'Lo friendly readers! You may notice there's something different to chapter 1 if you have been following along. After doing a quick re-read, and from some of the comments I've gotten, I noticed that it needed a bit of a touch up along with some of the other chapters. So here is chapter 1 with actual editing *cue awe and amazement*, some added scenery, and some rearrangement. The chapters that follow shall be edited over the next few days and/or weeks.
For those just joining us? Well, you may notice some new faces amongst the old. This story takes place within one of the many alternate worlds featuring the characters and happenings that started with Legendmaker's Black and White and continued though its sequels and the works of the various other authors of the 'Legendsverse.' If you have not read these? I HIGHLY recommend it.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything beside this plot, Ryce, and my interpretation of Azrael. The rest are copyrighted to DC and to the magnificent authors of the Legendsverse. The later being namely Legendmaker, Jedi-and, Bobcat, and Slothsoul, who have allowed me to play with their various characters and ideas.
This…this is odd.
He sat within the darkness, just outside the realm from which both of his lives had come into being; staring without eyes at what had torn its way into his solitude. He had felt it coming, had heard the screams ripping themselves through the tear from which the mass of flesh and limb birthed from. Annoyance and an immediate desire to squelch the gasping whistling sobs emerging from it had given away in a wave of patience. After all, the void would render it incoherent and inconsequential. An unfortunate human pest, its screams would match those that followed it and then its body would turn merciless on itself. A final act of self devouring and then the silence and peace would return. He had far greater things to consider than the closing seconds of one of these animal's lives.
Normally, this Darkness would not concern himself with the trivial things whispered within the black. But somewhere along the line, the hissing had wormed its way into his ear. In the passing weeks he had heard whispers between the worlds…rumors of rumors…something was coming, the dark hissed…something that could very well wreck all that he had strived for. His plans for naught, his purpose in this world unfulfilled. No lost and broken human should draw his thoughts away and soon enough this distraction would cease. So he waited.
Seconds whirled by. And then minutes. Still no anguished scream erupted from it…no nonsensical sound as the darkness…his darkness, as was all darkness…permeated flesh and heart and mind. All that came was the slowly steadying gasp of its rattling lungs…the frantic thudding and thrumming of its labored heart…the dry, shifting sound as limbs twisted and bent forcing themselves to support the body again. The void was not meant for her kind…and yet she stood.
This did not bode well with the Dark.
Her eyes were shut tight…skewered closed in a grimace of tired anguish. The girl – and for all appearance that was all yet she was – blocked out her sight, not against the world, but the very lack there of around her. Even here, in this endless silent void, she could hear it…could feel a reality just beyond her grasp tearing itself apart at the seams. The sound carried and followed her, reaching out like clawing branches from all sides. There was little time left for them, now.
This was not her first time hearing the laughter and tears, screaming and whispers. All swirled round the drain, unknown to them that all life was about to be awash in a split second…unknown were the tiny fissures making their way up the dam. Fissures that would become cracks…and then holes…and then nothing as the waters flooded out.
She was praying, now. Praying that this time would be her last time, watching helplessly from behind a pane of glass. In the end though, logic reigns and logic sat back with a resigned shrug of its metaphorical shoulders as its nonexistent fingertips picked in boredom at the fraying edges of her mind. You lose, it said, fun is fun but done is done, move on to the next customer. She knew she had failed. The autopilot cannibalism that had been engaged beyond the dark too far gone to reverse. She knew this…she understood this simple fact that nothing else could be done. After so many times, she knew there was no point left in fighting.
"We have to go back," came her raw, cracking voice.
Within the vacuum between these worlds, her voice echoed into the silent black around her. It was not shadow, that was too simple a term: It was a living breathing dark, which for all its silence, pulsed and screamed in its own horrid way. Her voice carried – there being no reason it should – the hollow desperation in it magnified by the emptiness. It was a plea – it seemed – to no one and for a moment the thing that lay in quiet wait thought she was addressing him.
And then another arrived, standing proudly and entering seamlessly where its companion had fallen over onto itself. That pathetic begging had been for his ears, the Dark saw. They still remained ignorant to the fact that they were being observed. The Dark One listened with patience to this rare break within the abyss. The girl was flesh, blood, and bone…a mortal that traipsed through the void without paying the price of her sanity. There was something more, he knew, something he was not seeing. For all her gifts and strange talents, though, he could see that her desperation had all but blinded her to the voyeur that watched her exchange.
The companion looked down at his charge, his voice a smooth rumble, "No…we do not"
"We can still save them."
The guardian's voice was impassive…and even with her eyes shut so tight, she knew the look he was sending her way. The detest and loathing he had for this cause had never shocked her really. Yet, despite all she knew and understood about the creature who guarded her, it didn't matter. What mattered lay beyond this place, flickering where the dark seemed thinnest, as if one could punch their fist right through it and into the world beyond. What mattered were the screams that were slowly growing weaker as that darkness thickened once more.
In her head all the sirens shrieked out their warnings, her lungs gasped and pulsed, begging for air they could not reach. Logic sat up straight and snarled at her to grip herself and brace her body for the storm about to hit in the coming hour. It. Did. Not. Matter. Her eyes snapped open in the dark. Instead?
Instead, she screamed.
"Please! God damn it, please! We can help them! I can still help them! LET ME SAVE THEM!"
The calm and desperate plea from earlier was gone as hysteria climbed into her shrieks. The guardian had given her his back now. Her pleas fell upon his deaf ears as the Dark drew back ever so slightly, as if disturbed by her outburst. Sobs and curses ripped up out of her and when that brought her nothing, her frail human body flung itself at the façade that guard wore.
Then, as Darkness's eyes stared on, she began to change…and in an instant he saw that which lay behind her human's face, as much of a mask as her Guardian's. The Dark knew who this creature was and what her presence meant to his plans. His previous anger at her trespass flared, as what could almost be akin to panic flickered within him. Time was up and considerations be damned…The rumor was coming.
