"And so I face the wall, turn my back against it all…
How I wish I'd been unborn, wish I was unliving here." Eurythmics
Aenoch looked to the pouring Gotham sky, allowing the scummy rainwater to saturate his long brunette hair and drip off his gray skinned nose. Unlike the countless other cities he had visited, this one seemed oddly comforting. With the crumbling buildings and dreary weather, it was as if the place had been designed with him in mind.
Screams and malefic giggles from an alleyway across the street seized his attention. Instinctively he made his way towards the source.
Most would be frightened by the dark and deserted streets but Aenoch felt nothing. All his fears and phobias were nothing but confusing echoes of a soul long forgotten. Now all that existed was the hunger.
It came upon the source of the consternation.
A homeless woman dressed in rags was on the ground of the alleyway and being kicked and stomped by two red mohawked hoodlums. She obviously had nothing to steal, why were they attacking her? But Aenoch's voided mind seemed to recall that Gotham was a breeding ground for violence. Where did he learn this? Sigh, he may never remember but his reason for being here was clear. He drew closer.
"Please." The old woman begged through her mouth of baked bean colored teeth
The punk just giggled louder and sent his steel tipped boot into her stomach again. His accomplice reached into his back pocket and pulled out a blood encrusted hunting knife.
"Slice and dice." He said excitedly and licked the weapons edge, slicing his tongue open.
He bent down and laid the tip of his knife to her thin filthy neck.
"Do it slow. 'The other said excitedly' I want to see the steam."
Thick freezing shadows gathered around their feet, giving the duo pause.
"The hell?" The knife wielder asked
The shadows coalesced into a great black void around them, swallowing the alleyway and the woman at their feet.
"Why?" An empty emotionless voice asked from the darkness
"You say that?" They asked each other
"Why?" The voice asked again
A cool and deliberate breeze blew in their heads as their diseased and drug polluted minds were read.
"Hate." The empty voice remarked coldly
They will do.
The thick void around them dissolved and the rain soaked alleyway returned. Before them now stood a lone figure dressed in a filthy black overcoat, long faded Iron Maiden concert shirt, blue jeans and tattered sneakers. It stared at them with two unearthly dark green eyes set in an emotionless face seemingly carved of gray stone.
An invisible aura of bone numbing cold surrounded this stranger. Even in their state of drug induced psychosis they felt a palpable fear. But how was this possible? This guy couldn't be more than sixteen! But if the ample criminal population of Gotham City had one credo: if it walks, it can die. Both the hoods pulled their knives and approached the stranger.
"Don't know what the f**k you are a**hole." One grunted
"Let's see if he bleeds." The other giggled
"I wish I could."
Aenoch reached out his arms towards the punks. Suddenly, four fingered claws of solidified shadow propelled out of the sleeves, scooped the pair off the ground and smashed them against the graffiti smeared alley wall. The talons were stronger than steel and burned like dry ice.
"What're you going to do?" One gasped
"AW F#K ME!" He screamed and struggled.
Aenoch's dark green eyes became two pulsing black voids as he drank deeply of their fear anger and hate. The color faded from their skin and eyes.
"Join me in the dark" Aenoch whispered as the pair fell limp.
A whistle sliced through the air and a pair of black bolas wrapped around Aenoch's outstretched arms, crushing them together and breaking his concentration. The talons of dark faded away, sending the two comatose punks slumping to the ground beside the unconscious bag lady. Aenoch knew who it was that disrupted his feeding, it was this intruder that brought him here in the first place.
"Batman" Aenoch said without turning his head
The black and gray clad, self-proclaimed protector of Gotham stepped out of the shadows. Aenoch felt odd echoes of forgotten emotions: excitement, fear and respect.
"What are you." Batman demanded in a deep growling voice
Anyone else would have turned to face him but Aenoch was a creature of the dark and shunned by human eyes. Instead he turned away, hiding his face.
Batman did not bat an eye. Odd characters were not unusual around here. From psychotic clowns to half-crocodile half-human mutants, Gotham ran the gamut.
Aenoch willed his arms to become one with the shadows and they became intangible, allowing the bola's high tinsel steel cables to harmlessly pass through and fall to the ground with a clatter.
The two hoods on the ground began to stir. Aenoch had no intention of killing them even if he was fully capable of doing so. Instead, he took just enough of their souls to satiate his hunger and in the process give them a taste of the abyss he knew all too well.
Keeping one eye on the new arrival, Batman squatted down to the pair of stirring criminals, checked their neck pulses and pried opened their eyes.
"What did you do to them."
Of all the odd beings walking the Earth, Aenoch felt that this one human would fill his needs. But it was not here either. Aenoch would have cried if he could feel sadness.
"Not here." It sighed and walked away.
