but I was surprised I remembered all those bits and pieces of all those speech--"

Scarlett interrupted him again. "Anyways, Midnight, I was wondering if you...uh..." Scarlett froze. This was a lot harder than she thought. She was glad she wasn't a guy. It must be hard for guys, having to face possible rejection every time they asked someone out.

"What? Wondering if I'd what?"

"WouldyougototheJusticeLeagueTogaPartywithme?" Scarlett asked in one quick breath.

Midnight Chatter smiled. "Sure!" He grinned at her.

"Great! I'm...uh...I'm just, uh...gonna go call the restaurant to see about food," she said, exiting the kitchen with lightening speed and rather red, blushing cheeks.

She called the restaurant, and it turned out that yes, they did indeed have food that hungry people liked to eat. So Scarlett ordered a variety and then hung up. She started to walk over to the Justice League Walk-In Closet, but X-Raytor stopped her.

"What's up?" she asked him. He stuttered for a few minutes. He seemed to want to ask her something, but Scarlett wasn't sure what.

"What are you trying to ask me?"

"Will you marry Ted?"

"What? Have you been drinking, X-Raytor? You know you're underage...Heck, all of ya'll are!"

"No, I'm not. Not since the end of June."

"Oh."

"But, uh, that's not what I meant to ask."

"What, then?"

He cleared his throat, and then said, "Please ask me to go to the Justice league social so that I don't have to sit alone and look at porn and have cyber sex!!!!!" He held up a sign that read "Available" in big hot pink letters.

Scarlett blinked.

Tried to close her eyes and shut out the mental image X-Raytor's words had formed in her mind.

"Well, uh...Actually, I already asked Midnight Chatter. Besides, aren't you going with Oreo Avenger?"

"What are you talking about? That whack-job just spent ten minutes detailing her grandmother's Oreo cake recipe for me!"

"Oh. Uh. Well. Try asking someone else. I doubt anyone's asked Pinzz already."

With that, Scarlett retreated to the Justice League Walk-In Closet to find a toga for the party.

***

Oreo Avenger walked up to X-Raytor.

"No! I do not want to hear what else Oreo cake can do!" X-Raytor backed away.

"That's not what I was going to say to you." Oreo Avenger scowled. "You see, I've noticed something about the two of us. Um . . . we've got something in common, and . . . well . . . " She fidgeted nervously with her cape.

X-Raytor leered at her. "Are you trying to ask me to the dance?"

"No," Oreo Avenger said, laughing. "I'm already going with Superdude. I just noticed that you also have an unusually large head, and I was wondering if you knew the Dance."

"The Dance?" he asked, capitalizing the 'D'.

Oreo Avenger nodded. Which is different from nodding, in that it doesn't require as much effort. "The Dance of Eternal Happiness. It's . . . well . . . only a select few are able to do it."

X-Raytor nodded and backed away slowly. When he was far enough away from Oreo Avenger, he turned and ran up the stairs. She shrugged. Apparently he was under an Oath of Silence about it too.

***

The ground shook. Then it trembled again, and again, like something huge outside was making an extra effort to sound impressive. Plaster from the ceiling crashed to the floor, one rather large piece beaning X-Raytor on the head.

"Ow," X-Raytor said, rubbing his throbbing head and shaking white powder from his hair.

Pinzz look annoyed towards the general direction the noise was coming from. "We're trying to watch a movie here!" she shouted. "X-Raytor, can you take a look at what kind of moron would disturb us?"

"But my head still hurts." X-Raytor complained.

"Just do it!"

"Fine, fine." X-Raytor lifted up his tinfoil glasses and looked out through the walls, spying a hulking behemoth of a man outside, jumping up and down. "It's some guy jumping."

"Why the heck is he jumping?" Pinzz demanded, standing up.

"Maybe he hates ants?" X-Raytor shrugged.

"You guys, shush! The movie is getting to the best part!" Crystal cried, pulling Pinzz back down onto the couch.

The ground continued to quake.

"Don't shush me! There's an idiot outside who needs a serious ass-whuppin'!" Pinzz stood back up, pressing the device behind her ear and activating her silvery stuff.

Rosma sighed. "Haven't we fought enough villains for one day? Come on, I'm sure whoever he is will tire out and go home. Let's just watch the movie."

Another large chunk of plaster dislodged from the ceiling and hit X-Raytor in the head, effectively knocking him unconscious.

"That must have hurt." Studmuffin observed.

"I don't care if this movie has Brad Pitt naked in it, I'm going to teach this buffoon not to jump on Justice League territory!" Before anyone could stop her, Pinzz launched her silvery stuff towards the ceiling and swung out through a window. Most of the windows were already broken from Radioactive Bubba's visit. However, Pinzz just had to pick the one window that had not been broken.

Rosma started to shiver, the draft starting to get to her, while Crystal munched on popcorn like there was no tomorrow.

"Cold?" Studmuffin asked, holding up a blanket.

Rosma was speechless for a moment. "Why, thank you. I never thought you could be so considerate."

"No problem." Studmuffin scooted next to Rosma, a bit too close for comfort, and draped the blanket over himself, giving Rosma an inch of cloth.

"As I was saying…" Rosma trailed off, with a typical annoyance in her voice towards Studmuffin.

The ground, which had been silent for a few minutes since Pinzz had left, gave a mighty upheaval. A scream echoed from outside. A loud crash. Pinzz came flying through a window the wrong way, hitting the wall with a horrible smacking sound. She hit the ground with a lifeless thud.

