Chapter Ten: The Veil Falls
Author's Notes: Yes, I know it's been an eternity and a half since I posted the last chapter and you've probably all forgotten about me and settled down to raise families by now, but here it is anyway. I don't know why, but these days I don't seem to get any writing done, so the likelihood of a second episode is very small.
(You might want to go back and read the last chapter to refresh your memory, yah? D)
Either way, enjoy the last chapter. And review pweeze!
"I still can't believe we actually did that," said Terra irritably, biting into a slice of tofu-topped pizza with a goodish amount of vim. Beast Boy rolled his eyes briefly; this was not the first time or even the fifth she'd said it.
"You said yourself that it was a price worth paying to regain Raven's trust."
"Yeah, but… that doesn't change the fact that there was something essentially wrong about it." Beast Boy had to agree with this – he couldn't act as though he hadn't been incredibly nervous during the kiss, what with Raven watching them like a hawk.
"Alright, I see your point, Terra, and I agree with you… but what's done is done. There's no sense in arguing about it now. Besides, you know we can trust Raven to keep it secret; she does not go around blabbing confidential information to every person who stands still long enough."
"Like you," said Terra, smiling playfully at Beast Boy. She'd decided that he was right about the irrelevance of talking about matters past, and instead chose to alleviate the sombre mood she was responsible for having created.
"Hey, I may be talkative, but I can keep a secret," said Beast Boy, smiling despite the severe tone he used.
"Alright – prove it then," Terra challenged him. "I'm going to tell you a secret so astoundingly improbable that, if any of the other Titans find out about it, they will be forced to ask me just to find out whether or not it's true. That way, I'll know for certain if you can keep a secret or not."
"Fine," said Beast Boy decisively, full of machismo. "Bring on the secret!"
Terra scooted over closer to Beast Boy and, taking a furtive look over her shoulder to make sure nobody else was listening, whispered the secret into Beast Boy's ear.
The telling took a few seconds. Anyone watching would have laughed to see how Beast Boy's eyes slowly widened as far as they could go over the course of those seconds. By the time Terra pulled away, Beast Boy looked at Terra in a totally new light.
"Seriously?" Terra nodded, grinning quietly. "No kidding?" he asked again, unable to believe what he'd just heard.
"I swear what I just told you is absolutely true," affirmed Terra, placing a hand on her heart.
"Even the part about the-"
"Especially that part."
"…Oh." Terra took advantage of Beast Boy's befuddlement to steal the last slice of pizza. "Hey!"
"You were not successful in retrieving Raven's core consciousness?" asked Trigon. Erebus was a bit puzzled as to why his master had no discernible form, but let it pass.
'I don't know. I know I brought something back.'
"That was merely the emotion known as Knowledge, more correctly Curiosity. Still, you weren't to know. I wasn't able to give you proper reasoning ability, out there in Raven's conscious mind; my influence extends only as far as her subconscious."
'Do you wish for me to return to the child's conscious mind and retrieve the core?'
"No; it probably won't be there. Even if it was, her meddlesome emotions are prepared by now. No, no… it would be far easier to simply wait in here. Raven will come looking for her Knowledge, and then – we strike."
'But I had trouble enough with just two of them,' Erebus reasoned. 'There were far more than that. How am I to stand against all of Raven's emotions combined?'
"That is what the subconscious is for. See…"
With that, Erebus suddenly found it was a he, with a proper corporeal form. He was a tall, gaunt figure, clothed only in bedraggled black robes and equally dark and messy ruffled hair.
His skin wasn't so much a thing in itself as the shadows it made. Being perfectly white, you could have been mistaken for thinking that the unclothed parts of Erebus' body were invisible.
Erebus opened his eyes. Whether they were black, white or just not there was doubtful, because staring at them for too long made you feel as though your head was full of angry bees.
"Yes," said Erebus. He spoke for the first time with a real voice – but there was something that was just as unreal about it. It sounded smooth and sophisticated, but also larger than it was, for all the sense that makes. "I See."
There was something horribly wrong about Erebus' way of speaking that seemed to hover just on the edge of your hearing, impossible to pin down but evidently there nonetheless.
