"Be still, Child. There's no need for you to wear yourself out. Your teammates will still be a long time in coming."
With a barely perceptible groan, Raven settled to her knees. "Yes…Priestess." She hastily added when the circlets encasing her wrists and neck sparked angrily. The tall woman smirked, then turned toward the screen. Separated sections showed larger-than-life images of the other Titans, frantically searching through dimly lit streets and abandoned warehouses. Raven sighed, wishing that her chains had enough length to let her lay down. She hadn't slept in three days –four? It was hard to tell. The only light source in the dark room was the screen..
"I don't understand what is taking your friends so long. They should have been here days ago, if they were really trying.
She was too weary to rise to the jibe. They had gotten less and less subtle as the days had progressed, and she no longer had the energy to be angry. Besides, she knew that the woman was only mocking her to relieve her own boredom.
"It's almost as if they don't want to find you. What kind of people let their own teammate languish in such dreadful conditions for so long? The Titans obviously don't care about you as much as they should. One has to wonder why they even keep you around, if they don't like you. Not that I blame them for that, though. I mean, look at you. Such a weak, pathetic thing. Who could ever…"
Her limbs were heavy, weighed down by her bonds and by her exhaustion. Her eyes drooped, and drooped, and drooped…And then the voice sharpened, broke through the shadows of approaching sleep.
"Come now, Child. I can't let you fall asleep. Who will talk to me, then? It isn't very respectful for you to ignore me. I think we need another reminder."
Her head snapped up, staring frantically at the dark silhouette cast by the screen. "No! I don't, I-I'm sorry. It won't happen again-" She babbled, hoarsely watching green static travel up the chains from the wall, creeping slowly towards the manacles. "I- please! I'm sorry, Priestess!
"I know, child." And the static reached her wrists.
A scream tore itself out of her abused throat. A cold, agonizing pain crawled up her spine, eating at her heart and tearing out the bottom of her lungs. She screamed, and screamed, and clawed at her flesh, and wailed. Tears jumped from her eyes as her head thrashed, restricted and tormented by the chains. Metal cut into her wrists and neck as she pulled, strained away from the agony, arching her back as blood streamed from the newest cuts in her skin.
A millennia passed, an eon of dying and being brought back to life by the very thing that killed her. Electricity splashed, frothed, seethed on her skin, frying and burning, boiling the moisture in her mouth and the tears from her cheeks, sizzling her blood.
She bled, and she screamed, and she yearned for release from the agony that had tortured her for so many days. There was no thought, no relief, only the pain that chewed voraciously into her body. She died, and lived, and died, and died…
And it was over. Raven collapsed as far as the chains would allow, sobbing helplessly, moaning mindlessly with every exhale. Her arms, her legs, her eyes and mouth twitched spasmodically. Her head rolled, clinking the shackles together as she drifted between the fine lines of life and death, into the vast pit of welcoming haze…
A delicate noise came from the obscure shape cast by the screen "For shame, Child. Is this all the legendary sorceress has to offer? A little sleep deprivation and electroshock, and you're down for the count? You're lucky I'm so-" The lines blurred…
"-lax with you, Raven." Azar said, looking on as her charge picked out yet another book. "The Council wanted me to keep you at your meditation constantly, with occasional breaks for sleep and food. That was before you were born, though. I doubt they'd even allow you that much respite, now. Much less give you reading material…Good Azarath, child. Is that book big enough for you?"
The tow-headed girl nodded her head somberly, and nearly toppled over as a result. Azar laughed quietly and took the tome from her. "Let's see what you've picked out…'Bania's Interpretations of the Prophesy of the Unholy Child' Oh, Raven. There's little in here that you haven't heard already. It's just the opinion of a shrewish old woman afraid for her people."
"I wanna see what people think I'm gonna do. I wanna see why they hate me. I have to know what they're saying about me."
Azar looked at her serious, young, ancient face…and found she could not refuse. "Very well. You may take it." The girl was mature enough to read the text and still control herself." Come now, let's go check them out."
She let the girl lead the way through the dusty lines of books, silent sentinels of ages past. The booted feet padded softly down the aisle, neither straying nor hesitating. She was well familiar with these rows.
"Aaah, Priestess Azar." A wrinkled woman in yellow robes awaited them at the front desk. "Did you and the de- your charge find some books to her liking?" She had a nasty leer on her face. Azar doubted that she even realized it was there.
