SepticMind: You want action? Here you go! As for Rae/Jinx-ness, there's a little here, but not much. The next couple of chapters… it depends on how you look at it, I suppose.
Concolor44: I'm always willing to give a nod to one of the masters. No, Starfire thought she was totally justified, and with how stubborn she is… If you want epic, keep reading; you might also want to upgrades Slade's "bite" to a full zebra.
Faraway-R: The situation with Doctor Fate is actually kind of complicated, but I can say with certainty now that he will explain the method behind his madness.
Oh, this chapter was so much fun to write, probably my favorite of this story so far! It has everything I like: emotional whiplash, ruthless pragmatism, and several opened cans of whoop ass. If you enjoy it even half as much I did, I'll consider it a job well done.
…I also apologize in advance for the cheesy one-liners.
Disclaimer: After Red X helped take down Professor Chang and free the other Titans, did Robin immediately try to recapture him? If so, I don't own the Teen Titans franchise; it belongs to DC Entertainment, Glen Murakami, and Warner Bros.
Allies of Circumstance
Lisa pulled her communicator out of her pocket and flipped it open. "Guys, Plasmus just arrived and started wrecking the mall. I could really use a hand out here."
"That… might be a problem."
"What do you mean, that might be a problem?!"
Nightwing winced and leaned back from the console to create a few more inches of space between him and Persephone's screech. He could not truly blame the blonde for her indignation; Plasmus was an irritating foe, and while one person could take him out on their own, it required quite a bit of effort to sufficiently soften him up before then. There was a reason all five Titans normally worked together to fight him.
Unfortunately, today was anything but normal.
"Plasmus isn't the only one causing trouble." He pulled up several screens on the window that doubled as the computer system's main monitor, checking for any updates. "Cinderblock's been sighted in the projects, and Overload found the abandoned power plant on the East Side."
Persephone was silent for several seconds before tentatively asking, "…All three of them are active?"
"Yeah. The only times they've ever acted like this were when they were taking orders, either from the Brotherhood of Evil or Slade." He grit his teeth. "I don't like how this is shaping up."
"I can — Hey! No touching allowed! — I can understand why. I'll do my best to deal with this slimeball, but a little help wouldn't go amiss if someone finishes up early."
"I'll spread the word, but not promises," he replied, shutting down the com channel. With one last glance of the city map, he turned around and nearly ran into the team's resident alien. Before she could even open her mouth, he said, "Not a chance."
"Love Nightwing, you know you need my help. I can go to Friend Persephone and lend my assistance there if you still do not wish me to be in the heat of battle."
He huffed and grabbed her arms tightly. "Starfire, between whatever happened during your fight with Raven and her possessing you, you are in no state to help anybody. Until Cyborg clears you for battle, you're. Staying. Here."
"I am fine!" she cried, flinging his hands off her. "I can fly, I can use my starbolts, and my strength has finally returned! Why do you refuse to let me fight?!"
'Are you capable of commanding Starfire effectively while simultaneously maintaining a romantic relationship with her?' His former teacher's words echoed mockingly in his mind, and he was sorely tempted to scream in frustration. Much as he hated to admit it, the Caped Crusader had a point; there was a time to be Dick Grayson, Starfire's boyfriend, and there was a time to be Nightwing, leader of the Titans. Now was one of the latter.
Unfortunately, he knew the Tamaranean would not listen. Determination despite all obstacles was seemingly bred into her people, and while that was generally an asset in combat situations, when she was injured it became nothing more than bull-headed stubbornness. She did not believe she was still hurt, and to her, that was the end of the conversation.
He needed to pull on his big boy tights and disabuse her of that notion.
Swallowing down his reluctance, he formed a fist out of her line of sight and launched it into her abdomen at what would normally be a leisurely pace for the alien. This time, however, her eyes bugged out as she folded over his arm. Catching her, he gently lowered her to a sitting position on the floor so she could catch the breath that he had forced out of her. "If you were fine, that wouldn't have even been a love tap. You can fly again, yes, but yesterday you couldn't stay aloft for five minutes without needing a break. You can't take a hit." He spotted the tears beginning to form in her emerald eyes and knelt on the floor with her, his arms wrapping around her shoulders. "Star… Koriand'r… you're not fine. Not yet."
"Useless," she whispered, leaning her head on his chest. "That is all I am now. I cannot lead my people. I cannot help my friends. What good am I, Love Nightwing?"
"Hey, don't say that." He wiped her cheeks dry and smiled softly. "You're not useless; you're injured. If I had had my heart damaged like yours was, would you let me leave the Tower to fight?"
"No, you wouldn't. In fact, I seem to remember you not letting me even reach for the remote when all I had was a broken arm."
She smiled weakly at that. "That was because you would not accept that you were in no condition to pursue the Johnny Rancid."
"And now you're in no condition to fight, even if you won't accept it. We're quite a pair, aren't we?" She giggled and scooted backwards to lean against the couch. "Besides, it'll be tough for her, but Persephone's a big girl; she can handle Plasmus on her own. Cyborg and Beast Boy are chasing down Cinderblock, and I just need to give Overload a quick bath. We'll all be done and back here in time for dinner."
"I do not like this."
Jinx swung her eyes from Gizmo's wall of computer screens to glance at her stressed fiancée. "Down, girl. I know we're back in your old stomping grounds, but ten bucks says this is just a run-of-the-mill smash-and-grab. Nothing we need to worry ourselves over."
