Quick note before we get on with the story. I'm haven't abandoned it. And I feel dreadfull that it took so long to upload since last time. I've been renovating my house, however, and I simply don't have the time I used to to write. So, for a few more months I'll stay in 'super slow' mode, I fear. My sincerest apologies. But building our love-nest comes first...
That being said, I immensly enjoy all of your support, kind words and interest. Above all, RPGPersona, my Beta, has my utmost thanks for my update speed which would be enough to drive any mortal insane. Good thing he's a God amongst men.
I am grateful for the new followers and 'favoriters' of the story. It's always fun to see new interest in the story.
And a special thanks to the reviewers since last time.
Jimmy1201, I'm glad you liked that line.. I was wondering if I should put it in. I, to say so myself, thought it was funny too. Otherwise I wouldn't have. But I was afraid others may not. Good to hear you do. Glad you liked the update, mate. Thanks!
PsychoNinjaWolf, I. Loved. Your. Comment. Also, deleted scenes, lol. I'll concider it. There are many things that I try to fit into the story, however, that don't turn out quite like I planed or that I have to scrap entirely because they don't fit organically anymore. 'Kill your darlings', I still have a lot to learn in that department. But writing this story helped me realize it's true. You are amazing. Thank you for your continued support.
Mochafraptor, Thank you for reviewing chapter 12 & 19. It was a delight to learn of someone new reading and liking the story. Thank you so much! I'm not worthy of your praise.
JasonVUK, I appreciate you dropping your two cents, my friend. Good to see you are still on board. You are great and your comments always make me smile. I thank you.
Arya-demon4-bloodmoon, Again you bless me with your comment. I am most humbled by your praise. I'm glad you liked the chapter. And the nazi zombies. I know they are cliché and I was afraid how everyone would react. But it's comments like yours that helped me get through that fear. So... Your opinion. Fast zombies, or slow? Thank you for your continued support. I'm not worthy!
RPGPersona, Once again you deliver a kick-ass reply. I always thoroughly enjoy reading your insights, multiple times over. You completely get my understanding and portrayal of these characters, by the way. I read that clearly in you post. And that is most uplifting. I also laughed at your Wolfenstein comment. So true. Thank you so much for supporting me through all this. You've really helped me keep on keepin' on. Thank you.
Anon...87, Thank you my friend. Your comment was most welcome and kind.
Chapter 46: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll
and Mr Hyde
Alternate title: Robert Louis Stevenson
Tamara Kenzoé already felt relieved as she loaded the trunk of her old, once white, now rusted Toyota. As if a huge weight was lifted from her shoulders. With her heart content she ran down the list in her mind as she peered into the car. Food. Water. Books. Diapers. Bottles. … The list went on, but she knew she had everything she needed to both take care of Dieudonné and to let herself go for once.
This trip had been a great idea; she convinced herself. She needed this. And it would be a good experience for her son as well. In any case, if his reluctance to cry and wake up was any kind of omen; it was a good one. He might be unaware of it now as he was already strapped into his custom seat; fast asleep. She could confirm as much as she lowered the hood of the trunk. She could just spot his little lips moving in his sleep. Unaware for now, but he'd soon witness a great place. A true part of his heritage. She hoped he'd at least stay in dreamland until she left the city. Judging by the increasing activity of his lips however, this not only seemed unlikely, but also that he'd be hungry.
Feeding him inside her car in the middle of Kinshasa was not something she was looking forward to. Sure, in the last few months she'd learned to get over her sense of shame whenever he called out for food. But still, some shot her looks when she breast-fed in public. And if nothing else, it would be a hassle to put her car aside.
"Just a little longer my angel." She spoke, more to herself than to him as she gently lowered the hood.
She was quick to hobble into the driver's seat and start her engine. It didn't wake the boy, luckily. It did seem to startle him somewhat in his sleep.
"Sorry baby." She apologized.
The road was busy. She noticed as much as she left the underground parking, though that was no surprise. It always was. Kinshasa was a busy city; home to over 10 million souls and quite a few more bodies. All with their own dreams and hopes and lives. Often these differed greatly between the people and some stood in the way of others. Industry. Culture. Communication. These were things that had drawn her here when she'd first fled the order of the Unk Itohali, a remnant cult locked in an eternal conflict with the Da ja Mayakan; their long gone enemy. Her world growing up had been small, confided, limited. She'd wanted to go to the big city and leave all that behind: make up for what she was denied as a child, a place in the larger world.
Though after her time spent in the city, and despite liking it, she couldn't help but notice the flaws of this way and place of living.
The way she drove, the route she took, was a sign of that. She had to circle around the poorer districts of town. The slums into which only the local, hardened residents or the naive clueless tourists ventured. Entering that place was, in the best possible scenario, asking for a kidnapping. And with her kid napping in the car, that was one thing she had to avoid at all costs.
And poverty wasn't the only problem the new city-life had presented itself to the, until then, sheltered Tamara. Her family, while deluded and simultaneously sickeningly overprotective as well as isolating, had always been there as she grew up. Even if growing up had been without many others but the close relatives she'd had; she'd never felt lonely. Something she did here, surrounded by so many people. A city was more than a large town; it was too grand to be a community still. It was a necessity. Looking outside of her car in the slow city traffic, she didn't see one single familiar face in the masses droning up and down the sidewalk. She knew she'd made the right call in leaving. She felt it into the deepest of her very being. Yet, as poisonous as those years had been, she couldn't help but remember some things fondly.
It would be good to return right now. To put things in perspective. To sever what was good from bad. To remind her of both in a safe environment. It would be good. It would.
For a moment, as she paused in front of a red light, she feared she heard thunder. The clouds weren't boding well, after all. And the loud bang pulled her from her lamentations quite suddenly. She sincerely hoped it wouldn't start pouring.
The light turned green before she realized fully it had been a gun shot. A few blocks away by the sound of it. Another reason to leave Kinshasa behind for a few days, it seemed. Not that anyone else took notice, though. The masses droned on. And she could hardly find it within herself to blame them. She didn't let it stop her plans either.
The shot did bring one thought to mind: These last days the tensions inside the city, across the entire continent, and even the world, seemed to be rising higher. Which had seemed impossible in such a gang-infested metropolis. But the conflict had not only spread in frequency, but also size. Talks of war and international threats were on everybody's lips. And crime-rates and instances of violence had even gone up something fierce. Coupled with the famine striking throughout the lands, coupled with the diseases running rampant in the slums and even beyond… A few days away from all the trouble… all the riled up people, was a good thing.
