Soft voices in the next room filtered through the ringing in her ears. She groaned as she sat up, dislodging silverware and broken crockery that had fallen upon her after her rather hasty and unannounced entrance to the kitchens. An insistent buzzing in her pocket caused confusion until habit cut through her befuddlement. Drawing the yellow device, she flipped it open.
A blurry blue-black shape appeared on the screen. "Rav- Holy Mother of Pearl! Rae, are you ok?"
Raven tried to take stock of her situation. Her head hurt (great AZAR, did it hurt), and when she moved it to check herself for injuries great waves of nausea battered it back into place. Her head flopped to the side and she vomited, causing even more pain in her head. When she stopped she turned blurry, unfocused eyes back to the yellow circle and mumbled, "It hurts..."
"We're coming Rae, just hold on. Stay awake, alright? Just stay awake!"
Whatever odd means of communication this creature used prevented me from checking up on Rachel. The more I experienced it, the more I was certain that it was somehow dream-related. My vision was dimmed and heightened at the same time; colours exploded with a vibrancy unseen in the natural world while outlines remained blurry and indistinct. My hearing was likewise altered, at times crystal-clear, at others muffled. My thoughts, at least, remained fairly lucid.
"Yes, Chronicler. The message is thus: 'We, the Arform, request the Chronicler act in their official capacity as mediator between the Arform and the Teen Titans.' As demanded by custom, we offer payment: three of the old form."
I raised an eyebrow. Payments of the old form were very rare, and consisted of stories or knowledge known to three or fewer persons. To offer three payments for a mediation request spoke of sheer desperation. "You understand what it is you offer?" I asked.
I nodded. "Very well. Let it be known that the Chronicler Jon and the Far West Tribe hereby act in official capacity as mediator between the two entities, 'Arform' and 'Teen Titans'." I gave a wry grin as I glanced around the empty dining area. "If any object, speak so now or hold no grievance."
A red blur shot through the air. I brought my arms up in an instinctive attempt at protection, and was surprised when the cane I was carrying intercepted a stylized bird-shaped shuriken.
"We object," a voice from the doorway stated. Focusing beyond the implement of my near-death, I saw a group of... eclectic... individuals. Before I could say anything, the masked one said, "Titans, GO!"
Raven struggled to stay awake, but her vision had gone black and her hearing was fading despite her best efforts.
She was so tired...
*Clang* "Stop that and fight me!"
"Stop trying to hit me and I'll stop- Aegis!"
*Clang* "Who are you anyway?"
"You could have asked before you- Aegis!-"
*Clang* "-attacked. Merlin's thong, you're disrespectful."
The gaudily dressed youth swung again with his staff before lashing out with a boot. "When villains attack innocents we get a little irate."
"Who's the villain here? I'm minding my own business when all of a sudden Robo-Cop, Gingersnap, Amoeba-boy, and Rainbow-Zorro burst in and start trying to kill me and Arform." The conversation was punctuated with repeated attacks and shields. He was good, that was certain. Not as good as some that I'd seen, but definitely pushing the bounds of normal physical achievement. Much better than me, but that's not saying too much. Then again, I've seen people throw cars through buildings so I'm likely a bit jaded.
"Arform, huh? Why don't you ask your friend why the Teen Titans are kicking your butts? You two can talk all about it in jail."
I was seriously getting sick of this guy. I was also worried about Rachel. She had yet to come back from where she landed in the kitchens. Enough was enough.
"Listen, I tried to talk but you're too busy waving your stick in the air to listen to reason. So, little boy, I think it's time for you to take a nap until you're less cranky." I blocked his staff with a final Aegis before staring into the blank expanse where his eyes should be. Stepping forward slightly, I focused the magic into my voice and commanded, "Sleep."
He crumpled where he stood. I looked over towards Arform, who was keeping Tin-Man, Dorothy, and the Cowardly Lion rather busy. I ducked into the kitchen.
Must... not... sleep...
Rachel lay on the ground, dark maroon blood contrasting sharply with her ashen skin. Someone was cursing rather fluently. It took a moment to realize that it was me.
Her pulse was thready and weak, her breathing shallow and her pupils unresponsive. Judging from the corner broken off of the stainless steel stove and the bits of blood and hair stuck to the detritus it was a miracle that she was alive.
I knelt next to her, the knees of my pants becoming sodden with blood. One hand I placed on her heart. It should have been her head, but the wound continued to seep and I didn't want to cause further damage. The other hand I placed on her lower abdomen, over her womb. I bent my considerable willpower to one task, one purpose. Eager as always, my magic leaped to attention, ready to be used by me... ready to use me. Bright blue energy flared around us as it did battle with her own energies. I grit my teeth and tried to pour a little more power through myself, but her magic was incredibly strong and resisted my comparatively meager efforts.
Without a pause, I opened my self-imposed seals and screamed a wild laugh as the magic roared through me.
