DISCLAIMER: I don't own the titans, nor do I own anything affiliated with them. I do, however, retain the right to call any unique characters I create my intellectual property. That about sums up the disclaimer. Have fun reading the story!
Well, it didn't take nearly as long to write this chapter, huh? Good ol' summer, how I enjoy your long hours without any schoolwork in site. I guess that just means more time for me to do what I love.
Well, let me just say that despite the length, I tried my hand at a slightly different approach in which to handle dialogue at several points. I hope it allows the plot to flow a bit smoother, but as always I rely on you, the reader, to provide me with feedback.
Oh, yes, it was recommended that I try to balance the mounting psychological tension with a physical variety (which turned out to be a terrific suggestion), and I would be immensely grateful if you would be so kind as to let me know how I did.
So go ahead and enjoy the show!
"I wouldn't eat that if I were you."
Situated within the far corner of Titan Tower's east wing, Beast Boy cast the newcomer a judgmental look from his vigilant position at the opposite end of the second story holding cell. Natural light, having recently decided to travel beyond the meager portal allowed the undersized room, now permitted sparse shadows to satisfy their hunger for both color and clarity.
Sitting on a small cot nestled firmly against one of the dull gray steel-plated walls in which he now found himself, Rune poked a plastic spoon into the semi-solid mass of greenish-purple goo that sat on the tray before him. He could have sworn it twitched.
"What's wrong with it?"
Beast Boy cast him an incredulous look, but remained stoic in his duty of guarding the prisoner. Or at least he tried to. The green boy placed a single hand in one of his front pockets and leaned backwards against the cold wall.
"Dude, are you serious? Starfire made it from scratch. That's what's wrong with it."
Rune gave his early supper another cautious nudge; the meal itself jiggling in protest.
"Is Raven any better?"
The young titan sighed. How many times had he answered this question already? It had been nearly three hours since Cyborg had deposited the lithe girl in the hastily refurbished medical bay, and so far she had done nothing but sleep. And levitate.
"She's not awake yet."
Scarcely twenty minutes had passed guarding their "guest", and already he had been plagued with inquires about Raven's condition more times than he could count. Beast Boy knew it was probably a good sign that this guy was concerned about her, but that still wasn't quite enough to cover up what he and Cyborg had experienced earlier in the day. The question still remained why Raven had called out for help in the first place, and their visitor wasn't exactly a fountain of information.
Robin didn't even know what to make of it. When he had first returned with Starfire from wherever she had dragged him off to, the Boy Wonder had been furious when Cyborg explained the situation. After the mechanical teen filled in the details and described how he and Beast Boy had found their teammate passed out in the arms of the new kid, Robin's features became an expressionless mask. Well, more like a mask beneath a mask. Starfire had simply flown off to check on her unconscious friend.
No one had bothered to deal with the new guy for the first half hour.
Now that things were settling down and Raven's condition had been declared stable, everything was beginning to run a bit smoother, both for the titans and their new acquaintance. The Tameranian girl had even found time to pull together a small meal for their "confused ally" as she had put it.
He is indeed filled with much sorrow and gloom, yes? Perhaps it is for his actions that he now feels the 'deep remorse', and thus only wishes to make amends. I am most certain that when friend Raven awakens from her slumber, we may all rest assured that…
Starfire's words echoed throughout the changeling's memory, right up to the point where Robin had silenced her with a dour look. Whether the alien girl was suffering from another bout of naiveté or if she genuinely believed he was innocent, Beast Boy couldn't say.
The green titan abruptly pushed any more of those thoughts out of his head. What really bothered him was that Robin hadn't even come by yet. The whole point of this "standing guard" thing was so that the Boy Wonder could develop some sort of game plan about how to best deal with the situation and take over.
That particular discussion had taken place more than an hour ago.
Now, he was more or less stuck baby-sitting some jerk who might or might not have deliberately hurt one of his friends, and there wasn't anything more he could do than just keep watch and try to look intimidating.
A faint sigh passed into the room through a pair or green lips, and the vigilant young hero resumed his not-at-all menacing pose.
