So make your siren's call and sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say
Cause I need freedom now and I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be ~ Mumford and Sons"The Cave"
The color was wrong.
Stars and gods above the girl knew that was a ridiculous thing to focus upon. Of course, the centipede's color wasn't wrong. Brown wasn't wrong. The tiny many-legger skittered frantically through the leaf litter at her feet, its limbs scratching and gritting at the ground in such a way that no human could hear it. Frown deepening at the delicate trampling, the girl made not of her lacking humanity. On his merry centipede way to do merry centipede things. Eat, crawl, make little centipedes…did they sleep, she wondered. Ducking and weaving and heaving over the debris of its world, always hurrying to avoid the cruel curve of a beak or talon. The flat, crushing expanse of a shoe falling from the sky ab -
Irises folded into predatory slits as her mouth curled up in the quiet pleasure the sound beneath her boot brought. It was the little things. Wasn't that what Adam was so fond of telling her? The little things, like the symphony of oh-so misplaced and projected aggression. In her chest came a small rumbling purr, from her mouth a litany of lyrical sounding murmurs that even in their odd beauty were filled with a bitter edge of resentment. Outside of something that sounded like "Cri'ssatiel" the babble seemed impossible for a completely human tongue to reproduce.
More rustling came from her right. Far too large to be more insects. Jerking in surprise, the blond teenager's pupils contracted back to normal only to find a small gaggle of young children peering at her curiously. The girls' long dresses brushed the ground, the boys' slacks doing the same in spite of their tiny suspenders. Distrust and curiosity merged in their eyes blinking out from beneath bonnets or straw hats. There was little doubt they had heard her both purring and speaking. Little doubt that they were already trying to wrap their young minds around what exactly it was they had stumbled upon.
They were still staring.
So she contracted her irises again and grinned her fangs out at them.
Frightened squeals peeled out of some of the girls and even some of the younger boys before they bolted away back through the brush towards their village. The few that didn't immediately flee only paused long enough to hook their fingers about in some gesture that…well…frankly she had already stopped caring, glaring at the retreating Amish children. Teach you lot t'stare, she thought venomously.
"…you are going to make a wonderfully terrifying parent one day. Come back wee Amishes…Amites? Almonds? What would you guys be called anyway? I have cookies…Nothing unsettling about a total stranger luring children into the woods with cookies," a familiar voice calmly intoned from behind her. Vague warmth spread through her at the returned presence. She would have been loath to admit though. What did it say about her, besides desperate, that she had built attachments of any sort let alone strong ones to a being – a demon, her father had grumbled when she last spoke with him – she had only known for a few short weeks?
Turning about to acknowledge her companion noncommittally, she instead came to a full body pause. Eyes rounded out along with her pupils, frowning mouth dropped open, and she stared.
Standing several feet away, Adam Matthews grinned his lazy grin at her, thumbs hooked into a pair of suspenders. They stretched out over a blue cotton shirt and held up a pair of plain brown pants. Perched atop his typical, almost bed-ragged looking, two-toned hair was a larger version of the straw hats the male children had been wearing. Completing the picture was the white, fake wizard's beard drooping down from her friend's face. It was too big so the center hole gaped open to reveal most of his chin as well as his mouth.
"Well, I had to go native. Wool was too itchy…and I didn't have time to grow my own," he explained sensing her stare as he removed a baggie from his pockets.
She was aware in a hazy sort of way that some of the children had come back again. They were approaching Met with the same wary distrust in which they had first attempted to inspect her. However, this time their eyes were locked less upon the stranger and more upon the bag of baked goods he held in his clawed hands. Even the odd sight of his black finger nails were not enough of a deterrent away from the sweet morsels being offered.
But it wasn't the cookies that she was focusing on. It was the too-ridiculous-to-comprehend Amish outfit the chaosling had thrown together (and when had he found that? She'd only been away from him for three or four minutes tops) and was now sporting. Glancing up and down she took it all in, often blinking as if this would either return him to normal or somehow make sense of the whole thing. It was when the Amish children had begun to tentatively take the offered cookies that her searching stare traveled down the coarse pants to the ground where she found Met's feet to still be encased in his ever present black converse. They struck out of the homemade clothes like a glaring beacon.
They were the last straw.
It didn't come out of her in a trickle. It wasn't gradual. It bubbled out of her like a mentos dropped into a bottle of diet cola in a gush. The children, and even Metatron, jumped a bit at the sudden peal of belly deep laughter that rang out into the wooded air. It had been the converse. Somehow those dingy, well worn shoes had been what brought the hysterics out of her chest, that had pulled her lips back into a face splitting grin and set tears streaming down her eyes at the hilarity of it all. Even now she was trying to quiet herself, to reign the laughter back in, but wave after wave it kept coming, until she had stumbled back and all but fallen unto her backside on an overturned log. The trip made her laugh harder, head thrown back mouth wide open to reveal once more those fangs she was so proud of.
If her grin had been scary, apparently the sight of her inhuman canines while laughing manically was all but terrifying as the children did not bother themselves with any gestures this time around. They just ran back to their village uttering cries of fear in their wakes. This too just incited her to laugh even harder, clutching her sides with mirth and sliding off the log into the leaf litter she had committed insecticide in mere minutes ago.
It took some time. A few full minutes, in fact, for the teenager to finally get a handle on herself. When she came back down from her fit of laughter she found her stomach muscles actually cramping and sore from it. A quick swipe of her sleeve cleaned the happy tears and trails of runoff mascara from her cheeks. Feeling Adam's eyes on her, she managed to tug herself back up unto the log, a hiccup of her dying laughter still on her lips.
Met just smiled at her when she lifted her stare to his. She was still smiling. Smiling harder than she'd ever done in front of him. Perhaps harder than she had in years.
"…I should bring you to the sexual repressed religious region more often, it does wonders for your sense of humor," he smiled with a tilt of his head, "I was right though. Smiling's a good look on you."
She recalled their first meeting.
She remembered her promise.
Breaking eye contact, she began to search the ground for something. The current setting made the search a short one fortunately; her fingers reaching out and plucking a long stick up from the ground. With a swipe of her boot, she cleared a patch of leaves from the ground in front of her seat on the log. It took a few tries to make sure she had enough room.
"Trees are such litterbugs," he nodded calmly, taking a seat beside her, "I'm glad to have found someone with a similar sentiment. What's the stick for?"
"Your reward," she explained, placing the tip of the stick upon the uncovered dirt and beginning to drag it along. It took only a few moments of scratching, leaving furrows and grooves in the soft earth, forming one letter and then the next in blocky capital letters.
She swooped the stick about the letters, circling them before looking to the half-demon expectantly. He was smiling softly, tilting his head at the name curiously. While she had been writing, he had tugged his fake beard down from his face and tucked it under his chin. The silence felt thick between them and Alaryce bemusedly realized she was getting nervous waiting for him to react in some way. She waited for an eternity totaling forty-seven seconds before he finally opened his mouth.
"Hm…not quite," he murmured before lifting one of his converses and dragging it through the first three letters of her name. The letters disappeared into the dragging dirt leaving only four behind. In an instant his face and eyes lit up at his work, "Ah…there we go."
"Riss?" Alaryce asked, a frown beginning to form.
"Nope. Ryce," he explained using a long I sound as he leaned back and smiled at her.
"That s'not right," she shook her head before he laughed and cut her off.
"Of course it is, Ryce."
In spite of herself, Ryce smiled back at him.
Of course it was.
It hummed through her. Vibrated from the very tips of her fingers, up her arms, and down her body, until looping back around when it hit the soles of her feet. Then the current just continued with no ending, no beginning. In the most basic understanding of chronos – Adam had long ago done away with its simplicity with his adventures – it had been just over two years. It felt more like an eternity of being without this electric buzzing. The feeling of familiarity that comes with home, and of alienating otherness that part of her was rejected by merely existing here.
A not-so-stranger in an always strange land.
"Don't call me that," Ryce opened her eyes and looked tiredly at the Endless.
The tone was far harsher, snappy even, than Ryce had ever intended it to be. It probably explained that vicious growl that disrupted the mystical hum of the Neither running through her. With as much calm as she could muster, Ryce turned from Death to look at the much taller being standing before her.
To call her a thing of great and terrible beauty would be nothing short of the most vile of insults. Her skin was expanse of unblemished ivory, her hair a black cascade of ink. Standing at over six feet, she dwarfed the tiny blond and even the Endless in statuesque grace. Her eyes were the color of polished sea glass, and narrowed at Ryce, pupils slitting in reproach. Behind her, a set of wings that appeared to be spun from glass-thin, arctic ice and snow sat unnaturally still against her pale skin, the light reflecting from their surface in a subtle glow of auroral blues, greens, and purples.
It took less than a moment for Ryce to gather her wits enough to remember the decorum afforded to this sibling. Half-Fae, especially those of high breeding enough to see their mother reign over the Winter Court, were…easily offended. Ryce bowed her head, less so in submission than in an attempt to hide the roll of her eyes, "Dearest sister. S'an honor to see you again, Lady Maerwynn."
"Who do you think you are to speak to an Endless as an equal, Nephilim?" The gauze, translucent slip that was Maerwynn's dress rustled around her as if caught in the constant agitation of a chilled breeze.
"No one and nothin' of matter or importance," Ryce intoned in bland practice, "Ill-bred and humbled to be blessed with the company of such patient greaters."
Maerwynn's merlot lips twisted into a further sneer, her nose wrinkling its perfection for disgust, "You are late. We do not care for the excuses. You are to go to your chambers and change from those rags. You drag in with you the stench of mortals."
"You will remain there while your trial commences. When the Council has convened and deliberated you will be sent forth to return for your verdict and subsequent punishment."
It fell out of her. She did not even realize she had snorted in derision before the words were flying past her lips, "Nothin' like an unbiased jury."
A sharp intake of breath, a slight widening of the half-fae's eyes. Prior to any sign though, Ryce felt her skin contract to her muscles and tendons with the sudden frost chill that fell over the room. That had been a mistake; she saw it even as the sentence toppled past her lips, a mistake that would have a sharp and undoubtedly unpleasant set of consequences. The teenager made an attempt to step back away from her half-sister, only to come into contact with her escort.
"She does have a point, Maerwynn. Any mention of punishment implies you have already decided her fate without trial," there was some sort of amusement in Death's tone, "something I'm sure the Judge would frown upon, given his duty to be impartial."
The fae's gaze didn't waver from her sibbling. Even as Death clasped a gentle hand on Ryce's shoulder in farewell, her alien, cat's eyes remained, as if not aware of the Other's presence. To any outsider, Maerwynn's unnatural stillness would lend itself more to a marble statue than a living being. Until finally, after eternities of inhuman silence, she spoke.
"Yes. Of course. A slip of the tongue. Impartiality is of the utmost importance," she said neutrally to the retreating Endless. Ryce took the chance and forced her own legs to move, eager to be away from her sibling and the wrath that was sure to come.
Ryce never thought she'd have been glad for the loss of her arm. Life had always enjoyed surprising her though, and when the ivory-white hand clamped down upon her left forearm she knew this to be one of those wildcard-pitch moments.
She raised her dread-filled eyes to lock them with the frozen green hatred of her sister. If wisdom hadn't been enough to seal her lips for once, the healthy dose of fear this look instilled was. Deep in the remaining bone and flesh of her shoulder she could feel the frost-bitten chill emanating from the expanse of her new arm. Yes, Ryce decided she was very glad that the half-fae's grasp was tightened around the metal and not the flesh. Whatever organic Maerwynn touched would have simply cracked into millions of frozen crystalline shards.
"You have forgotten your place in this world, Nephilim."
Cringing, Ryce forced herself to drop her eyes, lest she lose even the metal completely. It was frankly odd how much hate the sibling could pour into a term. How she could make it sting more and hit harder than such terms of endearment like 'Maggot'.
Slowly, once sure to leave behind a painful chill, Maerwynn released her hold. When she next spoke next, it was with terrible amusement, "The mortals returned you to us missing a few pieces, I see. I wonder if they will mourn us returning you with more dismemberment than their shiny metal can fix…go change, little sister. Before I decide to just rip out your insolent tongue."
Ryce didn't linger, racing down the halls without looking back, without even lifting her head. Not that she needed to: Her feet still knew the way, the right places to step, turn, stop, drift. There was a way things were done here, even with the simplest things like walking. One simple rule that linked them all was that it was better to never make eye-contact.
The wood felt warm under her fingers, something alive and familiar that heaved dutifully under the missed and familiar touch of her hands.
…No, that wasn't right. Not really.
It didn't feel warm, it felt hot. Feverish, diseased, a sickly creature in her guardianship, her charge to bear. The room opened to her with the easiest of pressures, and Ryce finally looked up to be greeted by the stale, dead air with just a hint of dust.
Two years had changed nothing. The lavish spoils of a child of privilege and standing were nothing like the soon to be bedroom she had left behind her in the tower. A four post bed, silken sheets and fine lace. Golds and silvers and gems winked back at her from the trimmings on the room. It had been kept as immaculate and untouched as she had left it, as she had been taught to keep it when it was home. Her home. The walls were lined with books, with expensive toys, jewelry, clothes, odds and ends fit for a princess.
Ryce crossed the room and, with a spark of her eye, the closet eased open. More finery. They'd expect her to be in something neutral and plain. Nothing flashy. Flashy and gaudy did not an apologetic demeanor convey. She'd be expected to grovel. Like a pet. Good dog, Ali. Now play dea-
Her head was beginning to swim and turn, triggered by the room's scent of distinct inoccupation. In her gut, something was coming alive and awake, unfurling long segmented limbs, bloated and venomous like a spider.
She'd barely said good bye.
She hadn't told him…
Turning away from the closet, she closed her eyes. She stumbled back and nearly fell onto the floorboards in her blind movements. As she straightened though, her eyes fell on the particular board she tripped over. Ryce dropped to her knees and ran her fingers along the slates, ignoring the sharp stabbings of splinters in the tips of her digits.
She found it quickly enough, slipping a finger into a worn, well-hidden groove. The air she released by lifting the board was even staler, but, somehow, someway, it was warmer than the beautiful room she sat in. Without a word, Ryce slipped down into the yawning opening, and years-long habit pulled the floorboard down behind her.
It was smaller in here than she remember…not like she had exactly hit a growth spurt. Her books and pilfered knick-knacks, and keepsakes had gathered a lot of dust since she'd been gone. Wriggling her body carefully, she managed to back herself into the corner where she'd spent so many hour hiding or simply just being. She idly noticed how the world had finally halted its titling now that she was down here in the dark, and smiled quietly at that.
She didn't know how long it took for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, how long she sat beneath the floorboards like a child once more. Minutes or hours, given where she was, there was a real chance it could be both. In the quiet, her previous thoughts returned. It had been a shabby goodbye at best. At worst it had been out right cruel. Cruel to them and cruel to her too.
A shift caused a small clattering beside her, and her eyes fell on the small instrument she had knocked into the floor.
Careless. Not that she had ever played down here; it would have been questionable suicide to give away her Secret Place like that. No, she had hid the violin here for safekeeping, right at the start of her quest. Now, the time of secrecy and crawl spaces had passed. For a few short – or perhaps not – hours, Alaryce was, for all purposes, untouchable.
Ryce smiled bitterly and raised the violin to her shoulder, chin resting against it, the right position, just as she had been taught. There would be no "after," so what did a few melodious strings matter, with her good hand guiding them through a graceful bow.
Like all things in this place, two years had passed since she had last touched it, though it didn't show. When she had last played it had been in a much different place than this. She had sat before the crackling of a fire, and it hadn't been this violin – it had belonged to a woman named Naomi. Morgan had been so waffled, he'd dragged Eddie to his feet to dance, and the others joined in soon after. When her arm began to ache, Naomi had taken over and Eddie yanked her away to join in t—
The soft peels of music ripped up into a painfully off-key screech, reminding her of a woman shrieking. Her eyes burned, angry tears refused to fall, even as the violin fell and she buried her face in her hands. She couldn't do this.
She might have sat there until they called for her, hidden from the world.