"If it were anyone but these three, I would agree with you, but it is not." The half-demon stabbed one finger at the monitors. "They might have intellects on par with the materials that compose them, but one thing they are very good at is following orders. If they are working together like this, it is because Slade told them to do so."
"Doesn't seem like they're working together to me," Baran interrupted, stuffing the last of his hot dogs into his mouth.
"So, back when you were all thieves, you would not be working together if you robbed a bank, Gizmo an electronics store, and Jinx a jeweler's so that you could split the Titans up when we came after you?" Raven turned back to the live feeds. "It is the exact same principle here: lure them away from each other, isolate them so they cannot match their adversaries' individual strengths with their combined skills. Unfortunately, I do not believe this particular deployment is meant for my old team."
"You think it's for us?"
The lavender-haired woman nodded slowly at Jinx's question. "I do. Our spat with Starfire was well-covered in the local news media; it is not inconceivable that Slade would have heard about our return. In fact, we should have expected that word would have eventually reached his ears.
"This is exactly his style, as well. Despite his truly fearsome combat abilities, Slade is not a fighter; if he were, he would not hide behind proxies and androids. He is a thinker, a planner, a mastermind, and this… this is an reconnaissance mission."
"'Cause we've been gone for so long," the pinkette murmured in comprehension. "Five years is long enough for just about anyone to learn new tricks if they put their minds to it. He wants to know how we've changed and get a better idea of what we're capable of now."
"Exactly, and that is why this stratagem is a problem," Raven declared.
"Huh?" Gizmo looked over his shoulder at them. "What problem are ya talking about? Seems like the Titans have got everything well in hand; it's not like it's the first time… they've… fought… Fuck."
The leader of Team Black Magic shot her eyes back and forth between the pair. "How about the Reader's Digest version for the people here who, you know, aren't geniuses?"
"The Titans are not unfamiliar with these three; I remember fighting them several times myself. None of them are particularly difficult, simply endurant and gifted with a capacity for destruction. In fact, I believe that under normal circumstances, any of my former teammates could handle any of the trio one-on-one."
The tiny tech terror cut in, "So if Slade wants to test us, why send out these snot-brains when the Titans should be able to take care of it?"
"…Because they can't take care of it. He's rigged the fights," she breathed.
"I am not sure that is the best analogy, but yes. Either he has finally lost what little sanity he had left, or he has given his patsies some advantage he believes will force our involvement."
"So? We should still let them deal with it," Baran said with shrug. "Not like protecting the city's our job."
She shook her head. "No, our job's burying this guy, and much as I hate to say it, they've done a good job keeping us on the bottom of Slade's to-do list. If the Titans get taken out, and if he thinks we're after him, he could devote all the resources he has at his disposal to hunting us down. I know we've sucked in keeping our movements on the down-low this mission, but there's a difference between being caught on the news and open warfare. The brass would probably let the first one go if Raven blamed it on Starfire and being a local celebrity; the second… not so much, especially if we had to call in the rest of the Initiative to help take care of this son of a bitch.
"Still, we don't know for a fact that those five can't handle their fights themselves. No reason to move in when everything's just a coin toss…"
"What is the plan, then, my love?"
"We prepare for the worst and hope for the best, of course." Jinx turned around and walked to the doorway. "Giz, keep an eye on 'em; Raven, Baran, suit up and get back in here. We need to be ready for immediate insertion."
Cyborg pulled the T-Car up to the curb and stepped out, Beast Boy joining him from the other side. "Not that I'm wishin' ill on anyone, but why is it never the nice places that get attacked?" Several complexes in this lower-class neighborhood had already been smashed straight through, and the streets were completely deserted as the residents had fled from the semi-sentient mass of concrete strolling through their turf. At least we won't have to worry about collateral damage; anythin' we break, we blame on Cinderblock.
"Beats me, dude." The green changeling looked around. "Where is the rock-head, anyway?"
Frowning, he scanned their surroundings as well. He couldn't have left already, and the guy was never all that good at hidin'. Is he still in one of the apartments? Just then, a low pounding sound entered his ears, and he twisted in the direction it came from. Upon seeing the source, his organic eye widened. "Move!"
He leapt to one side of the road while Beast Boy shifted into an eagle and flew in the opposite direction. They were barely in time; running at what had to be thirty miles per hour, the villain they were pursuing barreled through the space they had just vacated, missing the front of the T-Car by inches. Thankfully, Cinderblock did not yet have a handle on his new speed, and when he tried to turn, all he managed to do was trip over his own feet and start rolling on the ground.
Of course, the henchman was still moving at a good clip, so that roll was enough to rip through yet another building's front wall. Finally able to clamber to his feet, Cinderblock roared in challenge as he exited his most recent hole. At least that explains how so much damage was done in such a short time, but why couldn't he have tried this out in a junkyard or somethin'?
"I know it's been a while since we last saw this guy, but I don't remember him being anywhere near this fast before," the polymorph remarked.
"Me neither, but fast, slow, or standin' still, it doesn't matter. I think he needs a reminder not to go tearin' stuff up in our town." His right arm unfolded into his signature cannon. "Let's give it to him."
Before the advent of safe and efficient fusion reactors, Jump City had relied on a coal-fired power plant that was constructed in the early 1970s. The building was now a desolate relic of a bygone age, but because of the massive stockpiles of fuel it still contained, the city had elected not to demolish it, instead keeping it in reserve in case the more modern plant needed to be shut down for any reason.
Pulling up to the edifice, Nightwing was starting to wish they had just consigned it to the scrapheap.
