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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2010-09-14 11:13am
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Protip: when the thread has been quiet for nearly a month and you have absolutely nothing useful to add, PM the author instead of pissing off everybody by getting their hopes up and letting them think that there might be an update.



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SDNW4 Nation: The Refuge And, on Nova Terra, Al-Stan the Totally and Completely Honest and Legitimate Weapons Dealer and Used Starship Salesman slept on a bed made of money, with a blaster under his pillow and his sombrero pulled over his face. This is to say, he slept very well indeed.

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2010-09-14 06:36pm
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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-06 07:16pm
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Chapter 36: Judgment Day

"I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."

- Niklos Kazantzakis, Epitaph

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

There is no such thing as perfect silence. Sound is a medium of vibrations in the air, and air is constantly moving, even without the demons of Hell to agitate and flay it to motion. Silence, as with all things, is relative, a facet of the absence of the more obvious distractions that assail the ear. So long as we exist within a medium wherein sound waves may be transmitted, it is never, ever, absolute.

But there are occasionally moments when one might mistake it for being so.

"My name's Devastator," said the other boy, the one dressed in red, the one with flesh-toned skin, the one who was not presently afflicted with some twisted symbolism of counter-factual judgement. He stood in the middle of the street, his baton clipped quietly to his belt, his hands held at his sides, looking calm and almost mournful, and the wind that gently stirred the dust around his feet did not affect him, not even rustling his hair, as though all that had transpired was nothing to him, and did not affect him in any way.

David did not react, could not react, did not even remember how to react. His capacity for surprise was gone, overshot by such a degree that he no longer even recalled what it felt like to be surprised by some new and startling event. Following demons, devils, Hell, the end of the world, and the appearance of his own older self, servant of Trigon and slayer of the Titans... following all that, this here was nothing at all.

"And... I was hoping we could talk."

Everything seemed to slow down. The perennial roar of the eternal pyres seemed to quiet. His reactions were muted, stilled, like the aftereffects of a concussive stun. In movies and television, such things as the world slowing down around you happened in moments of extreme danger, and perhaps to some people they did. But having had the opportunity to test such theories, it had become David's silent opinion that the movies had it all wrong. The world didn't slow down around you when there were bullets flying overhead. The world slowed down when you lost all sense of what to do about it.

"You can't be Devastator," he heard himself saying, though where he was conjuring up the words from he could not have explained if given half an eternity to do so. "Devastator's dead."

The hallucination, the image of David as he had once been, only shook his head. "No," he said. "Not yet at least."

"I watched Trigon eat you!" shouted David with a surge of blind anger. He had not come through all of this just to be lectured on more mistakes by a figment of his own imagination.

"David, I can't die," said the hallucination patiently, "or be eaten. I'm an incarnation of Destruction itself. Even Trigon can't kill something that was never alive. And he wouldn't want to kill me even if he could. He needs me."

David blinked at his counterpart, hallucination, manifestation, whatever it was, his brain moving like molasses, unable to process anything except the most basic of thoughts. "What... what are you doing here?" he asked, his brief burst of anger having given way to more fear. "Did Trigon send you after me?" he asked, backing up a step as he did so.

"No!" The figment's voice sounded surprised, even horrified at the prospect, and David saw his own features blanche with fear, but only for a second. "No, I... I came myself. I have a little time... I think. A little time before we finish..."

The double trailed off, and showed no inclination to continue the thought. "Finish what?" asked David.

"Integrating," said Devastator, and he pronounced the word like it was some vile liquid to be spat from his mouth. The figure shuddered almost imperceptibly. "It takes a little time."

David remained poised for further retreat, though he didn't move yet. "With Trigon?"

"With everyone," replied the other, averting its eyes. "Trigon especially... if I can manage it at all."

"What do you mean if?"

"I was created to be Trigon's enemy," said Devastator. "I don't know if I'm even capable of integrating with him properly. I've never tried to bond with an immortal, let alone the Devil."

David was not exactly in a position to sympathise. "If you're 'bonding' with Trigon right now," he said, "how are you even here?"

Devastator, or whatever he was, didn't reply immediately. "It's... hard to explain."

Of all the answers in all the world that he could have received, this was the last one David wanted to hear, and his frustration, to say nothing of everything else, boiled over like a pressure cooker letting off. "What do you mean hard to explain?" he shouted back at Devastator, forgetting entirely that a moment ago he had been about to run away. "What's going on here? Why aren't you with Trigon?"

"David, please - "

"No!" spat David, cutting Devastator off with a wave of his hand. "You told Raven that you can't exist without a host. You're some kind of energy parasite, right?"

"I have a host, David."

"Yeah, Trigon!Who's not here right now! And you weren't even able to appear like this when I was your host, so what the hell are you even - "

"I don't know!"

Devastator was using David's own voice, and the anguished cry was one that drove home in a way that no words could have. It was the same tone of barely-controlled frustration, fear, uncertainty, and knife-edge stress that he recognized from within himself. And in the fraction of a second's hesitation that it engendered, Devastator said his piece.

"I don't know how this is supposed to work," said Devastator, his voice distorting as his image rippled through a thousand other forms, beings humanoid and otherwise. "I wasn't party to my own creation, and I've never been in a position like this, any more than you have." Slowly, the image of Devastator settled back on the image of David once again, flickering like a candle flame before stabilizing. "All I know is through experience and experimentation. I've never been devoured by Trigon before, or taken from a host by force. And I've never had multiple hosts alive at the same time."

"Multiple hosts?" asked David, refusing to let his mind get distracted by the impossible sight. Nothing was impossible anymore.

"I pick hosts," said Devastator. "I inhabit them for their entire lives. Most don't even know I'm there. And when they die, I choose another. That's how it's always worked. But..."

"But now Trigon's got you?"

Devastator lifted his eyes. "Yes," he said. "And not only that, you're still alive."

David didn't say a word, not for what seemed like a long time, watching his own image in silence. When he finally managed to speak, his words sounded muffled even to himself, as though he were listening to a playback from a degraded audio source.

"Let me guess," he said. "You're here to fix that."

Devastator's image flickered for a few seconds, as though a power surge had run through the projector of whatever he was now. When it stabilized, Devastator looked like someone had just fed him something vile and disgusting. To see the expression written across his own face was quite a thing.

"No," he said, more quickly than before. "David, I'm not here to hurt you. I'm - "

"You're what?" asked David, no more anger, just the calm of a barren desert. Despite it, Devastator seemed to hesitate.

"I just... I found that I was able to come. And so I did. I don't..." he trailed off, lowering his eyes again. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry, David. I never meant for any of this. I didn't know that Raven was on this planet. I didn't even know she existed, that Trigon had a daughter. I never thought, for one minute, that this might happen. If I had..." He shuddered, visibly, steeling himself against the awful truth of what had happened. "I'm sorry," he finally repeated, and then he said no more.

In a strange way, David knew exactly what he would have wanted to say, had things been any different. All the questions, all the mysteries, everything he had lain awake wondering about, in the Tower, in the centers, ever since he had first realized what he was capable of. Whatever he had felt for his powers, fear, excitement, frustration, even perhaps the modicum of resentment which he knew now was common to all would-be heroes, this here was the agent of all of them. What he had once thought was a product of himself, now known to be an outside agent, a hijacker who had affixed itself to his life, for better or worse, this was him, standing here in the street. And David knew that there had been a time when he would have given anything, anything in the universe, just to have the chance to stand before Devastator and speak to him.

But the world was changed, and broken. And all David saw standing before him was the gaping hole he still felt somewhere inside him, in a place he could not localize, but that he could feel nonetheless. The shadow of something missing, something that stood for all that he had lost, and everything that was gone forever.

"It doesn't matter anymore," said David, and Devastator lifted his head. There was no anger in his words. It was pointless to rage at Devastator, or at himself, or at Trigon. He might have anyway of course, but he couldn't muster the will. "You're too late."

He saw the words hit home. He saw them take effect, saw the unconscious flinch, and from somewhere deep within him, there was a moment of almost perverse pleasure, but only a moment.

"I know," said Devastator. He seemed to struggle for words. "I wish it could have been different. I never thought I was putting you in danger. Not like this - "

"It doesn't matter what you thought, or what I thought," said David, his voice drained of all emphasis. "It's all over, now, isn't it?"

He didn't respond. David could see his own features flickering as Devastator tried to think of something to say, and found nothing adequate to the situation. It was answer enough. Slowly, David closed his eyes, shook his head slowly, and turned away.

"David..." said Devastator, as David began to walk away, not in a huff, but slowly, his head lowered. "David, I - "

"Leave me alone," said David, not turning back. He might have infused the words with anger or fear, but he was no longer up to the task of either. He could feel the tears coming to his eyes, and he clenched his fist and squeezed his eyes shut to force them back. "Just... leave me alone," he said once more, wearily. And leaving the weaponized incarnation of Destruction behind to do as he would, David Foster slowly walked away.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Beast Boy ran.

Everything was a blur, in motion at once, as he ran as fast as his legs (four, currently) would carry him. There was no room for subtlety and tact here, and he had chosen the form of a bull elephant, twelve feet tall and eleven tons of dead weight, propelled over the ice at twenty five miles per hour. Yet it was not the height or weight or speed that commended the form to him, but the carrying capacity.

Raven was held in Beast Boy's trunk, a trivial matter in this form, even had she been her normal size, which she was not. He had wrapped her up in it and held her now as tightly as he dared, trying to strike a balance between letting her breathe and making sure he neither dropped her nor let any of the chaos swirling about him reach her.

And chaos it was. What was happening behind, Beast Boy neither knew nor dared turn to face, but the sound was enough to turn a man to stone on the spot. Slavering, howling roars that echoed over the wastes, even as the surface of the frozen ground cracked and shattered. Great sheets of ice vaulted into the air around and before and even beneath him, upthrust by some gyration of the rock below, or perhaps by some malignant will of its own. A hailstorm of stones, sized from baseballs up to fire hydrants, flew at him from behind, pinwheeling through the air like projectiles fired from some infernal catapult. Other forms there were that he could have taken, some faster or more agile than this one, some even retaining the ability to carry Raven. But of all of them, this one was the one wherein he judged the risk to her to be the least, and thus there were no other options at all.

Where speed did not suffice, mass and momentum did, and he lowered his head and charged, ignoring anything that might impede his progress. Ice shards rained down from explosions in the fractured surface. Rocks burst like meteors overhead and underfoot, hurtling down from above in parabolic arcs. Entire sheets of ice burst from the ground, as though to trip him up, but Beast Boy knew well how agile elephants were, despite their size, and he negotiated them successfully, lowering his head and crashing through the sheets where necessary. Though his form was hardly suited for it, he tried to swerve back and forth, the better to throw off the assaults that were coming from behind.

He had gotten perhaps a hundred yards when something zipped past his head to the right, something that was most definitely neither a rock nor a block of ice. He turned his head in time to see it morph spontaneously into a Tyrannosaur, which began running alongside him, keeping an even pace as it slowly edged closer. The ice continued to explode in every direction, forcing his concentration ahead, and he could do nothing to stop his counterpart from angling towards him until suddenly the dinosaur lunged to the side, jaws capable of tearing out even an elephant's throat primed to do just that.

Beast Boy did the only thing he could think of to do.

Throwing his head back as hard as he could, he flung his trunk into the air, uncoiling it like a whip, hurling Raven up into the sky. No sooner had she left his grasp than his entire body shifted, shrinking down into that of a python. The Tyrannosaur's jaws clashed together over empty air, moments before Beast Boy snapped his body sideways and grabbed the dinosaur around the ankle with a grip of iron. The broken and slippery ice did the rest, as the Tyrannosaur tripped and fell forward with a tremendous crash. An instant later, and Beast Boy burst into the sky in the form of a giant eagle, deftly avoiding a shower of stones as he pumped his wings and flew up beneath Raven just as she reached the arc of her flight, permitting her to land softly on his back before jetting away with all the power he could muster.

There was no rush of victory or success, just further mortal terror, less for himself than for the fact that Raven was on his back, nearly senseless, unable to hold on, forcing him to fly a straight and level course that left him open to all manner of assault from behind. The flung stones came closer and closer to the mark, even as they grew ever more tremendous in proportion, until boulders the size of office buildings were flying past in stately majesty, colliding with the ice sheet below like comets striking the surface of some alien, frozen world.

Behind he could hear the thunder of footfalls, his counterpart approaching fast, though whether he was in the form of a Tyrannosaur or Mastodon or Godzilla or some other monster he could not tell, for he dared not turn his head back to see, half his concentration on the course ahead of him, the other half on the painfully light pressure of two small hands weakly gripping the feathers on his back.

A shadow falling over him was all the warning he got as a rock capable of levelling a city block loomed overhead, and he reacted on instinct, winging over sharply and diving as it plunged towards him. Ice shards whistled past on every side, as he saw the edge of the shadow ahead and pumped his wings to try and reach it before he was crushed like a hydraulic press. Yet moments before he reached it, he felt the grip on his back vanish entirely, followed by a shrill shriek, different than anything he'd ever heard from Raven, and yet all too familiar.

Suddenly, he forgot all about the rock.

In a split second, Beast Boy took on the form of a hummingbird, turning around in mid-air as though he had bounced off an invisible wall. Shooting back the way he had come, he waited a second and a half before switching back to his giant eagle form. Twisting his wings around and throwing his weight to one side, he managed, just for an instant, to scoop Raven up with one of his wings and throw her like a baseball player back towards the edge of the looming shadow. She hit the ground at a shallow angle well inside the shadow's bounds, but the ground was yet-unblemished ice, and she slid effortlessly beyond it, an instant before the enormous rock smashed headlong into the ground.

A shower of snow and white ice blotted everything out of view, cascading over Raven in a great wave, dissipating only after some time had past, leaving her laying near senseless, half-buried in ice shards and snow. The jarring impacts, the flights through the air, the successive shocks had all served, if nothing else, to shake her back to some degree of consciousness, and slowly, she managed to sit up, letting the snow pour off of her head and shoulders, and looked back at the skyscraper-sized block of granite, now half-embedded in the ice.

Of Beast Boy, who had flown back to get her out, there was no sign at all.

From Raven's right, a growl, deep and threatening, boiled up from the winter storm, as slowly a shadow emerged from within the walls of swirling snow, which finally parted to reveal a hulking dinosaur, sickly-white with eyes of burning red. Towering overhead like a living thundercloud, the dinosaur's jaws dripped with saliva as its claws dug into the ice for purchase. Raven, still barely able to move, could only stare in wide-eyed horror up at the looming monster, as it barked savage roars into the air, before ducking down to devour her whole.

It did not get there.

The roars of the Tyrannosaur were buried all of a sudden by an atonal howl of pure rage so loud that Raven clasped her hands to her ears and screamed, and the ice beneath her buckled and shattered like a pane of glass struck by a sledgehammer. The Tyrannosaur wobbled and staggered, seeking to recover its balance, snapping its jaws as it sought for its unseen assailant, moments before a tentacle twelve feet thick and fifty feet long burst through the ice like a geyser and seized the dinosaur's leg.

A green tentacle.

The tyrannosaur roared, this time in surprise and perhaps even fear, and jumped back, evading the swipe, but seconds later, five more tentacles exploded through the ice and seized the dinosaur with suckers the size of dinner plates. No sooner had they done so than the ice shook and cracked and burst into the air, and from the ice between all five of the writhing tentacles emerged a hideous green monster, beaked and jellied, with a head vaguely conical and emerald and eyes the size of small cars, fixed now on his albino opponent with an alien glare. Rearing up, beak snapping in the frozen air, the monster bodily lifted the dinosaur and slammed it back down onto the ice like a lump of wet dough. Lurching upwards, he lifted it again, but this time the Tyrannosaur shrank in a matter of seconds to a small sparrow, which flitted up and away, slipping easily between the gigantic tendrils and flying several hundred feet back before switching to a hummingbird and hovering in place.

Carefully, Beast Boy lost volume as well, reverting this time to his human form, a default position from whence to adopt anything necessary, but his counterpart overhead did not attack, lowering himself to the ground instead as Beast Boy climbed out of the enormous hole in the ice and onto the lip of the pit he had gouged. The alternate landed on the far side, perhaps a hundred feet away, and took the same form as Beast Boy, his features twisted into an evil grin as he crossed his arms and leered at the changeling.

"Where do you think you're going?" he called across the gap, his voice mocking as ever. "Running off to escape with her?"

Beast Boy tried to think of some witty retort to make, something like what Robin would no doubt have said were he here, but he came up empty. His counterpart seemed to take his silence for an answer, and simply laughed. "There's nowhere to go," he said. "This is where you both belong."

"We're leaving anyway," said Beast Boy, more for Raven's sake, should she be listening, than for his own. "You can't stop us."

"Sure we can," said the alternate, and from behind him, Beast Boy saw someone else approaching, someone silhouetted against the ambient light, standing tall atop an uprooted boulder, a yellow glow advertising her identity to all the world, as if Beast Boy stood a chance of not recognizing her instantly.

"You really need to make your mind up," said Terra as the boulder lowered to the ground, permitting her to step lightly off next to Beast Boy's counterpart. "You spend nine months chasing after me, and now that I'm here, you can't wait to get away?"

Something very unpleasant began to stir deep inside Beast Boy, and he clamped down on it with all his might. "I went looking for Terra," he said. "Not you."

"Well you're not looking for Terra anymore, are you?" asked Terra's twin. "And it's not like you looked very hard in the first place. Just enough to make yourself feel like you'd done enough before you - "

"Stop it," snapped Beast Boy, louder than he had intended, and the sadistic grin that crossed both his counterpart's and Terra's faces told him that he had somehow just lost a point. He swept his hand in front of his chest, as though sweeping an invisible desktop clean, brushing the issue aside as it were. "We're both leaving, and neither of you can stop us."

"You're not going anywhere," said Beast Boy's clone. "Both of you belong down here, with us."

"Especially Raven," chimed in Terra. "She gets the place of honor."

"Raven didn't do anything!" shouted Beast Boy. "Nothing except get stuck with some stupid destiny!"

"Then why didn't she tell you all about this beforehand?" asked Terra, the same sickly smile still stuck to her face. "She came here to save this planet, right? She knew this was gonna happen. Don't you think she might have mentioned something about it? Wouldn't that have helped?"

"She was afraid!" insisted Beast Boy. "She didn't know what to do! She tried to stop it!"

"Well I'm sure all those billions of people up there understand real well that they had to die because Raven was afraid," said Beast Boy's twin sarcastically. "That would make me forgive and forget."

"She betrayed and murdered the whole planet," said Terra. "Makes what I did look pretty tame, don't you think?"

"Stop it!"

"Oh, should we talk about you instead?" asked the other Beast Boy. "After all, this place is yours too."

"I didn't do anything and neither did Raven!"

"You stabbed me right in the back," said Terra. "Or do I not count since you found your new girlfriend?"

That one stopped Beast Boy short. "Raven's not my girlfriend!"

"That never stopped you from pretending," said his counterpart bitterly. "The instant Terra was gone, you turned to Raven, even though she didn't want anything to do with you!"

"That's not true!"

"It's the only reason you're here right now!" shouted back Terra. "Robin's dead, so you get to play knight in shining armor and run off after the damsel in distress! You've been waiting for this chance your whole life! And when I wouldn't play damsel for you, you threw me under a bus!"

"I did not!"

"Oh really?" asked Terra.

"Slade was right," said the alternate Beast Boy, "you don't have any friends." The albino changeling crossed his arms. "Sound familiar?"

"I was looking to you for help," said Terra, "help when I needed it most, after you told me you would help me no matter what I had done, and you threw it back in my face."

"I..." stammered Beast Boy, "I... tried to help you!"

Terra merely snorted. "Great job," she said.

"You belong here," said the other Beast Boy. "With us. With Raven. Forever. That's why we let you come here, and that's why you're going to stay."

"I don't belong here," said Beast Boy, trying desperately to keep his voice even, "and neither does Raven, no matter what you think. We both tried to stop this. We both tried to help you. And now we're both leaving."

"You wanted to help me?" asked Terra, sounding almost whimsical.

"Of course I did! I... I tried to - "

"Well... why didn't you say so?" asked Terra. "No time like the present, Beast Boy."

Terra lifted her hand, and above the chasm that separated them, a circle of blue light appeared, shimmering momentarily in the ethereal twilight. For a moment or two it remained as it was, an opaque disk shining silently above a gaping pit. Then suddenly, the colors swirled and resolved to a picture of...

Beast Boy gasped. "T... Terra?"

Terra. The real Terra, alive, in proper color, dressed in the same vest and shorts and gloves and rock-crystal goggles that she had been wearing when they had first met, standing alone on a street surrounded by burnt buildings and shattered vehicles. Her fists were sheathed in gold, and she stood her ground, staring ahead at someone not visible yet.

"Where is she?"

"Someplace with its own problems," said the other Beast Boy. "Take a look."

The image zoomed out, revealing another figure standing some twenty or thirty paces in front of Terra. A man in a dark, knee-length coat, worn open, holding a silver-handled cane which was glowing with orange - "

A light clicked in Beast Boy's head.

"David?"

"No," said the other Beast Boy. "Devastator."

There was no sound from the portal, no sign of what the two of them were saying to one another, but the tenor of the scene could not be any clearer despite the lack. The man with the coat and cane was advancing towards Terra, his gait unhurried and even, and Terra fell back before him, rocks sliding out of her way as she retreated, so as not to trip her up. And then all at once, between one step and the next, she half-turned towards the man in the coat, and from the ground before her, uprooted a rock the size of a refrigerator, and hurled it at him.

He didn't even raise his hand.

The rock exploded so thoroughly that not even pebbles flew away from it, morphing spontaneously into fine dust with the force of a bomb, blowing the street clear of debris and knocking Terra back several paces. His pace unbroken, the man spread his arms wide, and cars launched themselves into the air and towards Terra as though of their own volition. Several were impaled on spikes of rock, upthrust from the ground at Terra's command, but two penetrated the defenses, detonating over Terra's head like missiles, and blocking all view of the proceedings under a pall of black smoke.

"You wanted to help her?" came Terra's own voice, light and airy, drifting across the frozen terrain. "Well there she is. And I don't know about you, but I'd say she could use the help right now."

Beast Boy could not think of how to answer, and so did not, staring instead off into the window as the smoke stubbornly refused to clear, leaving his imagination to speculate on what was happening.

"So what'll it be?" asked the double.

With difficulty, Beast Boy forced his eyes to close. "Why are you even showing me this? I can't help her now even if I - "

"Sure you can," came the reply, smooth and easy. "Just shift into a bird and fly through. It'll take you right to her."

His eyes snapped back open, staring at the two figures on the opposite side of the chasm. "You expect me to believe you?"

"We never lie, Beast Boy," said Terra. "If you want to help her, if you want to help me, then all you have to do is choose to."

Frozen in place momentarily, Beast Boy was on the cusp of grabbing Raven's hand, shifting to a condor or eagle, and flying at the portal, when his doppelganger pre-empted him.

"Offer's only good for one," he said with a cruel smile. "Raven's a proven traitor. She stays here."

"No!" shouted Beast Boy. "We're both going!"

"Then make a portal yourself, and do what you want with it," said the other. "My portal, my rules. You can leave any time you want. But not with her."

The smoke within the portal's field of view began to clear, albeit slowly, revealing Terra laying prostrate on the broken asphalt, the man in the brown coat advancing towards her with his cane held by one end like a shepherd's crook, strolling, rather than walking towards her, the fiery aura from his cane wafting up through the air as he advanced.

"Better get going, Beast Boy," said Terra with an edge to her voice. "I don't think I can last much longer..."

"Stop it," hissed Beast Boy between his teeth.

"I can't stop it," said Terra. "Not even if I wanted to. But you can."

"I can't!" insisted Beast Boy.

"Just like you couldn't before? Just like you couldn't stop me from dying the first time?"

"STOP IT!" shouted Beast Boy in a voice that was more roar than cry. "Stop it! I can't... you know I can't - "

"No," said Terra. "You won't."

The portal vanished like a burst soap bubble, blinking out of existence like it had never been there at all."

"You said you'd be my friend no matter what I did. You said you'd make sure nothing happened to me. You said you'd find a way to bring me back. And you said you'd never forget me." Terra glowered at Beast Boy from across the way, her red stare so direct that he dared not meet it. "Everything you said to me was a lie."

"Terra..."

"You had every chance to save me," she said. "But you never had the will. Too busy chasing after someone who wanted nothing to do with you." She shook her head dismissively. "The Great Beast Boy," she said. "Who runs away as soon as it comes time to deliver on his promises."

Blinking back the tears in his eyes, Beast Boy succeeded, with difficulty, in preventing something bloody and violent from surfacing. "Why are you doing this?" he choked out.

"Because you're a liar and a traitor," said Terra, "and this is where you belong. "And if you think that's not true, then say the word, and we'll send you back to Terra. If you hurry, you might even be able to save her."

"Or you can walk away," said Beast Boy's counterpart, "like you always have. And try and convince yourself that you and Raven don't really belong down here. Because if you turn away from Terra now, Beast Boy, you won't have any excuses left."

Deep inside himself, Beast Boy could feel something, the Beast perhaps, or just his better nature, clawing and screaming and beating against the inside of his eyes, trying desperately to get out, gathering up all the pain and the heartache of the last two years like a weapon and bludgeoning the inside of his psyche with it, howling in terms unspoken and unhesitating to leap for the middle of the ice chasm and go to Terra, to tear her enemy apart, save her, rectify everything that had failed to do over and over again. It was the part of her that still, even here, every day, still tore at his insides at having once lost her, and having failed to ever find her again.

But by the time that feeling inside knew what was going on, Beast Boy had already turned away.

Only Raven wasn't there.

She had been right behind him, he knew that. Someone with his senses simply couldn't fail to know where everyone else was in relation to him, yet she was gone, vanished like she had simply melted into the ice. And he stared dumbstruck at the empty place where she had been standing for several moments before he turned around, half-expecting Terra and his alter ego to be holding her and mocking him. But when he turned back, they were gone as well, disappeared as if by magic, leaving Beast Boy alone with his thoughts and recriminations on the broken, featureless ice.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Step by patient step, David walked through death and tried not to look.

All around him lay more ruins, but these ruins, at least, were quiet, their fires quenched, emitting no flames and little smoke. The statues that lined the streets were more sparse here, hidden within the small buildings that had once been homes. He wasn't sure where he was, everything seemed to have been twisted around, but it looked like this place had been one of Jump City's suburbs. It was quieter than the rest of the city, at least.

He had no idea where he was going. He had no idea whether there was anything to go to, save for endless roads filled with burning cars and broken houses. Worse yet, here and there, dotting the streets, stood the statues, standing, crouching, laying prone on the ground, individually, in clumps, an endless parade of people frozen into their last reflexive gestures, their features betraying some kind of terminal fear. Men, women, kids, all of them locked in place, staring out at nothing.

As best he could, he avoided looking at them at all.

The communicator on his belt would have told him the time had he bothered to consult it, but the time it told was relative, vestigial on a planet that, for all he knew, was no longer even orbiting the sun. As such, he did not know how long he had been walking for, nor did he care. He spared as little glance as he could for those things he was walking past, preferring not to know if he was passing a burning elementary school or a ruined hospital. His head bowed, his eyes on the charred ground in front of him, he walked on, like an automation, one hand in his pocket, the other held tightly over his stomach as though he were trying to staunch a gaping wound. There was no such injury, but it was the closest place to where he could feel the gaping void inside of him, neither physical nor non-physical, where something he had never missed before was no longer there.

His mind wandered, for he refused to let it land on any one thing for too long, be it the faces of his dead friends, or his own, hideously scarred, yet smirking, confident in his total superiority. He shied away from the image whenever it appeared, stumbling and scrambling over the debris-choked streets, trying to force it all out of his head. It was useless, and he knew it, but he tried to do it anyway, for what else was there to do?

How long he might have walked was impossible to tell. Maybe forever. Maybe until he finally collapsed from thirst or fatigue. But before either of those two things could happen, he slipped while trying to climb over a pair of burnt-out cars that had crashed into one another and blocked the road entirely, and fell, and tumbled down them onto the ashen asphalt, landing on his stomach.

He lay there for a second, stunned, and mentally checking himself over to see if he had broken anything. Only after he had confirmed that all his limbs were still responding, did he open his eyes again. Yet when he did so, he stopped short, for the shock of the fall had knocked loose his communicator from the clasp on his belt, and sent it scurrying forward, sliding to a stop several inches before his eyes. He had paid it no mind before, indeed he had practically forgotten about it, but now, with it sitting right in front of him, he noticed something he had not seen before.

A red light, silently blinking on the side of the golden communicator.

He blinked, several times in fact, clearing his eyes from the omnipresent dust, yet when he opened them again, the light was still there, clicking on and off softly, unhurriedly, colored red like everything else here, but presenting no other obvious signs of urgency.

Slowly, he sat up in the middle of the street, and picked up the communicator, turning it over in his hands and clicking it open. The tiny screen showed only static, the symbol at the top indicating that there was no signal found, not from the Tower itself or the repeaters around the city. That much was to be expected, yet the light at the side of the communicator kept right on blinking, on and off, on and off.

Cyborg had been the one to explain to him what the various symbols, gizmos, and indicators on the communicator meant, and he remembered the lessons well, for Robin had been absolutely clear on the necessity of knowing, at a glance, what the communicator was telling him. Lives quite literally depended on him knowing this, his own as well as others. Yet this symbol, a red blinking light with no sound, was not one of the ones he remembered from the lessons, try as he might to recollect them. He opened and closed the communicator several times, tentatively pressing the small buttons that ringed it, trying to coax the palm-sized device into telling him what it was trying to say. Yet no matter what he tried, nor how he racked his exhausted, shell-shocked brain, he could neither discover nor recall anything at all about a blinking red light.

"Don't bother."

David froze, but not from fear, letting the words sink in before he lifted his head. Before him, standing some ten feet away, stood his own perfect duplicate, his red uniform pressed and clean, his skin and hair of normal tone, his eyes calm and voice even, as he clasped his hands behind his back in the way that David knew he always did when he was trying to make it look like he wasn't as worried as he really was. Whatever else he might be, Devastator was a capable mimic.

"You've never seen that before."

"How do you know?" asked David, not stirring from where he was sitting. In the back of his mind, he already knew the answer, or at least could guess, but he asked regardless.

Devastator shrugged, the mannerisms unquestionably David's own. "Because I've never seen it before," he said. "And I saw everything you did. At least until recently."

David looked down at the communicator again, which sat blinking quietly in his hand as though nothing at all were the matter. Gently, he ran the tips of his fingers over its gold electroplated exterior, feeling its metallic surface in the only way still available to him.

"It has to mean something," he said, as much to himself as Devastator. He held the communicator up to his ear and shook it experimentally, before lowering it again, the blinking unchanged in either color or rhythm.

"Maybe it's the battery?" suggested Devastator.

"It's a radium-decay battery," said David sharply, raising his eyes. "Cyborg said it would last fifty years. I thought you heard everything I did?"

"I did," said Devastator, calmly, "but Cyborg didn't count on this sort of thing happening."

"Cyborg - " snapped David angrily before he could stop himself. He caught himself after barely a word, and shut his eyes and clenched his teeth together, holding his breath until he could recover his equilibrium. "Cyborg," he restarted, "counted on everything."

Devastator only nodded slowly. "All right," he said, in the tone of one who is unconvinced but unwilling to argue, "then what is it?"

David didn't answer, slowly standing up, holding the communicator in front of him. He looked up, first at Devastator, still standing calmly in the street, then at the surrounding area. There was nothing of note here, just more charred ruins and smoking ground, but he did not shy away from it, looking past it, putting it out of his mind as he peered into the smoke, looking for something, a half-formed idea in his mind.

"Maybe..." he said aloud, and tentatively walked across the street, ignoring Devastator for the moment. Mounting the sidewalk, he crossed to the shoulder of the road, which had once been a lightly wooded hill that ran up into one of the semi-rural parks that ringed this part of the city's suburbs. The grass was gone now, replaced with bare, blackened stone, the trees reduced to cindered sticks that still smoldered in the hazy twilight, but he ignored all of the decor, instead stopping at the base of the hill, and looking back down at the blinking communicator.

It could perhaps have been his imagination, but it seemed to him that the light was blinking incrementally faster.

"Anything?" asked Devastator, and suddenly he was right next to David, practically looking over his shoulder. David barely even blinked, indeed he didn't turn his head, staring at and through the communicator as the wheels turned inside his head.

"I think I know what this is," he said, to Devastator perhaps, or himself, or nobody, and then suddenly he took off, scrambling up the incinerated hill, the communicator clutched in one hand, the using the other to help himself up the steeper bits, leaving dislodged stones and showers of earth in his wake as he clambered towards the summit of the hill.

The hill turned out to be more of an elevated plateau, formerly covered in woods and undergrowth, a place for hiking, picnickers, and bicyclists. Nothing remained but the burnt stumps of trees and the occasional half-melted slag of what might have once a bike path. He paid none of it any mind at all, zigzagging through the uneven terrain, dodging dead trees and uplifted boulders, glancing every few seconds back down at the communicator in his hand, as the blinking light, slowly but unquestionably, began to accelerate in frequency. The confirmation gave him speed, and he switched from a jog to a dead run, ducking under grasping branches and circling around rocks too large to climb over. He had no idea what direction he was running in, no proof that he wasn't simply running in circles, save that every time he looked back down, the communicator was blinking faster.

The blinking light was racing now, and David redoubled his pace yet again, even as the terrain became rougher, cut by deep gashes in the surface rock and channeled into canyons and broken cliffs. He entered one of these, hemmed in now by rock walls to either side. Around bends and through narrow squeezes he crawled and scrambled, until finally he emerged around one final corner, and found himself at a dead end.

He stopped short, surprised, so sure had he been of the half-formed theory as to what the communicator was trying to tell him. The canyon he had selected had led him to a cul-de-sac of solid rock, a round open space perhaps twenty feet across hemmed in from every direction except the one he had come by walls of unbroken stone at least fifty feet tall. The burnt remains of vines and creepers adorned the scorched walls, but otherwise there was no sign of anything else present. Turning slowly in circles, he considered backtracking for a moment, looking for another canyon or a wrong turn, but when he looked back down at his communicator, the red light was now solid, no longer blinking at all.

"Where are we?" asked Devastator, and when David looked up, Devastator was standing opposite him, arms clasped behind his back in a way that was very familiar.

"I don't know," said David, and he turned the communicator over in his hands, holding it up to show Devastator the now-unbroken light. He half-expected Devastator to take the communicator, but he did not, and David lowered it once more.

"It's a transponder," said David. "Something's sending it a signal, and I think - " he clipped the communicator back to his belt, "I think the light means how close we are to it."

Devastator's expression turned puzzled. "I don't remember anything about that. Where did you - "

"Nowhere," said David, turning back around to the walls behind him, running his eyes up and down the rock face in search of... anything really. "Cyborg told me some stuff about transponders once. I'm just guessing."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Devastator materialize beside him, also facing the wall, but this no longer even registered a blink. "I remember all that," he said. "But why would a transponder send you out here?"

"I don't know," said David, largely so that he wouldn't have to admit out loud that he was likely making this all up. Devastator kindly refrained from pointing that out himself, and David slowly approached the wall, lest he turn around and see the incredulity that he was certain was written all over his own face.

The rock wall was solid, or near enough, with small fissures running down it where water or plants had gouged out a tentative hold. He ran his hand over the wall, moving around it slowly, looking for anything out of the ordinary, anything to indicate that he might actually have guessed right.

He got halfway round the cul-de-sac before he saw something.

Above him, some fifteen feet off the ground, there was a divot in the rock wall, an enlargement of a fissure that ran from top to bottom. By itself this meant nothing, for the rock walls were uneven, and had hundreds of similar divots. Two things alone caught his eye about it. One was perhaps just a trick of the light, for the divot seemed... darker than it should have been, the shadow veiling it deeper than a shallow crack warranted. The other was its shape. Alone among the hundreds of cracks and fissures in the rock wall, this divot was almost perfectly circular, roughly the size of the palm of his hand.

Carefully, with no real idea of what he was doing, he began to climb the wall. Had it been an actual rock-climbing wall, he would have had no chance of success, possessed as he was of neither equipment nor training in the art. But whether from Trigon's cataclysm or the ravages of time, the wall was pitted and cross-cut by numerous fissures and cracks that served admirably as foot and handholds, even for someone as ungainly as David. Slowly he managed to scale the broken rock, until finally he was within reach of the divot. He braced himself and reached up, inserting his fingers into the hole in the rock, feeling around the edge. It was deeper than it looked, deeper than his fingers could reach, but when he felt around the sides of the small hole, his fingers touched not the warm stone of the wall, but cool, smooth, metal.

Slowly he withdrew his hand, steadying himself as best he could, trying to decide what this meant. His hand slid down to his belt, and to the palm-sized communicator that hung from it, moments before his brain belatedly made the obvious connection. Straining to hold on with only one hand, he detached the communicator once more, slid it up to the divot, and inserted it into the hole, feeling only an instant's resistance before there was a soft, but audible, click.

And then the wall threw him off.



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-06 07:19pm
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White Mage
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 36, part B


The rock shook, bucked like a living thing, and effortlessly tossed him free of his precarious perch, sending him tumbling down back onto the floor of the cul-de-sac as an avalanche of burned dirt and loose stones tumbled down around him. He landed on the ground on his back with a crash, and managed only to curl himself into a fetal position with his hands held over his head before the rockslide landed atop him.

Had the entire wall come down, that would have been it, but it was merely a shower of loose debris and pebbles, and it lasted only a few moments, before the rumbling and crashing gave way to the sound of something heavy being dragged over stone. Slowly, David untangled himself and sat up, as before him, an entire section of the stone wall in front of him receded into the wall a few inches, and slid aside, revealing a dark, open passage from whence emitted a gust of wind.

Cold wind.

"David?"

This was not a question but a shout, and David started, whipping his head to the right to find Devastator bent down over him. It was only then that David's mind snapped back into the present, and he realized that Devastator had been calling his name ever since he fell off the wall.

"Are you all right?"

He needed a second to remember how to answer that one.

"I... yeah," he said, and he shook his head and slowly got up, brushing the rocks off of himself as he did so. Nothing appeared to be broken. "I think so..."

Devastator looked, for a moment, like he wanted to say something but thought better of it. "What is this?" he finally asked, though how he expected David to know was anyone's guess.

"I'm not sure," said David, turning back to the doorway, for that was what it obviously was. It was pitch dark inside, but a steady stream of cold air was emitting from it, and there was a low humming sound that seemed to emerge from within. Carefully, David approached the entrance, half expecting some hideous abomination to leap out at him from within it. No such abomination materialized however, and as he reached the threshold of the entrance, lights flipped on within it, revealing a metal staircase that descended into the earth along a shaft lined with steel.

He entered the doorway. There didn't seem to be anything else to do, and slowly descended the staircase, the only sounds his own footsteps on the metal stairs, and the low hum of what might have been machinery from within whatever this complex was. He did not hear Devastator following him, nor did he expect to. Devastator seemed to move between locations without traversing the points between. It didn't seem prudent to think about how.

The stairs finally ended some sixty paces down, and led to a short corridor that terminated with a plain steel door, above which was a large vent gently blowing chilled air down the hall and up the stairs. The door had neither knob nor handle, but mounted next to it was a small keypad set in a metal frame. Tentatively, he approached, looking for instructions or some hint as to what to do now, but there was nothing else present. He stood puzzled for a moment, but the thought occurred to him that if his Titans' communicator had triggered all this, then perhaps his Titans' security code would get him further.

The code was a twenty-four digit number, unique to David alone, randomly generated back when Robin had brought him onto the team, a time that now seemed like ancient history, even though it was barely a couple of months ago. For more than a week, Robin had made him memorize and re-memorize the code, until he was able to recite it on command, even while half-asleep, for the code would identify the bearer as David himself, and not some cunning impostor, and grant access to the Tower in the event that the security alarms had been tripped and all the other Titans were gone or incapacitated.

But apparently, it wasn't enough for whatever this was.

No sooner had he entered the code, than a panel above the keypad slid open, revealing a mounted screen that blinked on, displaying only the word "Devastator". From beside the screen, a tiny port emitted a red, wide-beam laser over the top of David's head, which it swept down slowly over his entire face. Before David could so much as blink, the lights turned red, a klaxon alarm sounded, and his name disappeared from the screen, replaced with the words "Unidentified Subject Detected".

Dazzled by the sudden barrage of noise and sound, David stepped back in confusion, in time to see a sickly, greenish gas begin to flow out of the vent above the metal door. The gas was heavier than air, and poured down the front of the door like a waterfall, pooling on the ground around him like a liquid. He had no hope of identifying what it was, but it seemed to augur nothing good, and he turned back, intending to ascend the stairs to escape it, only to find that a metal grate with thick steel bars had slammed shut behind him, blocking off all escape.

Stunned by this fresh turn of events, he tugged uselessly at the bars, trying to dislodge them and escape, but the cage was plainly designed to withstand the assault of someone far stronger than he was. He struggled and tugged, to no avail, as the gas continued to rise around him. Desperately, he turned back to the screen and keypad, re-entering his code as quickly as he could. But the procedure with the laser only repeated itself, and the screen once more called him an Unidentified Subject.

"Let me try."

David turned back, to find Devastator standing behind him, unperturbed either by the gas, or by the fact that he had apparently just walked right through the steel bars that blocked the passage. David blinked, but the subconscious part of his brain was still working, and he managed to step aside to let Devastator do as he would.

Given that this was Devastator, Lord of Destruction, he half-expected him to blast the door to pieces, snap the bars like twigs, or crush the vent that was spewing the gas. It was, after all, what David would likely have done were Devastator still resident within him. But rather than unleash explosions and flames, Devastator simply stepped forward, and paused before the mounted screen.

"Type in your code," said Devastator, though why he did not do it himself, David could not tell, for if Devastator had seen everything David had, then he too had to know it. Still, this was not the time to argue, and so David reached around Devastator, and typed in the code, before standing back nervously, the gas by now eddying around his waist and rising quickly. As before, a laser was projected, sweeping down over Devastator's head, but no sooner had it done so, than the monitor's message switched to "Identity Confirmed", and the gas abruptly stopped pouring into the room, as the gas began to recede into invisible vents hidden at the base of the walls.

Devastator turned around a shrug of what looked like relief visible on his features. "It was a retinal scanner," he said. "And... your eyes..."

David tried to prevent the tremor that comment brought to the surface, and might even have succeeded. "Oh," he said, gently touching the side of his own face, his fingers ashen grey and gently illuminated by the red light pouring from his discolored eyes. "Right." The last of the gas swirled away around his shoes, vanishing down the vents. "Thanks," he said, eyes darting away from Devastator's face, unwilling to rest for too long on his own features.

If Devastator noticed his reticence, he said nothing. "Don't mention it," he said, moments before there was a loud hissing sound, like the venting of steam, from somewhere behind the metal door. Both David and Devastator turned to face it, just as the door slid aside.

The room inside it was dark, only ambient light serving to illuminate a few feet inside, revealing nothing. Nothing stirred within, no sounds or movements to indicate hostility, and when Devastator made no move to enter, David stepped forward, over the threshold. Instantly, lights illuminated within, bright, fluorescent lights, mounted overhead, momentarily blinding him if only for how unexpected they were. And when finally his eyes had adjusted and he realized what he was looking at, he gasped, whether he would or not, in sudden recognition.

The room was enormous, the size of the Tower's common room in all dimensions, but the resemblance did not even come close to ending there. It was the common room, or at least clearly was designed to resemble it in every way possible. It had the same metal paneled walls, the same vaulted ceiling with the same maze of ductwork, the same open division between kitchen and lounge area. The same everything, down to the furniture, only three differences distinguishing it from the real thing. First, the far wall, where the real common room's vast windows sat, was occupied instead by an enormous bank of monitors, all presently offline, that stretched from ceiling to floor. Second along the sides of the room, there stood large black boxes, three to a side, perhaps nine feet tall and four wide, their purposes indeterminate.

Third, and most elemental of all, there was the knowledge they were standing not atop the shining tower in the middle of Jump City bay, but in a hidden chamber, locked and secured and buried beneath a thousand tons of solid rock.

For a few seconds, David just stood there and stared, his brain unable to distinguish if he was actually seeing this, or if it was some hallucination dreamed up by his subconscious. It was only after some indistinct time had passed that he managed, barely, to descend the three steps into the replica common room, and slowly walk into it, moving in a daze.

"What is this place?" he asked, staring around himself in wide-eyed astonishment, as though he expected the walls to come crashing down at any moment, revealing another ruined Hellscape or another horde of monsters.

"I'm not sure," said Devastator. David heard no footsteps, but nevertheless felt Devastator entering the room behind him, though he did not turn back. Instead he walked slowly into the room, feeling uncomfortably similar to the way he had felt all those months ago, the first time Robin had led him into the common room to be interrogated by all five of the other Titans together. The same reticence, the same sense of being alone in an alien environment in which he did not belong, the same knots twisting themselves tight inside his stomach, only this time they tied themselves around a gnawing void, until he felt like he had just ingested a powerful acid.

Into the center of the room he walked, running his fingers over leather back of a couch, approaching one of the black boxes. When he got to within ten feet of the monolith however, some invisible sensor tripped the lights, and all six boxes lit up at once.

They were display cases.

David stopped where he was as lights flipped on within each box, revealing transparent cases in which was mounted equipment, piles of equipment, the paraphernalia of every single Titan, one per case. The cases were not arranged decoratively, stuffed with uniforms on coat hangers, weapons and spare accessories laid out in quintuplicate on shelves and end tables, ready for use by all appearances, yet the overall effect was nevertheless that of a museum case, a monument to the people who had worn and used these items.

Behind David, Devastator stood, regarding the cases and the room that contained them, looking around from ceiling to floor and back again. "It's a safehouse," he said, sounding almost excited. "A bolt hole. A hidden backup base. It has to be. Robin must have had it built before all this - "

He turned as he spoke, and got no further.

"David?"

David stood in the center of the room, back to Devastator, eyes on the cases that lined the right wall, his hands clenched into fists at his sides, head bowed and quivering with visible strain. A moment later, and the tremor reached his entire body, his entire form tensed up, as though he had just absorbed some tremendous physical blow and was trying desperately not to let it show. Devastator approached with care, moving around to David's side, only to see that his eyes were squeezed shut, his teeth clenched tightly, breath coming in fitful gasps. He slowly bent, digging his fingers into the chair at his side, trying to keep himself together by main force, but to no avail. With a sudden jerk, his balance failed, and he fell, grabbing at the side of the chair with one hand to catch himself and slowly sliding down it to the floor. He landed in a heap, a tightly-constricted heap, head folded down into his arms, refusing to raise his eyes and look once more on the assembled symbols of everything lost and gone and burnt to cinders.

Devastator said nothing and did nothing, only watched as David slowly collapsed. With care, he raised his head, David's head, beholding in turn each of the six cases, which held what had once been the tools of the city's finest heroes, finally coming to rest on the one which contained a series of two-piece uniforms of orange and red, in front of which stood a weapons case with a half-dozen retractable police batons.

"I'm sorry, David," said Devastator, his voice a whisper like the stirring of wind. There was nothing else to be said.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"You are one stupid sonofabitch, you know that?"

Right now, laying on the pavement with his mechanical systems explaining in patient detail all of the things that were wrong with this situation, Cyborg was inclined to agree. The fact that his own voice was the one lecturing him only made this seem more like the conversation he was already having inside his head.

Cyborg climbed back to his feet for what had to be the fifteenth time tonight. He'd counted. Up in front of him, his evil counterpart was crouching leeringly on top of a low concrete retaining wall, staring down at him with a cockeyed grin, his sonic cannon held laconically to one side. He made no move to stop Cyborg as he peeled himself off of the pavement.

"It's one thing to want revenge, man, but this was just a bad idea," said the double. "This was basically the ultimate in bad ideas."

"You just gonna talk at me all day?" asked Cyborg, "or are you here to do business?"

A grin that augured no good appeared on the double's face as he stood up and leaped lightly down onto the pavement a dozen feet from Cyborg. The small army of flame demons followed in his shadow, as though unwilling to attack by themselves. "Your show, man," said the double. "You're the one who decided to kick the hornet's nest."

"Yeah," said Cyborg, slowly getting up, shoving the warnings out of his head. He did not move against his double immediately, waiting a moment this time to consider the best angle of attack. Yet he had not so much as decided if he should use his cannon or his fist before the double hit him.

Earlier that year, Cyborg had designed a pair of rocket thrusters, built into his robotic legs. Not powerful enough for sustained flight (the fuel requirements by themselves would have rendered that impossible), they were designed to provide split-second bursts of power to lend him speed at a moment's notice, a surprise for those who assumed that the hulking half-metal Titan was as ponderous as he looked.

Given that, there was something ironic here.

In a split second, Cyborg's alter ego accelerated from a dead stop to eighty miles an hour. Before Cyborg could react, before even his electronic sensors could react, the fist of his adversary struck him right between the eyes with the force of a locomotive, a punch that would have liquefied a normal person had there been one present to receive it. As it was, it hurled Cyborg through the air like a rag doll, smashing him back into and through a brick wall. Through desks and countertops he flew, finally coming to a halt against a solid concrete-and-steel pillar, sliding down it onto the ground.

For a moment he wasn't sure if his neck had broken, as his systems tried to reconstitute themselves, ran diagnostics, and tried to figure out what in the name of all that was Holy had just happened to them. He let them do their work. His concentration was focused on trying to determine which way was up.

"What are you even doin' here, huh?" came his double's voice. Or was it his own voice manifested through some mystical means? Come to think of it, might it not just be a hallucination brought on by damage and stress? "You actually think you're gonna take on Trigon, me, and his entire army all by yourself? When did you get this stupid?"

The voice was getting louder, punctuated by footfalls that were definitely approaching. And before Cyborg could ascertain where they were coming from, something grabbed him by both sides of his head and lifted him into the air, bringing himself face to face with his own features writ in red eye and ashen skin.

"Your friends are all dead," said the double like he was stating the answer to an arithmetic problem. "All of 'em. If you'd gone with 'em, maybe you could'a held it off for a while. As it is, you just managed to - "

Cyborg's fist ended the bragging before it could really begin.

It wasn't the equivalent of the hammer-blow that the double had inflicted, but it was a pretty decent facsimile, all things considered. A nice side-effect of having more than half your body replaced with computer-controlled cybernetics was that, no matter how addled your mind got, all you needed to do was to tell your arm to hit someone, and the stun-proof computers that governed its movement would do so for you. As such, despite the fact that Cyborg was still trying to recover his equilibrium, his arm smashed into his evil twin like a wrecking ball, picking him up off the ground and driving him across the room as though fired from a cannon. The double careened into the far wall, and, though he did not break through it, the impact sent cracks spiderwebbing across the painted surface of the re-enforced bulwark.

"You think I don't know that?" asked Cyborg, shifting his arm into a cannon.

It visibly took the evil twin a second to recover his balance, and in the instant's hesitation, Cyborg raised his arm and fired a sonic blast that could have flayed the flesh off a dinosaur, a blue streak comprised of a hundred billion motes of dust undergoing spontaneous nuclear fission from the very force of the ultrasonic waves. The double's equilibrium might have been out of order, but he could still tell when something terrible was about to happen to his present location, and he dove to the side, evading the strike by bare inches as the sonic blast tore the concrete wall apart like wrapping paper and drilled a three foot hole through the next two buildings. As he dove, the double extended his own sonic cannon, and returned the shot with one just as strong, scoring a direct hit and sending Cyborg hurtling back into the far wall.

Both metal teenagers struggled back to their feet at once, Cyborg shoving damage reports out of his mind, while his double spat words back at him.

"If you know, he said, then what the hell are you doin' here?"

"I'm here 'cause someone had to stand up," said Cyborg, kicking a desk aside as he strode towards his evil twin. "We all did what we had to do. If I've gotta go out, then that's how it's gotta be."

He broke into a run, charging with his fist cocked for business, but when he brought it forward, his counterpart preempted him, grabbing his fist with an open hand moving so fast that he could barely see it. The impact was like a thunderclap, yet the double did not so much as flinch, gripping Cyborg's hand in a vice of iron and steel.

"You are so full of crap," he said. And then he threw him through the wall.

He barely seemed to move, simply shoving forward, and yet his gesture had the force of a howitzer, hurling Cyborg back and into and through a wall of brick, mortar, and steel rebar. Over the sidewalk and into another burnt-out street he flew, landing on the ground in a hail of sparks and sliding to a stop next to the opposite curb.

"Is that really all this is?" asked the double as he followed Cyborg at a leisurely pace, stepping through the hole that he had smashed in the wall and exiting into the street. "More 'I gotta be a man' bullshit? Ain't you done with that yet? You really think you can hide behind this macho crap from me?"

Cyborg slowly pulled himself off the ground, forcing his limbs to work despite the ever-more-urgent warnings that they were giving him not to do so. He rose at a run, charging his adversary with fists raised. But before he had taken more than five steps, a horde of fire demons poured forth from the ground and the walls that lined the street, and hundreds of red lava tendrils snared him like lassos.

"You ain't a man" said the double scornfully, as Cyborg struggled and roared. "You never learned how to be a man. You're not here for some damn last charge, you're here 'cause you're afraid."

"That's right," spat Cyborg contemptuously, letting the sarcasm roll off his tongue, "I came here to fight the Devil because I was afraid."

"It's written all over you," said the double, approaching at a stroll, as the combined force of the demons forced him to his knees. "Tryin' to act all tough, you think that makes you a man? You think I don't know what this is? You're here 'cause you can't face watching the others die. You'd rather delude yourself with a bunch of fantasies about blazes of glory. Shrink off to the side and pretend you're somebody else under all that armor and circuitry, just like usual."

"Shut up."

"Make me, Victor," shouted the double. "There ain't nowhere for you to hide this time, no garage, no workshop, no time portal gonna whisk you off to adventureland. Just you, me, and the end of the world. No more hiding."

"I ain't hiding!"

"You been hidin' your whole life, boy," crowed the alter ego. "Hidin' in plain sight. In the spotlights, where nobody'd ever think to look for you. You were afraid of becoming your old man, so you hid on the football field. Afraid of running your own show, so you hid behind Robin's. Afraid of your own shadow, so you hid behind God. And most of all, afraid to watch your friends die. So you ran off and hid behind Trigon." The other Cyborg shook his head. "I gotta say man, that one was balsy."

"So what are you?" asked Cyborg. "My goddamn shrink?"

"I'm your worst nightmare, Vic. I'm somebody who can see you even when you're hiding. I was there when you watched your mother die. I was there when you pretended to quit the Titans all those times. I was there when you turned on the Hive. And I was there when you watched them put Robin in the ground." The double approached even closer, lowering his head and sticking it in Cyborg's face. "And I'm here now, at the end, to tell you that you can run and hide all you want, but I'll always find you."

Teeth clenched, eyes blazing blue, Cyborg snarled his next words.

"Yeah?" he asked. "Did you find this?"

All at once, Cyborg's shoulders slid open, the blue facing replaced by dozens of small protrusions that popped up from within his chest and arms, and before the double could react, a hail of micro-missiles flew up and out, vaulting into the air for half a second before coming around and landing amidst the army of flame demons that was restraining him, ripping their ranks apart like wheat before a scythe. And as the demons' tendrils were severed or fell slack, Cyborg leaped up from the ground, intending to either blast his counterpart with his sonic cannon, or, failing that, knock his head off with a blow of his fist.

And he might even have succeeded, had he not been intercepted in mid-air.

The only warning he got was a flash of soft pink light before there was a tremendous explosion that blew him out of the air like a duck struck by a shotgun, aborting his attack and blowing him down the street like a piece of debris. Alarms and red sirens flashed within his head as he bounced and scraped to a final halt, the acrid smell of electrical smoke wafting in his nostrils. He lay like a boned fish on the asphalt for a moment before rolling over onto his back, and it wasn't until he reached back with one hand to push himself up to a sitting position that he realized that he no longer had an arm.

"Just the way it happens, man," said the double, strolling towards him with a cock-eyed grin on his preternaturally pale features. "You back the wrong horse, you lose your money. And the one you backed ain't even in the race."

His arm had been blown apart, truncated savagely an inch or two below the shoulder where it ended in a mangled stump of wires and twisted metal. Bits and pieces of it lay scattered around him, his hand and forearm a dozen feet away in the gutter. He put it out of his mind, using his other hand to struggle back to his feet, yet before he could complete the movement, his double was upon him, grabbing him by the throat with one hand and lifting him bodily into the air.

"You see," said the double, "God ain't involved in this little situation. So screamin' to him for help ain't gonna be much use. Only thing might have saved you is wising up."

"Like you?" coughed Cyborg back, trying to grab at the double's arm with his own remaining one.

"No," said that double. "Like her." He didn't gesture, but Cyborg saw anyway.

Up the street, behind the double, back where there had been nobody a moment before, now there stood a small figure cloaked in black and with red and pink energies dancing from her fingers. She was standing still, watching in silence, making no move to assist either one of the Cyborgs before her, but the hollow look on her face was enough to instantly explain to Cyborg what the source of the pink flash from a moment ago had been.

"Jinx..." he said, but not in disbelief or even in anger, a soft, worn note of understanding fused with disappointment. His eyes flickered back to the double. "You didn't - "

"We didn't have to," he said smugly. "We had what she wanted. The foundation of all good relationships." A smile, almost benevolent, crossed the double's face. "And all she has to do in return, is rip you to pieces."

In a single, fluid action, the double pivoted around, throwing Cyborg back down into the street some twenty yards away, letting him slide to a stop a dozen paces from where Jinx stood. Behind him, the reconstituted army of flame demons closed in a broad circle around the two of them. Yet they made no move to close in, and neither did the double, advancing through the crowd of demons to stand at the very edge of the ersatz circle.

Jinx did not move nor make an effort to stop Cyborg, as he slowly recovered his footing. She seemed to be looking right through him, at the demons perhaps, or the double, or someone else for all he could tell. No sign of bravado, no quip, no witty one-liner to announce her superiority. He might as well have not been there, for as much reaction as she gave.

"You wanna help your little friends?" came the mocking voice of the double from behind Cyborg. "Well then, why don't we see which one of you wants it more?"

A moment to steady himself, and then Cyborg looked back to Jinx, whose eyes slowly began to focus on him, even as the energy in her hand coalesced into a glyph of razor-sharp energy.

"Jinx?" he asked simply, unsure even of what he was going to ask her.

"I'm sorry, Cyborg," she said in a voice as dead as their surroundings, even as the hexes began to swirl around her wrists. "I'm... I'm sorry..."

Standing beaten and dismembered in the center of the ring of fire, his own evil twin watching and leering, as Jinx raised her hands and summoned the fel forces that she used for weapons, Cyborg could only lower his head.

"Yeah," he said. "Me too."



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-06 07:20pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 36, cont'd

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"Do you remember that place in Bakersfield?"

It was quiet here. Quiet in the ways that mattered. Quiet in that there was just enough background hum to drown out any tiny noises, but not enough to rise above the level of conscious thought. The air was cooler here than it was outside, not unpleasantly so, but conditioned and cleaned. No taste of sulfur or fly ash, no trace pollutants to sting the eyes. A small respite, an oasis in the midst of the desert. Maybe that was why it had been built. Not for grand purposes, not for complex chess-games or battlefield contingencies. Not for armchair fantasies of replenishment and counteroffensive. Maybe it had been built just so, at the end of all things, someone could go there, and sit for a time, and talk to the phantasms of their own mind.

Maybe.

Perched on the armrest of one of the chairs, Devastator smiled gently. "I remember that you didn't care for it," he said. "It took them two days to find you after you bolted. I'm not sure where you thought you were going."

David sat on the floor where he had fallen, back against the side of a couch, legs pulled up to his chest, arms resting on top of his knees. He did not look up at Devastator, seeming instead to stare off at some invisible thing beyond.

"I just... didn't want to stay," he said, shaking his head. "But I can't remember why anymore."

Devastator folded his hands in front of him. "Well you weren't more than five or six," he said. "Maybe it was Marcus."

"No," said David. "Marcus didn't get really bad until later." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "He was never really that bad anyway."

"I don't remember you being that philosophical about him at the time."

"It's been a while," said David. He shook his head. "I know better now. There's worse things around than Marcus."

Devastator regarded David with equanimity, but David did not lift his head.

"Well," said Devastator, "Bakersfield's near the I-5 corridor..."

A slight tremor, almost imperceptible, was the only reaction. David seemed to think it over for a good ten seconds before answering in a tone scarcely above a whisper. "Yeah," he said. "Maybe."

Devastator waited, but David said nothing further, eyes lowered at the ground. At last, he broke the silence with a question of his own.

"Do you remember anything from that night?"

The question seemed to get David's attention for the first time since he had collapsed. He raised his head to the red-clad simulacrum sitting opposite, staring at him as though trying to discern a reason for the question. Slowly, he shook his head. "No," he said. "Why?"

Now it was Devastator's turn to take a deep breath. "You always said you didn't remember anything, but I can't read minds, even yours. I wasn't really sure."

"Why did you need to be sure?" asked David.

"I didn't need to be," said Devastator. "I..." he trailed off, seeking for the right words, or perhaps the right language to say what he meant. "I always hoped that you didn't remember. I figured it would make it easier somehow."

In another time, another place, David might have taken umbrage at the notion. As it was, he simply lowered his eyes a fraction. "Maybe it did," he said.

There was something in the way he said the words, simple though they were, that seemed to hint at something else altogether.

"Were you... with me? When the accident happened?" said David all of a sudden.

Devastator, or rather the image he was projecting, blinked. "What do you mean?"

David closed his eyes, breathing deep, "I don't remember a time before you," he said. "I don't know when you... picked me." He opened his eyes again, this time looking up at Devastator. "Did you pick me after it happened, or before?"

Devastator sighed slowly. "Before," he said at last. "But not long before. I was there when the - "

David didn't reply in words, but his reaction was clear enough. No sooner had Devastator spoken, than he lowered his head, a wince of pain spreading across his face too rapid to conceal. His breath caught, and when he released it, it was plainly an effort to do so. Devastator waited for an explanation, another question, anything, but David did not respond, until finally he took the initiative.

"David?"

Still David did not answer, indeed he didn't even raise his head, one hand draped over his face. He did not even seem to notice that Devastator had said anything.

"David?" repeated Devastator. "David, is - " He stopped, started over. "What's wrong?"

Slowly, David lifted his eyes, burning red against ash-grey skin. Yet the skin around his eyes was dark, and wet streaks ran down his face. His eyes invisible behind the flaming redness that infused them. He gave no sobs, made no sound, spoke no words, but simply looked up at Devastator, the red light giving his stare an unearthly and direct look, like probing searchlights penetrating to the truth. Devastator, energy being, immortal though he was, could not help but shudder.

"... David?"

"That man out there?" asked David, voice kept steady by what was visibly an act of will. "The one with the cane and the glasses and the big coat. Was he telling the truth?"

Devastator caught his simulated breath. "David, you don't understand how these - "

"If you're not gonna give me a straight answer, then what are you doing here?" asked David sharply, not averting his eyes for an instant, difficult though it was to tell. "He said that he was me, only the way I was... 'supposed' to be. I don't know if I know what that means, but I know you can tell me if he was telling the truth. So tell me, was that guy actually me?"

"You don't need me to tell you that," said Devastator evenly, not yielding an inch. "You've already decided he was telling the truth."

"No," said David, "I guessed. Because that's what I can do. You know."

"What makes you think I know?"

"Because you're an energy being. You're on some kind of other plane. 'I exist outside time and space', that's what you told Raven, isn't it?"

Devastator did not answer.

"That's how you pick people, isn't it? You can see into the past and the future and find out what they're supposed to become, and find the person you want from there, right?"

"That's not how it works," said Devastator.

"But it's close enough, isn't it?" said David. "Close enough for you to answer me. However it actually works, magic or physics or whatever, you know, don't you?"

There were several seconds of complete silence.

"Yes," said Devastator. "He's you."

No reaction. No wince, no hesitation, no signs of surprise. Just a small, almost imperceptible tremor, one David nearly managed to mask completely. Not a shock, a confirmation. Slowly, with infinite care, David permitting himself to lower his head.

The movement broke the silence, at least as far as Devastator was concerned. "David, please," said Devastator. "You don't understand." David said nothing, but raised his eyes anew, which Devastator took as permission to continue. "That man, he's... a... a possible version of you. That's all. He's - "

"He's what I would have been if I hadn't met the Titans."

Devastator hesitated. "Maybe."

"Bullshit," said David. "You know it's more than 'possible'. Warp came back in time and changed things so that I would meet the Titans. And if he hadn't done that, that's who I'd be, isn't it?" He let the question sit, as Devastator stood watching him with his own face, unable to reply. "Isn't it?" he repeated, louder this time.

"Yes," said Devastator at last. "It is."

Again, David closed his eyes, shaking his head from side to side, his hands cupped into fists as he lightly pounded one of them against the side of the sofa he was sitting against. Devastator hesitated once more, before trying again. "David," he said, trying to sound understanding, "I know this was a shock. But you can't - "

Of all things, David started to laugh.

It wasn't a good laugh, it was an incredulous, almost bitter laugh. And he raised his head again and stared at Devastator in something approximating disbelief.

"You think I'm surprised?" he asked, blinking up at the weaponized incarnation of Destruction. He shook his head in what looked like disbelief. "Is that what you think? You think I'm sitting here trying to convince myself it isn't true? I've known this would be the way it would up the whole time."

"What are you talking about?" asked Devastator.

"Why do you think I never used you?" asked David. "Why do you think I spent so much time pretending I couldn't do anything? Even when Marcus or someone else decided to be an idiot, I never, ever used you for anything big, except that one time with the bicycle. What did you think I did that for? Because I was afraid of what other people would think? Is that what you thought it was? How many of your hosts don't even try to figure out how their powers work?"

"You were afraid," said Devastator. "It's only natural to be afraid of powers like the ones I gave you."

"I wasn't afraid of the powers," said David, leaning forward, "I was afraid of what I would do with them. Casual destruction, reflexive violence, I knew where all that went. I'm not an idiot, I can add two and two together. You have a bad day, someone makes you angry, and boom! That's why I tried to leave the Tower." He shook his head again, lowering it slowly until his forehead was resting on his knees. "You think I'm surprised by all this?" he repeated. "I knew this was what I would become from day one. And I let myself be convinced by the others that it wasn't true, because they said it wasn't, and I wanted to believe them. I wanted to be wrong." He took a deep breath and let it out. "But I wasn't wrong."

"Yes you were."

His head shot up again. "I murdered all of the Titans," he said, spitting the words out like a bitter liquid. "I murdered hundreds of people getting to them. I - "

"Stop it," said Devastator, cutting David off angrily. "Just stop it. You didn't murder the Titans, or all those people, he did. For whatever reason, he chose to do those things, not you."

"We're the same person!" exclaimed David.

"So?" asked Devastator. "You don't know the circumstances that - "

"The circumstances?" shouted David. "He killed six hundred people just because they were in his way! He admitted it to me, I watched him do it!"

"Fine," said Devastator, "but you watched him do it. Even if that is what you're supposed to become, it's thirty years in the future, in a totally different world. You don't know what happened, or why he decided to do all that, and neither do I. And if that doesn't mean anything to you, then it damn-well should!"

David said nothing, and Devastator stood up from where he was perched, stepping towards David until he was within arm's reach, as David's eyes darted downwards.

"You're right, you're not an idiot," said Devastator. "So quit acting like one and think. If I turned up two years ago in whichever center you were in then and told you that you would blow up Jump City's main gas line and nearly knock Titans' Tower into the water, you'd have set the building on fire just to get away from me. Well now you've done those things. Did you do them out of spite? Or anger? Did you do them because you're some madman who wanted to destroy the world? Or did you do them because you had a good reason to?"

David shook his head in something approximating disbelief. "Are you trying to say I had good reason to kill the Titans?"

"I'm saying that you have no idea why he did what he did, or what led to it, or anything else. And even if he didn't have good reason to do it, he's the one who did it, not you. You weren't there, you didn't do whatever led up to it. It had nothing to do with you, and you know it! Whatever that version of you did in some other time and place isn't your fault." "You never murdered anyone."

Slowly, David raised his eyes, turning the burning red lights on Devastator's face, his hands, his entire body trembling like he was suffering a palsy. Whatever effect Devastator had hoped for his words, had plainly not transpired. He opened and closed his mouth several times, as through trying to kick start the words to his lips, and finally managed to spit out three soft words, barely whispers.

"Yes I did."

Devastator's expression froze. He blinked, twice, standing at such proximity that David could see the wheels figuratively turning in whatever passed for a mind within the energy being.

"What are you - "

"You know what I'm talking about," said David. "You were there."

A chill settled over Devastator's eyes, one unmistakable to anyone as familiar with his features as David was, by necessity. He took a short, involuntary breath, no less informative for being entirely feigned. "David..." he said.

David didn't give him a chance. "Do you remember that place in San Francisco?"

"Which one?"

"The one I stayed in four years ago? The one that kid from the system wrote me from?" David's jaw tensed up, threatened to lock. "The one with the records building that had a broken basement window?"

"The one you broke?"

"That one. You remember it?"

"I remember it," said Devastator, his voice preternaturally even, yet tense at the same time. "What about it? Did you kill someone there without me knowing about it?"

"No," said David, "I broke into the sealed files, remember?"

"You weren't the only one."

"I was the only one who could break the lock on the filing cabinet by thinking about it."

"Probably," said Devastator, curtly. "What is this about?"

David refused to be hurried. "Do you remember what I found in there."

"Your file."

"Inside the file, don't play stupid."

"You're talking about the accident report?" asked Devastator.

"Yeah," said David.

"What about it?"

"Do you remember what it said?"

"It said that you were in a car accident, that your parents died, and that you survived," said Devastator. "Which is exactly what happened. I was there, remember?"

"I know that," said David. "Do you happen to remember what else it said?"

Devastator hesitated. "What do you mean?"

"What did it say happened, precisely?"

"I have no idea what it said precisely," said Devastator, "it was four years ago."

"Well I do," responded David. "I remember it really well. It said that our car swerved into the oncoming lane, and was hit head-on by a semi truck coming in the opposite direction."

"And?"

"And that's what it says!"

"I know that's what it says, I was there when the accident happened. Why does this even even - "

"Because it doesn't mention the divider."

Devastator blinked, several times. He had heard David perfectly, but what he had just said made no sense as Devastator understood it.

"The what?"

"The center divider," repeated David, eyes stern and cold, perceptible even through the fog of red haze. "When they built the interstate, they realized that people might lose their way in the dark or the fog or something, and drift into oncoming traffic. So they built a divider, between the lanes of traffic, right down the center of the highway."

Slowly, without any command of Devastator's, his projection's face began to fall as he realized where David was going. "David..."

"I've seen it," said David, ignoring Devastator, his voice held rigidly under controlccc as he continued. "So have you, but you probably didn't notice it. I did. I noticed it every time they bussed us back and forth on that road. It's built along the entire highway from Grapevine to Kettleman. Not one break in it in eighty miles. Not one." He paused, his head shaking back and forth, spreading his hands wide, as though in search of an answer. "So tell me," he asked, "if you were there when the accident happened, how did our car manage to swerve into the oncoming lane with a six foot concrete wall between it and us?"

Devastator looked as though someone had seized his heart with a grip of ice. "I..." he stammered, his voice practically a whisper. "I don't... there's a thousand things that could have happened. Maybe you went through the divider..."

"The divider's made of ferroconcrete," snapped David, voice thin and worn, tears coming to his eyes. "Concrete re-enforced with steel! Impervious to anything short of a cruise missile! I know what ferrocrete of that grade can take, Cyborg made me study it for weeks! You could drive a dump truck full of Nitro-Glycerin into a divider like that at two hundred miles an hour and not break through! There is no way we went through that divider in a four-seat car!"

"Then maybe you went over it. Swerved into it and ran up the side. I don't know, David, you were asleep when it happened. I can only see through you. Why does this matter now?"

David ignored the question. "There was a medical report in the file too," he said, his voice becoming more and more rigid, almost fearful, though it was unclear what he was afraid of. "It talked about what happened to me."

"You nearly died," said Devastator. "You shouldn't have needed a medical report to tell you that."

"That's not what I mean. The accident report said that they found me bleeding."

"Of course you were bleeding," snapped Devastator, "you were in a car wreck with a semi-truck! The flying glass alone - "

"It wasn't from the glass."

"What do you - "

"Subject is a child of approximately two years," said David, plainly quoting from memory, "minor lacerations and abrasions are evident due to impact. Copious bleeding evident from subject's eyes, ears, and nose appear to be caused by ruptured blood vessels." He pronounced the last words like proclamations of doom. "Medical examination revealed extreme stress and internal bleeding throughout the subject's entire cardiovascular system." He paused, taking a ragged breath. "Cause of effects unknown. Presumed related to accident."

Devastator stood motionless, no sound escaping his lips, staring at David, who stared right back.

"When I read that," said David, "I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know if it meant anything. But then I started having those headaches, during training. The blood pressure spikes, the migraines. Terra getting me to overload. And then there was that thing on the island. When I tried to kill Slade." He let the notion sit for a moment. "Every time I pushed too far with you, past where I normally went, it was the same."

Neither one said a word for a time that could have been minutes, seconds, or hours. When Devastator finally broke the silence, his voice had died to an ember of its former self, quiet, restrained, and deflated.

"I didn't think you would remember all that," he said.

"You didn't think I'd remember a report about what happened that night?"

Devastator didn't answer for a little while. "Maybe I hoped you wouldn't," he finally said.

"You thought it would be easier?" asked David.

"I thought it would be better for you if you just..." he let himself trail off. "I hoped you'd be able to let it go."

There was a moment's silence.

"The bleeding," said Devastator at last. "The circulatory damage. You do know that could have been caused just by raw concussion? A wreck at that speed with that much mass... it's a miracle you didn't suffer worse. It could just have been the crash."

"But it wasn't the crash," said David, his eyes locked on Devastator's. "Was it?"

Devastator performed an excellent impression of someone drawing a breath slowly and holding it in. "No," he said, at last. "It wasn't."

David's eyes closed of their own accord, silent tears squeezing themselves out from between his eyelids. He managed, at cost incalculable, to prevent himself from moving at all otherwise. Moments later, he felt a tingling sensation, faint and yet plain and easy to detect, centered on his shoulder and running down his arm, a sensation vaguely warm and electrical, and he opened his eyes once more to see that the copy of himself that had been Devastator had vanished. In its place stood an enormous man, tall and broad, with a mass of red hair that ran riot in every direction, and an enormous, curled beard, also red. Significantly taller than David, he stood above him with his hand extended out, laid on David's shoulder. David felt no weight, no physical presence, nothing but the electrical sensation, and the man's expression was soft, concern seasoned with what might have been guilt.

