Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter series or DC comics, nor do I claim rights to any of their characters.
Chapter 3: Identity Crisis
Nightwing glared heatedly at the screen before him, silently commanding it to make sense of the jumble of information on its display before he decided to rip it out of its housing and throw it into the incinerator.
Alas, computers cannot feel fear, even from the former protégé of Batman, so Nightwing's intimidation tactics were in vain. Just as his search for the true identity of the enigmatic Wraith.
Oh, the concussed man's story was valid, maddeningly so. The boy had indeed been to multiple cities across Canada and the United States, and had left a path of bloodied, battered and insane criminals in his wake. Whether it was Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, or Oakland, the boy showed up, seemingly out of nowhere, and went to work.
He gave no mercy, no quarter. With each story Nightwing read, the violent pattern was present, especially in recent years. Kneecaps broken, shoulders dislocated, jaws shattered, the boy didn't discriminate. He literally beat his opponents into the ground and left them in a bloody heap.
All of it added up to an even more frustrating puzzle: the boy had no clear point of origin! He just showed up one day in Montreal, with no records, no previous history. Every single fake name he used lead to a dead end. It was as if he just dropped out of the sky or crawled out of the deepest pits of Hell itself. Prior to his arrival five years ago, there was no similar story about this Wraith being present in North America at all.
However, there was one very small lead he'd found. It was a long shot due to lack of solid information, but it might be worth looking into.
True, there were no stories of the Wraith's origins anywhere in North America, but there was something in the United Kingdom. Nightwing had stumbled across the story of an eight-year-old boy who had run away from his home in an upscale neighborhood in Little Whinging, Surrey. According to neighbors' accounts, the boy was a troublemaker, a hooligan. Adults described him as small for his age, had shaggy black hair, unnaturally pale skinned, and, since his eighth birthday, had the most haunting green eyes; Eyes that seemed to glow with a strange light. They went on to say that he was always up to no good, slinking about in the shadows and trying to find ways to inconvenience the 'upstanding' citizens of the neighborhood.
The children, however, contradicted that portrayal. The neighborhood children called him a 'weird, little freak' and spoke of times in which they gladly mocked and harassed the boy. Nightwing felt his hands clench into fists, even if this boy, this 'Harry Potter' didn't turn out to be the Wraith, he felt for him. No, he was furious at the ridicule the boy had suffered.
Two stories had arisen from Little Whinging. The first involved Harry saving his schoolmates from a group of gunman, who'd been hoping to hold the children for ransom. Nightwing's interest in this story was peaked, when he read the diagnostic reports from various psychiatrists who'd observed and studied the six men; each of them was trapped in a state of perpetual fear. They weren't even aware of the world around them, they only knew or experienced what they feared most.
This definitely made the case for Harry Potter being the true identity behind the Wraith a possibility. However, Nightwing knew better than to make judgment without all necessary information. He needed more to connect the two boys.
The second story was much more grim. The boy had run away form his home after it had mysteriously collapsed, killing his Aunt and Uncle instantly. The boy had, apparently, pulled his grievously wounded cousin out of the rubble and dragged him to the nearest hospital. The only words he spoke to the receptionist were "Save him."
According to the hospital staff present, those two words were spoken in a tone completely devoid of any emotion, his eyes, his glowing green eyes, were cold and haunted, ringed with dark circles that told of stress and sleepless nights. The boy looked as though he'd seen something terrible. Hell, the staff even stated that the boy had walked out on his own, despite the fact that he was dripping blood on the floor as he went.
This begged the question: How had Harry Potter survived the house collapsing with only minimal injuries? Or, how had an abused boy been capable of pulling his cousin out from under the wreckage and then drag him to a hospital? Nightwing had already read reports of how the children from both Harry's school and neighborhood had ridiculed and harassed him, both physically and verbally.
Usually, victims of such abuse didn't go out of their way to save one of their tormentors, most wouldn't be able to anyways due to their previous injuries and possible malnutrition. As stated before, reports showed signs that the Potter boy had definitely suffered both; the hospital staff members could tell even with the brief look at his physical appearance.
The very thought made Dick Grayson see red.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself down. He needed to focus on finding Wraith first. He needed to approach this as Nightwing, feared crime fighter and former student of the Batman, not as Dick Grayson.
Dick Grayson allowed emotions to cloud his judgment; Nightwing did not. Nightwing was able to put those emotions aside and concentrate on the task at hand. He would find Wraith first; then he would figure out if his new lead was correct. If Harry Potter was indeed the Wraith, Nightwing would find him and determine his motives. If his hunch was wrong, then Nightwing would just have to find the Potter boy later.
If he was, well, that was another matter entirely. Nightwing would find which side the boy fell on, and then, he would unravel truth behind the boy's shadowy past.
And if Nightwing found out that the boy had been abused, someone would be drinking through a straw for the foreseeable future. If it was bad enough, he might even bring Starfire along so she could give them a (ahem) piece of her mind.
One fun fact he'd learned from Starfire: On Tamaran, child abuse is punishable by every torture levied against the child being dealt to the abuser.
"Richard," Speak of the Tamaranean and she shall appear. Nightwing turned to acknowledge his friend and, as always, had to admire her rather exotic beauty. Her long, red hair and orange tinged skin accented one another to make her look as though she'd literally stepped out of someone's fantasy. As usual, Starfire was garbed in her trademark purple top and skirt with matching boots. Nightwing quickly averted his eyes, lest he be tempted to look at the rather generous amount of skin his teammate insisted on showing.
Try as he might, Nightwing had failed miserably at instilling a sense of modesty in his rather affectionate teammate.
Starfire looked back at him with a bit of concern. "You've been staring and growling at the computer for the past twenty minutes… have you found something that displeases you?"
"Very much so," Nightwing admitted, not bothering to try to hide his mood. After working together for so long, each Titan had learned how to read one another quite well. "The deeper I dig to find out more about the Wraith, the more horrible his story grows."
"Is his past truly that bad?"
"Worse. Between what he's done to his victims and what people have tried to do to him, it's very much like my early days in Gotham. Fortunately, he seems to have ways of disappearing right when things are looking like they're about to take a turn for the worst."
"I see," Starfire said, though she could tell that her friend was hiding something. "That does not explain why you nearly pulled out one of your Wingdings a moment ago."
"Nothing, much. Just a bit of frustration showing through," Nightwing lied as he quickly toggled the computer screen, changing it so that the story about Harry Potter was no longer visible. He really didn't need her to see that quite yet; he very much doubted that he'd be able to calm her down once she found out.
Starfire crossed her arms over her chest and leveled a glare at her oldest friend. "Richard, I have known you long enough to know when you are withholding information from me. Kindly refrain from doing so."
Nightwing winced. So, that wasn't one of his better ideas. He'd forgotten that Raven had taught her to read the subtle ticks people make when lying. Damn observant empath.
"It might be nothing, just something to look into after solving this Wraith mystery," He began, hoping that she would accept that answer. Judging by the narrowing of her eyes, she didn't. "While looking up leads on our mystery boy, I found a story from England that matched up with some of Wraith's. I don't have much evidence to support it, but there's the slightest of chances that this boy from England is the Wraith."
Starfire paused and considered this new information, but couldn't help but voice her confusion. "That is interesting, Richard, but I still do not see how any of this caused you to feel such anger."
Nightwing sighed; at least he tried to avoid the now inevitable Tamaranean rage. "The boy from England, this 'Harry Potter', didn't exactly live a good life. Based on stories from the adults and children from the area, he was abused physically and verbally by the entire local community."
Nightwing braced himself for the impending rant, but it never came. Starfire wasn't yelling death threats in Tamaranean, perhaps Raven had been able to help her learn to control her temper.
No such luck. Upon further inspection, Starfire's eyes were closed, her eyebrows twitching as she struggled to maintain her composure. Her hands clenched into tight fists and her shoulder shook with rage. She wasn't angry; she was pissed!
After a moment, Starfire spoke in a low, deceptively calm voice. "We will find him." She wasn't asking or stating a desire; she was giving the order. One that Nightwing had no intention of rejecting.
"We will," He agreed. "But first, we have to deal with Wraith. Like I said, there's a chance that he is Harry Potter."
"Very well," She nodded in consent. "I will wait, Richard, but I will not wait long. You know how my people deal with child abusers."
"I do, and I have no intention of asking you to discard your morals, we'll deal with this case later." Well, that crisis was averted. Now, he had to break the news to the others.
