Fear falls hard like rain again
Washing over me
You say nothing will ever change
What to I believe?
You fall deep inside again
Nothing left to see
Weakness fills you heart again
You put it to rest
--Photograph by 12 Stones
Raven hesitantly awoke with a harsh light glaring down at her. She felt aches and pains in places she didn't even know existed, but her wrist stung worse than anything else. As her eyes attempted to adjust to her surroundings, a thousand questions flooded her mind. Where was she? Why was she here? Where was Starfire? What was all the technical equipment that surrounded her? Why was there a girl with blue hair couched down by one of the cabinets that lined-
The girl with the blue hair!
Raven jolted upward, every limb screaming in pain at the sudden movement, and managed to gracefully collide with the bright lamp that hung above her on the way up. With a thud and an aggravated moan, the empath sunk back into her original horizontal position. The girl with the azure hair…Chase, she'd called herself, had now turned away from the cabinet whose contents she'd been examining and was watching Raven with amused eyes.
"Take it easy, girl You only just woke up." Chase, who looked no older than nineteen, cocked her head to the side and carefully looked the dark girl up and down, as though giving her a once-over for the very first time. "Feeling the burn?" Raven would've laughed had she not been concentrating so hard on fighting the pain that seemed to inhibit every part of her body with every breath. She struggled out a reply.
"You have…no idea."
"You'd be surprised." The azure haired girl rolled her head back, and Raven heard a few unpleasant cracks. "I felt the exact same way when I was branded…if not worse."
"Branded?" The empath croaked, struggling upward and attempting to ignore the sharp stabs she felt…everywhere. Despite her fight, tears ebbed at the edges of her eyes. She refused to let them fall.
"I'd stop moving if I were you," Chase moved from the edge of the room for the first time, her chain belt clinking as she came near the light. "You're only making it harder on yourself." She took note of the shine in Raven's eyes that the empath was so desperately trying to blink away. Chase smiled at this. "You're stubborn." Before Raven could respond, the door to the far left slid open and a teenaged boy who looked about a year older than chase carrying a vial halfway filled with a wine colored substance in one hand and adjusting his wire rimmed glasses with the other.
"Here. It's the first batch that tested positive," he handed the tiny glass tube to Chase, then let his eyes wander to Raven. "Uh…should she be…y'know…moving?"
"Hey, lay off. She's fighting it," the azure haired girl gave Raven a small smile, as though she were sharing a secret. "Don't mind Seth-the-Douche. He's one hundred percent safe, I promise."
"Mmhmm…" the empath shook her head slowly, eyes now shut tight. The pain was getting to her whether she liked it or not. It felt as though someone were meticulously slicing her flesh into bits, then burning the pieces all at once. She could feel herself slumping forward, but a strong arm caught her.
"Oh, honey…" Chase's voice floated through Raven's head. Her vision was shot…all she could see was fuzzy blobs of color, and even those were fading fast. Ever so carefully, Chase tipped the empath's head back, muttering the words 'drink up' softly, then poured the contents of the vial down Raven's throat. The dark girl was out before she had a chance to protest that her mouth was not a place to test strange, wine colored fluids. The last thing she could remember hearing was Seth's voice, confident and reassuring.
"Don't worry. You're safe here."
"Raven…Raven, are you well?" Something soft tickled Raven's nose, causing her to crack a single eye open. Above her stood Starfire, her red hair cascading into Raven's face and a concerned expression in her eyes.
"Starfire…" the empath pushed herself upward slowly until she sat upright on the flat table on which she'd lain. Immediately, she was aware that the pain from her previous venture into consciousness had dulled considerably. It hadn't exactly vanished altogether, but at least she was able to move without the uncanny urge to cry. Something about the room didn't seem right, though. The area around her felt oddly…dry.
"You are…better, yes?" Starfire had moved to the side to allow Raven to sit up, and now made to help her friend off the table. The dark girl teetered on her unstable feet for a few seconds before slumping back against her padded table for support.
