I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi or Kosuke Fujishima, and certainly not anything owned by Warner Bros.


Robin strode out of the Titans Tower's main entrance and stopped a few yards in front of Slade, snapping out his retractable short staves, his cape billowing slightly in the light morning breeze. He didn't bother to glance over his shoulder, he knew what he'd see: Beast Boy and Cyborg flanking him on each side, Starfire hovering overhead with her fists glowing green with power. Instead, the Boy Wonder focused on their enemy.

Slade did not look good. Oh, his costume looked the same, if soaked with seawater: the same dark blue/black over chain mail, same full-face mask with a single eye vertically split between black and orange. Physically he seemed to fill out that costume as before. But however well-defined his musculature might be, the Titans' most dangerous enemy exhibited none of the grace that had been so much a part of him before his presumed death. Instead he was slumped over, shoulders hunched — whatever had happened to him when Terra had shut down his last scheme in an explosion of rock and lava, it hadn't been good.

It doesn't matter, he's here, Robin thought grimly. He called out, "Slade, we're ready for you!"

Slade seemed to hunch into himself even more than he already was. "Give me the girl!" he called back in the gravelly voice that had replaced his earlier smooth menace.

"No way!" Robin responded defiantly.

"You don't really have a choice in the matter," Slade replied, "I'm taking her."

Beast Boy stepped up beside his leader. "Oh yeah? You and what army?" he shouted, then shrieked as the same upside-down tear drop-shaped flame demons that the Titans had seen attacking other heroes in video feeds from around the world sprang up out of the island's bare, rocky ground to float in rank after rank.

From Robin's other side Cyborg stepped up, shaking his head. "You just had ta ask, didn't ya?"

For once Beast Boy ignored the jibe as they watched Slade stretch out a hand, palm up. "Attack!" the villain shouted, clenching his fist.

Robin didn't wait, throwing himself forward to reach Slade before he could be cut off, staves hammering out in blow after blow. Slade staggered back under the assault, not even bothering to lift his arms, until Robin's lifting side kick smashed into the villain's jaw to knock him back — but not off his feet.

The Boy Wonder backed up, staring in shock as Slade's legs bent back at the knees and his body stretched out to hang unsupported horizontally above the ground. Then Slade snapped back upright, arm outstretched, and from his clenched fist a blast of dark energy that Robin was too shocked to dodge blasted the Boy Wonder back to land in the center of a circle of the floating fire demons.

Jumping to his feet as the demons dove toward him, Robin swept his staves around to knock away demon after demon (relieved that he could knock them away, he'd been worried that they'd be as insubstantial as the fire they seemed to be made from). But there were just too many. As he spun in place to knock aside the latest two to reach him, the tear-drop arms of a demon farther back stretched out impossibly fast to hammer into him, knocking him out of the circle of demons to send him bouncing and rolling along the rocky ground.

He let the momentum roll him to his feet and lifted his staves, bracing himself as the fiery demons swept toward him, only for them to scatter when demon after demon blew apart as Starfire's thrown green energy blasts rained down from where she hovered thirty feet above the battleground As soon as she had the demons' attention, she broke off the barrage to summon a massive ball of energy and hurl it down to explode in the middle of the survivors. The few remaining flew up to engage the alien princess, and Robin took advantage of the respite to glance around — just in time to see Beast Boy sail up to smash through one of the Tower's upper windows.

Before the demons responsible for the green-skinned hero's involuntary flight were able to follow up their success a blue-white blast from Cyborg's sonic hand-cannon dug a trench along the ground to intersect them, blowing them apart. The massive half-metal teenager ran heavily into the hole in the enemy forces he'd just created to take a stand in front of the Tower's entrance. "No one's gettin' in here!" he shouted, and pressed a large button that had popped up out of one arm. Two large power conduits snaked out of the Tower to attach themselves to the Black hero's shoulders. More parts popped up out of Cyborg's arms to combine with others extending from the front of the Tower to form a sonic cannon massive enough that he staggered under the weight.

Robin raced to join his teammate — or rather behind his teammate — and grabbed his communicator from off his belt. "B.F.G., regroup!" he shouted into it as he turned to look back out across the island battlefield. To his relief, even as the muzzle of the cannon began to glow white with a piercing whine Starfire swept away the last of her attackers with green energy eyebeams then flew down to hover above her teammates. A moment later a green hawk flew down to transform into Beast Boy and drop the last couple of feet to the ground next to Robin.

Robin reached up to tap Cyborg on the shoulder. "All clear!" he shouted as he clapped his hands over his ears, the others following suit. Cyborg nodded, pointed the gun straight at Slade and the remnants of the fire demons the villain had summoned and pulled the trigger, and for a moment their vision went blue-white as thunder hammered their ears.

Then the world was silent except for the ringing in their ears, and the four teens strained to see through the dust cloud blowing away on the breeze. Finally, a single figure appeared in the thinning haze — Slade, standing in place. The only evidence of the attack was the way his head was cocked over to one side at an impossible angle. Then with a wet snap audible in their still-ringing ears his head snapped upright. He lifted his hands palms up, and the Titans' jaws dropped as all the flame demons they had snuffed out — or entirely new ones, which didn't matter — rose from the ground in undiminished ranks.