It was obvious how Overload had gotten in; the door had been literally carved from the wall, crumbling edges hinting that the electric criminal had used his arms as plasma torches to burn through the brickwork. The vigilante drew a short steel shaft from his belt and extended it to its full six-foot length before stepping through the hole. Not hearing the familiar snap-hiss of his enemy, he sprinted through the halls deeper into the complex.
If I were a living mass of lightning who broke into a power plant, where would I be? The turbines!
Though he made a few wrong turns in this maze of unplanned additions and derelict supports, Nightwing soon stepped onto a balcony of sorts, one that looked over the engines designed to provide energy to the city's inhabitants. Sure enough, there was his target, ferrying glowing lumps of coal across the room and into the open furnace. Already the turbines were beginning to whir; it would not be long before they were ready to be drained.
Too bad he won't get to enjoy it. Drawing curved birdarangs with his off-hand, he let them fly at the sprinklers built into the ceiling, and water soon began spraying onto the ground. "Sorry, Overload, but you're about to experience a black out."
The embodiment of electricity, evidently hearing Nightwing's voice, turned towards the hero. Water streamed down the white body, framing the computer chip with its single glaring 'eye'. "Organic being can not defeat Overload. Overload will consume!"
What in the world? He's made of electricity; the water should be shorting him out by now. Taking a closer look, his eyes widened. Wherever the liquid hit, Overload's body was glowing a pale yellow. It's as if he has his own personal shield, he realized.
"Water does not damage Overload!" The enemy scooped up a piece of coal in one tapered limb and hurled it at him. Nightwing dove to one side; even with the indoor rain wicking away some of the heat the plasmatic pseudo-flesh had imparted into the projectile, its surface was still much too hot for him to want it to hit him.
So he's going to be difficult, huh? A blue disc soared through the air and blew up against Overload's arm, and through the smoke cloud fell the masked crime-fighter, his staff positioned for a heavy overhead blow. The air rang from the impact between steel and solidified lightning for a moment, but then the burning matter sliced the pole in half. Nightwing dropped silently to the ground. From this distance, he could see a copper orb orbiting Overload's central chip, likely whatever was generating the entity's shield, and he retreated in a back-handspring before throwing the remains of his weapon at the offending object. His attack was partially successful; the steel bar contacted the projector, but then glanced off rather than knock it out of Overload's body.
He flicked out his eskrima sticks, both of which had a layer of plastic wrapped around the business ends. This was not the only electricity-manipulating villain he had faced recently; that H.I.V.E. kid had been shocked when Nightwing's weapons were insulated against his attacks the second time they encountered each other. It looked like that modification was going to be essential once again.
Still… I could really use some backup right about now.
Left. Right. Up. Send one platform at him and jump onto another. Block his acid spit and drop out of the way of the next punch.
Lisa piloted her stone mount away from the swarm of arms streaking her way. Plasmus was not a real fighter so much as he was a brawling juggernaut, but with her being left to her own devices, that might be enough to do her in. Good grief, this guy's really going all out today. Can't he do me a favor just this once and go down easy?!
The purple monstrosity opened his mouth wide and spewed another torrent of boiling acid in her direction. She jumped away from the floating boulder she was on before it could melt the rock to nothing with her still on it…
…and her eyes widened as she saw the second spray, evidently fired on the heels of the first, streaking towards her. She had been careless; her next ride was too far away. Even if she called it to her now, it couldn't move fast enough to save her. Tears sprang to her eyes as she gave thanks that at least she had spent her last day with Maeve and Jazmyn.
A fulfilling job. Friends, fighters and civilians both. Respect from the city's citizens and fear from its criminals. Money, fame, material things of every sort. Sometimes, one mistake was all it took to lose them all.
"…So that's how he stacked the deck."
"Indeed. If the other two were enhanced as Cinderblock was, I am not sure the Titans can win today. Together, certainly, but divided as they are?"
"Then I guess you'll get your wish, sweet-cheeks. You mind giving me and Baran a lift?"
"Of course not, but who will help whom?"
"Not Cyborg and Greenie. I don't wanna be around Robin, either."
"So instead you ride off to save the damsel in distress. Typical."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"How many hot chicks have you banged after pulling them out of bad situations? Upwards of a dozen?"
"It wasn't that many! Eight… maybe nine. And I don't care what you say, Stella doesn't count!"
"Wow, don't let her daddy hear that. He'd kill you twice; once for violating his little princess — and on her eighteenth birthday, too — and again for saying that the youngest daughter of the Don of the whole damn Sicilian mafia was a bad lay."
"Will you two please stop acting like children for a moment? Spitfire is more mature than this."
"I call bullshit on that, but you probably have a point. I'll help bird boy; it'll be appropriate if nothing else."
"Very well. I would rather not go to Richard's side, anyway. I fear I would be too tempted to 'accidentally' attack him. Mammoth, it would be for the best if you left your helmet behind."
"But then they'll know who I am!"
"That will be obvious the instant they compare notes afterwards; showing your hand now cannot do any harm, but it might help. Unfortunately, I do not know how effective the suit's weapons will be against your chosen foe."
"Not a problem; I've already prepped Gretchen if you want to take her with. Alicia and Carly are warming up as we speak, too, so I can give you some air support in a few minutes if you need it."
"You know, I don't think your girl's doing so hot. Let's roll out, people. We don't want one of our few local assets to get smashed like a bug."
A strong arm wrapped itself around Lisa's waist and pulled her back against a broad chest. Half a second before the gushing green acid reached them, her sight scrambled and reconstituted itself into a view of a nearby rooftop. No longer in her savior's grasp, she fell to her knees and struggled to keep her breakfast burrito from making an untimely reappearance.