Rosma sprang up, alarmed, and more then a little grateful for an excuse to get away from Studmuffin. She rushed over to Pinzz.

"Pinzz? Pinzz! Speak to me!" Rosma shouted. No response. Rosma reached down and touched Pinzz's neck, searching desperately for a pulse. "She's still alive!"

"Nuts." Crystal muttered, between bites of popcorn.

Another tremor jarred the Justice League, sending plaster powder from the ceiling down like snow, covering everything. A large piece of plaster fell and whacked Crystal on the head, causing her to begin choking on a piece of popcorn. She stood up, coughing, and tripped over X-Raytor's motionless leg. Her head struck against a piece of rubble, rendering her unconscious at X-Raytor's feet.

"Are you starting to get irked by this fella outside too?" Rosma asked Studmuffin, brushing off the thin layer of powder on her.

"Actually, I have to go to the bathroom. I can never watch a movie and drink a 20ltr bottle of Root Beer and not have to go!"

"You're pathetic. You know that, right?" Rosma shook her head sadly.

"Yeah, I've known from an early age."

KA-BOOOM! A fist appeared where a section of wall used to be.

"Great, now we'll have to put a door there. Well, hurry up and go! I'll hold him off until you can get back."

Studmuffin flexed his pecs and began to levitate, flying off to find the bathroom.

"Alright, jarhead, let's dance." Rosma said in a darkly menacing voice. She even surprised herself with that line.

The brute steeped over the rubble and into the Justice League HQ. "How did you know my name?" He said in a slow, but distinctly British accent, ducking his head in.

His head caught Rosma's eye. It was quite literally an actual jar. "Umm, I, umm…" Rosma stammered.

"Are you making fun of Jarhead? Jarhead no like bloody blokes who make fun of him!" The lid of the jar opened and closed when he talked. Jarhead arched his back, arms level with his shoulders, and let out a ghastly roar. He seemed to bulk up as he roared. Rosma could see his shirtless chest bulge.

"Why does he remind me so much of Studmuffin?"

Jarhead crouched down, into a huddle position. "We're gonna play a little Rugby. You game?"

"I'm always game." Rosma bent down into the same position. "Bring it."

"RRRAAAAWWRR!!" Jarhead vaulted off into a full run, his bulky arms swinging wildly back and forth.

Rosma let out her own version of a roar and started off, a look of sheer determination blazing in her eyes.

The two made a mad dash towards each other. Jarhead's heavy footsteps resounded off the HQ's dome, and even though Jarhead out-massed Rosma by more than four times, she still continued towards him in a flurry of little footsteps. Mere yards away and closing, Jarhead arced his meaty fist up.

"RRRAAAWWWRR!" Jarhead swung down at Rosma with perfect accuracy, and just a mere millimeter from contact, Rosma vanished. The disappearance caught Jarhead by such surprise he tripped over his own feet, and hit the ground, fist first. The impact of his fist crushed through the polished marble floor, creating a small crater.

Jarhead leaped up, and looked around frantically. "No fair! …Where did the bloody bloke go?" Jarhead snarled, scanning the room. He rushed up to a table, and with a single fist, brought it down and smashed the table to kindling. Not finding Rosma there, he grabbed a chair and flung it in frustration. The chair exploded against a wall into a shower of sawdust and shards.

A laugh echoed throughout the room. One of the splintered pieces of table rose into the air as if by magic. The mystical movement captivated Jarhead. It moved left, then right, then WHACK! against his head, the wood breaking in half. Jarhead let out a cry and swung his fist wildly out in front, but caught only air. Another laugh haunted Jarhead has he searched frantically for its source. Enraged and unable to think of anything, Jarhead slammed his foot down, creating another jolting tremor that loosened more plaster from the ceiling. The fine white powder fell, and landed on Rosma, creating an outline. Rosma looked at her arm, and realized just as Jarhead locked eyes on her.

"Oh…crap." Rosma dived behind an overturned table. Jarhead rushed at it, slamming into it and skidding across the floor, pushing the table into the wall and trapping Rosma.

"Ha! Caught the little bugger."

Barely able to breath, Rosma peered out desperately through a crack. What the hell is keeping Studmuffin?!


Meanwhile…

Studmuffin glided down the hall, his feet two inches from the floor, and his hands cupping his crotch. "Just where the hell is our bathroom! I don't think I can last much longer!"

He frantically opened one door after another, finding nothing but sleeping quarters. "What's with this place? It's like a freakin' 'Where's Waldo' with the bathroom! And I was never good at those, either."


Back at the fight…

Rosma tried to call out to X-Raytor. A slight trickle of drool rolled down his chin. Rosma tried getting the attention of Crystal. Popcorn was stuck all throughout her hair, but no movement on her behalf. Rosma called out to Pinzz, who still lay crumpled on the ground. And Studmuffin? Rosma was sure he'd gotten lost again. Typical. Why couldn't she have gotten more offensive powers? Invisibility sucked when you were coated with plaster powder and wedged between a marble wall and thick oak table. Why couldn't a lightning bolt that would give her immense strength, or commend over fire have struck her? Instead, she had been dealt the lame old Lightning Bolt of Invisibility. Big whoop. And now, she was about to be crushed to death because of it. Stupid Studmuffin and his Root Beer and small bladder. Jarhead was beginning to apply pressure against the table, slowly crushing the air out of her lungs. She gasped for breath, but there was no room for it. Jarhead continued pushing in. The table creaked. Rosma could feel the last shreds of consciousness slipping. She felt dizzy, everything around her was becoming blurry. The last thing she heard was the assaulting sound of Jarhead's laugh.


