Green fingers loosely clenched into a fist slowly made their way upward, stretching slightly ahead, inching toward the shining chromium frame of a metallic door. The fist trembled slightly as it made its short, yet enormously difficult journey toward its final destination.
The fist pulled back, fingers momentarily unclenching... then, with renewed resolve, reclenched themselves and rapped against the metallic door several times, signalling their owner's desire to enter.
Beast Boy waited one second... two seconds... three seconds before the door quickly slid open, revealing a gray-skinned girl clad in a blue cloak, her lips curled into a stoic frown.
"What do you want?" came the voice of the girl, soft but forceful, instilling more nervousness into Beast Boy as his hand dropped to his side. A bead of sweat began to appear on his forehead, but his limbs were paralyzed, and he dared not reach up to brush it off.
"Just wondering... if maybe you'd... y'know, wanna go somewhere... or-"
He'd botched it already. The delivery showed not an ounce of confidence, and Beast Boy was stricken with fear, worried that the door before him would instantly close, sealing him away from Raven and from his plans for the evening. It was stupid to think she'd want to go out with him anyway... she was his complete antithesis, quiet, serious, and introverted, the yin to his loud, playful, outgoing yang. And yet he felt for her, the reasons unknown even to him.
"...you're kidding, right?" Raven responded, the frown not leaving her face.
She was beautiful, Beast Boy noted, but his feelings weren't merely lust... he felt something else, a need to bring some semblance of joy to Raven's melancholy, even tragic life. He wanted to be her knight in shining armor... if not literally, than only emotionally, to save her mind from a life of sadness and boredom.
This was his justification for what he felt. He'd had feelings before, feelings for Terra, her body now trapped in what was seemingly an eternal prison of stone. Terra was also a sad girl, but not for the reasons that Raven was... Terra badly needed a friend, someone to convince her her powers weren't terrible, that she could do some good in this world... maybe Raven and Terra weren't so different after all.
"If you're just going to stand there, I'm going to close the door, and it's not opening again until I leave tonight."
"...wait, huh? You're already going somewhere?"
Beast Boy was stunned. Raven, the shy girl who didn't have anything better to do than meditate in her room, was going out on a Friday night? So much for his plans of seeing a movie...
"The Hexion Cafe. It's weekly poetry reading night. I always go to the Hexion Cafe on poetry reading night, unless we're out on a mission. You should know that," said Raven. Her tone was lined with annoyance, certainly targeted at Beast Boy, though only Raven knew if she was annoyed that Beast Boy would ask her out, or annoyed that he didn't know about her poetry reading night. "If you want to come, you can. Just don't tell any jokes."
Beast Boy's face lit up, and he began to speak. Raven quickly cut him off by pointing her finger at him.
"I mean it. No jokes."
"At least it's something..." thought Beast Boy, smiling as the door to Raven's room slid shut. He sat down next to her door, willing to wait until she was ready to leave.
"The dark hand of fear clutches around my neck... I try to scream, but sound betrays me... I do not hope for salvation... only embrace the darkness entrapping my soul..."
As a short girl with long, black hair recited her dark lamentations on the stage, Raven sipped coffee from a paper cup on the wooden table she and Beast Boy occupied toward the back of the cafe. While Raven seemed indifferent to the poetry being read, Beast Boy was bored, and made absolutely no effort to hide it.
"Seventeen poems in a row, by seventeen different people... and somehow they all sound the same!" Beast Boy commented, his head resting on his hands, which in turn were resting on the hard table.
"You can leave," said Raven, glaring at him, "or you can be quiet and listen."
Raven too was unamused by the week's bland readings, but she didn't reveal that to Beast Boy or to the other patrons in the cafe, who remained enthralled until the poem was over. They showed their appreciation by snapping their fingers as the girl left the stage, her head held low. As soon as she left, Raven stood up and made her way to the microphone. Beast Boy's head snapped up, intent to hear his friend's poem. Certainly Raven had something to say that was a lot more interesting than the dark spiel her seventeen predecessors could muster.
As Raven began to speak, the microphone carried her soft voice to the entire cafe. Without the microphone's aid, she probably couldn't have been heard past the first row of tables.
"Chains of darkness hold me tight... my lips sealed, I cannot speak... the darkness fills my body... my mind is helpless... slowly, I am consumed..."
"What?" thought Beast Boy, slowly shaking his head. "This poem's even worse than the others!"
"Familiar fear and dread, I will not wake again... I accept the darkness, its cold warmth a skeletal embrace... the darkness makes me whole..."
A few more lines and Raven's poem was complete. She returned to her table, recieving a slightly more enthusiastic snapping than the other poets had been treated to.
"What was that?" said Beast Boy, his voice lined with disgust. "I thought... you didn't-"
"It's what I feel," said Raven, her blue eyes shooting Beast Boy a piercing gaze. "Sometimes I do feel like I'm trapped... but you wouldn't understand."
As she sat down, Beast Boy arose, a smirk on his face.
"I'm gonna show these guys what real poetry is like," he said, turning toward the stage. Raven immediately rose to stop him, but she was barely able to get out the word "don't" before someone interposed in front of her, his lanky frame diverting the blue cloaked girl's attention.
The boy now standing in front of Raven had his skin covered in pale make-up, from his face down to his neck and even his arms and the tips of his fingers. Red contact lenses gave his eyes an eerie glow, and he completed the dark look with a nose ring and a t-shirt bearing a drawing of a skull. It took Raven a second to recall her memory of the thin boy, but she quickly remembered where she'd seen him before.
"Still think everything is pointless?" asked the boy, a stoic, emotionless glower on his face.
Raven didn't respond. Instead, she turned toward the stage, where Beast Boy had just commandeered the mircophone and was tapping his finger against it several times.
"He your friend?" asked the boy, gesturing toward Beast Boy.
"An acquaintance," Raven sighed, a bit embarassed to be associated with her green-skinned teammate, especially now that he was preparing to give his comedy act to an audience that did NOT have much of a tolerance for anything resembling funny. "I never should've let him come..."
"Wanna get out of here?"
The boy gestured toward a bookcase, which was resting against the back wall of the cafe, near a dark corner of the room. Raven's eyebrows raised slightly.
"That's not... out," said Raven. "That's right next to the stage."
The boy walked over to the wall, and Raven took three steps toward him, stopping about halfway to the back of the room and allowing him to continue forward. He reached up to the top of the bookcase and pulled out a red book very slightly, causing the case to swing outward and to the left, revealing a passage that seemed to contain a set of stairs leading downward. Raven let out a groan of surprise, but took only one step forward before she stopped, still unsure of whether she wanted to follow the boy down the stairs. She glanced once more up to the stage.
"There once was a man from Nantucket..." began Beast Boy. Raven briskly walked over to the secret passage and started down the stairs. The thin boy followed her, and the entrance to the passage closed behind them.
The stairs were lit by a series of candles hanging up on the wall, giving an eerie glow to the spiralling passageway as Raven and the boy headed down into its mysterious depths.
"My name's Brad, by the way... but my Society name is Neifeld."
"Society?" said Raven, her pace slowing only momentarily as she glanced up at Neifeld's glowing red eyes.
"You'll meet them in a few seconds."
As soon as Raven reached the bottom of the stairs, Neifeld's hand touched her left shoulder, causing her to stop. As she turned around, she could see him reaching toward the bottom of his shirt and ripping off a long strip of fabric.
"What are you doing?" asked Raven, puzzled as she watched Neifeld destroy the bottom of his skull t-shirt. "That probably cost money-"
"Almost forget," said Neifeld, taking the piece of black fabric and reaching up to Raven's face. He tied the fabric loosely around her eyes, blacking out her sight except for the glow of the candles lining the hallways, now reduced to a dim haze. "You can't know where the Society is until you're a trusted member."
"...I know where it is, it's under the Hexion Cafe," said Raven, grimacing slightly as Neifeld clenched her hand in his and began leading her down the hallways.