He struck out at them, just as the screams of the other world ceased, as if cut off in the dark by a knife.
Frankie Anders had pretty much always been good at only one thing in his life.
Born and raised in Jump, his father had left before Frankie had quite grasped the concept of life without a diaper. The woman and 4 kids he left behind, lived in government sponsored housing…each week an argument over what their welfare check went towards. It wasn't that his mother couldn't work…but why bother when someone else was willing to foot the bill? Why raise the mess of children she had brought into the world when they pretty much took care of themselves? Ms. Anders had perfected her system by cheating The System that so many others grinded themselves down escaping. The life of a leech may not have been glamorous…it may stain the names of all those others who do not try and bleed the hand that helps them up dry…but that was not her problem.
With such wastes as parents it was no wonder the seventeen year old had all the motivation of a couch cushion. There was just enough drive to roll his stocky frame out of bed in the morning and into a pair of pants before he strolled down to the corner. Here Frankie could be the one thing he was good at…the only thing he wanted from life.
The group he hung out with always was changing it seemed. But Frankie knew the core and heart remained the same. Same shit, different day. Even if the faces around him shifted, there were still the one that remained and to this he pledged himself. Frankie was above all else a sheep, albeit one who more resembled a slightly overweight rat with his pinch features and beady eyes . A follower. A lackey. This was the life he was choosing, this was all he wanted. Why make decisions that others can make for you? And the biggest and baddest among them, a brick shit house by the name of Carlos, had no problem making those decision for him.
Eat here. Dress this way. Stand there. Sell the shit there. Pass that rock here.
Each order and command was fulfilled without question, without even a hint of hesitation. Even if Frankie knew some of this was so very wrong. Even though he knew what holding up that little Korean man's market had done to him. Even though his stomach cramped when the bright florescent lights gleamed off the edge of the pipe he had used to knock the man right off his stool. Even if he still had nightmares about how the seventy year old man had tried so desperately to just crawl away, feeble fingers reaching weakly for his glasses. Both the glasses and the frail hand reaching for them crunching like a cockroach under Carlos's heavy boots as they took off with a meager $526. He knew these things, but who was he to bring it up to Carlos? Carlos could (and undoubtedly would) rip him in half. No, let Carlos do the thinking…let him be the brains…he'd just be the third hand and fourth hand.
The best thing about hands? Hands acted…they molded and worked and sure, maybe they bled. But the one thing hands didn't do? They didn't answer questions. That was for the mouth and the head, and that was Carlos. The mouth and the head that grinned with oily slickness at the unusually garbed group of people before them as the large, barrel chested man ran a hand over the cleanly shaven top of his skull. It was late…or early depending on your perspective. By now the rest of Carlos's group had fluttered away leaving behind the core…the Shepard and his rodent featured sheep. A man, older than Frankie, but probably on par with Carlos, glared back at the two. The narrowing eyes were hidden by his mask as it began to furrow at its center.
"You freaks want sumthin?" Carlos asked, tilting his head mockingly at the group in front of him. Standing a step or so behind him, Frankie's eyes widened a bit in fear at his "friend's" bravado. If one were to ask him – though really no one ever would – Frankie was more inclined to refer to that boldness as a death wish, especially taunting this particular guy. Perhaps once upon a time, this man had been the young, foolish, hotpants-wearing ward of Gotham's Knight, but that was a long time ago. No...in the end, the very last thing Frankie Anders felt like doing was going toe to toe with one, famed guardian of Jump City, Robin.
With a jittery and nervous glance up, he stuttered out, "Carlos, don't man. That's-"
"Shut up," was the silky reply snapped back at him.
"A little late to be out and wandering the streets wouldn't you say?" came a voice from the masked man's right. A heavyset woman stepped into the street light to stand beside the easily recognized brightly garbed man. The only distinguishing feature beside her body type was her brown hair, as it was the only thing above her neck not obscured from sight by her own grey mask. This one Frankie could not place a name with, though he had seen her time and time again on the television beside her teammates. All he knew is that she was one of the more recent recruits to the team, actually the newest, but that really did not matter one way or the other to the two.
The sly, cunning gleam in Carlos's eyes darkened as she spoke, his attention now snapping to her. Lip curling up into a scowl, her leered at her, mud brown eyes traveling up and down in apparent disgust, "Who the fuck asked you? Fat, stupid bitch."
A rumbling growl grumbled out from the dark behind the two Titans, sending goose flesh up the younger delinquent's back. He was struck, for a moment, with a vision of a much younger version of himself peaking out from under the covers at the crack-opened closet door, waiting for the boogeyman to spring out with hooked slimy hands. The childish fear doubled when from the darkness, on Robin's other side, a shadow shifted and seemed to grow with that growl. Within seconds that form padded slowly forward into the light to show a large, green Bengal tiger, its mouth agape, ever so slightly, to showcase long white fangs.
Oh man we're gonna die, Frankie's mind came to grasp. Weeks of low scale petty crime, a few assaults and possessions here and there, and they were going to die all because Carlos decided to mouth off to a god damn tiger.
"B…let it go," the heavier female meta said, cutting off all thought of his impending doom. The tiger glanced up at the woman, seeming to give a nod. In an instant the large cat was gone, in its place stood a youthful man clad in white, black, and purple starkly contrasting against the green that was the rest of his body. Beast Boy, Frankie's mind indentified numbly. Also identified? The need to get out of there. Now.
"Carlos let's go man."
A cool look made Frankie flinch back once more as Carlos shrugged, back to grinning arrogantly at the costumed group before him.
"We aint doing nothin'. It's a free fuckin' country. Right to life, liberty and the pursuit of walking down the street without some little fag in a costume hanging on my nuts about it," he gave a humorless and nasty laugh as he sauntered up to Robin, "Maybe you all should be the one's who get off OUR street."