"Sorry about that. The first few jumps suck, I know, but at least it's better than Raven's way of teleporting. I'm just glad she dropped me off first, or I wouldn't have been able to get to you in time."
She twisted her head to glance at the speaker. No. Way. Red X? Looking up to his unmasked face, she tried hard to figure out why he looked so familiar, but it wasn't until she ignored his short-cropped red hair and clean-shaven face that a video from an old criminal file flashed in front of her mind's eye. "Mammoth?"
"And you're Persephone. You looked like you could use a hand." The — former? — criminal strode away from her and towards… well, it looked like a giant metal bug to her. The machine moved into an impressive handstand, its body vertical while it balanced on its front four legs. The 'wings' spread open like cabinet doors, revealing enough guns that she wondered if he had just come from robbing a National Guard armory: rifles, pistols, mines, even…
Was he holding a grenade launcher?
Mammoth broke the breach of his weapon to load a shell before snapping it closed and slinging it over one shoulder, several more rounds already clipped to the strap. A pistol as long as her forearm, obviously sized for his enormous hand, found its way into a holster at the back of his belt. Shoving a magazine into what could only be an assault rifle, he pulled the slide back before turning to her. "Hey, you all right?"
"Y-Yeah, I'm good," she squeaked. It had just clicked what kind of hand he was willing to lend her. Five years of training and practice had gone towards taking down enemies with 'appropriate force' so they could be sent to prison, and she had thought time and time again that really beating the tar out of someone would go a long way in dissuading the local criminal element from trying anything. Now, though, staring at a weapon meant purely for dealing out death and knowing that it was soon to fulfill that ghastly purpose?
She couldn't deny that it scared her a little bit.
Her introspection had caused her to miss him toss a small object at her, and she scrambled to catch it. An earwig? She flipped the switch and stuck it in her ear. "This thing on?"
"Reading you loud and clear, Persephone," a high-pitched voice answered. "Long as you and the big guy are fighting on the same side, you can consider yourself an honorary member of the team."
"Gizmo, isn't it?" she clarified. That was why the large man had been recognizable; these two and Jinx used to run together back in the old days, before she had been part of the Titans.
"Right in one. Plasmus looks kinda lost at the moment, so unless you want him to go back to trashing the place, you two better get a move on."
"Got it," Mammoth replied. He adjusted his grip on the rifle and glanced at her. "You ready to go?"
This isn't the help I asked Night for, but it's better than what I thought I would get. Her hands flared with golden brilliance, and she flashed him a quick grin. "Sure thing. I'll hit first; you cover my ass."
Nightwing jumped to the side as Overload aimed a swelling appendage at him; a bolt of lightning arced from the limb and impacted the ground where he had been standing. The electric enemy shrank yet again, standing the same height as the hero now that the attack had drained more of the energy that composed his mass. Nightwing knew from recent experience that he had only thirty seconds until he would have to dodge yet again.
He had to make that time count.
With a loud war cry, he charged at his adversary and brought both his short staves against Overload's left 'knee', but while the force dropped the villain, Nightwing knew it would not cripple him. Without an internal anatomy to damage, joint strikes were of limited utility; they were also the only thing he had found that worked. A desperate idea coming to the forefront of his mind, he slipped a cryo disc into the sentient thunderbolt's back and leapt away before he could be caught in the cloud of liquid nitrogen that exploded from its metal shell.
Overload screeched as the high temperature of his plasma melted the ice coating his body. The gallon or two of water that had been created grounded some of his electricity before the damnable yellow barrier again flickered into existence. That worked better than I hoped, Nightwing thought as he felt inside the belt compartment he had drawn the weapon from. Too bad I can't use that strategy to wear him down; I've only got a couple more of those. When I find out who armed this guy with a shield generator, I'm going to take great pleasure in throwing them into their cell myself!
Rather than chase after the vigilante as he had done previously, Overload instead chose to leap onto one of the six turbines spread throughout the room. He wailed in a fluctuating tone, and fingers of electricity stretched towards him from the metal cylinder he was balanced on… and then the turbines adjacent to that one… and then the ones adjacent to those. The leader of the Titans cursed softly as his opponent guzzled down more and more of the power the engines had generated, growing larger all the while.
The pair of cryo discs in his belt were definitely not going to be enough.
A dull clanking grabbed their attention, and he was both surprised and grateful to see a giant hook on a steel chain, likely installed for shifting crates of coal, topple the energy creature from the generator. He was less pleased when he glanced at the controls, or more specifically the pink-haired woman working them. What was Jinx playing at?
"Shit, Bluebird, aim that glare somewhere else. I'm starting to get the impression you don't like me or something."
He grit his teeth. "Why. Are. You. Here?"
"I was just in the neighborhood and thought you could use a hand."
"I have it under control."
She nodded. "Of course you do. You might want to duck, by the way." He turned around just in time to see a thick bolt of lighting slam into him.
All right, Cyborg. You had better never again tell me it's the amps and not the volts that hurt. Nightwing raised his head groggily from the black dust it was resting in and glanced at the H.I.V.E. graduate now standing beside him.
"We must have very different definitions of 'under control'. You sure you don't want my help?"
He clutched the offered hand and let her pull him to his feet. "I'll work with you for this fight. The moment he's down, we're back to being enemies."
"I thought you'd see it my way." She stretched her arms in front of her and popped her knuckles; when she drew her hands apart, pink sparks hopped between her fingers. "Well, let's get this over with so I can go claim my after-fight nookie."