Another pair of bolas wrapped firmly around Aenochs arms and waist. Instead of escaping again, Aenoch closed his eyes and looked deep into Batman's icy soul. It read like an open book to the Spirit Drinker in spite of the human's fervent desire to keep it buried.
"Your…emptiness is of a different kind."
Batman did not reply but retained his stony faced exterior.
"You feel great loss…the loss of loved ones and a life you may have had. Your… crusade gives your life purpose and fills the void within."
Still no reply. This human was steeled against all attacks, all that is except from ones within his soul.
"I have no place here…I am…sorry?"
The bolas passed within him and again fell to the ground. Swirling shadows coalesced around Aenochs back, forming angel wings of light swallowing ebony. His wings flapped and Aenoch lifted off the alley floor, disappearing into the raining night sky.
Batman remained silent as he called an ambulance for the unconscious woman and hog-tied the stirring punks.
Later that night…
Aenoch could have easily flown to where ever he desired but tonight he decided to walk. It allowed him to pretend to be human even if the whole notion was unattainable.
Walking down the teaming streets on the outskirts of Gotham, he looked to the blinking gardens of Neon around him and desperately tried to feel something. But how many cityscapes had he seen? How many sunsets? Not a one of them registered so what made it think this would be any different?
Passerby gave Aenoch a wide berth. To humans it was instinctual to avoid him, just as they would a bottomless chasm or manhole.
Pain erupted throughout his body as once again the hunger returned.
Aenoch could easily find another to feed on but he knew it was pointless. He had decided some time ago that if Gotham didn't offer what he was looking for that it would be time to disappear.
All he need do was let himself starve. Once his energies were gone, what little remained of his life would follow. He had come close to starving once long ago and it actually felt relaxing. And what then? Aenoch wondered if there was a place in heaven for creatures such as him, surely he has experienced enough of Hell.
Another garbage strewn alley branched off to his right. Good a place as any he supposed and highly symbolic.
As he made to duck into the alley, bright flickering lights down the street caught his eye. It was an electronics store with an orderly stack of televisions arranged in the front picture window. A small group of people was gathered around the display and watching the dancing images inside. Ordinarily Aenoch would have taken no interest but something within his black heart advised him to go have a look. The group parted, allowing him a path to the window.
It was a live news broadcast from San Francisco. A chained and unconscious Goliath of stone was being loaded onto the flat bed of a truck with the help of a large boom crane. Behind the scene, a mountain of ruined steel and concrete still smoldered.
The dark skinned reporter was interviewing a group of youths. But these children were quite different from any Aenoch had ever seen. One was short with green skin, matching hair and pointed ears. Another looked more machine than human, with one glowing red eye. Another, a girl, had green within green eyes and flowing red hair. They all were being interviewed in turn. It seems it was this group that subdued the colossus behind them.
"And then we smote Cinderblock with the truck of fuel." The redhead explained with an excited smile
"Umm, yeah. But why collapse the building on him?" The reporter pressed
The green skinned boy stepped up to the camera, usurping the entire screen with his face.
"Because some super villains JUST DON'T GET IT."
The others in the group moaned with disdain. A boy in red vest, yellow cape and black mask stepped forward and shoved the green one out of the way.
"The building was abandoned. 'Robin confirmed' No one was in danger."
"And it blewed up real good." The green kid yelled from off screen.
The camera turned away from them and focused on another female. But she was like no other! Her skin was gray like his and she was dressed in a black costume with a dark blue flowing cape and hood. And like him, her face was still and emotionless. Perhaps she was another of his kind? Perhaps he was not alone?
"And what was your role in the apprehension of Cinderblock?" The reporter asked pointing her microphone to her stony face.
"Does it matter?" She sighed and walked away.
"Phew. 'A male to Aenoch's left whistled' that Raven is one goddamn hotty."
"Oh my ass. Starfire is the hot one: look at that rack." Another disagreed
But Aenoch felt something beyond arousal, something he had been searching for for so long.
"Naw, I heard she's pretty smart. 'A bystander rebutted' now the red head- she's the bubble headed one."
"Hey! Just 'cause she talks like that doesn't make her an idiot." A female behind Aenoch hissed.
"Guess you would know."
The female shoved Aenoch aside, pounced on the chauvinists back and began beating him about the face and ears.
"You f#king bastard! I'll show you bubble headed!" She roared
His plans of suicide were gotten as Aenoch left the melee with new purpose. That girl. He must seek her out! The wings of shadow returned and Aenoch ascended into the sky. He adjusted his direction and headed west…towards San Francisco
A week later…
The thick steel prison gates shattered outward. Out of the ruined gateway shambled the walking pile of stone known as Cinderblock. He shook his fists at the sky and roared in defiance at the briefness of his imprisonment.