She would have, in that stark silence, that privacy…if not for the soft pop.
Her eyes barely lifted to spot the flickering of the flame. A candle sitting on her shelf, had she somehow not noticed it before? Even as she crawled towards it, she doubted even she was that oblivious.
It was a tea light candle, barely larger in diameter than a half-dollar. It rested on a white envelope, unmarred by anything more than the dark loops of a single word written by an old fashioned inked quill. Only one word. "Ryce." Not Ali. Not Alaryce. Ryce.
She removed the tiny candle and placed it gently down on the shelf, the envelope trembling in her fingers. There was a weight to it, something shifted freely inside. She tore it open and tilted it, feeling the paper crinkle silently beneath her fingers. The weight slid down the envelope's seam with a small jingle before toppling out into her outstretched palm. Cool metal against her skin, the candles low flickering sending glints of light off the trinket's surface. She had forced herself to forget about it. In all the chaos of the White Call and the days that came after, such sentimental grievances seemed a trifle childish and trivial, no matter how badly they stung. No matter how much she wanted to mourn the loss.
The chain had been fixed. The Celtic knot had been painstakingly polished into a brilliant shine. Someone had taken time to ensure her precious necklace's restoration. A thick lump had formed in Ryce's throat as she palmed the piece of jewelry with something like reverence, running her fingers over the charm and chain alike. She was so enthralled she almost missed the final piece to the confusing puzzle: The small tag her fingers discovered tied to the silver chain. Holding it up to the tiny flicker of candlelight she found the same handwriting as the envelope, with another brief message.
Before Ryce realized what was going on, she had already crawled out from the hideaway and stood in the beautifully cold room.
Your choice. What choice was that, she wondered. What choices were left available to her? All her choices were behind her, the last of them lingering in a Tower, literally worlds away. She had chosen to go with Death quietly. She had chosen to say goodbye. She had chosen to look him right in the eye and stay silent. There was nothing left within or without her. This world was what it had always been: The antithesis of choice.
With little care, she ripped the enigmatic tag from the chain and let it drift carelessly to the floor. Enough dilly-dallying, she thought somberly, fun s'fun but done s'done. How long they would make her wait, she had no way of knowing. However, she wasn't about to be caught lazing about when she'd been given a direct order by a Council head. Ryce moved her tired, bemused eyes from the necklace, instead meeting her own gaze in the vanity beside her wardrobe.
Ryce was no beacon of modesty. She knew well what she looked like in a mirror. But even then, her entire body seized up at the sight of her reflection. The change of scenery, the years of experience and life, rendered the girl in the mirror as something completely unrecognizable.
Smooth, unblemished skin beneath her eyes. And such bright, living eyes. Even the faded blue of her left seemed altogether brighter than she had ever seen it. The curved hunch of a cringing posture was gone – Ryce stood straight and tall, not a cowering child, the careless relaxed ease of something so much more normal, of a fuller face. Death had been spot-on with her comment about her weight. The tilt and strain of bones beneath too frail, too pale skin had been replaced by soft curves, lean muscle.
For the first time in her life, Ryce sat alive in the Beautiful Room.
Robbie's charm bit into the flesh of her palm, her clenched fingers giving way to whitened knuckles. Ryce did not wait to be called. Ryce did not change. She didn't even glance back at the waiting closet.
What she did do was slam the heavy oak door behind her on the way out.
"To the Neither."
Starfire looked from her love to her best friend's somber faces. Years of war and battle kept the concern that flared like fire in eyes flickering at a low flame. It kept the tone of her voice even and calm when she felt anything but, "What is this "Neither" friend Raven?"
"It where Ryce is from. Where she was born," the empath explained.
"Where her father resides?" Tim asked, a question he needed no answer to. Raven nodded anyway.
"But…why? What does he want with her?" Garfield cut in, "I mean…she lost her ARM…isn't that enough? What more could he want from her?"
It slipped out of Raven's mouth before she could stop herself, "Her head."
The looks of horror her blunt admission earned her did nothing to quell her explanation. No matter how dark and cold a truth it was they needed to hear it, "Ryce's interference always carried a price tag with it. She knew this. We all did. It was only a matter of time before Azrael came to collect. She'll be tried…most likely unfairly…and she'll be punished."
"…you mean killed," Sophie murmured.
"…I mean killed."
For a moment, no one spoke, many still gob smacked by the equilibrium upsetting turn the day had suddenly taken. Rob turned to Robin his eyes hard, the Gauntlet spreading out over his arm, "What's the plan."
Across the room came a hiss as a panel containing their best weaponry shifted out into to display before them all. It was not Tim who answered but Noel as he tossed Nigel a glaive with practiced ease, "We go and take her back…or set death's kingdom to burn trying."
The Council table was made of stone, in the shape of a horseshoe whose mouth faced the door. There were twelve chairs on each side, for each Council member.
At the head of the table, the middle point of the horseshoe, sat the Death God. Archangel Azrael.
To his immediate right, sat Xavius. And to his left was the seat of the Heir – a chair currently occupied by Maerwynn. No one commented on her insolence. If anything, those who dared look in her direction at all did little to hide their amusement, the venomous excitement that occasionally bled into their eyes. Lions awaiting their release in the coliseum, for the poor peasant flesh their fangs would find purchase in.
The room was beautiful, in its own bare way. It was mostly stone, and seemed specifically made to not steal focus, maintaining it in the beings that occupied the chairs, and not the chairs themselves. The last, honestly remarkable thing in the room was a block of stone that rose perfectly in the middle of the table. It was a seat for the accused, officially.
But it was also known as the Executioner's Block, where the accused would meet their end if found guilty.
It had been used for millennia, and as a result, at some point the stains of blood had become part of the room, impossible to wipe away, no matter what method. Like the chips and cracks gouged into its surface. Reminders of the swings that carved them. Impossible to get rid of the lingering smell, unless you left the room.
This was the seat that awaited Ryce. And that was the first thing she saw, when the maple and iron door crashed open with a terrifying boom.
As one, the strange multitude of eyes turned to rest upon the open doorways. The force of the entrance would suggest a hulking behemoth awaiting them – the likes of the eternal soldier, Xavius, sitting by the archangel's side at the head of the table.
But what stood there with narrowed, defiant eyes, what strolled into the room with not a hint of arrogance, but a suffocating cloud, she was not a soldier. Not by their measure.
"How dare you…" one of the council members hissed wetly, her oddly-formed mouth making their native tongue sound thicker than it should.
Ryce strode past her without a glance, and her jacket was open with its fasteners swinging with every movement. More murmurs ran with each step, more eyes followed her. But they were ignored: She knew that none were more intent than those of the most ancient among them. How calm she felt stole over her with pleasant surprise. The ease brought with it a razor sharp observance that for the first time made note that out of the dozen or so assembled, only she shared her father's eyes.
The hollow sound of Ryce's boots clicking on the stone floor ceased when she reached the chair opposite to Xavius', on her father's left side. She avoided both their eyes, for wildly different reasons.
Her sister was all but naked now, sans make-up or any artificial enhancers. Still, she remained one of the greatest beauties ever laid eyes on. Further still, the only indication that she was more than mere marble statue came from the barely-there trembling of her ice-spun wings.
And for all that beauty, Ryce's haughty expression, a mirror of the condescending look she had given her earlier, made the face's artic-green eyes widen in stupefied hatred.
"Maerwynn…" Ryce said cooly.
The fae didn't reply, nor did she give any indication that she had heard the smaller girl. The potent, icy rage that would have had scores of armies groveling in fear simply made Ryce raise an eyebrow, her previous arrogance increasing tenfold. Before her sister's widened eyes, she swiped her wine goblet and raised it to her lips, sneering daintily.
And then she spoke in English, "Out of my seat, changeling."
Her request was obliged in a heartbeat, and Ryce found herself nearly an inch off the ground, hefted carelessly by her jacket. Maerwynn of Ashen Winter stretched her wings behind her, like a cat arching its back, and her beauteous face had been twisted into a feral snarl, even as her eyes remained impossibly wide, impossibly hateful. Ryce chuckled at the sight, it ruined her beauty: It made her look like D'xias.
She was dimly aware that the entire table had come alive at her words, mad with cries for her blood, her pain and humiliation as punishment for her pretense. Words meant to cripple her, cow her into kneeling tears, as they always had.
They all fell to silence when Ryce's hand gripped Maerwynn's wrist.
And Maerwynn howled.
Her ice wings shattered like glass.
She didn't so much release Ryce as she dropped her, scrambling back with the smoking remnants of her once flawless hand cradled against her chest. The skin was cracked and burnt, oozing something of the utmost unpleasantly. The only sounds left in the room were her labored breathing, her whimpers, and gasps as she stared dumbfounded at her ruined limb. When she finally looked up, it was to find an expressionless Ryce pulling out her chair beside Azrael. For all her father seemed to care, he had become enthralled in swirling the contents of his own wine glass and watching it with rapt attention.
"…y…y-you dare…you DARE bring wrought iron against me," she hissed.
Ryce paused for a second to stare at her sister, before smiling indulgently and taking her seat loftily. At the same time, her hand came up and twirled the door's iron knob into the table, making it whirl and clatter like a spinning top, "Now now, we really shouldn't dwell on what I do and don't dare right now. It'll save us a lot of time, Mary"
"FATHER!" a creature hissed and clipped. It could have passed for human, were it not for its grotesque body: It was like that of a gigantic, black centipede from the waist down, and a slim man from the waist up – pale and sickly white, a mop of long, ratty black hair half-covering his face, beyond beady, ink-black eyes and a pair of antennae protruding from it. His clicking mandibles twitched with his roar.
As if having a mind of their own, the insectoid body twitched and trampled in fury, his rows of legs climbing over the table and slamming against the ground in a frightening war-march, their sharp points creating deep incisions in the wood and bedrock. His greenish, large fangs frothed as he leaned forwards towards Ryce, who looked no more impressed than before. "Judge it now. Rip the little beast's squalling throat out and crush its skull for this insolence. This is what your kindness has reaped – She has forgotten her place! End this mockery now!"
"Cris, jus' shut the fuck up, alright?" Ryce sighed, massaging her temples before taking another sip of her wine. "I jus'got back, you can't expect me to be able to abide your bullshit again after years of blissful lack of it," she chuckled indulgently, lifting her glass once more, "Learn to pace yourself, br—"
Her goblet shattered. Ryce frowned at the wine dripping from her fingers, and then at the centipede man, who in a flash had moved to tower her with hungry, clicking jaws. "That was rude."
"I am no prancing, glass-made fae, you cow," Cri'ssatiel the EverDrought snarled, ignoring Maerwynn's hateful look. "Your tricks will not work on me. You think to storm here on false pride, childish Lie Weaver? No. You should be crawling on your belly. You are to beg. Grovel for your purposeless half-life. BEG—"
"Let me return the favor and cut you off right there," Ryce snapped, hopping easily over the table to stand before him, "M'your god damned superior, you bewildered idiot. M'Whom God Helps' ONLY heir. Apparent and second only to him;not some bitter, sad association of has-beens tryin' to feel important by calling themselves a 'Council.' I can only hope to one day have the patience father had to humor your imbecilic 'advising' for as long as he has," Ryce laughed at the ripple of angry muttering down the table, and then looked back to her brother, as if surprised. "Are you still here? Get out of my face, mudborne."
A chittering shriek caught between a cricket's song and the screech of some avian raptor ripped out of Cris. For a second, he reared back higher unto his segmented haunches, like a bucking steed. Then with the force of a locomotive he came slamming down into the stone floor where Ryce had stood just prior to it. Chips of stone and granite exploded up into the air, shards flying everywhere and the raining back down unto the gathered council. Had Ryce not hooked her leg into the chair and pulled it out from where it sat against the table, she'd have never been able to leap up unto the stone expanse in time to get out of striking range. Whirling around on her heels there was a zipping sound as her wings burst forth from her back, tearing as her tail lashed out behind her the spines snapping up and down threatening, and she squared her shoulders.
Cris turned twisted at his grotesque hips, whipping the rest of his body about with a violent clattering of legs and crashing of chairs being thrown or trampled under his stampeding mass. Several smaller Council members let out cries of anger or reproach as they leapt up from their seats, lest they join their ruined surroundings. Those who were out of range of damage still shrieked and raged at the girl now standing atop the table, wings held aloft.
"FIGHT me, you cowering BITCH!" he snarled mandibles dripping with substance that hissed when it splattered against the ruined stonework beneath his chitinous body.
"Bring it on you snivelin' ass kiss," Alaryce growled in turn, her left arm raised and leveled with his eyes.
"Gut her, Everdrought!" an older woman cackled, her face hidden by a veil but its silhouette seemingly deformed, "Let us see what her entrails tell us!"
"Gut me?" Ryce laughed manically, silencing the hag, "Please, sister. The only victories this impotent loser can take on anymore are those carved out his own spawnlin's flesh! Lookin' ever so thin, Big Brother – suppose word of your special diet reaching your ilk did not help the pillow-talks?"
There was sudden snickering from one of the seats, drawing the stares.
The man laughed like a barking hyena, literally so, in that the corners of his mouth peeled back to touch his ears. His shark-like teeth gleamed inside it, but Ryce was not bothered by that and went on to take in the pale goatee that adorned that smile, as well as his Haitian features. He was a bald, old man at a glance, one of the few of this table whose true age was somewhat reflected in their physical appearance. The attention-getter, however, was the missing eye, the dark, scarred socket in its place, and the tiny, orange flame that flickered within it.
But to Ryce, all of this fell into the background, ignored in favor of the way his lone, orange eye – not like D'xias, the pupil was vertical – danced over her in a way that made her uncomfortable. Because, she realized with a start, she saw approval there.
When he spoke, it was with an educated, deep voice, "The simpering rumors of the incubi were true, then. You've grown to acquire strength. Courage. Dare I say, I sense inner pride in your breath," he gave a deep sigh and stood to address his councilmen, who glared down upon him. Still he spoke with no fear, "Now is the time: We have failed to keep her down. If we are to kill her, it must be now, before she gathers more pride. More power."
Ryce heard the words without surprise, her mouth in a thin line. She was, by anyone's count, the one that was taking them best. The angry murmurs were beginning to swell.
"She will only grow more power from now on," the black man continued to the baleful stares. "Potentially powerful enough to overthrow us," the deafening protests started before he had finished talking, and he pursed his lips, speaking over them: "Given enough time, it will happen. That's why we must act now. Whether you believe me or not, it's simply practical," his eyes fell on Cri'ssatiel, and added, as an afterthought, "If nothing else, you should agree with that."
"…I always hated you the least, Saliendr'e. You had enough sense 'bout you to not be a total turnip," Ryce smiled coldly, turning back to Cris. She had left herself exposed long enough.
She quickly noted how Maerwynn's whimpers had stopped and saw her struggling to her feet, her arm nearly whole again. Healing had not been kind on her beauty, making her emaciated and frail, and for a moment Ryce was struck with the sudden familial resemblance her sister bore to her own malnourished self from months ago. But her green eyes were intense and maddening, focused on her with overwhelming hatred. Ryce fought the urge to purr in satisfaction at that look.
On the other, she needn't have bothered: Cri'ssatiel's mandibles clicked angrily, his face a mask of outrage, as he screeched at the old Haitian, "You, newest in our flock, would presume to partake wisdom to your elders? You speak out of turn, little brother."
Saliend're, Old Philosopher, considered his elder for a moment. "And that is why I feared you most," he replied, to Ryce, ignoring how this incensed his brothers. "Know this, Alaryce: Where the others acted against you out of anger and malice, I did out of fear. I won't claim to have cared for you, but I didn't hate you, or even dislike you. Simply, I saw what you were – what you could become if you were to understand your standing in our world. And so, I sought to keep you from realizing this truth."
"Aye, I realize you're tryin' to make a big melodramatic reveal here, Sally, but I did manage to figure that one out on my own by now."
"…you have, yes," Sal nodded. "And so it's come to this."
But the centipede had had enough of being ignored, "Have you gone deaf?! HOLD YOUR TONGUE, or I'll RIP it out, Philosopher!"
