by Blue Ten
When the Titans defeat a mysterious assassin targeting Starfire, they are thrust into a journey to possibly save an entire system from destruction. Can the Titans' friendships and bonds survive in the harsh environment of war? RobxStar, BBxRae
I do not claim any ownership of the TV series 'Teen Titans,' or any of its counterparts.
Episode Six: Alone
- - -
Part One: Charity
Enveloping the disoriented boy, all sounds presented themselves as distant, nearly inaudible whispers. At a point unknown to the young man, consciousness had begun to flow back into his body like of warm water through ice. The sensation pulled him back from the void, where all things were null, to life – where existence fiercely demanded attention. The sensation became a pleasant sort of pain... For him, it was both a relief and a shock to feel anything at all.
Sound, smell, touch, taste... Cyborg felt the various human senses gradually returning to him, becoming clearer as time passed on. That is, all but one. His sight remained markedly elusive... inaccessible. Nonetheless, he simply waited in a state of slow awakening, hoping for it to return at some point.
Taking notice of something, Cyborg quickly forgot about his missing sense. The sounds that once seemed muffled by an unseen filter were now fully recognizable to his human and robotic sides. Voices. Several beings were speaking softly around him... in an alien language.
Tamaranean? He couldn't be sure... Despite having been around Starfire for so long, Cyborg had never heard enough of the language to easily distinguish it from others.
"H-Hey. What's going on here?" he questioned, suddenly realizing he was laying back against a flat surface of some sort. Unexpectedly, he found that his arms were free of restraints... That quickly freed him of any worry that he had been captured. Perhaps they really were Tamaraneans... or, barring that, a species allied with them.
Quickly following Cyborg's words, the voices hushed. Footsteps soon took their place, approaching the Titan's position.
"...A Terran language," spoke an older male voice, the one closest to Cyborg. It sounded rather gravelly... but calm and collected, if slightly confused. "Strange... the way you survived drifting through open space, I assumed you were of different origin. Have you... recovered?" he asked.
Cyborg pulled his head back in surprise, hardly expecting such a greeting... in his language, no less. "Well... I can't see anything... but, actually, I feel fine," he said, sounding moderately astonished. Paying little attention to his actions, he lifted his hands up and waved them before his face, seeing nothing.
"Your biological systems are recovering from a form of hibernation sickness, presumably from the cold of space, and you seem to have incurred damage to your... robotic eye," responded the voice, whom Cyborg had decided to refer to simply as 'Doc,' at least in his thoughts, since this person apparently revived him. "However, your other eye should regain its sight eventually," he finished.
"I... think I get it," Cyborg replied, tapping at his robotic eye with his left hand. Freezing in place, he suddenly realized his actions... He had a left hand... In fact, his entire left side had miraculously returned. "So, you guys repaired my body? How'd you do that?" he questioned, unable to take his mind off of it.
"Hm... I understand not," Doc replied, his tone of voice once again sounding confused. "Apart from your eye, you were not in need of any repairs... surprising as that may be," he added. "It is intriguing. Only the Psions have successfully been able to blend organic tissue and metal so seamlessly."
'If they didn't... then who--' Cyborg stopped himself mid-thought. The Technis... he had forgotten about them entirely. In his memory banks, they had access to his body's schematics... and as long as they had the proper materials – in this case, metal and plastic – they could repair him in an instant, like hyperactive nanomachines. It's possible that they also protected him from space with some sort of shield. 'Heh, thanks, guys...' he thought, chuckling as he continuously moved his new fingers about. Strangely, his entire left arm seemed more responsive than his right, which, as far as he could tell, was the same as always.
"Your ship was attacked, correct?" asked Doc. Cyborg simply nodded in reply. "By chance, our flightpath led us to it. It appeared as though a battle had taken place aboard your vessel. That was where we discovered you, floating through space..."
"There was a big guy there, in a black suit... what about him?" Cyborg asked quickly, sitting up straight.
"You were in remarkably good condition when we took you aboard our cargo ship... Your friend, however..." Doc paused for a moment. "In earnest, it is difficult to tell whether he had ever truly been alive at all," he said, sounding ponderous, as though distracted by distant thoughts. "His species was... hard to discern as well. I had never seen anything like it... But that mask he wore... He seems to have fashioned himself after a creature of myth."
"So, he's not a... a Gordanian?" questioned Cyborg, almost reluctant to speak the name.
"No... though his outward appearance would mimic that form, he is something else entirely. A monster, a demon..." replied Doc. "If such creatures truly exist, he would be known as... Faceless," he explained in a somewhat cryptic manner.
"Huh..." muttered Cyborg, things making less sense to him now than ever before. Quickly forgetting about the assassin, Cyborg's thoughts immediately turned to his friends. "After we got attacked, I sent off four escape pods. Did you--"
"My apologies. You were the only life form we found," Doc explained, moving a short distance away from Cyborg's position. "No matter. Surely your companions are safe because of you," he added in a surprisingly friendly tone. "Defeating a creature such as that on your own, you must be a great warrior indeed."
"Heh, thanks," replied Cyborg with a chuckle. "But I owe you guys for helping me out... I seriously thought I was done for," he said, massaging the back of his neck as he recalled the events.
"We could not ignore you. We saw it as our duty to provide aid," Doc spoke honestly. "Can you move?" he questioned. "Perhaps you may locate your friends if you make haste now."
"Yeah... I think I can move," said Cyborg, shifting his legs. Turning his body slowly, he carefully stepped down from the platform after searching for the floor with his feet. Standing up straight, Cyborg turned his head about... Still, his eye remained mostly blind, though he was beginning to recognize light through it. "But I can't go after my friends. That... 'faceless' guy destroyed my ship's engine and--"
"That is in the past – days away, by your people's count. And you have our aid now," Doc interrupted with an enthusiastic tone to his gruff voice, placing a hand on Cyborg's shoulder.
"...Don't get the wrong idea, I'm grateful, really... but why are you guys helping me like this?" he asked, listening to the hushed voices of Doc's few comrades in the surrounding area. He almost felt as though things were too good to be true... though the idea that he had been out for days troubled him greatly. "I may as well have been space trash out there..."
"In such troubled times, one should look to help those in need. There should be no further reasoning beyond that," said Doc, beginning to lead the blind Cyborg away by hand. "Please, follow me," he said.
"Troubled times? So, you know about the war?" questioned Cyborg, holding his hands outward as Doc directed him. He knew to choose his words carefully... Perhaps it wasn't best to give away his entire story and tell them he was accompanying Tamaranean royalty through the system... even if Doc was a Tamaranean himself. Anything he said could possibly jeopardize Starfire's anonymity, which at the moment remained her best chance of survival.
"Yes... but my comrades, and my family, we are in a state of refusal. We have decided to stay out of this battle entirely." Doc halted their movement for a moment, and Cyborg could hear a door of some sort swishing open before them. Shortly after, their venture continued.
"But... you know what those guys did, right?" Cyborg questioned in disbelief. How could this man just ignore such a violent gesture of hostility?
"They annihilated a planet... or so we are led to think," said Doc seriously. "My people have long been raised as warriors. We are prone to aggression and quick to rebel, but we have a saying amongst our so-named heretics..." he paused to think. "The fires of war are often struck ablaze by false truths. When one fights enraged, blind, and deaf – only the innocent will litter the wake of his fury."
"I get it," said Cyborg, nodding. "Can't always trust what you see..." he said, mulling over Tamaran's last moments in his mind. As he thought of it, he realized Zoka's words were the only real indication of the attack being plotted by the Citadel...
"Precisely. I would fight neither friend nor stranger simply because I am told he has done wrong. Until I know otherwise, true enemies do not exist for me." Suddenly, Doc brought their progress to a halt. "Ah, we have arrived. Has your sight improved?"
"...A little," replied Cyborg, squinting. He could hear and feel air passing through the door-sized threshold before him... and the ground rumbled very subtly at his feet; it was the familiar ambiance of a vessel traveling through open space, an immense one at that. At the moment, his eye could only make out a bright blur beyond the doorway. However, right on time, the shapes in his bleary vision gradually faded into good focus. "Uh, where are we anyway...?" he began... voice trailing off as he caught sight of an object in the middle of the immense room.