From the other corner of the room, Rune absently scratched at his left shoulder through an oversized dark blue tee shirt, courtesy of Cyborg, trying to get underneath the puffy bandage that decorated part of his neck. Beast Boy's resolve melted away as soon as it had appeared, and the youngest titan suddenly took a keen interest in the dull linoleum floor beneath his feet.
Rune glanced up over his gelatinous meal, curious as to what he was being offered an apology for. The press of a thumb against his neck, coupled with the placement of his hand quickly cleared up any confusion.
"Oh, yeah…it's OK."
The green boy cast him a skeptical look, though he tried his best to remain detached.
"You're not…angry or anything?"
Rune shook his head, and placed the spoon back on the tray.
"Not really. It's nice to know she has friends that care about her. I'm…not really used to seeing that. Besides, it doesn't hurt much, and I've definitely had worse."
By now, a fork had found its way into his grip, and he guardedly offered the gelatinous pile of mush a swift stab with the utensil. Something yellow and viscous began to ooze out of the tiny puncture wounds now present upon the injured beast, seeming to all the world as if a high school science project had gone terribly wrong.
Whether by courage or stupidity, the young man once again took up the spoon and decided to sample his conquest. The green boy hastily reviewed a mental checklist of all the animals capable of dodging high velocity food from point blank range.
Almost too slowly, the contaminated spoon found a path to its owner's mouth.
Time seemed to remain at a standstill as three quintessential facts made themselves readily apparent to the changeling:
1. It was in fact possible for a person's eyebrow to overtake their hairline.
2. Re-heated mustard was not meant to be used as a type of filling, ever.
3. No one should have to eat anything that looked like it fell off of Plasmus' butt.
A single fluorescent tube abruptly flickered on and hummed lazily overhead, once again instilling within the small room a certain presence of the passage of time.
Beast Boy sucked in a breath and prayed he wouldn't have to clean up after another martyred victim in Starfire's ongoing mission to make something edible.
From his position on the stiff bedding, the youth made the first move and cast his mid-afternoon meal a skeptical look, almost as if it had somehow found a way to momentarily usurp his authority of being higher up on the food chain. A shrewd expression quickly took up residence on his face.
"Tastes kinda like…dill pickles soaked in prune juice with just a hint of mayonnaise."
Rune cocked his head a bit to the side; tongue firmly planted in cheek.
"Not enough mustard, though."
Without further adieu, the young man shrugged his shoulders and gave the meal an enthusiastic nod before digging in.
The green titan regarded the newcomer as if he had just devoured a live kitten smothered in meat sauce and pork rinds. He could already feel the tofu crab cakes from lunch trying to come back up for a second go.
Dude! Forget Cyborg, this guy really does have a cast iron stomach!
Rune, having now carved away the outside layer of his food to reveal its creamy innards, noticed Beast Boy's wide-eyed stare. A knowing smile worked its way across the youth's features, and he offered the young boy his most infectious grin.
"You wanna try some? The outside isn't quite as moist as the gooey stuff, but at least it doesn't make that weird gurgling sound when you stab it."
Fully expecting to have gained a dinner guest, Rune could not have been more surprised to see Beast Boy clamp a hand over his mouth and claw frantically towards the exit. Fate seemed to look kindly upon the changeling that day, for no sooner had he taken two agonizing steps forward than the large, heavy door arduously swung inward upon well-oiled hinges.
Robin stepped through the entryway.
"Beast Boy, I need you to…"
Before the masked teen could finish, the young titan raced past him in search of the nearest potted plant. Robin's cape shot outward under the influence of Beast Boy's hasty retreat.
The Boy Wonder cast his detainee an accusatory glance.
"What was that about?"
Rune offered a simple, befuddled look to his jailer.
"I think he went to get more mustard."
Robin cocked an eyebrow, but quickly dismissed the entire scene altogether. Steeling himself, the masked teen regarded the young man with a deathly calm demeanor and pushed the tray of food off to the side. He pulled up a chair, and took a seat.
"I've reviewed your case file, and I'm left with more questions than answers. We need to talk."
