Hey, Totentanz here! So, I said I had an idea for a new story in the author's note of my other fic, "Til Death Do Us Part." I got to writing, and here's the first chapter. It's so much fun to work on this, and a lot has gone into it. I've been researching and learning about some pretty cool history (whoo!). Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I do not own Teen Titans or any other DC characters, DC does (obviously).
Chapter 1: The Lost Kingdom
This is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
-TS Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
Rats scuttled across sidewalks, colliding with the shoes of men and women trying to escape the rainstorm. The air smelled of decay, especially near the alleyways that commonly served as refuges for the homeless and unstable. Aristocrats skirted this section of Gotham as if poverty were contagious, regardless of the impenetrability of their coaches. Sometimes, if their driver took a wrong turn, they would end up on the wrong side of the city and the derelict would be treated to the horrified faces of high society. Fear gave the destitute power over their oppressors—a rare treat—and the clopping of horses' hooves was always welcome to their ears.
Such a sound clattered down the cobblestone street toward a particularly unimpressive redbrick house, much to the delight of a curious audience. One disinterested observer sat at the windowsill, reading a book and, every now and again, rolling her eyes at the cooing crowd.
"What a pretty pony ya got there!"
"Ooh! Golden reins, how fancy—let me touch 'em, maybe some of that wealth will rub off on me!"
The young woman sighed, noting that even torrents of rain didn't wash away her neighbors' taunts and jeers. Minutes passed and their catcalls continued and she debated as to whether or not she wanted to appease her temptation to peek at the show outside. No longer able to concentrate, the young woman closed her book and peered through the window. Much to her surprise, the coach was parked in front of the house. A small group of people surrounded it and after a moment's hesitation, the door opened.
A young boy with curly red hair and a smattering of freckles on his face jumped out onto the sidewalk, splashing his finely tailored pants with mud and water. The crowd roared with laughter, the boy's face turned pink and he fixed his eyes in a glare that was supposed to be intimidating. Puffing out his chest, he ignored their heckling and pushed away their dirty hands.
She watched him with piqued interest as he walked up the stone steps and banged on the door with the rusted knocker. Green paint chips flaked off the door under the intensity of the assault. The young woman waited for her fellow boarders to cause a stir—the sounds of a visitor always conjured excitement—but when no sounds of rushing could be heard from upstairs, she resigned her post at the windowsill and padded out of the parlor and into the foyer.
"I am looking for a Miss Raven Roth," the boy squeaked, reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard.
"Well then, it's convenient that I answered the door," Raven said flatly. Her violet eyes scanned over the boy's features with a cold scrutiny, he couldn't have been older than fourteen, she observed.
"I—I have an invitation for you, miss." He thrust a small square envelope at her and when she took it without a word, he ran down the stairs and back to safety—away from the reach of the destitute and the young woman's icy glare.
Raven shrugged her shoulders and traced a finger along the edge of the invitation. She turned it over and examined the sealing wax. Emblazoned in the bright vermilion wax were the initials RG. Her brow creased with confusion and carefully, she slid her fingernail underneath the seal and pulled out a note with sharp black calligraphy scrawled by someone with a patient hand. Raven's eyes narrowed as she tried to make sense of the message and read it twice more before walking back to her seat at the windowsill. She held it in her hands at a distance as if it were to ignite in flames at any moment.
"Aren't we the popular one?" a high voice trilled. Surreptitiously concealing the invitation in the folds of her skirts, Raven turned to find one of her fellow boarders staring at her with quizzical blue eyes. She stood with her arms wrapped around her body.
"It's nothing Harleen," Raven replied keeping her hand safely on the card.
"Sure doesn't seem like nothing." The woman shook her head, her two yellow braids whipping her in the face.
"If they are not paying me, it's nothing."
"Well, in that case, you're right," Harleen began as she danced over to the piano and tapped the keys at random, "It is nothing."