Fast as he might have gotten, Cinderblock still couldn't stand up to two Titans working in concert. Another blast to the face from Cyborg's sonic cannon flung him backwards, only to meet the tail of a Tyrannosaurus. The rockheaded henchman soared through the sky and into the remains of a demolished house.
"And the crowd goes wild! Grand slam for the fantastic Beast Boy!" said shapeshifter cried in triumph.
Cinderblock rising from the debris caused the mechanical man to groan. Won't this guy just take a hint already? The criminal did not seem to want to continue the fight, however, and started running away. Cyborg cursed and raced to the driver's seat of the T-Car. "Celebrate later, BB! We got to catch him before he does any more damage!" The vehicle's wheels squealed as he slammed his foot on the accelerator.
Only now that he tried to catch up did Cyborg realize the true extent of Cinderblock's new speed. The living lump of concrete refused to slow down. Faster and faster he ran, and the faster the blue and white car had to go just so Cyborg wouldn't lose him.
No way he can keep goin' at sixty miles an hour for long, the half-robot told himself, then he looked down at the speedometer and gaped. They were already past eighty, and the pursuee still showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. Cinderblock hung a left onto the Roosevelt Overpass, and he realized he had only a few minutes to stop the villain from reaching the busy roads of the city proper before the real carnage would start. With that much momentum behind him and his disregard for whatever's in his way, we'll be lucky if we can keep the damage estimates below seven digits, to say nothing of the casualty rate.
At this point, he would take any help he could get.
Flickers of red and orange in the sky dragged his eyes from the road, not that he could see anything as he stared at the sun. He shifted his sight back in time to swerve around the car in front of them before returning to the mystery object. A polarized lens rotating into position inside his optical implant caused him to gasp in surprise. What he was looking at was impressive, incredible, impossible, yet there it was, taunting him in all its ferocious glory. His eyes flicked back and forth between it and its target, and a vicious smile grew on his face. Call him petty, but he was going to savor this moment.
Large as an elephant, a screaming firebird soared across the street and swept Cinderblock off in its wake.
"Duuuude. Did you just see that?"
"Saw it… still workin' on believin' it."
The winged inferno rocketed back up and turned its burning gaze on them, and he gulped. His A/C might be top of the line, but if that thing decided to come after them, they might as well be sitting in an oven. Thoughts raced through his circuits, but he could not see a way to survive this. Not for the first time, he wished Raven was still around; fighting beasts straight out of a fantasy novel had always been her shtick.
Chuffing loudly, it dove towards the car. The flames went out, turning the bird darker than a starless night, and it rapidly diminished in size. Rather than hit the windshield, it phased through it, coming to rest in the backseat and changing into a familiar grey-skinned, purple-eyed woman.
His eyes wide, he struggled for words to describe the sheer depth of his incredulousness before finally settling on a simple, "Holy shit."
"I do not believe I have ever seen you shocked speechless like this," Raven laughed. "How I wish I had brought a camera!"
Cyborg exchanged a glance with Beast Boy, whose face was so pale a green that it looked almost normal. It seemed the changeling finally realized the folly of trying to fight the person in the car with them. With that kind of power behind her, Raven was nothing less than a force of nature, one on par with an earthquake or a hurricane: beautiful, terrifying, relentless… deadly.
If she decided to go through with her threats against them, after all, there wasn't a damn thing they could do to stop her.
"While I may no longer be a Titan, I do not like the idea of Cinderblock running amok any more than you do. Shall we work together once more?"
Beast Boy slowly nodded. "S-Sure thing, Raven. H-Have I ever told you how sorry I am about trying to sneak into your room all those times and playing pranks on you while you were meditating and swapping your tea for chopped-up leaves I pulled off trees in the park and—"
"Yes, yes, I understand," interrupted the half-demon. "You are not forgiven, especially for that mention of altering my tea, but considering that was so long ago, I will give you a free pass for the moment. Now will you please shut up? I am trying to determine where our target is headed."
The road! Cyborg whipped around to grab the wheel, surprised that they had not run into anyone while he was otherwise engaged… only to find that the street was some thirty feet below them. The T-Car, coated in Raven's black aura and flying through the air, was catching up to the rampaging criminal.
"There, he's tryin' to reach exit 108! Take us beside him on his right side!" She obliged, speeding their flight, and he lowered his window. His arm changed into its cannon configuration as he stretched it outside to point at Cinderblock's dropped jaw. "When we say stop, you better listen!" The blue blast blew the bruiser off his feet, and he rolled to a halt a hundred feet away.
The Titans' vehicle of choice settled onto the asphalt with nary a bounce. The trio of allies, formerly teammates and close friends, exited and moved confidently towards the fallen villain. "It's over, Cinderblock! Fight or give up, all it's gonna change is how much pain you're in at the end!"
The hulking behemoth pushed himself to his feet and shook his head. Roaring at them, he chose the response everyone there knew he would and shoved himself off the road like a sprinter off the blocks. Cyborg raised his arm again in preparation of another shot, but he was not expecting Cinderblock to then use that speed to jump onto the overpass.
That trick was really getting on his nerves.
"Back to the car!" he called as he spun on one heel. Raven apparently had other ideas, however; a black disc formed below his and Beast Boy's feet and lifted them clear off the ground. "Or this works, too."
A soft growl coming from the woman's direction drifted to his ear, and he slowly turned to look at her. "You okay?" he hesitantly asked.
