A/N: Mm, loosely based on The Phantom of the Opera --- the book, most definitely. No need to have read it for this, but it helps. I've been working on this for a good long while, so I hope it's worth it. This thing's thirty pages long, and the next two acts will be about twenty each. Hope you really like reading... Hope you like symbolism.
Disclaimer: Gaston Leroux and T.S. Eliot rock, and Marv Wolfman is the king of storytelling.
Summary: Act One of Three. Something dark within Raven has been building, ending in what will become the return of Trigon. Left without a choice, she must abandon morals and place faith in Starfire. Mild RavenStar
Notes: As usual, most of my logic is derived from the comics, as I don't receive Cartoon Network. Go ahead and assume this all takes place sometime between season two and three, seeing as I don't have any particular time-frame in mind. Regard this, even, as an alternate universe fiction, if you will. If it doesn't matter to you, just enjoy, but if you're going to bitch about cartoon continuity, go away now. I don't want to deal with you.
Phantoms of Azarath
ACT I: Mysteries and Signs of Darkening Skies
Just a few hours previous, the day had nearly been as bright and clear as the eyes which watched the boiling thunderheads as they raced across the rapidly darkening sky. Starfire of Tamaran gave a short sigh, disappointed at the sun's unscheduled disappearance, and turned to glance at Raven, as if to beseech the young sorceress to banish this weather to whatever darkness from which it had sprung.
Raven did not return the look, continuing to read instead—after all, if she was to indulge Starfire and sit with her --- in the sun, no less --- she was going to bring something worthwhile to do while they idled. Starfire understood this, and asked no questions other than the name of her book; Raven only answered with a low murmur that had sounded like Faust. The silence that followed her answer was more than enough to confirm Raven's reluctance to continue the conversation, so Starfire, in her hard-earned wisdom, did not try.
Raven had done her best to stay in whatever shade the roof of Titan Tower offered, while Starfire, of course, did the exact opposite. For Beast Boy, it only mattered who was closer --- this, unfortunately for both him and Starfire, was Raven.
The changeling made a graceful leap from the trapdoor that lead down into the Tower, cruising on the first wave of strong wind that bustled up from the ocean, and dropped purposely onto Raven's lap as a friendly green bullfrog. Raven tore her eyes from her book and stared at the beast briefly before taking swift, uncalculated action. Beast Boy had not the chance to even croak a single 'Co-ack' before Raven slapped him forcefully from her lap with her copy of Faust, scrambling to her feet with the speed of surprise.
"Dude!" Beast Boy snapped gleefully, resuming his human shape and spitting out the pocket-novel. "I got you! I got you good!"
Raven's shock quickly melted back into a stoic mask.
Beast Boy grinned, Starfire giggled from behind her hand, but Raven's eyes grew venomous.
"That wasn't funny."
"Are you kidding?" Beast Boy rocked back and forth on his haunches, bubbling with joy. "That was awesome! I got you so good---"
Starfire choked down her laughter out of respect. "Friend Raven is correct, Beast Boy. Your joke was not very practical at all."
"Where's my book?" Raven broke in, glancing about. "What did you do with my book?"
"Um," Beast Boy paused, blinking. "I didn't?"
Raven glared and looked over the side of the building, in time to see a small red hardcover floating out to sea. "My book!"
Beast Boy gulped, "I didn't mean to do that! Look, I'll go get it!" He shifted into the form of an otter and wagged his tail to emphasize.
"Don't bother!" Raven snapped at the fuzzy green mammal, turning her back to them and summoning her power. "I'll get it myself."
Meanwhile, Starfire steeled herself, knowing Raven's temper, and lack thereof, well. "Raven," she called. The sorceress did not turn to acknowledge her, descending quickly into the Tower, engulfed by darkness. Starfire looked at otter Beast Boy, who blinked dejectedly at the golden Tamaranean.
Starfire made her decision, and floated up.
She reached ground level in time to see the black familiar rise from the earth and reform as Raven. The sorceress muttered something unseemly about Beast Boy, striding forward into the water.
Starfire stepped forward, "Friend Raven!"
The dark Titan glanced back, unsurprised. "What?"
"Friend Raven, please allow me to retrieve your book," Starfire said, bowing courteously. "It is the least I could do, in payment for our time of hanging out."
Raven's stern expression softened. "Starfire, you don't have to--"
"Please," Starfire stated firmly, in a tone Raven could not ignore.
The young sorceress gave a short sigh, resuming her former stoicism. "Fine."
Starfire squealed in delight, springing from the earth and shooting towards the water. Raven watched with a slight smirk of amusement as the Tamaranean darted to and fro in search of the little red book. With a grand dive and even grander surface, Starfire soared triumphantly back to shore, where Raven stood patiently, Faust in hand.
Raven regarded the soaked hardcover with a novel glance, and then turned her attentions toward a soaked Starfire. High above, electricity crackled in the clouds and thunder announced its presence. Raven could sense Starfire's discomfort, but beneath that, she sensed a pulsing joy that beat as loud as the alien's kind heart.
A book was an object, something Raven could replace cheaply and with relative ease, but Starfire was her friend --- something very much worth protecting, whatever the cost. Raven unfastened her cloak and tossed it around the Tamaranean's shoulders, ordering the alien inside to dry off. Starfire obliged willingly, nestling tightly into the soft folds of Raven's own cover as she floated into the Tower.
The sorceress threw a last glance at the darkened sky, sensing an ominous rise within the clouds as the sky was rent asunder, rain gushing down in torrents onto a quiet city as if it were a reprimand sent by an angry god.
Raven paused at the sound, shivered.
Anything from Carmina Burana was probably the last thing in the world Raven would have thought to find herself listening to as she silently selected another cloak from her closet to replace the one she'd given Starfire --- simply too ironic, perhaps, yet on it played.
obumbrata et velata michi quoque niteris;
It played quietly, intoning ubiquitously, from a small stereo in a corner of her room.
nunc per ludum dorsum nudum fero tui sceleris.
There was a knock, timid and --- according to Raven's inner eye --- Starfire. Raven answered the door and was surprised to find the Tamaranean still wrapped up in the empath's cloak.
"Starfire?" she asked, almost incredulously but managing to shield it. "Why haven't you dried off, yet? You could catch a cold like that."
The alien blinked, "May I borrow a candle, Friend Raven?"
The sorceress stared, disbelieving. "What?"
"A candle," Starfire repeated. "May I---"
"Why in the world do you need a candle?"
Starfire gave her friend a look, one that implied that the answer should have been obvious. "My room is cold. You have many candles, so I thought I could--"
"We could just turn up the heat in your room, then."
"Oh," Starfire answered, sounding somewhat disappointed. "Um."
Raven turned, unconsciously placing a hand to her temple in aggravation as she finally sensed the Tamaranean's purpose. "Come in, don't just stand there."
The chorus continued, louder, sors salutis et virtutus michi nunc contraria.
With a mind-boggling amount of energy, Starfire flounced into the room, a big smile beaming from her damp but still glowing countenance.
est affectus et defectus semper in angaria.
The alien paused momentarily, glancing around the dark room. "Raven?"
"What is it?"
hac in hora sine mora corde pulsum tangite;
"I did not know you had a box from which to play the music."
Raven looked up with tired eyes. "Surprised?"
quod per sortem sternit fortem mecum omnes plangite!
"A little. Why does the chorus sing of the weasel dens of Okaara?"
Raven sighed heavily.
The thunder roared mercilessly at a drenched city, and the wind howled with a fury no one could have expected. Raven lay on her bed, eyes closed as she listened. She could smell the steam that frothed from her bathroom, which she'd diplomatically allowed Starfire to use. The opera chorus in the corner chanted on beneath all the noise.
Images formed and flickered behind her eyelids, dark and light entwined, soft yet terrible. There were falling stars, rings of gold, an angel, a splash of red, and the ever-redeeming touch of water. And Azar, who told her things, and a mask of four dead eyes. And in the midst of it all…
Raven opened her eyes.
Starfire stared back.
"Raven, are you alright?"
The empath blinked the thoughts away, thinking hard and thinking fast. She propped herself up slowly, giving the Tamaranean another tired look. "Just peachy."
The weather disagreed, bellowing, beating against the Tower with mighty fists. The structure stood firm amidst the divine tantrum.
Starfire carefully wrung her massive amount of hair with an equally large towel, listening to the threats of the thunder above. "Thank you, Friend Raven," she said with a tone strangely somber. "For allowing me to stay here for the night."
Raven nodded passively. "I suppose I could stand some company in this weather."
There came yet another knock at the door.
Without thinking, Starfire answered it, still cradling the massive towel to her head.
Beast Boy stared at the alien in confusion. "Star?"
She smiled in the normal Starfire fashion. "Yes, Beast Boy? What may I do for you?"
The changeling blinked once, twice, gazed in all directions. "Wrong room? Uh, I'm just… um, where's Raven?"
"Oh!" The Tamaranean floated back from the door, turning to the sorceress. "Forgive me, Raven! I have intercepted your caller."
"That's fine. Have him leave a message at the beep," Raven answered wryly, without getting up.
Starfire passed a quizzical glance back and forth between the changeling and the empath, before she turned and smiled sheepishly at Beast Boy. "Beep?"
"Ray-ven! I know you're in there!" Beast Boy whined from the doorway, pointing accusingly at her supine form. "I can see you from here!"
"Come on! I just wanna apologize for the book thing!"
"I'm listening," Raven sat up and Starfire watched them both with a mix of bewilderment and anticipation.
Beast Boy rubbed the back of his neck, looking at the floor. "I didn't mean to spit your book into the bay. I was just kidding around, and it just happened. I'm sorry, okay?"
"Great!" Beast Boy grinned, spinning on his heel and strutting off and away as if he were on parade.
Starfire shut the door carefully and without a sound, glancing oddly at Raven. "Though I do not recognize many of this planet's colloquialisms, Raven, I do believe I know you well enough to identify your… sarcasm." She pronounced the word tentatively, unsure on her grasp of the Terran language.
Raven rewarded her with an offhanded shrug. "At least someone got it."
