Intro: Well, this wound up being another long time in coming, and I must admit that it's all my fault. For some reason, when I have absolutely nothing to do, I become less motivated to engage in writing… try to figure that one out. Anyway, writer's block and the numerous publications I've finally released (check I have the same pen name there. Current releases are Mind Trust and Serenity of the Nine) should at least provide slight mitigation for my absence, as should the arrival of this nice, enticing chapter. Enjoy Peeps.
Section 6: The Quiet War
Chapter 24: New Beginning, New Mysteries (Section 6, part 1)
Titans Tower Rooftop
The new dawn in Jump City was not a silent, tranquil one. Like clockwork soldiers, the city's army of construction contractors had been working incessantly through the night and day to clear wreckage, the fire fighters had been quenching the smoldering remains of buildings, and the police had been patrolling every street and sidewalk in a rather futile attempt to bring a sense of security to the newly paranoid young populace of this modern metropolis. Wafting up with the scent of salt water came the smell of days-old smoke and dust, clouds of it still hanging ominously over areas where homes and businesses, the physical aspects of peoples' very lives, had been shattered. It was clearly symbolic of the whispering fears that crawled through the city streets still, the ache of lost loved ones and the treacherous terror of the lingering dead infesting the minds of those still living with a terrible burden.
Skye knew all this clearly as he stood on the roof of this titanic fortress, taking in the group mind of the city's populace, inhaling the unconsciously shared thoughts along with the sea breeze and the scent of broken lives. It was an awful smell, a biting tang to the nose and mind at the same time, and one all too familiar to him. It was a smell of war, of battlefields, the kind of vicious, nasty battlefields without even the pretense of rules or honor that he'd spent the entirety of his teenage life shifting between. But most of all, the thing that truly bothered him, that which had kept him up all night holding vigil over this unsettled urban landscape, was that it was a scent he particularly associated with his thrice-damned sibling and the hideous plots that creature always had cooking. The merest thought of his odious twin was enough to keep him up permanently, and he'd spent the time in meditation on many things, but mostly he'd just searched. He had to find Urth, find him and put a final end to whatever he had planned.
A pooling shadow formed at his heels, and he spared a fragment of his concentration to beckon the arriving personage with a gentle psychic caress. In a moment, the shadow had shaped fully into its feline grace, and then darted up his body in a spiraling crawl that ended on his shoulder.
"Any luck Ben?" Skye inquired without much hope, so that he was not disappointed when the cat expressed his lack of success with a dissatisfied tail-flick. That made two of them that couldn't track him down, and he listened to Vera reading out probability projections and intense mathematical algorithms far beyond his understanding, fully resigned to it being three of them without success when she finished.
Urth was brilliant beyond reckoning, truly a child of their parents, and would not be found unless he wished to be found. However, he was also completely insane, and while recklessness was not one of the symptoms, Skye knew for a fact that his brother's illness did little to inspire the loyalty of others. Many times now he'd managed to sniff out that beast through the mistakes of disgruntled minions, and it was quickly looking like this would once again become his only chance. This was around the time Vera requested more data for her projections, and so Skye shook his head in resignation and turned his mind to the many other things he had to contemplate.
Raven stared into the brand new mirror of her vanity table, nervously brushing her hair over and over again. She'd barely slept the night before, and this morning she'd showered, dressed, and groomed even earlier and more hastily than usual. Then, for some reason she was still distressing over, a completely irrational fear had taken hold in her mind, landing her firmly in a small cushioned chair as she stared into her mirror, brushed her hair, and worried.
Last night had been something… strange… something wonderful… and she had to admit that it had changed something inside of her. The reason for this particular freak out was simple: she'd checked her closet this morning and realized she had nothing to wear. She didn't own a single thing other than these drab leotards and concealing cloaks, and for the first time in her life… she actually… cared! It was infuriating at the same time that it was mind-blowing at the same time that it was utterly embarrassing.
It was an odd insight into a mindset that she had once considered completely foreign, an alien world of teen magazines and clothing stores that had never, and still didn't, contain any interest for her. She had never (and still didn't, she had to keep reminding herself) cared about things like that for even a split second, but now that she actually had a guy she wanted to impress, what did her mind immediately flash to? In the end, it wasn't that she was nervous to meet with Skye again, it was that she was just so wrapped up in trying to think of how she could even momentarily be concerned with such drivel. Or at least that's what she kept telling herself.