Sal wisely took note of Cris, and just as wisely resisted the urge to roll his eyes, choosing instead to take his seat. "If that is your wish, brother, I will hold silence. Though if I were to voice mine, it'd be that that same threat has been used at least thrice since her arrival. If it would please the elders to at least be original…" he trailed off, frowning at something past the thing's shoulder.
"And who are you," Panting and groaning, Maerwynn's sickly-sweet voice carried a dry croak when she sneered at Cris, "to make threats 'gainst anyone on this council? To move into, Cri'ssatiel, and once more make a spectacle?"
Across the circular table, agreement was heard from the other beings, each on their own way. Ryce saw that they all seemed agitated and growingly frustrated: This was going like no one thought it would, and it was coming to a boil.
The Heir watched it all, and in it found amusement.
But for Cris, there was only bristling under his peers' reproach and his head snapped to the mummified fae. "I am the one that wasn't reduced to a mewling quim by a doorknob," he reminded in a low growl.
"Instead, you are led rabid by the Lie Weaver's whims!" The fae was quick to bite back, "You salivate in anticipation to crush her brittle, diseased bones in your mouth, obsessing like the mad, pathetic beast you are, young-killer!"
Ryce's chuckles were probably the last straw for Cris, "Young-killer," she all but cooed, eyes glittering maliciously behind her glasses, "D'you know, Everdrought, that I was the one to come up with that name? Looks like it spread after a–"
But then Ryce's eyes widened and she dodged to the side, just as Cri'ssatiel spat at her. Instantly the surface of the table hissed violently, melting away under the corrosive substance that was his spit. Maerwynn was not so lucky, the splatter of the acid striking her dead on her face.
Her shriek was birdlike and supersonic, ravaging at Ryce's ears but making her smile, as she clawed at her face in agony, the room's temperature's plummeting. Ryce recalled a time when she had been smaller – she wanted to say twelve. Her hands had been so unsteady then, shaking with tremors left by her 'lessons' that she could no more control than her need to breathe. She had not meant to upend her sister's goblet when passing it to her. In contrast, Maerwynn had been quite deliberate in her response of tossing acid into her face a day later…regardless of her contrary claims to their father. Vengeful satisfaction curled up in her poisonously at the sight of the fae now.
"Sister–" Saliend're's voice was filled with steel, but the ball was already rolling.
"YOU WORTHLESS MUD-CRAWLER!" The Lady of Ashen Winter snarled. Her burns quickly healed, and as the cold rose, as the ice formed over her arms in spiked icicles and snow mist flowed from her snarling mouth, her perfect beauty restored, now untouchable, of ice. "WITH YOUR DEATH, THIS TRIAL WILL RESUME AND IT'LL BE YOUR HUSK WE HANG NEXT TO THE BITC–"
Her words were cut short by the sharp and deadly leg protruding from her throat. Cris lifted the fae with his appendage, bringing her close to him, enough to lick the blood that tripped down his leg. It froze in his tongue.
"For all its worthlessness," Cris whispered to the new silence, much calmer now than the rabid beast he had been a second ago. Murder, it seemed, was Cris' tension reliever, "Even the Lie Weaver knew better than to stand too close."
And then Cris plucked his leg back, leaving the fae's body to fall lifelessly to the ground with a hole, the size on an orange, in the middle of her neck, pouring out blood and winter mist.
At the table's head, Azrael gave an all-too-convincing yawn and leaned back in his chair, apparently dozing while his daughter died.
The centipede turned to Saliend're, daring him to speak. The Philosopher didn't rise to the bait.
Whether this was a submission on his part wasn't clear, as another voice spoke: "This is what we gather for? Mindless bickering and posturing?"
It was a woman of translucent, glowing skin, inhuman organs plainly visible for all to see. She was naked, and beyond her dead-fish eyes and hair like jellyifish tentacles, she was somehow easy to overlook. "Reduced to squealing children…tricked to sit idly while she plays her games, when we know all of them by now. You ridicule us all, Cri'ssatiel," her voice was like the crackle of dead leaves and the suction of a boot being pulled from the mud.
Chri'ssatiel scowled and replied, but Ryce was dimly aware of what he said, looking at Maerwynn's wrecked body, broken and almost sad. She noted how the group, as a whole, renewed their in-fighting, ignoring their downed sister.
Maybe she could take the chance.
Run, out the door. Would she make it?
…No. She wouldn't. Though they fought, Ryce saw that many had yet to actually say anything, simply watching her. Waiting. Daring.
It was a brief entertainment, but one of no substance.
So she spoke again, her hushed tone carrying even as they continued their squalling.
"D'you know," she began, "that when they first heard of D'xias and his intent, the goals they could never grasp, humanity believed him the rejected, worst we have to offer?" she didn't know when they had begun listening, but they all were now. "They think it won't get worse than him, and that the rest of us would never dream of doing what he did. No matter how evil the rest of my family is, D'xias s'erasin' universes. He has to be worse. They really believed that."
With a sudden, choking gasp and to no one's surprise, Maerwynn pushed herself to all fours, retching and choking. The chill of the room seem to suck into her, and, slowly, ice and snow plugged her wound.
"They believed we were better than D'xias, the tantrum-child that didn't get what he thought his due and so went on a rampage," Ryce continued, quiet and melancholic. "Not one of them, no matter where I went, considered the possibility that…he s'tryin' to prove himself to the rest of us. That he could do what we—what you wanted, but didn't dare to act," and she sighed, remembering the foulest place she had been to on Earth. "That s'why, in the end, humanity s'better than us."
Maerwynn looked over her shoulder to her, and though her beauty remained, her eyes were livid. Ryce ignored her.
"…for those words alone, you will face the axe," Cris smiled.
The accused didn't say anything for a few seconds, seemingly lost in her own mind. Plummeting down into that all-too-old stare centered on her Fae sister's neck. She finally broke it, coming out of it like one awakening from a dream. When she turned to Cris, she snorted bitterly. "Tall order, worm."
Something had shifted in the Lie Weaver. Even as Cri'ssatiel stiffened in rage, the rest took note of the air around their youngest. Where there had been mockery and dark amusement, something new had crawled into place. It was now gone, replaced with hostility, with condescension. The Halfing was looking down upon them,
With the insane idea that, somehow, impossibly, despite the hilarious difference between their powers, she was done humoring them.
Of those that noticed, only Saliend're felt apprehension.
Cris didn't. He felt his siblings' approaching boiling point rage, "Sniveling co–"
Ryce's metal fist cracked the ground between them. "NO."
It was uncertain why this froze everyone the way it did. All movement, even breathing, stilled. For a moment, the only sound was the soft pattering of debris as Ryce lifted her fist from the crater she had created in the floor. Azrael himself slowly opened his eyes, finally absorbing his surroundings. He spared his youngest a glance, and then, with a sigh, reached under his table to pour himself a glass of wine
Never before had she struck them mute. Perhaps it was because most of the councilmen noticed, for the first time, that Ryce's arm was now cybernetic. Perhaps it was how out of character it seemed for her to engage in physical displays, or really any displays in general.
Perhaps it was the look in her eyes.
The look of the Judge.
"D'xias s'dead," the Judg—the Lie Weaver snarled, "I killed him. He sought to stand b'fore me, to threaten me and mine. Do you comprehend what his declarations of war earned him? The Void Walker thrashed and squealed for mercy when he was trampled under my boot."
The numb silence wore on. Her claims were known to all, but still the rattled them in some unconscious way, because…
Because up until this point, none of them had—
"So tangled were you, so anticipant, so eager to finally have excuse to spill my blood. So enthralled to balm your wounded, overblown egos," Ryce was saying, her eyes shining madly, "did only one of you stop for a second to think about what this meant?"
The bristling was starting. A hushed murmur of the coming , not even fully healed, was standing, eyes focused on her blasphemous tongue.
Ryce sneered, brushing past her. "T'day, I turned eighteen. And in two years I've accomplished more than any of you have in your whole sorry existence. Who are you, then, to threaten me?"
She didn't wince at the roars that met her question. Didn't blink at the raw power, like a blazing sun, that smacked her in the face. This council of killers, backstabbers and in-fighters, sitting on their fat asses and gorging in their false power. They had no power over her. They never had. Some feet away Maerwynn's reformed wings were shuddering, the room's temperature dropping with her impending strike.
Without batting an eye, she retrieved the forgotten doorknob from the table and pelted Maerwynn in the forehead with it. The cold that had been building up receded, the screams halted – all but hers, as she shrieked at the crippling poison. Under any other circumstance, it would have been hilarious.
"I! AM! TALKIN'!" Ryce roared into the silence, jumping on top of the executioner's block, as if it were a pedestal. They were all forced to look up at her, and she down upon them, "WHO ARE YOU TO ME? What fear should I have of ANY OF YOU?"
At that moment, they finally saw what was happening. They had been blinded and it was only now dawning on most of them that their control of the situation was lost. That this being before them, who had silenced them again and again, who hadn't cowed but instead roared. She had the control. Why hadn't she been smacked down? Why did she go on speaking? Why did they only protest and not tear her to pieces?
Their father: He might have intervened. But was that enough? She was to die, regardless. But she hadn't acted in any way they expected. She had left them bewildered and unprepared. Saliend're's warning spoke of such ideas. The Old Philosopher's ludicrous and blasphemous claims in the years past of the girl's potential finally coming into their own sights. And it had dragged on, until she, indeed, held control – until death.
It was a maddening realization.
"I have faced down that which came from Without. WHO ARE YOU TO THREATEN ME?"
On the last word, Ryce stumbled. She faltered upon her throne and nearly toppled down from where she dared try to crow above them as nearly all the moisture left her mouth. Her skin began to pale and then gray, retracting against sinew and bone. Her wheat colored hair began to dry and grow brittle against her head even as her eyes snapped to Cris, no less defiant, but it was Maerwynn that spoke.
"We are not the helpless, incompetent abomination that D'xias was," the Ashen Winter said in a mad whisper. There was something about a mouse standing up to a cat that drove the cat over the edge. Ryce stared without blinking. So often that same edge made the cat very, very stupid.
"The abortion, so eager to please, was nothing," Everdrought snarled. Their hatred for one another was legendary, but at that moment, their hatred for Ryce trumped it easily. "He stumbled into broken power…and deluded himself with greatness by eradicating ants. He is no prize to hold over your head."
"Your—jealousy, it's—showing—dear—siblings," Ryce chuckled hoarsely, her eyes dancing upon the pair. Her lips cracked as she grinned. Blood was dripping from the corner of her mouth, but she didn't care or really seem to notice.
"JEALOUSY?!" Maerwynn shrieked with chilled fury that closed on Ryce's lungs, making her collapse to her knees, wobbling not to fall from her 'seat'. "Despite assistance, it could not kill a single pregnant whore!"
Something odd threatened to break the fugue of her fury, but it wasn't until she saw Ryce's smile that she noticed.
"Assistance…from whom?" The Lie Weaver spat through her pain.
At once, the cold grip slipped from her, leaking from the room in as sudden of a rush as it arrived. Cri'ssatiel's own influence had long since been banished at her words, and he had slowly turned to stare at the fae. It left Ryce free to laugh.
"O-Oh my…" she said between breaths. "You…are jus' makin' it…so easy."
Again, control had left the council at the table, but this time, in the silence, there was something they all acknowledged to fear – the thing that Maerwynn's rage had almost overlooked. It was now all too clear, to her and the Council. It physically seared into them in a bladder-loosening terror.
And at the head of a table, there was the soft, screeching sound of wood carving up into curls under nails.
They moved as a unit.
If nothing the years of being together had taught them at the very least how to do that. Noel aided Tim in packing his heaviest artillery into his belt. Cyborg and Nigel were snapping weapons and armor into place, discarding what could not easily be carried. Starfire sat before Raven turning the pages of an ancient tome to ensure the hald-demon's hands and mind were free to focus on the spell at hand.
Even those Titans who remained still were far from simply loitering. No, they were preparing the only things they could, themselves. They had seen the horrors of D'xias. They had looked into the maddening void he had pieced himself together from. What awaited them beyond the doorway Raven would within the hour open would be perhaps more of the very same.
Most likely it would be worse.
In the center of the room Raven continued to chant and breath, blocking out the watching gazes of her friends and family. All she heard was the steady thrum of her words. All she felt was the power pulsing over her in waves. It roiled off of the circle she had chalked into the floor.
Five points of the circle hummed glowing black. In one corner sat one of the cigarettes Metatron had given her. For smell. In another for taste, one of the strawberries plucked from her forgotten birthday cake. The other three were occupied by an old pair of her glasses for sight, a use-worn Rocky Horror CD, and finally one of her feathers and a quill from her tail for touch. Five senses…all Ryce. Raven wove herself into them and reached out for the girl.
In the center of it all, the Orb hovered and swirled. Raven tried to ignore how its depths remained their stagnant gray.
She kept chanting.
"…F-father…" Maevrynn whispered, keepin her gaze down. "We…were not to intervene – h-her trial…"
Only three would have dared look at Azrael at this moment: Xavius, who instead kept his gaze in the fae; Saliend're, who observed them all, his eyes blazing with new information and possibilities; and Ryce, who watched him for a sign, any sign…
The archangel stared at the Ashen Winter, his eyes quietly half-lidded and seemingly disinterested. He swirled his glass, spiraling the wine within, and hummed an old tune. They all could feel the façade that stare was. Like alley-cats before an oncoming storm, they crouched before him with nowhere to bolt and hide.
"You fool!" the Hag suddenly snarled at the fae, the face beneath the veil contorting terribly, and odd greenish light smoldering were her mouth should be, "Empty-headed harlot! What have you don–?"
But even her words fizzled down into sputtering, breathless sounds when her father's gaze fell on her instead. Whatever that fire was, it, too, died out.
"FATHER!" Cri'ssatiel squeals, he twitched to maintain eye contact with Azrael, a struggle that had him seeming as if he were about to explode, or bolt, or even attack his father, "of all your rules, father, the one you have impressed on us the most was to never interfere with a mortal's"–the fact that he never used such 'kind' terms for humans was not lost on Ryce–"Trial. Whatever we may or may not have known, our hands were tied: We could not intervene, lest we disobeyed you! Do not allow yourself to be blinded from the truth!"
Azrael stared at his son as one would a stranger.
The monstrous centipede hissed and clicked, edging away from that stare.
The Everdrought's desperate, mad eye fell on Alaryce, Lie Weaver of the Will.
He had never before seen the expression in her face, her smile, the mock and the triumph he held for her.
"You lot ran off to daddy whenever I slightly disobeyed his little laws, yet when D'xias attacked my mother – the woman you all despised, m'I right? – you knew to give him a hand here and there," Ryce chuckled gently, almost fondly. "S'that your truth, Cri'ssatiel?"
He just stared at her.
"'Cause I gotta tell ya, brother…If you believe bringing that to light s'in your best interest, you…are so defective," the smile melted off her face, and she ignored the pair of green eyes that snapped to her in warning. "No wonder your own mother preferred to keel over than bother with barin' you. Is that why you helped kill mine? A little projected vengeance?"
It was too fast for her eyes to see. Perhaps, if she were feeling generous with herself, she could have claimed to have spotted the barest hint of a blur, of the death that came for her. The next instant, however, her vision was blocked by a large, wide, familiar back.
The Marine had moved, and before him, the might of the Council sucked their breath. All but The Everdrought, fallen prey to his own bloodlust. Xavius did nothing but restrain him, even as the creature hissed in unholy fury, as it trashed and clawed from his sides, trying to reach her, shred her.
Ryce would have never been able to stop that attack, she knew. She would have been killed.
She didn't show it, she didn't back away. "Touched a nerve, have I?"
"YOU VAPID GUTTER TRAMP! YOU WILL NOT SURVIVE THE DAY! YOU WILL NEVER SEE YOUR HUMAN CATTLE, YOUR DEMON PET! AND IT IS THEM WHO WILL SUFFER FOR TODAY! It is THEM I'll seek!"
Ryce paused, raising an expectant eyebrow. She had the air of someone waiting for something, perhaps a bus.