An infinite distance away, far too great an expanse to be modeled in simple words, two young women peered at one another amidst coarse sentiments and perpetually dark surroundings. Raven cast her conceited self a spiteful glare.
"Who gave you the right to choose what I can and cannot remember?"
Wisdom answered the seething girl with a sarcastic glance, her golden cloak billowing slightly as she took in the red-speckled dome looking down upon them both.
"You did. Or should I say we all did. It matters little, I suppose. The answer to such a question remains trivial when compared to the overwhelming plight you have so garishly chosen to subjugate us to."
The slight adjustment of bifocals briefly drew attention to a newly formed sneer.
"Have you no sense of your own? Must I delineate each and every course of action from my glass prison you so crudely refer to as a mind? Surely you must realize the severity of what lies ahead. I dare say even you hold the intellectual fortitude necessary to glance forward, if but only to the point at which your ridiculous optimism overshadows the darker truth."
Raven, having absorbed this verbal abuse for long enough, interjected.
"And what 'truth' would that be? My father is an arch-demon from the deepest pits of Hell. What would you have me do? I have sacrificed everything to hold him off for just a little bit longer. Another day, a year; an hour, a second. Anything is better than simply giving up and waiting to be consumed!"
The young woman shot a harsh breath through clenched teeth, both eyes boring into her rival's skull with such intensity as to say without a doubt: I speak the truth. You will submit to it.
Wisdom's sudden, shrill laugh reverberated throughout Raven's psyche much like a stone cast into an icy pond.
"You miss the point entirely, yet again. Are you so enamored with the what-if's that you are rendered blind to the will-be's? Our lineage is what it is. I speak of what is not, and what must never come to pass."
The girl in blue was unable to contain a puzzled expression, her previous bluster having been deflated. A goldenrod cape swept by its owner's ankles as Wisdom slowly circled her counterpart, shirting a perilous edge of the stone walkway with ease.
"I speak of the young man that has so effortlessly sidestepped all your snares and pitfalls. Rune is a broken individual, Raven, I see that clearly now. To follow along this path with him at your side will only bring upon father's wrath all the sooner."
The dark young woman had been temporarily struck mute at such a revelation, and she quickly reviewed all that had been said so far. Her mind focused on one statement in particular.
Raven cast a sidelong glance at her intellectual half, the Emotion in question having positioned herself near the shoulder of the girl in blue.
"How can you call him 'broken', knowing full well that we are too? What does it even matter how damaged he is? I can help him, and maybe, in time, we could learn to –"
The scholarly persona snapped her head to the side, taking in the gloomy young woman seemingly for the first time. Cold, unfeeling orbs assessed the situation.
"Help? Is that what you think he'll offer? Tell me, would you build a house with rotten lumber, or partake of food that had long since gone bad?"
"That's not the – "
"Of course you wouldn't. In both cases, you would throw out the refuse and obtain materials that were more suitable for the task at hand. That is not to say the refuse is completely worthless, mind you. Fertilizer is an essential stepping-stone in the quest to produce something of actual value."
A smoldering look encompassed Raven's features as she took in the words being addressed to her. She knew what it was like to come from a broken family. It wasn't his fault he was brought up in such a terrible environment. Fate simply had a cruel way of dealing with certain person, that's all. It wasn't his fault…
Wisdom took heart in her superiority of guiding their conversation, and decided to chip away at whatever foundation held Rune so firmly upon his pedestal.
"Then again, perhaps you strive for other pleasures. What might you be looking for in this boy, Raven? Certainly not an intellectual relationship. Robin has proven his superiority in such a fashion time and time again, don't you think? His sharp wit is a fine match for my own, though I cannot say the same for your newest…'interest'."
Raven cast her counterpart a dangerous look, but the yellow-clad girl continued on, unabated.
"Or perhaps its emotional reprieve you seek. Has Starfire not been at your every beckon call? Can you honestly say she would not be easier to talk to? Has she not proven herself eager to listen and slow to judge? What more would you ask for in a friend? What little can Rune offer in comparison?"