She finally snapped out of it when she found herself checking through her arsenal of acne prevention medication and likewise utilitarian toiletries for makeup, sitting up in a huff and flinging her hairbrush across the room. She kicked herself mentally a dozen times for her cowardly rerouting of anxiety, almost stupefied by how irrational she was being here. First of all, she didn't care about any of that stuff, even if general media had rubbed enough of it into her to make her wring her hands over her monochrome wardrobe in this instance. It was that she was nervous to speak with him again, and it was silly of her to place those nerves into anything else.
What truly spoke to her in the end, what actually wound up calming her down even, was just how goofy it was to worry about any of that useless crap where Skye was concerned anyway. The guy was blind in anything brighter than candlelight, and had perceptions that made the outer surface perhaps the least interesting dimension of a being to interact with. She'd stumbled across a guy to whom beauty truly was only skin deep, and she'd managed to worry for forty-five minutes about what she was going to wear to their first meditation meeting. At the same time that she chuckled about this to herself, the thought resonated with one of the many she'd sealed away yesterday, and a shady thread floated out of the knot of anxiety.
She was looking into a mirror with Skye at her back, looking to see what he saw when he looked at her. The breathtaking image reflected back was still frightening in its intensity, such depths of gorgeousness almost beyond her ability to comprehend, especially in light of her feelings about herself. Snapping that thread of memory back in its box, Raven caught her breath from the head rush it brought, resolving to untangle that mess as soon as possible. If it kept leaking like that, her powers would be funking up before dinner.
Sitting back down for a moment, she considered momentarily the fear within her heart. Rejection, mostly, was what it boiled down to, the fear that the gooey warmth within her would shrivel and die with a single word of exclusion from a source she had no control over and was completely incapable of predicting. The fear fizzled icily within her, and on a whim, she turned back to the mirror and looked somewhat more critically at her own reflection. Closing her eyes, she tentatively touched that knot of memories, once again drawing forth an image of the way Skye saw her. A tear escaped her eye momentarily, and she cut the memory off before her powers could react. That sight, taken a bit more carefully, did much to instill her with confidence, and she realized that perhaps she was doing a great deal better in the pure looks department than she might have feared.
Deciding that was as good a resolution as any, she girded herself to enter the world again. There was a breath of shadow, and she was gone.
Titans Tower Rooftop
Arriving on the roof, Raven was rather unsurprised to see Skye already there. For a while now it had been as though she knew generally where he was, as though some invisible thread connected them, and somehow she figured he was very much the cause of the phenomenon. In any case she strode silently toward him, staring at his back and noting that that handsome feline of his currently graced his shoulder. She continued to approach silently, knowing better than to believe she could surprise him and not wishing to disturb the heavy contemplation that hung around him like a regal drapery. Finally, she got within about ten feet of him and stopped immediately, a chill running through her body as though she'd just stepped into a meat locker. The chill passed quickly, and she immediately felt… well… free.
A day without meditation had left her struggling to contain her powers, unruly bolts and bands slipping out in ways she'd learned to keep discreet. The instant she'd passed that invisible wall, all the unconscious tension melted out of her instantly, as though bled into the very air. Granted all of her anxiety, lingering embarrassment, and all but a shadow of her pleasant gooey feeling had also evaporated, but considering the spectacular burden that had been lifted… she couldn't keep quiet any longer.
"Skye—" she reached out to grab his shoulder and turn him around, that whole '360 degree vision' thing not overcoming her natural desire to look at his face while they spoke.
"It's not a good idea to touch me right now," he said quickly, in a deathly empty voice, and her hand stopped an inch from his shoulder reflexively. She pulled it away and began to rub life into it, silently wondering at the intense cold of his flesh. If stepping near him had been a hard draft, nearing his skin had been like dry ice, and the cold had almost burned. She wondered, but she didn't let it stop her.
"Skye, good morning," she started, very internally delighted that she'd once more managed to keep her very own neutral voice despite, uh, everything. "Er, did you move at all since last night?" she tried to continue with a bit of small talk before the conversation got started in earnest.
"Well, I don't need as much sleep as regular people, so I tend to disregard it unless I need to regenerate my powers or otherwise hit the astral plane. Even still I end up getting a great deal more than I actually require." His voice was still stiff and cold, but it began to gain an edge of life as he spoke. Recognizing this for what it was, Raven made her first move.
"No—it's okay," she muttered as she stepped up next to him and began to contemplate the bay as he had, "Don't worry about the mask. I certainly won't." There was a flash of shock from him that rippled through the air, then died a muffled death as the cold air around him sucked it back in. He pitched her a look stacked with meaning that lacked any trace of emotion, then turned his head silently back to the bay.