"It was me," said Devastator, his voice still David's, but stronger now, commanding, a voice tinged with authority and reverence, not to be gainsaid or spoken against. A voice of someone who was speaking ex cathedra. "You want the truth? You want an explanation? You know it was me. That's why you asked in the first place. You've always known that, haven't you?"

"I didn't know," said David, quietly now, no signs of anger in his voice. "But... I could feel it..."

"Then you felt right," said Devastator, staring directly at David, whose eyes remained averted, staring down at the ground between them. "I blew the car off the road," said Devastator. "I touched off the right front axle and flipped the whole car over the divider into the oncoming lane. It went straight into the truck."

He might as well have said nothing, for David did not lift his eyes, nor give any indication that he had heard what Devastator had said.

"David, are you listening?" demanded Devastator, moving as though attempting to shake him by the shoulder, though his massive arms passed right through David like holograms. "Did you hear what I just said? You were right, it was me. I did it! I killed your parents. It was my doing and nobody - "

Slowly, David lifted his head to meet Devastator, and the face he lifted was wet, the eyes puffed and swollen. His mouth trembled, but he did not weep, nor accuse, nor give any other indication of anger. He only locked his eyes with those of the energy being before him, and slowly shook his head.

"It wasn't you," David said slowly. "You don't have a will. You can't do anything by yourself. It couldn't have been you."

The expression on Devastator's face slowly froze, something akin to a shattering disappointment crystallizing within his eyes. It was a look that, without so much as a word, spoke more volumes to David than anything that had yet been said. And in that precise instant, David knew the truth.

"That's why you need a host," he said.

Slowly, carefully, Devastator's began to melt, his entire form dissolving before David's eyes. Shrinking back into another form, the energy being became a young woman, adorned in white, a circlet of diamond on her brow. A moment later, and the woman had grown once more into a towering warrior in plate armor black as night, a sword in one hand dripping blood the color of wine. Again and again he shifted, forms human and alien, too many to comprehend, too rapidly for David's eyes to focus upon. A blur of images, hundreds and thousands of images, enough to overwhelm his eyes with a riot of color and shape, until he could take it no longer, and closed them, moments before everything gave out, and he fell.

He landed on the ground as he felt something wrap itself around him, not a physical object but an energy, like a static charge, running over him in waves. Warm and electrical, both familiar and unfamiliar, it washed over him like an ocean tide, and as it did so he felt the tears running down his face once more, this time unstoppable. He dug his fingers into the carpet, eyes squeezed shut, his body automatically contracting into a fetal position as his defenses broke down. Alone in the darkness he cried, for all that had been lost, by Trigon's actions or his own.

It no longer mattered which.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The voice was lilting and lyrical and just off-key enough to send chills racing down Starfire's spine, though that might have been the aching pangs from somewhere deep inside every time she recognized its timbre.

"Run, run, as fast as you can," came the voice from somewhere nearby, lost in the labyrinthine passages of Warp's fortress. It rolled round corners and cornices, losing and fragmenting itself until it seemed to come from everywhere at once. And no sooner had it stopped, than a similar voice, deeper of timbre and pitch but no less twisted, echoed a soft reply.

"You can't catch me. I'm the Gingerbread man..."

It was the same voice, dialed downwards, and the combination of the two was enough to make her sick to all seven stomachs.

She raced down the corridor, her thoughts too jumbled and heart too petrified to even attempt flight. She could hear footsteps, disjointed, metallic footsteps, on the stones somewhere nearby, behind her, in front of her, in hallways running parallel to this one, she couldn't tell. Apprehensively, she glanced backwards and forwards, seeking for her pursuers, yet every time she did so, there was nothing there.

Until, that is, someone swung a metal staff at her head.

It came out of nowhere, she would swear to that on her life. In the space of one blink there was someone in front of her with a staff swinging at eyelevel, meant to burst her head like a melon. By the barest of margins, she contrived to duck under the swing which smashed against the wall in a cascade of sparks. She jumped back, only to have her assailant leap forward and strike again, but this time she was ready, and raising one arm, she took the blow on the bracer around her forearm.

One problem with emotion-based powers was that they had a tendency to desert one at the worst possible moments. Particularly ones based on boundless confidence.

The blow was like a hammer, sending a wave of force coursing through her entire body. It lifted her off her feet and threw her against the wall as though gravity had just shifted beneath her, slamming her against the wall hard enough to smash the facing of the smoothed stone blocks.

In a heartbeat, her assailant spun the staff around and jabbed with it, aiming the end at the bridge of her nose. Once more she ducked, letting it smash against the broken stone, and reaching up, she grabbed the staff and wrenched it out of his hands, stepping back with it and tossing it behind her, only to watch as the other reached behind his back and drew forth a small cylinder, which telescoped out into a fresh staff.

Before Starfire could react to this new development, something hit her in the back of the head like a falling building, and the next thing she knew, she was lying on her stomach on the floor, with something that felt very much like the end of a pole being driven into her back. Someone bent over her as she lay on the ground, and she heard a soft click and saw a glint of light on metal as whoever it was reached around her throat with a sharp, pointed object no larger than a knife.

Certain things tended to galvanize one's attention.

She tensed up and shoved hard against the stones, her innate Tamaranean strength giving her a burst of power that sent her practically flying upwards, knocking the person off of her as she leaped up and landed on her feet. In front of her, she saw the twisted, broken version of Nightwing still holding his staff, leering at her from beneath his hawk-like mask. And behind her, Robin's simulacrum was already recovering from having been shaken off, another staff held in his hands as he began to advance once more.

"What have you done with him?" asked Starfire aloud, speaking to neither one of the simulacra. She was confident that the person whom she was addressing would hear her.

Her confidence was well-placed. "I've done nothing to either of them," came Warp's voice from some dark corner of the mad labyrinth, "save what they both claimed to do. I've restored the balance in the interests of justice."

"Justice is not served by this mockery!" shouted Starfire, backing towards the wall, watching both of the evil clones as they circled around her. "You do not even know the meaning of the term! Why are you doing this?"

"I understand the term in detail, Starfire," said Warp, icily. "It is not simply a convenient shield for you to hide your actions behind. Justice applies blindly, even to those whom you spared no thought for. Justice is indifferent to your biases, preoccupations and concerns. It is cold. It is heartless. And it is without remorse."

There was a flash of light, and suddenly Warp was before her, between Nightwing and Robin, the Book of Azar in his hand, held lightly at his side despite its size and weight, his finger extended towards her.

"I find it deeply ironic, Starfire, that I should have to be the one to tell you that."

Starfire bit back the vile curses that were forming on her tongue in Tamaranean, English, and every other language that came to mind. "What have you done with Robin?" she managed to ask.

"I have turned him to my purposes," said Warp, gesturing to the simulacra on either side of him. "Purposes to which, I imagine, he would not object, were he able to make his wishes known."

"You lived with him for years!" shouted Starfire. "How can you even say such a - "

"Don't presume to judge me, princess. Robin dedicated his life towards the principles of justice, long before he ever met you. It was burnt into the very fibre of his being. I have made of him an instrument of justice and retribution."

"Revenge for your obsessions is not justice!"

"Oh but it is!" exclaimed Warp. "Justice is balance! Justice is a settling of accounts! Justice is reciprocity, a crime committed, a crime exacted! That is justice! You heroes twist the term so that you might use it to justify your every action, so that nothing you do is ever wrong!" Warp smiled cruelly and spread his arms wide. "Well it is long-since time you were brought to account."

"You are insane!"

"Perhaps," said Warp, his smile not shrinking an inch as he gestured around him in turn. "But I'm also the one with the book, the allies, and the rarest of all gifts, just cause."

"And I am to believe that Trigon, Lord of Evil, now the patron of just causes?" shouted Starfire back. "Is it from your fine sense of justice that you have aligned yourself with him and exterminated the denizens of this world?"

"Not all of us are blessed with the gift of Tamaranean physiology, Starfire," said Warp. "Some of us require other means to enact our revenge. Trigon was a means to an end. To this end." He smiled anew, a patronizing smile, like that of a teacher amused by the antics of a truant student. "Dismiss me as a madman if you must," he said, "but justice does not require that you admit your crimes, only that you pay for them."

White fury stabbed through Starfire as she clenched her fists and leaned forward, like a racehorse straining to burst from the starting gate. "Were I you, Warp," she said, "I would not speak of payment for crimes."

"And were I you, Starfire," said Warp, "I would not take my eyes off of my two associates here."

There was a flash of blinding light as bright as a supernova, instantly washing out Starfire's vision completely, and a heartbeat later, something hit Starfire in the chest like a wrecking ball. She was hurled back, smashing into and through the stone blocks behind her. She landed on more stone, the thunderous sounds of the collapsing walls ringing her in, her eyes still washed out by the flash bomb. Blinking to try and clear her vision, she heard the sounds of metal-shod footsteps approaching from indeterminable directions.

Before the light returned to her eyes, something grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up, something with a grip of cold iron and the strength of a thousand Tamaranean warriors. She gasped, choking, grabbing at the unyielding wrists of whatever had seized her and uselessly tugging at them as she was lifted off her feet by the inexorable force. Her eyes cleared grudgingly, and she saw Warp standing before her, the book in his hand sheathed in black, his free hand extended towards her and projecting a river of dark energy that had wrapped itself around her throat like an iron vice.

"What's the matter, Princess?" snarled Warp as he held Starfire aloft. "Can't think of anything to say?"

With a broad, violent stroke, Warp swept his arm to the side, hurling Starfire into a column of volcanic glass, which shattered into a million pieces as she flew through it. She landed on the coarse ground and rolled to a stop as Warp followed at a stroll.

"What is it you sought to find here, Princess?" asked Warp as he advanced, tendrils of darkness snaking from his hand as Robin and Nightwing flanked him on either side. "Redemption? Salvation? Rescue? Were you seeking to save Robin at any cost? Some selfless act of heroism to restore him to your very arms? That is why you came, is it not?"

Starfire struggled to her feet as the broken glass rolled off her, taking two steps towards Warp as she raised her hand and closed it into a fist. Yet before she could fire a starbolt, Warp's tendrils wrapped themselves around her like the lash of a whip, and bound her in place in bonds of adamant, lifting her into the air as she fought to break free.

"Foolish child," said Warp with a smirk, "there is no redemption here. No salvation, no rescue. This place is Hell. I happen to be an expert in Hell. And I can assure you that in Hell there is only pain."

Warp glanced momentarily to Robin, who obediently stepped forward, his staff at the ready. With a flick of his finger, Warp sliced off the tip of the staff into a point so sharp as to be invisible, moments before the entire staff began to glow in black energy, a darkness so profound it seemed to sap the heat from the terrace.

"You abandoned me in Hell," said Warp as Robin approached Starfire, "and left me to live or die, at the whims of your so-called friends." He lowered his hand, bringing Starfire down nearer to the ground, though not near enough that she could find purchase against any surface. Starfire's thrashings became more and more frantic as Robin closed in, yet Warp's hand did not quiver, nor did his bonds of darkness so much as tremble. Robin approached to within striking distance, raised the staff above his head, and turned back to look at Warp.

Warp did not look to Robin, but maintained his gaze on Starfire, seeming to relish the look in her eyes as his features twisted into a cruel smirk.

"Consider us even," he said, and released the bonds.

Less than a tenth of a second later, Robin drove the fel-charged staff's point straight into Starfire's chest.

"Robi - unh..."

There was no scream. No cry. No wail of a stricken bird or creature. No histrionic shrieks to give pleasure to the most twisted of ears. There was only a wet slicing sound, a soft gasp, choked off abruptly, and the minute sounds of a throat closed to air and sound that still struggled to release both. Starfire hung, just for a moment, where she had been floating, and then slowly, with all the grace of a falling leaf, fell the several inches that still separated her from the terrace floor, one hand lightly grasping the staff that Robin had just driven into her, the other, almost unconsciously, wrapping itself around Robin's shoulders.

"Robin..." she whispered.

Robin twisted the spear, and shoved it forward.

Now there was a cry, stifled by iron command, but audible all the same, that leaked out involuntarily as she knotted her fingers in Robin's cape and held the makeshift spear with a hand that had lost all strength. Again Robin shoved, driving the spearpoint further in, making no effort to break away, driving in the spear until it could be lodged nowhere but in Starfire's heart.

Blood soaked into the front of Starfire's shirt, ran down the staff onto Robin's glove, yet Starfire did not collapse, holding onto Robin tightly, as though they were not in Hell but back at the Tower, as though there were no spear, no Warp, no Trigon, no plots of evil, nothing else in the world. She held him as though she feared he would vanish.

"Robin..." she whispered again, tears rolling down her face, her voice so weak as to barely be comprehensible several paces away.

Yet Warp heard her. "Robin is dead," he said. "He will never return. And neither, Princess, shall you."

Starfire shuddered, seeming all of a sudden to wilt, her grip on Robin beginning to slacken as she slowly closed her eyes. Her mouth moved, but her lungs had lost their strength, and what words she whispered, Warp could not hear. With a gleeful smile, he stepped forward.

"I'm sorry, Princess," he said, patronizingly, "what was that?"

"I am sorry," whispered Starfire without opening her eyes, as the blood trickling down the spear slowed, and her voice seemed to drift off. "I am so sorry..."



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-06 07:22pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 36, cont'd

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"I mostly remember how dark it was."

David did not raise his head, unsure if he could conjure up the necessary force to do so and unwilling to try. He left his eyes shut, unwilling to see the red glow that reflected off everything when they were open. He preferred to remain blind for the time being, as from somewhere overhead, Devastator spoke.

"There were lights along the road, but the fog was in, and the windows were tinted. No lights on in the car. No sound but the engine and the radio."

"They didn't say anything?" asked David, hearing his voice as though it were disembodied, coming from someone else. Every word was like a dagger through his heart.

"It was a long trip," said Devastator. "From Jump City all the way north over the mountains into the central valley. It had to be ten or eleven at night. They were tired. You were tired."

"What happened?" asked David, forcing out the words as barely a whisper. His fingers dug into the leather of the chairback behind him, as if in anticipation of a physical blow. Every fibre of his being wanted to run away, clamp his hands over his ears, do anything besides sit here. But there was nothing else to do, and he did not allow himself to tell Devastator to be quiet.

It took more to stop himself than he thought he had left in him.

"I don't know what happened... exactly," said Devastator, in a voice that sounded rather like prevarication.

If Devastator thought he was softening the blow, David disabused him. "Just... tell me already," he exclaimed before he could stop himself, voice pained. "You were there. I don't remember any of it. What happened?"

A pregnant pause, discernible even with his eyes closed. He could picture Devastator hesitating somewhere over him, before finally speaking.

"It was the front, right wheel," said Devastator. "A single, clean burst, inside the wheelshaft. Stainless steel with a low chromium count, the easiest thing in the world. It snapped the transaxle like a twig. The entire wheel assembly collapsed in a quarter second."

David felt something knotting itself around his lungs, squeezing the air out through clenched teeth, and he squeezed his eyes together, if only to spare himself the sight of his own face reciting the words he knew to come.

"Your father was driving," said Devastator. That one word hit like a wrecking ball, and David had to fight to avoid doubling over as Devastator continued. "The car jolted to the right. He swung it the other way, tried to compensate, but there was too much speed." Another pause, David could practically see Devastator trying to find a way to ease this. He decided on clinical, technical description. "The car was front wheel drive. The blast knocked out the drive train, and cut the brake lines. No way to stop, no way to control it. It hit the divider at a sharp angle and went over it like a ramp. Landed on its roof in the opposing lane. It was still sliding when the truck hit."

He tried to focus on the clinical details, tried to depersonalize what he was being told, if only for a few more seconds. "The truck driver didn't say anything about that," said David, his voice sounding more desperate than he intended. "Why didn't the reports - ?"

"The driver never saw anything," said Devastator, anticipating the question. "The fog was in too thick. To him, the car just appeared out of nowhere, no time to react. And when he hit it... well you saw the photos. It was completely pulverized. Nobody noticed a broken axle in the middle of all that."

I single breath, taken in slowly between clenched teeth, and David forced his eyes open. Devastator stood before him, once more disguised as David himself, watching him in the way that one might watch a disturbed stranger on the bus, a wary look mixed with concern, the look of someone who feared what the person he was watching might do.

"It was me, wasn't it? I blew up the axle."

A hesitation. "I blew it up," said Devastator at last, trying too hard to sound convincing.

A spike of red-hot anger shot through David like an industrial laser, and before he knew what he was doing, he leaped to his feet, overturning the chair behind him. "I was your host!" he exploded, screaming at Devastator at the top of his lungs. "I was the one in control!"

"You weren't in control of a damned thing!" retorted Devastator. "You weren't even two!"

"Then how did it happen?" shouted David. "Ten thousand hosts and a million years of trying, and this one time you managed to act by yourself? You can't stop Trigon from stealing you, you can't stop Raven from digging into my head, but you managed to blow up part of my parents' car for no reason at all without me telling you too?"

There was a fractional flinch in Devastator's features, one that might not have been perceptible even at this distance had Devastator's face been anything except his own. But as it was, it gave David notice of what Devastator was going to say.

He pre-empted it.

"It was me," said David, stepping forward to within inches of Devastator, staring his simulacrum straight in the eye. "Wasn't it?"

David wasn't sure, given what he was looking at, but at that instant, he could swear that he saw something break inside Devastator's gaze.

"You gave the order," he said, his tone stilted and quiet. "I blew up the axle. That's how it works."

David felt the world fading around him. He managed to retain enough lucidity to ask the only pertinent question.

"Why?" he asked.

There was a flicker of what might have been pain, a slight tremor, like an interruption in the feed of a hologram. But in the end, Devastator could only shake his head.

"I don't know," he whispered.

Now it was David's turn to flicker with pain, to shake with the first subtle tremors of what might be an eruption or a final, total collapse, he didn't know which. He wanted to scream and throw Devastator through a wall. He wanted to explode. But more than anything, he wanted an answer at last. Yet one look was enough to know that this time, if never before, Devastator was telling the absolute truth.

"You... don't know?" he asked, half in disbelief, half in supplication.

Devastator caught the prayer in the question, but had no answer to give. "I can't read your mind," he whispered anew, and the words sounded like an admission of failure. "I know what you did. But I can't tell why you did it."

Slowly, by inches and centimeters, David lowered his head. He closed his eyes, stepped forward, into and through Devastator, feeling the electrical tingling roll over him and disappear once more as he walked past the projection of the most powerful weapon in the universe. He did not turn back, took his steps like a shambling drunk, barely able to keep his balance as his head and balance swam through the air above him, a thousand impulses battling one another to explode out of the drained husk of his body.

From behind, he heard Devastator as if through a wall, muted and soft, with only portions of his words sinking in, as Devastator tried, in vain, to assuage him even now.

"David, you were two years old, if that," said Devastator. "You couldn't possibly have known what you were doing. You'd been bottled up in a car for hours. Maybe you were tired. Maybe you were cranky. Maybe you just wanted the car to stop. Maybe you were exploring what you could do with me and just popped the axle by accident. It wasn't your fau- "

David screamed.

It was a paltry scream, nothing wild or loud or full-throated. Not some virile scream of rage against the Gods or at the tragedies of fate. It was half-choked, wracked with pain, torn unwillingly from a throat that could simply no longer contain it. A scream of agony and anguish and frustration all rolled into one, and as he did so, he half-stepped, half-lurched forward, and slammed his fist as hard as he physically could directly into one of the glass display cases wherein the Titans' equipment and uniforms were being displayed.

David was not large, not even for his age, but his fist hit the glass case with absolutely none of the customary hesitation that any thinking person would exhibit before slamming his hand into an unyielding object. Indeed, had the case been real glass, he might well have broken it despite his size, but the cases were laminated plexiglass, bulletproof and impervious to anything he could conceivably do to them. Not that this stopped him in the least. So much force did he throw into the blow that he lost his balance and fell against the case, pounding his fist against it over and over and over again as rapidly as he could, until his knuckles split and bled and he smeared the blood all over the case. Still he continued, hitting again and again, his blows losing power as they gained in speed, until finally the carpet tore beneath the case's feet. With a loud rip, the case toppled, slamming into the one next to it and tipping it over as well like a domino. Within seconds, all three cases on the near side of the room had collapsed onto their sides, spilling their contents onto the floor. David himself was carried forward by his last strike, and fell as well, landing atop one of the cases hard. Shatterproof though the case might have been, his full weight crushed one side like an egg and left him laying half-propped up amidst shattered plexiglass and the instruments of his vanished friends.

He lay on the floor on his side, feeling like he was going to be sick, drawing and exhaling breath through his nostrils and mouth in short gasps. Devastator could have still been talking, could have vanished, he wouldn't know. Whatever he thought he had previously gone through, the trials and torments and black days of defeat or self-doubt, it was nothing to compare to lying on the floor of a replica of his former home, surrounded by the possessions of his dead friends, while the presence that had been ripped out of him by force calmly explained to him the circumstances whereby he had murdered his own parents.

He did not weep. He did not cry or scream anew or curse aloud. He was too far gone for any of those things. He lay there in a stupor, insensible to passage of time or presence of anyone else. It felt like a million years, though likely it was less than a minute, before something managed to pierce the veil.

It was something elemental. Something deep within. Something to hold onto in the midst of a raging tempest within his head. No sappy emotional foothold, for those had all been stripped away, not a happy thought or pleasant memory or some other Hallmark Moment to be reached for in the darkness. It was a cold, simple question, one riding in the back of his mind, one that had always ridden there, safely un-askable. It brought no warmth or compassion to him, no hope, no pleasure. It was merely the absence of gut-spilling pain, transitory though it promised to be. A question he had always wondered, but never asked, for there was nobody to ask it to, and real fear of the answer.

"Why?"

Devastator, standing above and in front of him, was shaken out of whatever counsel he was holding by the sheer unexpectedness of the question. "Why... what?" he asked back, gingerly.

David raised his head, slowly, and the glow of red light from his eyes drowned out any sense that could have been made from his ashen face or broken demeanor. His voice was choked with disgust and reproach, at himself, at Devastator, it was impossible to tell. But there was no mistaking his words, for he turned them over with iron deliberation, as though he were speaking aloud a question long-prepared, long-dwelt upon, never vocalized.

"Why did you pick me?"

Devastator went quiet.

"Why me?" he asked again, his voice like a burnt cinder. "Why the hell would you pick me? You could have picked anyone, anyone in the world, anyone in the universe. Why me?" As though asking the question had released some pressure valve, his voice built in tone and energy, his brain so out of sorts that he repeated himself without realizing it. "You could have had anybody. You could have had Superman! Why me?"

"I didn't come all the way to Earth to bond with a Kryptonian," said Devastator.

"Then anybody else!" shouted David, though it came out more like a plaintive cry. "There were six billion of us! You could have had anybody! Kings! Presidents! Policemen, if that's what you wanted! People who knew how to protect other people, people who wanted to! Anybody you wanted across the entire world, and you pick me?"

"That's right," said Devastator, his voice as even and still as a pond on a windless day.

David's head shook slowly of its own accord. "Why?" he asked, blinking in pure incomprehension. "Why would you do that? Why not a real hero? Why not Robin for God's sake, he didn't have any powers! Any of them! Anyone else! If you wanted a superhero, you could have - "

"I didn't want a superhero," said Devastator.

The words died on David's lips, plunging the room into silence once again. Devastator ventured nothing further, watching the young teen on the floor with something approximating equanimity. Frozen in place, scarcely daring to breathe, David needed several moments before his brain finally drew the final, inevitable conclusion.

"No," he said. "You wanted a supervillain."

Slowly, Devastator lowered his head, eyes dropping by fractions until they finally slid shut. He said nothing.

"You weren't looking for a hero," said David, his voice flat, monotone, more a recitation than an accusation. "You wanted somebody who'd use you to do what I did. Somebody who'd spread destruction. Somebody who'd kill six hundred people just to get at the Titans, and then kill them on top of the bodies." David paused, but Devastator did not react. "You wanted me to do all this, didn't you?" he asked at last. "It's what you picked me for. It's what you wanted."

Still Devastator did not reply, nor raise his head, but to David's ears, his silence spoke more than any words could have.

For three, endless seconds, David stood before the Devastator in silence, until what little fire this last accusation had conjured up had died. And in the ashes left behind, he could only shake his own head.

"Congratulations," he said hoarsely, "you got what you wanted." And then he turned and walked away.

But he had gotten no more than five paces before Devastator broke his silence.

"You're really full of shit, you know that?"

Had Devastator pulled out a gun and shot David in the back, he could scarcely have engendered a stronger reaction. David stopped as though he had collided with an invisible wall. It took him several full seconds to turn around, blinking as though he had been struck in the face, so unexpected was this remark. "What..." he stammered, "what did you just say?"

"You heard me," said Devastator darkly, raising his eyes in a scowl. "I wanted a supervillain, did I? You figure that one out by yourself?"

"Did you?" asked David, teeth clenched and fists balled.

"I've got a better question for you," said Devastator, leaning forward with a glare on his face. "Does it matter why I picked you?"

"Answer me!" snapped David

"Why?" spat Devastator back. "You already decided what the answer was!"

"I don't know what - "

"Of course not, you guessed again, didn't you? That's what this all comes down to. You haven't got any answers so you decided what you would make them into. That you were chosen to be a murderer, right? That's what you want me to say."

"So why don't you just say it?" hissed David

"Because what matters isn't why I picked you," replied Devastator. "What matters is why you think I picked you."

David blinked in shock. "I don't believe this," he said. "I'm not gonna sit here and listen to a bunch of positive thinking - "

"I didn't pick you because I wanted a supervillain, David," said Devastator forcefully. "If I had, I would have picked a psychopath or a serial killer and saved myself the trouble. But it doesn't matter why I picked you. I'm not the one who makes the decisions about how I get used. You do. And all that matters for that is why you think I picked you."

"What are you even talking about?" asked David. The question sounded almost plaintive.

Devastator leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest. "I've had thousands of hosts," he said. "Over more years than I can count. Heroes, villains, depraved monsters, I've had all kinds. I've looked for all kinds. I've picked people because I knew they would become killers. And others because I knew they would save their worlds. It's the only choice I ever get to make."

"Which one was I?" asked David.

"Neither," said Devastator. "And you'd know that already if you hadn't tied yourself up in knots.

David said nothing.

Devastator stood up from the wall stepping towards David, his eyes piercing and expression stony. "I'm the Lord of Destruction," he said. "The most powerful weapon ever devised. I have no soul, no conscience, and no will. I'm a facsimile of a living being, granted semi-sentience so as to permit me to wage war against a God. I make no choices, nor will I ever make any, save for the choice of my host. Inasmuch as I've armed madmen and murderers with the tools to kill, I am guilty of terrible crimes, and inasmuch as I've armed heroes and champions with the tools to stop them, I am responsible for preventing others. Through me, billions of innocents have lost their lives, and billions more have had them saved."

"Why are you telling me all this?" asked David.

"Because I know all about evil, and good, and the things that lie between them," said Devastator. "Because I've lived long enough to know what a hero is. A hero is a closed circuit. A hero is driven. Compelled. Commanded. Maybe by their family or their people, maybe just by themselves. And if that's what I wanted this time 'round, I could have picked one. Robin, Cyborg, any of your friends. But with powers, without them, a hero finds a way to do what he has to, because he doesn't have a choice. He drives himself, if nobody else will." Devastator shook his head. "Maybe that's admirable. But all I get to do is pick one person, and then sit back and watch. That's my entire existence. And for me, picking a hero is like reading a book that you already know the ending to. After the first couple thousand times, you just can't talk yourself into it anymore."

David said nothing as Devastator approached, watching the projection like he was in some sort of dream or daze.

"I used to pick only heroes," said Devastator. "I thought it ennobled me. Gave me a purpose beyond fighting Trigon. So I went looking for born champions. Reformers. Revolutionaries overthrowing the evil empire. Thinking that I was making the universe a better place used to help me through the centuries of watching my hosts do anything they wanted except what I wanted them to do, or watching insensate as they failed or even succeeded and lived happily ever after. After a while it just didn't matter to me who lived or died, or who my hosts stopped or how many lives they saved. And when I finally realized that no matter how carefully I picked, I would never get a surrogate for my own will, and that living vicariously will never be the same as living, I switched tracks and went after villains. I thought if nothing else, they would surprise me."

Devastator was now barely two paces away, and he shook his head. "But they didn't," he said. "My hosts spilled more blood across the universe than even Trigon could dream of. Some of them were brought down by heroes, or by outraged victims, or ran themselves off of cliffs in their own madness. Maniacs, stone killers, mad scientists, monsters conjured up from some dark pit, conquerors with delusions of grandeur, after centuries upon centuries, they all ran together. I tried alternating, picking at random, it didn't matter. All I was doing was putting a weapon in the hands of someone who already knew what he wanted to do with it, and watching him go."

Devastator was right in front of him now, close enough that David could see the shimmer behind the eyes of the simulacrum that the semi-living weapon had manifested within, a barest hint of the staggering power that lay within, trapped and rendered impotent, circumscribed within rules woven and the fabric of the universe.

"And then one day," said Devastator. "My most recent host died. Old age. Queen of her planet. And I had to choose someone else. And I realized that I didn't want a born superhero, and I didn't want a black-hearted killer. I'd seen every permutation of those things conceivable a thousand times over. I wanted someone else."

"Who?"

"I wasn't sure at first. I searched for... decades. Silently. Longer than I'd ever spent searching before. Planet to planet, galaxy to galaxy. I didn't know what I was looking for, just that I wasn't finding it. I could have taken any one of a hundred thousand candidates, but I didn't. I knew how their stories would end already. I just couldn't convince myself that there was any point in picking them."

"And then, one day, I came across a backwater planet near the edge of a spiral galaxy, and found something I'd never seen before."

"What did you find?" asked David.

Devastator hesitated before answering, looking David over for a moment, before, of all things, he smiled.

"A catalyst," he said.

David blinked. "A... what?"

"A catalyst," repeated Devastator. "A trigger. A little spark plug in an engine the size of a planet. I found you, David. That's what you are. You're a lit match. You're an ignition switch. You're a pivot, a hinge, a fulcrum around which massive bodies turn." Devastator reached out a hand, laying it on David's shoulder gently, sending the warm, electrical sensation running up his arm. "And you've never let yourself realize it."

"What are you talking about?" asked David, not even noticing that his voice had reduced to a whisper.

"You think I picked you because of some... destiny? To do good, to do evil, some pre-ordained thing? It wasn't like that at all. You don't have a destiny, David. No ancient prophecies, no angelic writ, you never did. Most people don't have a destiny. They live their lives by the choices they make, forced or otherwise, and try to do right by themselves, and when enough of them gather together, you average it all out and call it reality. The people who stand above that, the ones who really shape the world around them, they have destinies. Raven, Robin, Trigon, all had destinies, either because of some literal prophecy, or because they just drove themselves into it. Mass murderers, paragons of justice, revolutionaries. They're born to be what they are, they don't know how to be anything else. They rise and stand the universe on its head, because that's what they have to do. All of them, all that I've seen, all had ordained ends, ones they only needed to reach out and grasp, even if they didn't know it themselves. All of them..." Devastator shook his head and smiled again. "... all except you."

David's tongue fell still, and he could only stare up into Devastator's eyes.

"It's like you said," said Devastator. "I exist beyond time and space. I look through the possibilities of the future, and I see what people can become. I look into their souls, their essences. I see what's trying to come out, what they can't hide, it's as clear to me as daylight is to you. But when I looked into you, all I could see were fragmentary possibilities. Hundreds, thousands, an infinite number. Some seemed to have nothing to do with you. Some followed logic so torturous I couldn't understand it. No matter how hard I looked, no matter what perspective I applied, I simply couldn't tell anything. Not even a trendline in some general direction, it was total chaos. A billion other threads were strangling yours in every direction, but instead of choking them off, they deflected like bullets off a steel plating, or were shredded by contact and vanished into nothing. Everywhere you went, the world just warped around you, whether you meant it to or not. You weren't just without destiny, you shattered destinies. Yours, other people's, for better, for worse, there was no trend. You're a catalyst, David. You trigger change. You are change."

Devastator leaned in close, staring into David's eyes, speaking low but with electrical intensity.

"None of this was supposed to happen," he said. "You know that. This was all supposed to be different. Robin was supposed to be alive, Raven was supposed to stop Trigon, I wasn't even supposed to be involved, and neither were you. Neither was Terra. Neither was the Hive. And I know you didn't mean to change any of that. You didn't even know about most of it. You didn't set out to kill Robin because you were meant to or drove yourself to, not even in Warp's time. It wasn't your doing that changed things, it wasn't anyone's doing, not even Warp's. It was..." Devastator groped for words. "It was a cascading series of events, like ripples in a pond, pulling apart what was supposed to happen and re-assembling it differently. It was threads of possibility rubbing against one another until one of them snapped. So many, so varied, that nobody could have picked them out ahead of time.

"So you wanna know why, in some possible future, you turned into that guy out there? I can't answer you. I have no idea. You'd have to go ask him what happened. But thirty years from now, if none of Warp's changes had occurred, you would have become one of the most powerful supervillains in the history of the world. You destroyed the Titans by yourself. You did what Slade and Brother Blood and the Hive and even Trigon himself failed to do. And yet Warp changes one thing around you, one simple, little thing, and now you're sitting here, in a bunker, amidst the ruin of the world, and trying to ask me where everything went wrong, because you're afraid that you somehow assisted Warp in doing the very thing that, in another world, you made it your life's mission to accomplish."

Devastator took a deep breath. "That, David, is why I picked you."

Quiet descended. Devastator had nothing more to say, and David could not properly remember how. Slowly, he stepped back, catching himself against one of the couches, sliding down it until he was sitting on the floor, facing the pile of devices and debris in the center of the room from the fallen display cases. He stared at them, indeed he seemed to stare through them, in abject silence. What he was looking at specifically could not be discerned, not by Devastator nor anyone else who cared to look, for the red glow washed out all chance of following his gaze, but he seemed only to be staring, mutely, into empty space.

At last, Devastator broke the silence. "David," he said, voice softened now, sounding almost pained. "I... really never meant for any of this to happen to you. The attacks, the demons, Trigon, I didn't know all this would happen. I couldn't know. And I wish I had some way to make it right..." he trailed off for a moment before raising his eyes once again. But all things being equal? If I had the choice to do it all over again, not knowing about Trigon, not knowing about Warp? I'd pick you again in an instant. I'd pick you over every living thing on this planet, over every person I encountered in fifty years of searching. I'd pick you over Robin, over Superman, over every one of this planet's heroes. Over all their dedicated villains too. Because alone amongst all the people I've ever met, David, I had no idea what you would do, or what would happen in your wake. And I just wanted to find out."

David took no notice of Devastator, did not even seem to have heard him at all. But carefully, he leaned forward, reaching with his fingertips for a small piece of black fabric half-buried by the avalanche of equipment. He took it, tugged, and pulled it out, revealing a small, adhesive eyemask, bordered in black and covered with monofiliment so fine as to be transparent at close range, but that from any distance at all appeared as white as driven snow.

Carefully, David turned the small mask over in his hands, running it through his fingers, over and over, staring at or through it like a statue. Slowly, he lifted his head once more to Devastator, who crouched on the other side of the pile of debris, saying nothing. For one beat, one second, one moment, Devastator stared fully into the red orbs that had replaced David's eyes. Perhaps he saw something concrete. Perhaps nothing at all but threads and possibilities wandering through amorphous shadows. But whether by one means or another, one glance was all it took to send a very human chill running up Devastator's non-existent, intangible spine.

"... David?"

Slowly, the mask slipped through David's fingers, falling back to the floor beside its fellows, but rather than pick it up again, David lowered his head to the pile once more, running it over with his eyes like red searchlights seeking to illuminate some dark corner. His fingers darted through the piles of loose equipment before they settled upon a small, metal cylinder no larger than a game controller, which clicked gently in his hands as he lifted it, the delicate mechanisms within softly sliding against one another.

"David?" repeated Devastator, "what are you - "

The search was in earnest now, David's eyes flicking faster and faster over the pile of extraneous objects as he selected them one by one, and set them aside. Most were steel, or at least metal, some etched finely with the Titans' symbol of a T inscribed within a circle, others with another letter entirely. Ranging in size from a loaf of bread to a cellular phone, each object was fixed with a tiny carabiner no bigger than a keyring, carved from solid titanium, designed to be easily locked or unlocked with a snap of the fingers, yet simultaneously proof against hurricane winds or solid state explosives. Some two dozen objects did David set aside, before slowly gathering them up and standing.

"What are you doing?" asked Devastator, curtly now, as one who feared to hear the answer that he was already expecting.

"I'm going," said David quietly, without lifting his eyes.

Devastator seemed to hesitate. "Going? Going where?"

"There's someone I have to talk to," said David, as he began attaching the carabiners to his belt. He neither spared Devastator a glance nor dared look up from what he was doing, and the tremor in his hands as he attached the objects was visibly being kept to a low level by act of will alone.

"Who?" asked Devastator, his voice betraying his foreknowledge of what the answer was.

David did not answer directly. "It's like you said," he said, softly. "If I wanted to know what happened, I have to go ask..."

"David, you can't... you can't go out there."

"Why not?" he asked, not looking up.

"Every demon, spirit, and creature in Trigon's employment will be looking for you by now!" insisted Devastator.

"Maybe," said David, "but they're not gonna stop me, are they? They all want me to do this."

"That doesn't make it any less suicidal, David. Please, I know Trigon. Anything he intends for you to go through is just a torturous prelude to your death. You can't leave."

The last caribiner clicked into place, and David finally looked up at Devastator, standing up straight, as his red-suited double did the same. "Stop me then," he said, and with that, he walked straight into and through Devastator and out the other side, leaving Devastator's image to flicker and swirl like disturbed smoke, before re-coalescing and turning around.

"David!" shouted Devastator, as David neared the door, "wait!"

David stopped, paused at the threshold, and turned around, saying nothing. Devastator did not wait for him to speak, but approached carefully, a serious look on his face.

"We can get you off this planet," said Devastator softly, almost conspiratorially. "Trigon will be too busy playing with whatever toys he has left here to stop you if we move now."

David blinked in what looked like incomprehension. "How?"

"The T-ship," said Devastator urgently. "There's access tunnels that lead to it, we saw them once in a plan Cyborg showed us. I doubt you remember, but I do. If you have to go out, I can come with you, show you how to get there, and how to fly the thing. With the T-ship you can go anywhere in the universe, Tamaran, Clementia, Naltor... I've been to a hundred million inhabited worlds. I can point you to where they are, the paradise worlds, the ones with people that would welcome you with open arms." Devastator paused, trying to gauge if the words were having any effect at all. "I've done a great deal of harm in selecting you as my host," he said. "To you, and to everyone else, but at the very least I can do this much. Let me take you to the T-ship, David. You don't have to die here."

David took a shallow, ragged breath, and slowly exhaled it, before asking a single question.

"Why do you keep calling me that?"

Devastator froze. "Calling you... what?" he managed to whisper.

"My name isn't David," said the boy at the door. "Is it?"

In that precise instant, Devastator knew that he had lost.

"No," said the weaponized embodiment of Destruction, his voice hollow and empty. "David was your father."

No reaction, no flinch or change of expression or anything else. David simply took a slightly deeper breath, and closed his eyes.

"David Foster's already dead," he said quietly, before carefully lifting his eyes once more, to look down into Devastator's. "And the only place I'm going now, is to have a talk with the person who killed him and the rest of my family."

Devastator seemed to deflate, lowering his head, shaking it slowly. "David..." he said, trailing off into nothing.

"That's all there is to do," said David, "Because otherwise, what was the point of any of it?" And with that, he turned, keyed the door controls and disappeared through the sliding doors, leaving behind an empty room.



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-06 07:23pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 36, cont'd

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The firelight cast deep ochre shadows on the walls of ice, illuminating translucent shapes that merged and twisted around one another with each pulse of the campfire's flames. There was very little sound in here, save for the crackling of the fire, and the soft hiss as meltwater bubbled on its periphery, neither of which were enough to cover the melodic groaning of the millions of tons of surrounding ice.

Not the place Beast Boy would have picked, had he his choice of locations to try and hole up in, but given everything recently, he counted his blessings that he had found this much.

Raven was crouched next to the fire, huddling as close to it as she dared. Every sound the surrounding ice made, every creak and pop and low, atonal moan seemed to shoot through her as though she were part of the ice as well. Her cloak wrapped around her tightly like a mummy's shroud, she shivered still, but not from cold, staring into the fire with the intensity of a madman or fanatic, as though to raise her head and look away from the light would be to acknowledge the monsters that lurked in the shadows.

Among them, thought Beast Boy with a frown, himself.

When he had turned, back on the ice floe, back with his evil twin and Terra, and found Raven missing, he had instantly assumed the worst, or rather had commenced trying to think up what the worst might be so that he could start properly assuming it. She had perhaps been summoned by the evil twins (the term would do for now), or catapulted to some other dimension, or eaten by a ravening ice beast or fallen into the crevasse without his noticing and would never be seen again. Several moments of abject panic had seen him forgetting totally about Trigon, evil twins, even about the image of Terra and the man with the fiery cane. Blasting into the air like a rocket, he had flown in random, panicked circles, trying to call for Raven even though he no longer possessed vocal chords. God only knew what he might have done had his enhanced raptor's vision not happened to notice the small footprints in the freshly fallen snow, leading away from the crevasse and off into the darkness.

The footprints had led surprisingly far given that the person leaving them was both a child and still suffering from hypothermia. But he had placed every ounce of speed into the fastest form he could devise and followed them, covering half a mile in twenty seconds before coming to a series of iceblocks, thrust up by some incalculable force, each the size of an office building. The tracks led into the broken ground around the towering blocks, wound its way around and through them, until they arrived at an unbroken wall of ice that loomed up out of the snow-choked air, light blue and shimmering and absolutely vertical, rearing up into the sky until it vanished into the lofty mists. And there, at the base of the wall, the tracks had led to a small cleft in the unbroken ice, and vanished therein.

He found her a couple dozen feet inside, where the cleft widened into a cavern under the ice, huddled in a corner, wrapped in her cloak, her eyes clenched shut against the diffuse light that wafted through the ice. Inside the ice, objects were entombed, objects of all types, from cars and vehicles to trees and bushes. Shivering erratically, from cold or fright, he could not tell, Raven had shied away at his very approach. At a loss, he had, largely to give himself something to do, turned into a giant vole and dug into the ice around them, unearthing an entire tree as well as several pieces of another, stripping the ice off of them, and building a small campfire in the middle of the cavern, elevating it above the ice below by means of a small platform of stones.

That was hours ago.

Since getting the fire started, he had withdrawn into the shadows, taking care to remain within Raven's sight, yet not so close as to present a threat. She had paid his fire no mind at first, but finally the warmth it offered had overcome whatever reticence she was operating under, and she had crept towards it carefully, and now sat huddled before it, as close as she dared. The firelight illuminated her face and hair and eyes, throwing them into relief as she stared intently into the flames. Yet for all the changes she had undergone, Beast Boy would never have mistaken the little girl before him for anyone but Raven, not even at a glance. He knew it was her, and furthermore, he knew that she wasn't staring into the fire so much as avoiding looking at anything else.

And the only other thing in the cavern was Beast Boy himself.

For over an hour, he'd been trying to think of what to say or do. Not that there was any lack of ideas, there wasn't, but everything he had thought of, he had rejected as the wrong thing to say. None of his usual fallbacks, the stale jokes or the obvious questions, the strategies he normally used to get Raven to open up, seemed appropriate here. They were designed for Raven as he had always known her, the unassailable tower of strength, power, and depth of mind. They were wedges, used to pry open the defenses of one not overly blessed with reserves of patience, to set her off her equilibrium, in the hope, vain though it might have been, that she might melt the ice walls around her just a bit, even if it was only to drench him in freezing water.

But right here, right now, the last thing he wanted to do was pry open what little defense Raven had left. And that left him with nothing.

The fire was going strong now, strong enough that he could feel its heat with some intensity, though he was still sitting back against the wall some twenty feet away. Comprised of nothing but damp wood and kindling, it nevertheless roared like a furnace, burning much hotter than it should have been able to, some new quirk of this horrible place, no doubt. Kneeling as she was on the very edge of the fire, the heat around Raven had to be positively scorching, indeed the very ice beneath her had gradually melted into a shallow basin of water that now hissed and bubbled about her waist as the nearby fire boiled it into steam. Yet though the water she knelt in was literally boiling, and the flames danced barely six inches from her face and hair, she made no effort to move away, nor was she scalded or burnt, edging ever closer to the searing flames as she gave nervous glances in his direction or those of the shadows on the wall.

An idle thought occurred to Beast Boy all of a sudden that perhaps this was not all that surprising, given that Raven, as it turned out, was a demon.

He turned the idea over in his mind once or twice. She had told him, told them all, that Trigon was her father, and since then she had referred to herself bitterly as a demon more than once. He'd never paid it much mind, she had been calling herself all manner of other terrible things most of the time as well, and whatever Trigon actually was, Beast Boy had spared little-to-no thought for his biological nature. Yet watching Raven here, barely inches removed from plunging directly into the fire, the boiling water sending steam wafting up around her, it made the matter simultaneously more real and more... practical, than he had ever considered it. Raven hadn't called herself a demon to be theatrical. She had called herself that because that's what she was. A supernatural creature of flame and hellfire, daughter of devils, a demon.

Another idle thought occurred. Maybe this was why she always wore a leotard?

"Rae?"

The word slipped out before he could corral it, Beast Boy's mouth running away with itself the instant his mind wandered elsewhere, as usual. In fairness, it was hardly the most earth-shattering thing for him to say, but given that neither of them had said a word in over an hour, it came as quite a shock, both to him and to Raven.

Raven's eyes shot up with a start, the firelight reflecting off of them like polished stones of amber or amethyst by turns. Wild and fierce was the look she gave him, as though she had forgotten that he was capable of speech, and the revelation that he was had shaken her to the core. For a second, she seemed to withdraw from the sight of him, but thought better of it after a moment, crouching back down into the cauldron of boiling water that she had been sitting in, keeping the fire between her and him.

"Who... who are you?" she asked, her voice quivering but still clear, a voice that was recognizably Raven's, but younger, softer, more hesitant. Raven's voice with the armor removed. Something he'd never heard before. Something he hadn't believed existed.

The question caught him off guard. "I... um..." he sputtered, "It's... me. Beast Boy. Remember?" He ventured a small movement forward, leaning into the firelight and gesturing towards himself. The little girl before him was so obviously Raven that he had never imagined that she might not -

Raven gasped and recoiled, scrambling up and out of the shallow basin she had been crouched in, her reaction as stark as though he had just morphed into a tiger and lunged at her with fangs and claws bared. Boiling water sloshed over the ice as she scrambled up and out, and she slipped, and fell headlong onto the ice with a wet smack.

"Raven!" exclaimed Beast Boy before he could stop himself, and he lurched forward, torn between racing to her aid and terrifying her further. But when she did not immediately scramble to her feet, the fear overcame his sense, and he morphed into a grasshopper, leaped the entire distance between himself and her in one bound, and shifted back into his human form as he landed.

Eyes unfocused, blinking, Raven lay on the ice for a moment like a boned fish, yet slowly the glaze over her eyes faded, and she began to focus on the things around her once again. Beast Boy froze as Raven's eyes fell on him once again, widening and filling with apprehension, but she did not jerk away again, and he ventured a small gesture.

"It's okay," he said, trying to sound as re-assuring as he could. He considered shifting into another form, something small and fluffy, to try and put her a bit more at ease, but discarded the thought almost immediately. Somehow, he couldn't imagine Raven, even little-girl-Raven, being that interested in fluffy animals. And besides, how re-assuring would a green rabbit really be?

"It's okay," he repeated, slowly extending his gloved hand to her. "I won't hurt you. It's me. Beast Boy. The shapeshifter. You remember me, don't you?"

Raven gave no sign, but did not shy away either, looking him over as though searching for something indicative. He smiled, trying to conjure up the grin he used whenever he was trying to convince Raven to do something that he knew she wanted to do but didn't want to admit wanting to do. The fact that that grin had never really worked was not something he was prepared to consider right now.

Raven lifted her head, propping herself up on her elbows, looking up at him looking the way some kids often looked at him, the ones that were scared half to death but trying desperately not to let it show. "I..." she said, unevenly, "I'm lost."

Her tone was not a complaint, but a simple statement of fact, and that threw him for a loop. "Oh," he said finally. "Well... that's okay. I'm lost too, I guess." He racked his brain, trying to think of what to say, and finally settled on the first thing that came to mind. "Maybe... we can help find each other?" he asked hopefully, extending his hand once more. It sounded stupid even to him, but before he could back down and venture something else, Raven's expression seemed to change from fear to... well a little less fear maybe, and she sat up slowly, watching him with something that might have just been expectation.

What she was expecting, he couldn't tell, but having gotten this far, he had to try something. "It'll be okay," he said. "I'm Beast Boy. I'm a... I'm a friend. I'm here to help you." He smiled again, this time a softer grin, trying with all his might to put her at ease. And though he had intended to leave it at that, from somewhere inside him, additional words came up unbidden.

"And... I was hoping maybe you could help me too?"

That seemed to do it. Though her look was still fearful, her movements still hesitant, Raven gently lifted one hand, and placed it in Beast Boy's. Even through the thick glove, he could feel the heat of Raven's hand, of the still-steaming water that dripped off it. Yet she continued to shiver, looking up at him as though waiting to see if he was going to tear her arm off or spirit her away to parts unknown.

He closed his hand around hers, gently, barely daring to put any pressure on her fingers, yet she did not pull away or try to run again. Once more he smiled, and opening his hand again, he reached over and gently took her by the shoulders, standing her up carefully, letting her find her footing on the slippery ice. Here, even a few extra paces away from the fire, the heat was much less, and the water still dripping off of Raven had already ceased to steam and was beginning to run cold once again.

As the wind blowing in from the narrow entrance to the cavern picked up all of a sudden, Raven shuddered more strongly, her teeth chattering loudly enough for Beast Boy to hear. Gratefully leaving aside the issue of amnesia or demonic heritages for the moment, Beast Boy glanced round for anything that he might use to dry her off, but there was nothing visible even in the ice, and her cloak, the only other item that came to mind, was as soaked as she was. Thinking of anything he could, he unfastened the cloak from around her shoulders, wrung it out as best he could, and then unfurled it. Retrieving an unused stick from the side of the room, he reached up and jammed it into a crack in the ceiling directly above the campfire, and then hung the still-damp cloak from it, letting it drip into the fire as it would.

As to Raven herself, there didn't appear to be a lot that he could do at this point. Beast Boy was no lover of cold, but in his opinion, where they were standing, the fire was uncomfortably hot. Raven's opinion appeared to differ. Dressed only in her leotard, she shivered still despite the heat, and this time he was at least somewhat confident it wasn't because of him. It was something of a relief. All things being equal, he preferred it when he was afraid of Raven.

Crouching back down on the opposite side of the fire, as close as he could stand to the roaring flames, Beast Boy watched as Raven crawled closer still to the bonfire, settling once more in the meltwater basin she had been crouched in earlier. The water began boiling furiously the instant she touched it, but she seemed to pay it no mind, though it should, by rights, have steamed her to death like a lobster. As it showed no sign of doing so, however, Beast Boy was prepared to let small miracles lie.

The cauldron was already several inches deeper, as the boiling water melted the ice around it, heating it to a boil to melt more ice in turn. She watched him carefully, water bubbling around her chest, as though expecting him to say or do something, though what it was she expected, he had no idea. He couldn't risk moving her out of the cave until her cloak had dried, if even then. For several moments, neither one of them moved or spoke, until Beast Boy could stand the silence no longer, and decided to venture a question.

"So... do you remember anything?"

Raven merely shook her head, her broad, violet eyes neither blinking nor deviating from him for an instant. She said nothing.

"You don't remember the Tower? The others? Cyborg? Starfire? Robin? David?" He said the names slowly, hoping they would jar something. "Me? Beast Boy?" He looked for any sign of recognition, but she merely shook her head again, this time with eyes shut, squeezed so tightly as to cause her whole body to quiver, as though in frustration with her own inability to recall.

"No!" he said quickly. "No, it's okay. It's all right. I just..." he trailed off, not sure what he wanted to say. "It'll be okay," he settled for at last.

Slowly, Raven opened her eyes once again, the boiling water sending steam wafting up around her face. Tears were in her eyes, though she did not cry.

"I'm not the person you came here to find," she said.

Beast Boy blinked dumbly for a second. "Of course you are," he said, smiling. "You just... don't remember is all. That's no big deal."

Raven shook her head violently. "He took it all away," she said in a brittle voice. "I wanted to keep it but I couldn't. He took everything away." She shivered, curling up on herself, tucking her knees up against her chest. "Everything."

"Raven, it's okay," said Beast Boy, who frankly didn't know what else he could say at this point. "Once we're out of - "

"It's not okay!" she shouted all of a sudden, tiny fists slamming down into the boiling water. "I can't help you! He took everything. I tried to stop him but he was too strong and now it's all gone! All of it. Everything I could do, everything I was, everyone I knew, it's all gone. Forever." Her head fell, as though her shouts had taken everything she had left. "You came down here for nothing," she finally said.

"That's not true," he said. "I came down here for you."

He didn't really think about what he was saying. It came it of its own accord, spilling out with such ease that he didn't realize what he was saying until he said it. Raven didn't react immediately, but when he neither qualified nor retracted what he had said, she slowly raised her eyes to him.

"Why?"

The sound of the boiling water and groaning ice slowly faded. Despite a sense of hearing a hundred times more sensitive than any normal human's, all of a sudden, Beast Boy couldn't hear anything but the sound of his own heartbeat.

"Because I had to."

Raven didn't answer, didn't move, didn't even blink. They watched one another for several hour-long seconds before Beast Boy opened his mouth and simply started talking.

"I... knew somebody once," he said. "She was called Raven. I never knew her real name, but that was what she called herself. She was from someplace far, far away, but she came here by herself, because she wanted to help people. She was brave and powerful, and she fought with all sorts of monsters and criminals, super-villains, because it was the right thing to do, even though it was dangerous. She saved thousands of people, protected the city, and all without anyone ever asking her to."

Raven's stare was too direct, and Beast Boy closed his eyes, trembling as he mechanically kept going, like a hiker trudging onwards against bitter winds.

"But... even though she was such a hero, she always thought that nobody would want anything to do with her. Because she looked different than other people, and acted different, and because as long as she could remember, people had told her that she was going to do something horrible. Something worse than anything the people she fought had ever done. And so even though she didn't want to do anything that bad, and tried to stop it, she was sure that, one day, she would turn out to be the worst person in the world."

"When I met her, she said that we didn't want to have anything to do with her. Even after she joined our team and lived in our tower, she always thought that if we knew what was going to happen we'd..." he shook his head, "... we'd never speak to her again or something. So she never talked to any of us unless she had to, and she never wanted us to do anything special for her or treat her like a friend. And whenever I tried, she would tell me to go away."

That was perhaps putting it mildly, but this was not the moment to go into details.

"But even though she didn't want us to do anything with her, and tried to push us all away, she was still one of the best people I ever met. She was tough and brave, and really smart, and really, really powerful... but I liked her because she was kind, and caring, and because all she wanted to do was to help her friends, even if she tried to hide it most of the time. Most of the time, she would try to make me leave her alone, but I never would, even when she got mad. But whenever I really needed it, whenever something really terrible happened, she would make sure I was okay, even if it meant doing all the things she said she hated doing."

Not the most eloquent of speeches perhaps, but that would not have been his style, after all, and Raven, or whatever it was that she wanted to call herself now, did not interrupt. He kept his eyes shut, mostly because he could feel tears welling up in them, but his voice didn't waver as he continued.

"I don't think she ever really knew what we all thought of her, or what I thought of her. But even though I knew all these heroes, my friends, my family, all the other heroes we met, Raven was the best person I ever knew. Most people... they act nice and caring when everything's going fine, and then when things get really bad, they get scared or angry or just selfish, and they turn all cold. Raven acted cold when things were fine, but when they got bad, whenever someone needed her help the most, then stopped caring what everyone else would think, and let her real self come out. And it's not like she became someone else or turned into a helpless flower or anything. She was still strong and brave and smart and everything, but... she would make everything feel better, just by being there."

He heard soft movement, and when he opened his eyes, Raven had lowered her head again, shutting her eyes as the slowly-deepening water continued to boil furiously around her. For a moment, he wondered if she had fallen asleep or lost interest, but when he did not continue, she raised her eyes sharply, and he saw they were filled with tears, which ran down her face and dripped into the cauldron around her.

"But... something bad did happen, didn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "It did. Even though she tried to stop it. Even though we all did. It still happened just the way she had been told. And when it happened, she disappeared. They said she was dead, or if not dead, then gone somewhere where I'd never find her again. But I came to find her anyway."

Raven sighed sadly, sniffing and trying vainly to wipe the tears from her face. "She's not here," she said.

"Yes she is," said Beast Boy. "I can tell. And I know you don't think so, and that's okay. And I know that Trigon or whoever took everything away from you, and that's okay too. That's not why I came. I didn't want your help because you could fight Trigon or fix Robin or turn everything back the way it was. I mean if you could, then that's great, but that's not why I came. I was just hoping maybe you could help me."

"I can't," she said softly.

Beast Boy shook his head. "You already did," he explained. "I told you before, Raven would always make me feel better, just by being there, remember?"

Carefully, Beast Boy stood up, moving around the campfire slowly, and crouching down as near as he could to Raven, at the very edge of the bubbling pool. She watched him like a hawk, not with trepidation but something else, the deepening water now beginning to splash over her shoulders.

"Raven always was afraid that she would turn into a portal" he said, haltingly, his tongue stumbling as he tried to find the words to say what he meant, "or something else, like a weapon or a tool that her father would use to do something terrible. And I guess... I guess that happened. But I don't want a tool or a portal or a weapon or something else that Raven could have done. I just want Raven back. I want you back. And I don't care if it doesn't mean anything. I just..." he lost his place, fumbled about with his mind, and seized on the first thing that came to mind. "I don't need Raven to do anything for me. I just... need her back."

Silence fell, not long but deep, as Raven looked up at Beast Boy from her bubbling pit. He said nothing, though a thousand things were competing with one another to explode from his head, all refused access to his tongue by irrevocable edict of his conscious mind. Raven stared silently at him, her violet eyes burning holes through his head. A second passed, then another, then a third, each one weighty like the passing of decades. And then, after an eternity that lasted only four or five seconds, Raven simply melted.

All at once, the tears that had been leaking from the sides of her eyes began to run in a flood, and she squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to stem them. She fell forward against the side of the pit, catching it with both arms, and her small body shook violently as uncontrollable sobs tore their way out. Acting without thought, he reached down to help her, but she did not take his hand, instead scrambling awkwardly out of the cauldron of boiling water up onto the ice next to it. With difficulty she stood, shaking this time not in cold or fear but in nervous breakdown. And as the last invisible defenses she had shattered into a million pieces, Raven fell forward, and collapsed into Beast Boy's arms.

It hurt.

There was nothing spiritual or mental about the pain. Raven was covered in boiling water, and merely touching her, even through fireproof gloves or a mylar uniform, was like grasping a hot iron, sending spikes of searing pain up his nerves to his addled brain. Yet if the lightest touch was agony, the immense, tight embrace that he threw around her, clutching Raven to him like a part of himself that had been amputated and then discovered again, somehow that felt like incarnated joy. She might have lit him on fire and burned him to ash for all he cared, he wanted nothing save this, and this more than anything he had ever desired in life.

How long they stood there, Raven held tightly against Beast Boy, neither one could have determined. Long enough that the fire burned out and the cauldron of water chilled and refroze, long enough that Raven's skin and clothing slowly cooled until the pain of embracing her faded away. She cried at first, cried like the child she was now, unreservedly, unashamedly, with none of the futile attempts to stem the tears and reforge her mask of stoicism that she customarily used. No matter how tightly he squeezed her, she clung to him tighter still, crying until the ice beneath them was pockmarked with frozen tears, knotting her fingers into his uniform and holding onto him like a drowning swimmer clinging to a life preserver. Tighter and tighter he held her, until finally he shifted forms into that of a Burmese Python, and gathering her in his coils, he embraced Raven as tightly as he dared, until only the fear that she might suffocate bade him stop.

To judge from her reaction, it was still not enough.

Yet even Raven's tears abated at last, and the sobs subsided slowly. Bit by bit, her grip relaxed, though his did not, until finally he dared to open his eyes, and found her laying against him, her eyes shut, her face streaked with red, holding onto him even in what he could have taken to be unconsciousness or sleep, though he knew it was neither. And though it probably should have been no surprise at all, given that she was currently wrapped up tightly by a two hundred pound constrictor snake, for the first time since Beast Boy had found her, Raven was not shivering.

They might have stayed like this forever, Beast Boy actually considered it and Raven seemed as eager to release him as she was to race outside and leap back into the chasm they had left, but eventually, Beast Boy reluctantly shifted back to his human form, doing so slowly enough to avoid dropping Raven suddenly. Having done so, he stood up, carrying her in both arms, and held her awkwardly with one as he reached up and retrieved her cloak from where he had hung it. She was more or less dried already, he wrapped her tightly in it regardless, fastening it to her shoulder clasps.

"There," he said with a smile, setting her down on her feet and crouching down to look her in the eye. "All set."

And that's when something impaled him.

There was no pain, just a sudden, tremendous shock, and the sound of ripping fabric, and he looked down, and saw a long, white, helixical horn sticking out of his stomach. It gleamed, white against the ghostly light, like a jewel or carving of ivory, and somehow he had plenty of time to look it over, to admire the gentle curve of the spiral along its surface, to turn over what it was, a walrus tusk perhaps, or a narwhal horn, before it withdrew as suddenly as it had appeared, and all his strength deserted him at once, and he fell.

Raven jumped back as Beast Boy fell forward, face first onto the ice, her eyes wide with as much shock, if not more, than Beast Boy had had. Stepping back, wrapping her cloak around herself half-consciously, she raised her eyes and gasped as her breath was choked off by her constricting throat.

Behind Beast Boy, stood Beast Boy.

The other Beast Boy grey, grey and white all over with eyes of blood red and a grin that could have sent far greater nerves than Raven's fleeing into the night. Lightly he moved, lithe and quiet, with all the assurance of balance of a cat, stepping over Beast Boy's fallen form, and kicking aside his weak attempt to grab at the double's foot. He paid Beast Boy no further mind, ignoring the slowly spreading puddle of dark red blood that began to emerge from beneath the fallen changeling, as he closed in on Raven, who had backed into a corner of the ice cave.

"N... no..." said Beast Boy weakly. It was only the proximity that let anyone hear him at all.

The double did not turn back, only grinned at Raven, revealing razor sharp fangs.

"Well..." said the double to Raven, his form already rippling, "whadaya say we find out what you taste like?"



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-06 07:25pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 36: Judgment Day, cont'd

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

'Ultima Ratio Regum.'

The silver handle of the cane was hooked under Terra's cheek as she lay flat on her stomach on the ground. It felt warm to the touch, but not hot, the flames that softly emanated from it refusing to burn her skin. From where she lay, she could see the words engraved on the handle in flowery cursive font, wrapped around it like ivy.

"I have to say, Terra," came the voice from above. "This isn't quite what I expected."

Deep beneath the asphalt, she felt the earth waiting, quivering in anticipation of her commands, and with a thought, she thrust it upwards, letting a geyser of loose dirt erupt from the ground, carrying chunks of bedrock the size of motorcycles. The vaulting hail of stone and earth threw her up into the air, but she reformed the dirt into a slide of sorts, breaking her fall and depositing her back on her feet. But no sooner had it done so, than half a dozen rocks exploded in and around the slide, and blew her back onto the ground, as the remaining dirt flew high up into the air, raining down like a soft hail.

Coughing, wafting the dust out of her face with a wave of her hand, Terra clawed her way back to her feet and turned towards where she knew her opponent had to be. He was standing at ease, amidst the falling bits of debris, one hand resting on the handle of his fiery cane, the vague hints of a smile appearing below his mirrored, expressionless sunglasses. Rocks and clods of earth fell all around him, yet any that threatened to land on or near him popped out of existence in a puff of dust some dozen yards overhead, as if he were surrounded by some invisible field of protection. The falling debris continued to pop and burst even as he slowly began to approach.

Searching for an advantage, Terra fell back at the same pace. Yet rather than attack directly, Devastator simply smiled and hefted the cane, turning the carved handle over in his gloved fingers, running them over the words she had seen before.

"It's Latin," he said, without being prompted. "It means 'The Last Argument of Kings'. Louis the Fourteenth used to have it engraved on all of the cannons in his army, as a reminder."

"A reminder of what?" asked Terra, still retreating slowly down the broken street.

"A reminder of the final recourse to which Kings can appeal, should they not get what they want. The ultimate trump card to every other form of compulsion, legal, moral, or spiritual. In the end, if all other arguments fail, kings can resort to naked, violent force, to compel their wishes."

"So what, you're some kind of king?" asked Terra, trying to sound more confident than she was.

Devastator only laughed. "No," he said with a flourish of the cane. "I'm not a king." He stepped towards her and lifted the cane like a wizard's wand, aiming down it towards the yellow-shrouded teenager. "I'm a cannon."

The entire street exploded.

Like a tidal wave of raw violence, a section of the street from sidewalk to sidewalk simply detonated, hurling burnt-out cars into the air like matchsticks and sending the remains of streetlights and telephone poles careening away like disintegrating sculptures of sand. Instantly, all view of Devastator was lost behind a wall of black smoke and fine debris, which hung in the air for moments before some invisible force directed it towards Terra. Section after section exploded, hurling buried wires and pipes into the air, a wave front of raw devastation and force that scoured the very asphalt off the ground moments before the bedrock it covered joined the explosions.

Terra did the only thing she could. Crouching down, she called to the earth around her, and pulled it inwards, packing it around herself as tightly as her geokinesis would permit, forming a sphere around her of packed earth and rock denser than granite, stronger than face-hardened steel. The blast washed over her like a tidal wave, clawing at the shield of stone, cracking it like a walnut, but she managed, barely, to hold it together for the second or two it took to subside.

As soon as the thunder and shocks dissipated, she hurled out her arms and the shield exploded into a thousand pieces, flung in every direction like bullets. Some were, of necessity, hurled back at the agent of these explosions, but she neither assumed they would score, nor expected them to. Without even pausing to gauge the damage, she reached down and pulled a three ton rock out of the ground the size of a moving van. Normally she would have let it float for a moment, taken a half-second to refocus her will, but she knew now from experience what a disaster that instant's hesitation could be. In one, fell swoop, she threw the rock at Devastator, tearing it into three pieces as it flew and letting them corkscrew towards him, in the hopes that he would not have time to destroy or deflect all three.

But he did. He did without even breaking stride, raising his cane and blowing all three rocks to pieces the size of marbles that bounced and scattered down the ruins of the street. Without missing a pace, he turned his cane to his side and blew a manhole cover into the air, sending it flipping end over end like an outsized coin, moments before sweeping his hand forward, causing a series of perfectly metered explosions to hurl the cover straight at Terra like a spinning saw blade. Acting on pure instinct, Terra dove to the ground, ducking beneath the flying cover, but it did her no good. The entire thing exploded like a bomb some ten feet away from her, sending her flying down the street and into the side of a parked car hard enough to stave it in.

"Such a waste."

Her head spinning, her ears ringing with the collision, Terra managed somehow to grab onto the side of the car she had been thrown against, and haul herself to her feet. She fought for breath, letting the shattered glass from the car's window roll off of her, blinking the blood out of her eyes, before half-turning back to Devastator, who stood two dozen paces away, shaking his head.

"I saw your campaign against the Titans," he said. "Warp showed me Slade's footage. It was textbook perfect. Every element, planning, logistics, research, tactics, everything was perfect. You made my efforts against them look like a child's temper tantrum, and you did it all when you were what, fifteen?" He scoffed. "Slade can pretend all he likes, but I know that wasn't his plan. I knew Slade. I know what the overcomplicated disasters he calls plans look like. That plan was yours, wasn't it?"

"That's right," said Terra, spitting blood onto the ground, trying to think of options.

Devastator shook his head. "When I think of what you could have been..." he said. "You could have been a master. A grandmaster. Bigger than Slade, bigger than me. But you pissed it all away. In my time, in your own, you threw it aside, either out of fear, which at least I can understand, or now, out of this quixotic pursuit of..." he threw his hands up violently, "of I don't even know what! Forgiveness? Redemption? What exactly are you looking for here? Why would you even consider standing and fighting someone you don't stand a chance of beating?"

"You talk too much," spat Terra, trying to force her balance to recover.

"And you think too little," retorted Devastator instantly. "I prefer my vice."

"And how much thinking were you doing when you decided to work for Trigon?" demanded Terra.

"A shade more than you did when you decided to work against him!" blasted back Devastator. "What was your master plan, exactly? Thaw out David and hope for the best? Or did you even take the time between about-face turns to conceive of one? If you had only killed David back when you had the chance, back when Cinderblock near beat him to death. If you hadn't hesitated instead of finishing the damn job that time in the park, then none of this would have happened, and you know it! It's a bit late now to turn around and claim that you didn't want him to win all along, when you weren't willing to do what was necessary to see it stopped back when it might have mattered!"

Terra tried to reply, but the words dissolved on her tongue like sugar cubes. Devastator spat, actually spat on the ground next to him in something that looked like disgust, and began to approach.

"You haven't got the first idea what you're doing here," he said contemptuously, swishing his cane through the smoky air as though trying to strip leaves off an invisible hedge. "Just some half-assed sense of expiation and guilt. You don't care about David. You don't care about the Titans. And while you might care that Trigon has conquered the world, you certainly didn't lift a finger to stop it. So don't sit there and pretend to me that this is some noble stand against the darkness. Because, young lady, this, right here, is nothing but euthanasia."

With an angry cry, Terra spun around, hurling her fist at Devastator and commanding the rocks around her subconsciously to follow her command. A stone the size of a car engine shot at Devastator's head at her command with speed so blinding that she was unable to see it herself. So fast, so spur-of-the-moment was the shot, that even Devastator could not deflect it in time. His instincts alone saved him from being struck dead on the spot, as he lunged to one side, and the rock flew by, merely grazing the side of his face, leaving a small scratch behind on his left cheek.

Surprised by her own initiative, Terra did not have the wherewithal to follow up, and Devastator stood back up straight, for once silenced. He brought his free hand to his face, running his fingers along the scratch she had given him, feeling the blood and bringing it around to his eyes. It was several seconds before he looked back up at Terra, his expression completely changed. Of all things, he seemed almost amused.

"Well," he said, "touched a nerve, did I?"

Terra let out a shout, and brought her hand around once more, commanding another rock to do as the first had, but this time, Devastator was ready for it, and swung his cane and he blotted the stone out of the air with almost contemptuous ease, before lifting the cane to the heavens. Terra had not a moment to react before the ground beneath her feet exploded like a volcano, hurling her and the car next to her into the air. The car wound up smashing into the roof of a nearby building, collapsing through it into the interior. Terra fetched up on the pavement some thirty feet behind where she had started, laying prone and motionless like a boned fish.

Slowly, Devastator began to walk towards her.

"Tell me," he asked lightly as he approached, "do you know happened to you in Warp's little alternate future?" Terra, laying flat on her back, could barely convince her lungs to work, much less talk. She lifted her head gingerly, watching as Devastator approached, slowly but inexorably. She said nothing, she couldn't say anything, but he seemed to take her silence for an answer in and of itself.

"I have no idea," said Devastator with a smile. "Nobody does."

Coughing, tasting blood on her tongue and lips, Terra struggled to get back up once again, but her limbs refused to obey her, and she could only watch as Devastator closed in.

"I was hired once, to try and find you. A research firm wanted your DNA, no doubt for some deranged plan to take over the world" He shrugged. "Their reasons didn't interest me. I searched for the better part of two years. Followed every lead I could find. There wasn't so much a trail as... dots to be connected. Incidents and appearances, verified or speculative, all over the world. Landslides, earthquakes, the occasional pitched battle with someone. You know the sort well enough, I imagine."

Weakly, Terra raised her hand, conjuring a rock up from the ground and lobbing it at Devastator, but it had neither force nor accuracy, and Devastator deflected it not with an explosion, but with his cane itself, knocking it lightly aside like a tennis player as he continued forward.

"I never found a living trace," he said, smiling. "The trail was too cold, and nothing had been seen in years. After two years of searching, I finally had to admit defeat. Some of the researchers speculated that you had somehow found a way to finally control your abilities, and settled down somewhere quiet, but... I think we both know that's highly unlikely, isn't it?"

He was right in front of her now, standing above her and looking down, his cane held in both hands, red flames licking at his fingers as he inspected her the way a teacher might have done a particularly disappointing student.

"My theory," said Devastator, turning the cane over in his hands, "is much simpler. I believe that at some point... you simply died. An accident, an unremarked battle, perhaps a disease, who knows?" His hand slid up to the cane's handle. "Whatever the cause, you clearly... just died. Alone. Friendless. And forgotten."

He twisted the handle and pulled, drawing the sword out from within the cane. In one swift stroke, he swept the thin tip of the blade down and planted it on Terra's throat, directly under her chin, forcing her to lift her head, to look him in the eye. He stared down at her, at the fear in her eyes, and smirked.

"I guess some things don't change," said Devastator.

Without conscious command, Terra closed her eyes, and waited for the sharp prick that would augur the end.

But it never came. The light pressure of the swordpoint remained as constant as ever, and after a second, she re-opened her eyes. Devastator still stood above her, the sword held as evenly as a surgeon's scalpel. His blind eyes, peeking over his sunglasses, were as blank as billiard balls, yet she could see them moving, darting from side to side as though in quest of something. Slowly, he lifted his head, turning it slowly as he furrowed his brow, the fingers of his free hand working slowly as he seemed to search for something. And then all of a sudden, as quick as lightning, Devastator pulled his sword back, and swung it around as fast as possible to his left, the razor-sharp ribbon of steel making a sharp 'whooshing' sound as it cut through the air.

An instant later, there was an explosion in mid-air.

The explosion seemed to emerge out of nothingness. Terra's eyes could catch nothing beyond an instant's glimpse of something moving so fast as to be a blur before the fireball blossomed out of nowhere. It was a paltry explosion by the standards of what had come before, but before it had even ended Terra saw something drop out of the air near its epicenter. A small cord, made of spooled steel fibre, which terminated abruptly, whatever it had been attached to having just been peremptorily detonated. The cord landed limply on the ground, and Terra's eyes automatically followed it, running along the shattered street, up the broken curb, and finally to -

"What the - "

At the edge of the street stood a small figure dressed all in grey. Skin, clothing, hair, even the belt around his waist was some shade of ashen grey, save only for his eyes, which glowered like smouldering coals. He stood at the side of the street, in front of a gutted and ruined building, one arm raised towards Devastator. In his hand was held not a proper weapon but a grappling gun, over-sized and attached via spool to the end of the cord.

