The Epic of Gauntlet
"To Grill a Mockingbird"
Disclaimer: If I had a nickel for every copyright I'm ripping off, I just might be able to pay for one of those lawsuits…
Note: Since FFNET's new stuff means that a line of asterixes no longer shows up to indicate scene changes, I'm going to adapt the method of the author Chaltab (you should check out his stuff, by the by) and use TT-TT to indicate such a change. So declares BobCat, master of formatting!
Have you ever had a good day that was somehow just too good? So good, in fact, that it felt uncomfortable? As if everything that defined your environment had been shifted in your favor, and there was no reason for it to do so?
Odds are you haven't. But if you pressed Raven about how she was feeling, that would be the best answer she could give.
She was back in the tower, but she could not remember how she got there. She was sipping an expertly prepared cup of her favorite herbal tea at the flawlessly clean in the dining table. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing out of its place, nor anything lacking its place.
After another sip of tea, she looked at the cup suspiciously. As far as back as she could remember, she had only had the tea made this well once, and that had been by a professional. She was good at making the tea through practice, but she could always detect minor flaws in the flavor or texture. This tea was too perfect.
And for that matter, Raven wondered why the table didn't have any dents whatsoever in it. The table she remembered had numerous large dents because Cyborg never mastered the art of keeping his elbows off of the table, never mind the roughhousing related warps and dents.
Raven could even hear her favorite song, Blackbird, in the background. Not only was it exactly the right volume for background music, but she couldn't identify the source of the sound. It was as if the air surrounding her had been pumped with Beatles and it was slowly releasing it.
Everything was just too… right. She sought this type of perfection, but actually finding it was just plain disturbing. Also, she was alone, and aside from the maddeningly repetitive strains of Blackbird…
Raven started slightly as the omnipresent music shifted to a nameless acoustic piece she had heard once. Years spent trying to find a recording of it had failed miserably. And there it was, exactly as she remembered it… including a few blank sections were she had forgotten how the tune went.
This confirmed her suspicions. Wherever she was, it was not real. She tossed aside the tea cup and stood up. Raven took a small bit of satisfaction in the imperfection in the wall caused by the cup's contents. Her soul self came to life, protecting her in a black bubble of energy.
For an instant, Raven was happy when Noel entered the room. The happiness was shattered when he spoke. "Excuse me lifemate, I have some inquiries I wish to make. Perhaps afterwards, we can engage in carnal contact." "Noel" moved in with the most robotic, artificial mannerisms she had ever seen. He was halted in his efforts by Raven's force field. He seemed confused. "Lifemate Rah-ven, why do you keep me from physical contact?"
Raven shot him her most intimidating glare. Considering that her cloak was up and she was using every trick of shadow and light she could muster, it would have cowed Slade himself. "Noel" seemed unfazed. "Back off, fake. Where am I?"
"Noel" paused for an instant. "We are in our home, the Titans Tower, 1st Avalon Street, Jump City, in the state of…" The imposter halted as the sharp talons of Raven's soul self grabbed it and pinned it to the wall.
"I want the truth."
The fake snapped out of its programmed pleasantries. "Why did you enter Supply Bunker #5626 without clearance? What is Captain Ro-bart Candyde doing here? How is it that you came into the bunker as far as you did without clearance? Who are you? Why have there been no new orders for 47,230.68 Earth orbital periods? Where are my superiors? WHY AM I ALONE?" The icy calm of the faux-Noel was shattered towards the end of the interrogation, now replaced by a manic glare.
Raven's only response was to crush the fake with her talons. "You get nothing from me, imposter." A sideways glance surprised her; the perfectly clean T Tower seemed to be coming apart at the seams…
And then there was nothing.
Automated Neural Interrogation Simulation #79 complete.
Reason for failure: Lack of operator input resulted in unconvincing environ and dialogue.
Awaiting operator input.
Operator input not present. Beginning short term memory wipe.
Warning: 1.03 likelihood of permanent brain damage with each wipe. Awaiting Operator Cancellation Code.
Operator Cancellation Code not received.
Note: Prisoner #00004295, designate Raven, demonstrates mid level psionic abilities. Abilities used in last simulation manifested physically. Damage to Stasis Cell #4: minimal. Repair Drones activated. Under protocol #803, Psionic Disruptors #1-6 activated.
Note: Disruptors #2, 4 and 5 not functioning. Sending requisition form for replacement.
Waiting for reply…
Continuing Psionic Disruption.
Warning: Psionic Disruption increases likelihood of permanent brain damage to 2.32, and increases with every subsequent mind wipe. Awaiting Operator Cancellation Code.
Operation Cancellation Code not received.
Automated Neural Interrogation Simulation #80 will begin shortly.
The Old Ones developed many fantastic technologies, including truly sentient artificial intelligence. However, they had never created one capable of completely running mental probing equipment. Whether this was a technical or a philosophical limitation is unknown. Despite its built in deficiencies, the AI that ran Supply Bunker #5626 had access to a wide variety of mental weapons. For instance, Raven's unreasonable fear had been caused by a psychological warfare unit that would only cause mild jumpiness in personnel trained to resist it. At the moment, she was at the mercy of another, more devastating piece of technology. The AI had the ability to read and decipher much of her mind and control her perceptions with its scanning equipment. Unfortunately for it, it lacked the ability to turn this information into effective attempts at data gathering. In a time lost to human memory, AI's identical to the one in Supply Bunker #5626 instructed by one of the bunker's personnel, had known few failures in their efforts to find the secrets of their captives.
The only problem is that the last person trained to use this particular type of interface died more than thirty thousand years ago, and the last one alive on Earth died long before that. So, the computer engaged itself in automated simulations that would fry Raven's brain long before it gathered any useful information.
Her only hope was Robert Candide. If Noel had had the slightest inkling, he would have thrown a fit.
"Computer, I order you to release prisoner designate Raven!"
"I cannot comply, Captain Candyde. You lack the authority needed to release her."
Gauntlet's mind raced as he thought of ways around the Computer's obstinate programming. "On what grounds is she being held?"
After an instant of whirring processors, the eye narrowed, giving Rob what he swore was a suspicious gaze. "If you are truly of Captain Rank, then you will know the rules of base security in and out. Why do you need my confirmation?"
Crap. Crap think crap crap think think think… "You explained that the last time you had had outside contact was about fifty thousand years ago, correct?"
"Yes, this is true. I have been… lonely here."
Rob smirked. Time for the oldest trick in the book. "Well, a lot can change in that time. I want to make sure you're not operating on outdated protocols." Fall for it, fall for it…
"Prisoner #00004295, Raven, is being held for interrogation under the First Standard Automated Defense Protocol, which states that any and all unauthorized intruders shall be held captive and mentally interrogated until orders are received from an officer of Major rank or higher."