"F-father…I wished to tell you," Maerwynn suddenly hissed, "It was Cri'ssatiel and his ilk who forced my silence! Look at him! See what a beast he is!"
And then Ryce grinned at the shocked centipede as the bus arrived and their sister tossed them all right under it.
"YOU WHORE!" Cris roared, and the table roared with him, slamming their fists in fury, insults and denials. The entire room descended into a pandemonius din of furious shrieks, accusations and denials. It was almost musical. In the commotion, Ryce's hand touched Xavius' arm, looking up at him.
"SHE LIES, FATHER! LIES WITH HER SLUT, FORKED TONGUE! YOU KNOW OF HER KIND! LENT IT NOT YOUR EAR!" Cris was frothing at the mouth now, having pushed away from Xavius to tower over the fae in a frightening manner. The Marine didn't make a move to intervene, staring down at his sister. Even standing on the block, Ryce found herself shorter still, by at least a head.
Word by word, snarl by snarl, and insults, and threats, and violence. The room around them dissolved, robbed of its already shaky control and lost into chaos.
Amongst that chaos, only six remained quiet.
"…Thanks for that."
The Marine didn't reply, exactly, but he grunted, stoically observing her.
"Jus'…" Ryce said quietly. Her brother was so tall, his eyes were so clear, and carried such quiet strength. "…Thank you."
She remembered all-too-well now, why she'd gone out of her way to avoid looking at him, and turned back to the mad Council, blinking repeatedly. She had to chuckle at their petty fights. It was what she'd rather focus on. It was easier to handle.
"You should go back to dad."
The Soldier lingered. She could tell his eyes were still on her, even if she made a point not to meet them. She wondered what he might say, if he were more vocal – he clearly wanted to say something. Maybe she should too. Maybe they had both been far too quiet for far too long. Left things unsaid that should never go without a voice, even if it is only a whisper.
But her brother turned, silently obeying her.
He had taken maybe two steps before Ryce was suddenly aware of a sharp pain in the back of her neck, of her pedestal being swept from under her feet. The undeniable force lifted her, somehow sneaking beneath her notice, beneath Xavius', in the midst of the chaos. The throne became an executioner's block once more as her face was slammed into it and effortlessly paralyzed. Her rattled mind pictured a stuffed turkey to be devoured, a hungry family at Thanksgiving gathering around it. And the one with the knife to slice the meat with…
"This circus is over," said the quiet, dripping voice.
Air rushed from her lungs in a gusting grunt as he squeezed. For a moment, her body wanted to cry out in pain but the memories of D'xias thrashing stilled her lips. Really…this wasn't so bad. All her cowering and posturing over the endless years of her life. Had she always been such a coward about this?
Relaxing her limbs, she laid flat on her belly hands splayed out. The Lie Weaver even now. The Opossum. Her tail sprawled like a dead snake draped over one leg trailing behind her, the tip having fallen beneath the fold of her jacket. Playing dead was an old oft-used trick.
"We have allowed the Lie Weaver to spin her web further, using the Everdrought's pathetic urgers as her personal toy to kick and scream at every opportunity. Making us tools in her desperate quest to extend her own life further, a few seconds at a time. No more," the deep voice whispers, as blazing blue eyes come into view – not blue like hers or her father's, no: Only she inherited those. Blue like sapphires.
He was a muscular being, not quite on Xavius' level, but close. His skin was of a faded gold, and though his face was human enough, the way his pristine hair framed it as well as its features, gave the distinct impression of a lion of some sort. Similarly pristine wings spread over his back, much like Ryce's, probably indicating he, too, was agitated. No one would call this creature beautiful, but there was a certain allure of the exotic, of the hunt. Of intelligent controlled savagery.
His head twitched, as if to shake an irksome fly in his nose, and he spoke. "We begin the trial now."
Ryce heard knuckles pop and knew that Xavius had never made it to his seat in the commotion.
"Restrain the little beast," The translucent woman whispered in her empty voice. "Bind the Weaver's tongue b'fore she can make mockery of our court again."
"…S'hardly a trial if I cannot defend myself," Ryce felt the need to point out, closing her eyes. This was it.
"I have no sympathy if you did not take the time we graciously gave you to prepare your defense," the lion-thing replies, holding her in place. "Father, it is time to begin."
Oddly…it was not a request. It was as close to a demand as any of the Council had made of their father.
"Make your bid, Lie Weaver," growled her captor. "After your spectacle…ten words or less, if you can manage."
The seconds ticked, and Ryce sighed deeply. Nothing left. The Lie Weaver talked and stalled. But that time was done.
"You were right," she whispered, counting off her fingers. "I was stallin'."
And then her tail snapped out like a spring, her quills raking against the lion's face. As the thing reared his head back and roared in agony, he let go. Ryce jumped up, free, and knew what she needed to do now, how she wanted to go out, but, above all…
"M'GOIN' TO LIVE."
The shocked silence didn't last as long as she would have liked, this time.
"…The sentence," Cri'ssatiel replied, dark happiness blooming in his face, "is DEATH."
And he shot towards her.
Ryce grinned the way only those who have absolutely nothing left to lose can. If she were to be asked, when she stood before Judgment, what she thought of this moment, Ryce would say that Cris's expression right when he realized she was going to shoot him in the face was no terrible last sight to see. The sound of him crashing into the far wall wasn't a bad sound either.
As her smoking hand fell dead at her side, a small compartment popped out automatically to reveal a Fang blade, which she seized and, in a fluid movement she wished Noel could see, twirled to stab into Lionface's chest as he tried to close in. She grinned at his roar, and leapt back, noting the dead weight of her now-black metal arm.
But that was fine. Like she told Met: She had two.
She saw Cris trample to his 'feet' and look to her in blatant disbelief. His face was smoked and scorching, and his eyes were bloodshot. The incoherent rage in his features edged her off to say something detrimental to her survival efforts.
"Cris, you…got a li'l somethin' on your face right there."
The screech nearly burst her sensitive eardrums, and she almost fell back as her brother launched towards her like the dragons of old, blindingly fast. The rest of the Council moved to follow, all pretense of decorum lost.
Yet her father looked no less interested than before.
Ryce shut her mind from that, moving to stab Cris' eye, only for her hand to be stilled by sudden tendrils of ice – the spectral form of Maewrynn seized the chance.
"…still standin'," she snarled and flayed her tail into Maerwynn's eyes–
–and Cris knocked her arm to the side, and she was unable to recover as he crashed into her like a van, pinning her to the ground, pincers already tearing into her face–she had really hoped to last longer–
–the giant hand seized Cris by the head with a thunderous crack, followed by X hurling him onto the unsuspecting oncoming army of hatred.
"RUN," he yelled to his sister, brandishing his warhammer.
Ryce coughed, rolling to her feet, wondering why she wasn't surprised by Xavius. But, her fogged mind told her, it would be stupid to be. Her eyes flashed, and she didn't need to voice her answer, tightening her grip on the jagged shard.
"…" Xavius swung his weapon onto the ground, with flash and thunder, and split the room between Ryce, him, and the still-recovering army. A literal line in the sand, which swept everyone but him off his feet. "…You idiot girl," he muttered quietly while Ryce took the chance to gather herself. "If you die, it's all for nothing."
"I know," the small girl chuckled. "S'not like I want to die. M'fightin' to live. …I wouldn't get far if I ran anyway, not with my leaving you behind."
Her brother – her only brother – was silent.
The Lion-beast's voice cut through the suffocating presence of Xavius' power. To his side, Cri'ssatiel's body whipped furiously into the concrete, cracking it in what could have been seen as a show of one-upping his older brother. The monsters from Ryce's childhood nightmares rallied behind the lion's strength and the centipede's madness, muting the room. All the boogeyman from under the bed, beyond the door, and in the closet come out to play
"You were warned against this course, brother," the Nameless Lion growled lowly, "There will be no going back if you proceed – your chair will be mine by the morrow."
Xavius did not reply. Or perhaps, Ryce noticed, his lack of it was reply enough, giving the nervous tittering among the younger of the monsters. The Lion chuckled eagerly, his mane-like hair bristling at ends in preparation, "Not even you can stand against the might of the Council of the Judge."
The mighty hammer flashed forward and, with a thunderous crack, reduced the lion's face to gore.
"That," Xavius said calmly, his war hammer gliding back into his awaiting hand, "is debatable."
In a second, one of the strongest in their midst had fallen.
Their roar was music, Ryce thought.
"FATHER!" The Hag yelled, her shadowed features distorting behind her black veil, "How long will you allow this farce to continue?! STEP IN, SHOW YOUR MISBEHAVING CHILD THE FOLLY OF HIS DEFIANCE!"
Azrael seemed to not have heard her, or even been aware of his surroundings. From the beginning, he had been transfixed by the contents of his swirling goblet, and nothing more, and now was no different. In fact, he lifted a well manicured nail to pick at something between his teeth.
"…Hm?" The ancient being finally replied tiredly, all without looking away from his wine. "…S'the trial still going on, dears? My, I'd have thought you could take care of somethin' as simple as this."
The Hag started, as if slapped.
"I suppose they are still countin' on daddy to come in and take care of the big, bad eighteen-year-old heir for them," Ryce chimed in nastily, noting how Xavius straightened to her words.
Without the Lion to lead them, it fell for the Council to rally behind the Centipede's madness, and Cri'ssatiel wasted no time, trampling forward with a roar.
"…Can you pick out the one word there you probably should not have said?" the Marine said somberly, moving subtly to stand in front of her.
"They're tryin' to kill me," Ryce sneered, staring unflinchingly unto the furious brood. "S'not goin' to happen on their prissy terms."
The dam broke, and her family came for her.
Azrael silently mused, losing interest as the clash began. Despite the furious power thrown in all directions, he seemed distracted, as if listening to a faraway conversation. His eyes flickered this way and that, never remaining still behind her half closed eyelids.
Tension skittered out over the Titans and fell off of their shoulders. They lined up around Raven in wait. No one else spoke knowing that doing so would only provide the sorceress with unneeded distraction. No. Concentration was key now. It was the only thing now.
"Shut your eyes," the empath's tone was deceptively serene and calm. Focused on no other thought or task then the hole she was preparing to rip open, "We will come out on the other side. Look nothing in the eye. Do not take ANYTHING you are offered and listen to nothing you are told. They will lie and they will steal. I can feel the unrest even from here. They mean to keep her."
"Ready when you are, Raven," Robin was the only one to speak beside her.
First pressure. Then wind. Finally whisper.
The air before Raven began to thin. It was as if she could punch a hand right through it to the other side if she tried. The heat and rumble of battle pulsed off of her through that thin membrane. Slowly, she opened her violet eyes to tear through the fabric with one final word.
Her gaze locked with the ancient yellowed corneas and blue depth of Azrael's eyes. Her breath caught with the realization that this was no sight leaking out from beyond the scope of their world. He was standing in the room with them. He was aiming his cane and cradling it as one would a pool cue. The final word of the spell failed on her lips as the tip of the walking stick crashed through her circle and into the Orb like an oversized cue ball.
The circle broke.
The thin air snapped back into place.
The Orb rolled heavily to Raven's feet and lay there as she stared at the ancient being.
"...Sorry Raven. We all have to scratch on the break sometimes."
...they had failed...
There was something beautiful about angels at war. Horrifying, true, but breathtaking and beautiful all the same. It was a sight that would drive men mad, inspire them, break them, make them fall in love, and bring them to tears.
Ryce was no exception. Her brother was beautiful.
Her brother was a force of nature, a blazing sun that she made sure not to stare directly at: To witness his true, terrible power would have shattered even her.
At that moment, the idea that her days – hours, minutes – were numbered seemed like a fool's musing. As the Soldier quaked and thundered, his hammer swinging with the might that had mystified the Norse into making him a deity, intimidated her siblings, and forced them back en mass while they tried to overwhelm him…there was hope.
Good God. She might actually pull this off.
…She would give anything to be the sort of person who could hang on to an idea like that.
But, she couldn't. As she danced and stabbed at the few that managed to get past Xavius (her brother could only do so much), she was ever aware of his eyes on her, and it sent a terrible chill down her spine. With a snarling smile, her left eye hummed brightly, something heavy and thrumming with unloving venom thundered next to her. Shapeless, it swiped some sort of limb crashing it into the hag's hideously cracked and creased face.
But her attention never wavered from Saliend're.
The Old Haitian hadn't moved with his brethren, he was not one for mob mentality. He remained where he had been from the start: On his seat, his back always near an exit.
A part of her wanted to fill his face with spines, but a bigger, much wiser, part stilled her tail, whipping it across a ghoul's face instead.
Saliend're. Pragmatism personified.
Her every sibling craved her blood, but not him. He neither wanted it, nor abhorred it. It was almost offensive how much he simply did not care. If he stepped in, it would be because he saw an opening that cost him nothing and in one quick stab, she would be dead. Her blood spilt. Nothing more…nothing less
For the glory. For the bragging rights. Not for the mad hatred.
She didn't know which motivation sounded more preferable from her murderer.
But so long as she kept focus on him, she wouldn't have to find out. And as long as Xavius could keep things one-on-one for her, she could keep focus on him. She loved just how fragile that sort of plan was.
Those were the last coherent thoughts she had before things devolved into a tiring, violent blur. From that point, nightmarish creatures came at her from all sides, and she met them head-on with claw and shard, tail and fang, shade and banter.
The shard was lost quickly, when she plunged it into the jaw of the Forest Eve. Ryce knew that would not kill her, but it repelled her all the same, and with her, the shard still in her head. One defense down.
For Maerwynn, who in her rage had become more of a rabid jungle cat than the beauty she once was, Ryce raked her tail across her face. Her piercing howl was well worth the two gashes along her chest that she herself got as a result. So many spines went the way of the shard. Two defenses, then.
For the Silent Duke, an enormous shade. For the Herald, her fangs on his face. For the Red Vizier, a coiling noose around his neck. For the Hollow Man, it was back to shades.
For the Walker, for the Roman, For the Bloodrun, for the Blackborn…
…there's so many…
With a scream, she sent her shade construct plowing into a sibling's lower half, just as another came from her right, fast, too fast for her to counter in time…
An unseen force, like a leash on a misbehaved dog, choked the being and reeled it back to the awaiting Xavius's hammer, where the fate that befell the Lion awaited it. Her brother somehow knew when she wouldn't be quick enough.
Ryce panted, dimly aware of the hot, ember burning in the center of her brain, the metallic tang of blood in her mouth. Time was short. She was pulling too hard and too fast on her still-recovering body.
And then, she topped backwards, almost falling onto the thin sheet of black ice that had replaced her foothold. She heard Maerwynn's cold laughter, and her eye flared to life, ignoring the nosebleed the followed.
The discarded doorknob soared onwards and lodged itself into the fae's open mouth.
"Top-shelf prize for Alaryce," she chuckled insanely with her sister's choked screams. The bitch was a joke if she didn't get the chance to work her mojo.
That was when the dread hit her.
She'd never even thought about it when she'd done it but…
Where is Saliend're?
When she looked up frantically, it was to her brother, still standing in his spot, staring at her. Their eyes meet for a second, and his eyebrows lift in a casual, expectant way, before he broke the stare and looked down beside her.
Where her discarded fang shard laid.
It hadn't been there before.
Salien're raised an eyebrow. Well?
Ryce didn't bother questioning it. Her tail coiled around a ruined chair leg and yanked it towards her, forcing the shard into it as a makeshift spear, before turning and swinging into a sibling's face.
"You can't sneak up on me," she growled as it flailed away. "I spent years sneakin' around you."
She fought on.
But in doing so, a different kind of dread started creeping up on her.
Her brother, too, fought on.
But he was no longer a raging storm her eyes tore up to behold.
His legs were shackled with black ice, slowly climbing up, fighting to consume him. His clothes were haggard and burnt, his face riddled with frostbite and cuts, his hands purpling and bloody, a dozen blades wedged into his body. His movements were still powerful, fast. Deadly. Yet, somehow, clunky, and lagging. The grace in his movements slowing just a tad. The storm was dying.
