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January 27th, 12:41 AM
Outside Asterion Dormitory

The boy cocked a brow at Karen's words, but didn't let his trademarked smirk falter as he responded.

"Well, can't fault you on that. You know more than anyone I'm not exactly the world's greatest authority on having a decent sleep schedule." Mal replied as the blonde lamented her hard time getting some shut eye, though his head tilted to the side slightly at her apparent surprise that he hadn't let up at all in his exercise routine, fixing her with an expression ‘Really?’ ”...And this is the only body I have. So whether I’m working or not, I might as well keep it in working order.”

And to be fair, it wasn’t like he was really following his usual routine.

...He didn’t have a sparring partner, or a building to jump off of, after all.

”Yeah,” she said, folding her arms.

Moving to the short flight of stairs at the entrance of her dormitory, she cautiously sat down on them as if she might accidentally fall back into a deep pit if she wasn’t careful. Staring up at Malcolm, she gestured for him to sit.

”Human bodies really do require a lot of maintenance, don’t they?” she muttered, shaking her head. ”Constant cleaning, constant eating, constant sleeping, among other annoying things, just to keep something so fragile running.”

A slight snort escaped the lad at that.

”You make it sound like a chore.” Malcolm noted, taking the offered seat beside her and allowing his gym bag to flop to the ground in front of him with a definite thud. ”...But I don’t particularly recall you ever complaining when I was grilling lobster tails for ya... and I certainly don’t recall you having any gripes about passing out on my couch, snuggled up with the dogs.”

The boy shot her another quirked brow as he reached into his bag and pulled out two cans of somesort of Atlantean post-workout drink, dropping one in her lap in a show of ‘Just drink it, damn you.’

”You could forego hygiene though, if ya really wanted… but I’d be the first to tell you that ‘Dreadlocks and no Teeth’ would be a pretty bad look for you.”

Karen twisted the cap, listening to the hiss of the air escaping with a slight frown. ”You act like I can’t eat good food when I want to as Lady Arcana,” she noted.

”Do you?” Mal interjected

She glanced over to him. ”, I don’t suppose I have. Not since I haven’t had to pretend I was an adult, at least.”

Mal just kinda stared at her at that, Kasimir brow raised in full force but saying nothing.

Until finally-

”Karen- When was the last time you actually ate something?” It was worded as a question, but for all intents and purposes may as well have been an accusation.

Karen blinked at his question, briefly glancing up at the artificial twilight above. Of course, the answer was the same as just about everything to do with her having a normal, human life. ”...About eight months ago.”

She hadn’t eaten all day, now that she thought about it. She had been ignoring the slowly building ache in her gut this entire time.

”I was… too focused on settling in.”

That put a frown on Mal’s face, as he twisted the cap to his drink back on and set it down by his side. Resting his forehead in his hand for a second before settling on just pinching the bridge of his nose in lieu of an outright facepalm.

”...And am I going out on a limb here and assuming that you haven’t slept, moved or otherwise done anything that doesn’t immediately involve being the Wizard in eight months either?”

Karen shook her head. ”No. I’ve been staying in the Rock of Eternity, so I had no real need to do anything of the sort.”

After all, she had retreated there to get away from her life. Granted, she hadn’t intended to do so for eight months. Two or three weeks had been what was in her head at the time, she recalled. She had never been Lady Arcana for more than a day or two before that, and after the first month had passed she felt...different.

She felt numb.

”And in those eight months, you decided that sleeping, eating and being around other people was somehow below you?” The younger teen asked, brows raised.

Karen glanced down at her drink. ”...Yes. In a sense. I felt like such things were insignificant next to my duties.”

A low, eerily Zoey-like hum rattled in the boy’s throat at that as he stared his sister in all but name down. Karen might not recall it right now, but Mal’s memory was just as sharp Arcana’s, perhaps even moreso in some ways.

...And boy, did he remember that instant hostility he was met with when calling her over the scrying stone, though it would do no good to bring that up now.