He's playing with us, Robin thought, heart sinking. Still, maybe Slade's overconfidence (please, let it be overconfidence!) would give them the time help needed to arrive or the break the Titans needed to win. "Attack!" the Boy Wonder shouted, his tone as firm, as confident as ever, and once again charged at Slade.

/\

Urd stepped out of the temporary portal from the suburb of Asgard where she and her co-mothers made their home, followed by Lind.

The Divine/Demonic hybrid looked to both sides as soon as she stepped through, and nodded in satisfaction at what she saw: the serried ranks of the Valkyrie and Furies that hadn't been told off for guard duty in the suburb she and Lind had just left, the Valkyrie to her left and her Furies to the right. And in front of the first rank, in the gap between the two groups was Skuld, dressed in her full combat body suit with power strips hanging back from each shoulder. She was crouched down on her heels with her datapad floating in front of her, projecting its virtual keyboard and screen.

As the portal disappeared behind her and Lind walked over for a quick consultation with the Valkyrie that had held temporary command of the combined warriors, Urd stepped over beside her sister and asked, "How's it going, Squirt?"

Without looking up, Skuld answered, "It's started."

"It has?" Urd turned and looked out west across Jump City towards the bay and Titans Tower. The bay was visible from their position halfway up one of the mountains that surrounded the city on north, east and south, and that position had been chosen so they could see the small island between the skyscrapers that made up the city center. She could see tiny flecks of red darting around the island, and hummed a quick 'spell' to sharpen her eyesight, then frowned as she watched the fight taking place. No Raven. But Slade was there, and from the pattern it looked like the rest of the Titans were guarding the Tower rather than trying to break past the Elementals they were fighting. Her adopted daughter must be safely tucked away inside the Tower.

Smart move, she thought with ungrudging admiration. She and her co-mothers had watched the Titans over the past four years, of course, through the surveillance gem Skuld had convinced Raven to wear — right in the center of her forehead. And of all the Titans, it had been Robin that had impressed Urd the most — the weakest of the Titans in raw power but with unmatched discipline and training, the Mind of the team as Starfire was the Heart, and with an unshakeable determination that reminded Urd of Ranma before his/her death.

Please, let Raven have that same determination now! Urd thought in a brief but heartfelt prayer, then looked down at her little sister. "Any word from Father and Mother?" she asked.

Skuld shook her head. "No, nothing."

Urd refocused on the island and growled. Her orders were clear, the combined forces of Asgard and Niflheim were not to interfere until given the signal from one of the two ultimate authorities. Urd didn't understand why they had to wait, but those were her orders. I just hope Father and Mom know what they're doing, she thought grimly as she watched Beast Boy get launched into the upper floor of the Tower.

/oOo\

Nabiki hit her desktop computer's 'return' key, then leaned back in her very comfortable office chair and rubbed at tired eyes before straightening to again focus on her monitor, and ... "Yes!" she exclaimed, falling back into her chair again. Not that there'd been much doubt, but quirky things had happened in the past. Still, her latest day trade had just paid for her odd family's next vacation.

So now let's shut it down and join the family, she thought. It felt good to be able to do that — a big change from the early days, when thanks to the hours of the different exchanges she played with and the needs of more cash now she'd been putting in eighteen hours shifts. Nabiki smiled fondly as she remembered the times when only Kasumi's mothering had prevented her from working herself into physical collapse, and how her older sister had finally insisted that she work no more than twelve hours in a single day. She never relented, not even when Nabiki was having a bad run and the two of them and Nodoka were eating nothing but noodles and they were using cloth diapers for the babies so they could buy enough baby food and pay the rent — she had simply said that money was tight enough that the last thing they needed was to add hospital bills to their stack.

But it had been over a decade since things had been that desperate, and by now Nabiki had enough salted away in various investments that day trading was just a way to have fun and occasionally fund a special occasion — like Haruka's upcoming birthday. Unlike Kasumi, Nabiki didn't really mind their adopted daughter's love of racing, but it did mean that birthday presents had gotten expensive. Sometimes she thought that that was one Western tradition they could have done without, but they'd made the mistake of starting it when Haruka and Michiru were young and having the yen that made it possible was something to celebrate, and had never gotten out of the habit. Still, she thought, the time she spends practicing at the track under her umpteenth-great-grandmother's watchful eye plus the time Michiru spends at the school practicing her with the rest of her quartet equals more 'alone' time for me and Kasumi. With two teenage girls that was always a plus. Come to think of it, Nodoka was currently out as well, visiting one of her favorite restaurants. (It was the type of restaurant where the atmosphere was both formal and traditional on the part of both the employees and patrons, and so no one else in the household really cared for the place — not even Kasumi or Michiru most of the time, though it made a useful threat to bring Haruka to heel sometimes.) Nabiki and Kasumi had the house to themselves for hours.