Heavily illuminated from above, the area was tall and expansive, its walls and floor composed of worn, but sturdy-looking sections of gray metal. Various large crates lined the perimeter and inhabited portions of the ground with odd, heavy machinery interspersed between them. As much as there was to see, Cyborg's recovering eye focused only on one object.
Positioned centrally in a clearing amidst the immense boxes and bulky machines was something Cyborg looked upon as a ghost. Its blue and silver surface gleaming under the cargo bay's intense lights, the T-Ship appeared to be in perfect condition. Completely unharmed, the vessel stood atop its landing extensions in the clear ground, glowing like a star.
"The technology was strange to us," said Doc, still standing behind Cyborg. "However, very minor damages made repairs simple. It is ready to take flight the moment you are."
"It looks as a good as... no... better than new--" said Cyborg, pulling his eye away from the ship as he suddenly noticed a glint of light reflecting off his left arm. Entirely silver and almost organic in shape, it was closer to looking like a human arm than anything else now. He then realized that the strange feeling he received from using it... came of remembering what it was like before the cybernetic implants. The Technis had apparently improved on his design somehow.
It was all too overwhelming.
Closing his eyes and shaking his head, Cyborg felt ready to wake up from a dream. The Technis, and now these rescuers... they had pulled him from near death and gave him back everything he thought he had lost. For all of this, he owed both parties a debt of gratitude he knew he could never repay.
For the second time in his life, he had been brought back from hopelessness. The only difference being he was now wise enough to appreciate it.
Cyborg's expression and voice quickly became stoic. "I'd say 'thank you,' but... it's not good enough, and there are no better words in my language to choose," he said, slowly opening his eyes and looking away from the ground. Cyborg began to turn around, wanting to finally put a face to the good Samaritan's voice. "For what it's worth, if I can repay you in any way, all you gotta do is ask--"
Retaining a shocked gasp, Cyborg reactively took a step back as he saw it.
There, standing in the threshold to the cargo bay, was one of the beings whose collective name had long seemed synonymous with enemy.
Taking little notice of Cyborg's reaction, Doc made no movements. The strong creature merely stood tall, body adorned by tough, brown armor plating which protected his scaled green skin. A lengthy saurian tail rested against the metal flooring behind his large, taloned feet. Heavy arms resided at the reptilian's sides, extending down from his barrel-like chest. And, finally, beneath a pair of intimidating red eyes was the man's most shocking feature: a broad, good-natured smile.
"Nonsense," began Doc, raising his hands above his waist. "As I said before: in such times, one should simply look to aid those in need. This action becomes a reward unto itself."
- - -
Part Two: Patience
Finally, after a length of time that seemed endless, the incessant rumblings outside the escape pod came to an instant halt. This violent stopping force quickly jarred Robin from his state of partial awakening. If the atmospheric entry had been a quiet alarm clock... then the landing was a fierce slap to the face.
Robin let out a low groan as he opened his eyes to a squint. Dim white lights illuminated the lifeboat as well as they could manage, allowing a moderately good view of the interior. Looking down, the Titan could see the emergency systems had done their job, having already strapped him in place like a fighter pilot.
Several securely fastened buckles met at his center mass, connected via a single square mechanism, complete with a red button at its top. Lifting his arm tiredly, Robin let his hand fall down over the button. He watched as the buckles promptly disconnected and snaked their way back below the seating.
"What now...?" Robin wondered, eyes wandering about the cabin.
Looking up, he noticed a small rectangular panel with readouts just above his head. The electronic displays appeared to be showing the atmospheric composition outside the pod... A green 'OK' section had been lit up; Robin assumed this meant it was safe to leave.
"Good enough for me," he said, finally feeling his strength beginning to return. Pulling his legs back, Robin pressed his feet against the craft's ceiling.
As soon as the boy kicked outward, the boat was flooded with blinding light. Wincing, Robin swiftly raised an arm to guard his face. Eventually, the stinging sensation in his eyes died down enough for him to look about. He slowly peered over the shadow of his arm to view a peculiar sight...
A sun-bleached, sandy stone surface resided just beyond the new opening, a dull yellow in color. The top portion of the pod had swung open and stuck itself partway into this... wall? Robin was left to wonder if the vessel had slid under some low rocky overpass and now stared up at a ceiling. Strangely, small winds blew about, seeming to drag particles of sand across the obstruction's surface.
Shrugging, Robin pushed himself away from the seating. Almost instantly, he was pulled from the vessel and slammed face-first against the rock.
Grumpily placing his hands on the stone, Robin lifted himself, spitting out as much of the dusty dirt as he could. Looking back, he saw that the lifeboat had crashed into the ground at a steep angle... The portion he exited from had been almost parallel to the ground.
"Artificial gravity... Nice touch, Cyborg," Robin grumbled, crawling out from underneath the craft's shadow and dusting himself off. It was only then that he fully realized the situation. "Cyborg!" he said, suddenly frantic.
Locating his communicator, Robin quickly flipped it open an held the receiver close to his face. "Cyborg, Starfire! Anybody, pick up!" he shouted as though the volume of his voice would have some bearing on their ability to hear him.
With a sigh, Robin hesitantly reattached the communicator to his belt. No signal. It meant the others were exceedingly far from his position.
Noticing the intense heat raining down on him, Robin turned his attention to the environment. Glowing under a nearly blinding midday light, the cracked yellow ground stretched on for indeterminable distances in each direction. As arid and and empty as this flat desert seemed, there were two clear landmarks on the horizon directly adjacent to one another: a tall mountain range rising high beyond hazy waves of heat, and a large patch of green trees – both too close to be mirages. Opposing the forest and mountainside, the remainder of the desert seemed to continue forever. Robin's lifeboat had touched down central to all of this, giving him a dire walking distance to anything.
In contrast to the gloomy surroundings, the winds carried cool air, and the sky was a clear, deep blue. Beside the star of Vega, watching over everything, was a colossal moon which took up nearly a fourth of the heavens... As Robin examined it with more scrutiny, he realized it wasn't a moon at all.
What loomed beyond the sky was Kalista, the Titans' next destination. Somehow Robin's escape pod had veered off course and crash landed on one of the planet's moons instead.
He now knew he was more than a long distance from anyone. It was not his way to do nothing in such a situation... but fate, it seems, would force inaction upon him.
Robin's mind was preoccupied with the well-being of his friends. Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy could be worse off then he was if their lifeboats had malfunctioned as well. And then there was Cyborg, who had stayed behind to fight the assassin on his own... No one was safe...
The dislocated Titan knew he had to do something... Having been the leader for so long, he felt not only bound to his responsibility... but driven, controlled by it. Looking toward the forest in the distance, he figured that would have to be his goal. From there, he planned to find his way to the mountains... and perhaps at that point he could devise a means to boost his communicator's signal and contact the others. Stretching his arms and legs, Robin prepared himself for the taxing walk ahead.
At least the air was breathable.
- - - - - -
Almost an hour had passed, and Robin felt as though his feet were about to give out beneath him. The dry atmosphere coupled with the exertion of walking in the heat did no good for his health. However, he was glad to see that the forest had not been exaggerated by a mirage. With each step he took toward it, the long stretch of green appeared more lively, its numerous trees swaying in the light winds. An oasis?
Close to dragging himself across the dry ground, Robin made the final steps toward the border between desert and plant life. Many of the tall trees were reminiscent of those found on earth, sporting light gray bark and palm-like, green leaves at their tops. The rest of the flora decorated the ground between the trees, all very much like ferns in appearance. As soon as he reached a shaded portion of ground by the border, Robin gave in to his tired muscles' demands for rest and collapsed against the trunk of a nearby palm.
The boy leaned back, closing his eyes, deciding to rest a little before moving on. Partially shielded from the sun, he listened to the plants shifting about in the wind behind him. A body of water could also be heard... accompanied by something else. There were voices... just barely audible over the surrounding ambiance.
Suddenly apprehensive, Robin lifted himself to a crouching position. Hiding behind the tree, he peered into the forested area, listening carefully. Looking through the tiny forest, he could see that the plant life surrounded a small lake... it was indeed an oasis. Keeping low and quiet, he navigated through the ferns, hoping to follow the voices to their source.
Not far into the oasis, Robin brought himself to a halt as he noticed several figures gathered closely in a patch of the dry ground surrounding the lake. Keeping a safe distance, and using a tree to hide his form, he examined the large group carefully. The boy felt his body tense as he immediately recognized their standing in Vega. They were Gordanians... Citadel soldiers, much like those encountered in the snowy mountains of Okaara.
