"Kendra!" a young man called on the street below. "Hey, you going to be all right?"
The name was unfamiliar, but something about the woman made the man in the sky pause in his flight.
Carter used his enhanced senses to spy on the pair. Chey-Ara. He smiled. "Found you," he murmured. "Star City, just as al Saher said you would be."
But if he had found her, then Vandal Savage couldn't be far behind. And the immortal madman would not hesitate to go through anyone who tried to protect her. If her power had not yet emerged, then the youth speaking to her would be in danger simply by standing too close.
"It's just a lot to take in right now," Kendra said.
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about me before," the young man said. "I didn't want things to be different between us."
Kendra shook her head. "It's not that, Cisco," she replied. "If what everyone's saying is true—and it's beginning to seem like it is—my whole life just changed, and I am so not ready for that."
"I hear what you're saying," Cisco said. "I do. When I first learned about my powers...."
Powers? Carter frowned. He knew Malcolm's grip on the League was shaky, but to miss a detail like that? What kind of powers, and from where? Was the kid one of these metahumans that the Particle Accelerator had created, then? Or perhaps he'd inherited his power just as Hector had once inherited Carter's own curse?
Or perhaps the demigod simply needed to keep a closer eye on Cisco to determine if the youth could truly be an ally. Cisco's powers, whatever they might be, could be useful, but where they came from would hardly make a difference in the fight against Vandal Savage.
"... I remember feeling that exact same feeling," Cisco continued. "And sometimes I still feel that way. And all I can say is... every day gets a little bit more normal."
"You don't know the half of it," Carter scoffed.
Cisco took one of Kendra's hands in both of his own. "I promise you."
"Thank you," Kendra said.
"You're so welcome," Cisco murmured.
"Sorry, kid, but I got to break this up," Carter grumbled. He dropped down to meet the unsuspecting pair, flaring his wings to slow his dive. His feet barely touched the ground before he wrapped his arms around Kendra and took off again.
"Kendra!" Cisco called from below. He ran after them, but powers or no, no human had ever been able to keep up with the demigod in flight.
"Help!" Kendra shouted down to the youth.
She beat her fists against Carter's chest, smacked one palm against his helmet, kicked and screamed, but to no avail. The demigod merely shifted his grip on her to keep her from striking anything delicate, and trusted she'd have the good sense not to struggle out of his arms until she was ready to fly on her own.
But flying with a struggling passenger was more tiring than he remembered. He touched down on a high-rise and released his grip, allowing her to push away from him. His wings pulled back into his body as he removed his helmet to take a good look at her.
"Wow," he breathed. "You look as beautiful as ever." He took one step forward, but Kendra backed away. "Chay-Ara, it's me, Khufu."
Kendra shook her head and gasped.
Carter gave her a few seconds longer to recover from the rush of memories. "Do you remember?" he asked. "Look at me. You need to wake up."
"What are you talking about?" Kendra asked. "I don't know who you are!"
"You will once you emerge," Carter replied. "Until then, you need to stay by my side so that I can protect you."
"Protect me?" Kendra asked. "From what?"
"The man who's hunting you. Vandal Savage. I know that this is a lot to take in, but you sort of just kind of have to trust me on this. I...." His ears picked out an engine on the street below, making a beeline for their perch and moving much too fast. Carter sighed. "Just one second," he said. "Stay right there."
He donned his helmet and flapped his wings, lifting into the air until he was high enough to spot the motorcycle headed his way.
The rider picked up a recurve bow and started shooting the moment Carter was in range. The demigod didn't waste any effort dodging, preferring instead to deflect the arrows with his mace as he watched the rider's technique.
Carter didn't think self-balancing motorcycles were available to the general public yet, which meant that the rider either was insanely wealthy, or had learned a level of control that would be impressive even within the League. That, combined with Malcolm's resources, meant that the demigod faced none other than Oliver Queen.
It was far from the first time he'd had to fight against one who was League-trained, and it probably wouldn't be the last. Time to end this. Carter flung the mace down in front of the motorcycle, sending it spinning out from underneath its rider. He landed and retrieved his weapon while Oliver climbed back to his feet.
"Give me the girl!" Oliver growled, a voice modulator making his voice deeper than Carter knew it to be.
Carter shook his head. "Not going to do that, Robin Hood."
"You're making a big mistake."
"I'll take my chances," Carter replied with a smirk. He flung the mace again as Oliver let loose another arrow, then closed the gap to let loose with his fists.
Oliver ducked a high strike and managed to land a single punch, low on Carter's face where the helmet didn't protect him.