The empath leveled a cold stare upon her sister self, only to be met with a dispassionate smile.
"Do you simply desire a shoulder to cry on? It is no great secret that Cyborg views us as the little sister he never had. We are his family now. Do you not think he would put everything aside to comfort those he cares about? Do you have any doubt he would be there in our greatest time of need? Will Rune provide these same comforts? Is he even capable of such selflessness after a lifetime of abuse and neglect?"
Wisdom turned a vindictive eye upon her darker alter ego, eager to send this preposterous notion of mutual affection crashing down into oblivion where it belonged. A wry expression glided across her face.
"My goodness, Raven. It might be any of these, though I suspect not. Such undeveloped feelings and reckless delusions of contentment all lead to one source, it would seem. His good looks, that charismatic grin…"
Raven cast her scholarly half a glare that promised certain death. A single word dripped out of her mouth with enough malice so as to add a new layer of shadow upon the already desolate landscape.
Unperturbed by the anger so willing to consume her, Wisdom locked eyes with Raven and spoke in a calm, collected fashion.
"You are shallow; interested only in the here and now, oblivious to the consequences that your lustful actions are most certainly going to have, both on the world and upon the lives of your closest friends. He is not the one, Raven. Your heart cannot be so freely given in the hopes that you will finally discover peace in the arms of another."
A knowing smirk passed across an emotionless void guarded by thick spectacles, and a demure laugh wafted through the electrified atmosphere.
"That is not to say your virtue needs preservation. You are aware of the manner in which Beast Boy gazes at us from time to time. His emotions are wild and easily read in close proximity; a perfect candidate to bend to your will. The hole in his heart left by Terra's passing seeks to be filled, Raven. A well-timed flourish of estrogen will be more than enough to draw him in. Use his weakness to your advantage and conquer these petty urges with artificial love and an empty heart."
Wisdom adjusted her glasses, eager to deliver the final blow.
"Do all this for mother. She would not have wanted you to consort with garbage such as him. Be a good daughter to her memory and let Rune go back to the trash heap where he belongs."
At this last statement, Raven's eyes became narrow slits from which she cast a chilling glare at her sister self. A certain measure of discipline had maintained its hold upon the flux of anger and fear that alternatively pulsed against the confines of her mind. Now, the slightest of fissures had managed to erode her reservoir of self-restraint, and a trickle of malice wormed its way upward towards the surface.
With arms at her sides and cloak surrounding all, the dark young woman looked out into the abysmal surroundings and addressed the yellow-clad figure beside her. A derisive frown anchored itself upon her normally placid features.
"You have no idea what you're talking about."
"Is that so? And just who – "
Both figures came to a momentary standstill. Wisdom casually stared at her counterpart, mute, an unreadable expression plastered across her face; Raven focused her sense of conviction and continued. A foreboding look made itself known within the empath's eyes.
"You see without truly seeing at all."
This time, it was the intellectual who took on a look of puzzlement, her wire-rimmed glasses slipping a scant inch down her nose. She hastily readjusted them.
"You're speaking nonsense. There is no premise upon which to –"
"Everything you know is tainted. You lack the key to see what is right there before you, plain as day, yet elusive as shadow."
Wisdom's features stiffened mid sentence, and she cast the dark girl a suspicious glance, unsure of what had sparked such words, and fearful of why she did not know their origin.
"What are you talking about? That doesn't even make sense! How can such a thing be?"
Instead of answering, Raven turned her back to the scholarly Emotion. Though no distance had been gained between the two young women, it seemed to each that the other was slowly drifting further away. From the depths of her dark blue hood, Raven's lips parted to deliver a truth steeped in years of meditation and private reflection.
"I have seen Happiness shed tears of sorrow…and Wisdom become ignorant beyond all reason. We are all two sides of the same coin. It is not for you to judge the worth of another when you do not even know your own. "
Wisdom flashed Raven a scathing, yet insecure look.
"How dare you insinuate –"
But the empath rounded upon the yellow-clad girl in an instant, causing the personified bit of intellect to hop backwards in surprise.