A half-open truck transporting a dozen of stern looking, heavily armed soldiers passed her before rudely claiming her lane and turning to a right. Off to the slums if she was any judge. Their increased presence had been declared necessary by the government; in order to keep the peace. The city, however, didn't react with gratitude to their presence. The instances of '03 still burning in the collective minds of its residents. And even Tamara, who hadn't been there during the soldiers' protests and rebellion, found herself distrusting them. Though to be fair, she had a hard time accepting any kind of authoritarian force that relied on either brute strength or dogmatic teachings. Or both. In any case, she was certain more than a fair share of them were corrupt. Definitely not friends to the people.
She was glad to leave them all behind, even if it was just for a few days. When she found an opening, she maneuvered the old car into it. Driving didn't feel good on her bum leg, but it was a sacrifice she was, at this point, more than willing to make. She stepped on it as she took the final exit.
The car sputtered but held on. Traffic was heavy, but there was no jam. The clouds were dark and gloomy. Yet the rain did not break. Dieudonné was having a nightmare. Yet he did not wake before they found their way out of the city.
All in all, she counted her blessings.
Raven was barely aware of what was happening. Vaguely she remembered phasing her friends through the floor in the utter desperate hope of finding any place better than with that stampede of monsters. But listening to the commotion about her, she feared her attempts were in vain
Her mind was disoriented and scattered, a worn out pit. Yet somewhere in the recesses of her mind, she registered the tugging and pulling. The lifting sensation as her friends carried her. Their voices far off yet unmistakable. They were with her in the darkness. Always with her.
Even as the lightning flashed around her loud explosions in all manner of colors, and even as the angry shapes of dead faces and sharp little teeth haunted her, she knew they had her back. She knew they did everything they could to keep her safe.
And yet. This was not time to be far off. Their screams in distress made her want to return more than anything. Even more than resting. Even with how drained she felt. But to want and to need were two different things, she knew. And she was so very tired.
She'd overdone it. And stumbling, leaning through the hallways, chased by undead nightmares, she was well aware that getting them to safety was now all up to her friends.
The fireworks raged around her. And quite the show they proved to be, still she felt far from celebrating.
"Move!" Cyborg ordered his comrades.
And Nightwing didn't even need to overrule this new chain of command. Instead he helped carry Raven, who leaned on both him and Beast Boy as her incoherent words tried to reach them, Cyborg's leader was only focused on reaching the looming valve in the distance. He had his hands full with getting the young witch to safety. All Cyborg and Starfire could do was lay down a suppressing fire and hope to get them there. The walls seemed thick and strong. If they could close the circular door and open the closed one at the other side, at least they'd lock off the onslaught behind them.
Cyborg did his best to work in tandem with the alien princess. Shooting an arm or a leg of the undead freaks proved ineffective, to say the least. Nightwing had pointed that already. But Cyborg had figured as much himself. He'd always prided himself on being a fast learner. And Starfire too had proven to be quick on the uptake.
As the monsters rushed madly and without strategy, or regard for their own wellbeing, from the narrow, dark corridors, they aimed at the same targets. At least blowing of both legs slowed them down. Though, it seemed, for every undead Nazi monster set to crawling hastily towards them, two more able-bodied specimens took their place in the charge.
"Get in!" Starfire shouted frantically as they neared the heavy metal door.
He shared her distress. They'd reach the chamber in time, there was no doubt. His calculations showed as much. But if they'd have enough time to close the door from within before they were overtaken by the swarm? Of that he was less sure. And if they didn't, the small room was blocked off by a similar, shut door at the opposite side.
It would be a dead end.
In more ways than one.
And yet, there was no other way than forward in this maze of concrete and steel. As the silent horde advanced relentlessly, even his motion trackers suffered from sensory overload. In this narrow space their numbers were too hard to count. Thirty? Forty? Fifty?
Too many. Too close.
Their bony hands reached out, ready to grab and scratch and tear. Their teeth clapped. Ready to bite and maul and rip apart. They were so close now. Cyborg even had to kick one in the chest, lifting it up with his foot and using his propelling thruster to send it flying down the hallway. Even then it did not complain or grunt. It merely rolled, found its balance very quickly, pushed itself up and rushed back for them.
It flew through the air once more as two blasts claimed its legs by the knees.
Walking backwards and never ceasing fire, Cyborg found himself at the edge of the heavy steel door. The hands of his friends were already guiding him, pulling him in closer so they could shut the door and stop the tidal wave of death. But before it would crash impotently on an impregnable wall, Cyborg's cybernetic eye scanned a true problem. One they simply couldn't afford with the monsters as close as they were.
The latch on the inside of the heavy door. It was busted, broken and torn. They would not be able to fully close the already half-closed door from the inside. The dark gloom set on him instantaneously as he realized some poor bastards must've tried shutting it from the inside as well, up until the handle had broken off. It was hard to think of whoever it had been as anything but a poor bastard, even if he or she'd been a Nazi. Seeing the creatures and their fate first hand, Cyborg wouldn't wish them upon his worst enemy.
And yet, it seemed, history was about to repeat itself.
He stumbled backwards as his friends pulled him in. As he fell to the floor he shouted. "No handle!" As he continued to fire his blaster desperately from the ground. "There's no handle!"
"Damn it!" Nightwing exclaimed, hunched over and on one knee next to him.
From this angle Cyborg could not read his face. But he was certain his expression was one like his own. Anger and despair, mixed together into a miserable cocktail.
"Blast 'em back. Give it all you got and buy me some time!" The young leader screamed.
Cyborg was quick to reroute his circuits at the command. All systems flowed over to the cannon on his arm for one mayor pulse. His leader too knew of this ability. And he knew also, all too well, that it'd overstress the gun. One powerful blast. That was all they got. It would take Cyborg minutes to recuperate. Minutes they didn't have in a fight like this.
And yet, at the words of his captain, Cyborg couldn't help but comply. The pulsing blast ran throughout the bleak hallways. It's shockwave more than enough to blast all of the foes along with their dismembered yet fighting limbs all the way to the other end.
He felt drained. Exhausted. Groaning as he did so, he slid onto his back fully. It gave him the perfect view of Nightwing taking out one of his batons and pressing a secret button it. At least, that was what Cyborg assumed he did. In an instant one of the blunt ends transformed, showing a much sharper form than before. And with one powerful strike, as the zombies at the other end of the hallway clambered back up, he lodged it into the center of the broken off handle.
"Star!" The young leader screamed over the sound of the nearing stampede. "Help me pull!"
She was quick to appear by his side. With the both of them tugging at the improvised handle, the heavy steel door began to close, bit by bit. But it was heavy and made for hard work. The small handle, Cyborg could tell as he struggled to stay awake, did nothing to help that. Their combined struggle closed the door inch by inch, but in the distance the horde was already moving forth in a terrible advance. Victor didn't need his computer half to tell him that at this rate they'd still be swarmed.