The group of twenty-or-so warriors seemed to have chosen the oasis as a campground, their supplies kept close. Strange... ornate ceramic pots and wooden boxes seemed very out of place beside metal-garbed warriors.
The gathering continued to converse... and as they did so, Robin noticed something very unusual. They were speaking English... Confused, Robin looked to the ground and tried to listen closer. He knew some of the species in Starfire's system had learned languages alien to themselves... but why they would speak one amongst each other was an absolute mystery.
At his distance, Robin could hear the conversation clearly. He looked up again to see those interacting. Several of the soldiers were speaking with the presumed leader... an older Gordanian with battle scars on nearly every visible portion of his body.
"Recover your strength for now," said the commanding Gordanian, who had taken his place by most of the supplies. "At sundown we'll trek across this desert to carry out our orders," he added, looking over the trees to the tallest of the distant mountains. "These Arkasian creatures and their village will make valuable allies for our cause against the Troq hordes. They'll only need a small amount of... persuasion in the matter," he finished, looking back to his followers while tapping at a sharp blade attached to his belt.
"Sir. If they refuse completely?" questioned one of the subordinates.
"Then they are of no use to us." At this point the leader grew a sadistic grin on his aged, reptilian face. "We'll burn that village to the ground and leave none to rise from its ashes," he said in a nefarious tone.
Having heard more than enough, Robin made his way out of the oasis as quietly as possible. Reaching the edge of the forested area, he looked across the expanse of desert to the enormous mountain.
It was a bit of a detour, Robin's focus being on contacting the Titans, but he couldn't ignore these people. He had to at least warn them somehow...
- - - - - -
A long run across the dead flatlands led Robin to the base of the tallest mountain in the range. All the while he had paid close attention to the sun's position, which was now unsettlingly close to he horizon. Kalista was beginning to glow in a darkening sky. The soldiers would be moving out soon.
Stopping to catch his breath, Robin examined the veins of rock crawling up the gray mountain's face. Barring some small patches of green vegetation, the whole range seemed just as barren as the desert it inhabited. In a rather surprising turn of events, however, Robin was able to spot a village perched on a stony plateau not far from the ground. Almost welcoming him up was a large flight of steps carved right into the mountain... winding its way up to the village through a hallway of rock.
After that harrowing sprint, the prospect of climbing such stairs instilled in Robin mixed feelings of both relief and dread.
Narrowing his eyes as he approached their beginning, Robin glared at the steps and gladly accepted their challenge. With no regard for his ever-tiring body, he began to race up the flight. Every moment he wasted surely meant trouble for other people... Starfire, the Titans, and now these Arkasians. He wouldn't allow himself to be slowed down.
It was not his way.
- - - - - -
The Arkasian village was composed of simply shaped, single-story buildings; rectangular in form, they seemed to rise directly out of the ground, as though part of the mountain itself. Each of the few houses were decorated with detailed carvings around their rooftops and bases. Windows and doors, also adorned by these interesting designs, were simply square openings in the stone walls... no doors, no glass.
It all seemed quite ancient in appearance. However, obvious signs of life were visible as well, with plants, ceramic pots, and lit metal lamps in various places.
As he stood at the final step to the village, lungs and legs burning from exhaustion, Robin examined these aspects of the quiet settlement. Many of the decorations were strangely familiar to him, though he could not recall precisely where or when he had seen them before. He paid it no mind, however, since his real goal was to find someone with whom he could speak.
In the dimming afternoon light, it was obvious that most of the Arkasians were located inside their dwellings, as none could be seen traversing the streets. The village structure seemed to indicate some manner of hierarchy... Many of the houses were situated on different 'levels' of the plateau, and a stone path carved itself through the center, leading directly up to the highest building. Robin assumed if he had to convey a warning, that would be the place to do it.
Walking up the main pathway, Robin once again spotted several familiar objects beside the houses... and, once again, had little idea of where he could have seen them previously.
Further up the path, he paused for a moment as he came across one of the village dwellers... sitting quietly outside her house, much the way Raven would during meditation: eyes closed, legs crossed. Dressed in heavy gray robes, the elderly woman was quite humanoid in appearance, except moderately tall and lanky, with a light blue skin tone. Her long white hair extended nearly to the ground.
The woman appeared very calm and composed... so much so that she also seemed unaware of Robin as he passed by, despite the sound of his footsteps and the rustling of his cape.
Shrugging off the non-encounter, Robin finally reached the top level of the plateau. A large open space of tiled stone ground now stood between him and the largest building. From his position, he could also see the sun, Earth-west, now partially set. Kalista almost provided more light.
About to move on to the house, Robin noticed a man sitting at the very center of the open area. Like the other Arkasian he wore gray robes and was ancient in appearance, though, if possible, a great deal older than the woman. He had a lengthy gray beard, balding hair atop his head, and sat in that recognizable 'meditation pose.'
The man seemed quite complacent as well, so Robin took little caution in approaching him.
"Um... excuse me," he began, not sure what good speaking his native language would do. He could practically sense the sun setting outside his vision... and so felt very rushed, wanting to get the warning out as soon as possible.
"Hm?" the old man responded, brow rising a bit. He made no other movements however, eyes remaining closed and meditative pose persisting. "Ah, welcome. I am Adai, head of the village, and this visitor is... lost, I assume?" he questioned, his voice surprisingly hospitable and calm in its tone.
"Well, sort of--" began Robin, quickly stopping himself. "Wait, you speak English, too?" he asked, looking down at the man in disbelief.
"Perhaps," said the Arkasian. "Or perhaps we merely understand one another. The idea of language is an illusion in many cases, hm?" he added with a smile.
Robin shook his head, unwilling to spend time trying to figure out how he was speaking with an alien. "Listen, there's a group of soldiers coming this way, bad guys. They'll be here when the sun sets. You've gotta--"
"There is no danger."
"Huh? But... they're going to force you to join them, and destroy this place if you don't cooperate!" said Robin, raising his voice. It seemed the man didn't quite grasp the weight of the situation.
"Then we will decline to cooperate. Soldiers fight, and we are not soldiers," Adai responded, his voice losing none of its placid nature. He even continued to smile.
"Tell me, why is this young one in such a hurry?" asked the old man.
There seemed to be no convincing this person. Robin let out a breath, looking over the plateau to the western horizon, where the sun was now no more than a tiny glowing arc above the flat ground. He felt compelled to answer, though he knew it would do no good. "It's my friends... they're probably in danger... but I can't help them..." he said, turning his eyes to the ground. "Not from here. I can't..."
"Ah, to shoulder the burden of troubled comrades – such is a difficult undertaking. But there is more I hear in your voice... concern for a loved one?"
Robin's face immediately turned red. 'Loved one' ...that term seemed to set him off. He didn't want to say anything, but it had always been Starfire he worried about most... despite her abilities, despite the fact that she had always been capable of protecting herself. He couldn't keep from worrying.
"In these situations, when we cannot lend our aid, one can only have faith. Simply putting our trust in those we care for, believing that they will not fail – in truth, there is no greater gift to give," Adai stated, that warm smile still on his aged face.
Robin couldn't find a feasible way to respond. He understood completely what the man was getting at... but things weren't quite that simple – at least, they didn't seem to be.
"Please, sit," said Adai, gesturing his hand at the spot of ground beside him. "Soon daylight will rest, the stars shall begin to glimmer, and all will become clear," he stated mysteriously.
Robin's only movement remained the blinking of his eyes. He found himself unable to argue at the moment... Taking the Arkasian's advice, he sat on the ground, legs crossed, now facing the path to the village entrance.
Many of Earth's martial arts at their core were based on self-control, teaching quiet reflection, meditation... patience. Robin knew this fact by heart, having made it one of his goals to master the complexities of each fighting style he had been taught growing up. Even so, as he attempted to calm and quiet his body, his distressed mind continued to echo with blaring warnings of wasted time.
Eyes closed, Robin felt his body beginning to quake with restlessness. He swore he could practically hear the struggle of his friends beyond the sky, and the tromping of Citadel soldiers' boots below the village. Suddenly the sun finally set, its warm glow disappearing in an instant... becoming the last straw for the disquieted Titan. Any concentration he had built up... shattered all at once.
