Chapter Nine: New Days, Endless Nights

"What cough was she trying to do?" Beast Boy said, "Kill us?"

"She just saved your life," Raven said, running to Blackfire's prone form in front of the cage bottom. After she had made her literally superhuman effort, Blackfire collapsed, the last of her strength spent.

Raven lay her hands on Blackfire's forehead, but when she tried to heal her, she realized that given the limited amount of life energy she could transmit through her hands, she would not be able to direct enough energy to Blackfire in time to save her. There was only one thing she could do.

Holding Blackfire in a tight embrace, she felt the energy flow out of her entire body, infusing Blackfire with the life she so desperately needed.

"You know, that would be totally hot if it weren't for the fact that it's Blackfire," Beast Boy said.

Raven apparently neither heard nor cared as she stayed there. Finally she let out a tired breath and let Blackfire gently down to the ground.

For a moment, nobody dared move, not knowing what would happen next. Then Blackfire opened her eyes and smiled impishly, if a bit weakly. "You know, Raven, that wasn't so bad," she said.

Before anyone could reply, there was a large blast from behind them, with bits of rock and clouds of dust from the rubble the Puppet King had previously been buried under flying into the corridor.

"Let me guess, more trouble," Cyborg said, raising his cannon.

None of the Titans or Blackfire wished a fight now, but it appeared that they had no choice. They steeled themselves before seeing three large figures become visible in the dust.

"If I remember our plan correctly, Lady Raven, you were supposed to relieve us," the Lord Caretaker said wryly, emerging from the smoke.

(scene change)

Later, they oversaw the police bringing most of the unholy alliance into custody, with the exception of Mad Mod and Jinx, who had successfully escaped into the tunnels. Not that the Titans or Centauri in any condition to pursue.

After that, they went into the predawn air to the top of Titans Tower to await the Javelin-7, which would escort the Centauri ship out of Earth space.

"So, I guess this means I get a reduced sentence now, right?" Blackfire asked the Lord Caretaker.

"Maybe," he replied enigmatically.

"Maybe? What do you mean, maybe?"

"Wait until Lantern Stewart gets here," the Lord Caretaker said.

Blackfire looked at Raven, who shrugged slightly. None of the other Titans seemed to know what he was talking about either.

When the Javelin landed and the Green Lantern stepped out, the Lord Caretaker said, "Good tidings to you, Lantern Stewart."

"And to you Lord Caretaker. I suppose you wanted more than a simple escort?" he asked jovially.

"Just a few questions answered. Tell me, Lantern Stewart, is the Javelin the only ship Earth has that is warp-capable?"

"At the risk of you guys invading us, yes it is. Even re-engineering Thanagarian technology, it's still going to take us guys a long time before we get more warp ships. The only reason we have this one's because we lugged out the last working Martian engine J'onn managed to find. Why do you ask?"

"You will see in a moment," the Lord Caretaker said. "First, I have another question, Lantern Stewart: can anyone pilot your ship?"

"Well, no," Green Lantern said, "Piloting the ship requires not only that you provide retinal and fingerprint scans, but also several other classified tests to ensure only members of the League can pilot it."

"Ah, good," the Lord Caretaker said, before turning to the assembled Titans, "Komand'r, of the House of 'and'r of Tameran, I, as the Lord Caretaker of the Centauri people, hereby pronounce sentence upon you: As of now, your sentence shall indeed be reduced; you are hereby freed from Centauri confinement, and indeed, all cases against you will be suspended."

He continued, "I emphasize 'suspended', as all cases against you will be reinstated should you ever leave the confines of Earth without the consent of either the Centauri Lord Caretaker or the unanimous consent of the Titans, of whom you will be a part of until either you receive our permission to leave or their unanimous consent to leave." He relaxed a bit. "It is a bit wordy, I know, but it gets the job done."

There was a shocked silence as the rest of them digested this information. Then the silence erupted as everybody tried to speak at once.

"You can't-"

"I can't-"

"WHAT!"

Officer Cron was the first to make his opinion heard. "Lord Caretaker, with all due respect, Komand'r has proven herself to be highly untrustworthy, and indeed, a danger to all around her, and you would leave her on Earth?"