"It's kind of a maze down here, with a lot of dead ends and doors that go to nowhere," said Neifeld, making several turns before finally taking a straight-away path toward his intended location. Meanwhile, all Raven could do was try to remember the sequence of turns that she and her companion were taking, shivering as the cold air under the cafe collided with her uncovered skin. As she trembled, Neifeld's hand gripped tighter, his cold skin not helping to assuade Raven's shivers. "Scared?"
"Just cold," Raven replied. She could hear a door open, and a rush of warm air hit her as her blindfold was removed. When she could see again, she realized that she had been taken to a small room, a pair of flourescent white lights overhead constrasting the candle-lit darkness of the halls. The room contained a table, a bookshelf, and two couches, on which three people were seated. On one couch sat a short, black-haired boy wearing a denim vest and long, baggy black pants with chains dangling from them. Next to him was a pretty girl with pale skin and short, dyed green hair styled into pigtails. The final person in the room was the lone occupant of the other couch, positioned against the left-side wall. He was tall, with spiked red hair, wearing a black tanktop, black leather pants, steel-toed black boots, a black glove on his right hand, and a long, flowing black trenchcoat. He stood up and smiled, extending his left hand to Raven.
"I see that Neifeld has brought you here to our friendly group, said the boy, his age either 16 or 17, Raven unable to quite pin it down. A red scar, extending from just above the center of his eye down to the side of his left cheek, immediately drew Raven's attention, but the boy quickly recaptured it with his surprisingly calm voice. "I am Lacard, champion and leader of the Scarnum Society... welcome to our chamber."
"T...thank you," said Raven, the coldness of Lacard's hand making the hair stand up on her arm as she pulled away from him. As she walked over to the right side of the room, where the other couch was positioned, the short boy seated on it knocked a bag of potato chips from a nearby table, spilling them all over the floor. He bent down to pick them up, but Raven quickly raised her hand, using her telekinesis to refill the bag of chips and return it to the table. "...it's a habit."
"That's impressive," said Lacard, a friendly smile on his face. "Let me just say that it would be an honor to have one of the Teen Titans as a member of the Society."
"...thanks," said Raven, "but I'm not exactly sure what your society even... does."
"We hang out down here, talk about stuff," said the girl with the green pigtails. "Poetry, music, stuff like that. Anything except what society tells us is 'cool'. Name's Vensilla, by the way."
"And I'm Garvic," said the short, black-haired boy, reaching into the bag of potato chips. "Yeah, Vensilla's right, we don't do anything cool. Cool sucks."
"Cool is pointless," said Neifeld, scraping his foot across the cement floor of the small room.
"But it's more than just that," Lacard replied, walking over to the unoccupied left couch and offering Raven a seat next to him. She walked over and sat down, at which point Lacard began speaking again. "Everyone here is someone that didn't fit the definition of 'cool'. Everyone here thought their life had no meaning, had no purpose. But it did have a purpose, and you know what that purpose is? In here, we make our own 'cool'. We're just a group of friends who didn't have anybody else to hang out with, but down here everybody has something to say."
Raven already had a group of friends... the Teen Titans, even Beast Boy, were the people who gave Raven a meaning in life when she didn't think she had one. They saved her from Trigun's control, even after she told them all it was pointless to try and help.
These people seemed all right... they certainly were a lot more like Raven than the Titans were... but she didn't need anymore friends than she already had. She started to get up from the couch, when she heard Vensilla begin to speak.
"I noticed that you were focusing energy when you lifted up those chips," said Vensilla, an open book in her lap. "You probably know a lot about meditation, right? The seven chakras, the Indira nocology, the five points of absolute oneness..."
Raven walked over to the bookshelf and began scanning all six shelves, filled with books on all kinds of interesting subjects. The first shelf was devoted to meditation and energy therapy, and Raven immediately found an interesting volume, taking it down from the shelf and quickly flipping through it.
"...I've called bookstores all over Jump City and I haven't been able to find this," said Raven, sitting down next to the bookshelf. Lacard walked up to her, sitting across from her and peering at the spine of the book she was reading.
"You're into focus control," said Lacard, noting the fascinated look in Raven's eyes. "Attempting to divert one's energy from a tangible object to the body itself, giving one the ability to achieve a greater and easier level of energy focus using the mind as a pivot point instead of the object."
"You're good," said Raven, looking up from the book and showing a hint of a smile. "Is this your book?"
"It belongs to all of us," said Neifeld. "The Society's books are the property of all members... which means they're yours as well."
"If you join us, of course," replied Lacard. The smile on his face was one of genuine kindness and sincerity, and as Raven looked up from the book, a smile was on her lips as well. "So, are you in, or..."
By the time Raven walked back up the stairs and re-entered the cafe, accompanied by Neifeld, the poetry reading had ended and Beast Boy was nowhere in sight.
"You're now a full member of the Society, so next time you come I'll let you see exactly where our secret room is," said Neifeld.
"Third right, second hallway, straight down the hall," said Raven.
"How did you... with the blindfold, I thought-"
"Focus control is good for more than just meditation," Raven replied, scanning the tables for any sign of the green-skinned boy she'd come in with. "Though I wish it could help me find Beast Boy..."
"We kicked your green friend out after you left," replied the barista at the front of the cafe. "And if you ever bring him back, you'll be banned as well."
Raven heaved an annoyed sigh, feeling embarrassed that her friend had probably ruined poetry night for every single patron of the cafe. She'd be getting a cold reception the next few times she read, that would be for sure.
"Ugh... I'm gonna go find him, he's probably back at the Tower by now," said Raven, turning to Neifeld. "Thank you... and tell Lacard I want to thank him too."
"Whatever," replied Neifeld, pulling out a book and disappearing behind the shelf. Raven quickly exited the cafe, shivering as the cold night air brushed against her skin. She'd yell at Beast Boy when she got home.
Raven never expected that Beast Boy would be the one to yell at her.
"Where WERE you?" shouted Beast Boy, stepping in front of Raven. "After they kicked me out I waited like two hours, and you completely disappeared! I thought maybe you'd been kidnapped or something!"
Raven began to speak, but Beast Boy was right... she HAD ditched him earlier, and hearing him express that he'd been worried about her made her feel a slight twinge of guilt. She tried to shrug it off, but it kept coming back, and even the emotionally-constipated Raven had to admit that she probably shouldn't have left Beast Boy alone.
"...look, I went off with some guy because I didn't want to watch you embarass yourself up there, especially because you were embarassing ME right along with you. We hung out for a while, started talking... long story short, I'm sorry I left you out here. Happy?"
Raven started to walk down the sidewalk, but Beast Boy wouldn't let her go. She'd shocked him with just one word, and he had to know why she'd said it.
"You actually... apologized to me?" said Beast Boy, a look of surprise on his face.
"Don't get used to it," replied Raven. "Look, if it helps, I'll go out to whatever stupid movie you want me to see with you tomorrow night. Just try not to make it a comedy. Please, PLEASE try not to make it a comedy."
And with that, Raven flew up into the sky, her destination: Titans Tower. Beast Boy stood stunned on the sidewalk, waiting for nearly ten seconds before transforming into a falcon and following Raven to the Tower. Though he'd had to sit out in the cold for two hours, every moment of waiting seemed completely worth it.
"She apologized to me... and she agreed to go to the movies with me!" thought Beast Boy, speeding through the sky faster than he'd ever flown before... or at least it seemed faster. "Beast Boy works his magic again!"
Neifeld closed the door, seeing his three Society partners gathered around the small table on the right side of the room. They were seated cross-legged beside it, each one taking a side. Neifeld sat down across from Lacard, and the meeting began.
"You've served us well," said Lacard, and Vensilla and Garvic nodded in agreement. "You brought the gem to us as we requested."
As the newest member of the Society, Neifeld had been charged with what was, at the time, its most important task to date. He was to find the Gem of Skath and bring her to the Society. That task was fulfilled. Its purpose, to Neifeld at least, was as yet unknown.
"Now you are allowed to know our true purpose," said Garvic, walking over to the bookshelf at the back of the room and pulling out the book on focus control, the same one Raven had been reading. Unlike when she had pulled it out, when the book was removed, the shelf moved back, just like the one in the cafe above. Garvic entered the room, and when he came back out, was holding a pile of black fabric in one hand and a long, metallic pole in the other. One end of the pole appeared to be smoking, and Neifeld could see that the shape of the red-hot end was a peculiar symbol jutting out from a circular base.