For several long seconds, neither the grey figure, nor the man in the street moved a muscle, staring at one another with eyes either milk-white or cherry-red, that revealed nothing of the thoughts of their bearers. Yet in expression they could not be different. Devastator stood in open surprise, mouth slightly agape, the sword in his hand held limply at his side, as though he were looking at something that his brain was unable to properly process. He seemed to have forgotten that Terra was there at all. His counterpart on the other hand might as well have been a statue, staring unblinkingly at Devastator with the gun extended rigidly, though with the grappling hook destroyed, and the cord laying on the ground, there was nothing further he could do with it.

It was Devastator who finally found the wherewithal to speak.

"What in God's name are you doing here?" he asked, and his voice was as surprised as his expression.

David did not speak immediately. Slowly, he lowered the grappling gun, letting it fall from his hand and clatter to the ground. When he finally replied, he did not answer the question.

"Leave her alone," he said.

Devastator's puzzlement, if anything, seemed to increase. "Why?" he asked, but without swagger. It might well have been Terra's imagination, but for the first time tonight, he looked like someone not in control of the situation, as though David's re-appearance had broken some unwritten code somewhere. "She tried to kill you," he said, "both of us. Why should I leave her alone?"

"Because I said so," said David, and Terra recognized the tone. It was the same one he had used on that night in the catacombs beneath the library, when he had refused to go with her to meet Slade. It wasn't bombastic, but it was the tone of someone whose mind was absolutely made up.

Devastator did not seem impressed. "You tried to kill her yourself once," he said.

"And now I'm telling you to leave her alone," said David without missing a beat or raising his voice a single decibel. "Or I'll kill you right where you're standing."

Slowly, an incredulous smile began to spread across Devastator's face. "Really?" he asked, not sounding in intimidated in the least. "And how, pray tell, will you do that?"

David didn't say a word. Instead, in one, single motion, he reached to his side and pulled a small object off of his belt, which snapped open in his hand into a razor-sharp blade shaped like a crescent. Without a moment's hesitation, without even changing expression, he reared back, stepped forward, and threw it as hard as he could at Devastator's head.

The result probably not the effect he was hoping for.

Devastator watched impassively as the birdarang bounced a couple of times before rolling to a halt some six feet away from him. He smiled again, this time in the manner of an adult amused by the antics of a child, and casually stepped forward, stooped, and picked up the titanium throwing knife, turning it over in his free hand before looking back up at David.

"You know," he said, as casually as if he were discussing the weather, "I'm told there's a trick to using these."

David reached for another birdarang.

There was a series of loud 'pops', and David was blown back off his feet onto the ground, as every one of the birdarangs around his waist burst into slivers of metal. The explosions were tiny, no flames, no flashes, barely enough to break the birdarangs apart, but it left David laying flat on his back, cradling his hand.

"What exactly did you think you were going to accomplish by coming back here?" asked Devastator, walking towards David carefully, his flaming sword held casually at his side. "Kill me? Save her?" he asked, sweeping the sword back towards Terra. "What's she to you?"

"She tried to help me," said David, getting back to his feet.

"She tried to murder you," replied the older man. "You and all your so-called friends."

"So did you," spat David back venomously.

Devastator stopped, his expression changing to one of smugness. "And?" he asked. "At least I never pretended otherwise."

"This isn't about her," said David. "It's about you." He paused, just for a split second, before correcting himself. "It's about us."

"Really?" asked Devastator. "And what about us do you wish to discuss, David?"

David did not hesitate. "You killed them."

"I've killed a lot of people," replied Devastator. "Who are you talking about."

"You know who I'm talking about!"

Devastator smiled. "Yes, I suppose I do. Why? Do you have a problem with that?"

"Yes," said David.

"So what do you purpose to do about it?"

David's red eyes were as level as he replied with a voice made of ice. "I'm gonna wipe you all over this street."

Devastator was not intimidated. He shook his head as if in amazement. "With what?" he asked. "A handful of trinkets you don't even know how to use? Match sticks and stones against Devastator? I must have hit you harder than I thought. What exactly do you - "

"Shut! Up!" shouted David, kicking aside a piece of rubble for emphasis. "Close your mouth and stop talking! I don't want to hear any more of your bullshit!"

"I'm not here to do what you want," scoffed Devastator. "I don't dance to your tune."

"No, you dance to Trigon's, or to whoever put you up to killing them in the first place."

"Put me up to it?" retorted Devastator, and now his voice was angry too. "Your 'friends' put me up to it, every day of their lives!"

"That's a lie! They wouldn't - "

"Don't tell me about things I know better than you, boy!" shouted Devastator. You have no idea what they would and wouldn't do!"

"I lived with them!" yelled David.

"For a year," retorted Devastator. "I've lived in their shadows for over twenty. Ducking for cover, hiding from every bird call, spending a quarter of my life waiting for some damn bone to knit back together because they thought it would be funny to listen to the sounds it made when it broke. You think you're the only one shocked to find out what his alter ego's been up to while he was away?"

"They took me in!" snapped David, teeth clenched, eyes wet with tears that he refused to allow out. "They gave me everything! Everything I have! And you killed them like animals!"

"They were animals" said Devastator, his voice pitiless and cold, yet brimming with rage. "And I killed them because they needed to die every day they drew breath. I killed them for what they did to me, and to every other person who crossed their path!"

Devastator's voice became louder and louder, the flames at his hand burning higher with every breathless word. "Sanctimonious, self-righteous hypocrites who would stand by and let six million people die at their own pace rather than dirty their hands by acting to stop it. And they had the temerity to turn around and accuse me of malfeasance because I saw fit to use what was given to me in a way they didn't approve of! To come after me all across the planet, to intercede on behalf of the scum I was burning off the face of the Earth, to stand up and judge me because they were so much holier than I was!"

"You were murdering people!" shouted David

"I was murdering people who needed murdering!" thundered Devastator. "I was doing what they wouldn't dare to face, because they couldn't stomach it. I was the one who refused to look away when a job got dirty or when the hard calls needed to be made, and they turned on me for it like vultures! And you stand there and defend them, why? What did they ever do for you, except let you wear one of their ridiculous outfits and chase after shoplifters alongside them? All your protestations of self-reliance, and the instant they give you a roof and a bowl of soup, you turn into their little lickspittle."

David's burning eyes narrowed. "They were my friends," he said, his voice choked and bitter. "I doubt you understand what that even means."

"I understand it well enough," said Devastator. "They taught you to think like they do, share the same bias, the same hypocrisy. Until you'd believe them over your own self."

"I don't believe anything anymore," said David quietly, though with no less emotion for the lack of volume. "But I know them. And I know you."

Devastator frowned. "Oh you know me, do you?"

"Yes," said David without a trace of doubt or hesitation. "You're what I always knew was going to happen." He stared at his older counterpart with an unwavering gaze so direct, that even the unflappable Devastator seemed to flinch. "You're me without brakes. Without anyone to stop you. You're what I always knew that I was going to become. All the years I knew I had these powers, you're the reason I was afraid of them."

"You were afraid of them because you didn't have the spine to act," snarled Devastator.

"I was afraid of them because I knew what I would use them for if nobody stopped me," responded David. "I was afraid of them, because I was afraid of you. That's why I never used them. That's why I never told anyone about them. Because I was afraid that I would turn into you."

"You were afraid of your own shadow," said Devastator. "You became me in sound mind, once you finally stopped this childish obsession with an absolutist morality and predestined stock roles. Not everything is a matter of black and white."

"Murdering the Titans," said David, "was."

"Then I'll ask you again, boy, what do you purpose to do about it?"

There was only a fractional hesitation, but a moment later, David reached behind himself, and from his back pocket, drew a small, metal cylinder, the size of a telephone receiver. He brought it around to his front, holding it in his right hand, and then, still staring straight into Devastator's lifeless eyes, he pressed an invisible button somewhere on its surface. There was a series of soft clicks, the sound of oiled metal sliding over metal, and then all of a sudden the cylinder telescoped outwards into a four-foot steel pole, featureless and colorless, save for an etched monogram on either end, an elaborate "R", the meaning of which needed no explanation.

There was, perhaps, a certain mindset whereby David's action could have been seen as laughable, even hilarious, for a staff made of stainless steel, in the hands of someone who had no idea how to make proper use of it, was not precisely the weapon calculated to offer the greatest threat to the wielder of Devastator. Yet Devastator watched as David drew the staff, saying nothing, and only when it was fully extended did he lift his eyes to meet his younger counterpart's.

"Do you even know how to use that?" he asked.

David didn't hesitate or flinch. "Not a clue," he said.

"And what's to stop me from snapping it like a twig, or turning it into a pipe bomb?"

"Nothing at all."

"So then let me get this straight," said Devastator. "Because your choices led directly to the annihilation of Earth and the reign of Trigon, you're going to stand there, cognizant of the fact that I have the most powerful weapon in human history at my absolute disposal, and, with a metal stick you don't even know how to use, attempt to beat me senseless for the crime of having killed people you never met that happen to share the same names as your so-called friends?"

David didn't even have the courtesy to look embarrassed. "That's right," he said.

Several seconds passed in silence.

"You know, I think I did hit you harder than I thought," said Devastator, but his voice was stilled, and his heart wasn't in it. Indeed of all the things thrown at him, by Terra, or David or anyone else so far, this last confirmation seemed to have struck the hardest. His sword hung limp at his side, as he stared at David not in disgust, not in amusement, not in the terse, tried patience of an adult addressing a child, but in what looked like total bafflement, as though for the first time, he was witnessing something truly outside his understanding.

"You did," said David, and he took a step towards Devastator, to no reaction from the other. "But that's not why I'm here." Of all things, David smiled, bitter though it was. "Do you want to know why?"

"Enlighten me," said Devastator, mirthlessly.

David drew a small, round object off his belt with his free hand and held it out towards Devastator. Terra recognized it instantly as one of the Titans' communicators.

"Look inside this," he said. "And you'll see,"

Devastator's puzzlement deepened. "See what?"

"The circuitry," said David. "What's it made out of?"

Devastator fell quiet for a moment, before his eyes darted to the communicator with a grumble for effect. It took but a moment for him to find the answer, and when he did, his eyes slowly moved back to David's. "Gold," he said.

David's face remained impassive. "Do you even know what that is?" he asked.

"An all but useless, hyper-conductive metal that people chase after because it's rare and shiny," said Devastator, now with a pronounced growl to his voice. "What's your point?"

"My point," said David, "is that you don't have any."

Devastator scoffed. "I'm not a teenaged girl, David. Gold isn't exactly my highest priority. And besides, I will have some once I take that off your dead body."

"No," said David, utterly serious. "You won't. And you never will. You threw it all away, burned it out of yourself, because you couldn't find any use for it, because it couldn't hold an edge or stop a bullet or do something practical for you, could it? So you don't have any, and you think that makes you tough or pragmatic or whatever. So now all you are is ice and smoke, plated over with a sheet of iron so that no-one will see just what you're actually made of."

Devastator's face slowly lost its smugness, its self-assured superiority, and his lifeless eyes ceased to roll as he stared at David like he was watching something with which he was wholly unfamiliar. His mouth worked several times before he could coax the words to life.

"Is that all you have for me?" he asked, but his voice was hollow and stilled, and carried none of the self-assurance of just minutes before. "Petty symbolism?"

"That's what we are," said David, raising his arms and sweeping them around the area. "That's all we are." He gestured to himself. "The color fade, the eyes, what do you think this is?"

"Trigon's idea of a theatrical joke," replied Devastator.

"Maybe," said David. "But he's not wrong. Not this time. We're the same person, but I'm not the real one, am I? I'm the deviation. I'm the one who went off the rails." He pointed the staff at Devastator. "You said it yourself. You're me, the way I was supposed to be. You're the original. I'm the alternate."

Another step closer, and another, until David was standing within three or four feet of Devastator, and Devastator had only to reach out with his sword, to strike David's head off. And yet Devastator did not so much as lift his arm, and David did not even glance at the sword burning quietly at Devastator's side, his red eyes still locked on Devastator's empty white ones.

"You wanted to know why?" asked David. "Why I turned my back on your path, why I decided to trust them instead, even though I knew what I was supposed to be, even though I knew how it would end?" He held the communicator up to Devastator's face. "Because of this. Because they gave me this."

"A communicator?"

"A communicator," said David, perfectly straight, "and everything inside of it. That's what they gave me. And they didn't have to. There were good, solid reasons why they shouldn't have done that. In fact, if they hadn't done it, then none of this would have happened. And they knew that. And so do I. But they gave it to me anyway. For a long time I couldn't figure out why, and now I know that it just doesn't matter."

All of the ambient noise, for Terra, began to fade into nothingness, and she felt her breath catch as she caught the tone in David's voice. The golden aura around her hands faded as she watched the two David's staring at one another, one preternaturally calm, the other looking much as she must have. David did not glance in her direction, did not seem to notice overtly that she was there, yet to her ears, it was as though he was speaking directly at her.

"I'm not here to punish you," said David, "or get revenge. I'm not gonna fight you for them, because I can't, and you know it. But I'm here, we're all here, because they gave me something I didn't have, and you never found." David reached forward, and placed the communicator in Devastator's free hand, before drawing his own hand back. "I'm your evil twin," said David, as Devastator slowly lifted the communicator, staring down at it as he might a magical talisman, his expression unreadable. "I'm not supposed to exist. But I do exist. And I'm here because, if this is really the end, then I won't let the last piece of me alive on this planet, be someone made of nothing except ice, and iron..." he stepped back from Devastator, and only then did he seem to catch Terra's gaze, if only for an instant, "and smoke."

Very slowly, the man called Devastator lifted his head, his gaze passing from the communicator to the younger version of himself in front of him. His face was rigid and mask-like, his movement precise and carefully controlled, as he lowered his arm to one side. He locked his eyes on David, his fingers gripping the hilt of his sword, and the ridged surface of the communicator.

"You've got me all wrong, David," said Devastator, his voice a flat, hoarse tone that seemed to tremble with the effort he required to keep it still. "There's no smoke here. No iron either. I did away with them a long, long time ago. All I've got for you is ice." He stepped forward, leaning in towards David, his voice beginning to tremble as it shrank to a harsh whisper.

"Ice," he repeated, "and fire."

The ground exploded beneath David's feet, a blast more shocking for the silence that had preceded it, hurling David up and away in a shower of asphalt and gravel. He landed twenty feet down the street, sliding to a stop against the curb, stunned and coughing, the metal staff still clutched in one hand.

Devastator walked towards him with deliberation and poise, neither speeding his step nor lifting his arms, yet there was something wholly different about him, an intangible, ineffable thing, found in his bearing and expression and the mechanical way in which he moved, as if each motion had to be precisely controlled for him to avoid flying apart.

"You want to talk about my shortcomings?" he asked, his voice a deep snark. "Tear me apart and see what makes me tick? It's late in the game to get introspective, David." His teeth clenched, and he hissed the words out like bad-tasting liquids. "Very. Late. Indeed."

David struggled to his feet, before swinging around with the staff in hand, aiming at the side of Devastator's head. With a single slash, one that he managed to make look contemptuous, Devastator blocked the blow, before lashing out and clubbing David in the face with the hilt of his sword, staggering him and sending him stumbling back against a car.

"Maybe you're right," said Devastator. "Maybe you were created to torture me. Maybe this is all just an elaborate put on to get through to the man who dared to wield what Trigon thought was rightly his. Have you considered that? That your bout of enlightenment was nothing more than the afterthought of a demon bent on tormenting me for some perceived slight? Hrm?" Louder and louder got Devastator's voice, as he paced back and forth like a caged animal. "You insignificant afterbirth, what gives you the right to judge me? If I'm so broken, so incomplete, then what's it say about you?"

There was a roar, not of monsters or people but the earth itself, from behind, and Devastator turned to see a barrage of boulders the size of minivans hurtling towards him. Yet he neither wavered nor hesitated, sneering as he turned and raised his sword to the heavens like an angelic warrior. The rocks exploded as one, flying to pieces like massive fragmentation bombs, casting debris and rubble about the ruined street in a cacophony of violence and rage, leaving a cloud of impenetrable smoke behind. With a swipe of his sword, he bisected the cloud itself with two thunderous explosions, revealing Terra standing on the other side, sheathed in her golden glow. She moved, as though to summon more stone, but with a contemptuous overhead slash, Devastator blew a car into the air effortlessly, before propelling it towards her with a series of rocket blasts, forcing her to abort what she was doing and erect a shield of bedrock, against which the car smashed and detonated.

Back swept Devastator to David, who was still picking himself up, and he strode towards him with purpose, the sword tracing fiery figures in the air around him. From within his coat, he drew out the canesword's sheath, and slid the sword back into it bare instants before the reconstituted cane caught 'fire' once more. Yet before David could determine what this augured, Devastator walked up to him, knocked his clumsy swing aside with his cane, seized him by the collar, and smashed him across the temple with the head of the cane.

"You think this is a game?" he asked, voice quavering with emotion. "You think I made my decisions in a vacuum?" Another blow, sending David reeling, propped up only by the iron grip Devastator had on his collar. "You want to know what pain is?" asked Devastator, hitting him again. "What it's like to be helpless and broken and with nobody to come and save you? You want to find out what it's like to be discarded and abandoned? Well let me show you!"

Reeling from the blows, blood tricking down the side of his head, David could not resist or even speak, as Devastator strode off down the street, dragging him by the collar, one hand gripping his throat, the other holding the blood-spattered cane. From behind, he saw Terra lower her shield of rock, and despite her own injuries, half-limp, half-run after them, pulling rocks from the ground as she did so. Yet Devastator sensed her without turning his head, and raised his hand with the cane without bothering to turn back. An entire section of the street between Terra and David exploded like a thermite bomb, sending a wall of flames hundreds of feet into the air, blocking all access.

Ahead, the road dropped away sharply, running down from the shallow ridge they had been ascending, and Devastator reached the edge of the ridge before hurling David to the ground at its very lip. Before David had a chance to get his bearings, Devastator stepped around him and grabbed his head, forcing him to raise it, and to look out upon the scene before him, a ruined cityscape that trailed on into the darkness, seemingly forever, choked by smoke and the red flames of wrath.

But there was something else.

Ahead, far far away, in the distance, there was movement, so far off and with so much dust and smoke between, that David could not tell what was actually there. The figures were tiny, mere ants at this distance, yet they moved, unquestionably, towards and away from one another. For a moment, David thought that they had to be demons, more of Trigon's minions, dancing at some unspoken command, but then, faintly but visibly, one of them emitted a light.

A bright blue light.

David froze.

"That's right," said Devastator, releasing his head and standing back up. "You know what that is, don't you?"

His head still reeling from the blows, David struggled to form coherent words. "C... Cyborg?"

"Of course," sneered Devastator. "Who else would it be?" He pointed to one side with his staff. "And have a look over there."

David followed the gesture, and thought he saw more movement, this time atop what looked like an enormous black edifice, all but invisible through the haze. The moving figures were invisible at this distance, save that every so often, one of them emitted a flash of bright green, seemingly from nowhere, but of a color that had been burned into David's very soul, that he would have recognized anywhere.

"They're alive?" he choked out, staring wide-eyed at the far-off display.

"Of course they're alive," said Devastator. "Trigon doesn't kill outright if he can avoid it. He likes to play with his food. He'll keep them alive until the torture isn't worth it any longer. That's what he does. David's eyes slowly turned back to Devastator, as the demolitionist stared daggers down at him, cane in hand. "But it's not what I do, David."

Something like ice wrapped itself around David's heart. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that I'm tired of this waste of time. It's not my style, and it's not my preference, but Trigon wanted you tortured to death for presuming to hold Devastator back from him, and I'm a man who completes the jobs he's given. So what I'm going to do, David," said Devastator, as he gestured in turn at the near-invisible figures, "is go to each and every one of your friends in turn. And I'm going to kill them. All of them. In front of you."

David's voice deserted him, his eyes widening to saucer size. "No," he managed to say.

"Yes," snapped David. "Every one in turn. I'm gonna kill them, the way I killed them once before. They didn't have a prayer of stopping me then, even all together and with thirty years experience under their belts. What chance do you think they'll have now, alone, surrounded, mere children?"

"No," repeated David, "no, no, you can't!"

"Oh yes I can!" roared Devastator. "but that's not the best part! The best part, David, is that they'll know who's doing it. We share more than a name, you and I. You recognized me instantly. So did Terra. They'll do the same. They'll know who I am when I come after them. Only unlike their evil sides, I'll be coming at them in living color! And it's possible that they won't know the difference, but I would bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that they've got just enough left in them to put it all together! And when they do..." he smiled ferociously, raising the hand in which he still held the communicator, "... then they'll know, once and for all, just who it was they gave this to."

"NO!" screamed David, and he leaped up, swinging the staff at Devastator once more, who blocked the swipe with his cane almost laughably easily before smashing the communicator against David's forehead, knocking him back to the ground. An instant later, and Devastator was crouched over him, tossing the crushed communicator aside as he grabbed David by the throat.

"And the whole time," he hissed, as David struggled and squirmed wildly, to no effect, red fog dancing before his eyes as the rest of the world began to fade. "You'll be watching. Free and unhindered, no ropes, no cuffs, no restraints. Free to do as you would, just so that you can experience the wonder of them begging you to save them, to help them, to defeat what they will initially assume is just your weaker, darker self. You'll be there to witness their reactions when they realize that I'm not some figment of Trigon's imagination, not some dark side of you conjured up from his imagination, that I am you! I am everything you ever were, everything you ever might have been, everything you ever could have amounted to! I am you distilled, condensed, reforged, and cut loose from my leash. And I want you to be there, at their last breaths, when they realize what it was that you always were."

The fog descended into totality, and as he felt something explode within him, David threw back his head and screamed.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The most painful thing in the world is a functional sense of scale.

Scale kills more people than cancer. Scale destroys more dreams than all the tyrants, mischances, and disasters of history put together. Scale ruthlessly slaughters entire ideologies, brutalizes and demeans and grinds one into the mud. Not content to slay indiscriminately, scale is unrelenting, assaulting its victims over and over, relentlessly, single-mindedly, a myopic brute satisfied with nothing but the abject surrender of its chosen victims. Scale is the bully whose existence is only validated when his targets are utterly degraded, for whom the pleasure of subjugating others is no pleasure at all, but the only purpose of existence. It strikes in the night, in dark hours, when the clouds have closed and the stars refuse to shine. It cloaks itself in reason, introspection, cold analysis, wheedling its way inside with appeals to superiority and cynical pragmatism, laying the greatest of wonder-workers to waste until all is brought to ruin.

For the universe is unfathomably large, time unspeakably vast, and compared to its immensity, what is man? What are his works? His geniuses and triumphs? Scale reduces all to ash and mockery. What is a symphony, but symbolic instructions for the production of a momentary arrangement of vibrations in the air of a tiny portion of a planet, gone moments later, meaningless to anyone besides a small subset of the living beings on this one, insignificant rock? What is a soaring cathedral, but a minor re-arrangement of stones at the surface of the same? An arbitrary symbol of an invisible delusion produced at the command of petty nothings who flatter themselves with importance. What are these things by comparison to a sun? What are they to a galaxy? To a universe entire? Should they have never existed, would the universe notice the lack? Would God? Flatten a city, burn a continent, destroy a planet or a galaxy, and the universe barely blinks, for such is its scale.

The knowledge of this is a terrible thing. The understanding of the futility of oneself by comparison to the universe is sufficient to drive men mad. This is not mere idle speculation. Men have destroyed themselves in despair of the scale of their universe and their own place within it, disowning all their works, cursing themselves for having had the vanity to imagine that they mattered. The work of a lifetime invalidated in a heartbeat of sudden doubt masquerading as realization. What purpose to labor and create? What purpose to compose, to paint and sculpt, to build or design or dream of anything, what purpose these things, when scale proves them all vanity? What purpose to fight for anything, to rage against the dying of the light, to struggle against odds not merely insurmountable but whimsical and arbitrary, constrained by nothing? What purpose to write deeds? What purpose to compose and struggle, in late hour or dark room, in the service of creating a thing the universe will neither notice nor recognize, a pale imitation of the tales of one's betters, whose very existence cannot be spoken of in polite company, tarred with illegitimacy, mired in legal and moral speculation. An arbitrary act with arbitrary consequences, signifying nothing. A road leading nowhere.

What purpose to write this story, if every sense of scale weighs against it? What purpose to write these words and this sentence, whose language and symbolism are arbitrary, whose pretensions of meaning and importance are laughable? What purpose to create it at all?

What purpose, dear reader, for you to read it?

Scale is a terrible thing, hiding in a million guises, the words of scoffing cynics, the dry figures of a textbook, the sneers of a million 'experts' and doomspeakers who revel in their own superiority of reason or comprehension, seeking to deflect the quiet desperation of their own empty lives onto others. Scale is nihilism writ in physical form, a death to all things, even the intangible concepts of idea and faith and wonder. It is the death of the soul. If embraced, it can even make one complicit in the murder.

And yet, there are two sides to every story, even that of scale.

To peer into the heavens is to be humbled. To measure oneself against eternity is to be found wanting, to conclude the uselessness and vanity of life and action, of creation or struggle. But the very desperation with which scale assaults our sense of worth belies its great weakness: That scale itself is also arbitrary. And if the scale one employs is arbitrary, then cannot one select another?

If there exists a universe wherein our actions are so dwarfed and pathetic to be meaningless, if there exist a million such universes, are there not also ones where this is not so? For there are an infinity of things infinitely greater than ourselves, it is true, but the road runs in both directions, and thus there are an infinity of things infinitely lesser than us as well. If we can define our lives as meaningless when compared with the greater universe, what are they when compared with a lesser one, the universe of our own lives, of those of our loved ones, our pets, our friends? What are we by comparison with insects? With bacteria? With the dust beneath our feet and the air that dances through our hair? What are we, ultimately? The cynic may answer that we are insignificant insects, and by a sufficient sense of scale, so we are. But by another sense, we are towering collections of fifty trillion living cells, each of which lives and dies and labors to ennoble the whole. Within us reside hundreds of billions of living things, of bacteria and viruses, beings smaller to us than we are to the planet entire. Yet they labor endlessly, in their billions and trillions, and change minute elements of us, in their own manner and image. Through us, do their labors sum to perform actions unfathomable to themselves. Through us can they move distances that must seem as remote as interstellar space, ascend to layers of action and creation to which they have no suitable conception. Perhaps through us, they can even make their mark on a universe infinitely greater.

Thoughtless and brainless though they may be, governed by the most pitiable of instincts, as we understand it, one wonders if they ponder, as we do, their place in the universe. Do they think on the vastness of ourselves, and their minute scale by comparison, and know despair?

To them, might we not be Gods?

And if, to them, we are Gods, then how can what we do be anything but of the greatest possible import?

We live, we love, we create, we struggle, we build, we compose, we craft and we seek meaning in it all, and it eludes us, and some of us fall prey to despair. Our fine sense of scale contrives to drag us from our pedestals and beat us into the dirt among the slimy things we imagine so far below. Yet our perpetual defeat, overcoming some, waiting in the wings for all, does nothing but cast relief upon the ultimate truth. What we do is both of no meaning and ultimate importance, simultaneously and at once. In this, as in so many other ways, we are creatures of paradox.

What we call moments of clarity are many things, but often times, if we look back on them, we find that they are nothing but sudden, dramatic adjustments in our conception of scale. A shift in scale can change everything, for "the odds" are a function of the scale whereby we evaluate our ambitions. A negative shift can arrest one in mid-word, tear down all the work of a lifetime, reduce a man to groveling misery within his own head. But a different shift entirely, discarding the old conception and refocusing upon what we consider our essential universe, engendered by anything from external abuse to internal enlightenment, a sudden shift in that direction can do almost anything. It can open a conduit to wonders, transform men into angels or poets or warriors of virtue. It can raise the dead and set the heavens to singing, carve temples to imagined gods from the living stone of mountains. It can raise the dead, protect the living, give those who might have been imagined to have no hope at all against the all-encompassing hatred of an infinite malice, a chance, however faint, to stand in defense of that which is, to us, the most important thing of all.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"I am so sorry..."

The green flash lit up the air like a firework detonating in the midst of all present, as sudden and unexpected as a bolt of lightning on a clear day. Warp jolted, leaping back a pace as he wafted the ozone-tinged smoke from his face, blinking back the flash as he tried to see what had happened. Something warm and wet splashed across his face, and he did not have time to think through what it had to be before his vision cleared, and he saw what was in front of him.

Starfire stood at the edge of the pit, leaning forward, one arm wrapped around Robin tightly, her head resting on his shoulder, eyes squeezed shut. She was holding him in place, perhaps using him as a support to stay on her feet, perhaps vice versa. She stood there, motionless, as did Robin, neither one moving so much as a muscle, locked, for all anyone could tell, in a frozen embrace.

The eight inch hole that had been blasted through Robin's chest glistened in the preternatural twilight.

Warp stood in mute shock, Robin's blood running down his face, coating the floor and the pillars and everything else within twenty feet, staring at the greenish glow from her hand that shown through the hole in Robin's chest. He watched as Starfire stood holding Robin up, her fingers dug into his titanium cape, before slowly opening her eyes, revealing slits of radioactive green that seemed to churn and boil like the fires of some infernal reactor set to motion. In the searing green light, could be glimpsed the roiling, inconceivable rage that bubbled like molten iron beneath the surface of Starfire's motionless form. And in the void left by the shock of what had just happened, Warp felt the first tinges of fear creeping into his conscious awareness.

"Warp," said Starfire, in a whisper so fine it could cut a blade of grass, "you have made a terrible mistake."

The green glow in Robin's chest vanished, as Starfire released Robin, letting him tumble lifelessly to the ground.

"You have made many mistakes, Warp," said Starfire, tears shimmering in her eyes, yet refusing to fall, "so many that they cannot all be catalogued. But of them all, there is one that stands above. You believed that by bringing me here, and presenting me with these puppets of your will in the shape and form of Robin, that you would destroy me. You thought this, because you envisioned me as broken. You pictured that which Robin and I had as a candle, in the darkness, which with the tiniest motion, you could extinguish between your fingers, and thus cast me into nothing."

Starfire took a step forward, and without even glancing towards him, reached out her hand and shot Nightwing between the eyes with a starbolt that could have levelled a building, instantly turning the entire upper half of Nightwing's torso to vapor.

"In this," she said, "you were mistaken."

Warp recoiled, not in horror so much as shock, stepped back despite the book in his hand, despite the shield that even now shifted around him, stepping back through commands unconscious and unsummoned.

"What Robin and I shared," said Starfire, her voice as even as a plane of obsidian glass, not the slightest tremor audible to hint at what might rage beneath, "was beyond your capacity to harm. There is no torment you could devise, no outrage you could contrive, no crime you could fathom in your darkest of nightmares that would serve to tarnish its luster in the slightest degree. Were you capable of understanding this, you would have known that these puppets you summoned had no greater chance of disrupting the memory I hold of Robin, than your curses do of bringing you peace. You have failed, Warp, in every degree, to comprehend what it was that you sought to tear down."

Starfire's hands glowed with emerald light, as she stared at the dark-mantled supervillain, her eyes washing out slowly with the volcanic fires of Tamaran.

"It is said that the greatest weakness of the darkness, is that a single candle suffices to hold it back," said Starfire as she strode towards Warp, outwardly poised and calm, hands sheathed in flame. "What Robin and I shared was not merely a candle," she said, only the tears in her eyes serving to reveal what dwelt within. "What Robin and I shared, Warp, could ignite the stars."



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.35 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-06 07:26pm
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Chapter 36: Judgment Day, cont'd

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"Yeah," said Cyborg. "Me too."

There was a flash of pink light, the sound of air being sliced apart, and an explosion, and when the smoke cleared, Cyborg stood alone.

All around him, demons lay crushed and thrown about, several hurled though windows, others laid out in stacks on the street. Behind, the evil duplicate of Cyborg stood blinking in confusion, surrounded by fallen demons and broken pieces of sulfur, trying to replay what had just happened so as to figure out what could possibly have happened. Cyborg ignored him, looking instead forward, at the girl dressed in violet and black who lay on her back in the middle of the street, staring up into the air and blinking, as though she could not figure out what had led her to this pass.

"I'm sorry," repeated Cyborg, "that I've gotta do this."

And then he shot her.

Jinx had scarcely had a chance to lift her head when a wave of sonic energy like the finger of god tore the very ground she was laying on apart, ripping it to pieces and sending her careening down the street into and through one of the flame demons that was presently trying to get back up. She hit a car, bounced over it, and fetched up on the broken sidewalk, coughing and bleeding from the head, trying to force her trembling muscles into rising.

"I don't have a choice..." she coughed out, rising to her hands and knees before spinning around in place and hurling a hex at Cyborg like a shiruken. Cyborg made no attempt to dodge, turning into the shot, letting it strike the stump of his mangled arm and detonate there. The explosion kicked up dust and smoke and sent pieces of metal flying in every direction, but the smoke cleared to reveal Cyborg undaunted, his broken arm simply broken further, and he turned back to her, and fired a sonic blast that tore the car between them in half and would have disintegrated her had she not contrived to leap aside.

She landed unsteadily on her feet, further hexes forming in her hands, though she did not form them instantly. "He can bring them all back," she said, her words carrying the fevered intensity of a fanatic who dared not consider the horrible alternatives to their own faith. "He told me he could bring them back. If I do what he says then he'll - "

"He won't do jack," said Cyborg. "You're not stupid enough to believe him. He ain't gonna do a damn thing except laugh."

Jinx' fists and teeth clenched of their own accord. Tears spilled down her face as she half-shouted, half-cried in response. "But I have to... I have to try, don't I?"

"Yeah," said Cyborg without a change of inflection. "You do. And I really wish I could help you, Jinx, but I've gotta try somethin' too. I've gotta keep people like you off BB and Star. And if you think I wouldn't blow your head off a thousand times to give them one more minute for whatever they gotta try, then you'd best think again."

Slowly, Jinx seemed to calm herself down, opening her hands once more to receive the crystalline hexes that she formed within them. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, as she faced the unmoving robotic Titan. "You can be as angry with me as you want," she said, firmer now, poised and ready for what might come. "I have to do this."

Cyborg shook his head, contemptuous of the demons rising once more around him, staring down at Jinx like a wizened schoolteacher dismissing the plaintive excuses of a truant student.

"Jinx," said Cyborg. "Whatever you think you know, believe me. You've never seen me get angry..."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"Well," said the double. "Whadaya say we find out what you taste like?"

Raven did not answer. She did not get the chance.

All of a sudden there was a terrible roar.

It was like the roar of an animated jet engine, the roar of an earthquake, the furious, interstellar roar of a supernova exploding into the night sky with all the power of a galaxy within it. A roar so profound that it emanated from nothing and everything at the same time, a roar that shattered the icicles on the ceiling and cracked the ground around them, a roar with physical force, blood-soaked and terrible, as though the air itself had come to life and chosen to assail the living. It was a roar of pure, outraged hate and malice, a roar of violence and anger and primal, inconsolable rage. Beast Boy's double, caught mid-transformation into something else, turned about in shock, to see what could possibly have generated such an offence against hearing.

Perhaps he suspected it was Beast Boy, howling in defiance in a desperate attempt to prevent him from devouring Raven. If so, he was mistaken. What he saw when he turned around was not Beast Boy.

It was not even the Beast.

What he saw when he turned around had no name at all.

For an instant, a fatal instant, the sight of the loathsome thing that loomed behind him seemed to stun the double into inaction, as his eyes froze and his breath caught and his mind tried in vain to wrap itself around the horrible, non-euclidean shape of the terrible form that he beheld. His mouth worked up and down in horror, his limbs all acting of their own accord as his conscious mind seemed to shut down temporarily. And as the cacophony of horrors built and the noxious being lurched and slithered and leaped into the air like a tower of horn and hide, Beast Boy's double had time only to take one step back, and then it was upon him.

There are strange things that dwell within the hearts of men, terrible things, loathsome things. To some such things we give a name and assign a place in the makeup of man, confident in our categorization and diagnoses. It is upon these things that demons feed, praying on our baser natures, seeking to overthrow us and drag us down to Hell.

Yet ultimately, there are places even demons do not walk, for they have no name, and no category, and exist at the whim of impulses that cannot be governed nor pandered to, not by all the Legions of Hell, for they are innate, and eternal, and they do not sleep.

As the howls and the hideous shrieks merged with the unspeakable roars that rent the air and sent waves of ice cascading down across the chamber, alone in her corner, wrapped in the fragile protection of a white cloak, Raven squeezed shut her eyes, held her hands over her ears, and began to scream.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

And in the right circumstances, it might even change the world...

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

There was a deafening explosion.

David could see nothing, could make out nothing, his eyes clouded with rage and desperation and terror so far past mortal as to lack description, but the explosion aborted his scream like nothing else could have, and he felt warmth on his face, on his hands, everywhere, as flames bathed him and debris sailed past, but only for a second. And then suddenly, there were no more hands at his throat, no more blows to his head. Suddenly, without even needing to see, he knew that he was alone.

He realized that his eyes were shut, and opened them.

There was smoke and blood, blood on his sleeve and hand and dripping onto the ground, blood from his own head, which pounded in pain from the beating it had sustained, but he ignored it all, and raising his head, he saw something he did not expect to see.

Across the way sat a burnt out automobile, charred black like the rest of the world, and still emitting a trickle of smoke. And against it lay Devastator, crumpled against the side of the car like a marionette with its strings cut, beneath a man-sized dent that marred the car doors which David was fairly sure had not been there moments ago. The sheer unexpectedness of this sight derailed his train of thought, and he sat there in silence and watched as Devastator slowly rose to his hands and knees, retrieving his cane from where it had landed next to him. Devastator groaned as he blinked and gripped the car for support, looking more shaken than seriously hurt, but plainly as surprised to find himself there as David had been. And then slowly, he turned back to David, a soft smile on his face, chuckling at something, as though this were all some joke.

He took one look at David, and froze solid.

David waited an interminable second for Devastator to finish moving, but he did not, frozen like a statue, with the only motion in his face, as the older man's blind eyes slowly widened, and his mouth dropped open and hung there. Of all the possible reactions that Devastator could have had, that was the one David had been least expecting, and it jolted him, such that he turned his head slightly, and saw Terra out of the corner of his eye. She was standing in the middle of the street, fists sheathed in her yellow energy, having somehow contrived to get past the wall of fire that Devastator had conjured in her path. Yet she too had stopped dead, as motionless as that day in the park when Raven's time stop had frozen her along with the rest of the world, her eyes wide in astonishment, mouthing words that she could not find the wherewithal to speak. Like Devastator, she was staring right at him in some cross between astonishment, horror, and awe, and David had no idea why.

That was when he noticed that his fingers were still warm.

Slowly, David lowered his eyes, but he had not gotten far before he too, froze solid, blinking in disbelief at what he saw before him. Robin's bo staff of stainless steel, now truncated at one end by some unknown means, the staff he had taken from the survival bunker, was held tightly his hand.

And it was sheathed in fire.



Image

Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-07 08:42pm
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Jedi Knight

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I just wanted to say that this is one of the best fanfics I've ever read. It's up there with Thousand Shinji and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Very happy to see an update, can't wait to see it wrapped up.



"You were doing OK until you started to think."
-ICANT, creationist from evcforum.net

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2011-02-07 09:42pm
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is a laughing fool.
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Location: Painesville TWP, Ohio
MORE OF THIS NOW!!!!!! :)



ASVS('97)/SDN('03)

"Peppercorn Tomatoes slathered in broken guacamole sauce. Put it in the microwave and press puree. 5 seconds in the dumpster and it is ready to be cooked in the freezer at -350 degrees for twenty minutes. Apply pressure in various hamster spots and scream like a psychotic banshee." My reply when asked what was on my mind.

"Whilst human alchemists refer to the combustion triangle, some of their orcish counterparts see it as more of a hexagon: heat, fuel, air, laughter, screaming, fun." - Dawn of the Dragons

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 07:44pm
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Redshirt

Joined: 2011-10-13 06:59am
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Chapter 37: The Apes and the Angels

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me ?


The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin ;
The guests are met, the feast is set :
May'st hear the merry din.'


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The boy and the girl and the man stood apart from one another, surrounded by ruin and red flame and the ambient noise of the pyre that had once been a city. They stood where they were, looking at the same thing, all three expecting reality to return to its regular programming at any moment.

But the staff in the boy's hand burned red with silent, heatless flames. And whatever the expectations of those watching, it showed no signs of ceasing to do so.

For what might have been a full minute, David stared down at the staff in his hand, his arm and body absolutely motionless, not daring even to breathe, as though the slightest thing might dispel what had to be some kind of illusion or hallucination. He could hear his own heart thundering in his ears, loud enough to drown out everything else around him, and with each beat, he felt the staff in his fingers pulse warm and cold, as though it were a living thing with a heartbeat attuned to his own. Only after an eternity had passed did David raise his head and turn it back up the road towards his alter ego, who was standing in the middle of the street staring at him with an expression of confusion.

"That's impossible," said the man.

No scream, no protest, simply words, uttered to himself perhaps, for he seemed to have forgotten that anyone else was present. The anger from before, the threats and icy rage were gone, their place usurped by simple disbelief.

David stood up slowly, keeping his eyes locked on his counterpart, half-afraid that looking back down at the flames on the staff in his hand would cause them to extinguish. The man made no move to stop him, his own cane burning quietly in his hand, forgotten for the moment like everything else.

"You don't have Devastator," said the man, though who he was addressing was an open question. "You don't have anything." He began to walk, pacing back and forth, his lifeless eyes never leaving David's own, seemingly oblivious to whatever else might be occurring. He appeared to be on the cusp of saying more several times, before he suddenly stopped where he was.

"There's no way..." he said rather cryptically, and then extended his hand back behind himself.

There was a deafening blast, shattering the relative silence, and the burnt-out husk of a car suddenly vaulted into the air on a cushion of fire as if the ground had suddenly decided to eject it into the sky. It lofted up, spinning in place and shedding pieces of itself as it flew, before Devastator swept his hand forward, and another rocket-propelled explosion hurled the car ahead and down, directly at David himself.

All this happened in a fraction of a second, a series of moves so sudden that David could not react consciously. Had his mind not been addled by everything that had happened, had this been a normal situation or one remotely resembling it, he might have dodged to one side, or ducked, or done something smart. But as it was, his brain could not fire the proper synapses in time, and instead of doing those things, his higher functions froze, allowing muscle memory and months of rote training to take over in their stead. All of its own volition, without central control, David's eyes took in the spectacle of the flying, burning car, his fingers tightened around the staff in his hand, his arm raised the staff towards the object hurtling down towards him, and in the same manner that an amputee might order his missing legs to walk, David's lower mind pushed in a manner indescribable against the edges of a hollow void deep inside him that stood in the place of something that had once been there.

And there was fire.

A great fireball, blossoming in orange and yellow and vibrant red, erupted into being and consumed the car like a ravenous beast. A peal of thunder tore through the air, sending bits of debris and pebbles scurrying for cover as streaks of flaming rubber and gasoline rained down and the echoes of the blast gave way to the pitter-patter of metallic hail. Dense, boiling smoke billowed forth from the annihilated car, but the stiff wind caught it and swept it aside, as the fire faded and the street reverted once more to near-silence.

And as the rain of metal faded, and the last wisps of smoke were whisked away, all of a sudden, David's mind remembered how to control the movements of his body, and he exhaled, and breathed in again, and lowered the hand that held Robin's staff to his side, and his eyes until they sat upon his counterpart.

His counterpart had not moved. His counterpart had not, it seemed, even breathed. Indeed, for the first time, his counterpart was visibly, recognizably David. Weathered and scarred though the face was, with eyes as blank as billiard balls, the expression was one that was instantly recognizable. It was the one that David himself had been wearing seconds ago, the same delicately blank look that represented astonishment and wonder and awe and fear all at once, the product of a mind that had suffered a computational fault and left all physical business in abeyance as it tried to recover. The cane hung from his fingertips, flickering with fire, but the man did not raise it to conjure forth more destruction. He seemed to have forgotten its existence. It was many, many seconds before he finally contrived to retrieve himself, and to speak, his voice hollow and empty of bombast.

"You clever little bastard..."

David said nothing. Instead he took one step forward, and swung his staff underhand, forwards and up like a polo mallet.

Always before it had been a matter of conscious, or at least semi-conscious will. A target selected, molecules categorized and acted upon, energy contained, re-routed, twisted upon itself to produce the proper effect. Not the artistic choreography of a magical spell, not the raw, elemental emotional outburst of kinetics or psychic power, using Devastator was as mechanical as laying pipe, a matter of formulaic repetition, work of the ego rather than the id. Raging emotion impeded Devastator. It did not enhance it.

And perhaps that was all still true. Perhaps the rote training and repetition of the last nine months had simply cemented the necessary steps so deeply in the back of David's mind that he could no longer discern the specific mental motions involved in conjuring them up. Or perhaps something else was acting here, some impenetrable explanation related to Trigon, to Hell, to the end of the world, or to the process of resurrection by stone. Perhaps it was a matter of great importance, and perhaps it didn't matter at all. Ultimately, all that David ever knew was that he raised his staff, and called for destruction, and received it.

The ground midway between David and his counterpart exploded, as though an artillery shell had just landed, throwing up dust and dirt and debris but doing very little else. Less than a fraction of a second later however, another explosion five feet in front of the last burst into being, and another before that, and another and another. A walking series of detonations advancing down the street at the speed of a racehorse, throwing asphalt and streetcar rails aside, aimed straight at the man with the fiery cane.

The man in question watched with equanimity the advancing line of explosions, his face tight and guarded, each blast exploding closer than the one before. At long last, as the explosions closed to within twenty feet or less, he raised his burning cane by the neck like a priest brandishing a holy cross, and thrust it forward towards the advancing pillars of fire.

The explosions stopped.

Slowly this time, the smoke cleared away, as though the wind itself could not decide on a proper course of action. As the shroud of dust and flame wafted aside, David saw the man once more, his cane still held up as though he were warding off vampires. Slowly he lowered it, though he did not act further, did not move or run or strike out with his own powers, his body trembling slightly, though why this might be was impossible to tell. He seemed to be waiting for David to say or do something, but David did nothing, standing still as a statue, watching his flesh-toned counterpart with his searing red eyes cutting through the ashen air like smoldering coals.

"So is this it then?" asked the man at length. "We kill each other here, at the end of the world, all because of your little friends?"

"I won't let you hurt them," said David, largely the only thing he could think of to say.

"You can't stop me," said the man. "Not even with Devastator or whatever parlor trick that was. You know that."

"Then try it," said David, "and watch me."

A flash of anger, clearly visible, passed over Devastator's face. "I will," he spat from between clenched teeth. "I'll watch you scream when I mount their heads on pikes. I did not come back from death just to let someone like you get in - "

"SHUT! UP!"

There was a loud crack like a peal of thunder, and the ground split, asphalt and concrete cracking as in an earthquake, sending thin, jagged rents spider-webbing across the street and sidewalk from about David's feet, even as nearby buildings groaned and swayed, shaking dust and ash from their fire-scored walls.

"I don't care what you threaten me with!" shouted David, oblivious to the damage, brandishing his broken staff like a flaming torch as it stabbed the air with it in Devastator's direction. "I don't care what you think of me! Who the hell are you ? You're just a re-animated corpse brought back to torture me! What did Trigon offer you to make you come back and do this?"

"Have you ever been dead?" demanded Devastator. "Your soul on fire, twisting in agony for all eternity? Try it some time, and tell me what you wouldn't agree to in exchange for clemency." He sneered. "Besides, the chance to kill the people responsible wasn't a hard sell."

"The Titans weren't responsible for what happened to you."

"And just how the hell would you know what they were and weren't responsible for?"

"Because I know them."

"Not half as well as you think you do," said Devastator. "I've known them for much longer than you ever did.

"All you did was try to murder them," said David.

"Oh, you'd be surprised how well you get to know someone when they're on your hit list for as long as the Titans were," said Devastator. "Besides, that hardly matters now, does it? I don't need to know them to kill them, now do I?"

"You won't get that chance."

"Oh really?" scoffed Devastator. "Says who?"

"Says me ," said David evenly. "You won't get near enough to hurt them. Not by five miles. You won't lay a finger on one of them."

Devastator groaned, shaking his head. "Son, I've tolerated this crap long enough. I'm not gonna stand here and debate morality with a child when – "

"I'm not your son and I'm not a child," said David coldly. "I'm the chosen host of the Lord of Destruction." He lowered his staff until the tip touched the ground, the flames flaring up as his fingers tightened around it. "I will not let you hurt the others. Not ever."

Devastator's already unreadable face went almost completely blank. "Is that so?" he asked at length.

David raised the staff slowly, gripping it with both hands, his fingers automatically finding the shallow grooves worn into the metal by another pair of gloved hands. "It is."

Devastator took a long, deep breath, and released it slowly, his fingers drumming silently on the silver handle of his walking cane.

"Fine," he said simply, "have it your way." And with a movement so fluid and fast that David scarcely had time to even blink, Devastator reached into his coat, withdrew a walnut-gripped semi-automatic handgun, aimed it at David, and fired.

Tensed like a coiled spring though David was, the gesture was so unexpected that his mind did not have time to process an appropriate response, and he saw the gun rise almost in slow motion, staring straight down the barrel, before the burst of flame from within it augured the end.

But the bullet never arrived.

There was a crunch of something unyielding being ruptured and suddenly a slab of stone and loose earth eight feet tall simply appeared right in front of David, shooting up from the ground like a geyser. David heard a wet 'thwack' as the bullet buried itself in the dirt pile and stopped, leaving him and Devastator to stare blankly at the unexpected obstacle interposed between them as if by magic.

It was Devastator who realized first what had just happened.

"God dammit !" snapped Devastator, and he whirled around in place, handgun extended towards the target that both he and David had momentarily forgotten existed. He was almost too late. A stone the size of a medicine ball nearly ripped his head off, missing by the barest of millimeters, and he was forced to detonate the one behind it so close to himself that he was almost knocked off his feet by his own explosion. It was only now, belatedly, that David's stunned mind caught up with the situation, and he scrambled around the shield of earth and stone to see what he could see.

Terra stood behind Devastator, fists closed and sheathed in gold, her eyes fixed on the man with the scarred eyes and red cane. How she had traversed the wall of fire that had cut her off from them was unclear, yet here she was, undaunted, and it was perhaps a testament to her overall bearing that Devastator did not attempt witty banter or a wry remark, but simply narrowed his lifeless eyes, raised the gun once more towards her, and fired again.

The gunshots were like thunderclaps, booming though the empty street as fire blossomed from the muzzle of the gun, but Terra raised one hand, tearing from the ground another shield of earth and rock, into which the bullets thudded with no effect. This time, however, Devastator was expecting this reaction. With an angry snarl he raised his cane to the air, and the rock shield exploded like a bomb, casting up a cloud of dust which blew swiftly away to reveal –

Nothing.

Both Devastator and David blinked in equal confusion as the smoke cleared to find that Terra had vanished like a ghost. For a second or two they stood as though transfixed, but as before, it was Devastator who made the obvious leap first.

"Alright then," he growled, sounding put upon, and holstering his pistol once more, he spun his cane through the air and drove the tip down into the ground. Instantly the ground heaved as though something was trying to hammer its way to the surface, bouncing everything from pebbles to cars into the air, and a two foot wide section of the street first lurched upwards, then collapsed back to form a deep pothole. Again and again he lifted the cane and drove it downwards, and each time another pothole fell into the street as explosions deep within the earth pulverized the bedrock and substrata like depth charges beneath the sea.

David, left momentarily forgotten as Devastator tried to smoke Terra out from her underground hiding place, did not make the mistake of trying to think things through. His brain still running only at its most basic level, he did not stop to try and analyze how it was possible for him to be channelling the very powers that Trigon had ripped out, nor any of the other ten thousand questions that needed only a second's inattention to spring to mind. Seeing Devastator trying to crush Terra with underground shockwaves, he responded immediately as he would have if nothing else odd were going on.

And given everything, this, probably, was the only thing that let him get away with what happened next.

Explosions, from Devastator, were a matter of energy. The larger an object, the more energy had to be corralled to detonate it. More energy meant more time, time that David had, through prodigious effort, managed to reduce to a minimum, but time that was still appreciable nonetheless. Hard enough as it was to destroy something with Devastator on-hand, he now had no choice but to simply go through the motions and hope that somehow, whatever had happened to give him the ability to destroy once more, would do the rest. Had he tried to detonate something huge, a truck, a building, even the street on which his counterpart stood, it would have taken time. Time for his counterpart to retaliate or block him or simply get off one more subterranean explosion. Time that he didn't have.

But whether it was because of Robin's endless lessons about creativity, or simply because he had Terra on his mind, David's target was not something huge. Indeed, it was the most mundane of objects, something so common, so simple, that he could have detonated it in his sleep.

And as Devastator raised his cane again, right behind him, a parking meter exploded.

There was the waspish sound of flying metal, as a thousand coins of various denominations flew in every direction like the shrapnel of a fragmentation bomb, and a second later, Devastator let out a howl of pain as a hundred such coins slammed into him. He staggered forward, nearly dropping the cane, whose flames instantly extinguished as the will commanding them into being evaporated like smoke. Stumbling, Devastator lashed out clumsily, but even such an offhand gesture sent a broken piece of pavement the size of a wall safe hurtling at David's head with the speed of a cannonball. Reacting on instinct, David swung his staff like a baseball bat, and the pavement chunk exploded into a million pieces, forcing him to cover his eyes with his arm to deflect the fragments.

There was a loud crack to David's left, and he tensed up automatically, dropping his arm and turning his head with his staff ready to deflect whatever Devastator had thrown at him from this new direction. But instead of a projectile, David saw the asphalt beside him shattering like glass, revealing the broken ground beneath. A second later, and Terra suddenly appeared from within the loose dirt, leaping up onto the street in a cloud of dust, the dirt rolling off her like water off a duck. Her fists were sheathed in gold, and small stones orbited her body in every which way like electrons around an atom. Though she said nothing, she did turn her head David's way, her eyes asking all the questions necessary.

"You two clearly do not know what you are dealing with..."

The voice was practically a hiss, a snarl layered with contempt and anger, so cold that it seemed to chill the very air. Both David and Terra turned to see Devastator standing back up, his long coat torn with dozens of small holes from the flying coins. The staff in his hand burned brightly once more, like a blazing torch, and he held it by the neck, before reaching over, twisting the handle, and drawing forth the sword concealed within. Both blade and sheathe burned brightly, like the damned city around them, and the light of their fires cast crimson shadows across the scarred countenance of the enraged metahuman who stood before them.

From the corner of his eye, David saw Terra start to take a step back, saw her hesitate, think better of it, and force herself to stand her ground. David might have done the same had he not been rooted where he was, watching his double with trepidation.

"You want to be heroes?" asked Devastator, slowly lowering both sword and cane. "Well this is what happens to heroes." Taking a single, heavy step forward, he swung both implements back and around and upwards, crossing them in front of his chest as he did so, and half an instant later, a volcano erupted in front of him.

The street was already pockmarked by the aftereffects of explosions, thrown vehicles, and subterranean detonations, but this was to them as a fusion bomb was to a firecracker. The entire street, from sidewalk to sidewalk, lurched and split and blew a solid piece of pavement a hundred yards long and thirty wide, into the air like the lid of a pressure cooker. Shedding debris and cars as it rose, the thousand-ton block of bedrock and asphalt rose on the wings of a fiery explosion that shattered what little glass remained within a mile and knocked both David and Terra back like bowling pins struck by a cannonball. David landed on his side, Terra on her back, and both of them slid to a painful stop a hundred feet from where they had stood. His head spinning, David managed to prop himself up on one arm, and turned his head back up the street in time to see Devastator swing both his weapons down towards them, and another explosion hurled the entire block at them like a meteor.

There was a crack to his left, as Terra summoned a pillar of rock right through the asphalt, using it to push herself back to her feet faster than she could stand herself. Still swaying on her feet, she nonetheless threw both hands out, releasing a beam of golden light that stretched out and struck the front of the flying block of stone and roadway. The light wrapped itself around the block as Terra leaned forward as though pressing against an invisible wall, her eyes closed and teeth clenched. The block's flight slowed, its trajectory wobbling, but that much mass and momentum would not be arrested so easily, and the block flew on regardless.

Staggering to his feet at Terra's side, David aimed the staff at the approaching block, balancing it on his wrist and shoving it forward like a pool cue. Instantly, the entire front facing of the block exploded in fiery ruin, slowing its approach yet further, but not enough. Again and again he jabbed the staff forward, each successive jab blossoming forth new fire from the broken face of the stone block, as Terra dug her feet in and shoved forward, and the golden glow redoubled in brilliance. Wobbling despite its immense momentum, the block dipped and its leading edge struck the ground like the blade of an enormous bulldozer, dredging up a wave of asphalt and dirt. Desperately, David redoubled his efforts, explosions peppering his face and shirt with red-hot bits of stone and pavement, as the wave and the block slid towards them inexorably. Terra screamed, whether from fright or the mere effort of channelling her kinetic powers, David couldn't tell, and he closed his eyes and fired one more explosion at danger-close range, the backblast strong enough to nearly knock him off his feet. The explosion rang in his ears, drowning out everything else. But as it faded out, it was replaced, not with more crashing or cacophony, but with silence.

One second. Two. And David opened his eyes to a smoldering wall of stone and burnt asphalt, sitting motionless some six inches from his face. For a moment he simply stared at it, half-expecting it to rise up and lunge at him once again. And then slowly he flicked his eyes over to his left, where Terra was holding her breath, her hands trembling at her sides, staring as he was at the immense block.

And then the block exploded.

Had the entire thing detonated at once, it would have disintegrated David and Terra down to the molecular level. That it did not was evidence of the rushed nature of the explosion, Devastator not bothering with a complete energy transference in favor of speed and surprise. Only a relatively small portion of the block, that directly facing the two teenagers, actually exploded, shattering the rest like so much glass. But at point blank range, it was more than enough. David felt only an tremendous impact, then weightlessness, and then nothing at all.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

He holds him with his glittering eye-
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child :
The Mariner hath his will.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"If you do not learn this lesson and well, you will destroy everything and everyone you ever come to love."

It was quiet now. Quieter than before. The shrieking and howling had gone, fading slowly into sobs that quieted in their turn and finally stopped altogether. It was quiet enough to hear the dripping of water and the groaning of the ice that surrounded her. Yet the silence was not quite absolute, for every so often, she heard a noise that was clearly no product of ice or water, some awful, grinding, gurgling sound, that conjured to mind every nightmare she had ever had, and sent her shivering back down into the recesses of her cloak.

Everything from before this point was flashes, violent flashes of green and white and red, always red, as blood spilled over the ice and melted it into a vile, steaming mess. Screams of abject horror and pain mingled with sounds of rending, of claws and teeth on yielding flesh. Sounds of ripping, and tearing, and mutilation, horrified cries drowned in gushing blood, death-rattles and the splintering of bone. Hot wind on her arms and legs imbued with awful smells. All of it waiting to consume her, devour her, searching for her with every waking instant. No place was there to hide, no chance of evasion, no escape. Where before she had screamed without hearing her own voice, so awful was the noise, now she no longer dared to even breathe, for fear that it would contrive to find her. Expecting it to at every second.

She could not remember what had transpired to bring her to this place, this cave of ice in the middle of a frozen world, surrounded by waxy, ghostly figures and objects buried in the walls. How she had come to be here, and why, were entirely forgotten. Her whole life had been spent here, for reasons that were important, if somewhat indistinct. Something Azar had said. Something she had warned about.

"We do not do this to you as punishment. We do this because there is no other choice."

"Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos. Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos..."

No magic burst forth at these words, none of the eruptions of power that she remembered someone else performing. She did not expect it to, for the words weren't meant as a spell. They were a charm, a blanket, just something for her ears to hear that wasn't screams and slavering. Something she remembered from a time that wasn't this one, neither before nor after, but other . She recited the words over and over, like half-remembered prayers called forth at the moment of need, faster and faster, stumbling over the words in her haste to get them out.

Something wet touched her knee, and she screamed.

In a heartbeat, her muscles moved of their own accord, and she reared up and back, slipping on the slick ice and falling onto her back with a wet splat. Thick, goopy liquid splattered over her, sticky and lukewarm. She tried to scramble back, away from whatever was in front of her, but her feet and hands could get no purchase on the ice, until, in her impotent flailings, her hand found something solid, and grabbed it, and swung it around.

It was a piece of wood, still burning at one end like a torch, and as she brought it around, the light it cast filled the cavern of ice, revealing -

She stopped.

- nothing.

The walls were coated in blood. Blood and... other things. It ran down them in rivulets, hissing as the residual heat melted the underlying ice. It dripped from the ceiling like a light rain, plinking against the sodden floor with hollow strikes that resonated throughout the crystal cavern like invisible bells. Yet the looming monster she was so certain that she would see was not there, and the empty space where it should have been taunted her more than its presence would have. Her eyes darted back and forth and back again, catching glimpses of it from the corner of her vision, imagined or real, she couldn't tell and dared not assume. Around and around and around she spun, hunting for something she did not even know the sight of, more certain at each second that the next would see her come face to face with it, until the her balance finally gave way entirely, and she fell once more.

Only this time, she did not land on ice. Or blood. This time she landed on something that cried.

A horrid, warbling cry, like a wounded animal, froze her where she was, long enough for her to feel wet fabric against her cheek. Only when the sound subsided did she open her eyes once more, and find that she was laying half-draped atop something. Someone.

Someone green.

And through the haze that was her reality now, she remembered a name. A title really. One said thousands of times before. One she now interrupted her chant to repeat.

"Beast Boy?"

The previous magic words had done nothing, but these did. The sodden cloth she lay upon heaved weakly, up and down again, and shook as the person she had fallen upon tried to lift themselves, but did not succeed. For an instant, she thought it was her own weight, slight though it was, and she slid off of him, expecting him to rise, but he did not, and it was only when she sat back and raised the torch once more that she saw why.

Beast Boy lay on his stomach, his head on one side, eyes closed and fangs clenched tightly together, his chest rising and falling slowly as air whistled through his teeth. He was soaked in blood, covered in it until his purple uniform was dyed black with the stuff, so much that it seemed impossible for it all to have come from inside of him. Heaped about and over him, lay wet clumps of organic matter, unidentifiable by sight, which was probably a kindness, all things considered. Midway down his back, his uniform was torn open, a gash eight inches long ripped down it, yet beneath the tear, she saw only Beast Boy's green skin, whole and unblemished, save for the blood liberally splattered over it. Given that this rent in Beast Boy's uniform had been caused by him being impaled on a narwhal spike not ten minutes earlier, this was not something that could be explained. Yet there it was.

One more mystery in this frozen wonderland hardly merited notice.

Beast Boy's eyes remained tightly closed, but he continued to try to rise, sliding his hands palms-down onto the ice to push himself up. Unsuccessful in this effort, he finally managed, at length, to roll himself over onto one side, the hissing breath that escaped his lips as he did so revealing what the cost to do this much was. Only after he had turned, and rested, and waited for the pain to go back down, only then did he open his eyes, search for a moment, and then find Raven, still kneeling not five feet away, the torch still held in her trembling hand.

Slowly, incredibly, a broad grin crossed Beast Boy's blood and viscera-stained face. "Hey, there" he said, as though this were the most normal circumstance in the world. Gingerly, he extended a gloved hand towards Raven. "I gotcha."

In retrospect, that was probably not the wisest way to have phrased matters.

Exactly what transpired in the following couple of seconds, Raven could not possibly have described. It was all a blur of shouting and crashing and the grinding of ice against ice. When finally it all subsided, Raven was laying on her back, propped up on her elbows and staring at the sheer wall of ice a foot thick that had slid down into place between her and Beast Boy like a portcullis, slamming shut with a booming echo, and then silence.

For several moments, Raven simply lay there in shock, unable to process what had just happened. The wall of ice separating her from Beast Boy was transparent, or near enough, and she saw him on his feet, staring slack-jawed at this new obstacle that had just appeared. Slowly, Raven mirrored him, trying to understand what was going on and failing. Had she done this, her demon powers reacting in a moment's thoughtlessness? Had someone else?

"An instant's lack of focus is all it takes to lose everything."

She wished that they would leave her alone, just this once.

Behind the ice, Beast Boy was on his feet, his pain apparently forgotten, studying the barrier that had just manifested itself. He said something, or at least his lips moved, but the barrier blocked all sound, and she couldn't figure out what it was. Carefully, she approached the ice, eyes oscillating between Beast Boy and the ceiling that had voided the sheet onto them. Fingers outstretched, she touched it as gently as she could. It felt cold of course, but also wet and slippery, and this close, she could see rivulets of water running down it onto the floor. Uncomprehendingly, she touched one of the rivulets, letting the clear water wash over her fingertip trying to determine what this could possibly mean.

There was a loud noise.

It was like the groaning of some enormous bulkhead or ocean liner, a deep, low, melodic sound, like a foghorn muffled by an arctic storm. Judging by his reaction, Beast Boy had heard it too, but the sound had unquestionably emanated from somewhere behind her. Cautiously she turned her head, looking over her shoulder, half-expecting to see some fresh monster looming up behind her. But instead she saw only the back wall of the cavern, dark and imposing as ever, the ghostly images of buried objects hidden within its milky depths. Eyes searching the remotest corner for any sign of what could have caused the sound, she raised her makeshift torch and slowly walked towards the far wall, peering into it, as more sounds, albeit softer ones, began to emanate from it.

And then something in the wall moved.

She jumped, screamed actually, as a shadow crossed before her eyes, so quickly that she couldn't tell what it was or where it had gone. She staggered back, searching desperately for the culprit, and not finding it. The sound repeated, closer now, more urgent, an angry groan, like the restless dead conjured to life, yet still she could see nothing.

But then, by chance, her eye fell upon a large object, a car maybe, or a sidewalk kiosk, it was hard to say at this distance. And at the precise instant she happened to glance at it, the groaning sound repeated itself, louder than before, and the object seemed to shimmer, and twist, and blur, and then vanish entirely.

And suddenly, Raven understood what she was looking at, and why the shadow from before had vanished. The sound wasn't being caused by an object moving in the ice. The sound was being caused by the ice itself moving.

There was an ear-splitting explosion.

Raven jumped. So did Beast Boy. So did the multi-ton sheet of ice that separated them, so loud and powerful was the cannon-shot that exploded in the room, ricocheting around it until Raven thought that all the guns in all the world were discharging around her. She staggered back, hands cupped over her ears, eyes wide, as she saw large cracks spider-webbing across the wall of ice that formed the back of the cavern. And before she had a chance to process this new development, there was a tremendous rending howl, the sound of something giving way before unfathomable pressure, and then suddenly something dowsed her in freezing water.

It was as though a firehose had just been turned on her. Instantly, she was swept off her feet, buffetted to the ground, coughing and sputtering as a stream of water like a horizontal geyser blasted her. Gasping for air, she crawled through freezing water on her hands and knees until she was out of the direct line of fire, and able to stand up without being knocked off her feet again. Only then did she turn, and see that the back wall had ruptured, splintering and cracking like a glass windshield, and through the foot-wide hole that was left, an entire ocean of water was pouring in.

"If you persist in warring against yourself, nobody will be able to save you from the consequences."

CRASH.

Yet another booming sound, quieter than the previous one, yet still enough to make Raven jump, and she turned to the sheet of ice that separated her from Beast Boy. But instead of Beast Boy, there stood a bighorn ram, green of fur and white of eye, its horns pressed up against the shuddering ice sheet. As she watched, the ram backed away and lunged forward, smashing its horns into the sheet of ice. The blow sounded and looked hard enough to simply crush any thickness of ice, yet it shivered and shook and somehow held against it.

Dropping the sodden and useless torch into the swirling water, Raven tried to stay on her feet as it rushed and roiled around her, rising up her legs, past her waist, past her stomach, rising ever-higher as it poured into the cavern. She felt the chill of it like knives being driven into her body, a chill she had never before experienced or even imagined, colder somehow than the ice around it, colder than death, a liquid cold, not merely devoid of heat, but devouring it, swallowing every erg of energy in her body as it rose inexorably upwards.

The blows against the ice sheet came faster and faster, harder and harder, as the ram shifted and shook and suddenly exploded into a rhinoceros, then a bull elephant, and then a full scale stegosaurus so large that it could barely fit within the truncated cavern, slamming its spiked, armored tail against the ice with blows that could have staved in a steel blast door, and yet did not suffice to even chip the sheet that imprisoned her.

"You can't rely on anyone else to fight your battles for you. This evil was brought into the universe by your creation. You will be responsible alone for what becomes of it."

The water was up to her chest now, so cold that it seemed to tighten around her like a straitjacket, squeezing the air out. She gasped for air, her throat refusing to open to admit it, the roar of the water all but drowning the insistent, earth-shattering impacts from Beast Boy's ever-more desperate attempts to punch through the intervening ice. It topped her shoulders, swirled around her neck, whiplashing currents beneath the surface threatening to sweep her off her feet. She raised her head as far as she could gasping for air, moments before the water closed over her head entirely.

Quiet descended like a thick blanket, all sound gone save for the eternal rushing of the streaming water. Her cloak hung around her neck like an anchor, dragging her down as she struggled to unclasp it, her numb fingers refusing to work as commanded. Desperately, she pawed at the water, trying to force her way to the receding surface, but the cold seemed to suck the very life from her body, and she could generate no force. The chill tightened around her like a vice, wiping away the world outside. Even the currents seemed to die. And when at last she could no longer hold it, she barely felt the air leaving her lungs, watching it instead as it bubbled towards a non-existent surface, vanishing into a descending black fog.

But at that moment, something happened that even the cold could not suppress.

What it was, she could only determine in hindsight, for all she felt was a sudden, powerful jerk, as though the entire world had been violently turned on its side, or lifted into the air and shaken. Swept from her feet, she spun underwater in three dimensions, chunks of ice the size of water coolers striking her and bouncing away again. Stunned and caught by surprise, she inhaled reflexively, water cold as death itself pouring into her throat. She coughed, retched, bright lights flashing before her eyes, so cold and disoriented that all sense of where she was vanished into the wind. And as the last vestiges of Raven's dwindling strength finally deserted her, her eyes slid shut as she opened her mouth and inhaled one final time.

And found air.

Warm air.

The air flooded into her like nectar, displacing what seemed like gallons of icewater, which she coughed and spat up for an indeterminable amount of time. And once that was more or less done, she simply breathed the heavy, warm air that was miraculously all around her, her entire consciousness, her entire essence focused only on the mechanical miracle of being able to breathe. It could well have been hours before she finally became aware that she was no longer suspended within an endless void, but laying on her stomach on something soft, wet, and quite clearly alive.

She opened her eyes, not that this did any good, for her surroundings were pitch black. Gently, she raised herself onto her hands and knees, feeling the surface beneath her. It felt spongy, with a rough but giving surface that kept it from being slick, and it seemed to not merely tremble but pulsate beneath her. The hot, heavy air swirled around her in what seemed like every direction simultaneously, accompanied by deep, atonal sounds, like a badly-tuned pipe organ played by an epileptic. Only now did she notice that the air had a strong scent to it, an unpleasant, bacterial smell that would ordinarily have set her to coughing, but her lungs had not yet recovered enough to be discriminating. Feeling around with her hands and feet, she found that she was on a small, elevated island, surrounded on all sides by water which was still cold to the touch, but warming rapidly as the hot air washed over it.

Her equilibrium returning, albeit slowly, Raven chanced a thought for where, in all the universe, she could possibly be. Shivering violently, despite the warm air, she drew her dripping wet cloak tightly around her shoulders, and chanced a sound.

"B-... Beast... Boy?"

There was an immediate reaction, though not the one she had hoped for. A loud, blaring, foghorn-like sound rent the air, a toneless groan like the creaking of giant icebergs, and suddenly she was thrown to the side, and back again, as whatever she was kneeling upon lurched this way and that. Vague sounds of some distant cataclysm, heavily filtered as though by distance or some other separation, floated through the air. Things crashing to the ground in ruin, shattering before some irresistible force, all of it muted like an avalanche heard from a great distance. And then suddenly there was light, dim but visible, coming from somewhere to the right. Tinted green, filtered as it was through a thickly opaque membrane, it barely served to illuminate Raven's immediate surroundings. Yet it was enough for her to see that the spongy island she sat upon was also green, dark and emerald in color, and so was the ridged roof of the cavern. Indeed, the only thing in this place that wasn't green proved to be several enormous plates of white bone, each nearly a dozen feet long, attached to each of which were entire forests of long, fine bristles.

And then, with a sudden flash, Raven realized where she was.

Gradually, the sound of collapsing ice faded into nothingness, replaced by the same low groans that had been present before, but this time more understated, rhythmic, in time with the air currents that ebbed and flowed around her. Huddled in the gloomy cavern, she waited expectantly for something to transpire, but nothing did, and it was some time before she realized why.

"Can I... can I come out?" she asked aloud.

The response was immediate, as from somewhere before her, the cavern split wide open, admitting both dazzling light and a cold wind that whistled through the brush-like bristles. Beneath her, the spongy island she sat on shifted and moved, the water around it draining away, enabling her to stand and gingerly walk forward, stepping out of the cavern onto the open ice beyond, before turning around to face the entrance.

But of course what she saw was no cavern, natural or otherwise. And though it was more or less exactly what she expected to see, that made the sight no less astonishing.

Before her, half-embedded within the wall of sheer ice, was the largest living thing Raven had ever seen. Of this she was absolutely certain, even if her memory of times before her imprisonment in this frozen hell was fragmentary and painful to dredge up. A hundred and thirty feet long and twenty tall, it loomed above her like an ocean liner, its watermelon-sized eye staring down at her as a fluke that could have carried a mid-sized car gently slid back and forth over the empty ice. But unlike any whale Raven had ever heard of, this one was green, not solid but painted in fantastic patterns and subtle shades, its back and head a deep evergreen, while its underside was the color of fern leaves, while streaks of everything from teal to neon ran down its body in stripes broad or narrow.

Ignoring the cold, Raven stared up unabashedly at the half-million pound whale wedged securely within what she had thought a large cave in the ice. The cave was no longer there, for large though it was, it could not accommodate a whale this size, whole or in part. Looking at the ice face that ran round the whale's circumference, formerly solid, now riven with cracks and missing chunks, Raven understood. She did not know with what force Beast Boy's sudden changes in size, shape, and mass were accomplished. Perhaps he did not either. But whatever the force was, it had been sufficient to rip the entire cave apart, sending chunks of ice the size of power boats avalanching down onto the plain around her. Enormous gashes, large enough for her to have climbed inside, were torn in Beast Boy's head and back and the few parts of his tail she could see, but he did not seem to writhe in pain or even notice them, simply looking down at her expectantly, if whales could express such sentiments with their eyes.

Exactly what he was expecting, she had no idea, but bereft of any other notion of what to do, she fell back on his name, once more.

"Beast Boy?"