"My head feels like someone dropped an anvil on it, and my wrist feels as though I've tried to commit suicide and failed…" Raven shivered at the still all-too-obvious pain that throbbed there, under a clean linen bandage. She noticed that Starfire wore a similar wrap around her own wrist, "Multiple times. But yeah, I guess I do feel better than before." Starfire nodded slowly.
"That is, indeed, good," a silence settled between the two friends, Raven still leaning on the table and Starfire a mere two feet away, biting her lip almost anxiously.
"…Where are we?" Starfire sighed as though she'd been both expecting and dreading the question that Raven now proposed.
"That is…complicated. I will not explain it to you, as I fear I may blunder the account. Chase and Seth were expecting you to awaken quite soon, and thus a meeting has been set for half an hour hence in the conference room at the end of the hall. I must…take care of something, but I shall be present for the meeting." There was something different about Starfire's voice, something…hollow. "Please, do not hesitate to utilize any of the facilities around you. The room you shall be staying in is three doors down the hall on your left. Go there if you wish." For an instant, her tone soften and she suddenly enveloped Raven in a tight hug.
"Close…physical…contact…" Raven weakly protested, but her words had no effect. When Starfire drew away, her expression had, if possible, become even more forlorn.
"My friend, close physical contact will soon be the least of your worries." On that cryptic note, Starfire left Raven to her own jumbled thoughts.
The auburn haired Tamaranian scurried down the corridor and entered a tiny, brightly lit room labeled "LAB" on the door in large black letters. On the table, she spotted a four by six rack of glass vials, each one half way filled wit a wine colored fluid and labled with a noticeable blue plus sign near the tube's lip.
"Should it not be about time…?" Starfire gasped and her blood ran cold as a scaly green hand grabbed her shoulder tightly. The pretty green eyed girl felt her fingers gripping the table in front of her, knuckles turning white. She fought desperately to keep her breathing steady, on the verge of hyperventilation.
It is not there…it is not truly there…
She repeated the words in her mind over and over again, but the pressure on her shoulder was building, the hand digging into her flesh. Releasing a slight whimper, Starfire turned around. Behind her, a hulking Gordanian warrior stood, a murderous and almost lustful look in his eyes.
"No," she whispered to herself, "no…it is not there. It does not exist. It is a product of—" the punch that connected with her jaw felt pretty real to her. Starfire fell to the floor, wincing as something lashed across her back. Again. And again. The Gordanian behind her laughed, as though he fed on her pain for enjoyment.
With nothing left to her, the Tamaranian princess screamed.
After several messy attempts, Raven seemed to gain full control of her body once again. Her gaze swept the room, and judging by the equipment that surrounded her, she seemed to be in some kind of medical ward. What room had Starfire said was hers? Three doors to the left.
Or had it been to the right?
Didn't matter, Raven decided. If one was wrong, the other would be correct. She stumbled unstably to the door, which slid open as she neared. A long, cold hallway lay before her, bathed in a tinny blue light. The empath stepped forward uncertainly, attempting to familiarize herself with a completely new area. She strode forward with a bit more confidence than she'd had before, counting three doors down. There she stopped, debating whether to go left or right. She could've sworn Starfire had said left, and yet she'd just woken up at the time…her mind had still been rather groggy. Going against her first impulse, Raven crossed to the door on the right and let it slide open…
To reveal a rather heated make-out scene between Seth and Chase, who sprang about three feet away from one another upon discovery.
"Raven!" Chase frantically combed at her azure hair in some kind of attempt to make it look as though Seth hadn't been running his hands through it mere moments earlier. "I'm so glad that you're awake!"
"Yeah…er…feeling better?" The bespectacled boy wore a lopsided grin on his face, not unlike the expression a small child would have employed after being caught doing something particularly mischievous. Raven didn't answer, her eyes wide and almost frightened. There it was again, that dry feeling, only this time the empath knew that this dryness could only mean one, terrible thing.
:"What's wrong?" Chase looked concerned. "I mean, I'm totally sorry for you having to see us…uh...you know…" she shrugged uncomfortably, "but I'm sure you've seen—"
"It's…not that," Raven shook her head slowly, as though in a trance.