Meanwhile…

Studmuffin marched out of a room, proud of himself, zipping up his pants. "Now that feels much better! Hmm, wasn't I supposed to do something after this? I know there's something…"

He heard a faint but desperate plea to Pinzz. Pinzz? Studmuffin thought. But wasn't she knocked out by that…oooooh. Studmuffin flexed his biceps, and rocked down the hall, zipping around corners, as fast as he could to get back to the Meeting Hall.


Back at the fight…

Jarhead peeled back the table. Rosma's limp body rolled out. "Har har! Nobodee makes fun of Jarhead!"

"Well, of course not, with baby food for brains, it's all over your head anyway! Oh, excuse me, it's all over your 'jar'." Studmuffin slowly descended from up near the dome of the Meeting Hall.

"Ha, puny bloke, you think you can take meh?"

"Oh, I can more then take you. I can obliterate you." The air around Studmuffin began to vibrate softly. He scanned the room, noting each of his fallen comrades. "You mess with the Justice League, you mess with me."

"What a bloody cliché. I've had about as much prebattle banter as I can stand. Let's just get down to business, I want to kill you." Jarhead lifted up the 200-pound oak table with one arm and tossed it casually aside. It slammed against the TV, shattering the screen and sending sparks flying.

"You can kill my friends. You can murder my wife. You can kick my dog. But nobody, absolutely nobody, breaks my TV!!" Studmuffin clenched his fists together, knuckles turning white. The air around him began vibrating even more rapidly. "You're mine."

In an instant, Studmuffin dropped to the floor, kicked off from it and flew straight towards Jarhead. Within a blink of an eye, Studmuffin's fist was in Jarhead's gut. Jarhead sunk forward, unable to bring air into his lungs. A swift uppercut sent his head and body flying backwards. Two more powerful punches into Jarhead's stomach sent him reeling backwards. Studmuffin hopped back, then jumped into the air, spinning towards Jarhead and landing a cracking kick to his head. Jarhead spun around, dizzy, almost losing his balance. Then Jarhead arched his back in sudden pain, from a potent punch into his kidney. Studmuffin dropped to the ground and spun around, sweeping Jarhead's feet off the ground. He hit the ground with a satisfying thud. Studmuffin brought his elbow down on Jarhead's throat, collapsing it momentarily.

Studmuffin got up and stood over Jarhead, looking down at him with a cold expression. "Get up."

Regaining his ability to breath, he glared back up at Studmuffin and curled his lid in disgust. This little man had some muscles, but couldn't possibly have near the strength he did! So how could he be losing? Jarhead knew. This little man had merely caught him off guard. He'd make amends to that.

"You win, ya bloody bastard. You're just too strong for me." Jarhead said has he stood up, wrenching from the various bruises he'd been dealt. "Yep, I'm just too…WEAK!" Jarhead lunged at Studmuffin, catching him in the face with a right hook. Studmuffin went flying across the room, hitting and shattering the west wall. Chunks of marble flew every which way, and dust enveloped the entire area, carried by the shockwave of the impact.

The dust soon settled, and Studmuffin lay buried under the rubble. Jarhead let out the standard villain-thinks-he's-won-prematurely laugh. "Aww, is it over all ready? And I was just warming up!" Jarhead chuckled again.

The ground began to rumble. A voice bellowed out from the debris, "I haven't even begun." The pile of torn wall exploded; a chunk of marble smacked Jarhead in the face. Recovering from the bash, Jarhead glanced at where the pile used to be. There stood Studmuffin, aglow in a hazy white light, large sections of the broken wall slowly rotating around him, as if gravity in his vicinity no longer existed. His hair flew untamed straight up, as if a powerful fan lay just beneath his feet. "You like to smash things, don'tcha? Well, try this!"

Studmuffin directed his hand forward, and one of the large pieces of wall responded by flying forward towards Jarhead. It slashed into his shoulder, cutting deeply. Jarhead let out a scream, clenching at his wound as blood overflowed around his hand.

"You'll…you'll pay for that." Jarhead hissed.

"Accept credit?" Studmuffin let loose another stone. It flew toward Jarhead at such an incredible velocity it let out a sonic boom the instant Jarhead set one of his feet back to brace himself.

CRR-AACK! BAM! thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk

Jarhead stood, arm extended, fist clenched, bleeding, a cloud of dust dissipating as shards of rock hit the ground. His face twitched with pain. "T-that…all…you've got?" His left arm hung limply.

Studmuffin directed two more boulders at once, flung out so hard as to create two simultaneous sonic booms.

BAM! CRRAAA- BAMBAM!! thunk-thunkthunk-thunk-thunkthunkthunk-thunkthunk

Jarhead managed to summon the strength to move his left arm, and stood with a second bleeding fist and cut forearm. He breathed heavily, sweat beading across his body.

"Impressive," Studmuffin complimented, "but ultimately futile." He spread out his arms, level with his shoulders, and then flung them forward, the remain 7 boulders shooting out to the left and right, curving back around to hit Jarhead from both sides at once. As Jarhead was distracted with the oncoming stones, Studmuffin leaped backwards, touching his foot to a twisted support beam, and launched off of it. Jarhead was completely open, both hands engaged on either side. He didn't even see it coming.

Jarhead fell to his knees, clutching his stomach, three ribs shattered. He coughed up blood. Studmuffin floated in front of him. Whhh-CR SMACK! A sudden knee to the face snapped back Jarhead's head. Just as he was about to collapse, Studmuffin caught him by the throat, and lifted him up off his feet.