There was only one thing he could do, he knew as he tried his damnedest to get up. He had to step outside and push the door shut. It would be the only way and at least would allow his friends their chance of making it out of here alive. Even if it meant turning into one of those things.
The prospect didn't entice him much. Being doomed to wander about these hallways forevermore. Clicking his teeth and searching for prey that would hopefully never come. Wandering between life and death, unable to escape. But he had no choice. Not truly.
His arm shook under his own massive weight as he tried to push himself up. Sweat dripped from the human side of his face. He feared he'd be in no position to even push the heavy door, but he had to try. He had to.
It became a mantra, spooking through his mind. He couldn't fail. He had to. He had to.
But someone beat him to it.
Leaping past him, Beast Boy darted out of the door, closer to the ever-nearing horde of undead.
"Beast Boy!" Cyborg found himself calling out alongside Starfire and Robin.
And yet the boy kept running closer to the advancing wall of death.
"I'll find you later!" The boy shouted down the hall as he stopped, far too close to the nearest zombie for Cyborg's liking. "Whoa." The boy shrieked, turning back hastily and with wild gestures from his arms.
Turning back the boy was only a few meters ahead of the monsters. But as he transformed, that distance grew greater. Within seconds a green water buffalo was rushing towards the door, now almost closed but not quite yet. Cyborg could almost see the steam coming from his great nostrils. Closing the last meters, its horned head bent down and aimed straight for the steel door.
"Beast Boy!" Cyborg found himself calling again! But he was too transfixed and too worn out to do anything else.
The sound as his heavy horns collided with the door was deafening. But with a mighty push, it finally shut all the way, cutting off the changeling from the rest of his team. The room they were in, without a light, turned pitch black.
He could not see, only hear. And all he heard was the lock clamping shut.
Jason Todd felt the inner turmoil lashing out. Even now, long after he'd made his decision. Still, it pained him to make the deal, even as he opened the suitcase. Its metal clasps echoed through the abandoned warehouse. With great care he flipped open the top lid, revealing his prize inside. Two glock 23 Gen 3 .40 S&W Semi Auto pistols, 4,01" with barrel 13 rounds. Slick. Black. Beautiful.
He wanted these. Longed for them. His finger stroked one of the barrels in its soft padding. But the vendor ruined the moment magnificently.
Coughing his lungs out before he spoke, the overweight man wearing a stained grey T-shirt and brownish coat known as Donny-deal asked him if he liked them. The man's spittle found his from his infected gums all the way on the guns. The anger within lashed out even further. A sour taste spread across Jason's mouth. But he guarded his tongue. Part of him wanted to leave them there now. No matter of cleaning would get that mistreatment of such beauties out of his mind. But this wasn't a matter of want. It was a matter of need.
A thousand dollars. A thousand dollars that insane masked vigilante had slipped him. Jason hadn't the foggiest idea why. Guilt in regards to his father? Pity? He didn't want either from the Batman. And so the young man's first instinct had been to shred the bills to pieces. His pride wouldn't let him take such hand-outs.
But… Having lived his entire life in poverty… In poor conditions… Even now squatting in an abandoned apartment, working minimum wage, part time and stealing scraps and car-radio's and tires to just survive… A little voice inside him screamed out to the overwhelming urge. A little voice that, undeniably, told him just how much money that was. All the things he could do with it! Consider…
But any meal he bought with it would turn to ashes in his mouth. Any set of clothes would make him feel like a jester. Any gadget. Any pass-time… He wouldn't be able to enjoy any of it. He knew himself too well.
So if he wasn't going to enjoy anything he purchased… He might as well use the money on something he wouldn't enjoy. Something that haunted his desires ever since he came to this god-forsaken city of Blüdhaven. Vengeance. It surprised him, even as he shut the case carefully, that he hadn't even thought of spending the money on a charity rather than the one thing that had been consuming his mind for a long while now. He didn't like that side of himself. And even yet, here he was, and seeing the tools to exact his revenge, he knew he couldn't turn back now.
Eight of them. Eight thugs had jumped him the moment he'd entered Blüdhaven. They'd beaten the living crap out of him and had left him for dead. They'd taken his stuff; the few possessions he'd owned. And both worst and best of all; he knew where to find them. But he needed to be ready. Ever since he got that job he'd been saving up for a wooden bat. With some stealthy moves, patience and a weapon at his side he'd be able to take down all of them, rather than half like last time.
Weeks of saving up the pennies to buy that wooden clobbering stick he so longed for. And now, all of a sudden, he had the opportunity to surpass that level by several steps.
He only needed them for this one thing… Or so he told himself. So he could get his stuff back. So he could get his dignity back. So he could put those bastards out of commission and make sure they wouldn't repeat their criminal ways. With necessary measures that masked vigilante wouldn't dare take. He just needed them for this one thing. They wouldn't know it was him. They wouldn't come back after him. Then he could resell the weapons and give the rest to some charity and then he could go on with his life without falling too deep into this pit of criminal behavior.
He already had a balaclava in his backpack. Now all he had to decide was whether he'd knee-cap the sons of bitches with his mask on, or to put them permanently out of their own misery. In the case of the latter, he wouldn't need the mask.
But… Could he? He'd never actually killed anyone before. He'd felt like he could on several occasions. But he'd never had. He pushed the dilemma from his mind for now. He'd always been better at deciding on the spot. He just had to take this thing step by step. And right now, all he had to do was close the deal.
"Are they traceable?" Jason asked.
"For the price you asked? You bet your ass." Donny said as he picked his big, bloated alcoholic's nose. He wiped his finger on his cap. "Untraceable is double. So you could've gone for one, but you asked for two. Good thing about these beauties however..." The man smiled a stomach-turning smile with his brown and black teeth revealed. Jason could see the hardened puss right underneath the man's gums. "Is they belonged to two crooked cops. And from what I hear, the Blüdhaven police department can't afford any more scandals. Last night's reveal about the hospital is already being marked as one of their failures; having to need a Gotham cop to come sort things out that had been happening here for years. You got a good chance they wouldn't even report the bullets as coming from these guns to avoid the public shame."
"And if all else fails; don't get caught?" Jason asked.
"That works too." The man chuckled in a tone that could only be described as 'greasy'.
"So what did we settle on again? Six..."
"For you? 750 dollars."
Jason sighed. The man would always be a hog. Cash or food. Always a hog.
However, even he seemed to catch the look. "What?" He asked. "That includes the bullets."
Jason knew better than to argue. If he bought the guns from any other dealer, he wouldn't be sure they'd keep their mouths shut when eight thugs were found in the gutter the next day, executed by glocks. Donny ripped you off. But he didn't stab you in the back. There was a sense of honesty in his spitting you in the face. "Then throw in the bat for free." Jason bargained. A small concession, considering.