Lost in her happy thoughts, Nabiki didn't hear the sound of someone running down the hall toward her home office so when the door slammed open it was a complete surprise. She jerked upright in her chair and twisted toward the doorway, then yelped as the maneuver tilted her in just the wrong way and she found herself headed for the floor, her head bouncing off the desk on her way down.

"Owww." She glared up at Kasumi from where she lay on the carpet, rubbing the back of her head. "Kasumi, what is you prob —" She broke off her building rant as she finally took in her normally calm and controlled sister's excitement ... and fear.

"Nabiki, something's happening to the sky!" Kasumi reported breathlessly.

Nabiki glanced up at her home office's window then at the clock, her eyes going wide. Kasumi was right, the light coming in through that window was unusually dim for the hour, and oddly tinted. And she'd been so caught up in her day trading she hadn't even noticed. Jumping up and rushing to the window, she stared up at the sky — dim with not even stars showing. It wasn't clouds, there were only a few. She whirled from the window and grabbed Kasumi's arm to pull her toward the doorway. "Come on, let's see if anyone's saying anything on TV!"

It only took the two a few moments to reach their family room and turn on the huge projector TV Nabiki had had installed several years before. Nabiki grabbed the remote to bring it up, for something like this practically any regular channel should do, with normal programming preempted by news ... and she felt her mouth go dry at the images of multiple attacks on heroes by the same flame-like creatures. And all over the world, the feed was scrolling through images from multiple cities in the United States, London, Cairo, even Tokyo; the heroes under assault were as famous as Superman (worldwide) and the Sailor Senshi (in Japan) to heroes so obscure that they couldn't be identified. But nothing from Jump City, and the Titans. (All the adults in the household knew who Raven was, of course — Nabiki had guessed the first time she saw news reports of the newly-formed teen superhero team, and Belldandy had reluctantly confirmed it when she visited on Raven's next birthday.) Still, even the absence of anything from Jump City was less than comforting; it depended on how clever Raven's 'father' was playing things...

"I think this could be it," Nabiki said. "But so what? Ranma never lost when it mattered, and neither will Raven." She was surprised to realize her voice was shaking. But not too surprised, because Ranma had lost once when it mattered — on the day he died in more ways than one.

Kasumi sighed and slipped an arm around her sister's waist, then leaned over to gently kiss her on the cheek. "It doesn't matter," she murmured comfortingly. "Even if she does lose, if there's anything that the disaster eighteen years ago and Belldandy's visits since has taught us it's that there's more than just this life. If the worst happens we will all still be together, reunited with our lost ones. And thanks to your hard work, those eighteen years have been very good ones, indeed. Thank you."

"Hey, don't sell yourself short, it was a group effort," Nabiki replied. "I may have been the one that paid for everything, but you were the one that made us a home. If anyone's responsible for those years it's you." Even as she kept her eyes fixed on the chaos the TV was projecting, she slipped her own arm around Kasumi's waist and rested her head on her sister's shoulder. Love you, big sis."

"Love you, little sis."

/oOo\

From where she was hovering in her meditative lotus position in the middle of the circle of protection in Titans Tower's deepest basement, Raven's shoulders slumped as she watched the massive screen on one wall. All the ranks of the fiery elementals that the Titans had annihilated had sprung back to life ... or been replaced, it didn't really matter which. Either way Slade was toying with her friends, sending just enough of the things to give the Titans a hard fight but not overwhelm them.

And the help that Robin had promised was on the way hadn't arrived. It wasn't going to arrive ... and even if it did, Slade would simply summon even more of the flame demons. Or when he got tired of playing with his enemies of four years. It didn't matter, sooner or later the Titans would tire or Slade would grow impatient, and her friends would die. And then Slade would break into the Tower, find her and break the circle that was protecting her from her 'father's' call, and when she was again helpless as she fought that call he'd haul her down to the temple beneath abandoned library. And once there her own resistance would eventually — inevitably — fail and Trigon would come. It would all be for naught.

No.

She rose high enough to still be hovering as she unfolded from the lotus. Once straightened out she closed her eyes and crossed her arms as she gathered her power until she felt as if she was burning and stretching from the inside out, then with a shout flung her arms wide. A wave of black energy exploded away from her to smash through the room, and the magical protection the circle had created shivered, then shattered and vanished as if it had never been.

With the shattering of the circle she felt her 'father's' presence again wash into her, only this time she opened herself up to it, letting it fill her like never before — and instantly fell out of the air to land on her knees, vomiting up the pizza she had eaten with her friends as Trigon's influence seemed to permeate every fiber of her being. Finally she forced herself to her feet and wiped her mouth on the back of one form-fitting sleeve, then turned to stride for the door — she didn't trust her ability to teleport, not in a room designed to keep the source of her power out. As she walked she did her best to ignore the tremors running through her body, and the slimy, vile, evil feel of that power caressing, seeping into her soul — as horrible as anything Rothgan had done to her, only it was all through her. But as badly as she wanted to fight that power, to reject the kinship she recognized in its touch, she was going to need it to deal with her friends.