And the room exploded around us...
The flash of blue light that ripped through the double doors to the kitchen was so violently bright that it was nearly bleached white. There was no sound to accompany the light, and the explosion seemed all the more violent for it. When the Titans' eyes had recovered from the damage inflicted upon them, they noted that Arform was gone. When they entered the kitchen, they saw the tattooed man laying on top of Raven in a puddle of blood.
Things became a bit hectic after that.
I awoke and looked around.
It was difficult to breathe. The air was heavy with humidity and smoke, a wet smoke, thick and cloying with more than a hint of contraband. The sounds of the night were all encompassing; the wind through the saw-grass, the chitters and clicks of nocturnal animals, and the distant sounds of traffic. A bass rumble revealed the presence of a bull gator. The moon was supposed to be waxing and nearly full, but it was difficult to tell. The sky was the colour of burnt cherries, and brought with it an instinctive sense of innocence lost. The moon was simply a brighter patch of red in the sky, its edges hazy and indistinct.
I frowned. This certainly wasn't what my mindscape looked like the last time I checked. The basics were all there, but it was much darker. Grittier.
It was also in pieces, floating through the air with nothing visible to hold it up.
"Well... that's different," I muttered to myself.
"You're telling me," said a wry voice. Turning, I saw Rachel in her leotard and cloak. "I think we need to have a talk."
I winced. It's never good when a woman says that.
Her eyes narrowed a bit as she looked away. "I don't think either of us have been completely honest with the other. It's time that changed."
"Why now?" I asked, my eyebrow arched in a puzzled fashion.
She gave a silent little snarl and met my gaze. "Because you're in my mind."
"Not exactly," I hedged.
Her eyes shone with an opaque white light, and her words were very well enunciated. "What. Do. You. Mean?"
I sighed and waved a hand. A couple of armchairs appeared and I gestured towards them. "Take a seat." Warily, she did so. "Let's begin with the basics, shall we?" She gave a sharp nod. "Very well. My name is Jon. I am a Chronicler for the Far West Tribe of the Amazon nation. Only a mage may become a Chronicler. Do you understand what that means?" I assumed that her flat glare indicated assent. "Good. Your turn."
Her face screwed up. It was the kind of expression one makes when they unexpectedly smell something foul. It was the kind of expression one makes when they needed to perform an unpleasant task. "My name is Raven. I am a member of a crime-fighting group known as the Teen Titans." She darted a glance at me and continued. "I am also a practitioner of the magical arts. And I still want to know what you meant."
I nodded. "Very well. What do you remember about the fight with Arform?"
I held a hand up as far as I could reach. "About this tall-" arms spread out to their full width, "-this wide and seemed to be gunning for you."
She grimaced a bit and spoke in dead tones. "We fought. He punched me. It hurt."
I grinned tiredly. "Succinct. Accurate. I rather like your way of summing up a situation, Ms. Roth."
"Call me Raven."
My brow furrowed. "If you insist," I allowed. "Anyway, the most important part of the fight is how it ended. He hit you hard enough to break a corner off of a stainless steel, industrial strength kitchen appliance. By the time I got to you the blood puddle was about a foot in radius. I didn't see any gray matter, but it's entirely possible that it was under your skull rather than inside of it, if you catch my meaning."
In a mindscape bodies are pleasant little fantasies created as a sort of subconscious representation of our physical selves. They're not bound by any actual laws, so breathing, eating, walking, and so forth are all merely habitual niceties. By the way she paled, I had a feeling that she had rather handily caught my meaning.
I continued. "It was a miracle that you were alive as long as you were. To not put too fine a point on it, you were already dead but just hadn't realized it yet. Your body was giving out on you, and your magic was trying desperately to keep you going. Unfortunately, it was interfering with my own healing spell and I couldn't do anything in that regard. Instead, I tethered your life force to me. Had to force it, too. I don't know where you learned to sling spells but you have one hell of a lot of mojo."
She smiled a little, a cold and ruthless expression which was eerily fitting to her face. "You could say that it's hereditary."
I stared at her for a bit. I shook out of it as she continued speaking. "So now we're sharing a mindscape?"
"Something like that," I said. "Imagine two spotlights that overlap a bit. Right now we're in the overlapping bit."
"And let me guess," she said dryly. "I can't go back to my own mindscape-"
"-because I'm the only thing holding you on this side of the clearing at the end of the path," I finished for her.
She stared at me with cold eyes. "How poetic."
I grinned unashamedly at her. "Well, I am a poet. It pays the bills."
She held the gaze for a moment more before sighing and shaking her head slightly. I stretched out my legs and rolled my head to release a kink in my neck. The sounds of pseudonature surrounded us and droned on in a lulling sort of sussurance. There was silence between us for awhile until I broke it.
"I've been wondering about something."
She looked at me and I took it as indication to continue. "How did you know where I was living? And what did you do with my books and whatnot?"