"That. Is. Enough. He wants a show? I can oblige." Amethysts met photodetector, and she whispered, "Please close your eyes and cover your ears. I would rather neither of you witnessed this."
She smiled sadly. "Even Gizmo and Mammoth, as accepting as they normally are, become a little nervous when I put this side of myself on display."
"So you'll show them but not me?" He gave her a weak grin, the best he could offer at the moment. Her reluctance was starting to worry him. "Rae, I'm hurt."
"Do not say that I did not warn you," she cautioned. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and let it out; when she opened them again, they burned red. Her tattoos — which he now realized covered her entire body, not just her arms and legs — burst into hideous scarlet light, shining eerily through her tight sleeveless shirt and camouflage fatigues. She raised her arms to her sides, but instead of manifesting dark spheres around her hands, she set them ablaze. Even her voice was wrong, distorted and just plain scary, as she shouted, "Host of the damned, army of the Eighth Circle! Raven the Kinslayer commands thee come forth!"
Oh, boy. This… not good. Starfire's goin' to have kittens when she hears about this.
Indeed, a dozen spots on the road had spontaneously burst into flame, and from them rose entities of fire and ash. Their heads were misshapen, their limbs more tentacles than actual arms. Each of these infernal invaders hovered a foot above the ground on phantasmal tails. Bad memories of an averted apocalypse played in his mind as he recalled just how hard these things were to keep down, and he grimaced when Beast Boy whimpered next to him. The two heroes had every right to be scared.
Trigon's flame demons walked the earth once more.
"Cinderblock flees my presence," Raven informed her minions. And ain't that a terrifyin' thought?, a tiny voice whimpered in his mind. "You know his face. Bring him to me. Hurt no other mortal. Go."
Sprouting wings of shadow, the squadron of Hell's soldiers took to the skies.
"That is what I did not want you to see," she told the pair of males, her unholy changes vanishing as she turned to look at them with sad eyes. "I hid it from you at the time, but vanquishing Trigon was not without consequence."
"Inheritance among demonkind is fairly straightforward; humans knowledgeable about that plane often encapsulate it in the axiom, 'You keep what you kill', though it is slightly more nuanced than that. I defeated my father, so I took command of His titles, His warriors. Everything that was once His is now mine. Rarely do I use what I gained from Him, but there are times they give me an advantage. Now, for instance.
"Speaking of warriors, they have returned."
Cyborg glanced up at the cloud of red and black that was carrying a struggling brown mass. "That was… fast. Really fast." Only seconds had passed; that was enough for them to catch Cinderblock and return?
"The abilities of this class of servant are predicated on their Lord's preferences. Where Trigon gave them strength, I instead enhanced their speed." She stretched a hand out to the villain as her soldiers lowered him to their level. "How much does he tell you? Let us find out. Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos."
Raven's dark soul flew from her body into Cinderblock's, and a moment later it returned. "You truly are a pitiful creation, Cinderblock, a golem that has been left to its own devices for far too long. Your maker is gone, and it is time you joined him." She turned around to stare intently at a nearby traffic camera. "Reduce that thing to nothingness and then return to your stations."
The swarm of demons burst into crimson flame, burning brightly for several seconds before winking out of existence.
Beast Boy babbled incoherently, and Cyborg was little better. "You just… killed him? Just like that?"
"No," Raven denied quietly as she floated towards the Titans. "One must be alive to die; Cinderblock was not, nor had it ever been. It was, in fact, exactly what it looked like: a concrete statue animated through magic. A mage of unknown caliber animated it several decades ago to serve as a physical laborer, but when he died, it no longer had a master. Slade was the first to find it, and it has obeyed him ever since, just as its maker programmed it to do."
What could he say to that? If she was right, what she had done was no worse than dismantling one of the missing mastermind's many androids. "You're sure about all that?" he asked.
"I am. When I entered it, there was no soul to speak of, only a meager artificial intelligence." She lowered them to the ground and then joined them after a moment's hesitation. "On the bright side, at least he will no longer pose—" She slapped a hand to her ear and winced.
"What's up with her?" Beast Boy whispered from behind him.
"No idea, but I don't think it's good."
"Slow… slow down… Gizmo!" She huffed and continued, "Deep breath, in and out. Now say that again, but slower… He what?!… No, no, no. I will retrieve her; tell Mammoth to stay exactly where he is, and I will come for him later." Lowering her hand and swirling darkness around herself, she turned to the metallic hero. "Would you relay a message to Richard for me?"
"Tell him that the next time I see him, he is a dead man." With that, the half-demon vanished.
Cyborg raised one arm and connected to their leader's communicator. Upon seeing the vigilante's mask, he commented in a tone of complete seriousness, "Nightwing, I don't know what you just did, but I hope to God you've written out your will. You're gonna need it."
Though Lisa really should not have been surprised, bullets were completely ineffective against Plasmus. The same could be said about Mammoth's various X-shaped bindings, and his grenades were little better. "Remind me what good you are, please?"
"Oh, shut up," he retorted, using his yellow laser beam to slice through more of the goo-monster's arms. "You save me from getting my face melted off, then you can trash-talk."
"Fair enough." She ripped an enormous chunk of asphalt out of the street and stuffed it down Plasmus's craw. Crunching loudly, the giant villain chomped it to pieces that he then spat out of his mouth. "Oh, come on! What's it going to take to knock this guy over?"
"More than I got." Electricity crackling around his fist, he met Plasmus's punch with one of his own. The gluttonous enemy howled in pain as his purple hand swelled up and popped, forcing him to regrow his appendage. The separated ooze sparked fitfully before slowly, slowly, making its way back to the main body. "Or maybe not."