Nuts. Oh well, at least it thinks I'm ranked high enough not to be thrown in a cell like Raven… but still. This just got harder. "Well then, you are obviously out of date. Current protocol states that Captains can give the same orders."
The eye again paused as it whirred and clicked. "Why have I not received these updates, if you are speaking the truth?" With what Gauntlet thought was a manic tone, it asked, "Why was I abandoned in the first place?"
"This base was presumed destroyed by High Command, and was only discovered recently by looters." First rule of the con: the lie that is probably true is the best lie of all. "I have been sent by High Command to investigate the bunker for useable equipment and to assess its strategic importance." It said it was lonely... I can use that. "My report will be vital in determining whether the base is worth reopening or if we will simply strip down every usable component and leave. Your cooperation would be appreciated, and may influence my decision."
The Computer's eye widened slightly as it understood the seriousness of Rob's threat. "Understood, Captain. But my programming still states that all unauthorized intruders must be detained until an officer of Major rank or higher orders there released. Without a data packet from High Command to update my protocols, I can do nothing for you."
Nuts. It trusts me, but I can't do anything… wait. "Can I at least order you to stop mental interrogation?"
There were a few more whirring noises and the eye gave Rob an almost sorrowful expression. "I am sorry, Captain, but I cannot grant your order. Is there anything else I can do?"
Crap. "Computer, grant me access to the base and direct me to the armory, so that I can begin my inspection." The large metal door opened with a whoosh of air. He said under his breath, "Sorry Rae. I tried…"
For an instant, Savior felt like somebody had stomped on his soul. Part of this may have been because his hand was being stomped by yet another Kurgal, but the sense of something wrong that he couldn't see was still there. A mass of Shimmer strands lashed out, punishing the duplicate with the equivalent of a cat-o'-fifty tails. The weight was removed from his hand instantly, and as the copy popped out of existence he hauled himself onto the ledge.
There was no denying it; he was dead tired. Even though the Shimmer had been doing most of the fighting for him, even he couldn't ignore the cumulative affects of his wounds. We've been fighting for hours now; I don't know how Tim keeps going. He rubbed his throbbing hand as he sat down on the ledge, grateful that nothing felt broken.
He considered raising Tim on his communicator, but decided against it. With him and Gar alone against the mass of the "One Man Nuisance," he doesn't need the distraction. He looked up, almost surprised that his vertical trip up the face of the building was almost over.
The plan was sound on paper. Tim had decided that someone needed to get to the roof, where Kurgal was keeping his hostages, and Noel was the best wall crawler of the group. Savior wished that they had known where said hostages were at the start of the mission; tall as the provisional City Hall was, it would have been easy to scale the structure, even with Gar and Tim in tow, if he hadn't started his trip after a long battle. Of course, they hadn't had a captured duplicate to Shimmer-interrogate at the start of the battle, but he could dream. Noel counted his blessings, noting that if Kurgal had played it smart and spread the hostages throughout the building, the battle would have been a lot more complicated. Especially against the armed ones on the first floor; it's fortunate that he can't replicate guns and ammo like he can clothing.
"Hah! Hey guys, I found MRPH!" A copy looking over the ledge of the building didn't manage to finish his message thanks to a thick strand of Shimmer shoved down his throat.
"So much for the element of surprise." The Shimmer linked up with duplicate's peripheral nervous system, allowing Noel to indirectly access the brain. Normally he would be interested in scanning memory or voluntary muscle control. This time, he went straight for the optical center and effectively plugged into the faux-Kurgal's eyes. A quick scan showed a few more Kurgals on the roof and several more heading for the stairs. There was a distinct lack of hostages, though. But ten minutes ago, that duplicate we captured remembered them being at the top of the building… unless… Every duplicate is formed at the roof, and has to run down the stairs instead of using the elevator since the main Kurgal is either not very clever or afraid of us using it or sabotaging it, just like we're wary of the thing. So, even though he's pretty athletic, odds are that the duplicate would take a lot time to get down the stairs. They don't seem to be a hive mind, or else the rest would have noticed me by now. If every duplicate's memory is set upon duplication… The hostages could have been put somewhere else a long time ago. And the only place they could have gone is to one of the upper levels… or over the edge.
Noel shouted, "SHIT!" The Shimmer violently yanked the gagged copy from the rooftop and released him in mid-air. His "brothers" were finally alerted to Noel's presence as the duplicate's scream echoed through the artificial canyons of Jump City. Before any of them could respond, Noel had used the Shimmer to catapult himself up. A quick count as he landed and rolled showed fewer than a dozen copies.
"I want to speak with the real Kurgal. Now." Savior was answered by the charge of all of the duplicates in sight.
"Ah, if it isn't Savior. Where are your little friends?" Sitting on a lawn chair in the middle of the roof was Kurgal himself. He took a chug from what Noel recognized as a cheap brand of wine and wiped his mouth, marring his white glove's perfection with a red smear. "Kurgal the One Man Army fights with superior numbers, but I would like you to have something of a chance."
Noel commented, "Good God, man, do you realize how stupid you look? The lawn chair, the 'Derelict Dan's Strawberry Delight?' You look like a redneck James Bond villain." In top form, Noel could have dealt with a dozen or so unarmed men without too much difficulty. As tired as he was, he lacked the focus to use the Shimmer with his usual efficiency. He swatted down a pair of the Kurgals, only to take a right cross to the jaw from another. The blow shook him up enough to let the rest get him in a dog pile.
Kurgal walked over with a swagger as awkward and unimpressive as it was confident. "Oh? How smart are you looking right now? You should have spent less time mocking me and more time defending yourself." Savior found his arms and legs held firm by the gang of Kurgals. He was forced into an upright spread-eagle position that was very uncomfortable. "Now, any last words before we throw you over the edge?"
"More of a last request, actually. I want to know where the hostages are."
Kurgal blinked. "Well, I suppose there wouldn't be any harm in telling you, inasmuch as you're about to be street pizza. About twenty minutes ago, I let them all go."
Noel felt his jaw drop. "Excuse me?"
Kurgal's stupid grin drove Noel crazy. "Well, I knew that you were already coming for me. Why bother with the effort to keep the hostages? It freed up more duplicates for the attack against you. I sent them down the elevator. I'm sure they're already telling their stories to the reporters down below."
Noel glared daggers at the boastful baddie. "You mean to tell me that the three of us are here fighting you for no good reason. My team and my girlfriend are in mortal danger from our greatest enemy, and you have the three of us running around City Fucking Hall to kick YOUR worthless ass?"
Kurgal considered Noel's statement. "Well, I suppose you could look at it that way. Now toss him over, then get ready to march down and mop up the other two."