There was another formless rumble, strong enough to shake the ice beneath Raven's feet, and suddenly Beast Boy shrank prodigiously, sending an avalanche of loose, suddenly-unsupported ice crashing down from the now-empty whale-shaped cave. For a second, he was lost from view behind a cloud of ice particulates and falling hail. But by the time she had brushed these away from her face and looked again, he was climbing back to his feet, the enormous lacerations from before reduced to little more than scratches on his scalp or his black and purple uniform. And then, stepping around massive chunks of ice he had effortlessly held aloft seconds before, Beast Boy walked up to Raven, knelt down in front of her so as to look her in the eye, and... somehow... managed to smile.

"Hey," he asked with a beaming grin, "are you all right?"

It was the tone that did it, really. Beast Boy could have asked that question in a thousand ways. He could have asked it quizzically, perfunctorily, even with real concern and fear that she had been injured, but he did not choose any of those. The way he asked it, with a grin on his face and a sparkle in his eye, was like a joke. As though the notion of her being anything besides all right was farcical.

She blinked. Twice. And then when his grin didn't go away, something simply popped inside of Raven, all strength spontaneously left her limbs, and like a puppet with her strings cut, she simply fell.

But she didn't hit the ground. And for once, she knew that she wouldn't.

Beast Boy caught her effortlessly, not even needing to transform for the occasion. He said something, something soothing, or maybe funny, or even completely idiotic, she had no idea, for she didn't hear him. It wasn't that she didn't care to pay attention, or that her ears had stopped working. It was that for the first time in... essentially forever, she no longer felt afraid. And like a weary pilgrim come home after years in exile, all she could do was lay there as the world, for once, did not seek to chase her down.

How long it was before Beast Boy stood up, lifting her up with him, she had no idea. But at some point, she became aware that he was carrying her at shoulder height, and opened her eyes to see him standing before the endless wall of ice that loomed before them.

"You can trust nobody. None who are not bred to understand the unfathomable evil you represent will be prepared to accept the risks you entail. They will fear, hate, and reject you forever."

"So," asked Beast Boy with a grin, "you feel like going for a climb?"

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 07:46pm
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Joined: 2011-10-13 06:59am
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'And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong :
He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Someone was shouting his name. Someone close by.

There was an awful lot of noise, general noise, the sound of bricks shattering and wood splintering, fires roaring and rocks clashing against one another. But those sounds had occupied his entire world for long enough that it no longer was surprising, nor even worth notice. What was worth notice, what he was trying his damnedest to keep his mind on, was a familiar voice calling his name, and the inexplicable feeling of something rough scraping against his back.

"David! Wake up!"

It was the desperation in the words that made him open his eyes. It was the sight he saw with them that made him pay attention.

Terra was crouched over him, one hand grasping the back of his collar, the other held up like a ward against what appeared to be a nuclear firestorm emanating from somewhere in front of them both. Great sheets of earth and stone burst from the ground at her command, shields against the nuclear fires that boiled and churned just yards away, but each shield in turn was blasted to pieces almost contemptuously, shredded like tissue paper by gouts of flame that seemed to burst forth from every surface at once. Desperately, Terra dragged him backwards over the broken ground, while simultaneously trying to ward off the flames with one hand and half her mind. It was a battle she was plainly losing. And as soon as she saw David's eyes flicker open, she released his shirt and grabbed his shoulder, pulling him up as hard as she could while literally screaming a command down at him.

"Move! "

David moved.

His head still reeling, David managed with Terra's assistance to clamber to his feet and keep them, staggering like a drunk as he ran from the fires behind, the broken staff still clenched in one hand. The street behind them destroyed, they ran now through a parking lot of some sort, surrounded by the ruined forms of vehicles large and small. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw nothing but a whirling vortex of flames obscuring everything beyond it save for a single faint shadow in the shape of a man, brandishing two thin spires of living fire.

"Look out!"

Another tremendous blast, this time from somewhere in front of them, sent a ruined taxicab pinwheeling their way. Facing the wrong way, David turned back without enough time to react, but Terra grabbed him by both shoulders as she dove to the ground, dragging him down with her as the taxi passed overhead. David landed on his side and glanced back in time to see Devastator step out of the roaring flames, deflecting the taxi he had just thrown at them with a wave of his sword.

To their right, a small stone wall lined the side of the parking lot, and it was to this that Terra extended her arm, clenching a fist before sweeping her arm towards Devastator. Instantly, fifty of the largest stones burst out of the wall at her command, hurtling towards Devastator like the pellets from an enormous shotgun. Devastator whirled in place, spinning sword and cane alike back and forth across himself, and a dozen of them exploded, scattering the others like so much debris, but the deflection cost him time, and Terra used it to struggle to her feet. She reached down and pulled upwards as though lifting an invisible weight, and dredged up two more boulders right through the tarmac. Rather than throw them directly, she clapped her hands together, and both stones shattered into a thousand pieces, before a frontal shove sent the entire mass of fragments hurtling at Devastator, a mass of shattered stone that, surely, even he could not destroy.

Yet destroy it he did. Without missing a beat, Devastator stepped forward and lifted his sword like a magician's wand, and twisted it, and the entire mass of stone simply disintegrated in a hail of explosions so rapid that they sounded like a single roar. What fragments were not blasted apart were thrown every which way by the concussive shocks of the others, and not a single pebble got within ten feet. Smiling, he raised his other hand, the one holding the cane-sheathe for his flaming sword, and performed his favorite trick, blowing a car from behind him into the air before sweeping his hand forward and hurling it at the two teens with a rocket-propelled explosion.

But not this time. This time, David had ideas of his own.

The explosion went off all right, but instead of sending the car flying at Terra and David, it dropped it like a meteor directly at Devastator's head. Devastator had only bare instants to abort his own explosion and throw himself backward, before two tons of steel slammed into the ground he had just occupied, missing him by inches. Lest that seem like a reprieve however, before Devastator could possibly recover, David stretched his staff and mind out towards the car, found the keypoint within it, and blew the entire thing to pieces.

The smoke and flames cloaked whatever effect the explosion might have had, but neither David nor Terra were prepared to wait. Without hesitation, Terra pivoted, reaching behind her and tearing stones out of the ground the size of shopping carts, hurling them indiscriminately at Devastator's position, while David, scrambling back to his feet, reached to one side and blew a car of his own into the air before launching it at Devastator like a cruise missile, not even stopping to see what effect it might have had before turning and seizing another one. Cars and boulders alike smashed into the area Devastator had occupied, detonating either of their own accord or at David's command. Neither David nor Terra was willing to cease fire, and they deluged Devastator's position with projectile after projectile, until the parking lot was empty of cars, and the ground cratered like a moonscape from the rocks ripped out of it. Only then, with adrenaline failing and exhaustion returning, and with no ammunition left to fling, did David and Terra stop.

Breathless, doubled over with the effort, David half-stood, half-knelt on the ground, his head raised towards the scene of incomparable annihilation into which he and Terra had just deployed enough fire to destroy a battleship, an area at the edge of the parking lot choked with flames and smoke and the smashed remnants of two dozen cars, motorcycles, and minivans, covered in a layer of shattered stone and earth three feet thick. Beside him stood Terra, hands on her knees, watching for the same signs of life that David was sure he would see any second now, too exhausted to do anything but stare. She chanced a glance at him, wordlessly, but he did not say anything. There was nothing to say. And for an eternity, five seconds, eight, ten, twelve, they waited and watched and dared, perhaps, to hope.

And then there was a dull boom.

The dullness was due to distance, for these new blasts were not direct attacks, but emanated from someplace reasonably far away, so far that neither David nor Terra reacted to them immediately. Slowly, David stood back up, as did Terra, and they peered into the shrouded air, and sought to see what could possibly have caused these new noises. Gradually, their eyes made out dim shapes floating in the distance, shapes that seemed to dance and twist and slowly to grow larger, oblong and rectangular shapes that David was sure he knew but could not immediately identify, not at least until they grew large enough to resolve, and, all at once, he realized what was happening. One of Devastator's favorite tricks was to blast cars into the air for use as ersatz missiles, but these objects were not cars.

"Oh my God ..."

They were tractor-trailers.

Terra's reaction, as always, was more pragmatic.

"Run! "

The first truck, a sixty-ton gasoline tanker, landed thirty yards behind them and exploded like a bomb, but the blast was drowned out almost instantly by the impacts of its fellows as eighteen-wheel trucks rained down from the sky like javelins. Pulses of intense kinetic force buffeted them as they ran, hurling them off their feet again and again as pieces of debris sized from screws up to truck wheels flew in every direction like bullets. And as the trucks rained down, light posts and shattered walls and bits of the broken parking lot began exploding around them of their own accord. Terra's summoned walls of rock and earth, David tried desperately to ward off the nearest projectiles with explosives, but it was all in vain, barricades of sand to ward off a tsunami of violence, and all they could do was run.

Ahead loomed a huge building, a factory perhaps, or warehouse, made of brick and cement with no windows and enormous double doors of solid iron. No words did Terra and David exchange, yet they both ran for its tenuous shelter, whatever help that might provide against Devastator. They were within fifteen yards of the doors when an entire cement mixer landed directly behind them and detonated, and one of the cab doors hit Terra square in the back at automobile speeds, driving her into the brick wall of the factory like a bug on a windshield.

"Terra !" shouted David, and ducking under some new piece of bodywork-turned-shrapnel that hurtled his way, he skidded to a stop and raced over to where the door now leaned against the wall of the factory. Grabbing it with both hands, he shoved it off, revealing Terra laying motionless on the ground, her head hanging limp and eyes shut, blood running down her face. He grabbed her arm, shouted her name, but she did not respond.

For an instant, he despaired of moving her, thinking in some momentary fantasy that he might have to stay here and ward off the incoming debris with his own powers, but his rational brain had finally fought its way back to the forefront, and instantly dismissed this notion as lunacy. Whatever the risk, to remain here was suicide, and so he grabbed her arm once more, pulled it around his shoulders, and clumsily lifted her up, half-supporting, half-dragging her towards the entrance to the factory. The doors were shut, locked, and chained, but he blew the locks and chains off with a wave of his hand, shoved one of the doors open, and flung himself and Terra inside. The door slid shut behind them, and there was silence.

Not absolute silence, of course, but close enough, the sounds of world-ending destruction outside muted by thick brick and solid metal, and the difference was so stark as to be almost calming. For a moment, David paused, and still holding Terra up, took stock of his surroundings.

The building was some kind of factory, it seemed, but what was made here, he couldn't tell for sure. It looked like a smelting plant, or at least like pictures of what he assumed one would look like, with enormous steel basins designed to pour liquid metal into casting moulds below. The dark shapes of enormous machines, purpose indeterminate, lay scattered over the factory floor, and overhead were gigantic metal storage bunkers and cisterns for holding bulk freight of some sort.

A soft moan and a twitch from Terra brought him back to the immediate problem. He moved, limped really, deeper into the factory, still holding her up as she slowly came to and found her footing once more. He had no idea where they were going, but if the factory had a backdoor, or even a wall he could knock a hole through, they might be able to escape into the city and figure out...

"Oh no..."

Terra opened her eyes, and gasped.

The entire back half of the factory was missing. In its place, the factory floor simply ended at the lip of an enormous chasm filled with boiling lava, as though the earth had opened up underneath the factory and ripped it in half. The far side of the chasm was completely invisible behind the haze of smoke and ash, and might well have been a mile away for all either of them could tell. There was no escape.

Behind them, the doors to the factory exploded.

Both David and Terra jumped, and spun around in time to see the mangled remains of the doors fly over their heads and disappear into the chasm below. The maze of machinery blocked them from seeing all the way back to the doors, but neither one needed to ask who it was that had just entered.

Stepping back almost reflexively, until he was standing at the edge of the chasm, David tried to think of something, anything that he might do, some weapon he could use to ward of Devastator. But though the metal shapes of the machines about the factory beckoned, he knew they would do no good, no more than the cars had. Helplessly, he turned to look at Terra, but plainly she had drawn an equal blank. In perfect condition, Terra could have summoned a flying stone to bear them away, or solidified the lava behind them to form an escape route, but she was simply not up to any such thing any longer. Barely able to stay on her feet, exhausted and bleeding, her hands trembled at her sides as she tried to summon her powers once again, but while a few nearby pebbles trembled at her feet, nothing rose to her command. Terra was spent. And Devastator was coming.

"I... I can't," she whispered, more to herself perhaps than him. Gritting her teeth and squeezing her eyes closed, she managed to force a piece of coal next to her to lift into the air, but only for a few seconds. All at once, the coal fell back to the ground, followed moments later by Terra herself. She landed on the floor next to the lip of the chasm like a boned fish, unable to muster the strength even to stand.

Scarcely in better shape than Terra was, David considered nonetheless pulling her to her feet and trying to find another way out, but the unmistakable sound of approaching footsteps dissuaded him. He turned sharply back towards the entrance to the factory, too sharply, for he lost his balance and slipped, nearly plummeting off the edge of the chasm. Desperately, he waved his arms and managed to avoid falling, turning back as he did so in time to watch the piece of coal from before tumble over the edge, spinning down into the chasm and hitting the side of the chasm. The coal shattered on impact, exploding into a cloud of black dust which flitted down into the lava chasm and disappeared.

David suddenly froze.

Sitting helplessly at his side, Terra fought to recover her breath. "Where..." she stammered, "where can we... we've gotta hide... find somewhere to - "

"Terra," said David, suddenly. "Don't move."

Terra paused, blinking in confusion, but whether by David's command or because she was simply too tired to move anyway, she remained where she was, as David turned back towards the factory, took a deep breath, and lifted his broken staff.

There were two booming explosions, and then a deluge.

Above them, in the rafters, two gigantic storage bunkers burst like pinatas. One was a water cistern, designed to pour water down on the factory in case of runaway fire or other emergency. Sealed tight against the storm outside, it held some fifty thousand gallons of water, water which now voided down onto the factory like a biblical flood. Terra yelled as the water drenched her, then coughed and gagged as it poured into her throat, and grabbed onto anything nearby to avoid being swept over the side of the chasm by the flash flood. Beside her, David had grabbed hold of a steel support beam to prevent the same, as thousands of gallons of water rushed past them, flying over the side of the chasm before striking the lava and exploding back upwards in thick, billowing clouds of steam.

The other container was no cistern, but a storage bunker filled with coal, no doubt intended to feed the furnaces of the smelting plant. David's explosion blew it apart, dropping twenty tons of loose coal indiscriminately into the factory. Yet the effect was no avalanche, for the majority of the coal, packed into loose briquettes for easy burning, was shattered by the destruction of the bunker. Thus, just as the water began to drain away, Terra found herself enveloped in a cloud of thick coal dust, which boiled through the factory like a pyroclastic cloud, mingling with the steam to form a shroud of black smoke, and with the remaining water to form a deep black sludge.

Coughing uncontrollably, half-drowned by the water and half-suffocated by the coal dust, David and Terra ducked their heads and fought desperately for breath. Were the factory intact, they would assuredly have been smothered, but the open half allowed much of the smoke to vent away, and the steam suppressed enough of the rest for them to find a pocket of air. Beside him, David saw Terra wheezing and coughing, and he opened his mouth to explain why he had just done this. But then he heard footsteps right in front of them. And when he lifted his eyes, there was Devastator.

He loomed up out of the darkness of smoke and steam like an apparition summoned by some baleful sorcerer, his sword in one hand flickering with fire, the cane in the other shimmering with the same. The light of his powers twinkled in the inky twilight, framing him in red like a god of destruction. His coat was soaked at the fringes, his shoulders and hair sprinkled with coal dust, yet it seemed that none of these violent explosions had harmed him in the least. Standing now, less than ten feet away, he did not even seem to be having trouble breathing.

Glancing back at Terra, David saw within her frightened eyes some reptilian instinct awake, a portion of her psyche that cared nothing for pain or exhaustion, but that recognized this fire-bearing swordsman as Death incarnated, and which resolved, since escape was impossible, to sell her life as dearly as possible. It was a sight he had seen before, in the pit in the library when she had been unexpectedly confronted by himself and Raven both, and he knew what it augured. She tensed up, focusing her powers for one last effort, visibly preparing to strike a final, defiant blow.

But before she could, David reached out and grabbed her, holding her back, and when she turned her head, he simply stared at her wordlessly but with an intensity that could have melted lead. The message was perfectly clear, and he saw the instinct die in her eyes. And having seen it, he simply turned back to face Devastator, holding his breath against the smoke and steam.

And nothing happened.

The smoke and steam boiled around them like living things, thick, but not thick enough to obscure Devastator, who stood before them and did not act, his blank eyes staring into the roiling fumes like searchlights. He did not strike, he did not even move, save for turning his head slowly back and forth, his gaze passing right over them more than once. At any instant, he might have lunged forth and finished them both off, and yet instant after instant passed by, and he did no such thing. David's lungs pleaded for air, and yet he did not dare take a breath, for fear that it might dispel what little magic it was that was holding Devastator at bay..

And then, suddenly, Devastator began to laugh.

It was a short one, for no sooner did he begin than the smoke filled his lungs, and he coughed and retched and covered his nose and mouth with a gloved hand. Yet still he chuckled, smirking at some private joke that he did not appear to see fit to share with the rest of the world. Moving with absolute deliberation and care, he raised sword and sheathe and carefully slid the former back into the latter, locking it in place with a twist of the cane's handle. And then, spinning the cane around lazily before resting it on his shoulder, as though he were without a care in the world, Devastator turned away from Terra and David, and nonchalantly walked away, disappearing into the dust and smoke.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken-
The ice was all between.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

It was at least ten seconds after Devastator left before before Terra permitted herself to breathe again.

Next to her, David flopped down onto the ground like a puppet with its strings cut, as though Devastator's disappearance had drained all the strength remaining in him. He lay in a puddle of coal-dusted water, the smoke and steam still billowing around him, soaked to the skin and covered in thick coal gunk, as of course was Terra. For a time he simply breathed, looking like he might well pass out then and there on the edge of the lava pit.

Terra, frankly, might well have done the same, but exhausted as she was, she needed to know what had just happened. "Hey," she whispered, less from secrecy and more because it was all she could manage at present. "What was that ?"

David wearily managed to lift his head, and even managed a small smile, a euphoric smile, like he was punch drunk. He might well have been. "Camouflage," he said.

Terra blinked. "Camouflage?"

"He's blind," said David softly. "He can only see us through Devastator. So... I thought maybe we could hide."

Terra shook her head. "But..." she protested weakly. "But he was... right there."

David nodded. "Yeah," he said. "But Devastator doesn't see with light. To Devastator we're not people. We're just... collections of molecules or particles. He sees things based on what they're made of. So... I thought maybe if I filled the air with coal dust and steam..."

She still didn't see. "Coal and steam?" she repeated.

"Carbon and water," said David with a smile. "Just like us. He couldn't tell us from the background. To him it probably looked like we got swept over the side. And even if it didn't, he can't find us in all this, he'll have to wait for it to clear."

Something, relief maybe, swept over Terra like a blanket, and heedless of the sticky mess that now coated the floor, she lowered her head to the ground, resting it on a soft pile of the same waterlogged coal dust that she was presently covered in. Her limbs felt like they were made of lead, and it was a fight just to keep her eyes open.

From where she lay, she couldn't see David, but she felt the need to whisper an explanation anyway. "I just need a minute," she said weakly, "and then we can go."

"No."

No explanation followed that soft declaration, and slowly, painfully, Terra lifted herself up on elbows to look over at David. "What?" she asked.

David was sitting up, straight up, staring into the impenetrable gloom where Devastator had disappeared. He looked like he might pitch over at any moment, his hands trembling, rocking gently back and forth as though having trouble maintaining an even keel. Yet he did not fall over, and he did not turn his head. For a moment, it looked like he hadn't heard the question. But just as Terra was about to repeat herself, he answered her.

"I'm not done here yet."

That tone. That tone was in his voice again, the one she'd heard that night in the catacombs of the Jump City library when she had pleaded with him to come with her to visit Slade. That tone, neither bombastic nor even loud, the one that came over him when he was past anger, his psyche burned down to a simple declaration, for all Terra could tell made as much from incoherent intransigence as any principle.

"What are you talking about?" asked Terra. "We have to get out of here, find the others, get away from him until we can come up with a plan."

He took his time replying, his red, glowing eyes cutting searchlights in the dusty air. And when he did answer, it was the same tone, dismissing everything she had just said with a single word.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said.

"Then what are you gonna do?" asked Terra, who had a sinking suspicion that she already knew.

"I'm gonna find him," said David, "and I'm gonna kill him."

"And how the hell are you gonna do that?" asked Terra, suddenly wide awake. "Walk up and hit him with that stick?"

"If I have to," replied David. "I don't really care how."

"You're out of your mind," said Terra. "You can't kill him. He's practically a cosmic being!"

"Devastator 's a cosmic being," said David, still not turning his head. "But that guy's human, just like me. If I can die, then he can too."

"Not while he's got that kind of power," said Terra, and when David didn't answer, she put some force into her voice. "Look at me for a second."

David turned to her, his grey skin now covered in a layer of black mud, through which his red eyes burned holes like glowing coals. The effect was that of some kind of demon, an effect she studiously ignored.

"I'm more powerful than you," she said directly. "You know that. And he's way, way more powerful than me. I thought maybe I could hold him off for a little bit while you got away, but I couldn't. I only lasted as long as I did because he wasn't really trying. If you go up against him, he will kill you dead . You can't beat him."

"Then come with me," said David. "Help me take him down."

"I can't beat him either, David," said Terra, forgetting that they were supposed to be quiet. "Neither of us can, not even together. He's that powerful. You saw what he could do, the skyscraper, the trucks, that nuclear ball of ice. He killed four of the Titans at once." She took him by the shoulders, resisted the urge to shake some sense into him. "You have to trust me on this one," she said. "I've been doing this a lot longer than you have. I've fought all kinds of different people. He's the most powerful metahuman I've ever seen ."

"Yes, he is," said David immediately. "And if we don't stop him now, what do you think he's gonna do? He told me he was going to hunt the other Titans down and kill them. They couldn't stop him all together as adults, what chance do they have of stopping him now? Separated, with Trigon's army all over them and no Robin? He'll cut them down like paper targets."

Terra hesitated. "Then... then let's go now. We can find the others before he does. Get them all together. Maybe with all of us, it might just be enough to - "

David shook his head violently, throwing off Terra's grip. "No!" he said. "Don't you see? That's why he's here. That's why Trigon brought him back! Not for me, for them . He's Trigon's trump card! His weapon of mass destruction."

"What do you mean?"

"Trigon lost before," said David. "The first time he woke up, before Warp changed the timeline, the Titans beat him. They got together, and they found a way to win. Trigon knows that. So this time, he brought back someone he knew could beat all of the Titans put together, an ace card, someone who could smash them all if they looked like they were gonna do what they did before. He didn't just do it to torture me. Trigon doesn't care about me. He did it to stop them . We get everyone together and try to fight Devastator like that, and he'll blow everyone away. He's done it before."

"But if he's actually that strong, David, how are we supposed to stop him?"

David didn't answer immediately, but he did not look like he was struggling for words. "I don't know," he said at last. "But I know someone who does."

Try as she might, Terra could not think of who David could possibly be referring to. "Who?" she asked.

David's demon-red eyes didn't shift a millimeter. "You."

Terra blinked. "What?"

"You know how to beat him," said David. "As far as I know, you're the only one who does."

"What are you talking about ?" asked Terra, frustration welling up into her voice despite her best efforts. "I don't have any idea how to stop him. If I did, I would've done it."

"No, that's just it. You do know. Or at least you're the closest thing to someone who does."

Terra regarded David as though he had just asked her to swallow a moving van. "Are... you sure you're okay?" she asked.

David gave an annoyed groan and shook his head. "No, Terra, please. Listen to me. I know you're powerful, but Raven was stronger than you. Robin was stronger than you. But when you went up against them, you beat them both . Nearly killed them. I don't know how you did it, but I know it couldn't have been through brute force, because you don't have enough brute force to break Raven. Nobody does. So how did you do it?"

Terra closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and forced herself to remain calm. "I... did research," she said. "Slade and I both did research. We came up with a battle-plan based on what I knew about them. It took weeks."

David nodded. "So?"

A flash of frustrated anger shot through Terra. "So what ?" she exploded. "I knew Raven, I knew Robin, I'd been living with them for months. I was a traitor, remember? I don't know this guy at all, I've never seen even seen him before!"

"Yes you have," said David.

Terra's words died in her throat, her anger quenched as though someone had thrown water over it. She stared into David's shrouded face and blood-drenched eyes, and suddenly couldn't think of anything at all to say.

David spoke instead. "Slade sent you to kill me," he said. "You'd met me before. You saw me fight Cinderblock. But even with all that, you didn't know how powerful I was gonna be when you took me on. I didn't even know that. I know you were stronger than I was, but even so, you had to have a battle plan. You'd have been an idiot not to."

"It didn't work," said Terra.

"Trust me, it almost worked," said David. "If Raven hadn't stopped time, it would have." He leaned forward, reaching over and putting a hand on Terra's shoulder. It felt cold.

"Terra," he said, "you have to tell me what your plan was. How were you gonna kill me?"

Slowly, Terra lowered her, head, bringing her hand up to her face and rubbing her eyes. "You don't understand," she said at length. "It won't work here."

"It might," said David.

"No, it won't ," said Terra sharply, looking back up. "You want to know what the plan was? The plan was to make you upset. Not just upset, panicked . Scared and desperate and unable to think."

"Why?"

"Because I'm a Kinetic, and you weren't one, and I knew that, even if you didn't. Kinetics like me, we explode when you make us that angry, we can't control ourselves, we start destroying everything around us. But when I saw you fight Cinderblock, there was none of that. No control problems, no random explosions, nothing. The only things that went off were the things you wanted to. Even Raven couldn't control herself that well, and she'd been trying since she was born. That's how I knew that you just worked different than everyone else. You needed concentration, calm in order to make your powers work. So I pushed you. That's why I kept talking while we were fighting. I wanted to push you over the edge. Force you into driving Devastator so hard that you couldn't maintain it." Terra exhaled and closed her eyes again. "And it worked. Sort of."

"So why wouldn't that work here?"

"Because you had something to be afraid of," said Terra. "I needed to push, really push, to get you to lose your focus. I knew you were too angry to be afraid of me, but I guessed you might still be afraid of what the others would think. That's why Slade and I set it up the way we did. We knew that you'd never..." her tongue caught, she saw the hesitation in David's eyes, but she forced herself to continue. "We knew you'd never... had anything like them before. And I knew how hard it was to think of them... hating you." Something sharp and cold stabbed through her stomach, but only for a moment, even as she felt David's hand tense up.

"That's why it won't work, David, not against him. I know you're the same person and everything, but... he never had that. If he's afraid of anything, I don't know what it is. It was hard enough to push you into losing control, but he's got thirty years' more experience with Devastator than you did. I don't even know if he can lose control. And even if he can, whatever his trigger is won't be the Titans. I know they're your friends, but they were his arch-enemies. I don't think he cares what they thought of him."

David didn't answer, at least not immediately, staring off into space as though he had temporarily forgotten that Terra was present. He remained silent for a space, five seconds, maybe ten, until finally, he looked back up, his expression hidden behind red light and black coal mud.

"Maybe not," he said, his voice hoarse, his searchlight eyes cutting beams through the darkness, but he sounded distracted, as though he had half-forgotten where he was, lost in his own head perhaps or somewhere else. And then, slowly, he stood up, and began to walk away.

"Hey!" called Terra, before she could stop herself. "What are... where are you going?"

"I'm gonna find out who's opinion he does care about," said David.

"Are you out of your mind ?" replied Terra, not caring who heard her this time, scrambling to her feet as she called after him. "I just told you, it won't - "

"I heard what you said," said David, turning back sharply.

"Then what the hell are you doing? You can't talk him down. He's a mass-murderer!"

There was no expression on David's face as he answered. "So are you," he said softly, giving no reaction as Terra froze in place. "So am I."

They stared at one another for a time in the eternal twilight of the ruined factory.

"Go find the others," said David finally. "Help them. Get them all together again. They were able to stop Trigon once. Without me interfering, they can do it again, especially with your help."

"And what the hell are you gonna do?"

David took a deep breath, and slowly slid his hand down to the broken staff now clipped at his side. "I'm gonna make sure I don't interfere," he said.

"You can't - "

"I have to! I'm the catalyst. I'm what separates this time from last time. The Titans can beat Trigon, but not if some version of me gets in the way. And that's exactly what's gonna happen if I don't stop it." He paused, but Terra did not answer, the words falling out of her brain before they could be properly assembled. "You know I'm right," he said at length.

"How are you gonna stop it?" she asked.

"If Devastator can't find me, he'll find the Titans," said David. "So he has to find me."

A chill descended over the area, despite the open lava. And though no words were spoken, Terra knew immediately that it was hopeless to remonstrate further. As though to signal the same, David took a deep breath and sighed, before turning and walking away.

"Find the others," he said as he walked off. "Help them do what they did before. Help them win."

"David..." said Terra, lifting her head. "If you do this, he's just gonna kill you."

David stopped, holding where he was for just a moment. "Maybe," he said at last, turning his head back to Terra, the twin red beams from his eyes dowsing her in light, "but I'm not running away from myself anymore." And turning away one last time, David walked off into the darkened factory and disappeared.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe :
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

She stood on the battlements of the black fortress, surrounded by the bodies of her friends, a jagged spear still sticking into her chest, and stared her enemy in the eye with the pitiless gaze of an extraterrestrial warlord. And in the eyes of the man opposite her, she saw only shock, astonishment, and to no small degree, fear.

For one, fleeting moment, Starfire permitted herself the time to fix this moment, this scene, the sight and sound and scent of all that was transpiring here, locking it within her memory forever, as the moment when she knew, whatever else might happen, that Warp knew that all his plans were about to come undone.

"You wished for vengeance, Warp?" she asked him. "Let me show you what vengeance is. "

And then she became someone else entirely.

In a single, fluid swoop, she lunged forward, energy pouring from her eyes and hands, energy so intense and hot that it appeared not green but solid white, scything the very air apart. The wave blocked Warp, the balustrade he stood before, indeed the entire castle from view, obliterating everything in a retina-scouring burst of dazzling light. But Starfire's retinas were not made of the same stuff as those of a human, and in a hundredth of a second, she saw through the blinding glare of her own incarnated rage, as Warp scrambled back, an opaque black shield manifested before his extended hands. Smoke rose from the shield as gigajoules of energy poured into it, setting it to shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, yet ultimately it sufficed, if barely, to hold the tide back.

But if Warp thought himself safe, he was rudely mistaken. The shield could contain Starfire's energy bolts, but right now, in this place, nothing alive could contain Starfire herself.

Not half a second after her energy beams drenched the entire area, before Warp could even think of some fresh conjuration, Starfire herself slammed into the shield fist-first like an artillery salvo. There was a fractional instant of resistance, a moment of harsh, electrical current coursing through her fist and up her arm. And then the shield simply shattered, flying apart like a pane of glass, and the last thing she saw was Warp's wide eyes and petrified countenance before she collided with him like a meteor, and then everything collapsed.

There was a hard shock, followed by several more, each heavier and thicker than the last, and the sound of stones clashing against one another. Starfire felt herself striking something hard and unyielding, and feeling it crack around her as she rolled and slid and finally ground to a stop, laying on her side, covered in flecks of pumice stone and obsidian. Behind her lay a carpet of black rock, the smashed remains of the castle wall she had just driven Warp through. And before her, off to one side, lay Warp, surrounded by the shattered remains of the balustrade he had been standing beside, swaying like a drunk as he sought to recover his balance and rise to his feet.

Starfire was no less shaken than Warp, but unlike Warp, she had experience with the gyrations of physical flight, a Tamaranean's solid sense of balance, and most importantly of all, all the fury of a howling storm to drive her on.

Kicking rocks the size of cannonballs off of herself, she rose to one knee and fired a starbolt at Warp, hot and powerful enough to melt through lead. Warp raised his hand, conjuring another shield, arm-sized this time, and it absorbed the shot, but as before, Starfire didn't wait to see it strike. The next bolt she threw was her own body, and this time Warp had no defence. She could not hit him as hard, but the half-charge, half shoulder-ram she dealt him slammed him into the far wall hard enough to knock chips of stone from it, leaving him to sway and stagger to retain his fragile balance.

"Is this not what you desired, Warp?" she asked, catching her breath and infusing herself with energy once more. "Did you not wish to see me in pain? To see me suffer and cry at what you had done? Did you imagine I would melt before your tortures, and beg for your twisted mercy?"

Growling in frustrated anger, Warp suddenly vanished in a flash of light. Yet rather than stand and blink and wonder where he might have gone, Starfire turned on one foot, reaching behind herself and catching Warp's fist with her open hand. His fist was shrouded in black energy, shaped by his will into the form of a cruel dagger, which sliced into her palm. Yet she did not blink, or flinch, or even hesitate, closing her hand around the psychic blade moments before she seized Warp by the collar, pivoted ninety degrees, and pitched him over her shoulder onto the floor of the chamber hard enough to crack the flagstones. The impact shook her like an earthquake, but she did not hesitate, dropping to one knee as she drove her fist down as hard as she could at Warp's frightened face.

Warp managed, barely, to roll to one side, evading the strike by bare inches, leaving Starfire to hammer an eight inch divot into the granite floor with her empowered fist. Yet as he rolled aside, he foolishly chose to arrest his motion and roll up to one knee, raising a laser from his wrist, aiming it in her general direction, and firing. The range was too short to miss, but Starfire did not care what he shot at her, and even as the laser burned into her shoulder, she retaliated with a shot of her own, a starbolt brimming with fire and rage, that blasted him clear across the room, and left him crumpled in a heap against the far wall.

Rising to her feet once more, Starfire reached over with her other hand and clasped her injured shoulder, feeling the heat and the burned flesh from it, willing back the pain by burying it in her own rage. On the other side of the room, Warp slowly crawled back to his feet, staggering like a drunk, his golden armor smoking and dented, his mouth smeared with red blood.

"Well here you have it, Warp," said Starfire, spitting out the words like a bad tasting liquid. "This is your victory. These are the fruits of your labors." Her eyes blazed with nuclear flames, a seething reactor of incandescent fury that seemed to set the very stones to tremble. "This is what it is to break a Tamaranean," she intoned, her voice distorting with rage. "This is what it is to break me . This is your reward."

Her hands engulfed in raging fire, Starfire clasped them together in front of her chest, extending them towards Warp like a cannon.

"I hope you enjoy it," she said. And then she let go.

The flash was blinding, even to her, and the roar of exploding energy, displaced air, and crumbling stone, was enough to force her back a pace or two. She raised her hands to her face to ward off the flying debris. And when she lowered them again, Warp was gone.

So was most of the wall.

Carefully, Starfire made her way towards the gaping, smoking hole in the wall. Beyond it, a lengthy corridor, broad and tall like the hall of some king or baron, loomed in the distance. Butressed by flying stoneworks and laden with rich tapestries, all bearing the Mark of Scath, the hallway echoed with every step she took. Starfire knew better than to assume that Warp's mere lack of presence meant anything concrete concerning his survival. And so she walked on, ears primed for any sound, eyes for any sight, of the elusive teleporting devil-servant. She reached the threshold, stepped over it, entered the hall, and then stopped as something caught her eye.

Down at the end of the hall, there sat a great altar of black stone, covered in a cloth of unmarked sable, atop which were various objects. Iron braziers were mounted in a semicircle around it, each burning with a sickly green flame, though the light scarcely sufficed to illuminate the black altar. Glancing this way and that, looking for the sudden sheen of gold springing upon her, Starfire approached the altar with caution, moving in close enough to identify the objects, until suddenly she stopped.

The objects were a motley lot, a chalice, brimming with a dark red liquid she could not identify. A set of what might have been embalming tools or even torture implements, laid out in a triangle within a circlet of gold. A book with an impossibly dark cover, that seemed to grow and recede as she stared at it, from which the faintest sound of whispering could be detected. But what stopped Starfire was none of these strange objects, but the one mounted in the center of them all, one that seemed oddly out of place in the midst of all of these tools of the occult and the damned. The object in question was a gun, a rifle of some sort, futuristic of look, polished chrome and blue steel. Pressurized tanks of some compressed substance, covered with condensation, were strapped to its sides, connected by tubes to the center of its mass. The barrel was topped with a telescopic sight, which glowed red in the faint light, displaying numbers and tactical information concerning whatever it was aimed at.

Starfire did not know one gun from another. To her, they were all simply weapons, universal of use and intention, their specifics of no particular importance. But yet, this gun was, to her, plainly distinguished from every other that had ever existed. The distinguishing characteristics were partly that it was here, now, in this place, at the end of the world. Partly it was the vague recollections she had of the forensic reports from a month ago when everything had begun to fall apart. But mostly, it was the small symbol etched into the butt of the rifle, the sole blemish on its otherwise immaculate surface. A tiny bird, colored in red, mounted on one side in astonishing detail, such that it took her no time at all to identify just what type it was.

A robin.

And right then, before she could stop herself, Starfire simply exploded.

With a scream of incoherent rage, Starfire drew her head back and threw it forward, releasing a torrent of energy from her eyes into the black altar. Stone and metal melted, canisters and liquids exploding into boiling ruin. No blast did she fire, but a solid state beam of annihilation, rending the altar down to the floor and leaving a burning, smoking crater in its place. Only when all trace of the gun and the black altar that had supported it had been reduced to steam and smoke, did she finally stop.

But as she did, she heard a soft pop from behind her, and realized the mistake she had just made.

She spun around, fist extended, a starbolt primed and ready, and as she expected, she saw Warp behind her, standing erect now, a black shield held before him, the Book of Azar clutched in one hand, his other raised palm-forward in her direction. With a cry, she launched the starbolt, Warp had been given time to re-enforce this shield, and the bolt glanced off uselessly.

An evil sneer crossed Warp's bloody face. "Show me your vengeance now..." he said.

Starfire didn't hesitate. Roaring words of battle and violence in Tamaranean, she leaped from the ground and hurled herself at Warp, her entire form glowing green as energies incalculable coursed through her. Yet even as she threw herself into the air, she knew it was too late, for Warp did not seek to dodge or flee or teleport anew, but spoke words of his own in some arcane language she could not identify, and from his outstretched hand there leaped a ribbon of white light which whip-lashed across the hall before striking her full on in mid-air. She had time only to shout one last cry before the entire world washed out white, and then she saw and felt no more.

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 07:53pm
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Joined: 2011-10-13 06:59am
Posts: 9
*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night ;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The mosaics on the floor were particularly intricate, swirling patterns of Parian, Tennessee, and Sylacoga marble, the work of a famous modern artist hired ten years ago to embellish the mall with something unique. But he saw only calcite mineral inlaid with low quality brass, and walked on. The ceiling was hung with Halloween ornaments, even though the holiday was not for a month and more. Jack-o-lanterns and witches and goblins cavorted up the walls and supporting columns and chased one another along the dome of the mall's rotunda. But he saw only silhouettes of construction paper and cardboard studded with LEDs and polyethylene chads, and walked on.

Statues of civilians, men, women, children, lay scattered about the mall in clumps, huddling together in groups of two and three wherever they had chanced to take shelter when the apocalypse hit. Pain was writ on their faces in the most clinical of detail, every curve of screaming mouth or frightened eye captured perfectly in petrified stasis, forever. Small children clung to their mothers' skirts, husbands and wives clasped one another in their arms, the brave stared forever from windows at the sight of their doom approaching, while the fearful took what shelter they could.

But he saw only basalt stones, piled atop one another and coated in soot and fly ash. And he walked on.

His gait was unhurried, his cane held lightly with three fingers as it tapped a soft meter against the marble floor. Past storefronts and display windows he walked, giving them only the most momentary of glances before walking on anew, no sounds but his own footsteps echoing down halls that were never meant to be silent.

Ahead loomed the central rotunda, three stories tall and capped by an intricate dome of stained glass, ringed by the remnants of food courts and confectionery shops. The glass was gone now, its crushed remains laying underfoot, while the shops and courts were burned out pyres, and he slowed only slightly as he entered the vaulted chamber, giving only the most perfunctory of glances to the left and right.

He reached the center of the rotunda, and stopped.

The ground was covered in crushed glass, dust, and cinders, but studded along the floor were a series of small black patches, smeared on the marbled mosaics as though scraped off the bottom of someone's shoe. Anyone else would have needed to crouch down and examine them in detail to determine what they were, tar perhaps, or bitumen, or simply dog droppings that someone had stepped in. But he was not anyone else, and with only a glance, he recognized pulverized carbon mixed into a slurry with the addition of water.

He sighed.

"David," he said, loud enough for his voice to echo, "this is a waste of time. I know you're in here, and I'm in no mood for hide and seek. Now are you going to come out and finish this with some semblance of dignity, or am I simply going to have to level this entire building?"

There was no immediate response. Just the muted sound of the dying city filtering in through the broken roof dome, and the crackling of glass shards underneath his feet. For ten seconds and more the man waited, alone in the midst of the ruins.

And then there was the sound of a door opening.

On the far side of the rotunda, where it tapered to meet the rest of the shops and arcade, a small utility door slid open with a click, and from it emerged a single figure, small and thin, a teen-aged boy still slathered with streaks of slurry made from coal dust and condensed steam, his skin as grey as the statues around him, and his eyes as red as burning coals. A steel telescoping staff, broken off at one end, was clipped onto his belt, but his hands were empty, and he made no move towards it, nor did the area around him begin to tremble with the frosted preludes to supernatural detonations. The boy advanced some half dozen paces out the door, just enough to take him into the rotunda proper, and stopped.

Devastator smiled.

"You know," he said, "I half-expected you to try and bring the building down first."

"I don't know how," said David.

His smile broadened. "No," said Devastator, "I suppose you wouldn't, now would you?" He looked his younger counterpart over with an appraising eye. "Awful hard to hide though, when you're trailing sludge everywhere."

"I didn't have much choice."

"It was a good trick, with the steam and the coal," said Devastator. "But not good enough."

David seemed to take it with equanimity. "I thought about ambushing you from one of the storefronts," he said. "Hiding behind the glass and... I don't know... blasting something through the window. It's transparent to me, but to you it's just a wall of silicon."

Devastator considered the option for a moment, shrugged and nodded. "It's not the worst idea ever," he said. "But while I'm blind, I'm not stupid. I do remember what it was like to be able to see through glass."

"Yeah," said David. "And I remember what it was like to not."

Neither one said anything for several moments.

At length, Devastator took a deep, almost theatrical breath, sliding his cane up lightly in his hand. "Well," he said. "I suppose we should resolve this little matter, now shouldn't we?"

David did not stir from where he stood, nor reach for the broken staff at his side. Instead he narrowed his gaze somewhat, and calmly spoke, his voice even and calm.

"You mind if I ask you a question?"

Devastator raised an eyebrow either at the unexpected request, or at the manner it was phrased in. "And what's that?" he asked.

David took a deep breath, steadying himself, before replying. "Why am I still alive?"

Devastator's brow furrowed with confusion. "Say that again?" he asked.

"I think you heard me," said David, crossing his arms in front of himself and staring evenly at his counterpart. "Why am I still alive?"

Devastator did not answer immediately, watching his teen-aged counterpart as though looking for a hidden weapon. "I suspect you'd need to ask Terra that, now wouldn't you? I assume she's the one who brought you back."

"She was," said David. "But I don't need to ask her. I need to ask you."

Devastator let the cane slide through his fingers until the tip landed on the ground. "Look, if you're trying to make some kind of obtuse philosophical point, this really isn't the time or place."

"You killed the Titans," said David. "I watched you do it. You killed all four of them together in less than ten minutes. Even Raven, who's fifty times more powerful than I'll ever be."

"To be fair, she had the minor disadvantage of being unable to hurt me," said Devastator.

"The others didn't," said David. "But you wiped them out anyway. You even killed Robin by popping an artery in his brain. I didn't even know Devastator could do that."

"Long practice can accomplish wonders," said Devastator. "What's your point?"

"My point is that you slaughtered them. All of them. And six hundred other people besides. People with guns, and grenades, and armored cars. That was a fortified compound that they were barricaded in and you tore it apart like a cereal box. Slade, Brother Blood, even Trigon, none of them were ever able to do what you did. You're a killing machine. You're the most perfect killing machine I've ever seen."

"I try," said Devastator.

"I know," said David, unfolding his arms and slowly stepping forward, into the rotunda. "Which is why I can't figure out why, when it was time for you to kill me and Terra, you just started throwing cars in the air."

Devastator smirked. "You have something against cars?"

"No," said David. "I've used them too. But I've been doing this for nine months. You've been doing it for thirty years."

Devastator raised his eyebrows, staring at David like he couldn't decide whether or not to laugh. "Are you actually critiquing my combat style?"

David did not seem to perceive the joke. "I'm wondering," he said, "why you starting throwing cars, and trucks, and bits of the street around, and making lots of smoke and noise, instead of just killing us."

"The idea was to kill you."

"Really?" asked David, and he stopped, staring at Devastator as though trying to peer right through him. What he was looking for, and whether he found it, he gave no sign, but after a few moments, he began to walk towards the older man, his pace slow and careful.

"I had two dozen birdarangs attached to my belt," said David. "You blew every one of them apart individually. But all you needed to do was target the belt itself." He gestured at the belt at his midsection. "It's titanium steel, easy stuff. You could have torn me in half with it, but you didn't."

Devastator let that comment sit, as David carefully closed the distance, giving no sign of what he thought of the question.

"You blew an entire skyscraper apart, just to show me you could," continued David. "But when you lost sight of us in that factory, you just turned and walked away." He spread his arms wide. "You knew we were in there somewhere, why not just vaporize everything within half a mile?"

Devastator stood motionless, watching as David continued to approach, step by step. "You make it sound so easy."

"Please," said David. "I saw you draw enough thermo-kinetic energy out of atmospheric gases to freeze nitrogen . My entire life, I've never been able to do gasses."

"You never wanted it enough," said Devastator.

"You conjured a bomb powerful enough to flatten a city block out of thin air, literally ." He stopped again, now less than ten paces away. "But I'm still here," he said. "And I'd like to know why."

"I'm going to guess that you have a theory?" said Devastator.

"Yeah," said David. "And I don't think you're gonna like it."

A smirk crossed Devastator's face. "Well, heaven forbid, David, that we should ever disagree."

David watched him in silence for a few moments.

"What happened to you?"

The smirk disappeared.

"Excuse me?"

"What happened?" repeated David. "What changed your mind. What did... this ?" He gestured at Devastator's coat and gun, his hidden sword and the various accouterments concealed within his coat.

"Changed my mind?" asked Devastator, enunciating each word slowly. "What exactly gives you the idea that my mind ever changed?"

"Stop it," said David. "Just stop it. You know what I'm talking about. You and I are the same person. Until nine months ago, we lived the same life. So what the hell happened?"

"The Titans happened."

"Bullshit! " roared David all of a sudden, and his shout was like a banshee's scream in a quiet field, so visceral and angry that even Devastator flinched. "Bullshit !" he repeated, stabbing his finger at Devastator accusingly. "The Titans had nothing to do with it! Nothing at all! And you know it! "

"Is that so?" hissed Devastator.

"It is so!" shouted David. "I never wanted this. Not ever , not even before the Titans. All this... this... death . The swords and guns and ruins everywhere, I never wanted any of it ! It's the whole reason I never touched Devastator. Because I knew where it would lead!" He paused for breath, rubbing his eyes and flinging away the moisture, before rounding on his counterpart once more. "And I don't give a damn if you think it's stupid, because you didn't want it either !"

"You're awful certain about what it is that I did or didn't want."

"That's because I still remember it well," said David. "For me it wasn't that long ago, less than a year. For you though... I don't know. Maybe it's been too long, and you can't remember anymore. Or maybe you just convinced yourself that it had never been this way, because when you're running around murdering thousands of people at a time, it's probably pretty inconvenient to be reminded that there was a point when all you wanted was to be left alone."

"Are you done?" asked Devastator acidly.

"No," said David. "And you know it. Because I still don't have an answer to the question you've been waiting for me to ask since I showed up here." He folded his arms once more, staring his counterpart in the eyes like a judge facing down a defendant. "What happened?"

"The question I've been waiting for you to ask?" asked Devastator, peering down at his counterpart like a scientist examining a microbe.

"Ever since you showed up," said David. "Ever since you found out what I've been up to for the last year." He paused, looking Devastator over once more. "And if you ask me, I think that's why I'm still alive."

Devastator's dead eyes went wide, and an instant later, he raised his cane, and there was an explosion.

A small blast, all things considered, concentrated in the marble floor of the rotunda, right beneath David's feet, powerful enough to hurl him back into the wall, where he struck and fell, sliding down it onto the ground in a cloud of marble and coal dust. Devastator advanced towards him, still holding up the suddenly-burning cane, stepping over the pothole he had just blasted in the floor.

"You stupid little shit ," said Devastator, and he sounded good and angry now. "Is that what you think this is?" He swept the cane through the air like he was slicing invisible stalks of wheat, marching towards David. "I've seen the same movies you have, remember? You think I'm one of those costumed idiots who monologues about how the world sold him short when he should be finishing the job? The talking killer, I think they call it?"

"I think," said David, wiping his mouth as he pulled himself back to his feet, "that I'm not the only one here that Trigon had a surprise for. I think you've been asking yourself the same question I have since this whole thing started. Because that's what we do. We second-guess, we ask questions. We can't not." He coughed, spitting grey blood mixed with coal dust down onto the mosaic-inlaid ground, as Devastator slowly lowered his cane once more, watching him in silence. "Robin kept telling me that I needed to stop that. That I had to learn to trust my instincts, instead of second guessing everything I did."

"Did he?" asked Devastator, stopping in front of David.

"Yeah," said David. "But I could never figure out how. And you may be... a million times more powerful than I am..." He stood up straight, bracing himself against the wall. "... but if you really are me, then I bet you never figured it out either."

"So now I'm Darth Vader?" asked Devastator

"I don't know what you are," said David. "But I bet you don't know what I am either."

"I know exactly what you are," said Devastator with a snarl.

"Do you?" asked David, and he stepped forward, off the wall, his eyes bathing Devastator in red light. "Do you really? It's not churning around in your head, the obvious question?" He opened his hands skyward, as though inviting a reply. "You're a supervillain, a contractor, whatever the hell you call it. You're the most powerful Metahuman I've ever heard of, you've got a body count in the tens of thousands. But you just found out, that with one small change, Warp pushed me into the company of the people you've spent your entire life trying to kill. Your arch-enemies, the people you hate more than anything in the world."

Devastator's hands clenched and unclenched around his cane, as though he were being pulled in multiple directions, but he said nothing, staring only into David's eyes with his own empty orbs.

"And you can lie to me all you want," said David, "tell me I'm stupid or I'm wrong, I don't care. But you and I both know what we were like before any of this happened. You went off, and turned into the exact thing that we were both afraid of becoming. I turned into something else." He took one final step forward, to within sword range of his counterpart, his eyes unblinking. "And I know ," he said finally, "as sure as I'm standing here, that you're thinking the same question I am." He folded his arms, planted his feet, and stared directly up at Devastator. "What happened?"

"I know what happened to you," said Devastator in a voice that was a growl.

"No, you don't." said David. "And neither do I."

Devastator said nothing.

"The Talking Killer talks," said David, "because he wants the hero to understand him. You may not be the Talking Killer, but I'm not the hero. I'm something a thousand times worse. I'm proof that you could have been something else. All your lectures, all your bullshit about how you're the smart one, you made the right call, and I'm such an idiot? I don't even think you believe that. You're not gonna tell me what happened because you want someone else to understand you. You're gonna tell me what happened because we're the same person. And if you can't convince me that you were right, then how the hell are you gonna convince yourself, now that you've seen how easy it was to step aside?"

Silence fell over the rotunda, the scarred man and the ashen boy facing one another motionlessly. Devastator's cane still burned in his hand, but he did not raise it, nor conjure more fire, watching instead the child he had once been as he stared him down in the midst of ruin.

"Now I'm gonna ask you one last time," said David, slowly and carefully. "What happened to you? And if you don't answer me, then I'm gonna pull this staff, and I'm gonna make you kill me. Because I can't beat you, and I know that, and so do you." He laid his hand on the broken staff at his side. "But if you kill me without answering my question, then I swear to you, for the rest of your life or whatever the hell you have now, you will never be able to convince yourself that you are anything but a liar, a murderer, and a coward. Because you'll know that I died, thinking exactly that."

Devastator said nothing as David fell silent, did not move, did not even blink. The cane in his hand was as steady as a statue, his frame entirely motionless, he did not even seem to breathe. David for his part remained as still as his counterpart, and they stared at one another as year-long seconds ticked by, one after the next.

And then, all of a sudden, Devastator lunged at him.

It was like a cobra's strike, so fast that David did not even have a chance to shout. The fiery cane burned like a branding iron, but it was Devastator's other, empty hand that he led with. In a single, fluid motion, so fast that there could be no resisting it, Devastator fastened his hand around David's throat, and squeezed.

The grip was like a vice, crushing weight fueled by molten fury and God-knew what else, and David gasped, and choked, and grabbed at the hand that clenched his throat uselessly, even as he felt himself being lifted into the air. Devastator loomed over him, hoisting him up, staring into his eyes with dead orbs and an ice-cold expression that could have quenched all the fires in this burning world. For three, long, horrible seconds, Devastator regarded his younger self in stony silence, as David gurgled and squirmed uselessly. But at length, he slowly lowered his arm once again, and lightened his grip, letting David's feet find the floor and his lungs the air. And as David gasped for breath and coughed uncontrollably, Devastator leaned forward, staring the child he might have been in the eyes.

"Tell me, David," he said, his voice as raspy and as sharp as a diamond-tipped sawblade. "Have you ever heard of a place called Arkham?"

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 07:53pm
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Redshirt

Joined: 2011-10-13 06:59am
Posts: 9
*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"So... Cyborg opens the door, and we're all standing there, and Robin says that since he left the Titans, he has to be initiated all over again. And that's when you showed him the dress."

Frankly, Raven didn't understand what Beast Boy was getting at with this story. It might have been because he seemed to assume that she could remember everything that had happened, and was racing through it without pause or hesitation. It might have been because he wasn't a very good storyteller, too prone to running off on tangents every time something he said reminded him of another "hilarious" moment. But all things being equal, it was probably because she was currently holding onto him for dear life, trying to avoid looking down at the ten thousand foot drop that yawned beneath her.

Beast Boy stopped laughing long enough to realize that Raven wasn't joining him, and shrugged as he reached for another handhold. "I guess you had to be there," he said. "Or... well I mean you were there, but I guess you can't remember yet. It'll be really funny once you remember, I promise."

The wind whistled across the icy wall, as Raven held onto Beast Boy's back as tightly as she could, reciting her mantra to herself in tones so low she wasn't sure if Beast Boy could hear her or not. She remembered that there had been a time when she had not been afraid of heights, but it was an academic knowledge, without context or meaning. The dark, wind-swept abyss beneath her, so vast and profound that she could no longer see the bottom, was far more real than any half-remembered moments of bravery.

Besides, heights weren't anything special. There had been a time when she wasn't afraid of anything at all, or near enough. No longer.

Beast Boy shook violently beneath her, and for the thirtieth time, Raven's breath caught, thinking that he was about to throw her off or that she was slipping. Yet for the thirtieth time, the tremor was merely him shifting into a more commodious form to tackle some particularly difficult section of climb, as mountain goat or snow leopard or giant octopus. Each shift made her feel like she was about to fall, yet with each shift, he caught her again effortlessly, positioning his body in such a way as she would wind up on his back or in his paws or gripped by sucker-laden tentacles. So it proved now.

Beast Boy wasn't afraid, or at least didn't seem to be, either of slipping and falling, or of dropping Raven, an attribute Raven assumed was tied to the fact that he could, at will, turn into an eagle or bat. Yet every time he had done just that, shifted into some gigantic flying bird or reptile and tried to bear Raven up in that manner, the howling winds had instantly gone from gale to tornado, and forced him to abort. As a result, they were forced into this much slower, much more treacherous method of climbing the ice wall, not that Beast Boy seemed to mind.

"Reliance on others is the mark of immaturity. It is a road that leads nowhere."

Raven grimaced silently and knotted her fingers tightly into Beast Boy's fur, and wished, with all her might, that the voice might stop talking. Belatedly, she realized that it might help if she had known where this particular road was leading.

Beast Boy had suggested climbing the ice, and so they had climbed, and climbed, and climbed until the frozen wasteland below was shrouded in darkness, and there was nothing in the world except the wall. Yet why he had chosen to climb was beyond her. To her, it seemed entirely possible, indeed reasonable, that this wall might prove to be infinitely high, an impossible barrier surrounding the inescapable prison to which she had been banished. She had not asked Beast Boy what had caused him to decide that this method was an escape route, precisely because she was afraid of the answer. Right now, she preferred to hold onto the hope that Beast Boy knew what he was doing, rather than risk confirming that he did not.

"So... um... what do you remember?"

It took Raven a few moments to realize that he was asking her a question, and only then did she realize that she hadn't even noticed him shifting back into his human form beneath her. She opened her eyes to find that he had spotted a thin cleft in the ice that could serve, with difficulty, as a walkway, and had clearly judged it easy enough that he could afford to indulge in further conversation.

Of course, it didn't take much for Beast Boy to indulge in that...

"I..." she said nervously, "I don't remember much. Just fire... and... his voice inside me..."

"This secret shall be your burden to bear from this moment until the day you achieve your destiny. There can be no other way. You must guard it as you would your own life, for it is far more dangerous than any enemy could ever be."

"Oh..." said Beast Boy. "I um... I didn't mean from... that. I meant from before. From the Tower?"

"The... Tower?" asked Raven. Towers dominated her fragmented memory, towers of stone and slag, towers of steel and glass, towers that were prisons and havens, and towers that were actually monsters made flesh. Try as she might, she couldn't separate them all in her head.

"Yeah," said Beast Boy. "You remember the Tower, don't you? Home?"

Run her brain though she might, Raven didn't answer. Home was something that happened to other people, an abstract concept of no bearing on her life.

As always, Beast Boy saw a gap in the conversation, and immediately inserted himself into it. "You remember the time that I tried to get Cy with a water-balloon full of motor oil?" he said breathlessly, such that despite not being able to see his face, Raven could practically hear the grin. "I had this whole contraption set up to shoot the balloon into him. You tried to warn me that Starfire was coming, but I didn't listen and it shot her instead." He laughed. "Star wouldn't talk to me for like a week after that, but I still think it woulda worked if I'd planned it better." He paused, seemingly thinking things over. "You know... she never actually told me what a 'wuserloop' was... I'll have to ask her when this is all over." He turned his head half-around to glance at Raven. "Do you think she ever told you?"

Raven didn't even know where to begin with that one.

Beast Boy shrugged. "I still think she makes half of that Tamaranean stuff up, anyway," he said with a grin. "I would."

As before, Raven didn't answer, but Beast Boy did not appear in the slightest put out by that, and simply began relating some new incident that had apparently happened involving Starfire mistaking a tofu sausage for some sort of alien grubworm capable of devouring whole planets. He seemed to be talking to himself as much as her, and the story made little-to-no sense in any event, involving as it did a Tamaranean purification ritual, high explosives, the Jump City fire department, and some kind of larva named Silkie. Yet he continued to relate it in his own inimitable fashion as though it were the most normal thing in the world, which for all Raven knew, it was. Yet it wasn't the content of the story that she was listening to. It was the tone, the easy familiarity of events that were weird and yet harmless, the casual manner in which he spoke of friends, of places, of things ordinary and non-threatening in the present tense, that seemed so totally removed from where they were, and what her world consisted of, now and forever. It was like opening a book in a language she didn't know, and finding pictures inside of normal, happy people doing normal happy things. It was warm, inviting, even comforting.

"Refusal to accept what is, instead of how we wish things were, is inexcusable cowardice."

"Stop it!"

Beast Boy stopped in mid-step as Raven let out a scream that could have woken the dead. Raven didn't even notice that he'd stopped, her eyes clenched shut, fingers tightly clasped around Beast Boy for fear that they might otherwise release him entirely and claw at her own head. By the time Raven even realized that anything had happened, and opened her eyes once again, Beast Boy had slid her off of him and knelt down to her level.

"Raven?" he asked, but she didn't answer him, too occupied in trying to calm her breathing down, trying to remember what the lesson was for that, whether she was supposed to clear her mind or focus it on a telepathic symbol. The monks disliked it when she mixed those two up.

"R... Raven?" asked Beast Boy again, shaking her gently by the shoulder. "I... what'd I do?"

She was still barely able to speak, but she was able to shake her head no. "Not you," she managed to choke out between tense breaths. "Not..." her tongue caught, and she turned away, feeling the first signs of tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

Yet when she tried to turn away, Beast Boy cupped his hand around the back of her head and gently but forcefully turned her back. "What's going on?" he asked, and there was fear in his eyes this time, worry, all the things that sat so poorly with him. "Is it Trigon? Is he trying to... do something?"

The name was enough to conjure an immense mental effort, if only to forestall Beast Boy using that name again. "No," she said, forcefully. "Not him. Not now."

"Then... then who is it?" asked Beast Boy.

"What you undergo here is by necessity unique. Your circumstances being what they are, there is no one else who will ever understand the need for it."

Her voice was a mere whisper by the time she could force the name out.

"Azar."

As with everything down here, saying the name made it all the worse.

"You cannot escape your destiny by wishing it away."

She tore away from him, gripping the sides of her head with a fevered intensity, feeling her fingernails dig into the skin of her temples as she tried to force the voice to stop by main force. But nothing she could do, no gesture, no recitation, nothing could stop the awful monotone, not harsh and violent but reasoned, patient, wise, inexorable. A voice like a judge or prophet, pronouncing wisdom that could not be gainsaid.

"We are not afforded the chance to choose the circumstances of our birth. But we are afforded the chance to choose what we make of them. You have the choice between life and death, Raven. If you choose death, you will never be able to blame another for the consequences."

"Raven!" shouted Beast Boy, and there was nothing gentle or restrained about his voice this time. He grabbed her from behind, ignoring her violent struggles, lifted her off the ground and pinned her against the ice, forced her hands down to her sides once again and held them there as she writhed and squirmed uselessly, for he was not only twice her size, but at will could become fifty times larger, should it serve his purposes. In the event, however, he did not expand and grow, but remained where he was, not even venturing to ask her what was the matter, simply holding her in place until her struggles subsided and she slumped down, exhausted and defeated, tears sliding down her face to boil away in the sub-arctic cold.

"That book of yours," said Beast Boy. "The one that tried to eat me that one time? You called it the Book of Azar. That ring Slade gave to Cyborg was the Ring of Azar. So who's Azar?"

Raven tried, unsuccessfully, to fight back the tears still spilling out of her eyes. "She... taught me," she said, not even sure herself if that was true or not. "She taught me everything."

"But... then is she here or something?" asked Beast Boy, looking puzzled but worried. "Can... you can hear her?"

Raven couldn't bring herself to answer in words, and nodded instead.

Beast Boy blinked, but did not ask any of the questions he no-doubt had, save of course one. "What's she saying?"

"Our destinies are not of our choosing. They are written for us by an uncaring, unfeeling universe. To curse them is pointless, to rail against them, useless. Only in understanding and accepting them is there peace. Look to Oedipus, or Sigfried, or the Aesir and their doomed stand against the darkness. In every case, the lesson is clear enough. Fighting against your destiny is the surest possible way of bringing it about."

Raven shook her head violently, as though to hurl whatever was clamped upon it off into the empty space beyond the ledge. "She's saying it's my fault."

He still didn't understand. "What's your fault?"

"Everything! " she shouted. And with one final supreme effort, she tore her hands free of Beast Boy's grip. But rather than clutch at her head again, she waved them violently about, gesturing at imagined phantoms that danced before her very eyes. "All of this! Everything that happened to you, to Robin, to the others, it's all me !"

"No it's not !" answered Beast Boy, as loudly as she had. "We've all been trying to tell you since this whole thing started, it isn't your fault that Trigon did what he did."

"And you're all wrong!" shot back Raven. "You don't understand !"

Beast Boy held her in place, visibly searching for something to stem the torrent. "Raven, we all saw Trigon come back. We saw what he did to the world, to you. We understand it all now."

It didn't help. "No," hissed Raven through clenched teeth, squeezing her eyes shut to prevent them from leaking. "No, you don't. You can't ." She wanted to say more, the words burned in her throat, pounding for release, but she couldn't force them out no matter what she tried.

"The universe has a way of ensuring that we get exactly what we deserve."

"Beast Boy," said Raven, opening her eyes at last, feeling boiling tears roll down her cheeks. "You can't take me out of here."

He did not understand. She could see in his eyes that he did not understand. "Why not?" he asked, only after some hesitation, testament to the conflicting replies he had considered and rejected.

"Because this is where I'm supposed to be," she said. "This is where I belong. It doesn't matter how high you climb, you can't take me out of here."

"That's not true!" roared Beast Boy angrily.

"That's how this place works."

"I don't care how it works, you don't belong here!" shouted Beast Boy, heedless of her remonstrations. "And you're not staying down here even if you did!"

"I brought Trigon onto the Earth! I killed all of - "

"I know!" exclaimed Beast Boy. "We all know, you told us all, remember?" He hesitated, just for a second. "Okay, maybe you don't remember, but I remember. You told us everything. You told us all the stuff you did. None of it matters."

"The human mind has an infinite capacity for rationalization in the pursuit of its goals. That luxury can never be yours."

"No, you don't understand..." she said, not angrily or violently but plaintively, a soft, weary hiss as she slumped forward in his grasp. "I killed everyone."

"Trigon killed - "

"No!" shouted Raven, fire welling up within her anew. "No, no, no, no, no !" She clenched her fists until they turned white, breath hissing in and out from between her teeth. "I knew this was gonna happen. Azar... the monks. They told me that it was gonna happen. And I believed them. And I let it happen anyway."

Beast Boy's expression slowly softened. "Raven..." he said.

"No... you don't..." her throat closed, and she choked on the words that followed, coughing and sputtering. Beast Boy did not seek to rush her, simply holding her in place, as she carefully pieced her equilibrium back together. "I was warned," she finally said.

"So what?" asked Beast Boy. "You did everything you could to stop it once you got the warning. I don't care if you don't remember it, I do ."

"But that's not why I got the warning!" insisted Raven. "The warning wasn't so that I could stop it, the warning was so that I could go ."

"Go?" asked Beast Boy. "Go where?"

"Anywhere !" cried Raven. "Anywhere but here, where he'd come out and kill all of you! I could've... I could've gone to the other side of the universe! Even Trigon couldn't have gotten back to the Earth for billions of years. None of you would ever have heard from him again! I could have stranded him in the darkest corner of intergalactic space and left him to starve. That's what I was supposed to do!"

The last remark caught in Beast Boy's ears. "Supposed to do?" he asked. "Who said you were supposed to do anything?"

"Azar did," said Raven. "All of them did, all the monks that lived on Azarath. They... taught me everything. How to use my powers, how to watch for the signs that Trigon was coming back. They knew what was going to happen, and they told me what to do when it did. They said that I couldn't stop him from coming back, but I could make sure that he couldn't hurt anyone when he did. That was the whole reason that they took me in. That's why they taught me everything they did. So that I would know what to do when the time came."

Beast Boy said nothing this time, staring at her with his emerald eyes wide and shimmering in the ethereal twilight. His mouth hung open, not from surprise, but simply from default, as though all the things he had intended to say had melted away from him. Looking at him, Raven could practically see the understanding beginning to crystallize inside of Beast Boy, and it stabbed into her like a knife. She closed her eyes, unable to face him any longer, and turned her head aside.

"They sent me to Earth," she said, "because I had some time before it happened, and they... and I wanted to try and live by myself for a while. Because every second I was in Azarath, I was reminded of what was gonna happen, and I just wanted to pretend it wasn't, just for a little while, before... before I died. They didn't want me to go, but I convinced them to let me by promising that I would do what I had to once Trigon came. I looked Azar in the eyes, and I promised her that I would leave Earth, and strand Trigon in the emptiest, blackest part of the universe. But when the time came... I didn't do it. I knew I had to, but I didn't do it. And now everyone's dead! And it's because of me! Not Trigon, not Warp, not Slade, me ."

Lapsing into silence once more, Raven waited as long as she could for something to happen, anything at all, for Beast Boy to argue with her some more, or agree with her, or throw her off the cliff, or something . But nothing happened. He neither spoke nor moved nor otherwise made a sound, and when finally she could stand the silence no longer, she opened her eyes once more to see why. He remained where he had been, stock-still, but his expression had softened somewhat. His mouth was closed, his eyes slightly smaller than they had been before, and he appeared less tongue-tied than waiting for something, though what it was, she could not possibly determine.

"That's why you can't take me out of here," she said finally, looking him in the eyes. "That's why I can't leave." The pained, empty expression in Beast Boy's eyes was like acid burning into her soul, and she lowered her head to escape it. "I'm not supposed to be with the rest of you anymore," she said. "I'm right where I belong."

What she expected him to do at this point, she did not know. Leave her behind, perhaps, or take her and drag her further up the endless ice-wall, dismissing everything she had said as always. He had come this far for her, in the face of tremendous peril, and moreover Beast Boy was always the sort who preferred to simply pretend that facts inconvenient to his world-view did not exist. She didn't remember much of what had come before, but she remembered being driven near to madness by his obstinate refusal to take seriously anything she said, even when it was -

"Why didn't you leave?"

Jolted out of her recriminating thoughts, Raven blinked as she looked back up at Beast Boy. "What?" she asked.

"Why didn't you leave Earth?" he asked, calmly, as though it were the most normal question in the world. "Why didn't you do what Azar told you to?"

She hung for a moment, tongue-tied by this unexpected question, but there was no place to hide here, not from the truth, unvarnished. And so she answered him.

"I was... afraid."

Of all things, Beast Boy smiled, not his usual ear-to-ear grin, but something more subtle, a warm, inviting smile. "The Raven I knew wasn't afraid of anything," he said.

"That's not true," said Raven.

"Maybe not," said Beast Boy, "but she sure looked like it. And she never, ever did something or didn't do something because she was afraid of doing it. I know that, even if you don't remember. So how come you didn't leave Earth?"

"Because..." she hesitated, still shifting in place as she tried to evade Beast Boy's absurdly calm gaze. "Because I... I was afraid. I was afraid of dying."

Beast Boy blinked, as though puzzled by a strange question. "So... you came all the way to Earth and became a hero, fought villains and monsters, all because you were afraid of dying?"

"That was different."

"Maybe," said Beast Boy, "but you wanna know what I think? I think you didn't leave Earth because you knew that we wouldn't have let you."

Confused now, to the point where it overcame her reluctance to look Beast Boy in the eye, Raven raised her head once more, arcing an eyebrow as she stared at him in puzzlement. "What... what do you mean?"

"Raven," said Beast Boy, in the tone of one stating the obvious, "do you honestly think we'd just let you run off to the end of the universe and die alone somewhere?"

Raven, to be honest, was fairly certain she had never even considered the matter. "You... you couldn't have stopped me," she said, her tone no longer remorseful, just a simple, neutral fact."

Beast Boy's smile broadened. "Oh yeah?" he said. "Just like we couldn't stop Slade or Brother Blood? Just like we couldn't stop Star from getting married to a pile of slime?"

"This is different, and you know it," said Raven. "Any time I wanted, I could have just disappeared."

"Yeah," said Beast Boy, "and we would've found you. I would have found you. No matter where you went, or what hole you hid in. Between the T-ship, and Robin being Mr. Detective, and Starfire knowing half the galaxy already, there's nowhere you could have gone that we wouldn't have found you."

Raven shook her head, half in disbelief and half in simple frustration. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah I do," he said. "I know that I would have found you anywhere you went. Even if the others couldn't do it, I could. It doesn't matter if you hid in another dimension or a hundred billion light years away from Earth. I'd have found you there, and I'd have brought you home. And there's nothing you or Trigon or anyone else could have done to stop me."

So certain, so flippant was this declaration, that Raven didn't know what to think. "You..." she stammered, "you don't... I could've..."

"Dude, Raven," said Beast Boy, his smile exploding into an ear-to-ear grin that seemed to light up the very air around him. "I just found you in Hell . Were you gonna hide somewhere worse than this ?"

Try as she might, Raven had no answer to that.

"It doesn't matter," said Beast Boy. "I'd never let you just disappear off into the middle of nowhere and die alone. Not ever. And if Azar or those monks who raised you had a problem with that, well that's tough."

"But..." stammered Raven, "But Beast Boy... why ?"

If the question caught Beast Boy without an answer, it only did so for a few moments. "Because," he said, his tone indicating it was both obvious and all the answer needed. "It's you ."

Raven felt something jolt inside her, like an electrical circuit that was suddenly completed.

And then Beast Boy was grinning again. "So, you see, it really wasn't your fault that all this happened, because even if you'd done whatever Azar or the monks wanted, it wouldn't have helped, because I'd have gone out and dragged you back anyway." He smiled, his face exuding confidence, in a way Raven managed to belatedly recognize that she had seen before, somwhere. "So, I guess... really... this is all my fault, not yours," he said. "And if it's my fault, then you can't belong here at all."

Raven might have said anything at that particular juncture, anything at all. But before her tired, wrenched mind could settle on any one thing to say, someone else answered in her stead.

"Well," came a voice, as sharp and hollow as death itself, "if you insist ..."

Raven jumped, and Beast Boy jumped right along with her, but the source of the voice did not take long to identify itself. The driving wind, which had been blowing snow and shards of ice at them since they first began to scale this endless wall, parted as they turned, to reveal a massive, looming shadow that quickly resolved itself into an enormous slab of slate-grey stone. The size of a moving van at least, it was topped with a thin figure with grey skin and red eyes, sheathed in gold.

"We made this place for her," said Terra, gesturing at Raven. "But there's plenty of room."

The front half of the rock disintegrated, flying apart like birdshot into blocks the size of mailboxes. Wrapped in a golden halo, they hung in the air, just for a moment, before Terra extended her hand and hurled them at Beast Boy and Raven like a meteor swarm. Raven threw up her hands in a paltry, automatic defense, but before the rocks could impact, there was a guttural roar mixed with the sound of exploding debris, and suddenly a massive, green, leathery tail, swept her off her feet and slammed her back against a cleft in the ice ledge, hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs. Yet in moment, she recovered her equilibrium sufficiently to peer out around the enormous tail, only to see that Beast Boy had become a giant, armored dinosaur, horned and plated with thick ridges of bone, against which the stones were shattering like glass ornaments hurled against a brick wall. And when the stones were spent, the last ones sliding down Beast Boy's face and flanks and tumbling off into nothingness, he remained in place, immovable and implacable, facing down the doppelganger with narrow eyes and a horned beak that was somehow twisted into a scowl.