Frankie's innards cramped up hard into steel, before feeling as if they had simply been liquefied. Over the past few weeks, his "friend" had been getting progressively worse. Each passing day, each low scale and yet exceedingly violent crime, inflating his ego further. Normally, this arrogance and blind pride would have been something for Frankie to observe in silent and envious awe. The way the large man carried himself with that swagger to his step, or how he sneered at a cop passing by and called him a 'pig.' God, Frankie respected that in him. But this was different. This was not fun any more. The little, husky thug did not voice it, but there was testosterone fueled bravado and then there was gassing up a tank and trying to stop it with your god damned hands.
Green eyes narrowing into disbelieving slits, Beast Boy stepped forward a bit towards his teammate and Carlos, "Dude, I don't know what your malfunction is but you need to back off or…"
"Or what? I ain't done nuttin. You freaks are the ones harassin'me…go ahead you little green shit and see what happens when you go after an unarmed civilian," Carlos's grin had twisted up further on his face as he looked down at the shorter Titan in dark glee, "That is 'less you all are here for little ol'me."
"Please…don't flatter yourself," a new voice came from behind the two delinquents, causing them both to turn. Carlos moved like a snake…Frankie stumbled with the blind panic of a startled roach. Carlos smirked at the black man…Frankie tried not to tremble as he eyed the cybernetics that made up a majority of this guy's body. How many times had Frankie passed a news program over the years to see the Titan, "Cyborg," produce a cannon out of one of those arms? A cannon that laid waste to chunks of city street. Foolishly, he imagined what one of those cannons could do to, say, his face. Victor 'Cyborg' Stone took little notice of his whimper, his eyes resting only on Carlos.
"This is a bad area…and you are asking for trouble from the wrong people. Go. Home. We ain't asking," Cyborg said to the larger of the two coolly. Frankie's glittering, and watery eyes flicked from man to man, waiting to see what Carlos would do. Breath held. Instantly, a horrid image of Carlos's fist pulling back and rocketing forward into the Titan's face filled Frankie's mind. The resulting beat-down they would be getting for it.
Carlos just smiled.
"Let's go, Frankie."
Relief…sweet, cool, and intestine-loosening, relief. Frankie did not need to be, nor did he wait to be, told twice. Instantly, he began to scamper – it was the only word for it – away and up the block, following Carlos in blind devotion. The Titans that remained behind watched in silent annoyance.
"What a dick," Garfield 'Beast Boy' Logan muttered, shaking his head in disgust. No one raised their voice to contradict this assessment. The most response it got, outside the tired nod here and there, was a sigh falling from Robin's mouth. The Titan lifted his bright yellow COM from his belt to his lips, his masked face sporting a look of resigned annoyance.
There was a few moments of static-crackling quiet over the COM frequency, before the calm, barely inflected, voice of Raven answered back, "West side appears quiet, Robin. No activity."
As soon as she had finished, another – clearly male voice – echoed her assessment, "East side's clear as well…unless you count a few middle school kids looking to egg their history teacher's car earlier."
Robin frowned a bit at this, casting a slightly worried glance down at the COM, "What did you do, Savior?"
"…I broke their fingers and made them eat every last egg, shells and all, for their childish insolence," crackled back a mocking voice somewhere on the line.
"Gauntlet, get off the COM," Noel Collins – better known by his not at all pretentious alias, 'Savior' – snapped. Robin rolled his eyes and made to press the transmission button again. Before he could, another voice came out over the speaker, sweet and worried.
"Dearest Robin, we heard Cyborg's transmission of an encounter. You are unhurt?" Starfire asked in genuine concern. In spite of himself, Tim Drake felt his mouth curling up into a soft smile at her worry. "No problems on the South side, Star…some punk kids loitering. We're going to head back now. We'll meet back at the Tower."
Once more the frequency crackled to life, Chuckling in self-amusement, Gauntlet – real name Robert Candide – ignored his often too serious teammate's previous command, "Don't sweat it Tim…I don't think you look like a cigarette…"
Dead silence broke out over both the group present and those elsewhere listening in on the T-COM. Tim gave yet another roll of his eyes when, from his side, Beast Boy stifled a chuckle.
Rob spoke up once more, "...get it? Because fag means…"
"We get it Gauntlet…" Robin sighed, rubbing his temple with one hand in exasperation.
"Well I thought it was funny," Beast Boy said, still snickering as the others set off on their way home once more. From his communicator drawled Raven's perpetually bored and dry voice, "Not exactly a testament to his quality of humor…you still find Saturday Morning cartoons funny…"
"I do not!" Garfield quickly shot back, blushing.
"Yes, because you never wake me up every Saturday Morning at 8 AM sharp laughing at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," another woman said, joining the COM banter.
Beast Boy's eyes widened at his girlfriend's – the Titan, Terra – voice, "Tara!"
"How many damn times do I have to say it? No names on the COM!" Noel grumbled back again, though it went largely unheard over the combined laughter of Gauntlet and Cyborg. Clapping a hand on the mortified shifter's shoulder, Victor Stone grinned down at his much shorter friend, "Damn…your girlfriend burned you, man."
Garfield began to sputter indignantly in his humiliation as they continued on home. A typical, though late, night of patrol. Nothing new…
The paper bag covered forty crinkled and tore slightly beneath Frankie's fingertips. They hadn't moved too far, just a block to two away from where the Titans had begun to disperse and head back to their own home. Somewhere along the line, Carlos had drawn the beer from one of the many pockets on his baggy pants, chugging several gulps of it himself before shoving it towards his lackey. A typical winding down to a boring night, outside of their unpleasant chat with their city's defenders. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Until, that is, the alleyway beside them lit up in a purple flash.