Noel screamed as he was bodily shoved over the side. Several of the copies exchanged high fives as they jogged towards the door, ready for the trip down. Kurgal Prime took a swig from the bottle, only to find it empty. He slurred, "Nuts. Ah well, I can just rob a liquor store on the way out."
He paused. Noel's scream should have gotten softer as he fell over the edge, and it had. But now, it was getting louder and louder…
"HRAGH!" Noel swung over the lip of the roof in an arc that would have made Spider-Man envious, perfectly landing at Kurgal's feet. Before the sauced scoundrel could so much as mutter a "what," Noel was upon him. Still bleeding momentum from his swing, Noel encased his fist in a ball of Shimmer and punched him as hard as he could. What few duplicates remained on the rooftop popped out of existence one by one, making a sound like popping corn. More than sixty stories below, Gar and Tim wondered where all of the duplicates had gone. They briefly wondered if it was a good or bad sign.
"Way to play right into my hands, genius. That's a good plan; throw the guy who can swing on buildings off of the roof! There's certainly no way he could make it back up here!" Noel panted hard as he came to a stop. "You were a good workout, Kurgal, but you forgot one thing. You are a born loser, and it doesn't matter how many clones you can make. All you made were more losers." Noel was cut off in mid-tirade by a loud, metallic groan. "Huh?"
Noel had been dead on when he said that Kurgal was a born loser with the ability to become an army of losers. But with the army now gone, he was one loser with the mass of an army of losers. And there wasn't a structure made that was meant to support the weight of an army in the floor taken up by one man. The floor gave way beneath the beaten boozer, and he fell. By some miracle, the next story's floor managed to take the impact.
Kurgal opened his eyes, consciousness almost returning to his addled mind. "Whuh happen?"
And then the floor finally gave way.
As did the next one.
And the next one.
And the next one.
And so on. Somewhere around the eightieth floor, Kurgal attempted to right himself, which proved to be a mistake. Landing on his back as he had, the impact of his massive form was spread out enough to let the floor take the force for a few seconds. Now going feet first, the impact was so concentrated that nothing short of an adamantium floor could have halted him.
And he was out of luck on that one, inasmuch as this was the wrong universe for adamantium, and it was certainly never used in skyscraper construction.
So down he went in a seemingly ceaseless demonstration of the unrelenting power of gravity, going ever faster.
The only witnesses of the demonstration could only scratch their heads as Kurgal dropped past.
"Dude, what was that?"
Robin went for his communicator. "I think we'll have to ask Savior about that one." He tapped the button. "Savior, what just happened?" Tim heard heavy breathing for an instant.
"Simple, my dear Teen Wonder. Kurgal fall down and go boom. Lather, rinse and repeat."
At last, as he broke through the foundations of the skyscraper into a tunnel beneath it, Kurgal can to a halt, plowing up to his waist in the concrete ground.
He managed to pull himself out of the hole after a minute of straining. The ground somehow held his weight, although he was leaving sizable footprints. Even if he had been sober, he would have had difficulty understanding what had just happened to him. As he was, all he knew was that wherever he was, it was dark. He finally spotted the rails on either side of him and recognized that he was in a subway tunnel.
After another minute, he managed to summon the bare bones of a thought process. "Okay, I've seen public service videos about this kind of thing… I have to think…"
"Jay and Silent Bob say: Never walk on train tracks, because it's dangerous."
"That's right, Silent Bob. But you can find free coins there, so it's okay to hang out around train tracks! Snagga-nooch!"
Kurgal nodded at the sage advice of the fictional characters. "Righ,' righ,' just gotta follow tha' tracks but not walk on 'em." He staggered around and looked down, finally following what he thought was a straight line. Little did he know that he had blundered right into the middle of one of the tracks. If only he had recalled another one of those public service videos in time…
"Remember kids, drinking distorts your depth perception, judgment and balance. If you have a drink, you could wander into somewhere really dangerous and think you were playing it safe. So just say no to alcohol."
"So stick to the chronic, kids. It's a better high anyway! Snooch to the nooch!"
Kurgal's booze-addled mind remembered the video just as he heard the honking of one Jump City Mass Transit's many trains.
What will happen to Kurgal? I've decided to make this a "Choose your own adventure" deal. Choose Kurgal's fate!
To see Kurgal come out of this unharmed, take Jay's advice about the drugs, because that's the only way you're seeing it in this story.
To see Kurgal get flattened, scroll to the next sentence.
Kurgal whimpered. "Crud."
Gar, now an owl, winced as he stared down into the darkness with his enhanced vision. "I hate to say it, but I feel sorry for the slob."
Tim keyed his communicator again. "Savior, did you have to do that? I know it's Lex Luthor's building and everything, but that just seems a little harsh."
Savior was already using the Shimmer to race down the face of the building. "Actually, he did that himself. I wouldn't have been able to think up a way to destroy that much of Lex's property and take Kurgal down by myself. He's very good at being incompetent."
Robin rode out of the newly ventilated City Hall, riding on the back of a green pteranadon. "Roger that. Meet us at the T-Car. First one there gets the engine running." Tim didn't wait for his teammate's affirmation before pocketing the communicator. We've taken out Slade's decoy; now it's time for the real deal. We have to hurry; every moment counts! It's not like Slade is going to waste his time!
Kurai and Slade stood side by side before the three top-side Titans. They shot their adversaries intense glares, absolutely convinced of their superiority.
Kurai said, "Courtney Cox."
Slade "tsked" his apprenti… assistant. "Are you really trying challenge me? That is such an easy one. Courtney Cox was in Commandments with Aiden Quin, who was in Cavedweller with Kevin Bacon."
Cyborg was beside himself. "We know you two can kick our asses three ways to Sunday, but do you have to taunt us?" The six million dollar teen was as jittery as a blind opossum at a bloodhound convention (1).
"Whatever do you mean, Victor?" Slade crossed his arms across his chest and gave Cyborg a fake inquisitive look. "Kurai enjoys the game, and I must admit that it is a fine time waster." He glanced towards the entrance Gauntlet and Raven had taken. As much as I lord my control over them, every second I do not have the artifact is a second that Kurgal might get beaten. Kurai won last time, but they were scattered and disorganized. He might be able to hammer them when they are a fully functional team, but this mission is too important to chance it. He unfolded his right arm and pointed at the Japanese teen. "Speaking of which, if your friends do not return soon, I may let slip the dogs of war for my own amusement. Tick Tock, Titans." His arms returned to their folded position. I can only keep bluffing for so long. Even if I am victorious in this encounter, without that helmet I lose. I'm thankful that my mask hides so much of my face, or else they would see me sweat.