"Yes, Librarian." Carefully respectful. "Raven, please give the lady your books." A stack of three smaller novels quickly joined the large tome Azar placed on the table. "Please check these out under my name."
"Of course." The librarian quickly recorded the names of the books, studiously avoiding the girl's quiet gaze. "Tales of Monk Shidan…the Green Claw of Tir…What's this?" She held up Bania's Interpretations and sneered. Azar stirred, then subsided. It was inevitable. "And what do you want this for? Gloating over your destiny? Studying to see exactly how you want to destroy the universe?" She threw the book down in disgust, sending a plume of dust into the air. Raven cringed and reached out, as it to save the book from further abuse. The librarian, teeth bared in animal anger, reared back and sped a hand toward the little girl's face. "Stop-" Blur.
"-that!" Cried the tall woman as her hand connected, whipping Raven's face to the side. "I won't have you fainting on me." She dug a hand into the frazzled violet hair and forced her to look at the screen. "Look, child. Your friends are getting closer. I'll get to finish this soon. When they arrive, I will use my powers to activate those chains, and you will die. They won't have time to do anything to help you. My chains can't be broken, even when I'm unconscious. Your death is worth a few punches."
She gave the head a little shake, jerking her captive around and pulling at the roots. "What do you say to that, Child?" On the screen, the Titans converged around an entrance, looking worried but determined. "Well?"
Raven blearily watched as Starfire ripped open a steel door. The thing looked like it weighed at least a ton. The alien's righteous anger must be at top form, she thought fuzzily. But the Priestess was waiting for an answer.
"Why are you doing this?" Her mouth was tainted with blood. She must have bit her tongue… "What's the point?" The words came out weaker, slower, thicker than she had hoped, but she supposed that it was a minor miracle that she could speak at all. "What did we do to you?"
The woman released her hair roughly. On the screen, Cyborg and Beastboy smashed through a line of shoddily built robots. "I was refused by the Justice league. I offered to…reeducate the people they captured. No one can withstand the effects of my chains for long. Lex Luthor, the Joker, all of those pesky villains that just keep coming back would be taken care of. If I had been allowed to work on them for a day, two at most, I could have solved all of their problems. Even your Slade would reform under my attentions.
"Some of the more sensible members of the league seemed interested in my proposal. Hawkgirl in particular acted like she was willing to take me up on my offer. Superman, though, wasn't even willing to give me a test run. That old-fashioned bastard kicked me out and told me to never show my face again!"
"But…what does that have to do with us? Shouldn't you be going after them for revenge?" The torturer was dangerously silent. "Priestess. S-sorry."
"Extensive as my skills are," she continued, and Raven breathed a sigh of relief. It hurt to know she was being trained so easily, but… Nothing could be done. "I would not have been able to take on the entire Justice league. I can only produce so many chains at a time. But I couldn't forgive them. I had to take revenge, to hurt them as they hurt my pride. And what better way-" she said sweetly, touched a hand to Raven's cheek. "-to accomplish my goals than with the death of their protégées? The future Justice league members, the hope of the crime-fighting tomorrow…gone." She giggled. "The League will be devastated."
"Y-you don't understand, priestess. Only Robin was ever taught by any of them. They don't care about the rest of us. Our deaths wouldn't faze them."
"Don't be silly, child. I saw their eyes when they talked about your team. They think of you like children, to be protected and loved. They think you're-"
"-adorable. How can a demon be housed in such a cute little girl?" Arella commented, watching her daughter bend her head over a book. "What is it that she's reading? A storybook?"
"No." Tersely. Tensely. Tiredly.
"What is it then, Azar?"
"A book of magic. The council has finally agreed to let me teach her. It was difficult to persuade them, but I managed to strong-arm them."
Arella frowned. "You never consulted me about this."
didn't need to be asked."
"She is my daughter! It is my right to decide what she learns."
"She is Trigon's daughter! She is not a normal child."
A pause. Raven turned the page, oblivious to the hushed argument. Arella watched, taking in the grey skin and purple head. "No. No, she isn't." Tersely. Tensely. Tiredly. "I should not have become angry with you, Azar. Not after all you have done for the both of us. You know best, of course. I'm sorry."
"I understand, Child. All is forgiven." They watched in silence as the pale child burrowed into the book. "She is-"
"-Progressing quickly, aren't they?" The tall woman observed. The Titans had finished off the robots, Raven realized. They rushed through a darkened hallway. "That is the area outside of this room. I will get to finish this." They scattered, opening the doors that littered the hallway. Beast Boy was shouting, noiseless calls of her name. The others silently mimicked him.