The sudden light took them both by surprise. The strange glow had drifted out of the alley without warning, a strange crackling sound emitting from the darkness between the two buildings. Instantly, Frankie's instincts screamed to flee once more…the forty was lying smashed on the ground, dropped in his surprise. Its cheap, bitter contents were spreading in a puddle under his shoes. He may have even bolted had Carlos not lifted his hand, preventing his feet from back pedaling out into the street. Carlos wordlessly stepped forward, shoving him back ever so slightly as he made his way into darkness to see exactly what had caused the light. Frankie's feet followed before he even had a chance to tell them no.
"Carlos…wuh-what the fuck was that man? You ever seen sumthing like that? We should probably get out of-"
The harsh snap was all Frankie's lips needed to stop their rambling. The darkness swallowed first his "friend" and then himself into its embrace. All traces of that strange purple light had faded, leaving nothing but black and the thick, heavy smell of trash. But something else lingered above that sour-sweet stench of decay. A trace of ozone, though neither of the two could have vocalized this realization any further than Frankie's hiss, "It smells like shit down here…Carlos…maybe we should go…I mean we dunno what the fuck that light was and I-"
A queer smile formed on Carlos's face, which Frankie realized with something akin to relief, he could just start to see again as his eyes adjusted to the shadow, "It was a camera…they was taking pictures of her."
Confusion crinkled the smaller younger boy's brow. Pictures? They? Her? He could not begin to understand what it was the larger of the two was talking about. That is until he finally heard the strange gasping above the thundering of his heart in his chest. There, crumpled in a pool of stagnant water, was a girl no older then himself. Shrouded by the dark, it was hard to see her completely, but there was no denying that battered shape. It was a girl and it sounded like she was crying. Standing this close Frankie could see the blood – died black by the darkness – that coated her arms and legs, her face hidden behind ragged blond hair and clenched frightened hands.
Frankie's eyes turned to Carlos to question what he should do and was taken back by the hungry look he saw there. The smirk crawled cruelly across the man's face as he stepped forward slowly, sauntering towards the shivering broken teen laying curled in on herself. A hand was already unhooking his belt, trying to reach the zipper beneath. A pale tongue darter out to lick his lips obscenely.
"Hey there baby…you wan' go 'nother round?"
Now Frankie understood. There was only one explanation; it was not like it was unheard of in the back alleys of streets like this. The girl had to have been…"used" by whoever had been taking those pictures…and when they were done she'd been thrown away into the alley gutter to die or hope that someone would find her and help.
She had been found alright, and Frankie's weak mutter of protest went ignored by Carlos's advancing form. The girl shifted in the shadow, drawing herself back into the dark slightly. A brief glimmer of light from a window above reflected torn clothing that barely clung to her legs before the shadows swallowed her again. For one crazy second, Frankie almost thought that glimpse of clothes looked shredded as if by claws…but that was silly. And her hands, the hands trying to brace her weight as she pulled out of the fetal position resting her frame upon her hip…a trick of the light that they should look so sharp.
"C'mon baby how 'bout a helmet wash?" Carlos purred.
It was as if his words had flown from his mouth and struck her like a slap across the face. Her body had gone rigid; the shallow, troubled breathing halting in its pitches. A low, guttural sound emerged from within this torn and beaten girl, her weight shifting again, form drawing even further back into the dark. Something was not right. Frankie had never been what one could deem a ladies man…but he knew the shape of a woman, knew the folds of her body. There was something else here…something more.
By now even Carlos had paused raising a pierced eyebrow up towards his cleanly shaven skull. That soft deep rumbling was getting louder now, vibrating off the brick walls of the alley, vibrating in their very chests. Eyes becoming so adjusted to this lack of light, Frankie kept shaking his head as if to clear his vision of this thing's melting and changing shadow. Now upon her hands and knees, her pale back – lined with the intricate patterns of some tribal tattoo – arched up, something thin and leathery…something else, which shifted softly and dryly like two pillows against each other, stretching up into the black, blocking out the wall behind her. Behind her something snaked and slithered in the dark. Carlos was beginning to backpedal slowly towards him eyes wide in horror, mouth forming no words. They had found no victim…they had found a beast.
Suddenly, its head snapped to the side, a single glowing light glaring at them from the left half of its face. A fang-line mouth opened and from it fell a string of snarls and growls, their meaning unknown; they hurt his head to even hear. How could it make those sounds? Frankie ripped his hands up to his ears trying to block out this thing's wordless voice, but it seemed to bleed through his flesh. Carlos had begun to scream over and over asking what it was. And then in the darkness, amongst the two strange shadows extending away from its back the alleyway became a lit.
Hundred of eyes, their pupils like a cat's staring into them…knowing them.
Frankie didn't wait for his orders. For the first time in his sorry life, Frankie lost his ability to follow. He was no longer a sheep. A long piercing scream arose into the night as he turned and fled out unto the street. He didn't wait for Carlos, didn't even look over his shoulder to see his older partner fall over his feet as he attempted to flee this aberration. If he looked back, if he met those hundred of knowing eyes again, he would start screaming. He would start screaming and then he would scream some more, and he would never stop. That's how they would find him, just a drooling, shrieking shell.
Within the alley Carlos had frozen. Fallen unto his stomach, he sobbed and whimpered into the dark, waiting for the feeling of talons ripping into his flesh. Waiting for fangs to tear open his throat. For all his crimes…for all his sins…they had sent to him a devil. The gold chain and St. Christopher's medal that hung around his neck was grasped tightly in his hands as he sobbed out what he could remember of the Lord's prayer, praying against all hope that he would be saved after all he had done.
Something gripped the chain, closed around it tightly from behind and ripped it upwards snapping the precious metal and lifting the symbol from his clenched fists. He didn't fight…he let it have it…and sobbed for his life as a clawed foot fell down on one side of his head, the subtle pressure of the other pressing into the groove of his skull and neck.