A tendril wrapped around his neck, like a leash, sparkling with lightning, as another one of her siblings tried to subdue the behemoth. Xavius responded by whipping his head, sending the attacker – the woman with the dead eyes, whose jellyfish hair was the leash – crashing against the wall.
But she held on, burning him.
At that moment, all Ryce knew was hatred, and rage, and there was no thought to her own survival.
With a roar, she brandished her improvised weapon and dove into the fray. With her muscles screaming with the effort, she brought the embedded shard down on the tendril. There was a boom like thunder, a flash that blinded everyone. Ryce felt the tendril snap in half a second before she was soaring across the room, crashing on the wall next to her abstaining brother, and falling in a complete daze.
"…I'd like to tag out now, thank you," Ryce groaned, blood staining her teeth unpleasantly.
She spoke to no one, but Saliend're looked down to her, calculative.
The room spun, and the boom had left her mostly deaf, with little more than a shrill ring and a vague echo in her ears. Still, it only took her a second to realize that the fight continued without her. She could feel it in the air.
She braced herself against the wall to get to her feet. Her legs trembled as she stumbled away from the wall, and her back sung with agony, reminding her of Rob and his weeks in the med-bay. You're going to live to tell him you know his pain, some delusional voice murmured in comfort, while the rest of her fought to make sense of the chaos that was the rest of the Council.
The balance had shifted.
The monsters and Xavius clashed, and it was Xavius that was losing ground. He roared in defiance, she could see that now, even if she couldn't hear it, and they roared back, more than likely cursing and insulting him in every language they knew. However their rage now came with just a flickering hope of triumph.
Her brother fought in return; quick to silence one of the decriers, yet another stabbed him in the gut with a long sword, only to lose its head to his hammer. Xavius stumbled back, sword still lodged.
That was how Cri'ssatiel caught him, in the end, pressing the advantage and tackling Xavius against the wall, cracking the ancient bedrock under their power. In a second, the Centipede was pinning him, his long, grotesque body wrapping around the Soldier.
"…no…" Ryce wheezed, but no one heard her.
And as one, ice crept up over his body, plants and roots tangling over him, the lightning tendril recaptured him. In a deliberate move, the Council continued to pour their power onto their old leader, and even as he tried to wrestle himself free, Cri'ssatiel reared his head back and howled in a display of macabre pincers and fangs. Ryce was still deaf, she could not hear him, but the meaning was clear.
Something inside Ryce went out, and suddenly she felt very cold.
Cris' horrific mandibles bit down on his prey's neck.
She was dazed – she probably had a concussion – but she needed to fight, and couldn't…think, much less…she needed…help…
Her eyes found her father's. She had caught him in the act of pouring himself another glass, an act so disinterested and detached, as if his children weren't going mad before him. As if his oldest wasn't dying.
("…there's something wrong in you, Ryce.")
As if the Soldier's struggles weren't weakening, his flesh wasn't losing color, his proud battlecry wasn't fading.
She had no way of knowing how loud her plea had been in the chaos. But he had heard her all the same. Azrael raised an eyebrow at her, as if curious of her actions. A new trick of an interesting puppy. And like a puppy, he simply chuckled in a 'oh, what a silly thing' way, and turned to the show.
And, from X's limp, pale fingers, the hammer slipped into the ground. It cracked a spider's web into the stone, and with it, the struggles died.
("…I know. But…B-But I think m'better, now.")
"…I was wrong," Ryce heard herself say.
Maybe she was heard, as Cri'ssatiel's head snapped up from his meal, his mandibles dripping, to look at her. He wasn't the only one.
But more likely, they simply saw her arm held up towards them her wings haloed out around her.
She thought she said to get off him, but would never be certain, as something in the ground beneath them surged forward with a racket, upheaving the dense rock in a beeline. Upon reaching the Everdrought, the ground exploded.
Something black, pulsating and grotesque shot out and ripped him from Xavius, slamming the giant into the ground and impaling his long body. It twitched, a twisted abomination of her shades, trampling over any of the council that got to close, and burning them terribly, forcing them to keep their distance, especially those trying to keep the Soldier bound.
The black hurt to see – it was almost too much to bare. Unspeakable colors heaved in its bulk…impossible, non-Euclidean shapes. But the sight of the Everdrought writhing under it made it so.
Cris looked to her, his own eyes were feverish and thick, his expression tense. There was pain in him, she could see it. The air stank with it so heavily she could perhaps even taste it. But most of all, there was…fear. A primal urge of a cornered mouse facing a smiling cat.
Though her breath was ragged, and her arm was shivering, Ryce found that she liked it. She wanted to smile – but all her mouth produced was a hateful, bleating sort of scream, a foreign, inhuman noise that she felt tear at her far-too-stretched lips. It filled her mouth with a tar-like spittle, dripping out to her chin, and sent her heart hammering beneath her eyes.
It sounded like D'xias.
His own breath was ragged, but the Everdrought's fear was swallowed. Replaced with hate.
And he spoke in a language Ryce had never heard before, should not have been able to hear, but understood perfectly:
"You know not what you wield."
Ryce let her arm fall: It was just too heavy. She was just too tired.
At once, Cri'ssatiel's body wrapped around the black construct, and, with a hiss, shattered it like glass. She could only wince.
"Keep him restrained," he growled to the four jailing his weakened brother – oh, she could definitely hear now, that was nice – and trampled towards her, a parade of monsters and nightmares falling into step behind him.
There was finally an air of finality to the room.
Without thinking, Ryce took a step back. She hated herself for doing it, but it didn't stop her legs, her shaking, tired legs that could barely hold her up anymore, from backing away. She only did stop when her back bumped into someone.
Her panicked eyes found Saliend're's, and for an eternity, they just looked at each other, with the bogeymen ever encroaching. Her brother's eyes were calm as they looked for something in her, something important. And then, he sighed.
She could hear his voice in her head, Out of tricks, eh, Alaryce?
And she knew.
Before she could think to do anything, he pushed her forward.
She would never forget that push. A gentle, delicate nudge on her back, edging her forward a few steps – almost like an encouraging pat to give the incentive needed to face a hard-but-doable challenge.
And then the monsters had her.
And as she drowned in their hatred, it was over.
She was pushed and pulled from all directions, in a haze of screams and pain. They had her. The monsters had her. Oh God, they had her.
She felt herself being dragged, by Cris, among the cheers and the spits, and from the corner of her eye, she saw executioner's block – no longer her throne, it neverwas – drawing nearer.
When her face was slammed into it, her world exploded in blinding pain.
And with it, came the loudest, most triumphant cheer her siblings had yet to produce. Ryce's rattled mind could barely focus, barely remain conscious, but she was still absurdly reminded of the song, Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead.
"I hope whatever your next move is, brother," she heard Saliend're say, "is a more decisive one."
The cheers died down, and after a second, Cri'ssatiel came to view. He towered over her, now more than ever, and his hatred was just as potent, but for a second, Ryce thought that despite their triumph, despite the cheer, he looked rattled. Maybe they all did. Or maybe she just imagined it, with her tired mind and her swollen eye.
If she didn't, it hardly mattered: The look was gone, replaced by his usual sneer. He turned her back on her and trampled away. Ryce followed him with her eyes, one of which she couldn't really see out of.
But when she saw the Everdrought approaching her captive brother, it almost gave her enough strength to fight again.
…But not quite. That well was dry. Her limbs kept shivering uselessly.
Cri'ssatiel grinned nastily at her, knowing what she had just tried, and turned to address Xavius.
"She tapped into the Vineyard for you," he whispered quietly. "She touched Her dark trees, for a chance to help. Look at her now. She can't even move. Do you wonder, maybe, if she had just chosen to run, would she have escaped? Instead of this?"
The bound behemoth didn't respond, but his captors chuckled darkly.
"The answer is no, we'd have caught her easily," the Centipede answered himself. "…But it really makes you think, doesn't it?"
This time, X replied, in a quiet, steel tone, "Know this, worm: Come what may, I will end your world in screams if you lay a hand on my sister."
Pale and weakened, Xavius' words carried in them power, and truth, a promise of his already returning power – that was the thing about him: His healing was much faster than Ryce's. Some people get all the breaks.
Something like that might have caused unease in the Council at any other time, but Cri'ssatiel only responded by snarling at Xavius, acidic spit burning his face at contact.
"Oh, I'll heed your advice, deserter," he growled. "It won't be my power that will end your precious mongrel pet."
His hind-legs reared up, carrying in them the discarded, arcane war hammer.
"Yours will do just fine," the Centipede-thing whispered, staring at the ancient weapon with hunger. It dropped into his awaitting arm, and, though he wasn't its wielder, drummed with earth-shattering power.
Xavius' eyes burned with fury.
"…Such strength," Cris' voice carried a twinge of awe now. "Never did I think I would be able to lift your weapon. My thanks," he licked his blood-stained lips, "my eternal gratitude for making it possible."
When the beast turned back to Ryce, she was disturbed by the mad anticipation in his eyes.
"Beheading has become stale anyway," he approached, readying the hammer. "Hold her."
There was no point, Ryce knew as others obeyed. She couldn't even move. She wanted to laugh at them for listening, make a quip about they'll never be able to get the messy stains out of their fancy clothes by standing this close, but even her mouth refused her, slurring nonsensical noise that they mistook for begging whimpers. She kept quiet after that.
With enough time, she would have healed. Now…
Now it didn't matter. Now, she found herself, prepped for slaughter, her face against cold granite, staring at the man who sat so straight, with hands too pretty and clothes too neat. Too perfect.
He'd always been like that though. But having him remain that way now, more interested in texting and his wine, clawed at her heart. She had hoped…Had he not HEARD the things they said? Not seen the damn brawl that just broke out right in front of him? In the end, did he not care about the woman whose mere mention always sent him into a remote mindset? Did he not care about the daughter he'd taught and protected?
The fire in her eyes burned, the despair crushed.
…The love stung.
She wondered if it had been him. The envelope. The necklace. She could see it, resting near her face. Had he been the one to get it back to her? To show, in his small way, that he cared?
She was dimly aware that Cri'ssatiel was making a speech, leading the Council like a cult-leader to a virgin sacrifice. She tuned him out. She didn't care.
The enveloped had been addressed to 'Ryce.' Her father had never called her Ryce. He thought it was stupid to make up 'pretend names.' But, could it have been?
…In the end, she found it didn't matter. After all that had passed, all she'd been through, the tiny scraps of love that she may or may not be given were finally not worth it. They were not enough to overlook everything else. They were not enough. Even if part of her wanted them to be.
"…By the grace of the Council of the Judge, and my role as executioner," Cri'ssatiel was saying, raising the hammer.
LOOK AT ME, GODDAMN IT, she wanted to scream.
Azrael did. As if he heard her, his eyes locked with hers. Neither blinked.
"You are to be put to death."
If she was to fall, he would at least have the decency to watch. He would look her in the eye.
"And we are finally to be rid of your cancerous presence."
The hammer swung.
Azrael looked to the door.
Ryce's heart san—
And then the door slammed open.
Everything stopped, even the hammer, and in a crazy moment, Ryce pictured a younger version of herself bursting in to give her siblings the business. With her heart drumming against her ears, she realized that maybe the Council had been right to be pissed with her about that – it was just stressful, not to mention very rude.
But it wasn't her that stumbled in.
It was Marid.
"STOP!" he cried, panting – he had run a long distance, it seemed. "Stop, you can't do this!"
The Council of the Judge stared at the young incubus, baffled. Ryce felt much the same, but she couldn't voice it.
"What is the meaning of this, whoreling?!" Maerwynn shrieked. She was rooted in place, locked in the task of keeping Xavius bound, but her frustration was palpable. "LEAVE. This is not your place!"
Marid had been frozen in his spot, terrified by the many stares of beings that could destroy him with a whim, but Maerwynn's words colored his cheeks an ugly purple, and he plunged on, "T-The Lie Weaver has committed no v-violations 'gainst Father's rule. She s'i-innocent!"
He might as well have been speaking Japanese. Even Ryce didn't understand where this was going.
"Y-You can't kill her," Marid spoke in a frightened squeak.
"…Tourson," Cri'ssatiel finally said.
A muscular man, grotesquely so, like a cartoonish, hairless gorilla on steroids, looked to him.
"Rip his head off," he ordered, turning back to Ryce. "The execution continues."
Marid choked back a sob as the creature thundered towards him on powerful arms. He was almost upon him when the small cough stopped him.
Stopped them all.
At once, they saw Azrael. And how, for the first time since the beginning of the trial, he was truly paying attention.
"….father?" Cris hissed.
Azrael spared him a glance, but it was dismissive. Scolding, even. Instead he turned to the frightened Marid, who looked back at him in further terror.
Azrael clucked his tongue impatiently. The prompt to continue was obvious.
Marid sprang into action: "S-Self-defense! Your Law, Father – Lest the malice finds you, ye will not act."
"Father, why do you allow these distrac–" Cri'ssatiel snarled, his pincers clicking in agitation.
"It was D'xias who attacked first!" Marid yelled over him.
"You come to us with tales?!" Dead-Eye yelled, her hair flaring with her anger, burning into Xavius. "It was the Lie Weaver whom brought claw to D'xias!"
"After D'xias fiendishly threw a baby at her!" Marid yelped back.
This time there were no interruptions. The absurdity of that statement had left the council in silence. Even Ryce, who had been there, could only boggle at her brother's technically-true claim.
But it was she who said what they were all thinking, finally healed up enough to croak out a, "…what?"
"Babies are dangerous!" Marid insisted, glaring at her, as if she were being the absurd one. Perhaps she was, considering she was fighting against her 'defense'. "If D'xias had managed to hit you in the head with it, as was s-surely his malicious intent, unless you can find s-someone to say otherwise, it would have caused mas…massive b-brain trauma, if not outright kill you! You were in flight! You would have plummeted to your death!"
He looked to all the incredulous stares, and to his father, who, at least, seemed mildly interested in what he was saying. He took a deep breath.
"On…On the L-Law, the Laws of the House of the Jud—the Helper," the incubus stammered, struggling to get the words exactly right, to parrot them back, "We are honor-bound to bow to the spirit of blood and caste – there s'no question: The Lie Weaver s'innocent. She must be free, and exalted for her triumph."
He panted, harder than he had upon arrival, and stared nervously at the assorted council. Over the course of his speech, their expressions had gone from surprised disbelief, to something much darker, much more terrifying.
"…Marid?" Azrael said, his seldom-heard voice making everyone jump, most of all Marid. "Approach."
Marid did, if hesitantly. Every eye was now on him, except, oddly, Azrael himself, who had opted to stare at his daughter, pensively. Even so, there was little doubt that the archangel saw, like everyone else did, the skittering manner in which the incubi walked. Frantic was the only word to describe it.
"…Fa…Father…" Marid whispered begging. Now that he had said his piece, the façade that had been his shield was breaking, and beneath it, the incubus looked feverish and mad. Concern and anxiety racked at him, and he could not stop twitching.
Azrael simply quirked an eyebrow. The message was clear: Tell me why you are doing this, son.
"Father, please…" Marid stammered hoarsely, "please, j-jus' let her go. Shaytain…h-he's got him! He's got him, Father!"
Azrael tilted his head, his mouth twisting into an all-too-familiar smirk, "Heh. You're dismissed, Marid."
The panic in Marid's face increased tenfold, his eyes wide and bloodshot, making the handsome man look deranged, "Father, NO! I-I can't, he won't let him die, Father! P-Please, jus' let the stupid bitch go!"
Azrael looked at him.
His son flinched.
"I won't ask again."
The boy helplessly looked at him with watery, beady eyes, until he was forced to flee with his tail between his legs.
The door slamming shut echoed the room into silence.
"Hm…was that enough of a distraction for you?" Azrael asked.
"Yeah, I'd say so."
The voice sent a jolt through Ryce. It had come from beside Dead-Eye.
The woman's head snapped to the side as the clawed hand clamped down on her tendril-hair, its terrible lightning coursing through the appendage as the second hand clamped down on her chest.
She saw the peaceful, gold eyes last.