"Your first mistake was coming here. Your second was crushing my TV. I don't mind the plaster falling; that was kinda funny. But the TV was crossing the line, buddy. Why did you come here?"

The lid of Jarhead curved upwards, in a sort of sick smile. Blood dribbled down from his mouth. He started to laugh, but gagged on his own blood. "Burn…in hell."

"I'll be sure to look for you there." Studmuffin held up his free hand against Jarhead's chest. Focusing his chi, he directed the energy of his body into a single point in the palm of his hand. "H- KAH!" A brilliant light engulfed Jarhead, then contracted into a beam straight through his chest, burning his pulsating heart into blackened ash.

Jarhead let out a bitter scream as the force of the blast knocked him out of Studmuffin's grip and propelled him through the air, until finally smacking against the east wall. A round, gaping hole existed in his chest, a sizzling foot in diameter, smoke aimlessly floating up and out. He hit the ground, legs buckling out, and collapsed in a dead heap.

Studmuffin floated over to Rosma, checked her pulse. Still alive, still breathing. He looked over at Pinzz, who never had a chance taking on that animal to begin with. He glanced over at X-Raytor, who had slumped out of the couch during the fighting and was now lying on top of Crystal. He grinned, wondering which of them would wake up first. He then surveyed the Meeting Hall. The entire west wall was demolished. All the windows were shattered. Glass and rubble lay everywhere. The large hole from where Jarhead had made his own entrance scarred the east wall. The TV lay crushed like a tin can beneath the weighty, legless polished oak table. Various pieces of furniture were smashed, their remains littering the area. A lengthy crack in the floor extended from the south wall to the north wall, converging on a crater. Rosma lay unconscious against the north wall. The once beautiful marble support columns of the Meeting Hall lay toppled, shattered. It'd take a lifetime to clean and refurbish the premises. He began to wonder why the hell the Justice League HQ didn't have any kind of automated defenses. It seemed anyone could walk into the place and tear it apart nowadays.

"Penny for your thoughts?" someone asked from behind. Studmuffin turned around. "Ya bloody bloke."

"Im…possible…" Studmuffin gazed in disbelief, eyes wide at the sight. Jarhead stood, blood oozing down from his mouth and eyes, his hand clutching the rim of the hole in his cheast. Covered in sweat and blood, he lurched forward.

"You…and your…*gack* pathetic…*guggle* Justice League friends…*heavy breathing, followed by a spurt of blood* are doomed. Hmhm, hmhm, hmhmahahAHAHAHAH!!!" In a sudden gesture, Jarhead raised his arms into the air and roared. Something unreal surged through his body. His muscles bulked up, the cuts and scraps on his forearm and fists dissolved; the slash on his shoulder shrank, scabbed over, and then melted away. He continued bellowing, almost as if he was constipated. The hole in his chest started to ooze. Strands shot out and connected to opposite ends, and slowly began filling in the hole. Within moments, not a trace of damage could be seen on Jarhead. "Do you see? Do you see it?! Ha! Even if you buggars somehow defeat me, there are more just like me! We will win. You're all DOOOMED!"

A banging was heard from the other side of the north wall. A faint voice yelled out, "Keep it down in there! I'm trying to get some sleep!"

Studmuffin whispered, "Cut the apocalyptic crap. So you can regenerate. Big deal. I know lizards who can do the same thing."

Jarhead whispered, "You've got a lot to learn, boy."

Studmuffin, still whispering, "I'll buy the cliffnotes." Studmuffin jumped up, doing a fancy flip, and landed right behind Jarhead. A quick jab of the elbow stunned Jarhead, and not waiting for him to recuperate, Studmuffin ducked down with a sweep kick, and leaped up before Jarhead hit the ground, gripping both fists together and slamming them down into Jarhead's spine, midair. A snap was heard, and Jarhead lay motionless on the ground.

A powerful kick to the side sent Jarhead straight up into the air again, and a fast jab sent Jarhead flying through the east wall. Studmuffin sighed at the second hole, and flew out through it to find Jarhead.

Since it was the peak of nightfall, everything was pitch black. Lights from the HQ casted deep shadows behind the numerous trees and bushes around the Justice League edifice. To the east, the area expanded into a state park, a thick forest generally safe for someone to traverse. But he hadn't heard the impact of Jarhead hitting against any tree, nor saw the movement of any treetops.

Jarhead was out here, waiting for him, Studmuffin knew. It was a hot night, very dry and harsh on the throat. His senses became alive, tingling, as adrenaline flushed through his veins. He ducked down, watching intently for any sign of movement. A bush quivered. Instinctually, he snapped his hand out, palm first, generating an energy blast that vaporized the bush and hit a tree behind it, exploding the trunk in a sizzling display of fireworks. A rabbit scurried out from where most of the bush used to exist, scared beyond believe. Crap. Studmuffin thought. Now Jarhead had the advantage, having given away his own location in that rash maneuver. Studmuffin knew it would be Jarhead who would reinitiate the fight, not him any longer. A surprise attack, when he wasn't paying any attention.

An impact to the back of the head sent Studmuffin sprawling to the ground. Already he's on me! Studmuffin tried getting up, only to be kicked back down. Another kick was made to the head. The world seemed to be spinning around Studmuffin. He felt himself lifted up, and then hurled across the field. A few moments later he smacked into a tree. He felt his back stretch and crack, his feet almost touching the top of his head. He hit the ground. The night was suddenly full of bright spots all over. One of his eyes didn't seem to work. His leg felt numb. He began to stand up anyway.