It took a considerable amount of time before Starfire could consider her hair reasonably dry, before she could join Raven on the dark blue or black covers of her wide bed. She smiled pleasantly at the empath, though the sorceress seemed to ignore her. Starfire leaned on her arm, trying to see into Raven's quiet face, but the Azarathean merely turned over and avoided her. The golden alien sat up, the concern literally lighting her eyes, throwing a soft green radiance over Raven's frail form.
Starfire clasped her hands together, twiddling her fingers anxiously. "Raven, what is the matter?"
The empath turned a sharp look to the alien. "What do you mean? I'm fine."
"You seem very distracted. It is unlike you."
The genuine worry that Starfire reflected in her great green eyes and the fact that Raven felt she really was strangely unfocused made for a very disturbing realization. Something dark was at hand, because nothing in Raven's life ever happened by coincidence.
Of course, this was not something one shared – or, at the very least, this was not something Raven shared. Raven lay back, deliberately avoiding the alien's eyes. "I just need sleep, I'll be fine."
Starfire's thin eyebrows rose significantly. "Raven?"
"What is it?" The vexation in her voice only worsened.
The hesitation in her voice, her failed attempt to casually dismiss herself, was equally as worrisome as the dream. "I… Never mind." And she lay down next to the empath, facing away, staring at the wall.
Raven wondered, drifted.
"Titans, assemble!" Robin's mechanically-distorted voice cut cruelly through the silence brought on by the lessening storm.
Starfire darted up, instantly awake, but Raven moved sluggishly. Not wanting the other Titans to notice, she shrank into the darkness and reformed where Robin had made the announcement. Starfire and Cyborg were the next to stand ready at their leader's side; Beast Boy crawled out of his room in a worse stupor than Raven had awoken with--- but that was to be expected from the changeling.
"Guys," Robin turned to his fellow teammates, looking disheveled and quite grave. "We've got a problem."
The others simply waited for him to continue, each too tired to question.
"I know it's late," he began; the others agreed in an irritated hush. "But I thought we should all be aware, keep a look out."
"For?" Cyborg prompted, subtly nudging Beast Boy, who seemed to be asleep on his feet.
The Boy Wonder took a moment to organize his mental notes into something more coherent than what he'd seen. He cleared his throat, coughed, and scanned the tired faces of his team and gauging their reactions. "Well, I'm not sure."
There was an uncomfortable silence before Robin attempted to continue. "I mean, I don't know what we're looking for or what it is, but…"
"And you dragged us out'ta bed why?" Cyborg interrupted.
Robin held up his hands to calm the sudden demand of answers. "I dragged you out of bed to tell you that I saw something staring at me from the window."
Cyborg raised his eyebrow, "How can you even tell, from your room? It's like the Batcave in there, covered with all your newspaper stuff."
"Not my window--- from the kitchen."
The parts of Cyborg which were still human emitted a clearly skeptical air, from the raised eyebrow down to the slight twitch that occurred only so often in his fleshy bicep.
"Something's watching the Tower," Robin asserted. "And whatever it is, it probably sent that storm, too."
Beast Boy yawned, stretching like a cat, as a cat. "So, what? Those element twins back again?"
Starfire shook her head slowly. "Thunder and Lightning said they would respect our laws, they said they would not cause trouble again."
Raven, from beneath her dark cowl, wondered silently, spoke softly. "Perhaps they lied."
Starfire turned an appalled look towards Raven. "What do you mean? They would not lie to us, they are our friends! They are good people!"
Robin halted their argument before it could progress. "I don't think this is the work of Thunder and Lightning. Whatever is hanging around out there is trying to send us a message. It wants something."
"Aw, come on," Cyborg muttered, rolling his eye. "How can you even tell that when you don't even know what---" The room went dark and Cyborg ground his sentence to a stop. "The heck?"
Robin responded quietly, "It's a hunch."
"That's funny, bird boy," the big teen muttered. "Real funny."
"Perhaps we have, what I think is called, a phantom who is causing us such a bother," Starfire pondered aloud.
Beast Boy snapped awake. "A ghost? We got a ghost?"
"It's probably just a blown fuse," Raven interjected, sensible.
Cyborg's glowing mechanical eye turned to the cloaked enigma, and Raven could sense his smile. "Good idea! At least someone around here's being reasonable."
"But that's just what it wants us to think!" The changeling wailed. "For all we know, it's hiding in the basement, and when you go down there to check on the fuses, BAM!"
The silence about the group answered for them—they were not convinced.
Robin confirmed the thought. "Right. Cyborg, let's check the fuses."
With a minute click, Cyborg's shoulder-light popped up and lighted the way as the half-machine and the Boy Wonder set out on their quest to restore power to the Tower.
Beast Boy gulped as they disappeared down the stairs. "They're dead," he moaned, "They're so dead…"
Starfire lifted her fist, shining a solar green light onto the three of them. The room they stood in glowed ominously with them.
Raven sighed, turning her back to the light and gazing out the huge Tower windows, over the vast bay. "I suppose there's not much else we can do but stay calm."
It was then that the inexplicable occurred… Raven drew back with a sharp gasp, moving quickly and, coincidently, into Starfire. Starfire uttered a cry, releasing a Starbolt that blew a hole in the ceiling as she stepped back and on to Beast Boy's tail; he yelped in pain and surprise as insulation and small pieces of plaster rained down on them. By the time they realized what had happened, the empath was already gone. The Tamaranean managed to calm a dog-shaped Beast Boy, but she saw there was no way to help a vanished Raven. She called out to the Azarathean, a shivering Beast Boy following closely at her heels, wandering in a circle until the lights came back on.
Blinded momentarily, Starfire stumbled, and fell over the changeling, and into a cloaked figure. "Robin!" she squeaked, "Raven is---" Her vision settled on Raven's face, who wore a decidedly displeased expression.
"Raven is what?"
Starfire floated out of the shorter girl's grasp, blinking. "Missing?"
"You're imagining things," the empath returned grimly, and then, to herself, "So must I." A moment's pause, then Raven looked up. "What happened to the ceiling?"
Starfire smiled timidly, pawing at the back of her head as Raven sighed.
Beast Boy whined, leaning his head against Starfire's leg as a small, green puppy. He could not bring himself to say that the atmosphere had been distorted—there was the scent of fatal change, that made his senses tingle ominously even in the pleasant brightness of his home.
Robin and Cyborg emerged from the stairwell, alive and looking quite fine in the fluorescent lights. Cyborg grinned at the nervous wreck of emerald fur that hid behind Starfire. "Relax, B.B." he chuckled, "It was just the fuse. No ghoulies are gonna get ya' tonight."
Beast Boy returned to his human form, steeling his voice for a comeback. "For your information, I wasn't scared."
"Sure, B.B., if you say so…. Whoa, man, what happened to the ceiling?"
"I wasn't---" Beast Boy cut his argument short with an almost girlish squeal, pointing past Cyborg's hulking metal frame to the window.
The Titans turned collectively, in time to see a dark shadow fleeing into the cloudy gloom. Robin moved first, unsheathing his Bo staff and running towards the stairs which led to the roof. "Cyborg, Raven, come with me! Beast Boy, you and Starfire see if you can follow it. Titans, go!"
Rain, even as slack as it had become, still battered against the Teen Titans as they emerged from their tower to face an unseen threat. Their chase, however, went as far as the edge of the right wing.
"Okay, guys," Robin uttered solemnly. "What can you see?"
Cyborg shook his head, answering gruffly. "Nothing moving for miles around, here."
Raven remained silent longer than she'd wanted. Robin repeated his query, jerking her from her reverie. Raven kept her eyes from making contact with the rest of the team, responding quietly, "Same here."
Robin rested his attention on the empath. "You're sure?"
Raven tensed, knowing well he sensed her untruthfulness. "Nothing human."
Starfire landed gently to one side, Beast Boy dropping suddenly from the sky after. She lowered her head, disappointed in her failure. "We could not find any trace of a trespasser."
Robin put a hand to his chin, thinking deeply. He spoke out loud, though it seemed to be directed in particular towards Raven. "So, if it isn't human, just what are we dealing with, here?"
"I told you it was a ghost!" Beast Boy interjected sharply. "I saw it! I told you! I told you!"
Cyborg smiled, rolled an eye, deciding to humor the changeling. "Was it the ghost who killed our ceiling?"
The changeling blinked, suddenly calm. "Um, well, no, that was Star, but I did see a ghost!"
"Okay, B.B., okay. What did you see?"
Beast Boy stood at his full height – only a little taller than the very short Raven – and took on his most solemn, story-telling face. "It was the biggest ghost I've ever seen. This tall and this big around," he emphasized by swinging his arms about. "And it had a head like a skull and its eyes were all glowy-like and it had a big cloak that was all like WOOSH and it---"
"Maybe we should go inside for this," Robin interrupted, wisely.
Once inside and dry, the Titans allowed Beast Boy to continue his narrative once they were comfortably seated on their wide couch. The moments they had spent away from each other had, unfortunately, given the changeling just enough time to compose himself and to spice up the story far more than anyone would have wanted.
"Okay, so there I was," he started, waving a flashlight about as he turned out the light. "The lightning was getting real nasty after the lights went out, and you and Robin went down to the basement to check the fuses. I would've gone, of course, but you know— someone's gotta keep a look out for the ladies, right?" He grinned, wriggling his eyebrows at Starfire, who giggled. "Then BAM!" He clicked on the flashlight, illuminating his green face with an ill-omened light. "I saw it, out the window. It was huge, with eyes like fire in a big, white skull head. I felt my heart stop for a minute, and then I remembered by solemn duty to protect the girls. I steeled myself and—"
"Is any of this story gonna be true?" Cyborg cut in, a bored look on the human half of his face.
"Dude, this is totally true!" Beast Boy declared seriously. "It's what I saw!"
"And what did you see?" the mechanical teen asked again, smugly.
"It was, like a, like, a – a death's head!" the changeling burst excitedly. "With flames spitting out of its mouth and a voice like a, a train! And it was all like, BEAST BOY! GIVE ME YOUR BRAINS!"
"My," Raven broke in, wryly. "Lucky that you didn't have any to spare."