"What... what is that thing?" asked Neifeld as Garvic handed the pole to Lacard, and Vensilla stood up, positioning herself behind Neifeld.
"You completed your task, and now you recieve your reward," said Garvic, pulling out a black cloak from the pile of fabric now resting on the couch and putting it on. He tossed one to Vensilla, who donned a cloak as well. Meanwhile, Lacard was walking up to Neifeld, taking the boy's thin wrist forcefully in his tight grasp.
"This will only hurt for a second," said Lacard, using his free hand to position the smoking end of the pole above Neifeld's palm. Neifeld, realizing Lacard's intent, instinctively clenched his fist... only to have a jolt of energy shoot through Lacard's hand into Neifeld's wrist, entering his hand and forcing his fist to uncurl. Neifeld opened his mouth to scream, but Vensilla's hand clamped tightly over it, muffling Neifeld's cries as Lacard branded Neifeld's flesh, searing the carved symbol into his skin.
"No one can hear you down here," said Vensilla as she held her fishnetted glove-clad hand tightly over Neifeld's mouth, "but I just love feeling your screams..."
Within seconds, the branding was over. Lacard released Neifeld and dropped the branding iron to the ground, while at the same time, Vensilla removed her hand from his mouth. Neifeld stood up, clutching his wrist and screaming in pain as he looked at his blistered, smoking skin.
"YOU PEOPLE ARE SICK!" screamed Neifeld, running toward the door at Lacard calmly put on his cloak. He walked over to Neifeld and placed a hand on his shoulder, which did little to calm the screaming boy. "Let me go!"
"Where would you go?" asked Lacard, slightly increasing the force of his grip. "Back to your home in the suburbs? Back to rules, back to that high school in which you're failing every class? I'm giving you a chance to rule the universe... you can't turn back now... you know you can't turn back..."
More screams, more attempts to flee... but something within Neifeld's mind began to calm him down... began to numb the pain of the seared flesh on his branded palm... was it the persuasive tone of Lacard's voice that seduced him back to the Society, or just a realization that he was siding with the lesser of two evils? He turned around and nodded, then, without a word, wrapped his arms around Lacard's back in a tight embrace.
"It's all right, Neifeld... I went through the same thing, and look at me now," said Vensilla, her smile calming Neifeld further, even though it was a smile coming from a girl who just a second ago confessed that she enjoyed feeling Neifeld's screams.
"Me too," added Garvic. "We all recieved the symbol, see?"
Garvic pulled a black glove from his right hand and held it up. His palm bore a familiar scar... the one now permanently burned onto Neifeld's skin. Even Lacard bore the scar, though unlike Vensilla and Garvic, he'd branded himself.
"You brought us the Gem... it's because of you that the rise of the fallen one is now at hand. And once he returns... we will all sit together on his throne."
Lacard's words brought the final bit of calm that Neifeld would need.
It took a long time for Beast Boy to get to sleep last night... and once he was finally able to sleep, his dreams drifted to thoughts of Raven... the two of them together at the movies, exiting the theater, someone says something romantic, and then finally, their lips meet... a beautiful moment, Raven's lips parting, Beast Boy's tongue slowly drifting into Raven's mouth, and then...
Beast Boy awoke. He glanced at the clock on the desk by his bed... it was 7:12. Two hours and forty-eight minutes before his alarm was scheduled to go off. Beast Boy's circadian rhythms had betrayed him.
"It was only a dream? Aw, man..."
Beast Boy didn't dream again for the rest of the morning.
That day, both Raven and Beast Boy went about their lives as normal. Raven spent most of her time reading and meditating, while Beast Boy watched football on the couch with Cyborg and Robin, sharing the couch with bags and bags of fattening snacks.
During a break in the action, when Cyborg got up to get more soda from the kitchen, Beast Boy seized an opportunity. He turned to Robin, and his voice took on a slightly serious tone.
"Robin, I need to talk to you about something... important."
Robin could sense that Beast Boy wasn't speaking as he normally did, and immediately responded.
"It's... it's Raven... we sort of have a... a date tonight, and-"
The look of surprise on Robin's face was exactly what Beast Boy had expected to see, and Beast Boy shook his head quickly.
"Not a date date... I mean, she just agreed to see a movie with me because she made me wait for her for two hours outside the cafe last night. Not that I'm not excited though... I mean, Raven is... she..."
Beast Boy was never good at bottling up his feelings, and Robin could feel that Beast Boy was hiding something. He placed his hand on Beast Boy's shoulder and smiled.
"So you like Raven, huh?"
Beast Boy squealed, recoiling away from Robin as if he'd been shocked by a taser. He shook his hand and waved his hands innocently, and Robin's smile disappeared.
"If you like Raven, just tell her... I'm sure she-"
"Says the guy who kept his feelings away from Starfire for more than a year," replied Beast Boy.
"...that's different," said Robin, his mind recalling the moment he'd accepted the N'dlemme from Starfire, after her ordeal in Merkova's captivity. It was Starfire's near death at Merkova's hand that had forced Robin to realize his true feelings in order to save her... and to get her to love him again. "Starfire and I... it's just different."
"I used to not care for Raven all that much, especially since she was so cold to me... but after Terra got turned to stone... after Adonis attacked Raven... and then after Trigon appeared... I've been getting feelings for Raven like the ones I had for Terra... sometimes even stronger. Those moments when Raven is kind to me... when she laughs, when she smiles... that's when I see it, and that's when those feelings come out... Robin, I think I'm falling-"
"Did I miss anything?" shouted Cyborg, walking back into the room with several 24-packs of soda pop hoisted up in his strong, metallic arms. He glanced at the screen and smiled when he saw that it was showing Peyton Manning's 'Mastercard' commercial. "Aw yeah, still on commercials, didn't miss a single snap!"
After Cyborg put down the pop, Beast Boy sighed, turning back toward the screen. Before Cyborg could come back to the couch, Robin whispered something to Beast Boy.
"We'll talk later," whispered Robin, tearing open one of the soda pop cases and pulling out a can just as the game got back underway. Beast Boy nodded, smiled, and took a can of his own.
Raven sat on her bed, trying to recall a passage from the focus control book she'd read at the Society's enclave. She'd wanted to borrow the book, but Lacard wouldn't allow her to remove it from the room, stating that it belonged to every member of the Society and to allow Raven to borrow the would be giving her undue dominion over it.
"Undue dominion... it's a book, not a house..." thought Raven, cursing herself for not being able to remember the passage. "Energy comes from the mind and the soul, not from an object or from a word... energy must be focused through the body..."
Raven closed her eyes, forming a ball of dark energy in front of her face. It started out small, the size of a marble... but as Raven's focus grew more intense, the ball got larger... two inches in diameter... three... four... five... before Raven's concentration was shattered by a metallic knocking sound. Her eyes snapped open, and the ball exploded in her face, causing her to cry out in pain and be thrown back onto the bed.
"Raven, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Beast Boy..." groaned Raven, rubbing her forehead and walking over to the door. "Is it that time already?"
When the door opened, Beast Boy held up a newspaper clipping... it was an advertisement for a brand new movie... one which Raven had vaguely heard of before.
"It's supposed to be the funniest movie of the year!" said Beast Boy, his voice lined with excitement. "It's got-"
"...didn't I say no comedies?" sighed Raven, lowering her hood and looking Beast Boy straight in the eye.
Beast Boy had forgotten, but before he could speak, Raven let out a long sigh.
"Fine, whatever, let's just hurry up and get this over with," she said, her arm leaning up against the side of her doorframe.
"Great!" replied Beast Boy. "It doesn't start for like an hour and a half, so I'll go early to make sure we get tickets. Just meet me at the theater in an hour, okay?"
Before Raven could reply, Beast Boy had dashed down the hall. Raven shook her head and withdrew inside her room, the door closing behind her.
"I'd like him a lot more if he stopped to listen to what I had to say," said Raven, sitting down at the foot of her bed and looking toward the floor. "That's where the 'silenced' portion of my poem comes from... it's like he doesn't even care..."