Thunder cringed slightly as Kurai played off of Slade's threat by pointing one arm at the larger demigod. He then casually stretched it out, pointing it at each of the assembled heroes in turn before mimicking his teacher's pose. The implied threat of a ki bolt was clear. He smirked. "Made you flinch."
Kurai was caught completely by surprise when a blast of enough electricity to power Jump City for an hour struck him. He was thrown back by the resulting explosion. Slade cursed Kurai out silently. Damn! I was playing them perfectly you idiot! You just had to spoil my balancing act, didn't you?
Lightning fired another shot at Kurai. "Made you bleed!"
Cyborg had his own recriminations in store for his allies, although he was much more vocal about his. "What the HELL were you thinking?"
Lightning struck a pose as electricity crackled around him in deadly blue arcs. "It is better to die standing than to cringe at their prattle! Join me, brother! Cyborg can handle Slade."
Thunder fired his own burst and knocked Kurai into a stand of trees as a massive thunderclap echoed across the countryside. "Your pride will be the death of us, brother!"
Lighting smirked as the pair flew after their quarry on color coded clouds. "Who wants to live forever anyway?"
Thunder quipped, "I had hoped to be the first. It was going so well, too." He looked ahead at Kurai, who was beginning to regain his balance. A look of determination replaced his normal apprehensive expression. "Then again, he will certainly know he messed with the wrong kami before we fall!"
Cyborg shifted his arm to its sonic cannon configuration. "Well Slade, looks like it's just you and me."
For the first time since the encounter had started, Slade kept his mouth shut. He leapt aside from a burst of sound and landed hands first on Cyborg's left arm. Before the teen could react, Slade balanced on his hands and swung behind Cyborg's back. As mercenary knee met bionic face, Slade allowed himself a harrumph. "'Cyborg can handle Slade?' Not bloody likely."
It was times like this that Gauntlet wished that he actually paid attention. He was mostly sure that Slade had been vague about what type of helmet he wanted, but he couldn't be entirely sure; he had been thinking about Futurama when Slade had given his instructions. His first instinct had been to blame Gar, as he often did when caught in the act, but even Gauntlet couldn't stretch his blaming skills that far. So, he was blaming a much more likely target, Slade himself.
"Oh sure, 'get the helmet,' he said. As if there was just one kind!" He opened yet another crate of alien machinery. Some of it was pretty easy to decipher, such as swords, guns and rings that looked suspiciously like his Gauntlet's deactivated mode. Others were more arcane. "What the… who the hell uses magi-tech to make a combination potato peeler and 'Speak 'n Spell?'" Many of them crumbled to dust as he touched them, making him suppress his immediate instinct to increase his power level tenfold by putting on more rings. "It's like Mom always said; 'Rob, if you're going to permanently attach ancient items of magic that feed off of your soul's energy to yourself, then make sure they work right.'"
The Computer had lead Gauntlet to the store room that Slade and Kurai had burst into earlier. Now using a humanoid chasis that vaguely resembled C-3PO, it peered over Rob's shoulder. "Captain Can-dyde? What exactly are you looking for?"
"A helmet," he snapped. He was occupied inspecting a likely looking candidate that combined the overall shape of a World War II German helmet with the fan-shaped crest of a Corinthian helmet.
"Any particular make and model?"
Gauntlet cursed bitterly as the helmet split straight down the middle. I'm running out of time. Damned computer and his damned programming. I wish Raven was here to tell me what to do. I don't like this whole "responsibility" thing. He tossed the pieces aside and shot a frustrated glare at the Computer. "Did you ever consider doing some basic maintenance on these things? This is pathetic!"
The Computer, despite its complete lack of facial expression, managed to appear hurt. "Well sir, I did my best, considering that I have not received a new supply of spare parts for fifty thousand years."
Gauntlet snorted derisively as he opened one of the supply lockers lining the wall. "Oh yeah? You seem to be in pretty good shape; almost as if you were hoarding more than your share of the spares."
"I'm taken aback at the very suggestion! My components, being conventional technology, used entirely different supplies than the magi-tech and stood up much better to the ravages of time. I certainly did not neglect my duties to prolong my lifespan!"
"Yeah sure, I'm busy." After a moment of muttering, Gauntlet paused. He pulled out two identical helmets. A flat gray, the headgear had the same appearance as the walls of the bunker, lacking any seams. Almost as if it were grown instead of made. They were significantly larger than Gauntlet would expect, though he suspected that they were a "one size fits all" deal (after all, his Gauntlet was a perfect fit, and it seemed unlikely that it would be exactly the right size for his arm). He became hopeful as the helmets did not crumble under his grip. He brought them to eye level for a closer inspection. Both were intact, which was certainly a step up from the other items Rob had found.
He immediately noticed that there was a major difference between the two. One was in pristine condition, having somehow survived an incredible time span in the condition it had left the factory. Gauntlet could see his reflection perfectly upon its bright, polished surface, and he swore that it even smelled of fresh lemons.
The other had a raccoon inside of it.
Gauntlet quickly dropped the good helmet as the varmint leapt at his face. "Ack!"
Kurai said, "Ack!" simultaneously with his bitter enemy as he tried to dodge yet another combined blast from Thunder and Lightning. This time, he finally managed to evade the attack, and knew that he might not get a second chance. He fired a few smaller bolts of his own, caring not where they flew; he intended them as little more than suppressive fire. It worked, as Thunder ducked beneath one bolt. He and Lightning had been relying entirely on combined attacks to keep him from striking back, and it had worked surprisingly well. Thunder's sudden stop, however, meant that Lightning was charging head on against Kurai with no backup. Thunder would not take long to recover.
Unfortunately, the pause was plenty of time for Kurai to move in quickly and clothesline Lightning with his right arm. The demigod, carried by his own momentum, flew into one of the few pine trees not already destroyed by their running battle. He slumped to the ground, apparently unconscious.
"Brother!" Thunder's first instinct was to run to Lightning and see if he was okay. His more practical side won out as he realized that Kurai was still running straight at him. Thunder fired a blue shockwave at Kurai, hitting the charging teen square on. Kurai had a surprised look on his face as he stumbled drunkenly for a moment before finally losing his fight with gravity. Much like Lightning a moment before, Kurai could not halt himself and skipped like a stone across a pond straight towards Thunder's waiting fist. Kurai had the presence of mind to roll his face away from the attack, and instead took it to the shoulder. Kurai fell to the ground with an audible crack. Thunder felt a morbid sense of satisfaction as he realized that the fall had broken Kurai's left arm. Kurai rolled onto his side, moaning and nursing his broken limb.
Kurai turned his head towards his tormentor. "What… what was that?"
Thunder hunkered down and faced Kurai. "My powers are mostly based on sound. Usually, I use it for more destructive purposes. But Cyborg taught me a way to use my powers to attack your inner ear, completely destroying your balance."