Sobbing up at it, Carlos begged, "Dios Mio….Please….Please! I'm sorry."
"No, you're not…but you will be one day."
The words it spoke were English now…the voice clearly feminine and seemingly youthful, though strangely sad. But there was something else there…some strange intone. The voice of something very young and at the same time older than ages. Another wail ripped up from his lungs as that foot began to press down on the back if his neck, claws brushing the bared skin in light scratches. Once more the old-young voice spoke, saying one last thing.
"Give me your clothes."
The two police officers stood dumbfounded. There had been reports of screams heard in the neighborhood. Both had come, guns at the ready dreading what they would find, given the area. What neither expected to see was man in his twenties laying face down in the alleyway. Robbed of his clothing he sat naked in a pool of his own urine, fist clutched tightly over a broken medal and chain. Neither could get him to talk much in any intelligible manner…not understanding his sobs of the dark, of the eyes, and of monsters.
Neither looked up to the sky to see the form watching them, crouched down and small. She was no more than a child herself, a teenager with long blond hair, matted to her head with blood and dirt. A gash across her shoulder ran deep but was caked with clotted blood. It looked almost fresh, and yet no fresh blood streamed from it. A set of eyes, glassy with pain and exhaustion stared down, one blue the other hazed and cloudy. The thug's clothes hung off her thin sickly frame like sacks, but they covered her at least – swallowed her, to be exact.
Her mind swirled and writhed, her ears hearing whispers in the air that did not come from the humans below. It was coming…the rush…she had to get somewhere safe. She staggered away from the buildings edge, chancing a glance to the window of the door that led to the roof on which she stood. The glass reflected back a gaunt and deathly skull, pale bruised flesh pulled tightly across it. A shaky hand, clutching the rags she once wore, rifled through the remains of her clothing. A small white chunk of labeled plastic was shoved into the thug's pocket; a bent pair of glasses were gingerly placed over the pained eyes. Soon now…it would be over soon…like ripping off a band aid. Closing her mismatched eyes a frail hand reached out and pushed open the door. Legs shuffled as she dozed, ambling like the living dead wherever her feet would lead.
It was not long thereafter that she opened her eyes again. Breaking from her trance, she found herself standing at the top of a set of stairs on the streets below. She didn't even remember walking this far…for this long. It had been minutes…or had it been seconds? It could not have been hours…she didn't have time for that and the sky was still dark.
The glassy stare turned to gaze at the graffitied walls of this pathway into the dark mouth of the underground. Beneath the tags and obscene markings was a metal plate drilled and screwed into the cement wall. A white circle with a blue box shape in its center, and beneath this crudely done symbol were 5 letters. Her mind scrambled and pulsed as she tried to focus, tried to remember what this all meant – if only that whispering would stop she could concentrate. The letters blurred and danced before her, making out the first two and then her vision was swallowed in red. A…T…and then an R…Truh…She knew this word…
She must have done it again…because when she opened her eyes from that pain focused expression she was no long staring down a set of stairs. What they saw now was a black window, flashes of light streaking by, a torn poster advertising some play downtown from 5 years prior. She must have blacked out, again she realized. She was no longer looking into underground, she was in it, sitting rigidly on a bright orange plastic seat.
Beneath, the tracks rumbled, metal screeching, every so often, upon metal. The black outs were coming closer together now. Soon, she thought, hot tears streaming from her eyes as her head thudded and throbbed in great gusts of pain. It felt as if her very skull was being cleaved into two…the whispers rising in volume. Hands lashed out to grip at her sides as she rocked back forth, sobbing alone in the dark subway car. She could feel it building, like some obscene contraction waiting to birth into this world – a terrible, twisted infant. No one was riding the train tonight…she was lucky in that she supposed. Slowly, the tears from that blighted left eyes ran pink…then red…
She began to scream.
But all of this…the girl's screams, ripped up and out of her to the dark abandoned car…the Titans and their chat with Frankie and Carlos before they returned home…the way she finally slumped over into a trembling and useless heap of unconscious flesh, the screaming and pain finally ceasing. All of this was yet to come. The dark, vile nothing that was the rumor was not yet breathing down upon Jump City. Before the girl had even taken her first shaky step, which would carry her to that place on the subway, the die had been cast. The result of that cast?
That was the only word the woman could even imagine to apply to her situation. Complete and utter chaos. Softly, her boots clicked against the marble floor as she made her way through the narrow halls. There was so much to do…so many laying in wait for their judgment. Unrest was beginning to peak amongst the queues in a way she hadn't seen in eons. She had delegated this duty to her "assistant" for exactly this reason that long, long time ago. It allowed her to regulate the input and output so to speak…keep the lines from backing up. She had always trusted the odd being's mind and judgment and after all, she always had the final say for those few decisions they had squabbled over. Efficient and unbiased for millennia, he had stood there making her existence just that tiny bit less hectic.
Albeit, that is, until recently. Once, she streamed their "clientele" into him without a single hiccup in their system. One after the other, led unto their final fates, punishment, reward, or perhaps even further trial. Now though? Now, more and more it appeared that while input was steadily increasing, output was all but at a stand still. Her assistant was becoming lax, it seemed. Lips quirked downwards into a slight frown as she continued on. The dark haired woman knew exactly what reason laid behind the abrupt change in the flow of work.
The human's death hadn't surprised her. Then again, NO death ever surprised her – that would just be silly. No…she had known her fate long before she even came into this realm. It had been a difficult choice to keep this horrible truth from her aging and lagging assistant when he claimed the pretty little mortal for his own. Before the cause of her death had even been formed, she had seen what awaited the demure creature even if her new husband could not. Such was the folly of love…it blinded one to the black truths just beyond its rosy glasses. For all his years and wisdom, he had not seen what his actions had wrought.