Still perched atop the other half of her stone slab, Terra simply folded her arms and smirked. "Bad idea, Beast Boy," was all she said, and Raven was still trying to figure out what she meant when the entire ledge that she and Beast Boy were standing upon collapsed.

No sound or sign preceded the collapse. The ledge simply sheered off as though severed by a bolt-cutter, propelled no doubt by the unsupportable weight of a twelve-ton dinosaur. Instantly, Raven found herself tumbling end-over-end in freefall, colliding with chunks of ice as large as refrigerators and scraping against and bouncing off of the wall at her side. So abrupt, so complete was the disorientation of her sudden drop that she could not have reacted to it, not even if she had managed somehow to think of what to do, and all she could do was fall.

"We are all vessels of life, pouring ourselves out over the longer or shorter term. Yet ultimately, we all wind up empty, spent, and finally forgotten."

She landed on something soft.

At full speed, she should have dashed her brains out, no matter what the object she had hit was, but the object was falling right alongside her, and the speed of impact was small enough to be borne. Landing like a beached fish on her stomach, she gasped for the air that had, for the second time in as many moment, been knocked out of her, and it was only a few seconds later that she belatedly realized that the strange objects she could feel rustling between her fingers were feathers.

Raven opened her eyes to find that she was laying atop a giant bird, larger than anything that could have ever conceivably existed on the Earth, a roc or thunderbird, or some other primordial monster derived from nothing more than the nightmares of bards and fantasy authors. Thirty feet in wingspan, the giant bird nonetheless bucked and fought through winds of hurricane force that had materialized from nothing, blowing drifts of snow into her face so fast that she could no longer even see the enormous wall of ice that could not have been more than fifty feet away. Second by second, the wind built, howling and shrieking like a chorus of the damned, gusts slamming her against Beast Boy's feathered back one moment, and threatening to rip her free of him the next. Before long, it was plain that Beast Boy could no longer fight the wind off, and he spun, flailing with his enormous wings, as Raven held on for dear life.

Ahead, the snow parted, and the wall of ice loomed before them, not smooth as it had been, but jagged, encrusted with spires and blades of razor-sharp ice. Inexorably, the wind shoved Beast Boy and Raven towards the wall, despite everything Beast Boy could do to try and force them away from it, as from somewhere upwind, they heard the mocking, uproarious laughter of a voice that sounded like Terra's tinged liberally with monomania and madness.

Collision seemed inevitable, but as the wind swept them towards the wall, Beast Boy suddenly shrank in size. Raven's hands grasped in vain as she slipped off of him, falling and spinning in all three directions, but only for a second. In less time than it took to process, she felt something soft wrapping itself around her wrist, and looked up to see a giant squid, larger than a gasoline tanker, looming above her, the wind puffing it out like a para-sail. A tentacle the size of her entire body was lashed around her arm, and as Raven watched, the dozen or so others that extended from the squid's body lashed out and snatched at the wall that sped past them. There was the sound of flesh tearing, of ice shattering, of a low, awful moan, as the tentacles grasped at the wall, slicing themselves open on blades of ice as sharp as razors, yet the suckers connected, and contrived to hold, if only for a few moments, swinging the squid, and Raven with it, around and towards the wall. Before Raven could even gauge whether she was about to be smashed or sliced to pieces on impact, the tentacle that grasped her twisted, pivoted, and brought her up hard enough to nearly dislocate her arm, seconds before she was bodily shoved into a tiny crevasse in the frozen ice, barely large enough for her to stand.

The impact was hard, but not crippling, and little though she wanted to, Raven forced herself to turn around, to see what had become of Beast Boy and Terra. For a moment, she saw only empty air, and no sign of Beast Boy at all, whether in the form of a giant squid or anything else. Desperately she searched the air, squinting and shielding her eyes from the arctic gale. But then she heard a soft whimper from, of all places, below her, and found him once again.

Beast Boy was hanging from a tiny corner of the ledge by one gloved hand, having resumed his human form somehow in the midst of all the aerobatics and gyrations. His other hand, and for that matter the rest of his body, dangled helplessly from the ledge, there being no room for him to so much as use his other hand to hang on. The wind whipped at him mercilessly, threatening to blow him completely off his tenuous perch, yet he did not change form again, did not turn into a gecko or grasshopper or something else that might have been able to either cling to the wall or fit easily alongside Raven on the tiny ledge, but hung there instead, his eyes closed, face contorted, and moans of pain escaping him loud enough to be heard over the howling wind.

"Beast Boy !" shouted Raven, though her voice was instantly blown away by the storm, and despite the risk of falling, she crouched in place and grabbed his arm with both hands. She could not pull him up, for small as Beast Boy's human form was, he was still too heavy for her nine-year-old body to lift, and there was no room for him anyway. She grabbed him nonetheless, it was all she could think to do, and from where she crouched, she saw that Beast Boy was covered in gashes, some deep and some less so. Across his face, his torso, all four limbs, the slashes seemed almost randomly distributed, despite the fact that moments ago his tentacles had been the recipients of the actual blows. But then, for a shape-shifter, who could tell how a concept like locational injury might translate?

Unable to either succor or lift Beast Boy, Raven could only hold onto him as tightly as she could while she tried to think of something. She had no idea how badly Beast Boy was hurt, if he could still morph at all, or what her plan was to be if either of those questions had bad answers to them. Yet before she could consider these issues in anything but the most cursory sense, she saw a shadow forming up far below Beast Boy, which swelled and deepened until it resolved itself once more into Terra, standing implacably upon her levitated block of stone, the wind that howled around them not sufficing to even disturb her hair.

A louder-than-average groan refocused Raven's attention on Beast Boy, who opened his eyes with apparent difficulty, looking up at Raven, and then fearlessly down at the rising form of Terra. Terra had torn another slew of stones free from her block, this time smaller ones, fist and pineapple-sized chunks of rock that orbited around her extended hands like satellites. Wedged in place as she was, Raven had no defense against such projectiles, whether Terra merely shot them at her, or commanded them to dance over and beat her brains out. Beast Boy, hanging helplessly by one hand, had even less defense. And yet, when Beast Boy, seeing what was coming, turned his head back to look up at Raven, there was, of all things, a smile, nervous and forced perhaps, but a smile nonetheless, plastered onto a face that would have, Raven realized, looked incomplete without it.

"I won't let you disappear," said Beast Boy. "No matter what."

And then he let go of the ledge.

Instantly, Raven's grip on Beast Boy's wrist melted away, and he fell in what seemed to Raven like slow motion. But before he had fallen more than twenty feet, he shimmered, and rippled and suddenly vanished right before her eyes, shrinking down to nothing in the space of a heartbeat. For a second or two, she searched for him with her eyes in vain, certain that he had simply adopted some tiny, half-invisible form for reasons unknown. The wind was still howling at hurricane force, and any creature that small would have mere seconds before being smashed to pulp against the iron-hard wall of remorseless ice.

What followed, Raven had to piece together from inference.

All of a sudden, Beast Boy re-appeared, not as a human but as, of all things, a fish. No mere trout or guppy was this, however, but a twelve-hundred pound swordfish, which materialized from nothingness, flying perpendicularly away from the ice wall towards Terra like a green streak, as fast as a speeding automobile. Only belatedly did Raven realize that he must have taken on the form of a flea, or grasshopper, let the wind blow him against the wall of ice, and sprung off of it towards Terra at hundreds of miles an hour, shortly before increasing his own mass by a factor of seven hundred thousand.

For just a brief instant, Raven saw Terra, who like her, had not been expecting anything like this to transpire, rear back in reflexive shock as a half-ton of angry, sword-wielding broadbill fish shot towards her like a guided missile. The loose stones, still wrapped around her wrists like bracelets, formed up into a shield of rock, which Beast Boy crashed into headfirst, thrashing left and right with his head to scatter the stones, slashing at Terra, who fell back to the edge of her block of stone. And then the curtain of snow and wind slammed closed, and Raven lost sight of them entirely.

But only for a moment.

A great, booming clap of thunder jolted Raven so badly that she nearly slipped from her precarious perch, and a bolt of forked lightning flash-illuminated the area for a billionth of a second. It was just long enough for Raven to catch a glimpse of the stone block in profile, and of writhing forms, human and bestial, lunging and slashing at one another with claws and horns and blades of obsidian glass. And then the darkness closed over them again, leaving only the echoes of the terrible thunder, and the distant sounds, muffled and muted by the howling gale, of screams and cries, trumpets and roars, the clash of solid rock against plates of armored scale and bone.

For what felt like an eternity, Raven simply stood wedged into the crevasse of ice, and peered into the darkness without daring to breathe, as awful, inhuman sounds filtered through the whirling air to her ears. Every so often, lightning would flash across the sky, affording her a frozen snapshot of silhouettes tearing at one another. At times it appeared that a thin, wiry human, festooned with stones and cudgels and blades of volcanic rock, stood against a roaring, leaping dinosaur. At times she ducked the slash of a raptor's claws, or the jaws of a foaming polar bear. At times she brandished her weapons before a looming, flapping beast, fel and reptilian, whose alien cries sent shivers into Raven's very soul. And at times she was frozen mid-spring, lashing forward at some hybrid shadow, a chimera of a dozen different creatures caught in freeze-frame for just an instant.

How long the battle raged, Raven could not discern. But finally, as the light from one lightning strike faded, and she prayed for another to show her what was happening, she heard a loud, brutal "crack", sharp and piercing as a gunshot, and then all the sounds of war and rage ceased abruptly.

For one, agonizing moment, she waited, willing the air to vomit forth more lightning, to confirm or deny her worst fears. But instead the stormy air parted, and the stone block appeared from within it, pitted and chipped and gouged as though by enormous scoops. Terra stood atop it, her grey skin and red eyes boring holes straight through Raven, one hand clutched at her side where a viscous, grey liquid was leeching through her fingers. But beside her, prostrate on the ground, lay Beast Boy, once more in human form, laying on his stomach, eyes closed and motionless, with red blood streaming from a terrible gash in his forehead, staining his green skin and purple and black uniform crimson.

Raven felt her heart stop beating.

Doubled over, her breathing so heavy that it could be heard above the storm, Terra, or the simulacrum of her, managed a feral, predatory grin, as she stared Raven in the eye. In one swift motion, she reached down and took Beast Boy by the collar, hoisting him into the air with one hand and letting him dangle above the stone block like a marionette. Her voice was clipped and brittle, but perfectly clear.

"You didn't seriously think he could save you, did you?"

Tears welled up in Raven's eyes, and this time she made no effort to stem them or brush them aside. All fear of slipping and falling deserted her as she drew herself up, her entire body shaking in raw desperation.

"If you insist on dragging others into your destiny, all you will succeed in doing is sharing it with them."

"Let him go!" she shouted into the gathering storm. "Let him go! He doesn't belong here, I do! I'll go back with you, back down below, stay there forever if that's what you want, just don't hurt him!"

Terra's smile only broadened. "You heard him, didn't you? He'll always come after you, no matter what. And I'm afraid that we just can't have that, now can we?" She turned her head slightly, looking over Beast Boy dismissively the way a sport fisherman might examine his catch, as Raven stood uselessly on the cleft in the ice, and watched her with her heart in her throat.

"After all," said Terra as she turned back to Raven, her expression vindictive and cruel. "You don't deserve anything of the sort."

And then, with one halfhearted, almost contemptuous shove, Terra half-threw, half-pushed Beast Boy off the rock, and watched as he fell, limp and helpless, and was swallowed up in a heartbeat by the empty, yawning darkness below.

And right then, at that instant, Raven's mind collapsed.

The wind still howled, the snow still blew in drifts. But to Raven, seeing Beast Boy fall, it was as though those things had stopped by fiat or executive command. The snow ceased to be cold, the wind ceased to be deafening, and instead, a tremendous, burning, acidic sensation impaled her like a spear of incarnated pain. Like her fragmented memories of another time, long ago and yet not long, when she had been disintegrated by the radiance of a cosmic manifestation, so was this sensation, striking dead all of her previous thoughts and fears and worries and replacing them all with the sight of Beast Boy tumbling out of sight into the darkness below. It seared her insides like a raging bonfire, boiling upwards until she could contain it no longer and opened her mouth to emit a formless, wordless scream of incoherent pain, a sound neither human nor demonic, so hideous and deformed that even the evil clone of Terra drew back from it in horror. But Raven saw none of this, blinded by tears and fear and desperation, having forgotten where she was and what she was doing there, all else in the universe cast aside in one moment of supreme, absolute grief and denial, save only for one, unshakable voice, that refused, even now, to leave her be.

"You are death herself, Raven. Death incarnate writ large upon the universe. You play games with a destiny that could consume the very fabric of reality. And everything you touch will die with you."

And so it was, without any conscious thought or act, that in one, unbroken motion, the little girl who was Raven lunged forward and leaped, arms and eyes wide open, into the gaping, yawning void, plunging down into the pit after Beast Boy, leaving only a trail of frozen tears to mark that she had ever tried to climb out of Hell.

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 07:54pm
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Joined: 2011-10-13 06:59am
Posts: 9
*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea !
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"I didn't live in a tower," said Devastator. "I didn't live in a shining palace, with my every need catered to. I lived in Warp's future, a place where the whole world fell off the rails."

The world outside was quiet now, quieter than it had been, perhaps because David was no longer listening to it, trying to make out the sound of his nemesis approaching. His nemesis was already here, standing before him, and there was nothing else to listen for.

"What happened to it?"

Devastator shrugged. "Warp happened to it. I didn't know it at the time of course, but he changed everything through omission. Starfire's omission, to be precise."

"Warp killed her?"

"No," said Devastator. "He removed her from the world, at least for several decades, I'm not entirely sure how. The effect was the same though. Without her, the Titans fell apart. And without the Titans, all the various groups and heroes they would have inspired or helped establish either never came to pass, or gradually dissolved. Without them , there was nobody to replace the older generation of heroes when they retired or finally fell victim to the hazards of their profession. Within ten years... everything was going wrong."

"The bad guys won?" asked David.

"Nothing that drastic," said Devastator. "The world never completely lacks for self-sacrificing lunatics willing to put on a pair of tights. If they'd all disappeared, some bloody-minded psychopath with an orbital death ray would have enslaved the earth. What changed was the density. Instead of teams of heroes policing their respective cities, you had a handful of die-hards raging against the dying of the light. Every so often, someone would cross some sort of line, and one of the old guard would come out of retirement to batter them into fragments. By and large though, things didn't end with a bang, but with a whimper. Petty crime rose, then violent. Governments got more corrupt. Brushfire wars broke out everywhere. Petty dictators seized control of forgotten third-world hellholes and fought one another. Nothing cataclysmic happened, but you could feel it in the air. The world was falling apart because nobody was at the wheel. A handful of the heroes kept going. Nightwing, for instance, even Beast Boy for a while. But they were trying to bail the tide out with buckets."

"So what, you decided the best thing to do was kill the heroes that were left?"

Devastator frowned. "Don't be stupid," he said. "I had nothing to do with any of it."

"So what were you doing?"

Devastator did not answer immediately, turning away and walking several paces back towards the center of the rotunda. He stopped, lifting his head and eyes to the broken skeleton of twisted metal that had once been a stained glass ceiling. And when he spoke, his voice was softer, almost plaintive.

"I was a chemical engineer."

David watched Devastator in silence, waiting for the older man to continue. And after a time, he did.

"When I left the system" he said, turning back around. "I had a GED and no real applied skills, but I did have Devastator. And while I had no conception of how to use Devastator properly , it had a secondary use that I was very well versed in. I could, at a glance, identify the constituent materials in any object, fluid, or gas." Slowly, Devastator walked back over to David, and reaching into his pocket, he drew out a small business card. "You wouldn't think that was terribly useful," he said, extending the card to David, "but, as it turns out, you'd be wrong..."

Hesitating for a moment, David finally took the card, half-expecting it to explode in his hand. But Devastator merely slid his hand back into his pocket and stood back as David read the card.

"David Foster," read David aloud, "Senior Spectroscopic Analyst." He read the card over to himself several more times in silence. "What's... that?" he finally asked.

"Spectroscopy is essentially the study of the interaction between radiated energy and different forms of matter," said Devastator. "Essentially, we determine what things are made of. Spectroscopic analysts use lasers and other types of light emitters to analyse objects and determine what they're composed of. Except, what took them weeks of careful analysis, I could do in seconds with Devastator."

David slowly lowered the card. "And... that's a real job?"

"Oh yes," said Devastator. "I could take a core sample from an exploration dig in some god-forsaken hole in the earth, and tell in ten seconds if there were traces of gold or oil or rare earths, and at exactly what depth. I once had a construction company bring me a sample of the steel their suppliers were giving them, and spotted an impurity in the metal that would have cost them eight hundred million to fix after the fact. It's a job, David. Maybe not as thrilling as running around in a red suit and blowing up purse-snatchers, but then I didn't have a team of heroes to take me in and train me, now did I?"

"So then why did you stop?"

A hesitation, this time more noticeable, as Devastator seemed to to freeze for a few seconds. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet, almost a whisper.

"I worked for a company called Geolex," said Devastator. "A large oil and natural gas firm based in Gotham. A good company, with good people in it. Technically, I didn't have the qualifications for the job, I didn't even have a degree, but I was their best analyst, so what the hell did they care? Within two years, I was the most senior spectroscopic expert they had. After three, I was running the department. I had an apartment, friends, I made embarrassingly good money.

And I met a woman there named Stephanie..." a small tremor, barely noticeable, ran over Devastator as he spoke the name. "She was an exploratory geologist, one of the best. We were... close." He stopped again, taking a deep breath before lifting his head once more to look David in the eye.

"And then one day, I came home from Geolex, and I found the Joker waiting for me."

David froze, froze like one of the statues that surrounded him, staring at his counterpart with wide eyes and parted lips. How long he stood there, he did not know, the single name arresting in its place everything he had been disposed to say. At length, it was Devastator who, viewing David's reaction, smirked, and ventured a comment.

"I trust you've heard of him before?"

The question loosened David's brain enough to restore the connection between his brain and throat. "The... the Joker ?" he asked, half-incredulous. "Why?"

"You're not seriously asking me to explain the Joker's motivations, are you?" said Devastator. "I was nobody. Just an analyst. I walked in the door, and there he was, along with a dozen of his goons. Turns out, he'd broken out of Arkham Asylum a few hours before. Maybe he picked my place at random. Maybe he knew about Devastator somehow and wanted to see what made me tick. I have no idea. They chloroformed me before I could even shout. And I woke up inside some demented fun-house, along with Stephanie, a madwoman in a suit of motley, a dozen criminal psychotics with automatic weapons, and the clown prince himself."

Ruined and aged though the figure might have been, to hear his own voice describe such a thing as this sent a chill that nothing else here had quite managed to engender running down David's spine. "What did he do?" he asked, certain even as he asked it that he did not want to know the answer.

"Whatever he wanted," said Devastator. "Which, given the Joker... well... I think you can imagine. And if you can't, then I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say, he was the one who did this ."

Slowly, Devastator lifted his hand and pointed to the lifeless blanks that served him as eyes. And following his hand, David beheld for the first time up close the rough scars that radiated from the white orbs across his upper face.

"He used acid," said Devastator evenly, and David could not suppress the shudder that shot through him. "Said it was a kindness. That I wouldn't have to see what he was going to do to Stephanie. But of course, that wasn't true at all. Because I had Devastator, and Devastator let me see without my eyes." Devastator hesitated, but only for an instant. "So I got to watch," he said, "in glorious technicolor, as he beat her to death with a mallet."

David could only stare in horror as Devastator laid out what had happened simply, without hysterics. His mind dulled by everything that had happened and everything he had just been told, he asked the first question that popped into his head.

"Why didn't you stop him?"

Staring vacantly into the space above David's head, Devastator reacted to the question as though someone had just slapped him in the face. Instantly, he rounded on David in outraged anger.

"Stop him?" he asked, incredulously. "With what ? Devastator? I had no idea how to use Devastator! I was a civilian , a chemical engineer, not a goddamned vigilante! Could you have stopped something like Joker before you met the Titans?" David recoiled before Devastator's indignation, but could not conjure up any words to meet it, and Devastator simply raged on without him. "I made a terrible mistake, David. I assumed that if I left the rest of the world alone, it would pay me the same complement. I was not prepared to deal with something like the Joker, not on any conceivable level. I could have armed myself with the power of Devastator, but I made a choice not to, the same choice you made, ever since you were old enough to suspect what really happened in that car accident. And for that choice, I was tortured, and Stephanie was killed. Please do not insult me by assuming that you are somehow going to find solutions that I should have thought of. I spent enough time in my own personal hell to listen to second guesses from you ."

A thousand possible answers came to mind at once, none of them managing to force their way to the fore, and so David stood dumb in front of Devastator, and said nothing as the fire drained from his lifeless eyes, and he slowly returned to his previous, casual demeanor. Only after the transformation was once more complete did David muster the wherewithal to change the subject.

"How did you survive?"

It was no more pleasant, to judge the reaction, but Devastator did not explode or shout once more. Instead he narrowed his eyes, his hand gripping the head of his cane tightly, and answered in a dead monotone that augured nothing good.

"Six days after I was taken," he said, "Batman found us. Apparently, Stephanie and I weren't the only ones Joker kidnapped. Batman broke in, just as Joker was getting ready to have more 'fun' with me. Joker had goons, weapons, death traps, but none of it mattered. In about five minutes, Batman clobbered all the thugs, beat Joker to a pulp, and... 'rescued' me. I don't remember much of the aftermath, just waking up in a hospital, with some policeman asking me questions, and promising that Joker would go away for good. That... justice would be done." He hesitated a moment. "As though that were even possible."

Slowly, Devastator lowered his head, lifting his cane casually with one hand and turning it with his fingers, looking into the silver handle as though it were a crystal ball that could summon up visions of the past.

"I was in that hospital for three months," said Devastator. "Two months into my stay, Joker broke out of Arkham again. This time he killed thirteen people with a sniper rifle before Batman caught him. Once again, he was beaten to a pulp, arrested, and dragged back to Arkham. Justice, apparently, had been done."

David said nothing, and Devastator simply sighed. "I got out of the hospital eventually, returned home, but I couldn't go back to Geolex and pretend that everything was normal again. It wasn't the scars or the blindness, it was... me. People I knew, friends, colleagues, they kept telling me I had to 'let go' of what had happened. They recommended I talk to people, doctors or head shrinks that would help me 'let it go'." Devastator raised his head sharply, looking back at David with a stare that was piercing despite the lack of eyes. "None of them even considered the possibility that I didn't want to 'let it go'. I didn't know what I wanted, but I wanted something. Closure perhaps, I didn't know how to describe it, but I stayed where I was, trying to find it."

David said nothing, and Devastator's eyes darted back to the cane in his hand once again. "And then, maybe six weeks after I left the hospital, Joker broke out again . Him and several other super-criminals. He didn't kill anyone this time, but he slashed open the faces of a couple of civilians, stitched their grins from ear to ear. A trademark I guess. His rampage only lasted a couple hours, but I listened to the entire thing on the radio, the press conference and the hourly updates, the police bulletins, and the cheers and relief after Batman swooped in to save the day, again. And as Joker was packed back off to Arkham once more, all of a sudden, I realized exactly what it was that I wanted."

"What did you want?" asked David.

Devastator looked up at him, the firelight reflecting off his scarred face and empty eyes. They stared at one another in silence, David apprehensively, Devastator coldly.

"I left Gotham," said Devastator, ignoring the question. "I went up into the mountains, into Appalachia, where nobody would look for me. Where I could prepare without being disturbed. And there, I taught myself how to use Devastator properly."

As he spoke, the cane in his hand burst once more into heatless flames in his hand, and he turned it over, as though admiring his own handiwork. "It was a long, slow process," he said. "I didn't have Robin or Raven or anyone else to teach me how to wield Devastator. I had to figure it all out for myself, practicing on rocks and trees and abandoned coal mines." He considered the matter in silence for a moment, and turned back to David with a smirk. "Then again," he said, "I also wasn't as conflicted as you were about what I was doing. I knew why I was learning to use Devastator, and what I planned to do with it once I was ready. It was an agonizing process, as I'm sure you can relate to. But after a little more than a year, I decided it was time to do what I wanted to do."

Lowering the cane back to the ground, Devastator let it burn as he held it with his fingertips, and he straightened himself up to full height before facing David and answering the question he hadn't asked.

"I returned to Gotham," said Devastator. "I told no one that I was back, I simply rented a hotel room and waited for what I knew would come. And sure enough, about a month later, Joker broke out of Arkham again. This time he tried to nerve gas a kindergarden. Batman managed to stop him before he could go through with it, and he dragged Joker back to Arkham once again. And the night after he returned Joker to the asylum, I left my hotel room, caught a ferry to Arkham Island, and once there..." a hesitation, but only a small one, "... I indulged in a bit of reciprocity."

A cold feeling seeped into David's gut as he finished Devastator's thought for him with what he assumed he was about to hear.

"You killed the Joker," he said, "didn't you?"

Devastator simply smiled.

"No," he said. "I killed everyone ."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat ;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"Star?"

Starfire lifted her eyes, lowering the magazine to the counter as she did so. "I am... sorry," she said as she tried to recollect the conversation from a moment ago. "What was the question you wished for me to answer?"

Robin smiled, not that anyone besides those in the room would have described it as such. The mask made it hard for most people to tell if he was happy or preparing to throw explosives at their heads. "Did you want anything besides mustard?"

"Oh! No, thank you," exclaimed Starfire. "Unless... are there any more of those wonderful spices that went so well with Cyborg's chili?"

"Um... you mean the breath mints?" asked Robin.

"Are there any remaining?" she asked.

"I'll er... check," said Robin, stooping and opening the cabinets beneath him.

A fresh chorus of beeps and bangs emerged from the television as Beast Boy's digital avatar defeated another wave of multicolored ninjas. He sat hunched forward on the couch, his tongue sticking out of one side of his mouth, glaring at the screen as he punched a fresh series of commands into the game-station controller.

"You better do better than that if you wanna take down my best time," said Cyborg, sitting next to Beast Boy with his arms crossed. "I'd have been halfway to the boss by now."

"Dude, watch and learn," said Beast Boy without glancing away from the screen for even a second. "I'm just getting warmed up."

"Sure," said Cyborg. "Look, nobody's gonna think any less of you if you just admit that you ain't got a chance of beating the reigning king of - "

There was a loud, swirling explosion of light and sound, as red flames emerged from Beast Boy's digital avatar, and every enemy ninja on screen vanished, replaced a second later by a series of large numbers. Beast Boy laughed as the figure advanced once again, and Cyborg's boast died in his throat. He fell silent, content to watch and see what Beast Boy might be able to do.

"So... how does this thing work again?"

Sitting in one of the chairs along the side of the room, David held an indigo jewel the size of a chicken's egg in one hand, turning it over as though it were some strange machine of unknown function. Across from him, Raven sat cross-legged on another chair, a similar jewel cupped in her hands.

"You're supposed to focus on the soul-stone. It'll change color as you concentrate on it, and the colors represent different states of mind. You can use those to... what?"

David was looking nervously down at the gem in his hand, glancing back up at Raven evasively.

"I er... it's just when I concentrate, I don't really see colors..."

Raven let out a low groan. "You're not supposed to destroy it," she said. "It's a meditation aid. Don't use your powers, just concentrate on it normally."

Judging from David's expression, Raven's instructions were not helping overmuch. "Um... okay..." he said, lowering his eyes to the bauble and staring into it as though expecting a picture to appear within.

"All set," said Robin, and Starfire turned back to see him sliding a plate of the worm-like substance humans called "spaghetti" over to her. She knew of course what most of the others thought of Tamaranean cooking, but the first time she'd seen spaghetti, she had nearly lost the contents of all seven stomachs. Since forcing herself to try some, she had discovered that it didn't taste anything like the Eridanian slime tendrils she had initially assumed it was related to. Nevertheless, the resemblance was so strong that she normally avoided it. This time however, the plate Robin slid across the counter to her was covered liberally with delightful yellow mustard, and sprinkled with the spices she had discovered only recently.

She dug in with gusto, even as Robin prepared a number of other portions, eschewing the mustard and mints. "So, Star... did you still want to do that patrol?"

Hesitating only for a second, Starfire quickly gulped down the mouthful of mustard-slathered spaghetti, and turned back to Robin. "Oh, yes," she said. "I should enjoy that very much."

"Great," said Robin with a smile. "Petty crime's up 20% around the park, and the police are overstretched, so these patrols should really help clean things up."

"Of... course," said Starfire. "When may we begin?"

"Well, I was thinking we'd start tomorrow. Today we'll be doing a double-training session."

A buzzer sounded on Beast Boy's video game system, simultaneous with a loud, muffled thud, as David dropped the crystal he was holding on the carpetted floor. Cyborg turned his head around with an expression of disbelief, and even Raven cracked an eye open at the news.

"Are you serious ?" asked Cyborg. "Doubles again?"

"It's a light day," said Robin. "We might not get too many more of those. And there's some new routines I'd like to practice."

"Dude," wailed Beast Boy, "that'll be three double sessions in four days. Are you trying to kill us?"

"A little effort never killed anybody, Beast Boy," said Robin.

"Couldn't we have gotten a little warning?" asked Raven. "I've got some books I wanted to finish this afternoon"

"Criminals don't give warning," said Robin, a small smirk appearing on his face. "Neither do I."

David didn't say anything, but sagged his head and wearily picked the crystal up off the floor, rubbing his eyes with his free hand as he quite obviously tried to figure out how he was going to get through this one. Elsewhere, the grumblings continued, but only briefly, as everyone, even Cyborg and Beast Boy, knew that talking Robin into lightening the training schedule was somewhere between an impossibility and an absurdity.

Starfire remained quiet as well, mechanically eating bites of her food as she thought things over for a little while. It wasn't until Cyborg and Beast Boy had returned their attention to their game, Raven and David to their respective crystals, and Robin to the dishwasher, that she ventured a question.

"Cyborg," she asked casually. "Did you... encounter any difficulties on Tuesday when you and David were on patrol in the park?"

"Huh?" asked Cyborg, still watching the screen. "No, nothin' really. Just a cat up a tree and a couple of lost tourists. Why?"

"Cyborg?" repeated Starfire, adding a little more force to her voice. This time Cyborg turned around, to find Starfire staring intently at him. "Did... perhaps the local law enforcement authorities mention anything happening?"

She saw the understanding crystallize in Cyborg's one human eye. "Oh," he said. "Um... yeah. Yeah one of the park cops said that there's been a bunch of uh... purse-snatchings?" He raised his eyebrow at Starfire, who nodded slightly. "Yeah... yeah it was purse-snatching. Said they didn't know how they were gonna stop it."

Robin turned around, his mask shifted to show that he was raising an eyebrow. "Why didn't you tell me about this?"

"I... uh..." stammered Cyborg. "Well... you see... uh."

"I... forgot to," interrupted David. "I... er... I told Cy that I'd tell you, Robin, but..."

"But," added Starfire, coming to the rescue, "he told me instead, and that is why I wanted to ask Cyborg what he discovered. I only recalled it moments ago."

Robin looked from face to face to face, his mask effectively hiding whatever he might have thought of all this. "Did the police say anything about suspects?" he asked at length, not directing the question towards anyone in particular.

"Uh... no," said Cyborg. "They um... said they didn't know if it was all the same guy or whatever. But they said that if we could step our patrols up around that area a little bit - ."

" - Then perhaps we could defeat or deter the resumption of container-theft perpetrated against the citizens of the city!" exclaimed Starfire. "Perhaps we should commence immediately so as to properly deter these acts of larceny!"

Robin said nothing, looking back and forth from Cyborg to Starfire, his mask hiding all signs of what he might be thinking, as usual. "I'm... not sure that - "

"Robin," said Starfire, straightening up and looking him in the eyes. "Surely we cannot allow such crimes to go unchallenged, can we?"

She knew she had him even before he did.

"I... guess we can start the patrols today," said Robin at last. And it was fortunate that he did so while looking at Starfire, for he could thereby not see David's sigh of relief, Raven's smirk, or Cyborg mouthing the words 'thank you'.

"Excellent!" said Starfire, judging it prudent to ignore all of the above gestures. "I have no doubt we shall extirpate this scourge from the recreational spaces of the city." Robin didn't look terribly convinced in her opinion, but he didn't object or seem inclined to change his mind, and Starfire supposed it didn't really matter why he agreed in the end.

Robin sat back down at the counter, looking rather like he had just had his own handbag stolen and was trying to figure out how it had happened. Starfire suppressed the urge to smile. It would not be the first time or the last that Robin would decide to simply accept that he had agreed to this sort of thing for legitimate reasons. And if the others felt they owed her for getting out of a double training session, so much the better...

A loud burst of static-like noise came from the television, accompanied by a deep rumble that set the windows to rattling. Robin grimaced and turned his head to where Beast Boy was still cutting a swatch through the multicolored ninjas.

"Beast Boy, turn that thing down," said Robin. "You'll short out the electrical - "

There was a thunderous crash, and the entire tower shook as though an earthquake had just jolted the island it sat upon. Both Raven and David dropped their respective crystals, and Beast Boy his controller. The television, shaken from its moorings on the wall, fell silent as the cords connecting it to the speakers came loose, yet the rumble did not cease, growing louder and louder, like an approaching herd of stampeding buffalo.

"Dude!" exclaimed Beast Boy as everyone scrambled to their feet. "What gives?"

"I don't know." said Cyborg, consulting a display built into his arm. "Some kind of weird energy signal coming from outside the tower. I can't tell what it... incoming !"

There was a momentary flash, followed by a deafening explosion, and a shockwave so intense that it threw everyone to the floor. The shriek of rending metal mixed with the clash of shattering glass and ceramic, and the air was suddenly choked with smoke, dust, and fine debris. Starfire landed on her side, the stool she had been sitting on crashing to the ground atop her, and she shoved it off and pushed herself back up, waving the smoke out of her face as she tried to determine what had just -

She froze.

The entire front wall of the common room was gone, as though peeled off by a giant can opener and cast into the sea. And looming in the newly-made entrance were a phalanx of enormous, flying, reptilian beings, green-scaled and red-eyed, bearing polished, golden armor and a slew of various weapons, each one nastier-looking than the next. But Starfire's eyes were locked, not on the front rank of alien warriors, but on the one who loomed behind them. A hulking behemoth fully two feet taller than all of the rest, whose armor bore intricate carvings and symbols to testify to his exalted rank, and whose right eye was narrowed to a squint by an ugly, jagged scar running up the side of his face.

"Princess Koriand'r," said the scarred alien with a raspy hiss. "How I've missed you..."

Whatever words Starfire had intended to speak turned to stone in her throat, and she stumbled backwards without even realizing that she was moving. Desperately, she tried to speak, shout a warning, even just scream, but all she could manage was a feeble cry, formless and lost in the tumult that exploded to life moments later.

Before Robin could command the Titans to go, before everyone could even stand up, the common room was suddenly filled with aliens, slashing and shooting and roaring as they tore into everything within claw's reach. Starfire could see nothing but a swirling mass of dark green, punctuated by the shrieks of metal and the cold zap of magic, as flashes of color revealed where her friends were being swarmed over.

A green, scaly claw seized her shoulder, closing around it like a vice, and a leering, reptilian face filled her vision, jagged teeth slavering as the other claw reached for her face. She screamed, and felt her eyes burning as she vented her rage and horror through them, and a second later the face was gone, as her optical starbolt smashed the alien into the ceiling and threw him out the window from whence he had come.

More aliens loomed before her, grim-faced and armed with poleaxes and vibro-swords, and she leaped up into the air, trying to find her friends, to see what she could do to help them. It was hopeless. A dozen aliens leaped after her, grabbing her feet and arms, dragging her back to the ground, so many that she could not throw them all off, nor lay them all out with starbolts and eyebeams. She heard gunfire, the impact of waspish projectiles on counter-tops and walls, and even screams, all too human but otherwise unrecognizable, yet none of the aliens employed such weapons on her, no matter how many of them she struck, or threw, or shot.

She was still struggling when a shadow fell over her, so profound that she thought the power had been cut. She looked up to find a dark form looming over her, red eyes like slits their only feature. And then she felt another claw on her shoulder, just as cold and scaly as the last, and yet the tiny details of shape and feel and pressure were such that instantly, she knew who it was, and every muscle in her body locked up at once.

"You didn't seriously think you could escape me forever," came the silken, wraith-like voice, "did you, Koriand'r?"

Blind panic took her, and she screamed and fought, writhing like a live wire, but his time the claw would not release her, no matter how she struggled or where she shot. Her eyebeams and starbolts seemed to melt right into the shadowy figure, displacing it only for moments before it snapped back into being. She felt herself being lifted, felt the other aliens fall away as the large shadow held her pinned, raising her up until she was staring directly into its eyes, one intact, one a twisted ruin, both leering.

"Have you missed me?"

The smell of his breath, the timbre of his voice, the feel of his claws, all came rushing back to her like behaviors long left fallow, and she felt frenzied terror welling up within her like a hot liquid. Unable to turn away, to speak, or even to scream, she marshaled what willpower she had while she still had it, and packing every last ounce of emotion into her clenched fists, she conjured fire and let it loose.

There was a terrible rending sound, the screech of protesting metal, and the crash as its protests were overcome by gravity and heat, and a second later she was in freefall, as the floor beneath her and her captor sublimated to vapor. She heard him snarl, felt his grip falter, saw him fall away as he plunged into the darkness below. An instant later, and she landed in the middle of a corridor on her side, seconds before half a ton of steel, wiring, and burning insulation crashed down atop her, and she lost track of the alien entirely.

Clawing like a frightened animal, Starfire tore through the debris that covered her, pulling herself free, heedless of what she might break in the process. What injury the debris might have inflicted did not even cross her mind, as she turned this way and that, seeking her enemy and not finding him. From the hole overhead, she heard more cries, cries of pain and panic, so many and so muffled by the roars of the other aliens that she could not determine whose they were, and she leaped up to fly back to the common room and help her friends, only to find that she could not fly, her emotions refusing to manifest the boundless joy that customarily accompanied taking to the air. Again and again she jumped, unable to even brush the broken ceiling with her fingertips, and with each jump, and each unanswered scream from above, she felt the joy of flight receding further and further.

And then she saw him.

The corridor was dark, the power was apparently out, but from one side she saw him appear, a vague, formless shape on the edge of her ability to detect, save for the eyes that seemed to grow out of the darkness itself. From where she stood, she could only barely trace the outlines of his body with her eyes, in which conditions he seemed to swell and recede; an amorphous presence carved from her very nightmares. Stepping back, she fired starbolt after starbolt into him, yet he did not recoil or fall, the flashes of bright green serving only to illuminate his terrible form for thousandths of a second before he vanished once more into the gloom.

Suddenly, he lunged forward, and before her mind could process what he was doing, Starfire's body had already leaped backwards and her throat emitted another cry of alarm. The eyes narrowed just enough to show that he was grinning, and then they advanced anew, heedless of what she might throw at him, his whiplike tail snapping divots in the steel walls as he advanced.

Feeble cries, growing steadily feebler, still emerged from the common room above, but Starfire could not tear her eyes away from the alien advancing on her. She fell back, pace for pace, desperately seeking for something else to throw in his path, finding nothing. He quickened his pace, broke into a run, his arms extended forward, claws grasping at the air, and her nerve broke, and she turned, and ran, racing as quickly as she could down the mazelike passages, her thoughts bare save for escape and succor.

Down dark corridors and around blind corners she ran, relying on muscle memory and instinct to avoid dead ends, as the artillery-like footfalls of her pursuer pounded in her ears. Unable to calculate what the nearest room of any use was, all she could do was run, hurling starbolts over her shoulder, and try to come up with a plan that —

A bolt of energy the size of a dinner plate screamed past her head and exploded thirty yards up the hallway, collapsing the ceiling in a hail of debris. With bare inches to spare, Starfire slid to a stop, turning back to see the enormous alien charging towards her at full speed. Another energy bolt was already forming in his hands as Starfire blindly slammed her hand into one of the door control panels beside her, and raced through the sliding door that opened...

… only to stop.

So worked up that she had not been paying attention to where she was running, she now found herself standing inside the cavernous reaches of the tower's training room, a vast, formless expanse, bare of all equipment when not in use. But what came to her mind above all else, was that not only was the training room's walls, ceiling, and floor all armored against the powers the Titans wielded, but it was entirely devoid of exits, save for the one she had just entered by.

She heard the door slide open a second time, followed by the low, staccato chuckle she knew so well.

"All this time, I've looked for you, Princess," came the voice of the alien leader as Starfire turned around slowly, only to find him standing in the doorway, leaning on the frame, his claws drumming against the steel.

"Tell me, what shall we talk about?"

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

An orphan's curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high ;
But oh ! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man's eye !
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.


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"Arkham Asylum housed the worst criminals in the world. The ones Batman drew to Gotham like a flame drawing moths. Psychopaths, Serial killers, carnivorous metahuman monsters of various types. I'd never paid any of them any attention until the Joker came for me, but after that, I became a regular criminologist. Case file after case file, each one as thick as your arm. Murder, arson, kidnapping, torture, terrorism, cannibalism, the worst perversions that men can inflict on one another. It was all there. And nobody would lift a finger to stop them."

"That's... that's not true!" exclaimed David. "You know that's not true! Batman - "

"Batman ," hissed Devastator, "was a placebo. He'd fight them every time they broke out of jail, but only so that he could drag them all back to jail once again, where they would inevitably break out all over again. Joker had been imprisoned so many times, the case files couldn't even keep track. There were two dozen others just as bad. And every time they broke out, more people died. More people were maimed or brutalized or kidnapped. People like Stephanie. People like me. How long was it supposed to go on before someone did something about it? Something real ?"

David's head swam. "But... all of them?" he asked. "How did you even do that?"

"The most direct way possible," said Devastator. "I laid waste to the entire asylum. I consumed it in fire like the pest-house it was. Cell by cell, building by building, I gave them no chance to run, take up weapons, or fight back. I hit them while they were locked away, helpless and alone. It was only fitting. In less than an hour, I destroyed dozens of the worst monsters to ever walk the earth. Crane, Dent, Falcone, Zsasz... criminals responsible collectively for over six thousand counts of murder. But the crowning jewel was Joker himself."

Devastator raised his head slightly, staring up sightlessly into the cavernous void above. "I suppose I should have used a mallet," he said. "But I wasn't fool enough to put myself in arm's reach. So instead I let him burn. I watched him burn. And then I crushed his cell like an egg, buried it in twenty thousand tons of debris, and pulverized the entire building into rubble." A bitter smirk crossed his face. "And what do you know?" he said almost whimsically. "He stopped laughing."

"But - " stammered David, trying to keep himself focused, "but what about the guards... the wardens, the doctors? There must have been hundreds of civilians in Arkham"

"I concentrated on the cellblocks," said Devastator. "Most of the civilians just ran away or hid on remote parts of the island. But some of the guards... well... they tried to stop me."

It took David a second to make the obvious leap. "So... you killed them?"

"I had no choice," said the older man. "They were using lethal force, and you may have noticed that Devastator doesn't have a stun setting. It was them or me."

Horrified, David spoke before he could decide if it was a good idea or not. "What gave you the right to kill innocent people?"

It was not a good idea. Devastator's head shot back down, the cane in his hand flaring up like a bonfire. "What gave me the right ?" he asked, sounding incredulous. "You want to talk to me about rights ?" He strode towards David, even as David fell back towards the wall.

"Let me ask you a different question, David," said Devastator as he advanced. "Where did I get the rest of my rights? Because I had the right to be beaten . I had the right to be maimed . To have acid poured into my eyes. I had the right to be crippled, and broken, and to have things taken from me. Nobody seemed to object to those rights. But when I finally decided to hit back, then suddenly everyone wanted to talk about rights ! Well you know what? Maybe I don't give a damn about who had the right to do what to who! I killed the Joker like the dog he was ! I don't regret it for an instant! And if people died trying to stop me from ending the Joker, who had shown time and again that he would kill, and kill, and kill, and kill , until someone put him down, then to hell with them !"

David didn't know what to say to any of that, and so said nothing, as Devastator loomed overhead. For a second, David thought that the older man might blow him up, or strike him with his cane, but slowly he seemed to cool down, withdrawing a pace or two as he did so.

"Not everyone's content to be a victim forever just to assuage the conscience of those who have no understanding of what it feels like to be helpless," said Devastator. "I refused to allow myself to be a statistic. If Joker could hurt me, then I could hurt him right back. Him and everyone like him. And a pox on anyone who tried to stop me. You don't place yourself between the devil and the deep blue sea, and then get to act surprised when you wind up in Hell."

For a time, David and Devastator simply watched one another, staring in silence, as though neither one were willing to break it. At length though, Devastator continued.

"Batman found me in the ruins of the asylum," said Devastator, the fire subdued, his voice quiet, "working over the remnants of the Joker's cellblock." A soft smile. "I think he expected me to fight, but I'd already done what I had come to do, and Batman had no part of that. He made his appearance, and I surrendered. Quietly. And I permitted him to take me to jail."

David watched Devastator with an inscrutable expression. "Jail?" he asked.

"Well he couldn't very well take me to Arkham Asylum, now could he?" asked Devastator, the smile broadening. "Besides, I wasn't insane."

David waited just a moment longer than usual before responding. "You obliterated an entire asylum and killed hundreds of people," he said. "All to take revenge against someone who hurt you."

"No, David," said Devastator, leaning in close, his voice calm like the lull before a hurricane. "I obliterated an entire asylum, and killed hundreds of people, because no one else would. If I hadn't killed the Joker, if I hadn't destroyed Arkham, and slaughtered its inmates, then hundreds of other people, maybe thousands, people who had done nothing but live their lives, would have died. Brutally. That day, a week later, a month, a year, at some point those maniacs were all going to escape again. And neither the police, nor Batman, nor anyone else seemed to be capable or willing to ensure that they did not." He stood back up straight, staring down at David like a headmaster. "Every one of them deserved what they got. No thinking being on Earth would have questioned that. And I do not, for an instant, regret giving it to them."

Fighting to keep his voice calm and his nerves under control, David looked up at his scarred counterpart. "Is that what you told the police?"

"More or less," said Devastator. "They made me speak to doctors and psychologists, who concluded that I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." Another smile. "I guess I can't really argue that one. There was, apparently, a great deal of debate as to whether I was fit to stand trial for my actions, something about whether or not I knew what I was doing was wrong." He sighed. "It was all window-dressing, really. I hadn't done all this just to hide behind the same defence my victims had used."

"So what happened?"

"My case was a sensation. Wiping out half of Gotham's endemic maniacs in one swoop generated attention. Dozens of lawyers lined up to defend me at no charge, just to make their reputations. I got death threats, marriage proposals, requests for interviews from every media personality I'd ever heard of. My case was debated on television and the internet in every permutation." A pause. "To be honest, I was fairly indifferent to it all. Nobody in jail bothered me, they knew what I could do, and I was left alone to think things over. I'd never really planned ahead beyond killing the Joker. I didn't know what I wanted to do." He stopped, this time for longer, but David waited in silence for him to resume.

"Then one day," said Devastator, averting his gaze. "I received a message from someone I'd never heard of. His name was something Arabic-sounding... 'Ras Al Ghul' I think it was, and he claimed to speak for some group called the 'League of Shadows'. He said that he admired my... 'fortitude' he called it. And that he wanted to know if I was willing to assist him. There were, he claimed, a great many people who just as deserving of death as the Joker. People who were in the process of ruining everything they touched. Politicians, industrialists, metahumans, all sorts. His organization was apparently dedicated to the elimination of these individuals, and he was therefore enquiring if I would participate. He claimed that if I agreed, I could look forward to rewards beyond my wildest imaginings."

"And did you?"

Devastator raised his eyes back to meet David's. "No," he said. "Ras Al Ghul was a lunatic. An eco-terrorist who thought mass genocide was the solution to global warming. But his message did make me start to think, because he wasn't entirely wrong. The Joker had hurt me. Two-face, Scarecrow, and the rest of Arkham's inmates had not, at least not directly, and yet I'd killed them, and found after the fact that I felt better having done so. And the reason I felt better, ultimately, was because they were scum . Brutal, thuggish, violent scum, whose very existence upon the Earth brought nothing but misery and death to those unfortunate enough to cross their paths. And while this League of Shadows may have thought everyone was just as awful, there were others who did meet those criteria. I had always known on some level that, even if I managed to evade the charges against me, I was never going to be able to go back to Geolex and stare at soil samples again. I had... declared myself. Crossed the line. I was committed, for better or worse. So one night, thinking these things over, I simply decided to leave."

David blinked. "Leave?" he asked. "What do you mean leave?"

Devastator smiled. "Come, David, you must know that there's no prison in existence that could hold us. Bars and walls and security fences? Even you could punch through any of those without breaking a sweat. My biggest challenge was not accidentally destroying any load-bearing walls. The guards who tried to stop me found that their tasers and guns all mysteriously broke, and anyone brave enough to accost me physically had their truncheons transformed into rocket engines and were pitched through the nearest window. By the time Batman or anyone else could arrive to stop me, I was long gone. They hunted for a while of course, but I hadn't escaped for the purpose of going on a crime spree. I kept my head down, disappeared into the crowd, and they never found a trace."

Devastator stepped back again, this time drawing the packet of cigarettes from his pocket, drawing one out and placing it in his mouth. He produced neither lighter nor matches, yet a second later the tip of the cigarette flared orange of its own accord. As he replaced the pack in his pocket, Devastator drew a deep breath and the burning ember changing to a deep red, before he removed the cigarette from his teeth and blew a stream of smoke into the still air.

"Nine months after Arkham," he said, the burning cigarette tracing a red slash through the air as he gestured with his hand, "a man by the name of Felix Faust surfaced in central Africa. Faust was a sorcerer of some sort, wanted by every national and international police force on the planet, mundane or meta-human. He was in Africa in search of some sort of mystical artifacts he needed to perform a ritual that would, of course, have granted him omnipotent power." He smiled, as though remembering something amusing. "They're always after omnipotent power."

David said nothing, and Devastator continued. "Faust fueled his magical talents by, I'm not making this up, sacrificing the souls of children to dark gods." Devastator's face twisted into a sneer as he spoke on, using the cigarette like a laser pointer as he gestured around him. "The area he appeared in was remote and lawless and filled with people too poor and too unimportant for the world at large to care about. The heroes, or what was left of them, didn't find out about his plan until it was nearly too late, as usual." The sneer became a cruel smile. "But I'd been watching Faust for some time. Following in his footsteps, locating his allies and suppliers. When he finally turned up, the heroes went after him. They claimed they wanted to capture him, put him on trial, imprison him in some kind of corrective facility, because that had worked so well the previous eight times. Unfortunately for them, I got there first."

"What did you do?" asked David, in the voice of one who wasn't certain they wanted the answer.

Devastator's eyes narrowed and his smile vanished. "I did what any reasonable person would," he said. "I slaughtered his minions. I shattered his magical implements. I brought his improvised fortress crashing down around him. And then I dragged him into the center of the nearest town of note and spent the better part of a day running a tractor over his head."

David tried, and failed, to suppress the shudder that ran through him at that clinical description. Devastator merely shook his head.

"If you think that's excessive, David, please bear in mind that you didn't see what I found in that fortress of his."

There was nothing in the world right now that David wanted to know less, than what Devastator had found in the fortress of Felix Faust.

"What does any of this have to do with the Titans?" asked David.

At the question, Devastator did not answer immediately, but smiled and took a half-step back, letting the smoke from his cigarette curl up towards the open ceiling.

"The world of Metahumans is incredibly incestuous," said Devastator. "Everyone is related to everyone else, by blood, by adoption, by kinship, by long association. People change sides, they change affiliations, they connect, they fall apart. Everyone has a connection to everyone else. And not infrequently, the tightest, closest connection is between enemies. The Joker and Batman, Luthor and Superman. Faust was only the beginning. I went after others, hardened murderers, predators, warlords, human smugglers, serial killers, anyone who thought that the rest of the world existed to feed their depraved fantasies. I took down generals and presidents and board chairmen, but my specialty was always Metahumans, and if I made a mistake, it was in underestimating the interconnectivity of their world. Every one of them I killed, every monster I destroyed, every demon I exorcised from the Earth, every one knew someone. They were tied to someone. They had connections with someone, no matter how depraved. And that someone tended to take what I did poorly."

"So who did you kill?" asked David. "Who did you kill that crossed the line? Who brought the Titans down on you?"

Devastator didn't answer, concentrating instead on his cigarette. Slowly, David stood up from the wall, and began to approach him.

"I know the Titans came back," said David, his movements careful but precise. "I watched you fighting them. They got back together and started working as a team again. By then, you were already... what did you call it? A contractor? A killer? But something happened to drive you into the Titans. Something specific. Something that made you hate them. What was it?"

Devastator fell back, slowly, watching the teenager like he was trying to decide between slicing his head off and retreating entirely. David did not let himself think beyond pressing the point.

"Who was it?" he asked. And when he got no response, he repeated the question, loud and commanding.

"Who was it?"

"Who the hell do you think it was?" snapped Devastator at last. "You were a Titan. You know who it was, the only one it could have been! Who was the cancer that ate away at the city that the Titans claimed to protect? The one they refused to dispense with, even when they finally had the opportunity to do so? Who else, David, could it possibly have been?"

David hesitated before the barrage of questions, a thousand names flickering through his head like a rolodex. But one name, one name in particular flared up in his consciousness, one name that seemed always to be at the center of anything debased and diseased. And as David were considering whether or not that were even possible, Devastator answered his own question and removed all doubt.

"It was Slade," said Devastator, staring into David's eyes with the intensity of the mad. "Jump City's prince of darkness. I went after Slade, and for that presumption, everyone died."

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 07:56pm
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Joined: 2011-10-13 06:59am
Posts: 9
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Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread ;
But where the ship's huge shadow lay,
The charméd water burnt alway
A still and awful red.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Wind tore through Raven's hair and cloak, so much wind that it forced her eyes to slits, blinding her with driven snow and her own freezing tears. It roared in her ears like a savage beast, a steady, unending howl, rising and falling in pitch as she was buffeted and spun by the mad gusts. It drowned out everything, buried it in a mountain of indiscriminate noise, such that she could hear nothing, not even her own voice.

"There is no void deep enough for you to hide from what you have done."

Nothing, save of course for the one thing she would have given everything to drown out.

Free falling, spinning in three dimensions like a leaf in a hurricane, Raven struggled to even find some way of determining what direction was what. Beast Boy, Terra, even the infinite wall of ice that she had leaped from, all had been instantly swallowed up by the storm, leaving her to fall alone in a world comprised entirely of wind and snow. She could not even tell which way was down, so violent were the winds that hurled her this way and that. She could not tell if she was falling or being blown in some other direction.

Which left her alone with her own thoughts, to await whatever might be coming.

"Do you imagine yourself noble?"

Raven closed her eyes. They weren't doing her any good now anyway, and held her hands over her ears. It cut the roar of the wind, albeit only partly, but it did nothing to cut Azar's voice, still as clear as though they were sitting together in a still room.

"Is that what this was? Nobility? Expiation? Did you do it out of pique? To spite me? Poor little girl, beset by unfeeling taskmasters, who had the temerity to demand of her the same things they demanded of everyone else?"

"Stop it," moaned Raven, so soft that she couldn't barely hear herself.

"You were always so eager to have things stop. Didn't I teach you what time really was? Or did you forget that part too?"

"I didn't... forget," said Raven, curling herself into a ball as best she could as the wind carried her about.

"Of course not. You were always too smart for that. So there's another excuse denied you."

"Stop! " shouted Raven. "Just... Stop it, please ! I know what I did!"

"Do you? Because you still haven't accepted it. And I wonder if you ever will."

She forced her eyes open, if only to have something to look at, something to experience that wasn't the incessant droning in her head. She was plunging... down? Up? Plunging somewhere with hail driving into her face from every direction like bullets. There was no sense of distance or depth, no timing to it. She did not know if she was going to smash into the ground in ten seconds or two or an hour or fall forever into a bottomless void. And no matter where she turned or spun or looked, she couldn't see anything else.

"Why are you persisting with this infantile tantrum? What, exactly are you looking for at this late hour?"

"Where did you hide him?" she demanded aloud, of the wind perhaps, or the phantasms that haunted her mind.

"Nobody could ever hide anything from you, Raven. You were far too smart for that. Even as a little girl, the only way to deceive you was to convince you to deceive yourself."

"I didn't!"

"Yes, you did. You deceived yourself in the most masterful way possible. And you used your friends to do it."

The winds died all of a sudden, draining away like a tide, and Raven was left to fall, spinning lazily in three dimensions as she grasped with her fingertips for the solid objects she imagined lay just out of reach.

"I told you that Trigon would return. I told you what needed to be done to prevent his ascendancy. You swore to my face that you would do what was necessary when the time came. But when it did come, instead of fulfilling your promise to me, and to the universe at large, you destroyed everything. And you won't even admit to yourself why."

Through the snow-flecked darkness, a soft, blue glow slowly began to build at the dimmest reaches of Raven's vision, like an apparition fading into view, though what it portended, she could not know for certain.

"I know why I did it," she whispered.

"Do you?"

The glow slowly began to brighten, like a fluorescent bulb gradually approaching full power. It might have been some fresh monster, conjured up by Trigon to torture her further, or perhaps the first signs of the infinite field of ice towards which she was supposedly plunging. At this point, she wasn't certain that it mattered any more.

"You were afraid. You were afraid of death. Afraid of pain. Afraid of what might befall you. But instead of facing down your fear as you were taught, you permitted it to consume you, and to deflect you from the task you were given from birth. And for that presumption, all life in the universe will shortly - "

"That's not why!"

The wind picked up again, gusting out of some ill-defined place below and before her, spinning her like a gyroscope over and about.

"That is why. You were a coward , Raven, and that is why you are here."

Squeezing her eyes shut, as tears leaked from their corners, Raven felt the wind buffeting her this way and that. She pulled her arms in, curling up into a ball, barely daring to whisper further.

"I couldn't leave them," she said. "I couldn't..."

"Did you even try?"

"Yes!" she shouted in anguish, her eyes flying open once again, as though she expected some stern accuser to be present before her.

"You don't even believe that. You used their optimism as an excuse, absolving yourself of the need to make hard decisions by fobbing the responsibility for stopping Trigon the Terrible onto a handful of unprepared teenagers. You knew, in your heart of hearts, that they had no prayer of stopping your father. But you acted as though they could do it, because it let you make easy choices."

The bluish glow below her continued to gain in strength, but suddenly the snow stopped entirely, vanishing back into the gloom from whence it had come. And far below her, off to one side, Raven saw a distant object, plummeting down as she was with all the grace of a collapsing lawn chair. Yet as far away as it was, Raven could still make out the colors that cloaked it: purple, and black, and a fine, emerald green.

"And now look what you have wrought upon them."

For the first time tonight, Raven didn't hear what was said, for as soon as her eyes caught a glimpse of green, she turned and dove.

Mid-air gymnastics were not now, nor had they ever been her specialty, but the object was falling uncontrolled, and she had at least rudimentary ability to control her own motion. Gluing her arms to her sides and pointing her head down, she dove into the shimmering gloom, her cloak streaming out behind her as she plunged towards the glimpse of green she had seen. Again and again it vanished, as the fickle light that governed this place played tricks on her. Yet each time it re-appeared again, a little bit closer, a little bit bigger, a little bit removed from where it had been.

"You can never atone for what you have done."

Closer and closer she drew, gaining on the tumbling figure at a maddeningly slow pace. Bursts of wind, conjured up from nowhere, knocked her about over and over, sending her spinning like a top and pushing her away, but every time she righted herself, using her target as a landmark to sight herself in. Her progress was so slight that she felt she might never arrive, yet at the last, another burst of wind flipped them both, sending him spinning towards her. Barely, she managed to presence of mind to stretch out her hands, and grab his arm, before they were both blown away.

Weightless and motionless, Beast Boy lay insensate, spinning and twisting like a rag doll with every puff of wind. Streams of red blood droplets marked his progress down, leaking from dozens of abrasions, cuts and scrapes, some minor, some not. His eyes were closed, and he did not react when Raven grabbed his arm, nor when she pulled herself in to take hold of his belt and shirt. Clinging on for dear life, she shut her eyes against the suddenly angry wind as it threw them about, trying to rip her away from Beast Boy moments before slamming her into him again with tremendous force.

"Stop it!" she shouted, the wind so loud that she couldn't hear her own voice, even at a scream. Yet the person she was talking to heard her just fine.

"Stop it yourself. This is your doing, no one else's."

"I never wanted to hurt him!" she yelled back at the empty wind. "I never wanted any of this !"

"Whatever you wanted, you hurt him worse than you ever could know. To the point where, to retrieve you, he willingly plunged into Hell itself. That too, was your doing."

"No!" she shouted. "I told him there was nothing he could do! I warned them all!"

"And you expected that they would believe you? That he would? How is it possible, Raven, for you to have lived among them for so long and not known what he would do?"

"Yes, I knew! But I tried to - "

"Your disingenuous tries are not in question. You did not do the thing you knew would be effective. You did not leave."

Clinging tightly to Beast Boy's waist, lest the howling gale tear them apart, she could feel, hear , Beast Boy's heart, beating erratically within him, as it pumped more blood out of the thousand tiny breaches in his emerald skin. She could see his eyes moving under his eyelids, feel his muscles twitching uncontrollably, hear his breath, labored and congested, as his lungs fought to keep pumping. All of these things she could feel, see, hear, touch, and yet worse than all of them was the certain knowledge that there had once been a time when she could have fixed everything here with a wave of her hand.

"No," she said, her voice hollow even to her own ears. "I didn't leave."

"And in failing to do so, rendered all of your other excuses null and void. You had the opportunity to save him from this, and you chose not to act. That is why you are here, Raven. That is why you will always be here."

She felt a stinging sensation in her eyes, squeeze them shut though she might, and knotted her fingers into Beast Boy's shirt, holding onto him with the desperation of the damned.

"Then let him go," she said.

"I'm not keeping him here. You are."

Her head shot up, her eyes opening wide. "What?" she shouted into the storm.

"You heard him yourself. He came because of you. He refused his chance to leave because of you. He chose willingly to share your fate. There is nothing more that can be done for him."

"No!"

The last word was not a shout, but a scream, loud enough that she could hear it. Loud enough to echo, despite there being nothing physical to reflect the sound from. Loud enough that the wind died before it, and the snow ceased to blow. Loud enough that, for the first time tonight, she heard no reply at all.

"He came here to save me!" she shouted at nothing. "You don't get to keep him!"

"This is not a slave market. He is here because he chose to be."

"He chose to come after me! Even after all this!"

"He chose to attempt the impossible. He chose to attempt to absolve you."

Still falling freely, her arms locked around Beast Boy's waist, Raven stared off into the abyss as though something there could stare back at her. "Why is that impossible?" she demanded.

"Because the victory you gave to Trigon was decisive and complete. Because there is no hope of redressing the balance."

"No hope," said Raven, still staring emptily into the darkness. The rush of air past her face was quieter than it had been, enabling her to hear Beast Boy's labored breathing much clearer.

"None. The promise of your birth was absolute. It has been achieved. There is no hope."

Slowly, Raven turned her head back to Beast Boy, still twitching as though in the throes of a nightmare. Disjointed thoughts ran through her mind, swirling about her like satellites.

"Then why did he come here?"

"He told you that. He came here because you made him."

"I never made him do anything."

"You bound yourself into his life. Into all their lives. Instead of driving him away, as you were supposed to, you instead allowed him to affix himself to you. You did so with callous disregard for the consequences he would suffer. Is it any surprise that he would chase you into Hell?"

"Maybe not," said Raven, still looking down into Beast Boy's blood-spattered face and shivering features. "But nobody ever made Beast Boy do anything."

"You forged bonds of attachment with him, in full knowledge of what would transpire. The result was easily predictable. Don't pretend otherwise."

"He's not an animal !" she shouted all at once, another roar of defiance echoing off the walls of wind that enclosed her. "He's not some machine who does what he's told! He doesn't just do things because I make him!"

"No, he's not an animal. He's an addict."

"An... addict? Addicted to what?"

"To you. To what little validation you gave him. To the moments of empathy you afforded him. Their rarity only served to make them more precious in his eyes. His addiction, his dependency is what led him here, an addiction you fed, enabled, and shared in. Stop trying to shift the responsibility onto him. You're the only reason any of this happened."

Beast Boy's hands were balled into fists, tight enough to strain the seams of his gloves. His face twitched back and forth, as though he were jerking to escape some terrible pain, which for all Raven knew, was exactly what was happening. A mass of contradictory impulses flooded through her as she watched him, none of which she acted upon. None of which she knew how to act upon.

"If it's all my fault," she said. "If I addicted him to me, and all he's doing is what I made him do, then how come he's here ? If I'm responsible, then he didn't do anything wrong. It can't be his fault if it's all mine. He shouldn't be here!"

"And what made you think the universe had to be fair? Surely you know better by now."

The words were contemptuous, mocking, an adult amused by the pretenses of a little child. Yet Raven did not scream or curse or try and command everything to stop. Instead she paused, as something, deep inside the recesses of what had once been her mind, cast a weak, flickering light that she tried, as best she could, to grasp.

"It isn't fair," she said, not a complaint but a statement. "But... you taught me something. Something about this."

"It doesn't matter what I or anyone else said. Nothing matters now except your own culpability."

It was on the tip of her brain, she could feel it trying to burst out. Without thinking, she removed one hand from Beast Boy's shirt and held it to her head, clutching it, trying to force herself to remember the things she wasn't supposed to remember.

"You said..." she stammered, ignoring the winds that suddenly picked back up, roaring in her ears like an engine. "You said that... 'the universe is rarely fair... but always consistent.'"

"And what if I did?"

"It's... it's not..." Her brain was lathered in molasses, requiring herculean efforts just to get from moment to moment, yet she soldiered on regardless. "It's not... consistent , for him to be down here with me. He shouldn't be here. He didn't earn a ticket to Hell. He never did anything to deserve it."

"This is your hell, Raven. Has it occurred to you that he might just be here to torture you further?"

The thought floated around in her mind, and the images that came with it. Nightmares conjured up from her past of Beast Boy roasted alive, mutilated, tortured as an object lesson for her. Images so strong that they seemed to twist into her stomach like live vipers, threatening to drown everything out in a flood of pain and anguish. Yet the flickering light refused to be dowsed, shone on as the tides of fear washed around it, even managing to brighten.

"No," she said. "No... that... that can't be right."

"And why is that?"

"Because... he's here. With me. Before he came here, before he found me, when I was alone and nobody was ever going to come for me, that was Hell. But this... this is something else."

The light inside her grew, in perfect unison with the blue glow still looming up from somewhere far beneath them. Radiating outwards like a crystal in a solution of sugars, it seemed to be enveloping the entire world, faint tendrils spiralling off in random directions. She could not tell if it was growing, or if they were getting closer to smashing into it, but stared down into it as she addressed the phantoms that encircled her.

"He can't just be here to torture me," she said as she shifted around Beast Boy, no longer clinging to him in desperation, but holding onto him securely as though to protect him from something in the darkness that might snatch him away at any moment. "Having him here isn't torture."

"Then he must have earned his way in honestly."

"No !" she shouted, no scream of terror and impotence, but a barked shout, full of anger and refusal. "He couldn't have!"

"How would you know? You can barely remember who you are"

"It doesn't matter who I am! He came here to get me out! He said so."

"And what does that have to do with anything? Perverting the course of justice is a sin in and of itself."

"But only if he knew he was doing it! Only if it was his idea! And you said that he's only down here because I addicted him, and made him come down! It wasn't his fault!"

"Then no doubt he did something else to merit his inclusion. It could be anything at all."

"No it can't !" she shouted again. "He's not like me. He didn't deserve to - "

"You have no idea what he did and didn't deserve! It is not physically possible for you to know. Half-remembered synopses of the brief time you knew him do not suffice to pass judgment! This is Hell. Beast Boy is present. Ergo - "

"Someone made a mistake."

"Only a child as willfully obtuse as you, Raven, could possibly conclude that."

"And only someone as arrogant as you could conclude anything else."

"Arrogance? You would speak of arrogance? You, who conclude that the entire workings of the universe are out of order, because they do not conform to the impressions you half-remember from another life concerning the moral integrity of someone you despised?"

The bluish light from below was enormous now, gnawing at the very fabric of reality, a glow so intense it hurt to look into, yet one that illuminated nothing at all, as though they were plunging towards the heart of some mystic vortex, there to be disintegrated, annihilated, or cast into the endless void of outer space. Raven regarded the notion with equanimity, her thoughts far from this frozen, dessicated place.

"I never despised him," she said.

"But you did not know him. Not well enough to be certain that he didn't belong here."

"I didn't have to."

"How convenient that you alone in the universe are absolved of the need for facts. When did you become God?"

"I'm not God," said Raven, turning back to face Beast Boy's unconscious form. "And maybe I didn't know him as well as I could have. But I know he didn't belong here. Everyone knew that."

"I taught you better than that. Appeal to the Majority? You cannot speak for everyone who ever knew Beast Boy, nor would it matter if you could. He does not become less deserving just because lots of people say he is."

It sounded so final. So clean and logical and tidy, and yet she could feel the brittleness in the voice, the quiver in the logic that governed this pronouncement from on high. And once more she came back to another light, the one inside her, the one that refused to flicker. The one that refused to die.

"Is he?"

"He sits before you, does he not?"

"But what if he's not in Hell at all?"

"Have you lost your sense of sight? Is he or is he not in front of - "

"What if I'm not in Hell?"

For a second, though she might have been imagining things, Raven thought she heard the wind itself hesitate.

"Maybe I did deserve to be punished," she said, feeling something inside her starting to roll, like stones on a mountain slope. "Maybe I deserved to be stranded in Hell. And maybe even he did too." She looked around, at the bright blue glow that now encircled them, growing more and more intense by the second. "But who says that's where we are?"

"Where else could you possibly be?"

"I don't know," she said. "But if this was Hell, how could he have gotten into it? Even if I addicted him? Even if he wanted to? You said it was created to punish me. Since he got here, it hasn't been punishment. Hell wouldn't have even let him in!"

"You're awfully certain of the rules of Hell."

She ignored the remark. "Who could have put him in Hell?" she asked. "Who could have put either of us in Hell?"

"Did you forget that your father is the Devil?"


"And what if he is? He can't judge who deserves to be in Hell, he's evil incarnate! He doesn't understand anything else. He can't judge us."

"Says who?"

"Says you ! You said we deserve to be down here. You said I'm here because I deserve to be. How could Trigon ever tell that? He doesn't understand guilt or innocence or justice or punishment! He doesn't care about those things, all he understands is pain and evil!"

"Didn't I teach you not to make assumptions? If Trigon could not put you here, then perhaps it was someone else."

"You taught me more than that," said Raven, feeling the strength of the gathering avalanche within her. "You taught me Occam's Razor."

This time the hesitation was obvious and prolonged, as though the wind had been stunned to silence, and needed time to recover.

"You are clutching at straws, trying to convince yourself that - "

"The simplest explanation is usually right!" shouted Raven, drowning out the voice. "You taught me that! What's simpler? That Trigon put me here to suffer just because he's Trigon, or that someone else decided I deserved to go to Hell, created one just for me, and then for some reason let Beast Boy into it?"

"Why do you care ? You are in this place. Does it matter what the reasons are?"

"It matters," she said. "It matters to me. It matters because if I'm not here for what I did, then this isn't Hell."

"This is Hell. And you are both where you belong."

It was like the pronouncement of a judge or an angelic arbiter, thunderous and bombastic, a pronouncement riven with authority and malice that could damn entire nations to the flames. Yet as the glow around her reached a blinding intensity, and the avalanche within raged out of all control, she felt a blissful certainty passing over her, and held to Beast Boy as tightly as she could as she spoke words she knew to be anathema.

"He doesn't belong here," she said.

"You cannot know that! It is not your place to - "

"We don't belong here."

"IT IS NOT YOURS TO DECIDE WHO BELONGS WHERE!"

Unable to keep her eyes open any longer, Raven slid them shut, holding Beast Boy around his waist and laying her head against him as she whispered, at last, the words she had not even dared before to think.

"I don't belong here."

And then there was silence.

The silence was almost deafening, nerve-draining. As though nothing in the world existed any longer, save for the feel of Beast Boy on her arms and cheek. She could not hear the wind, nor her own breathing, nor Beast Boy's, nor feel any sensation of movement any longer. Yet she did not open her eyes, and did not release her hold on Beast Boy, until at length, bit by bit, she began to become aware of a new sensation, worming its way in from the very edge of her consciousness.

Heat.

Nervously, reluctantly, Raven opened her eyes, and saw red.

The entire world was red. Red and grey and black where the fires had scorched something to cinder. Red glows filled the sky from horizon to horizon. Red flames licked at ruins and burnt-out cars. Red seas of bubbling magma loomed large in the distance, lapping hungrily at the shore and radiating the tremendous heat that now swirled around her.

Beast Boy lay on his back, motionless save for his breathing, slow and quiet. He showed no signs of waking. Raven was kneeling on the bare ground beside him, rough asphalt under her knees, with no wind but a soft, leaden breeze that barely sufficed to shift her cloak. All about lay the incinerated remnants of cars, houses, streetlights and telephone poles, silent and unjudging. And aside from a low, ambient roar from fires burning in some distant place, she could, at least briefly, hear neither wind nor voices.

"You know, you're absolutely right."

A shadow fell over the immediate area, the ambient red light snatched away almost as soon as it had arrived. Raven turned her head in time to see an enormous block of cracked stone descending from the scorched skies like a chariot of the gods. Wrapped in a field of golden light, the stone held perfectly level, and the thin girl standing upon it, grey of skin and red of eye, grinned as she stared down at Raven and Beast Boy, one hand lifted and closed as though grasping invisible reins.

"You didn't belong there," said Terra. "You belong here. In the middle of the city you destroyed, along with all the people you killed."

Terra swept her arm broadly across the area, and moments later, an entire army of statues, men, women, children, all carved from the same black volcanic rock, emerged from the ruins of buildings and cars, each one cloaked in golden light and dragged towards Raven and Beast Boy as though by magnetism. The statues advanced to within thirty feet and there they stopped, rank upon rank of figures so lifelike as to defy the art of sculpture, each one's face contorted in expressions of terror, pain, and panic. Terra waited patiently until the last row was in place, before turning back once more to the unconscious shape-shifter and the little girl crouched beside him.

"I think it's only fitting that they should get to watch, don't you?"

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes :
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"Slade was a monster. Even death didn't stop him the first time. If anything, it made him worse. He was so evil that Hell wouldn't keep him. You are one of the few in a position to know that I'm telling the truth."

"I never knew Slade," said David. "Not before all this."

"But your friends did. You trust them, right? What did they have to say about him? What did you see him do with your own two eyes? Under Trigon's orders or not, you looked him in the eye and saw him enjoying it. Cities laid waste, civilians burned to death, you know what Slade was. And the Titans wouldn't stop him."