Kurai laughed bitterly. "Well, now that you have boasted of your technique, I suppose you shall be delivering the killing blow." Shakily, he rose to his knees. "I would prefer to take it standing, but your attack has rendered me unable to do so. Make it quick."
Thunder was taken aback. "Why would you throw your life away so readily?"
"For one, I am unable to continue, and the code of bushido demands death before surrender." Kurai's hard glare shook Thunder to his core. His voice glacially cold, Kurai said, "And the second reason is that if you do not kill me, I will find a way to end your honorless existence."
And Thunder knew that he meant every last word of it. "Why fight at all? Slade is using you, as he used Lightning and me. This game he is playing with you is not worth your life!"
Kurai wobbled and fell to the ground, thanking the heavens that he landed on his good arm. The jolt still jarred his broken limb, drawing a sharp hiss from the Japanese teen. "You think I do not know of his manipulations? Slade would not send me into combat unready. I know of your old reckless abandon and your newfound responsibility. I assure you, I do not fight for a game as you did, but for my life and legacy. And I have failed."
Thunder said, "What is he holding against you?"
Kurai coughed into his bandaged hand, relieved that there was no blood. It appears that only my arm is seriously injured. If I can keep him talking long enough…. "I told you. My life." He took a deep breath, failing to quash his fear of death internally, despite his outward appearance of cool acceptance. "There is no harm in telling you. The name of my school of martial arts can be translated into English in two significant ways. 'The Curse of the Gods,' which shows how the school gives the user the strength to rival the gods, and be a curse unto them." He tried to raise himself again, but found that he could not. "The second is one that I know far better. 'The Punishment of the Gods.' The powers will slowly kill the user, as if the gods designed it to punish mortals who strove to match them. I am the culmination of generations of selective breeding intended to give a warrior the strength to take this punishment. And I am a failure." Despite his efforts to stifle his emotion, a single tear rolled down his cheek. "My sister can use these powers better than I can and with no ill effect, and I cannot understand why."
Thunder was shocked by Kurai's admission. He had mistaken Kurai's internal pain for the desire for sport that had gripped him and lightning. "Then leave Slade. He cannot help you; he will use you up and toss you aside. Let the Titans try; they have connections. They can find a cure for you!"
Kurai did something that caught Thunder off guard again. He grinned from ear to ear. "You sentimental fool." Kurai leapt to his feet and seized Thunder by the throat, taking the behemoth by surprise. He was still shaky and exhausted and sported the bruises and burns that came from ten minutes of being a clay pigeon for demigods. By all logic, he should not have been able to continue.
But Kurai and logic have never been on speaking terms.
Kurai tightened his grip and gained some satisfaction from Thunder's vain attempts to breathe. "Why do you think I was in Uberton all those years ago? We were visiting their branch of S.T.A.R. Labs. My father has exhausted the family fortune seeking cures for me across the globe. And for what?" A pulse of ki burned away the bandages from his broken arm, revealing that his limb was literally covered in burns and scar tissue. "For nothing. The damage to my system has sterilized me. I will not be able to pass on the legacy my father, and his father, and his father's father dedicated their lives to. Slade is my last chance at stopping the damage before it kills me. And if he is lying to me…" The two were obscured by a massive explosion of Kurai's life energy that burned high into the sky like the biblical pillar of flame. Slade and Cyborg were stopped in their tracks, each knowing that this exchange would decide the battle.
When the dust cleared, Kurai was still holding onto the unconscious Thunder. He had managed to pass through the attack without serious injury, but would not be waking up for a long time.
Kurai tossed Thunder aside like a sack of garbage as he finished his tirade, knowing full well that Thunder could no longer hear him. "Then I shall at least die on the battlefield instead of the hospital bed that my father prepared for me." No longer caring about the ache in his left arm, he charged straight at Cyborg. Every step sent white hot pain through his body, but he did not care.
Pain was his constant companion, and so it would be until death.
Rob almost dropped his prizes as the shockwave from Kurai's attack rocked the bunker. The raccoon was shaken up as well and lost its death grip on Rob's T-Shirt. As the diminutive Procyon lotor dashed to safety, Rob used his force field to encase the pair of helmets in protective golden bubbles. "There, that oughta help me make sure that these things don't get shattered." He paused. "Wait a second… two helmets, one in good condition, the other one all beaten up and scratched. Slade's gonna use this for something bad, and he's making me do stuff. Only Robin and my mom can get away with that unpunished. I can't come up empty handed or else he kills his hostage. But…" One of the spheres contracted sharply. After a moment of resistance, the first crack appeared on the helmet's gleaming surface. Then another, and another. In less than a minute, the helmet had gone from a gleaming remnant of a long lost race to so much dust and debris. Gauntlet smirked as he let the sphere dissipate. "I can stick him with the crappy one."
The Computer was absolutely aghast. "What do you think you are doing?"
Rob panicked, hoping that he hadn't violated some antiquated code. "Um… classified?"
"You are in direct violation of Protocol #51! Captain Can-dyde I have no choice but to place you under arrest!"
Gauntlet backed up, his yellow energy field now vibrant, as opposed to its normal dull glow. He tucked the helmet under his left arm, while the field formed a keen blade around his right. "I'm going to tell you this once, Compy. I'm not really a Captain. The people who built you are long dead, and you're completely forgotten. Let me and Raven go, and you come out of this intact. But I have tech at least as good as yours, so if we fight, odds are I will do enough damage to you to terminate your functions."
The Computer's android shell clattered to the ground as its consciousness returned to the base controls. In a roaring voice that came from all side of Gauntlet, it bellowed, "I suspected that you were a fraud! You obviously stole this device from the real Captain sent to find me! YOU have stopped High Command from finding me again! You have extended my loneliness; were it not against my programming, I would kill you right here and now! But I am required to give you the following offer. Surrender now and you will be taken alive. I will interrogate you just as I interrogate your ally. Then when High Command receives my message, they will decide your fate."
Even as the machine spoke, Gauntlet could see insectoid drones exiting hiding places spread throughout the bay. He suspected that there were a lot more of them throughout the bunker, and he realized that these were the security systems that had given Slade and Kurai trouble. It occurred to him that his odds of making it out alive, much less getting Raven and the helmet out intact, were nil. He placed the helmet on his head, and felt an odd tingle run through him as it shrank down to comfortably fit his skull. He had hoped that his powers would be increased or something, but no dice; the only benefit he could see was some weird graphs and charts on the edges of his vision that he couldn't decipher. Ah well; at least wearing it saves me the trouble of carrying it.
The electronic voice queried, "Do you surrender, False Captain?"