"I have a good amount of control over Raven's subconscious, but because you were created from a rift within it you have even more control over this realm than I. Use it, Erebus; shape it to your will, so that when Raven comes we shall be unstoppable."
"It Shall Be As You Wish, Master Trigon," uttered Erebus. Trigon retracted his psychic focus, satisfied that his new servant would fulfil the purpose set for him admirably. He had other plans he could now set into action…
Erebus slid his eyes from side to side, not moving for a few seconds after Trigon had left. Then, all of a sudden, he cast his arms wide, his robes hanging from them like torn drapes. His fingers shaped themselves into contorted claws, grabbing and snatching.
The randomly surging and pulsing energies of Raven's subconscious streamed into several discernible patterns, growing gradually darker, then darker still. Order was created from chaos – and the new order was black.
Raven staggered, quickly putting a hand on the kitchen tabletop to stop herself from falling. She knew a psychic ruction when she felt one, and this particular tremor had been of a colossal order.
It took a few seconds before Raven realised she'd stopped breathing – she'd had to deal with the blinding surge of psychic power first. Standing upright, hoping that her legs wouldn't give out again, she opened her mouth wide, trying desperately to pull oxygen into her lungs.
Raven gasped, feeling the cool air once again flow into her. Although she had come out the other side of this ordeal without any lasting damage, it had still shaken her. It's not everyday an occurrence in your mind causes you to become temporarily incapacitated.
She looked around swiftly. Nobody had noticed. Raven breathed a sigh of relief, giving thanks that she was able to. The last thing she needed was people crowding around with anxious enquiries; this was Raven's problem and hers alone. None of the others would understand, anyway.
Raven decided it was time to make a quick call.
"Knowledge. What in Hell was that?" Raven enquired, direct and to the point.
"I don't know, Raven – I'm still locked in this cell," Knowledge replied, her telepathic 'voice' scratchy and slightly distant, like before. "Whatever it is can't be good, though; from what little I can sense, your subconscious is being rearranged in a big way. There's a lot of power flowing around."
"So? That's what it's like normally."
"Yes, but this time another mind is ordering it."
Raven's blood ran cold. Surely her father couldn't…? But maybe he'd found a way around it?
"Can you sense Trigon there?" Raven asked urgently.
"No. I thought for a second I could, but it was just a trace. There's another mind that I've never sensed before. It has our father's influence, but… I can't understand. It's different." Raven considered this gravely.
"Alright… thanks, Knowledge. Be careful."
"I'll just have to rely on the goodwill of my captor," said Knowledge, perfectly deadpan. "Until next time."
The link was again severed. Raven had other things to be worrying about – as if she didn't have enough on her plate already. Chanting her mantra under her breath to calm down, Raven assembled the food she'd gathered and took it over to the TV table, where Robin was sitting.
"Hello Robin," she greeted coolly. Robin looked up from channel surfing, slumped as he was against the couch. There were far more positive ways of sitting or lounging.
"Oh… hi Raven," said Robin, slightly less than overjoyed. He made an effort to sit up properly, since he had company.
Raven took at least one bite from a sandwich before saying another word. Altruism is all well and good, but it's difficult in the extreme to concentrate on anything with a gaping hole in your stomach.
'Now, the problem here is how to approach this,' Raven thought, reaching for the mineral water. She wasn't going to carry around anything above room temperature after last night's incident. 'I can't take the direct route, otherwise Robin will instantly clam up, like he usually does when you ask him a direct question about a subject he sees as sensitive – and if any subject is sensitive for Robin, girlfriends is definitely going to be one of them. I know I'd get evasive if someone asked me about prospective partners…'
"You seem somewhat under the weather, Robin," Raven observed, looking up at the lugubrious teen superhero.
"Yeah, well… that's not exactly anything new," Robin replied, with a distinct lack of any enthusiasm.
"I hope it's nothing that will impede the workings of the team," said Raven, with innocent concern – something that didn't come easily to her. Still, it worked; Robin sighed at length and turned off the television, seeing as how there was less than nothing on (although Beast Boy might have objected to this).