"Bat? What bat?"
Jason groaned. He'd asked for the bat specifically. Sure he could go buy one in your nearest Wall-mart, no problem. But it was a matter of principle. He cursed himself for having to work with this class of people. He had to stop himself from reaching into the case and pull out the gun. He liked to think he kept himself in check pretty well through his iron will. But truth be told, he wondered just how much he had to thank this aversion of conflict to the knowledge that his business-partner would be packing. By the time Jason would've pulled out the guns and had them locked and loaded, he'd have been ready to push daisies.
"I asked you to pick up a wooden bat as well." He pointed out, his anger showing.
He'd been dreaming about getting even at them all this time. Night after night he'd exacted his revenge, breaking their kneecaps and even skulls if they dared retaliate. Close. Personal. With guns at hand, it would be foolish to only rely on that weapon. But he wanted it regardless. If only for the last man standing.
"You're going to bring a bat to a gunfight?" Donny coughed and laughed nonchalantly.
"It was important." Jason grumbled.
His supplier simply shrugged. "Look." He said, turning around and looking around absentmindedly. "I deal in weapons. Not sporting gear. But if you must insist..." His voice rose as he found something, rummaging through the abandoned gear in the warehouse. Turning, he showed a crowbar. "Here." He said tossing it. Jason caught it mid-air. "On the house."
"This is not what I asked for." He warned, pointing it threateningly.
The man's brown smile was disarming. "Oh come on, what does it matter? What are you so obsessed over the bat for?"
Involuntarily, Jason's eyes were drawn to the metal in his hand. The man's words, along with the crowbar in his hand brought back memories from last night. It all came back, full force. The car. The conflict. The words spoken. The bat. Was he being obsessed? What did that man try to prove by handing him a thousand bucks? What?
"You can beat someone to death with that just as well as with a bat." The man said, obviously unaware of his inner struggle.
"Even better than a bat can do, I'm betting." He mumbled to himself. He knew it to be so. He'd prove it. "Fine." He said, louder this time. He took the money from his pocket and threw it on a nearby dusty table. He was quick to reach for the case with his hardware and move for the exit.
He'd had enough of Donny's presence. And he had bigger fish to fry.
And yet. The man didn't even have the decency to just let him walk out. Clearly somewhere deep and buried, the bells of conscience rang within him. Only after the deal had already been made, of course.
"Hey kid." Donny called out.
Jason paused with his hand and the crowbar on the heavy-two part metal door. He didn't say a thing, nor turned back. But froze all the same.
And that was all the encouragement the supplier needed. "This ain't like you, you know?"
"And how would you know what I'm like, Donny?" Jason asked coldly.
"You seem like a good kid at heart. You got… what do you call them…?"
"Principles. Yeah. Principles."
"What's your point? I do have principles. They might just not align with what you would think. We all got a little light side and a little darkness in us. And I get tired of denying what I know I need."
"This is a dark path you're choosing kid." Donny warned. But Jason could hear the resignation in his voice. In a criminal world, it didn't' pay to have heart. "And if you get killed. That will be sad. But that will be the end of it. But what if you don't get yourself killed? Have you thought about what then? What comes after?"
"Keep making this place a little better. Corner by corner. Or die trying" He opened the door. "That's principles, Donny." He said walking through it into the cold. He didn't look back once.
Beast Boy held his breath. And if he could actually close his eyes, he was certain he would have. The insanity of what he'd just done still rushed through his mind's eye. But the other eight he had looked through the halls below him, even if he didn't want them to. But as a green member of the jumping spider family, his eye-sight was not only prime, but without eyelids it was also non-negotiable.
But all in all, his plan had worked. And even as his tiny heart was working overtime, the rational part of him knew he was safe. In terrifying silence the upside-down monsters below him stayed gathered at the heavy, metal door. As if waiting for an impulse, they just stood there. Occasionally one would clack its teeth together, but that was the extent of it. They'd rushed for the door. But there was no way they could push through. And none of them noticed the small arachnid he'd turned himself into. They'd only had eyes for the larger prey now safely hidden from them. It was as if they'd disappeared off their radar.
Curses for himself, for getting him into this situation, alone and dangling over a group of flesh-eating, walking Nazi corpses, curses kept going through his head. His eight legs and armored body hugged the ceiling for protection as he crept away as fast as he dared. There was no way he'd be turning back into a human before he found his friends again. No way was he going to risk it. Besides, there was no point. There was enough steel and weaponized concrete in here to make their communicators useless.
He just had to find a hole. A crack in the walls or the ceiling. Anything at all, so he could make his way back around. Now all he had to do was scuttle off and find his way back to his friends. The entire bunker was impressively made but, despite its defenses, it wouldn't be able to stop a shapeshifter. His eight legs started moving, dragging him across the ceiling and further away from the partially dismembered, hungry, silent horde.
"I'm sure he'll be fine." Nightwing promised. His features stern in the single point of green light of Starfire's glowing hand. "He had a plan."
"More than I can say for us." Cyborg grunted.
The overcharge had taken its toll. It seemed to Dick that his friend, currently lying with his back against a wall, was having trouble staying online. He couldn't quite find it within himself to fault the big guy in his snarky tone of voice. They had all been counting on him, as their leader, to guide them through this ordeal. Instead, he'd just lead them blindly into a deathtrap. When all they could do, with the world at stake, was chase after their foes like bloodhounds, he'd failed to provide a better alternative. That didn't make him a leader. It made him a follower.
Down on one knee, with a barely conscious and exhausted Raven in his arms, his failure was abundantly clear. Sure. None of his comrades were dead. He was certain he understood Beast Boy's plan. But the situation was bleak. The entire operation is a fiasco. And now they were stuck in this room.
"What was it, do you think?" Starfire, looming over him, asked timidly. Her eyes in the dancing light also aimed at the other female titan.
"I think he changed shape." Nightwing explained. "As an insect or a mouse he could pass by unnoticed. Like a fly or a mosquito or something." He moved the girl over to the wall and laid her against it. As he checked her pulse, he went on. "Of course, this room is shut down. He'll have to find another way around."
"So what's our play now?" Cyborg asked. "Venture deeper into the den?"
Nightwing found the girl's pulse to be satisfactory, though her soft mumbling to herself was a little disconcerting. He shook his head in response to his friend's question. "No." He answered. "We could open the other side of the vault. But… Pushing through just like this is too dangerous. It won't accomplish anything for us, even if we were to avoid those things for the rest of the way. What good will it do us to face off with the horsemen? Cyborg, you need a complete reboot. Raven is drained. And Beast Boy needs to find his way back to us. Staying put is also the only way he can find us in relative safety. He'll figure that out on his own."