She gave an easy, smug sort of grin, tiny but present nonetheless. "Remember when we first met?" she asked.
She just grinned a bit larger. Then it hit me.
"I told you where to find me..."
"Naturally," she said. "Impressive, I must say. I never saw you place the card in the book. How did you do it?"
I grinned back. "Stage magic. Sleight of hand."
She abruptly looked away and the smile faded from my face. When she turned back towards me her eyes were flat and her face expressionless. "How long?"
"Not sure," I replied with a shrug. "Time doesn't flow the same way in my mindscape, and I don't know how yours would affect its rate of passage. The best answer I could give you would be that you'd know when it was time to go. For better or for worse."
She shivered, and the air was too sultry and humid to attribute it to temperature. I attempted to distract her. "So, Raven huh? How did you get that name?"
She looked at me steadily. "Same as most. It was given to me." After a moments hesitation she finished with, "My mother named me."
"My mentor named me," I replied quietly. "He said that it meant I was a little gift from God." Ashes began to rain down in a steady manner, drifting like dry gray snowflakes. Her eyes watched me, her posture relaxed a bit, and she leaned forwards. People often responded well when I spoke. It was part of my training. It was part of who I was. "At times," I continued, "he would tell me that he should have given me the full appellation. Usually when I was misbehaving. He said that if I was a full-sized gift from God, then I wouldn't get into so much trouble." A softening of features turned her face into something of great beauty rather than the war-mask she generally wore it in.
"What happened to him?" she asked softly.
I answered her just as softly. "He was killed. Two years ago, by a demon." I looked up at her. "Do you know of demons?"
There was an odd flitter of emotions across her face: anger, pain, smugness, and a hint of sadness melded into an expression of great depth and mystery before she replied with, "I have more than a passing familiarity." The conversation lulled once more.
After a time of idly listening to the susurration of the sawgrass I heard her gasp. It was a small sound, barely audible, and likely few aside from myself would have heard it. I turned to her. "What is it?"
Her eyes were closed and her brow furrowed a bit in concentration. "It's Robin," she said. "He's trying to contact me."
I raised an eyebrow. "Robin? Pale guy, bright costume, wears a mask and like to throw sharp things at people?" A received a distracted nod in response. "He can do mind magic?"
"No," she replied. Her voice was vague and stilted the way voices get when their owners are concentrating on one thing and speaking about something else. "I once melded with his mind. It left a sort of bond between us. He's trying to follow it here."
Before I could think on that further a young man popped into existence at Rachel's (Raven's?) side.
I've experienced quite a few things in my time on this world. I've watched people punch holes in brick walls and kick down telephone poles. I've heard angels sing. I've commanded some of the most powerful and primordial energies known to mankind. Even with all of my history stretched out behind me, it still amazed me that a man with no magical talent could manage to enter another's mindscape.
To quote: Impressive. Most impressive.
As he appeared he began to speak to Rachel, but caught sight of me in his peripheral. He stepped between Rachel and I (seemingly ignorant of how this precipitated a thunderstorm of an expression on her face) and said with great intellect and biting wit, "You!"
I was less than underwhelmed and responded cheerily in kind. "Me," I agreed.
He looked like he was about to start something, but Rachel put a hand on his shoulder and he stopped cold. From the look on his face either being touched in general was a rare occurrence or being touched by Rachel in particular was odd. She spoke, her voice a nearly emotionless drone that surprised me but didn't seem to phase this Robin character. "Before you attack him you should probably know that he's the only reason I'm alive right now."
He visibly processed that for a moment before he nodded towards Rachel. They had a hushed conversation that I didn't try to hear before he stepped towards me. His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before he said, "Thank you for keeping Raven alive." A look over his shoulder at a glaring Rachel caused his shoulders to slump before he turned back towards me and finished with, "and I'm sorry that I attacked you without listening to your reasons for associating with... Arform?" I nodded. "Arform," he affirmed with the sound of someone committing something to memory. "We've had dealings with it in the past and I jumped to conclusions."
Well. I'll say this for Robin: He's certainly open to new information when he trusts its source.
We spent a few minutes bringing Robin up to speed on the situation on the inside while he told us what was happening on the outside. Apparently Rachel and I had been reenacting that scene from ET where the alien guy and the kid's life forces were linked. If they moved us too far apart, we began to crash. Naturally, they kept us close together while they worked on stitching up her head. I proceeded to explain the circumstances of my meeting with Arform, although I was as much at a loss as they to explain his violent actions.
Eventually Robin's form began to flicker as he lost the concentration necessary to keep himself tethered in the mindscape. Before he winked out completely I managed to ask him how long we'd been out. I was slightly relieved to hear that it was only a couple of days.
With Robin gone the sounds of the swamp rolled back in. Rachel and I sat in silence for a bit before I looked up and said, "So... know any good riddles?"