The sounds of battle grew louder. They could see the beasts ahead, slashing with their claws at each other's trembling flesh, biting, snarling and howling with mindless ferocity. The raven at Wisdom's shoulder cried angrily as they stopped again. Nightwing slumped down on his knees, weak from the blood loss and the pain of his wounds.
"I must assist Beast Boy." Starfire said, leaving Nightwing's side, her eyes ablaze at the prospect of battle. "Please, guard Robin."
"No. Let us handle the anger." Wisdom said. "You will lose."
"Then go!" Nightwing said between clenched teeth.
The raven at Wisdom's shoulder screeched with fury and flew to the battling beasts. Wisdom glanced at the other emoti-clones.
"Take them to the portal. They will be of no use here."
"No." Nightwing struggled to his feet. "We...won't leave without Changeling and Cyborg."
"Or without knowing the out-come of this battle."
Wisdom removed her glasses and placed them in some hiding pocket on the inside of her robe. She walked after the raven.
"I can't tolerate stubbornness. Do as you may."
When he was young, fighting had been an essential part of his life. Disrupting the plans of evil people made him feel worthy. It made him feel he mattered to the world. Time passed and the evilness of the world overwhelmed him. Alone and angry, he had fought to keep Jump City a safe happy place and he had failed. In time, he had stopped trying. He had come to fear confrontation. The possibility of humiliating defeat sickened him physically.
It was like fighting the raging waves of the sea. His most powerful form was being pummeled by Raven's primal rage. The pain was unbearable. His heart seemed ready to jump out of his throat. He knew one mistake would mean death. It was amazing what love could push someone to do. Despite the pain and fear, he felt fulfilled. He was going to die for the sake of his friends. He would go down as a hero. He would go down like Terra.
His clawed hand ripped across Trigon's chest. The creature did not scream. It hit right back. His vision went white and his muzzle hit the ground. He heard-as if from a great distance-the voices of Starfire and Nigthwing. Trigon howled. Only lingering regrets accompanied his mind to darkness.
Trigon grinned as the disgusting beast that hurt him shrank and turned into a small, bleeding, defeated human. Changeling had betrayed him. He had insulted him. He had treated him with contempt. He was going to die for that. He raised his leg and prepared to squash Changeling's green bald head with a monstrous hoof.
The distant calls of a raven grew closer. They changed in pitch and tone. Rage's pointed ears perked up as a fierce battle-cry suddenly thundered in the sky. He turned and received Brave's foot right between the eyes. Trigon staggered back and fixed blazing eyes on this new opponent. Brave smirked impudently and pointed at something in the distance.
"You should watch your back."
Rage turned. Starfire snarled and fired. The demon howled in agony as starbolts stabbed two of his four eyes. The tamaranean warrior swooped in a low arc to snatch Changeling's body away from the stomping hooves. Brave waved at her in salute. The distraction cost her. A massive talon snatched her off the sky. Rage- ignoring the searing pain- opened his blazing eyes. He fixed them on his kin, ready to use the power behind them to incinerate her.
"Do not do that. Let her go."
Wisdom's voice was leveled and calm but it made Trigon moan plaintively. She held his burning gaze. The demon shuddered and cringed. His claws slowly opened. Brave unleashed a brutal reprisal. Rage howled with each blow- his form shrinking- demonic features disappearing. He wanted to fight back, but Wisdom's will was smothering his.
Starfire laid Changeling on the ground next to Nightwing. His costume was completely shredded, his flesh covered in cuts, the green of his skin almost lost to the dark red of his blood. The broad chest barely moved as he struggled for each breath.
Timid whimpered. The red stars covering the sky flickered and died one by one. The earth cracked and pieces of loosened rock fell into the abysm.
"Don't!" Nightwing snarled. "Raven, you can heal him. He is alive. Come here and heal him. It'll be alright."
"I can't heal. I just hurt." Timid moaned. "I always hurt."
He glanced at the others. Sloth was scratching her butt, oblivious to the developing apocalypse around them.
"Well, I can't either!" Rude snapped defensibly when his eyes fell on her. "Can you, Useless Wonder?"
"They can." Timid pointed at the sickly looking ravens perched on Rude.
Starfire rose and floated towards the birds. They opened their burning eyes and stared at her.
"If you can heal him then I beg of you to do so." She grabbed the birds lovingly and placed them on Changeling's chest. The animals did not move. Starfire's lower lip quivered and she fell to her knees. "Please, friend, please..."
The ravens blinked and from their dark talons waved a soft blue glow that ran over Changelin's body. Cuts and scratches closed and healed. Blood stopped flowing. Nightwing and Starfire smiled.
A shadow walked the Titan's corridors. Its steps resounded hollowly in the empty building. It was dark, but he no longer needed light to see. He reached the basement where they had confronted Raven. She sat against the wall, her unblinking eyes glowing hauntingly. Her head rose slightly from the floor. Their eyes met. Cyborg walked to her and grabbed her hand. He forced her fingers opened to free Warp's device. He took it with him as walked out of the room without a word.