Over the ringing in his ears, Studmuffin heard a sound. Not knowing what it was, he lifted his arm. A block! He managed to deflect an incoming blow. A stirring of air to his lower right. He thrusted his arm towards it, and caught a leg. He grabbed hold, and swung it around against the tree. The weight of it seemed to drop by a large majority on impact. He must have broken Jarhead's leg against the tree, he reasoned. A howl of pain confirmed that. He let go, shaking his head and trying to regain any sort of assemblage of vision as Jarhead regenerated his leg.

There, he could see, just as Jarhead's outline was standing up. Studmuffin made a frantic sidekick, and a second without bringing his leg down, and then on the third he kept his leg tucked in as he spun until his foot was in line directly with Jarhead's chest, and he kicked forward. Jarhead went flying back into a distant tree, snapping it at the base. The tree collapsed as Studmuffin flew in chase towards Jarhead and brought his fist back, ready for a right-hook to Jarhead's head. Jarhead brought his left arm up and blocked the punch, then fired off one of his own straight into Studmuffin's nose. Studmuffin fell back a couple yards. Jarhead lunged at Studmuffin in a fury of fists, and he was hard-pressed blocking them. Then in a moment of miscalculation, Jarhead left himself open, and Studmuffin made a direct hit to his head. Jarhead reeled backward, holding the side of his face. He bumped into the felled tree, and looking down at it, he wasted no time in thought and grabbed hold of the tree, lifting the mighty thing up and swinging it at Studmuffin. SMACK! The impact nearly fractured Studmuffin's left arm as he went flying out of control deeper into the forest.

Studmuffin landed face-first into a small stream. The ice-cold water immediately motivated him to spring up, wiping mud from the side of his face. Once again the two combatants were momentarily separated by the shield of darkness. But it wouldn't last long. They were evenly matched, both in strength and skill. However, Jarhead could regenerate any damage dealt to him. But so far, he hadn't shown any ability to project energy from his body, nor fly. That was two points for Studmuffin. But how many points should Jarhead get for regeneration? Studmuffin scratched his head, pondering.

He sat down facing the stream, and grabbed a stick. He drew himself and Jarhead in the mud, in high-quality stick-figure art, which he felt accurately portrayed them. He made a line beneath Jarhead to represent the ground. "Okay, if I shoot him with an energy blast, he can recuperate." Studmuffin etches a Line of Death from his stick figure's hand into the belly of Jarhead, with resulting stick-figure explosion. Studmuffin mimicked the sounds it would all make with his mouth.

"Tssewww…Ka-BOOM!" And in a high-pitched mock of Jarhead's voice, Studmuffin began to create a story. "’Ha ha ha! Stoopid humaaan! You can't hurt me! Ah hahaha! I'm so stupid!' Oh yeah? ' Yeah!' Well, you're stupid! 'You're stupider!' Well, you smell! 'I'm rubber, you're glue!' Nu-uh! 'Uh-huh!' …man, this guy's good."

Studmuffin stood up, wiping his butt clean of anything that might have gotten stuck to it while he sat. He stepped on the stick-figure of Jarhead and pressed in deep. "Ha! Take that. Loser."

"Take what? Your life?" Jarhead emerged into the clearing, fully healed and pumped up.

"No, just drawing us in the mud and kicking your butt, that's all."

"Ah, I do that sometimes too, mate."

"You do?"

"Yep."

"Cool."

"So…shouldn't we have been fighting like, ten seconds ago?"

"Probably."

Jarhead shrugs. "Well then?"

"Oh, you want me to make the first move?"

"It's only polite."

"Well, that's nice of you."

"I try to be courteous sometimes, right before I rip their bloody spine out."

Studmuffin jumped up, and continued going up, flying higher than the treetops, watching Jarhead's form grow smaller and smaller. "Well, that takes care of one advantage. Now for the other." Studmuffin pressed his palms together, closed his eyes, and began concentrating, drawing up the latent energy in his body. He'd need a lot of Taco Bell burritos after this one.

An aurora of light erupted all around Studmuffin. His eyes shot open, vacant of any form of pupil. Pure, glowing white. Short random yellow streaks of electricity rolled up and down his body. Static was building around him, the air seeping with ionization. The random streaks of electricity became more and more localized around his hands, still pressed closely together. The air smelled heavy, filled with the sound of snapping electrical sparks. Light began streaming from between his palms. He clenched his hands into fists, and brought his elbows back, his firsts near either armpit. Light streamed from in-between his fingers, and was growing brighter by the moment. A grin crept across the corner of Studmuffin's mouth.

"HYY-KAAAAAAAAAAAHH!!" Studmuffin snapped his right arm forward opening his hand just before bringing it back to his side and snapping his left hand forward, releasing one potent energy blast after another. He began alternating between the two hands so fast that they became an invisible blur, hundreds of individual energy beams a second being launched directly at Jarhead on the ground from above. The shockwave alone bent all the trees back, sheering off their leafs.

"HYHYHYHYHYYHYHYHYHYHYHYHYHYHY!!!!" The forest below ripped apart, exploding in a churning inferno of searing earth, melting rock, incinerated wood, and pure destructive energy. The entire area was engulfed by an intense dome of energy, and Studmuffin still continued firing. A second massive shockwave roared out across the county, shattering windows all around. And Studmuffin still continued his machinegun attack. He knew that if he was to be successful in destroying Jarhead, every ounce of his being had to be vaporized, to ensure that no small part of him could regenerate. The ground below was mulched into lava, setting the surviving forest aflame. And Studmuffin continued his rain of destruction until he was exhausted, and could no longer produce an adequate blast. He stopped, panting, beaded with sweat. The area was incinerated, not a trace of vegetation existed. He hovered over only a massive, blackened crater of cooling lava.