Spotlights from the prisons guard towers focused on the lumbering monstrosity. Like an ignited truckload of firecrackers, the flash of a thousand automatic weapons ricocheted off its gray stone hide. The barrage lit up the night shrouded prison yard like a Fourth of July display.
But the Goliath ignored the salvo and continued on its way towards freedom.
As it stomped across the prisons concrete and steel bridge, bright colors from its left caught his attention. Instead of running for safety like most would do, it diverted into the nearby parking lot.
With grunts of brainless joy, Cinderblock began smashing the cars. He giggled and squashed the hood of a Tan Ford Taurus with his foot, popping the tires like balloons.
But unbeknownst to it, a shadowed group stood nearby and watched the senseless destruction.
"Here we go again." Raven sighed
"Titans go!" Robin yelled
The group scattered. Raven and Starfire took to the sky while Cyborg and Robin charged ahead on foot. Beast Boy morphed into a snorting green rhino and charged along with the pack.
Cinderblock saw the incoming intruders and growled in anger. Although this hulk's IQ was rated lower than most invertebrates, he still recognized these people. Just a few days ago these five had defeated him and sent him here. Now his simple mind was no longer about smashing cars but revenge.
"Cease your automobile squashing!" Starfire ordered in her trademark stern yet non-confrontational way.
It picked up a red battered station wagon. Planting both of its giant hands on the rear bumper, he effortlessly chucked the vehicle towards the incoming Tamaranian.
"Eep!" She squealed and threw her green energy bolts at the vehicle, shattering the car into a pile of molten shrapnel.
"Take that as a no?" Beast Boy chuckled
Cinderblock roared with range and grabbed a nearby red motorcycle. He moved to toss it when a screaming blue beam disintegrated it into glitter sized chunks. Cyborg stood by with his still smoking Sonic Blaster.
"Care to try it again tough guy?" He asked with a wide smile
The monster grappled a blue minivan by the roof and heaved it at the charging Kelly green rhino.
"Uh oh." Beast Boy yelped as he shrank into a mouse, sufficiently ducking the four-wheeled projectile
It flew harmlessly over the shape shifter and instead smashed into Cyborg, knocking him off his feet and squashing him into the rear hatch of a white Festiva. Starfire set down before the smoldering carnage.
"Cyborg? Are you injured?" She called into the wreckage.
"BB? You're a dead man!" Cyborg yelled from within.
Robin leapt into the air and threw a handful of impact bombs at Cinderblocks head. Bright flashes of light and smoke blinded the monster. It screamed in pain and covered his eyes.
"He's down. Hit it Raven!" Robin yelled.
The witch closed her eyes and recited her chants. Black energies reached out and enveloped two black armored prison buses parked on the curb. They floated over to the panicking Cinderblock and positioned them on either side.
"Eat this" She sighed, squashing the two busses together.
All fell silent as the Titans watched the sandwiched pile of steel.
"Boo…" Beast Boy cheered
The busses flew apart and Cinderblock stomped out, unhurt and very pissed.
Yah?" He finished
"Uh, Robin?" Starfire asked nervously
They all threw what ordinance they could at the juggernaut. It just shrugged it all off and continued towards them.
It hadn't always been like this. Cinderblock had once been nearly human sized and easily beaten. But thanks to the interference of certain criminal elements (namely a red and black masked megalomaniac who shall remain nameless), his height had been increased to over twenty feet and its physical density doubled with some well-placed Promethium. Now the thing was almost unstoppable. Last time it took a skyscraper and well placed fuel truck to take it out.
Meanwhile, on a warehouse roof a short distance away…
Aenoch squatted on the roof ledge and quietly watched the ensuing melee. His first instinct was to keep in the shadows and hidden but the object of his search was so tantalizingly close. The jeweled girl from the television had rejoined the group of youths as they planned their next strategy.
Unlike the others, she seemed neither worried nor frustrated at their precarious situation and that fact he found befuddling. Aenoch wondered what that must be like: to actually feel an emotion and hold it back? What a sensation it must be. But why would she do such a thing? His curiosity was getting the better of him.
But to join the fracas would go against his very nature. And how would they react? Most likely they would scream and run like all the others.
He stood and spread his ebony wings. Well he had been ready to die just a few days ago so if they do decide to shun him, his fate would be clear. But after all these years in the cold, just the chance to meet someone like himself was well worth the risk.
Aenoch took a deep breath and dove off the roof.
Back in the prison parking lot…
As the Titans pondered their next move, the shadows around the ruined parking lot began to gather around the rampaging monster.
"Rae?" Robin asked
"Don't look at me." She said shaking her head
"Why?" Echoed through the ruined parking lot.