"Hey!" the changeling shouted, his playful grin spread ear to ear. "That's not cool, dude. You can't just go around dissing the man who saved your telekinetic butt."
Raven almost laughed, smiling very meanly, "Of course, how could I forget how you so bravely warded off the shadow by turning into a puppy and hiding with your tail between your legs."
Beast Boy did not reply, but looked down, ears drooping visibly as his ego all but tangibly deflated like a balloon.
"Aw, come on, Ray," Cyborg chuckled, "He's just joking. Cut him some slack, will ya'?"
Raven stood and turned on the light, then left without another word.
Starfire rose to follow, but found her path blocked by Robin. The Tamaranean tried to maneuver around the Boy Wonder, but he persisted. "Give her some room, okay?"
Starfire sank slowly back onto her seat, pushing back her instinctual need to help with all the power of her being, knowing that Robin was correct. Raven needed space --- she just wished she knew why.
Cyborg was first to his feet when the Titan Tower's doorbell sounded. "What now?"
Raven became aware of another presence in her room as soon as she had entered. She could sense her friends in the other room, so she was sure Beast Boy had not tried to follow her; besides, this was an aura of darkness, much like her own, but in very different ways. While her own soul healed the pain of others, his made her skin crawl.
She paused at the door, struggling between her pride and him. Granted, she had resisted him all her life; but still she cursed her pride as she closed the door behind her.
A dark light glowered within the antique chest near her bed; further investigation found her hand mirror beckoning her company. His eyes stared out, evil and grinning.
Raven, he hissed softly. My Raven.
The empath snorted brusquely. "I'm not yours yet, father."
She set the mirror back in the chest, face down, rearranging a few books in order to bury it. Raven closed the chest with an air of authority, smirking at her own audacity.
I disagree, his voice continued, from behind her.
"Speedy!" Robin stammered, shocked at the honorary Titans' unannounced visit. "Aqualad? Hot Spot? What are you guys doing here?"
Speedy gave his equal an odd smile. "What do you mean, what are we doing here? We got your call."
Cyborg turned a wary glance at the soaking wet guests – barring Aqualad who, understandably, was always soaking wet. "You're serious?"
Hot Spot shot the mechanical teen a miserable glare from beneath his umbrella. "Well, yeah. Do you really think we'd be here this late at night if we weren't?"
Aqualad flashed a charming grin. "Great weather, huh?"
"No," answered everyone else.
The ginger-haired archer raised a neatly-shaped eyebrow, "So are you guys gonna let us in, or not?"
Speedy didn't seem amused when they informed him that the "call" had been some sort of mistake. Robin apologized nonetheless and invited the boys to stay the night. They would think about it in the morning.
Raven whirled to face her tormentor, growling, "Trigon!"
She faced an empty room. The lamps which provided her light flickered dimly, ready to give under the smothering pressure of so much dark influence. Raven figured she felt a little like that.
A movement in her vanity mirror caught Raven's eye – across from it, there was nothing but the wall, so he must have been ---
Raven approached the pentagon-shaped glass, was not at all surprised to see his eyes.
Come to me. They seemed to smile, his voice echoing strangely. I am your Angel of Music.
"Funny," Raven replied bluntly, "I thought you hated music."
Your temper is refreshing, it chuckled. Your fear, delicious.
His image changed; Raven looked back at herself. The likeness smiled devilishly --- never a good sign --- holding a ghostly-white mask to her face, the mask of her dream. When the mirror image lifted her face for Raven to see ---
She saw her own eyes, dead, unseeing, staring.
His --- alive, ubiquitous, angry.
Raven turned her head, unable to keep watching what she already knew was predestined.
She ignored the knock at the door.
Why do you turn, asked her doppelganger. From truth?
"I won't let it happen," hissed Raven.
I will give you whatever it is you wish, Trigon rumbled quietly from behind the mirror. Raven thought she felt the walls tremble. Join me.
"No," Raven snapped immediately.
The knock persisted, but so did Raven.
Raven's double faded from sight, replaced by illustrations of such grandeur that Raven felt nauseated. Trigon sensed this, changed the image; the Teen Titans stood regally in place. Raven forced herself to ignore it when they fell from their nobility into Trigon's cruel game. She watched them struggle in vain, die slowly, painfully, one by one ---
"Stop," Raven rasped; her chest felt tight. Their pain was more than she could bear; more than any other hurt he could inflict, this was the greatest of them all.
The images repeated themselves --- Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire --- suffering, crying, screaming, dying, slowly ---
"Stop," Raven repeated, harsher.
You have the power to stop this, Trigon echoed, from places she couldn't identify. Use it. Join me.
"I won't," her voice cracked, her head and heart pounded in sickly unison.
Raven, her mirror suddenly called. Raven!
The empath looked up, paled as the Tamaranean came closer, reaching out.
So that is it, Trigon chuckled darkly. That is what you want. You shall have it.
Arms slid around the Azarathean, solid and warm and smelling of rain. She felt a second heart beat against her back, the soft breath of another tickle her neck. Raven tensed – she would not --- never --- allow herself to be taken in. Trigon would not play on her desire for companionship, because she would not allow him.
"Stop!" Raven howled, her black magic throwing off the arms and the warmth and the love and leaving her cold. With them gone, the empath felt her self-control return. "Just stop," she muttered, forbidding.
"Raven!" A burst of brilliant green light accompanied the sound of steel splintering under Tamaranean force. "Raven, are you in danger?"
It took all the strength Raven could summon to keep her shaking knees from collapsing beneath her. "I'm fine," she lied, wearing once again the stoic mask that her friends knew all too well.
Starfire's eyes glowed softly in the dark, troubled and sad. "But, I heard you scream-!"
Raven pulled her cloak tight around her thin, shaken form. "It's your imagination."
Starfire floated forward, wanting to see her dear friend's face more clearly through the thick shadows, reaching out to offer her help.
Raven recoiled from her touch; her power, reacting to reaction, forced the pentagonal looking-glass to shatter. Starfire cried out, guarding her face from the glittering shards; when she opened her eyes, Raven was gone.
Shortly after Raven had fled, Starfire, looking incurably crestfallen, carefully explained what had happened to a host of bewildered Titans.
"I see." The Boy Wonder shook his head gently, "Don't worry, Star. I'm sure she's fine."
Starfire found herself grateful that the boy was above petty 'I Told You So's.
"You know," Speedy added, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "This is all pretty weird."
"Yeah," Hot Spot agreed derisively, "First you call us out here for no apparent reason; now your creepy friend wants to be alone."
"Raven is not creepy," Starfire at once defended. "She is merely eccentric!"
"Her eccentricity," the fiery titan spat, "Is one step below creepy."
Beast Boy, who had been sitting quietly in a corner, leapt up and bounded over to his fellow crime fighters. "Dude, forget Raven, what about the ghost?"
Hot Spot snapped his focus to the changeling, sounding interested. "Ghost?"
Speedy smirked glibly, throwing a questioning glance at Robin. "You didn't mention you had a ghost."
Cyborg picked Beast Boy up by the back of his shirt, chiding the boy with his one human eye; the mutant shrugged, smiling innocently. "We didn't mention it," the big teen interrupted, "'Cause we don't."
"Dude," Beast Boy whined as Cyborg dropped him to move on towards his room. "How come you guys don't believe me? I'm totally telling the truth!"
"Because there are no such things as ghosts," Cyborg yelled back from the hallway. "Look, believe what you want, B.B., it's too late to argue."
"You can't leave!" the changeling called back, hopping behind the half-human. "What d'you think you're doing? What about – what about the ghost?"
"For the last time, B.B.-!" Cyborg only barely stopped himself from bellowing, distracted by movement in the shadows. He stared for no more than a second before his mechanical half informed him that there was nothing there.
"Please, friends," Starfire implored, floating up to the arguing pair. "Let us not fight anymore tonight!"
Cyborg shook off whatever strange little inklings he'd had of Beast Boy being right. He glanced at Starfire, looking for a sign that she'd seen what he had. She made no motion, so he carefully replied, "You're right, Star. Look, B.B. – it's late, let's just go to bed and argue about it in the morning like we always do. Okay?"
Beast Boy smiled up at the big teen, nodding. "Sure thing, dude."
"But that is not what I meant," interjected the Tamaranean, left hovering confusedly in the middle of the hall, as the two parted and disappeared into their own rooms.
The first rays of morning found the sky to be completely covered with a blanket of dark clouds and, finding it so futile to make themselves known, retreated to continue slumbering behind it.
The Teen Titans congregated later in the day than usual, though it began the same: Cyborg and Beast Boy argued over what to serve their guests, while Robin, Speedy, and Hot Spot looked on in fascinated amusement. They had already paged Aqualad, who had opted to sleep in the Tower's swimming pool, and assumed he was on his way up.
"You can't serve that!"
"Look, little man. This is my kitchen, so I'm gonna serve what I wanna serve, and if I wanna see bacon on my plate, I'm gonna have bacon!"
"But it was alive once!" Beast Boy burst, twitching with excitement. "Don't you have a heart!"
"It's an animal, B.B." Cyborg paused briefly upon seeing the look the changeling was giving him – as a piglet. He brushed off the transformation easily, reaching into the fridge and pulling out a package. "Nice try, B., but we're havin' bacon."
"You're heartless; do you hear me, Tin Man?" The green boy howled. "Heartless!"
The half-machine rolled his eye. "At least I'll be a well-fed Tin Man."
"But it's not fair-!" Beast Boy, for a few seconds, actually looked defeated. Then, with a quick glance at the table, where Speedy, Hot Spot and Robin sat, turned back to Cyborg with a determined look, pointing a finger at them. "You don't see me carving up Speedy for breakfast!"
The big teen laughed at the notion; his voice dripped sarcasm. "Please, B.B., spare me!"
"Just think, Cy!" Beast Boy grinned, hopping onto his metal shoulder as a monkey. "Mm, can't you see it? Speedy Ka-Bobs! Speedy Ranchero! Speedy Flambé!" Cyborg groaned, shoving the changeling off his shoulder and wisely exiting the kitchen.
Beast Boy landed on his feet, following closely as he bellowed out more recipe ideas: "Speedy and dip! Speedy with Cheese! SPEEDY A LA PEPPERCORNS AND MUSTARD!"