The tall woman grimaced impatiently, pacing back and forth in front of the screen. "They are still taking to long." Her fingers tapped against pale arms, the white gown rustling in the wind of her pace. "Nng…Let's give them a hint, shall we?" She smile toothily and strode back to her captive. She bent down and stroked the chains lovingly, ignoring the whimpers of her victim, the constant monologue of 'no-no-no-no-no.'
Raven watched in horror – "Please no-no-no-please-" as the green static, so horrifically familiar now, writhed its way up, verdant claws reaching. It grasped the manacles, she screamed, and drifted, and cried, and drifted…And on the screen, the Titans turned as one and followed her wails, destroying the door that kept her from them.
The pain receded achingly as splinters flew into the room. A thin rectangle of light gleamed in, casting the long shadows of her friends across the floor. "Stay where you are, Titans. I've got your sorceress. Raven, tell them you are here."
She stirred her broken body in the still-dark corner of the room. Her head lifted slowly, laboriously, unable to not comply with the order. "I'm here," She groaned hoarsely, painfully. A cry of "Raven!" sprang simultaneously from each of her teammates.
"Raven, what has she done to you?" Robin's voice. Concerned. She was silent, trying to collect what was left of herself.
"I've tortured her. It's what I do."
"Who are you? Why are you doing this?"
She stirred again, trying to work moisture back into her throat. "She…she calls herself the Priestess of Pain."
"Call me Priestess." The shadows made as if to move. "No, no." A green spark snuck up the chains, forcing out a yelp. "Stay where you are, I said. You don't want your friend to die faster, do you?" The shadows stilled. "Much-"
"-better, Raven. You may take a break, now."
She sighed with relief and released the magic. "Does this ever get any easier, Priestess? Will I ever get the hang of it?"
An indulgent smile. "Of-"
"-course, there's nothing you can do to prevent her death, anyways. The Justice League will rue the day they ever sent me away. Enough of this! Suffer, so that I can take my revenge!" Sparks again spread across the chains, growing and intensifying like never before, making a fire that swept towards her. Heat blossomed, burning her wrists and neck, and she wailed.
Pain, pain pain pain pain pain. A maelstrom, tornado, pulling apart everything, her mind, her body. Hurt more than before, giant maw of agony. Lose yourself in its teeth. Lose yourself in…the lines…
Laughter underlayed her howls, triumphant shouting. "Do you hear this, Superman? This is what happens when you deny me what I want! This is-"
"-what happens when you don't listen to me, Raven." Said Azar, inspecting the scraped knee "No, don't touch it. You've got-"
"-Only yourself to blame. You can't stop the bad guys unless you get your hands a little-"
"-dirty hands. Let me-"
"-Show you what true pain is!"
Raven spasmed as the maelstrom whirled faster, tugging at her sanity. Hands pressed around her, tugging at the chains, ignoring the sparking backlash. "Raven, you've got to hold-"
"-on. Don't go so fast, child." Azar tugged back on the hand she held, laughing. "You don't have to be in such a-"
"-hurry! We've got to stop her to save Raven. I can't get these chains off." Raven could feel her heart stopping, and starting, and stopping, and starting, dying and living instantaneously, and each time that she stopped, it took a little longer to start again.
"Why doesn't she use her powers?" Beastboy's voice, strained. Squeaking from panic.
"The chains probably-"
"-block." A magical shield sprang up, slicing through the air. "Good, your-"
"-powers. Hurry! I don't think she can take much more of this. My sensors are showing some pretty bad signs." She dimly noticed that her mouth was still open, but the screaming had stopped. Or maybe she just couldn't hear it anymore.
The pain…it ebbed. No, rather, it was she who ebbed. Her nerves, her receptors were all shutting down, she realized thickly. Her chest was heaving, her back was arched, but it was all involuntary. It didn't have any meaning anymore. Her mind detached, leaving behind the damaged body and floating away.
Omnipresent, she gazed calmly down at the pale, tormented body. Such a weak, pitiable thing to house a soul…It was better this way, maybe.
The Priestess was screeching. What in the world was she so upset about?... Oh, that was right. The Titans were attacking. "No! Get away from me; I will have justice! You-"
"-must keep trying, Raven."