Whenever Beast Boy had a joke to tell, Raven always had to be the first one to hear it. And even though she hated it, she stood by and listened, not interrupting him, just waiting him out until he was finished.
But whenever she tried to speak to him, he'd run off, or he'd interrupt her. She wanted to tell him that she'd wait outside the theater with him, but he'd run off, and now she really didn't know what to say.
So Raven waited in her room, reading for forty-five more minutes until it finally came time to meet Beast Boy at the theater. Just before she could leave her room, her telephone rang. Letting out a long sigh, she picked up the phone, hoping that whoever was on the other end would make the conversation quick.
As it turned out, the person on the other end was Neifeld.
"Just calling to see if you were coming down tonight."
"I... have another engagement," replied Raven, bristling as she spoke. "As much as I'd love to say I didn't..."
"It's really Lacard that wanted to see you... he has some focus techniques he wants to tell you about, he thought you really might be able to use them... but I'm sure you could come by tomorrow night if you-"
The part of the book that Raven had forgotten had been eating away at her all day... she knew that if she could remember the passage, she could improve her powers at least three-fold.
"Beast Boy's late to things all the time... he won't mind if I'm just a little bit late..."
Tonight's trip to the movies was supposed to make up for Raven having kept Beast Boy waiting. If she kept him waiting again, he'd REALLY be mad... but knowing Beast Boy, he'd probably just go in and see the movie anyway. It didn't matter if Raven was there. He hadn't even considered what kind of movie Raven would like.
"All right, I'll be right over," said Raven, without the slightest hesitation.
"I'll be waiting," Neifeld replied.
Outside the theater, Beast Boy waited for Raven, his excitement building with every second that went by. As he checked the large clock posted outside the theater, he eagerly counted off the minutes until seven o'clock, when he knew that Raven would arrive.
When the clock finally did reach seven, and no sign of Raven appeared, Beast Boy didn't get too worried. He knew one thing, she hadn't been called for a mission... he kept his T-Com on him at all times, and it hadn't gone off. If it had, he would've known.
Ten past seven... still no Raven, and Beast Boy began to get annoyed, but not worried. Not yet. Twenty past seven... and then half past seven, the advertised start time for the movie.
"Okay," thought Beast Boy, tapping his foot, "we'll miss the trailers for coming attractions. No big deal..."
But when the clock reached eight, a sad reality began creeping into Beast Boy's mind. Raven, it seems... had stood him up. He thought about going into the movie, but without Raven, even the funniest movie in the world wouldn't quite be the same. He'd come to be with Raven, not to see a movie, as unlikely as that sounded within his own mind.
Finally, at ten o'clock, Beast Boy KNEW that Raven wasn't going to show. With a heavy sigh, he turned and approached the ticket counter.
"One for the late show, please..."
As far as Beast Boy was concerned, the funniest movie in the world still wouldn't be the same without Raven, but at least it might cheer him up.
It was midnight at the T-Tower, and Cyborg had long since gone to bed for the night. Raven and Beast Boy were still out, so Robin and Starfire had the living room all to themselves.
Starfire was seated on the couch, her feet, which were clad in woolly pink socks, leaning over the side. She wore a silken blue nightgown, leaving her shoulders bare. Her back was facing Robin, who had taken his gloves off in order to give Starfire a shoulder massage.
"On my planet, this process is much more forceful," said Starfire, smiling. "When one Tamaranian massages another, the fist is clenched tightly and rammed repeatedly into the back of the one recieving the massage."
She turned her head and looked into Robin's eyes, a smile on her face.
"I believe, however, that this is much more relaxing... and enjoyable," said Starfire softly. Robin's fingers were soft and warm, and Starfire enjoyed the sensual feeling of her skin under them, but what really made Starfire relax was that she was sitting next to Robin, and whether he was touching her or not, being with him was more than enough.
"Maybe after this is done you can give me a massage," said Robin, quickly realizing his mistake. "Um... an Earth massage."
"You may have any kind you wish," said Starfire, her face leaning close to Robin's own. "but right now I would like you to keep massaging me..."
Their faces leaned ever closer, Robin's hands rubbing Starfire's shoulders slower and slower until finally the couple's lips met, and Starfire turned her entire body into the kiss. Robin's arms moved to embrace Starfire's back, and her lips engulfed his, her hands sensually moving up and down Robin's back, finally drifting under the black t-shirt he was wearing, using her energy to warm her fingers slightly, stimulating the skin on Robin's back.
"That feels so good..." thought Robin, Starfire's lips making it impossible for him to verbally express the feeling. He moaned slightly, and Starfire's lips moved forward, taking Robin's mouth further into her own. She pulled back and then forward again, and Robin found his own hands drifting, toward the sleeves of Starfire's nightgown. She giggled when she realized Robin's intentions, but instead of pulling away, began to withdraw her own arms into the sleeves of the nightgown, completely ready for Robin to-
The sound of the door opening brought an abrupt end to Robin and Starfire's kiss. Starfire slid away from Robin, giving him another brief kiss on the lips before getting up and making her way to the elevator.
"Love you," Starfire whispered. Robin smiled and repeated the phrase, and as soon as Starfire entered the elevator, Beast Boy walked into the room, his head hung low.
He sighed and tried to walk past Robin to the elevator, but Robin stopped him before he was even halfway there, calling out to Beast Boy to turn around.
"What happened?" asked Robin, his elbow resting on the top of the couch. "It didn't go well with Raven?"
"She didn't even show up!" shouted Beast Boy, agitated and irritable after Raven had failed to arrive at the theater. "Is she here?"
Before Robin could speak, the front door opened again. In walked Raven, who saw Beast Boy and jumped back, realizing her incredible blunder.
She'd started talking to Lacard about the book, and before she knew it, she'd spent five hours, training and meditating and talking to her new friends in the Society. By the time she remembered she had a date to keep, she was standing in the living room, staring into Beast Boy's angry, betrayed face.
"What were you DOING?" shouted Beast Boy, his hands on his hips. "I waited outside the theater for three hours for you!"
"You didn't... you didn't just see the movie?" Raven asked, a bit surprised.
"NO! After the 7:30 showing ended I decided to see the late show to at least save SOME part of the evening... but without you it wasn't the same!"
By this time, Robin had decided he wanted no part of Raven and Beast Boy's argument. He'd gone up the elevator and retired to his room, leaving Raven and Beast Boy alone to argue it out.
"I didn't even want to see that movie anyway," said Raven, walking past Beast Boy to the elevator. "You just wanted me there so you could torture me with bad jokes and worse acting."
As Raven continued to walk toward the elevator, Beast Boy stared at the back of her head, a genuinely hurt look on his face. Raven had betrayed him, broken a promise to him and then acted as if nothing even happened. She didn't even apologize this time.
"...I just wanted to spend time with you... that's all... I do stuff with Robin, Cyborg, even Starfire, but NEVER with you... you're always so sad, you need to get out more, and I thought-"
"For your information," replied Raven, turning around, "I was out."
"Out at that stupid cafe?" Beast Boy asked.
"...sort of," said Raven, quickly realizing that she probably shouldn't be divulging any of the Society's secrets. "That's all you need to know."
"I bet you were there last night, too!" shouted Beast Boy. "I bet that while I was outside, freezing my butt off, you were in there enjoying your sad, stupid poetry with your stupid brooding friends, crying and pretending to be sad and-"
"This conversation is over," said Raven, turning back toward the elevator and not giving Beast Boy a second look as she began walking again.
"If you're going to be like that," said Beast Boy, his voice still raised in anger, "I won't wait for you next time, you hear me? You can go to that cafe all you want, I don't care! Go and be sad, go and be moody, go, go, go, you stupid Goth bitch-"
As soon as the last word escaped Beast Boy's mouth, his eyes widened and his hands flew to his lips. Raven stopped, but didn't turn around.
"Is that what you really think of me?" said Raven, her voice one of quiet, subdued rage. She didn't make a single move, just continued facing the elevator.
"I didn't mean... Raven, I-"
Then, she raised up her right hand, her middle finger extended to the ceiling. She kept her finger up as she entered the elevator, the door closing behind her.