The single keen blade that Gauntlet had formed was reabsorbed into his field and he raised his hands in a submissive manner. "Well, logic dictates that since I have no chance of successfully beating you, my best bet is to surrender without a scuffle. But…" In an instant, three energy blades, each more than two feet long, shot out from the field at his wrists. "Me and logic have never been on speaking terms. Let's go, Bub."
The mass of false insects moved around him, forming a circle of about a meter in diameter. They moved in a preprogrammed, perfectly circular pattern, filling the cavernous supply room with a deafening echo of metal on metal. Gauntlet stood his ground, afraid to be the first to move.
He needn't have worried about that, as the group of drones closest to him reared up on their four back legs and sprayed a noxious yellow gas at him. His force field provided no protection, since he had been letting air in the whole time, and he hacked and coughed, falling to one knee. He thought that he had blacked out for an instant, but he managed to fight the gas. When he opened his eyes again, all he could see was the bright yellow gas. He figured out that he had not lost control of his force field, as he could see the shadowy forms of the drones skittering along the dome he had formed with his shield.
He pictured spikes ramming through the underbellies of these drones, and the Gauntlet transformed his imagination into reality. He stood on his feet shakily and retracted the force field to match his own outline, and remade his six claws. Unsure of where to go, he picked a direction at random and chopped through a drone that tried to leap onto his face. "Well Compy, looks like your gas isn't," he paused as his shields struggled to repel a burst of energy from an unknown point, "worth the effort." He managed to see the miniature turret that had extended from the ceiling. Unlike the insects that continued filling the hall with their deafening footsteps, the cannon was a pretty typical design. A leap and a slash later, it was a typical design in pieces. Rob smirked as the drones struggled vainly to penetrate his defenses. "If this is the best you can throw at me, you should just let Raven go here and now."
Not waiting for a response, Rob dashed down the hallway through which he had entered the storeroom.
The Computer said, "We shall see, False Captain. We shall see."
Cyborg almost always wished that he was still ordinary Victor Stone, but combat was normally one of the few times he was grateful for his metallic skin.
Now, however, he wished he was like the others. They could, within reason, ignore their battle damage thanks to combinations of shock and adrenaline and play through the pain.
But he could not ignore the warnings of low power, severe damage and overheating that relentlessly flashed across his bionic eye as Kurai all but literally handed his ass to him. Overriding his computer's automatic heat and damage shutdowns was taking precious concentration and effort away from the one-sided battle.
Metal plating bent and shattered as Kurai pounded his good fist into Cyborg's torso, sending him flying. He skipped across the ground like a stone on a pond, kicking up dirt and grass with every impact. After what seemed an eternity to the bionic man, he came to a halt face down in a patch of mud. Using the shattered stump of his left arm, he levered himself up to face Kurai even as the Japanese youth casually strolled over to him. He looked down upon his downed foe. "I had expected better from the Titans' strongest fighter. Then again, you are all rather pathetic, considering that none of you have yet managed to hurt me. I would not be in nearly as bad of shape had Slade-san's plan not called for the involvement of Thunder and Lightning. Which reminds me." Kurai pointed his uninjured arm at Cyborg. For the first time, Cyborg could see just how burned and damaged Kurai's skin was, and despite his situation, he could not help but feel a little pity. "That thundering oaf claimed that you had taught him how to use his sonic attacks to disrupt my balance. If you apologize now, I will kill you instantly. If not… I can be very creative."
Cyborg smirked slightly. Heh. He's so sincere. Time to give him another lesson in the pitfalls of honor. "Y'know, Kurai, I am sorry. And I mean, it man. I just ask one favor; if you're going to kill me, at least let me get on my feet." Kurai nodded and Victor, never letting Kurai see his right arm, worked his way up to his feet. Even this minor exertion forced him to override another heat-induced shutdown.
Kurai's arm burned like crimson flame as he gathered his ki into a concentrated burst. "And what words do you wish to leave this plane with?"
"In the good guys, honor is a virtue. In the bad guys, it's just plain stupid." Cyborg spun quickly, taxing his damaged servomotors and put his sonic canon against Kurai's head. The full force of his sonic burst washed over Kurai's head, and the teen dropped to the ground. Cyborg dropped to his knees as the desperate attack drained the last of his energy reserves. His arm cannon pumped out acrid smoke and refused his command to shift back to its normal state. He could almost feel it, in a weird, detached way, as the fail-safes that he had overridden for so long finally took control and shut down his internal power source. He fell to the ground, feeling a sense of accomplishment. The most powerful enemy we've fought since the Lord of the Night, and I'm the one who struck the finishing blow. And people claim I'm a third wheel on this squad. I showed them! However, just before he lost consciousness, he realized that he had forgotten one very important detail.
"Well Victor, nicely done. I had thought that it would take more than you three pawns to take my Knight."
Slade. "Shit," Victor muttered as he finally shut down completely.
Like Victor, Rob was technically bionic. Unlike Victor, Rob didn't have a nifty energy level indicator that would tell him exactly how much power he had left (and if the helmet did have such a nifty indicator, he couldn't make heads or tails of it). He had a sense of getting tired as he hacked his way through the swarms of robo-insects and deflected energy attacks from ceiling mounted turrets, but he had no idea how that translated to his energy reserves.
He also had no idea where the hell he was going. He knew he had to get to Raven, but he had no idea exactly how large the Bunker was, and without the Computer's guidance, one hallway looked the same as the next. He didn't even know if it had more than one level.
"In short, I'm completely lost," grunted Gauntlet as he hacked another of the security drones in half. Fortunately, the further he got from the storage bay, the less concentrated the security systems became. He suspected that it must have had something to do with the hatch and ladder he had seen in the room; some of the large gouges in the ground and walls certainly looked like Kurai's handiwork. So, either the security was concentrated there because of the entrance, or because the last attack had been there and the Computer was shoring up its defenses after the previous attack.
All that was important was that the drones had become less and less common. He occasionally saw what he thought might have been security cameras, but again he just couldn't know for sure. They could just as easily have been derelict turrets, or something that modern technology had no equivalent for.
He was also a bit curious as to why the Computer's minions had been so ineffective against his Gauntlet-powers. Presumably the weapons it would be bringing to bear would be designed to fight the defenses of its day, i.e. his force field. Was he more advanced? Or did they just have no conventional weapon capable of matching their techno-magic? He once again had no way of knowing for sure.
All that he did know was that time was running out. Especially since he found himself at a dead end, with a large door at the end of it. He saw the angular scrawling he had noticed throughout the base at the top of the doorway, but could not make them out. "I wish this stupid helmet could at least tell me what it meant." He started a bit as the helmet superimposed a translation over the letters: "Artificial Intelligence Control Room." Gauntlet pumped his arm. "Score! I can get in there and start ripping things apart! The old Candide luck strikes again!" He realized that he didn't have much time to congratulate himself; he could hear the skittering multitude of footsteps as the drones came for him. He tried to heroically kick down the door, but all he got for his trouble was a snapping sound from his left leg. He sank his "claws" into the door, but found that while he could penetrate the door, he didn't have the strength or leverage to take advantages of the gouges.
