I know I have been slow in updating my writing due to real life busyness lately, but the second chapters of my TT fic "Disfunction" and my AT fic "Fear of the Unknown" are well underway and should be posted soon! Until then, here's a one-shot I couldn't resist.
This idea has been floating around in my head for a while, and I finally decided to take a shot at writing an interpretation of Azar and Arella in the TV show's canon. It's always been a bit vague the extent of Azar's powers, so I just kind of went with my own version based on her ability to help Raven control her powers. This was also partly inspired by pondering the fact that Raven's name is her birth name, not an alias, and why her mother would choose that for her. I've been catching up on as many of the various Teen Titans comics as I can get my hands on, and one thing I've enjoyed about the old original Wolfman and Perez stories is that Arella is a pretty badass character in her own right. She loves Raven even when she's completely corrupted by Trigon, and is the first to step up and fight for her daughter's soul no matter what. I'd like to explore her character more one day.
Often in leading meditation or advising those who came to her with their troubles, Azar had encouraged others to try be the calm in the middle of a storm. Today she was finding she had to embody that concept literally. Her normally tranquil city was being lashed by wild winds that made the windows shudder in their frames and the people in their shoes. Lightning ripped across the sky in jagged cuts, providing the only light on this otherwise eerily dark afternoon. Yet for all this rancor, no nourishing rain fell. The universe just seemed to be venting its fury upon the city.
The universe, or something in the room behind her.
Azar turned her attention back to the tempest that had been building within the medical center over the past day. In the middle of the room, their young charge, Arella, curled around herself in the pains of labor, her voice drowned out by a crash of thunder that seemed to last the length of her latest contraction. The storm's synchronicity with the progress of Arella's labor was too precise to dismiss the events as coincidence. Azar doubted she was the only one in Azarath making the connection too.
The cracks of thunder were only fueling the already edgy nerves of the healers assisting Arella. Everyone in Azarath knew the paternity of her child, and had anticipated its birth with trepidation. Even now, though the healers bustled about with supplies, supported Arella's shoulders soothingly, and one stood at the foot of the bed, talking her through the contractions, Azar noted that not one of them would go near Arella's stomach. The one waiting to catch the child had especially clear reservations about her role and was watching the fast-approaching delivery with wariness.
Arella sagged back again as her muscles relaxed, sobbing with exhaustion and trying to take any rest she could get during the short respite before the next wave hit her.
"You're almost done, Arella," the healer at her feet encouraged her. "It's nearly there. Just a few more times."
"I can't," Arella gasped, laying her head back as the other healer moved to help prop her up again. "I can't…"
"You must. Once more, Arella. You can do it."
But she just shook her head, tears escaping beneath her closed eyes.
The girl's eyes immediately opened, looking over. It was the first Azar had spoken in nearly an hour and she knew Arella would not ignore her words. "You are strong. You have survived so much already and will survive this. We are here with you."
Arella opened her mouth to protest, but another contraction cut her off and she was left with no choice in the matter. She cried out again, bearing down once more as the baby moved nearer to birth. Feeling the girl struggling to meet her body's demands, Azar stepped closer and placed her hand on Arella's belly.
She drew the worst of the pain away through herself, all the expected agonies of childbirth, as well as the faint sensation of burning that she knew had afflicted Arella the entire pregnancy. She felt the girl's strength returning, helping her press on with bringing the child forth. And there, around it all, she felt him.
Azar's brow furrowed as she located the sinister presence lurking all-too-nearby, aware of the birth. She mentally placed herself between the demonic energy and the child, repeating in her mind the spell that had banished Trigon originally until she felt the darkness fade back, if not disappear.
"That's it! It's coming out!"
Azar snapped back to herself at the healer's words as Arella gave one final push and the baby emerged into the world. Arella collapsed back, gasping for breath. Azar squeezed her hand, assuring her she had done well.
The healer collecting the baby suddenly yelped, jerking back from the end of the bed as a shriek went up from the newborn. No mewling first cry, the distorted yowls resonated inhumanly, sending an involuntary shiver up the spines of everyone in hearing range.
"No!" Arella sobbed, burying her face in her arm.
Azar rounded the end of the bed and picked up the child gently, though it squirmed furiously in her hands with precocious strength. With Azar's head providing some shade from the room's lights, the baby squinted four very familiar red eyes at her. Across the room, a candle flared and melted to a puddle.
"Shhh," Azar soothed, bouncing the infant gently and projecting an aura of peace around them both. "I know you have been through much today, and I fear you will have much more ahead. But rest now. All is well."