Beast Boy didn't know whether to be sad, or angry, or frustrated... he decided on a little bit of all three, brooding and cursing to himself as he went up to bed.
The next few days, Beast Boy didn't see Raven very much. Even during battles with villains, the two stayed as far away from each other as possible, and when the battle was over, Raven would forgo returning to the tower, instead choosing to meet up with her Society brethren under the cafe.
Beast Boy spent most of his time sulking, either angry with himself for exploding at Raven or angry at Raven for flipping him off and standing him up. Finally, Beast Boy managed to work up the courage to confront Raven. He walked up to her door and knocked several times. When he got no response, he knocked again.
"She's at that cafe..." thought Beast Boy, angrily clenching his fist and letting loose a blow that hurt his hand far more than it hurt the door. "AGH!"
He reached back to strike the door again, but before he could, he felt fingers around his wrist. When he turned around, he saw Robin standing behind him, a concerned look on his face.
"I owe you a talk," Robin said, "and I know this thing with Raven is bothering you."
"Where do I begin..."
Raven had gotten into a routine of going to the cafe, taking the right book from the bookshelf, navigating the dark tunnels underneath the cafe, and going down the long hall to the Society's meeting room. Today was no different, and when Raven arrived, her four fellow members, especially Lacard, seemed especially pleased to see her.
"Glad you could make it, Raven..." said Lacard, seated on the couch on the left side of the room. Vensilla and Garvic were on the right-side couch, while Neifeld was leaning against the far back wall next to the bookshelf, his arms across his chest. Raven noticed his emotional wavelength was slightly disturbed, but before she could inquire into the matter, Lacard offered her a seat next to him on the couch. "Today is the day..."
"You usually don't make a big deal when someone shows up," said Raven, not moving from her spot in front of the door. "You seem... unusually happy today."
"Happy is a pointless emotion," sighed Vensilla. "Just like all emotions."
"Today is a special day," said Lacard, standing up. He looked at Raven with an expression that Raven couldn't quite pin down. He walked over to her, his smile widening with every step. "Today, you become a full member of the society."
"...I'm not sure what you mean," replied Raven. "I thought I was already a full member."
"A full full member," said Garvic. "You'll truly be one of us."
Raven was puzzled, but was now catching several unusual vibes from around the room, especially from Lacard, whose level of excitement was far more than Raven had sensed from him since the two had met.
Raven went on her guard, but still had no reason to suspect her new friends would harm her, either physically or emotionally. "They're not jerks like Beast Boy..."
Lacard was now just a few feet away from Raven, staring directly into her eyes.
"You have power Raven, and a lot of it... you DESERVE to be a part of our Society... in fact, I've been searching for you ever since I founded the Society just six months ago. It'll be six months tomorrow, in fact."
Six months ago... the significance was lost to Raven at first... then, in a single, horrifying moment, it all came rushing back to her. Tomorrow would be the sixth anniversary of... of...
Lacard pulled the glove from his right hand and opened his palm for Raven to see. There, seared into his flesh, was something Raven hoped that she would never see again. The scar on Lacard's face began to glow, as did the mark on his hand... as well as the scars on the hands of the other three members of the Society.
As Neifeld watched his own scar glow, he felt a powerful burning sensation course through his arm... but it wasn't just pain he felt... his eyes widened as he sensed the very presence of evil itself, within his own body... and its source was standing just a few feet away.
Raven's eyes widened as she gazed at the glowing mark on Lacard's hand... and her mind let out a scream.
"The Mark of Scath!"
"She flipped me the finger, dude! It was like... dude!"
While not the most eloquent explanation, Beast Boy's recount of the events that had occured between he and Raven over the past few days was quite informative to Robin, and he was concerned that it might have driven a wedge between two of his teammates that would not be easy to remove.
"Why didn't you tell me you were still having problems? You told me you worked it out," said Robin, his voice lined with worry.
"I just... wanted to deal with it myself," replied Beast Boy. "I tried to talk to Raven, but she's always at that dumb cafe... way more than usual..."
"I've noticed," said Robin, "in fact I-"
A familiar noise sounded from Robin and Beast Boy's belts. The T-Com was going off, and both superheroes knew immediately that someone in the city was in trouble.
Raven stumbled back, her face etched with an expression of shock and terror. Her finger was pointed at Lacard, and her voice trembled as she spoke.
"That mark... Trigon's mark... how-"
"It's quite a long story, but I'm certain that once you realize your destiny, you'll know that there's no way you can resist me," said Lacard. He fired a ball of red energy from his hand, which Raven easily blocked with a curved energy shield. Before Lacard could fire again, she blasted him with an energy ball of her own, its force throwing Lacard into the bookshelf, spilling books everywhere and cracking the shelf's flimsy wooden frame. Lacard smiled, easily picking himself up.
"My father... has he possessed you?" shouted Raven, her entire body glowing with energy as she stepped into the room, ignoring the other Society members, who watched from the sidelines as Raven and Lacard did battle. "ANSWER ME!"
"He gave me a gift..." said Lacard, raising his right hand and firing a powerful electrical stream that engulfed Raven's entire body, simultaneously shocking her with more than a dozen bolts of ruby-colored electricity. She fell to one knee, groaning in pain at Lacard intensified the surge. "He gave me power... and all he asked for in return was that his precious gem be reused to bring him back to this world..."
Raven's body trembled with pain, but slowly she managed to pick herself up from the ground, staring into Lacard's glowing red eyes with her own enraged blue orbs.
"You won't... bring him back... I won't let you..."
"It is your DESTINY!" shouted Lacard, intensifying the force of the electricity and forcing Raven back down to her knees. "Just embrace it... you are the Gem of Scath... you are the portal..."
Raven's fists clenched as she fought back to her feet once more, gathering up all the power she could muster.
"These bastards used me... I can't believe I trusted them... but I won't let them use me anymore... I won't let the world be destroyed again!"
"AZARATH METRION ZINTHOS!"
A wave of black energy from Raven's body filled the entire room, shattering the bookcase in two and nearly blowing Lacard's body down the stairs. He held onto the open doorframe until Raven's attack subsided, breathing heavily and clutching his stomach in pain.
Raven too was slightly exhausted from the attack, but when she saw Lacard reeling in front of her, she knew she'd definitely obtained the edge in the battle. One more attack like that and it would be all over.
She didn't see Vensella standing behind her, holding one of the metal and glass light fixtures in her hands. She slammed it down over the top of Raven's head, laughing triumphantly. Raven let out a scream and collapsed onto one knee... then quickly stood up, groaning in pain but still conscious.
"Shit, it didn't knock her out..." gasped Vensella, stumbling back toward the center of the room. Before Raven could turn to confront her assailant, Lacard lunged forward, his fist glowing with red energy. He slammed his fist into Raven's chest, and the girl doubled over, her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Her vision grew hazy, and for a second she lost consciousness, but could quickly feel her awareness returning. Her entire body was racked with pain, and she could barely breathe, but she was conscious... then, again, she blacked out. She faded back in and could feel the cloak being removed from her body, then her frame being lifted up and carried down a set of stairs.
Memories of the horrible day six months ago began to return... the day her body had been used as a portal for Trigon's entrance into the world. It was a day her friends had tried to make special for her... most vivid of all, besides the actual summoning of Trigon, was when Beast Boy had given her a penny... for luck, he had said.
Raven could feel herself being shackled to a flat, stone table. Her arms were locked into place in a Y-shape at the top part of the table, her legs spread out and locked to the bottom part. Her body now splayed like an X, Raven regained full awareness just as her body was immobilized, the chains far too strong for her to break with strength alone. She struggled slightly, looking to her left and seeing three cloaked figures... Garvic, Vensella, and Neifeld, who was standing next to the stairs, a nervous look on her face. At the foot of the table in front of her was Lacard, cloaked as well, holding a book in his hands and wearing a smile on his face.
"Bastard..." spat Raven, tugging at the chains that held her arms. "You're a bastard."
"Sticks and stones, my precious gem... before the ceremony begins, I suppose you're wondering how all of this started."