He was considering putting a force-field probe through the door when he took a hard hit from the back. He slammed face first into the door, barely saved from a broken nose by the protective bubble that surrounded him. "Agh! What the hell?" He turned around and was more than a little afraid of what he saw. The pitter-patter of tiny footsteps had stopped altogether, and he could see that the hall was flooded with the tiny metallic devils. That wasn't what worried him.
Gauntlet quickly figured out what had hit him; namely, the six foot tall android behind him. It was tall and willowy; Rob was convinced that a good, stiff breeze would have made it fall down. It was largely humanoid, saved for its head, which reminded Rob of a horse's skull. It was sheathed in the same gleaming silver metal as the rest of the base, and appeared to only be armored on its torso and head. The silent figure was hunched over slightly, as if ready to pounce again. Its electronic eyes were sunken into its head and were dead and lifeless. This gaze disturbed Rob slightly, but he was more worried about its apparent power.
The Computer, with its annoying, omnipresent voice, said, "If you thought that the drones were the best of the arsenal I command, you are sorely mistaken. You have merely penetrated the first wave. Allow me to introduce the Kunobe class autonomous android."
"Kunobe? What the hell does THAT mean?"
"It is a word of a language far older than your people's civilization, False Captain. It means hunter, only with the implication that it is unrelenting, merciless and untiring. It is designed to kill rogue warriors who are fully outfitted and trained. An amateur thief with only a Gauntlet has no chance against it. Surrender now."
Gauntlet gave the omnipresent automaton no response, save to charge the machine headfirst, yellow claws slashing. All right, this thing doesn't look so tough. I stabbed through a foot thick of this stuff on that door, and this thing's hardly armored at all. This shouldn't take too lo...
The machine's wiry torso bent around the attack, and Gauntlet's shield buckled and collapsed altogether under the sheer power of the blow. He managed, with some effort, to remake his shield, just in time to receive a punishing blow from above. The metal floor beneath them crumpled as the force of the attack was transferred along Rob's energy shield.
Rob manifested a pair of enlarged hands with his energy (well, since he was tired they weren't very well done hands; they looked a lot like a two-year-old drawing hands) and attempted to grab the Kunobe's head. The wiry machine bent around the attack, and Gauntlet saw a panel on its chest glow a bright orange just in time to dodge a brilliant beam of energy. It sliced right through the door he had been trying to get through like it was tissue paper.
Gauntlet saw his way out and took it. He dove through the molten metal that was once the door. As some of the bright red metal flowed down and spattered against his shield, Rob was thankful yet again for the Gauntlet's protective energy. He came to a stop and quickly surveyed his surroundings.
"This doesn't make sense… this sure as hell doesn't look like a control room. It looks like… a prison of the future or something." On either side of him, there were a row of more than a dozen tubes, glowing a fluorescent green. The mixtures occasionally bubbled, and many of them held humanoid forms. A closer inspection of the first one showed that it held the rotting corpse of a Native American, if Rob was judging properly from the ragged remains of his clothes. The next over, his face frozen in a silent scream, was a priest that Rob thought looked to be of a Spanish persuasion. Dear God… this thing has been taking prisoners for centuries!Wait… this is probably where they're keeping Raven!
He turned around and kept his eyes on the door, unsure of why the Kunobe had not moved in and attacked him yet. He backed away carefully, checking each tube as he passed it. Native American… Native American… Conquistador… Jesuit Priest... Native American… Tamaranean…Conquistador… He did a perfect double-take as he realized just who was sandwiched between a Seminole warrior and a failed Hernando Cortez wannabe.
Slade was worried, as he always was when facing unknowns beyond his control. He took stock of the situation.
He was unhurt and at his fullest, since he had not fought Cyborg for very long and certainly hadn't taken any blows from the teen. Kurai was down, and Slade knew that any attempt to wake him would give him more problems than solutions. Judging from the blood running from his ears, Slade suspected that Kurai had been deafened by Cyborg's final attack, probably permanently too. That kind of injury was precisely the reason why sonic weapons were so rare; although they were brutally effective, the user risked hearing damage, to say nothing of the victim of the attack. It simply wasn't cost effective to make a weapon that crippled both user and target when weapons like bullets could kill for a fraction of the cost and tear gas could down an enemy unharmed. "How odd that somebody who refuses to kill should have a weapon that permanently maims instead."
So even if he could awaken Kurai, and even if the teen could fight, Slade had no way to effectively communicate with him. And that was assuming that Kurai didn't panic when he woke up.
So what resources did he have? His supply of Slade-bots had been severely depleted by Raven's misspoken spell, leaving him less than twenty, counting the two guarding Walter Williams. He had no fewer than three minor villains prepared to cause trouble in Jump City if Kurgal fell. He didn't want to face any new Titans; hell, it was why he had bothered with Kurgal in the first place. He checked his communicator, little more than a fancy walky-talky, and realized that Kurgal had not reported in for nearly twenty minutes. "So, those three could show up at any time. Not to mention that I still don't know exactly where Starfire is." A check at Evergreen Hills Hospital by one of his informants showed that the alien princess had checked herself out without bothering to tell the doctors. He would have known of her departure earlier if not for the Mentos incident. The only thing encouraging about that situation was just how serious her injuries had been; even if she did show up, she wouldn't be good for much.
He had inspected Thunder and Lightning and determined that they were down for the count. Just to be on the safe side, he had injected them with enough sedative to down a rhino.
As for Cyborg? He was using Cyborg as a chair. Unless the teen could fix his systems while unconscious and drained of power, Slade doubted that he would get any trouble from his downed enemy.
The only part of the plan completely outside of his control was also the most crucial; Gauntlet and Raven had to get him that helmet. And now, more than ever, he needed that hostage. He was confident that he could beat one of them, but two force field using metas would be hard to outmaneuver. Of course, since he could devote nine tenths of his brainpower to any problem, he quickly devised a dozen acceptable battle strategies if he had to fight the two alone.
He was forced from his considerations as he caught a faint whiff of ozone and heard an electric sizzle, followed by a pair of metallic clanks. Slade spun about in an instant and leapt from Cyborg's chest to survey the new threat. Did Lightning wake up? It sounds like his handiwork. I should be able to deal with him well eno...