"I don't like shutting off when Raven's out too and god knows what's happened to Beastie out there."
"I understand. But you're not helping anyone in this state. Raven will recover in the way she always does. You must too."
"And what if the horsemen get out before we get to them? What if they get what they came for?"
"You sent out the message to Batman, remember? Asking any available Justice League members to stay on guard outside. Batman is aware of the risks inside the bunker. The League won't enter willy nilly. But they'll keep anyone from getting out."
"You really believe they'll be ready?"
"I believe we're not. That's all that matters."
"Nightwing..." Cyborg tried.
"Rest and reboot. Now." Nightwing ordered. "That's an order." He stressed.
Cyborg was reluctant. But obliged none the less. "Aye aye, captain."
His friend's lights went out. And soon Raven's mumbling quieted down. The young vigilante resolved to keep an eye on her situation. But he wasn't truly worried for her, as of this minute. He knew she'd pull through; back at her own strength.
For now, his eyes darted to Starfire, illuminated only by her own hand's green glow. Shadows dancing across her perfect face.
"So..." She started. Her voice heavy. "Now what?"
"Now we wait."
Her eyes darted down. He could tell. She swallowed. He noticed every single detail. For years to come, he was certain he'd be able to recall the way her eyes darted back up gingerly. Every careful breath she took. The way she, for a split second, bit her lower lip.
"And talk?" She asked.
He nodded. "And talk." He agreed.
The horseman of war's legs strode; bleeding his dominance over the world. He was close now. So close. The vents and embarrassed; cowardly crawling left far behind. Standing tall he felt the prophet he knew himself to be, once more.
The final hallway. He was almost there. The heavy, double door was lit by flickering lights. It's heavy lead surrounded by weaponized concrete. And the hallway's only inhabitant for the last seven decades or so finally noticed them. It charged them with remarkable speed.
It had once been an original test subject. Its rotten cloth, even befitting once he could still properly be called alive, was now torn and almost non-existent. In its half-naked rage, its silent storm would have taken the heart of any lesser man.
But, befitting of a warrior for the Red God of War, he kept calm. A master strategist didn't let something as trivial and mundane as panic cloud his judgement. Calmness was the key to control. And control, as in any conflict, was everything.
"Now." He ordered as the monster was only a few metres away.
One of the two other horsemen, stepping in tandem behind him, reacted to his command. The flexible body of the Horseman of Famine stretched out. The plates in her numerous, uncountable appendages forming a solid wall now. Her mask looked straight ahead as the plates kept pushing deeper and deeper into the hallway.
There was no screaming, but War could hear the thing stumble backwards as the wall of metal rushed in. He could hear it being shoved and pushed back as he and his comrades advanced. And when metal wall kept creeping closer and closer to the metal door, there still was no sound of dismay. But the cracking of bone and the tearing of old flesh was audible.
Famine's stern, masked face did not change. No matter how much force she applied. Until finally, a stinking goo pooled out from between the two metal layers and pooled at their feet. Only then did she retract, as to give him a good view of her work. The body was all broken bones and muscle: more mush than corpse. And still it moved, tried to get to them, even if it was beyond any capacity to do so.
"Well done." War praised. A second later he turned to Pestilence. "Do not feel left out, my friend." He assured. "Your time is nigh. Soon, you will see the true extent of your powers." He placed his hand on the man's shoulder. "But for now, move aside." He nudged his fellow horseman out of the way and reached for the control panel next to the heavy doors.
Back in its day, the Nazi complex had been state of the art. Fueled not only by the riches of a ransacked Europe and a dehumanized population, but also by the innovations of war. The electronic locks. The backup generators still going strong to this day. They were all testimony to the ingenuity mankind was capable of, if properly motivated.
And yet. None of this technology. None of these superweapons. None of it at all had been able to secure the Nazi party their victory. They'd been so close. So destructive. So simple in their ideologies. But they'd still kept them. Kill. Destroy. Conquer. All for a better world. A stronger world. A German world.
And in their hands, even their arsenal had turned into a joke. Transformed into something that could be attacked. A fight without ideology. Now there lay something one could not attack. A madness one need not defend. A force not held back by petty morality and visions of blind men.
Its beauty lay in its simplicity.
And as he pressed the code into the number-pad, he felt one important step closer to bringing it into this world. Each number brought him closer.
"Be ready." He warned, as the light-bulb above the heavy door turned green, even after all these years. "They'll be in there."
Alfred drove through the rather unfamiliar streets. Looking in the rear-view mirror, his boss and so much more, Bruce Wayne, made his face turn sour. At least, more so than usual. He felt like half a parent saying it, but what was he to do? Frankly, the boy needed a good scolding.
"I you don't mind me saying, sir..." He started, addressing the billionaire in the backseat of the luxurious limousine. "I do believe the mayor wanted you to review your notes for your speech. Not playing 'angry birds'."
For a second Bruce readjusted his attention from the smartphone in his hand to the papers on his lap and on the low table in front of him in the car. Then, he just absentmindedly smirked and continued his own way.
"The mayor wants me to dig deep into my wallet and support this city in light of this new tragedy. He wants me to invest in a new hospital here. A proper one. He doesn't care about what I say, as long as I invest."
"To be honest, master Wayne, the old one did work. It just happened to have a secret lab of inhumane amorality hiding underneath it. I don't honestly understand why they don't just renovate the old one?"
"The people of Blüdhaven need something, Alfred. Something to believe in. You can't just give them this hospital of horror, patched up. They need to believe in their city. They need a new hospital to take this wicked one's place. So Bruce Wayne must offer one. And it will make it much easier to transport more gear for the Batman into Blüdhaven as well."
It was short and controlled. But as Alfred turned a corner of one of the busy streets, he uttered his discontent with a solemn 'hmm'. And yet, the master knew him well.
"What is it Alfred?" He asked.
"Alfred." Now he took a fatherly tone.
He'd taught him well.
"Well sir. You know I have my reservations about your nocturnal activities. I've come to terms with your insistence on bearing the weight of Gotham on your shoulders. How I reconcile that with my promise to safeguard you baffles me every day. Yet, you are Gotham's Dark Knight. And nothing I can do can change that."
"What point are you trying to make, Alfred?"
"Well, Master Bruce. I accept that the batman must help Gotham in ways Bruce Wayne can't. And they are both needed to save the city. But now we find ourselves in Blüdhaven. You've nearly spent more time there than in Gotham these past few weeks. If Gotham, the house of your forefathers, is what you want to save, sir, should that not be the total focus of your abilities? There is no shortage on crime, even after all these years."