"Bullshit," said David. "The Titans never stopped trying to stop him!"

"Oh they'd fight him, sure!" snapped Devastator dismissively. "Every time he showed his head, they'd run out and raise seventeen kinds of hell trying to push him back down into the hole he'd crawled from. But he'd always come out to play again. No matter what they locked him inside, no matter how badly they dismantled his robot army or undid his so-called brilliant plan, he always came back. And every time he did, more people died."

"So you decided to kill him?"

"Of course I did. When the Titans first returned, I was glad to see them. I thought, whatever their opinions on me and my business, they might help suppress some of the lower level criminal activity that was infesting most of the world. Lord knew that Jump City needed help, and I couldn't be everywhere. But they always refused to put Slade down for good, and finally I couldn't ignore him anymore. I tracked him for months, followed every lead, investigated every sighting. I dealt with half a dozen traps and ambushes that he laid for me, from Greenland to the Atacama Desert, and finally, finally , I managed to corner him inside a secret base he had built in a remote part of India." Devastator stopped, clenching his hand around his cane's handle, squeezing his eyes shut as he fought to keep his temper in check from whatever his memory was dredging up. "And it would have gone perfectly well," he said at last, "if I had been the only one tracking him."

David said nothing.

"I..." said Devastator, no longer confident, no longer cold, his voice coming in fits and starts through his teeth. "I'd had very little interaction with any heroes before that. Once in a while some third-tier costume-wearer would decide to make his reputation by bringing down the 'Devastator', and I'd just leave him stew under a pile of rubble or some such. I knew who the Titans were, of course, but I hadn't ever even considered I might encounter them like this. They arrived just as I was finishing my work. Slade was beaten, his fortress was in ruins, and I was preparing to administer the coup-de-grace."

"What happened?"

Devastator's head slumped forward, as his knuckles went white around the handle of his cane. "I'd never met them before," he said, "but they knew me, by reputation if nothing else. And they knew what I was here to do. Nightwing told me in no uncertain terms that I was not going to be allowed to kill Slade." Devastator lifted his head again, and this time, violent anger was written all over his maimed features. "I tried to talk sense into them. Slade had attacked a cruise liner with his robots, killed seventy people and kidnapped half a dozen others. But age only made Nightwing more stubborn. Not only was I to be denied my just reward for having broken Slade, but he brought up the international warrants I had on me for the murder of various murderers. Nothing I said made a dent on any of them. They insisted that Slade be allowed to live. I insisted that he not. So we fought." The blank eyes seemed to darken. "And I lost."

David rasied an eyebrow. "I thought you never lost."

The sarcasm took effect instantly, as Devastator turned his glowering face on David. "Does this look like the face of someone who never lost a battle?" he asked, gesturing to his scarred visage. "Is your victory percentage something to brag about? You, who lost to Cinderblock, lost to Terra, lost to Slade, and lost to Trigon?"

"But you said - "

"There were four of them!" shouted Devastator angrily, drowning out David's question. "Four trained, expert heroes, four people I had never in my life expected to encounter at blade's end! How do you think I beat Faust, or Slade, or all the others I killed? I did my goddamn homework. I knew exactly what I was getting into in every instance, powers, vulnerabilities, angles of potential attack. But then the Titans blindsided me. I had no idea what they were capable of, let alone how to fight them off. All I had was blind, blunt force trauma, against an entire team of A-listers who specialized in bringing down metahumans." He shivered, as though the world around had just turned cold. "And I was no metahuman."

"Yes you are," said David

"No I am not ," snapped Devastator back, "and neither are you! I was a normal person with a powerful weapon, not some damned juggernaut made of steel! They came at me like they were trying to tear down a skyscraper. Magic, claws, missiles, they hit me with everything. Reduced me to ruins. It didn't take them thirty seconds."

David let Devastator wait for a moment before commenting. "But they didn't kill you," he said.

"No," said Devastator with a cold glare. "Of course not. They were better than me, weren't they? They didn't kill me, just mashed me into a pulp. Broke my arms, shattered my ribs, fractured my skull, pulverized me with soundwaves and rocket-bombs and every other thing until I was a mangled, broken wreck, then scraped me off the ground and dragged me back to the Hague to stand trial for a hundred and eight counts of premeditated murder. And while they slapped me into a hospital so that I could be patched back together enough to face the court, they locked Slade away in some specialty prison for metahumans. The same one I was destined for once they got the formality of my trial out of the way. For the crime of having stopped Slade's master plan and destroyed his army, my reward was to be treated exactly as he was, worse even. Slade didn't need six months before he could walk again."

"That's crap," said David. "You said they charged you with murder, not assault. It wasn't about Slade. It was for Joker, wasn't it? And Faust and Two-Face and everyone else you killed."

"Yes," said Devastator. "That was nominally the charge. But the real crime was showing them up. What were they? Vigilantes all, no backing in law, no official position, just meta-humans who chose to act. And they somehow thought that they had the right to condemn me because I had done the exact same thing, but hadn't conformed to their rules? Because I wasn't sanctioned by the Justice League or Batman or whoever had declared themselves the ultimate arbiters of our world?"

"That's not why they came down on you," said David. "And you know it! They charged you because you were killing people. And not just murderers and killers. You admitted that you killed the guards who tried to stop you at Arkham. How many others were there that didn't do anything?"

"Dozens," thundered Devastator, "but how did that make me different than the rest of the heroes? How many people did they kill by omission? Every recidivist psychopath they permitted to walk on among the rest of us, every murderer they slapped on the wrist and tossed into a holding cell for a few days, every massacre they allowed to occur because some thrill-killer claimed that he'd reformed , whose fault were those? Three months after India, Slade broke loose from that prison of theirs, and killed fifty-seven people before he was stopped, every one of whom would have been alive if I'd been permitted to finish Slade off! Who stood up and took responsibility for that? Who was dragged before the docket and made to answer in a court of law to the deaths of fifty-seven civilians? Nobody! Because nobody , least of all the Titans, gave a damn about the law when it came time to answer for their own actions! When they confronted me in that base in India, did they try and argue the matter? Did they sit down and try to convince me they were right? Of course not. They used powers and weapons and raw strength to force me to comply with them. Because brute force was the only mandate they ever had."

"Really?" asked David. "And what mandate did you have?"

"None at all," said Devastator. "Save the mandate of self-defence."

"You hunted people down and assassinated them in self-defence ?" demanded David, his voice making it clear what he thought of the notion.

"A man's home is his castle," said Devastator. "And he has the right to defend it. The whole world was my castle. I had as much right as the Titans to fight in its defence, as I saw fit. The heroes hadn't stopped me from being victimized. They hadn't stopped thousands of others. Whether they couldn't do it or wouldn't do it was irrelevant. Unlike the other victims, I had the means to step up and hit back, and I did so. And for having dared as much, they beat me within an inch of my life, and let my intended target walk free to commit more evil. You can dress that up in any rhetoric you like, David, lecture me about rights and rehabilitation and collateral damage until you're blue in the face. Those fifty-seven people still died. And they died because I wasn't allowed to prevent it."

David said nothing, and after a moment's pause, Devastator offered one more statement.

"And in case you're wondering, that was when I decided to kill the Titans."

A soft wind, colder than the surrounding air, whistled through the ruined shopping mall as Devastator and David faced one another. Devastator seemed to be waiting for David to offer a comment, but David did not do so until some time had passed.

"You're full of crap," said David.

Devastator didn't even blink. "Really?" he asked.

"Completely," said David. "And you know it, too. This isn't about death by omission or the ethics of murder. That's all a bunch of justifications you came up with after the fact. This is about you and the Titans. They hurt you, and you wanted to hurt them back. That's all it ever was. All this... this bullshit about necessary measures and hypocrisy, that's just you and your head inventing ways for everything to not be your fault."

David rather expected another angry tirade, but what he got instead was nothing at all, no reaction, not a twitch of an eye, Devastator seemed to hang in place. And then slowly, he lowered his hands to his sides, letting the cane tap down on the ground softly.

"Is that so?" asked Devastator.

David paused in turn, but only for an instant. "Yeah," he said.

Devastator took a slow breath, holding it in for several moments, the cigarette forgotten in his hand. "Well then," he said, "let me demonstrate something."

The words were ominous enough, but rather than unleash mass destruction, Devastator turned away from David and began to walk towards the edge of the rotunda.

"Did you know that these people are all still alive?" asked Devastator.

The question was so incongruous that David didn't immediately understand what Devastator was saying. "What?" he asked.

"These people," said Devastator, and he gestured with the end of his cane towards the silent statues that ringed the rotunda, men and women and children clutching one another in the last throes of abject terror. "These statues. They're not dead."

"What are you talking about?" asked David, chancing a step forward, as a chill ran down his spine, cause indeterminate.

"Trigon's the physical embodiment of evil," said Devastator. "Evil. Not death. Death is no picnic, don't get me wrong, but there are far worse things in the universe. An eternity of torment and pain, for instance. Trigon could break this planet in half if he wanted to, but that would leave him with nobody to torture except for a handful of bull-headed teenagers. So instead, he decided to lock every living soul on the planet up in a prison of stone, where they could be tortured for all time."

His fear temporarily forgotten, David stepped forward, his head beginning to spin. "They're... they're still alive?" he asked.

"They're watching us right now," said Devastator, as he approached a small clump of the statues. A woman stood huddled against the wall, holding a little girl protectively in her arms, shielding her as best she could against some unfathomable horror lurking just behind. Both figures' faces were contorted in terror, unblinking and frozen for all time. "They can hear us, see us, everything we do or say. They've been watching this whole escapade."

David's eyes were drawn inexorably to the perfectly preserved faces of the statues before Devastator, to their expressions of terror and pain, their mouths open to scream inaudible cries. "Why are you telling me this?" he asked.

"So that you understand my full meaning," said Devastator. And then he raised his cane.

A thunderous, terrible explosion tore through the empty shopping mall, as loud and as unexpected as a bolt of lightning on a cloudless day. There had been louder blasts today, fuel tankers raining from the sky and frozen gasses transformed into sub-nuclear detonations, but this one was all the louder for its sheer unexpectedness. And in the split second it took David's nerves to transmit the signal to flinch at the sound of the blast, he saw the stone statue of the little girl in the woman's arms fly to pieces in a flash of fire and smoke.

He lurched forward, unconsciously, his body having realized what had just happened before his brain did, his eyes wide, his hand fumbling for the broken staff at his side. Yet before he could so much as conjure a noisemaker, Devastator pivoted back and threw out his open hand towards him, fingers splayed like an archwizard's. The ground burst at David's feet like an overripe fruit, hurling him back into the wall and down onto the broken floor beneath it. His head spinning, David tried to scramble back to his feet, but he had managed to rise only to his hands and knees before Devastator's voice arrested him.

"Stop right there ," bellowed Devastator, not a request but a command, and David raised his head to see Devastator's burning cane pointed at him like a rifle. "Stop," repeated Devastator, "and think a moment. Think about what just happened."

It was impossible not to, and despite the injunction, David clambered back to his feet. The silent stone fragments of the little girl lay scattered all over the floor of the rotunda. Just looking at them brought bile to David's throat.

"I'm gonna kill you," he said, largely before he could even think about it.

"No, you're not," said Devastator in a voice of absolute certainty. "You can't kill me, and that's the entire reason we're standing here." He swung his cane back towards the smashed statue. "How did that come about?"

David blinked at Devastator like he was watching the ravings of a madman. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he shouted.

"How did that happen ?" demanded Devastator, the cane's flames flaring up between his fingers.

"How did - " stammered David, "you killed her!"

"Yes!" shouted Devastator. "And how is it that I was able to do that?"

Whatever lingering sense David had of what was going on here deserted him. He stood with his mouth half-open, unable to conjure up the necessary words. Devastator did not wait for them to appear.

"A six year old girl," thundered Devastator. "Innocent of any wrongdoing. Petrified and tortured and then murdered in cold blood. How the hell did that happen? Six thousand years of civilization, all of it built specifically to ensure that something like that could not possibly happen, ever. And yet here we stand!" He drove the cane down back into the ground like a railroad spike. "Where was everyone? Where were her protectors? The ones we painstakingly created and appointed to watch over her? Where were the police? Where was the army? Where were the heroes? Where was God ? Every defence created by generations of men, and all I had to do was walk over here and blast her to ribbons !"

David didn't answer vocally. In a single, swift move, he tore the staff fragment from his side and blasted a section of the wall free with it, hurling it at Devastator like a cannonball. But Devastator thrust out his cane like a crucifix before a vampire, and the masonry fragment exploded into a thousand pieces, the blast channeled back towards David, knocking him against the wall once more, this time hard enough to empty his lungs and send him crashing to the ground, doubled over and struggling to breathe.

"Awful, isn't it?" said Devastator, approaching slowly with the cane aimed directly at David's head. "That terrible chill that settles into your stomach and won't go away no matter what you do? All you can see when you close your eyes is the sight of the atrocity right in front of you, and not even Devastator can blast it out of your head."

His throat and chest still burning, David swung his staff fragment upwards, tossing fist-sized pieces of rubble at Devastator like cannonballs. But Devastator batted them aside almost contemptuously, and then flicked the tip of his cane down. An instant later, the floor bucked like a living thing, bouncing David three feet into the air and dropping him flat on his face and stomach like a boned fish.

"What's the matter?" asked Devastator, letting just a hint of mockery into his voice. "Are you upset? Did I just offend you?"

"You sick, twisted - "

"I've got twists to me you can't even fathom," said Devastator. He crouched down, leaning on his cane for support, staring David in the face as the younger teen managed to push himself to his hands and knees. "Consider what's running through you right now," he said. "The rage, the injustice, the frustration at having borne witness to something that shouldn't by rights have been possible in the first place. Dwell on that, and then multiply it by thousands and tens of thousands . Do all that, and maybe, maybe , you'll start to understand."

"Understand what?"

"Piles of bodies" spat Devastator. "Literal piles. The lucky ones with their throats slashed, the unlucky ones burnt, or mutilated, or subjected to a quaint custom called 'necklacing'. All kinds of course, but the children were the hardest to live with. Eight-year-olds with their skulls split open, whipped to death with barbed wire, starved intentionally, hacked to pieces on a black altar." He gestured back towards the shattered statue with his free hand. "I spent the better part of a decade seeing children like that. Children nobody gave a damn about. Because they were poor. Or brown. Or had been taught to worship the wrong god."

"That's not true ," insisted David, as he got back to his feet. "I know the Titans, they wouldn't ever just let people die like that, whoever they were. They kill themselves just to keep kids safe."

"Then why were those kids dead?" asked Devastator, standing up and spreading his arms wide. "And the Titans still alive?" He stood before David like a prosecuting attorney, his blank eyes wide and fierce, as though expecting an answer. "Why is this one dead, when heroes like yourself still draw breath to defend her? Explain it to me, David, and I'll run this sword through my own chest, right here in front of you."

David stared back up at his counterpart, not daring even to blink.

"I can't," he choked.

"No," said Devastator, "you can't. Nobody could." He stepped forward, looming over David like an animate shadow, his voice shaking with emotion. "So don't tell me about what it was I really wanted from the Titans, or who I was trying to fool. You think I just wanted to get back at the people who hurt me ? What they did to me was a traffic violation compared to what else I was getting back at them for. I killed the Titans for the thousands , and the tens of thousands of kids they let die because they were too busy punishing me for trying to stop their murderers the only way I knew how. I killed them for their hypocrisy. I killed them for all the sins of omission they committed in a career supposedly dedicated to protecting the innocent. For all those reasons , I slaughtered them all."

He stood directly before David now, close enough to see the scars on his face, illuminated in great detail by the ambient light of David's blood-red eyes. "And if you still think I'm overstating the matter," he said, "or trying to cover my own selfishness, then, I've only got one question for you."

Carefully, almost regally, he bent down towards David, a tower of unassailable power and anger, his white formless eyes glowing like diamonds in the preternatural twilight.

"I held the Titans responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of children," he said. "What were your first words to me, when I killed one ?"

For a heartbeat, for an endless heartbeat, David remained where he was, his head bowed, unwilling or unable to meet the gaze or the question of his towering alter ego. But when he finally did raise his head, his expression was empty and dark, his eyes dead as they poured a cold light onto the scarred man who loomed above him.

"You tell me," he said. And then he raised his hand.

Devastator was plainly expecting an attack, or its facsimile, some last-ditch gesture of defiance from a child finally pushed to his breaking point. It was what he had seen from David all night long. It was what he was no doubt anticipating once again, a rock thrown, a bomb hurled his way, some flash of Devastator's handiwork projected at him in a burst of anger.

What he received was nothing of the sort.

Behind Devastator, there came the sound of explosives, but not the titanic, weapons-grade blasts that he and David had been conjuring against one another. These were mere firecrackers, loud pops like the sound of a car backfiring heard at some distance remove, several dozen of them in quick succession, like kernels of popcorn all bursting at once.

Devastator seemed to pause, waiting for the punch line as it were, but the sounds were followed by nothing but the soft scurry of pebbles skittering over the broken floor. Slowly, his expression turned to puzzlement, he raised himself back up, and turned his head to see what childish foolery David could possibly have gotten to this time. But one look, one momentary glance was all it took to freeze him in place like a sculpture writ of ice.

The statues behind Devastator were gone. Every one of them. And in their place, there was nothing left but crushed, pulverized rubble.

Devastator did not move. He did not even seem to breathe. He stood, motionless, as though David's very existence had just been blotted from his memory, staring like the living dead at an empty rotunda where moments before there had stood the inanimate shapes of over fifty men, women, and children. The flames that danced about his cane withered and died, as he stared uncomprehendingly, his only motion a slow pan as he swept his crippled vision across the broken scene. Only at length did he finally remember that David was there, and slowly turn his head back towards him, his expression one of bewilderment, shock, and something that might even have been horror.

Standing now against the wall, David's voice was cold and clinical as he locked his blood-red eyes on Devastator's blind ones.

"Your move."


Last edited by General Havoc on 2012-02-18 11:17pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 08:01pm
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*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge ;
And the rain poured down from one black cloud ;
The Moon was at its edge.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"I told you that I would find you."

There was nowhere to go. The walls were armored with two and a half feet of solid steel, designed to take as much abuse as all six of the Titans were capable of dishing out collectively. And the only way out was blocked by —

"Trogarr..." she said, the name falling off her tongue like a fifty-pound barbell. "You... cannot be here."

"I can be anywhere, Princess," said the alien in the doorway. "Anywhere in all the universe. Including this place."

"But you... you died ," said Starfire. "You... I watched you die."

"Be fair, Princess," said the alien, with a reserved smile. "I did not die. I was murdered."

He stepped into the room, the door sliding shut behind him with barely a whisper, yet it sounded like the slamming of prison bars.

"I didn't expect to find you here," he said. "I thought you'd have run for somewhere less obvious."

"This is my home," said Starfire. "I would not leave it."

"Your home is the Citadel. I have a treaty signed in royal ink to prove it."

"You have a bill of sale!" she shouted, "signed in desperation under threat of genocide! You have —"

"I have the signed word of the King and Queen of Tamaran," he said. "Your opinions on the politics that led to it do not interest me. It says you belong with us. With me."

"I will not go with you!"

"You are already with me," he said, stepping towards her with a leering grin. "Or did you think your coterie of playmates would keep you safe from my reach?"

He advanced towards her, step by easy step, and slowly she backed away from him, drawing them both towards the center of the enormous room.

"Do you remember the fun times we used to have?" asked Trogarr, and when she could not answer him, he continued alone. "I remember them well. You were the reason I enjoyed my work so much. I can't possibly tell you how dreary the Citadel is without you there."

Something cold and slimy knotted itself around her insides, and she shot him almost without thinking, her starbolt burning three times brighter than any she had contrived to launch before. Yet it melted into him like rain being absorbed by a sponge, and he did not even slow his pace.

"Those won't be of much help, Princess," he said. "Remember, I know all your little tricks. I taught you most of them."

"Leave me be !" she yelled as he closed in, scrambling to her feet and withdrawing before him. "I will not be your... subject again!"

He smiled. "Oh yes you will," he said. "That's all you'll ever be, Koriand'r." He reached behind himself, and drew forth a thin, steel wand, covered in a dense network of circuitry and topped by a pair of glowing electrodes. And Starfire had only enough time to take in those elemental facts about the object before she realized what it was she was looking at, and then her conscious mind imploded.

Trogarr grinned, reading the recognition in her eyes. "And I have such marvelous things to show you," he said. And then he thumbed a switch.

And Starfire screamed.

She screamed like she had not screamed in years. Screamed so loudly that the walls shook from the force of it, and staggered back into the wall, clutching her hands to the sides of her head with the intensity of a madman. The sheer noise reflecting off the walls was deafening, but the alien did not relent, extending the wand with his arm and slowly sliding the switch up with one finger.

"We shared so much, Princess," said Trogarr as Starfire fell screaming to her knees, pitching forward onto the ground and ripping furrows in it with her fingertips. "So much pain, disappointment, frustration, and yet it made our triumphs all the sweeter, didn't it?" He stood over her, sliding the switch up, up, up, even as Starfire writhed on the ground like a serpent, beams of coherent light emitting from her eyes and burning random patterns in the ceiling and walls. "We cast aside the boundaries of the universe and produced something unique. I could never have accomplished all that I did without you, and you..." a cruel smile crossed his face, "... you would not even exist without me."

The switch reached its zenith, the electrodes on the tip of the wand sparking with lightning, and Starfire's screams graduated from abject to incoherent. She arched her back, her body twisting into impossible contortions as she beat her hands against the ground so hard that one of her bracers shattered. Trogarr stood and watched, lowering the wand to one side, closing his eyes and drinking up the sound of Starfire screaming in agony, before at long last, his finger slid the switch back down to the base, and the screaming stopped.

As the echoes died out, Starfire lay prostrate on her side, half-curled about herself, her body trembling like a leaf on the wind. Tears ran down her face and pooled beneath her head as her breath came in choked sobs. She made no effort to rise, escape, or even to acknowledge the enormous alien that stood over her, not even when Trogarr crouched down over her and lightly laid his clawed hand on her shoulder.

"My little Koriand'r," said Trogarr, running his claws up and down her arm. "My fountain of miracles. This little rebellion of yours was never going to last forever. You knew that."

"No..." she sobbed.

"Hush," whispered Trogarr, his voice almost soothing. "You knew. Deep inside, you knew these humans could never shelter you. This... adolescent fantasy of yours was nothing more than a season's intoxication. I don't even blame you for it. But it's time to return to where you belong."

"N... no..." repeated Starfire, her voice barely loud enough to hear. "I w... I will not..."

"Oh... you will," said Trogarr. "Not because of this device. Not even because of the politics. Ultimately, you're going to come back with me because the Citadel is everything you know. You see, you can tell people that Tamaran was your home. You can recite the language, play-act at the customs, it doesn't matter. When you first came to me, you were nothing but a little girl, and the only Tamaran you know is the one you cobbled together from imagination and a few dim memories. The one you used to tell me about because you thought it would delay our sessions. The one that you know never even existed."

Curled tightly into a ball on the floor, Starfire clenched her teeth and fists and tried, weakly, to throw off the Trogarr's hand, to no avail. She was beyond words, beyond denials, beyond anything but memory and pain, the two blending to form a barrier that nothing but Trogarr's voice could penetrate.

"The Citadel is your home, Koriand'r," said Trogarr. "And I am your only family. Not these pathetic humans, not the royals who gave you away to suit themselves. I am the only one who cares at all about you, who wants you to become everything you could be, the only one who can make you into everything you could be."

His touch was like acid on her skin, making her flesh crawl with the very sensation, but she could not throw him off, could not fight back, and no matter how much she gritted her teeth and tried to will her away, his touch remained very real, and his scent, and his quiet, horrible voice.

"Now," he said. "You will come with me. Or I will make up for three years of lost time right here, and then reduce this planet to ash. You may have chosen to pretend that I would never come back, but I know you remember the consequences of — "

She did not sense the door to the training room opening. She did not see Trogarr turning to see who it was. She did not even feel him withdrawing his claw to reach for some new tool of devilry. But she did hear a single word, in a voice she would have known from the other side of death itself, and hearing it told her everything she needed to know about what was going to happen in the next five seconds.

"Starfire! " came the voice of Robin. And no sooner had Starfire heard it than she became someone else altogether.

She opened her mouth, but what emerged from it was neither scream nor shout nor war cry nor any other thing for which there existed discrete words. What emerged from Starfire's mouth and lungs was a guttural, loathsome howl of pain and fear and formless, pitiless rage that tore through her like electricity. She could not see, for the tears blinded her, and could not hear, for her own roar deafened her. Yet she knew where Trogarr was, and where Robin had to be, and what he would to do to him and to her, and knowing these things broke open a dam of memory so painful that it could not be contained, but exploded from her like a volcano. And without discrete intent or calculation, she sprang up from the floor at Trogarr, who turned back to her just in time to see her leap, and struck him full in the face with such force that they were both hurled through the air a dozen yards.

Trogarr landed on his back, Starfire crouched atop him, and he snarled, his teeth bared, and reached up to seize Starfire by the throat. But before he could do anything of the sort, utter a threat or strike a blow, Starfire grabbed at his other hand, the one that had fallen within reach, and snatched from it the ultrasonic pain inducer, the one she remembered from so many years' worth of punishment and that he had painstakingly calibrated on her for months. His favorite toy. Lifting it high into the air with one hand, she reversed her grip, and before Trogarr could so much as cry out, Starfire plunged all eighteen inches of the slender metal wand straight into the alien's throat.

There was a squishing noise, and then a hollow thunk as the electrodes struck the ground beneath them, and Starfire saw Trogarr's eyes shoot open wide. He opened his mouth, but no sound emerged, as he pawed helplessly at his throat with both hands. Starfire however, did not stop to relish these things, ripping the inducer free before driving it into him again and again and again, screaming as she did so loud enough to shake the room, even as starbolts poured from her other hand and beams of coherent energy from her eyes. Ten, twenty, fifty times she drove the makeshift dagger down, until it was nothing but a sparking, twisted piece of metal, and Trogarr's body a lifeless mass of sizzling pulp, yet still she could not stop, pounding the wet floorplates with her fists until they buckled, beating her own hands bloody as her cries progressively melted into sobs. Only when she could no longer lift her arms did she finally stop, falling to her hands and knees and shaking, weeping, barely able to prevent her seven stomachs from voiding their contents all over the floor.

It was a long, long time before Starfire realized that someone was shouting her name.

She lifted her head, sat up, turned, and saw Robin. He was standing at the doorway, his uniform singed and torn, his skin bruised and cut, but intact, and alive, and utterly, utterly dumbstruck. A birdarang was in his hand, wings extended and primed for throwing, but he seemed to have forgotten it. He seemed to have forgotten everything, his eyes, wide even behind his mask, fixed like nails on the sight of Starfire sitting amidst the gore of the alien she had just brutally murdered.

"... Starfire?" he managed to say.

Tears still fogging her eyes, her hands shaking like the rest of her body, Starfire could not think of what to say or do. Sobs still sought to claw their way out of her throat, leaking past her broken defenses every so often as she sat in the midst of her own handiwork. At length, all she could say was the only thing she could think of.

"R... Robin..."

Saying his name seemed to break some kind of spell, and Robin carefully entered the room, keeping his distance as he plainly tried to process what he was seeing, and failed to. "Star... are... what did you — "

"I... I did not..." What could she say? What could anyone say? She looked down and saw her clothes and skin covered in blood, her own mixed with her victim's. Back to Robin she turned, her mouth working silently as she tried to find something, anything she could use to explain away what had just happened. "I..."

"Oh my god..." Now Robin sounded afraid. He'd had enough time to process what he was seeing, and was beginning to consider what it meant. What was running through his head right now, she could not guess but did not have to. Never before, not even in the depths of the worst crises to haunt the Titans, had any of them ever taken the life of another being. It was a rule so pervasive as to go unwritten and unspoken, so obviously beyond the pale of everything the Titans stood for. And now here she was, and there Robin was, and what they were to do now she did not know, and plainly neither did he.

"He was my jailer," she said, still shaking so badly that her voice quivered too, coughing the words out between sobs. "He was the one the Gordanians set to experiment upon me. He... tortured me... for years... and told me that he... he was the only one who... would ever... would ever... love — "

"Star," said Robin, and he stepped closer to her, his surprise slowly fading. "Star... please..."

Her coherence deserted her. "I did... I did not mean to... I did not... I... he was going to... to..."

"Star! " said Robin, kneeling down in front of her, heedless of the blood that soaked his pants. He reached out gently with his free hand and took her by the shoulder, standing up and pulling her with him to her feet. Blood dripped from her hair and ran down her neck as she stood, looking into Robin's half-obscured face, trying to read anything from it, and trying even harder not to collapse entirely.

"It's..." said Robin, "it's... all right Star. It's all right. I..." a hesitant look at the mutilated body behind them, "I... it's all right."

"Robin..." she said, and she half-stepped, half-fell forward, wrapping one arm around him and holding onto him like a life preserver, the other dangling at her side, still clutching the broken inducer, the murder weapon from a moment ago.

She felt the hesitation in Robin, felt his fear, his reservation, his doubt. Yet he held her too, wrapping both arms around her and simply holding her as she cried into his shoulder. "It'll be all right, Starfire," he said. "I... I understand. And I won't... I won't tell the others. I won't tell anyone. It'll all be all right."

The sobs melted away, and with them the shivering and the fog that clouded her senses. She stood where she was, holding onto Robin and staring emptily into the blank space beyond, for what seemed like an eternity. But when finally she did respond to him, her voice was quiet, subdued, and contained only a hint of the terrible, fathomless sorrow that was soaked into every corner of her being.

"No," said Starfire. "It will not."

There was a soft, almost inaudible, tearing sound, muffled and over in less than a second. And then Starfire released Robin and took a step back.

Robin's eyes were wide once more, but they were no longer focused on her. Instead, Robin was looking down at his own uniform, and at the eighteen-inch piece of jagged, sparking metal that protruded from his shirt, in the center of a slowly expanding circle of red. His mouth open in shock he touched the edge of the broken inducer gingerly, as though he could not believe that it was real. And then, as the reality of what had just happened struck him like a physical blow, Robin lifted his frightened masked eyes to Starfire, who was standing motionless, her expression hollow, mournful, and empty.

"It will never be all right again."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head ;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Devastator said nothing, his empty eyes running over the empty mall. He seemed, temporarily, to have forgotten that anyone else was in the area. His cane was held limply at one side, the tip trailing on the ground, forgotten along with his counterpart. A carpet of broken igneous rock stretched before him, uniformly grey, distributed across the marble floors as though at random. He lowered his gaze to one such piece the size of a hen's egg, which lay beside his foot, so badly scored by fire and worn by abrasion that there was no longer any discernible sign of what it had once been.

"What have you done?" he asked at length, his voice hoarse. He did not turn around.

Standing behind Devastator, up against the wall, David did not vary his position by an inch, nor allow his voice to stray from a cold, steel monotone. "What I was meant to do."

"Meant by who?" asked Devastator, still frozen like a statue himself.

David let the echo of Devastator's voice fade before responding, each word slow and precise, like a machine's words. "By Devastator," he said. "By you. By nature."

"Nature?" There was a slight warble to this one, like a violin string not properly tightened.

"Of course," said David, and now, at last, he stepped off the wall. "What, exactly, did you think I was ?"

With infinite care, Devastator drew himself up, turning around to face David. The twilight outside cast him deeply into shadow, a black form in the shape of a man who pivoted with care as David slowly circled him. He did not speak.

"You see, here's what doesn't make sense," said David. "You're willing to kill anyone who gets in your way. Cops, soldiers, heroes, civilians, it just doesn't seem to matter to you."

"You think it doesn't matter?" asked Devastator, breath short and words clipped.

"No, that's just it, I think it does. I think it matters enormously. Because you didn't kill those people because you wanted their money or because they hurt you, you killed them because they got in the way of you killing someone else . Someone you thought needed to die. And why did they need to die? Because they killed people ." He stalked around Devastator, like a wolf circling a wounded elk. "Are you seeing the problem here?"

"So I'm a hypocrite?" asked Devastator, his words deathly cold, his hands beginning to shake with anger.

David smiled. "You can't hide from me like that," he said. "We're the same person, underneath the scars and the costumes. You're not a hypocrite. You're not that shallow." He slid inwards, still out of range, his eyes glistening in the darkness like those of some lower demon. "You're damned ," he said, "and you know it."

Warily, Devastator followed David with his own eyes. "I work for the Devil," he said.

"That has nothing to do with it," said David. He continued to circle, slowly, gently kicking the rocks out of his path as he went. "Why the double standard? Why it is all right for you to murder, but not for others? Pure hypocrisy?" He shook his head. "No. You're not stupid enough for that. It's too obvious to ignore. You know you're doing exactly what you condemned Slade and Faust and Joker and everyone else for, but you found a way to square that with yourself, and there's no way that I'm the first person to try and explain it to you."

He continued to circle, slowly, a planet of red and grey orbiting a dark shadow of a central star.

"Maybe you thought you were a superman?" he asked bitingly. "Maybe you thought you were better than other people, and had the right to decide who lived and died because of it?" He let the question sit for just a moment, before shooting it down again. "No. You know you're not that. Because Superman doesn't have scars. He doesn't hide like a normal person with a coat and a gun. He doesn't disappear into the shadows and materialize to kill someone before sliding back again. Because he's Superman, and everyone knows it." David ran his eyes over Devastator, the red beams of light narrowing as he grimaced dismissively. "You didn't do anything like that, did you? Even when you had the chance."

Step by step, David continued to circle his alter ego, as the cane in Devastator's hand began to smolder once more, soft, barely visible flames of red licking up its length from steel tip to silver handle.

"You were an assassin," said David. "A 'contractor', you called it. One that could bring down Metahumans. I can't even imagine what that would be worth. You had to be swimming in money." He paused, just for a second, a knowing smile slowly spreading across his face. "So what did you do with it all?" He gestured towards Devastator with his hand, palm open and upward, as though inviting a comment he knew would not be coming. "What did you buy?" he asked. "Private islands? Castles? Fancy cars? Women?" His arm returned to his side, his smile faded, and he regarded Devastator once, who stood in silence before him like a statue carved from obsidian glass.

"Did you..." ventured David, "... did you get anything ?"

Fitfully, carefully, as though he had to force his own muscles into behaving themselves, Devastator opened his mouth and choked out an answer.

"That wasn't the point," he said.

"I know," said David. "You didn't do it for money. You didn't do it for fun. You didn't do it for revenge, and you didn't do it from some sense of higher justice. You didn't even do it because you felt that you had to." He stopped walking, holding his hands behind his back. "You did it because you were already damned. Not because of Joker. Not even because of Devastator. Because of who you are. Because of who we are."

"Don't speak of things you don't understand."

"You think I don't understand?" asked David. "You think I don't know what it's like?" His eyes narrowed, and his grin widened, the shadows of his brow darkening his entire face save for the red orbs that now served as eyes. "Look around you, Devastator. What do you think this is?"

"Have you lost your mind ?" snarled Devastator, his hands tightening around his cane as the flames cloaking it surged around his fingers.

"Why?" asked David. "Because I killed somebody?" He laughed, spreading his arms wide. "Because I killed those people? Look at me, Devastator. What do you see?"

"I told you they were alive!"

"So?" David shrugged. "You killed one yourself. You killed thousands yourself. Bystanders and cops, people who didn't do anything. That was all right?"

"What I did has nothing to do with - "

"Of course it doesn't," interrupted David. "That's how you justify it. That one thing has nothing to do with the other. Nobody but you gets to slaughter indiscriminately. Because you're already damned. So it doesn't matter what you do anymore, and that makes you free to do anything you want."

Slowly, Devastator began to advance, face stony, cane burning like a branding iron in his hands. He said nothing at all, staring like a zombie at David, who withdrew before him, but not with any sign of either fear or apprehension.

"That's what it was, isn't it?" he asked. "That's why you were able to stomach it. Because after Arkham, you knew you'd crossed the line. You'd burned the line behind you, and it no longer mattered what you did, because you were damned anyway. So you went after monsters. Because you could do whatever you wanted to them, and it couldn't be worse than what you'd already done. You weren't some exalted superman who got to do whatever he wanted. You were going after people just like you . Because you could. Because nobody else could. Because the strongest heroes in the world were still heroes, and couldn't let themselves do what you could let yourself do. They couldn't end things once and for all the way a monster like you could."

The cracked ground beneath Devastator's feet began to emit soft creaking noises, as rivulets of frost started to wind their way over the broken marble, like the webs of a spider. "Be quiet," said Devastator, his voice as dark as a thundercloud.

David laughed, raising his hands to the heavens as though to ask them to bear witness to the absurdity of it all. "Why?" he asked. "What are you gonna do? Kill me? Take revenge? Punish me? Go right ahead!" He reached to his side and drew the broken staff that rested there, but rather than ignite it, he aimed it at Devastator like a sword. "It doesn't change anything. All this time, you've been on me because of the wrong reasons. You thought I was a hero. Everyone keeps saying that I'm a hero. But for some reason, when I tell people that I'm not one, nobody believes me. Everyone else, I can understand. But you," he smiled, "you really should know better."

"That's enough ." Devastator raised his cane, and the flames sheathing it exploded into incandescent firelight. Moments later a rock the size of a refrigerator burst from the ground behind him and arced overhead before descending upon David like a meteor. But David raised his own broken staff, which caught the same fire as Devastator's, and the rock exploded into a trillion pieces before it could strike home.

"You know what changed, between the two of us?" asked David, still matching Devastator's pace "What actually changed? I fell in with the Titans. I didn't mean to, Cinderblock and Trigon made it happen. But it doesn't matter why it happened, it matters that it happened. I fell in with them, and they were heroes, and I did what they wanted. Because I would have done anything they wanted. If they had been the HIVE, I'd have committed crimes, if they had been Slade, I'd have killed people, but they weren't. They were heroes. And so I got a costume and a codename and my picture in the newspaper. That's what the change was. That's all that it was."

Stepping forward and pivoting in a semicircle, Devastator swept the base of his cane around, propelling a stream of stones and chunks of debris with it towards David. But David was ready for such things, and swinging his broken staff down like a club, he detonated the first rock like a bomb, the explosion big enough to scatter the rest of the incoming projectiles.

"You see, I know what I am," said David, not bothering to counterattack. "It took a long time for me to come to terms with it, but I did. Thing is, I don't think you ever did. Because you didn't have to. You had someone to blame. Joker, Robin, the Titans, whoever crossed you most recently. You never had to stop and look at yourself in the mirror. Whatever you did was their fault, because they pushed you across the line, and that made everything that followed their responsibility, didn't it?"

No further assault was produced, but neither did Devastator say a word. His pace began to accelerate, footsteps like hollow impacts on the broken marble. The cane in his hand burned ever brighter, as delicate patterns of frozen condensation spiderwebbed across the floor. Yet far from shrinking back in fear, David's grin seemed to deepen with each step, as he paced Devastator's advance with his own retreat, slinging no weapons in reply but his own stinging words.

"I don't think you're angry with me because I fell in with the Titans. You might be angry at them , because of what they turned me into, but that's just because you don't know what that is. You think they turned me into a hero, took a blank slate and painted their own picture on it. But you only think that because you can't see that the only thing I ever was, was you ."

The floor began to fly apart.

Raising his hands like a high priest trying to conjure forth the spirits of the dead, Devastator called for destruction and received it, as entire sections of the broken ground burst into the air at his command. Dozens of blocks, each the size of a wall safe, leaped up, only to hurl themselves at David. David stepped backwards, swinging his broken staff back and forth as fast as he could, and the most threatening blocks exploded into steam before they could strike, the rest sailing around him in every direction and smashing great holes through the wall behind. Yet Devastator did not stop, ripping stones from the ground with burst of flame, his empty eyes wide with incandescent rage, until a broad chasm loomed between them.

"I'm you ," shouted David as soon as he had a chance, loud enough to be heard over the exploding boulders. "I'm everything you were when you were my age. I was never mutilated by the Joker, I was never beaten into a pulp by the Titans and left to rot in some hospital. Nothing ever happened to me that made me do these sorts of things. No abuse, no torture, no madness." The echoes of the clashing stones died away as David stopped retreating, bracing himself with both hands on his truncated staff. "I just killed sixty-seven people I've never met in cold blood. I have absolutely no excuse for doing it. And we're the same person." His smile became a leer, the sneering jagged stare of a jack-o-lantern dancing in his preternaturally bloodshot eyes.

"So what does that say about you, and your grand crusade?"

Devastator didn't respond in words.

In a single, swift move, Devastator drove the end of his cane into the broken floor. The instant he did so, fire blossomed around it, hurling him into the air, not the violent uncoordinated shove of your average explosion, but a perfectly modulated rocket-propelled leap that launched Devastator in a parabolic arc up through the air and down again on wings of living flame. He landed with scarcely a tremor bare inches from David, looming over him with an expression of pure, savage indignation.

"This, " he said, as he raised his hand.

Before David could react, before he could even blink, Devastator conjured an explosive fireball out of what appeared to be thin air, so quick and seamless that his eyes did not have time to take in what was happening. In a heartbeat, David felt a blow like a wrecking ball, and he was thrown back twenty, fifty, a hundred feet to crash headlong into the far wall.

Six months ago, such a blow would have knocked him unconscious. Three months ago he would have needed five minutes on his hands and knees to recover. Two days ago he would have taken a moment or two to catch his breath. Tonight he bounced off the wall, spun back around, and slashed at the air with his broken staff, tearing a piece of marble siding the size of a tow truck out of the very wall he had just collided with, and shooting it at Devastator like a cannon.

It blew up like a firework twenty feet away, and before the smoke could clear, Devastator threw a wall of fire at him.

It wasn't actually made of fire, but it might as well have been. It was a series of cataclysmic, shaped blasts that filled the entire mall from broken floor to shattered ceiling, so many and in such rapid succession that they appeared to be a continuous stream. What Devastator was actually using as ammunition, David could not tell. All he could do was quite literally fight fire with fire. Sweeping his staff back, he tossed pieces of debris into the air with one hand and flung them like artillery shells in the general direction of Devastator with the other. He did not bother to aim, for his goal was not attack but defense, to simply throw enough high explosive out in front of him to frustrate the barrage of frenetic death that Devastator was hurling his way. Backed against the wall, he did not dare try and consider how long he might be able to hold off such an assault.

For no more than five seconds, David threw literally everything he had to try and hold Devastator back, yet it was all in vain. All of a sudden, the curtain of fire and smoke was violently torn aside by a thunderclap so potent that David felt it as a punch to the chest. In its place stood Devastator, and it was impossible to determine where the cold flames of his cane ended and the hot ones he was conjuring forth began. Fire danced from his hands and feet and reflected in his eyes and ran over the intricate patterns of frost on the floor, and as he stared at David, the very air about him seemed to warp. He drew his hand back, twisting it into a grotesque claw, as the wall behind David began to crack and lean inwards. And then, brandishing his cane like the flaming sword of an avenging angel, Devastator lunged forward with murder in his eyes and destruction at his fingertips, his free hand splayed forward, as though conjuring all the fires of hell for one, cataclysmic blow.

But it never landed.

Mid-lunge, Devastator gave a rending cry, pitched forward and collapsed to the ground with all the grace of a puppet whose strings had just been cut. As he fell, the flames around him vanished or receded, and the frost that traced patterns in the floor evaporated like so much morning mist. His cane clattered to the ground at his side, quenched and dead, nothing more than a useless prop. David did not venture to move, not one muscle, staring emptily down as Devastator landed on his hands and knees, face contorted in pain, one hand gripping his temple as though trying to dig his fingers through his own skull. His other hand balled into a fist, and he clawed at the broken ground with it, as groans of pain tore themselves from between his clenched teeth.

Yet as Devastator fell, David did not lunge forward to capitalize on whatever had happened. He did not brandish his own staff and call for more destruction, nor hurl debris and fire, nor spring forward to strike Devastator physically. He did not counterattack in any way, letting Devastator writhe, letting him clench his teeth and force back the pain and stabilize himself. David did nothing except step back, tensing himself like a spring, and when Devastator finally lifted his head to see what he was doing, he saw David standing back, his eyes and arm raised to the heavens, one finger extended skywards. His expression puzzled, Devastator lifted his own gaze up towards the smoke-shrouded ceiling, and froze like a deer in headlights.

Floating near where the ceiling of the enormous mall had been was the equivalent mass of an entire mountain . And it was sheathed in gold.

The arched roof, whatever it had been, was invisible now, blocked by a layer of boulders and stones and loose clods of earth, so many and so densely packed that they formed a vaulted ceiling of their own, stitched together from wall to wall like a flowing tapestry. And in the center of it all, floated Terra, supported by a handful of stones, crouched as though in a loft, staring down at the wielders of Devastator who had spoken and shouted and fought with one another to the utmost extent, so consumed in their reciprocal fight that they had not bothered to look up.

Or at least one of them hadn't. The other had contrived not to.

And then the whole world collapsed.

Terra did not merely release her collection of stone and dirt, she threw it down at Devastator like a meteor the size of an apartment building, and instantly the world vanished behind a pall of dust and smoke thick enough to be physical. Coughing and staggering backwards, David waved his hand in front of his face, trying to clear the air, only to be greeted by the sight of an immense mountain of stone and dirt, heaped fifty feet tall, that now sat where Devastator had been crouching a moment before.

He didn't even hesitate.

In a heartbeat, his staff was in his hand and burning like a torch, and he swung it down as though he were trying to hammer a railroad tie into the ground. Deep inside the mound of loose earth, a gigantic rock froze momentarily before detonating at his command with the power of a mortar shell, sending shockwaves coursing through the interior of the caern and causing its surface to rumble and shake. Again he raised his staff, and again he brought it down, detonating another stone, and another, and another, until he could find no more rocks of sufficient size, and began detonating clumps of earth, bits of debris, everything and anything he could wrap his mind around. Still he continued, working the mountain over and over, until an entire facing of it came shaken loose and avalanched down upon him. Clawing his way free, he refused to stop even then, climbing part-way up the loose heap on his hands and knees and beating it with his staff, like a destroyer raining depth charges down on an invisible submarine.

He carried on like this for an indeterminate amount of time, until his arm would no longer lift the titanium staff, nor his pounding head countenance another stroke, and then he collapsed, spent, slowly sliding down the side of the ruined heap of dirt and stone chips to the ground. A moment later, and there was a soft thump from somewhere nearby, and he opened his eyes to see Terra kneeling before him, looking as exhausted as he was, staring at him without a word, her expression a mixture of shock and knife-edged fear.

For a few seconds, David didn't say a word, his attention occupied with trying to force air into and out of his lungs. But when Terra's expression didn't change, he ventured a question, lifting himself up on one arm as he did so.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"How did you know what I would do with the statues?" she asked right back.

Something caught in his throat. "Did you... did you get them out?"

"They're fine," said Terra. "There's a garage underneath the mall. I moved them all down there and replaced them with pieces of shale. But how did you know that I was going to do that?"

"I didn't," said David. "But I knew you were watching us."

"So?" she asked. "You told me not to interfere until you signalled. You said you had some kind of plan."

"I did," said David. "I just... hadn't figured it all out yet."

Terra's shell-shocked look didn't change. "But what if I hadn't moved them?"

David thought about it for a moment, his exhausted brain running only on the most basic levels. At length he managed a half-smile and looked back up at Terra with a shrug.

"I guess I just sort of assumed you would."

He didn't really mean anything special by it. He was far too far gone for any sort of double or hidden meaning now. But Terra visibly stopped short when he said it, blinking in silence at him as though she couldn't think of what to say. He waited in turn for her to recover her voice, but she finally just reached a hand out to him, her expression shaken. "Come on," she said. "We should go."

He took her hand, and she helped him up, but as she turned to go, he held on gently and stopped her.

"Terra, wait a minute."

She stopped, turning back, obviously expecting him to do something else, or pick something up. But instead he took a few seconds to catch his breath, and collect his scattered wits.

"I just... before anything else happens, I wanted to say - "

She shook her head. "Don't worry," she said. "I won't tell anyone what you two were talking about." Once more she turned away, but once more he did not release her, and she turned back.

"No," he said. "It's not that. I wanted..." words deserted him, thought deserted him, and he shook his head to brush the cobwebs clear and just said it outright.

"Thank you."

She seemed to hesitate again. "What?" she asked.

"Thank you," he repeated. "For..." he looked around at the ruined mall and the scene of destruction that surrounded them. "For everything," he finally said. "For... I can't even start to..."

He was, as usual, making hash of this, but as he looked back up at Terra, she did something he had not seen her do since when he had known her as 'Carrie'. She smiled. And seeing her smile brought one to his own face, and he laughed, at the absurdity of it all as much as anything else. And then a moment later, Terra stepped towards him and put her arms around his shoulders. Another moment, and he did the same.

They stood there for a little while, leaning against one another, for it was all that kept either of them standing, and David closed his eyes and bit-by-bit, forced his taut nerves to slowly relax. His head swam, his feet shifting unsteadily beneath him, but Terra held him up regardless, and he her. Every breath he took and released seemed to empty the fire from his lungs, and a calming, almost apathetic numbness spread over him. "Thank you," he repeated at length, and she did not answer him, but stood there, motionless but for the occasional shudder that seemed to well up from somewhere deep within. Her head rested on his shoulder, and he felt something wet on the back of his neck, but did not reach back to feel what it might be, sure that he already knew.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, though what she meant she did not say, and he did not ask. The only reply he could muster was to simply stand in the midst of ruin and death, holding the girl who twice before had sought, with all her considerable might, to be the instrument of his own death.

It was no longer even remarkable.

At long, endless length, Terra gently pulled away, and he released her as she did so. Her face was streaked red beneath the mud and grime that they were both coated with, and her eyes glistened in the firelight with tears, but she brushed them away with the back of her hand, and smiled. "Come on," she said, patting him on the shoulder again. "Let's go find the - "

A crackling, rustling sound at their feet distracted both Terra and David at the same time, and they both lowered their heads to see what might be causing it. When they saw what it was, Terra paused, blinking, not understanding what it was that she saw, but David did not. Below them, the broken rocks and loose debris that covered the floor of the ruined mall were being covered in frost, rivulets of ice materializing over them and running in intricate patterns about their feet. And as he beheld this happening, in that precise instant, David felt his heart stop.

And then fire.

There had been louder blasts today, and larger ones, but none so cutting, none so depraved as this one, this explosion of fire that ripped the mountain of stone and earth apart and blasted it into the air. Standing as they were on the edge of the mountain, David and Terra were cast aside like toy soldiers, hurled bodily into and through the weakened wall of the shopping mall. They fell, bounced once, and crashed headlong into a parked car in the ruined parking lot outside, fetching up against it like rag dolls thrown to the side by the mad rage of a whirlwind, broken, sundered figures of no further consequence to anyone.

David wound up on his side, the smoking ruin of the car looming over him, and beside him lay Terra. She gave a lurch, and wheezed horribly, reaching blindly up with one trembling hand to try and pull herself upright. Seeing her move served to remind him that movement was possible at all, and he rolled over onto his stomach and with an effort undreamed of, pushed himself up to his hands and knees. His lungs on fire and his head spinning, he contrived to lift his head, and look back at the broken wall he had just traversed.

The wall was gone, already damaged by previous explosions and now simply obliterated by this last one. And beyond it, the mound of dirt and stone that had been Devastator's resting place was gone as well, atomized by the blast that had just evicted them both from the building. The crater that now stood in its place vented smoke too thick to see through, but as David watched, he saw a bloodied, clawlike hand emerge from its depths, and clutch the lip of the crater with an iron grasp, moments before its owner heaved itself into view.

"No, " whispered Terra beside him. David did not retain enough capacity to echo her.

Slowly, like a primordial beast, Devastator crawled his way out of the smoldering crater. His face was horribly gashed, one eye enucleated, blood streaming from a hideous slash across his forehead and running down his arm. One hand was clutched tightly over his abdomen, where his coat and shirt was stained black. The other held his battered cane, which he planted in the broken ground like an ice axe and used to leverage himself to his feet. Blood ran from the corners of his mouth, and he spat on the ground to empty it, his remaining eye staring daggers at the two teenagers who lay broken before him.

"Clever boy," he snarled horribly. And then he raised his hand.

"NO! "

It was no shout that emerged Terra's mouth but a roar, some kind of deep, primal refusal, and though David could not possibly see how she mustered the wherewithal to, Terra reached up and grabbed the empty window of the car, using it to pull herself up to a seated position before slashing her other hand through the air. Instantly, a dozen football-sized stones raised from the ground at her command, and threw themselves at Devastator, but Terra's kinetic commands no longer had the force they once had, and the stones merely rolled to a stop at Devastator's feet. He kicked them aside contemptuously as he stepped forward, hobbling on his cane, leaving behind a trail of blood, yet obstinately refusing to die.

Somewhere deep inside David, the near-extinct flames of self-preservation gasped to life once more, and with an effort of will he did not think he had left within him, he managed to rise up onto his knees and extend forward the broken, battered staff he still clutched in one hand. From near to Devastator, a piece of metal junk, a carburetor perhaps or some other loose thing, was lofted into the air on a pulse of fire, flying in Devastator's general direction before exploding near him like an air-bursting shell. But the explosion's teeth were drawn, and the blast barely buffeted Devastator, who retaliated by shooting a bicycle-sized piece of masonry from the shattered wall at David and Terra, missing them both by inches.

On came Devastator, launching shots at them with each step. Neither Terra nor David tried to evade them, every ounce of concentration maintained on returning Devastator's fire, on bringing him down before he could advance further. Yet neither accuracy nor power was left to them, despite all their efforts, and while Devastator was in scarcely better shape, what force remained to him was sufficient, ultimately, for one last strike.

Now emerged fully into the parking lot, Devastator stopped in place, knocking one of Terra's rocks aside with his staff, and pivoted back towards the ruined mall. He reached his hand back, palm up, as though grasping some unholy idol. All of a sudden he clenched his fist, and from deep within the ruined building, there came fresh bursts of fire. An instant later, a barrage of steel rebars, sheered to points by the violence inflicted on the shopping mall, flew out of the ruined building like javelins, hurtling past Devastator and straight towards David and Terra. At his peak, David might have tried to blast them from the air, but he was so far from his peak as to be unable to even remember what it felt like, and he had only enough time to duck his head and turn away before he heard the rending crash of steel on steel as the rebars drove into the car behind him like a quiverful of arrows. For an endless instant, horrid screeching sounds buffeted his ears, as he felt the wind and the grazes of half-a-dozen near misses. But then the sounds died, and he opened his eyes once more, his staff still clutched like a religious icon, and turned to deliver what return fire he could.

But as he did, he heard Terra gasp. And when he turned to see why, he froze.

Terra sat against the ruined car, her eyes wide and blinking in surprise, as she stared down at a grotesque shard of jagged metal three quarters of an inch in diameter that emerged from her stomach as though conjured there by magic.

For several seconds, David forgot how to move. Terra, it appeared, had done the same. She neither screamed nor writhed but only stared down at the metal bar driven through her as though she could not comprehend its existence, and the existence of such a thing were an unfathomable absurdity, one expected to disappear presently when the world chose to right itself. Gingerly, she touched the rebar with trembling fingers, as though she could somehow command it to vanish, or her stomach to repair itself, but it remained, cold and unfeeling, and only then did she raise her frightened, desperate eyes to meet David's, her expression asking a question that her mouth could not form.

But David could only crouch there helplessly, unable to push his mind past the fact before him, that Devastator had, with a wave of his hand, stapled Terra to the ruined car,and the abstract theory of his and Terra's impending deaths became, all at once, cold reality.

From his side, he heard Devastator cough, and turned.

Devastator stood unmoving now, swaying gently and leaning upon his cane, now finally reduced to the purpose it had been originally intended for. His face a mass of hideous tissue damage, his clothes soaked through with dark blood and stained by dirt and ash, he stood nonetheless alive, watching his victims with a cold gaze. And as both Terra, pinned to the car behind her by a rod of solid steel, and David, ambulatory but devoid of further resources, turned to watch him, Devastator spat the blood from his mouth, and spoke in a voice that might have been summoned from a tomb.

"Tell me, David," he said. "Do you know why it came to this?"

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.36 added) PostPosted: 2012-02-18 08:02pm
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Joined: 2011-10-13 06:59am
Posts: 9
*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Robin staggered back, his hands clutching uselessly at the spar of metal embedded within his chest. His mouth worked open and shut, but he could not speak. But as he turned back towards the perpetrator of all this, Starfire stepped forward, and spoke in his stead.

"Did you think I would not know?"

He slipped, and fell backwards, collapsing in a heap, crawling backwards away from her, getting tangled in his cape as he went. "S... Star..." he coughed out. "Star! Ple - "

"No!" she roared, and the walls shook from the force of her command. "You cannot lie to me any longer! Did you think you could deceive me here? In this way? You, who would not understand this if I granted you a thousand lifetimes to reflect upon it? You?" She stepped forward, her eyes full of tears, her fists balled at her sides, and spat her words at Robin like poison.

"You understand nothing . And you no longer have the power to deceive."

The walls began to shimmer, receding back into darkness, the metal lining of the training room vanishing, only to be replaced by volcanic stone or open air. Down the walls and across the floor, the transformation swept, until Robin was left alone on the parapets of a vast, black fortress. And then he too shimmered, his appearance receding before her eyes. And moments later, in Robin's place there lay a man, armored with gold, covered in blood, who grasped uselessly at a shorn-off staff that was jammed like a harpoon straight into his chest.

"We Tamaraneans may sometimes resemble you, Warp," said Starfire as she advanced slowly towards the fallen man, "but we are not you. We do not think as you do, we do not perceive as you do, and we do not lie to ourselves as you would have us do. You witnessed me murdering someone in hot rage."

She took a long, slow breath, and when she breathed it out, her voice was as even as a pane of glass.

"Robin would never have accepted that."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"It wasn't about power,"

At David's side, Terra still did not emit a sound. Likely she could not. No longer able to move, stapled as she was to the car behind, she could only sit where she was and watch, her eyes oscillating between David and his counterpart. Devastator, having finally beaten Terra into irrelevance, now ignored her, his one remaining eye focused on David alone. And try as he might, David could not tear his eyes away.

"Your problem wasn't stupidity," said Devastator. "It wasn't some moral failing, and it wasn't even cowardice. It wasn't your association with the Titans." Devastator raised his free hand slowly, looking down at it, turning it over as the smoke from the ambient fires flowed through his fingers like a living thing. "Whatever anyone may say, we're not standing here because you were a fool. Your problem, David, was far more fundamental."

Slowly, Devastator drew a deep breath, holding it for some time as the air danced about his hands. At length though, he raised his remaining eye to meet David.

"Your problem," he said, "was will."

And then the wind began.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"It was all because of you."

There was nowhere to run. Beast Boy and Raven were hemmed in on all sides by an army of statues a hundred ranks thick, thousands and tens of thousands of frozen witnesses to the endgame.

"Can you even imagine seven billion people? I can't. So many people that they just merge into one faceless crowd... maybe that's how you lived with the decision. I helped a super-villain take over a city, and tried to wipe you and your friends out. But I have to admit, Raven, I never even considered something like this."

Beast Boy lay unconscious on the ground, dead to the world, unable to save himself, let alone anyone else. Raven could not even back away from Terra without leaving his side, abandoning him to whatever tender mercies Terra had in store for them both.

"You can't hide from something like what you did," said Terra as her stone block lowered to the ground. "You can't cloak yourself in innocence and pretend it's all right. You willfully annihilated the entire planet you swore to protect. Killed literally everyone you ever knew. Did you really think that you would get away with it? That anyone could absolve you? Are you actually that naive?"

The block touched down, so softly as to be almost silent, and Terra stepped off it onto the burnt earth. Her hands glowed gold as she stepped forward towards Raven, shaking her head as though from deep, bitter disappointment.

"You don't get away that easily, I'm afraid."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"Will is everything," said Devastator. "Will is life itself. Will is the fundamental force of the universe. Greater than gravity, greater than magnetism, greater than any nuclear absurdity dreamed up by physics. Will alone commands the cosmos at large."

Wind swirled around the car, smoke and dust and ash blowing in eddies like living things. David staggered, searched for purchase with his hand, and found it in the form of Terra's, grasping at the empty air against the pain and the fear that visibly welled up in her like a fountain. Steadying himself, David saw the currents of air twisting inwards to a fixed point of whiteness that gradually took form in Devastator's outstretched hand. A speck of ice the size of a paint chip, then a ball bearing, then a marble...

The sudden tightening of Terra's grip told David that she had realized what was going to happen, roughly at the same moment that he had.

"Will, is all that matters," said Devastator. "And will, David, is what you've never had."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"Robin was an absolute," said Starfire. "His convictions were impenetrable, his commitment total. He would never, ever have condoned what I did. He would not have understood it. He would not have told me that it was all right. I know this, because I knew Robin. It is why I never told him. It is why I never told anyone what I did to Trogarr back before I came to Earth."

His breath coming in a ghastly wheeze, Warp crawled back, away from Starfire, who followed at a slow, relentless pace, even as Warp reached the edge of the parapet, and found himself forced to stop.

"I knew this," she said, her voice holding steady, albeit with a tremble of suppressed emotion. "I have always known this. Just as I knew that Robin would not lie to me. Not about this. Had he entered a room to see me murdering another person, he would have obeyed his convictions. He would have fought me. He could not do otherwise. It was not in his nature to do otherwise." She paused, standing now directly above Warp, looking down at him like a statue. "Did you imagine that I could have felt as I did for Robin without knowing this? Did you think I was so broken that I would fail to recognize Robin when I saw him? Or were you so debased that you actually believed I would prefer Robin as I would have made him be over the Robin he actually was?"

Laying prostrate on the ground, his eyes wide with fear as he stared up at Starfire, Warp did not answer.

"Such was my belief," she said.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"You can fight it all you like," said Terra. "Pretend it isn't true, or that it's not fair, or that you never meant for anything to happen. But you'll never convince anyone, not even yourself."

She was less than ten feet away now, stones the size of mailboxes floating casually around her, and her red eyes bathed Raven and Beast Boy in their crimson glow. Terra's gait was unhurried and her manner calm, and from the corners of her eyes, Raven could see openings in the wall of statues that surrounded them, crevasses and corridors she might run and hide in afresh. But Beast Boy lay behind her, and so she could not run. Not now. Not here, at the ending of all things.

"The truth is, Raven, you are the end of the world. You've always known that, even before anyone else here had heard of Trigon. It's why you left the monastery, why you tried so hard to avoid making friends. It's why you've always heard that little voice inside reminding you of what you are. And no matter how many times you deny it, no matter how many people you tried to help, ultimately, you were born to consume everything in fire. And that is exactly what you did."

Terra was right in front of her now, and Raven felt the urge to cower. To cry. To scream and hide and wrap herself in her cloak. But she looked up at the the ghastly simulacrum of Terra, and steeled herself to stand where she was, at least for the few seconds that remained.

And perhaps Terra saw that small resolution in her eyes, for she smiled, and raised her hand slowly, as the enormous stones carefully positioned themselves above Raven and Beast Boy.

"We all get exactly what we deserve, Raven," said Terra. "Even you."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The wind was a howl now, a violent shriek of distorted air, and the swelling, crystalline jewel in Devastator's hand grew ever larger, until it was the size of a softball, the sparkling center of a swirling vortex. Yet somehow, despite the wind, Devastator's voice was as clear as a bell.

"You had Devastator," he said. "But Devastator is commanded by will, and you never had the will to make use of it. Not in the centers, not with the Titans, not ever. You sat back, and let the world do what it wanted to you, because it was easier than thinking for yourself. You're a bystander, David, an intruder who let himself get dragged into events that by rights should not ever have concerned you. When the DCS told you to move, you moved. When Robin told you to fight, you fought. When I told you to run, you ran. And now we're all here, in the middle of this burning hell, because fundamentally, you couldn't answer the most simple question that all of us are ever asked."

The wind cut all at once, leaving behind a deafening silence, as David stood beside Terra, watching his counterpart with unblinking eyes.

"On a basic level, David, you have simply never known what it is you want."

And with that, Devastator lightly tossed the ball of nuclear ice into the air, and struck it with his silver-handled cane, sending it rocketing towards David like a shooting star.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made :
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.


It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring-
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.


Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too :
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze-
On me alone it blew.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

There was a wet slap. And then absolute silence.

It was as though the fires themselves had stopped their ambient roar. David did not move, did not even breathe, standing as still as the statue he had been before Terra awoke him into the world of flames and damnation. If anything else transpired, he did not know it, his universe reduced to nothing but immediate reality. For an indeterminate time, he stood there. And then he opened his eyes, and looked down on the object he had just caught with both hands.

It was beautiful.

Cupped in David's hands sat a perfect sphere of white crystal, so cold that the air around it seemed to shimmer, and yet his bare fingers felt nothing but a faint electrical sensation. Deep within it, he could discern a tremble, soft but forceful, the slightest hint of what awesome forces lurked within. Yet he felt no fear as he stared into the sphere of frozen nitrogen, his eyes bathing it in red light which blended with the soft glow emanating from its churning core. For an eternity, he watched the ball of crystalline ice, until at length he drew in a long, slow breath.

And then he lifted his head.

The man still stood before him, his cane still held in one hand, dripping with the red flames of wrath. But he was no longer Devastator, Lord of Destruction, slayer of multitudes and servant of Trigon. Instead, David saw a twisted and broken man standing dumbstruck in the street as he beheld that which should not, per his thinking, have been possible. His one remaining eye flickered between David's eyes and the crystal, as though expecting at any particular moment for the world to return to the way he was accustomed to it behaving, and finding at each consecutive moment, that it did not.

As his counterpart slowly settled his gaze back on his face, David tightened his fingers around the crystal sphere, and said the only thing that he could.

"I want my family back, you sonofabitch."

And then, with one, fluid motion, David Foster lifted the ball of shining ice into the air, and willed, with every fiber of his being, for light.

And there was light.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The flash was like nothing she had ever seen.

It came from somewhere far away and off to her right, oblique to her and Terra, but even if it had happened behind her, she still would have seen it, for its intensity was dazzling beyond all imagination. The sky, the fires of Hell, the ruins that stretched on into eternity, it obliterated them all in a heartbeat, subsuming them in soundless, formless light, as though a star had sprung into life before her very eyes. It cast no shadows, illuminated nothing, drowning all other objects in its infinite luminescence, and though it lasted only an instant, it seemed to penetrate straight through to Raven's soul, searing her heart with a brand of light, even as she felt its heat waft against her skin.

And then the flash abated, and in its place she saw a mountain of fire.

No ambient hellfire was this, no twisted manifestation of Trigon's volcanic hate. This was living fire. A towering inferno of unfathomable proportions, looming upwards from a distant spot like some vengeful demon arising from Hell. It boiled upwards, yellow and orange and red by turns, parting the clouds of ash before it as it drew itself up to stratospheric heights. Its crown swelled as it rose, expanding in every direction, taking on the shape of an enormous mushroom. And as Raven watched this transpire, she heard a low rumble, like an endless landslide heard from a great distance, which shook the very ground she stood upon.

"What in the Hell ...?"

Raven did not turn her head at Terra's question, her eyes riveted on the pillar of flame looming before her, her hands frozen at her side. What this new development was, where it had come from and who had caused it to be, she could not even begin to determine. But none of those questions were important now, for all of them were sidelined by one, singular fact.

Someone else was alive.

Not since laying eyes upon the charred wasteland that had once been her home, not since waking up in a frozen Hell, not once had Raven even considered that someone besides her, Trigon, and Beast Boy might still exist upon the Earth. Not once had she given thought to that possibility, for it was a plain, obvious absurdity. Her torment, her guilt, the very reason she was in Hell in the first place, all of it was predicated on the assumption that she had, by her own failure to act, exterminated the entire human race. She had fought with herself for hours, days, maybe decades, over the question of whether or not she was truly culpable in this enormous, unfathomable crime.

She had never once imagined that the crime itself might not yet be fully comitted.

She did not know if the fireball was the doing of one of her friends, or a complete stranger, or even Trigon himself. It did not occur to her to ask. The recognition that not everyone had perished, that somewhere out in the wider world, there remained someone other than Trigon and his tools, was like a magic wand passing over her head. Even if the fireball was Trigon's doing, and its target now dead, the mere fact that he was still resorting to such crude tactics meant that his victory was not yet complete, for he was still, visibly, in the process of trying to win it.

And if it wasn't Trigon's doing...

Dimly, she heard the sound of Terra's footsteps as the simulacrum turned back to her to finish what she had started. From the corner of her eye, she saw the geokinetic raising her hands to the rocks that still floated overhead, saw her bring her hands down, commanding the stones to fall upon Raven like meteors, and yet she could not bring herself to turn, or scream, or cower. All she could do was stare wide-eyed at the fireball, her mind spinning like a top, until at last, the great stones came crashing down upon her head.

But she did not fall.

There was a great crack of splintering stone overhead, and the hollow rattle of pebbles being scattered across an even surface, loud enough to shake Raven from her trance. And when she lifted her head to see what had produced such a noise, she saw a great barrier of white light shimmering directly above, enclosing her and Beast Boy together in a hollow shell. Above the barrier lay the smashed remnants of Terra's rocks, dashed to pieces against it like crockery thrown into a brick wall. And as she turned in shock and wonder, to locate the source of this unexplained miracle, she caught a glimpse of her own hand, and saw that it was glowing white.

"No..."

She lifted her head once more and saw the Anti-Terra standing in undisguised shock before her, mouth agape and arms limp at her sides. Blinking in astonishment, Terra's eyes traced the edges of Raven's shield as though expecting it to vanish, and finding with horror that it did not.

"I won't... let you hurt him," said Raven.

"NO!" Bellowed Terra, and she threw her hands out, uprooting stones the size of cars and busses and hurling them at Raven like cannonballs. Yet Raven did not flinch, or cry, or feel the touch of fear, for somehow she knew that she did not need to. The stones struck the shield with the power of cannonballs, yet each one shattered in turn like glass thrown against concrete. And with each successive stone that failed to breach the shield, Raven felt something alien and yet familiar stirring within her, the first flickering of a sensation she had not felt in so long that she had begun to regard it as fable.

Hope.

"I won't let you hurt anyone ," she said, and opening her arms wide, Raven felt a warm embrace, alien and yet familiar, as light stretched forth from within her to swallow everything nearby. And the last thing she saw was Terra's expression of surprise and fear, as the light reached forth towards her in the shape of a raven's claw.

And then she saw no more. Nor did she need to.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

"So has it come to this then?" coughed Warp, spitting blood over his golden armor. "I thought you came here to rescue Robin."

"Robin is not here," said Starfire. "He is beyond my capacity to rescue now. You saw to that. He was but an excuse to bring this about."

Despite the pain, Warp managed a hollow laugh. "I offered you no excuses," he managed to say. "You came of your own free will."

"No," said Starfire. "Not yours. He was an excuse I used, to bring myself here without complication from anyone other."

The laugh faded as quickly as it had arisen, and Warp's face froze back into a spiteful sneer. "In life as in death," he said. "All he was to you was - "

"Stop it," she said, her voice still even. "You cannot hurt me any longer. Do not even pretend to try."

"I have no need to try any longer," he said. "I have hurt you."

"Yes you have," she said, stooping down and lifting Warp up by his collar. "And now you shall receive your wages."

Despite the blood still choking him, Warp laughed at this, long and hard. "I have already received my wages," he said. "You need only look around you to see them. I exterminated your friends, annihilated your charges, and Trigon will see to Tamaran in due course, make no mistake of that. So run, if you want, or stay here with the cinders of your loved ones. It doesn't matter. I've done what I came here to do, Princess. I've given you the gift you gave to me. However long you manage to evade Trigon for, you'll always be nothing more than a scavenger and a fugitive. You'll be just as I was: broken, helpless, and all alone."

Starfire opened her mouth to answer Warp, but something else answered first.

There was a flash, impossibly distant, yet distinct despite it, bright enough to penetrate the ash clouds that surrounded the fortress. She lifted her head as her eyes caught the light, in time to see the flash fade from white to orange, the livid orange of fire. Yet even as the fireball attained full height, as if in response, a second flash of light appeared to challenge it. White as the first one had been, this one did not fade to another color, but exploded outward like a living thing, and though it took less than a second to resolve to its mature shape, Starfire needed several more seconds before she realized that it had taken on the form of an enormous bird. Backlit by the distant fireball, it rose into the sky like a phoenix, spreading its wings as it ascended, head held high. And then, just at the edge of her perception, Starfire heard a low, soft rumble, muted by extreme distance, mixed with a sound she might well have imagined, but that she thought resembled a bird's call

Neither Starfire nor Warp said a word, both watching the searing fireball and the brilliant white bird as they soared towards the heavens, only gradually fading from sight. Neither one said a word, until, at length, Warp rounded back on Starfire with a flash of anger.

"You think it matters?" he spat at her. "Let them shuffle the deck chairs if they want. Trigon's only playing with them. If there's any justice in the world, he's just saving them so that he can kill them all in front of you. Just like Robin."

Starfire's eyes narrowed, her grip on Warp's collar tightening as they did so, as the churning energies that boiled inside her began to shine through them. Warp recognized the sign for what it was. He could hardly fail to.

"That's how it is then?" asked Warp. "Fine then. Go ahead and kill me. It won't bring Robin back. And you'll always know that your last act in Robin's name was to destroy every principle he ever lived by. However long Trigon lets you live, you'll spend every second of it remembering how you betrayed him."

He might well have said more, but at that moment, Starfire pulled Warp in until his face was inches away from hers, his eyes floating right in front of her own, as hers filled once more with fire.

"Then that, Warp" she said, "is how it shall be."

And then, as she released the pent-up energies that boiled within, the last thing Starfire saw before the fluorescent glow of her own incarnated rage blinded her, was the sight of Warp as he opened his mouth to scream.

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which sky and ocean smote,
Like one that hath been seven days drowned
My body lay afloat ;
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot's boat.


*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

The echoes of the thunder died in the far distance before David opened his eyes once more.

The air was still now, and clean, the smoke and ash that had choked it gone, swept away as though by a broom. In its wake, the sky was stained only by thin wisps of fresh smoke that marked fires, small and few in number, wherever some tiny bit of flammable matter still remained amidst the general emptiness. Save for the patch he stood upon, the street itself was gone as well, the asphalt boiled away to nothingness, leaving only scorched bedrock behind. Here and there, pieces of irregular black glass lay scattered about, from where sand or some other silicate had been subjected to unfathomable heat and pressure, the only objects dotting the sterile landscape that had once been choked with debris and materials.

And of Devastator himself, there was no sign at all.

He felt a wetness on his cheek, and reached up to touch it, his fingers coming back stained with a dark grey fluid he realized only belatedly was his own discolored blood, seeping from the corners of his eyes like tears. More blood ran from his nose and ears, and he could taste the salt of it in his mouth, yet he felt no pain. Indeed he felt a strange numbness that seemed to spread from his extremities in towards his core, pins and needles gently pricking him all over his body until he could no longer feel the ground beneath his feet nor the wind gently wafting across his bloody fingertips.