Meanwhile, Speedy remained seated at the table, smiling good-naturedly as he watched the fighting pair leave, eyebrows raised high. "I'm not sure of whether I should be laughing or frightened."
Hot Spot stifled his laughter with his hand, pressing back the humor long enough to reply, "Frightened. Definitely frightened."
Cyborg reentered the kitchen quickly, hands over his ears as now both Aqualad and Beast Boy had joined forces in following him, each howling in individual, vegetarian protest.
"Okay!" The half-metal teen roared over them both. The stunned silence that followed his outburst gave his ears a welcomed rest. "Okay, look. What if I just break out the milk and cookies?" He glowered at the two, and then at the Titans sitting casually at the table. "Anyone got any objections to that?"
A sigh echoed in the stillness of the kitchen, and then Hot Spot quietly raised a hand. He gave the big teen a forlorn look as he said, "I'm lactose intolerant."
Beast Boy and Aqualad darted out of Cyborg's reach and out of sight as the he let out a dismal bellow, fleeing from the kitchen.
Once out of earshot, the fiery Titan doubled over in a bout of hysterical laughter, pounding the table with a clenched fist. He was promptly joined by Speedy, and Robin, who chuckled, leaning his head on his hand as he said, "Does this mean we don't get breakfast?"
"My dear friends," interrupted a soft voice from the kitchen's entrance – Starfire, looking as if she hadn't slept. "Have you seen Raven today? She disappeared yesterday, but to my knowledge has not returned."
There was something in her voice, that cheerless, anxious tone, which silenced the laughing boys almost immediately.
Hot Spot shook his head, "Uh-uh."
Speedy turned to look at the pretty Tamaranean, gesturing his sympathies. "No. Sorry."
Aqualad peeked out from under the table, glancing around for any sign of Cyborg before speaking. "Not today. I saw her walking around last night, though."
Robin then let out a small sigh. "Are you sure this is anything to worry about? She's disappeared before. She probably just wants some alone time."
"This is different," the alien murmured glumly. "I have never seen her like this!"
She said nothing more, suddenly feeling that they didn't believe her.
Speedy shrugged apologetically as she left. "So, about this ghost…?"
The fly that had been buzzing around the area reformed as Beast Boy next to him. "I totally saw it!"
If I were Raven, Starfire pondered as she floated silently down the stairwell, where would I go? She'd already checked the roof and most of the Tower before asking the boys --- Raven's room was as dark and empty as the caves of Okaara, her door temporarily replaced by an old shower curtain until Cyborg could make another one --- and there had been no sign of the empath elsewhere --- not that Raven ever wanted to leave a trail. She was probably meditating somewhere, where it was quiet, where she wouldn't be disturbed. Starfire didn't think that Raven would leave the island while the sky still looked ready to burst.
Starfire thought for several moments; she then flew through the door and around the Tower's base, through trees and exotic plants Starfire herself had brought from Tamaran to remind her of her home planet's beauty.
She halted her flight upon hearing Raven's voice, debating whether or not to burst through the brush, hug the empath and cry, or to go back and allow Raven to enjoy her alone time. She set her feet on the ground, delving for the middle path.
"Raven?" she called quietly, only loud enough for the Azarathean to hear. "Are you there?"
No reply came, making Starfire wonder.
She moved forward, edging through the leafy foliage. "Raven?"
Starfire stopped in her tracks, surprised at how close she had come to the sorceress; she could simply reach out and touch her friend's shoulder. Why, then, had Raven not heard her call? As she was about to ask the girl herself, Raven stirred.
In her hand was something Starfire had not seen before; a mask of some sort, white like the feathers of a dove. Raven stared at it, intently, as if expecting it to speak to her --- or as if it was already talking to her. Starfire drew back quickly, realizing that the air around Raven had become unstable. It wavered, grew dark; the mask shimmered, a siren call to tempt the empath. The breath caught in Starfire's throat as her best friend was slowly consumed by the shadows of the air as she raised the mask to her face.
"Raven---!" the Tamaranean whispered, urgently.
The sorceress paused, turned her head to look at her unexpected visitor. The dark receded slightly, waiting; Raven's eyes were dull, her expression vacant, mesmerized. Starfire wasn't entirely sure if the empath could see her or not.
Raven's lips moved, mouthing something; Starfire strained to hear, felt her stomach clench when she did. Raven murmured softly, hoarse. "What I want…"
The Azarathean reached out a pale hand, thin fingers gently brushing Starfire's cheek, shifting a stray tress of hair back into place. Without thinking, Starfire found herself pressing Raven's hand nearer to her face, trying to make the chill against her warmth linger.
The sky exploded, let the rain come pouring down from the heavens; Starfire was drenched almost instantly, but Raven… the shadows maintained a force field which protected her from the elements. The thunder, however, seemed to snap her from her trance, because now Raven blinked, once, twice, slowly, eyes focusing, an expression of surprise growing upon her countenance.
The mask flashed, blinding Starfire with a burst of vermillion; she let go of Raven to raise both hands to her eyes, then felt the air rush out. The darkness that had surrounded Raven in her dazed state now coalesced, formed the very likeness of an evil Raven had known from birth --- Trigon's image glared, shattered, expanding with a force that propelled Starfire into the side of Titan Tower.
Starfire had no idea what she had seen, lying crumpled on the wet earth, winded and confused as the rain came down and didn't stop.
A flash, a tremor, but Raven didn't say anything. She stood there, watching, smirking, dead inside like everything around her. Starfire called out, found herself ignored. She struggled against chains, prayed to X'Hal that Raven wasn't so lost, watched as Raven floated down, down… level with her face and still smiling. The empath, what was left of her, took the Tamaranean's chin in hand, pulled her close, hissed a threat.
A flash, a cry, and Raven grimaced. She fell farther, while Starfire of Tamaran emerged. The alien breathed hard, free, exhausted, glowing with unmeasured power. The clouds parted, and she saw Raven. The sound of water filled her ears, then nothing at all.
A flash, a whisper…
I'm so sorry.
Raven entered without a sound, a folded blanket over one arm, her cowl throwing a mask of shadow over half of her face. She carefully draped the blanket over the unconscious Tamaranean, hiding from sight the scores of entangled wires that crawled over the alien's golden skin as she lay supine on the ascetically white infirmary bed. She sat in a nearby chair, pulling it up close so that she could speak directly into Starfire's ear. Her hands trembled, pale and freezing; Raven ran those shaky hands over her haggard face, breathing a sigh. It was time she came to terms with all of it.
"Starfire," she started, her voice hoarse. "I'm sorry."
There was no reply, but then again, she hadn't expected one.
"I can't fight it much longer," she admitted to the princess' limp form. "I'm not that strong." She paused, tensing as the Tamaranean also sighed --- the rattle of a soul struggling to regain itself. Though Starfire did not know it herself, she was listening to all the empath had to say. Raven steeled herself to continue. "He told me he would give me everything I ever wanted. He told me I could love again, if I gave up. If I give myself to Him now, He'll spare you, and the others. He'll give you all a fighting chance." Her head fell, forbidden tears pricking hotly at the back of her eyes. "I don't think I have a choice."
The Azarathean halted, unsteadily rising from her seat. "I can't take it much longer! I can't hold it in, I can't… Starfire," she uttered, sweeping into a lonely corner and standing there, lost, insecure, sinking. "I'm scared." She leaned against the wall, wrapping her arms around herself, shuddering. "Once I let go, I'm afraid of what I'll do. If I let go, I'll never be the same. I don't know what will become of us, and the team."
"I don't want to leave you," Raven whispered urgently. "You all are the greatest friends a girl like me could ever have, you're more than I deserve. But if I don't leave, you all will be in danger. Once He changes me, the me you know can never come back."
Starfire sighed mournfully, Raven felt her heart leap, but the Tamaranean still did not stir. "I can't run anymore, and I can't hide. It won't matter where I go, He'll find me --- one way or another. He'll tear this world apart. He'll kill everyone to find me, but…" Raven paused, thinking deeply, contemplating. "… No, there's no stopping Him. The only place I could go is Azarath, but He'd find me there too, eventually. He can sense me no matter where I go; I'm tainted, Starfire. I'm exactly like Him. Even Azar thought if I could purge everything from me, I could be free of Him, but it's not that easy. It's never that easy…"
Raven turned and swept gracefully to Starfire's side, revealing the knotted desperation with which she spoke. "I'm afraid of Him," she confessed quietly. "But more than that, I'm afraid of myself."
She fell silent, watching the golden Tamaranean's sleeping face, emotionless but pure. If only she could be as innocent as that, Trigon would never find her…! Almost instantly, Raven felt a pang of guilt at such a thought; no amount of purity was enough to cover up the taint of blood, and it would have been wrong to use a friend in such a way. But… what other choice was there?
Raven slowly began to lean forward; abruptly, she stood up straight and turned, glaring. Cyborg held up a hand, meaning no intrusion, the other occupied with a tray containing several medical instruments. She hid in the shadows of her cloak as he neared, ready to check the meters and monitoring apparatus. He smiled faintly at the sorceress upon seeing the blanket covering Starfire, but said not a word, merely going about his business: refilling the IV drip, adjusting a dial or two, checking temperature… Raven gazed sadly at him. The guilt had returned with a nauseating vengeance.
Cyborg noticed the look, but mistook it for fatigue. "How long you been up here?"
"I was just leaving," she replied curtly, though her voice had since faded in its ability to accurately portray indifference.
"It's late," he stated, his tone staid but gentle. "You better get some sleep."
Raven nodded slightly, repeating, "I was just leaving."
Cyborg watched her go, sensing a sudden curiousness within Raven's behavior. His machine half dutifully recalled his experience with her familial problems, though pathos would not let him settle on the fact that perhaps, just maybe, it was happening again.
Starfire awoke in a bed in Titan Tower's infirmary, staring up at the white ceiling. It took several moments to gather her thoughts, to realize she was covered with wires covered by a thick blanket. There appeared to be a one-horned horse embroidered on it --- Starfire recognized it as the coverlet she had bought while with Raven on one of the very few trips they had made to the mall together – that alone made the blanket special.