"That's the thing, Alfred." Bruce sighed. "Blüdhaven and Gotham. They aren't the same, but they are linked. The first and second most crime-ridden cities of America, respectively. And Gotham may only be less so because of the diligent efforts of Jim Gordon and my own. It's no coincidence the two are so close by one another."
"I suppose it never is, Sir."
"What affects Gotham, affects Blüdhaven. And vice versa. If I want to save Gotham. I need to start looking outside of Gotham too."
"So you'll just rush off between the two cities then? And have Miss Gordon do it when you're unable to? I say, the already daunting task of providing you your meals whenever you get back from a night of crusading will become impossible."
"I don't need your snark, Alfred." He said, though he seemed somewhat amused.
"Right you are, sir."
"Though you're right..." He replied, leaning back in the sofa. He seemed exhausted. "It's not possible to be in two places at once. Not even for someone with two personas."
Alfred let his silence speak for him.
"Look at this place, Alfred." Bruce beckoned, peering tiredly through the tinted glass. "I see dealers pushing wares on kids. Those kids turning tricks on the streets to support their habits… I see theft, rape, murder, … I've long suspected that it's crime bleeds into Gotham, and in reverse. And now, we find it housed a secret hospital for super villains… For Blüdhaven to be saved, Gotham needs to be free of the darkness that resides within. And for Gotham to be free, Blüdhave must be released from this evil grip. This place calls out for a defender to take it under his wings. As much as Gotham does. And it needs one. Just as much as Gotham does."
Alfred took some pause, and not only to wait in front of a red light. "Be that as it may, master Bruce..." He concluded eventually. "It is not calling out for the Batman. It won't be you. You can't do both."
"I know." The Wayne heir agreed solemnly. "I need someone here permanently. Someone I can trust."
"Is that why you're so invested in the boy, sir?"
"Who?" Bruce asked, returning his attention back to his papers, not his phone but his papers.
It was clear to Alfred the man was feigning his ignorance. Even now, once in a while, he could read him for the young boy he'd once been.
"The one who had me up all night waxing the batmobile, sir." He reminded him. "Is he to be this city's protector?"
"The boy had talent..." Bruce admitted. "I'll grant him that. But he can't save anyone. Not before he chooses a righteous path. He has the spirit… but I'm not sure if he has it in him to walk the difficult line without toppling over. No… Blüdhaven may deserve a hero like that. But it needs one sturdier. More in line with him- or herself. Someone experienced…"
"You're not certain about the boy, Sir?" Alfred asked, finding that part of the conversation much more engaging. "Pardon me for saying so, but I don't think I've often seen you uncertain."
"I can tell someone has potential." His boss replied levelly. "I can't force them to put it to good use."
"You can't, Sir?"
"What are you implying Alfred?"
"You gave the boy a thousand dollars, Master Wayne." The old butler explained, making another turn. "Was that out of guilt… Are you just going to give him a wad of money and try to buy off your sense of guilt? That you couldn't help him, and now this meager sum will make things better?"
"You don't understand, Alfred." The Wayne heir sighed, looking out the window.
"I do believe that if you feel like you want to help this kid, you think you know a better way. Lord knows I'm against it. But when has my opinion ever stopped you? All I wish to say, sir, is that this gesture of yours, fine as it may have been, is not a substitute for guiding the boy. And either do, or don't. But don't look for the road in between."
"Really, Alfred..." Bruce turned to him. "You don't understand. The thousand dollars wasn't to pay off my debt. It was to give him an opportunity."
Yet again, the old butler let his silence do the talking for him.
"I laced the money with a chemical, traceable by the Batman's satellites. As he spends his money, we'll see where."
"Mhm. You're trying to see what he'll spend it on? What he'll do with it?"
Alfred pulled the car over. The large city hall loomed over them. The impressively thick and protected glasses in the limousine protected them from the crowd of reporters, and their racket, outside. But not for long. Already Bruce was straightening his suit and getting ready for the mob. It was just another mask, another disguise, for him to put on.
"We are here, sir." Alfred concluded calmly.
Through the window between the driver's seat and the more cozy backroom, his boss extended his arm; offering his custom smartphone.
"Thanks Alfred." He spoke. "And you are wrong about one thing only."
"What's that, master Bruce?" Alfred asked, accepting the phone.
"I'll be busy in there. So you'll be seeing what he spends it on." Bruce smirked. "Keep me informed, would you?"
"As you say, sir."
A curt nod. And then Bruce opened the doors of the dark limousine to a world brightly lit by the flashing of cameras.
Flashes of violence and mayhem. It had been pure violence and mayhem. Nigh on a score of the monsters lay incapacitated. War would say dead, if he believed it. But still their dismembered limbs sprawled and crawled for them. Yet, slow as they were, he did not worry.
Instead he took breaths. Deep, long breaths. To find himself, again. Lost down here, in the deep… He needed to focus. To wipe the sweat from his brow and move forward. Rekindle his holy mission.
This was the senselessness he'd long sought for, was it not? The simpleminded, horror-rooted destruction. Battles for the sake of battles. A small taste of the promise of what's to come.
Inside the large room containing the, roughly, rectangle Lazarus Pit, he sank to his knees. His long life and all the decisions he'd made flashed before his eyes. Leaving him disoriented and strangely melancholy. Even out of breath and his vision hazy and obscured by the past he noticed the dismembered arm clawing for him. In the distance his fellow horsemen were mopping up the final halves of enemies still in big enough pieces to cause harm. They paid him no mind. And yet he could feel like what were forty dead eyes focusing on him. Judging him in where his path had led him.
And for a moment he couldn't blame them. He was tired. And the goal of his old life was so close by. One dip and perhaps even the infection that doomed him to join the wandering dead could be fought. Like a drug, his old ways called back to him. Tried to convince him.
On his knees, deep underground, in a place where no just god would dare enter, he prayed. Prayed to his lord, master and savior. The Red God. Not just. But powerful. It had lead him this far. And he needed the God to lead him just a bit further. Just one sign to keep him going. To keep him on the path; knowing it wasn't a spiral of insanity he chased, but something real. Something more real than that tempting pit of rejuvenation. Something worthwhile of all the sacrifice and hard work. For putting all on the line and returning to the one place that haunted even his dreams all these years later. He had to know. Know that it wasn't in vain.
The arm that reached for him was close now. Would another scratch half the time the infection needed to take over? He wondered. Be it absentmindedly. But he wondered.
In any case… It caught his eye. Rotten and nauseating… He wanted to turn away. But morbid fascination kept his attention, as it moved to close the last of the distanced. So close now, to attempt a scratch.
