I had always been beautiful. Stunning, really. It was not a point of arrogance, nor a source of pride, but simply a fact of life. Before it had been revealed to me by the Fire Sages that I was the Avatar, I had had numerous suitors, young and old. Afterwards, the suitors hadn't disappeared. They simply had become more prestigious, and usually older. Now I looked upon my murky reflection in the pool beside me, and I found my beauty had been sullied. Raven locks that had before curled in perfect unison now were tangled and dirty. My unblemished, oval face with skin so pale that many suitors who fancied themselves artistic had likened it to the moon and thought themselves original was now streaked with dirt and grime and marred by angry scrapes. And eyes like emeralds, a color so rare in my native land, were clouded with the lingering effects of the drugs pumped into my veins. I found myself as two different people, one of innocence who was still blissfully unaware in my homeland, and the one looking back at me, surrounded by chaos and insanity. I found that the girl of innocence, the one of before, was fading into the murky waters.
This revelation played in the back of my head, but I gave it no serious consideration. My larger focus was of planning my next move, of finding a way, any way, out of the situation I found myself in. I, along with the Team who had declared themselves my allies, was beyond the door I had led us to. It had led to a small cavern with no other exits, much like the one I had woken up in. Nuwei was not in it. Robin had been right.
It was a trap.
The nine of us were surrounded by dozens of men dressed all in black and carrying swords, with various others peppered in between, all dressed as strangely as the eight youths. There were two hulking creatures that were not human, not anything I had ever seen before. One was steely grey and the other brown, with gigantic rips in its hide through which you could see rippling muscle. Those are the only words I know of to describe the beasts. One man, blessedly human but wearing a strange arrangement of pads over his body, including a mask that hid his face but left blond hair free, stepped forward.
"Hey, pumpkin," he said, directing his question past Aqualad in the front. "Still fighting for the losing side?"
The girl with the bow, Artemis, responded. "Dad," she said, an acknowledgement lined with scorn and a long buried hatred. "Still killing people?"
"I do what I can," he said, turning his attention to Aqualad. "Not bad, lad, except for the part where you followed the bait straight into the trap. You are being given the chance to surrender, I suggest you take it. Resistance will get you nowhere."
"We have walked this path before, Sportsmaster," Aqualad retorted, "It always ends the same. Perhaps it is you who should surrender."
I stopped listening. This was their game, not mine. I had but one concern. Nuwei. When Superboy had ripped the door off its hinges, with nothing less than his bare hands, I had been the first inside. It was empty, save for a stand on which a black box emitted the sounds of Nuwei's roars. And nine pods. Then, of course, this Sportsmaster and his League of Shadows had shown up. But the black box had been emitting the sound of Nuwei's roars and none other's. Somehow, these people knew what Nuwei sounded like and had projected it onto this magic box. Nuwei wasn't here, but they did know where she was. I stepped forward.
"I don't know who you people are, or what disagreement you have with each other," I said, cutting right into something Aqualad had been saying, "and I don't care. All I want is my dragon, Nuwei, safe and with me. She's not here, but I know you have her. Where is she?!" I pointed at the one called Sportsmaster.
He looked at me for the first time. "Dragon? Girl, I think you're on the wrong car of the crazy train. We're all- mostly- human here."
He was good, but he was lying. Even with the mask, I could see it in his eyes, in the way he was studying me. He knew of Nuwei, possibly knew where she was. I persisted.
"That device over there, whatever it is, is emitting Nuwei's roars. To be able to mimic them, you must have seen her. Lying won't do you any good; I know you have her. Tell me where she is!" I accompanied this last demand with a sweep of my arms, sending the water from the pool crashing towards Sportsmaster, about to take him into a block of ice. He never even flinched.
My wave of water was shot down by a boy of about my age, who himself was encased in what looked like ice. The beam he shot from his outstretched hand seemed to be of pure ice as well.
Sportsmaster took his time in responding, mocking in his façade of thoughtfulness. "Dragon, dragon, you know, I actually think we did encounter something like that. Big fellow, it was. Too big to take in. We had to kill it."
My lip curled. Did he think I would fall for that? "You're lying."
"Am I?" He responded, "When we first encountered your pet, it was flying around, wrecking villages and making this noise." He pulled out a small, rectangular disc. His thumb moved over it, and from the black box, Nuwei's cry came, loud enough to nearly deafen the room. Sportsmaster stood unaffected as the rest of the room flinched, though he was closest to the box.
"This," he continued, "was its dying cry." His thumb moved again.
From the black box, Nuwei's cry came once more, but this one was different. Before her cries were in fact calls and if they were a trifle desperate, they at least sounded healthy. This one was none of those things.
From the black box came a rasping, choking shriek, the sound of agony and impending death, of a last futile attempt to find a friend as the darkness of eternity closed all around. It was unmistakably Nuwei, but it was a Nuwei dying. I felt a single tear slide from my eye.
"Min," it was Aqualad who spoke, his voice an attempt to console, or restrain. It was too little, too late.
"No…" I said, dropping to my knees. A pair of feet rushed to my side, but Sportsmaster chose that moment to cry, "Attack!" and the feet suddenly stopped in a battle stance at my side.
"No, no, no!" I cried to myself as dozens of bodies fought around me. Someone called to me, I think. I looked up, and Sportsmaster was walking towards me, a javelin in each hand.
"Time to see what you can do."
"NO!" I screamed, and my hand shot out, a blast of air sending him flying into the far wall. And that's when I felt it.