Studmuffin looked back over at the Head Quarters. "Err…oops." The shockwaves had hit the HQ hardest, collapsing its entire eastern wing. "I'll just blame it all on Jarhead."

"I'm not sure I'd appreciate of that, you bloody brigand."

Studmuffin spun around, and there, floating above the crater with him, was Jarhead. What the…since when the hell can he fly too?!

"Aren't you just lovin' this?" Jarhead grinned diabolically. Before Studmuffin knew it, his face was against Jarhead's fist. He felt himself falling, but was too weak and exhausted to slow his plunge. He smashed into the blackened earth at full force. He wasn't sure how many bones he had just broken. He couldn't move. Pain riveted his entire body, dancing up his spine and burning into his brain. Jarhead descended, grinning, and stood over Studmuffin's broken body. "How's it feel, buggar?" Jarhead leaned over close, so close Studmuffin could smell the stench of his breath. A cheese sandwich and garlic, Studmuffin could tell. Swiss and cheddar cheese, too. "Oooh, the things I could do to you. You'd beg me for death."

Studmuffin couldn't make his mouth move, couldn't speak, or make any sort of witty retort.

"Playing the silent game, are we? Well, I know how to make a plebian howl!" Jarhead arched back his fist, ready to do unspeakable things to Studmuffin. A blank look washed over Jarhead's face suddenly, and he stood hunched over Studmuffin, unmoving, for three minutes. His eyes were distant, as if he were mentally somewhere completely different. And then without any sort of change in his expression, he stood up, lifted off, and flew away.

Moments later, Scarlett Fyre came walking over the western crest of the massive crater in her nightgown. She rubbed her eyes tiredly and yawned. Then yelled out to Studmuffin sprawled out on the other end of the crater, "Hey, I told you to keep it down! Now thanks to you, I didn't get a wink of sleep! And now it's morning, and I have to go make breakfast. Don't you dare balk if you find anything unseemly in yours! You deserve it, you lousy late night noise-maker…"

Scarlett Fyre stalked off. Studmuffin couldn't call out to her for help. He was paralyzed, and couldn't make a sound. He could see the sun coming up over the ridge of the crater. They'd find him, eventually. …he hoped.

***

Clap-Clap-Clap.

The distinct sound of slow applause entered Studmuffin's ears despite his incredible pain and ringing in his head. Slowly, looking over with all his effort, Studmuffin focused in on the figure leaning back against the remains of the East Wall of the now ravaged JL Main Hall. His blurred vision began to sharpen, and he could now see Isomorphix's clear figure looking back at him.

"Clash of the Titans, I see," Isomorphix said nonchalantly with a straight face.

"I must admit, we're in trouble if our strongest member is beaten to a bloody pulp like this," he mused. "However, I think it was more your lack of intellect than your lack of strength."

"Shut up and help me out," Studmuffin managed to whisper hoarsely, as if the barely audible sound had taken great effort to escape his lungs.

Isomorphix let out a breath, and put his weight on both of his feet, now fully standing.

He looked out at the entire scene... the forest he had been fighting in only a day or two ago... all a big charred wasteland.

Incredible. Even I didn't think Studmuffin could do that, Isomorphix thought with a bit of awe as he walked over the blackened ground to where the fallen superhero lay.

"Alright, put your arm over my shoulder and try to limp on your good leg," Isomorphix instructed as he lifted the broken and battered Studmuffin from the middle of the crater he had been lying in.

He didn't seem capable of movement, so Isomorphix was forced to drag him along.

Studmuffin seemed to complain wordlessly, his facial features contorting into that of pain.

Isomorphix ignored it. His mind was already racing with thoughts and trying to sort out relevant information.

What was that... that Jarhead? And who could possibly control such a thing? It was apparent he wasn't doing it out of his own will... too stupid. And if he was indeed being used, what motive did Jarhead have to cooperate? Perhaps he didn't need one, other than being able to harm others. And, that being said, does it have any relevant links with the current scheme I'm trying to uncover?

Isomorphix thought of Jarhead again. The sheer strength and abilities of the beast were downright ludicrous. If Isomorphix had fought it... No, he had no doubt in his mind. He'd be dead.

Isomorphix caught Studmuffin as he nearly fell again, hobbling over some stones that had been left intact.

It was a long and tedious walk, but they made it to the JL Clinical building which was on the far side of the compound, unaffected by the battle that took place opposite to it.

Stepping aside the occasional glass vial that had fallen over from the shockwaves, Isomorphix helped Studmuffin into a bed and the nurse started on him immediately.

Isomorphix had walked back to the hollow shell that was the JL Main hall. He walked in to find that the ceiling had slid down to one side, giving the structure a slanted look. Isomorphix was surprised the whole thing didn't come down on top of them.

Looking at Pinzz, Isomorphix picked her up and looked down at the others. It seemed that Crystal and X-Raytor were regaining consciousness and Scarlett Fyre was bent over Rosma, helping the groggy girl get back on her feet.

In a few minutes, Pinzz was in a bed next to Roseidous, with the similar IVs running back and forth from her body as well.

Most of the JL members had finally realized the gravity of the situation and were now huddled in the Clinical building, some in the medical room that housed Stud and Pinzz, others in the waiting room area.