Opening his eyes, Robin shot up to a standing position. "I can't do this!" he shouted, staring down at the old man. Adai made no response, still in his meditative state. Robin narrowed his eyes. "They are coming – they'll kill you without a second thought, and you're just gonna sit there and let it happen!" he shouted, voice now echoing across the mountainside. As Adai continued to be complacent, Robin retrieved and extended his bo-staff. "They'll be here any second... so if you're not going to fight, then I will--"
A loud chuckle interrupted the boy's speech.
Muscles tensing up, Robin turned his head to see the one behind the voice. Some lugging their heavy supplies behind them, all the Gordanian soldiers now stood on the open ground, flooding the village path with their dark, armored forms.
"I thought I smelled a primate scurrying about in the oasis," said the commanding soldier, a fiendish grin on his elderly, scarred face. "Take my advice and flee now. Fight us and you'll be dead before you land a blow, little monkey."
"That so?" questioned the Titan, sending a glare to the overconfident lizard. About to rush off into battle, Robin halted as Adai's raised arm suddenly blocked his path.
"Please, there is no need for violence," the Arkasian interjected. As was expected, the man still sat in place as though nothing was wrong, eyes shut. "Perhaps you should ignore us and be on your way. We would gladly supply your venture if needed," he said to the Citadel warrior.
The old Gordanian stared across the way in disbelief. "You're even more deluded than the monkey," he responded.
"It would be in your best interest."
The lizard's crimson eyes squinted as a snarl escaped his mouth. "Was that a threat?" he queried, reaching for the bladed weapon at his belt.
Robin watched as the soldier retrieved the weapon... only to let it slip from his fingers mere seconds later. As his sharp blade implanted itself into the stone tiles at his feet, the Gordanian stood in a strange sort of attentive stillness. Looking around, Robin could see that the other soldiers had followed the example... He couldn't make sense of it; one second they were ready to attack, and the next... nothing.
Happening to turn away for a moment, Robin took quick notice of Adai. Though still sitting down, the man had made one noticeable move... his eyes had opened. Oddly, they were lit up with a ghostly blue glow... It was an eerie sight which caused Robin to instinctively step back.
"Please, accept these supplies as a parting gift," said the old man, motioning his hand through the air.
As though things hadn't been strange enough already, a group of Arkasians began to exit their dwellings, each carrying hefty objects in their arms: large, ceramic vases... and wooden boxes. As the shut-eyed, elderly villagers continued, the Gordanians graciously cleared the way for them. Finally, the Arkasians relieved the backpacked soldiers of their supplies, replacing them with the new ones... oddly enough, both sets utilized the same containers.
"Be well on your way," said Adai.
At that, the soldiers, still blank in expression, turned back and began to follow the path out of the village, newly replenished supplies slung over their shoulders. Nearly as soon as they had arrived, the Gordanians disappeared from sight. Seemingly satisfied with their actions, the villagers also slipped away, returning to their homes without a word...
After standing in utter silence for quite a while, vision locked on the village path, Robin finally decided to speak up again.
"...What... just happened?" was all he managed to ask.
Eyes once again closed, Adai simply smiled. "This world – Arkas – my people have been part of it since before recorded time, its life force intertwined with our own. The winds, the clouds, the plants and stones: all things have words to speak... and in our long lives we have learned to listen, to converse," he explained enigmatically. "The moment these warriors arrived, their intentions became known to us."
As he listened, Robin still kept his eyes trained on the path, almost expecting the Gordanians to return at any moment.
"Every few days they come to us, at which time we offer them supplies and persuade them to leave. Soon after this now, they will forget, and return once again."
Finally catching on to the explanation, Robin turned his eyes away from the path and looked down to Adai. Things were now beginning to make a little more sense. The Arkasians were literally part of the planet... metaphysically bonded with it and all its inhabitants. In a strange way, it explained their ability to understand all languages... and even project that skill on to others.
"But... they'll never stop..." Robin spoke up. Though the Arkasians could persuade away the intruders all they wanted, it would just create a never-ending cycle. "What good does this do?"
"It is our only choice, as we are not fighters," Adai reiterated. "One day, this war will come to an end and they will have no reason to remain. Until that end, my people and I shall simply wait," he explained further. "Oftentimes, the most effective course of action, is no action at all."
Robin felt his shoulders descending drastically as he looked up to the starlit sky. This entire time, he had nearly driven himself over the edge, thinking these people needed his help, readying himself to fight... for nothing. He felt like a fool. Interestingly enough, though, it made him feel better about Starfire and the other Titans. Maybe... they weren't so in need of his help either. Maybe he could spare himself a little worry... if he only learned to believe in them.
For the first time since he arrived, the Titan felt a smile on his face.
"Now, look around you," Adai spoke up again in his calm, lucid voice. "Daylight is at rest, the stars have begun to glimmer, and all will soon be clear."
At that moment, Robin's communicator sounded off with its familiar ring.
- - -
Part Three: Valor
Beast Boy was immediately knocked into full awakening as the top cover of his lifeboat fell open, taking him with it. Falling forward, he tumbled over the detached metal covering and finally found himself colliding against a moist, dirt ground. Distant birds squawked, high leaves rustled, and the various other noises of a dense forest continued on around the changeling as he lay flat against the ground, reveling in the relatively enjoyable stillness. In contrast to the Armageddon-ish quaking of passing through an atmosphere... it was heaven to have his face planted firmly in the dirt.
Finally deciding he had rested enough, Beast Boy pushed against the ground and lifted himself up, shivering as a chilly wind passed by in the shadowy area. Moving away, he sat and leaned back against the steel shell of the escape pod, which had dug itself a good distance into the ground upon landing. Squinting, the boy took in a better view of the moonlit forest.
The tallest trees were composed of dark brown trunks, and created a thick leafy layer which loomed far above everything. Further down, smaller, more closely-knit trees took up the remaining space, their thin, blade-like leaves moving eerily in the wind. And finally, the rolling, multi-leveled soil was populated by lively ferns, dead leaves, and other small flora. Above, Beast Boy's lifeboat had apparently seared a hole in the canopy, allowing a strange, gargantuan... moon... to pour its blue light into the darkness.
A canopy... an understory... and the floor beneath them. Beast Boy knew these features well... Though quite alien in its variety of plant life, the area was in fact a rainforest...
Shaking his head, Beast Boy decided to keep his mind from wandering. His thoughts soon drifted to the other Titans. He only vaguely remembered the events on the T-Ship. It had been damaged somehow and everyone needed to escape... which meant the others couldn't be too far away at the moment. Still, it worried him that the canopy showed no obvious signs of another crashed vessel.
Beast Boy promptly shrugged off his doubts, knowing his friends were probably fine.
He wasn't the type to worry without cause. 'You're a big kid,' he would tell himself. His assumption was that it might be best to just sit tight and wait for the others to contact him.
Suddenly, a patch of distant ferns seemed to glow bright white, almost instantly disappearing a moment later.
'Well...' thought Beast Boy, quietly reaching for the communicator on his belt while keeping a wary eye on the shadows. 'Wouldn't hurt to try giving them a call,' he gulped, bringing the device close to his face and shivering.
"Hey, guys..." he began to whisper. Beast Boy nearly leaped to his toes as he heard the communicator's recognizable sequence of beeps. However... the sound had not originated from the device in his palm.
Quickly standing up, Beast Boy kept the communicator in hand, letting its signal perpetuate. Peeking around his escape pod, he listened carefully as the ringing continued. The sounds seemed to be coming from a position deeper in the forest, beyond a grouping of thin trees.
Beast Boy saw this as a good sign. One of the others was clearly nearby... though not responding to the call.
About to follow after the musical notes, Beast Boy halted, figuring he would be better off in an animal form. Listening to the direction of the tune one last time, he tucked away his communicator and attempted to transform... Much to his surprise and chagrin, there was no change. Squinting his eyes tightly, he attempted to summon his ability once more.
Finally giving up, Beast Boy stared down at his gloved hands in shock. He could feel the ability, somewhere in the back of his mind, but it was as though something was barring him from accessing it. It was only then that he realized the odd atmosphere surrounding him, hanging over the forest like dense, heavy air. Was the planet somehow restricting his powers?
"Forget it," he said aloud, looking forward once again. Whatever the reason for his inability, it couldn't be helped at the moment. He had to focus on finding the other Titan, whoever it was.