Timid screamed and fell to her knees in anguished tears. A long plaintive wail escaped one of the raven's beaks and she collapsed on Changeling's stomach. The other squawked angrily and flew away. The healing waves were gone.
"What is happening? Do not stop! Please, do not stop!" Starfire pleaded, grabbing the raven and shaking her violently. "Awaken! Raven!"
The animal's head lolled loosely, her beak half opened. Nightwing choked and grabbed Starfire's wrist to stop her. He took the bird from her. Starfire shuddered and collapsed on Changeling, releasing buildup anguish with a blood-curling scream. She was trapped in a nightmare and couldn't wake up. Nightwing placed a hand on her back, cradling the bird unconsciously against his chest.
"Are we dying?" Sloth asked suddenly as a huge chunk of ground in front of her fell and disappeared in the abysm.
"Yeah and It's all because of you!" Rude snarled at Timid. "You are killing us!"
"So what?!" Timid wailed. "So what?!"
"You sickening waste!"
Rude lunged at Timid and punched her rabidly. Nightwing cursed under his breath and tried to intervene. His legs failed him and he fell to his knees. Timid's terrified screams of pain and fear changed and turned into plaintive screeches. The flailing arms turned to flapping wings. Rude's robe grew dark, her face changed, her mouth and nose twisting into a beak. Sloth moaned in pain as she lost her humanity to the nature of the demonic bird-shadows and changed.
Rage and Brave fought rabidly in the air, their screams turning to mindless squawks and screeches. Their bodies grew black feathers. Their flailing legs grew long and scaly. They were two ravens struggling to tear each other apart.
Wisdom fell to her knees, feeling week. She looked down at her hands and saw feathers. She looked at her body and found her robe was gone. All of her was gone. She sighed and closed her blazing eyes in defeat.
The light disappeared and the earth crumbled.
Nightwing screamed as the stone gave way under them. His first reaction was to grab Changeling and Starfire. He had to save them. His body was jerked to a painful stop. A green soft light blazed in the darkness. It illuminated the tear-striking face of Starfire. She raised her hand.
In the flickering green light, they saw two ravens fighting rabidly not far away. Three others stood in the empty air, their heads bowed in apparent grief, a fourth bird lying motionless between them. There was a fourth screaming soundlessly. One stood near. She met their gaze.
Starfire opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. She flew towards the staring bird when a blinding light ripped the darkness. Deafening screams penetrated the engulfing silence. The sizzling light cutting the dark sky from horizon to horizon grew. The shrill sound was impossible to bear. And then, they could hear a familiar voice:
"Retreat. Titans. Retreat."
Starfire hesitated, unsure if she should be more afraid of the consuming darkness or the blinding light with its strange calls. Nightwing screamed but the meaning of his words were lost. Starfire looked back at the staring raven. It was gone. Nightwing squeezed her hand tightly. She dashed towards the portal, a single tear gliding down her golden cheek.
Cyborg approached Raven and stretched her on the floor. He straightened her head and placed Warp's device over her chakra. His hands never wavered as he tied the device in place. He switched it on. The machine buzzed to life and Raven wailed in agony as energy was ripped from her body and sucked into the device.
A twister of chaotic lights and shadows whirled out of the crystal. Cyborg could see through it the world inside Raven's mind. He watched impassibly as it collapsed upon itself. He scanned the darkness in seek of the targets.
"Retreat. Titans. Retreat."
He called out. Something dashed out of the glowing vortex and slammed head-first into a wall. Cyborg turned and saw Starfire, Changeling and Nightwing sprawled on top of each other. The mission accomplished, he turned off Warp's device and removed it from Raven's forehead. She heaved one last plaintive moan and closed her eyes.
Nightwing shook his head to clear it. He crawled from under Changeling and stared at Raven's limp body. Starfire dashed towards her to check for a pulse. He looked at Cyborg and frowned at the empty expression on his face.
"You got us out? What did you do?"
"I've altered the mechanisms of the time-transporter." He answered blankly. "It opened a retreat passageway for all missing Titans."
"Did it hurt her?"
"Insufficient data. Tests are required."
"Right. Help me with Changeling. He's hurt."
Cyborg walked out of the room without glancing back. Nightwing struggled to his feet.
"Where are you going?"
"Power-cell must be recharged."
Nightwing sighed and turned back to Changeling. Raven had healed most of the exterior damage but his green skin looked pale and unhealthy. He hoped there was no internal damage or critical blood-loss. He removed a communicator from his belt and called for an ambulance. They would not be able to reach the base in their condition. He removed his cape and covered Changeling with it.
Starfire held Raven's limp hand. There were no injuries but it seemed life was slipping from her frail body. Robin knelt clumsily next to her. She looked at him, her lower lip quivering. He smiled sadly.
"Everything will work out, Starfire."
"How can you know that?"
"Because it has to."
It made sense. There was just no way things could get worse. She picked Raven and helped Nightwing carry Changeling out of Titan's Tower.