"That is the truth! You're just too focused to see it! You alone are not enough to understand the greater picture! It takes more than unfeeling calculations and empty formulas to accurately judge the human heart!"
The scholarly persona recovered quickly, orchestrating a rebuttal in all but a few seconds.
"And what would you know about such things? For years you have hidden the very core of your being behind locked doors and dry criticism. How can you even pretend to know what makes a person good or bad? We are born of evil! What part of this do you not understand? There is no salvation for us! It is our destiny to live outside the boundaries set by society!"
"I don't believe that. If we try, I know there's a place for us in this world. Even if it is my destiny to destroy, I can still exist, I can still enjoy life, and I can always trust in my friends. Neither you nor anyone else can take that away from me. Rune is a good person deep down inside, I know it. He is confused and frightened, just like I was years ago, but I can help him. I know how much he needs a friend right now, and I can be that person. At the very least, he deserves the chance I never had."
Raven abruptly looked away, her train of thought broken, solemnly gazing backwards along the span of time. After several moments of silence, a gentle whisper passed through her lips.
"No one should have to go through this alone."
Despite such a rare and powerful display of emotion, Wisdom would have none of it. Her patience at its limit, she sought to end this conversation here and now.
"He deserves nothing! His existence isn't even worth the energy you expend on him! He is a simple-minded beast, fit only to be tread over and spit upon by other simple-minded beasts!"
"He is a person, entitled to a chance at happiness just like everyone else…"
"That's nothing more than melodramatic garbage! You're the one who doesn't know what she's talking about! You never did! Don't you get it? There is no understanding what we are not! This idiotic notion of love is beyond your feeble grasp, Raven! It always has been, and it always will be! You think the human heart is so simple to understand? How can you! You're not even human!"
Raven's arm shot out in an instant, filling the dismal landscape with a booming crack as the back of her hand connected solidly with Wisdom's face. A pair of coke-bottle glasses shot off into the darkness, only to shatter upon impact with the cold stone pathway and plummet into nothingness.
Robin took on a disconcerted look, his question from before hanging thick in the air: What did you do to Raven?
When it was obvious an answer was not forthcoming, he leaned in a bit closer and stared hard into the eyes of the accused.
"Why did she call for help?"
Rune strained against the temptation to simply cave in and divulge everything. Something about that mask sent the hair on the back of his neck standing on end, and he suppressed a cold shudder as he willed himself not to break eye contact, assuming he even was making eye contact.
"She didn't. It was…someone else."
Early on in this 'conversation', the young man had decided it best not to mention Raven's rather abrupt transformation into…whatever that thing had been. His reasoning for such a damning approach was somehow justified by his wish to protect a girl he knew almost nothing about. When he dwelled on it, the whole notion seemed rather foolish. They could already know about the demon thing, and this might all be one huge mistake, but it was his choice to make, and he persevered.
The young man remained silent. It wasn't a particularly well thought out plan.
The masked teen half sighed, half growled, unwilling to give any ground in this interrogation, yet equally indisposed to simply being stonewalled by a potential criminal. Of course, that was not to say he had been unable to extract other bits of information.
Rune. Seventeen years old. Unknown father and mother. Some kind of institute. A young girl. Pain, seclusion, and torment.
It was that last cluster of information that intrigued Robin the most. Any specific mention of Rune's life before the time he had arrived at Titan's Tower led to an almost impenetrable silence and a diversion of his eyes. The sheer fact that he broke away from the Boy Wonder's hardened gaze only at these points beckoned for further cross-examination.
"Does your aggression have something to do with the girl you used to live with?"
"Did she harm you?"
Surprise and confusion. A swift shake of his head. No.
"Did you harm her?"
An expression of horror, coupled with another swift shake of his head, answered Robin's question.
"Are you working for Doctor Wraith?"
"Did you ever work for Slade?"
That was met with a furrowed brow.
Robin decided to drop it.
"Why did you steal the prototype Red X suit?"
"I didn't. Raven gave it to me."
Video surveillance could be used to attest to that.
"What led up to your arrival the night we found you? Where did you come from?"