He knew that arm. Knew who it had belonged to. A major of the Nazi troops stationed here. Gerd. And around his wrist was the one thing that left no doubt for a positive identification. One of the oldest wrist-watches in ancient mystery.
It was simple and elegant in design. The leather band black. The clock itself small, round and white. Long ago it had stopped working. But it was wondrous still.
And yet… Stuck in time.
His blade struck down, pinning the hand to the ground, piercing it from top to bottom. The fingers wriggled impotently. He tore the broken watch straight from the arm, ripping through what remained of if, in one decisive pull. With some fury he tossed it into the Lazarus Pitt.
"Fix that..." He panted. "I don't need it anymore."
Drawing his sword from the ground and undead remains, he strode towards the remains the arm had come from. Gerd was only a head, torso and one arm up to the elbow by now. It wasn't hard to kick him in the chest and avoid his snapping teeth.
Quickly War sank to one knee and rummaged through the former man's chest pocket. He remembered. He remembered how Gerd had been the last one to hold the final key. And lo and behold, his faith in the Red God was rewarded as he pulled it out.
There were limbs and heads and bits and pieces that reached for him. But he didn't care in his self-assured strut. He was certain. Certain of his protection. And as his partners mopped up the last of them he joined them at the other side of the mostly empty, vast room.
With only one entry-point, of heavy thick doors, this second pair didn't lead out exactly. Instead it led into a smaller lab. A controlled lab. Behind thick glass behind a decontamination shower. One of many in the bunker.
Ceremoniously and proudly, Immortus handed over Gerd's key to Pestilence. As much as he wanted to do it himself, this was meant for his comrade. It was the man's destiny. He saw the horn behind the thick glass of the sealed room. Inside another glass container in a big machine. He could send in Famine. She'd already proven her worth ten times over so far. But that wouldn't be right.
"Go." War spoke. "Make us proud."
Pestilence took it without a word and used it to enter the door. Immortus could imagine the horde of zombies making their way to them because of all the ruckus they'd made. But soon it would matter not. His brother was already past the heavy doors and into the isolated, quarantined area. He could see him, behind the thick glass of the sealed room. And the moment he entered, the one other occupant rushed for him. Mad with purgatory, the undead scientist rushed for him.
Pestilence, still meek and weak, started his trial by fire; raising his spray-gun to block the incoming sentinel; the guardian that protected the horn, amidst man's metal contraptions. A quick jab of the butt of the gun also kept its teeth from sinking in. Its claws managed to rake, but the man's clothing and gasmask offered a substantial layer of protection.
But still, he was pushed off balance and found himself scrambled across a table. War would've been lying if he hadn't admitted to a sense of uncertainty. Strong his faith though may be. Pestilence had to push through. Had to prove his worth. But as the monster lunged, things looked bleak.
And yet, heavy tank on his back and all, Pestilence managed to avoid the strike. He didn't, however, get clear of it clamping onto his back as he stumbled to his feet. Its hands were on him and the teeth sank down.
War's hands cramped up. It was only cloth, he told himself. Only the man's old coat. The room was dark, but he could not see spilled blood as his brother threw off the assailant and sprayed him with the gas. It did naught but create a thick enough cloud to narrowly dodge the next swipe.
Just as things didn't seem to go anywhere for the horseman, he managed to put a heavy desk between himself and the monster. Reacting quickly as the monster regained its bearings from the heavy cloud, he summoned all his strength and pressed it forward.
War could see what his ally attempted to do. To pin down the monster long enough to claim the horn. If he could just get to it. This entire ordeal would be over. And yet, the monster climbed on the desk even as he pushed it. It was too late to pin its lower body.
He did, however, managed to pin its foot. The former general could almost hear the bones snap. The monster lunged but fell flat on its chest. Rather than trying to finish it, Pestilence opted for the smarter route. Instead it sank the Nazi dagger Immortus had retrieved earlier and handed over to him, into its wrist, pinning it down on the desk on two different parts. And as it struggled to get free, shredding off parts of its own body as it did so, Pestilence ran from the infected monstrosity and towards the glass container.
With one foot standing the opposite way and one hand cut into two flaps, the zombie fell to the ground and struggled after him. But Pestilence reached his destination well before his half-hobbling and half-crawling adversary could intervene. And soon, as he smashed his spray-gun into it, the container exploded into shards. He reached for the horn as the monster reached for his shoulder. It pulled him close. A single second too late. The horn in his outstretched arm, Pestilence lost balance and fell back onto his assailant. The weight of his gear packing quite a punch but having no effect.
And still… In the commotion he managed to roll aside and slide up the bottom half of his mask. With the air filter out of the way, his mouth became visible. And as the monster made a mad swipe for it, he put his lips onto the mouth of the horn and blew.
Immortus could not hear it. But he imagined it all the same. He swore he could feel it. And it was beautiful.
The infected stopped. Its nails one single inch from his cheek. As one struck by all manner of maladies, it knew its master.
"Well done brother." Immortus breathed from behind the glass. "Well done."
He could feel the power surging through him. The immense, undeniable force.
They were so close now. He could taste it.
Garfield Logan had transformed into a larger variant of the huntsman spider, all to crawl faster to his destination. But it was easy to get turned around and lost in the poorly lit underground maze. Let alone when you were upside down.
After what seemed like miles and miles to his eight, seemingly long but relatively short legs, the realization dawned upon him. The single flaw in his brilliant plan to save his friends.
He had no clue as where to go…
The crossing he'd arrived to drove that nail further down. How many curves had he taken before coming to this point? How many cracks in the walls had he entered and left, trying to find a hidden path around or into the protected chamber. Did that chamber lay behind him? In front? Left? Right?
It could be either of them. All he was fairly certain of was that it was still on the same floor as him.
Though, truth be told, even that could be wishful thinking.
In a way, he seemed no different than the other lost souls aimlessly walking around underneath him, awaiting stimuli. At least they'd calmed down. Shuffling from time to time… He could see three of them, though he would be loath to face even a single one on his lonesome. As a way for ranged attacks seemed to elude him for the moment.
And yet…. He'd have to think of something. Rather sooner than later. For while his friends were relatively safe for now, he dreaded to think just how much of a lead Immortus might be getting.
Perhaps he could drop down, turn into a bloodhound, sniff and turn back into a spider. It was risky, and keeping one animal's senses in mind, after changing back into another one wasn't as easily said as done. But if he could pull it off… In a flash… Perhaps…
He, however, never got further than pondering that option. As one the three creatures he saw with his eight eyes bobbed their heads up. And what was worse, he could feel why.
Something dark. Unholy. And to the core unsettling rushed through him. Like a wave of darkness. The promise of not an oncoming storm, but rather of the destruction that it left in its wake. A dreadful darkness that grew gradually like the decay of a body wrecked by sickness.