"So aren't you going to ask?" he inquired emptily, and she managed to start slightly at the question despite the muffling cold around Skye and the fact that she'd been expecting it.
"I… kind of already know what it is," she responded after a moment, and Skye looked at his feet for a moment, breathing deeply of something that made him cringe in disgust.
"Yeah, this is my power when I don't hold it back. In the natural state, the vampiric embrace trolls the area around my body for sustenance at all times. It's not so bad when I'm alone in space, I'll release my grip on it and relax, since I feel its touch at all times weather or not I contain it. However, when I'm around other people, I feel a rather strong obligation to keep it bottled up. Nothing kills a party, or any other kind of pleasant situation or sensation, faster than… well… me, and thus I've spent most of my life being avoided like some kind of leper or pariah."
"Well, I… I kind of like it," Raven managed to admit, relaxing into the cool sensation of utter calm like it was a favorite chair rather than a chilling pox on her soul. To be free of emotion… without having to work at it… it was what she'd envied in him most, and now she found out—ah hell. She'd always known that it could be like this.
"Heh, I find it kind of surprising to hear you say that," and it was odd to hear him talk without emotion and yet somehow still express humor, "considering if I'd let loose like this three days ago you'd probably be trying to strip the flesh from my bones right now."
"Ah, well…" she averted her face, suddenly grateful for the embracing chill that kept the blush from surfacing, "I guess I've grown up a little since then. I was… afraid of you, of what your powers could do. But this…" Raven paused to appreciate the caress of spiritual calm that burgeoned out of Skye in delicious excess, "this is like a dream come true."
"Well hey, inner peace is about the only thing I've ever had too much of," Skye joked in that painfully deadpan tone, "so help yourself. Anyway," he changed the subject quickly, "didn't you have some meditation to do? I've been reading some chaos in your energy since you came up here, and I can't help but think you'd want to get on top of that."
Raven was stunned, and no doubt would have had an episode of some kind if the circumstances had been other than what they were. As the words registered in her head, it was as though someone had pulled the rug out from under her and she was falling backward into oblivion. A piercing ringing filled her ears as she felt the universe begin the slow process of crumbling around her. He'd… he'd as much as slapped her in the face with a rejection, right off the bat…
"Lets go ahead and get started then, we can link up once we're underway," he finished his statement, bringing Raven's self-destruction to a skidding halt. She took a deep breath and tried to wrap her mind around what he just said. Filing her almost-terminal panic attack away for later self-kicking, Raven managed a slightly bored smile and a nod, despite her burgeoning confusion. She didn't know if he'd detected her borderline mental catastrophe, but he continued with "If that's all right I mean. I could understand if you'd not want me messing around while you're trying to iron out your soul and all…"
"No!" she snapped a little too eagerly, then looked away quickly by reflex to hide another blush that would be consumed by Skye's aura, "no… that's fine. Normally I need quiet and complete isolation to keep everything… frosty… but somehow I don't think that'll be a problem this time." He nodded at her, all appearances pointing toward his total indifference. Only the slight waves of pleasant sensation penetrating the muffle of his vampiric embrace spoke to how happy he was to have synced with her in this.
"Great…" he mumbled, shifting slightly—his first movement since she'd arrived—and urging Ben off of his shoulder and into his arms. "I'm going to find some shade before the sun gets to bothering me. Please, don't wait up on my account."
Raven didn't turn as he walked back toward the center of the roof and the stretching dawn shadows that crept along the expansive surface. Breathing slightly more heavily than she felt comfortable with, she examined closely the way the pleasant draining did not subside as he moved away. Somewhere in there he'd begun draining her directly, separate from the automatic touch of his ever-hungering vampiric core, and though she hadn't had the guts to ask for such a service, it was exactly what she'd desired, and she couldn't help but be appreciative.
Ending her nerve-ridden contemplations, she cleared her mind, stepped off of the ground, and began to lower herself into the quiet place where she would reorganize her body's energy from. Hovering in midair, she whispered her mantra once… and was there. It had been a long time since it was that easy.
Staring out at the infinite starscape in which she was suspended in her state of oneness, Raven began to consider the systematic repairs she'd need to make to her control matrix, her distribution paradigm, and of course, the obnoxious knot of strife she'd set aside to get herself functioning the other day. For a while, she was totally absorbed in this, managing to forget Skye, her friends, and everything else in the wash of deep technical concentration. Finally, realizing she'd need to go deeper to get most of this done, she began the process of complete introspection.