Oh, joy. Might as well get it all done at once so he didn't have to deal with their tempers individually.
Seriously, telling a bunch of super powered teens and young adults that a kid had been abused was probably a terrible idea, but he didn't have a choice. If Harry Potter turned out to be the Wraith, then this was vital information. They had to know.
And he was the lucky messenger. Nightwing would almost prefer dealing with Batman after being told that the Joker had broken out of Arkham Asylum. Almost.
Nightwing pressed the intercom button, and began his announcement. "This is Nightwing calling all available Titans. Head to the Assembly Hall for a briefing session on the Wraith case. I repeat, all Titans, head to the Assembly Hall for briefing."
I can't help but feel the slightest bit of annoyance as I drag the unconscious member of Los Hermanos down the sidewalk. This is more difficult than I thought.
Thinking back, I probably should've said something to the man, I should've assured him that I was just going to help him get somewhere to have his injuries treated. But, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Instead, I approached him without a word and looked down at him, holding out my hand. He fainted on the spot.
Perhaps the combination of seeing my more demonic face, the injuries caused by the beating, and blood loss had something to do with it. Actually, that's a stupid question. Any one of those three options alone would be enough to explain his fainting.
I'm rambling to myself again, I really need to break that habit or I'll go crazy. Well, I'll go crazier than I currently am. That prospect disturbs me slightly.
I have enough mental and emotional problems as it is; I really need to stop this inner monologue habit of mine before I start hearing multiple voices in my head. Then again, if I have voices in my head, I won't be lonely anymore, right?
There I go again. I swear, I could find away to lose myself if I were on a straight path sometimes. I need to stop thinking about… whatever this is and focus on the matter at hand. This man needs medical attention.
Dragging this man is more difficult than when I dragged Dudley to the hospital five years ago, right after I pulled him out of the wreckage of… of their house.
Yes, I remember it clearly. I pulled him out from underneath the rubble that was once the house of my Aunt, Uncle, and Dudley, himself. My tormentors. I remember struggling to lift the remains of the splintered dry wall and kitchen table off of his broken, bleeding body, and then dragging him to the hospital.
Just as I pulled this man out of the alley and am dragging him to a hospital. It's a bit odd, it's almost as if I'm reliving the events of five years ago, with slight variations. This time, no one ended up dead. This time, I don't plan on letting my charge end up in the intensive care ward. This time…
This time, it isn't my fault.
Dear God, this man is heavy!
That's a curious thing for me to think. Why, of all things, would "Dear God" come to mind? The Dursleys were a devote, Christian family and made absolutely certain to let me know that God hated and would punish "freaks" like me. I even recall Uncle once saying that the physical beating he inflicted upon me were God's will. It certainly felt that way. No matter how much I prayed for the pain to stop, no matter how many times I begged for His forgiveness for the simple crime of being born into this world, no relief came.
So, why would that phrase come to mind?
I find myself in a rather gray area when it comes to this matter: I don't think that there's no such thing as a higher power, but, at the same time, I'm not sure what to believe when it comes to the idea of "God". Some have told me that He is kind to those in my situation; that He would see the good that I've done and is willing to forgive my sins. After all, that's why He sent His son to die on the Cross.
But, there are others who claim that I am a Devil worshipper. They claim that I am nothing more than a little demon boy sent by the Devil to destroy the foundation of their society. There was even a man named Pat Robinson who claimed that I had made a pact with the Devil. He claimed that I asked for demonic powers, which I would use to force people to live in a state of perpetual fear; in return I would destroy the foundations of the United States of America.
I'm no expert on religion, but I truly doubt that this "Devil" would seek the annihilation of one single nation and not the entire race of man. It's only logical. After all, Satan is supposed to desire the destruction of everything that God creates, according to what I've heard from the Bible and Christian writers.
Unless I'm mistaken, Christians believe that God created everything, not just one nation. That being said, I don't know where Mr. Robinson is basing his ideas.
Next thing you know, he'll claim that an entire nation suffered a natural disaster because of some diving punishment for making a pact with the Devil. In fact, I wouldn't put it past him.
I've lost my focus again; I need to stop drifting off. If I lose focus, I'll lose control. If I lose control, bad things happen.
If I lose control, people could be hurt. Just like five years ago.
No, I won't let that happen again! I won't let my lack of control hurt people ever again. I am in control. I must always be in control.
I can see the hospital just ahead. Good, the sooner I can get this man inside, the more likely he will recover from his injuries. Now, if only he wasn't so heavy.
Suddenly, I hear sirens and see red and blue lights flashing against the pavement and buildings. The police. This isn't good; I don't trust the police, not since one distracted me by asking for a statement while his partner snuck up behind me with a taser.
Needless to say, I wasn't amused when I woke up. I made sure to let them know that after I escaped the room they left me locked in. Prior to that, I never knew that the police would accept bribes from mobsters.
I also didn't know that grown men made such odd sounds when their kneecaps are shattered, by one of their own nightsticks, to be honest. I suppose one really does learn something new every day.
Back to the present, two officers, both men of average height, step out of the police cruiser and pull their guns out of holsters. Sure enough, they take aim at me. How completely predictable; I do their job for them and even go out of my way to drag this unconscious man all the way here, and now I'm looking down the barrels of two standard issue guns, as if I were a criminal.
If I'm not a freak or a demon, then I really must've done something horrible in a past life to warrant my seemingly perpetual state of misfortune. That's the only other reason I can think of to rationalize this.
The first officer, presumably the higher ranking of the two, speaks first. "Drop that man and put your hands where I can see them! You are wanted for questioning by order of the Chief of Police."
He can't be serious. He wants me to leave this man, unconscious and bleeding, in the middle of the street? I guess logic is optional in his precinct.
I won't be belligerent; I'll just try to make him see reason. Hopefully, he'll at least let me get this man inside. I nod my head towards the unconscious man and respond in my dull and scratchy voice. "He needs medical attention."
They both jump, obviously they weren't expecting me to actually speak. I look at the younger officer and notice that the barrel of his gun is shaking, as are his knees. He's afraid. I can feel his fear coming off of him in waves; I can almost taste it. His partner, the senior officer, is no better. They're both terrified of me.
They've heard stories about me, no doubt. They've heard all of the ramblings of the criminals I don't use my powers on, or they've listened to the talk show hosts and political pundits who believe that I'm removing the competition in the criminal underground because I'm planning something big.
I'm not quite sure where they came up with that particular idea, nor am I sure that I even want to know.
"Paramedics are on their way," He responds, after regaining his composure. Well, regaining his 'professional' facial expression, really. "I'm only going to say this one more time: put that man down and put your hands in the air!"
I sigh and ease the man's body to the ground; I don't want to give him any more injuries than he already has. Really, this makes no sense whatsoever. "Why bother calling the paramedics?" I ask. "The hospital is barely one hundred feet behind you. I was taking him there before you arrived."
"You don't ask the questions here, kid!" Wonderful, he's one of those officers: the ones who don't listen to any reason outside of the kneejerk decisions they make, no matter how unreasonable or illogical they are.
For some reason, I seem to deal with this type of officer more than any other. I might actually be onto something with that previous life hypothesis. I wonder what I did. Perhaps I got some perverse pleasure out of kicking puppies or stealing candy from small children, or something like that.
Anyways, I'm not dealing with this. They want paramedics to drive all of one hundred feet to pick this man up? Fine. As long as he gets treated sometime relatively soon, I don't care. Now, I just need to escape.
Sorry, but I'm just not going to go through with the red tape or whatever charges the Chief of Police tries to throw at me, especially when I'm doing the police's job every night. That being said, there were several ways I could attempt to execute this little getaway.
The first, and least likely to succeed, was to run. Both policemen are armed with guns and tasers, I wouldn't get far if I just turned tail and sprinted. The second, and nearly equally unlikely to work, would be to rush them and subdue them.
Again, they have guns and range. They'd have plenty of time to fire multiple rounds before I got close enough to fight them hand to hand. Also, I don't know what sort of martial arts training either of them might have, so even if I were able to get close enough, I'd be fighting blind. For all I know, one of them has actually had extensive training, whereas I only have the basics of a few different styles.
Without the element of surprise on my side, my usual tactics of ambushing and fighting feral won't win a fight against someone with extensive training. Just as having natural talent and no drive will make one weaker than he should be, having minimal training and all the determination in the world only makes for an average fighter.