Great clomping steps signaled the presence of Cyborg; he entered as quietly as he could, to no avail. He looked grave, but brightened considerably upon seeing Starfire's eyes open and full of life once again. He issued a heavy sigh of relief, checked her vitals.
"You really had us worried," he murmured as he worked, "We thought we'd lost you. Didn't think a cold could do that to a person."
"I'm just gonna assume you never saw any of the Species movies, then," a green lemur added, emerging from his inconspicuous hideaway behind the big teen's shoulder.
Cyborg grunted, throwing a glare at the changeling. "This is supposed to be a sterile environment, B.B."
"Uh huh?" Several long moments passed before Beast Boy realized the comment was a polite attempt to get him to leave. "Oh. Oh, come on, Cy! I just wanna make sure Star's okay!"
Cyborg sighed, shrugging (and shaking loose the changeling). "So far, so good."
Beast Boy pouted, on his feet and reformed, but patted Star's knee through the blanket. "Get better, okay?"
Starfire nodded, smiling softly, a little sad as the changeling left the room.
"Friend Cyborg?" He turned from checking the beeping machines connected to her upon hearing his name. "How long have I been asleep?"
The cybernetic teen thought for a moment before replying, "Several days… Almost a whole damn week." Then, he chuckled. "It's been driving Robin up the wall to see you here like this," he explained, gesturing to the score of wires that monitored the vitals of her alien constitution.
Starfire sat up to examine the damage to herself, felt a rush of heat in her head. She winced, put a hand to her forehead; she was surprised to find bandages. She looked at Cyborg, eyes voicing the question for her.
He smiled uneasily, shrugging again. "Concussion."
She nodded gently, and then resumed checking herself. Finding no further surprises, she lay back down, staring at the ceiling. She thought of something, however.
"Cyborg?" She asked, again making him turn. "Did Raven come back?"
He looked a little surprised, but nodded. "Yeah. She was the one that brought you that," he pointed at the blanket.
Starfire sat up promptly, despite the clear presence of vertigo that made the room spin uncontrollably. "Where is she?" she demanded.
Cyborg gently eased her back down. "Whoa, not so fast. We need to make sure you're okay, first."
The Tamaranean had not the strength to argue with him. She did as he said; though she knew she could not relax until she had seen Raven with her own two eyes.
As expected, Robin was the first to pay a visit; Starfire felt grateful for his presence, the unwavering stability he provided day in, day out and he seemed so greatly relieved at her recovery that she hadn't the heart to ask him about Raven.
She smiled, brightened as he did. She had admitted to herself once that she loved him dearly and it was hard not to let her pure and gentle nature slip out of the hold Raven had taught her to keep; she tended to say silly, unimportant things when she did and this was certainly not the time for that sort of thing. But Raven – she was something else entirely. Starfire had learned so many amazing things since they'd met, and they'd shared so much in the blended silence of their meditations. She saw so many similarities between themselves, and equally as many differences, but most of all she felt that---
"—that Raven healed the worst of it. I thought we'd lost you for sure."
Starfire snapped to attention. What had he said about---?
"You mean everything to us, Starfire. I can't imagine the team without you."
Starfire suddenly felt guilty; she'd allowed her mind to wander from Robin's heartfelt speech! She mentally cursed herself --- he was sweet enough to tell her, so how could she not pay attention! How could she even consider herself worthy of the thought he was giving her now?
Robin looked immensely surprised, and not a little confused, when she tearfully apologized. She grasped his hand, held it tight, and cried like a child; he didn't complain, said not a word, but simply stayed near as she released her fears and anxiety through a stream of hot tears.
Movement stirred them both from distant reveries contained within their shared warmth. Starfire heard Robin murmur Raven's name, then opened her eyes, curious.
True to his utterance, the empath stood at the doorway, stunned, her cheeks flaring red as she quickly bowed to hide it. She said but one thing, quickly and hoarsely, "I'll come back later," before she backed away and turned to flee down the hall to X'Hal only knew where.
Robin disengaged Starfire from his arm to quickly tend to an expensive-looking machine that had started to give off smoke; Starfire sucked in a yelp as one of the wires running across her lap gave off a few sparks.
Once he'd saved the machine from almost certain magic-induced destruction, he returned to Starfire's side; he gave her his patented look of concern. "You okay?"
Starfire nodded quickly, drying her tears with the back of her hand. She sniffled a bit to clear her head; Robin examined her teary face, smiled quaintly, patted her shoulder and left. She watched him go, wondering. She waited for the longest time --- an eternity that lasted some six whole minutes --- before she heard footsteps, quiet and reserved as they nervously approached.
Raven's cloaked and oddly shadowed form appeared at the door, Robin close behind, and from there she crept stoically to Starfire's bedside and stood, saying not a word. Robin's voice made her turn, "I'll give you two some time alone." He left with a smile from the entry, that obscure method of his working its magic as Raven pulled down her cowl.
Starfire was surprised at the empath's haggard form; she looked downright drained, from the darkness in her eyes to the unusual slump with which she carried herself. Starfire could swear Raven had lost weight --- her cheekbones seemed more prominent, the shadows beneath her eyes longer.
"How do you feel?" the Azarathean asked, her voice so indistinct Starfire had to strain to hear it.
The Tamaranean's brows furrowed, her deep emerald eyes even more deeply concerned. "I could very well ask you the same question, friend Raven."
Raven sighed, not having the strength to argue. "How's your head?"
Starfire lowered to gaze to stare at her hands. "It is not very bad, but it is not without ache."
"Here," the empath murmured, raising a hand and placing it against Starfire's warm cheek. Instantly, the dull throb that had plagued her since she'd awoken was gone, coursing instead through the veins of Raven's inmost soul to be filtered away. But with the pain, consciousness followed.
Starfire grabbed for Raven before the sorceress could fall, pulling her up easily into strong Tamaranean arms. The empath lay prostrate and cradled by the warmth of an alien's kindness; Starfire carefully maneuvered Raven's light form, wrapped her up in the coverlet and held the sorceress as she recovered from her swoon.
She was used to darkness; it was inescapable, after all, woven into the life-giving blackness of her very soul. She walked an endless road, littered with temptation, sin and sickness, death and the royalty of being the one to inflict it --- her hereditary right to bring pain and revel in it.
A flash, a tremor, and there she stood, in the halls of Titan Tower. Her shadow cast itself large upon the wall, following her every movement. She walked the metal walkway she knew so well that she could pass through it with her eyes shut and hands bound. She walked by familiar doors; entrances to familiar places: the weight room, Robin's room, Starfire's room, her room...
A sound made her jump, even in a dreamlike state such as this, preparing the darkness within her, readying her defenses. The sound continued, high and familiar and strangely enraging.
Raven slowed her gait as she neared Beast Boy's room. It was his alarm clock, that stupid hunk of plastic he'd insisted on buying. She let out a low sigh, pushing open his door, looking all about. She called his name. When she heard no reply, she took a careful step inward. She warned him aloud, gave voice to her vexation, hoping for one of his sadly misplaced "your face" jokes, not for amusement, of course, but for the comfort of knowing she wasn't alone here.
No such luck occurred, and so she took another few steps forward. She called out again, futilely, as she reached out to turn off the alarm. Her shadow loomed over her, strangely ominous in the way it stooped, as if it were waiting, as if it could leap down and sweep absolutely everything up into its grasp and hold it there until it rotted at the first wrong gesture she made. All it needed, she could plainly see, was a catalyst.
A flash, a cry; Raven took her hand back, refusing to touch the clock. She was smart enough to know an omen when she saw one, and this, most definitely, was just that. She thanked Azar for this lucidity; she must have saved herself quite the nightmare!
An orange hand tapped the Snooze button, as cheerfully as could be. An equally as orange face, flushed with an unearthly vigor for life, turned to regard her, smiling like a fool.
Hello, Raven! she said. Are you well? she said.
Raven felt her stomach clench with such a rage, with such an inhuman fear that she almost --- almost --- felt the need to scream. Deeper within --- so deep down Azar herself would have found it impossible to reach --- Raven felt an absurd need to laugh.
A flash, a whisper, and Starfire giggled. Raven furrowed her eyebrows, confused. She asked the alien what was so funny... You, Starfire answered, And him, the alien added, in such a horribly candid way that the need to laugh jarred, just a little, within her chest.
Raven looked up, trying to see what the Tamaranean would have meant by "him." Of course she meant the shadow --- the shadow that grinned, that never failed to upset her world and turn it on its head. The shadow who no longer sat on the wall.
Raven cursed, whirling to face the alien, glowering terribly at absolutely nothing, for the room she now faced was just that.
A flash… Nothing but the mirror, reflecting nothing but Raven. To her surprise, the mask of portents past was ominously absent. But her image fell to its knees, arm dramatically draped over her eyes --- Raven looked away from her doppelganger and down at herself, cloaked in the grim blacks and reds of someone sinister; she brought her hand to her face, felt the smooth ivory of the mask that came to her in dreams. She placed a hand against the mirror, cursed as her image gazed back with such pathetic, darkened eyes... and behind her image, Starfire entered with arms outreaching, crying out, rushing forward…
And there the dream ended...
And there the dream ended.
Raven opened her eyes, only to see the concerned golden face, full ruddy tresses wrapped and contained by stark white bandages; exuberant life restrained by cruel, pale fingers. Starfire's shining green and emerald eyes looked on as Raven regained conscious and conscience, forcing herself to let go as the empath untangled herself and pulled away to settle on her feet.
Raven, shaken from within only, coolly smoothed her robes and thanked Starfire politely in the way that "thank you" usually meant "I didn't really need your help." The Tamaranean smiled a little, feeling something in her chest sink some at the sudden manifestation of an attitude. She wondered what made had Raven so defensive; surely the boys were not teasing her? Then again, Raven had been difficult a week ago; perhaps it was all for the same reason.
"Raven," Starfire began, contemplating deeply on whether to pull the empath closer or to leave her be. "Please, tell me, what is the matter?"