At that thought, Beast Boy took off through the trees.
- - - - - -
Nearly tripping over uplifted roots and tiny mounds of dirt, Beast Boy shoved aside branches and leaves as he rushed to the second communicator's location. Finally, pushing his way through one last barrier of green, the changeling came upon a circular clearing in the forest. However, upon closer inspection, he figured a better description for it would be... disaster area.
Moonlight streamed in through another opening in the canopy, illuminating the forest's new scar. Many of the plants on the ground had seemingly been scorched or blown away, leaving a bare, blackened dirt floor. Central to all the carnage were two tall trees... one split right down the middle – reduced to a shredded stump – and the other, moderately damaged on the side facing its ruined partner. Sharp splinters of wood decorated much of the area, some implanted into the surrounding trees and ground. All things seemed to point to the razed tree at the center.
Immediately, Beast Boy recognized the pale-gray metal object nestled inside the massacred tree's remains. Another lifeboat from the T-Ship. The source of the communication ring.
Carefully stepping over the large splinters of wood, Beast Boy navigated the burnt ground and found his way to the escape pod. With a look of enthusiasm, he stood before the vessel, his assumptions confirmed. However, his expression quickly faltered as he took notice of something disturbing. A large chunk of sharp wood had somehow pierced the escape pod's hull... midpoint on the craft's height, and offset to the right a bit. It must have ricocheted off the second tree...
The massive splinter didn't appear to have penetrated far enough to do any damage to the occupant... at least, this was Beast Boy's hope.
Reaching out, he took hold of the wooden spike and poured all his energy into pulling it from the lifeboat. As soon as the object was removed, he tossed it aside without a second thought and focused his attention on the vessel's front covering.
"Come on, please be okay, whoever's in there," he said with a shaky voice, pulling at the heavy steel frame. 'Better yet, please be Cyborg...' he thought, knowing that if any damage had been incurred, it would be far less than a flesh wound to the guy. Beast Boy nearly fell backward as he finally persuaded the front cover to swing open.
Catching himself on the second tree, Beast Boy looked back to the vessel. Held in place by multiple buckles, the passenger was garbed in a heavy blue cloak. She appeared to be asleep.
"Raven!" shouted Beast Boy, quickly rushing back to the pod. He would have been happy to see anyone, but Raven was a plus; she always seemed to know exactly what to do in these situations. Resting his hands on the edges of the interior, Beast Boy choked on his breath as he got a better look at the girl. "Raven?" his jaw began to quiver.
The pod's artificial gravity had shut off somehow, and Raven was left to hang limply in the buckles, arms dangling at her sides. The empath's head was tilted to one side, eyes closed, mouth somewhat agape. Moreover, her skin seemed pale... more so than usual.
What scared Beast Boy the most was the look on her face... that lifeless expression, caught under shadow and partially hidden behind loose strands of violet hair.
"No... no, no," he repeated to himself... eyes slowly drifting to Raven's lower left side. Instantly, he caught sight of what he had feared. Blood... darkening a portion of her cloak. Shutting his eyes tightly, Beast Boy immediately turned away from it as the sight triggered a pain in his abdomen... His small glimpse had been more than enough judge the extent of the injury...
Tightening his expression, Beast Boy looked back, locking his eyes on Raven's face. Even so, he couldn't keep his knees from shaking at the mere thought of the wound. Without need for excess thinking, he released Raven from the buckles and caught her as she fell forward from the pod.
She was cold.
"This isn't happening..." he said under his breath, keeping Raven upright in his arms. Suddenly, his eyes widened as he noticed a faint thumping against his chest. A heartbeat. Raven's heartbeat.
His actions hastened, Beast Boy reoriented the girl until she rested across his arms. Taking a quick glance at her face, he realized there was still some life in her. Struggling to hold up Raven's weight while his legs trembled, the changeling found his way out of the crash site, heading back to where his lifeboat had landed.
He felt entirely responsible.
Beast Boy was no medical expert... but he knew he had probably done more harm than good by removing the wooden spike.
If anything happened to Raven... it would be his fault.
- - - - - -
Finally back at his lifeboat's landing site, Beast Boy released and spread Raven's cloak out across an open space on the ground. Gingerly setting the unconscious Titan down on the cloth, he moved back and sat on his knees beside her. Beast Boy's head hung forward as a dead silence overtook him and the forest.
Whenever anyone was physically hurt, Raven had always been there to fix things... to seal a wound, to mend a broken bone. She was the healer. And so, the thought that Raven could end up in need of healing had never entered Beast Boy's mind... until now.
Shaky breaths escaping his mouth, he looked back down to Raven after no more than a few seconds. "C'mon, Raven... you've gotta help me out here," he pleaded, squinting regretfully as she remained unresponsive. "This is your specialty, remember? So, just... just open your eyes and tell me what to do," he added. As no response came, he began to raise his voice. "Please, I can't do this alone. I need your help!" he shouted, tightening his eyes and fists to a close as his words resonated in the open forest. The silence persisted. "...I need your help..." he repeated quietly.
'Stop it. She can't help you... And you're killing her with every second you waste.'
Beast Boy opened his eyes wide and stood up straight, surprised at the bitter harshness of his own thoughts. He began to breathe heavily. As much as he feared to admit it, he was the only one who could help Raven now... And though he had little to offer, he had to at least try. After all... he knew she would have done the same for him.
After mere seconds of pacing and pulling at his own hair, Beast Boy came to an abrupt halt. His mind was suddenly flooded with memories from his childhood. Acting quickly, he immediately knelt down beside Raven once again, before his thoughts could fade.
"Okay, how does it go? Right, first... clear the affected area," he said, hands shakily hovering over Raven's injured left side. Swallowing his doubts with a gulp, he carefully took hold of the torn portions of the Titan's outfit around the wound. Without much thought, he pulled at the cloth, hoping to clear enough space for a makeshift bandage of some sort. However, upon looking down, Beast Boy realized he had overdone it a bit, having torn a long strip of fabric away, exposing a great deal of her stomach. 'Ugh. Way to go, pervert,' he scolded himself, dropping the separated fabric and holding back a slap to his own forehead.
Scanning the wound with squeamish eyes... Beast Boy saw that it appeared clean enough to proceed with the following step.
"Next, apply pressure," he said aloud, jogging his own memory. Beast Boy looked around, realizing he needed a relatively clean cloth. In a hurry, he saw his own sleeves and made the only move available to him. Tossing aside his gloves, he strained to tear away his shirt sleeves at their seems. As soon as the sleeves were removed, he folded one into a square and carefully pressed it against Raven's wound.
Closing his eyes, he continued to press against the injury for a good amount of time. The idea was to help stop the bleeding and soak up any excess blood... but he tried to ignore this fact as the thought of it seemed to make his entire body weak.
After a while, Beast Boy looked down and saw that his intervention appeared to be helping. "Now, a bandage..." he said, locating his other sleeve which he had placed on the cloak. As carefully as possible, he wrapped it around Raven's waist and tied it in place over the improvised wound dressing.
Finally calming down from his adrenaline-fueled actions, Beast Boy let out a breath and sat back to watch over Raven. It still worried him that throughout all of this she had made no reaction, not even a wince. He could dress the wound all he wanted... but he didn't have healing powers... which meant Raven was on her own now.
Letting his eyes drift away from his friend, Beast Boy watched as lengthy rays of moonlight danced about on the fringes of the area. By chance, a gust of wind caused several leaves in the canopy to part, in turn revealing a small white object in the once-shadowed ferns ahead. Almost tellingly, the long stream of light lingered on the object, causing it to glow like a phantom in the dark.
Seeing this, Beast Boy stood up and stared across the way at the illuminated plant. It was a flower... five petals, with a red line of color on each...
- - - - - -
"Robin, be careful!" said Starfire suddenly, reaching out and stopping Robin from moving any further.
Beast Boy and the other Titans halted their progress through the Tamaranean forest as well, all bringing their attention to Starfire.
Robin's eyes widened as he wondered what he was about to walk into. An unseen pitfall? Quicksand? Or Tamaran's infamous man-eating plant...? After wandering in every direction, Robin's eyes finally caught glimpse of a large flower at his feet, no bigger than a hibiscus. Backing away a little, he carefully knelt down to examine it; its five large petals were pure white, with crimson streaks of the same number decorating them. Robin looked up to Starfire for clarification.