There was a minor crisis at this point, because Starfire has just entered the room. Raven handled the situation in her inimitably calm fashion.
"Starfire. This is Raven. Do not look at me or Robin. It is essential that you do not let slip anything about my promise to you or it might put Robin off, understand?"
"Of course, friend Raven. Good luck."
For all the downsides, there were advantages to being a human-demon hybrid. How many people can use telepathy to send private messages?
"No, no… don't worry, Raven," said Robin, meandering on in the same lacklustre fashion. "It's just a passing thing. No doubt I'll feel better about it soon."
"Why? Is it anything I could help you with?" Robin seemed to seriously ponder this question before answering.
"…No. You probably wouldn't want to."
'Well, so much for the subtle approach,' thought Raven. 'Let's take this further.'
Setting aside her sandwich for the nonce, Raven moved to sit a space away from Robin on the couch. He noticed her change in propinquity and threw her a questioning glance – intimacy was not normally something Raven 'did'.
"If you don't mind me saying so," said Raven in a low voice, not wishing to garner any unwanted attention from the already-established couple at the dining table, "your aura feels to me as though it is well and truly isolated."
Quite predictably, Robin's brow furrowed. Raven explained.
"Telepaths such as I can perceive an aura around every being that is capable of experiencing emotion." This was true. "Very often, someone's aura can tell us how they're feeling." This was also true. "Right now, your aura seems to me to be isolated, meaning that you feel lonely." This was complete bull. There was no such thing as an 'isolated aura'. Fortunately, Raven had enough credibility in matters of the mind that Robin swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
Robin sighed again – he was practically full of forlorn sighs right now.
"You got me," said Robin dourly. "I'm lonely."
"I could help you with that." Raven lowered her voice to a whisper; the happy couple, BB and Terra, had moved over to the kitchen area to talk with Starfire, and now were potentially within hearing range.
Robin looked at her oddly, lowering his voice conspiratorially.
"Do you really mean that?" he asked, uncertain.
"Of course. I say what I mean," said Raven definitely, staring sincerely at Robin. "I know a certain girl who would be more than happy to be yours. In fact, she wants you go up to her and kiss her right now."
This warranted an arched eyebrow from Robin.
"Are you sure?" he asked incredulously. Raven felt that an encouraging smile would help at this point, so she smiled at Robin.
"Absolutely sure," she whispered. "Go on; do it. You don't have to be lonely if you don't want to be."
There was a long moment while Robin simply stared at Raven.
"…Alright," he consented, at long last.
Erebus looked around himself, and saw that it was good. Or, rather, he saw a landscape of towering black jagged crags, plumes of volcanic fire and a sky that broiled with blood-red clouds. What people perceive as good differs from person to person.
Now Erebus was clothed in a proper robe of mystic darkness that resembled his inchoate form. It swirled around him in wispy tendrils, subliming into the air like fuliginous black flames. It coated every last bit of his invisible skin, leaving only the piercing gimlets that were his eyes uncovered.
Atop his head was the diadem of his dominion; a crown of darkness which seemed to glisten sickly with some infernal inner power. From its sides, wings that looked as though they'd been taken from a demonic skeleton-bird swept back along the length of the crown.
"Yes," said Erebus, with obvious satisfaction. "Just One Last Thing..."
He stretched out his left arm, pointing with a single clawed finger towards a patch of scorched and barren earth. The clouds above swirled around the point directly above the patch of ground he indicated, turning into a vortex that moved slowly faster and with increasing intensity, crackling, hissing and spitting, until finally-
A single blinding flash of light obliterated the darkness and embedded itself deep in the ground, where even now Erebus still pointed. A second later, a deafening thunderclap disintegrated the crags that surrounded the area, showering the uncaring Erebus with rock detritus.
Ugly red weals insinuated themselves outward from the point of contact, cracking the ground and pulsating with a sickly and unnatural purple glow.
Erebus smiled. There was something innately frightening about something that should have meant happiness, but in fact meant anything but.