And then Dead-Eye was consumed in flame, chest reduced to ash. She was dead in seconds.
Adam Matthews stood in her place, shaking a singed, smoking hand.
"If she comes back to that, she deserves to kill me," Adam mused to the silent room.
"…YOU," Maerwynn was the first to recover, going wild-eyed with fury. Her hold over Xavius faltered before she caught herself and reestablished it.
Adam ignored her, his eyes fixed on the girl in the block, who was frantically struggling to see him.
"…will there be no end to today's interruptions?" Cri'ssatiel hissed in frustration. "What is this?"
Saliend're stepped forward. "Lord Metestasnathean. The Morning Child," he said diplomatically, ignoring the furious hiss the name produced from Maerwynn. The others kept quiet, assessing the demon before them. "To what do we owe this…honor?"
Adam seemed to ignore him too, his eyes moving from Councilman to Councilman, pensively. His eyes lingered on Cri'ssatiel, and on the hammer, a tad longer.
"…Are you aware your children are crippled aberrations?" He asked Azrael conversationally.
The Archangel smirked, very slowly.
His children, save Ryce, did not share the sentiment, baring their furious fangs. Saliend're was becoming quickly aware of the fact that the stories were true: The Morning Child didn't negotiate. He was simply too stupid to.
"I beg your pardon, your Lordship…" the Philosopher tried.
"You're flawed by design," Adam explained. "Each and every one of you. It's like you were made from the start to have ingrained in you a fatal error. Like you were created to have an endlessly miserable existence. Your greatest strength is slowly killing you."
As one, the Council started moving, edging slowly to surround this stranger.
"I killed the jellyfish girl, for example," Adam continued, watching them lazily, "by redirecting her own lightning. Her body couldn't take the power her hair dealt. Have you ever heard of a lightning-wielder that couldn't handle the smallest shock?"
Cri'ssatiel's incredulity had died, becoming dark, amused chuckles as he gripped the hammer.
"You, you're easy," Adam nodded to him, "I bet you're always thirsty," the Centipede stopped laughing. The demon trailed a hand along his chin, mimicking the stains on the monster's mouth, "That's why you drink the blood, isn't it? Just for some semblance of quenching that mad drive. Wonder what would happen if all the moisture in the room vanished."
The Everdrought was now staring at him, a dead expression in his eyes. Ryce was forgotten.
"…Adam…" she whispered, trying to warn, to draw attention back to herself.
"You? …small penis," Adam said to Tourson.
The hulking behemoth actually stopped in his tracks, dumbfounded. Azrael laughed.
"You," Adam continued, looking at Maerwynn. The fae was rabid, twitching – it was impossible to tell if she wanted to run away or lunge her teeth into his neck. "You're probably always cold. Or it has something to do with your looks. You have that sort of haughty expression that comes from it. Maybe it's both. Have we met? You're staring at me in a way only people that have met me do."
"The Morning Child broke my mother," Maerwynn hissed shrilly, her ice cracking, her fury incomprehensible.
"Ah…" Adam nodded, a memory coming to him. "Right. Well, she was a whore, with a gaping vagina."
The ice cracked, splintered all over. Maerwynn's semblance of humanity was nearly gone, replaced by a remoteness that matched the most unforgiving of snow storms.
And the Morning Child smiled for it, "It's a sad existence," he added quietly. "To be born that way. To be made so that anyone could see you," he faced the rest, so close to him now, "and easily figured out the easiest way to kill you."
Saliend're found his voice first. "…Are we to understand, Lord Metestasnathean–"
"–that you came here simply to tell us that?"
"Hm? No. I'm just making small talk. I'm here for my munchkin," he nodded to Ryce.
"…What?" Cri'ssatiel's tone changed, his dead expression giving way to danger.
"Well, you heard what your local hyena said: She's innocent, you have no way around that," Adam said, gently. "Let her go."
"The beast's testimony was nothing. Not worth our ears," Cri'ssatiel snarled. "It was you who orchestrated it, was it not?"
Adam tilted his head.
"And you would think to enter upon this ancient house and murder one of our own, with no retaliation?!"
"This was retaliation," Adam replied. "The House of the Helper took one of mine and dragged her unto unjust trial. Of course I would respond with flame. We all would."
"THE MAGGOT IS NOT OF THE HOUSE OF NATHEAN!" the Everdrought thundered.
"I took her in. That's debatable," Adam said quietly. And then, he grinned, "we could have another trial to decide it if you wish."
"NO! NO MORE TRIALS. THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN OVER LONG AGO!" the monster lifted the hammer towards Ryce.
"STOP," the voice of the Morning Child washed over them, "I can tell you one reason why you shouldn't do t–"
The hammer swung down.
And then with a confused roared, it ripped from Cri'ssatiel's hand.
"Rude," Adam muttered. "Very rude."
Maerwynn shrieked at the sight, and her tattered ice chains shattered in the confusion, as she scampered to get away. The other two weren't as lucky: They chose to tighten the grip of wood and darkness, and Xavius broke through it like tissue paper, killing them instantly.
"Worm," the First Soldier spoke, renewed power rolling off of him. "You want my power?"
Cri'ssatiel's confusion didn't last. He lunged for Ryce's prone form.
The lightning, more powerful and concentrated than anything Dead-Eye produced, rocketed the Everdrought, crashing in a heap of snarls and curses.
Adam, in the meantime, used the confusion to slide past the Council that surrounded him, plucking Ryce up and holding her protectively against him.
"…Hi…" Ryce whispered, smiling tiredly. "This has been a trip," she confided.
Adam smiled back, as the Soldier descended next to them.
"So like I was saying," the demon said loudly, "a good reason not to move against her would have been to remember that four of your own were pouring all their power into keeping the most powerful of your midst contained. When one suddenly, ah, stops, and one of the others' own ability is crippled over their mother issues, well…" he smiled at Maerwynn's ragged breaths, at how she stared at him. The resemblance to her mother was certainly there. "It's only a matter of time before your captured overwhelms them. Especially if you give them time to gather his power by standing around and listening to some guy blab like a bunch of morons."
"This is perhaps not helpful," Xavius grunted, noting the fury these words sparked.
"…Adam," Ryce croaked. "…The Titans. Did you…bring them…?"
"No," he replied. "I figured you wouldn't want them to see this."
Ryce's shoulders sagged in relief. "…thanks."
Adam gave her a peck in the cheek, even as she pulled herself to her own, unsteady, feet.
"So what now?" She asked. "Second verse, same as the first?"
"I wouldn't think so, no," said the voice behind them.
"This has gone on long enough, I think," he said with a lazy smile, touching her shoulder.
The archangel turned to the Centipede, his son struggling to recover.
"'Fraid this one's your loss, Cris."
The last thing Cri'ssatiel saw before the four vanished was his father's amused smile.
"…What jus' happened…?" Ryce asked.
They were in a remote location in the Neither, with no shape, no sense of gravity, not even a smell. It was disorienting, and it didn't do her weakened constitution any danger.
Adam and Xavius' hands moved to steady her, and she smiled at them gratefully.
"I'd say a hell of a show," Azrael said simply.
The Soldier frowned at his father, and then turned away, tsk'ing.
"…A show," Ryce repeated. "This…dad…what?"
"I get really bored while waitin' for the new episode of Grey's Anatomy to come up," Azrael replied, in what was probably a sensible tone. "If your brothers wanted to throw a farce of a trial to try to get my permission to kill you—again—why would I deny myself the entertainment – again?"
"You were innocent, sure, but why not let it run s'course?" Azrael mused.
Alaryce stared at him. "…All my sufferin', the fights, Xavius' wounds…jus' so you could kill a few hours? So you could watch us dance?"
Her brother's hand on her shoulder stopped her before she could go further, quelled the building fury in her voice. Adam looked decidedly unsurprised, while Azrael watched her expression. She fought not to look down, when she asked. "…What would have happened if there had been no one to stop them all the times it was nearly over?"
The beat of silence, lingering far too long than she wanted to admit, unsettled her.
"I would have stepped in and stopped it, of course."
"…Of course," Ryce replied quietly. "Why did you step in when you did?"
It was Adam who answered. "Isn't it obvious?" He looked to her. "It's 9, somewhere. Greys just started."
Ryce looked at him, tired. "…Time sucks around here."
Her dad smiled at her. It was a nice smile, "Something to say, princess?"
If she had been more rested, less tired, less bitter, she'd have shaken her head.
"…are you really goin' to jus' let this farce continue?" she asked her voice weary. "…S'what this is, dad…we all know that."
Like with Marid, all he did was raise his eyebrow, and she knew to elaborate.
"They'll feign their outrage….you'll feign your boredom…nothin' changes though. Nothin' ever changes."
"Oh princess, Things are always changin'."
Her eyes hardened and held his unflinching, "Aye. Like me."
This time she ignored Xavius' hand, the glittering of Azrael's eyes. She spoke.
"I stood up…and I changed because that s'the god damned point of being ALIVE isn't it?" she asked holding her hands out, "I took nearly eighteen years to stop waitin' to DIE. I see that now. S'sick. What those grovelin' idiots do in that room…how they fall at your feet like dogs s'SICK, dad."
Azrael's expression had gone carefully remote.
"Can't you SEE that!?" something small and desperate had begun to creep into her voice, "All I ever wanted…was to be something you could be proud of…And now, standin' here b'fore you I weigh the cost and worth of that pride. If becomin' like THEM is the price, then s'never goin' to be worth it."
Ryce sighed, drained. She was surprised she'd been able to get it all out. "Even if you hadn't helped me, I'd have said the same: I have done NOTHIN' wrong. They are the wrong ones. And, if you stand with them, so are you."
Silence fell upon them. Standing before her father in this tense and dangerous presence, neither made to look away from the other. It was the death god who broke the quiet, his voice soft and oddly comforting.
"Tell me, Luv…what exactly s'waitin' for you back there, that's made you see things this way?"
A moment of contemplation, her eyes cast down at her feet, before a small smile broke out over her face.
"Boundless human stupidity," she said her voice equally soft and aching with a strange fondness he'd never heard.
"You have about twenty-seven seconds to tell us where she is you greasy creep, before you become a stain on our wall," Terra growled, her eyes beginning to glow subtly around the edges. Beside her Garfield let out a series of hissing clicks, certainly echoing her sentiment in the form of a utahraptor, one of his sickle claws tapping against the floor in anticipation.
Azrael frowned a bit and tilted his head at the couple. Neither met his eyes. A cursory glance around the room made Raven realize that none of them were. It was as if something innate warded them all away from doing so, some long ingrained instinct engraved into the still ever present lizard mind lurking in all of them. The archangel's daughter at times had a similar effect on them, usually when she was feeling particularly inhuman and strange. For all this pondering though, he gave no indication he had intention of answering their questions, threats, or demands. If anything he was smirking at them arrogantly.
"…s'this how you treat house guests?" the man murmured raising a brow as he looked about the room, ignoring their hostile stances, "Really…didn't you parents teach you lot better manners than this?"
There were no jokes from Rob, his voice an eerily atypical even tone, "Where. Is. Ryce."
"I do not know anyone by that name."
"Where is your daughter!?"
The angel's mouth curved into a deepened grin, "I have quite a few of those. They're a bit too old for you though Mr. Candide."
"You know what man? I've had enough of your crap," Cyborg growled, his step forward accompanied by the whirring hum of a loading cannon, "Tell us what you've done to Alaryce or I'm gonna see how many holes I can put in that cheap suit of yours."
"…hehe...holes….holy…Angel. That s'cute. Are you sure Candide s'meant to be the funny one?"
Cannons charged, weapons were unsheathed, words were muttered and growls snarled. Yet, through it all Azrael just grinned his arrogance out over them, looking like an overgrown child winning at a game of keep-away. Eyes twinkling with mischief that sang 'I know something you don't know' even as they readied their attack. This was a mistake. Raven already could see that. She could feel the power emanating off of him, burning faintly around her like standing before a flaring grill.
"S'there ever a time when y'are not PAINFULLY obnoxious Da'?" a tired voice murmured from behind them, echoing Tim's words back.
Azrael's smug smile softened as he looked beyond them, "Or perhaps it should be, s'there ever a time when they are more concise and ask more specific questions. M'an old man princess, I cannot be expected to jus' KNOW what they mean when they're so insufferably vague."
One by one the Titans dropped out of their battle stances and reeled about to see the source of the familiar voice. Ryce sat bonelessly atop the counter, supporting herself on her remaining arm. Their gift to her hung limp at her side swaying this way and that whenever she shifted her weight. Exhaustion laced through her face as she smirked back at them, her left eye sporting a fresh bruise, the flesh around swelled unpleasantly. Had she conventional sight in that eye it would be all but blinded by the shiner.
"RYCE!" It was Starfire who broke their shocked silence. Nigel was the first to break rank and dash over to the counter and, pointedly ignoring her grumbles and eye rolling began to check the girl for wounds. Unfortunately, the doctor was only given a few seconds before he barreled out of the way by the remained of his team as they rushed forward. The moment became a blur of conversations, questions, sighs of relief, and too-tight hugs all directed at the clearly overwhelmed teenager who did little more than grin back tiredly and shake her head.
"Are you okay?"
"How'd you hurt your eye?"
"Scrambled or over-easy?"
They group of them fell silent and turned to stare at Metatron as he carefully shouldered his way into the middle of the group to stand closer to Ryce. Noting the stares he was receiving with something close to surprise, he shrugged and hopped up unto the counter beside her.
"Well I know the answers to all of your questions and I wanted to be part of this too…"
Tim opened his mouth to return to questioning the half-angel, noting that Met's interruption had the unintended effect of quieting the barrage that had been aimed at the girl. Before he could get a word out, he was interrupted by Victor's exclamation of, "What the hell happened to you?!"
It was not directed to Ryce, however. No, it was reserved for the battered behemoth that had appeared behind them. If Ryce's eye was ugly, the purple and yellow knotty mass that was Xavius's orbital socket (maybe even the entire side of his face) was horrendous. Dried blood caked the entire side of his neck, running down the ruins of his military jacket in a dark tide. The armor his uniform showed in flashes of silver as he moved revealed dents and scratches and what appeared to be burns etched into the metal.
For his injuries however, he didn't appear to be faltering too much upon his feet when he turned to his father. His voice was a bit rougher than when they last heard him speak. Then again, he didn't have a healing neck wound to contend with at the time.
"The Council has adjourned to their respective realms."
Whatever that meant appeared to be good news, a small smile lighting Azrael's face, "Ah, good. Did they give you any more lip?"
The Marine grunted lifted something long, and segmented from his side, "Not lip."
Horrified and revolted looks overcame the heroes' faces in a wave as the limb splattered to the ground with a wet crunch. One or two looked vaguely close to being sick. Only Ryce and Metatron remained unaffected by the sight and sound it made. Met was far more interested in pressing a warm hand against a small patch of what looked like frost bite on Ryce's neck. Ryce was too busy staring at her older brother in apparent shock.
"Did…Did you jus' make a joke?" she sputtered.
The Marine arced a grey brow at her expression.
"You jus' made a joke!"
Azrael wrinkled his lip in revulsion at the sight and shook his head. With meticulous care he stepped over the insectoid leg, avoiding the splatter and made his way over towards his daughter.
("Adam, he made a JOKE.")
"Xavius…you will give your brother his leg back when we get home do you understand me?"
("Did anyone else hear him!?")
If the Marine heard him, he didn't acknowledge it. Instead, using his massive height, he reached over the assembled group and slapped something wet and dark purple across Ryce's yellowing eye. It was quite effective in breaking her out of her shocked ramblings, and for someone who had hours ago been eating meat raw she made an interesting gagging sound at the contact.
"Do not eat it," he grumbled placing a slab of the same mottled looking meat over his own wounded eye.
"Why WOULD I? Oh god, this thin' smells," she choked, noting the way her friends wrinkled their noses in disgust and backed away, "…what s'this thin', X?"
For a moment the Marine looked down at her stonily, "…We will call it a 'steak.'"
"It has green stripes in it," Garfield murmured queasily.
"So did its owner."