And there it was. Rune immediately cast his gaze upon the floor, all ten fingers anxiously digging into the edge of the mattress upon which he was currently situated. Robin observed a peculiar lack of focus, and made a mental note of how the young man's eyes became introspective whenever their discussion began to steer in this particular direction.
Rune, in his own defense, had every right to feel uncomfortable when the subject of his "home" came into play. That place had been a nightmare set within four walls. A veritable fortress ruled by a mad man, only the rooms containing corpses ready for dissection and experimentation had broken the pristine and sterile environment. A flood of images swam across his mind's eye, and he tried desperately to shut them out. That action must have been a physical one, for it was within seconds that Robin broke his nostalgic musings.
"We'll come back to that later. As I said before, I have more questions than answers. Care to address a few?"
"Haven't I been doing that already?"
"There are more."
"Can I see Raven?"
Robin considered the request for a few seconds.
"No. Not until you've answered everything. I still won't make any promises."
Rune shot him a cold look. Robin returned it double. Always one to take the direct approach, the Boy Wonder laid out the situation as plainly as he could.
"You're a threat. Until you prove otherwise, I won't let you anywhere near her or the others. Do I make myself clear?"
The young man scowled, casting his eyes downward for a moment…then nodded.
"Good. Let's continue. You mentioned an institute. Where is it?"
Rune instantly glanced away, but soon found his resolve and turned back slowly.
The masked teen raised an eyebrow.
"Didn't you escape from there?"
"So where did you escape from?"
"I…I don't remember. It was the first time I ever left."
Their conversation came to a momentary halt as Robin tried to collect his thoughts.
"Do you recall anything about the surrounding area when you got out? Building numbers, street signs, something like that?"
Rune thought about it for a few seconds.
"No…but I think it was underground."
The masked teen perked up immediately.
"What makes you think that?" The young man suddenly didn't seem so sure, and he continued reluctantly.
"Well…at some points along the wall inside the compound, there were wet cracks that ran from the floor to the ceiling. It…looked like something was pushing against the concrete from the outside. I never really thought about it much…"
As soon as this was over, Robin would draw up the schematics for Jump City's industrial district and cross-reference it with all known underground water mains and sewer systems. He would also check for any residual geothermal activity located in the upper west side, the same place where…
Slade's twisted laugher, heaving pillars of molten lava, the pivotal moments in which a young girl had both redeemed and immolated herself.
He suppressed the images at once. If there were any secret underground labs, he would find them. Until then…
"You don't seem too upset about being incarcerated. Is this a ploy to make us lower our guard?" Rune gave him a weird look.
"Put in jail." The young man lowered his head.
A stifling silence quickly began to leaden the atmosphere until a dismal grin pushed back against an unruly mass of dirty blonde hair.
"I don't even know what to think anymore. It's just another prison, I guess…"
The Boy Wonder meditated on that particular analogy, all the while keeping his eyes and ears open for the slightest tale-tell signs of what their 'guest' might be thinking. Even the subtlest clue could shed some light on an otherwise impossible situation.
"Are you going to kill me?"
Robin nearly fell off his chair.
The youth repeated his question, yet it wasn't the words that bothered the masked teen; it was the way he had said it, as if he were simply asking for the time. An expressionless void cast itself over a pair of hazel eyes, and Robin quickly began to grasp just what type of person he might be dealing with.
"No, we're not going to…kill you. As long as you're here, you'll be safe." A brief thought passed through his mind, and he let slip a cloaked smile.
"That, I can promise."
"Wisdom without compassion is nothing but hypocrisy!"
The yellow-clad girl started, not so much from the unforeseen blow, but more along the lines that she was unsure what to make of such a statement. She turned her head to the side, wary of meeting the gaze of her counterpart. For better or for worse, the building tension between both young women had been diffused, and Raven even went so far as to recite her mantra thrice before continuing.
"You can't see the depth of a person with one eye closed. The only way to truly know someone is to let them know you first. Only then will they show you who they really are. If you don't view the world with both eyes open, you'll never realize that for every person judged, you might as well have been looking in a mirror. "
Several long moments passed in deafening silence, both young women attending to their personal, inner needs.