"Is it... dangerous?" he questioned, slightly on guard.
"No," replied Starfire, smiling as she directed the others around the small plant. "It is delicate and very rare. This flower has been seen growing on many of the planets in this system, in very small numbers. Its petals can be used to heal severe wounds," she explained kindly. "Destroying one is seen as a... bad omen."
- - - - - -
Starfire's words echoed clearly in Beast Boy's mind the moment he recognized it. An enthusiastic grin began to spread across the changeling's face as he kept his eye on the flower. "I may not have healing powers..." he said, squinting as the ray of light finally faded out, "but I know what does," he finished.
Moving around Raven, he looked down to her once again with a smile. "Don't go anywhere," he said, holding out a hand. "I'll be right back." At that, Beast Boy rushed across the open ground, passed by the lifeboat, and knelt down at the edge of the ferns where the flower resided. Reaching down, he carefully pulled it from its stem.
Cautiously cradling the flower in his palms, he returned to Raven's side and focused on the bandage. Plucking one petal from the flower, he placed it under the cloth, atop the empath's injury. Lastly, Beast Boy refastened the bandage and, after pausing for a long moment, let out a heavy sigh...
With nothing left to do but wait, the changeling sat back on the ground, reorienting himself to face the same direction as Raven. Looking up to the starry sky, he kept the flower in his left hand...
"I, uh... I'm sorry," Beast Boy began, not entirely sure whether or not Raven could hear him. It simply felt better to speak. "I was being pretty useless back there... but, I guess I was just scared," he admitted, closing his eyes. "This place... just being here brings back a lot of memories I try not to think about... I lost my parents in a rainforest just like this..." his voice became softer. "Waking up on this planet without you guys, it was the same kind of feeling... I could only imagine the worst. Then I found you... and I thought everything was gonna be okay."
Beast Boy let an extended quiet pass by.
"But you were hurt... and I only made things worse," Beast Boy continued. "You, Robin, Cyborg, and Starfire... you guys are more important to me than anything now. I couldn't stand to lose you, especially if there's something I could have done to stop it..." he said, looking down to the flower in his left hand. "I never realized it before, but what I'm most afraid of... is being alone."
The changeling began to shiver just thinking about the truth behind his words.
"I tried my best, Raven. I don't know if I helped at all, but I need you to be okay..." he said, staring forward into the shadows. "I'm no good on my own."
Beast Boy caught his breath halfway as a warm hand set itself atop his own. Breathing shakily, he looked down to his right... Raven lay back on the cloak, a subtly rejuvenated look on her awakening face.
"Who knew we had a doctor in the house..." she said, displaying that trademark half-smile of hers. "Thanks."
"Raven?" Beast Boy responded in awe, watching as she brought herself up to a sitting position. It was like watching someone rise from the dead. He wanted to do something, anything, to prove to himself he wasn't simply imagining things.
"How did I--" Raven began, her speech cut off by a fast embrace from the changeling. She remained still for a moment, face heating up, not quite sure how to react. "Beast Boy. You're doing that thing... where you hug me," she said, hardly her best choice of words... After all, a part of her didn't mind it in the least. In fact...
"Oh," Beast Boy quickly pulled away, tugging at his collar. "Sorry... I was just trying to make sure you were real," he said with a nervous chuckle. "Hehe, yeah..." He rolled his eyes at himself.
"Could've had me pinch you instead," Raven replied, tapping her index finger and thumb together.
"Nuh-uh. Not gonna fall for that again," he said sternly, shoulder still sore from the last time Raven answered the call to pinch him back to reality. Beast Boy quickly took notice of the way Raven was sitting... leaning forward on her knees. "It doesn't hurt?" he questioned with an eyebrow raised, pointing to the bandage.
Raven looked down and pressed a pair of fingers against the black fabric. "No... I feel fine," she said, astonished. She spent a while just looking at the improvised bandage, thinking about the trouble he must have gone through to fashion it. "Look... I didn't mean to make you worry so much," she said, suddenly feeling the need to choose her words carefully. It wasn't like Raven to voice her feelings... but she felt strangely inclined to do so, for whatever reason. "I would have healed it myself... but there's something about this planet, an atmosphere that restricts my powers," she explained. "And, for what it's worth... you're not so useless on your own. If you hadn't stepped in... well, I wouldn't have made it..."
Catching a glimpse of Beast Boy's surprised expression from the corner of her eye, Raven felt that annoying feeling rushing back to her face.
"I know what it's like... not trusting in yourself because of the past. What I'm trying to say is... I appreciate what you did. And you shouldn't be so hard on yourself, you're braver than you think," Raven finished, hiding her expression by looking away a bit.
"So, you heard all of that, huh?" asked Beast Boy, massaging the back of his neck as he recalled his embarrassing speech.
"Every word," Raven replied, smirking. "But... my lips are sealed," she added atypically, before Beast Boy could hang his head forward in despair.
"Wow... thanks, Raven," said Beast Boy, still surprised by Raven's many reassuring words – and the fact that they had been directed at him.
"...No problem," she said, continuing to avoid the boy's eyes. "By the way... I'd appreciate it if you didn't let the others know how helpless I was..." Raven requested. She had always been able to take care of herself, so she found it somewhat embarrassing to have been taken down by such a simple wound, power-hindering planet withstanding. "It's not something I'm too proud of, you can imagine," she explained, rubbing her left arm abashedly.
Chuckling under his breath, Beast Boy brought a hand up to his face and playfully mimed the action of zipping his mouth to a close.
A lengthy – shockingly comfortable – silence ensued as both Beast Boy and Raven found themselves without much left to say. Being two people who were usually, if not always, at odds with each other, the current situation was a strange kind of irony for them. These two oft polar opposites had discovered they could get along surprisingly well... given the right circumstances.
Raven cleared her throat, breaking the quiet as she took notice of Beast Boy's bare arms. "So... you want your sleeves back?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and poking fun at him in her own way.
In response, the changeling looked down to his arms as though he had only just noticed the missing fabric. "Oh. Nah, I kinda like the sleeveless look on me anyway," he said, grinning as he flexed his skinny arms.
"Well, that makes one of us," Raven teased, shaking her head.
"Yeah, well--"about to strike back with a remark about Raven's newly exposed midriff, Beast Boy was cut off before the surely detrimental quip could escape his mouth. Both of the Titans' communicators sounded off at once as if to spare the changeling a smack to the head.
Bringing their chiming communicators into view, Beast Boy and Raven met eyes in amazement.
- - -
Part Four: Compassion?
Upon returning to her home star-system, Starfire's dreams had all been laden with memories both favorable and not. And so, caught in a state of heavy sleep, the Tamaranean Titan once again found her mind drifting unavoidably to past moments. Though the images that played before her mind's eye glowed with a dreamlike ambiance, they seemed as real to her as any waking instant. Thus, to the slumbering girl, those recent harrowing events on the T-Ship became like far off whispers in a crowded room... lost to the collective voice despite their urgency.
Currently, Starfire's dreams had seemingly taken her back to a more pleasant time...
Tamaran. Of Vega's twenty-five worlds, it was among the most noteworthy. This planet lived on as cradle to a highly prosperous society, the descendants of a mighty warrior whose legend was known to all. These Tamaraneans, though ceremonially skilled in battle, remained remarkably peaceful. Their actions were guided more by emotion than logic, and their emotions more so by love than hate. And as a result, they created a utopia amongst themselves.
On this idyllic world, central to an expansive valley, stood a palace which seemed to rise from the land as a mountain, its many pale stone constructs extending upwards from the rocky earth. This magnificent sight was home to a young princess and her two siblings. Starfire, known then only as Koriand'r, would spend most of her time with her younger brother Ryand'r, and older sister Komand'r – both of whom she cherished dearly.
One late night, the three children had gathered in one of the palace's large rooms. Some manner of recreation area, its available edges were lined with various, pillowy seating arrangements. Two adjacent walls each housed an immense arc-like opening, one which led back into the palace, and the other exiting to a circular balcony, and overlooking the entire valley. All was illuminated from above by the conjoined light of an immense, glowing object held aloft in the high ceiling, and the moon beyond the balcony.
The floor was composed of reflective, amber-colored tiling, and from its central point... came the sounds of playful laughter.