”So, what made you decide it was time to pump the brakes, then?” He finally asked with a frown as he leaned back on the steps and his eyes turned upwards towards the artificial sky. ”...I know it couldn’t have been something like that insignificant talk you had with an insignificant guy like me.”

Karen returned his frown, looking away from him and the dormitory. She still hadn’t taken a sip from her drink yet. ”You said ‘what we become when we forget who we are is not worth the sacrifice’.”

”You saying made me think,” she admitted, ”think about all the things that once mattered to me, but no longer did. I still refused to kill, but it was more about adhering to my personal doctrine rather than actually…caring.”

Karen then finally raised her drink and took a long gulp from the can. Swallowing the sugary drink with a heavy sigh, she continued. “After close to two weeks of dwelling on it, I realized that something had dramatically changed inside of me. By no longer caring about my own happiness, I ceased to care about the happiness of others. As long as I didn’t break my code, that was all that mattered.”

The boy’s eyes slowly found their way over to Karen, an unreadable expression coming across his features as she all but emptied out her heart right there in front of him. To his credit, it wasn’t the typical Kasimir brow or Zoey-ish, throaty hum that made up his reply, but rather the chorus of joints and the remnants of old bone-breaks crackling and popping as he calmly sat back up, wrapped a tired arm around the girl’s shoulder and gently pulled her close, resting his head against her own as he did so.

It really was impossible to stay mad at her.

”...Goddammit, Karen.” Malcolm finally stated, his voice somewhere between a laugh and an exhausted sigh. ”You are just the biggest pile of complications that ever was, ain’t’cha?”

For a brief moment, he simply stayed like that, before he finally released her with a gentle messing of her hair as he got to his feet with a slight grunt.

”Ya might wanna save that drink for later- on an empty stomach, you’ll be out cold in half an hour.” The Kasimir ward explained simply, rolling his shoulder in a familiar motion to relieve the pressure from an old injury from years back. ”And we’ve clearly got some things to do.”

Karen felt a distinct, fuzzy warmth in her chest when Malcolm laid his head against hers. It brought back memories of when they were kids; happy memories. She hadn’t felt a sensation like that since she withdrew to the Rock.

”Tonight?” she asked, glancing over to him. ”Aren’t most places closed by this hour?”

Granted, who knew if Atlantean society had the same rules or regulations that the surface did? ”And where exactly do you want to go?”

”When I was down here with Vanguard after the civil war, we had more than a few late nights. So we’d always wind up crawling back to the same restaurant after work to stuff our gullets so we could skip breakfast the next day.” Mal explained with a little shrug as he picked up his bag. ”One of our paramedics had the misfortune of falling head over heels in love with the owner, and, after jumping through a truly insane amount of legal hoops and laws that actually had to be written for the occasion, became Atlantis’ very first double-citizen when he married her.”

Mal shot Karen a wry grin at that, almost daring her to turn him down.

”So, incidentally, I have a lot of coupons that need redeeming. And a friend who just told me she hasn’t eaten in eight friggin’ months.

Karen remained silent for a long moment, made all the more striking by the eerie stillness that permeated Atlantis at night. She would probably never get used to that--it just didn’t feel natural to her, the absence of weather despite technically being “outside”.

Shaking her head slowly, Karen stood. ”Alright. I can’t claim that I’m not hungry. Lead the way.”

In all honesty, her stomach ache was starting to get a little unbearable at this point. It would become a distraction if she didn’t do something about it.

A snort followed Karen’s acceptance of her culinary fate.

”Trust me, you’ll sound a lot less resigned about it once you taste Atlantean cuisine.” Mal explained offering out his hand to help Karen up ”I’m particularly fond of the strawberry shakes.”
January 27th, 12:39 AM
Outside Asterion Dormitory

What little hair he allowed to grow on his head still just slightly damp from hitting the showers after his workout, Mal silently trudged his way down the ethereally lit streets of Poseidonis towards the campus. Dressed far more casually than the norm- the jacket of his grey tracksuit open, gymbag slung over his shoulder and the lip of his Vanguard ballcap hiding a furrowed brow as he marched forward with trepidation concealed under years of practice towards the inevitable confrontation of his own making.