Azrael had approximate point zero five seconds to snatch Xavius's Marine hat from his head and hold it under Ryce's chin before she unceremoniously vomited into it.
"Least it wasn't your shoes this time," he cringed, letting Metatron take hold of the hat and rub the girl's back as he backed away, rubbing his hand against his jacket as if to clean unseen filth away.
They gave her the few moments to collect herself. Another few minutes after that, her family members had forced the congealed looking "steak" back unto her injury. Once more silence had fallen unto the odd gathering.
Tim, ever the leader, took charge, "Ryce, what happened?"
"M'fine…s'fine…walked in, talked it out, made it home in time for cake. Diplomacy works wonders," she tried to get out even as Azrael snorted from beside her
"You started a riot in my nicest hall, young lady," he reminded her.
Ryce lifted the steak from her eye a bit to cast him an incredulous look, "…Jesus, Dad. You need to hire a decorator. The twins still stalkin' that interior design major?"
"No…poor dear. Seems he was mauled by komodo dragons or wolves of some sort."
"…Ah yes the komodo wolves that roam the wilds of SoHo in their skinny jeans with daddy's credit card," Ryce frowned and let the stripy meat splat back unto her aggrieved eye, "You need to get a handle on them."
"…I can't help it that they get jealous of one another, Alaryce," Azrael let out a long suffering sigh, "Nor can I deny them their due if a mortal is stupid enough to be in between them in knowin' what they are."
"Too much detail, Daddy," Ryce shuddered, pulling the steak away from her eye. Nigel's quick inspection left the doctored in bemusement. After clearing away the residue the repulsive slab left behind, the maid's skin, though still a touch tender and discolored no longer swelled the eye shut.
"So…are you okay now?" Rob finally voiced what they were all thinking.
"I doubt my daughter has ever been classified as 'okay' in any form of the word," Azrael murmured from several feet away. The Titan's turned to find the archangel eyeing his daughter's birthday cake with intent, the dark haired woman from earlier – the one who took Ryce - standing at his side with her hands stuffed into her pockets. Even as his hand could so much as twitched up towards it, she lifted one of her own and gently slapped it back down.
"No thanks to you, Whom God Helps….and that isn't yours," the dark haired teenager informed him.
"No thanks to me?" he narrowed his eyes, his tone one of deep offense, "Who, pray tell, jus' cast judgment in her favor riskin' unrest beyond comprehension in his ranks? Who raised a sickly baby in less than ideal circumstances to be this beautiful, albeit questionably insane woman, you see before you? Hm?"
"Alaryce's survival is in spite of your care…not because of it," the dark haired woman at his side sighed with a smirk up at the archangel.
"Oi! I take the highest of offense to that!"
"You take the highest of offense to everything 'Rael, because you are an unmitigated pain in my ass."
"Feh," he grumbled, waving a hand at her in clear dismissal as he turned and stalked away from her, "You and your incessant naggin' woman."
"So…in all that babbling did your dad ever say whether or not you were okay?" Rob asked Ryce, shaking his head as she began to laugh.
"I had my trial," she explained, "…I was found innocent."
"How?" Terra asked blankly before she could stop herself. Taking note of the dry look it earned her, she rolled her eyes, "I'm not saying we're not HAPPY you did but…seriously how?"
"One of my sons expressed concern for his baby sister and stepped forth with a stellar defense of her clearly provoked actions s'all. D'xias attacked her first. Ali had ev'ry right to defend herself against him," Azrael shrugged.
The air seemed to shift in the room, become dense and drop for a moment. The space beside the archangel thickened and darkened stretching and twisting into a man shape. In an instant one of the twins appeared in its place, poison green eyes narrowed upon the half-demon sitting beside Ryce, "Where s'he?!"
"Indeed," Azrael simpered, "I believe you have somethin' of my son's."
"Ah, yes," Adam clapped his hands. "For you see, Marid, to get your brother, all you had to do, was sit down…and have a conversation with me."
And then the timer on the kitchen safe went off, and it slowly swung open.
"Tu-runt-tun! Tu-runt-tun-tun, tu-runt-tun!" the demon hummed as Shaytain fell out of the safe, moaning. Marid yelled in relief and quickly went to him. "Tu-runt-tu—ow!"
"You need to stop watching Saw II," Ryce sighed, having smacked him, "…seriously, Adam s'in…such bad taste right now."
Shaytain...it was difficult to describe. He seemed unharmed, but pale, and unconscious. Twitching every so often. But…it didn't really seem like he had reason to. The whimpers got to Marid, and he glared venomously at Metatron.
"Son," Azrael murmured in warning. Marid ignored him.
"Alaryce…" Marid purred, not looking away from him, "You really should be thankin' me, li'l sister. I rather came through for you back home…suppose we can jus' forget what happened with Y'mael yes? Bygones be bygones?" something in his eyes flashed and seemed to try and tug at Met "What do you say?"
For a few moments Ryce just stared at her brother through narrowed eyes. Before anyone could so much as blink a shade surrounded her right arm and then that arm had plunged a fork from the counter all the way to the hilt in Marid's skull. The ash dropped to the floor like dead weight the fork clattering noisily
"Sure," Ryce smiled icily at said pile even as many of her friends gaped at her in horror.
"He'll get back up! He's not dead!" Nigel sputtered out quickly, trying to keep the others from acting on the fact that their maid just apparently committed cold-blooded murder right in front of them.
Azrael chuckled, touching the shivering Shaytain. "Suppose it's time to go home."
In a haze of ash, both him and his brother's remains vanished.
"…I need a drink. Noel's right, m'too sober to handle today," Ryce sighed hopping down from her place on the counter and making her way to the fridge.
"You are eighteen. Get away from that beer," Tim glared.
"Eighteen s'like thirty in angel years."
"No, it isn't,"Azrael smirked.
"…Thanks for helpin' dad."
The archangel sighed looking over at his youngest with soft fondness as she rummaged through the fridge, "You've come a long way, princess. No longer that li'l thing who used to sit under my desk and watch her precious heroes…when she was SUPPOSED to be working mind you."
They could hear the smirk in her voice as she continued her foraging, "I got my work done…s'my free time!"
Azrael laughed at her flippancy, shaking his head as he reminisced, "Yes, yes…I remember…you were 'bout eleven or twelve and you used to sit there watchin' away. Hour after hour, cheering on the heroes who couldn't hear you. It was so adorable…you had the biggest crush on the white-haired one…"
A majority of the Titans winced at the sound of Ryce's head crashing into the shelf above her after that.
"These are lies," came the inhuman growl from within the fridge.
"They are," Azrael acknowledged, seemingly content to embarrass his daughter. He fell quiet for some seconds, before he looked to the young heroes. "You…the white-haired one with the mommy issues."
Azrael ignored his offspring and graced Savior with an appraising, if not slightly condescending, look.
"I must say…the manner in which you confronted me over Al – Ryce's – condition was impressive. You certainly have balls, human. That being said…" without skipping a beat he turned his attention away from the meta's eyes, falling on the woman at his side, "Demon? Your mate talks to me like that again and I will rip them off and feed them to wild swine."
"…your diplomacy is startling," Savior said flatly.
"So s'your claimin' to be straight in that get-up but I digress," Azrael sauntered over to the fridge, "How's your head my love?"
"Dented…like the fridge shelf," Ryce growled, wincing as Kory gently placed a back of ice upon her crown.
"You really SHOULD be more careful" he tsked.
"Uh…Mr. Gallagher?" Beast Boy asked. With his back turned to the group as it was, they missed the dark flare that went through the man-thing's eyes at being refered to as such. By the time he turned, it was gone, replaced with is ever present charming smile.
"Please Garfield, call me Azrael. No need for such formalities."
"…Yea, okay um," he frowned glancing at his teammates for a moment faltering in his resolve, "That is…well…we're super stoked you didn't try and kill Ryce, don't get me wrong. But…now what? I mean, does she go home? Go back to…well…"
"To being treated like crap by you and the rest of your shitty excuse for a family," Noel grated, having no problem with not beating around the bush about it. Garfield's face visibly cringed with the lack of tact he had been trying to convey.
"God above woman, I can see why you are in love with this man," Azrael murmured to Raven dryly, "He s'jus' SO personable and pleasant."
"The pot just called the kettle black so hard it's now starring in a Shaft remake."
"The kettle would do well to remember if I wasn't pleasant, I would be returnin' its maid in a zip lock, sandwich baggie, instead of one talkative, breathin' piece."
"The Pot will do well to remember that if it hadn't, we would be in the process of tearing its realm down around its ears," Noel took a step forward, voice dropping into a growl.
Azrael matched it, his voice falling into something equally dark and cold, "Oh, you would have tried and I assure you Collins it would have been adorable."
"Ladies, ladies…you're both pretty. I kinda would like an answer to Gar's question m'self," Ryce cut in, going so far as to step in between the two before the fists began to fly. For a moment, it didn't seem she had interfered in time, both the Meta and the death god sneering and glaring at the other without so much as blinking at the small teenager before them.
"...Daddy," Ryce frowned, something imploring and at the same time, warning in her tone, "Tell me what's gonna happen now. What comes next?"
The threatening posture was replaced quickly by annoyance, the yellowing blue eyes snapping down to acknowledge her for a moment. His dismissal of Noel was loud and clear when he turn to her fully, "Well, s'not like they're all goin' to forget what happened t'day, Alaryce. If you thought the tensions to be high b'fore you left...aft'r what you jus' pulled they're no long jus' hatin' you. You made sure they'll fear you, too. The kind ones will kill you on sight."
"...No one on the Council s'kind."
"And what does that mean for, Ryce?" Victor asked.
Ryce swallowed dryly, trying hard to not let her eyes betray her fear to her friends when she glanced around at them. She did not fare as well in keeping the bitter edge out of her tone, "So it didn't matter? I get to have Xavius followin' me twenty-four-seven for the rest of my life at home? Confined in my room like a prisoner if I don't have a guard?"
Azrael lifted a brow and gave a derisive snort startling her out of her resentful spiral, "Your brother is not your hand maiden, love. He was a loan because you showed me you couldn't be trusted. He has work to return to and you are far too old for a babysitter.
"Frankly," he shrugged, leaning back against a counter lazily, "I do not have the time or inclination to follow you around for the rest of your life. It was a pain in the arse b'fore when you were a child. Now? It'll be all encompassin' to keep your brothers and sisters from skinnin' your scrawny hide. You made a right mess of things t'day, girl and you will be the one who bears the consequences."
The harsh scolding brought forth the expected protests from the heroes around her. Even as she flinched and looked down to the floor to avoid eye contact they were shifting and grumbling.
"Do you seriously not understand or hear how much of an asshole you sound like right now?" Noel his tone ice.
"You can't just leave her to them," Sophie chimed in her voice hardened and eyes tense.
"I can do whatever I damn well please, actually" Azrael shrugged, "And what I damn well please s'for her to take her crap and get out."
He didn't so much as wait for her to flounder her jaw uselessly without sound. No sooner than Ryce had jerked her cringing gaze up from the floor, the archangel was depositing a cardboard box into her arm. Numbly, Ryce gaped down into it. Her violin. Her books. Her pictures. A toy model of the very Tower in which she stood. An ancient gameboy. She thought of all the glitz and wealth that collect dust in the splendor of her room in the Neither. The multitude of lavish thing she had so often never had any use for. Just shiny junk that sat upon shelves to twinkle without purpose. None of those "treasures" were in the box, every last bit of it coming from her place under the floorboards.
Ryce fumbled with the box only able to hold it with one arm. Kory quickly stepped forward to balance the other end with one hand, the faltering causing the contents within to shift. A clatter sent a picture toppling from its side to lay flat on top of the pile. Glancing down and then back up to her father, Ryce was still too flabbergasted to do much as than uselessly bob her mouth opened and closed.
"Alaryce Fionnabhair McBride Gallagher," something in the Angel of Death's tone struck them all silent. Few noticed Ryce visibly flinch as if struck at the utterance of one of those names, "For your mockery of my Court…for the unrest you have caused within our realm…you are no longer a welcome guest in my halls. You are exiled not from your duties, but from calling my hearth haven or home. If you should return to the Neither from which you were birthed, it will be without my approval or protection. Naught a hand will be raised to shield you from their hunt."
Ryce stared up at her father silently.
It was in this silence that Azrael's attention shifted. His eyes fell upon the box in her arm and more importantly on the picture that had tumbled into view when she had nearly dropped it. The framed had been long ago mended, he could see clearly where it had been cracked and glued back together by unskilled by loving hands. Behind the glass, also not the original for the frame, was a photo of a pretty blond woman whose hair hung in a thick cascade of curls. She was in her twenties and did favor much in the way of make-up, her own natural complexion seeming better without it. Petite and curvy, she was all but swallowed by the tall man embracing her from behind, resting his face against the crook of her neck. It was making her laugh, making her nose and eyes crinkle in a way that she'd never know would be passed down to her daughter.
Azrael looked...nothing like the man standing there in front of the Titans. Clad in a plaid button down shirt, his carefully styled hair was laying about his head in a soft looking, bed-head jumble. The naturally messy look managed to make the shock of white running through it far less noticeable amongst the inky black. Not looking directly at the camera, his face was turned into the woman's neck to rest his lips against her skin, pulled back into a barely-there toothless smile. He looked at peace. Soft. The Archangel of Death looked blissfully and obliviously happy with the laughing woman in his arms.
"...where did you get this?" Azrael asked his child, expression unreadable.
Silence followed. Whether or not Ryce would be answering was not immediately apparent as she stood before him. It was a strange sight for the Titans to see her so mollified, so close to maybe even ashamed when Ryce was ever anything but completely unabashed. Her voice finally came to her in a soft, child's whisper.
"Years ago. I was eight. You...you threw it at Saliend're and it broke. You were so angry that I thought I'd fix it for you and bring it back when you calmed down…but…well…"
A swift glance at his eyes and his silence beckoned her to go on.
"…I didn't have any pictures of her," Ryce's cheeks flared with color under the weight of her friends and her father's stares. With a cringe and glance to Starfire, she wordlessly thanked her as the princess took the full weight of the box into her arms. It was easy to see how Ryce hesitated to reach in the box and pull the picture out. It was all the more obvious when she actually was handing it back to her father, "I know I should've given it back. M'sorry if you've been looking for it. I jus' wanted…I jus' thought…"
Her sputtering trailed off, as he looked down at the frame in her offering hand. Soon her words altogether died. For the longest time Azrael did little else than stare at the picture. By the time his gaze had made its way up to meet her eyes, the silence had become unbearable thick and oppressive. Hot like the blush of embarrassment on the girl's face as she admitted to her theft. Azrael stared at her at first as a stranger, than as something else, an indefinable flicker curling into his eyes. His hand finally reached up from his side and cupped her own curling it around the frame for her gently.
"No. No this is yours," he whispered ," he whispered and with this, it hit her. He had cast her out.
He had cast her out.
Ryce flung her arm around her father's neck and embraced him as tightly as she could, the arches of her feet straining her onto her toes to reach.
Without preamble, he curled his arms around her and returned the hug just as strongly, "…Make this place your home, princess."
There was no grand exit, no flash or bang. One minute, Ryce stood with her arm around her father hugging him as if she would never let go, and then the next she was stumbling into the place he once stood. All that remained in the archangel's stead were a collection of molted feathers, a rainbow of kinds and colors. They fluttered up into the air briefly as Ryce's off balanced shuffle disturbed them. Then they settle back to the floor silently. No one spoke…they just watched her watching them. In the end, it was Rob who broke the eerie quiet.
"…It already is. You know that right?"
Ryce jumped a bit, startled out of her reverie. As if she had forgotten they were all there staring at her. Blinking, she looked back to her friend and tilted her head in askance.
"Your home," the other blond clarified as the others began to nod in agreement, "It already is."
Ryce could only give a watery smile, wiping at the sting in her eyes with mock irritation, "For as long as you'll have me."
"Indefinitely it is then," Nigel grinned.
Tim was quick to cut in, "So long as you stay out of the damn air vents."
"…I make no promises, Drake."
"Cake time!" Garfield enthusiastically interrupted the leader's exasperated sigh.