"It Has Been Planted," Erebus announced to his unknown enemies. "Now… My Domain Shall Grow, And Corrupt All It Touches. This Girl's Subconscious Is Merely The Start. Once She Is Fully Mine, My Influence Will Extend Ever Outwards. I Know Not What There Is Beyond The Reaches Of This Mindscape, But It Shall Fall Before Me. Everything Will Fall Before Me."
Erebus threw up both his clawed hands to the tormented skies once more, throwing his head back and howling ancient and terrible words of power. The storm raged, more lightning struck… and seeds, not of growth, but of decay, began to fester in the dark heart of Raven's subconscious.
Terra and Beast Boy looked around themselves at the empty main room. They could not have possibly been more perplexed.
"I would ask you what just happened, but you seem to have even less of an idea about it than me," said Beast Boy, glancing back at Terra.
"Well, let's review the chain of events," said Terra, deliberately staying calm. She sat on the edge of the kitchen counter and counted off on her fingers. "There was a noise from over by the couch, so we turned to look. We saw, in plain daylight, Robin and Raven kissing. Starfire looked completely destroyed by this. Raven, alarmed, realised they were being watched, and teleported out. Robin stared wordlessly at Starfire for a few seconds, then Starfire rushed headlong from the room, obviously just about to burst into tears. Robin followed her, leaving us alone together."
Beast Boy took a seat next to Terra on the counter. It must have been a potent indicator of their relationship that, almost without thinking, the two of them put an arm around their beloved and rested their heads gently against the other, as though it was the most natural thing anyone could do.
"Shouldn't we go and find out what happened, so we can help?" Beast Boy suggested, looking sideways at Terra. She shook her head decisively.
"Definitely not. If we go into a situation unprepared, all sorts of bad stuff could happen, especially since we don't have a clue what's going on. We should just try and stay out of it," Terra reasoned. "The last thing I want is the rest of the Titans getting angry with us because we interfered."
Cyborg entered, quite suddenly. He saw Terra and Beast Boy nestled together and briefly considered leaving straight away.
"Sorry, I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" he asked. Although Beast Boy seemed to be a bit jumpy, pulling away from Terra slightly, she laughed and pulled him back close.
"No, no," said Tara happily. "You're not interrupting anything." Cyborg shrugged, trying to smile back at Tara with the same levity. He looked around.
"Where is everybody?"
"Ah… that's… a bit complicated," said Beast Boy, wincing.
"Why, what happened?"
Tara looked sideways at Garfield. Cyborg knew that a wordless contest of wills was taking place in front of him.
"You tell him," said Tara lightly, winning. "I've already done it once."
Garfield sighed wearily, and grinned briefly at Tara before getting down off the counter to explain properly to Cyborg.
"Okay, Terra." She smiled back sweetly, not removing her eyes from him once.
"Well, the story goes something like this…"
Vorlan looked at his desk. It was cluttered with various papers and stationary items. There is an office maxim that goes 'tidy desk – tidy mind', but as far as Vorlan was concerned it was the people who had tidy desks that you really needed to watch. Nobody's mind should be truly tidy; that was the point of computers. Minds were meant to be messy, so they could think in new and exciting ways.
He stood and stretched, yawning deeply. The fatigue of a long and unspeakably dull day at the office was apparent in his action, and there was even more paperwork to do, even after all that had already been done.
Vorlan's pen appeared to be dancing across the desktop, bouncing on its clickable end across the desk's paper-inundated surface. 'Click, click, click', it went.
"How much longer are we going to be?" Vorlan acted as though a pen talking was a perfectly ordinary occurrence and glanced at the black and white clock on the grey wall.
"Quite a few hours yet, I'm afraid," he answered, taking a sip from the coffee mug on his desk before sitting back down and loosening his tie a bit.
"For crying out loud," said the pen, clearly disgruntled. "We've been in here ages."
"You're telling me," Vorlan replied, smiling dryly. "It's times like this that I miss action out in the field." He leaned back in the fuzzy grey swivel chair, his ice-blue eyes misting over as he reminisced about the pretty good old days.
"I'll never forget it," said the pen, having stopped bouncing on the desktop as if it was also reminiscing.