"Are you seeing things? Things that shouldn't be there?" Seth asked, stepping forward. "Do you see thinks that frighten you?"
"Seeing things that frighten me?" Raven repeated, not being able to keep the bewilderment from her features.
"I'll take that as a no…"
"What is it, Raven? Honestly, you look like a snake bit you or something," Chase moved towards Raven and placed her fingertips on the empath's palm, but Raven pulled her hand away sharply, letting a gasp escape her.
"Chase…Chase, I can't feel."
"You…can't feel. You're numb?"
"No, I'm an empath. And right now, I can't feel your emotion, even when you touched me. Either you turned into a rock, or…" Raven fell silent as she watched Chase and Seth exchange nervous glances. "…When I walked in here, I should've felt an overflow of love…or, at least, lust. Something. Anything." Raven rubbed the place where Chase had touched her. "Everything felt dry."
"…I think it's time we had that meeting," Seth raked a hand through his moppish brown hair. "I'll get Starfire and we'll talk everything over."
Just as he moved to leave, a scream erupted from down the hall.
The lab door burst open and Raven, Chase, and Seth piled into the room to find Starfire on the floor, eyes clenched shut and her body jolting in a timely fashion, as though she were being whipped at a steady pace.
"Starfire…" Raven watched as her two new acquaintances rushed to her old friend's aid, Chase grabbing a vial of burgundy liquid from a rack of what seemed to be multiple samples of the substance and Seth pulling the Tamaranian up from the floor, forcing her mouth open so that Chase could pour the fluid down. In an instant, the panic was over and Starfire lay unconscious in Seth's lap.
"…We'd better get her to her room," Chase decided calmly, as though nothing of particular significance had occurred. "She knows everything anyways, so no need to put off the meeting for her sake… "
Once Starfire had been relocated to her living quarters, which turned out to be right next to Raven's room, the three made their way down the hall to the conference room.
"Would either f you care to explain what the hell just happened in there?" The empath snapped, sitting in one of many chairs that bordered a long glass table, on which several stacks of paper lay scattered about.
"Same thing that'll happen to you if you're not careful," remarked Seth before Chase jabbed him in the ribs. The azure haired girl turned to give a better explanation, but Raven continued.
"And why can't I feel? I know you know…I can see it in your eyes. The whole world seems dry to me, and I want to know why. And why am I here? Where…is here? My mind feels as though it's going to explode because of all these—"
"Questions," Chase broke in, "yes, I know you have a lot, and Seth and I will answer them all. To begin, you should probably just know one thing straight. Your powers? They're gone, and you're not getting them back any time soon…possibly not ever."
"…Way to break it to her easy, Chay," Seth rolled his eyes. Raven, however, didn't appear to be all that surprised.
"I figured that out when your excessive lusting earlier didn't make me keel over and die," she said dryly, brushing back a lock of violet hair. "What I want to know is how I lost my powers."
"The band that branded you back at Titans Tower," Chase selected a sheet from the table, gave it a quick look, then slid it over to Raven. "In addition to slicing a lovely design on your wrist, which is why we wrapped it, the cuff absorbed your powers and instilled a nightmare drug in your bloodstream…one that we've been able to counteract but not cure." The empath arched an eyebrow as she scanned the diagram of the shining chrome band that she only half remembered, sparing a glance at her wrist and the bandage that still encased it.
"Was seeing and feeling the thing she fears above all else," Seth adjusted his glasses before continuing. "I was able to develop a serum that prevents these 'living nightmares,' so to speak, for a period of twelve hours. After that, they're bound to show up at any time. Starfire obviously went over her twelve hours."
"You keep saying that I've been…branded," Raven tapped a fingernail on the glass table, "and that I've had some design sliced onto me. What—"
"Look for yourself," Chase gestured sadly at the tightly wound bandage around Raven's arm. "It should be okay to take it off now."
With an almost lingering fear that Raven could not remember feeling since the scary movie she'd watched with the Titans so long ago, she stripped off the linen cloth and allowed her gaze to sweep the now exposed skin of her wrist…
And the scabbed design of a beautiful flower etched just below the heel of her palm.