I do not own Teen Titans, if I did I woulkd be rich and this would be an Elseworld. Also I would have a complete collection of Great War era bayonets and combat knives.
"All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That's how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day."
-The Joker, "The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore
Destiny, fate, choice, and free will; Forces that wise sages have claimed govern events that have yet to come.
On the one hand we are called helpless, following a script long since finalized. We are merely puppets that cannot see our own strings. What will be will be whatever happens, happens.
On the other we have infinite choice. Here in lies chaos wherein each being is responsible for is and will happen. No fate, only will and the lack thereof.
But is it truly a matter of absolutes? If not gray is not possible like the Yin-Yang that these two forces exist simultaneously in conflict and in balance? By this relationship could they not validate one another, with both fate and choice being true and false?
A wise man once illustrated this middle way to his students by drawing lines in the dirt with a stick. What he showed them resembled a tree, or perhaps trees resemble this pattern.
A single unknowable starting point, which branches out into multiple lines that if continued would represent an infinite number of intersections. There are times where choices are made and a fate chosen. Yet having made that choice we must flow that path, and there is no returning to the path not taken.
But is there truly a path not taken? An intelligent woman proposed that the tree model actually represented not choices but divergences. When the universe reaches these crossroads every option is exercised and new realities are born from the choices. This theory giving rise to the belief in a true multiverse, in which different but legitimate realities exist.
Behold Azerath, the holiest city of this world. It lays claim to a general splendor, rather than a handful of temples and palaces it is the city as a whole that one finds attractive. The feeling of ease one feels walking the streets stands as proof positive that this is no den of charlatans and politicians, the light truly dwells here.
Yet, by the act of existence it cannot claim perfection. This day a crossroad approaches dark wings, dark words, and dark deeds.
Somewhere with in the hallowed city a debate rages. A dark hall hidden from the light, a place reserved for tasks deemed necessary but undesirable. The chamber is crude but adequate, after all what occurs here is not meant to be glorified. At present the hall is occupied by fifteen people, adorned in the white robes of their order. They all stand save for a single elder who watches over the gathering from a throne carved into the living stone that supports Azerath. This aged, yet menacing figure alone retains his priestly composure as those below him set aside such manner in favor of sincerity
We come upon the Quorum of Azarath in the midst of debate:
"The can no longer be any doubt, the prophecy was true."
"If there is no doubt why has the Quorum assembled?"
"Prophecies are the refuge of cowards, who abdicate responsibility by blaming fate. Our archives alone hold dozens of unfulfilled predictions of the future."
"This is different. We all felt the presence of the Terrible One those years ago. The child's skin is testament to her nature."
"The herald of hellfire, the princess of ash, a child that will herald the end times. Such coloring is not unheard of. Yet the incident this morning, it is clear we were too optimistic."
"The incident proves my theories of eight years past. It carries not only Trigon's blood but is in fact hanyou. This abomination has already displayed power, if we wish to avoid destruction cast it from our presence."
"You speak of a child Corrain, her name is Raven. You act as if she is a monster, when her powers only saved her from a cart crushing her. Self preservation is not inherently malign."
"Arella, your reason is tainted by maternal sentiments-"
"Mind your tongue Corrain, we are here to decide our actions regarding the child. Arella has proven her fitness to attend."
"Honored members of the Quorum, Azarath has long set itself in opposition to the darkness. It would be a betrayal of that sacred task to turn our backs on Raven. She is half demon, but she is also half human.
"Humans are inclined to wickedness. Azarath has only achieved this serene state by working against our human nature. If anything her human side will augment her infernal heritage."
"No, if we train her in the ways of our order she can suppress her demonic nature. She is still young enough to begin the training."
"Even are priests our not infallible. Would such training achieve anything but pouring fuel on the fire?"
"Yes, you would give our greatest weapons over to the enemy."
"This child, Raven, her destiny is to be the destruction of our neighbor world earth, the cradle of humanity. Earth is an ancient world, stained with pointless bloodshed and overflowing with bigotry and apathy. This is the reason our ancestors fled that accursed plane."
"Attempting to avert the prophecy will bring doom to Azarath. The fate that awaits the Earthers is tragic, but all things end. What point is there to risk Azarath by gambling on a child's strength."
"The right path is seldom the easy one. We have gone from condemning a child to an entire world. This path leads Azarath to a dark place."
"ENOUGH," the voice of the elder washed over them. He does not rise, it is not necessary; his voice shatters their resolve like a cannon ball through a cathedral window. None of the quorum could be called weak, but they regarded the elder with respect that mingled with fear.
"A JUST DEBATE, BUT ALL THAT NEEDS TO BE SAID IS SAID. THE TIME HAS COME TO CHOSE, WILL AZERATH STAND ASIDE, OR OPPOSE THE PROPHECY? RETURN WHEN YOU HAVE DETERMIND YOUR COURSES," he concludes.
The Quorum departs their secret place, and seeks solitude. Some meditate on the matter seeking affirmation or answers in themselves. Others wander, searching for signs and revelations in the world around them. Still others carry on with their task routine tasks, finding their center in normalcy. Over the next week they return one by one. The secret chamber now held two pots and a vase. Within each pot rested pebbles, one held black and the other white.