Raven closed her eyes and rested her head on the window. She heard Harleen sit down on the piano bench and tentatively started playing a light combination of notes that soon evolved into a low, melodious song.
"So, I passed by Arkham today on my way back from the market."
"That is not on the way to the market," Raven muttered. Making sure Harleen's attention was on the piano she pulled the invitation out and stuffed it into her book for safer keeping. She made her way to the staircase. "I'm going to my room."
"That doesn't come as a surprise, Madame charlatan," Harleen said never taking her eyes from the keys, though a faint smirk crossed her lips. "Want to come with me tomorrow? To the market?"
Raven paused, her hand on the dusty banister and sighed. "No, Harleen." With those parting words, she climbed the stairs and departed to her room, letting the sweet melancholy song carry her away.
The landscape was drastically changing. Lush green fields peppered with trees and tufts of wildflowers were gradually being replaced by progress. Farms laid claim to unsullied ground, capturing pastures and valleys from Mother Nature and turning the earth until nothing grew. A large locomotive sliced through the humble countryside, farms evolved into villages, the villages to towns. Clouds of smoke veiled their simple architecture and formations. A blanket waiting to be pulled away, revealing a new development in the juggernaut that is innovation.
"If I were to fathom a guess, I'd say about two more hours," Victor Stone said absentmindedly as he watched a herd of people board the train.
"That long? We've been on this train since yesterday morning!" His friend groaned petulantly.
"Someone needs a nap." Victor turned to face his friend who sat opposite him. "Don't worry so much about it Gar, in a few weeks time your skin will regulate—just a tinge of green will be left."
"After all these years I still feel abnormal," Garfield sighed. He ran a hand through his curly green locks and shook his head.
"At least you aren't a walking factory," Victor responded bitterly. As hard as he fought it, he could not help giving his reflection a sideways glance. Half his face was covered in metal, a feature that garnered many stares and comments from strangers. He praised the requirement of jackets and trousers in polite society, without them his other apparatuses would be on display for the world to see, and his life would dissolve to nothing more than a sideshow act.
"Factories don't have hearts."
"Have you been writing love poems without my knowledge? If so, I would be really interested in reading one," Victor joked. Garfield grinned and pulled his journal from his briefcase. "You aren't serious, are you?" he asked incredulously.
"I don't write poetry in here—I save that for my other journal." Garfield winked as he flipped through pages, "No, I put something in here I thought you would be interested in." He pulled out a card and handed it to Victor. "I received it when we were held over in Boston, it was addressed to both of us."
Victor eyebrows rose and looked at his friend, "Why didn't you say anything about this before?"
"I didn't think much of it—until this came just as we were boarding the train yesterday." Garfield produced a peculiar monkey carved from emerald and what appeared to be a small hand made of metal. "They're from the same man who sent that invitation—he knows what I am and I'm fairly sure he knows what you're capable of."
"Gar, he sent you a statue. You're a world famous archeologist—he's sending you trinkets he thought you'd enjoy. Don't be so paranoid, he's just welcoming you."
"Maybe, but why the hand? People know about your face but not about the rest of you." Garfield eyed the leather gloves on Victor's hands.
"I don't think he's hostile," Victor said after deep consideration. "His guardian is a major staple in Gotham and as much as you wish to hide behind your fossils and broken pottery Garfield, you're on your way to becoming one as well."
Garfield rolled his eyes, "I'm not the only one, what about you Doctor Stone? You're a medical doctor."
"I suppose being a surgeon is a pretty impressive accomplishment," he laughed. "It'll be different though, here. We're not in Egypt anymore, people might not be as," he paused searching for the appropriate word, "accepting of me."
"You're brilliant Vic, if they can't put their prejudices aside then we'll leave."
"It isn't that simple Gar, you wanted to dig under Gotham, you can't just move because of my problems," Victor said reasonably. Garfield raised an eyebrow and handed his friend the bizarre baubles.