His powerful peepers quickly picked up on Karen's familiar figure, leaning up against the wall of her dormitory around his next turn.


This had been a lot easier over the scrying stone.

Just what the hell was he supposed to say?

Still, despite his doubts, the boy carried on without even a change in his gait. This conversation needed to happen- there was no way of getting around that. If not for Karen's sake, then his own.

"I choose to believe in Karen Hernandez."

The boy's own words from a few weeks back rattled around in his head. He had meant every word of it and still did. It was just a matter of getting her to believe that, too, a Herculean task in it's own right.

His feet moved on autopilot.

Goddamn, life was a lot easier back when his day to day routine was just defusing bombs and punching people in the face.

His feet came to a stop. It took the boy a half-second to realize that that was because he'd arrived at his destination, on the sidewalk and to his oldest friend's left, hand rising out of his pocket on habit to give her a little wave.

'Well, Mal. Time to nut up.'

"Mornin', Sunshine." The boy greeted with his usual little smirk, but much less volume, both due to the lingering fatigue of his workout and out of consideration for the girl's neighbours "Didn't wake ya, did I?"
Argos Gymnasium, University District, Poseidonis,
January 26, 2345 hrs.

It was on days like today, where Mal was extremely grateful for the invention of the punching bag.


Doubly so was Mal, over the rhythmic din of flesh slamming into the leather and the rattling of chains echoing across the all-but-deserted gymnasium, grateful that the Atlanteans saw the merits of having a big bag of animal flesh filled with sand and hanging from the ceiling for the purpose of beating the hell out of. Though honestly, how couldn't they? It made for decent cardio, helped you work on your form, got you used to the notion that the act of punching something wasn't necessarily the most comfortable way to pass the time, and of course, as Mal knew better than most-

-Was freaking great when you really needed to hit something.


It had been a long day, even before he'd gotten onto the boat- A quick ride out to Blud before dawn to have his annual visit to an empty alleyway a little earlier than usual. Eating breakfast. Saying goodbye to Henry and the rest of the castle staff. Kissing his Ma on the cheek and meeting Anatoli and Irene down at an arcade by the waterfront, for one last hurrah before he boarded a big damned submarine for the city below the waves.

Meeting Virgil in there. Meeting Bjorn. Meeting the others after the long ride.

...Seeing Karen again.


He had actually been hoping to see what may as well have been his big sister down here. That somewhere during their little tiff over the scrying stone, he just might've gotten through her magical little (at times) thick head. But... well...

"Well, I’m here now—I kept my promise. You shouldn’t have any complaints, right?”

Those words stuck in the boy's mind. His eidetic memory playing it over and over again with perfect clarity as if the blonde were standing next to him while his powerful brain systematically dissected and analyzed the small details of her pitch, body language and brain activity.



A bit of frustration. More so than seemed entirely deserved for his routine foray into 'Mal's Storytime'...


It painted a clear picture.


Karen didn't want to be here.


She didn't want to be away from her magic space rock.


She didn't want to see him, or perhaps anyone else again.

It was all just... so inconvenient to her.


BANG! Pshhhh...

Malcolm would be lying if he said that didn't sting a little.

Had it the ability to do so, the bag, now split open and spilling it's contents onto the gymnasium floor- would have agreed wholeheartedly.

"Oh, fer..."

The scarred boy managed out under a frustrated sigh, as the piling sand at his feet abruptly pulled him from whatever place he'd been inside his own head and he began peeling off his hand-wraps with his teeth- This line of thinking wasn't helping; just assuming what was going on in the blonde's head and then getting mad about it. Despite how easy it was to fall into that train of thought, especially with his somewhat unique way of reading people.

He needed to actually talk to her.

The boy's eyes shot down toward the growing pile of sand at his feet and the busted bag hanging lop-sided from the ceiling.

...After he cleaned up this mess, that was.