White pebbles to try and save a world, and black to condemn a girl and damn a world. They could not tell if they were the first or the last, or even if there choice was the popular one. As was the way of Azarath, they were each accountable to their own conscience, a harsh judge indeed.
At last it comes down to one man. Observe him if you will, much of his face is obscured by his cowl, but what you can see is a mouth used to smiles and lines formed by worry. His face if you could see it would tell of regrets and triumphs, a life flawed but still beautiful. His white cloak conceals most of his form, but his hands you can see just fine. They are opened wide as you can please and in each rests a fine little pebble.
In his left hand he holds hope, and in the other safety. Do not think harshly of him, this choice is unenviable; and should you judge I would be interested to know how you would weather the dilemma he faces. He could with one hand ensure the safety of all he holds dear, but at the price of dooming strangers. Also the face of the girl comes to mind, could he do this and ever forget that face? Yet while the dangerous road holds appeal to those you wish to stand, the risk is great. After all it is not his own life that he risks but an entire world, all in the gamble that one child can overcome forces even he can not quite grasp.
The shape of the world changes as he steps forward. It is without satisfaction he tips a hand and lets the pebble slid from his control. The plunk as it hits the bottom of the vase seems inappropriate. His resolve wavers as he almost wishes to reach down and pull it back out.
He does not even try; you can never take it back he knows that lesson well. Feeling the beginnings of shame he returns the white pebble to its pot, it makes no sound at all. Feeling his years the priest leaves in search of prayer. A necessary evil, he thinks, but still evil.
The final vote came back, 8-7 in favor of banishing Raven daughter of Arella to the Earth.
* * *
Steel City that is what they called it. It had a proper name once, named in honor of the German immigrant that founded the settlement that grew into a metropolis. During World War I as Germanphobia swept the USA the citizens renamed their city so as not to seem unpatriotic. Streets called Victory, Liberty, Washington, and other mindless nationalist banter stood in place of the old names. For the sake of keeping up appearances the city rejected its past and identity. A prime example of human cowardice, the man thought.
They called him Slade; he too had once had a proper name. Ironically he had also lost it to a war, along with the life he had once led. His family had possessed a proud martial tradition. His father had served in the Vietnam War from start to finish, a volunteer in a war made famous by draft dodging. Slade's Grandfather had also volunteered and fought under General Patton in North Africa and Sicily. The tradition began with his Great Grandfather, who as Marine had taken part in rape of half a dozen tiny nations to protect and further American interests. Slade come to find himself holding the most sympathy for that distant ancestor.
His career path had been determined from an early age. He did not take it as an excuse; his parents would have supported him had he chosen differently. However, in all honesty he was a man who craved conflict from even those early days. As a soldier he had excelled and earned the attention of the men who decided the course of the Cold War. He became a Ghost, a unit that did not exist that carried out missions that never happened. The end of the Cold War changed little, Uncle Sam could now freely snap up whatever interests he wanted while the world struggled to find a new balance.
Then everything changed. Even now he was impressed at how quickly life could go wrong, not end, but become stunningly warped. Never mind how it happened, suffice it to say he ceased to be his father's son and wife's husband, and became Slade.
He did not cast away his old name like this City had. The change was natural, like a serpent shedding an old skin that no longer fit. Rather than prowling the shadows for his job he now dwelled in them. Part of a world that existed just below the surface of that naive realm he had been born into. A shadow world he aspired to master.
Slade had gained a reputation, while being careful to stay below the radar. While powerful, it was his mind that set him apart. The mind of a veteran that has triumphed in every mission imaginable, in every battlefield you can think of. His empire grew slowly like a cancer; while heroes put out fires his peers set they did not even realize the danger they would face in the years to come.
While hesitation was often fatal in battle, the same was true for acting too soon. He was barely a rumor in the underworld. Shielded by misdirection and multiple aliases his power grew at the expense of people who did not realize they were marked for a fall.
Yet in spite of this inclination for caution he was on the move in a neighborhood degenerate even by the disgraceful standards of Steel City. Rather than testing out his armor he wore a modified version of his military effects, including the cloth mask.
The rumors had brought him out. A strange girl with strange powers, in this business you learned that certain combinations meant trouble. Metahumans, mutants, aliens, or whatever other category they fit under, the last few years had seen them rise to prominence on both sides of the law. One thing they had in common was attracting trouble. A lack of metahumans or masked criminals had been the reason he chose this rotting metropolis for his base.
Yet now one seemed to have crashed his party. No point in griping he elected to scout out the girl and assess the threat. Once that was done he would form a plan of action and deal with this before it became something that could disrupt his plans.
He could not have suspected how this mission would disrupt his plans, or change the course of his world's destiny. With each step one door swung shut and another began to open. And blissfully unaware the masked man made his way across the tenement rooftops towards something he never suspected.
"The beginnings of greatness ought to make a louder noise. Then I could seek cover."