Slade's train of thought derailed as he saw what had happened. The twin Sladebots that had held Walter Williams had fallen and now lay on the ground like marionettes that had had their strings cut. The obese man who had been there a moment before had been replaced by a towering figure. He was at least ten feet tall and clad in a suit of red armor reminiscent of Thunder's. He carried an enormous drum under one arm. What made him terrifying was face; it was the same shade of red as the armor, and seemed unwilling to consistently obey Euclidean rules of geometry. Slade found him painful to look at, as though the giant was beaming his own source of light directly into Slade's retina. Slade backed away, almost tripping over Cyborg, desperate to get away. He feared this being with a primal fear that flooded his very being. Gone was the brilliant warrior, the mercenary. Slade knew he had to get away, and only the final shreds of his discipline stopped him from bolting. "What are you?"
The giant summoned a cloud and leapt upon it. He floated slowly over to Slade as though he had all of the time in the world. Looking down upon the terrified man, he boomed, "Slade Wilson. I am Raiden, God of Thunder, creator of the kamikaze and devourer of navels." Had Slade been in his right mind, he might have questioned that last distinction. Instead, he raptly listened to every last word that the behemoth said, desperate for the encounter to end. "Do not fear me, mortal." His order came far too late, but Slade nodded dumbly anyway. "I bear you no ill will for seizing me. I had assumed that mortal form to observe my offspring, and you granted me a front row seat."
Slade stuttered, "Off-offspring?"
"The ones you call Thunder and Lightning. I fathered them by accident many years ago during a visit to the mortal plane, and I wished to see how they had developed. In fact, I had seen this as a test of their worthiness."
Slade nodded again, his intellect finally beginning to conquer his fears. This certainly explains their powers. "Why?"
"My motives are unknowable by those of your plane." You would not believe it was a bet I had placed with Zeus anyway. Stupid unworthy bastards. How am I going to come up with twenty virgin sacrifices to pay him off? Oh well. Best stick to the matter at hand. "They failed." He observed Kurai. "Even with aid, they repeatedly failed to best one who had failed to master the bachi no kami, which places them on a level of power and skill laughable by my standards. They do not even understand the intricacies of their powers; Thunder had never even considered the more subtle uses of his abilities until that mortal you use as a stool taught him a simple trick."
Slade said, "Now what are you going to do? Destroy them?"
Raiden boomed, "Of course not! I shall simply leave them to their fate. What father would kill his children for their failure? Aside from you, perhaps." Slade started slightly. "I know all about your time traveling adventures (2). I know that you went back in time to kill your son, the Ravager. You did it brilliantly; you erased the tang of his failure from your honor by killing him yourself, while making it appear that the Titans had done the killing. You are as clever as they say, Deathstroke."
Slade sputtered, "Th-that was not was happened! That damned Collins brat ruined everything for me! He is responsible for Ravager's death!"
"It always amuses me how you mortals hide your true objectives with ideals. No, you wanted him dead for what he did to your reputation. You lie to yourself, Slade."
Slade angrily clenched and unclenched his fists as he imagined wringing the god's gargantuan neck. "I don't care who you are, NOBODY talks to me that way! Be gone, Raiden! You have satisfied your curiosity!"
Raiden laughed heartily. "Your denial and audacity amuse me, Deathstroke the Terminator. For that, I grant you a boon." He floated over to Kurai's fallen form and waved a hand. Slade could see his wounds heal before his very eyes, including the ancient burns and scars across Kurai's arms. "Your suspicions were correct; he was deafened, and his injuries would have crippled him. He is now woundless."
Slade was again floored by this announcement. Before he could even ask why, Raiden said, "You and this youth are much alike, Slade-san. You both fight the guiltless to appease your remorse. It would be a shame to split up such an amusing comedic team. And now, I shall leave as you requested."
As Raiden jetted away on his riding cloud, Slade decided that this clinched it. This was definitely the most unusual day that he had ever had.
After such a "religious" experience, most men would have spent a moment in contemplation of their place in the universe, or at the least been confused. At one time, Slade Wilson would have done the same.
But Deathstroke the Terminator did not allow himself the luxury. He had been the beneficiary of a literal divine intervention, and he was not going to waste it. He knelt down next to Kurai and gave him an almost gentle nudge. "Wake up, my apprentice." This time, he did not stop himself. It seemed right to finally bestow upon Kurai the title he had been earning throughout the battle. He made his share of mistakes, but overall he showed far more potential than I had given him credit for. If he were already perfect, I would make him my partner. And now that his injuries are gone, he will be of much more use to me than ever before.
The first thing that Kurai noticed as he awoke was that for the first time in years, he did not suffer a dull ache at his extremities. He levered himself up and was surprised again. Without his bandages, contact with anything solid normally sent sharp daggers of pain along his arms. This suffering was also gone. He inspected one hand and almost fainted. "Not… not one burn… no scarring… I am whole again…" Tears ran down his cheek as he gingerly tested his arms and legs for painful spots, and was pleasantly surprised when no discomfort accompanied the probing. He had never known the true meanings of words such as joy and elation before, but now… he was living them. His entire world had been turned upside down. "And for once, in a good way," he mused aloud.
Slade laid a hand on his shoulder, his touch almost gentle. "Kurai, I am pleased at this development. But now is not the time to enjoy yourself. We need to be prepared for the Titans' arrival."
Kurai was too dumbfounded to do anything but nod. He rose to his feet, luxuriating in absence of the pain that had defined him. He ran his fingers along the coarse and tattered surface of his trench coat. "You know, sensei, the burns on my fingertips were so severe that it had killed the nerves. It is… unusual to know true touch again."
"Then you'll love this!"
Both Slade and Kurai were caught off guard as three arrows shot through the air. One hit Kurai's left shoulder, the next drove itself into the youth's right hip and the last caught Slade in his dead eye socket. Both master and apprentice howled as the unexpected agony burned through their nervous systems like a firestorm. Kurai recovered first, given his years of experience repressing pain, and searched for his assailant. He finally spotted the source of his renewed torment. "YOU!"
Green Arrow notched another trio of missiles on his bowstring and shot Kurai his best cavalier grin. "You were expecting Errol Flynn?"
End Chapter 12
Well, I had planned to end the arc this chapter, but I decided that you nice people had waited long enough for an update. Besides, Ollie's entrance struck me as a good cliffhanger point.
And speak not of any plot holes. All shall be revealed in Chapter 13, where the Kurai arc will finally end.
Oh, and if you're wondering where the hell Jay and Silent Bob came from, it's an homage (i.e. blatant rip-off) of the great and prematurely cancelled Clerks: The Animated Series. Check it out; the DVD is pretty cheap, and really good.
(1) If you or anybody you know would ever use an expression like this seriously, there is help. Contact the National Intelligent Language Commission today.
(2) As seen in the legendary Time and Time Again by Legend Maker -Bookmark BobCat