University of Poseidonis, Harbour
January 26, 3:58 PM

The last of the students aboard the RAS Nautilus were finally done disembarking, waved towards the gleaming Orientation Hall in the distance with warnings that King Orin would be addressing them soon enough. A few wobbled in their hurried steps to get there, glad to just have their feet back on solid ground. For one of them, the thought kept bounding around that solid though the ground might be, it was in very unfamiliar territory.

All around them was strange architecture, gleaming and golden, right out of any fantasy novel about the place. The people, so similar yet so different. The very horizon - no longer bright sun cresting on distant land but just glimmering water forming a wall, their very roof.

Like a cage.

To say that Hannah Christophe was having some trouble with the adjustments was a bit of an understatement.

It’s not that she wasn’t excited, she was! It’s just, well, the Hub City resident only left state lines a number of times, and now she was in the middle of the ocean, who knows how deep, and surrounded by strangers not only in acquaintance but very culture.

It didn’t exactly help that Hannah was a very, very nervous person in the first place. So it was that on feeling her racing heart start to go from excitement to genuine terror, the feeling of the very air in her throat becoming heavy, the young woman had stumbled off away from the others going towards the Orientation Hall just to catch a breather. Yet when she had passed a pale hand over her eyes, seeing a flicker of orchid light dancing beneath her clammy palm it made her chest tighten, a feeling of dread settling in her bones and buzzing akin to a sleeping limb.

“Oh lord,” The brunette whimpered, sliding down against the wall she had ducked behind to hide. “What was I thinking?” Her fingers quickly tangled in her hair as she leaned forward, trying to control her breathing in a familiar exercise and failing miserably as each breath rattled and hiccuped through her thin frame.

”Uhh… hi. Came a somewhat hushed, slightly alarmed voice from beside her.

One belonging to a Mr. Malcolm Talhaiarn-Kasimir, who had already been hiding behind this particular wall when the hyperventilating girl had arrived, in the middle of trying to covertly adjust one of the contact lenses that hid the distinctive glow of his peepers that had been knocked slightly off-center by a falling bag as the Nautilus shook under the force of the docking clamps.

...Which went some way to explaining the ludicrous sight of Gotham’s favourite son frozen stock still and staring down at her in his suit and tie while seemingly of poking himself in the eye for some reason.

’Shit, that was close...’ The boy mused internally with a breath of relief, realizing this girl was too in her own head at the moment to have seen anything he’d have to explain. Even as he knelt down to check on her wiping his hands off on his jacket.

”Hey, uhh... are you alright?”

For a moment the girl remained frozen, head tilted just enough to stare up at Malcolm with wide, doe-like eyes. When she finally reacted it was with a rather pathetic, very delayed yelp.

”I’m - I’m so sorry I-” Another hiccup as the breath in Hannah’s voice caught, making the anxious weight dead in her stomach twist uncomfortably. ”I was just - oh, and you’re - you’re Malcolm Talha-” Yet again her words got cut off as her throat didn’t seem to want to cooperate, refusing to let the brunette get more than a few words out at a time. She nearly whimpered, burying her face back into her sweatered arms across her knees. Four seconds breathe in. Four seconds out. In. Out.

She must look pathetic.

The thought didn’t help.

And there went a good chunk of what Mal had absorbed through mitosis from his Ma, thundering in the back of his head and forcing his back to the same wall as the distraught girl and his ass plop down right next to hers.

”Hey, hey, hey… easy now…” The boy’s words left his throat, a fair bit more gentle than most would think him capable of after hearing of his famed wit as his hand lightly moved itself on instinct towards the girl’s shoulder ”...What’s wrong?”

”I’m sorry,” Once more came the low, piteous voice, muffled against her arms. Luckily she was calming just a touch, enough that she was able to form complete sentences with … less interruptions, at least. Having someone also from the surface was comforting. She hoped that wasn’t racist. ”I’m just - a little overwhelmed. Right now. I mean.” A deep breath once more as Hannah fought the urge to ramble, a trait her and her brother shared.

Well, before he disappeared.