In short, if I were to fight Nightwing, for example, I might be able to hold my own for a minute or so, before he overwhelmed me. That's only if he severely underestimates me. Otherwise, I won't last more than ten seconds, maximum.
I'm a realist; I don't bother trying to bolster my ego with false bravado. Anyone who thinks they can go one-on-one with one of Batman's protégés is, most likely, a blithering imbecile or clinically insane.
I haven't met any of the famous "Bat family" in person and I know better than that.
Option number three would be to use my powers and trap both of them in their worst nightmares, forcing them to relive them perpetually. I may not necessarily trust policemen, or even like the pair in front of me, but I do respect their choice to join law enforcement, so I'm going to say no to that option.
My final option is one that I'm not too keen on using. It's one of my powers, one of the ones I don't have full control over yet. As I am now, I only have control over my empathy and illusionary abilities, that's where my power to trap people in their worst nightmares comes from. My empathy isn't too much of a problem compared to my other powers, the ones that can really hurt people. To counter it, all I have to do is focus on clearing my mind and not allowing the emotions I sense take control of me.
This ability, this last resort, is one that I've used a few times before, but it exhausts me. I don't have much experience using it, because I've gone out of my way to avoid using most of my powers since that day five years ago. I made every effort to keep my powers in check since that day, that one bad day.
This time, I don't have a choice. I have to use one of those powers, those more supernatural, dark abilities that I possess. I can't help but think that if people knew the powers I've kept secret, they'd realize that I'm more demonic than they initially thought.
I clear my mind and focus on passing through the ground beneath me, phasing through solid objects, if you will. As stated before, I don't have much practice doing this, so it takes a considerable amount of focus and energy. Luckily, I used very minimal energy in my most recent fight. However, there is still one major drawback to this power: I need shadows.
I can only phase myself into the ground if I'm standing on or near a shadowed area, again, this is probably due to my lack of experience. Unfortunately, I've not yet acquired the ability to phase myself through objects or teleport long distances as that blue cloak-wearing sorceress from the Teen Titans. If memory serves, her name is Raven. Yes, that's correct. I remember, because her powers are similar, yet far more advanced, to my own.
I wonder if she is the same as I am? I'll put that to the side and look into it later.
I really should stay focused.
It's true; I do require shadows to phase through objects, but that's not really an issue at the moment. Yes, I'm standing in the middle of the road, but at nighttime, everything's covered in shadows.
In short, this is where I'm at my strongest. Nighttime is when humans feel fear the most; they fear what might be awaiting them in the darkness.
I have the advantage. The darkness is my ally because it aids my ability to turn fear on those who prey on the weak, and enables me to escape even the worst of situations.
I feel the darkness crawling up my legs, covering me as if trying to protect me. I feel comfortable in its cold embrace. It may sound strange, but darkness has been my protector for as long as I can remember. Even when I was forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs, the darkness embraced me and held me as if I were its child.
The darkness is both my weapon and my shield.
I hear both men gasp as I begin to sink into the shadows, as if I'm melting into them. Suddenly, I hear the sound of a gunshot and a something slicing into the skin of my left shoulder. I hiss in pain and cover the wound with my right hand, feeling a sticky, warm liquid bleeding out. I look back at the men, and notice that the younger officer is shaking at the knees, his eyes widened in shock as he realizes what he's done. His hands are still holding the gun, but the recoil off the shot knocked them back so they were suspended perpendicular to his right shoulder.
I feel several different emotions rolling off of him in waves; most prevalent are shock and loathing. Though, for once, this loathing feeling isn't directed at me. His is directed inward. He's angry at… himself?
As much as my curiosity demands that I find out what this means, I'm rather occupied with the pain of the bullet wound registering with my brain, I can hear his breath, now coming in short, panicked gasps. He's hyperventilating. He probably pulled the trigger reflexively, I'm not sure I can fully blame him.
I need to get out of here, now, I need medical attention or this wound will get infected. Of course, now I must abandon my previous plan of phasing down through the street and into the sewers, so I can make my escape underground. Now, I need to quickly think of a place to go, preferably before I lose concentration and end up phasing half of my body in the pavement, leaving me completely vulnerable.
Blasted, trigger happy rookie.
There is one place I could go, though I'm normally very wary of trusting anyone, the old man did help me last time. The fact that he's one of the religious men who believes that his God is merciful and loves his creations, even me, does help. Yes, I'll go there. He did say that I would always be a welcome guest in the Church.
I believe he told me something like "God opens his doors to all the people of the world, even the sinners, because he loves them despite their faults."
I'll admit that I had my doubts when he first said that. Mainly because he was treating the wounds I received when I had physically and verbally harassed by a televangelist. Between the two, I'd like to think the old priest who tried to help the sinners of the world was doing "God's work", as religious folk call it.
I give a mental command for the darkness to take me to the doorsteps of St. Juan Diego Church, and close my eyes as the world around me gives way to the darkness. I can feel it holding me tighter than normal, as if it's trying to embrace me and give assurance that all will be well.
The trip takes maybe half a minute, but, to me, it feels like an eternity. I fan feel the blood pouring out of my shoulder with every heartbeat, I need to get something to stem the flow. I can already feel the world spinning around me.
If that bullet only grazed my arm, I'll consider myself very lucky. The priest has stitched me up before, and he'll happily do it again.
Well… He'll lecture me for endangering my life again while putting in the stitches.
If it's lodged inside, well, that's a different story. He may not have the tools to remove a bullet from muscle or bone. The only places I'll be able to go are hospitals. All of them ask for insurance and identification, I have neither, and they, unlike the imbeciles on the streets or doing news reports, will check if I give them one of my fake names.
The priest will make me go if he can't fix me up. He respects my wishes, but he won't allow me to walk around with a bullet stuck in me. He thinks I endanger myself enough as it is.
I arrive on the top step, mere feet away from the main entrance of the Church. It's still early evening, I would estimate that it's somewhere around eight or nine o' clock. He should still be here; the evening service should've ended a while ago.
If I'm wrong, then the congregation will simply be treated to the sight of their priest performing a true act of charity before their very eyes.
Oh, wonderful. Now his sarcasm is starting to rub off on me, just what I need. He'll never let me hear the end of it if he finds out.
If there's anything I've learned about the priest, he always finds out. No matter how hard I try to hide things. If that man doesn't have some form of telepathy, I'm an idiot who fights a troll by jamming a stick up its nose.
Huh. Where did that come from?
I grip the door handle and pull, wincing as the hinges creak in protest. Someone should really oil those. The lights are still on and none of the patrons are present, as far as I can tell. I stumble and bump into one of the pews, the world around me is starting to spin. The pain and loss of blood are starting to take their toll on my body. I reach out to grab the side, but I miss.
My body impacting with the floor nearly brings me out of the dizzy spell, the thud echoes throughout the empty Church, amplified by the high ceilings and tile floor. But nobody's around to hear it, the patrons are gone and the priest is most likely in the back room. The door to the back room is thick, if it's shut, he won't hear anything coming from the main hall.
I'm going to bleed out on the floor of a Church. I, a "demon", a "Hell spawn", a "freak" am going to bleed out and die in the middle of a Holy place. Now that is irony. If I wasn't worried that any loss of control might bring down the building, or if I even allowed myself to feel emotions, I might have actually laughed.
I don't. This isn't amusing at all; I'm probably just delirious due to blood loss and trauma. Figures, even in death I can't be normal. At least I won't bleed to death in an alley or a gutter, as I've often believed. At least now, someone who knows me will at least find my body and bury it, instead of leaving it to rot. I'm not even going to bother trying to drag myself to the altar steps; I know I don't have the energy. Fighting all day, losing so much blood, and using my powers has drained me of all my strength. The most I'll do is drain whatever sand is left in my hourglass.
I take a deep breath and close my eyes, waiting for it to end. The pain, the loneliness, all of it. If this is my time, so be it. I've done as much good for the world as I could, if this is my time to be judged, I'm fine with that. Let me be judged for my actions and intent for once, instead of for my "unnaturalness."
I hear a man speaking in an accented voice. Though his tone is calm and collected, I hear the concern in his words. "Santo Dios, hijo, what have you done to yourself this time?" The priest has found me.
I groan and turn my head to the left, opening my eyes to look at him. Sure enough, the tan, middle-aged man is looking at me, brow quirked in a silent demand for an explanation. "Got shot," I grunt through the pain.
"I see," He sighs, stepping towards me. "And you decided to come in here at the dead of night to bleed all over my nice, clean floor and worry me with another of your tales, hijo?"