So, she had allowed him joy…for the first time in centuries reaping that which he had sown, taking responsibility for his actions…and seemingly with interest. A sigh fell from her dark lips tousling a shock of black hair…his joy had made his despair at her death all the more poignant. That had been weeks ago. She had allowed him his grief. She had hoped against hope that the unhinged and broken gleam she had seen in his eyes would fade on its own. It had not …this had to end now…there was too much work to be done to wallow in pity forever.
She heard her assistant long before her eyes came to see the creature. Even several corridors away, his near shrieking had that wonderful habit of carrying as he laced into whatever it was that had been unfortunate enough to earn his wrath. While she was far from panicked or even really worried, she did speed up her pace slightly, thinking that it would be nice for this to be over with. With each step, the silver ankh around her slim neck bounced against a plain black top.
By the time she rounded the corner, she was just in time to see a large ornate door slam right into another's face, cutting off the tirade that had been sounding from within. The shut out creature sighed, his shoulders hunching ever so slightly as a series of growls emerged from a maw lined with needl- like teeth. Hands that seemed more talon than flesh clawed menacingly in the air in front of him, as if itching to bury themselves in the oak. The strange language he spoke was unheard by the man beyond the door, but perfectly understood by the woman standing in the shadow behind the creature. Dark threats for what lay within the room. Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, the pale skin wrinkling with the swirled black marking below her right eye. So already the hatred was flowing…she truly pitied the cause of the human's death.
Voided black eyes ripped away from their glare and fell upon her much smaller form. The talons that tipped its fingers tensed in one last clenching motion before relaxing and sweeping behind its spiked, hunched back. All at once, the loathing fled from its nightmarish features and was replaced with a look of humbled awe. It was a familiar look, one she often received on the occasions she visited. A low bow greeted her as the blank, endless stare swept away from her own gaze. The voice falling from that fanged maw was a great deal different, softer and slyer, than what she had just been hearing.
"M'Lady…we were not expecting a visit from you today! Father will be most pleased…"
She raised a questioning eyebrow at that as she looked beyond the beast to the door behind him, "Hmm…he sounds it…"
Respect was overthrown by embarrassment as the demonic-looking thing cast a look over its shoulder at the closed entryway. A bit of worry, just a glimmer in its features, appearing as well. She could see the realization there, knowing that if she had heard its father's bellowing, than it was impossible to have missed its snarled threats.
"Yes...Father is rather…stressed right now. What with this new… 'distraction'."
Muffled from within the room beyond the doors there came a new sound now, a low keening whine. Before Y'mael could stop himself that same dark look flickered briefly across its features as if reflex. In an instant it was gone again, but she had seen it. There no was hiding this thing's hatred…not when it described the source of the sound with such venom in its voice.
Nevertheless, it was not her place to address such matters, not her station to deal with the nasty dreams floating behind this creature's eyes. A pale hand reached beyond the beast to rest upon the doorframe, before pushing it open with uncanny strength. The muffled mewling tripled in volume into squalls of gasping shrieks causing the leathery creature to draw back with a hiss. She slipped into the room, snapping the door shut so swiftly that one dark denim clad leg was almost caught in the progress. Doing so effectively prevented one of her assistant's many sons any access to the room and the pathetic wretch screaming within.
However loud the screeches had been through that tiny crack in the door, they were all but unbearable within the room. Since the beginning of it all, it never ceased to amaze her how something so weak and tiny could emit such an earsplitting noise, as if the world were falling apart around them. Simple things that would eventually be taken for granted set them off into such a hysterical fit. The smallest hunger pain, slightest hint of dampness or cold, a tiny pinch, even a thimble full of fear and loneliness, and they screeched as if seconds away from being collected. For once though, her eyes found that this small one's reaction was not quite an exaggeration.
The man appeared to be in his early to mid thirties with hair so black it seemed almost to have a sheen of blue. Normally slicked back above his head, she found it to be mussed into a dull tangle. A single shock of silver hair fell just as messily into his face and eyes. His were eyes that immediately betrayed his youthful appearance, yellowed and ancient as parchment around their deep blue edges. It was saddening to find that the handsome face she knew quite well was pale and haggard, his eyes narrowed into tiny, hateful slits above the dark circles, which had formed beneath them. His expression pinched and furious, like a drawn mask pulled tightly over his skull.
Watching in calm quiet, she took in the rest of his appearance. The velvet drape coat he so often sported was thrown haphazardly over a desk chair in a wrinkled scarlet mess. Its black lapels were sticking up and one of them was torn. The clothes he did still wear seemed to be in no better state. The stark white button up was wrinkled beneath the navy blue waistcoat, its top buttons undone, and a black and gold bolo tie limp like a dead snake around its collar. Dangling precariously from the waistcoat's pocket, was a delicate gold watch only kept from shattering on the floor by a thin gold chain. One drainpipe style pant leg was half way up the calf to reveal heinously brightly colored socks above a chunky thick-soled suede shoe. Her normally obsessively well-groomed assistant looked more like a hobo; his laid back and level headed nature replaced by this fury driven lunatic.
And yet…none of this the most distressing part of her observations. Currently, she found him half bent – his ancient eyes rolling, madly in his head – hovering over a black-laced basinet. From within the cradle came a miserable caterwauling wail of misery. His mouth had stretched open wide, the jaw distended like a snake to reveal a triple set of fangs where a human man's canines would appear. A pointed black tongue poked out to lick the air before him hungrily. Already, she could see his hands – which she had always viewed as slightly feminine – begin to hook into taloned claws. Taloned claws that were slowly reaching into the basinet, their intent clear for its tiny inhabitant.
A small cough was all she needed to utter and the frustrated snarl fled his face, his slightly demonic features – ironic for an angel she supposed – bleeding away. The madness in his eyes was gone as if it had never even been. In fact, with his head tilted to the side as it was, he looked more akin to a deer facing headlights than any sort of threat. A child with one hand in the cookie jar trying to piece together a reason…any reason really…to explain why whatever he was doing was not quite what it obviously looked like. Mouth working furious to try and form words, the man stuttered. His voice carried a thick British accent, something she never quite understood his possession of.