"The hell?" Beast Boy asked looking around.
A tattered trench coat wearing figure appeared in front of the charging monster. He looked about their age but something about this stranger made them uneasy, like his young body was just a façade hiding something dark and inhuman.
The new comer willed the dark shadows to envelop the juggernaut and Cinderblock uncharacteristically stopped his charge. A confused grunt emanated from the cloud and a stony fist swung out of the void as it pondered its odd predicament.
"Why?" The stranger asked again
The monster just grumbled in confusion. A strange cold feeling breezed through his simple brain. Someone or something was reading his poor excuse for a mind.
"You feel great…joy at this." The voice concluded
Joy was not nearly as satisfying as anger and hate but it will have to do: the flight here had been quite draining. The void dissolved away and Cinderblock stood again in the parking lot of wrecked automobiles.
It shook its block shaped head and roared. The stone Golem's enraged gaze focused on the trench-coated figure and closed in. But the stranger's emotionless face did not change.
"Look out!" Robin yelled
Starfire darted off to save the stranger but her efforts were much too late as both of the creature's hands smashed down on the boy, sending them deep into the asphalt with a bone-shaking boom.
"That had to hurt." Beast Boy gulped with nausea.
Cinderblock pulled his hands out of the crater. Aenoch stood at the bottom of the hole, entirely untouched. It's hands had passed harmlessly through.
"Urg?" It grunted in confusion and examined it's monstrous hands. Yep, still there.
It raised its gigantic foot and stomped the figure, deepening the crater. Aenochs head and shoulders inexplicably jetted out of the monsters gray stony ankles. It looked down at the specter with befuddlement.
The stranger reached out with his gray hands. A black tar-like energy poured out of his coat sleeves and condensed around his gray hands. The ebony grew and took the form of twin barrel sized hands.
His giant hands of ebony grabbed hold of the monster around the waist and lifted him off the ground as one would a Cabbage Patch Doll. Cinderblock's face was twisted in a look of shock at his odd predicament. It kicked its legs and arms in protest.
"URG!" It roared and swung at Aenoch who was just out of the monsters reach.
Aenochs dark green eyes pulsed black as he fed on Cinderblocks seriously misplaced joy. The monster stopped thrashing and fell limp.
"Anybody want to explain what's going on?" The changeling asked to no one in particular
The Spirit Drinker calmly dropped the comatose hulk to the ground where it impacted the ruined asphalt with a lifeless thud. The prison guards converged on Cinderblock and began binding it with thick chains.
Starfire gently landed beside the stranger.
"Who are you?" She asked with genuine curiosity
He turned to see the others looking him over as well. They were not running away?
Back at Titan Tower…
While the Titans sat in their living room and eagerly wolfed down a pile of celebratory Pizzas, Cyborg was busily reattaching his arm with a torch built into his finger.
"I said I'm sorry." Beast Boy whimpered
Cyborg looked up from his work, shot the changeling a nasty glance and returned to his repairs.
Aenoch did not eat and could not feel physical hunger. Instead he stood at the room's giant picture window and gazed out on the city beyond. He was usually in a dark place by now, sleeping a dreamless sleep. But for the first time in his life, he actually felt different here, comfortable.
Raven was sitting on their sectional couch and quietly reading one of her books of depressing Haikus. But every so often, she glanced over the book and peeked at Aenoch. Could she feel something too? The Spirit Drinker wanted so much to approach her but that part of him was gone. It would have to be the girl that makes the first move.
Soon the pizza boxes were empty and the teenagers were reclining and patting their filled bellies. Even though Aenoch had aided them in their victory, they still were a bit nervous of him. Starfire was usually their ambassador of friendship but even she looked skittish. Cyborg snapped his arm back into its appropriate shoulder and flexed it…good as new.
"So 'Cyborg volunteered' where're you from?"
"Do you have a name?" Starfire asked again
They had asked numerous times but always seemed unsatisfied with his unchanging answer. Honestly, it was the only name he knew! He wasn't entirely sure how he came by it or what it meant, just that it was what he had always called himself.
"Is that your real name or an alias?" Asked Robin with an artificial tone of authority.
Sounded familiar. Was he not related to Batman in some way? The empty recesses of Aenochs brain seemed to recall something along those lines but as soon as the thought appeared, it faded away.
"A mystery monster." Beast Boy whimpered
"Amnesia 'Robin countered' maybe a head injury. Let me check the database." He said and jogged off.
The sun was at its zenith, draping San Francisco with gold and fire. It had been a long time since Aenoch saw the world like this. For all he knew the sun never had any effect on him it was just instinctual to hide from it.
He glanced over his shoulder at Raven. Her dark blue eyes momentarily met his but immediately darted back to her book. She had to feel something. She must! He had crossed the entire country to find her.