"Of course I can, you moved for mine. You're like a brother to me," he said in earnest.
Victor smiled and examined the hand with keen interest. "So, will we be in attendance this Friday?"
"If you want to go." Garfield put on his reading glasses and leafed through his journal. "Just be sure that I'm stashing a butterfly knife in my trousers pocket."
"Next stop Metropolis!" The conductor bellowed as he walked down the aisle of the train.
"After this stop we'll only be an hour away," Victor muttered returning his attention to the window. He heard Garfield sigh but ignored it. The landscape was changing again. Through the rain, clean new buildings were coming into view. If Metropolis posed as a model for the urbanization and all the possibilities it could bring, Gotham was her ominous twin, praying for the concealing shadows of night.
"How many individuals did you send the invitation to, Richard?" A statuesque young woman asked. Her bright red hair was combed into an intricate setting of pearls and diamonds. She sat in a large chair near the fireplace, her regal features cast in an eerie glow.
The man she questioned stood in the corner of the library, cloaked in darkness. He walked over to her, his lips pressed in a straight line. His jaw was firm and defined, and if one were to glance in his eyes they would not be able to uncover a single secret.
"Four, including your highness," Richard said as he paced across the masculine room. The fireplace was large and carved entirely of onyx. Carved into the black stone were fierce chimeras and menacing specters, desiring release from their prison to wreak havoc on the world. Over the mantle hanged a coat of arms featuring a knight's helmet and three golden gloves, a symbol of pride and chivalry. The remaining three walls were lined with bookshelves, not one inch was spared.
The princess smiled up at him, "and how many are to come—all of them, yes?" She asked, hope lacing her voice.
"I don't know. I hope so." Richard walked over to the desk and sat down, placing his head in his hands.
"What is wrong, Richard?"
"Please, call me Koriand'r," she interrupted.
"I shall call you Miss Star in public, as we had agreed upon." Koriand'r stood and walked over to Richard. She patted his shoulder, startling him out of his jumbled thoughts. "Remember, you cannot be personal in front of others," he muttered politely shaking her hand off. "And for that matter, you'll have to start calling me Mister Grayson—at least in front of strangers."
"I do not mean to be offensive Mister Grayson, but your culture is peculiar. Tamaran is not like this," she sighed nostalgically.
"Don't speak of your home in front of others, they can't know you're the missing princess," he said. Richard turned to face the young woman and stared into her sparkling green eyes, "Tell me what your name is again."
"You know what it is, Koriand'r."
"No, your new identity."
"Miss Kory Star," she muttered, "But I don't want to hide." Her strong countenance was set in defiance, a warrior's mask.
Richard reached out toward her hand and then quickly pulled back, straightening his posture. "She has spies, she'll find you if you don't."
"Then let her."
"I will not. P-please," he stuttered, stumbling over a word he seldom used, "Use the name, for now."
Koriand'r bit her lower lip, considering his plea. Slowly, she nodded. "Alright, but I am doing this for you Mister Grayson."
"Thank you," he stood and bowed his head out of gratitude for the young princess. "And you can call me Richard in private, Koriand'r."
A knock on the door echoed throughout the cavernous library. Richard moved away from Koriand'r and over to the fireplace just before an older man entered. He stood in the doorway, his dark suit melting into the shadows leaving only his pale face and white hair to be seen. "Master Grayson. Doctors Victor Stone and Garfield Logan have arrived," he said, his English accent filling the room.
"Thank you, Alfred."
Alfred exited, leaving the two gentlemen to stand in the doorway unaccompanied. They made an awkward duo—one large and muscular, the other much shorter and lean. The latter kept his right hand in his trouser pocket Richard observed, and he could not help but laugh.
"Don't think about using that knife tonight Doctor Logan, I assure you this is not an attack."
Garfield stopped fiddling with his butterfly knife. Victor stepped foreword and shook Richard's hand. "Excuse my friend, he's a little paranoid."