Despite the fact that I know he's only teasing me, his manner of coping with stress, I can't help but feel guilty. "I'm sorry, priest. I've been taking your help for granted, but you're the only one I can trust."
He sighs and shakes his head as he throws my right arm over his left shoulder and pulls me to my feet. "Apology accepted, hijo. Even the best of us take the smallest things for granted. I do, however, feel gratified that you've come to trust me with your identity. When I first met you, you seemed unwilling to trust anyone to help you."
"I won't deny that I have issues trusting others…"
"If by issues, you mean that you refuse to trust or confide in anyone, save myself."
I shoot him a glare out of the corner of my eye. "I haven't had an easy life, priest. You know that."
He sighs and nods. "Yes, I know all too well. You've told me, hijo, but you need to find a way to move past that," Ah, he's going to talk about that earlier than usual. Usually, he waits until after he's patched me up. I must have given him quite the scare.
"That's easier said than done, priest. One moment, give me my arm back," He releases his hold on my arm and I bring it across my chest, grabbing at my left bleeding left shoulder. I put pressure on the wound in order to stem the flow, ignoring the renewed pain in my arm. I stumble again, but he quickly grabs me before my legs buckle. "Thank you."
"Slowly, hijo, don't push yourself." He chides me, moving one hand to grip my right shoulder, the other to my shoulder blades, steadying me and steering me towards a side exit. "Come, I should have a first aid kit in the rectory, and I believe that I have some of my old medical supplies from my days as a field medic."
Ah, yes. The priest was a field medic during Desert Storm. I'd completely forgotten about that detail.
"I do hope that your age hasn't robbed you of your steady hands, priest."
He shoots me a small glare out of the corner of his eye. I guess he caught on. "Cheeky brat. If you weren't already injured, I'd cuff you for that remark, hijo."
"I thought priests were supposed to be pacifistic in your religion."
"Even a priest is allowed to cuff a naughty boy upside the head when he disrespects his elders."
I give him one of my traditional blank stares, but quirk my own brow. "And if the priest is guilty of the teaching the boy to be sarcastic and disrespectful?"
"I'm quite sure that I've done no such thing, hijo. I'm appalled that you would make such claims." Of course, he would say something like that.
"I'm sure," I answer drily. "Now, as fun as I'm sure this is for you, can we please end this banter. I'd like to return to my work sometime soon, if you please."
He stopped suddenly and turned to face me. He didn't say a word; he just gave me his stern glare, waiting for me to figure out what he wanted.
"Not going to let me go back out?" I ask, my voice a mix of exasperation and incredulity.
"That is correct, hijo," He replies, unfazed by my stare. "Not until you've been treated to my satisfaction –"
"Fine," I grumble.
" – Had a decent meal," He continues, as if I didn't interrupt him. "And a minimum of two hours rest." His tone tells me that he won't accept any argument I may come up with.
I heave a sigh and begin walking on my own. "Let's just get this over with, priest."
He catches up with me and places his hand on my shoulder to steady me, again. "I was just about to make chicken noodle soup," He's completely brushing off my attempts to convey my displeasure. "You can eat while you brood, while stressing my aging heart with your tales, and I will put in the stitches myself. I'm sure it will be delightful."
"Fine." Now, I'm starting to get annoyed.
I'm really hoping he got the message this time. He might've got his way on the heath issues, but he really shouldn't test my patience with his obsession with getting the last word in. It's been a couple of minutes; perhaps he's going to let me off the hook. Or maybe he realizes that my mood is caused partially by the amount of pain I'm in, and has decided to let this round go.
"Oh, and by the way," He adds, suddenly. "That part about the stitches… that is sarcasm, hijo."
Damn stubborn priest.
"All right, Dick," Kid Flash says in a jovial tone, lounging in his seat and putting his feet up on the table. "What did ya find? What's the story? Who's the kid?"
A couple of the other Titans shot the yellow and red-garbed speedster a glare of annoyance; he was being too hyper for their taste. Deep down, they were as interested in whatever Nightwing had managed to dig up as he was, but they could only tolerate so much and only at certain times.
Now was definitely not the time.
An eighteen-year-old woman with pale skin, dark blue hair, a long, flowing blue cloak and matching blue dress responded in her dry voice. "Get your feet off the table and kindly act your age, Wallace. I deal with quite enough immaturity in this Cave with Garfield around."
"Hey!" Beast Boy cried indignantly, shooting a glare at his longtime teammate. "I'm not immature at all, Raven!"
The former Boy Wonder quirked a brow, his response was normal, but it didn't carry Garfield's characteristic outrage. It was almost as if it were practiced… He was missing something here.
"Of course you are. You're adequately mature if I compare you to a two-year-old." She said sarcastically.
Despite her tone, Nightwing noticed a small upward quirking of her lips, indicating that she was secretly enjoying her traditional game with her green-skinned teammate. Were they… having fun? Raven and Garfield were having fun teasing one another? Together?
He'd have to file that away for later teasing.
"All right, children, that's enough!" Nightwing chided. Though he wasn't in the best of moods, he could still crack a joke or two in an attempt to mask how stressed and angry he really was. Well, he'd mask it too all except for Raven. She could read his emotions like an open book. Damn observant empath. "We do have some rather important information to discuss."
Superboy folded his arms over his chest. "So, get on with it, Dick. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm getting tired of playing hide and seek with this kid. I want answers."
"Ease up, Conner," Supergirl scolded. "Don't go making snap decisions without the full story. We still don't know who this kid is or what his plans are."
"Well," Nightwing began. "As to who he is, I do have a few known aliases, including his most well-known one, and a possible link to his true identity. The link is a bit of a long shot, but anything's possible at this point." As he spoke, activated the table's touch screen functions, and brought up the Wraith files, dispersing them to each Titan, so they could individually look over the information. "I've compiled data on his actions in various cities across North America, each one of them have common themes: brutality, psychological damage to the victims, and his most known moniker, 'the Wraith.'"
Individual screens came to life in front of each Titan, displaying the evidence Nightwing had gathered. Cyborg's technology really made these briefings easy. He had come up with the idea of making the table in the Assembly Hall into a touch screen computer.
"Jesus," Kid Flash breathed, as he skimmed through a few of the news articles. "They really do add to the mystery behind this kid. I mean, listen to these titles from Chicago: 'Wraith Haunts Madison Avenue. Six Hospitalized', 'The Nightmare Continues: Wraith Sends Three to Hospital, Two to Madhouse', 'Urban Myth No More, Wraith Sends Corrupt Cops to E.R.', and a whole host of others. Man, if this kid wasn't giving us such a hard time, I'd be a fan."
"They seem to really focus on this 'Wraith' moniker," Aqualad said, speaking for the first time. "Other than a few very brief mentions, they don't mention his chosen aliases at all."
"That's because they don't lead anywhere," Nightwing replied tiredly. "I've checked, each one begins and dies with a Wraith story, no matter which one you choose."
Cyborg studied an article for a moment, before deciding to weigh in. "I don't know about that, Dick. Unless I'm mistaken, a few of these came from the Robert Ludlum Bourne series. I've got three right here from different stories about him: Cain, one of Jason Bourne's aliases; Carlos Chacal, Chacal is Spanish for 'Jackal', Carlos the Jackal was Bourne's arch-nemesis; and, of course, what Jason Bourne based alias list is complete without using Jason Bourne himself? If anything, I can dig his taste in fiction."
"Oh, right, I forgot about the exceptions. He pulled a couple aliases from some notable sources, but the rest… The rest don't exist. Not in any work of fiction, nothing. There's no trace. The information begins and ends with a Wraith story."
"Wait a minute," Beast Boy interjected. "Let's back up a second. How does this kid even get these names to stick? I mean, by all accounts, he's a migrant hero, a street kid. He wouldn't have the money or the resources to make a bunch of fake ID's."
"The answer is more simple than you think: he tells people. If someone asks him for a name, he gives one. He probably just goes by rotation so he doesn't forget them, but the names I can't find on any database are the ones he uses most frequently."
"You mind running them by us to save us all the time of looking through each story?" Superboy asked. "As fun as it is to read about him beating a mugger over the head with a crowbar - and believe me, I enjoyed that one - I'd like to get to the important information sometime today."