"Hey look. While Robin's doing some checking, we got a spare room if you want to catch some Zs" Cyborg invited
Beast Boy elbowed him hard, producing an echoing gong sound.
"Hello? He could be some axe wielding maniac for all we know."
"I have not killed anyone."
"Sure you haven't" Beast Boy chuckled uncomfortably
Starfire stepped forward and patted Aenoch on his shoulder. Her thin orange fingers went numb from the cold of his aura.
"This way?" She gestured
Aenoch turned away from the window and followed the girl. As they passed the couch, he glanced at Raven who watched him from the corner of her dark eyes
"Feel me?" His mind begged
After entering the twenty-digit password for the Justice League Metahuman Database, the prompt screen popped up.
This JLMD was compiled and updated regularly by the JLA Watchtower. Only their closest and trusted allies are allowed to utilize it. And in an effort to keep out snoopers, Martian Manhunter personally changes the scrambling algorithm every twenty minutes.
Robin typed in the name: ENOCH
Twenty different entries popped up. Two thirds were villains while the rest were amateur crime fighters but none of their descriptions matched their guest.
Wait a second; he pronounced it AY-knock not EE-knock. Robin entered Aenoch into the search engine.
"Crap" He sighed
For the first time in recorded history, Beast Boy might actually be right: this guy could be an agent of Slade or worse. And the fact that Terra went rogue not even a month ago making certainly didn't help. His first instinct was to call STAR Labs and have them pick him up but Robin's gut told him to search other avenues.
Even if the database has no listing, there are others that keep more "invasive" records. Robin hated to use his other source but what the hell. He dialed his number to the Batcave. Hmm…Gotham was four hours ahead so he should just be returning from patrol.
The aged but stately visage of Alfred Pennyworth appeared on the screen. Robin could just make out the stalactites and giant penny in the back ground. Could he be getting homesick? God forbid.
"Ah young Master Dick. What can I do for you?"
"Is Bats in?"
A screeching of brakes and hissing of escaping air. It was the unmistakable sounds of the Bat Mobile parking.
"Just arrived. Master Bruce? Your ward on line one!" He hollered off camera
Alfred stepped aside and Batman's stony visage took his place. He did not react in the least, how utterly typical. He reached up and pulled off his cowl, revealing the very human face of Bruce Wayne: millionaire playboy. Without his mask the human part of his complex character returned.
"What's up?" Bruce asked
"Some weird guy washed up here and I was hoping you might have an idea who he is. Looks like he buys from your tailor."
"Did you check the database?"
"Yeah, not a thing. And God knows you are so much sneakier…"
"Got a name?"
"Aenoch, AKA nothing, emptiness et-cetera."
"Gray skin? Filthy black trench coat?"
"That's him. What is he?"
"No idea. He showed up in Gotham last week and took out two members of the Red Dragons while saving a bag lady. I ran him through Interpol, FBI, CIA and every other database and found nothing."
"No. They're not exactly sure what he did. The two are being held in Arkham- mumbling about "the dark" whatever that means."
"Then what happened."
"Mumbled about how he was looking for something, sprouted wings and flew away."
Was it him, or did Bruce's tough exterior waver for a millisecond. Very unusual.
"What should we do?"
"We could take him to STAR Labs at Metropolis for observation but it would take a while to arrange secured transport. Is Raven still living up there?"
"See what she can find out. Give me a report and we'll go from there."
"Roger, Tower out." Robin said switching off the screen.
She isn't going to like this. Raven hated playing psychiatrist.
"I'm not a psychiatrist. He belongs in Arkham"
"That place is for psychos and criminals and he doesn't strike me as the Joker sort. If we can avoid imprisoning him…"
In actuality she was going to volunteer anyway. This stranger had aroused her curiosity and was most definitely worth investigating.
"On it." She said simply and walked away
Raven stood outside the guestroom. It had only been used once and that was when Beast Boy built a fort out of the pillows and mattress inside. She lightly knocked on the metal door: no answer. She knocked again but much louder: still nothing. He was definitely inside…she could feel him.
She tried the door. It was unlocked and she stepped inside. The window shades were drawn and the bed's gray comforter was undisturbed. She made her way across the room and opened the closet.
Aenoch was still fully clothed and curled up on the carpeted closet floor. His breathing was raspy and shallow. She squatted down and shook him.
"Empty." He muttered
She shook him again and he stirred. Aenoch did not turn around but immediately knew who it was; her geyser of repressed emotions more than gave her away. Even with her standing before him, he still found it difficult to face her.
"I can find out who you really are." Raven explained
"That isn't your name. Allow me to reach inside your mind and find out what it is."