Finally the girl lifted her head, fingers plucking at the material of her cream sweater. She still had a chill and was trembling lightly, breath lightly hitched. ”I’ve - I’ve never even left America. And, it’s my first time away from family. And I’m learning about magic.” She trailed off, finally lifting her gaze to Malcolm’s and offering him a watery smile. Her eyes remained fixed on his chin, never quite meeting his own in a nervous tick.

”... Well, somewhat. I’m … majoring in magical theory.”

So much for not rambling.

Mal let out a little chuckle at that, letting his hand fall off her shoulder and comfortably back onto his knee.

”Yeah, I hear ya on that.” The lad replied with an honest grin and a little shake of his head, unconsciously slipping back into his native accent as he went ”Sounds kinda like a comic book when ya say it out loud, dunnit?”

Still grinning, the boy’s face turned away from the girl, making a dramatic show of looking about the place with a comically philosophical expression he’d hoped she’d find amusing.

”Yet, here we are. In a big golden city at the bottom of the ocean.” He finished with a theatrical wave of his arm, looking back to the girl and raising that famous Kasimir brow, still smirking just a little. ”I don’t blame ya. Ye’d have to be crazy not to be a little overwhelmed about that.”

It seemed to work, since Hannah let out a laugh, coughing near the end. After rubbing her sleeve against her mouth she finally gave Malcolm a smile, accompanied by one last rattling breath.

”I… suppose you’re right about that. It seems, well, it seems a little silly to be freaking out this bad when no one else is…” She trailed off, embarrassment coloring her words. It was obvious she wasn’t that quickly recovered, no one would be, but was doing a good job of at least hiding the remaining symptoms in conversation. ”Uhm, I didn’t introduce myself. Not that I, you know, had the chance -- my name is Hannah Christophe.” Taking a moment to wipe her clammy hand subtly on her skirt she then offered it to her surprise company.

”I, ah, know who you are, of course… I really admire your work.”

”Oof! Take the fun outta introducing myself, why don’cha?”

Mal replied with a slight snort and another shake of his head, still clearly grinning to let Hannah know he was still joking around. She smiled right back, replying with a quiet ‘Sorry!’ that was more casual than her previous apologies.

”Well, good ta meet’cha, Hannah.” The scarred teenager said after a moment as he offered her his hand ”...And you can just call me ‘Mal’.”

For a slight second, the boy’s eyes shifted suddenly slightly. As if looking at something past Hannah directly through her head and another wall before coming back into focus on her again.

Just in time for the loud chorus of chatter and footsteps to start reverberating through their hallway once more. It was a bit unnerving for her.

”Well. I think we might’ve missed Ol’ Uncle Ori’s big welcome speech…” Mal concluded with a shrug ”Gueeeess we better get a move on, eh?”

”Oh no!” The girl exclaimed, and was soon scrambling up. Hannah had to pause as blood rushed to her head, already dizzy from the small panic attack earlier, and lifted a hand to press slim fingers to her temple. ”I’m really sorry for delaying us,” She lamented, apologizing yet again. It seemed to almost be a reflex.

”But it’s a momentous occasion… maybe it was recorded?” Hannah shook herself, looking to Malcolm and giving him a small smile. ”I … really appreciate you not just walking away though. It helped having someone familiar nearby. Not that - not that I’d say we’re familiar with each other! Just that I knew who you were and it was helpful, though not because - I’m going to be quiet now.”

Malcolm could only stare at the flustered girl beside for a few short seconds in silence as she started rambling again… then started smirking… and finally snickering as he waved off her apologies with a dismissive hand as he got to his feet.

”Dun’ worry about it, Hannah.” He assured her, making a point of being as casual and familiar as possible still not losing his infamous grin as stood and offered her a hand up. ”I was glad to be here.”
January 12th, 2026
Rock of Eternity; 10:48 A.M.

”Historama, let’s cycle through all of the prisoners again,” said Lady Arcana, laying her cheek against the knuckles of her hand. The screen began to cycle through all the monsters--human or otherwise--that she had confined in the Rock of Eternity. ”Sabina’s okay...Oggar’s reading...Kull’s trashed his room again, of course...Wilhelm’s sleeping…”

Easing back in her throne, Arcana let out a heavy sigh. For the past two days she had been afraid to leave the Rock for very long, in case there was another unexpected break-in like last time. Even when there had been breaches in the veil, she had made certain to resolve them as quickly as possible. She was starting to understand now why Shazam had never left to do hero work.