"Fair enough," Nightwing replied, ignoring the Kryptonian clone's abrasive nature. He pressed a few buttons on the screen, taking control of all screens and toggling them to show a file with several pictures. Each picture was of the same pale skinned boy with a blank expression, but each had a different name listed under it. "His most used aliases, in no particular order, are as follows: James Potter, Lee Evans, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Manny McGonagall, Severus Snape, Tom Riddle and Albus Dumbledore. None of these names come up in any database I've searched, including searches into European records."
The Titans were silent, each of them racking their brains and conducting their own database searches to find something to link the names. Nothing. They didn't really expect to find anything other than what Nightwing had said; he did have the most detective experience, after all. Each of them simply refused to believe that there was no connection; this was their only lead! They couldn't afford to hit a dead end now!
"This is infuriating!" Supergirl grumbled in annoyance. "How can one boy be so damn impossible to identify? He has to have made a mistake somewhere along the line!"
"I agree," Miss Martian added. "He's obviously skilled at escaping detainment and hiding his identity, but nobody is perfect; he has to have slipped up somewhere. He can't avoid leaving DNA samples behind via bloodstains or fingerprints."
"He has, but it doesn't matter if they're not in the database," Nightwing threw in. "There have been blood samples, hair, fingerprints, et cetera, but none of the previous entries in Canadian or American databases match his DNA sequence. Which is why I said that my long shot hunch is still a possibility."
"Then why not check the European hospitals and forensics labs for matches," Cyborg asked. "Didn't you just say that you had access to their records?"
"Yes and no. I asked Batgirl for a favor and she was happy to help me access their systems."
Supergirl snickered. "You mean she was happy to help after she got her kicks by taking a few shots at your expense."
"As I said, she was happy to help," Nightwing continued, pointedly ignoring the round of laughter that followed the Kryptonian girl's remark. They really knew him and Barbara too well.
"So, why not just ask her to do it again?" Miss Martian asked.
"Her area of expertise is gathering information via the Internet, not DNA analysis. The only one with more experience and knowledge in that field is Batman. I'd prefer to deal with this without bringing him into this."
While the others debated with Nightwing on the pros and cons of contacting the World's Greatest Detective, Raven stayed silent and continued reading. Truth be told, this boy, this 'Wraith', fascinated her. She didn't necessarily approve of his brutality, but his powers and lack of concern for fame or notoriety did appeal to her. His most known ability, 'The Fear Stare' as coined by the Toronto Sun, was certainly impressive. In fact, it was similar to her ability to create illusions based on the fear of others.
For the briefest of moments, she considered the possibility that Trigon may have sired another child. The prospect was a bit frightening; if the boy was the child of Trigon, there was a chance that he could turn hostile at an instant, even if he had given no previous indication that he was aligned with the inter-dimensional demon.
If he deemed the Titans, or humanity as a whole, to be his enemies, he could give Trigon full control of his body. Or worse, he could bring their father to this plane. Either way, if his allegiance was to Trigon, it would spell disaster.
At the same time, it would be… nice… Yes, it would be nice to have a brother, to have family other than a demonic father bent on destroying humanity. If he was anything like her, if he tried to defy Trigon, perhaps he could be reasoned with. Perhaps, dare she say it; she could convince him to stay. If they truly were family, if Trigon had sired another child in his mad attempt to plunge the world into darkness, they should stay together.
As she studied each article, she kept finding more evidence to support her theory. Whether it was a tale of him phasing through a wall to escape arrest, or streetlights mysteriously shattering when he was under duress, or even one or two mentions of his eyes glowing red when he was angered, her theory was proving to be more likely by the minute. Their powers were definitely similar in nature; if he wasn't sired by Trigon, he was at least somewhat influenced by her demonic father.
Raven quickly discarded that last theory; if he were under Trigon's influence, he wouldn't be going out of his way to fight criminals and help others, he'd be more likely to add to each city's darkness so he had more to prey on. Unless her father's puppets had developed a sense of nobility since their last meeting, which she highly doubted, he wasn't being directly controlled at the moment.
Either way, the Titans needed to find him before Trigon's influence began to overtake his own will. Whether he turned out to be her brother or not, they had to take action to prevent Trigon's return to this realm.
She spoke up, her low, dry voice bringing her teammates' debate to a screeching halt. "His powers seem similar to mine."
"What?" Cyborg said after a moment of silence. "You don't mean –"
"Yes," She continued. "There is a possibility that the Wraith is another child of Trigon. It's only a theory at the moment, but, if all of these stories are accurate, the evidence supports it. His illusionary powers, his phasing ability, even the fact that his eyes glow red and split into two pairs; all of it shows signs of Trigon's influence or parentage."
Her teammates' faces tensed with worry, even the newer members had heard of Trigon's wrath. Of all of the Titans' enemies, he was the most feared. Who could blame them? He had the power to wipe out all life on the planet, and the ability to manipulate others to do his bidding.
Aqualad cleared his throat, and spoke in a nervous tone. "If he's Trigon's child –"
"Don't get too far ahead," Nightwing interrupted. "We can't assume to know his allegiances, even if Raven's theory is correct. After all, Raven has proven her own loyalty in our battles against her father time and time again. For now, we will reserve judgment until he is questioned."
Raven nodded in appreciation. "Thank you, Richard, your trust in me is gratifying. Now, I believe you mentioned that you had a 'long shot hunch', as you called it. Please share it with us, we need all information disclosed if we are to find him."
Nightwing noticed Starfire's hands clenching again, and winced. She was obviously still quite angry. "Ah… yes," He said, uncharacteristically stammering for an instant, a tick that each Titan picked up on immediately. "Well, there are two stories that give a hint to Wraith's identity; both stories come from Little Whinging, a neighborhood in Surrey, England, and are directly connected to one another. The first says that a young boy named Harry Potter saved his classmates from gunmen, who were going to hold them for ransom. The gunmen were taken to the emergency room, each of them screaming in terror as they saw their worst fears come to life. Sound familiar?"
"Sounds exactly the same as every other story," Superboy answered. "So, mystery solved, Harry Potter is the Wraith. Now, let's stop talking and start searching!"
"Not quite yet, we still don't know for sure. We can't just assume that the two are connected based on one story, we need more concrete evidence, like DNA samples or a matched physical profile, preferably both."
"Which means that you do have to call up Bats!" Kid Flash said with a grin. "Sucks to be you, Dick!"
Nightwing shot him a glare. "Shut up, Wally. Not the time. Moving on, the second story was printed the very next day; the night before, the same day he saved the school, his relatives' house in Little Whinging collapsed, killing his Aunt and Uncle, and grievously wounding his cousin. Harry, himself, sustained injuries, but was still able to pull his cousin out from under the rubble and drag him to the nearest hospital. He dragged his unconscious, bleeding cousin three miles."
Beat Boy whistled. "Wow, that's impressive. Not that I want to take anything away from him, but why didn't he just ask one of the neighbors for help? Or the police?"
"I was getting to that. Reporters interviewed the neighborhood adults and children, and came up with some rather unpleasant stories. The adults claimed that he was nothing more than a troublesome, future criminal, who deserved every punishment his relatives doled out to him. The children said that he was 'dark' and 'weird', going on to say that they had bullied him, physically and verbally. So, on one hand, we have the self-righteous adults, stating that his relatives were upstanding citizens and right for 'disciplining such an obviously criminal boy' and the children who spoke of the 'weird, freak at the back of the classroom'. Some of the kids even bragged about 'teaching the freak a lesson'." Nightwing sighed. There, now it was all out in the open. So, who would be the first to cry out in fury; personally, his money was on Garfield or Victor, or perhaps even Kara or Conner.
He was wrong. Someone else had lost her composure. Someone who normally had full control over her emotions; someone with a temper far worse than he was prepared to deal with.
Part of the wall behind Raven exploded outward, showering the group with dust and fragments of rock. Though she wasn't shaking with fury as Starfire had earlier, each Titan could see her tensed shoulders and winced as her eyes began to glow red. Even Superboy inched away from the furious sorceress, not wanting to be anywhere near the line of fire.
Magic was one of the few things he wasn't impervious to.
Raven wasn't angry; she was beyond anger at this point. There isn't a word to describe the levels of her rage. If Wraith was Harry Potter, if he was her brother, there would be a reckoning. If an entire community dared to abuse her flesh and blood, she would return the favor one thousand fold!
She rose to her feet and turned to leave the room. She only made it two steps before Nightwing reached her.
He gripped her shoulder tightly, halting her in mid-stride. "Don't."
She hissed with rage and turned to face him, he didn't flinch as she glared at him through her four narrowed, glowing red eyes. "Take your hand off of me, Richard!" She growled in warning. "Do not get in my way!"