In almost no time at all, she had arrived in her own inner mind, the microcosmic constructed representation she had herself put together to regulate her vicious powers. Generally after such a long period without meditation, the place would be looking rather shabby, and there was no exception this time. Floating stones that should have formed distinct continents spiraled in chaotic masses while shooting stars and milky auroras melted through the air. There was something however, a sense of calm that was very rare to this place, a kind of depression in the atmosphere she wasn't at all familiar with. It didn't take too many guesses to place this phenomenon, and Raven moved her meta-avatar through her mind in an attempt to discover what else might have resulted from submitting to Skye's aid.
Before she could manage this, however, there came a tapping sound, of all things, as though someone were clicking a quarter against a pain of glass. It took her completely off guard—everything here was supposed to be a product of her own mind after all—and the all-encompassing, incredibly obnoxious sound was nothing of her creation. That left one person as the logical source, and that lead her to exactly where the noise was coming from. The forbidden portal… a rather melodramatic name she'd always thought, but some of her aspects had a distinct flare for drama, and it was those divisions of her mind that gave this place shape, so she abided by the names they chose. She arrived to find the tapping noise blasting out of the portal's flat expanse, and quickly moved to remedy the situation. Standing at the edge of the swirling vortex, she beckoned for his entry with a teasing thread of telepathic energy.
As he transmitted through the gateway, his energy morphed wildly to conform to her personal reality. First an outline formed, a dim tracery of a man within the greater outline of her trademark winged-cowl shaped portal frame. On his left side, grayish mist congealed into the wire-frame of his body, while on his right, a thousand discreet streamers of silver light poured in from the plane of the portal to fill in the void. As she waited patiently, the great mess of motion and sparkling solidified into a discernable presentation, and he had officially arrived.
Stepping forward to greet him, she couldn't help but note the stylish wardrobe change he'd managed to conform his energy into. He was casual dressed for comfort and utility, as far as she could tell, sporting a loose black designer T-shirt hanging low over exceptionally comfortable-looking black denim shorts and a pair of sneakers so black she expected them to start leaching the gray out of the stony ground. The look was almost alarmingly effective considering his starkly white skin, glaring out as chiseled biceps and calves and that rakish, unbelievably perfect face… surprisingly sans-sunglasses. His empty whites took in her world as he finished settling his mental probe into its rather unique manifestation.
"My… but what do we have here?" he asked in clear wonderment, his eyes widening appreciably as the crimson stars and eclipsed suns illuminated a plane of rocky crags in an endless nebulae. Raven almost choked on her own tongue when she realized he was genuinely impressed, and managed to squeeze her delight into something resembling smug satisfaction as she grabbed him by the arm and muscled him out onto the platform before the portal.
"Well Skye," and she was ecstatic to hear her voice as calmly smug still, "I'd like to welcome you to the plane of my mind. This is all a construct I use to help keep my emotions restrained and maintain spiritual fortitude."
"Yes I see…" Skye sounded distant as he swept his eyes around the panoramic view, "a quasi-reality resulting from translated manifestation of the macro-dipheminal feedback of the conscious and subconscious luminal circuits..." he paused briefly after snapping out his utterly accurate psi-jargon analysis of her construction, "It's… well…"
Raven was still rather laden with swelling pride at how much she'd impressed him with what she considered a rather common introspective tool, but his final hesitation tipped her off. She felt herself bracing for his dismissal, the moment where he mentioned the thousands of better ones he'd seen in his travels through the galaxy. Though she was careful to betray no outer change, she'd wound herself quite tightly before he finally found the words he'd been looking for.
"Spectacular." He finally finished, and stood calmly taking in her world though those expansive senses.
"Oh, well, it serves my purposes," Raven muttered demurely before she realized what he'd said, then froze in a quiet paroxysm of shock when it finally registered. Quirking an eyebrow at her impressive modesty and sudden stiff silence, Skye went on with his praise.
"I must admit, this is impressive by any interpretation," he began, reversing Raven's grip and pulling her stiffly unresponsive self a few more steps out into her meta-substituted microcosm. "I've seen other astral beacons like my own, and I've seen the inside of innumerable conscious minds… but to take the two and intertwine them like this… its just plain neat. Almost like the natural progression of some comatose delusions… only more responsive to the—" he went on and on in eloquent, complex, and continually novel praise. As he began to break down her world and describe it in terms of high-order psionic theory, she finally got her wits about her and cut off his tirade. As she gave him her best blankly annoyed glare, she tried to recall having ever known a person more fond of his own voice.