She knew that Zoey really wanted her to start attending the University of Poseidonis later this month, but this latest incident with Wilhelm and the Yellow Lantern Corps had really opened her eyes to just how easily things could go wrong if she wasn’t being constantly vigilant. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been looking forward to University, but she had far more important responsibilities here--she saw that now.

”I guess I should tell Orin I won’t be going,” she muttered to herself.

January 12th, 2026
Grim Grotto, Castle Kasimir; 10:50 A.M.

’Mal… what the hell are you doing?’ Mal heard an annoying little voice that sounded suspiciously like doubt sound off within his own head as he stared down at what he was told was a magical hotline directly to the physical embodiment of all magic in the universe in his hand. ’You have no idea how this thing works, do you?’

Glancing down again at what appeared to be just a freaking rock (albeit, fuzzy and opaque to his eyes), he couldn’t help but agree.

’Nyooope. No idea.’ The teen conceded to… well, himself. Hefting the thing up to eye-level and giving it a downright constipated glare, as if trying to will the damned thing into working ’Buuuuut, let’s try anyway and see what happens’

Clearing his throat and trying to ignore the fact that, on the slim chance he was actually successful, he was going to be having a long conversation with a goddamn rock, Mal finally spoke.

”Err… hello?”


He felt his brow twitch. Clearly, his mum’s boy.

”Dog Boy to Kare-Bear. Come in, Kare-Bear.” He tried again, with a bit more feeling (and snark) this time around ”Ya there, blondie?”

This time, he noted, the fuzziness his eyes registered within the crystal began to intensify- Perhaps this was actually going to work... Or perhaps he’d activated a security failsafe and was about to get blown the hell up- He wasn’t really sure. Raw magic like this was a tad beyond his understanding.

But, as the saying goes- ’There’s always hope.’

Even when talking to a goddamn rock.

January 12th, 2026
Rock of Eternity; 10:51 A.M.

Lady Arcana’s head jolted up when the Historama sprang to life in front of her. Her initial suspicion was that there was another intruder, but this was quickly dispelled by the flashing letters on the screen that spelled “KASIMIR CASTLE”.

Releasing a heavy sigh, Arcana waved her hand to answer it. ”What is it, Zoey?”

It had better not be more dog pictures; she wasn’t in the mood.

’Hoooly shit, it actually worked’ Malcolm couldn’t help but grin a little at that (and the fact that he wasn’t currently blowing up) ’Now, just try and answer in a way that most sane people wouldn’t immediately hang up on.’

”Surprise! You just won a free cruise.” The boy immediately responded to the tired-sounding Wizard in his typical joking fashion, almost out of reflex ”All you have to do is give us your credit card number and your mother’s maiden name!”

’Oh, for fuck’s sake Malcolm...’

Arcana hadn’t expected to hear any voice other than Zoey’s ever coming from the scrying stone. She had given it to her as a means of private communication. Every member of the Justice League (except Emerald Knight, as he had been away when she distributed them) had one, just in case they needed to get in contact with her for an emergency. Of course, Zoey more often used hers for far more trivial matters.

Thankfully, she was able to recognize Malcolm’s voice easily enough, so she wasn’t worried that something had happened there--especially since he was apparently trying to prank call her or something.

”Malcolm, give the scrying stone back to your mother,” she said tersely.

At that, Mal just audibly ‘Hmm’d’ and nodded along animatedly, as if actually considering it while idly tossing this artifact of a Lord of Order between his hands as if it were a mere tennis ball. Clearly unintimidated by Karen’s tone.

”Oh, I will... eventually, He stated with a slight snort as he sat down at his workbench in the Grotto... and then very suddenly dropped the humourous tone ”...But before that, I was hoping we could talk.