"Raven, I need you to calm down," He pressed. "I need you to be focused."
"Focused?" She spat venomously. "They abused a child, a child who may very well be my brother! My family! Who are you to tell me to calm down? Who in Azar's name are you to stand in my way?"
"I'm your friend," He said, his eyes softening slightly as the memories of his own losses resurfaced. His parents, the people of Blüdhaven, even Jason Todd. "I know exactly how it feels to lose family, both by blood and by bond. Damn it, Raven, I know."
Raven could feel his sincerity, her empathy allowed her to feel the emotions of all of her teammates. Concern. They were concerned, both for her and for Harry. She mentally cursed Nightwing for being right, again. Damn, smart-mouthed acrobat. How she wanted to go to Surrey for answers, oh, how she wanted to rip the information from their feeble minds before subjecting them to every torment they levied against the boy.
She would listen to Nightwing. They had to find Wraith and determine his identity first; she had to find whether or not he was related to her. Yes, she would be calm and listen to Nightwing, for now. Once they found Wraith, once she knew for sure what their connection was, she'd make her decision.
Actually, if Harry Potter turned out to be the Wraith, but not her brother, she still might pay the neighborhood a little visit. From the looks of it, Starfire would be joining her on that little excursion.
"Fine," She whispered, her eyes returning to their normal color and her voice losing the 'hissing' effect. Without a word, she returned to her seat and looked down at the floor, silently brooding. The Titans left her alone, they knew better than to bother her when she was in this sort of mood.
Even Beast Boy knew that now was definitely not the time for one of his less than brilliant moments. Of course, he wasn't exactly calm and collected at the moment.
Secretly, he was just as enraged as his half-demon teammate. Behind his happy-go-lucky, jokester nature, Beast Boy hid his past. The trauma of losing his parents, being ridiculed for having green skin, his past as a member of the Doom Patrol; all of it had taken its toll on Garfield Logan. He might cope with it differently, but he still felt the pain. He still woke up in a cold sweat after his nightmares; after seeing their faces floating in the darkness.
He was furious. Right now, he wasn't separating his emotions from his business, as Dick was able to. Beast Boy, Garfield Logan, it didn't matter. He was angry. But he'd hide it, just as he always had. The team needed Beast Boy, the hero, not Beast Boy, the raging animal. That would be for later. That was for when they'd found all the information they needed.
Right now, he'd let cooler heads prevail, and stick to the matter at hand. "So, we need to get a sample of his DNA and see if there's anything in England to compare it to, right?"
"Yes," Nightwing said, glad to be back on track. "There is good news on that matter: the hospital he dragged his cousin to has a sample of his blood. The staff members present that night said that he was dripping blood all over the floor, but he phased out before they could treat him."
"Self-reliant," Superboy said with an appreciative nod. "Admirable. But self-reliance can be a hindrance, if one grows too accustomed to it."
"Indeed, it can," Starfire added. "Even on Tamaran, our warriors know the value of admitting when one needs the aid of his comrades. Walking out of the hospital despite his injury and fatigue was quite brave, but very foolish."
"I agree completely, but that's another item to be dealt with later. For now, we need to get a recent sample, analyze it, and compare it up against the samples of Harry Potter's blood. In light of this, I've taken steps to give us notice whenever certain keywords come up on the police scanners: any time one of his aliases is mentioned, the computer will pick it up and send an alert to each of us. We'll move in on his most recent location, and then fan out our search from there. Raven, we'll be relying on your abilities to track him, especially if he phases away." The sorceress nodded in consent, still remaining silent.
"And then what?" Kid Flash asked. "We find him and, what, bring him back here so we can take samples of his blood? I doubt he's going to respond well to that."
"I'd prefer not to resort to that," Nightwing sighed. "I'd prefer to just question him to get his motives, maybe confirm his identity. I don't want to push him too far, but if he doesn't cooperate, we might have to."
Cyborg considered their options for a moment, and voiced his concern. "It's a pretty heavy risk, Dick. If we do push him too far and Raven's right, we might unleash the fury of one of Trigon's kids onto the world. Hell, it might be enough to convince him to let Trigon use him as a portal to this world!"
"I know, believe me, I don't want this. If I could, I'd find a way to arrange a meeting with him at a neutral site. I'd even let him pick a place where he didn't feel threatened if I knew that he'd actually show up and be willing to talk civilly. God damn it, I would love to meet him in a damn coffee shop and discuss this as if talking to a friend, but I can't. Because of how he operates, I don't have a choice but to take this course of action."
Each Titan could see the toll this case was taking on their leader, he usually never let his frustrations out in the open like this. Normally, he was the one holding it together for the sake of the team. His worries were obvious, and warranted. He was truly wary of the possibility that the Wraith might go dark on them, it had already happened once. Jason Todd, Nightwing's successor to the mantle of Robin, had been driven mad by the Lazarus Pit and became prone to torture and murder as a way to fight crime. He essentially became the very thing he was fighting against.
Nightwing didn't want that to happen a second time. Jason Todd as the Red Hood was more than enough trouble in that regard; if Wraith followed the same path, there was a significant chance that they could be faced with an even more dangerous version of the Scarecrow.
Suddenly, the alarm went off. The computer screens on the table began flashing "Urgent Alert" notifications. Something had been picked up on the police scanner.
Nightwing dashed over to his screen and pressed a few buttons, bringing up the information. He gasped in shock; he couldn't possibly be this lucky. He blinked a couple times to clear his eyes, and looked again. It was real. On the display, the very words he'd been praying for appeared in bold lettering:
"Priority Alert 972484: Wraith Sighting!"
The realization that this may be his best, and only, chance to get a better lead on the Wraith jolted Nightwing out of his shock. He quickly read through the information, and couldn't help but feel a bit of hope. Wraith had been sighted near Jump City General Hospital and had suffered a non-fatal gunshot wound after a police officer fired upon him. He'd phased through the street to escape, but he also left blood at the scene.
The fact that the boy had been shot, by a police officer no less, angered him, but Nightwing would take it. It was the only chance he'd likely get to find the boy's true identity. Of course, now that meant there was no avoiding the fact that he needed to contact Batman to get the analysis from England; but, at this point, Nightwing would gladly work with his brooding former teacher.
He bounded toward the elevator, barking out orders as he went. "Everyone move out! Starfire, Miss Martian and Supergirl, take the skies and search from there! Speedy, Aqualad and Kid Flash, he escaped by phasing through the street, so search the sewers! Cyborg, Superboy and Beast Boy, patrol the streets! I'll join you after I examine the scene! Raven," The sorceress raised her stoic gaze from the floor and stared at her long-time friend and leader. Nightwing paused; he could tell that she was still shaken up by the information. She might hide it well, but he could see through her. His voice softened a bit, his order more of a request than anything. "I need you at the scene, you can track where he's phased to with your powers."
Raven didn't answer; she merely lowered her gaze to the floor again. Truth be told, she wanted to find Wraith, but she was afraid. She was afraid that she wouldn't be able to control herself if he had been abused as Nightwing suggested. The mere thought had already set her off in front of her friends; maybe it would be best if she stayed behind. Nightwing hadn't given an order; he'd made a request. She didn't have to go.
"Raven," He called softly as his other teammates rushed out of the Assembly Hall. "Please."
No. There was no option. She had to go. Whether or not she was afraid of what she might find, she had to go. Not for the city, not for her sense of duty, but for herself. For once, she would be selfish. For once, she would actually want something.
If Wraith was related or connected to her, in any way, she'd be damned if he was left to wander the streets, hated and alone. She rose from her seat and walked into the elevator.
"We find him tonight," She said, barely above a whisper as she walked past Nightwing.
He nodded, turning and following her as he spoke. "We'll try."
She turned to glare at him. "We will. Tonight. No exceptions."
Nightwing blinked in surprise as the doors closed behind them and the elevator began its descent. She was being oddly assertive on this matter. Usually, she was quiet, speaking only to offer strategic advice or to silence Beast Boy.
Then again, she did just find out that someone who may or may not be her brother had been living on the streets alone, and had possibly been abused. That being said, he really shouldn't be surprised. It was just so unusual for Raven to be the emotionally compromised member of the team.