"Who could do this to Studmuffin? I thought he was invincible," Rosma wailed.

"How are they, nurse?" Violet asked.

"Pinzz has become stable now, and should be recovering shortly... Studmuffin, on the other hand... he suffered serious wounds. I don't really know..." the nurse said, looking down upon the unconscious, yet breathing Studmuffin.

"And here I thought that he was just sleeping there!" Scarlett fretted.

"And there goes the JL Social... for now, anyway," X-Raytor said in a sarcastic tone.

Isomorphix heard the conversations fade as he left the building. He now had things to do.

***

Xiao woke up, unaware of the battle that had gone on right outside (being an evil being's slave takes a lot of energy out of a girl..). She didn't even know the social had been canceled. Which is why she ran over to OMEGA and told him that her uh, mother had died or something and she would be out of town so, sorry, no date. He seemed to take it fairly well- he only threw four objects after her.

After going outside, Oreo Avenger explained to her what had happened between Studmuffin and Jarhead.

"They should've called me! It's not like you can up and regenerate a soul!!!" Xiao scowled. "Oh well. That'll teach them. Er, I mean, are they okay?"

"Rosma, X-Raytor, Crystal, Pinzz, and Studmuffin are in the Clinic." Oreo said, ignoring her little rant.

"Hahaha. Pinzz? Crystal? What'd they do- break a nail?" Xiao laughed, then realized it wasn't a very funny joke. "What happened to them?"

"Some chunks of plaster hit them in the heads. Pinzz ran into a closed window." Oreo shrugged. "Well, I need something to munch on. Want anything?"

"No, no, that's alright." Xiao said, backing away. She waited until Oreo had entered the building to follow, glancing only once more at the carnage.

***

The next few days seemed to go by in a blur.

Everyone had recovered save for Pinzz and Studmuffin, who were still bedridden.

Pinzz seemed to have recovered enough to speak with the others, but was still confined to the clinic bed.

Studmuffin, on the other hand, had taken a turn for the worse. He had slipped into a coma only eight hours after being medicated. No one knew when or if he'd ever come out of it.

It was a dark time... full of confusion and frustration. Jarhead had left the Justice League in tatters without a trace and left many a thing unanswered. Morale was definitely down and a strange silence had clouded itself over JL HQ. Every now and then, a menial call would come in over some robbers or something related and one or two of the League would unenthusiastically respond to it.

Isomorphix was thinking, sitting down at the edge of the blackened wasteland that was once the forest amidst the sounds of construction in the background. What had once been a repair job due to Radioactive Bubba had become a full reconstruction of the Main Hall due to Jarhead.

Four days. Four days and nothing. No clues as to the whereabouts of any 'Jarhead.' No clues as to even his existence. This trail is going as cold as the one on the underground empire. I'm missing something... but what. What?

Isomorphix's thoughts were interrupted as Superdude came and sat next to him.

Superdude was supposedly the next strongest person next to Studmuffin, his super speed something the human eye couldn't see. Speed he could translate into power.

"Hey Iso," he said, sitting down.

Isomorphix gave him an acknowledging glance.

"So... when do you think Studmuffin will... you know... wake up?"

"I don't know."

"I mean, you don't think he'll... you know..."

"Die?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know."

They both stared off, looking at the construction scene. Oreo Avenger was flying around, helping the others move things on the ground. Xiao and Crystal were absent, responding to a menial bank robbery.

"What does it all mean?" Superdude asked. "I mean... what just happened? How could it happen?"

He seemed depressed.

"I don't know," Isomorphix said for what seemed the thousandth time. But this time, he added "But I intend to find out."

With that, Isomorphix stood up, slid his katana into his belt, and walked off across the charred earth that was once the forest.

He would not give up until answers were found. Never.

***

No one was home. Studmuffin and Pinzz were in separate beds in the same dark room.

Pinzz had a lot of broken bones. Legs. Both. Shoulder, yep. Arms, one. Neck? It was aching but not broken. She had chipped a tooth. Broken at least 4 fingers. She broke her left foot. Probably sprained her right.

She was in better shape then Studmuffin.

"Studmuffin, you awake?" she looked over at his bed and asked.

No. He wasn’t. But he stirred. He had been doing that a lot lately.

Pinzz needed some water, but it wasn’t like she could get up and get it. As if someone had answered her prayers, Scarlett, Twisk, and Superdude walked in.

"Water!" she croaked.

"How is Studmuffin?" Scarlett asked.

"He hasn’t woken up."

"Pinzz, can you walk or anything?" Twisk said.

"Well, both my legs are broken. No.".

She settled back in as some other people showed up and drifted off to sleep.

***

The stage lights were aglow. Cameras aimed at the stage. The audience…laughing. Jay Leno was telling another one of his jokes.

"Alright, I kid, I kid. Now, will you please give a warm welcome to our guest, Studmuffin!"

Studmuffin walked out onto the stage, waved to the audience, smiling. He went up to Leno, shook his hand, adjusted his tiny clip-on microphone and took a seat next to Leno.

"Well hey, thanks for coming." Leno said.

Studmuffin smiled and shook his head. "It was my pleasure."

"So, I hear you're in the Justice League." Leno rested his mammoth chin in his palm. "How is that?"

"Oh, it's great. I get to help people, put criminals behind bars, and live it up at the plush JL Head Quarters."

"Wow, I really respect that. Have a plush house myself. As for saving lives, why do you do it? As some people might imagine, with great powers, you could do great things. Either good, or, not so good. But still, great things."