The request passed through the Azarathean, effectively stopping her in her tracks; in the silence, Raven heard her heart beat and she wondered if Starfire could hear it, too. She had said it once, but she could not bring herself to say it again; she didn't know what drove her to answer as she did, but the lies flowed easier now and she could not stop it, nor after would she be able to take it back. "I'm leaving the Titans."
Starfire's stunned hush drilled into Raven's mind; without looking, she could almost see the Tamaranean's wide, deer-like eyes boring holes into her back, both pleading and concerned and terrified all at once; but the empath, without waiting for an answer, quickly swept out of the room.
The next morning Starfire awoke sick both in body and heart. Her dreams had been uneasy, to say the least; just thinking about them sent a tremor through her stomach. An interminable ache had settled on her soul, knowing what she knew of Raven and still willing to just let her leave.
Cyborg tended to her as best he could, staying by her side even though Robin and Beast Boy and the three from Titans East (who had opted to remain as auxiliary in light of Starfire's condition) went out to keep city watch. The only difference in them that Starfire could see, during the odd visit they sporadically kept, was that everyone had grown tense, as if they were waiting for something to happen.
Unlike them, Starfire knew something was going to happen, needed to happen. Her only worries were when, where, and Raven. How could the empath not trust her? It was not like Raven to simply flee from her problems --- or was it? Starfire had never actually seen the sorceress deal with her more familial problems; in all other aspects, Raven dealt forthwith when a dilemma arose in the group or with a villain, and in solving them she was nearly always flawless. But when it came to her father, that monster Trigon, Starfire came to grasp that Raven had no real answer, no plan of action, and no hope.
It tore Starfire apart to think that Raven could have lost faith in herself, and it positively horrified her that Raven would be alone in her hour of need.
Hardening her resolve, the Tamaranean raised herself on her elbows, gathering all her energy to stand. She stumbled to the window, machinery groaning and crying in shrill voices as she tore herself from its cold grasp, and ripped the blinds from the wall. There was no light, for there was no sun; the sky was overcast with thick, smog-like layers of cloud through which no ray of X'Hal's hope could shine through. Starfire collapsed painfully to her knees and breathed hard for several moments, heaving up the broth Cyborg had fed her for lunch.
The half-machine thundered into the room, halting sharply and letting out a long sigh of relief. He bent over her shuddering form and held back her hair, bringing over a bucket with a free hand. He didn't say a word, and though she couldn't see his face from her position, she assumed—no, she could feel it to be filled with an utmost concern and paternal love. She may not have been an empath as Raven was, but she knew kindness.
Cyborg helped to reorient her, cleaned her up, placing her back on the medical bed and giving her a wet cloth for her hot forehead and a glass of water. She downed the water and lay back to rest as Cyborg retrieved a mop with which to clean the floor.
Starfire covered her eyes, realizing just how stupid her course of action had been and feeling guilty for having made him worry. She apologized a countless number of times to him as he cleaned, but each time he merely replied with a soft "That's okay." She explained -- justified -- her need of sunlight, and he said, "I know. That's okay." She apologized again and again, to him and to Titans that weren't even present.
Cyborg carefully disposed of the mess into a lidded waste bin labeled 'biohazard;' when he'd finished, he turned to Starfire with a gentle eye and smiled faintly. She took great notice of how tired he looked, and found herself surprised that he wasn't angry with her in the least. He shook his head, only relief in his voice. "It's okay, Star. I know how you feel. You wanna get out there and help, I know you do, but you're not gonna be any good, to Rob or Raven, if you don't heal."
Starfire nodded, lowering her eyes to the floor in a shame unbefitting of her stature. Cyborg saw the look and lifted her chin with an immense metal finger that was surprisingly tender in its movement. "Hey, look at me. It's alright. You're not a burden, okay? And this doesn't make you weak, either. Even the best of us gotta take a minute to rest, right? 'Cept Rob, of course --- but we all know he's a robot. Now, gimme a big smile." His smile outshined hers, which was not particularly difficult, as Starfire could manage only the meekest of expressions at a time when her heart felt ready to burst. It seemed to please him nonetheless. "That's my girl. Get some sleep, okay?"
As she slept, Starfire dreamed a terrible thing:
She dreamt that the pavement was hard beneath her feet and the air was frozen, though it flowed like wine around her and she almost felt that she was swimming in it. The night was strangely empty, though the air was full of sounds: a dog barking in the distance, the cold brush of wind across the faces of buildings, a car alarm wailing several city blocks away. They made her uneasy, made the blood run hot in her veins though her skin felt taut and icy. A quiver started up in her back, moving quickly between her stomach and spine.
She dreamt that she walked until she came to a subway entrance, where she descended the steps into a cavernous tunnel, lit by dimly flickering fluorescent bulbs. The walls were grimy and yellowed by smoke, posters peeling, drooping sadly to the ground. Starfire jumped at the sound of a whistle and roar of the oncoming train.
She dreamt that the subway train pulled to a slow stop at the boarding platform. For a long while, Starfire merely stared, as the doors did not open. She saw, however, that the train was mostly empty, save for two lonely people. One was cloaked in black, one in white; curiously, both looked like Raven. They sat across from each other, staring into nothing; Starfire whispered a name.
She dreamt that one of the figures, the one in white, turned to her. The one in black said something sharp, a harsh father to a frightened daughter, though Starfire could not make out what, and the Raven in white quickly looked away.
She dreamt that she blinked, and suddenly Starfire could see that the Raven in black wore a mask – a ghostly white visage that reminded her of a skull – that covered only half her face. Her smile completed the mask, unnatural as it was, haunting, chuckling in that dark space in the back of her mind. The Raven in white sat in chains, with no emotion on her face at all.
She dreamt that when she opened her eyes, the train was gone, roaring back through the tunnel to X'Hal only knew where. Without another word, Starfire trudged back up into the cold night air of Jump City, into the newly started downpour.
She dreamt… she knew not of what. Rain, or tears, or blood, trickled down her flushed, benumbed cheeks, and there the dream ended.
The entire group gathered and congratulated Starfire on her extraordinary recovery the day Cyborg pronounced her fit to fight, four weeks from the day she'd seen Raven on that fateful, rainy day, and one from the day Raven had left the group to seek solitude.
Somewhere in the excitement, she'd received hugs and more than enough pats on the back; somehow, she half-expected to see Raven part the group and give her that indeed sort of look that she extended only on special occasions.
She didn't, and it left Starfire standing alone among her friends, nursing the little hole that had grown in her heart since the empath's departure. She imagined that things could get no worse, praying to X'Hal that the sorceress would be alright.
Robin approached her shortly; a mere few minutes after leaving Cyborg's infirmary, he came to her with a grim but sincere concern lingering in his face, though how she could tell through the mask, no one would ever know for sure. He slid an arm around her shoulders, leading her towards the spiral staircase that led to the roof.
The air was cool and the ground was slick, but the night was calm though dark clouds billowed up above, still threatening to unleash yet another downpour. Starfire briefly wondered if it were connected to Raven in any way; it must have been, for the weather had started the night Starfire first realized Raven had begun changing.
The Boy Wonder gave a sigh, drawing Starfire's curious, wide-eyed attention. He took a moment to organize his thoughts; a second, more prolonged sigh signaled his readiness to begin. "Starfire," he started, tentatively, as though he still were unsure of his subject. "I want you to tell me about what's been going on with Raven."
Starfire felt her mouth run dry; she shook her head, slowly at first, then with sudden vigor. She halted, stumbling over her English, "P-please forgive me, Robin, but I-I do not know! If I did, I would tell you, I swear on it!"
Robin raised an eyebrow. "Calm down," he told her quietly. "I'm not grilling you; I just need to know why Raven left. You're the only one she talks to, so I thought I'd ask."
The Tamaranean princess lowered her head, "If I had known why, I would have done more to help her." She moved a foot through the standing water collecting in a puddle near her, watching it ripple and spread farther than before. "I would not have let her leave."
"I know," he replied. "You're a good friend."
"I am not," Starfire countered with a surprising viciousness. "A good friend would have not let her go. A good friend would have done everything in her power to help."
Robin did not answer, seeing the conversation quickly attempting to turn against them; his eyes moved to stare at an illuminated city across the bay. "Why would she go?" he asked, to Starfire and to the vast landscape. "Where would she go?"
Starfire lifted her hands, helplessly. "I do not know," she moaned miserably, "She is worried, she might do anything. She might go anywhere!"
Robin shrugged, nodding calmly. "She wants to be alone."
"She should not be!" Starfire snapped, adding, "She should remain where I can be of assistance. Her father cannot make her betr---" Starfire strangled the word, forcing it back into her throat with a tiny squeak of terror, clapping an orange hand over her mouth. She looked at the Boy Wonder with wide eyes, aghast at her own loquaciousness.
The Batman's former apprentice looked relatively pleased, though it faded back into his usual cryptic solemnity. "You were saying?"
"I promised," Starfire responded immediately, from behind her hand.
"I need to know," Robin replied softly. "Why would Raven betray us?"
"She would never!" Starfire retorted angrily, hands flying, clenched, to her sides. "Trigon---!" The hands flew back to her mouth as she forced the information to stay there. She shot an indignant glare at the boy, for being so good at this game, for making her tell him things she'd all but sworn never to repeat.
"Trigon?" Robin echoed. "Raven is scared of him?"
Starfire grit her teeth, tightening her grip on her motor-mouth as she stared hard at the Boy Wonder. She would not speak – he could not make her!
"Trigon is her father," Robin confirmed, his eyes, hidden behind the white film of his mask, searching her face. "And he's controlling her?" Starfire squeezed her eyes shut. "She left because she's worried he'll force her to betray us?" Starfire shrank to the stubbled roof concrete, squatting, shaking, and holding her breath. "Don't tell me – he's plotting to take over the world, and Raven is the key to his victory? Or does the guy just have an obsession with control and a taste for vengeance? He's bitter that she's able to defy him, and Raven left because she feels her defenses are being weakened and she doesn't want to endanger the team?" He leaned over, peering down at the top of the alien princess' ruffled head. "Am I getting warmer?"
Starfire sprang to her feet, nearly hitting his head with her own, wailing, "You are not supposed to know that!"
Robin smiled gently. "Which part?"