Raven continued tugging at her chains, becoming more and more afraid with every second that ticked past. She tried to break the chains by blasting them with energy, but they held strong, glowing black and then fading back to their rusty, metallic brown color again, seemingly reinforced to keep her from escaping.
"My father will destroy you if you bring him back... he'll destroy the whole world... you're making a huge mistake!"
"I'm repaying a debt!" shouted Lacard, pointing his finger at Raven. "Your father saved my life..."
Somewhere in the boardroom of one of Jump City's corporate skyscrapers, a man with a very bad hairdo was about to give a speech.
The hairdo was in actuality a toupee, and the man wearing it was Control Freak, his Star Trek-inspired trenchcoat replaced with fancy-looking business clothes.
"Gentleman, it was bad business to cancel my favorite reality show, 'The Protege', said Control Freak, his hands brushing across his chin. He faced three middle-aged businessmen who looked none too happy to have the villain in their presence.
"Get out," said the man in the center, the CEO of the company, "or I'll have security throw you out."
"Bring back 'The Protege', or your daughter gets fired..." said Control Freak, pointing his remote control at the security monitors in the back of the room, "out of a cannon!"
When the security monitors turned on, they showed a large cannon mounted on the roof of the building, with a teenage girl inside of it, bound with rope and gagged with a white cloth tied over her mouth. The cannon looked to be seconds from going off.
"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?" shouted the CEO, rising from his chair.
"Nobody's getting fired today!"
The voice belonged to Robin, who leapt into the building and smashed his bo staff on top of Control Freak's head, knocking off his Donald Trump-like toupee. He staggered back, clutching his head and pointing his remote control at Robin, now flanked by Starfire, Beast Boy, and Cyborg.
"You weren't invited to this board meeting!" shouted Control Freak, shooting lasers from the tip of the remote that knocked all of the Titans to the ground. He pressed a button on his remote again, disappearing completely.
"Where did the Control Freak go?" shouted Starfire, rapidly looking back and forth.
"He's on the roof with my daughter!" shouted the CEO, pointing at the security monitors. "You have to help her!"
"Right!" shouted Cyborg, charging up his cannon. "C'mon guys, we've got a daughter to save!"
As the Titans rushed out of the room, Beast Boy realized something. He ran up to Robin as the team approached the stairs leading to the roof.
"Raven's not here yet..." said Beast Boy, a worried look on his face. "Raven might ditch me to hang with her new friends, but she'd NEVER ignore the T-Com! Something's wrong!"
Robin was thinking the exact same thing, and he turned to Beast Boy, giving his green teammate a new mission.
"Go find Raven," Robin said, "you'd know better than me where she is."
"You guys'll be fine without me?" asked Beast Boy.
"It's Control Freak," Robin replied, shrugging his shoulders. "We can handle him."
"Right," nodded Beast Boy, running the opposite direction down the hall, toward the ground-floor elevator. "Whatever you've gotten yourself into, Raven, it's time for me to get you out..."
A tall young man was standing in an alley, his back against a tall, thick brick wall. Facing him was a man holding a shining pistol in his right hand, a hood concealing his face.
"Here, take my money!" shouted the frightened young man, hurling his wallet at the robber and crouching down on his knees, his hands over his head. The robber picked up the wallet and looked inside... finding three ones in change. Angrily, he threw the wallet to the ground and pointed his gun at his terrified victim.
"Bitch, you holdin' out on me!" shouted the robber, his finger drifting to the pistol of the gun. "You best come up with more than three bucks!"
"I swear to God that's all I have!" The young man was terrified, sobbing, tears streaming down his cheeks.
"Then you best start prayin', cuz you a dead man..."
A loud bang, followed by an instant of searing, burning pain as flesh and bone were torn asunder by the tiny piece of lead moving at over 1,000 feet a second, and then... a bright flash, burning, silence, stasis... then blackness. When the man awoke, he opened his eyes to see... nothing, as if he'd been blinded. Was he dead? Dead at 16, just a month before 17... it was a sad way to go. Felled by a robber's bullet... his mother told him not to go downtown, but young Calvin Salvador didn't feel like listening... it seems it would cost him his life.
A deep, booming voice caused Calvin to let out a loud scream. Then, the burning sensation returned again. The young man looked around to see flames surrounding him, and for an instant he heard the screams of a billion tormented souls at once, the most horrific sound he'd ever heard.
The voice called out again, called out Calvin's name. When Calvin opened his eyes, he saw a terrifying sight... a red beast several hundred feet tall, with horns the size of a house. Calvin screamed again.
"I... I'm in hell... please don't hurt me!"
"You're not dead," said the beast, his four red eyes aglow. "I took you back to Hell with me... so that you can help me."
"W...what do you want?"
"If you go back now, you will die. That bullet stopped just a tenth of an inch from your brain. It stopped because I stopped it, because time stopped for me. I am Trigon, dark lord of Hell, and your savior! Bow to me, mortal one! Bow to me or DIE!"
Calvin fell to his knees, tears streaming down his face.
"I'll do whatever you want, I-"
The image of a beautiful girl appeared before Calvin, her pale grey skin and blue eyes both equally striking features.
"Rise and gaze into the face of this girl, my daughter... the Gem of Scath!"
"You... want me to marry-"
"NO! I want you to capture her and bring her to an altar deep below the Earth, so that she may be sacrificed to bring me into the surface world once more... in exchange, I will give you dominion over the Earth and all of its people. Anything you desire will be yours..."
The beast began to shrink, until he was the size of a large human being. He floated down to Calvin and extended his hand.
"We must shake hands to seal the deal," said Trigon, smiling as Calvin's trembling palm reached forward and clasped Trigon's in his own. Trigon tightened his grip, and Calvin screamed as the Mark of Scath was seared into the flesh of his right hand. "You will be returned to the Earth five seconds before the bullet was fired, and you will have a portion of my power to help you capture the girl. You may also use this power to kill the robber before he kills you."
Calvin nodded his head, and could now feel a great power surging through his body... along with all the confidence such power tends to bring.
"One more thing. Your name is no longer Calvin... it is Lacard. Now GO!"
The young man blacked out, and when his sight returned, he was facing down the robber in the alley, the gun pointed at his head.
"Bitch, you holdin' out on me!" shouted the robber, his finger drifting to the pistol of the gun. "You best come up with more than three bucks!"
But instead of trembling, Lacard smiled. He raised his hand and gave the robber the finger, daring him to fire his gun.
"That's it, you a dead man!"
The robber fired, but the bullet immediately slowed as it left the gun. It slowed to a crawl, then came to a stop several feet from Lacard's head. He winked, and the bullet fell harmlessly to the ground. The robber stumbled back, dropping his gun and holding up his hands.
"...wha... there's some Matrix shit goin' on up in here! Screw this, I'm-"
Lacard raised his hand, firing a jolt of red electricity through the robber's body. The robber screamed out in pain as the electricity seared his clothes, then his flesh. The entire grim spectacle took just ten seconds, after which time the robber collapsed dead to the ground, his body now a smoldering pile of melted flesh. Lacard began to laugh, his mind consumed with the immense power he now possessed.
"From that moment on, everything I did, from asking my father to build tunnels under his cafe, to recruiting my three lieutenants, led me to this moment now... with the Gem of Scath in my possession."
Raven sat horrified as she listened to Lacard's story, her struggles intensifying every second.
"Somehow I have to break out..." thought Raven, struggling violently against the chains. "Maybe if I try my energy again, I can..."
Then, a glimmer of hope. Raven's powers intensified when she focused them... and her most effective focusing technique was her chant, something she'd been trying to wean herself from, but now her only hope of focusing enough power to get herself free.
Lacard pressed a piece of duct tape over Raven's mouth, cutting her off in mid-chant. He held his fingers over Raven's face for several seconds, partly to make sure the tape was stuck tight, and partly to taunt the now silenced girl as she issued a series of muffled shouts and grunts.