In all honesty, Aenoch really didn't care what his name really was. His curiosity was not of his past but the girl standing before him. However, if her search will bring them closer, so be it. He uncurled and sat up on the closet floor.
His dark green eyes looked into hers. She felt a shiver down her spine, very alien but not at all uncomfortable. A pillow popped off the bed and flew across the room. That always happens when her emotions emerge. God why was this guy affecting her like this? It was going to take an weeks meditation to tuck all this away.
"Keep your center!" Her mind screamed
The girl sat on the bed and assumed the lotus position.
"Sit" She said gesturing to the space before her.
He left the closet and took the same position. She reached out with her gray hands towards his temples. He cringed and shrunk away. Had he been abused? It would explain a lot.
"I will not harm you Aenoch." She confirmed
He steeled himself and leaned forward. Her small hands lightly touched his temples.
"Open your mind and relax." She said while closing her eyes and beginning her chants.
Aenoch disappeared and the room around her became blurry and swirled into a jumbled vortex of color and hues. And it revealed…nothing. His soul WAS empty. Usually this part of the psyche was a muddled stew of feelings and recent memories. But instead it was a void, like an empty hard drive or bottomless well.
She concentrated and dove in deeper.
"Empty" A booming voice echoed around her.
"No kidding." She answered
This was worse than the Black Hole of Zarathos. She could go even deeper but it was risky, many have not returned from this depth. But Raven was intrigued. This guy was even more emotionally shut off than she was. Was it envy she felt?
She gritted her teeth and dove deeper.
But this time it sounded more human, with actual emotion. She was getting close.
"Aenoch?" A very human voice mispronounced
She was now standing in an antique bookstore filled with shelves stuffed with old paperback novels. A young man in the same T-shirt and blue jeans was sitting on the floor amongst stacks of what resembled old detective pulps. But instead of the books, he was examining an ancient leather bound volume. Stamped into the leather cover was the name "Enoch". Raven was no stranger to such tomes but that one did not sound familiar at all. This didn't bode well.
As she observed, Raven noticed several healing lacerations on the boy's arm. Her original theory of abuse appeared to be more and more likely.
He opened the book. The first yellowed page was blank. Flipping through the rest of the pages, he found the rest were blank as well.
"Tease" He sighed closing the book and returning it to the shelf.
The boy made to take one of the paperbacks but paused. Inexplicably, he reclaimed the book and opened it to the first blank page. He ran his fingertips on the yellowed paper. A single English word appeared on the page in handwritten script.
"Empty" He whispered.
Raven shivered. Some dark magic was at play here but this place didn't look like the kind of joint that would offer such things.
He gently rubbed his fingers on the next page. More script appeared but it was not English. Raven recognized it- it was the Atlantean word for empty.
"Empty" He repeated
But obviously the young man couldn't possibly know what it meant. Perhaps something was making him understand? He stood and hustled out of the aisle to an old man standing behind the front counter. Hmm, the owner didn't look suspicious either.
"Funny. Don't remember this one." The elderly clerk commented looking the book over.
There was an odd look in the youth's eyes, like forces unknown were influencing him.
"How much?" The boy asked
"Okay…err twenty bucks."
He paid for the book with a handful of one-dollar bills and left the store.
"Don't you want your receipt?" The shopkeeper called.
He held the book protectively to his chest with both hands and hurried down the street. Raven followed him.
As she trailed the boy, she took in the sights and sounds of the stores and passerby around her. None of this stuff looked familiar. They passed by an electronic store advertising something called a "Betamax". Could that price be right? Seven hundred dollars for a VCR? What year was this?
They left the square and diverted into the residential section.
This place was your typical suburbs, resembling something you might see in any sappy Spielberg flick. Nice clean cookie cutter homes with well tended lawns and weedless flowerbeds lined the streets. A jingling ice cream truck toddled by chased by happy giggling children.
"Eww" Raven cringed with distaste
Raven imagined what would have happened if she had grown up in a place like this. She pictured herself as insanely happy as Starfire, running about the tower and giggling like a loon.
He stopped outside one of the homes. The front yards lawn was well tended and free of garbage or any other signs of distress. From what she had seen so far, Raven had almost expected cars up on blocks and an large pile of empty beer cans.
The boy looked skittish of what was inside. Instead of entering through the front door, he snuck through the garage and adjoining laundry room. Emerging into the homes green carpeted hallway, he bumped into an short older woman toting an hamper of laundry- his mother obviously. Her face lit up immediately seeing her son.
"Back so early?" She asked amused
He tried to reply but apparently couldn't find the words.
Her smile immediately transmuted to concern.
"Are you feeling okay? You look awfully pale."
She reached out to touch his forehead but he ducked her hands.
"I'm…fine." He said running off.