Through the slender connection she still held with her body, she felt her heart stop…and it did not start again. It was a relief, really. She started to cut the final ties, to float free, away from all of her worries and her aches. Such a wonderful reprieve. She reached towards oblivion…
"No! Raven, stay with us." A scream, not hers, or his. She felt the ties pulling at her. No, back was pain, back was bad. "You can't die." The voice was insistent. Unwillingly, unbearably, she sank back into herself.
The chains fizzled, sparking. They fizzled…and went out. She was suddenly short of breath. Multiple pairs of footsteps, loud in the abrupt silence. "Star, help me get these off of her." A cry of rage, and the chains snapped. Sudden vertigo, a gasping fall into a net of soft arms. Gasping…her heart beat, once-twice, trying to pick up the forgotten rhythm.
"God, look at those burns…Raven? Raven, can you hear me?" Dimly, as though through a long tunnel. There was a haze in front of her eyes-hard to concentrate. Hard to think. She strayed, yearning for the detachment, yearning for the release… A hand of glinting metal forced her head to look up into brown eyes. No, brown eye, red eye. Cyborg. "Raven, you've got to pay attention. Come on. Stick with us. Robin called an ambulance, but we need you to stay conscious until they get here."
"Dude- is she gonna be alright? I mean, look at her…" Like he was going to be ill.
"I don't know, all right? What has me really worried is that her powers aren't going crazy now that the chains are off. How could she suppress her emotions at a time like this?"
A soft voice, tear-filled, spoke from beyond the haze. Starfire. "I do not think she is. I think…she is not feeling. Warriors of Tamaran sometimes experience this, when they have survived great bloodshed."
"You're saying she's shell-shocked, or something?"
A new voice. "She's withdrawn out of herself to escape the pain and the fear." Robin, afraid but self-assured. Ever wise. "The ambulance will be here soon. We can't let her fall asleep, no matter how much she wants to." A masked face swam into view. It shivered, like looking through water. "Raven. I know that you're hurt, and tired, and I'm sorry. It's not fair of us to ask you anything right now, but we have to. If you fall asleep right now, you may not wake up again. Do you-"
"-understand, Raven? No matter how hard it is, you have to keep going." Azar aid firmly, gripping her student's shoulder. "You can't-"
"-give up. You've got-to stay-in control." Blur. Robin-blur-Azar-blur-Arella-blur-blur-blur-blur-
It built, past and future bleeding together, the long dead and the currently alive combining to claw at her mind, keeping her from the detachment, from the haze that she longed to dive into. "Stay awake, Raven. We need you to talk to us. Don't you dare close your eyes!" Azar, no, Robin shook her shoulders. It was so cruel…hadn't she been through enough? It hurt too much to keep existing. Why wouldn't they let her sleep? Was it too much to ask that they let her die?
But…she couldn't say that she really wanted to die. Not like this, quivering on the floor like a scared animal. Not by the Priestess' hand. Besides, there was a prophecy to fulfill. Predeterminism dictated that she couldn't die, not yet.
But at the same time, the haze beckoned to her, and the pain repelled her. It was a struggle to even think about staying. Was it selfish of her to want to leave, to let go and just give up? She had never thought that she had it in her to be selfish, but… Then again, maybe she had been living her entire life selfishly. All those times she had pushed people away, hurt them to make it easier on herself. Each time she didn't quite keep up a barrier during battle, and some one else had to take up the slack. Immersing herself into her books instead of meditating, even when she knew that her mindscape suffered for it. Hesitating, hesitating, never quite doing all that she could because she didn't want to accept her fate, childishly rebelling against that which made her who and what she was. Resisting what her blood signified, trying desperately to pretend that she could act normal, and even inside her game of make-believe, she knew that it was impossible. And yet, she still played.
Selfish, egocentric, and stupid. She wasn't a child anymore, had never truly been a child. It was time to end the game, and accept.
She blinked. Struggled against the haze, roughly suppressing the emotions that started welling up as best she was able. Ignored the pain. Found that impossible, and altruistically thrashed through the pain. "Are you listening to me, Raven? You're not allowed to die on us. Do you understand me?"
His face, the faces of the other Titans, sharpened as she thrust the miasma clinging to her mind away. Azar was translucent, a shadow superimposed on the scene. She waited, demanding an answer. Raven's throat worked, forcing cracked lips and torn throat to form words. "Y-yes, Priestess." She groaned. Tersely. Tensely. Tiredly. Unselfishly. Azar smiled and vanished with the haze, leaving behind the confused but relieved faces of her friends. Raven breathed…and let go of death.