Koriand'r and her brother, both no older than six or seven, had amassed a plethora of stone figurines before themselves. Miniature Tamaranean replicas in hand, the two continued to move them generously about the floor, with little care for each toy's personal space, laughing all the while. To an outsider, the children would have appeared to be enacting a scene of either joyous celebration... or utter, horrific carnage.
Releasing her figurines from their torment for a moment, Koriand'r turned her eyes to the balcony. There, her dark-haired sister reclined on the balcony's railing... looking up to the sky with some distant focus in her violet eyes.
"Sister!" called Koriand'r with a wide smile, waving a hand in the air. "Come join us! We are playing 'Escape the Rampaging Glorg!'" she exclaimed happily.
Standing up to his minuscule height, young Ryand'r illustrated his sister's words by stuffing a figurine partway into his mouth and growling menacingly.
Having not yet unlocked her eyes from the stars, Komand'r slowly shifted attention to her siblings. Pulling her head back, she grimaced a bit at Ryand'r's funny expression.
"Gee... thanks, Kori, but I'm all 'played out' right now," she said, feigning a smile. "You two have fun, though," Komand'r finished, returning her eyes to the moonlit heavens. "Have fun..." she repeated under her breath.
"Oh... I see," said Koriand'r, lowering her gaze to the floor. Her sister had been remarkably distant as of late... and she could only wonder why.
"So this is where you have wandered off to," came a gruff voice from the room's entrance.
The expression's of the two youngest children immediately lit up as they turned to see their caretaker, Galfore, his giant form standing in the doorway. The tall, red-haired, heavily bearded man would appear quite imposing to some, with his traditional warrior's garb, massive arms, and battle-scarred right eye. However, the kind smile on his face portrayed a contrasting warmness about him... something only the children he so diligently looked after would often see.
Galfore eyed the many figurines strewn about the floor as the two children came to greet him. "I see you are having fun, but perhaps it is time to rest now," he said, looking out to the dark sky.
"Aww," Ryand'r grumbled, falling back to the ground and assuming a disappointed pose.
Seeing this, Koriand'r giggled, thinking of a way to prolong their fun. "Yes, but first you must tell us a story of... great heroics!" she said, twirling in place. Almost tripping over her feet on the return spin, Koriand'r steadied herself and looked up to Galfore with a grin nearly as big as her face.
Galfore chuckled heartily. "Very well," he replied, sitting down in the room's center with his charges before him.
Looking around, Ryand'r noticed not all were present. Taking to the air, he flew toward the balcony, playfully squawking like a Vernathian winged lizard.
"What?" questioned Komand'r, her brother now floating before her with a smile. "Hey!" she reacted as Ryand'r suddenly swooped around and began pushing her from behind, leading her back into the room. "Cut that out!" she demanded... but it was much too late; she had been placed (forcefully) into a storytelling circle, and she wasn't about to run off with Galfore present. Komand'r protested simply by resting her chin against her palm and looking elsewhere.
Still towering over the children even as he reclined on the floor, Galfore cleared his throat. "Of all the stories told in our history, this is the greatest and most important. The tale from which all others branch. The legend of X'hal," he began, his prominent voice quite suited for speaking.
Both Koriand'r and her brother let out sounds of awe, their eyes lighting up with curiosity as they anticipated the surely thrilling narration to come. Komand'r... simply kept an ear open; warrior tales weren't too far from her interests, after all.
"In Vega's ancient beginnings, there stood a trinity of forces which both united the many races... and created unrest between them. These three powers were the Okaarans, the violent Branx, and the puzzling 'watchers' known as Psions," Galfore paused, stroking his beard as he composed his thoughts. "War is a peculiar thing, children, bursting into existence and spreading like fire through a dry field. Such remains true even to this day... Moving on, at this point in history, the Okaarans and Branx had entered into a great conflict."
At this point the three children were fully engrossed in the story. Even Komand'r had turned her eyes toward the speaker.
"Though not but a simple soldier, the Okaaran woman X'hal would lead her people to many victories during this time, quickly becoming renowned for her strength, wisdom, and fighting spirit. But the battle pressed on for many years... and neither the Branx nor the Okaarans were willing to concede defeat. With such rage in their battles, it was not long before both races would garner the attention of the Psions..."
Galfore let the name linger in the air for a moment, unable to resist spooking the children a bit. Tales regarding Psions had become the equivalent of horror stories in Tamaranean culture, due the race's enigmatic nature.
"Cold, emotionless, and concerned only with experimentation, the Psions kept a silent vigil over the war... watching from within the shadows of their cavernous research vessels. With each passing day, their curiosity grew until, for reasons unknown... they decided to intervene."
Attention unwavering, Koriand'r felt a shiver run up her spine... She found such stories to be both unnerving and fascinating at the same time.
"Perhaps they were trying to answer a question in their minds, or perhaps it was a strange attempt at ending the war. Whatever their reasons, the Psions captured the two strongest warriors from each side: X'hal, and a powerful Branx soldier who had no name. Using their mysterious technologies, the Psions stole blood from these two warriors and proceeded with a fusion, which resulted in the creation of two new beings. One would become known as the first Tamaranean, and the other – a dark, disfigured creature – would live on to found the Citadel."
"So, we're related to those... lizards?" Komand'r interrupted, squinting one eye. The thought of it made her feel uneasy... especially in light of current circumstances.
"In certain ways, yes," replied Galfore. "However, in the grand architecture, all creatures are brethren. Which is why such things as war and emotions of hatred are both senseless and futile. We must avoid these whenever possible – as when we destroy others, we destroy ourselves as well."
"I guess," said Komand'r with a slight grimace. She couldn't agree completely; after all, hatred and revenge walked hand in hand... and a little revenge always felt good to her. As long as no one died, there'd be no real harm in it. What could be wrong with that?
Galfore cleared his throat once again. "Continuing on," he said. "Despite the Psions' intervention, the war only intensified, perhaps now fueled by the profane union of opposing blood. And so, the entire Okaaran and Branx forces met on a barren, lifeless planet to decide their fates. There, X'hal would fight the nameless Branx warrior... only to meet her end."
Koriand'r and Ryand'r had made no movements since the beginning of the story, and only blinked attentively at this shocking turn of the tale.
"However, the Psions had not finished. Still intent on playing their part in the events, they revived X'hal and transformed her body into one of pure energy, bestowing unimaginable power upon her." Galfore looked down to the three children... oddly, Komand'r seemed especially interested now. "Though of altered body, X'hal's mind remained that of an Okaaran... a race that, until finding themselves at war, had always valued peace above all else. However blinded by rage she may have been previously, death can change a person's mind in ways we cannot imagine. Coming to realize the futility of it all, she looked down upon the carnage caused by her people and the Branx... seeing only one way to end it."
Galfore furrowed his brow a bit.
"Unleashing every facet of her newfound energy at once, she destroyed the entire planet, and all who fought upon it, including herself. Witnessing such destruction, so many lives lost, the remaining Okaarans and Branx eventually decided to put an end to their conflict... having lost all desire to see the violence perpetuate. From that day forth, many civilizations would look back on the destruction as a example of what needless fighting can cause. Through the unfortunate sacrifice of many, X'hal was able to put the war to an end, creating an era of peace in the system for thousands of centuries to follow."
"W-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w..." Koriand'r and her brother exhaled in unison, eyes sparkling.
Galfore leaned forward with a grin on his face. "Now, do you not think it is time to--"
"What about... the jewel?" questioned Komand'r, smiling in her typical, devious manner. She crossed her arms expectantly as Galfore halted in place, turning his attention to her inquisitively.
Somewhat surprised, Galfore moved back to his previous sitting position. Komand'r had heard another part of the story somewhere...
"Well..." he began, scratching his balding forehead, thinking back to the stories he had been told as a child. "Not a fragment of ground remained from that final battle. Everything had been eradicated... all but a small, crimson jewel, floating where the planet once resided. It is said to be the very essence of X'hal's incredible power, her invulnerable spirit... Unfortunately, eons later, a member of the growing Citadel discovered it..."
Galfore's eyes wandered about as he strained to think of a way to finish the story on a good note...