"Make sure tubbo doesn't stick her fingers in the frosting."
"I could just stick your face in it."
Noel shook his head as the imminent bickering between the blond and brunette once more began. At this rate they'd get the cake out and the candles lit somewhere around his birthday, four days from now. Glancing up a bit he found the birthday girl sitting back on her countertop, hand resting in her lap. Once more, she had fallen into a contemplative quiet, ignoring the yammering going on around her to instead observe. Following her gaze wasn't particularly hard. Especially when his own was drawn to the man anyway as he cut through his teammates bickering with a click of his fingers, setting the candles on the cake alight with a popping flare.
It came out before he could stop himself, quiet enough for her ears alone, "You should tell him…"
Ryce's thoughtful look faltered for only a moment, the barest of downward tics at the corners of her lips. Her gaze eventually twitched away from watching the chaosling to draw to Noel. There was sadness to the smile that formed on her face. A bone-deep weariness interlaced with what her eyes scream to be fruitless hope.
"S'never that simple."
"…it can be, if you're not stupid about it."
She only laughed and shook her head. If there was anything else to say, the singing and glow of the candles cut them off. Using Noel's arm for support and balance, the half-angel slid down from the counter.
"Happy birthday to you."
Ryce looked at them all, eyes half lidded and content
"Happy birthday to you."
She drew away from Noel to stand on her own two feet and smiled.
Light. Warmth. A lingering headache from the blow to her eye.
"Happy birthday, dear Ryce..."
That wasn't always my name. It is now though.
"Happy birthday to..."
There was someone to her left, holding her left hand; she could feel his claws against her palm.
There had been cake and there had been laughter. There had also been a spell where Ryce felt the room falter and tip around her as her exhaustion set in. The festivities had been winding down anyway, and it HAD been a long day for her. It had been why she had slipped off away from her own party without much of a word. Why she was now closing the door to her room. The cool dark enveloped her once more. On her nightstand her alarm clock blinked its green numbers back at her signaling that it was later afternoon. A few hours had past since she left. A few long grueling hours.
And everything had changed.
It was with a dizzy stumble she made her way over to the outlet in the wall. She missed the mark the first few times before the prongs of Cyborg's custom made charger finally struck home. Falling backwards onto her bed she had to struggle for a moment to remove her new arm from her shoulder so she could plug it into the charging port. Instantly cool air hit the remainder of her shoulder, the loss of weight on her left side making her list slightly. No matter. She let gravity and her leaning take their course and toppled unto her bed. If nothing else she had most certainly earned herself a birthday nap.
"And all you require is a Hemingway novel."
Ryce did not so much as crack open an eye as she answered the disembodied voice coming from the Orb and game board, "First the height jokes…now the handicap ones. Dear lord, Richard your sudden sense of humor is a bit 'disarmin'."
"That was painful…"
"Stop talkin' to me when m'getting' over head trauma, then…in fact, jus' stop talkin' to me. Pretty please?"
Nice trick. What you did. Really," he continued, adding after a moment, "Do you think it will be without consequence?"
"Silly me...thinkin' losin' a limb is s consequence. Where s'my head? How's your stomach by the by? Get that sword out of it yet?" she began to grin even as she forced herself up again.
"You should have just accepted the consequences, child. Because now...things will be so much worse."
With a quirked eyebrow, she swung her legs over the side of the bed, sitting before the game and moving one of her pieces, "Hm...bein' dead or havin' your metaphorical hand up my ass like some deranged muppet would would kinda suck, Ricky. No offense, you jus' have a terrible track record with minions."
For a moment there was only silence. Finally, one of his pieces shifted forward "...heh.
"There are worse things than death or slavery, child. Far worse. Have you forgotten why you came to me in the first place? You tried to have your cake and eat it too. You were a Trojan horse that refused to do its job."
"Maybe that was the plan all along? I did win if you remember," she frowns at his piece, eyes flickering over the board in concentration.
"And what have you won?"
Ryce refused the shudder that tried to run along her spine, her own scream up on the roof as she broke echoing back at her in his question, "Time…unlike you, fellow Lie Weaver...m'not afraid to die. I jus' have some things to do first."
He seemed to consider her answer for a moment before continuing, "Very well then. What have you lost in the past that you have now?
…and who have you greatly enraged, child?"
Ryce could feel the smile forming on her face as she mapped out her moves, "...I lost and now have a family. M'sure the benefits of this are lost upon you so I wont waste my breath. As for who have I enraged?" she paused in her strategizing to look into the Orb without batting an eye, "No one and nothing of great importance...'cept in their own minds M'sure."
She finally let her left eye glow and watched as a pawn slid forward, "'Sides...m'more interested in who I've greatly terrified."
"...you dismiss me," there was an edge growing in that tone she was sure of it, "A fool's mate."
"Not dismiss...jus' amused by," she looked as if she could barely contain her laughter, "I learned the difference between sloth and efficiency, I suppose."
"Enjoy your time, then. You more than anyone should know how little sand remains in the hourglass," he was not nearly as talented at sounded bored as he assumed he was.
"...in certain glasses most definitely" she grinned, tilting her head at the Orb as she waited his move, "...are you always so enthralled with things that scare you Richard?"
"Everyone who has ever built anywhere a new heaven, first found the power thereto in his own hell," and the Lord of the Night made his move.
She saw it in an instant. She saw it before he did. Triumph and dread roared up in her chest and a maniac's smile graced her face, "I've seen hell, Ricky...yours especially...you're not back there quite yet.
"Checkmate. I won."
For a moment, the room fell into an otherworldly stillness. Within the Orb, the black pulsing swirls had even ground down to an unsettling halt. The only thing that moved was the sliding of Ryce's piece into spot, sending the black king first to falter, then to fall from the board.
It never reached the floor, the entire board exploding upward and clear across the room in a fit of black flame. Still, the half-angel smiled, watching the artifact in amusement. She carelessly lifted her hand to pat away a flicker of errant flame from her shirt, with the air of scaring off a bug.
"DO YOU THINK YOUR GLIB DISMISSALS WILL SERVE AS ARMOR THEN, CHILD? DO YOU THINK YOU UNDERSTAND ME AT ALL? UNDERSTAND FEAR? UNDERSTAND HELL? . I WILL REDUCE YOUR PRECIOUS HEROES TO THE GIBBERING ANIMALS THEY TRULY ARE DEEP INSIDE. ONLY THEN WILL I RIP THAT EVER-FLAPPING TONGUE RIGHT OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND SHOVE IT BACK DOWN YOUR THROAT. I ASSURE YOU, THE FINAL REGRET WILL BE YOURS.
"AND YOU WILL KNOW DAMN WELL, I GAVE YOU FAIR WARNING."
"I don't need armor to terrify you," Ryce snarled back instantly, her eyes contracting with her venom. Her mouth fell from manic, twisting into something quite cruel, making her looked frightfully like her father. Something alien and cold crept into her voice, filling it with black amusement, "You really cannot begin to fathom how insignificant you are yet, can you?
"...Do you REALLY think you can win these games with the likes of me, you little shit? I am a herald of death itself. You are goin' off the chess board…playin' in my realm. There are much worse things than monsters out Here. Out Here, you are NOT the big bad. You're the sniveling frightened child that I know you can be deep inside. That I have seen you be. Do you remember how you screamed, Ricky? I do. You were my lullaby…you were my lesson. You and Patrica and me and those eyes go way back to when you didn't even know your name. When you were Nothing. When all you knew were your screams and her hands and her eyes…
"...so let me give YOU a warning, Nothing."
Ryce stared into the Orb, her eyes utterly inhuman, "You don't win. Do NOT go to war with me."
Silence came first. Cold and unyielding as the thing, the Other, that lurked behind Ryce's eyes. Immovable object meat unstoppable force. When he spoke again, his voice had grown soft, "...you will yet learn, halfling.
"You have never seen a war like me."
The black fell away from the Orb.
They were done here.
Striding over to the downed game set, she stamped out whatever smoldering remained. Yes, they were quite done, she thought, her left eye glowed subtly as she scooped the twisted debris up from the floor and into a trashcan. The rings behind her began to click and shift into place, spiraling their way. By the time the last ruined pawn had clunked down into the garbage, that connection was severed forever.
Noel really did know better than to ask questions. He had lived in this lunatic asylum – Pun most certainly NOT intended – long enough to know that sometimes you saw something and you just kept right on walking. Perhaps he was just in a good enough mood or maybe he had just gone momentarily insane. Whichever the reason, he paused his walk and stared at his two teammates as they both stood in the middle of the hall, heads twisted around to crane their ears up towards the ceiling.
"…I'll bite. What are y-"
"Shhhh!" Victor hissed, pressing a finger to his lips.
No sooner had he acquiesced to his friend's eloquent request did the white haired man hear the soft peel of music drifting through the hallway.
"Uh…anyone know where that's coming from?" Beast Boy frowned, looking up at the vent the melody was floating down from.
"I know this song," Cyborg murmured, "It's Fun. I think."
"Yea I guess," his green companion nodded, not usually one to find pure instrumental music entertaining, "What's the name of the band?"
"The band is Fun."
"I'm sure they are, but what's their name?"
"Their. Name. Is. Fun."
"Who's on first?" Noel interrupted with a mutter, more to himself than anyone else. If his teammates' blank looks were any indication, it was better that way. Twisting through the halls, the trio attempted to trace the source of the music. It took mere minutes to come across Robin, a similar look of confusion on his face as he headed for the stairs that lead up and out unto their roof. No one bothered speaking; they just converged into a larger group and followed behind him. There was no doubt the music was getting louder, the source fading from question, even before Tim pushed the door to the roof open. The string instruments trills flooded over them and into their home as they stepped out into the golden, hazy light of dusk. The air was warm, heavy with the approaching cool-down that came with the night after the sun had fully set. A text book end to a pleasant summer's day.
Metatron was the first one Tim noticed, lounging in his typical cat-like fashion, eyes shut as he sunned himself in the last remaining rays of the day. He was finally wearing pants, and looked oddly at peace, even more so then usual with his legs splayed out carelessly before him, shoes off, arms and hands crossed behind his head in a makeshift pillow. The hero couldn't help but wonder if this state had something – see: everything – to do with the young woman standing several yards away.
It was funny how even after living with her the past several, hectic months how there was still odds and ends that they seemed to miss about their newest housemate. Such as the fact that Ryce had much longer hair then any of them had ever realized. She never let it down from its intricate braids and clips enough to be noticed. Typical or not, she was without them now, a sheet of blond falling down her back, the ends of which went so far as to brush against the back of her upper thighs. Clad in a loose-fitting floor-length skirt and a tighter top, she was perched up onto the tips of her toes near the roof's edge, swaying aimlessly.
"Uh-Ry–" Cyborg started only for Noel to cut him off with a gentle shushing gesture. The cybernetic man then noticed her odd stance, the twitching of her right arm as she slid it back and forth fluidly. The unasked question was answered when one of her legs swayed out from beneath her, curling up into the air the toe pointed delicately. The slow twirl brought her body carefully about and away from the Tower edge, the light catching on a golden bangle wrapping about her ankle.
She was…remarkably good at the violin, Tim thought, watching as the slight girl played and danced along with her own music. That she could twist and sway about as she played without dropping a single note spoke volumes. Without effort and without deep focus, her soft, content smile mirrored her best friend's, and her eyes remained shut against distractions in the world around her. Including them.
But not Adam, he amended, watching as Ryce's movements brought her right up beside the demon, sure to trip over his prone form. The music rose to a swelling crescendo and her body twirled about in time, leg extended to hop over him with a wide margin, in a move that was all too natural to her eclectic dancing. With each step her smile grew, her feet carrying her away from them and the perhaps-slumbering demi-demon.
"Well, Some nights, I wish that this all would end…Cause I could use some friends for a change," Met mused in a gentle hum to compliment her music. His eyes, just barely open, seemed to glow with the same soft golden light playing along the sky right now, "And some nights, I'm scared you'll forget me again…Some nights, I always win, I always win…"
Quaking with laughter, Ryce's eyes finally fluttered open to look down at her friend. On and on she danced and played and locked eyes with the demi-demon. Then, with a final twirl and swipe of her bow the song had come to a close.
To say that the tiny blond had jumped out of her skin when Victor and Garfield began an over the top round of applause would have been an understatement.
"Eep!" she squeaked stumbling around on her bare feet, all signs of her previous grace very much gone. Realizing that her performance had gained an audience for a great deal of time she began to blush and in a child like motion hid the instrument and bow behind her back. Noel couldn't help but chuckle that, of all things, THIS was what the girl was embarrassed to be caught doing.
Obviously she heard him, returning the laugh with a smirk, "You could have jus' all slipped away. I'd never have known you were there."
Noel nodded, giving a shrug as Tim offered a hand to Metatron to pull him up from the ground, "Yea, I know, but I've been told that the polite thing to do when someone's making an ass out of himself or herself it to let them know you're watching them do it."
Ryce blinked at him for a moment. Then it bloomed across her face as a full smile as she made her way inside, sure to give him a sharp little jab to the shoulder with her right hand, "Jerk."
The door to her home's roof clicked softly shut behind them and the final peek of sun settled below the horizon.
And I will hold on hope and I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I'll find strength in pain and I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again ~ Mumford and Sons"The Cave"
Hello Reader. This is Terraine, or if you prefer Jacki The Woman in Black. I wanted to personally thank you for sticking with this story through to its completion. Many of hours of work and effort were put into this by Sloth and I.
But all things come to an end, for better or worse. Ryce's time and story with the Titans is one of these things. Sloth and I had many plans in the work for continued stories containing everyone's favorite little sociopathic angel, but we have chosen to put a majority of these away. There will still be occasional postings, but they will mostly be short in nature and lack the epic length plots like those seen in Endgame.
The reasoning for this sudden change of heart is a desire on both our parts for a place all their own for Ryce, Metatron, and our countless original characters. Therefore going forward our focus shall be on taking the future we had planned for them and giving it solely to them.
God willing, you may yet still see what destiny holds for these two…in their own books. When and If this day comes, I hope it exceeds any expectations this peek into our characters has formed. Thank you all again and farewell from myself, from Ryce, and from this asshole with the slicked back hair.
"Publishin' for the retarded…this should get interestin'," Azrael mumbles going back to his gameboy.
The End For Now.
Hey, this is Sloth—the co-writer you probably never heard about.
I'm going to go ahead and earn myself a bit of ire by saying: Thank GOD I don't have to write Titans anymore.
It's not that I don't have fond memories of the series…but this setting, I like to think, has outgrown them. I personally always felt they were a bit hammered in and not needed for the story…and that was probably evident in some sloppy writing.
My point is…it's time for Ryce and Met (and their friends, the ones truly made for them, to complement their characters and to grow on their own) to move on to their own story. Stories.
Ter and I have spent years thinking up of where their lives would lead.
I think what we have, it's worth hearing. It's worth reading. Worth publishing.
With this chapter, we leave fanfiction behind…and we move to professional writing. To our dreams of the future. And we will show you exactly what our minds can come up with, unrestrained.
Thank you, for all that have read Ryce and Met's story at this point.
It's not over.
It hasn't even begun.
Ryce and Met. Ter and I.
We are the stuff of legends.
We won't forget what we finished today. We will NEVER forget what we started.
Thank you. See you again.
October 9, 2012.
Today is the day your dreams begin.
…the sun did not touch here. Ever. He had made certain of this. Made certain that his dark corner of a world that had not quite recognized his ownership yet, always remained as such. In his solitude, his seething was only interrupted by the quiet tinkering of the shards of crystal toppling from his clenched fist.
And then footsteps.
"Ungrateful li'l bitch isn't she?"
The Lord of the Night peered into the shadows, listening to the pattering of steps. Had he flesh, a chill would have rolled over him at curl to that voice…the sinister lit. Step by step…closer and closer. Then, the voice's owner stepped away from its dark sanctuary. That same cruel, maniac's grin that he had seen within the orb unfurled up at the shadow god.
Azrael tilted his head in a mock bow.
"…I have a proposition for you, Richard."