From her skewed position at the precipice of their granite footpath, Wisdom gazed openly into the perpetual night: Sharp specks of red flame pierced the tranquility of an otherwise serene and terrible darkness. High above, the blackened sun lay dormant within its halo of fire, blazing with such intensity so as to rival the very night in which it would forever cease to burn. A single shard of broken glass remained detached amidst its rocky surroundings, no longer a guardian of intellectual fortitude, but rather a remnant of pride and indifference; the consummate bane of true Understanding.
Wisdom slowly turned back towards the girl in blue, taking special care to avoid eye contact.
"Do you really think so highly of him? Can you be absolutely sure this is the right thing to do? Choose your words carefully, Raven."
An eternity seemed to pass them by, interspersed only with the sporadic conception and reformation of previously unshakeable ideals cascading down the psyche of the dark young woman. At long last, she spoke her mind, fearful of the lack of confidence now found to be assaulting the very foundation upon which she had balanced Life itself for what seemed like so many years.
"I have no idea if this is right…in fact, it's probably the worst thing I've ever done."
At those unexpected words, Wisdom looked directly at her sister self, though at this point it was Raven who was averting her gaze. An indistinct quality began to weave itself around the girl in yellow, though her dark clad counterpart was too absorbed in her own private contemplations to notice.
"I just think I have to try…"He's worth it"…that's what I keep telling myself, but it's just another lie..."
Raven let slip a forlorn smile; something so drastically out of place that it seemed to fit her perfectly.
"I'm not just shallow. I'm greedy and selfish, too. This isn't for his sake…it's for mine. I only want to feel better, and if that means helping Rune…then so be it."
She actually let out a short, benign laugh, which took Wisdom by surprise.
"It's supposed to feel good when you help someone, isn't it? Then why do I feel sick when I think of what I'm doing? How come everything is always wrong? Why couldn't he have just simply bled to death that night? None of this would have happened if he had just let go and given up…"
A sudden image of Rune lying prostrate in her lap, a pool of blood beneath him, assaulted her senses without warning. She still vividly remembered him gazing up at her with such a look of peace upon his face that it made her want to scream. His words had been etched into her mind through countless retellings of the tale in her memory, each new presentation drawing a bit more tenderness from her thawing heart, while likewise suffocating her with the tantalizing fragrance of unrequited love.
Rune, though she did not know his name at the time, had reached up and touched her face, held her in his hand as if she were special, as if she were actually worth something…
You have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen. Thank you for letting me die in your arms.
He had thought his life was over, and in turn had thanked her for it. What kind of monster was she?
It took many moments to notice the tightness of her features, her face all scrunched up, trying to force back something that threatened to overwhelm.
It took even longer to realize she was crying.
Hot droplets of moisture fell towards the muted landscape without a sound, inexplicably sizzling away on the cold stone surface beneath her booted feet.
Weakness and self-pity held no sway in a place such as this.
"Is that what you plan to do, then?"
Wisdom's aloof tone snapped Raven out of her stupor in an instant. A faint scrap of anger had survived from her previous tirade, and she threw it up like a shield.
"What do you care? Why should it matter if I cry? Does it offend your 'detached sense of indifference', or am I just boring you now?"
A contemplative hush momentarily filled the air.
"I meant do you plan to give up."
That caught the empath off guard, and she was unable to form any words past the lump in her throat. A flick of blue cloth adequately veiled her tear-stained features, and she turned away. Wisdom pushed on.
"You said it would have been better for him to have died that night, that things would not have turned out the way they did if he had just given up. Is it now better for you to give up in his place?"
"I…no, it isn't."
"Because it…it wouldn't solve anything now."
"Would it have solved anything before?"
"No, I…I don't know. He would have been better off…"
"Better off by being dead? That hardly seems practical."
"You know what I mean!"
"No, I'm afraid I don't. Please explain it to me."