"They created a massive weapon using the jewel... and with it destroyed two more of Vega's planets in an effort to gain power over the system. They would have succeeded. However, on that second planet, the weapon demolished itself in the process..." Galfore looked up with a sigh. "We learned from this as well. None are meant to wield such supreme power, and we must not attempt such an act again – or we will be the ones to suffer," he finished.
Komand'r jutted out her bottom lip for a moment. "But they were weak. I bet someone strong enough could..." she began, lightly clenching her fist.
"Enough..." Galfore interrupted calmly. "Such things are far too worrisome to dwell on. It is time the three of you retired for the night--"
Before the inevitable sounds of disappointment could escape the children's mouths, something unexpected took place. The entire palace began to quake beneath them, which caused the three children to leap away from the floor in fright. Following this, several frantic footsteps could be heard traveling through the hallway outside the room's entrance.
As though he knew precisely what to expect, Galfore stood up to his full, towering height and turned to view the doorway. Before long, an older face unfamiliar to Kori and her siblings took residence in the threshold... clearly out of breath in his rush.
The man's most striking features were his red skin tone, lengthy white hair, and short, black beard beneath his chin – quite dissimilar to the average Tamaranean's appearance. He wore armor traditional to the country's high-ranking soldiers, mostly composed of deep blues, with gold-rimmed portions. Resting partly against the doorway's frame, he breathed heavily, green eyes focused intently on the Royal Guardian.
"Captain Galfore," the man finally spoke, his voice surprisingly calm in spite of his outward appearance of haste. "It is as we feared. They are commencing an attack," he said, his expression serious, tone unmistakable.
With little understanding of what was going on, Kori was most surprised that someone had addressed her Knorfka by his military title. She could only assume it foreshadowed something terrible.
Galfore's eyes immediately grew large in realization as he felt another rumbling of the palace's foundations. Glancing at the confused children for a moment, he looked back to the man in the doorway. "...What are your orders, General Ph'yzzon?" he asked, standing at attention.
"Surely we must retaliate!" a third male voice interrupted. Quickly stepping into view, the soldier revealed himself to be a younger man with short black hair. Equipped with the standard soldier uniform – purple and silver colors – he seemed quite insignificant next to his stronger, elderly superiors. However, fists clenched and deep crimson eyes burning with pure anger, he also appeared much more eager for battle. "We cannot tolerate such blatant disregard for the treaties--"
"No, Tyrren," General Ph'yzzon cut in, holding a hand out in front of the headstrong man. "Our priority now is getting the children to safety," he said, turning his attention to the three young royals.
Seeming quite flustered by this, the willful soldier known as Tyrren tightened his expression... reluctantly nodding after a moment and stepping back.
As Koriand'r simply stood in place, watching things moving too fast for her to comprehend... the palace lights suddenly disappeared, blackening the remainder of the room. Frightened, and seemingly alone, the princess was left to stand in the moonlight which streamed in through the balcony. All was silent.
Looking down, Kori saw her lengthy shadow being cast into the darkness. Following its form to the edge of the light, she felt her heart leap as she noticed a huge figure standing in the black.
"Galfore...?" she questioned worriedly, legs trembling as she took a step back, nearly tripping over her plain white dress.
Releasing low, raspy breaths, the figure's boots could be heard thumping against the tiles as he took several slow steps forward. Kori's breath stopped as soon as the creature moved fully into the light.
He didn't belong...
What stood before Kori in the ghostly moonlight was something only her worst of nightmares could have concocted.
The hulking, tailed behemoth was clad in mostly black. A frightening mask hid his face from view as he stared down at the girl through two white slits where his eyes would be. Plastered across the front portion of the disguise was the image of a large, toothy scowl.
He took another step forward, loud and heavy breaths muffled by his mask.
"Help," said Kori softly, too frightened to fly away. Nearly petrified, she could feel cold tears welling up in her eyes as the monster advanced further.
Finally working up enough nerve to move, Kori quickly turned around and headed toward the open balcony. As her teary eyes focused on the way ahead, she took notice of her sister... The raven-haired girl stood eerily still in the balcony's center, looking away from Kori.
"Sister, please help!" she called, rushing toward her unaware sibling. She could still hear the monster's loud, slow footsteps... they gave her no reason to halt.
However, as soon as she reached Komand'r, stretching out her arms... Kori was unable to stop, passing right through her sister. Shocked, she caught herself on the railing and turned back. A strange black mist dissipated where her sister once stood, revealing the monster to be but a few steps away. He now stood before the girl like an immense, dark tower, his distant eyes piercing their way into her mind.
A large cannon-like device was attached to his right wrist, glowing orange with veins of energy. Slowly moving his arm, he raised the weapon and focused its barrel on the girl.
"Please... no..." pleaded Kori, shaking her head.
Before she could realize it, a deafening explosion sent her through the stone railing and over the balcony's edge. Horrified, she looked back up, watching as she drifted further and further from the palace.
- - - - - -
Taking in a sharp breath, Starfire forced open her eyes – which glowed bright green in defensive reaction.
Frantic, she felt her central body held in place by something as she scanned her eyes around the small, restricting area and its gray walls. Red lights pulsated all around her as the confined space rumbled incessantly.
Finally coming to her senses, Starfire realized she was in one of the T-Ship's escape crafts. Reaching down, she released herself from the buckles, still somewhat disoriented. Confused, she closed her eyes and attempted to recall the events that led her to this point, ignoring the lifeboat's constant shaking.
Starfire let out a gasp as the memories came back to her. "Cyborg!" she shouted, instantly remembering the state he and the others had been in during those last moments. She could only recall trying to save him from that monster... and then nothing.
What had happened since then?
Shaking her head, Starfire looked up to the vessel's 'ceiling' with frustrated eyes. No matter what happened, she knew she had to get back to her friends... Once again, those who hunted her had caused the Titans pain... and Starfire believed it to be her fault. They were suffering now because of her. As much as Robin would try to convince her otherwise... she knew it to be the truth.
Feeling her heartbeat intensifying, Starfire pulled her arms back as much as she could in the small area. With as much strength as possible, she threw her fists forward, breaking the lifeboat's front cover away.
To Starfire's immediate surprise, a bright, red glow quickly flooded the cabin as the pod's severed cover tore off into the distance like a flaky leaf. Protecting her face, she squinted, feeling a strong heat emanating from the area outside the vessel.
Eyes finally adjusting the intense light, Starfire looked beyond her guarding arm to see that her lifeboat was speedily approaching a fiery planet. The sphere's entire red and yellow surface bubbled and flowed with molten rock, and she was now in the process of plowing through its atmosphere. With each second, the heat grew stronger.
About to leap from her expressway to oblivion, Starfire felt her arm grasped tightly. Pulled from the lifeboat, she watched as it continued on through the atmosphere, bursting into flame mere seconds later. Shocked beyond belief, Starfire turned her eyes to the silver-gloved hand that still kept hold of her... then to its owner.
Starfire slowly gasped as she found herself face to face with none other than her sister... who grinned in that recognizably devious manner.
"Be careful, little sister. I hear it's dangerous down there," said Blackfire, pulling the girl closer.
Static, speechless, and dumbfounded, Starfire took little notice of her communicator's sudden ringing.
- - -
"Titans, hang tight. I'm on my way."
- - - End Episode Six - - -
Author's Note: Phew, erm... long-winded much? XD
I honestly didn't expect this episode to be so daunting. In the beginning, it was just supposed to be four little (key word) vignettes, but the stories got away from me a little bit (especially Starfire's), and I ended up spending much more time on them.
Sorry for the wait on this one. Real life... you know the deal. Hehe, but I'll spare you my whining :P. Hope you enjoyed the chapter :).
Also, in case anyone was wondering about these ones:
1. The Technis used pieces of the T-Ship to repair Cyborg's arm and left side, but couldn't continue on to his eye due to waning energy.
2. Starfire, just like the others, ended up on a course with another of Kalista's moons; hers just happened to be in a state of severe volcanic activity.
Thanks for reading and reviewing the last eppie :D. I apologize if I neglected to respond to anyone.
Next up... a slight break from the Titans in Space arc.
Next Episode Preview: Back on Earth, a band of newly recruited Titans find themselves tasked with protecting Titans Tower and the city in their predecessors' prolonged absence. Can this misfit collection of lone wolves learn to work together, or will the pressure of two separate problems tear them apart? Red X, Zoka, and a shadowy figure pursue their objectives in "Episode Seven: Keeping Watch"