Raven followed him down the green carpeted hallway into a bedroom door posted with a bumper sticker emblazoned proudly with the decree: "I brake for Superheroes!"
The room was crammed full of posters and souvenirs of Metahumans. T-shirts from Gotham City with the familiar crest of Batman, a cardboard standee of Superman during his anti drug campaign and mountains of other similarly themed brik–a-brac filled his room. Stacks of photo albums and scrapbooks were piled haphazardly on his dresser.
An album sat open on his desk. She glanced inside.
It was full of news clippings about the Justice League and their adventures. This might just explain his actions in Gotham City and his seeking out of the Batman. Judging by the dates, this was published long before the forming of the Titans.
She spotted a calendar on a bulletin board behind his desk. It was December 1986. Over twenty years ago! This poor guy has been wandering for that long? No wonder he's so screwed up.
He sat on the edge of his bed and opened the book to the next blank page. Will touched it with his fingers and yet another language appeared.
"Empty" He intoned
Raven could not change the past, only watch. She allowed the odd scene to unfold.
He turned the page and touched it again. A different word appeared on the blank paper but this time was written in ancient Lumerian. A language even older than the previous one!
"Empty" He said again
Hours passed and he continued through the book. The proceeding languages were becoming so old even Raven was having difficulty recognizing them. Apparently they all were different forms of the same word.
And as the pages flew, she began noticing a subtle change in the teenager's complexion. The pigment of his skin was disappearing and his green eyes were becoming darker. It was as if every page was draining his soul a bit more. Raven instinctively reached out to pull the book away but her hands passed right through. She had forgotten that this was unchangeable. By the gods if someone would have stepped in!
By the last page, he was a ghost of his former self. The feeling and curious boy that Raven followed home from the bookstore was gone and in his place sat Aenoch. He could just sit on the bed and look around him confused.
The ancient book in his hands crumbled to the floor in a pile of dust.
There was a light knock on his door.
"Dear? Dinner time." His mother announced
He remained silent.
He could not answer but instead looked confused. The knocking returned but harder with a sense of urgency
"Will? Open the door." She ordered
"WILL!" She yelled
"Will, open the door." A male voice ordered. His father surely
He began to shiver like an cornered animal. He stood, leapt over the bed and phased through the far wall.
Okay, Will was his name. But maybe there was more deeper. Even as empty as his soul is, there must be some remnant of what he was. To truly find out what happened, she would have to talk to the real Will.
She concentrated and the room faded away. Raven was taking a big risk now. No one dares goes this deep. But in this lost soul she was beginning to feel a kindred spirit, if she could just reach it.
She gently set down on a black and white checkerboard marble floor surrounded by thick swirling clouds of black and dark blue. This was the deepest anybody has ever gone. It is here that lies the basest of instincts. From animals to cavemen, this was where their primal urges originate...feelings and impressions none can explain.
Set up on short Grecian style pedestals were orderly rows of carved busts. They were all of Will and sporting different expressions. One was obviously sad, one happy and so on. And holding dominion over the busts was a full-bodied statue of Will as he looked in the bookstore. He was cowering and covering his face with his hands. Raven pondered what it could mean.
"Shyness" A male voice answered uncomfortably from behind.
Raven turned to the source. It was William, what he might have become had he not found that book. He was a foot taller and at least twenty years older. His eyes were fixed to the ground, and away from her. He was apparently shy around the opposite sex. It certainly explains why the shy statue was larger than the rest.
"William?" Raven asked
"Will 'He corrected without looking at her' William makes me sound like a nerd."
He wandered aimlessly around the garden of stone, keeping his distance from this pretty female intruder. Raven would have to reach out to him to get anywhere. She got it.
"So you like superheroes." She suggested
"They go by Metahumans."
"Why do you like them so much?" She asked
That did the trick! He stopped and smiled excitedly.
"One Christmas, my High School Art Club took a trip to the Gotham Museum of Art."
"The driver got lost and our bus broke down in a bad part of town. While we waited for help, a street gang surrounded our bus and tried to knock down the door."
His eyes opened wide.
"And he swooped down on a rope and beat them all! And without guns and super powers but his fists and feet. He moved so fast I could barely see him in the dark."
"Yeah! But he didn't kill them. He tied them all up and disappeared."
Raven was no stranger to superhero melees and fights. Honestly, after years of it, the whole notion becomes somewhat of a bore.
"Was it really THAT exciting?"
He looked to her with a look of muted amusement.
"To a burned out suburbanite? Before that, the only hint of the Metahuman lifestyle was when Lex Luthor's limo took the wrong freeway turn off and ended up driving down main street. To this day I can still hear him cursing his driver to "Get him the hell out of this s*t hole". It was all over the papers."
"I see. And that was what turned you on to su…Metahumans?"