"Well, I do it for the adoring fans, the media, but mostly, I feel good helping."

"Well that's nice. I understand you have a new book coming out, co-authored by K.A. Applegate?"

"Oh, yeah, it's called, 'Why I'm So Great'. It's a fascinating autobiography of my life and adventures. I recommend everyone buy a copy. Heck, buy two!"

"I also hear you've gotten married recently?"

"Yep, to 20 of the most gorgeous supermodels on the planet. The honeymoon was…unbelievable."

Leno took a sip of his water. "So, with all this success, do you plan on sticking with the Justice League?"

This made Studmuffin pause for a moment. The stage lights were bright. In fact, too bright; he couldn't see the audience. "Well, um, I'm pretty sure I'll stick with them for some time."

Leno twitched with a slight disappointment, but quickly covered it up with a smile. "But, you've obviously superior to them. Why have them drag you down with them?"

"Well, I couldn't just abandon them. They're…my friends." The lights seemed to be getting hotter. Studmuffin felt sweat capitulating on his forehead.

"They're only hindering you! You should be the one getting the credit, you do all the work, not them!"

Something wasn't right. Studmuffin didn't like where this interview was going. The seat chaffed his skin. Leno was eyeballing him with a very strange look in his eyes.

"Why…why do you care?"

Leno's voice fluctuated, became disturbingly deeper. "You could to great things!"

"Who are you?" Studmuffin abruptly stood up, his chair falling backwards. "You're not Jay. What's going on here?"

A cruel smile spread across Leno's face. He laughed with a voice that was not his own. It was deeper, echoing savagely. The lights were getting unbearably hot. He looked towards the audience, but couldn't see anything.

He looked back over at Leno. But his head…his head was a jar! Leno erupted in laughter.

"Great things you could do. Join us. Join us, and know true power. You deserve more. Your so-called friends, they tease you. Not for fun, but because they're jealous of your greatness! They want to keep you down, repressed. Don't let them control you. They're only using you!"

The stage fell apart, exploding into flames and falling away into darkness. Studmuffin floated alone in complete blackness, Leno gone.

A face enveloped his vision. But it wasn't of a jar, but a man. A ghostly pale face, with eyes burning with blue flame. "Seeeek meee ooutt…and know greeeaatnesss. You know wheerrre…"

Studmuffin sprang up in a cold sweat, in the clinic. Everything was dark. The lights were out, it was nighttime. He looked over next to him. Pinzz lay sleeping soundly. No one else was in the room. He looked down at his hands. They were trembling. He flexed his arms, his body. No pain. No broken bones. He then realized he was in a body cast, and had broken it in several places. He tore the thing off of him and stood up out of bed.

He was nude. He'd need some clothing. The vision of the man haunted him. He could see it every time he closed his eyes. Chills ran up and down his spine. He needed his suit. Not completely sure what he would do, he was certain of one thing. He had to find this man. But he couldn't endanger anyone here. He had to go alone, that much he knew. In the morning, the rest of the League would awaken to find him missing. He just hoped they wouldn't come looking for him.

Grabbing his torn suit neatly folded near his bed and putting it on, he flew out of the broken clinic window and off into the warm night.

***

Crystal walked into the clinic. Pinzz was laying there, awake.

"Hey, where is Studmuffin?"

"He went out the window,” she gestured

"I can’t see him." she said.

“Well, dumbass, that’s because he flew away.”

"No point in asking questions. I guess we are just gonna have to wait. Studmuffin will come back when he wants to." Omega said, coming into the room with MC.

"Pinzz, you need anything?" Midnight Chatter asked.

She didn’t answer. So they waited.

***

Eyes steady.

Focus on nothing but the target.

All movement... all reaction... all thought.

Don't let the focus waver, but be mindful of the surroundings.

Steady. Steady. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out... it was all subconscious.

And... strike!

Isomorphix launched himself in a flurry of speed, ducked, maneuvered to the side and...

SLICE! SLICE! SLICESLICESLICE!

Isomorphix stood before the tree and resheathed his blade. Just a few seconds later, the branches erupted into splinters and the length of the tree slid at a diagonal that had been cut into its trunk, slowly sliding off and crashing into the grass.

The grass rustled below him, barely audible over the chirping of the crickets, as Isomorphix sat on the ground. The usual forest he practiced in no longer existed, so he decided to use the minimal woody area there was on the other side.

Closing his eyes for a moment, the vigilante let the warm breeze flow across his face and through his hair, the strands that had fallen in front of his face swaying back and forth. The forest seemed to acknowledge the flow of the wind, the leaves rustling ever so gently.

After the moment of placidity had passed, Isomorphix opened his eyes to the full moon in the sky. It was indeed beautiful. Ironic that it seemed to be the polar opposite of the situation at hand.

Still, no reason not to enjoy it. Isomorphix thought.

Just as Isomorphix was about to lie down, he heard the distinct creaking of a window being opened. Curious, he let his gaze wander towards the sound.

Amazingly enough, a fully recovered Studmuffin flew out, in his tattered uniform, no less.

Oh? Now this is interesting. Isomorphix mused.

He had no leads, perhaps whatever Studmuffin was up to might lead somewhere. After all, this was quite sudden.

What makes me think you aren't going to the local 7-11 to satisfy a craving for Chilidogs? Iso thought as he threw himself up off the grass and began to sprint down the direction Studmuffin had gone.

Back at the Clinical Building, the lights came on and voices echoed.

But Isomorphix was already too far to hear them.