Carter let the blow carry him around, then he spun back for another punch before he dropped the archer with two kicks.
He didn't have time to gloat before a new opponent rushed in. Another man, dressed in red and surrounded by lightning—Barry Allen, according to Malcolm's sources—raced forward.
Dammit, I don't have time for this!
"Heroes" these two might be to the rest of the world, but if they continued to pursue him they'd only make it easier for Vandal Savage to murder Kendra and himself. And that made them nothing less than Carter's enemies.
Carter ran at the speedster with a wild yell, causing Barry to hesitate just enough that the demigod could grab him by the arms and launch himself into the air. When he'd flown at least three stories high, he released his captive.
Oliver fired an arrow beneath Barry and into the building nearby. The speedster caught the thin line attached to the arrow and slid to safety next the archer.
"We need to expose his wings," Carter heard Oliver say.
"I'm open to suggestions," Barry replied.
"Now you're listening to me?"
"It's your city, Oliver."
The demigod launched himself at the other two men.
Oliver fired arrow after arrow into the air.
Carter dodged the arrows easily, and swung his mace at the archer with all his strength behind the attack.
Oliver ducked the blow, narrowly missing a messy beheading, and rolled back to his feet as Carter's momentum carried him overhead.
Carter tilted his wings to turn for another attempt on his enemies below. Barry was the nearer of his targets, and the demigod dove at him, right as the metahuman used his superspeed to unleash twin tornadoes from his arms.
Carter fought the winds, but the speedster followed his every move and he couldn't escape the attack. The demigod flew lower, one slow inch at a time.
Oliver fired one final arrow while Carter continued to struggle with the speedster. Twine wrapped around the demigod, imprisoning his wings, and he crashed to the ground.
Then Barry raced up.... but he didn't attack. The speedster ran circles around the demigod, building up his speed for a purpose Carter couldn't even guess at.
Carter watched the speedster run as he pulled free of the bindings. But before he could climb to his feet, the speedster slowed down and threw a lightning bolt at the demigod.
Carter's eyes widened at the attack that even he wouldn't be able to dodge in time. The lightning struck him in the chest, and the world went black.
When Carter opened his eyes again, he found himself chained to a concrete post in a room that resembled a bunker. Structurally sound? Probably... but he wasn't familiar enough with the area to be sure. He pulled at the chains, testing for a weakness, slack in the wrapping, anything that would let him break free without destroying the post and potentially bringing the building down on top of his head.
"Where is she?" he demanded of the people standing around him.
"What's your name?" Oliver asked.
"You're putting her in danger," Carter said, "and I'm the only one capable of saving her!"
A young woman nearby scoffed.
Thea. The daughter Malcolm hadn't known about until recently. Carter was starting to seriously question the League's willingness to follow that man. Small wonder that Oliver had had to give him the demon's-head ring, he could never have won it on his own.
"You have a very interesting perspective on what the word 'saving' means," Thea said.
"She's the love of my lifetime, sweetheart," Carter replied.
The young woman only sneered in response.
"I was not gonna hurt her." Carter yanked on the chains again. Savage could be tracking them down already! If he couldn't get loose.... "You need to let me go."
Kendra walked out, but she remained half-hidden at the back of the group.
"Chay-Ara," Carter murmured.
"My name is Kendra Saunders," she replied.
"In this life," Carter said. "And I am... was Carter Hall. But that is not who we are."
"What does that mean?" Kendra asked.
"You're Priestess Chay-Ara, I'm Prince Khufu. And we're lovers."
"Soul mates," Carter corrected himself. Though they had loved each other in that sense throughout most of their incarnations, the word "lover" meant something completely different in this era than the impression he was trying to give to these strangers. "We've been partners for four thousand years. We're drawn to each other in life, and after we die, we reincarnate to find each other again and again and again. And now that I've found you, we should really get out of here."
"Okay, Romeo," Cisco said. "Why don't you pump the brakes?"
"These people cannot protect you from Savage any longer," Carter insisted.
"Do you know who Vandal Savage is?" Oliver asked.
Carter sighed. "In every lifetime, he hunts us down, and kills us. He's done it two-hundred and six times, and I'm not planning to make it two-hundred and seven."
"Why does he kill you?" Oliver's bodyguard, John Diggle, asked.
"His life force is tethered to ours," Carter replied. "Every time he kills us, he becomes more powerful. You do the math."
"You're o for two-hundred and six," Cisco said, "and you still think you're her best bet, hmm?"
"Okay," Barry said to Oliver, "so what we need to do is just find Savage and get rid of him."