"For all your other flaws, Mammoth, your sense of timing is impeccable!" Turning to the sound of thrusters, she found an odd-looking machine streaking through the air. "Alicia and Carly have arrived! Beauties, aren't they?"
Maybe if I was a gearhead like Cyborg, I'd agree. "Okay, sure. How are they going to help?" she finally asked.
The drones clicked and separated, the twin thrusters and their rectangular connector flying off while the boxy one adjusted its position on a nearby rooftop. Lifting itself up much as Mammoth's armory had, it opened doors to reveal several circles cut into a steel plate. "All my girls have names that identify their functions. Alicia for 'aerial transport', Gretchen for 'guns', and Carly…"
Several holes blew smoke out their back ends and fired rockets connected to thick wires.
The lines soared towards Plasmus and wrapped around one arm. Even as the monstrosity struggled against his bindings, oozing out of their grasp, lightning arced down them and into his semi-liquid flesh. Another explosion heralded the loss of that limb.
"Convenient you have that, but why would you even design those to electrocute people?"
"You ever see anyone fight back after getting tased? Same principle."
"Touché." Taking a chance, Lisa lifted some of the debris left over from her attacks and guided it into the still-sparking matter; to her delight, the blow sheared off even more of Plasmus's body. They were actually going to win this fight! "Get his main body! Enough trauma there should knock him out!"
This time, it was all the wires that flew from the Carly drone and tangled about the purple criminal. Plasmus showed that he did, in fact, possess intelligence as he thinned his body in an attempt to escape the painful prison. It was all for naught, however, and he vanished in a tremendous splat.
She steered the boulder she was riding over the pool of purple, looking for the half-naked body they always found after defeating him. A scream pulled her attention to the man behind the monster and his current predicament. The goo, no longer fried, was creeping up his body and quickly swallowed his head. "Hey, that's not how this works! When we take you down, you freaking stay down!"
"Move!" She dodged out of the way of the falling Mammoth, and another thunderpunch uncovered Plasmus's skin. A third hit, this time without the discharge, landed on the criminal's temple. "There, that'll do— Oh, come on!" he complained as Plasmus's eyes shot open again.
Why the hell can't we keep him under?
"It won't work!" Plasmus shouted, and Lisa's eyebrows shot up. Was that fear in his voice? "He did something to me. I can't go back to sleep!"
Shocking the purple slime off him again, the redheaded giant leaned closer. "Who? What?"
"I don't know what, but the who was some white-haired guy! He said he needed Plasmus and that he couldn't afford to have him taken out of commission."
"Wait, are you saying you don't want to attack anybody?" she asked in surprise. The man was acting like Plasmus was somebody else entirely.
"Of course not! That's why I had the police put me under constant sedation! Plasmus only comes out when I'm awake, but if I'm asleep, no one gets hurt!"
So all the times we defeated Plasmus, we were just beating up some guy who couldn't do a thing about it? Way to make me feel good about myself, buddy.
Mammoth frowned. "Hitting you isn't working, and I don't have any drugs to put you to sleep. Seph, ideas?"
"Nope, not a one."
"Please, do something," the man begged. "I'll take anything. I just don't want to be a monster anymore."
"I'm sorry, Plasmus—"
"Otto." The unfortunate victim in this whole debacle looked up at the two of them. "My name's Otto von Furth. I used to work construction."
"Otto." Mammoth reached behind him and pulled the huge handgun out of his belt to show to the man. "This is the best I've got."
Tears shone in Otto's eyes, and he completely relaxed even as the ooze slapped onto his skin faster than ever. "Please."
The end of the silver barrel touched the man's forehead. "Just so you know, I really am sorry I couldn't do you any better." Lisa spun around; she could not bear to watch what she knew was coming, nor could she come up with any alternative.
Facing away didn't stop her from hearing the gun's single report, nor the clink of the spent cartridge falling onto the street in the sudden silence.
The globs of purple slime in her field of vision seized for a quick moment, then they suddenly lost all viscosity and spread over the asphalt. That more than anything told her that Otto was gone. She hadn't known the man for more than a few seconds, and yet the knowledge that she hadn't been able to save him from the evil that plagued him far more than it ever had Jump City tore at her heart. In such circumstances, death would be a mercy — maybe not to everyone, but she would rather die than suffer as he had — and yet…
"I hate it," Gizmo's voice drifted through her earpiece, almost as though he could use it to listen to her deepest thoughts. "Every time I see them send someone off like that because there's no other way to save him, it rips me up inside. The big guy, especially; he's not cut out for mercy killings."
"This has happened before?" she whispered.
"In our line of work, where we have to go places we're not supposed to be and do things that there can never be records of us doing, sometimes that's the only option. It's not a common occurrence, thankfully; Raven's healing powers time and time again have been an absolute godsend, no matter where she gets 'em from. But not even she can fix everything. When the alternative is leaving your friends to suffer after an IED blows away her arms and legs or a flamethrower burns off ninety percent of his skin, putting them out of their misery is so much smaller an evil that you couldn't see it with a microscope. Doesn't make it any easier to watch, and I won't insult them by pretending to know how much worse it is to be the one actually pulling the trigger.
"Fucking hell, Jinx, what didja do that for?!"
Lisa futilely tried to jerk her head away from the sudden shout, and apparently their conversation had not been as private as she assumed because Mammoth grimaced as well. He snapped nastily, "Do you have to be so loud?"