Turning the scrying stone about in his fingers and giving the unusual object an appraising glare, admittedly curious as to what the hell he was actually observing within it.

”If you’re not too busy doing Wizard things, that is.” He added plainly, perhaps a slight bit annoyed at Karen’s initial response, perhaps not. But knowing that joke would’ve gotten at least a snort out of the Karen he remembered all the same. ”In which case, I’ll let’cha get back to your work.”

Lady Arcana tilted her head to the side, still confused as to why Malcolm was contacting her with his mother’s scrying stone. What on Earth had compelled him to do such a thing all of the sudden? Was this perhaps about the University of Poseidonis? She did recall Zoey telling her that he was planning on attending it as well.

”I’m always busy doing ‘Wizard things’,” she said calmly. ”But if you’re calling to discuss school, then I’m afraid that I’ll no longer be going--I just don’t have time. With the recent breakout here, I realize that I’m needed on the throne.”

She knew Zoey wouldn’t be happy with her for saying that, but there was simply nothing for it. She couldn’t risk another unexpected attack on the Rock of Eternity. Just imagine if somebody like Kull escaped?

”Tell Zoey I’m sorry; I know I promised her.”

’Oh, right. School.’ While Malcolm was literally incapable of forgetting anything, that particular subject had been shunted to the back of his mind as of late.

And was now shunted even further back with what he just heard.

A low sigh escaped him at that as he ground his teeth together, his free hand moving to his scarred brow to try and subdue a fast-approaching headache.

Truth be told, it took him a good few seconds to gather his thoughts on… well, all of that, metahuman brain be damned. But finally, and after a series of unreadable expressions shifting across his face he found his voice-

”...Wasn’t calling about school, either. Ya might not believe it, but I don’t actually take mucking about with what is technically the artifact of several Gods lightly.” The Gotham crimefighter admitted, fingers clamping down on the stone that he’d been deftly turning with his fingers as The Wizard spoke ”-But that’s beside the point now.”

Standing up again and starting to pace a little, the boy took another few seconds to think on his words.

”Does this mean you intend to stay on that Rock of yours... forever? Just watching monsters in cages for the rest of your days?” He finally spoke again, his voice oddly contemplative now ”-Because that doesn’t sound like much of an existence, Karen. At least not one worthy of you.

Lady Arcana hesitated for a moment. He had more or less put her on the spot with that question. However she answered, there was little doubt that it would find its way back to Zoey and then potentially the rest of the League as well. She didn’t like the prospect of having to explain herself to all of them, but…

”I am the Wizard,” she stated. ”My duty is to defend our reality from the creatures that lurk beyond the veil, or otherwise threaten it. I’ve also decided to defend my home, Earth. I can best do both of these things from the Rock of Eternity.”

She paused, staring through the Historama’s semi-translucent screen to the large pair of double doors behind it. They bore her crest--the thunderbolt.

”I…Karen doesn’t matter. Not next to the responsibilities of Lady Arcana.”

”THAT-” Malcolm almost started to yell, but managed to reign himself in, taking a deep breath and counting down in his head before continuing ”...That is a lie and you damn well know it.

Now ceasing his pacing and leaning up against the workbench, Mal’s eyes locked onto the stone in his hand once again, scarred knuckles turning white with the force of his grip.

The Wizard had clearly struck a nerve.

”Karen Hernandez matters. And I don’t really care if you believe that right now or not. I do. So you’re gonna hear it and it can rattle your magical little blonde head for the rest of eternity.” The Kasimir ward spoke through barred teeth ”Because if Karen was totally irrelevant to the equation, she wouldn’t have been chosen to be the Wizard”

Mal’s eyes flicked down towards his free hand, covered in scars and resting upon a data tablet frozen on a news site touting the exploits of some new ‘Masked Hoodlum’ in the city. A slight grimace forming on his face as he clenched and unclenched his fist.

He, more than most, knew a thing or two about losing sight of who you are.

”So you’ll forgive me if I choose to believe there’s more to you than just a cape, a catchphrase and a giant magic rock in space.”