He almost fell from the ceiling as it came crashing down on him. Yet he held on sturdy. Eight legs and all.
The zombies moved as one. Not in their rushed attack from before. They moved with purpose. Not one to shred and tear and infect. Their steps were steadier. More human like, almost. And in their new pace, they all headed towards the same direction. The right hand path of the crossroads. At least to the upside down hero.
Following them was utterly stupid for many reasons. And Garfield knew he'd been referred to as the king of stupid on four separate occasions. So, he knew stupidity.
If they were headed towards his friends. He needed to be there.
And if they weren't… Than just what the hell was exerting such force on them. Such force that it could press its will on sacks of incurable diseases that rotted away any semblance of the thinking mind.
That… he couldn't let go either. And doubling back for his friends would take precious time they probably didn't have ...
The mission came first, Robin often said.
And right now, Beast Boy feared, it came down to him.
Even in the tension of it all, trapped in a dark room with two partners out of commission and a third missing in action, fell short to the sheer anxiety Nightwing's in regards to the heated silence between Starfire and himself. It hadn't been like this for long. But the scuffles of words flung from one to another, seconds or eons prior, helped create the short silence's shape. It formed it, molded it and gave it weight. And in its short existence it had turned into a true behemoth.
Starfire's light had gone out at its start. And the darkness that sank in was like an exclamation mark to the lack of sound. It punctuated further how upset she was, losing the ability to utilize her energy. He'd seen it only once before. And it hurt him even more than then, to see her like this. Especially because he couldn't see her at all.
He rummaged through his utility belt and blindly picked a flare. Igniting it, the white light flashed brightly, showing she'd turned her side to him; holding her arms around herself as; like him, she was seated with her legs crossed.
"You know I'd never do anything to hurt you." Nightwing felt half his age as his voice croaked.
The heated clashes from before the darkness still stung. But he tried. Tried to fix things. Had to.
She turned away, slightly more than before.
"There's nothing between me and her." He argued. "You know that… I don't want her. I want you."
"Do you?" She asked.
Her voice as fragile as his.
He tried his bests to understand her reaction. He did. Truly. But the accusation stung. It hurt. To hear her doubt that. Yet he swallowed, literally and figuratively.
"Yes." He breathed, earnestly in the flashing light. Lost for words at her continued silent treatment, he tried on, carefully. "You have nothing to be jealous about with Batgirl."
Her spontaneous snort told him she thought otherwise.
He exasperated at this point, unsure where to go. Unsure what it was she wanted to hear. What more he could tell. "I told you; nothing happened between her and me!"
She turned now. Faced him. Her visage one of a terrifying mixture of rage and grief. "I do the believe-ing of that!" She bit her lower lip. "I believe you." She repeated. But the tone of her voice told him much more than those three words. They vowed this didn't matter in the great scheme of things. That the doghouse had more than one door to pass through.
"Then what is it?" He asked, opening his arms. What can I say? What can I do?
"This is not about the stealing of you, Robin."
"What do you mean?" He ignored her using his old name.
"It's about not the giving of you."
He leaned back. He was dumbfounded. Unsure what she meant.
"I don't follow..." He tried.
"The batgirl, she already has you!" Starfire exclaimed.
It must have seemed so logical. So simple. So reasonable… In her mind. But Nightwing had a hard time keeping up.
"But I said… But you said you believed me?"
She sighed. Deeply. "She has you." He could, in the flickering shadow, see her fingers cramping up. "She has you in a way I never had. A way you never shared. Not with me. You cannot do the telling of me she has not. I have Nightwing. Robin…" She added. "She has the real you. The person you can be outside of the costume. Can you do the offering of that to me? Would you ever have the voluntarily?"
His inability to reply swiftly cut her deeper. He tried to get himself to say something. To find something to soothe her. To get back in the game. But the truth of her words had knocked him out of the field itself. The last thing he wanted was to hurt her. But any conciliation escaped him. Standing before his own failure, and realizing he continued it rather than bridged the gap that it was, broke him even further. Like a chain-reaction. As he looked away, to try and find his voice, he could tell her head sagged as well.
"Starfire..." He tried.
His hard-earned attempt was cut short by the sound of a computer rebooting. Indeed, Cyborg's lights were coming back online. Perhaps he wouldn't prove as good as new. But Nightwing knew the man would be ready and eager for another bout against the undead horde.
"What did I miss?" Cyborg asked cheerfully after a few seconds of finishing his reboot.
The end of the world, Nightwing felt. At least mine.
And perhaps it was her empathic side shining through, somewhere in her inner darkness. But, in the twin lights of Robin's flare and Cyborg's shoulderlights coming on, Raven's head bopped up. "The end of the world." She spoke. "It's near."
The boy Grayson would have been cheerful to see his teammate back in the land of the conscious. But her paler than usual skin and her completely, ink-black eyes ruined the moment. Even her actions told her she felt sick. She seemed half asleep still. He hoped that didn't mean she was only half there. Because whatever else the other half was that was locked in there with them, was terrifying as hell. And its pressure weighed a ton.
"The oblivion is nigh." She spoke, panting heavily. Her head continuously sagging under the effort. Yet every time she lifted it once more. "You cannot stop it." She added, her voice growing deeper. "You cling to life so. Despite disease. Despite starvation. Despite violence. But I await all, despite your valiant efforts."
"Yo… Rae..." Cyborg was the first to find his voice. "Snap out of it girl."
He laid his hand on her shoulder. Her head snapped up. Focused now. The half-robot had just enough time to regret his actions. "Oh boy." Cyborg exclaimed before he was sent flying back in the small chamber. The force wasn't enough to knock him out, but he remained plastered where wall met ceiling.
Nightwing reached for his belt. But without even looking his way, he felt himself lifted into the air as well. And he saw the same happen to Starfire. His back crashing into the cold hard metal hurt like hell. But the unseen force continuing to push him into it, continued to squeeze him into nothingness. A nothingness which emanated from her and was therefore even more crushing. Such force was on his chest that even breathing was not an option.
"Ah." He managed. Through squinting eyes he could see her cloaked figure rise and put its hood back on.
Raven, or whatever it was, turned from the three of them to the door leading deeper into the bunker. With her back turned against them, she spoke in a dark voice that wasn't hers: "He has no need to take your lives. But he will." She claimed. "But not yet. I do not kill. I am merely the guide. Do not follow me. Do not seek me. I will find you when it is your time. So do not interfere, it's not your souls he needs." She concluded before walking off and phasing through the thick door.
When she'd disappeared, Nightwing felt the pressure fade away. He fell to the ground and hurt his legs in the process. But at least he could breathe again.