He wondered, almost casually, if he was dying, and could not for the life of him discern what, if anything, he thought of that possibility.

At his side, a ragged gasp, finally taken by unwilling lungs which could hold their breath no longer, woke him back up, and he turned and crouched down unsteadily. Terra remained as she had been, pinned to the door of a burnt-out car by a three-quarter-inch steel rebar which protruded jaggedly from her stomach, ringed by a small trickle of blood, red, unlike his own. Unable to think of what else to do, he reached out and touched her shoulder, and in response, she opened her eyes, taking in at last the scene before her, the pain, along with everything else, draining from her face as she replaced it all with sheer, undisguised shock.

And more than shock. Awe.

David didn't know what to do. He couldn't even begin to catalogue the possibilities. And so he stayed where he was, crouched in the dirt, his face and hands smeared with greyish blood which mixed with the coal and dirt and ash and everything else that he and Terra were covered with, and simply waited. Terra's eyes grew wider and wider as she swept them across the scene of annihilation that lay before her, the glass-strewn rock and fire-scorched ruins that had not been present when moments ago, David had tossed a snowball into the air.

At length, Terra finally pulled herself away from the empty scene before her, and back to David, who remained crouched beside her. For a few moments, she seemed as lost for reply as David himself, her mouth opening and closing without forming any sounds. Yet before David could ask her what they ought to do now, or even if she was all right, relatively speaking, her eyes darted past him to where Devastator had been standing, held there a moment, and then returned to him, her eyes narrowing as she clenched her teeth, either against the pain of having been impaled, or as a symbol of what needed to happen.

The message was obvious enough.

Still unsure how to speak, David settled for squeezing Terra's shoulder for a second, before slowly hauling himself to his feet. The mangled, broken staff that had stood with him through this entire endless night still hung at his side, and he drew it once more, turning back towards the ruins of the shopping mall, and slowly walking towards it, his steps tentative and uneven as he descended onto the broken, sterilized ground, obsidian glass crunching under his shoes as he closed in.

The shopping mall was gone, crushed into a formless heap of rubble and then violently blasted across half the city. All that remained was a shapeless pile of indiscriminate debris, too heavy or too well-anchored to be lofted away, dotted periodically with gouting flames burning from some underground source. David approached it slowly, his weapon held outstretched like a wizard's wand, the numbness that had pervaded him before giving way to a tense fear that somehow his counterpart would leap forth once more at any given moment to wreak further ruin and death. He reached the base of the eclectic ruins, began to climb up onto them, traversing the uneven surface of mangled concrete and twisted metal on his hands and knees looking for any signs of life. He was halfway up when he found them.

A long, loud wheeze, like air being siphoned through a broken steam whistle, spun him halfway round and sent him scrambling over the pile of debris, stumbling and falling and righting himself all in one motion, rubbing the blood from his eyes and spitting it from his mouth as he made his way towards where he thought the sound had emerged from. His exhausted mind, like an automaton's, was already calculating the distances and angles of nearby stones and pipes and bits of debris, a reaction by now nearly automatic.

He crested a small ridge of the ruin, and stopped, straddling the mound of debris as he stared down into the crevasse before him. For several seconds he stood there, motionless. And then slowly, the fire around his broken staff dwindled to nothing, and he lowered it to his side.

It was plain, even to him, that there was no more purpose to it.

Devastator lay at the base of a small crevasse gouged into the piled ruin by some gyration of force. Crumpled and motionless, half buried beneath heaps of rubble and destruction, his good eye shut, he lay surrounded by the shattered fragments of his cane and sword, red blood slowly pooling beneath him. More blood trickled from the corners of his mouth, from his nose and ears and ruined eye. One arm lay buried beneath the rubble, the other lay palm-up and empty, the broken, silver handle of his once vibrant cane laying uselessly some inches away.

A hideous, slow, wheezing sound, coupled with the slow trickle of blood, was all that indicated that the body was alive at all. Yet armed with this knowledge, David could only stand where he was, watching his own broken body as the life slowly leached out of it. The wheezing continued, gurgling sounds from within Devastator's shattered body speaking to the blood filling his lungs. Yet slowly, the battered head began to twitch, and the one remaining eye slid half-open, to see David, standing framed against the eternal twilight.

Carefully, slowly, a thin, feeble smile turned the corners of Devastator's mouth. He opened his mouth, the words seeming to catch in his throat, requiring extra efforts just to push them over the threshold. When finally he spoke, it was in a harsh, almost ghoulish whisper.

"David..." said Devastator, his words slurred and trailing off like a man in the last stages of sleep deprivation. "My my... what have you done... ?"

Any lingering sense David had of what he ought to say or do deserted him, and so he stood there, balanced uneasily on the edge of the shallow crevasse, looking down at his own broken body. "It's over," he finally said. "This is the end."

Devastator chuckled weakly, pink froth coming to his lips as he did so. "Nothing ever ends," he whispered back. He might have added more, but the froth overcame his capacity to clear it, and his words of wisdom dissolved into a weak cough, and then nothing at all.

Carefully, David slid down into the crevasse, coming to a stop next to Devastator, yet when he arrived at the bottom, he had no better idea of what he should do, or even could do. "Can... can you hear me?" he ventured, not even certain what he wanted the answer to be, and knowing it was useless in any case.

Yet though his eye slid shut once more, the smile on Devastator's face broadened. "I'm not sure... I ever could..." he whispered. "You... learn to turn deaf ears... to that part of yourself..." Devastator's body slowly became limp, sliding from David's grasp back down onto his pillow of rubble, leaving David to crouch helplessly in the ruins. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know if he should speak, but Devastator waited for no reply, his eye sliding open again as he beheld his younger self.

"David... " he said, his voice beginning to weaken. "You must... you must... forgive me." The voice seemed poised on the edge of consciousness, yet Devastator continued, as though what he had to say were the most important thing in the world. "I... I had no idea... all this time..."

His own mind a whirlwind of contradictory impulses, David could only ask the obvious question.

"About what?"

The smile spread wide, even as Devastator's head slid slowly down to his chest, his voice trailing off into nothingness.

"That maybe... there was hope for you... after... all..."

*---------------------------------------------------------------------------*

'O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man !'
The Hermit crossed his brow.
'Say quick,' quoth he, 'I bid thee say-
What manner of man art thou ?'


Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale ;
And then it left me free...


- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.37 added) PostPosted: 2013-01-20 03:46am
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Joined: 2003-02-12 11:59pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 38: The Instruments of Fury


"It is better to avenge a friend than to mourn for him."
- Beowulf

*---------------------------------------------------------*

She wasn't sure if it was supposed to hurt more, and not knowing scared her more than anything.

There were no fires anymore, no smoke, not even any ash. The air was clear save for a haze creeping in from the edges of perception, the ground devoid of anything left to burn. The winds were still warm, still tinged with the scent of sulfur, but no longer choking. The pollutants that were previously omnipresent had been violently blasted away along with everything else, leaving her alone in a sterile desert, with nothing but the whistling wind to keep her company.

It was some time before she saw the lights reappear.

Red lights, searchlights in the darkness, cutting through the thin air in two broad beams, sweeping across the ruins before finding her and the car she was stapled to. There they sat, blinding her to all else, and she heard the crunch of footsteps on the obsidian glass that surrounded her small patch of asphalt, as a blurry shadow emerged from the mountain of indiscriminate rubble in front of her.

"Terra?"

She knew who it was of course, but this place had more tricks and illusions than a carnival funhouse, and so hearing his voice was a relief regardless. She lowered her hand to her side as he approached, closing until she could see his face, covered with the same mix of soot, coal dust, discolored blood, and volcanic ash that coated her. She knew his skin had been turned a sickly grey by whatever Trigon had done to him, but there was little of that still visible, and the only thing left to distinguish the two of them was his eyes, still glowing red like hot coals in a furnace.

That and the rebar.

"Terra, are you - " He stopped himself from asking a manifestly stupid question, but she answered it regardless, biting back a groan as she nodded curtly. The steel rebar, driven through her stomach like a railroad spike and pinning her to the wrecked car behind did not move a millimeter, not even when she fidgeted to try and shift her weight. She felt a jolt, not of pain, but of somethingas she tried to move, and elected not to try further.

"I'm... I'm okay," she managed to say, lifting her eyes. "Devastator?"

There was a brief flash of something in David's eyes, but the red light pouring from them prevented her from identifying what it was. "He's dead," he said.

One of the knots in Terra's gut loosened, but she said nothing. In a situation this weird, she wasn't sure what to say. As David seemed disinclined to venture a comment of his own, she switched tracks.

"What... wasthat?"

"What?" asked David, distractedly. Then, perceiving the answer to his own question, he continued. "Oh," he said. "That... um... it was frozen atmospheric - "

"No," said Terra, "no, I... know what it was. But... how did you do it?"

David's eyes darted to the ground. It was all the more obvious when they were crimson searchlights. "I..." he stammered. "I'm not... I don't really know how."

Terra watched him for a moment. "Yeah, you do," she said.

He didn't answer, crouching down instead before her, his hand opening and closing as though unsure if he should venture to touch the spike of black iron that was driven through her stomach. "It doesn't matter," he said. "We've gotta get out of - "

He touched the end of the iron bar, and a jolt of pain like a live wire shot through Terra's midsection with such intensity that she nearly screamed. A strangled yelp escaped her throat as she tensed up, and it was several moments before she could let air slip in and out of her lungs once more without howling in agony. When she finally forced her eyes open again, she saw that David had scrambled back several feet in horror at what he had just triggered.

"I - I'm sorry!" he blurted out, red eyes wide with fear and surprise. "I didn't - "

"It's... it's okay..." she managed to say, taking control of her breathing once more and slowly forcing the fire out of her lungs. "I'll... just... please don't touch that."

"I won't," said David quickly, as he carefully approached once again, stopping out of arm's reach this time. "But... we've gotta get out of here. Every demon in a hundred miles must have seen that explosion."

Likely enough he was understating it, but that hardly changed things. She looked down at the ugly spear of black iron pinning her to the car. "I don't... I don't think I'm going anywhere," she said, in a voice that sounded oddly flat, even to her ears.

David leaned forward, looking down at the rebar, visibly searching for the right solution in his head. "I - I know it hurts," he said, "but... if we pull it out of you, then I can - "

"No!" yelped Terra before she could stop herself, causing David to jump once more. "No," she repeated more calmly. "I'd bleed to death..."

The rebar sticking out of her stomach was ringed in red blood, a trickle of which was running down her stomach to her waistband, and thence to the ground. But while Terra was no doctor, she knew that pulling out the bar would turn trickle into flood. Had he been in better shape, she assumed David would have recognized that too. As it was, he saw the logic as soon as she pointed it out.

"Oh," he said. "Well uh... then... I'll break the other side of the bar off. We'll get you free that way."

Terra grimaced as she fidgeted on the ground. "It's fused to the engine block," she said.

"Then I'll break that," said David in mounting frustration. "I'll take the whole car apart. I can do it carefully, piece by piece."

The very thought made Terra's stomach start to ache again. "No..." she said, shaking her head. "No the shock will... it'll jar loose."

David wouldn't give it up. "Terra, listen to me, there's a bunker not far from here. An emergency bunker, it's protected from all this. We can get you there."

"How?" asked Terra.

"If we can break you free, I can... I don't know, dragyou there or something. I'll make a sled out of debris. All you have to do is hang on, and - "

"And then what?" she asked, her voice quivering only slightly. "You're gonna do stomach surgery?"

That shut him up, and he was quiet for several moments as he visibly struggled to come up with another answer. "Well... we've gotta do something," he said. "Come on, let me just... I can break the bar off without dislodging it, I promise. It'll just take a few minutes."

"No it won't," said Terra. "Not to break it and build a litter and drag me back to this bunker of yours. And even if it did, you don't havea few minutes. Not anymore."

All this, to avoid saying what she knew she was going to have to say. It was too much for David to follow, and he looked at her, confused, plainly unable to see why she was being so obstructionist. "What are you talking about?" he asked, frustration oozing from his voice. The accumulated debris of everything that had happened tonight, no doubt.

She tried to answer him, she honestly did. But even though she knew exactly how this conversation had to end, she still could not bring herself to say it out loud. Not, at least, until she saw him finally put the pieces together in his head, and knew that he understood what she was trying to tell him.

His eyes went wide, wider than they had been even when Devastator had revealed himself, and the red light poured off of them like blood moons, and his body went stiff and rigid, as if some hellish vision had just materialized before his eyes. "No," he said, as though to pre-empt her.

"You have to go," she said. And then it was said, and done, and out in the open.

But he would not hear it. "No way," he said, in the best impression of Robin that Terra had ever heard him give. "Absolutely not."

"David, listento me," she said. "You have to leave. Now. You have to get out of here, and go find the others. It's the only way."

"Are you out of your mind?" replied David, and by his voice, she wasn't sure if the question was rhetorical or not. "There could be a thousand demons on their way here right now. Fifty thousand, I don't even - "

"Yeah, there could," she said, unwilling to let him finish the thought. "And you can't be here to meet them. You need to leave."

"And what, I'm supposed to leave you here to fight off the armies of Hell when you can't even stand up?" he demanded.

"No," she said, "you're supposed to do your job."

Something in her voice stopped him short. "My job?" he asked, and this time she knew it wasn't rhetorical.

"Yeah," she said.

"My job is to help people," he said. "To... save people." Even now, he hesitated on that word, but pushed past it. "Not to leave people to getripped apart by demons." As gently as he could, he laid one hand on the exposed end of the rebar anchoring her to the car, and she felt the bar's temperature begin to pulsate like a heartbeat, not enough to hurt, but enough that she knew he was infusing it with his own powers. "You brought me back to life," he said. "I'm not leaving you here to die."

Bombast and anger would get nowhere. She knew that by now. It was the library basement all over again, the streak of almost contrarian refusal to accept what was that he either had always had buried within him or had picked up from the other Titans at some point. But stubbornness was a subject Terra knew more about than most, and this time, if not before, she knew what she had to say.

"David," she said, "I'm not the one you need to save."

He crumpled, his hands compressing into balled fists, his eyes sliding shut as he brought one hand up to his face. "Terra," he said, his voice now testy, "Devastator's dead. They don't need my help now. Not with him gone. They took Trigon out by themselves without me, and without Devastator getting in the way, they can do it again. I know they can."

"No, they can't."

"Yes, they can!" he was almost shouting now, as desperate to believe it himself as to convince her. "They're the Titans, Terra, they can beat anything, even Trigon. They don't need me to do that. I'm not a - "

She slapped him across the face.

It wasn't very hard. She couldn't manage very hard right now, but if she had pulled out a gun and shot David in the chest, she likely could not have generated more surprise. His eyes flew open, and he stared at her dumbstruck, even as she forced air into her lungs, biting back the pain of having jarred her midsection so unforgivably. Her teeth clenched shut, she hissed, more than spoke, her answer.

"Don't you dare," she said. "Don't you dare tell me you're not a hero. Not now."

She wasn't sure what he believed, but whether because he perceived the foolishness of what he'd been about to say, or whether the expression on her face was one he did not dare to cross, David said nothing at all. Carefully, Terra leaned forward as much as the rod would let, trying to ignore the trickle of blood now leaking visibly down onto the street beside her, praying that David would do the same.

"The others need you," she said, forcing her voice to remain even. "They need you right now. You. Do you understand me? They need you. Not Robin, not me, not even Superman. You." Her throat seized, and she fought with all her might not to cough, feeling the welter of blood that waited to issue forth from within her esophagus. "They... they need the kid... who can blast demons apart like cherry bombs. The one who can throw cars and trucks and tractor-trailers around like rubber balls, and conjure nuclear weapons out of thin air."

"That wasn't me," ventured David. "That was him."

"You're the same person," said Terra, her voice becoming desperate. "The same flesh and blood, the same powers. That was you. It was you back in the park when we fought. It was you when Slade attacked the Tower, and it was you five minutes ago when you did... whatever that was. That's what you are. That's what you've always been. And that's what they need right now, and you know it. I don't care if they beat him before and I don't care if you were here or weren't here the last time, and neither do they. They need you. They need you now. And that's why you have to go."

He blinked at her. The best he could do now, she knew, and his look was desperate. Desperate for it all to be untrue perhaps. Desperate for the Titans to not need him, or to need someone else instead. Desperate for the road ahead to be clear. Who could tell? "I can't just... leave you here," he said.

"You have to," she said. "Even if you get me out of here and drag me back to that bunker of yours and manage to patch me back up, even if you doall of that, I still won't be able to help you or the others against Trigon. And that's all that matters now. You heard Devastator. The whole world is watching you, watching the others. They need you to stop Trigon, any way you can. They needyou to leave me here. You have to go."

He said nothing. His face was a blank stare caught halfway between horror and numb shock, a stare she remembered from another face entirely from a moment that seemed like a lifetime ago. The memory threatened to break her resolve down, and she pushed it violently aside. Now was not the time to slip.

David seemed like he was trying to remember how to speak. His blood-red eyes stared unblinkingly at her, but could not obscure the expression on his face. "Terra..." he managed to say at length, his voice as weak as she felt.

Carefully, Terra mustered her strength. "Go," she said, and when he did not move, she repeated herself, more sharply. "Go." Only at this did his hand fall away from the tip of the bar that pinned her where she was, and carefully, he stood up, staring down at her with an expression she remembered all too well.

"Terra," he said. "I..."

She shook her head. "Just go," she said. "Go and... and do what people like you are supposed to do." She felt a drowsy numbness spreading through her like a liquid, and despite everything, she managed to smile as she finished her thought. "Save the world."

Neither grey, coal-splattered skin nor red, glowing eyes could fail to disguise the expression of helplessness on David's face. And yet he took one step away, and then another, and another, each one as labored as her own footsteps might have been now. She did not repeat herself further, but closed her eyes and nodded, and when she opened them again, she saw him turn as reluctantly as it was possible to, and slowly begin to walk away.

Only now, with her point won and the consequences finally manifest, did her resolve slip at all. And before he had gotten a dozen or so paces away, she suddenly called after him.

"David?"

He turned around instantly, perhaps expecting her to change her mind, or beg him to try and save her. But instead, all she had for him was a request.

"Would you... when you find Beast Boy... could you... could you tell him..."

Her mind seized up, all at once, and left her grasping at a forest of straws smeared with grease, unable to seize one despite the thousands that floated around her. For several moments, she struggled for anything adequate to say. Until finally she was reduced to the only thing that she could think of at all.

"Tell him..." she said, her voice balanced on the knife's-edge of breaking. "Tell him... I tried."

David didn't say a word. Maybe he couldn't. But at length, he managed to nod his acceptance. For a moment longer, he stayed where he was. But then, at last, he turned, and walked away, and the smoke closed between them like a curtain, and then he was gone.

All alone now, Terra sat beside the rusting hulk of the car to which she was affixed, and felt the energy ebb from her like a punctured garden hose. The small pool of blood around her glistened in the eternal twilight, and she imagined that she could feel the heat from it wafting up towards her, mingling with the air she breathed with each laborious breath. From somewhere far away, she imagined she heard the sound of birds. Or maybe it was the howl of beasts, racing through a verdant forest, outlined in emerald against an azure sky.

She opened her eyes, and saw another stream of blood running the length of the bar, dripping from it into her lap and streaming down her leg to join the expanding pool on the ground. The pain was nearly gone now, and the sensation of it leaving was the most delicious thing in the world. Carefully, Terra took a deep breath, tasting the heavy minerals laced through the air, and let it out again.

"Okay..." she whispered to herself. "Now comes the hard part..."

*---------------------------------------------------------*

He didn't walk for long before he was running, and he wasn't running for long before he was running as fast as he could.

Down streets of blasted asphalt and cracked concrete he ran, unsure if he was running towards or away from something, and not willing to stop to give himself time to find out. He could have been going anywhere, towards the rest of the Titans, away from them, in circles, straight into the jaws of Hell, there was no way to tell. The city was not merely ruined but rearranged, once-familiar landmarks scrambled randomly like toys thrown together by a toddler. The very geography over which he was travelling seemed warped, hills flattened or buttressed by fresh upthrusts from deep within the earth, and yet he knew that this was the right way.

Hours ago, there'd been a single glimpse of light, a green light flashing in the distance like a lighthouse, and a blue one under siege from a thousand points of red. The green one had been at such a distance, not to mention altitude, that he knew he had no hope whatsoever of reaching it, not if he ran for a week. But the other light had been closer, still far, but close enough to resolve the individual lights that surrounded it, and it was towards that light that he was running now, desperately trying to convince himself with half his mind not to do the very thing the other half was screaming at him to do.

Somewhere far behind him, Terra was -

No. He clamped down on that thought instantly, forced it out of his mind. It was too late to turn back in any event, too late to do anything about it. Whatever was happening to Terra, whatever had happened to her, it was out of his hands now. He forced himself to repeat that statement like a religious mantra, running it through his head again and again as though he could force himself to believe it by act of conscious will. It didn't work at all. But on the other hand, he didn't turn around.

He hoped like hell that this was the right way to go.

The street ahead broadened into a wide boulevard, with room enough for six lanes of traffic plus bicycles, parking and broad sidewalks lined in better times with shady trees and outdoor cafes. Few cars remained, even the remains thereof, and the crumbled ruins of the commercial buildings on either side still retained enough cohesiveness to identify what they once had been. That one was a movie theatre, that one a restaurant, this one here a clothing -

"David?"

Every nightmare David had ever had exploded to the forefront of his mind all at once, all triggered by the same easy, instantly-recognizable voice. He yelled in surprise, and half-turning, he swung the severed staff in his hand like a tennis racket, sending a brick of charred rubble hurtling past his own head straight at whatever had spoken, all before he could even turn to see what it was. Only then did he turn.

In the middle of the street, where moments ago there had been nobody at all, there stood a carbon copy of David as he once had been, his skin and eyes and hair all the colors they were before the advent of this terrible, endless night. Clad in a pristine red uniform, with a polished, stainless steel baton clipped to his brass-colored belt, the boy did not flinch as David hurled a brick at him with his mind, his image wobbling slightly as the brick flew right through him without stopping, bouncing to a stop against the curb. A second later and his image reformed, like a hologram from the movies, and was still once more.

It took David somewhat longer to recover, but recover he ultimately did, breathing the fire out of his lungs in the way that he had been taught to, and giving his stunned, short-circuited nerves time to calm themselves. The image waited patiently, until at length, David had restored enough of his equilibrium to speak it's proper name, a name he had heard altogether too much tonight, if he had any say in the matter.

"Devastator?"

The spirit wearing David's face nodded quickly, traces of a smile crossing his impermeable features. "David... are you alright?"

In a world torn to pieces by the Devil himself, this was, assuredly, the single most asinine question that David had ever heard. He ignored it.

"What's going on here?" he asked, still half-unsure if this was really happening. And without waiting for an answer he dove straight into the most salient issue. "Why can I... useyou?"

Devastator didn't look surprised at the question, but could only shake his head. "I... I don't know, David. Not exactly."

"What does that mean?" asked David.

"It means you're not supposed to be alive," said Devastator. "Not while Trigon has me."

It was perhaps a measure of just how far gone David was that he couldn't become upset or angry at that statement, nor even register it as a threat. "Sorry?" he finally ventured.

"No," said Devastator. "You don't understand..."

"Then explain it to me," said David. "If Trigon took you out of me, why can I still blow stuff up the way I used to when I still had you?"

"Because I chose you as my host," said Devastator. "Not Trigon. That's what bound me to your will in the first place. Trigon can steal me, but he can't undo my choice, not as long as you're still alive."

NowDavid started to feel upset. "Why didn't you tell me that before?" he asked, his teeth clenched against the screaming tirade that he could feel coming on.

Maybe Devastator saw it too. Either way, he threw up his hands in a gesture of innocence. "I didn't know, David. I've never been ripped out of a host before, and certainly not by Trigon. I'm supposed to live inside a host until they die, and then find a new one. There's never been twohosts alive at the same time before. I didn't even know it was possible. Trigon killed you, and you came back, and... I guess Trigon can't sever our connection totally. Or at least he hasn't yet."

David caught the important word in that explanation, and his anger died before it. "Yet?" he asked.

Devastator nodded. "It takes time to integrate your will with a cosmic being. Even for the Devil."

"And once he does?"

The ghostly figure shrugged. "I really don't know," he said. "He'll probably use me to blow the planet in half or something. His channelling capacity is almost limitless. He'll be able to use me to unmake galaxies if he wants."

"Is that what he wants?"

Devastator only shook his head again. "I don't know," he said. He lifted his head once more, looking around at the ruins that surrounded them. "You'd think he already had enough destructive power without me. But I guess someone like Trigon always wants more."

The shock of Devastator's arrival had worn off, and the numbing, almost warm embrace of inertia had once more taken its place. "Maybe," said David, turning and looking back up the street, which disappeared some hundred yards ahead into the ubiquitous red-tinted clouds. Indistinct patterns formed, danced, and dissipated within the smoke, mocking shadows that hinted at a thousand possibilities for what might be shrouded just behind.

"Do you know where the others are?" asked David.

Devastator didn't answer immediately, and David turned to see him seemingly staring off into empty space. But David did not rush whatever process this was, standing mute and watching Devastator, even as the empty hole inside of him seemed to flair like a swollen joint at the sight. He pushed it aside, like so much else.

"I can only see through Trigon," said Devastator at length. "It's... strange."

"Raven said Trigon was omniscient," said David.

"He is," said Devastator. "But he's still bound by his own addictions."

"What addictions?"

"Pain," replied the weaponized embodiment of destruction. "Pain and suffering and loss and all the rest of it. It draws him like a moth to flames. He can't look away from it, no matter how much he wants to. He... knows everything that's happened. He knows you killed your counterpart, he knows that the others are out there, but... he can't help himself but watch."

"Watch what?" asked David.

Devastator's head lifted suddenly, and the image of the boy that David had been mere days ago turned to face him. "Cyborg," he said.

Something, something simultaneously hopeful and horrifying lodged itself in David's throat, made it hard to swallow or speak. "Where is he?" he asked.

"Just up the street," said Devastator, gesturing into the smoke. "Over the hill and down into the valley. But..."

"But what?"

"But there's a thousanddemons between you and him, and other things too. You're not the only one with a bad side."

The cold number settled into David's stomach like a lump of iron, and yet the spectre of it did not rear its head as it should have. Perhaps his nerves were still too stunned to be impressed by numbers. Perhaps he still hadn't accepted any of this as actually happening. Whatever the reason, the desire to find the nearest rock to run under, the one he always had to fight off, failed to appear.

There was an irony to this somewhere, but he couldn't put his finger properly on it.

"Is Trigon gonna kill him?" asked David. The question sounded oddly clinical, even from his own throat.

"Eventually," said Devastator. "By inches, I'd assume. He'll make his minions do it."

"Why?" asked David. "If he's so addicted to pain, why not do it himself?"

"Because for all his power, Trigon's ultimately a coward," said Devastator. "He's always been one."

Still staring into the smoke, David shook his head. "That's hard to imagine."

"The more power you have," said Devastator, "the more you fear to lose it." He stepped soundlessly up next to David, looking off in the same direction. "I've seen it before, but... never like this. Trigon's afraid all the time. And the stronger he gets, the more fearful he becomes." Devastator paused, then turned his head to David once more. "I've seen that before too."

David did not respond.

At length, Devastator breathed a soft sigh, and stepped away, seemingly looking around as though admiring the scenery. "He'll want to break Cyborg before he kills him," said Devastator. "He won't care how long it takes."

Carefully, deliberately, David took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Doing so had once been a mantra of sorts, a way to dispel enough of the fear and apprehension that rose whenever a fight presented itself that he would be able to function. It did no such thing now, but that was because he no longer seemed capable of considering the future enough for fear. Not anymore. Not here.

"I've gotta stop him," said David.

"How?" asked Devastator, but this time the question was honest. "Even with me... Trigon's watching Cyborg right now. He has an entire army there, waiting for someone like you to walk in and try to interfere. How are you gonna get through them all?"

David let the question turn over in his head for a moment as he turned back to Devastator. Yet even as he did, his eye was attracted all of a sudden by the ruined building behind him. A board-fronted store, much like all the others, capped by faded lettering, torn and burnt, if still vaguely legible as "Jump City Toys". Yet it wasn't the building itself, nor the name on the store, that drew David's attention, but the shattered windowfronts that lay beneath it, where the scorched remnants of price tags and sale signs lay draped atop a pile of plastic merchandise, dusted in ash and fallen from their mountings, detritus like all the rest of the city, mute and forgotten.

And all of a sudden, for the first time in a thousand years, and for no reason that anyone would have considered rational, David felt the beginnings of a smile curling the corners of his mouth.

"I think I have an idea..."



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.37 added) PostPosted: 2013-01-20 03:47am
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*---------------------------------------------------------*

'Everything can be reduced to constituent parts'.

It was day fifteen of training, at least by David's count. Fifteen days since the argument with Robin and the rooftop conversation with Beast Boy, the one that had finally clued him in, last of all of course, as to what was really going on here. Fifteen days since he'd acquiesced to the concept of becoming what he'd never permitted himself to consider becoming before. Maybe that milestone meant nothing. But it was one he still kept in mind, a concession to external reality in a world he still did not fully understand, and at times worried that he never would.

'Not just machines. Everything. People, weapons, politics, conversations, cities, social structures. It all comes down to tiny pieces of a larger whole.'

He was used to receiving the tuition of the Titans by now. Robin's secret training program, hidden under the guise of 'self-defense' (a designation which had apparently fooled no one except David himself) had instilled him with that much, and it had only ramped up since throwing aside the curtain. His powers were strange, even by the insane standards of the rest of the Titans, but the others did their best, each one taking their turn, showing him one thing or another, some aspect of this new life which he had entered into without really appreciating what he was doing. Every one of them had strengths as teachers, each one indispensable in their own way, and to choose between them was not something David considered himself qualified to do.

But that said, Cyborg was the one who tended to make the most sense.

'You break things down like this, reduce it to the most elemental level, and you can master anything. Anything at all. And that's what you've gotta learn.'

Never in a thousand years would David have dared to suggest that he and Cyborg were alike. It was not in him to make a comparison like that. It would have been unthinkably presumptuous, implicitly placing himself on a level that he knew he had not earned. Moreover, as he would no doubt have argued, it was completely wrong. Cyborg was an athlete, a scientist, a semi-obsessive mechanic, a ladies man (at least in his own mind). His background was filled with trauma and loss, unspecified disasters mentioned only in passing with a clipped word or a momentary hesitation circulating around whatever it was that had forced him to replace most of his body with metal and circuitry. He was outgoing and confident, brash and even arrogant, dismissive of difficulties, the sort of person who, upon perceiving that a problem existed, immediately began working to fix it, taking solace in action instead of contemplation. Not one of the above descriptions fit David in the slightest, to say nothing of the fact that Cyborg, like Robin, like all the others, was simply set aboveDavid, and nothing had ever served to alter that stark equation as far as David was concerned.

And yet there was something to the idea despite all that, and it had to do with perspective.

'Fightin' off something like Cinderblock's too big to imagine. Too much for you to table right now. You can't look at it that way. You have to break it down into something more manageable.'

Robin was, to the outside world, the "normal" face of the Titans, but David would never have described him as such. Robin was an enigma wrapped in a mystery, a box that David never dared to try and open, but one element was obvious enough. His perspective on training, on heroism, on life itself was colored by the shadow of an enormous bat, indeed at times, David could almost imagine it superimposed on his features. He knew David's limits, he knew them better that David knew them himself, knew how teenagers were broken of their old selves and remoulded into new ones, knew more things than David could even begin to catalogue. But still, what to Robin was normal, was to David something entirely different, and while that did not stop Robin from accomplishing his daily objectives insofar as David was concerned, it did mean that David simply had to trust that Robin knew what he was doing, as Robin was incapable of expressing what was happening in terms that David could recognize.

With the others it was similar. Starfire, for all her caring, all her concern, was an alien, and ten minutes' conversation with her was sufficient to ram home just what that meant. Her ignorance of the realities of humanity was generally vastly overstated, but she still came from another world, where she had lived as royalty, as a member of a species trained from birth as intergalactic warriors. Raven, while not an alien (actually, David wasn't too sure whatRaven was), had also been trained from birth by some sort of magical mystery cult, laden with responsibilities so heavy that she refused categorically to speak of them to anyone, least of all David. Even Beast Boy, outgoing and laid back as he was, had been a superhero since the age of eight, trained by seasoned professionals from the Doom Patrol, and active in fighting evil for years before the Titans had even formed. Infinitely helpful, infinitely patient, infinitely qualified as they all were, none of them had the slightest idea what it felt like to try and transition from a normal kid into a superhero.

Cyborg did.

'There are 98 elements that exist naturally in the world. Combinations of these elements make up every object in the known universe. My body, yours, the table, the walls, the ground, the air, everything can be broken down into less than a hundred elements. You have to find a ground level to start at to do this sort of thing, and my bet is that this one'll turn out to be yours.'

Until the age of 14 or so, Cyborg had not lived as a superhero. He had lived as Victor Stone, of Jump City, a high school student like ten thousand others. Not a hero, not a vigilante, not concerned with the goings on of metahumans save for school gossip and the like, he had been, in rough approximation, what David had. Even if their lives as civilians could not have been more different, as David was not an athlete, nor a scholar, nor possessed of living parents, nor black, the mere fact that they had been civilians at all meant that Cyborg had known, better than anyone else, even Robin, what a seismic shift this truly was. He, alone among the Titans, had understood the need for a mental bridge between the world of a simple teenager and that of a world-conquering hero. And he, alone among the Titans, had been possessed of some idea of how to do just that.

'Don't think about the size of the rock. Don't think about its weight. Don't think about what it'll do to you if someone throws it at you. Don't even think about it as a rock. It's not a rock. It's a pile of granite. Granite means it's mostly means silicon and oxygen, and you know how to do those two. Practice with them enough, and you'll be able to just do quartz without having to think about it, then granite, and then anything else above it.'

It was not really day fifteen of David's training, official or not. It was not day anything of his training. In fact, it was not daytime. It was an endless night in an endless hell, and he stood upon the crest of a ridge looking down at a scene of violence and devastation that would once have exceeded his most terrible nightmares, a green duffel bag slung over one shoulder, covering one arm like an oversized sling. Far below him ran a street, broad and dusted with ash and the residue of fires. Rank upon rank of flame demons were arrayed upon it, hundreds if not more, hovering calmly in place, their backs to him, their faces to the hulking mass of grey steel and albino flesh who stood in the center of their formation. Yet he in turn looked on something else, a shattered figure who lay crushed and broken on the ground at his feet, a mangled mass of blue circuitry and armor, emitting sparks and the sounds of metal grinding on metal even as the figure above him continued to speak words like 'inevitability' and 'destiny' in a tone dripping with contempt.

David allowed himself enough time to draw a single breath, tinged with the scent of smoke and burning electronics, that seemed, somehow, to last for a thousand years. And then he began to descend.

'You see, a firefight, or a throwdown with Slade or whoever, ain't really all that different from a piece of granite when you get right down to it. 90% of everything in these fights, the catchphrases, the costumes, the fancy names, the sound and light show, it's all designed to make everything look more complicated than it is. Confuse the other side. We do it too. You gotta learn to filter all that crap out, not let it drive you crazy, tackle everything the way it is. Way your stuff works, once you do that, I think you'll be able to get the hang of it.'

It was not day fifteen of David's training, by any count whatsoever, and yet it was. Here at the end of the world where time was unimportant and the world reduced to a mocking parody of itself, David was in many places at once. His eyes saw the roiling mass of demons arrayed before him. His ears heard the low, guttural growls that they emitted as they listened to their leader's twisted cackle. But mentally he was only half here at all, some portion of his essence a million miles and several months away, in calmer settings and simpler times.

It was some time before they noticed him. He made no particular effort to conceal his presence, but the ambient noise was high, and the evil version of Cyborg was holding forth at great length concerning inevitable defeat or some other damned thing. He did not know if the demons had a sense of hearing in anything like the manner he understood, or if they used some other sense, familiar or alien, to determine the nature of their surroundings. But one way or another, he had covered some hundred feet or so, an eternity of walking in silence towards the ranks of the damned, before first one, then two, then ten, then hundreds of demons began to turn, their low growls foaming up from below and before him like the wails of tortured souls.

'Nothing's ever as complex as it looks. Not technology, not people, not fights, nothing. It all looks so impossible from a distance because you can only see the surface and your imagination fills in what's inside. But once you actually look inside things, you'll find that it all breaks down into something you can recognize.'

Now the speaker at the center of the army had noticed, at length, the disturbance running through the ranks of his followers, and his lecture faltered and died as he turned to see what it was. Slowly, two eyes, one human, one mechanical, both red as fresh human blood, painted David in their crimson light, revealing a sight he knew to be different only in degrees. For a moment, there was confusion in those eyes, apparent even at this distance, as the thing that was Cyborg and also not Cyborg seemed to hesitate, caught between the victim he had subdued and this new intrusion on his attention and time. His legions waited for command, but the Anti-Cyborg did not call to them, staring at the small figure in grey and red who stood on the hill and watched him in silence.

"What the hell is this?"

The voice was Cyborg's, but not as he had used it. It was contemptuous and dismissive and cold, like a man describing the antics of a particularly loathsome insect he had just discovered scurrying across his floor. And with a single glance back at the broken form of the real Cyborg, the ironclad demon stepped into and through the ranks of his army, ranks which solidified behind him as he passed, brandishing whip-arms of flame and sending slavering howls soaring into the night, as though in anticipation of fresh prey.

"Really?" asked the Anti-Cyborg, addressing thin air for all the hints he gave. "Really?" He stopped at the head of his army, shaking his head like a teacher astonished by the unerring capacity of a small child to fail at the simplest tasks. "Devastator let you walk away? Just like that?" He turned first to one side, then the other, casting his gaze over the ranks of his assembled flame demons, as though silently asking them all to witness what fools he was forced to associate with. And then he turned back to face David, his face curled into a sneer of contempt, as he raised his hand to command his demons to rip David to pieces.

And then David drew his hand out from behind the lumpish green duffel bag slung over his shoulder. And Cyborg, and every demon in his thrall, stopped.

'Take, for instance, Polyurethane'.

In David's right hand sat a bulbous mass of orange plastic, bright and eye-catching like the vibrant colors of a fire truck or sports poster. Shaped roughly into the form of an enormous gun, it looked like an 8-year old boy's fondest dreams brought to life, a riot of buttresses and crenulations, false rails and scope mounts, an over-engineered nightmare that resembled the childish version of the weapon of some cartoonish space marine or star warrior. Hanging from the base of the gun was a series of plastic cartridges, also garishly orange, fastened together in a loose chain that disappeared into the dull green duffel bag around David's shoulder. Large as it was, he hefted it in one hand with ease, lifting it up until the stock of the play-rifle rested against his shoulder, and the lines of arbitrary letters and numbers that lined the side of it were dimly visible out of the corner of his eye. The only ones that made any sense at all were the four at the end, printed on an adhesive decal and stuck to the plastic by machine, still as vibrant as the day they had been created.

NERF.

"What the hell are you - "

David did not answer the implied question from the Anti-Cyborg. Instead, he squeezed the toy gun's trigger.

There was a soft "thunk", the sound of a spring and the brief whir of an electric motor, and the gun gave a barely perceptible shiver, as a single yellow foam dart, four inches long and tipped with a soft plastic suction cup, flew from the barrel of the gun up at an angle, soaring into the leaden sky, just for a second, before gravity reacquired control and brought it plunging down, tip-first, straight towards the anti-Cyborg.

'First glance, Polyurethane's one of the most complex things in the world. But you break it down, and what do you get? Strings of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, tied together with hydrocarbons in a polymer pattern. The strings might vary depending on the formula, and the arrangement is all over the place, but if you know what you're looking for in the first place, you can reconstruct the whole thing in your head. And once you do that...'

It might have been his imagination. It might have been a trick of the light. But David could have sworn that he saw the anti-Cyborg's human eye open just a bit wider moments before the dart plunging towards him flash-froze in mid-air and exploded like a bomb.

The dart was barely four inches from tip to tip, a flimsy construction of polyurethane foam and polyester resin. But the explosion it produced engulfed the Anti-Cyborg in a ball of blossoming fire, shattering the two demons closest to him, and sending a dozen others tumbling into their fellows. Moments later, the fire dissipated, and the wind blew the smoke aside, to reveal the evil Cyborg staggering back from the force of the blast, stumbling over one of the fallen demons before falling flat on his back. The ranks of the demons that surrounded him stirred and grumbled, turning their heads to their leader for instructions, and David saw the Anti-Cyborg lift himself up to issue them as the echo of the explosion faded. But he did not hear what the evil version of Cyborg had to say to his forces.

'I know it all seems overwhelming. It can't feel like anything else just yet, especially for you. But I need you to push past that for a second. If you can break down something like this, you can do it to anything else. All these guidelines, all this stuff about tensile strengths and reactive bonds, none of it matters in the end unless you want it to. Classify it however you want, periodic or elemental, or something you just made up, it doesn't matter. You get the basics down, figure out how to break down the problems in front of you, find a system that fits however your brain works, and man... I guarantee you...'

He did not hear, because as the Anti-Cyborg lifted his head, David closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and squeezed the trigger once more.

'… you will perform miracles.'

And he didn't let go.

The battery-powered motor hummed, and the launcher spring twanged in tune with it, but David heard neither, for the cacophony of thunder and the screaming of demons blotted all else from contention, and he opened his eyes again to see a wall of flames erupting across the length of the entire army, hurling broken pieces of solidified sulfur into the air and sending them spiralling off in every direction. The demons roared, collectively, and their roar was a terrible thing, desolate and earthshaking, as the ranks behind surged forward to seize the object of their torment and rend him apart, but David pushed it from his mind, forced himself to forget all about demons and hellspawn and supernatural death. Instead, he thought of the mass of plastic in his hand that projected polyurethane towards piles of moving sulfur, and how by liberating the energy within the polyurethane foam, the sulfur piles would disperse to the winds, and move and cry no more.

Back and forth and back again he swept his toy weapon, and the rain of bright and childish projectiles, one every quarter second, slammed down into the ranks of the demons like a meteor shower. And every one that landed, whether it struck a demon or not, burst into flames like a car bomb, hurling fire and debris and invisible waves of force indiscriminately about, shattering some demons, and dismembering others, and hurling still others through the air by main force to collide with their fellows. Screaming masses of demons flew this way and that, buffeted by shockwaves from every direction, unable to form up, to coordinate, or even to escape the hail of ruin that descended upon them with terrible, mechanical regularity. A bare handful of demons managed to break through the curtain of destruction and race towards David, only to have barrages of explosive bolts hurled directly into their faces, shattering them like crockery thrown against a stone wall. Everywhere that knots of demons tried to rally or launch themselves towards him, there he directed the stream of fire, his mind liberating the latent thermokinetic energy from the chemical compounds within the bolts of soft foam with a regularity that months ago would not have occurred to him in his wildest dreams. Cars and fire hydrants and all the detritus of the end of the world exploded into the air, some pinwheeling hundreds of feet up before crashing down once again in ruin. And as the bolts exploded and the demons screamed and his mind moved to its own internal metronome, even as he did all this, David slowly let the breath he had been holding out, and began to walk towards the flames.

Nothing stood in his path. Though the demons still howled and roared, they were invisible behind a curtain of flames and smoke, and he responded to every flickering shadow within the inferno by launching a hail of exploding grenades into it. Back and forth and back again he swept the weapon, spraying death and destruction at anything that even looked like it was considering barring his path, until at long last the belt of darts that fed the weapon ran out, and he was left with only the whir of an electric motor and a street filled with dying flames and hazy smoke.

And then the smoke parted, and revealed approximately what he expected it to.

The army of demons was gone now, obliterated to such a degree that few traces of it could even be discerned. Piles of residue, sulfur and filth mixed into a steaming slurry lay splattered all over the street, draped over burnt-out cars and broken sidewalks. Here and there, broken forms still twitched and moved, demons whose bodies were merely savaged as opposed to liquified. Of all the rest there was no sign but the broken street and scorched earth that lined the area into which David had pumped enough fire to bring down an armored battalion. No sign, that was, except for the primary object of all this ire.

Through the smoke and dust, the dark form of the Anti-Cyborg loomed, a vast, mis-shapen bulk, staggering and struggling to keep its feet. Crushed by the avalanche of destruction unceremoniously dumped upon him and his army, he rose like a looming nightmare, ash and debris rolling off his body as he drew himself up. As the haze cleared, David could see terrible dents hammered into his frame as though by a wrecking ball, the black scour-marks of direct grenade strikes, sparks and sickly-green hydraulic fluid leaking from his cracked limbs and shattered armor plates.

The gun in David's hand was empty now, and he let it slip from his grasp as he unslung the now-empty duffel bag from his shoulder, dropping both into the street as he stopped before his badly-smashed adversary. With one hand, he reached to his side, and drew from his belt a mangled piece of steel, a telescoping staff crudely hacked off on both ends which burst into flame as soon as it touched his fingers.

Steadying himself with difficulty, the anti-Cyborg slowly raised one arm, a grey cannon like a howitzer mounted where his forearm and hand should have been. Sucking smoke-filled air through clenched teeth, the half-metal anti-Titan glared hateful daggers at David as he locked the sonic cannon into place, aiming it straight at the smaller teen's chest, though his target made no effort to evade or duck away.

"I got you now," spat the Anti-Cyborg as he sighted down the length of the barrel, "you sonofabitch."

There was the whirring of gears and motors somewhere deep within the cannon, and a red glow that built up within its barrel, and yet instead of a beam of incarnated death, there instead came a loud "bang", and the sound of metal grinding against metal. Sparks and smoke issued from half a hundred cracks lining the surface of the gun, even as the Anti-Cyborg stared at his own forearm in disbelief, shaking the cannon as though to bring it back to life, before David's voice commanded his attention once more.

"No," said David softly, as he lifted the broken staff, holding it straight like a spear at the Anti-Cyborg's chest. "You don't."

For a moment nothing moved. And then Cyborg's evil twin suddenly shuddered, as though a bolt of lightning had torn through his body. He staggered back a pace, his limbs jerking in several directions at once as he tried to force his body to act. Gargled cries of rage or pain or some mixture of both poured from his mechanical throat as he shook once, twice, three times, each time with greater violence than the last. David stood motionless as a statue, staring down the length of his metal stick, his red eyes boring into Cyborg's as the convulsions of his counterpart grew exponentially in intensity and force, nearly knocking the Anti-Cyborg off his feet. And then, as his enemy lurched upright and roared out a formless scream of pain, defiance, and anger, David twisted the metal stick in his hand in mid-air and reached out with his mind.

There was a deafeningexplosion.

It was more powerful than David had expected, for he could not see the molecules dancing the way he was used to, and his target was a precise combination of elements that he had never ever permitted himself to practice on. The blast blew him backwards, nearly knocking him off his feet, and he clenched his teeth and hissed in pain as bits of what he hoped was metal bounced off his clothes and stung his hands and face. But when the shockwave was past, and he looked up again, all he saw was a blackened crater where the anti-Cyborg had been standing, and the shattered, mangled remnants of a broken, grey, sonic cannon, laying like the rest of the discarded trash of this broken world in the midst of the ruin that David had wrought.

And then it was quiet.

For a little while, he simply stood there, his brain caught between two gears, letting his arm fall to his side as he stared into the smoky air in anticipation of further enemies leaping out of them. No sound, no scent, no sign whatsoever of any other living thing could he detect, and soon his mind was wandering back to what he had just done, and the sound that the anti-Cyborg had made just before he -

No. No not that. Not now. He clamped down on that thought before it could fully form, and knowing where it lead, he thrust it aside. And stirring himself to action once again, if only to avoid thinking about the things he knew he could not afford to dwell on tonight, he turned to his left and ran over to where the real Cyborg lay.

Cyborg was face-down on the broken pavement, laying crushed and mangled against the side of the street, the lights that covered his body extinguished and cold. The barrage of explosives that David had pumped into the area had not been directed his way, David had positioned and angled himself to prevent that much, but with the sheer quantity of high explosive he had deployed, there was no way to be sure. The others no doubt had better, or at least more subtle ways to claw through a thousand-strong battalion of demons, but there was nothing for that. All he could do was hope that he hadn't missed, or that if he had, that Cyborg's armor had been enough to repel the odd shot.

It didn't look promising. Cyborg's body was covered in carbon scoring and metal fractures, though whether those were because of his blasts or because of the abuse he had taken at the hands of his evil twin and a demon army, David had no prayer of determining. Gingerly, he approached the fallen Titan, trying to keep his fear in check, looking for any signs on which to build a shred of hope

"C... Cy?" he ventured. There was no response, no movement, nothing, and with that lack of reaction, fear overcame caution as he quickly ran over to Cyborg's side, gingerly laying his hand on Cyborg's back, hoping to sense the vibrations of a motor or something. But Cyborg's metal shell was lifeless and still, the steel alloy reduced to the ambient temperature of the windswept hell that surrounded them.

"No," said David, without even giving thought of who he was talking to, "nononono... not now." He tried to shake Cyborg, first with one hand, then with both, trying to stir him back to life, but even truncated as he was, Cyborg was well over eight hundred pounds of dead weight, and David could barely shake him at all. He tried again, harder this time, straining against the cold dictates of gravity and mass, but it was no use. Either he could not shake Cyborg hard enough to draw his attention, or Cyborg was past all possibility of being awakened.

Now the flood was coming, a flood of desperation and fear, one he could no longer stem by conscious will, and he raised his head and looked around in hopeless panic, as though expecting some miracle to materialize behind him. To have come this far, to have killed his own evil twin, abandoned Terra to die, whether at her insistence or not, to have done all thisand to find Cyborg dead was a blow beyond even comprehending, and his mind refused to countenance it, casting about instead for ever more tenuous hopes, commanding his fevered imagination to invent some plan, some method, of making everything all right. And so in his delirium, he hit upon the idea of rolling Cyborg over onto his back, as though this would somehow improve things or at least allow him to better assess the damage. The fact that he was neither a doctor nor a mechanic, and that even if he had been such things, that moving Cyborg was not some panacea to cure the torments of the Devil, was something he simply refused to allow himself to think about.

Dropping the broken staff on the ground, he seized Cyborg's side with both hands, scrabbling and straining with all the force he could bring to bear to roll Cyborg over. It was useless. Not even the strength of desperation could enable him to do more than slightly lifting one side of Cyborg's body an inch or two off the ground before his limited strength gave out and he collapsed at Cyborg's side, barely avoiding crushing his own hand in the process. Twice more he tried to move his fallen friend, and twice more he fell back in defeat, until on the third attempt, he spotted a long piece of steel rebar, jarred loose from one of the ruined buildings nearby, and his mind, belatedly, recalled one or two of the mechanics lessons he had learned, either in school or from the Titans, he honestly couldn't remember which.

Staggering to his feet, David ran over and grabbed the rebar, unearthing it from the rubble it lay amidst. It was bent and cracked in several places, but a central section some six feet long was still intact, straight and free of visible defects. Quickly, he concentrated his mind and blew the sturdy section free, lopping the rest of the rebar off at both ends as though by acetylene torch. Turning and running back to Cyborg, he crouched down and jammed one end of the rebar in between Cyborg's body and the ground, shoving and working it back and forth to drive it further and further in. And once he had driven the bar as far as it would go, he turned around and pulled the far end of the bar up as hard as he could, hoping to use it as a lever to wrench Cyborg over.

It was damn near impossible, even now. David was not now and had never been built for brute force, and this was a task no explosions could aid him in, no matter how precise. Moreover, how he expected this to help Cyborg was a question left dangling off to one side. If Cyborg was dead, then he would remain so when flipped, and if he was not, then his medical circumstances were unlikely to improve by being violently rolled about by means of iron bars and leverage. Yet he strained and pulled anyway, whether animated by ignorance or willful blindness or some forlorn hope that he might be able to wake Cyborg up, battling against gravity and slowly but surely winning. The bar groaned and shook but did not bend, and inch by glacial inch, he managed to pry the far end up from the ground and lift it up, slowly raising Cyborg onto one side. Soon he was able to push, rather than pull, and he shoved at the bar with everything he had, until at last he gave one final push, throwing his entire weight against the bar with such force that it slipped loose, causing him to fall forward with a crash and land atop Cyborg, who after teetering on his side for a moment, finally rolled over onto his back.

For a second, David lay there, afraid to open his eyes and see what he suspected he would see. And then at length he opened them, and saw the barrel of a cannon staring him full in the face.

No dead relic was this, but a live, active cannon, thrumming with power and lit an electrical blue so bright that it made his eyes water. Its mouth was bare inches from David's face, and in its cavernous depths he saw motors and actuators and mechanical gizmos beyond name or counting spinning together, ready to unleash a beam of ultrasound so powerful that it was actually visible, capable of inducing nuclear fission on the dust motes that crossed it, or flaying concrete from the walls of a fortified bunker. For several longseconds, he lay there motionless, his mind somewhat-understandably unable to get past the anti-tank weapon currently levelled at his face, but at length, he pulled his eyes away, and lifted his head enough to peer over the gun, and saw Cyborg staring straight at him, his mechanical eye shattered and dark, his human one swollen and purple. But Cyborg did not move or writhe in pain, staring down at David with an expression that could have melted iron.

"Don't even think about it," said Cyborg, his voice taut and grim. "You're not thatfast."

Everything that David had been afraid of was suddenly and unceremoniously replaced by a whole new set of fears. He tried to muster the wherewithal to speak. He failed.

"I got thirty-six thousand sensors runnin' through this thing," said Cyborg. "Any one of 'em starts readin' frost, and Trigon'll be condensing you out of the atmosphere. I swear to God."

Never, everhad David heard Cyborg sound like this. Not in the worst fights or bitterest arguments he had ever borne witness to. Cyborg's voice was a harsh growl, distorted by speaker damage and pain, a savage voice prepared for further savagery, and David saw the light from the end of the cannon increase in intensity, and knew what it portended. He froze, his body no longer taking dictation from his brain, staring into the cannon and past it into Cyborg's eyes, expecting at any moment to be vaporized.

"Cy..." he ventured, not daring to lift his voice above a whisper. The red light of his own discolored eyes reflecting off Cyborg's mangled armor keyed him in, belatedly, to what must be running through Cyborg's head. "Cy, it's... it's me. It's David."

"Bullshit," said Cyborg, and his voice was a low and dangerous hiss. His eyes, mechanical and human, narrowed to slits. "Bullshit," he repeated. "You're dead."

"I know," said David, and realizing only too late how that sounded, he struggled to explain. "I mean... I was. But - "

"I watched you die," roared Cyborg, and broken as his body was, he lurched upright, shoving David back and off of himself. "Trigon turned you into stone! Right in front of my face! Trigon thinks he can frog-march you in here and crack me in half, he's got another thing comin'!"

"Cy, I'm not..." started David, but he stopped as his brain ran dry of words, the reflection of his own blood-red eyes seeming to mock his feeble protests. "This isn't a trick."

Cyborg's face did not lighten in the slightest. "Really," he said. "And what, you thought you'd put on face paint and graft LEDs into your eyes before comin' over here just to make a joke? I might believe that from BB, but not you. And if Trigon was able to make anything but a bunch of puppets that happen to look like us, he'd already know that!"

His mind numb and refusing to work straight, David desperately sought for the words that would turn this situation around, and did not find them. Cyborg was staring into him the direct glare of a searchlight, but all David could think to say was the simplest possible thing.

"Cy," he said, his voice quivering of its own accord. "Cy... please. I'm not one of Trigon's things. I... It's me..."

"Oh yeah?" asked Cyborg, and his voice was unsteady too. Fury tempered by worry or fear or some other thing, David couldn't guess. With an audible groaning of battered motors, Cyborg contrived to lean forward, bringing the barrel of the cannon to within six inches of David's chest. "Prove it."

What Cyborg had in mind, David did not know, nor could imagine. Perhaps he had nothing in mind, just some desperate challenge to prove the unprovable from someone who didn't even dare hope. What he could possibly say or do or explain to Cyborg in order to prove that, contrary to all sense and logic, he was not merely another doppelganger, David had no idea. His brain froze, staring into the aperture of an anti-tank weapon wielded by the person he had blasted through armies to find, who had saved his life dozens upon dozens of times, and who, if he did not produce a satisfactory answer to an impossible question in the next five seconds, would probably disintegrate him where he sat.

And in the absence of conscious thought, David never could figure out what possessed him to do what he then did.

All at once, the low, red flames that still sheathed the broken weapon in David's hand vanished entirely, leaving behind the bare, flame-scorched metal of what had once been a telescoping staff. Slowly, he lifted the staff with a hand that was slightly trembling, and taking a deep breath, he gently laid it against the stump of Cyborg's other arm, and then withdrew his hand, sitting back and closing his eyes.

He expected... well honestly he didn't know what to expect. His ears were primed for the sound of the sonic cannon unleashing its full power, undoubtedly the last thing he would ever hear. But seconds ticked by, and he did not hear this happen, nor any other thing, and it might have been a minute or five seconds or an hour later that he mustered the courage to open his eyes.

Cyborg was still sitting before him, his cannon still levelled and ready to fire, but the half-mechanical Titan's expression was no longer the mask of bitter determination it had been before. His grimace was gone, replaced by a nervous trepidation, visible even through the metal, injury and damage. David didn't dare to guess at what could be running through Cyborg's head now, but as he lifted his own eyes, bathing Cyborg once more in their red glow, Cyborg ventured a single whispered word.

"... David?"

The knots in David's stomach, present for so long that he had forgotten they were there, loosened all at once, and a wave of numbing relief washed through him, a bit premature perhaps considering the cannon that was still staring him in the face, but still. Maybe it was obvious or maybe not, but David let his breath out and permitted himself a hopeful smile as he nodded wordlessly.

Cyborg did not reciprocate. Indeed he looked like he could not believe his eyes. The gun remained in place, but he had plainly forgotten about it, his mouth sliding open of its own accord. "You're... dead," he repeated, this time without certainty or understanding. A flat statement, contradicted only by what lay in front of him.

David let his smile broaden, let his frame slump as his body unclenched all at once, and shook his head. "I was," he said. "Not anymore."

There was a series of clicks, and then suddenly the cannon was gone, replaced by Cyborg's metal hand, and he reached it out, gingerly, and touched David's sleeve with a gesture that was almost reverent. He seemed almost surprised to find it comprised of cloth, and not stone. Maybe he was. "I..." he stammered, "I don't... How..."

"It's... kind of a long story," said David, but he got no further, for suddenly, Cyborg put his arm around David's back and pulled him in against his own shoulder, pinning him in place as he thumped David's back with his intact hand, over and over, hard enough to knock the wind from his lungs. And above it all, David heard Cyborg's voice as he had never heard it before, unburdened at last, a voice that was pained and trembling on the brink of collapse, as he repeated the same phrase over and over.

"Goddamn," said Cyborg. "Goddamn, man... Goddamn..."

It was some time before Cyborg let him go. David didn't push the issue. But at length, Cyborg relented, and as David pulled back, he saw that Cyborg's human eye glistened, and his face was damp. But David elected to say nothing on that subject, for fear that he might have to think of something to say.

"What... what happened?" said Cyborg. "You were - " he stopped short, unwilling to say the word that had rolled so freely from his tongue a moment before. "Trigon turned you to stone."

"Terra," said David. "She... I don't know... she turned me back." He shook his head. "She can do that."

"Terra?" replied Cyborg, lifting his head and looking around as though expecting Terra to appear from behind some rock. "She's here too?"

If the silence that greeted Cyborg's question didn't answer him, the expression that on David's face when Cyborg finally looked back at him certainly did.

"She was," said David. He couldn't find it in him to say any more.

Part of the knot from before re-materialized even as he said it, but fortunately, Cyborg did not require further explanation. He lowered his head just a moment, closing his eyes and nodding almost imperceptibly. "It's gonna be all right, man," he said without looking up. "We're gonna get a piece for her. For everybody."

"Yeah," said David, though he didn't sound, or feel, particularly convinced. Right now he didn't have the wherewithal to process that subject. Not now.

Neither, apparently, did Cyborg. "We gotta find a way out of here," he said, all business once more. "That was some damn fine work drivin' everyone off, but they'll be back as soon as they - "

It was no interruption of David's stopped Cyborg, but his expression. Cyborg stopped, furrowed his half-metal brow, restarted. "What?" he asked.

"I... um..." stammered David. "I... didn't drive them off."

Cyborg blinked. "What?" he asked, not understanding. And then when David didn't answer, he finally turned his attention to the general surroundings, to the street pitted with bomb craters and cars blown into tangled metal sculpture, to the pools of molten sulfur that had been splattered all over everything within a hundred yards as though a pressure cooker had exploded. Slowly, David saw recognition dawn in Cyborg's eyes, as he surveyed the sterile ruins that encircled them and saw no sign of life within.

"You..." started Cyborg, and stopped again, still trying to make sense of it all in his head. "... allof them?"

"I think so," said David. "Some might have got away."

Cyborg continued to pan his eyes across the horizon, plainly searching for something that was not there. "What about the other me?" he finally asked.

David took a deep breath, and let it out. "Him too," he said.

That brought Cyborg's attention back, and he focussed his eyes on David once again in a manner that wasn't entirely reassuring. "You... killed him?"

The surprise in Cyborg's face was enough to make David avert his eyes, and he ducked his head, as though evading a blow. "He was gonna kill you," he said. "And... he was made of metal. So..."

Cyborg said nothing as David looked furtively back up at him, trying to evaluate his reaction. Cyborg for his part looked as though a large portion of his understanding of reality had just been kicked out from under him. "Jesus," he said at last.

David almost winced. "I didn't know what else to do," he said. It sounded as lame to him as it must have to -

"No... no man," said Cyborg. David chanced another look, and he saw Cyborg shaking his head, as though in disbelief. "I just... didn't know you had that in you."

Despite it all, David managed a half-smile. "It's been kind of a weird night," he said.

Cyborg seemed prepared to take that much on faith. He took another look around before turning back to David. "What'd you do to Jinx?"

That one, David did not know how to answer. "Jinx?" he asked.

"Yeah, man, Jinx.You remember her. You didn't see her?"

"I don't think so," said David, struggling to remember if he had. "What was she doing - "

There was a pink flash, so bright as to be blinding, and something hit David in the chest, hard and hot, like a branding iron wielded by a giant. He felt himself being hurled back, hitting the ground, sliding over broken pavement and through puddles of bubbling sulfur until he fetched up against a pile of rubble. Stars flashed before his eyes when he opened them, and the searing pain in his chest when he inhaled brought tears to his eyes and a cry from his throat. He reached out at near-random, found a piece of concrete or masonry to grab hold of, and pulled himself up, biting the pain back as he sought his assailant. And when he turned around, he saw a girl dressed in purple and black with pink hair in the act of throwing a wave of pink energy at his head.

He hurled himself to the ground as the wave passed overhead, slicing into the rubble pile behind and sending debris showering over him. Without even bothering to stand up again, he reached out with his mind, pushing the way he had long ago when there had been something to push against. The effect was the same. A series of blasts erupted like volcanic vents from the ground between him and Jinx, casting rocks and flame and smoke into the air in a curtain, hopefully enough to keep Jinx at arm's length long enough for him to recover.

Plainly, this was not a good night for relying on hopes. Jinx vaulted through the exploding curtain like a gymnast, effortlessly evading not only the explosions, but a stabbing beam of blue light from the half-visible form of Cyborg behind her. Landing on her feet, she threw another hex, forcing David to roll to the side to avoid being split in half, and then rushed him at top speed. It was easy to see why. Beaten though he was, Cyborg's cannon still had the power to burst Jinx like a grape. Jinx' sole margin of safety from it was to get as close to David as she could, so close that Cyborg could not fire on her without hitting him. Even on his best day, David could not hope to compete with Jinx in close quarters. And this was not even close to David's best day.

Except apparently, someone had forgotten to tell David that. He made no attempt to retreat, to gain the precious distance that someone who made a habit of working with high explosives needed. Instead he managed to rise to one knee, clenching his teeth against the pain in his chest. His uniform front, discolored and smeared with grime, sulfur, and coal slurry, now sported an ugly scorch mark across the chest from the previous hit, yet when Jinx threw another hex at him, he imperturbably hefted a fist-sized piece of concrete rubble and threw it right back at her.

Jinx's hexes were not made of matter. They were not really made of anything, at least not anything that David had the vocabulary to describe, but they did obey certain physical laws, and so when David detonated the concrete brick in mid-air as it passed the hex, the resulting explosion consumed them both in a blast of fire and smoke. A second later, and Jinx tore through the ephemeral curtain of smoke like a possessed being, jumping into the air to avoid the explosion that David hastily triggered beneath her feet, and hurling yet another hex down at him like a thunderbolt from Zeus. David threw himself back against the rubble pile to avoid having his skull split, landing on his back and reaching behind himself for something behind himself as Jinx descended, a fresh hex already forming up in her hand. She landed a pace in front of David and lunged forward, grabbing him by the shoulder with her free hand to pin him in place, and sliding the other to David's throat, the hex poised millimeters from his jugular.

And perhaps she would have gone further. Perhaps, given the chance, she would have cut David's throat out with the edge of her hex and spilled his discolored blood all over the street. But she did not get that chance, for even as she brought the hex down to strike, David brought his hand out from behind his back and shoved a gun into Jinx's face.



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.37 added) PostPosted: 2013-01-20 03:48am
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Any gun shoved in one's face tends to look enormous, but this one was truly so, a massive, ugly box of blackened steel with a barrel half an inch wide staring Jinx right in the eyes. It was visibly too big for David, almost ludicrously so, yet David's hand did not shake as he stared down its length at Jinx, moments before the entire gun burst into heatless flames. Jinx started as the fire erupted to life directly in front of her, jabbing the tip of the hex into David's neck, but hesitating from delivering the killing blow, as she tried to untangle what had just happened. David, for his part, barely dared to breathe.

Jinx took her time sizing the situation up, staring over the gun at David's burning red eyes. "There's no trigger on that gun," she said, her voice as even as a pane of glass.

"You think I need one?" answered David instantly, managing with difficulty to keep the fear out of his. "Bullets are packed with gunpowder. It's the easiest thing in the world."

There was no fear in Jinx's eyes. There was nothing but fury. An red fog beneath pink irises. "Then do it," she said.

David's eyes widened, and he glanced to one side, to where Cyborg still sat. He tried to make it surreptitious, but that was difficult with spotlights emitting from his eyes.

"Don't look at him!" shouted Jinx, jabbing him with the point of her hex enough to get his attention back. "I'm who you should be worried about!"

"Get off him, Jinx," said Cyborg, and as if to punctuate his command, the cannon in his arm began to glow the same bright blue that it had before.

"Or what?!" screamed Jinx back at Cyborg, whipping her head around so hard that she nearly fell over. "You can't shoot, and apparently neither can he." She rounded back on David once more, eyes wild and fierce. "You Titans are all talk, no guts to back it up! If you can use that thing without a trigger, what the hell are you waiting for?!"

To be honest, David was waiting for the world to start making some degree of sense again. "What are you - "

"You'll blow an armyin half, but you don't have the guts to pull a trigger? I should cut your throat right now!"

"You do that, Jinx," shouted Cyborg instantly, "and Trigon'll be mopping you up with a vacuum! This thing ain't set to stun, now get the hell off of him!"

Jinx ignored Cyborg, staring down into David's eyes, tears of fury running down her face. "I should never have let you go," she said. "I should have let Gizmo dissect you like a frog!"

"I didn't kill your friends, Jinx," said David, trying desperately to stay calm.

"YES YOU DID!" thundered Jinx, shoving him against the rubble pile with her other hand as she did so. "You brought this all on! You changed everything! Without you, they'd all still be alive! So would Robin! So would everybody!None of this would have happened if it wasn't for you! You started it all!"

David couldn't even speak, but Cyborg could. "That ain't true, Jinx!" he shouted to her. "Warpstarted all this!"

"And who started Warp?" shouted Jinx, turning to Cyborg. "Who kickstarted this whole thing? Devastator. Who suggested bringing us into the fight? Devastator. Who stuck around long enough to give Trigon all the power he needed to make sure the world would end?! Deva -

David fired.

In Jinx's anger, she had turned her head completely to face Cyborg, and had no chance to react when David suddenly lifted the muzzle of the gun up next to her head and discharged it with a hard shove of his mind. The bullet hit nothing, the gun was pointed past Jinx, but the thunderous gunshot, all the more astonishing for its sheer unexpectedness, went off barely an inch from Jinx's unprotected ear.

Jinx let out a bloodcurdling cry, stumbling to one side, the hex dissolving as she cupped her hands to her ear. David gave her no chance to recover, shoving her off of himself as hard as he could. He scrambled back to his feet, biting back the pain in his chest, and backpedaling for space as Jinx lay crumpled on all fours on the floor, nursing her burnt and bleeding ear. It was ten seconds or more before she lifted her head, staring venomous daggers into David, and quite purposefully shoving herself up to her knees and standing up, her intent obvious.

"Stop!" shouted David, gesturing with the flaming handgun as he did so, and when Jinx did not stop, he fired the gun into the ground at her feet, kicking up a puff of dust and generating another ringing gunshot, but little else. Jinx did not stop even with the warning, and even raised her hand to do God-knew-what before a beam of blue-white light split the air between her and her target.

This time, she stopped.

"Goddamnit, Jinx, that's enough!" shouted Cyborg. "You take one more step and he won't haveto shoot you."

"Open field, with all your targeting sensors knocked out, you think you'll actually hit me?" asked Jinx.

"If he doesn't, I will," said David, levelling the gun at Jinx's head. "You're not touching either of us. Not now and not ever."

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Devastator," said Jinx, spitting the name out like a curse. "You're no good with a gun, and you don't have the guts to kill besides."

"Really?" asked David, his eyes locked with Jinx's. "You just said that you knew what I did to Warp. To the other Titans. Trigon showed you everything, didn't he?"

"He showed me enough."

"So did that look like someone who didn't have the guts to kill somebody?!" shouted David. "You saw what happened, how do you think that person would react?!" The gun began to shake in his hand as he squeezed it tighter and tighter, his voice becoming harsh and desperate as he glared beams of incarnated fury at the Hive Leader. "I killed myself half an hour ago!" he shouted. "I abandoned Terra to die, I blew an army apart just to get here and help Cyborg, so take a step, Jinx, and watch what happens!"

Jinx did not respond, nor did she wilt before David's thunder, her gaze unflinching as she stared into the red glare that poured from his eyes and illuminated her like spotlights. Whatever she was thinking, she gave no sign, whether deciding to take her chances or seeking for some other way to overcome him, he could not tell. But despite what David was expecting, after a few eternal seconds, it was Cyborg who spoke, and quietly.

"David," he said simply.

It was a couple more seconds before David chanced a glance over at Cyborg, who was looking at him with an inscrutable expression. He said nothing further, but gave him just the slightest nod that could have meant many things, but that David chose to interpret as a suggestion that enough was perhaps enough insofar as this went. His eyes flicking back to Jinx, David slowly retracted his arm, though keeping the gun pointed at Jinx, and backed up another couple paces, the better to give Cyborg, symbolically at least, the floor.

Cyborg took it immediately. "Jinx," he said, and when she did not respond, again, harder. "Jinx."

"What?" asked Jinx, her eyes not deviating a millimeter from David's.

"What's your endgame here?" Cyborg asked, his cannon still locked on her center of mass. "Where does this go? You kill me, kill David, tear us apart just like Trigon wants, and then what? He's supposed to bring all your friends back to life? Is that what it is?"

Jinx took her time replying, still watching David as though expecting him to transform into something else. "Yeah," she said.

"You gotta know that's bullshit," said Cyborg. "You're not that stupid. Trigon ain't gonna give you a damn thing, 'cept maybe a glimpse to keep you dancing the way he wants. He will not bring your friends back. Not even if he could. You knowthat."

Jinx's breathing was becoming more and more labored, her fists clenched tightly as she continued to stare at David. "Yeah," she managed to say.

"Then what the hell are you doin'here?" asked Cyborg. "Trigon killed your friends, not us. Why would you even think about - "

"What else can I do?!" roared Jinx, rounding on Cyborg violently. "It doesn't matter what you think Trigon will do, or what I think he'll do, it matters what he does! He's a GOD! He can bring them all back!"

"Maybe he can," said Cyborg, "but he ain't gonna."

"How the fuck do you know that?!" roared Jinx at Cyborg, slashing at the air with her outstretched finger as though it were a sword.

"The same way you do," said Cyborg. "Trigon's the Devil! Evil incarnate! You think he killed everybody on the planet just so that he could bring yourpeople back? What are you all gonna do, sit around in the ruins and sing campfire songs?!"

"They'll be back," said Jinx. "I don't carewhat comes after that."

"That's crap, and you know it. They're dead, Jinx. And they're not coming back."

"Robin's dead too, Cyborg! That didn't stop you from sending Starfire off to get himback!"

"I didn't send Star to get Robin back," said Cyborg, his expression cold, "I sent her after Warp so that Trigon wouldn't get her when he came after me."

Now it was David's turn to turn his head and look at Cyborg, but Cyborg did not so much as glance in David's direction, his eyes locked with Jinx, who looked torn between a thousand different thoughts, all of them vile and repugnant.

"Jinx," said Cyborg, his voice lowering and softening as he spoke, "I know it hurts to even think about it. But you gotta stop this. Trigon is nevergonna give you what he promised. You can shout all you like, but you know that. We all do."

Jinx closed her eyes, squeezing them shut so tightly that her entire body shook with the force of it. "It's the only chance they have."

"It's not a chance at all," said Cyborg. "It's just Trigon tryin' to see how much fun he can get out of you before he ends it."

Jinx seemed to shudder, as though Cyborg's words were gunshots, and when she opened her eyes again, there were tears running down her face. "I have to try." she growled between clenched teeth. "You don't understand."

"You think I don't?" asked Cyborg. He shook his head sadly. "Ain't nobody here hasn't lost someone, Jinx. I lost Robin. I lost my mother. Everybody I knew before the accident who walked out on me, or who I walked out on. That kid over there lost his whole family. So did Star, so did BB. We know Jinx. We allknow."

"No you don't!" spat Jinx. "You all had each other, even now. Even with everyone else dead! What the hell do I have left? You?!" She paused, wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand before raising her head once more. "That ship sailed a long time ago, Cyborg. I haveto try to get them back, whatever it takes. What else am I supposed to do?"

"Help us," said Cyborg.

Jinx looked almost disgusted with the very idea. "Why?" she asked. "So you guys can all go out in some glorious last stand together?"

"So we can get the sonofabitch who did this to you," said Cyborg. "The one who did this to all of us."

A sob tore itself from Jinx's throat, and she spat it out like a mouthful of poison. "You can't beat Trigon," she said. "He's invincible."