Carter scoffed. "Well, you can't get rid of him, my friend."
"Oh, yeah?" Barry said. "Watch us."
"It might be harder than you think," a voice said from behind Carter.
"Is that the only way this guy knows how to enter a room?" Barry asked.
Oliver sighed and waved a hand to silence the speedster.
"My associates tell me Savage left Star City a few hours ago," Malcolm said.
"For where?" John asked.
"We're not quite sure," Malcolm admitted. "But I assume after his run-in with you, he realized he needed something more powerful to complete his mission." He looked at Carter. "We think he's trying to locate the Staff of Horus."
Carter's eyes widened.
"Sorry," Thea said, "what is that?"
"It's a relic from our past...." Carter replied. "An ancient and powerful weapon." He looked at Oliver's team again. "If Savage gets his hands on it, it's going to be nearly impossible to stop him."
"Since when did our lives suddenly become an Indiana Jones movie?" Cisco muttered.
"Felicity?" Oliver said.
"Yeah," the other woman replied from where she was still trying to stay out of Carter's sight.
"Think you can find it?" Oliver asked.
"Yeah, it's probably at some museum somewhere," Felicity replied. Her expression transformed from one of fear to excitement. "I'll, uh, work my magic, see what I can find."
"Al Saher," Carter muttered in Arabic. He looked back at Malcolm while Oliver's team focused on their own plans. "Have some of your soldiers look for the staff. Under no circumstances is it to be locked away in the League's vault. You find it before Savage does... destroy it."
"It shall be done," Malcolm replied. He smirked. "Did you need some help getting out of that?"
Carter shook his head. "Your predecessor needs to understand what he's dealing with; I think I'll make him do it." He was rewarded by watching the color drain from Malcolm's face.
"As you say," Malcolm said. And he and his squadron vanished back into the shadows.
"We're running out of time," Carter told Kendra. "You need to emerge now." He shook his head. "Come on, what is it gonna take for you to believe me? You saw my wings. I know you know this is true. Please, just let me show you how."
Kendra shook her head.
Carter sighed. "I didn't want to do this, at least not in front of an audience, but you've left me no choice. None of you are willing to listen to reason."
Thea snorted. "What's that saying about the pot and the kettle?'
"Tell me something," Carter said, "does Ra's al Ghul still use the demon's-head ring as a symbol of power?" Though he knew the answer; Malcolm had already seen what the demigod could do, thanks to the ring.
But Malcolm—indeed, any ruler of the League for the past few centuries—was completely unaware of the true nature of the ring. Even Damien Darkh had not understood what it was that he'd sent a mere child to steal some thirty-five years ago. Oliver would be the first in nearly six hundred years to learn the truth.
Oliver frowned. "What does that have to do with Savage?"
"Humor me," Carter said. "Answer the question and find out."
"Of course he does," Thea scoffed. "Whoever controls the ring controls the League. But to repeat Ollie's question...?"
Carter smirked. "The serpent to find you," he murmured, "the demon to bind you, the phoenix to guide you." Ordinarily he would never have said the chant in a modern language, preferring instead a mixture of older tongues—most of them dead—and creating what sounded like so much gibberish that no linguist could ever hope to untangle it, and by extension, no League assassin had ever devised a way to counter it.
Well, ordinarily he'd only ever encountered the League in those few incarnations when he'd outlived Chey-Ara. But the world had changed a great deal since his last death, and before him was the potential for allies who stood a real chance of helping him defeat Vandal Savage. If he had any hope of persuading them of the truth of his words, he'd need to be honest about what he was capable of.... even if what he was capable of was not, itself, honest by any definition.
Oliver, as Carter had suspected, was just as susceptible to the chant as any of the League's former rulers. Not even the archer's eyes betrayed his internal struggle, as his body shifted into a military-straight pose, ready to act the instant the demigod ordered him to do so and not a moment sooner.
"Al Sahim," Carter addressed the man. "You have no will but to do as I say. You will release me. Not because you choose to, clearly not because you think it's wise. But because I command it." He ignored the snickering from Thea, Felicity, and Cisco. "Unlock these chains. Now."
"It shall be done," Oliver murmured. He fetched the keys and unlocked the chains holding Carter in place, silencing the team's humor in an instant.
"Thank you," Carter said once he was free. "You can wake up now."
Oliver blinked, his eyes cleared. He stared at the chains on the floor, the key in his hand, and the demigod standing before him. He swallowed and took three quick steps back.
"What did you do to him?" Thea asked.
"You have a very interesting perspective of what the word 'control' means, sweetheart."