"Thanks for the lecture megabrain, but I didn't let you in here to let you tell me things I already know." Their eyes met and he smiled nervously at her, and suddenly she was very much aware that their arms were linked, though she managed to keep it off her face as she continued, "I let you in because I still have plenty of questions… and it was you who suggested we talk while I work."
"Uh, so?" Skye asked, eyes remaining locked to hers until she finally pried them away, pulling out of his grip at the same time.
"So follow me, and don't mess with anything," she snapped at him, then took of at a moderate hover toward the edge of the small island of stone holding the portal. After the slightest hesitation, he followed right after her, stepping from the edge of the precipice without even flinching. The glowing black stone that caught his feet and bore him along after her was there right on time, though she found herself mildly ticked that he hadn't asked for it formally. Pressing that petty thought from her mind, she formulated her first query.
Titans Tower Common Room
"Are you guy's seein this?" Cyborg asked, tone steeped in heavy incredulity, raising his voice slightly over the clank of silverware and ceramic plates moving at relatively high speed.
"I don't know," Robin replied, almost too calmly in the face of this situation, "all things considered, it's most likely just an odd dream I'm having."
"Well that means you and me are having the same dream man, and last time I checked, that kinda thing doesn't happen," it was Beast Boy who responded, face atwist with an expression of utter disbelief as he stood well away from the spectacle of gastronomical excess that currently held their complete… and horrified… attention.
"It is my belief that the condition of our awakeness holds no bearing on how… odd… this spectacle is," chimed in Starfire where she stood behind Robin, "this is… how should I say?—off of this planet?"
"Well hell, I didn't bake these waffles to sit by and not get any!" Cyborg snapped decisively, stepping toward the table and taking a seat across from the young blond woman currently stuffing her face with everything that came to hand.
"Dude… I seriously don't think it's a good idea to—" but Beast Boy was too late, and there was a blurr of movement and a twanging thump that caused everyone in the room to gasp harshly.
"Okay, you can have em all…" Cyborg almost whimpered as he pulled his hand slowly away from the quickly dwindling stack of waffles, the fork that had been planted into the table between his fingers still vibrating slowly from the force it had been launched with, "I'll just get some leftovers!"
Terra had started the morning off normally enough, coming in to the smell of batter and bacon at about the same time everyone else managed to. They were generally pleased to see her up and about, if still utterly unresponsive, and as Cyborg finished working his turbo, 6-tiered waffle iron, they had all settled down to what appeared to be a wonderfully normal breakfast considering the circumstances of the past week. Robin had popped open the day's special edition of the Jump Times to see how the media had managed to twist the little he'd authorized for release, Beast Boy had commandeered the funnies and taken to his ritual of trying to get Starfire to comprehend earth humor, and Cyborg had flipped on the big screen on the far side of the room to search in vain for something that wasn't news reports about the battles of the past few days. That was around the time it had happened.
First there had been nothing, another quiet morning's breakfast. Then there had been the oddest growling noise, drawing everyone's attention inexorably toward their mute companion. Her hair was hanging down over her eyes as she leaned forward over the table, and there had been a distinct gleam of… hunger… through the shimmering golden veil. Some instinct that went deeper than thought had them all up and away from the table just in time to escape the frenzy.
"I don't know what's up with her," Robin commented, beginning to go slightly green as Terra finished off the waffles and began blazing through the sausage patties, washing it all down with occasional pulls from the syrup bottle, "but I know who can tell us."
"So as these stones are organized?" Skye asked calmly as he watched thousands of small pebbles sift in swirling clouds through the air around Raven.
"As these stones are sorted, so is my spiritual energy and soul," came her detached explanation as she orchestrated the dance of a billion pebbles through three dimensions of exceptional complexity. Eyes aglow with her power, she floated in full lotus position at the center of the spiraling mass as Skye watched from outside, a veritable lightning storm of black telekinetic force permeating the gravely miasma. It was kind of odd to speak like this while her power was in full force around her, but as far as she could tell it wasn't bothering Skye, and with the chilly presence still subduing her powers, it was easy to multitask. "I found long ago that it was much more satisfying to sort through these then abstract discreet quantities of my power."
"I can certainly understand that," agreed Skye amiably as he watched with those mysterious empty eyes, seeming to catch and record every minute motion of the representative tokens that cascaded around Raven. She had the creeping feeling that he was memorizing her organizational system for some unknown purpose, and almost lost control of the milling clouds of her power in the face of these self-conscious contemplations.