"Um…I…that is…I was-"
"Just about to devour your newborn, Azrael?" she asked finishing the angel's thought for him.
His face fell a bit, nearing a petulant sort of pout, "Well…yes. Yes I was."
"I'm afraid that the consumption of infants – especially your own – would be ample grounds for dismissal, my dear teddy boy."
He straightened away from the basinet, yellowing eyes glancing at it helplessly, shoulders rounded into a defeated slouch. Without any encouragement, the gothic teen crossed the room and swept her arms into the tiny cot. The child was tiny, far smaller than she should have been. The second her hands cradled the small blond head, the pitch of the baby's screams began to fall. Within a minute of being cradled tightly, they had subsided completely, the silence broken by the occasional hiccup or gurgle. Not wet…not cold…not hungry…simply alone and afraid. I'm sorry to say you will have to get used to those feelings, hun, the young woman thought, remembering the hateful stare this infant's sibling had cast in her direction…remembering the look on her own father's face.
"It disturbs me, Teleute, how easily children take to you…given your position that is," he mumbled dismissively as he tried to straighten his appearance. It was a good show considering how quite insane she knew him to have become in the passing weeks.
"Now there is a name I haven't heard in awhile…they take to me because they are still young enough to know me, 'Rael…they still remember."
He gave a grunt, "Hm…"
Azrael had moved away from them both now, hovering over the large intricately carved desk on which a whirlwind of papers and odd little objects rested. Tried as he might to appear to be busy in his scouring over the many documents, she could see those old eyes darting back to glance at them every so often, a protective gleam lurking behind them. The creature was a walking contradiction: one second looking ready to eat the babe, the next glaring at her discretely for holding her. How she wished it to be a benevolent protection.
He waved her off focusing on papers she knew he had no interest in, "If this little visit is about that damnable mess on Azarath…I know it has been years, but Juris' judgment is NOT something I will take lightly. Demon spawn or not, that child is an innocent and to try and send her into Limbo simply because of that pain in the ass Trigon…it's beyond despicable…unforgivable…"
"Kind of like eating babies?" she interrupted raising a hand to stroke at the little girl's cheek as she gazed blearily up at her.
"Are you really going to keep harping on th-"
And now…now she sighed softly…though it came more like a guillotine onto his head, "She looks like her mother."
Silence. It had fallen over them with a nearly audible thud. Something flickered in the angel's eyes, something awful and unspoken. Death could not help but gaze down at the child with pity…oh what dark days still lay ahead.
She glanced back up at him, eyes fixing upon the being's still and hunched form, his own gaze rested on a single object atop the desks surface. It stuck out oddly amongst the clutter, an oasis of order in chaos. Everywhere else the wooden piece was covered in papers at least an inch thick, strange and unearthly baubles and trinkets cluttering it emitting small flashes and squeals, puffs of acrid smelling smoke. Only here there was no muddle, in its place a halo like clearing of several inches, so that nothing could even threaten to displace the picture inside the frame.
Suddenly, he looked so much older. For once, his face was so much closer to the truth than the youthful façade the death god wore day in and day out. A single soft hand reached out to the brush the frame, hands which had controlled the fates of millions of lives, caressing the metal edge as they had once caressed the woman that looked out from within. His mouth opened to speak but no sound fell from his lips, eventually closing in defeat as his eyes shut as if struck. For a moment, even knowing what she knew…knowing the despicable acts those hands would one day wrought against his own pathetically trusting flesh and blood…Death pitied him.
When his eyes opened once more, he had turned back to her to meet her sympathetic but stern stare, the look of a mother to their disobedient child. It was this expression that forced him to finally look at the room around him, eyes taking in the clutter and disarray. His own clothing, which hung off him so disheveled, the papers and work that lay strewn about, ink stained and ruined. A light finally seemed to click on behind those ancient eyes; eyes that at one time had seemed so sly and astute. Now, for all that ageless wisdom, for the centuries of experiences her Archangel of Death and Judgment had born witness to…he looked like a child learning disappointment and heartache for the first time…and beneath that? He looked utterly insane.
Before he could completely withdraw into himself, a small squeal ripped up from the bundled infant in the dark haired woman's arms. A hand, which had fingers already showing the faintest hint of nails too long for a human baby, waved up at the air pawing at the dark top and silver ankh that dangled above her. She grappled for the necklace, gaining instead father's attention. Before either the babe or the timeless teenager could react, she had been swept out of one set of arms into another. A single, indignant squawk arose from her tiny chest before her large mismatched eyes rested upon Azrael's face. One eye, the deep-set blue of her father's, the other the hazy color of an overcast day. In an instant she settled and turned her face into his wrinkled shirt, a scrawny fist stuffing itself into her mouth. The sigh sounding from her seemed to say, 'Yes…yes this was a very good place to be.' Her father's eyes did not echo this assessment.
"You should have told me…that I would have to judge my own wife with one hand and cradle the thing that killed her in the other."
Death frowned at his wording, "You blame the girl?"
"Did she die giving birth to it?" he responded coolly.
She watched him for a moment before shaking her head pityingly, "I am not here to serve you Azrael…it would have changed nothing. You've been allowed your grief…"
A mirthless grin and chuckle bubbled out of his mouth, "…but there is work to be done? Is that why you are here? I know this…so many decisions to be made…so many…important decisions…"
He was trailing away from her again, gaze becoming distant, though this time around for a far different reason. Absently, a hand caressed the child's back through the swaddling blankets. The cooing that emerged sounded almost like a kitten's purr, more traces of her father's heritage. Death knew what lay beneath, the black markings already tattooed into the tender flesh of the child…she knew what would come of Azrael's foolishness and again she felt that surge of sympathy for the unnamed child.