"No one can ever be a little paranoid, Doctor Stone. I speak from experience," Richard said with a small grin. He looked to his side and saw Koriand'r standing next to him, waiting to be introduced. "Excuse me, this is Miss Kory Star."
Victor bowed and took Koriand'r's hand in his. "Wonderful to meet you."
"I am as equally full of wonder, Mister Stone," she said with glee. Victor raised an eyebrow.
"She's not from here, her English isn't the best yet."
"Ah, I see," Victor smiled and motioned for Garfield to introduce himself.
The young man dragged his feet over to where the group was standing and stuck out his hand, "I'm Garfield Logan."
"Good to finally meet you, Doctor Logan." Richard shook his hand with a determination Garfield was not expecting and his eyes were steely, never once yielding contact. It was Garfield who finally had to look away first. He extended his greeting to Koriand'r, and smiled politely, slightly comforted by her friendliness.
"Yes, I am happy to be of your acquaintance as well," she beamed.
"Sit down, we are still waiting for one more," Richard gestured to the chairs and settee facing the fireplace. Garfield and Victor sat down next to each other, Koriand'r took the chair she was sitting in earlier, and Richard stood by the fireplace.
"Would anyone care for a drink?" Alfred reappeared in the room with a silver cart topped with two bottles of wine and glasses.
"Yes please," Koriand'r said. Alfred poured her a glass of wine and handed it to her. "Thank you."
"You are quite welcome, Miss Star. What about the other guests? I would offer you a drink Master Grayson but I fear that the glass will remain untouched."
"You know me well Alfred," Richard smirked, "If you will inform me when our fourth guests arrives."
"Of course," Alfred left the cart behind and disappeared back into the hallway.
Several minutes passed as the group sat in an uncomfortable silence, the crackling fire providing the only noise. Garfield looked at Victor's expressionless face out of the corner of his eye. His gaze fell upon the ornamented Koriand'r and the paradox of serene tension that enveloped her. Richard was the most interesting of all. Garfield examined his stance. He stood on the balls of his feet with his fists clenched, seemingly prepared for a phantom invader.
Garfield cleared his throat, aggravating the stillness, "Why are we here, Mister Grayson?"
"I will explain when the last guest arrives," he stated simply. Richard removed the pocket watch from his breast pocket and checked the time. "She's fifteen minutes late."
"Who is she?" Victor asked out of curiosity. But before Richard could respond, Alfred's voice rang out through the library.
"Your final guest has not arrived nor has she sent any form of declination," he said reading the young man's mind.
Surprise flashed across Richard's features, but just as quick as it was there it disappeared. He nodded his head and walked over to the desk and wrote down a hasty note.
"I feel that we have been patient with your stalling Mister Grayson, I would like to know what is going on, now." Garfield rose from his seat, posing as threatening a stance as he could.
"I have a proposition to make. I know about you."
"I knew it! I told you Victor," Garfield cried. "What are you planning to do, extort money from us if we don't comply?"
"Do you think I am in a position in which I must blackmail others?" Richard scoffed. "I'm far more interested in your talents than your affluence."
"Talents?" Victor questioned, "What do you mean?"
Richard crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes, choosing his words carefully, "Crime has reached an all time high and those who protect our city, along with the neighboring areas, have started becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the influx of villains and corruption," Richard paused and scanned the faces of those before him. "We all share a common past filled with cruelty and injustice I am offering you the chance to make sure no one will ever have to face what you have."
"How so, vigilantism?" Garfield joked.
"Precisely," Richard said. Moving nearer the fireplace, he picked up the poker and stoked the flame, watching the blaze lick the sides of the stone hearth. "Are you interested?"
I hope you liked it! Once again, I really tried to make this good! There's more to come! Please continue to read and please review! Thanks!
PS, I'm looking for a beta to read this story and help me find misspellings and grammar errors. If your up to it, please let me know!