"You sure you're okay?" He whispered to her. "I know this is a bit new to you, so –"
Raven sighed in frustration. "Richard, I have just found out, for the first time, that I might not be alone in this world; that I might have some living family other than my father. To add to the novelty of this idea, you have also informed me that he has lived on the streets, alone, for at least five years and that there is a possibility that he comes from an abusive home. How exactly would you like me to react? Should I be happy that he has lived a life of isolation and is hated and feared by a significant portion of the general public? Should I take solace in the fact that he has suffered similar pain as I have? Please, tell me, how exactly should I feel?"
"No! God, no!" Nightwing protested. "I don't expect you to enjoy another's suffering, especially if he may very well be your brother! I – I'm concerned. I may not know from personal experience what it's like to find a lost relative, but I do care, Raven. We all do."
"You have an odd way of showing it," She shot back. "You plan to drag him to the Cave so you can take samples of his blood, lock him in a room, and interrogate him. How exactly is that going to help him? You may be able to convince the others, but I know better. If he's resisted Trigon's influence before and we show that we're untrustworthy, he'll be more likely to join my father, just as Victor said."
"What would you have me do? I'd love to trust him, but I can't risk the lives of innocent people. Contrary to what you may think, I do want to help him, but I need solid proof that he's not going to be a threat."
Raven stayed silent for a while, not saying another word until the elevator doors opened to reveal the garage level. She followed Nightwing out, making a decision as she went.
"Leave him to me," She ordered. "You and the others can search for his identity, you can even help me find him, but once we do, I will be the one to confront him."
"I know what it's like," She cut him off. "I know what it's like to grow up alone, just as he has. I know what it's like having to bottle my emotions to control my powers, just as it seems he has. He won't respond well to being cornered, I'm sure of that. But, he'll respond worse to someone who presumes to understand without truly knowing his pain. I can connect with him on that level."
Nightwing made as if to argue the point, but Raven's glare stopped him in his tracks. Further angering her probably wasn't best for his long-term health. Not a good idea at all. Better just to smile, nod, and let the scary, half-demon, sorceress have her way.
Raven stopped and gave him an annoyed look, making him wince. He'd forgotten that she could hear other people's thoughts. He smiled nervously and tried to steer the conversation away from the impending disappointed lecture. "I see your point," He said quickly. "If you're sure about this, then we'll let you handle the situation. Just let me get the Blackwing and –"
He felt Raven grab his shoulder tightly. "Not fast enough."
Nightwing didn't have a chance to react before a black dome sprang forth from the floor and enclosed the two. The dome then shifted into the form of a giant, black Raven and took flight, phasing through the mountain and flying toward Jump City General Hospital at breakneck speed.
Damn it, he hated travelling via Raven's soul self.
Police officers and forensic investigators scrambled for cover as the giant raven swooped down and impacted with the ground. As soon as its claws touched solid ground, the raven shifted back into a dome. The black dome began to melt away, revealing the blue-garbed sorceress and her shuddering leader.
Nightwing absolutely hated travelling this way. He had nothing against Raven's heritage or her powers, but whenever he went along for the ride, it just felt so weird to him. Her phasing and long-range flying abilities always made that eerie cold shiver run down his spine.
He turned to face his companion, glowering at her through his mask. "Could you at least give me a warning before you do that?"
Raven ignored his complaining and strode toward to the taped off area of Main Street. One policeman made as if to tell her that she couldn't approach the area, but her heated glare silenced him and made him take a few steps back. In fact, everyone seemed to bake away from her, parting like the Red Sea and giving her a very wide berth.
No one wanted to be anywhere near the angry sorceress. She was frightening enough when she was calm.
Raven ducked under the yellow police tape and approached what she assumed was the scene of the incident. Frankly, it was a safe guess; the bloodstain on the concrete and the team of forensic investigators bringing out their equipment was enough of a hint.
"Leave," She ordered.
One of them, presumably the leader of the team, drew himself up to his full height and spoke authoritatively. "Who are you to tell us to leave? This is our investigation! If anything, you and your friend are the ones slowing everything up and contaminating the evidence!"
During his brief rant of self-importance and authority, he didn't notice the very obvious signs that Raven's patience was wearing quite thin. He barely registered the fact that her eyes were beginning to glow white as her powers activated. He didn't even notice the fact that his forensic investigation team was backing away, whimpering in fear as the young woman's heated glare intensified.
Fortunately for him, he was spared by the rather timely intervention of Nightwing, who, while sharing Raven's annoyance, didn't feel like explaining why there were bits and pieces of one of JCPD's forensic scientists scattered all over the middle of Main Street to the mayor.
Yeah, that would be a fun conversation.
"Stand down Raven," He ordered, stepping in between the angry sorceress and the man currently drawing her ire. Nightwing turned to the man and addressed him. "As far as who is in charge of the investigation, you'll find that my team is more qualified to see it through properly."
The man's face turned an ugly shade of red and he began breathing heavily, obviously not appreciating the comment. "Listen here, bird-boy," Nightwing mentally rolled his eyes. No one had original insults anymore. "I'm here on official business as part of the JCPD! You get that? This is our case, our jurisdiction."
"That's where you're wrong," Nightwing replied with a smirk, pulling a slip of paper out of one of the many pouches on his utility belt. "This is a signed statement from the mayor which places this case under the jurisdiction of the Teen Titans. In short, we're here on official business, you are the one slowing us down and contaminating the evidence." Nightwing's smirk grew as the man's indignant outburst was now reduced to a pathetic stammer.
"This is ridiculous!" He shouted. "Why the Hell would the mayor grant jurisdiction to a bunch of vigilante kids?"
"Obviously, he grew tired of watching your department make a complete mess out of this case for the past two weeks."
"Unless you have a piece of paper that looks exactly like the one I have right here, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to ask you to leave the premises," Nightwing said, raising an eyebrow as if daring the man to object further.
The man scowled, but thought better of it. He turned back to his team, signaling for them to pack up their equipment and head back to the station, but not before delivering one final parting shot over his shoulder. "Never thought I'd see the day where the damn mayor puts the law in the hands of a bunch of punk kids instead of trusting the men and women who wear a badge. Disgraceful!"
Nightwing walked past him, approaching the bloodstain on the ground, firing off his own retort as he went. "You and I have different definitions of the word 'disgraceful'. For example, I find the fact that you cheated on your wife with that prostitute last Thursday quite disgraceful. Disgusting, even."
"W-What the – How the Hell did you –"
"I have my ways," Nightwing said cryptically. "Now, kindly remove yourself or I'll have my friend escort you to your vehicle." The man winced as Raven's eyes began to take on a threatening glow. "Your call."
Raven watched, slightly amused, despite the circumstances surrounding the case, as the man walked away, defeated. She turned to her masked teammate, and decided that she couldn't resist asking. "How did you know?"
"Like I said, I have my ways," He replied, his smirk growing a bit mischievous. "Now, let's get back on track. Can you examine the scene for traces of his powers?"
She nodded in response, bringing her hands out from under her cloak and holding them out over the bloodstained area. "Yes. If his powers are as similar to mine as I believe, I should be able to track his movements by searching for traces of his powers."
"You can track his powers by trace?" Nightwing asked, slightly impressed.
"My best theory is that he uses some form of magic that is, at the very least, similar to mine. He may not use it to the extent that I do, but he wields it. Magic is not a weapon that can be brought out and then put away in storage; it's part of us. Magic is not something that can be quantified and limited to a person's core, the amount of magic one wields depends on what they are capable of wielding."
"I see," Nightwing said, trying to wrap his head around the concept. "So, people like Doctor Fate and Zatanna are able to use powerful magic because they are naturally capable of handling such a high capacity for it?
Raven stiffened at the mention of the Justice Leagues resident magician. Nightwing mentally slapped himself for forgetting Raven's history with her; it wasn't exactly a happy one. "Not quite" She said, in a clipped tone. "Their natural affinity for magic grants them the ability to wield it, both of them honed their skills with years of study and practice. In a way, it is similar to how you honed your martial arts while under Batman's tutelage."
"Right," Now he understood a bit better. "So, what does that have to do with him leaving traces of magic?"
"Think of it like how predators track their prey using smell, hearing or vision. One cannot simply tell their magic to stop flowing through and around them; it's as constant as a heartbeat. In essence, it's just as necessary for us as a heartbeat. Once I familiarize with his magic, his signature, if you will, I will be able to track and find him."
"Perfect! While you're doing that, I'll just collect a sample of his blood and –"
"No!" She snapped, stopping him in his tracks. "I need this spot undisturbed while I work, or it becomes more difficult for me to identify the type of magic he used."