It had only happened once before. I felt my anger, my anguish, my hurt, a million different feelings all blend together. In a strange way, it was comforting. I felt the pain, but it was distant, detached. I felt myself being disconnected from my body, could sense the embrace of my past lives. I looked upon myself without feeling as I was consumed by raw emotion. I could see myself, could see everything around me from a million eyes in a million brows that were not there.
My eyes began to glow. I stood up, slowly. The battle raged around me without stopping, without seeing me. That would change. I could feel the ground beneath me through feet that were not mine and through those feet I could sense the entire cave, and beyond that. I could see that we were indeed in a mountain, a large mountain surrounded by many others. We were near the top, just below the summit. I raised my hands.
The entire cave shook, the entire mountain. My hand clenched, and a wind arose from nothing, swirling around me like a funnel and stopping the battle in its tracks. On the wind danced tongues of flames, licking at bodies and singeing hair. The very air itself began to boil.
The youths and the assassins and the various other creatures around me were kneeling now, hanging onto the ground for dear life. Aqualad was shouting something, but his words were lost in the wind.
My hand tightened, and the wind became a gale storm. I whipped up the water from the pool, and fire and ice began to rain down in the small cavern. The mountain was shaking violently now, the ceiling of the cave cracking, and large boulders were falling. The mountain was falling apart.
My body was stiff, every muscle clenched. My legs stood apart, my shoulders hunched over arms brought close to my head as if to hold it against the pain, but I felt nothing. I drifted serenely across the currents of my Avatar spirit, gently held aloft by the hands of my predecessors. I watched in mild consternation as my own arms came up, then out. Cracks appeared high along the walls of the cavern, not random like before, but directed, each with a purpose.
My feet left the ground as the top of the mountain blew completely off. I was rising through a wind funnel in truth now and above me dark clouds broiled. Lightning flashed from clear skies, and then again from writhing clouds that were not there a moment before. Fire and ice rained down in fist sized chunks, landing on ground that rolled beneath feet and bucked sharply.
And then, I heard Aqualad's voice. His words were spoken in my head like before, but they were neither calm nor soothing. They were desperate. Please, he said, I know you mourn over the loss of your friend. I can feel your pain through the link, we all can. But you have to stop this. You are killing us.
I looked down. People were strewn across the top of the mountain, littered like debris. Sportsmaster was nowhere to be seen, but his assassins clung to rock or anything they could reach. Periodically, one would lose his grip and be lost to the maelstrom. Aqualad and his Team were among those still hanging on. Kid Flash and Rocket were unconscious. Artemis held Kid Flash with one arm, the other slowly losing its grip on a crossbow that was holding the two to the ground by a cable. Rocket was in the arms of Aqualad, who alone was looking up at me.
I cannot account for the wrongdoings of Sportsmaster, Aqualad continued, looking at me in the eye through fifty spans of turmoil, but I promise you, my friends and I will do everything we can to help you find your friend. Please, stop this.
As I watched, one side of the mountain crumbled and fell in an enormous landslide. Several assassins and the brown skinned brute were sent tumbling into oblivion.
Please, said Aqualad, still looking directly at me. Then a large chunk of rock broke off from across the mountaintop and flew and struck him in the head. He crumpled without another word.
"No!" I shrieked. The maelstrom raged on, but now I fought against it. I fought against the hands of my past lives that before carried me like a gentle river and they clutched at me and refused to let me go. My spirit screamed and my body screamed with it, but I could not connect the two. I could not bridge the gap between the spiritual plane that I was in now and the physical plane in which people who might be my friends were dying. I fought and screamed, and Aqualad's body slid along the roiling mountaintop, pushed by the winds toward a bottomless drop off. Rocket also slid, and I tried to reach her too, but then she was pushed into a temporary crevice that had just been formed only moments ago. She lay there, relatively safe. Meanwhile, Aqualad neared the edge of the mountaintop.
I fought on, but the clutching hands of my past lives were becoming quicksand. The more I fought against it, the deeper I sank. Instead of dying down, the maelstrom intensified. Aqualad was at the edge of the abyss. His body paused, the wind dying down for just a second as if to taunt me with my helplessness and the inevitability of my failure, of his death. Then he went over.
I choked back my scream. As he disappeared, I slumped against the hands of my past lives, resigning myself to their will. For a wonder, their grips became gentle again. I was immediately back on the river. Slowly it angled back towards my body, and as my feet touched the ground, I felt control of my limbs return to me. The glow faded from my eyes as the presence of my past lives disappeared. I fell heavily onto the ground.
Aqualad. It was my own thought, no one else's. The other youths were pushing themselves to their feet as I scrambled over rocks and lucky survivors and others who were not so lucky. My eyes were fixed on the spot where Aqualad had gone down. He had been nothing but kind to me, had showed me nothing but understanding. For his trust and his compassion, I had killed him. I fell to my stomach on the spot where Aqualad had fallen. There, five spans below me, was a large outcrop of rock, and on it was Aqualad. His head was bleeding and his breaths came raggedly, but he was alive. I sighed with relief.
An explosion of pain ripped through my upper back. It was the shock of electrocution. My entire body spasmed, and I fell off my perch on the ledge, landing right besides Aqualad. As darkness closed around me, I saw Robin standing on the ledge, looking down at me with the grim look of an executioner. My head rolled, and the last thing I saw before I was swallowed up by blackness was the bloodied face of Aqualad.