Arcana clenched her fist with enough force to crush coal into diamond, her eyes flaring. When she spoke, her words were saturated with indignation. ”Selfish, selfish, SELFISH!”

”Don’t you get it? Who is going to mend breaches and fight monsters if I’m away from the Rock frollicking around like a ditzy teen girl?” she asked, shaking her head. ”Who will watch over my prisoners? People could die, and you don’t even care so long as you get your friend back!”

He was acting like she hadn’t even thought this through. Of course she had. It wasn’t like she wanted to sit here for the next several thousand years, slowly forgetting who she once was. But there were things only she could do, and if she neglected her duties, the consequences could be catastrophic.

”If I slack off, there might not even be life for me to enjoy...” she said quietly.

Malcolm’s response was… oddly calm. Measured even. Though the audible exhale was as firm proof as any of some internal turmoil going on inside of his head.

”And what life do think you’ll have to enjoy if you never leave the Rock?”

Tongue clicking quietly as he absently used his thumb to pop the knuckles of his free hand one by one, he took another measured breath and spoke again.

”And yes, Karen. I do care. It’s why I choose to go out every night and do what I do.” Malcolm explained flatly ”But I guess choice is a luxury I’ve always had.”

Another breath. If there were ever a time for her to hang up on him, this was likely going to be it, and he knew it.

”And I choose to believe in Karen Hernandez. And nothing you or anyone else can say is going to change that.”

Lady Arcana remained silent for what must have been over a minute. She wasn’t quite certain how she should even begin to respond to everything he had said. It was all very touching, in truth, to know that he cared that much. But even so…

”Thank you, Malcolm. It means a lot that you feel that way, but…” She released a long sigh, her entire body lurching forward with the weight of recent events. ”It’s not about me. It’s about the people who count on me to keep them safe.”

She smiled sadly. ”How can I just kick back and relax, when I know people could be dying? People I could have saved? I know I can’t save everyone, but didn’t I promise that I would at least do my very best?”

At that, Mal, formerly starving child hellbent on saving the world armed with nothing more than his wits and a lead pipe could only don a sad smile all his own.

”To be honest- I have no idea, Karen.” He admitted without an ounce of embellishment, staring down at what the years and his choices had done to his own body ”...But I can tell you from experience, what we become when we forget who we are is not worth the sacrifice.”

The boy let out a weary sigh, the oppressive weight of this conversation hanging heavy on his mind, though he’d refuse to show it.

”Just… think about it. Please.”

After all that, it was all he could really say- It was her path to walk, after all. Her choice to make.

”...It was good talking to you again.”

”Yeah, it was. And...I will. I promise. I’ll see you soon, I’m sure,” she said. ”Take care of yourself.”

The stone in Malcolm’s hand then went dark once again.

”...You, too.”

Came Malcolm’s reply, echoing across the Grotto to be heard by no one.

It is time.
And our solo players...

@Sir Lurksalot – Rookie/Champion – Solo – Halifax
@Ruby – Supergirl – Solo – Metropolis
@clanjos – Booster Gold – Solo – Metropolis
@Ezekiel – The Flash – Solo – Central City
@NecroKnight – The Lizard – Solo – Coast City
@The Angry Goat – The Ghost – Solo – Bludhaven
Alright, ladies and gents, here's the updated roster-

@Omega Man – The Comet – Active JLU – Metropolis
@DocTachyon – Midnighter – Active JLU – Metropolis
@Archmage MC – Willow – Active JLU – Metropolis
@Simple Unicycle – The Question – JLU Reserve – Hub City
@Dblade26 – Blue Beetle – JLU Reserve – Hub City
@FiroIV - Madame Xanadu – JLU Reserve – St. Roch
@Tackytaff – Miss Martian – Active Titan – San Francisco
@Avanhelsing – Kid Solomon – Active Titan – San Francisco
@baraquiel – Aquagirl – Active Titan – San Francisco
@NinaDivine – Red Arrow – Titan Reserve
@NinaDivine@Lord Wraith

Hey now, don't go replacin' me so easily! XD
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