Thea narrowed her eyes. "Call me 'sweetheart' one more time and see what happens."
"How did you do that?" Oliver demanded. "I could see what I was doing—I tried to fight it, but it was like my thoughts weren't even my own. Was that some kind of spell? You can do magic?"
"Don't be absurd," Carter scoffed. "That was basic hypnosis." Though he wouldn't be surprised if magic had been involved at the beginning; that would explain how it worked no matter what language he used, or the one time he'd tried it in the twelfth century after the Ra's al Ghul of that era had gone deaf.
"I am trained to resist hypnosis," Oliver growled. His voice shook, ruining the attempt to sound threatening.
"Not against me, you're not," Carter replied. "And your training is exactly what makes you vulnerable."
"If you can do that," John said, "why don't you just hypnotize Savage and get rid of him that way? Seems like it would've made it a lot easier to protect Kendra, instead of kidnapping her and making yourself look like a lunatic."
"It would be, if I could do that." Carter shrugged. "But I don't know how far I can push someone against their will; I've never tested my limits. Believe it or not, there are some lines I'm not willing to cross."
"You didn't seem to have a problem making me release you against my will," Oliver said. "Even after you tried to kill us."
"But not while I was fighting you," Carter replied in Arabic. "And I never made you turn against your friends."
Oliver's face paled.
"Besides, didn't you any of you notice that Oliver was the only one affected?" Carter continued in English. "Savage isn't League. And he never will be, because he knows that would be the fastest way to put himself under my control. Listen, Oliver.... When you trained to become the next Ra's al Ghul, there were certain rituals you took part in. Fighting styles you practiced. Potions you drank. The Elixir of the Phoenix includes three critical ingredients: the first, a drug that makes you highly suggestible to hypnotic control; the second, a sample of my own blood, processed with the drug in such a way that I alone could use it."
"How could you be so sure that Oliver had taken that potion?" Kendra asked. "Before you hypnotized him, I mean. How did you know it would work?"
"You said there were three ingredients," Oliver said. "And the ring...?"
"The demon's-head ring is infused with a venom that would kill you inside a week if you so much as touched it," Carter explained. He glanced at Barry. "Maybe a day, in your case. The third ingredient is the antidote." He gazed around the room, meeting the team's eyes one person at a time. "Now, are you going to let me prove my claims, or not?"
Oliver sighed. "Doesn't sound like we have much of a choice."
"Maybe a day, in your case," Malcolm heard over the speaker in his ear. "The third ingredient is the antidote."
He stared at the ring on his left hand.
"Son of a bitch!" he snarled.
Athena, one of his higher-ranked loyalists, glanced up at the outburst. "Is everything all right, my lord?"
"Change of plans," Malcolm said. "You find that staff, you hide it. Someplace I could never find it; don't even tell me if you've retrieved it until I say otherwise."
Athena frowned. "Al Eanqa' was very clear that the staff was too dangerous and must be destroyed."
"His orders serve his own interests," Malcolm snapped. "Not the League's. Never the League's."
Malcolm tapped the receiver in his ear. "Sounds like our new friend has been manipulating the League for a very long time. The Elixir of the Phoenix... he said it's a hypnotic drug." A drug that he had been required to take every new moon since the previous Ra's had made him one of the horsemen.
Athena's eyes widened. "Only the Ra's and his Horsemen take that elixir."
"Precisely," Malcolm agreed. Though that wasn't entirely true. According to the records, there had been a child, an outsider, who'd been given the elixir after a failed attempt to steal the ring about thirty-five years ago. He had been given the elixir at Carter's orders, no doubt, and tested for entry into the League, instead of immediately executed as their laws demanded for such an intrusion.
But the elixir had never been intended for anyone but the Ra's and the horsemen, for those who were authorized to personally handle any of the Ra's weapons and relics. And if what Carter had said was true, then Malcolm couldn't stop taking it... not without the Pit of Lazarus or giving up the demon's-head ring. "Find me a way to remove his taint from the League, and you will earn a place by my side as one of my Horsemen. Until then, I've been compromised, and I cannot be trusted with the staff; I may have no choice but to follow his orders."
Athena tilted her head to one side. "If I may, my lord... Perhaps this 'Vandal Savage' he fears so much would be willing to discuss an alliance?"
Malcolm suppressed a shiver. He knew far too little about the sorcerer, and what little he knew terrified him, but in light of this new discovery.... What was it that Oliver had said, that it was like his thoughts weren't even his own? "I'll look into it. Carter Hall's deception will not go unpunished."