"Any of it!" She swept away from him, clasping her hands over her head, "Oh! I am a horrible friend!" The alien trotted in circles, muttering to herself sharply in Tamaranean.
The Boy Wonder gestured for her to calm down, catching her in mid-circle, placing his hands on her tall shoulders and turning her to face him; his smile was warm. "If it makes you feel any better, you didn't tell me. I guessed."
"You are a very good guesser," Starfire ceded despondently.
He chuckled, and then nodded towards the door leading back into the Tower. "It's what I do. Shall we?"
Starfire nodded reluctantly, allowing him to lead her, her mind unconsciously slipping through a list of a thousand and one possibilities; now that Robin knew, did he understand? Would he treat Raven differently, now that he knew of her tenuous connection to stability? – no, probably not. Robin was exceptional at these matters, and definitely the most tactful of the Teen Titans, next to Raven. Oh, but Raven! What of the empath? What would become of her, if Trigon had really infiltrated her defenses? – oh, the horror!
Starfire returned to her room, while Robin to the commons; she sat on her bed, listening as the soft pitter-pat of raindrops began falling against the giant window. She swung her legs onto the divan, reclining with her shoes on the pillow and head dangling off the end of her mattress. The Tamaranean let out a sigh, staring at the ceiling, closing her brilliantly emerald eyes as she contemplated carefully. When she reopened those sparkling eyes, she saw a shadow flicker across the wall --- she lifted her head to glance out the window to see what had cast such a silhouette. A great black thing floated there, eyes glowing red as crackling flames, staring fixedly, terribly. Starfire screamed, flailing out both hands and releasing a huge blast of energy that blew straight through the window, leaving a gaping hole in the steel-reinforced glass, dribbles of liquid metal trickling down and sizzling in the rain as a cloud of dust and drywall wafted into the wet air.
Starfire rolled off her bed, leaping to her feet, felt her steps falter, suffering from that giant expenditure of energy, but stared, horror-struck, at an empty sky. She shuffled near to the yawning mouth she'd created, feeling the cool spatter of rain against the flushed skin of her face. The alien princess stepped away from the hole, placing a hand to her heart and feeling it beating fast; she breathed, in and out, her mantra of peace and tranquility echoing in her mind. She looked around the room for any sign of more eyes; she paused once she thought was sure, and checked beneath the bed --- just in case! One hand glowed dangerously as the other cautiously lifted the bed skirt --- the luminescent lime green light of her Starbolt revealed nothing of suspect under her place of rest, so she allowed the bolt to fade from her hand as she got to her feet, reassured.
A shadow darkened the massive opening in her window for a moment; Starfire felt her heart skip a beat as she whirled, another bolt instantly at hand. It faded once she realized there was nothing there --- Starfire pivoted, both hands flaming, when something pounded violently at her door.
"Starfire!" Robin yelled, "Starfire!"
The Tamaranean rushed to the door, slamming a golden hand onto the pad that opened it; the door slid open with a cool electric sigh, revealing a frazzled-looking team of Titans.
"Starfire," Robin started, his usual air of control distorted by anxiety. "Are you alright?"
The alien nodded, eyes wide, "I am!"
Cyborg's face drained of color as he pointed past Starfire, at the window --- or the lack thereof. "WHAT THE---!"
"Dude," Beast Boy bleated, "First the ceiling, then Raven's door, now this!"
The ginger-haired archer raised a sly eyebrow. "Was this a provoked attack, or do you just like the sound of things breaking?"
"I have seen it!" Starfire stammered, pointing frantically at the decimated wall. "A shadow --- the phantom was there ---out there!--- just a moment ago!"
Beast Boy let out a seal's bark, clapping his fins together before morphing into a cat to rub against the alien's legs, doing a prancing victory dance as a white-tailed buck, all while warbling triumphantly, "I knew it! I knew it! I knew it all along!"
"Are you sure?" Robin asked, briefly shooting a glare at the changeling, so that he might realize that the question was not meant for him.
"Most positively!" Starfire replied firmly, "It looked like---" But she did not finish. Starfire stopped her sentence and did not say anything more; with the immediate fear having subsided, she knew what she had seen. Blind horror had a face, the screaming white of skin palled by misery, eyes ablaze with hellfire, set upon a crooked smile; terror had a name, bestowed upon her in the cradle of Azarath all those years ago, spoken in tones of fear, they called her Raven. If there had been time, Starfire would have cried.
The impromptu Teen Titans all snapped to attention when the alarm wailed, red flashing lights cutting short their discussion and sending them scattering towards the exit. Cyborg checked the master computer, declaring to the team that the alarm had been triggered by a store on Fifth. Starfire felt a sudden clench in her stomach, but followed nevertheless, grateful for the opportunity to finally do something of importance.
Robin was shouting orders, many of which Starfire failed to comprehend, lost in the jumble of her own thoughts. The only thing to reach her was the familiar battle cry, "Titans, go!" to which those Titans without the gift of flight piled into the T-Car, which sprouted jet skis and propelled itself across the bay and towards the commotion in the city.
Starfire took to the dark skies, Beast Boy soaring at her side as an emerald falcon. It looked as if it were night time, though there seemed to be no proof, as the sky was smothered with black, rolling clouds, through which no sign of night or day could pass. She felt the pang of pain that came with the absence of the sun; her energy stores would not last as long in these awful conditions, especially if there was need of her Starbolts.
The streets were quiet; not a soul stirred in the dead silence. Each and every one of the Titans felt uneasy as they traced the signal inland to the store. Aqualad stayed to patrol the coast, but even he had sensed the ghastly change in the air; Beast Boy most of all, sniffing and whining as a bloodhound, wandering in a vague circle like a raindog for lack of a trail.
They found a music shop, violins and its respective accessories lining the walls, only slightly array; the shop owner stood outside the door, mourning the shattered front window. Robin handled the citizen's story, calming the poor man enough to get a vague description of the culprit: a hooded figure covered in shadow. He explained how the figure had stopped in front of the store, speaking to no one but the glass. He claimed to have asked the stranger if they'd required assistance, and the only reason he'd noticed the shadows at all was because they'd flared up into a great black bird-shape --- at which point the window had exploded. The figure disappeared afterward – like a shadow itself, it had just puffed away. Starfire interrupted then, fervently asking if the figure he'd seen had been a girl.
As this was going on, Cyborg elbowed Speedy urgently; the archer turned to him quizzically, and the half-machine gestured to a darkened alley a short ways ahead. He gave a nod, nocked an arrow and fired in one swift movement. A flare of blinding white light burst from the phosphorous arrow as it shattered against the wall, spattering long streaks of glowing powder across the brick surface to light the way. A flutter of shadow alerted the team, and they sprang to action; Robin shouted an order of caution, but Starfire, however, shot towards the figure and into the alley before the rest could take a step.
She skid to a stop after touching down, coming face to face with a ghostly pale countenance that was despicably familiar. Raven's emaciated form glowed eerily in the dim light from the wall, and her unnatural smile was not at all comforting.
"Starfire!" Robin called, rushing forward into the alley, the team at his heels.
A wall of black energy repelled them, sending Starfire hurtling away; Beast Boy morphed smartly into a gorilla, running forward to catch the reeling alien. Her traveling force knocked him clean off his feet, forcing him back into human form as they landed, dazed, on the hard asphalt.
Cyborg let loose a decibel blast, shaking the very foundation of the building, though the shadow merely wavered a moment, like a dying flame, and sank into the ground. He squinted, his eye scanning the darkness for any sign of life, while Robin tended to his bewildered team. Speedy and Hot Shot recovered almost instantly, being only mostly confused, though he found Beast Boy somewhat conscious, having taken most of the Tamaranean's thrown force. They helped the green mutant to his feet, while Starfire apologized vaguely through a tight throat, distraught by the empath's unexpected behavior. Something cold squirmed beneath her stomach, setting an icy shiver up her spine and nearly tearing a hard sob from her throat. She clapped a hand to her mouth, surprised by her reaction; there had been something about the sorceress, hidden within that mask of an expression…
Cyborg interrupted with an announcement: "I've got a signal on Raven."
All at once, as if on cue, the official handheld, custom designed communicators possessed by each of the Titans began to beep.
They paused to check, and it was Robin who steadied an ominous glance at the half-machine. "I think we do, too."
Cyborg frowned, staring at the image being transferred from the communicator of the wayward Teen Titan. Speedy cocked an eyebrow, "Please tell me that's not a chandelier."
The archer shrugged nonchalantly. "I went to an opera once," he stated, calmly, before throwing a fierce look at the grinning Hot Spot. "Yes – and things don't end well when chandeliers get involved."
Beast Boy shook his head, attempting to clear it but finding it just as messy as he'd left it – no matter, he was used to it. "Why's that?"
Speedy ran a hand over the clean shaven fuzz of his scalp, "One word: gravity."
Beast Boy considered this, nodding philosophically. After a moment, his solemnity broke and he grinned playfully at the archer. "Dude, you? At an opera? How dorky--"
Before the changeling could finish, Speedy lunged for his throat, but managed to grasp only at feathers as a pea green woodpecker fluttered out of reach and onto Cyborg's head. The young man merely grunted, grabbing Speedy by the shoulder and holding him back. "Cut it out, you two," he told them gravely. "We've got work to do."
A strangled sob drew their attention; Starfire, standing quite still, viciously restrained herself from making another sound, and turned towards the group with a look of anger. It had occurred to her what she had seen in the empath's face: the soulful, agonizing glimmer of submission. "How can you jest at such misfortune? We must help Raven!" She turned to the team's leader, "Friend Robin! Surely you agree?"
"Of course I do," The Boy Wonder conceded, "And I think I know where we need to go." He plucked a sheet of metal from his utility belt, tapping a few key buttons to pull up a map. He showed it to his team, pointing at a minor cross-section, "At the corner of J'onzz and Ninth, there's an old theater that has this kind of chandelier hanging in the lobby."
Beast Boy shifted back into his human form, still clinging to Cyborg's shoulders, well away from Speedy. "What, you gonna tell me you went to the opera with the Batman?"
Robin's smile could only be described as unquestionably smug. "Yes."
"Oh," the changeling piped, blinking. "Rock on."