"Much more than that. I wanted to BE one. I didn't have any powers so I learned all I could about detective work and crime fighting."
"And then you found the book."
He stopped in his tracks and fell to his knees. Tears began pouring down his face. Raven, uncomfortable by such showing of emotion, managed to place her hand on his shoulder.
"Aenoch" He mispronounced again
"What did it do to you?"
"It took my spirit away: the emotions, and memories, everything that made me what I was and stripped them away, leaving this gray…thing."
"The powers you have."
"Anger, hate and fear. 'He nodded' to live I have to feed on the darkest emotions of others. They are what creates my shadows and allows me to control them."
"Who do you feed on?"
"The one lasting contribution of my hobby. 'He chuckled sadly' I only feed off of criminals. I can so easily kill my victims too but instead I eat just enough to live."
This guy was obviously not a danger. Raven had been right to do this. Otherwise, Aenoch could have ended up in an observation chamber at STAR labs or even worse just faded away.
"Are all of your emotions are gone?" She asked
"No. That book left the worst one of them all." He said standing and wiping his red eyes.
"LONLINESS! 'He roared into the endless void above' No matter what I do or where I go, I never feel complete. All I feel is the hunger and endless feelings of loneliness."
He leaned against the shyness statue.
"I ran away and wandered, trying to find what was missing. I walked from one end of this country to the other- from Keystone to Metropolis and everything in between. And the more I fed, the more my loneliness grew and my powers with it."
"Something must have changed"
"I wound up in Gotham. Strange how I saved it for last being it was there that this whole mess started. I found the Batman but it didn't complete me either."
He sighed and dug his hands deep into his blue jean pockets and bowed his head.
"I had given up…I couldn't go on. So long in the dark and alone, I couldn't live with it anymore."
"You wanted to die?"
"Could you live such a life? Living off people who fear and hate you? Watching people walking in the light while you in the cold and garbage? Twenty years would be enough for anyone."
Suicide was the cowards way out. But could Raven honestly judge someone in the situation? He had been living like this longer than she had been alive.
"So what stopped you?"
"It was after your defeat, err, first defeat of Cinderblock. They interviewed Starfire and the rest. But when they interviewed you…"
"I felt your emptiness, similar to mine."
"But I repress my emotions on purpose." She advised
He approached her but this time he purposely looked deep into her eyes. He took her small hands in his. Will stood nearly two feet taller than the girl but their gazes meshed like gears of some long forgotten machine. Ordinarily she hated human contact but this felt different.
"You feel loneliness as well, don't you." He said
She looked to the floor and nodded. No use denying it. Even amongst her team she still felt like an outsider, so isolated and shut off. So many nights she sat alone in her room and listened to Beast Boy and the others laughing and enjoying themselves.
"I was drawn to you Raven, like two kindred spirits." He explained
The echo of Will, the true Will, was reaching out to her and offering his companionship. He pressed her hands on his heart. A warm alien feeling crept over her body and in the process filled a void within her as well.
Suddenly a bright light appeared in the black void above them, brighter than the sun but not at all painful to stare at. Will's soul had returned. Not all of it but just enough for him to maybe find some measure of peace.
"Complete me?" He whispered
She couldn't help but smirk. The girl had but a few relationships and they all failed miserably. But something about this newcomer felt different from the rest, like they were truly birds of feather. Sadly, even if Raven's heart wanted to embrace him tight, her logical mind advised her to be realistic. She had been hurt one too many times from diving in headfirst and couldn't bare being hurt again. Of course there was no logical argument against keeping him close.
He saw her reaction and smiled.
The monument garden began to fade as she returned to reality. As Raven willed herself out of Wills mind, she turned to see the stone representation of his shyness had shrunk to nearly half its size.
"Be patient with Aenoch? 'Will called' He's a mess!"
Once again they were sitting on the bed of the guestroom. Aenoch slid off the bed and stretched. The digital clock on the nightstand said they had been at if for only ten minutes.
"Join me for a pizza?" He asked offering Raven his gray hand.
"You do not eat."
"I have pretended being human for twenty years. Eating will be child's play."
The tone of his voice had not changed; Aenoch was still there. But the dark enigma was gone and instead stood a being of buried feelings like her. He looked like one of them but within him lied the soul of a thirty-five year old. It would be pleasing to set the tower on an more mature keel.
But more importantly, there was now a bond between the two. Where was this going to lead? Only the gods could guess.
She took his hand and stood as well.
"I could eat."
I am Aenoch
I am nothing
An empty shell of what had once been an human
And to survive I must devour the hate, anger and fear of the same people who shun me
But in my never-ending loneliness I have found a purpose to my existence.
Her name is Raven, and she is a Teen Titan