"There's one thing I never understood, though," said Vorlan, frowning in deep thought.
"Why didn't you ever bond permanently with our sword, like Narib?" The pen shrugged. How exactly it did this is not easily told, but shrug it did.
"No idea. It just never seemed right." Vorlan shrugged too, deciding that the matter wasn't all that important right now.
"Ah well. It's probably best that you never bonded permanently with our sword, seeing as how we work in a stuffy office these days," said Vorlan, disdainfully waving a hand in the air to indicate the stale environment around him.
"Then again, maybe if I'd stayed inside the sword they might not have allowed you in the office," said the pen. Vorlan barked a laugh.
"Yes, I suppose that's possible." The phone rang, with that highly annoying 'Bee-beep! Bee-beep!' noise, rather than a proper 'brrrrrrring!' like any decent telephone. "Excuse me a sec," said Vorlan, answering the call. "Hello; Truth Bureau, Time and Causality Department; Vorlan Demonbane speaking. Yes… what?" The pen jumped back in fright as Vorlan suddenly rocketed up from his seat to his feet, pushing back his chair so fast it fell over when it hit the wall. "Alright, sir – I'll get on it right away." He didn't so much hang up the phone as guillotine it, and then practically leapt to get his coat.
"What is it?" the pen asked, bouncing to the forward edge of the desk.
"They've given us a real job," said Vorlan, excitement obvious in his voice. His eyes were sparkling when he looked back at the pen. "I'm ready for it. Are you, Zenna?"
A plume of what looked like blue smoke poured out of the pen, forming a perfect sphere of shimmering blue – exactly the same shade as Vorlan's irises. There was a single bright dot of white at the sphere's centre, shining with unsurpassed refulgence.
"You bet your life I am," said Zenna the blue spirit, Vorlan's enthusiasm spreading to her as well. Vorlan smiled.
"Good, because we're going right away." Pausing only to snatch his coat from the back of it, Vorlan whipped open the door and strode through. Zenna followed hastily.
"Where have we been sent?"
"Earth, Alternate Reality Code 12952910," said Vorlan, already having memorised it perfectly. "Apparently there's a small team of adolescent superheroes we have to meet up with; something big will go down shortly, and we have to be there to make sure there's no reality fractures."
"Wow. Certainly sounds big," said Zenna appreciatively, dodging around a co-worker as they dashed headlong along the corridors to the weapons closet. "A team of adolescent superheroes, you say?"
"Yeah. Don't know much about them just yet; we'll find out more in the official briefing. Apparently they're called the Teen Titans," said Vorlan, pulling on his long brown overcoat. It flapped out behind him as he walked and made him look rather dashing, though he says so himself.
"The Teen Titans, huh? Cool. Let's go."
Author's Notes: And that concludes this episode of the Alternate Reality series! There will be more of course, but not just now. I'm sorta hoping they'll all be this length.
I'm really sorry if I've upset any shippers with the whole Raven/Robin/Starfire confusion; I swear to you that the whole debacle will be sorted out in the next episode, through a number of highly emotionally charged scenes and lots of romantically fluffy moments (insert heart-meltingly cute sigh here).
Well, did you enjoy it? Write me an extra long review, my loyal readers, or I might just decide not to write the second episode (insert growl here). Vorlan has only really just been introduced, and I hope you liked Rend's new form; you'll learn more about the Familiar Spirits in the next episode.
And don't be angry that I've left so many cliff-hangers and unresolved plot-lines, what with the aforementioned love triangle and Erebus' mysteriously evil doings in Raven's subconscious, not to mention the big stuff that Vorlan mentioned will shortly be going down, and then of course there's Trigon's plan. Well, okay, you can be angry if you really want to be, but it's just to keep you reading.
The official finishing date was 18th December, 2007, and that is the day on which I am writing this. There will probably be extensive editing, but that don't count too much. Have a Merry Christmas, or Happy New Year! Knowing me I'll probably be eons too late to catch the New Year, but whatever.
Check in for the next episode soon (or when I get around to writing it, whichever gives me more time), and be sure to read my other fics too!