Whether it was her voice, the motion, or the calming thoughts, the child's demonic wails quieted and she relaxed slightly. Two of her eyes closed and the red faded from the remaining ones, revealing violet irises identical to her mother's.
"Ah, there you are." Azar smiled as the tiny brow wrinkled, the child belying its age by focusing on her with an expression of consideration.
"So it did inherit some of Trigon's power," the healer beside her said in a hushed voice.
"She is a little girl, and that is all that matters at this moment." Azar walked away from the shaken healer, moving to the other end of the bed. "Arella, awaken. Look at your daughter. She takes after you."
Arella removed her arm from her face, looking up warily. When she saw the baby, her eyes widened in surprise, some of her fear fading away. "She looks human."
"That she does," Azar agreed, deciding not to mention the red eyes just yet.
Arella shifted slightly on the bed, cautiously reaching one hand out toward the baby, who watched her in return with that same assessing look. As her fingers brushed the child's hand, a spark of dark energy leapt between them. Arella jerked her hand back with a gasp of fear. The baby got startled in return and a ripple of dark energy ghosted across her body as she whimpered, nearly making Azar drop her. Azar quickly adjusted her grip, sending out soothing thoughts again.
Keeping her expression calm, Azar offered Arella a slight smile. "I think it's best you rest now. Sleep and recover. We'll get the child cleaned up and care for her until you awaken."
Azar walked over to one of the less-frightened healers and placed the child in his arms, continuing to send peaceful thoughts to her until the baby accepted the new person. "Tend her as you would any newborn, then inquire into a possible nursemaid in case Arella is not up to caring for her," she instructed quietly.
"Yes, Azar," the healer said. "You will not stay with her?"
"I must consult with the other leaders about the child's future. I trust you to take care of things until I return. Make sure she has someone at hand at all times."
Azar turned left the healers to their work as she headed into the now-still air outside to inform her people of what had transpired.
By the time the divining spells had been cast and read, and decisions had been made, it was well into the night. Still, Azar made the trek back to the medical center to check on Arella and her daughter. The revelations of the child's destiny weighed heavily on her mind, but she did not wish to pass that burden on to Arella at that time.
Walking into the recovery room, Azar was annoyed to find no healers present despite her instructions. She would have to have a stern word with them when she left here. For now, she focused on the new mother.
Arella sat in a chair facing the window, staring out at the stars visible now that the skies had cleared again. Her arms rested in her lap, loosely supporting the baby, which slept peacefully. It wasn't exactly a loving, motherly hold on the child, but it was still a much bigger step than Azar had expected based on Arella's previous reaction.
"How are you, Arella?" she called quietly.
Arella looked back, eyes still tired and a bit dull. Her voice matched them. "I've been worse. They cleaned her up and said she seems to be healthy. She threw a fit again when they were checking her out, but she calmed down when I fed her."
The understatement of that sentence made Azar arch an eyebrow, trying to picture the nerve it must have taken for Arella to agree to nurse the baby when she was in a demonic rage.
Arella noticed her expression and looked back down at the baby. "She seems to like me. She went back to normal when she was with me. When she was done and the healer tried to take her to put her to bed…" Arella swallowed. "She didn't like that."
Azar waited to see if Arella would elaborate, but it was clear she was shaken by the subject. That likely explained the disappearance of her appointed healers. Hopefully, they had simply fled, and not vanished otherwise.
Arella shook off the memory. "But after that she fell asleep, so everything's okay now, I guess."
"Good." Azar walked over, looking down at the baby. She did look innocent in sleep, even more deceptively so than most children did. If one didn't know her history, there were few indicators that she was anything but a normal infant. Her fine down of hair was the same violet her mother's had turned over the course of the pregnancy and the gray tone of her skin, which Azar had initially assumed was the result of a lack of oxygen during the long labor, was distinctively inhuman, but considering her father's appearance, she had been fortunate.
"Have you chosen a name for her yet?"
Arella looked up with emotionless eyes. "Is it worth bothering?"
Azar knew she was asking about the results of their spells trying to divine the child's future. She had intended to withhold that information until Arella had time to recover, physically and emotionally, but perhaps it was best to have it out in the open from the beginning.
Azar sighed slightly, remembering the images of devastation, torment, and terror, and at the heart of it a young woman. At first, Azar had thought she was seeing Arella, but she realized then it was the daughter grown to around the age her mother was now. "It is true her destiny is surrounded by evil and filled with much suffering. The prophecies are quite clear on Trigon's influence. Dark times are coming that she will be the cause of. However, that time seems to be a long way off."