"I thought they said he just phased himself through the ground."
Raven shook her head. "No, he didn't. That was one of the first spells I tested for. I've narrowed it down to a few illusion spells or –" She stopped suddenly, eyes widening as the realization hit her. "Teleportation!"
"Teleportation?" Nightwing parroted. "The report said that the cops watched him sink down through the street! Isn't that phasing?"
"Not necessarily. Phasing would imply that he simply went through a wall or the ground beneath him; teleporting is a different matter entirely. The method he used may have looked like phasing due to the appearance that he sunk into the shadows, but the magical signature suggests that he teleported. With teleportation, he could, theoretically, be out of the city, depending on how capable or experienced he is."
"You've got to be kidding me!" He shouted in frustration. "You mean to tell me that we're right back where we started? That he slipped through the cracks again?"
"Calm yourself, Nightwing," She admonished. "I said that I have my ways of tracking him, and I do. Fortunately, I am capable of using a spell to find the location he teleported to. However," She said, cutting off his next interruption. "It will require my full concentration. Do not interrupt me."
The 'or else' was, quite obviously, implied.
Raven began chanting in a language that Nightwing had never encountered before. If he were to pose any sort of a guess, he would have to say that it was some sort of Druidic or demonic spell. Either was possible, considering her dual heritage.
Perhaps this was the language of Raven's home, Azarath.
She closed her eyes, still chanting the spell under her breath as she waited for a vision of Wraith's destination to appear in her mind's eye.
She could see a large, wooden door, flanked by stained glass windows on either side. The architecture style seemed to be very simplistic, nothing overly fancy or impressive aside from the windows or the height of the building. The building itself was definitely two stories, which would normally suggest that the building could be a warehouse or a motel.
Stained glass, however, was a bit too fancy, not to mention expensive, for either of those to be true. So, she discarded those options.
Her eyes snapped open as the information clicked. A Church. He'd teleported himself to St. Juan Diego Church, just a few blocks away from her current location.
"I found him," She whispered, calling upon her magic to teleport her to the fugitive boy's location. "I'm going."
It took Nightwing a moment to realize what she meant by that, by then it was too late. A familiar shroud of darkness began to envelope his hooded companion, her body began to sink into the ground.
"Wait! Raven!" He shouted as she vanished from sight. He heaved a sigh of frustration. "Great, just great! Don't tell me where he is! Just leave me here with no idea where you've gone, and no transportation!"
Nightwing lifted his left arm up, as if looking at a watch, and entered in a command code on his gauntlets. After entering the code, he sent a command through a secure radio frequency for the Blackwing to drive itself to his location using its autopilot function.
Now, all he could do was wait.
Then again, the wait did give him ample time to collect a sample of Wraith's blood and have that talk with Batman. Might as well make use of the time he had.
I winced as I pulled my left arm through the sleeve of my hoodie. The priest had done a good job of stitching up the wound, but the pain was definitely still there.
According to him, the bullet had gone through the top of my left bicep, the pain I was feeling was a combination of both the skin and muscle being cut into. In short, I would be unable to fight at full capacity for quite some time.
I still refused to go to a hospital, despite his insistence. The wound is sewn shut and cleaned, I can survive with a little bit of pain. I've been living with a different sort of pain for as long as I could remember.
As I walk down the staircase, towards the front door of the rectory, I can't help but sigh. The other priests and deacons were nice enough whenever I visited, but they didn't trust me nor did they particularly enjoy my company. They don't say it, but I can sense it. They're suspicious of me; they're suspicious of what I do with my powers and what I could do with them.
I suppose I can't blame them. As I've said previously, I don't do myself any favors with how I handle criminals. The 'decent' citizens don't like that. They hated it when heroes like Batman first started brutalizing criminals in Gotham. They claimed that he was everything wrong with society; that he was just an insane man in a mask and a cape who went around terrorizing the people.
That's what they said about a man with no powers, just his own unique skill set and supply of gadgets. Imagine what they say when I, a boy with terrifying power, first started.
Earlier, I gave you a very censored version of what Reverend Roberts and others have said about me. The full account is quite unflattering and reeks of a collective sense of self-righteousness, self-importance, and moral superiority.
Fun fact, those are the same reasons that the Europeans began forcibly converting the Native Americans to Christianity or began massacring entire tribes. They were condemned as savages, just because they didn't follow the Christian God, dressed differently, and didn't believe in the concept of owning land.
See why I generally try to stay away from the so-called 'religious leaders' who spew forth their doctrine on national television? I do not speak of religious people as a whole, but these leaders are often as radical as they paint their enemies to be.
It's a case of the blind leading the blind to fight the blind, who are, in turn, lead by the blind. Sometimes, I wonder whether it's actually they who are the monsters, and not I.
I can't help but shudder at that thought. Some actually follow and believe what they say; it's a bit disturbing to think that so many would listen to the words of madmen. Of course, it's not just the religious or Conservatives who think I'm in the wrong.
Apparently, my approach is too violent for the Liberals in Congress to accept. I've read a few articles in which various Senators or Representatives who praise my desire to help people, but then turn around and try to reprimand me for being too heavy handed.
I didn't realize that I was supposed to walk up to a criminal and politely ask them to stop. I tried that once, it actually worked. Of course, the fact that I had my foot on the man's throat might have had something to do with it.
As I approach the door, I can't help but ask myself the same question I've asked for the past five years: Does it really matter? Do my actions have any impact on the world? Or is this just an exercise in futility?
I'm not so naïve that I believe that I can stop all crime from occurring all around the world. That would be ideal, but incredibly unrealistic. I just want to know that I am doing something good; I want to know that my actions are helping people.
I haven't been all that sure lately. Now, even those I help cower in fear at the mere sight of me. They cower in fear despite the fact that all I've done for the past five years is fight crime and protect the innocent.
My constant feeling and state of loneliness has never been so prevalent in my life. Five years ago, I had the Dursleys. True, they hated me, they abused me, they even swayed the entire community to their side, but they were still my family. I still had someone who looked out for me. Better than what they did.
I force my anger down into the mental cage I've built for it. The Dursleys insulted me in many ways, but none hurt me more than when they reminded me of how I came to live with them. I was a freak. I was too much of a freak for an entire family and hidden community of freaks to love.
My Aunt Petunia took great pleasure in teaching me how to read at a very young age, just so she could force me to read her letter whenever she needed some form of entertainment. My misery amused her to no end.
Am I really that abnormal? Am I really that much of a deviant that my efforts to help people are unwelcome?
Am I truly alone in the world?
I ask myself these questions, but I already know the answer to each of them: Yes. I am abnormal, I am a deviant, I am unwelcome, and I am alone.
I suppose that I should add that I have a tendency to be a bit self-loathing, but that would be stating the obvious, I think.
With a sigh, I twist the doorknob and push the door open, and step out into the night. I can't help but feel a bit more comfortable out here. The priest's hospitality is nice, but I just don't feel at home in this place. Perhaps that's why I've never taken him up on his offer to stay in one of his spare rooms.
No, it has nothing to do with the reputation of some of the Catholic priests. The priest is true to his vow of chastity and does not engage in that sort of frivolous behavior; he's actually quite appalled by it. He may be a sarcastic nuisance at times, but he is a man of honor. One of the few that I've encountered in my travels.
I turn away from the rectory, intending to walk away, but I come to a stop as I notice that I'm not alone. I'm not seeing things, the person before me is quite real. Even worse, I know who she is; I've seen her picture in newspapers.
She's wearing her trademark blue cloak; it's wrapped around her in a manner that hides her arms and blue dress from view. Her hood, which seems to be fashioned to look like a bird's head, is drawn over her head, casting a shadow over the uppermost part of her face.
That, alone with her violet eyes, gives her a very threatening appearance, one very fitting of her name. Yes, I know her name. She is the sorceress, the most controversial member of the Teen Titans, she is yet another hero to be cast in a dark light by the political pundits and religious leaders.
She is the one known as Raven.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter; I did my best to give you a good read.
Note: Wraith's inner monologues about religion are just to show that he is detached from society, I am not using it to give voice to anti-religious sentiment.
Oh, by the way, if you're wondering where I came up with for the "Wraith Sighting" alert, it's quite simple: Pull out your phone, look at the dial pad, look the corresponding numbers and letters, now spell out "Wraith". Yeah, I know it's not creative, but I was more focused on the story line than on a code. Don't like it? Deal with it. That's one area where my laziness won out.