"So Skye, tell me," she began to ask yet more questions to distract herself from how weird it felt to have someone watching her perform this most personal of self-maintenance tasks, "What's it like to cruise around space the way you do? I imagine it must be interesting to see the galaxy."
"Oh, traveling is certainly nice, I just wish I could see a better side of the cosmos now and then." As he answered, his gaze never wavered, and soon actually seemed to draw in the substance of Raven's world like two milky pits. "I mean, the only times I drop out of slipspace are when I'm on somebody's ass, or just as often the other way around. My business takes me everywhere," he continued, a bit of genuine wistfulness penetrating his handsome drone, "but the nature of my business means I'm rarely able to kick back and enjoy the local flavor."
Listening to his answer and trying desperately not to mess up in front of him, Raven managed to do just that, loosing kilter on an energy pattern off to one side and overcompensating. The resulting wobble kicked out a single pebble from the storm, and it quite naturally arced out directly at Skye. In a movement she was incredibly far from being able to follow, his hand appeared between his face and the stone, and he was palming a shard of her soul the next moment.
"Like I was saying," he continued, examining the pebbled closely as he talked, and Raven didn't know weather to be relieved that he didn't taunt her or mortified that he was pawing at such a personal part of her like that, so much so that she almost missed what he was talking about. "—and so as you can imagine, most jobs that come in on the work lists are so incredibly far beneath my talents that the actual action is often no more than a few minutes of me disabling the perp and slamming him, her, or it… into crystal stasis for transport to The Can. Those slave drivers at the IDP are merciless, and if I'm anywhere in their communication network—and I'm not clearly working or in transit to work—well, they have their ways of making me regret it."
"As fascinating as all this is," Raven said without sarcasm, "do you mind?" The glowing black glare she pointed at him made no impact in the deep white stare he returned, but her meaning was clear enough. He shrugged, opened his palm, looked down, and just about jumped out of his skin in surprise. Snarling in shock, he dropped the pebble like a glowing hot iron and hopped backward, causing Raven's mind to pop with alarm as she froze the storm of tiny stones and blinked through space without even thinking about it. Appearing next to him, she glared down, pulse racing, seeking what had caused him such an enormous shock.
As she continued to search silently for the source of his alarm, she continued to find absolutely jack. Her alarm abated quickly to be replaced with anger. Granted there was a little bit of disappointment at the extraordinary anticlimax… but… nah, it was all anger—she was pretty fucking livid right about then. Gathering the enormous storm of indignation around herself as the arsenal for her assault on Skye, the world around them itself began to change with her distinctly darkening mood. And why not? This world was nothing but a creative way of translating the psionic pulse wavelengths coming off her mind.
The gathering stormy overcast that blotched out the stars, the circling flock of sinister, four-eyed crows, the harsh wind, was all just this incredible paradigm's way of reacting to the elevating frequency and plummeting wavelength of Raven's vicious thoughts. Still not quite used to this concept, it took Skye a moment to act, but when he did, it was immediately obvious.
"Okay, stop right there," Skye said confidently, and suddenly a pulse of hard chill shattered the mood and squelched the environmental effects. It was as though a director had yelled 'cut!' so forcefully did the scene smack into the brick wall of Skye's ironclad emotional influence. As the now chilly world took on a glazed appearance, the clouds parted, the birds fell from the sky like a rain of rubber chickens (with appropriate bouncing and squeaky noises when they hit things) and the wind cut out like a switch had been flipped. Raven stood motionless for a moment, a rather contemplative look on her face, then focused on Skye once more, now sporting a slightly bored expression.
"…If you only knew what I planned to do to you," she stated flatly, then turned and began to walk away along the winding stone road that floated suspended in the starry void. She did not turn back, and in the icy crisp air around them, Skye knew she wouldn't, and so he twisted his own thought pulse and was rewarded by suddenly popping up right in front of her. That manually imposed bored look didn't waver, but her surprise was evident from the length of time it took her to respond. "When did you…?" she started to ask, but Skye stopped her.
"Its not so difficult, once you get to understand this place's mechanics, to start manipulating them a little," Skye said simply, and couldn't help but feel that his icing was quelling all kinds of deep uncertainty from Raven right then. "But really, that's beside the point," he changed the subject smoothly, "take another look at what was bugging me—sorry, it caught me a little off guard is all, but I think you'll understand if you see it."
Skye ended his partial explanation by twisting the space of her world until they were standing at the spot where he'd left a few years of his life lying on the ground, wrung from his my pure shock. Raven, unable to feel anything on the subject of Skye's newfound power over her mental realm, was instead able to follow Skye's pointing hand down to the ground, giving him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. When she finally located what had scared him so, it still didn't seem like enough to warrant his outburst. At least not at first.