"You might not have been able to remember the book, but I remembered when you told me you needed your words to focus your powers... I knew I kept tape down her for a reason," said Lacard, picking up the large, thickly bound black book he'd been holding before. Raven screamed at Lacard, trying to loosen the tape over her lips, but it had been pressed tight, and no amount of mouth movements were going to extricate it. She looked over at Garvic and Vensilla, who simply gave taunting grins at the bound and gagged girl. Finally, she looked over at Neifeld, her eyes widening, trying to appeal to his sense of human decency. He still bore a hesitant expression on his face, but even as Raven called out to him, he stood silent, shaking his head softly.
"MMMMMPH! MMMMHMMM!" screamed Raven, looking straight into Neifeld's eyes. "Please! I know you're not with these guys all the way... you have to... you have to help me..."
But Neifeld stood silent, his hands across his chest. He looked up at the ceiling, whispering 'I'm sorry' too softly to be heard.
"Time to begin the incantation," said Lacard, gesturing for Vensilla to stand at the left side of the stone table, while Garvic stood on the right and Lacard remained at the foot. "The portal will be opened soon, my lord..."
Beast Boy ran into the cafe and was recognized immediately by the barista, who moved over to block his progress.
"I don't think so," said the barista, angrily shaking her head. "You nearly caused two of our guests to throw up!"
"I'm just looking for Raven, do you know where-"
"Yes, I know where she is, but no, you can't see her," said the barista. "She's obviously here to get away from you, and I can see why."
"So can I..." thought Beast Boy, his mind racked with guilt. "If I hadn't blown up at her, maybe... no, it's too late for that now, I have to find Raven..."
If Beast Boy had known what Raven was going through, if he'd known that her T-Com signal had been blocked by being so far underground, he'd have punched out the barista and torn the cafe apart to find Raven. As it stood, he was about ready to do that anyway.
"If you don't leave, I'm calling the cops."
"And who do you think they'll arrest? Raven came in here, but apparently she's gone. If she's not in the bathroom, then where is she? Not in the cafe, I don't think! If the cops can't find her, YOU'RE going to jail, not me! And I'm a Teen Titan, I've got tons of pull with the cops! You and your goth friends have none! N-u-n none!"
Beast Boy's ranting had more of a chance of getting him thrown in jail than getting him anywhere with the barista, but against all odds, his yelling had struck a nerve. She began to relent.
"Look, the guy who owns the place told me not to let anyone know about-"
"About what?" asked Beast Boy, his voice cracking as he frantically tried to get any clue to Raven's whereabouts out of the barista. "Not to let anyone know about-"
"His kid wanted a secret place for him and his friends to hang out, so the owner built these tunnels under the cafe... and a secret entrance behind the bookcase in the corner... Raven's hanging out down there, okay? As soon as you find your friend I don't want you ever coming back here, do you hear-"
But Beast Boy had already disappeared into the secret passage.
Raven screamed and thrashed the entire time that Lacard read from the book, but he read on unimpeded, Raven's frantic, muffled cries doing little to distract him.
"MMMMMMPH! NMMMMMMMMPH! MMMMMGMMMPH! You can't bring back my father! He'll destroy the world! You can't bring him back!"
The incantation seemed to go on forever, until Lacard finally reached the critical lines of the spell, and threw open the door that would allow Trigon to return to the world once more. Lacard, Vensella, and Galvic chanted the words in unison.
The gem was born of evil's fire, the gem shall be his portal...
He comes to claim, he comes to sire...
A single tear escaped from Raven's eyes.
The end of all things mortal.
Raven's eyes widened, and in that instant she felt an intense pain, burning and searing her entire body. She let out another loud, muffled scream as her clothes ripped away, only part of her cloak around her chest and waist remaining. Her hair grew long and flowing, and the familiar markings that symbolized her as the Gem of Scath returned to her body, tracing along her flesh as she twisted and writhed on the stone altar.
"Why is she screaming?" shouted Neifeld, walking over toward the altar. "It's hurting her, you said it wouldn't-"
"Apparently, since the gate is being torn open instead of simply opening by itself, it's a far more painful process," said Lacard, a sadistic smile appearing on his face. "It makes no difference to me."
But Raven's own suffering was irrelavent. The real reason for her screams and tears was that she was lamenting for the world, knowing the pain her friends would have to endure once Trigon returned.
"MMMMMMMRGH! MMMMMMMMPH MMMMMMMMMNMMM! I have to get free, please... someone help me get free so I can stop this!"
But it was too late now... once the door was open, it couldn't be closed again. Trigon would be returning.
Lacard was too engrossed in his triumph to notice a wall of green skin and fur rapidly advancing on him. The first notice he had that he had company was a powerful green fist smashing into his face, knocking him all the way back into a wall. The green gorilla who had entered the room was Beast Boy, and as Vensilla and Galvic tried to stop him, Beast Boy's arms easily swatted them away. They slammed into the walls of the room and went unconscious on impact. Lacard, on the other hand, hadn't been so unfortunate. He charged Beast Boy, who tried to strike him with another fist, but quickly met with a cluster of lightning being fired from Lacard's hand.
"Mmmmph! Mmmmrgh mmm!" Raven twisted against the table, her skin skill burning as the incantation continued to take effect, knowing that in a matter of minutes her life would be exchanged for Trigon's. She was certainly relieved that Beast Boy had shown up, but knew that even he would be too late to save her or the world.
Beast Boy stumbled back and detransformed, his hand badly burned by Lacard's lightning attack.
"I'll make you pay for hurting Raven..." Beast Boy said, clenching his fists.
"Let me guess, her screams of agony alerted you here? Guess I didn't use enough tape," said Lacard, leaping up and aiming a kick at Beast Boy's face. Beast Boy grabbed Lacard's leg and threw him to the ground, then transformed into a mule and kicked the demonic boy across the room. Once Lacard was dealt with, Beast Boy detransformed and tried to pull the tape from Raven's mouth. Lacard, slumped against the wall, extended his hand. From Lacard's hand extended a glowing demonic arm that grabbed Beast Boy around the chest and pulled him backward, squeezing him tightly. The demonic hand had claws, and Beast Boy could feel them stabbing into his flesh as Lacard tightened his grip.
"I don't... think so!" Beast Boy's voice was strained as he transformed into a snake, slithering out of Lacard's grasp and crawling over to his leg, preparing to bite into his skin. A quick jolt of electricity forced Beast Boy out of his transformation and knocked him clear across the room, his back slamming hard into the stone altar where his friend was chained.
"Mmph... mmmph mmm..." Raven's voice was getting weaker by the second, but she tried as hard as she could to tell Beast Boy to escape, knowing that anyone within a thousand feet of her when Trigon was released would be killed instantly. "Get out... Beast Boy, dammit... get out..."
Lying helpless on the stone table, Raven tried to recall memories from her life... time with her mother and the natives of Azarath... with Robin, Starfire, and Cyborg... and with Beast Boy... even when he annoyed her, she knew she still cared for him, if just as a friend... she tried to remember all the times when Beast Boy made her happy, when she actually laughed at his jokes, when he showed kindness to her...
Then Raven realized... Beast Boy always showed kindness to her. The only time he was ever cruel to her was in response to something she did... Beast Boy brought out Raven's strongest emotions, but those were dangerous emotions that she had to keep inside...
She remembered once thinking, I envy you, Beast Boy.
If only she could tell him now.
Beast Boy tried to stand, but immediately he was blasted with a powerful electrical shock. He cried out in pain and suddenly found himself lifted into the air, his body turned around so that he was facing Raven, and she was facing him. Jolts of electricity kept Beast Boy in the air, and each shock was more powerful than the last, causing Beast Boy to scream louder and louder.
"MMMMMPH MRRRRRRRRM!" screamed Raven, her head snapping up from the table as high as it could with her arms and legs still chained. "STOP HURTING HIM!"
"You should hear some of the things she's said about you," said Lacard. "During our meetings... she wrote a poem about you, you know... said you were the source of all the misery in her life."
"AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!" screamed Beast Boy, barely able to grit his teeth as millions of volts of electricity shot through his body. Raven tried to shut her eyes, but the pain of her own flesh searing kept them wide open, completely focused on Beast Boy's face.
"I'm surprised you don't enjoy this, Raven..."
"MMMMRGH MMMMMMMM!" she screamed, her face twisted with rage. She was clearly trying to appeal to Lacard to let Beast Boy go, but he would have none of it.