Starfire was the first at the darkened doors, and then Beast Boy, who gaped at the massive oaken frame, carved ornately and absolutely beautiful. Starfire ran a hand down the wood, running fingers through the sanded crevices of intricate curves, her face set into an expression that did not fit her in the least.
The sign on the door informed them that the theater was closed until nine the next day, though there seemed to be no argument that the Tamaranean needed to be in that building now. Beast Boy winced at the sound of one of the heavy wooden doors snapping off its hinges like a toothpick; Starfire lifted the door above her head, triumphant but sad, and threw it to the side like a piece of plywood. She entered the shadowed path without a sound, without even a single glance at the changeling.
Speedy, Hot Spot and Robin and finally Cyborg roared onto the scene on a squeal of tires, horrified at the desecration committed; Beast Boy weakly motioned towards the entrance, still dumbfounded by a reasonable amount of shock. Cyborg's shoulder light popped on and Robin led the way inside.
They could see the emerald glow of held Starbolts, revealing beneath its strange, soft glow Starfire's silhouette. She moved quietly across the black lobby, towards the halls leading into the aisle seats. She came to a stop near the entrance to the auditorium, turning and gazing back at the silhouette of the team; Hot Spot gave off a warm orange glow as he entered, intending to follow Starfire, but stopping to examine the faint blue light thrown from the screen of Raven's communicator.
Robin called out for Starfire to stop, and then he himself paused. Lights flared to life in every direction, blinding the Teen Titans for a split-second, captured utterly off-guard. Cyborg saw the shadow move above them, saw it crawl along the ceiling, but everyone heard the agonized cry, the wicked, distorted laugh that gouged pits of fear into their hearts. "Look out!" The teenaged half-machine bellowed as he gathered up the two mostly mortal Titans and leaped out of the way. Hot Spot propelled himself to one side with a burst of flame that scorched the carpet, and a dazed Beast Boy was tackled from behind by the golden Tamaranean; she skid to a stop on the thin carpet on the other side of the room as a gargantuan gilded iron spider crashed to the ground, glass shattering around them as black energy shifted erratically, only to settle back into the shivering, dark-eyed Raven standing atop the balcony stairs.
They could hear the dying beep of Raven's communicator, that ominous clue that had led them to this place, impaled and crushed beneath a massive ton of welded metal.
"I knew it!" Speedy howled, scrambling out of the cybernetic teen's grasp. "Chandeliers are nothing but trouble!" He pointed accusingly at the hulking carcass of the giant light fixture, "You see!"
Cyborg ignored him, dropped the rest of his cargo and stood, glaring up at Raven's twisted shade. At the sound of his metal arm's clicking transformation, Starfire drove him to the floor, screaming an order in a passionate burst of Tamaranean. He stared at her towering form, fists blazing; he saw the warrior within her banging against its cage and realized that she meant this to be her fight. He looked to Robin and saw the same light of epiphany in his eyes. The decibel gun clicked back into his arm, and the absolute ruthlessness in Starfire's eyes faded, as did the light from her hands; she apologized softly in her native tongue before turning to face Raven.
The alien princess floated off her feet, up and up until she was at eye level with the empath. Whatever had taken hold of the Azarathean had not quite conquered her and Starfire found herself wordlessly congratulating the sorceress --- she had not yet given in totally to darker forces. For a moment, Starfire recalled the dreams she'd had; she could have sworn that White Raven flickered still in the dying light of those eyes.
If only she could get through to that Raven!
"My friend," Starfire began, when English had returned to her. "Please, Raven, why must you do this?"
An unnatural smile crept onto the empath's features, but fled as quickly as it had come. She backed through the open door behind her, darkness engulfing her as she hovered off the balcony, receding back and downwards until she landed on the stage, where one by one the stage lights lit themselves. Starfire followed without much thought, trusting herself to the tiny spark of good she had seen moments before. The rest of the Titans barreled through the doors and down the long aisles; they halted at the front row. Robin and Speedy clambered into the orchestra pit; Speedy loaded his bow while the Boy Wonder readied a freeze disk, and they waited.
"Raven," Starfire implored again, her voice quivering. "Why?"
"I," the empath rasped; her voice resounded grandly as if she had been shouting. However, she fell into silence, listening to the acoustic boom echoing through the auditorium. "Between the emotion," she started again, "And the response, falls the Shadow." It echoed far, and she listened; when it had faded, she turned her eyes to Starfire, beseeching. "Life is very long," she said, quietly, in a desolate voice.
"Life is beautiful," Starfire answered, unsure of whether she was supposed to or not. "It is what you make it," she articulated carefully. "You and Robin taught me that."
A miserable smile came to Raven's lips; her voice quavered as she recited from memory a thing from long ago: "Between the desire," she broke eye contact with the Tamaranean. "And the spasm," Raven murmured, her cheeks flushing. "Between the potency, and the existence," she continued, renewing the link she'd broken, "Between the essence, and the descent, falls the Shadow."
Starfire retained a simply quizzical expression mixed with concern. "I do not understand, Raven," she replied, in a subdued voice. "I would if I could, but there is so much I have yet to learn…" She attempted to step forward, but seeing Raven wince at the movement made her retreat a pace instead. It surprised her to see the empath's expression harden.
"For thine is my Kingdom," Raven answered, finitely, unabashedly. Her dark eyes took on that iniquitous gleam; her cloak moved to a chimera wind.
"Raven?" Starfire asked, a sudden fear beginning to sprout and take root at the pit of her stomach. "What do you mean? Of what Kingdom do you speak?"
"For thine," Raven repeated, but the sharpness of her features softened suddenly. She was herself again. "Life is," she said, then hesitated. "For thine is," she started again, pausing purposefully once more.
"I do not know what you mean," Starfire replied, "But know, Raven, I am here for you---" She looked shocked when the empath moved swiftly forward, very near, face-to-face, frosty fingers grasping at warmer hands, and Starfire could see the strain that the Azarathean had gone through in keeping herself together, keeping herself rational enough to tear her mental self apart for this final, vital message. Without warning, Raven leaned forward, standing on her toes half a foot above the ground to deliver a last offering from a dying friend: her lips brushed gently against the golden Tamaranean's, then harder, fiercer, protective, jealous, and then soft, defenseless once more --- Starfire felt the spark of some magic force as they parted, a darkness furious and horrible having passed between them in that single instant, and an electric chill swept down her spine. She had no words, in either of her languages, to speak or any adequate enough to express what now boiled over in the pit of her stomach.
The rest of the Titans, standing in the front row, stared with disbelieving eyes and open mouths. For a moment, time had stopped, magically it had lingered and dwelled on a miraculous occurrence; for a moment, the Teen Titans lowered their weapons and their guard, blinking vacantly as the empath rushed away, to the back of the stage away from the only genuine display of affection she'd ever ventured, in life or in dreams.
"This is the way the world ends," Raven continued suddenly, her demeanor shifting rapidly, as if the chains on the unholy titan within had finally shattered. "This is the way the world ends," she repeated. Weapons resumed their places, though the formerly aggressive aspects could no longer take shape, replaced instead by compassion, having seen the flickering humanity in their demonic partner.
"Raven, do not say such things!" Starfire reprimanded, a bit more harshly than she meant to, her own cheeks hot with the awkwardness of a previously nonexistent sentiment. "How can you believe in such foolish notions? You are stronger than that, I know you are! You have the ability to defend yourself, so why will you not!"
The sad look returned, the evil ebbing if only for a moment. "This is the way the world ends."
On all sides, doors creaked shut, pushed by the burgeoning chimera gale, sealing them within a giant wooden sepulcher. Robin hurled the disk, but Starfire back-handed a Starbolt into its path; the disk burst into a futile flare of ice, falling staggeringly short of its target. She could not, however, stop Speedy from letting his arrow fly, whizzing straight and true --- into nothing. It passed into Raven's chest and did not emerge out the other side. Her cloak fluttered slightly, she seemed to go limp, and suddenly the Teen Titans felt the icy palm of fear stiffen the air around them.
As if they had witnessed it occur in slow motion, they saw this: Raven's cloak flew open, revealing nothing within it, only a gaping hole where Raven's body should have been. The wind rushing through the auditorium changed its course, turning and flowing into the empath, and taking anything it could with it. It tore chairs from their bolts out of the aisles, tossing them through the air like toys before disappearing into Raven; gouges appeared in walls where ornamental lamps had been ripped away. The sorceress had left the ground, floating on the same wind that now sped through the building. The Teen Titans grabbed for anything they could, desperately clinging to the building's foundation as the velocity of the torrent increased; Beast Boy morphed into a tyrannosaurus, but even in a form so large, he could not keep his feet on the ground. The changeling shifted back and forth between the forms of quick-moving birds, to heavier animals like rhinos and elephants, but nothing helped. He finally grabbed at a chair, but as he did, it broke from its base, smashing into him and launching him towards the massive black hole. Cyborg leaped, clutching for Beast Boy's feet; he managed to grab hold of one of the mutant's shoes, but his own feet were already too far off the floor for him to be of any use. He ejected his elongating arm, digging his metal fingers into the floor; the steel tether held for a few moments. A startled scream made him look up, only to see the Tamaranean careening dangerously towards his head, having lost her fight with the wind and on the losing end of energy to begin with; she slammed bodily into Cyborg, and he, she, and Beast Boy were thrown into Raven's whirling storm.
Robin fired a grappling birdarang towards the wall, where it punctured the wood and held fast; however, a loose chair assured that he did not remain holding on to it, crashing down onto his back and rendering him unconscious. If Raven had meant her last ditch effort to be so violent, no one could be sure, but with so few handholds in so brutal a storm, none of the remaining Titans had much of a chance at escaping the vortex; so one by one, they too were sucked into the dark portal.
The winds ceased abruptly and the portal closed once all of the Titans had been transported. Raven floated gently back to earth. She fell to her knees, severely weakened, the voices in her head ringing louder than ever before; deep inside, someone was laughing; deep inside, someone cried. Raven looked around at the damage she'd done, and though she said it softly to herself, the room's acoustics carried it far into the back seats of the balconies. "Not with a bang but a whimper."
A/N: Heh. To Be Continued.