Lying on the ground was the single pebble Skye had so casually plucked from the air, representing a minute portion of her power and spirit. It was jet black, exactly as it should have been, and it took her several long moments of observation before she recognized what Skye had gotten so upset over. Suspended around the tiny stone were four discreet, gentle white spheres of light, each one forming the point of a tetrahedral configuration in a 3-D area with the pebble at the center. It dawned on her at last, and she almost could have gasped herself.
"Do you get it now?" Skye tried to confirm, sensing the tiny spike of emotion through the slowly lifting damper on her soul.
"A piece of your soul…" Raven began, then stopped as the gleaming pebble absorbed her complete attention, and she found herself reaching out to it almost involuntarily.
"Was sucked right out of me by a piece of yours!" Skye snapped at her, and the pebble vanished from where it lay, taking up a new position in the air just above Skye's outstretched hand. Raven stood quickly, her eyes following the rock like there was a magnetic attraction drawing them, and she reached for it again, only to have Skye snatch it away and press a hand to her shoulder to hold her back. Engaging in an impromptu game of keep-away, Raven crawling all over him in her blind, thoughtless attempt to get the stone, Skye shouted, "and it seems to have an unsavory effect on your respect for personal space too!"
Who knows what would have happened had the situation not been forced right then, but it was, and how.
"RAVEN!" boomed an enormous, mind-breakingly loud voice from the heavens, and the shock and pain of the world dissolving around him knocked the pebble right out of Skye's hands and off into the collection of its twin stones still floating half-organized next to them. The last thing he saw as an indescribable sinking sensation in the general vicinity of his vampiric core pierced his soul and the artificial world dissolved like a melting frame of film reel was the stone touching its compatriots… and the chain reaction it triggered.
Titan's Tower Rooftop
"Raven, I do not wish to disturb your meditation—" Starfire began delicately, whispering to the young woman floating serenely in lotus position and mumbling her mantra, only to be cut off by an explosion of activity that had her on her heels with a scream. The moment she'd spoken to her friend, Raven had shrieked and fallen right out of the air, striking the ground hard and then coming to rest dazedly, propped up only by her elbows as she stared at the world, blinking slowly.
"Oh Raven—" Starfire panicked and began to formulate an apology as she rushed to her friend's side, "I did not mean to startle you—" but she choked to silence as Raven leapt to her feet with a wild look in her eyes. "You… you must b-be angry…" Starfire mumbled timidly as the other girl began to shake, a slow trembling spreading through her body. "Uh…" Starfire had never seen Raven look so fantastically enraged, and it was all she could do to squeak out, "I-I… w-w-wished only t-t-to seek… Friend Skye?"
"Skye!" Raven snapped, and her trembling stopped cold, her body jerked unnaturally once, then she spun on her heel and stared across the rooftop, her cape fluttering with the force of her jerky motions. Starfire didn't know what was going on, but it only got weirder from there. Across the roof, exactly where Raven looked, Skye knelt, keeled over in agony, having apparently just crawled out of a space between some heating ducts where he'd been hiding from the sun. Without further hesitation, Raven began to sprint toward him like Olympic athlete.
"No, wait—Raven stop!" Skye shouted into the ground as he struggled to stand, holding up a hand as if to ward her away, completely failing to curtail her from her irresistable charge. Starfire, too stunned by this oddity to even move, watched in amazement as Raven tackled Skye like a linebacker, slamming him into the ground, at which point the two began to spark and fume with a fantastic electrical storm of pure black and white lightning. Her eyes defying her ability to comprehend, she bore witness as Raven, face frozen in a mask of bliss, struggled to press every inch of herself against Skye. The young man was clearly wracked with every bit as much agony, writhing convulsively beneath her, so tortured he was unable to muster a single whit of that fantastic agility he'd demonstrated, muscles spasming as he vented hideous, agonized wails.
Suddenly the light storm exploded, a wash of shock knocking over everything that wasn't fastened down (and bending or warping all that was), with Starfire being no exception. As she hit the ground hard, straining her eyes against the light and digging into the roof with her fingers, she could just make out the two small shapes at the center of the storm, even as great gouts of black lighting with white streamers began to leap from that same spot and dig gouges out of the rooftop around her. And that's when things began to get really weird.