"Yeah man!" Beast Boy added. "You got your unanimous consent right here!"

"No you don't." Raven said quietly.

Everyone focused on her as she continued, "In case some of us have forgotten, she saved your lives in there. I think that she should be forgiven and allowed another chance to join us."

For a moment, the assemblees were silent. Then Robin spoke up, "If we kicked out everyone who had betrayed, or at least, lied to us, then I would have been the first to go. I won't trust her immediately, but I'm willing to give her a chance."

Starfire looked from Robin to Raven. "Raven, do you trust my sister?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Well, if Raven and Robin say it's alright, then…maybe? But only if she behaves herself!" she added, wagging her finger in all seriousness.

"I'm not too sure about this, but I trust Rae. If she says Blackfire can stay, I'm okay with that." Cyborg added.

"Helooo! Am I the only one who's sick of having my butt stabbed?" Beast Boy shouted.

"Back stabbed," Cyborg corrected.

"Whatever! First Blackfire, then Robin, then Terra, and now Blackfire again! For what it's worth, I say she should be on that ship in chains!"

"I couldn't agree more!" Blackfire said.

"See? She couldn't agree-huh?"

"Oh please, don't look so surprised! At least I could escape from a Centauri prison!"

"But do you want to?" Raven asked.

Blackfire opened her mouth. It wasn't the question she had expected. "Well…er…"

Raven nodded. "Next time, don't let your pride do the talking." Ignoring the offended look Blackfire gave her, Raven told the Lord Caretaker, "I think she stays."

"Very well then, Lady Raven," the Lord Caretaker said. "I am very pleased indeed that we have reached a satisfying conclusion. Come along now Officers, we have neglected our duties long enough," the Lord Caretaker said, stepping into his ship.

After the Titans watched the two ships disappear into the sky, Blackfire said, "So now, Raven, because of you, I'm stuck on your little backwater planet. What do you plan to do about that?"

Raven stood silent for a moment, as she watched the sun's rays herald the dawn. "Well, first, I'd like for us to have breakfast," she said, in the light of a new day.

In more ways than one.

(scene change)

The Puppet King felt himself falling further and further down into the darkness He knew what to expect. It had happened to him once before. However, this time he knew what would be awaiting him…

As before, he found himself perched on the edge of the great cliff.

"What, oh what, am I to do with you?" the voice of his Master asked from his dark throne.

"I tried my best, Master, I did, please, allow me another chance for revenge-"

"I know you tried your best, Toy Lord, but it was obviously not enough, was it? And because of that, your revenge will have to be," here the voice took on the aura of infinite malice, "indefinitely postponed."

"No, Master-"

"Oh, don't worry, Toy Lord, I never thought you would succeed anyway. In fact, I would go so far as to say you were never meant to succeed anyway."

"M-master?" the Puppet King asked, hardly believing what he was hearing.

"Come now, I am a demon! You don't honestly think I would ever set free a soul I had earned, do you? No, you were just there to gather information-information about your quarries, information that I have gathered. Information that I will give to my true agent on the Earthly plane." The Puppet King could hear the cruel laughter in his voice as he continued, "You were a wonderful dupe, a most excellent…puppet."

"No," the Puppet King whispered.

"And now, my dear Toy Lord, you will learn what happens to those who chose to serve demons without understanding the consequences," his Master said.

The Puppet King suddenly felt a tremendous force lift him off his feet and cast him screaming into the bottomless pit behind him.

And he would scream .

Forever and ever.

Watching the imbecilic plaything disappear into the endless void, the demon set his own essence to finding that of his finest servant.

Yesss, my Lord? thought a voice like a thousand serpents.

My servant, I have a certain task for you to undertake.

My life in your ssserviccce, Lord.

I grant you knowledge of your newest quarry, so that you may undertake your duty to me.

Ah yesss, your daughter. I sssee.

You know what to do when you have her, my servant.

Ka-hsss, of courssse, of courssse, my Lord Trigon, sssssss…

Coming soon: In The Shadow Of The Serpent