"Sorry, sorry. I don't know what the bubblegum princess was thinking, but she just blew out my eyes in the power plant. I'll switch to traffic cams, but until I can hack 'em, I'm blind."
"What about Raven?" she asked in curiosity.
Gizmo snickered. "Let's just say she's about to have some fun at the tin man's expense. I'm recording the video, so I'll ask her to send it to you later."
Jinx flicked a crescent of pink at Overload as Nightwing jumped out of the way and smirked when their mutual enemy ducked. The hex wasn't meant to hit him, but the steel cables hanging from the ceiling. Snapping in half, they fell directly on the head of the living power surge, causing him to screech in pain, fury, or both while more energy was diverted from his body into the ground. The overblown static shock couldn't recharge, either; those annoying turbines had been the first things to go, despite the Boy Wonder's glare.
If he wanted to drag out his fights, that was his business, but she had better things to do with her time. Raven was at the top of that list.
"I'm running out of things to suck him dry with!" she called, just managing to dodge Overload's retaliatory rush. Those cables were the last weapons of opportunity she had been able to spot, and unless she could trick him into stumbling into a trap, the temporary allies were going to have a tough time ending this little dance. It wasn't like they could really hurt Overload directly, convenient as that would be.
"Then look harder!" Nightwing ran past her lugging a 2-by-4 that he had ripped off a broken coal crate and shoved it in the baby blackout's 'chest'. It might not conduct electricity like the hero's metal poles would, but she didn't think the weapon immediately bursting into flame was a good sign. "Dammit, I thought I had it that time!"
He retreated to her side and glared at the criminal. "He has some kind of shield generator next to his chip that protects him from getting wet. If we were able to take it away, I could use a cryo disc to create ice inside him and ground him that way, but the thing's squirrelly like you wouldn't believe."
Ice. What else could we do with ice? Her eyes swung about the room, taking in the rusted steel walls, the cracked ceiling, the coal dust coating the floor, the abandoned tool boxes, the remains of the engines… You know, that might just work. It's completely and totally insane, but if we… hmm. "Hey, Nightwing?"
"Yes…?" he asked cautiously, catching the wicked grin on her face.
"How long does the ice from that gadget last with his shield up?"
"Only a second or two. You have a plan?"
She nibbled her lower lip for a moment before she nodded definitively. "Yeah, I've got a plan. Keep him off me for a sec, will ya?" At his affirmation, she spun around in hopes of finding an exit other than the door on the balcony. And of course it's the only one. That has to be a fire code violation of some kind. Oh well, guess I'll just have to make my own. Whirling her arms wildly, she hurled hexbolt after hexbolt into the wall to the side of a small stack of crates, and in short order she was looking at a hole just wide enough for a fairly thin person to clamber through. That'll have to do.
"Hit his feet!" Jinx commanded as she hastily climbed the wooden tower. Nightwing looked up at her in confusion, so she elaborated, "The disc! Throw it at his feet and get through the hole behind me!" The pale blue projectile trapped Overload's legs between spikes of ice, and she leapt from the top of the boxes, pink lightning of her own making following her clasped hands like the tail of a comet. Dropping to her knees the instant she landed, she hammered the ground, her metahuman talent shattering the tiles in an ever expanding wave and throwing up a black cloud as it passed by. Her time counting down, she jumped through the opening she had made and rolled to one side.
When she had met her teammates in the H.I.V.E., they initially bonded over a mutual love of all things that went boom, a love she would admit none of them had actually outgrown as the years went by; alchemy had first lured her in partly because of the variety of explosives that could be synthesized. Among the many options they had discussed on that long-ago day was something Gizmo had called a 'powder bomb', nothing more complicated than some combustible particulate floating in the air next to an ignition source. The most interesting part was the sheer variety of fuels it could use: flour, powdered aluminum, wood slivers… coal dust…
The loud, flat whump and the brief shudder of the ground told her it was now safe to look out, and she smiled at the sight of the burning, broken, Overload-free room. She climbed through the hole and began picking through the debris, Nightwing following a few steps behind her. Soon enough her boot hit the chip that made up the only solid part of their enemy, the red circuits flickering on and off. A powder bomb was pretty weak as far as explosives went, more a fireball than a concussion wave, but since his own energy had served as the spark that set the whole thing off, he had been stuck at ground zero. Mistaking them for people able or willing to help him, he alerted them of his distress with a wavering, "Sys-tem… err-or…"
"Yeah, you're about to get errored." A bolt of pink shattered the thick silicon wafer, and the last remnants of the malevolent A.I. faded away. "That worked better than I expected."
"Jinx, you sludge-muncher! What did you just do?!"
Seriously, who does he think is leading this team? "Don't get your panties in a wad. Overload's out of commission, and I'm—"
A blow to the back of her head cut her off, and she dropped heavily to the ground. Dimly she could hear the backstabber speaking. "Jinx, you are hereby under arrest for vandalism, being an accomplice to grand larceny, and murder, though considering how you just helped me out, I'll do my best to persuade the judge to drop that last charge. I'm not sure Overload can even be considered 'alive', technically. You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…"
Midway through Nightwing's nattering, she was blessed with unconsciousness.
First time we get to watch Raven cut loose a little bit. There's a reason even the Justice League doesn't want to piss her off. The Ternion Trio were interesting to write, too; it's amazing how much tougher they become once you cover their glaring weaknesses.
Not to defend Nightwing's actions, necessarily, but he did say "the moment [Overload's] down, we're back to being enemies". That was still a dick move, though.
Silently Watches out.