The sound of singing—that's right, singing—filtered though the noise of the light storm, eventually filling Starfire's ears so completely that she could no longer hear the destruction. The song was like that of birds, if the birds were both ghosts and angels at the same time, and Starfire neither knew nor cared what the lilting lyrics might have meant, far too beautiful was the pristine sound. There was a sudden itching and burning in her right arm, creeping up from the center of her palm in a spiraling heat that wrapped twice around her neck and finally paused as it lit her cheek. The lights then became too intense to stand, and she clenched her eyes against the pain, her whole world filling with nothing but the ethereal, mournful singing, the buffeting of the explosive lights, and the intense heat radiating through her right arm and face. Then it stopped.
"Starfire?" a voice seemed to be calling from far away, but the dream the young woman was having was just so nice, she really didn't want to leave. Her friend was here, after all.
"Starfire!" the voice was more insistent, and this time she recognized the voice as Robin's. She suddenly knew that he was searching for her, and she HAD to go to him. Waving goodbye to her friend, who she realized somewhat sadly that she would never be able to remember once she left, the darkness around her cleared.
"Uh… Robin?" she found herself muttering as the brightness that shot into her brain slowly focused from a blurred red and black blob to a very handsome, very concerned face. She realized that she was lying flat on the ground, the clear morning sky stretching out above her, and that she had no clue how she'd come to be that way.
"Guys, she's awake!" Robin snapped eagerly to the others, who were apparently off to some place that was outside of the alien girl's field of view and too much effort too look over at right now.
"Wish I could say the same for these two!" Beast Boy shouted back, he and Cybrg having agreed to grab Raven and Skye respectively to get them down to medbay after the mysterious explosion that had destroyed the roof and brought them all up here.
The swirling splotches of hard, eye-numbing gray that migrated steadily over Raven's skin, clothing, and cloak, colliding and separating like drops of water dancing over a skillet, bleeding the color from where they passed only for it to creep back in again as they left… it simply couldn't be contained by the normal bounds ofBeast Boy'sweirdness scale, even the one he'd custom devised for things involving their mystical ally. In fact, despite his strong loyalty toward his beautiful friend, nothing could make him touch her until after he'd used a piece of torn up roof material to ensure that the gray splotches wouldn't come off and attack him, earning him a dirty look from his large mechanical compatriot. When he finally lifted her up off of the highly suggestive position she'd collapsed onto Skye in, the feel of her clammy, chilled body wasn't nearly as frightening as she looked, but it definitely provided disturbing counterpoint.
When he shifted Raven, the two guys got a look at Skye, and he was hands-down worse. His body was still that colorless powder white, but his face had somehow been twisted with unsettling changes. His left eye, once a distressingly empty pool of white, had been bled ink black, the iris and pupil striking out from the background in a harsh yellow. Spiraling out in grotesque, intricate patterns from that hideous eye were deep black scars, the actual lines like raised skin ruptures that twisted in unnatural, somehow meaningful pathways across only the left half of his face and neck.
"Would ja look at that!" Cyborg muttered in shocked, disturbed wonder when, as Raven was lifted up further, it was revealed that her left hand still gripped tightly to Skye's left wrist, lifting his arm with her as she went. Beast Boy gave Cyborg a dubious, slightly frightened look, then pulled harder, only to find that the grip couldn't be broken. Even as he transformed into a gorilla and lifted her bodily into the air, her grip supported the pale man's weight and he was lifted too.
"Damn, what the hell could do that?" Cyborg exclaimed as Beast Boy gave up and flopped onto the ground in human shape, Raven's limp, gray-speckled body lying face-down across his lap. Seeing as no one even bothered to acknowledge his question (Robin was distracted by those green doe-eyes, Beast Boy was hip deep in woman), Cyborg huffed once, then hefted the young man and woman easily into the air together, putting one over each shoulder with their linked hands behind his neck, and then making his way toward the medbay as Robin, trying and failing to exact answers from the dazed Starfire as they walked slowly, hand in hand, followed closely behind.
Beast Boy was left sitting alone on the roof, still too worried about Terra to really care about this weird ass event. He'd always known those two would get together (Raven and Skye that is—he was still clueless about the much more obvious and… well… actually existent relationship closer by), though he hadn't expected it to be quite so… explosive. After all that stress, it was actually kind of a relief that his good friend wouldn't be alone, and he let that be a balm to ease his mind as he set his sights squarely on a certain blond.
Preview: What the hell's going on this time? Well, who can tell, I mean, I sure as shooting don't have a clue. Anyway, there are some more weird-ass dreams to go with these weird-ass interactions, and the preponderance of oddity will be something to see for sure. Tune in next time for: To Dream of You