"Not yet able to stand on her own…not even named…and already her shoulders bear the brunt of your stupidity. She's damaged…the weight of the responsibilities you've thrown on her will drive her insane. She's not built to handle such pain…you should have chosen another."
Again, that infuriating dismissive wave, "She's young and she will adjust. Besides whom would you choose might I ask? Which of my other 'lovely' children would you have selected? I am really all ears…"
"They are the way they are because of your own actions and no one else's, 'Rael…do not troll for sympathy. You won't find it," she told him, strolling to his desk and continuing, "Speaking of your spawn, I ran into Y'mael on the way in. Your children don't appear to be…joyful over their new sibling."
He let out a bark of laughter, making the baby in his arms whimper a bit, "The sole source of their joy stems from the day you come to collect me, dear."
The smirk he cast her flickered with a ghost of the macabre humor that so often shimmered in his face. There was a dark truth to this statement, though. However, many children the creature had spawned – and really…given their numbers there was no other word for it – over the centuries, it didn't matter. Each one despised him, their grins and appeasements, a mere pretense as they waited for their old man to die, all scrounging for that distant hope that they may claim his metaphorical throne. Each dreaming that their dark imaginings and fantasies for the human soul would finally be birthed into reality. The few that served him loyally? Their numbers were like spitting into a bucket of water. Eyes cast down again to the only one of Azrael's children she knew him to ever even hold, realizing the fate her father had damned her to.
"She is too weak Azrael…you and I both see that even now she has one foot in the grave…"
"Then until I can fix it… at least she will keep it safe…keep it secret…"
He was trailing off that one hand still stroking the child's back. A slip of cloth fell away revealing a tiny pale shoulder, the smallest stretch of flesh of the child's turned back. Intricate black swirled here, the head of a serpent, the flash of an eye. The comforting hand reached out absently to hide this sight from Death's disapproving, Horus marked gaze.
No words were exchanged, no more looks were given…he gave her his back and cradling the infant in one hand, he took to his work once more…the queues gave a squeak and a groan before starting up again…
Judgment had returned.
The Endless slipped out the way she came,, silently. She had known even then that he had no intention of "fixing" anything. Only time would tell what would come of this fool's choice…the better part of two decades. Even then, Death saw it…saw the babe she had just cradled, grown and trembling involuntarily on the subway seat she had passed out upon.
As for what she saw beyond that?
"God help you child…"
"You damn well better be kidding me."
Her hair hid the blighted – and bloodied – side of her face, falling over so that only her nose and pieces of her left cheek were visible. The one eye visible, her good eye, slowly trailed upwards to stare at the man hovering over her, pulled from her waking dreams of long-forgotten places. A dark uniform, a neat little hat, a look of self-importance that he neither earned nor deserved. The conductor. The tiny well-groomed mustache beneath that upturned nose gave a twitch of disgust and impatience, as if waiting for an answer to whether or not she was indeed kidding him.
She tried to speak, her voice cracking painfully. What came out no more her voice than a screamed raw croak, "Wha' times'it?"
"Get off…right now. This is a train for respectable people. Not a god damned shelter for drugged out, vagrant filth."
Her mind moved sluggishly, as if through molasses, trying to comprehend his words. Was this an answer to her question? What had her question been again? Where was she? Where was her guard? She wanted Xavius…no…Adam…where was Adam? Given time she would have understood the man's words – but for now her mind just rattled endless nonsense.
He didn't give her the chance to return to herself, a tiny manicured hand sweeping her under the elbow and all but dragging her up out of the seat. Pain rang out dully in her shoulder, the deep wound all but shut now. With an unceremonious shove, she was thrown out of the open train doors, stumbling over the gap in-between the train and the platform. Her hands flashed out to catch herself, scrapping smartly on the dirty platform floor. With a tiny ding the doors snapped shut behind her. The train shifted and was off; she gave it no glance, pulling herself with a wince to her feet. Something had gone wrong this time, her mind grasped and she shambled with a limp towards the stairs that would lead her up into the lightening night.
Like before, she moved as if in a dream. Now though, each step brought with it a twinge of pain on her face. Every fall of each foot brought her closer to collapsing, feeling as if shattered glass and hot coals were burning into the very soles of her shredded feet. Her body and mind screamed for the rest they craved –the rest they had just been so rudely robbed of. Clear tears streamed behind the veil of her hair, turning pink again from the dried blood that had been left behind. Exhaustion was devouring her mind; she needed sleep; she needed warmth; she needed…
Any and all thought came crashing down around her as that one good eye glimpsed the dark shape of a building. Her hunched body straightened as if a metal pole had been inserted into her spine, as eyes seemed to flicker ever so slightly with life behind the smudged glass and bent frame.
The building was stationed out away from the city, out on an island to be exact. Without command, her feet began to shuffle again, now with purpose as she eyed that strange shaped tower hungrily. Disbelief etched itself into every crevice of her face: She couldn't be here. Couldn't be standing where she was standing, seeing what she was seeing. Every shuffling drag of her feet brought her closer, brought that building into focus. Soon the pavement and cement faded beneath her bare feet into sand and stone. Out there in the dark she could hear waves lapping up against the shore.
Now she could see it clearly as the night would allow. There was no denying its reality…no denying its physically impossible shape. It was there, standing out in the water, watching over the city and its inhabitants. Protecting. With legs too weak to carry her further, she allowed her knees to buckle and collapsed into the soft sand, letting her slight frame fall into the cradling granules. One word fell from her lips, the voice broken and desperate.
Eyes that were not just bloodshot, but actually bloody, stayed fixed on that bizarrely-shaped tower, the glow of light still evident in some of its many rooms…they flickered like candles out there in the dark. She let a dreamless sleep overtake her, screams of the darkness still drumming against her soul.