"I'll try to time it so you both die at once... you can burn in Hell together!"
Lacard's laughs filled the entire room, and by now, even Neifeld had fainted, horrified by the depths of the evil taking place. Raven continued screaming and thrashing, focusing on one thing and one thing only... saving Beast Boy, somehow finding a way to save him, even if she couldn't use her powers, even if they were being drained away every second...
"Raven..." Beast Boy managed to choke out, reaching out to her, defying the electricity that kept the rest of his body immobilized, "I... didn't mean what... what I said... you're not a bitch... you're the most wonderful... you're my best friend... you're... you're..."
Beast Boy's eyes closed, and it was at that moment that Raven was finally able to reach into her self and pull out the power that she needed to save her friend's life. Like a brilliant spirit rising from the dead, an ethereal, transparent shape arose from Raven's chained body, glowing bright white and appearing above her. The ghostly being looked exactly like Raven, except that her clothes were intact, including a bright white cloak with the hood down around her neck. The transparent being pointed a hand at Lacard, who stumbled back, gasping in disbelief. Beast Boy's electrified, unconscious form immediately fell to the ground at the foot of the altar.
"What... how... it's impossible!" shouted Lacard, pointing his hand at the transparent form of White Raven, the Mark of Scath glowing on his hand. "How could you focus your powers without-"
"Focus control," said White Raven, angrily staring into Lacard's eyes. "I didn't remember the book, but I realized something... and when that occured, I was able to focus on a single point in my mind and activate all of my powers, including my soulself."
White Raven raised her own left hand, which began glowing brightly with energy. Desperately, Lacard fired a huge stream of electricity, which slammed into White Raven's outstretched palm, harmlessly absorbed into its ethereal flesh.
"AZARATH, METRION, ZINTHOS!"
A brilliant white beam shot out of White Raven's hand, blasting into Lacard and overwhelming the red electricity being fired from his hand. The blast continued on, slamming into Lacard's palm and exploding in a flash of light, burning Lacard's entire right arm from his body. He stumbled back into the wall before gasping and fainting to the floor.
"The mark is gone, the pact is broken... my job is done," said White Raven, slowly disappearing and leaving her creator chained on the altar. Raven opened up her eyes and began breathing heavily through her nose, her chest rapidly moving up and down. Tears were still flowing down her face, and when she saw Beast Boy slowly stand up, she breathed a sigh of relief through her taped lips. "It's finally over..."
But Raven's relief was shortlived. Almost immediately, the searing pain returned to her body just as severe as before. She let out a muffled scream, and Beast Boy rushed to her side.
"Raven!" shouted Beast Boy, quickly removing the tape from her lips. "Don't worry, I'll get you to a hospital and-"
"It's not... there's nothing you can do... Lacard summoned Trigun... he... he AAAAAGH!"
Beast Boy began tugging at the chains that held Raven's body,
"You have to get out of here!" Raven shouted. "If you're here... ungh... here when Trigon is released, you'll be burnt... burnt to a crisp... go up and warn the people in the cafe... hurry!"
But Beast Boy wasn't about to leave Raven's side. He'd waited for her at the movie theater, and he was going to wait for her now... even if it meant waiting until the end of the world. He clutched Raven's hand tightly, using his free hand to gently stroke her face. He looked into Raven's eyes, showing a determination like none Raven had ever seen before, even in Robin.
"I'm going to save you... I'm going to find a way..."
"There's no t...t...time!" screamed Raven, the marks of Scath beginning to glow on her body. "Beast Boy, I never told you this... I never told you-"
"How even if I was annoying, you'd still always be my friend? Raven, I'm sorry I was so mean to you before, it was-"
"Beast Boy... don't... it's not your fault... none of this is..."
"I drove her away..." thought Beast Boy, clutching Raven's hand and wiping the tears from his face, unable to notice his own. "It's because of me that they were able to bring her here... able to trap her... the world's going to end and Raven's going to die because of me... No! I won't let it! I won't let you die, Raven!"
Now Beast Boy could feel something searing inside of his own body. He collapsed, both of his hands going to either side of his head. He screamed, clenched his teeth, screamed again...
"Beast Boy, what..." Raven choked out, barely able to remain conscious. Her energy was nearly gone, and she knew that the end would be coming soon... when the last of her energy was gone, when she was dead, Trigon would be reborn.
And Beast Boy would never, EVER let that happen.
A brilliant glow engulfed Beast Boy's body, and Raven was blinded, but she kept her eyes open, fearful of what might happen if she allowed them to close.
When she could see again, Beast Boy was no longer standing before her... at least not the Beast Boy she knew. Instead was a tall, glistening creature with beautiful, white, feathered wings... and the most incredible face Raven had ever seen, complete with short, curled green hair. It was human, but not quite... something was different... something amazing.
"That creature... can't be... can't be..."
"Raven..." said the creature, in the most beautiful voice Raven had ever heard. "It's me... Beast Boy."
"I don't believe it..." she whispered. Raven wasn't looking at Beast Boy, she was looking at... "an angel..."
Without saying another word, the angel bent down over Raven and kissed her gently on the lips. The angel's lips remained on Raven's, and she lifted up her head slightly, pressing her lips deeper into his. Her chained limbs stopped their struggles, and the pain was lifted from her body, the marks disappearing from Raven's flesh almost instantly. The kiss continued for ten seconds... fifteen... neither Raven nor the angel even thinking of stopping. Finally, the angel's lips parted from Raven's, and she gently lowered her head back down onto the slab of concrete. Another bright flash, and Raven could feel the shackles disappear from her wrists and ankles. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, Beast Boy was just standing up, rubbing his head.
"Dude... where the hell did that truck come from... I thought we were inside..."
Beast Boy looked up and saw Raven sitting on the side of the stone slab. To Beast Boy's surprise, she was smiling. Her blue hair, now waist-length, was draped behind her back, and her face was as beautiful as ever.
And she was smiling.
"Raven... you're okay!" shouted Beast Boy. Before he could leap up to hug her, she leapt down from the slab and took the initiative, her arms wrapping tightly around Beast Boy's back. Tears began to fall down her cheeks as his head came to rest on her shoulder.
"We're both okay, Beast Boy... that's what matters..."
Neifeld, Vensilla, and Galvic were taken to jail, while a maimed and now-comatose Lacard was admitted to the hospital. After making sure their friends had taken care of Control Freak, Raven (after getting a new set of clothes) and Beast Boy went to see the movie that Beast Boy had wanted to see when he'd offered to take Raven out before. Beast Boy didn't mind seeing the movie twice... especially since Raven actually laughed at a couple of the funny parts.
Now in Raven's room, Beast Boy had to learn from Raven exactly how he'd saved her AND the world... by transforming into an angel and resealing Trigon away with a kiss.
Even Beast Boy had trouble believing something like that.
He watched Raven as she combed her long hair, running the brush up and down along its smooth surface.
"You're not cutting it?" asked Beast Boy. Raven shook her head, turning to Beast Boy and sitting down next to him at the foot of her bed.
"Not for a while," she said, looking straight into Beast Boy's eyes. "I'm keeping it long to help me remember..."
"...so your angel can find you again, right?" asked Beast Boy, nudging Raven in the side.
Raven smiled again, and then remarked, "he's already here... sitting next to me right now."
Beast Boy looked down, pondering in his mind how he could've POSSIBLY transformed into an angel. Angels are spiritual creatures, not animals... it perplexed Beast Boy, but if anyone could explain the transformation, it was Raven.
"At the moment you became an angel, I sensed an intensely powerful emotion... a single one that overran all of the others. It was the most powerful single emotion I've ever felt from anyone...
"Was it anger?"
Raven shook her head.
Again, Raven shook her head.
"Guilt? Um... pain... or maybe-"
"You'll figure it out," said Raven, getting up from the bed and stepping toward the door. "I'm going downstairs, turn the light off when you-"
The door opened, and Beast Boy spoke again.
"Was it love?"
Raven stopped... then said nothing. She stepped out and turned down the hall, allowing the door to close behind her.
I'll always look out for you, Raven...