Arella's head was hanging again, a tear trailing down her cheek. "What have I done?"
"Nothing, child," Azar said firmly.
"I never should've been stupid enough to join that cult. It's my fault Trigon was able to make this kid, and now whatever she does is my fault." Her hand tightened into a fist beside the baby, who stirred slightly, brow furrowing.
"None of this is your fault, Arella," Azar said sternly. "You were looking for a family when your own one failed you. The cult took advantage of that, and then Trigon took advantage of you again. The only one to blame right now is Trigon. You are a victim here, and, if my suspicions are correct, so is your daughter."
This had been an unpopular decision with her fellow community leaders. When her dark fate was revealed, most proposed sending Arella and her child back to Earth to protect Azarath. Azar stood firm in her belief that they owed the pair protection and aid since Trigon had come into being through Azar's own mistakes long ago. Besides, she had looked into the child's eyes, her own eyes, and what she saw there was not evil. Not all the way through.
"Whatever she may be in the future, right now she is an innocent child who has done no wrong. We may not be able to change her destiny, but we have many years yet before it comes to pass. As we learn more about the powers she inherited, we will decide further how to respond. In the meantime, since she will have some kind of life, I believe she deserves to have a name."
Arella carefully moved one arm out from under the baby and wiped her eyes. "Okay. I have no ideas yet. I've barely been able to think straight. It's weird, but with the storm and her arriving, I keep thinking of this poem from Earth." She snorted slightly, a grim humor twitching the corner of her lips. "It's one of the only things I remember from high school.
"In it, this guy's sitting in a room, reading, when he hears tapping. He gets scared, since no one's at the door, and thinks it might be the ghost of his dead girlfriend haunting him. But it turns out to be a raven at the window. When he lets it in, it perches on his door and just keeps saying the same thing over and over: 'Nevermore'. Like it learned how to say that one thing and just repeats it all the time.
"Anyway, the guy starts asking it all kinds of questions and it always says, 'Nevermore'. And that answer starts getting creepy the more he asks. Like, 'Will I get to see my lost love again in Heaven?' 'Nevermore.' It starts really upsetting him, but even when he yells at it, he can't get it to leave. It just keeps saying, 'Nevermore.'
"I just can't get that story out of my head. For a while, I could almost pretend the…ritual with Trigon was just a nightmare. But with the baby…it's all real. She's like the raven, forcing me to remember the bad things I'd rather forget."
Azar watched Arella as she spoke. With all that she had endured and her new motherhood, it was easy to forget that the girl was not even yet twenty years old. Her eyes were old before their time, shadowed with the weight of her guilt and shame. Since her arrival in Azarath, she had worked hard to make herself useful and repay their kindness and support. She was still a child herself, only just beginning to accept that she may have found a true adoptive family at last, and terrified of the family she had been tricked into creating. Azar decided over the coming years to see to it that Arella got as much guidance and nurturing as her daughter was bound to need.
"It sounds to me," Azar mused, "that the raven was simply doing the only thing it knew how to do. The narrator was the one who forced meaning on its word. If he had asked his questions more carefully, the outcomes could have been much happier. The raven's abilities never change, but how they are used is what matters."
The dullness faded slightly from Arella's eyes as she considered Azar's words, one hand unconsciously moving to stroke the baby's back.
Azar noticed the sky beginning to lighten on the horizon as the sun prepared to rise. "You should get what sleep you can while the baby allows it. And over the next few days we can talk about how best to direct the abilities of your little raven."
She squeezed Arella's shoulder warmly. Then she sent a wave of peace to the sleeping child. To her great surprise, she thought she sensed a mind brush against hers in return, but it was faint enough that she could have imagined it. When she reached out again to try to draw out another reaction, she felt a tendril of Trigon's essence probing the child's mind as well. The baby whimpered and squirmed in her sleep, a bit of red glowing beneath her eyelids.
Azar felt a rare flash of righteous anger blaze through her and slammed a mental wall down around the baby, driving back the evil presence. She knew in her advancing age, she likely wouldn't be able to be there for the child's entire life, but she swore now that she would give her every tool she could to protect herself.
Across the dimensions, Azar got the impression Trigon could sense her focusing on him and was taunting her efforts, reveling in his perceived victory. Her eyes narrowed as she pushed his energy away from Azarath again with the first incantation that came into her head.