What kind of game was this? Not five minutes beforehand Wisdom had made it her personal vendetta to ridicule and discredit everything about Rune, and now…now what? Was she defending him? Anger began to seep through fresh cracks in her armor, and the dark young woman promptly decided this had to stop.
Having been led by the nose for long enough, Raven finally lifted her head, eager to tear the haughty scholar limb from limb if she was trying to take advantage of her momentarily weakened state. The girl in blue found her resolve, fixed a lethal gaze on the figure before her…and gasped.
Something new had entered the eyes of the yellow-clad girl, though in truth she hardly resembled a girl any longer. Had the dark young woman been paying attention earlier, she would have noticed a radical shift in Wisdom's bearing; the ever-present lofty attitude had all but vanished, and the depth of her person had transcended past the physical into something truly profound. Raven certainly took notice now.
"I see great changes in you, as well."
The empath's eyes shot downward in an instant, trying to see what the woman spoke of. Another smile graced the lips of the intellectual, resembling a fresh sunrise in both its intensity and warmth.
"On the inside, Raven. You have grown, child, as you will continue to grow."
Raven's eyes slowly rose up once again, trying desperately to piece together so many bits of a greater mystery. Her breath was no more than a whisper when it all finally began to coalesce.
"You were…testing me, weren't you?"
Wisdom allowed her smile to subside, though the warmth remained. She cast a thoughtful expression at the girl in blue and answered the question with one of her own.
"Do you know the most important thing I will ever be able to teach you? "True understanding comes from the knowledge that you know nothing at all." I think you've already exemplified this lesson quite well."
Raven's jaw worked soundlessly.
"I am sorry for the need to deceive you, but she wanted to make sure you were truly ready for what will await. It may result in a turning point amidst the Battle that awaits us."
The empath turned those words over in her mind, trying to force her will upon a cosmic jigsaw puzzle without even an image to work from. Without warning, a corner piece dropped into her lap.
"She? You mean Happy?"
"You will find out in time. If it consoles you, know that she has made herself known many times in the past. Rest assured that you will be watched over in the future."
With those words, Wisdom stepped boldly forward; reaching out gently and taking hold of her sister self. The dark young woman resisted, but soon found herself drinking deeply from eyes that knew only peace and tranquility.
"You have passed. Go back and do what you will. Remember that I am with you. Always."
The scholar leaned forward, and brushed her lips across Raven's forehead. Instantly, a rush of memories assaulted the empath, and she remembered all.
As both women pulled away, Raven took on a look of peace, and then vanished. The yellow clad girl was left alone beneath a canopy of ruby droplets set against a black canvas.
A new pair of glasses materialized in her hand, and she casually positioned them upon their rightful place. As she did so, a stray finger glided over the spot where Raven had struck her, and she stiffened.
Drawing back her hand, Wisdom cast a suspicious glace at the offending appendage, curious as to the nature of the red goo that now resided on her person. With all the scrutiny of one who relies solely on objectivity and intellect, she plucked a single digit into her mouth.
For a split second, an entire realm of stability and order tilted on its axis, threatening to plunge the very keystone of order and self-discipline into a perpetual vacuum of chaos. The woman cast a dumbfounded look out into the cosmos, her entire persona radiating a blank look of confusion stemming from an unfathomable mystery currently resting on her fingertip.
With the grace and poise of one bearing the hallmarks of infinite logic, Wisdom casually dismissed the strange little oddity as another unfathomable mystery in the grand scheme of the universe. Still, the question simply begged to be asked…
How in the world had Raven managed to get strawberry jelly on her hands?
And that, my friends, is Chapter 10! I hope you enjoyed it. As always, reviews and comments are greatly appreciated.
Not much to say, I guess. It might be interesting to note this is the longest chapter so far (Approximately 6600 words). I guess I wanted to make my first double digit chapter something special.
Besides all that, I would like to thank everyone who has reviewed my story so far. Special thanks go out to Ace234 and Translucent Darkness for their continued support of my fan-fiction from the very beginning. I would highly recommend everyone check out their fantastic work, as you'd be hard pressed to find a better pair of authors.
Ok, that's it for now. Good reading to you!