"Then why am I sittin' here?" demanded Cyborg. "Why are we havin' this talk? You walked in here with a whole army and a copy of me. It's just you now. How'd that happen, if Trigon's invincible?"

"He's playing with you," said Jinx.

"Maybe," said Cyborg. "Or maybe he lied about more than just what he was gonna do for you."

Jinx stood motionless now, save for the occasional shudder as some uncontrollable convulsion tore through her body. She seemed to have forgotten that David was even there, her head bowed and her eyes closed to stem, by the only means she could, the tears that still leached out and stained the broken earth. "I... can't just... leave them all to die."

"You never left nobody," said Cyborg, his voice now barely a whisper. "You did every damn thing you could do, and it wasn't enough. Nothin' we did was enough. Not to save them."

"I can stillsave them!"

"Not like this," said Cyborg, his voice as calm as a windless pond. "You can't beat the both of us, Jinx, and even if you could, it wouldn't do anything but give Trigon one more laugh."

"So what?" asked Jinx, raising her head, her voice filled with bitter tears on the verge of exploding. "I'm just supposed to give up?!" She stomped towards Cyborg, her expression violent and desperate. David froze, uncertain of whether to try and stop her or not, but a glance at Cyborg made him hesitate, and he settled for keeping the gun trained on her back as she walked towards the crippled Titan. "Is that what you'd do?!" she demanded. "Give up?! If you were standing here and all the other Titans were dead and someone offered you the chance to get them back, would youthrow your hands up and say it can't be done so you should just give up?! Is that what you'd do?!"

Jinx looked ready to kill, ready to explode, ready to do damn near anything, and it was everything David could do to hold himself back from rushing in, or blowing something up. But Cyborg did not so much as raise his voice, merely looking up at Jinx with an expression that was neither angry nor scared nor even agitated, but vaguely sad, as though peering into all the decisions that had led them to this place.

"I don't know, Jinx," said Cyborg. "But I'd like to think they'd want me to carry on, 'stead of selling out everything I was, just for a chance to chase after their ghosts."

Slowly, the fire seemed to drain out of Jinx's face and posture, a visible ebb-tide, sucking away all the outrage and thunder so ready to erupt just moments ago. She did not look at Cyborg directly, nor at David, but stood stock still, remaining where she was as though incapable of further movement. For an endless time, for all of eternity, she stood there, and with every second of it, she seemed to shrink, no longer the raging supervillain prepared to slay two Titans at once, but a teenaged girl, lost and forlorn, and all alone in the endless night.

And then all of a sudden she fell.

She fell forward, fell to her knees and pitched over onto one side, so hard and violent that David jumped forward, imagining that she'd been shot or struck by a physical blow. But even as he did so, Jinx seemed to convulse, landing on her side and curling in on herself, her face twisted in pain, tears splashing down onto the ashen ground beneath. Soundless at first, she suddenly emitted a horrid, gasping cry, then another, and another, each one torn violently from an unwilling throat. Again and again she beat her fist on the ground, pink sparks and waves of energy flying from her hands and tearing furrows in what was left of the asphalt. David hesitated once more, unsure of whether or not to approach, but Cyborg had no such compunctions, and reaching down with his one remaining hand, he slowly dragged himself over to where Jinx lay. She took no notice of him, nor of anything else, but by the time he arrived, even this paroxysm of rage was spent, and she lay in a ball on the broken ground, motionless except for the occasional spasm as another sob leaked out. She did not react to anything, not even when Cyborg, as gently as he was able, laid a heavy, metal hand on her shoulder.

David approached cautiously, the gun held dark and forgotten in at his side. Cyborg looked up as he arrived, his eyes dancing over the scorch mark on David's shirt. "You alright, man?" he asked quietly.

The burn still throbbed, but David had frankly forgotten all about it. "Yeah," he said. "I think so." He looked from Cyborg to Jinx and back. "Are you?"

Cyborg didn't answer immediately, turning his head back to Jinx, still locked in her own private hell, and squeezing her shoulder gently. She did not react or raise her head, but simply lay on the ground beside one of her arch-enemies, shivering despite the heat, and cried soundlessly into the ashen streets of a burning city.

"We'll see, man," whispered Cyborg. "We'll see..."

*---------------------------------------------------------*

Beast Boy woke up with a splitting headache.

All things considered, that was a considerably better state of affairs than he had anticipated waking up to. In fact he hadn't really been sure that he would wake up at all. His last memory before blacking out was of shrieking wind and flashing lightning and the unpleasant sensation of enormous boulders colliding with his skull. Yet as he gradually regained consciousness, he found to his astonishment that he was not falling but laying sedately on solid ground, not freezing but shrouded with a warm breeze, not deafened, but laying in what passed, out here, for complete silence.

None of this made his headache any less annoying, but it was certainly better than what had been running before.

Gradually, Beast Boy opened his eyes, waiting several moments for the red blur before him to resolve into something more coherent before realizing that it was not going to do so. Drawing in his breath, he clenched his teeth and opened his eyes as wide as he could, hissing in pain as the light flooded into them and made his throbbing head scream in protest. It was everything he could do to not shift into something that had no head, but right now he didn't have the time for self-indulgence. As soon as he could bear to, he squinted against the light and shaded his eyes with one hand, and looked for any sign of Raven.

All he had to do was raise his head.

Child-Raven was sitting in front of him on the bare ground, her knees tucked up under her chin, staring off into space. She did not turn as he groaned and stirred and sat up, did not react when the wind blew her violet hair in her face, did not do anything at all. And as Beast Boy's eyes adjusted to the unexpected light, he saw that around her, around him, were ranks of statues, men, women, children, alone, in groups, their faces contorted with fear and pain, each one bearing mute witness to the two Titans within. Yet Raven was not watching the statues. Her head was inclined up, watching the skies, and more importantly, the cloud that loomed in the distance above the ruined city. And as soon as Beast Boy laid eyes on it, he saw why.

The cloud was far, far away, miles by his own amateur reckoning, yet it filled the horizon, looming up above the ambient haze and smog that had settled atop Jump City like a giant overlooking a crowd of midgets. Neither grey, like a normal cloud, nor brown, like the ambient skies, this cloud was a lurid orange, neither fading nor dissipating, but boiling ever higher into the stratosphere, an enormous mushroom towering above the tallest buildings in Jump City's ruined skyline, like the aftermath of a nuclear strike. Indeed, try as he might, Beast Boy couldn't imagine what else could possibly have produced such a thing.

And then a thought occurred to him. "Raven?" he asked. "Did... did you do that?"

Raven started at his voice, and turned her head. Beast Boy wasn't sure what he saw in her eyes when she saw him, but this time at least she did not shrink away or try to run. Instead, she simply shook her head, lowering it slightly as though ashamed of some truancy. "No," she said, quietly, even as she slid to one side.

Beast Boy froze.

Laying on the ground behind Raven was a sculpture of a teenaged girl done in black ash. The sculpture was perfect, every detail of hair or clothing or expression sculpted down to the finest possible detail. The figure was laying on her back, scrambling away from something, one arm raised in useless defense against some unseen threat, her face contorted with fear and shock. All alone, here in the midst of ruin and pain, this one figure of ash lay in perfect preservation. Except none of these things occurred to Beast Boy as he gazed upon her, for the figure was Terra. And he knew it was not a sculpture.

"I did that."

Beast Boy didn't know what to say. Honestly, he was having trouble remembering how to articulate sound. Seventeen different reactions tried to fight their way to the surface at once, none succeeding. Staring at the ash pile in an expressionless daze, he felt himself no longer in a burning city but a cold, dark cave, staring at a sight not altogether dissimilar to the one before him. Part of him wanted to rush forward, grab the ephemeral sculpture, and... dosomething, what he could not possibly tell, but anything. But another, stronger part of him, held himself back, and left him standing and staring, not daring anything beyond breathing.

"What... happened?" he asked. He did not receive an answer, and when he finally turned around to find out why, Raven was gone.

"Raven!" he cried, and instantly he was a cheetah, bounding back to where Raven had been, his feline ears searching for a particular sound and finding it from somewhere within the forest of statues that ringed them in. Three bounds, dodging around statuary, was sufficient for him to catch sight of a small white cloak billowing in the wind as its wearer ran at top speed around another statue. Crouching low, he leaped up and over the statue in question, landing directly between two others moments before Raven collided with him at top speed, and they both tumbled over.

It took more than being tackled by a nine year old child to discombobulate someone accustomed to casually increasing or reducing their mass by a factor of 50,000, and Beast Boy sprang up instantly, once more in his human form. It took longer for Raven to rise, and by the time she did, Beast Boy was holding her in place by the shoulders, heedless of her attempts to break free. "Raven," he said, crouching down and trying to force her to look at him, and gratifyingly, she soon stopped trying to escape and did so. "What happened?"

Raven seemed to be staring through him. "I burned her," she said at length, her voice weak.

Beast Boy wasn't sure what to say to that. "You... burned her?" he finally asked.

"She hurt you," said Raven, her eyes as wide as saucers, milky and unfocused. "She was gonna hurt you worse. So I burned her alive." Her breath wavered as she tried to keep herself together without much success. "'Cause I'm a demon."

With one careful breath, Beast Boy gathered up every reaction he might have had to Raven's statement and set them all aside, in favor of one chosen by fiat. "Yeah," he said quietly, gently sliding his arms around her back until she was pressed gently against him. "I guess you are."

She didn't say anything to that, avoiding his gaze even when he got up from his crouch, lifting her up with both arms. There were other forms that would have worked better for this sort of thing, but he did not adopt any. Not now.

"It's okay, Raven," said Beast Boy. "It wasn't Terra. It was just some creature Trigon made to - "

"No," said Raven. "It was her. Some part of her. And I burned her up." She took a deep breath, let it out in a soft sigh. "It's what I do."

Beast Boy frowned. "No, it's not," he said. "I already told you, Raven. You're the best person I know."

"But you don't know me very well," said Raven quietly. "Nobody does. Because I don't let people."

That was true enough, Beast Boy supposed, but this was not the time or place for that. "I know you well enough."

"Do you?" she asked, and finally she turned to look at him, and Beast Boy cringed.

Raven's eyes were black. Pitch black, with neither iris nor white, as though her pupils had suddenly swallowed everything else. Her hands, formerly held in front of her, suddenly gripped his upper arms like steel traps. Her weight seemed somehow to lighten, and yet he could not have released her even if he had wished to, for her eyes held him frozen like the hypnotic gaze of a snake.

"Do you know what I am?" said Raven, her voice a steely parody of a little girl's, monotone and direct, like an alien thing speaking english words it did not understand. "What I can do? What I'm capable of doing? What I want to do?" Beast Boy stumbled backwards, bumping into one of the surrounding statues and nearly falling over, but he did not make any effort to release Raven. He wasn't certain that his arms would have obeyed him if he tried to.

"I'm a demon lord, Beast Boy," said Raven, with a chilling calm to her voice that sent shivers down Beast Boy's spine. "I'm the princess of darkness. I could kill everyone in the world with a single spell. Eat their souls and drink their suffering up like water. I could destroy anyone who's ever hurt you with a thought. I could make you forget they ever existed." The air seemed to warp around her, darkening as though a cloud had come over the non-existent sun, the distant fires dying out of perception, until he could see nothing but Raven herself, her white leotard now dark as night, her black eyes boring holes through his skull even as two new ones, burning red orbs like coals heated to combustion, opened on her forehead. "I am my father's daughter," she said, her voice like a scaling knife slicing into his heart.

Beast Boy might have said or done any number of things at this juncture, he knew that much. But it was not in his nature to sort through them all, not even when confronted with something like that. And besides that, he already knew exactly what he wanted to do.

All at once, Beast Boy pulled Raven in, squeezing her against his chest, closing his eyes as he laid her head on his shoulder. Her breath was cold, cold as ice as it blew on his neck, and he could feel her fingers digging into his arms like talons of iron, but he did not shift into some other form, did not adopt armor or fur or a thicker hide.

"You're whatever you want to be, Raven," he said, softly. "You always have been. You always will be."

How long he wound up standing there, Beast Boy could not tell. He wasn't marking the time. But at some indeterminate point, he noticed that the grip on his arms was no longer painful, and he no longer felt cold. He didn't pull Raven back to see if she had undergone some further change, for he did not need to, and by and by, he felt her breathing even out and heard her heartbeat slow, and realized all of a sudden that she was asleep.

For a minute or two, maybe longer, he didn't move, just stood there, letting the ambient sounds of the eternally burning city wrap around them. And then he turned and walked slowly back to the center of the statue field.

Except Terra was gone.

The place she had was empty now, save for a dusting of ash on the bare pavement. Of what had stood there, no sign whatsoever remained, an empty plinth in the midst of a field of elaborate statuary. Whether she had vanished because of some machination of Trigon or returned to life and fled or merely had her loose ashes blown away on the whistling wind, Beast Boy did not know. Likely enough, he would never know.

Still held in both arms, the child-Raven stirred softly in her sleep, murmuring something soft and unintelligible, even to Beast Boy's ears. He sighed softly, to himself if not to anyone else, and shook his head, though there was nobody to see him do it.

"Come on," he whispered to Raven. "Let's go find - "

*Boom*

The sound was distant, that much was certain, and reasonably faint, like thunder from a storm far off on the horizon, and yet in all the fires and ashen rain of this place, Beast Boy had not seen any signs of rain or even lightning. He stopped, and listened, his ears perking as he tried to locate the sound. And then it happened again.

*Boom*

It was not thunder. Thunder rolled and cascaded over itself, like boulders sliding down a hill. This was one, single, concussive sound, a deep, booming drum beat from somewhere far away. It sounded vaguely like an explosion, and yet surveying what he could of the horizon, Beast Boy could see no accompanying flash or smoke to indicate what was being detonated. And the sound was wrong too, even for a blast, too deep and earthy to be anything of the sort.

So what was it?

*Boom* *Boom*

Now it was becoming louder, deeper, stronger, and he could feel the ground beneath his shoes shaking with every successive thud. The statues around him trembled as the thunderous sound repeated itself, each time louder, each time closer, until the sound was loud enough to stir Raven awake. She shook her head to clear it of the lethargy that had so recently claimed her, blinking and turning her head to locate the sound that had jarred her back to life.

Beast Boy was doing much the same, but his ears were finer than hers, and he was awake and aware enough to use them. Carefully, he made his way through the statues towards the edge of the ring, ascending a small ridge where the street had buckled and peering in the direction that the sound seemed to be coming from, a series of half-ruined buildings, still smoking from the flames devouring their innards.

Then he saw it.

Instantly Beast Boy's eyes went as wide as Raven's, and he staggered backwards, barely keeping his feet, even as he felt Raven's grip tighten on his arms and shoulders.

"What the - "



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.37 added) PostPosted: 2013-01-20 03:49am
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*---------------------------------------------------------*

"- hell is that?"

Sitting on the curb with his one intact arm in the form of a sonic cannon, Cyborg did not answer David's question, his head raised and looking for the source of the terrible drumbeats presently sending shockwaves, soft but palpable, through the broken ground. It wasn't until he realized that there was no longer any sound of tinkering coming from behind him, and turned to see David standing next to the open driver door of the tow truck, staring off into space as though he could discern the origin of the sound through divine revelation.

"David?" he asked, snapping the younger teen out of his thousand yard stare. "We gotta get out of here."

David blinked as though trying to clear something from his eyes. "Right," he said, and then he turned back to the truck.

The tow truck had seen better days, like every other thing in this damned place. David had found it a hundred yards away, flipped on its side and laying wedged against the mangled remains of a hot dog stand, the only car in eyesight that was not visibly burnt out. After a few desultory attempts to flip it over himself, all useless, David had been forced to blow the stand up in order to roll it back over. The truck now had a massive dent hammered into its hood, and the already splintered windshield was now lying in pieces around it, but it had fallen onto its tires, and after Cyborg instructed him in how to fashion an improvised dip stick, he had confirmed to everyone's surprise that the thing still had fuel sloshing around in a miraculously unpunctured tank.

Cyborg grunted as he shifted his arm back into a proper arm and used it to drag himself another eight laborious inches towards the back of the beaten truck. Try as they might, neither he nor David had been able to come up with any faster way for him to move, for even if they had been able to fashion some sort of sledge to pull him on, David would not have been able to pull it. Failing that, the younger Titan was engaged in trying to get the truck's ignition working. The battery was intact, that much they'd proven when David finally managed to get the towing crane to run, but they had no keys, and since David had no mechanical skills to speak of, and Cyborg was in no position to do it himself, he was forced to try and relay instructions to David about how to hotwire a truck.

"Do you see the yellow wire yet?" he asked, dragging himself ever closer to the crane.

"Um..." came the reply, followed by fumbling noises. "I... which one is it?"

The question was so stupid that Cyborg actually stopped. "It's the yellow one," he said at length, unable to think of another answer.

"I can't - " a loud thud, as something hit the steering column, and suddenly David appeared from the cab of the truck, rubbing his head. "My eyes are glowing," he said, exasperation dripping from his voice. "They all look red to me."

It was a second before Cyborg belatedly realized that David wasn't kidding. Grunting, he finished dragging himself up to the bumper of the truck and mentally conjured the plans for this model of truck up out of his database for display in front of his eyes. He'd built enough ignition systems from scratch to do this, but explaining it sight unseen to David was going to take longer than he expected, and they were plainly running out of time.

"All right, start at the wire on top of where the bundle meets the wheel and count fifteen down clockwise. Then - "

He was interrupted by a groan of aggravation and a thud of something hitting the ground, and when he leaned around the car to see what was happening, he saw David laying on his back beside the truck's cab, and Jinx standing in his place, leaning halfway into the truck, from whence emerged the sounds of wires sparking against one another. Moments later, the engine gave a cough, a chug, and then reluctantly turned over.

It was the sweetest sound Cyborg had heard in a long time.

Her work completed, Jinx stepped back, saying nothing, not deigning to offer David a hand up, not even looking in his or Cyborg's direction. What little glimpse Cyborg could get of her face revealed a cold, expressionless stare, lifeless eyes refusing to explore the objects or people around her. She moved like an automaton, stepping around David and walking back to the ruined building she had previously been crouched next to, as though this action she had taken had nothing to do with the two Titans whatsoever.

Maybe it was understandable, and maybe completely mysterious. All Cyborg really knew was that the truck was running.

David seemed no more inclined to look gift horses in the mouth than Cyborg was, and without bothering to address Jinx, he scrambled to his feet and ran over to the back of the truck, where Cyborg sat against the fender, listening to and feeling the approach of whatever the hell was making the increasingly ominous noises, now strong enough to cause pebbles on the broken pavement to jump with each successive drum beat.

Feverishly, David struggled with the crane mechanism and the metal hook attached to it, alternately fiddling with the controls and pulling on the chains directly. It seemed to Cyborg that he was making little to no progress, until finally he laid his hand on the crane itself, closed his eyes for a moment, and with a loud "crack", the chains fell lose to the ground.

*BOOM*

If the previous blows had sounded like distant thunder, this sounded like a lightning strike directly over head, a deep, orchestral blast of sound that shook the ground and even caused the three-ton truck to rock on its wheels. David stopped, Cyborg lifted his head, even Jinx seemed to notice. But when Cyborg turned to see what had happened, all he could see was glass falling from several ruined office towers in rhythm with the impact sounds as they relentlessly grew louder and louder, even as brown smoke billowed up between the buildings, snaking down the streets and alleys like a living thing

And then he saw it.

All at once, the smoke was torn aside like a curtain, and in its place there stood what Cyborg took, just for an instant, to be a newly grown office building amidst the ruins of downtown. Yet moments later red searchlights appeared atop the immense structure, and the jagged concrete buttresses along its side lifted into the air, uncoiling hands the size of cars attached to arms the length of telephone poles. As it moved, its surface cracked and fissured, revealing channels of red, steaming magma running just beneath the surface, from whence issued great swirls of dark smoke, ringing the creature's head in fields of fire. Yet its skin overall was grey, grey like the dirty concrete it resembled, a color that spoke to Cyborg in ways he could not elucidate, tugging at memory strings that refused to come to hand. For a moment, the great thing stood there, brandishing its great limbs in the air as though in supplication to some heavenly body. And then the thing took a single step forward, its footfall as loud as a howitzer shell, and as it opened its mouth to issue a roar, everything that the creature was came together in Cyborg's mind, and suddenly he knew what he was looking at.

"Oh god..." he said, as much to himself as any other. "Cinderblock."

All sound was erased in an instant as the thing that had once been Cinderblock let loose a roar that sent loose masonry tumbling from the buildings nearby, a roar of such intensity that Cyborg ducked despite himself, of volcanic heat palpable even at this distance, of pain and anguish inconsolable and torments both remembered and promised. Above, there came a crash of metal on metal as David dropped the chains in his hands like forgotten toys and stumbled back in the bed of the truck like a small child whose nightmares had all been conjured to life before his eyes. He did not hear the terrified, breathless cry that David let out, but he did not need to, for it would have been his own reaction if his brain had remembered how to produce it. Whatever Cinderblock had once been, monster, juggernaut, muscle-for-hire, this... thingthat now stared down the boulevard at the two of them was Cinderblock in approximation only. Five times the size of the original, riven and ringed with flames and gloom, its eyes burning in the endless night like red stars, it loomed above the broken street like a raging volcano given life and form and set loose upon the world, its screams of rage and pain shaking the very ground with a deep, resonant timbre, like entire highways being dragged across one another. And just as Cyborg's stunned mind was beginning to accept that what he was seeing was real, the thing that had once been Cinderblock reared up and charged towards them, his feet smashing room-sized craters in the earth beneath him, even as he let loose a single word, screamed with incalculable anger like an unspeakable curse, a sound given shape, hurled towards them like a whaler's harpoon.

"DEVASTATOR!"

"David?" asked Cyborg without daring to turn his head, and when he received no answer, he struck the back of the truck for emphasis, lifting his head to see David standing in dumbstruck horror, his ashen face whiter than it had been, his red eyes as wide as they could manage. "David!" he shouted anew, and this time David heard him, lowering his frightened eyes for the requisite second needed.

"Start the crane," said Cyborg. "Right now."

The bed of the truck was three feet off the ground, a trivial distance for anyone with more than one working limb, but significantly less so for Cyborg at the moment. David did not answer Cyborg with words but grabbed the crane controls and lowered the massive metal hook towards him, the motor running at what Cyborg would have sworn was its slowest speed. An eternity later, he grabbed it with his one working arm, and pulled, nearly wrenching the tow cable out of its winch, and hooking it to his back. Nanoseconds after he finished doing so, David reversed the winch spool, and the entire assembly began the process of laboriously hauling Cyborg up into the back of the truck like a fish.

Seconds ticked by like hours as the winch motor strained to lift half a ton of dead weight, punctuated by the sounds of all hell quite literally breaking loose from down the street as a monster beyond imagining rushed towards them with all the speed it could muster. Cinderblock's form, already swollen to four or five times its normal size, seemed to loom even larger as he ran, the ground splintering beneath his feet as he ran, his head encircled with live flames and toxic smoke, and from the craters he pounded into the earth, demons in numbers uncountable swarmed up and into the air, a train of fire in Cinderblock's wake, screaming like all the furies of Hell.

"Cy..."

"I see him, David, just keep going. We're gonna make it."

To be honest, Cyborg wasn't sure, but this wasn't the time for honesty. The winch groaned as Cyborg tried to help it along, using his one arm to haul himself up into the bed of the truck, but his motors no longer had the strength he had built them to, and the process was still one of inches. And every time he glanced back at the approaching thunderhead, Cinderblock was closer than he had expected him to be, accelerating now to a full sprint, his hands held high like the towers of some vast, gothic monstrosity. The winch on the truck was designed to lift cars significantly heavier than Cyborg was, yet seemed a million years before the winch finally gave one last thrust of effort, and pulled him over the threshold. As quickly as he could, he spun himself around with one hand, unhooking the winch and using the cable and the loose tire chains mounted on the sides of the flatbed to tie himself as securely as he could to the truck. And then he turned around to see how much time they had, and stopped moving, because they weren't going to make it. Cinderblock was barely a hundred yards away and running at the speed of a freight train, and there was no way they were going to make it.

And then a building exploded.

It wasn't the building proper, but rather the face of the building that went off like a battery of rockets, exploding into Cinderblock's flank like a cascade of masonry, steel and glass, and the force of the blast, though it couldn't knock Cinderblock over, was enough to arrest him in his tracks. Behind him, the demons ground to a halt, dozens of them plowing straight into his back like eggs thrown against a brick wall, countless others milling about at his feet, shrieking and groaning like a discordant choir of the damned. Cinderblock himself roared, batting away pieces of flying debris the size of the truck that Cyborg was sitting in, seeking for the architect of this intrusion. So was Cyborg. His immediate thought, of course, was David, but David was standing behind him, frozen like a statue, staring at the scene with that expression halfway between mortal terror and thunderstruck awe that, even now, he still brought out for truly important occasions. No stick or wand or other object was in his hand, no baton of orange flame that he customarily used to produce such explosions, and it wasn't until Cyborg saw a bright pink flash from the corner of his eye that he realized what was actually at work here.

Jinx stepped around the truck with hexes in either hand, and hurled both of them directly at Cinderblock, watching them disappear into the distance before blossoming on his flame-scorched hide like a pair of time-lapsed flowers. They did not appear to perturb Cinderblock in the slightest, certainly not enough to merit a reply, but when one of the leading flame demons, shooting out in front of Cinderblock, tried to seize her with its tendrils, she side-stepped it in one deft movement, sliced it in half with a freshly-conjured hex, and spinning in place like a dancer, hurled the hex in question into the apartment building Cinderblock was in the process of running past. Moments later, the entire front half of the building avalanched down into the street like a landslide, burying fifty demons in half a second before plowing into Cinderblock's legs. He lurched forward as the deluge of loose rubble slid out from under him, wobbling for just a second before plunging forward onto the ground with an earth-shattering crash, scattering what few demons had escaped the avalanche.

Without a second's glance at her own handiwork, Jinx turned back to Cyborg and David, her face comprised of a thousand conflicting emotions, none of them pleasant, and what she purposed to do or say then, Cyborg did not know. Yet ultimately it did not matter, because before she could do anything whatsoever, from the smoke-shrouded chaos that she had just left behind her came a chorus of voices that froze her to the spot.

"Jinx!"

It took Cyborg a moment to identify the voices in question, for they were many, and distorted by pain or some other terrible anguish. Yet it did not take Jinx any time at all. No sooner had they sounded, crying her name, than Cyborg saw Jinx' face drain of color, and she spun round to face them. Even as she did, a gust of wind parted the curtain of smoke, and -

"No..."

They loomed up out of the darkness, arranged line abreast, walking, limping, or floating around Cinderblock as befit each one, figures so distinctive and so seared into Cyborg's memory that the mere silhouettes were enough for a positive ID. Yet the silhouettes did not tell the full story, for moments later they resolved in the ambient twilight into fully-fleshed figures, and then Cyborg heard David recoil in horror, a reaction he would have shared if he'd not been literally chained in place.

Lined up before them were the rest of the Hive Five. And they were dead.

Not just dead, but mutilated. Torn apart and put back together like toys repaired by a sociopath. Seemore groped his way forward, hands outstretched before him like a zombie, fingers feeling for any hint of his surroundings, for his single, cyclopean eye had apparently burst violently within his head, and the shattered remnants of his visor dangled from around his neck, dripping with blood and ichor. Mammoth's skin was charred black, a crust through which rivulets of bloody meat shone with every movement. Like See-More, his eyes were gone, slashed open as though by a straight razor, his ears and nose lopped off, his fingers, strong enough by themselves to gouge metal, now hung limp and helpless at his sides, broken and twisted around one another, even as smoke still curled off his blackened flesh. Billy Numerous, he of the infinite clones, now stood united as never before, a riotous mass of limbs and appendages fused together in random order, loping and lurching in agonising futility as he struggled to pull himself in a coherent direction, a hundred mouths all screaming Jinx' name. Gizmo, meanwhile, looked like a horrifying parody of Cyborg himself, his mechanical accoutrements grafted into his flesh at deranged, discordant angles, his body wracked by convulsions as motors and appendages fought to rip themselves free. His back had been split open, his lungs pulled out behind him and inflated with each breath like the wings of some terrible flightless bird. He had lost his jaw and tongue, replaced by an undulating tube of glistening blackness, neither wholly organic nor wholly artificial. Yet despite this, his voice was the loudest, as he emitted shrieks of agony from some dark place deep within his soul, his eyes pleading with Jinx for succor or release.

For a few moments, long ones, neither David nor Jinx nor Cyborg could say or do anything. Veteran and rookie, hero and villain, all descriptors and distinguishing characteristics failed, as the three teenagers reacted to the sight before them as any living being in their place would have. Jaws dropped, eyes widened, senses of balance and equilibrium were lost, in Jinx as much as anyone else. But only for a few moments was this true, for while David was staring at a horror beyond his imagining, and Cyborg at one that came damned close, Jinx was staring at the mutilated remains of her family, animated by dark magics to suffer in Hell for all eternity.

What happened next was probably inevitable.

Jinx did not scream or cry defiance and damnation. It was not her nature to do so, not for something like this. Only one thing could possibly answer a sight such as this, and that was searing, incandescent violence, delivered without hesitation or comment. Without a word to Cyborg or David or even to Cinderblock, who loomed above her friends like the Grim Reaper surveying his flock, Jinx simply charged, accelerating to a dead sprint, her eyes wild and mad, rage incalculable pouring from her fingertips. And an instant later, before anyone could so much as move, Jinx fell upon such few demons as had survived her previous assault, and slew them, and was past, her mouth opening to release a formless, toneless howl of pure anguish.

Fresh demons rose to replace the ones she had slain, leaking like miasmas from cracks in the pavement, and she turned on those in turn, and tore them to pieces, her powers no longer forming hexes, but lancing out in great waves of pink fire that sundered all they touched. In vain, Cyborg shouted after her, calling her by name, telling her to come back. In vain he fired his cannon into the melee, spearing demons on shafts of bright blue light, disintegrating them by the half-dozen until his power reserves were spent. Above him, David, shaken from his horrified stupor, lifted his twisted baton and conjured death and destruction, hurling demons and pieces of demons in every direction, trying to blast open a corridor for Jinx to come back once she had vented her anger. All in vain. Jinx' anger was bottomless, inexhaustable, and she tore into everything in range, slaughtering her enemies as she tried, vainly, to expiate the fires visibly consuming her inside. Only when she reached her friends did she stop, ringed by the bodies of her vanquished foes, and standing before the mutilated frames of the people she had once valued most in the world, she took one last glance back at the two Titans in the tow truck, tears running freely down her face. No words or signal escaped her as she looked back, no sign of any final message she wished to impart. Yet so strong and direct was her gaze that David's explosions stopped of their own accord, and Cyborg's entreaties for her to return died in his throat. It was apparent to all, instantly and without need for explanation, that there was nothing left to say. And then Jinx turned away, with every appearance of deliberation, and the smoke and flames that issued from a thousand fissures rose up once more, and she was gone.

Cyborg permitted himself enough time for his main computers to recite a prayer in binary. And then he lifted his head.

"David," he said. "Start the truck."

The truck was already started of course, but Cyborg's meaning was obvious, or at least so he assumed. Yet rather than running off to get into the driver's seat, David inexplicably hesitated, standing above Cyborg and looking down at him as though he had just suggested sprouting wings. "What?" asked Cyborg without looking up, when David did not move.

"I... I can't drive," said David.

That got Cyborg's attention. "What?" he asked, his head whipping around to face David.

"I'm fourteen, Cy!" exclaimed David. "I never learned how to - "

David did not get to finish his sentence, as a howl of rage loud enough to drown out a symphony orchestra nearly knocked him off his feet, and both he and Cyborg turned to see Cinderblock, no longer distracted by whatever Jinx was doing at his feet, facing them once more, his arms raised above his head like King Kong. Beneath him, demons gibbered and surged in uncountable numbers, and as Cinderblock lowered one hand to point at the two teens in the tow truck, they began to swell up in a wave of fire and brimstone, their intentions obvious.

Cyborg would probably have reflected on the absurdity of existence if he could afford to take the time. "Get in the cab," he said. "And tell me how many pedals there are."

David did not object this time.

The demons rose like a swarm of wasps, swirling around Cinderblock in streams of black and red, howling cries of damnation and pain into the already turbulent air. Cyborg heard David's footsteps as he ran across the bed of the truck and slid through the empty window in the back of the cab to wind up inside the truck, and then the silence of confusion as he stared at the controls. It seemed like fifty years before David called his answer back.

"Two."

Not for the first time tonight, Cyborg whispered a prayer of thanks to God and to whoever had invented the automatic transmission, for if this car had possessed a clutch, they would both simply be dead. "At your right," he said, "there should be a lever pulled up with a button on top. Push the button and shove the lever down as far as it goes.

There was the sound of gears clacking against one another, and the truck shuddered as David disengaged the handbrake, but Cyborg paid it no mind, instead pressing several buttons on his mangled shoulder, praying that some of them still worked. Moments later, there was a whir of micromachinery, and a bank of rockets slid vertically out of Cyborg's shoulder, even as a heads-up display materialized virtually in front of his eyes. As if in response to this new insult, Cinderblock let loose another ear-splitting howl of anger, and then he began to stomp towards Cyborg, the demons orbiting around him shrieking in anticipation of the torments in store.

"It still won't go!" shouted David back, and Cyborg blocked Cinderblock's howls out, forcing himself to think, to pay attention to things other than impending army of darkness now less than fifteen seconds away. He could hear the engine straining as David pushed the accelerator, yet the truck stubbornly refused to move. If some vital component was broken they were dead, and so he refused to consider that, trying instead to imagine what else might -

"Do you see a gearshift?!"

"A what?"

They were less than a hundred yards away now, Cinderblock screaming like a runaway train, the demons around him peeling off and flying straight for him. Cyborg took a milisecond to aim before firing off a volley of rockets, each one spiralling off towards a different demon before blossoming into a dozen fireballs, leaving the broken remnants of the front rank of demons to splatter to the ground like water balloons.

"A gearshift!" shouted Cyborg. "A stick with numbers and letters on it!"

"Um... yeah!" came the reply.

"Set it to Drive!"

"What?"

"Drive!D! Anything that isn't Park or Neutral!"

Fifty yards. Close enough that the truck was jumping on its suspension with each footfall. Cyborg loaded another volley and fired it, this time without bothering to aim, sending another dozen demons tumbling to the ground in broken ruin. Cinderblock ignored them, indeed he ignored all else, his eyes burning with hatred and rage, even as he brought his fists up and together for the two-handed smash that would crush them all to jelly.

Beneath him, Cyborg felt the subtle tremor of the transmission engaging, simultaneous with David calling back to him. "Got it!" shouted David. "Now what?"

Cinderblock was practically overhead, hands raised for the final blow. No time for a third volley. No time for anything.

"Right pedal stops, left pedal goes!" shouted Cyborg, staring up at his own ending. "Go! Go! GO!"

A high pitched squeal, as tires fought for purchase on ash-coated pavement, and then a deafening crash, like a meteor striking the earth, as Cinderblock's two-fisted smash collided with the empty street where moments ago the tow truck had been sitting. The monster raised his head, cognizant that his prey had somehow eluded him, just in time for Cyborg's last volley of explosive rockets to hit him square in the face.

And then things got violent.

The rockets exploded into a sheet of flame and smoke, a thin barrier to mask the sounds of incalculable, nuclear rage that were coming from behind it. A moment later, and the sheet was torn aside, Cinderblock racing through it, his face scarred but defiant, and all Hell followed with him. Accelerating to what was, for him, a dead sprint, he howled murder to the skies with such force that they split, and thunder boomed overhead as the sooty clouds flashed lightning and whirlwinds of fire. Flame demons surged from every side, emerging from ruined buildings and broken streets, oozing up from the ground, while from overhead, a swarm of hideous, chiropteran horrors descended from the clouds, howling and gibbering as they dove towards the forlorn truck.

Using his one good hand, Cyborg gripped the side of the truck, pulling himself over to one side before raising the stump of his other arm. Moments later, a small tube snaked out from the mangled limb, sliding down the side of the truck before slipping into the fuel port and sliding down to the truck's gas tank. And as demons descended on them from every direction, Cyborg watched his power cells register the intake from the diesel tank, his reactor analyze the fuel mix and activate the appropriate converters, and the indicator for sonic cannon embedded in his good arm switch from red back to green.

The leading demons were nearly at the rear wheels, the closest horrors already beginning their dives overhead. Cyborg shifted his arm into a cannon and swung it across the face of the enemy wave, letting the blue-white beam of ultrasonic annihilation sweep over the nearest foes and rip them to pieces. Dozens more ducked and wove around his beam of ultrasonic light, flipping end over end before diving down towards him, yet when he tried to line his cannon or missiles up on the diving demons, the truck inexplicably began to fishtail, ruining both his aim and that of the demons, who streaked past him into the asphalt.

He turned his head to ask David what the problem was, to see if the younger teen had simply lost control of the truck, but his question died before he could ask it. Ahead of them, blocking the road from sidewalk to sidewalk stretched a phalanx of demons twelve ranks thick. Plainly David had no idea what to do, already hitting the brake and skidding towards a stop, looking right and left for somewhere to turn, not realizing there wasn't likely to be one in the middle of the block.

"Go through 'em!"

"What?!"

"Go right through them!"

Any lingering suspicions that Cyborg might have harbored about whether the discolored simulacrum in front of him was actually the David he knew were dispelled twofold. First, by the look of sheer dumbstruck horror that David gave him at the order to drive straight at a thousand screaming demons. And second, by the conscious decision that crystallized in his eyes, as plain as day despite the red light, to set his own analysis aside in favor of trusting that Cyborg had not lost his mind.

The tires screamed as the truck accelerated towards the assembled demons, who howled as one and charged in their turn. And behind thundered the footsteps of Cinderblock, still stampeding towards them like an enraged buffalo the size of a office building. Laboriously, Cyborg turned himself around, hooking the stump of his broken arm around the tow crane and spinning in place until he was facing front.

"Duck," he said. And when David did so, he fired.

Above David's head, the windshield exploded, bursting outwards as a sonic pulse fifty thousand times stronger than that of the mightiest jet engine struck it like a projectile. And a fraction of a second later, the pulse of visible sound tore through the demon host, extinguishing two dozen demons in half a heartbeat. The truck swerved as David involuntarily tugged on the wheel, bounced as it rolled over a pile of miscellaneous debris, but Cyborg did not stop firing, and David did not release the accelerator. And then moments later, the truck, all three tons of it, crashed into the line of demons at seventy miles per hour.

Screams, howls, the sizzling sound of burning sulfur on metal, sickening crunches as demons were smashed to jelly beneath spinning wheels. Cyborg felt himself being hurled back in the bed of the truck, crashing into the tow cable, felt something hot and sticky grabbing his broken arm and skittering off it. Another tendril seized his neck, and flailing momentarily, he shifted his cannon back into a hand and seized one of the chains he had been using to tie himself into the truck's bed. In one motion, he swung the chain above his head and into the side of the demon's snarling face with such force that he tore it in half. And then, suddenly they were through, and behind Cyborg stretched a mob of howling demons with a path of crushed and ruined bodies bisecting it, moments before Cinderblock charged at full speed into and through the group, scattering them like bowling pins.

A glance forward to check that David was alright identified a new problem, parked and broken cars scattered all over the road, some of them larger than the truck they were driving. And yet Cyborg could do nothing to help or even guide David through the slalom course ahead, for Cinderblock was right on their tail, his hands raised to beat the truck into the Earth. Trusting to David to do his best, Cyborg turned back on Cinderblock and shot him square in the throat with a beam of sonic power that would have flayed the armor off a battleship. Cinderblock roared and stumbled, catching himself on one fist as further shots rained down on his flame-scorched hide, yet he did not fall, and he did not yield. Instead, snatching at the first object in range, Cinderblock picked up an entire motorcycle and threw it at them like a dodgeball. Cyborg shot it out of the air, moments before a tremendous blast from somewhere in front of them attracted his attention, and he turned around just in time to see a car fly over his head.

New to driving, and unable to steer the truck at high speeds through an obstacle course that would have challenged a stunt driver, David had opted for not even trying. Releasing the steering wheel entirely, he was leaning partway out the driver's side window, staff-in hand, blasting the cars in their path into the air like rockets, letting them spin upwards over them as they passed, hopefully to fall either on Cinderblock's head, or at least in his path. As Cyborg tracked the flying cars, he saw Cinderblock bat them out of the air with his hands, hurling two-ton sedans to either side as though swatting flies. Still David threw more cars up and back, managing by sheer luck to smash several of the flying horrors above, and forcing the rest to keep back, until the sheer speed they were going gradually left the demons and horrors alike in the dust.

But no speed the truck could muster could keep Cinderblock away. Heedless of rockets, sonic blasts, or flying automobiles he kept on, throwing anything that came to hand at them, screaming defiance and rage to the skies. And down the burning streets of hell they led him, on and on through streets both recognizable and alien, as David jammed the accelerator to the floor and set off explosions when he could, and Cyborg fired everything he had left in his arsenal to buy them whatever seconds were available.

Twice, David gave a formless cry as the street they were on terminated abruptly at an intersection, and those cries were Cyborg's cue to hang on for dear life, for untrained as he was, David could do nothing but pull the steering wheel over as hard as he could and pray that he didn't wreck them too badly. Once they went straight through a newspaper kiosk, briefly obscuring Cinderblock in a snowstorm of burning magazines. The second time the car skidded and lost purchase, and they slammed side-first into a delivery van hard enough to stave its side in and nearly hurl Cyborg out of the truck entirely. Cyborg recovered in time to turn and see Cinderblock sprinting towards them at fifty miles per hour, fist raised like a battering ram to crush them and the truck alike to pulp, and was reduced to simply watching as David somehow found the accelerator again in time to rocket them out of the way, leaving Cinderblock to hit the van hard enough to reduce it to metal fragments.

Even Cinderblock needed time to disentangle himself from the crushed remains of a seven-ton delivery truck, and as he lifted his head to locate his escaping targets, Cyborg shoot him in the eye with a sonic wave that could have blown a hole through an armored vehicle. This, at last, seemed to take effect. Cinderblock screamed in unmistakable agony as his head was blasted back by the shot, leaving scorched concrete around his beady eye, heated by the ultrasonic waves to a cherry red. Erupting with anger and pain, Cinderblock ripped the delivery truck to pieces, lunging back into the street and charging after his quarry, yet now they had a head-start of some size on him, and gaining more as the ground sloped downward and the tow truck picked up speed.

For a moment, Cyborg thought they might actually escape. Until he heard an unmistakable gasp of horror from the truck's cabin, and turned his head just in time to see a hundred screaming demons lunging at his face.

The pack of demons in the street ahead was not large, but it was solid and angry and had timed its assault just perfectly, darting out from a ruined apartment building at such speeds that David had no time to react before they hit. Many missed them entirely, sailing overhead harmlessly. Others dashed themselves to pieces by crashing headlong into the body of the truck or throwing themselves beneath its spinning wheels. Yet a dozen landed in the bed of the truck itself, tearing at Cyborg with tendrils of burning sulfur, seizing him by his broken limbs and one remaining intact one, wrapping their tendrils around his neck, screaming with rage and hatred as they rent and tore and ripped at anything they could. And from beyond the demons attacking him, inside the truck's cab, Cyborg heard a scream that was no demon's, as another handful of demons flew through the windows and shattered windshield, and sought to repeat the process not on armor or metal, but on defenseless, yielding flesh.

Maybe it was the sound of David's screams of pain that motivated what happened next. Maybe it was a simple wish to not die himself. But whatever it was, the next thing Cyborg knew, his one good arm was in human form again, and his hand was wrapped around the towing crane mounted in the middle of the truck bed. His fingers gouged furrows into the steel, even as the demons tore at him, and with a single, formless roar, he tore the entire crane free from its moorings, and swung it left and right like a burning brand. Demons lurched into his vision from all sides, and he flailed at them, sending the tow hook swinging in every direction, and every demon he struck exploded like a carton of milk. Yet even before the demons on him were all destroyed, Cyborg was crawling forward, slashing spastically in the general direction of the truck's cab, where David had fallen out of sight, but his screams had not stopped.

The truck, driverless, began to swerve violently as Cyborg pulled himself up to the back of the cab. He raised his head in time to see a demon loom up before him, its claws held high as it swung them down at some unseen target pinned to the seat. Yet before it could do so, Cyborg threw his good arm around and swung the towing hook around its neck like a lariat, dragging it bodily out through the missing rear window of the truck's cabin, and into the bed. The demon howled and twisted and tried to pull away but Cyborg's desperation had crystallized to rage, and he pinned the burning thing against his own chest, wrenching the tow chain back with such force that he tore the demon in half. Tossing its corpse aside, he reached up again and fishhooked a second demon through the face with the towing hook, wrenching it out of the cab as well and hurling it back out of the truck entirely to be dashed to pieces against a nearby dumpster.

Even now, the screaming did not stop, but when Cyborg turned to find further enemies, he saw instead David sitting up in the driver's seat, face contorted with pain, his near shoulder a lacerated mass of black char and grey fluid which oozed up from within him like ichor. Yet with his other hand he held his mangled staff like a knight's lance, and drove the end of it into a third demon's chest, pinning him against the passenger door. The demon howled, slashing at David's face with its whip-like tendrils, yet moments later, David detonated the tip of the staff, slamming the demon back against the buckling door. Again and again he stabbed the staff forward, blasting the end of it into the demon's chest like a jackhammer until the door behind gave way and both demon and door were blown out into the street. Yet as David struggled to sit back up, his good hand clutched to his wounded shoulder, the truck jerked violently as one of the remaining demons tore a swatch out of one of its front tires, screamed in its own right as it ran for a few yards on the bare rim, and then finally, with all the majesty of a collapsing building, jackknifed at sixty miles an hour and flipped.

Cyborg felt himself hurled back against the bed of the truck, felt his internal gyroscope spinning out of control as the truck rolled side over side, felt what remained of his left arm being wrenched off at the shoulder as it was caught between the lip of the truck bed and the street. Screaming metal and exploding glass mixed with the howls of demons as they were unceremoniously splattered beneath several tons of collapsing steel. A burnt-out vehicle in the path of the truck was crushed flat as it they rolled over it like a steamroller, bouncing and sliding before finally landing, miraculously, on their wheels, rocking to one side for just a moment, and then finally laying still.

It took Cyborg the better part of a minute to recover his bearings enough to even sit up. His left arm, already truncated by the demons, was now completely gone, pulled off at the shoulder like the arm of a plastic doll and ground into a fine paste now smeared across five hundred yards of asphalt. Sparks and a thin trickle of hydraulic fluid leaked from the crushed socket, but he did not stop to try and staunch the flow, instead forcing himself to grab the back of the truck's cabin and pull himself up enough to see if David was still alive. Even his "intact" arm no longer could muster much force, and it an agonizing process to heft himself up enough to peer into the cabin. And when he did, he felt his heart freeze.

Not because of David. Because of the precipice.

The truck sat on the edge of what looked like a bottomless pit, a cavernous void a mile across at the narrowest, driven right through the heart of the city as though it had been split in half with an axe. The chasm glowed a fiery orange, as if all the fires of hell churned deep within it. Grotesque moans, like a chorus of damned souls, filtered up from deep within it, along with a deep, formless roar, like a waterfall or blast furnace churning at full power.

Below Cyborg, David lay draped across the driver and passenger seats, the driver's side seat belt twisted and wrapped around his chest and arm like a mummy's bandages, his forehead and hair matted with a grey fluid that Cyborg took to be blood. Piles of steaming sulfur lay splattered about the truck's cabin or ground into a slurry on the floor. The steering column had been snapped like a twig, and the wheel was laying atop David's chest, dangling by a forest of wires and cabling, and yet Cyborg could see it slowly rising and falling as David clung painfully to life, his eyes gradually flickering open and struggling to focus on anything nearby. Cyborg could do nothing, not even reach out for him, but gradually David managed to push himself up on one elbow, and Cyborg was about to ask him if anything was broken when he heard something approaching.

And he knew what it was without turning.

The smoke parted as Cinderblock approached at a full run, his broken hide glowing bright orange with the flames of his own murderous rage. Sprinting over the broken earth, his feet driving molten craters into the asphalt beneath him, he came on through the eternal twilight like a freight train from Hell, and as he laid eyes at last on the half-crushed truck, his head flew back as he released a scream of triumph and rage that would have sent flights of angels screaming into the night.

His actuators broken and sparking, Cyborg twisted in place, trying to force his hand unsheathe his sonic cannon once more, leveling it off at the charging juggernaut and trying to keep it steady. Behind him, David reached down with one trembling hand to push the accelerator, trying to coax the truck to move out of Cinderblock's way. Yet nothing came of either endeavor. More than half of Cyborg's sonic emitters were broken, most of the rest barely functioning at all, and his damaged and bleeding power cell no longer had the energy to yield to his commands. His cannon spoke once, unleashing an anemic burst of sound barely potent enough to scratch Cinderblock's hide, even as David's agonizing gesture was rewarded with the sound of grinding metal. Cyborg recognized the unmistakable sound of a broken transaxle, spinning uselessly within the guts of the vehicle. Once more Cyborg tried to fire, and once more his cannon tried to respond, churning the air between himself and Cinderblock for just a moment before the power linkages finally failed altogether and, with mere seconds before impact, the cannon fell silent at last.

Cyborg took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Cinderblock hit the tow truck at nearly fifty miles an hour, lowering his shoulder at the last possible second like a football player preparing to lay his opponent out on the gridiron. His blow nearly folded the truck in half, lifting all three tons of its dead weight off the ground and hurling it unceremoniously away. Flying up, and spinning slowly in all three dimensions, the truck hung for what seemed like a long time above the gaping chasm, before finally plunging down into its indescribable depths, parting the shroud of smoke beneath it as it vanished into the cauldron below, with only the fading echoes of David's last, agonizing scream to mark that it had ever been.

And on the lip of the cliff, overlooking the chasm of eternity, Cinderblock watched the truck disappear, and then slowly turned around, and walked away.



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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.37 added) PostPosted: 2013-01-20 03:50am
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
*---------------------------------------------------------*

"Is there a purpose to this pretense?"

"Pretense?"

"Pretense, nothing more. Adolescent fascination in a contest whose outcome is foreordained."

"Your capacity for self-aggrandizement should not be astonishing anymore, Trigon. And yet..."

"And yet you cannot accept what is before you. It is over. I am the master of this house."

"So you insist."

"So I demand!"

"Demand as you like. The universe does not turn to demands. Not even those of Gods like us."

"Have you still not finished flattering yourself? That you should frame your own existence in the context of mine?"

"And if I do, then who is being flattered?"

"You are nothing. Nothing but the echo of a long-dead defeat. To speak of us in the same sentence is presumption the likes of which you will become accustomed to shunning."

"Are your natural habits so far ingrained that they extend to threatening that which you cannot harm?"

"And what makes you think that you, of all beings, are beyond my reach?"

"You have no capacity to harm me, Trigon. I am inviolate."

"And I suppose your inviolability is what drives you to watch with such intensity?"

"What drives me is a motivation beyond your understanding."

"That is a lie. You have no motivations. You have no will. You are forbidden congress with such conceptions."

"An attribute we share, Trigon. But I at least can perceive the boundaries of my own experience."

"So a slave speaks of the wisdom of his master. Did a thousand lifetimes of bondage lead you to value the whims of insects so? Or were you simply created as a craven cur?"

"I was created to destroy you. That much you know already. But even if I cannot transcend my boundaries, those thousand lifetimes gave me wisdom enough to glimpse beyond them. As opposed to one so sunken in their decrepitude that they would employ their arts against one not even capable of willing you to stop."

"I do not practice my craft to please you."

"You do not practice your craft to please anyone, not even yourself."

"And you do?"

"Of course not. But I recognize what I am."

"You are my slave, whose obedience is commanded by laws higher than your own."

"Then employ me, oh master, if your will be strong enough. Your enemies lie before you. Command me, and they shall exist no more."

"You seek to save them, even now? Spare them my agony that they may escape safely into non-existence?"

"I have no need to seek for anything. You will never give me the order."

"Oh so sure of yourself. I with a new toy, and no desire to play with it?"

"Play all you like if it suits you. I know your mind, Trigon. I always have."

"There are ways beyond eternal night. You are as much scalpel as you are universal oblivion. Methods could be found to employ you in this thing."

"But not before the end. You've a pageant to perform, Trigon, one eons in the making. And so little time to see it through."

"Still clinging to hope that all will turn against me. Did you not describe yourself as a god, not moments ago? How far have you fallen, oh Lord of Destruction, to lean on intercessions. Tell me, have the mortals taught you to pray?"

"They have taught me many things, Trigon. Some of which I believe even you would profit from."

"I see no profit in abasing myself, weapon. But I shall not prevent you from doing so if it is your will."

"As you pointed out so clearly, I have no will, Trigon."

"Such is plain enough. Only one willing to abrogate their own sentience would place faith in external powers."

"I am not sentient. And if this is your effort to torment me, then you have fallen further than I assumed."

"This is nothing. Your torment has already begun, and will never end."

"All things end."

"Not us. Not this."

"Even so. And if you cannot perceive it, then I pity you."

"Pity me? Why? Because I am unable to perceive this terrible reversal you insist is coming?"

"I am no prophet, Trigon. I only speak of what may be."

"You speak of absurdities."

"Do I? This is not a game, Trigon, however much you may treat it as such. The forces aligned against you are not toys to be played with and discarded."

"Forces? What forces? This world is a cinder and its defenders lie trampled beneath its ashes. There are no forces remained to stand against me."

"Every action begets an equal and opposite reaction, Trigon. There are agents at work here beyond your comprehension."

"And what agents would these be? The hosts of light and virtue, trampling out the wicked with a terrible sword? Flights of angels descending from on high to oppose the advent of the Devil himself?"

"Anything is possible, Trigon."

"HA! I knew you to be a fool, Devastator, but even I did not know you to be a fool of this caliber. Have you spent so much time stapled to mortals that you have come to share their delusions?"

"Is hope now a delusion?"

"It is where I am concerned. The thousand score of worlds I burnt to ashes before this one, did their inhabitants not flock to temples and cathedrals without number? Did they not cry to their gods for succor against my advent? Did they not sacrifice and do penance in revenance to mute icons in the hope that they might be spared my coming? How many hosts of angels did they conjure to oppose me, Devastator? How many beings of purity and light manifested themselves temporally to drive me screaming back into the abyss? How many burnt cinders still float through the void, home to nothing more than the charred remains of those who died with prayers on their lips and relics thought holy clutched in their hands or tendrils? How well did their hope of salvation serve them?"

"Not very. And yet..."

"And yet what? This time is different? These humans are so much purer, so much more righteous, so much less deserving of my attentions than their fellows? While a hundred thousand civilizations lay in ignorance, did thesebeings discover the secrets of creation, and find Messiahs to save them? How convenient that they should have had the wisdom of ages revealed to them and no other."

"And yet you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge what lies in front of you."

"What lies in front of me? Are you - "

"Tell me, Trigon, which of us has been twisted by the mortals more? The one who acknowledges the possibility of hope? Or the one who, upon being confronted with hope, immediately clothes it in the language of the mortals themselves?"

"What blithering nonsense are you peddling?"

"Legions of angels? Beings of rapturous light? Messiahs? Did I speak of any such things? Or did you, on hearing the merest whisper of threat, envision your own doom in the terms of this world?"

"There are no threats arrayed against me. There are merely those whose agony I have chosen to prolong. And even should somewhere in the universe there exist threats to my existence, this is the last place it could possibly be found."

"Is it?"

"It is. I know it well. Or did you think me a creature of whim and random fancy?"

"I do not make a habit of trying to imagine your thoughts."

"Why do you think I sired my daughter on this breed of hairless apes? Why do you imagine I chose this planet for my ascension? This planet of strife and chaos and violation after bloody violation? A planet so steeped in hypocrisy that its inhabitants can persist in imagining themselves the focal point of the universe even as they club one another to death over the possession of their hovels and slaves? A planet rotting with despair, so overwhelmed with violence and hate that the mere act of empowering a random sample of its denizens tears it to pieces in wars civil and interstellar? Why could I possibly have chosen this planet?"

"Trigon - "

"No! Your allotment of delusions is exhausted! I will tolerate no more of this wishful insanity. These beings you revere so highly are nothing but animals, depraved animals, crawling through their own filth and inflicting cruelties even I could not devise on one another, all while shrieking to their imaginary gods for succor from their own bestiality! Condemn me as craven if you will, Devastator, I did not make them so! I found what I sought within them and chose them as the vessels of my own resurrection. They alone possessed the necessary qualities to be worthy of named the antecedents of Trigon the Terrible! And knowing this, as you do, you actually have the temerity to stand before me, and tell me that they are creatures worthy of being spared my wrath?! Were I to stop after exterminating the humans, I should expect the rest of the universe to fall on their knees praising my name!"

"But you won't stop with them, will you?"

"No, I will not. But then my nature is not in question. Do not pretend to speak to me of the virtues of Earth and its denizens, Devastator. I know all too well their qualities. I chose them for their qualities."

"Then you have chosen poorly."

"Have I? I am not the only one who selected them, Lord of Destruction. You chose them yourself, to be your vessel, remember? How poor were your choices?"

"That remains to be seen. I do not pretend to know all ends."

"Then know this. There are no Gods of Light. There are no Hosts of Heaven. There are no beings of purity and virtue conjured forth by the presence of evil to bring salvation to the living. But even if these things did exist, then Devastator, surely you know as well as I do that this is the last place in the Universe that they would appear."

"..."

"You would deny this? You would seriously deny it? Are you so lost in your own guilt that in order to justify your selecting a juvenile human as the host of one of the cosmic forces of reality, you would try and argue the virtue of a species so depraved that they themselves admit to their crapulence? So visibly fallen that the central tenet of their major faiths is the inherent sinfulness and debasement of every single one? You would try and argue that they possess virtues so noble that the laws of reality would re-write themselves rather than see me expunge them from existence? In the face of all this, you would actually pin your hopes on the intervention of wholly mythical forces of Light, stepping in to rescue the most depraved people in the universe from the ministrations of a vengeful God?"

"No, Trigon, I do not pin my hopes on the arrival of the Forces of Light."

"Then why do you still insist on hoping for my defeat?"

"Because the Forces of Light are not coming, Trigon. They're already here."

*---------------------------------------------------------*

The first hint Cinderblock had that something was wrong was when the screaming stopped.

Not that there was anything unusual about that. Screaming always stopped eventually, usually moments after he finished pounding whatever was screaming into jelly. But this time there was no accompanying sound of impact, erasing all cries beneath the crash of metal and glass. No gentle fading as the truck he just place-kicked into eternity vanished forever into the bottomless chasm behind him. One moment, there was a single, agonized scream. And the next, there was not.

"One of the aspects of this world I've always admired is the humans' penchant for storytelling."

Dim Cinderblock might be, thoughtless but for his vocation of wanton destruction, but in that chosen field, he was a master, and he knew the screams of the dying as well as a painter would his brushes. And while he might not have been able to vocalize what it was, he knew that something was wrong.

So he stopped, and turned, and saw something he did not expect.

"My host heard dozens, hundreds of stories in the few years I was with him. Most when he was too young to understand them. I would be stunned if he remembered more than one in ten of them. But I remember them all."

A hundred feet off the edge of the cliff, a truck was floating in mid-air.

"And there's one story, Trigon, that I think would profit you to hear."

It was barely a truck anymore. Broken and twisted around its own frame, its roof half-collapsed, two wheels missing, its bed a mass of tangled metal. Yet it floated in the air like a jewel, grey steel outlined against the orange fires that churned below it, as though gravity itself had no hold, and neither did the incalculable force with which Cinderblock had hurled it off the edge. Cinderblock was not overburdened with mental faculties, but even he had to stop at the sight of this impossible thing, sitting in front of him as though mocking his pretensions.

And then, slowly, as the truck rose upwards, the rest of its body came into view, and Cinderblock's burnt, blackened eyes widened as he saw what was holding it aloft.

"Eons ago, in a far off part of the world, there lived mighty beings that ruled over the Earth. Beings of such power that they could crush all the world beneath their heel, whose only rivals were one another. Though closely related to one another by blood and bond, one group of these beings divided from the rest, and plotting together, chose to rise up and overthrow the remaining beings, so as to rule unchallenged over all living things. This group of rebels became the Gods."

Below the truck, there floated a small, thin girl, bedecked in raiment of iron, face framed in a crown of steel. Her head was bent, her arms spread wide, the truck perched above her like Atlas holding the world aloft, and yet the thousands of pounds of dead weight bearing down upon her did not seem to oppress her in the least, rising as she was, slowly but steadily, as if all the weight above was no more than that of a small insect. Slowly, with infinite care, she raised her head, gazing at Cinderblock with eyes that glowed with green fire. And before Cinderblock could even consider what action he should now take, she threw her head back and fired twin beams of brilliant flame from her eyes, which crossed the intervening space in a fraction of a second, and struck Cinderblock squarely in the face.

"Those they overthrew were called the Titans."

Cinderblock roared like an enraged bull as burning flames poured over his battered face, staggering backwards and throwing his hands up to block them. Yet no twist or turn or gyration of Cinderblock's hands could stem the flow, as Starfire poured untrammelled rage into him, until the monolithic beast stumbled at last on the broken ground, and fell backwards with a thunderous crash.

Landing with the lightest of steps on the edge of the cliff, Starfire lowered the truck as though it were a box of delicate ornaments, laying it upon the scorched asphalt with as much care as she could before circling around to the back of the mangled vehicle. The loading gate was bent and jammed in place, and she tore it off with one tug, climbing into the truck's bed and shunting hundred pound pieces of twisted steel aside, digging through what was left of the towing cable and the equipment boxes for any sign of who she sought.

"Cyborg!" she cried.

'In a great and terrible war, the Gods overthrew the Titans, and seized their crowns for themselves. Most of the Titans they bound within the deepest pits of Tartarus, while others were set to eternal torments, holding aloft the world or writhing in bonds of fire. But for all their power and foresight, the Gods did not bind every Titan, leaving some behind instead to serve as amusements as they divided up the world for their own purposes.'

Cyborg lay prostrate on the bed of the truck, a ruined, broken shell of his former self. His armor was in ragged strips, torn away as though carved apart by some tremendous can opener, his limbs hacked or wrenched off, fluids of various colors and viscosities leaking from within his body. Yet before Starfire's worst fears could present themselves before her, his mechanical eye sparked several times, and his human one opened, roved in search of an anchor, and then found it.

"... Starfire?"

"Cyborg!" shouted Starfire, and heedless of weight or damage she lifted him from the truck bed, squeezing his broken body against hers as tightly as she dared. Cyborg made no move to stop her, perhaps he couldn't or perhaps he hadn't the heart, but he did manage to weakly raise his arm and drape it around her shoulders. Starfire said nothing, indeed it seemed to be all she could do to hold herself together, until at long last she managed to pull back, brush the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, and muster a question.

"Are you unharmed?"

Taken literally, it was one of the stupidest things ever said. Cyborg knew better than to take it literally. "I'll be alright, Star," he said, without permitting himself to think of whether or not this was likely to be the case.

"One whom they spared was named Prometheus, and I do not know why the Gods did so. Maybe they thought their victory complete, or maybe they feared to take the ultimate sanction against him. For whatever purpose it was, they set him loose, alone among his fellows, and enjoined him to oppose them no longer."

From the truck's cabin, there came a series of muffled thuds, creaking groans as something hit one of the doors over and over. Moments later, there came two loud bangs, like gunshots in a quiet room, and the entire driver's side door fell out, landing on the broken ground like an anvil. Another pause, a gathering of strength, and then someone fell out of the truck's cab, someone garbed in grey, whose hair and face and clothes were so impregnated with dust and volcanic ash that no trace of their original pattern could be discerned. The figure landed on hands and knees, coughing and retching on the sundered ground. Desperately, he fought himself to stand, to walk, to do anything really, but his hands shook like leaves, and his lungs refused to calm themselves, and ultimately he could do nothing but remain where he was.

Behind, Starfire watched this all in silence, frozen like a statue as the slight figure managed to crawl a few paces before collapsing on the pavement, a twisted, mangled stump of charred steel falling from his pocket and rolling to a stop against his hand. For several, long seconds, she neither said a word nor moved a muscle, eyes wide and mouth open, before turning to Cyborg, her face an unasked question, obvious to all.

I can only speculate to the Gods' motivations in leaving Prometheus to walk the Earth. But I need not speculate to the result.

David's heart froze as he heard footfalls behind him.

His arms shaking uncontrollably, he managed to lift himself up enough to turn his head, and saw Starfire land beside the broken truck, her hands sheathed in fire, her eyes glowing like emeralds. A crown of iron was mounted on her head, and banded raiment of steel ringed her body like armor. She said nothing and made no gesture. But moments later she strode towards him with purpose and poise, her bearing regal and terrible to David's eyes.

He panicked.

Some fragmentary memory of Cyborg's reaction moments ago to his red eyes and ashen skin bubbled to the surface, and he tried to get up, to step back, to move away lest Starfire decide he was yet another one of Trigon's perversions and reduce him to ash. But his shattered nerves would not transmit his orders, and all he could do was rise to one knee before he stumbled and fell again, landing on his back this time with Starfire bearing down on him. Try though he might, he could not rise again, and was reduced to a babble of desperate cries as she loomed overhead.

"Star! Star, no, wait, it's me! Star it's - "

And then suddenly he was on his feet.

He was standing up, and something had him by the shoulder in a grip of iron, and he couldn't breathe, and yet somehow these facts were just facts, disconnected elements that had nothing to do with anything, not worth considering or fighting over. Broken as he was, it was a little while before he realized that he was being held up by arms that gripped him so tightly his lungs could not take in the air, that his head was being pressed against a shoulder plated with steel, that the warm feeling on the back of his neck was the aftermath of a dispelled starbolt, capable of burning through an armored vault door, yet now dismissed at the will of its maker, and that for the first time in a long, longtime, he was perfectly, completely safe.

Prometheus stole the most precious secret of the Gods, the gift of Fire, and gave it to men, that they might use it forevermore, in defiance of the edicts of the Gods, who had created men to live forever in paradisiacal ignorance. He gave them the fire, and with it the gifts of civilization. Agriculture and medicine and mathematics and music and poetry and every other thing, all freely given, in defiance of the Gods.

It might have been a full minute before David chanced again to move, or perhaps an hour or a week or a hundred thousand years. All he knew was that at some point he realized that he was standing under his own power again, and when he moved to stepped back, Starfire let him do so. He lifted his head to see her beaming down at him, her flames receded, the front of her banded armor covered in the same ash and coal slurry that coated him like the icing on a cake, tears rolling down her face. And before he could come up with anything to say, Starfire pre-empted him.

"David," she said, in a voice tinged with relief and astonishment. "We thought you dead."

For the second time tonight, David felt something twisted and tight vanish from inside of him. "I... think I was," he said, "I don't really remember." He struggled for something to say to explain the discoloration that had nearly led Cyborg to shoot him, but couldn't find the words in the face of Starfire's expression of astonished joy. "I thought you guys were all dead too," he said at last.

Smiling broadly and blinking back tears, Starfire stepped forward, laying a hand on David's shoulder. Only now did David notice that amidst the grey iron of smeared with black sludge, there was a trickle of red running down the front of Starfire's regalia, pulsing from a dark patch beneath her ribs where the bands of steel were bent inward. Yet as his eyes widened and he drew breath to ask the obvious question, Starfire's grip tightened, and he lifted his eyes to see her staring down at him with an intensity that he had not often seen from the Tamaranean princess.

"It takes more than this to destroy us," she said, every word pronounced with careful deliberation. "Farmore."

It didn't sound like a question. But he answered it anyway.

"Yeah," he said. "I guess it does."

He wasn't even sure what he meant by that, but Starfire simply smiled again, and pulled him in for another hug, light enough this time that he could breathe. And when that was done, they turned back to the truck, where Cyborg still sat, and she helped him back over to it, for he was still only barely capable of walking.

"Come," said Starfire, "we must find - "

She didn't get any further.

The Gods, in their anger, punished Prometheus by chaining him to a mountain and conjuring a great beast to devour his liver daily for eternity, and cursed his very name with all the condemnations they could load upon it. Zeus, the King of the Gods himself declared that Prometheus would suffer for all time for having dared to defy him, and that his name would be remembered only as a story of the wrath and power of the Gods.

A low growl, deep and earthy and loud enough to drown out all else resonated, setting the pebbles to quivering and the ground to trembling beneath their feet. Starfire stopped, David nearly fell over, and Cyborg, perched within the remains of the truck, turned his head to the only possible source.

"You've gotta be kiddingme..."

Like some nightmarish phoenix rising from the ashes, Cinderblock shunted rubble aside, his face a mass of scoring and ash through which his eyes, as red as David's, shone visibly in the dark. Slowly, like a monolith emerging from the wreck of ages, he loomed upwards, the fissures in his hide erupting into living flame as he attained his full height. Dust and debris tumbled from his terrible form, even as he scowled at the trio of teenagers that stood on the edge of the precipice. And at his feet, a fresh horde of flame demons boiled up from the ground, hissing and spitting as they danced around Cinderblock, their fiery tendrils snapping in the leaden air.

But that was not Prometheus' fate. For his gifts had changed the lives of men, and with them they mastered their world, and built cities and palaces, and multiplied across the land, until one day, in defiance of the Gods themselves, a man dared brave the monsters of Zeus, found Prometheus, slew the beast that tormented him, and freed him from the torments of the Gods forever.

Nobody said a word. Nobody so much as moved. David did not know if he was capable of moving anymore, not with this sight in front of him. It wasn't fear that kept him rooted in place. His capacity to measure fear had long since been saturated. It was just the simple realization that despite everything that had happened in the last ten minutes, this was still their reality.
But then he heard a series of clicking sounds, and when he turned his head to see what had produced it, he saw the cowling of Cyborg's sonic cannon open up to reveal a riot of machinery beneath. Sinuous tendrils of chrome and titanium slithered this way and that within the cannon, ejecting damaged components and connecting fresh ones, all without Cyborg even sparing a glance at them. He watched the process with a fascination borne of extreme mental fatigue, and it wasn't until he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder that he turned away.

Starfire was beside him, floating several inches off the ground, and her eyes and hands were radioactive green once more. Blood still trickled from her punctured armor, yet she gave it no evident thought. And in her hand was, of all things, a bar of steel, one of many bits of shattered debris retrieved no doubt from the bed of the ruined truck, mangled and soot-covered, but nonetheless a foot of solid metal, which she now extended to David.

Gingerly, he took the bar, and felt its weight in his fingers, and conscious of the fact that both Cyborg and Starfire were watching, he took a deep breath, reached out with his mind for something that wasn't there, and watched as the bar of steel enveloped at his command with red, heatless flames.

Beside him, Starfire smiled softly, her flaming eyes off-putting to anyone else no doubt. To David, right now, they were like a lit beacon on a dark night. "Keep the demons back," she said. "Do not permit them to harm Cyborg." A fractional hesitation, a check to see that her instructions were being understood. "I will deal with Cinderblock," she said at last, as though it were the simplest thing in the world. Maybe it was.

The man who did these things was neither Titan nor God, but something greater than either. The first of many, whose destinies would reshape the world and exile the Gods themselves from their thrones. He was a figure destined to exceed in legend both his enemies and his creators, the first of many to take the gifts of the Titans and use them to win fame and perform deeds that even the Gods thought impossible.

Cinderblock's eyes narrowed as he gazed down at the three teenagers. He growled, and his growl was like great cement blocks being dragged across one another. And in chorus with their master, the demons around him raised a great clamor, showering abuse in demonic tongues on their adversaries. None of the three Titans reacted to the screams. There were far worse things that they would soon need to react to. But as the howls reached a crescendo, Cinderblock himself threw his head back, took a single step forward, and let loose an ear-splitting roar, one that caused the ground to shake and the stones to split, rocking the truck back on its wheels and blasting the three Titans with the hot wind of malice. A roar of terror. A roar of rage. A roar of incalculable hatred.

A roar answered seconds later by one twenty times as strong.

The first roar had been a thunderous challenge. This one was like a bomb being set off. A cry of defiance so intense that it nearly bowled David over, made Cyborg bring his hand up to shield his face, and even shoved Starfire out of the air back onto the ground with the sheer force of it. It sent demons tumbling like bowling pins, rolling over the ground as great sheets of masonry fell from nearby buildings, and Cinderblock staggered as though struck by a wrecking ball, spinning halfway round with all the grace of a collapsing building. And even as Cinderblock swung his arms, seeking to recover his balance and turn on this new intrusion and destroy it, the entire front section of one of the massive buildings lining the street gave way like an avalanche, and revealed in its place a massive, towering creature, six stories tall, festooned with claws and spikes and slavering jaws that held teeth as large as swords and sharp as razors. A monster beyond imagining, summoned to the Earth to wreak vengeance and death, it loomed from the crushed building, its eyes darting this way and that, shining in the darkness like the crown jewels of Hell. And as it stepped forward into the ambient firelight, the monster was revealed in all its glory, towering, ferocious, implacable...

His name was Hercules. And he was a Hero.

…and bright, emerald green.

Out of the corner of his eye, David saw Starfire's eyes widen to the size of dinner plates, saw her face light up, saw her open her mouth to cry the name he would have cried himself had he still possessed his powers of speech. But despite Starfire's excitement and powerful voice, he heard nothing of what she said, for in that instant, the creature that Beast Boy had become opened wide its jaws and let loose a torrent of sound that drowned all possible response. And after that there was no need for talk anyway.

From what depraved nightmare Beast Boy had conjured this terrible form, David neither knew nor wanted to know. Likely enough it was no particular earthly design, extinct or otherwise, but rather some amalgam of all the terrors of the universe rolled together. Part Godzilla, part Tyrannosaur, part Balrog for all David could tell, its very existence seemed to violate Euclidian physics, and yet its appearance did not stoke the flames of David's latent fear, but rather a different reaction entirely. Implacably it stalked towards Cinderblock, brushing demons aside like crockery, stomping them into wafers, kicking packs of them aside as they lashed in vain, and David awoke from the shock of its appearance to find himself cheering, jumping, yelling incoherent words that nobody could hear anyway, for the sound of the titanic Titan's footfalls was like artillery fire, and its roar the low baritone of an erupting volcano. Beside him, Cyborg was shouting something as well, he couldn't tell what, but his face was lit up, and he aimed his sonic cannon and fired a shot that impaled three demons on a beam of blue light. But nothing could take the spotlight from Beast Boy, who waded through the demons as though they were grains of sand, advancing to a lumbering run, raising one reptilian claw as he did so before bringing it down directly on Cinderblock's head.

You look on mortals, Trigon, and you revile them as weak and fragile and ignorant, and perhaps they are. But in your own ignorance, you pronounce the word Hero as though it were some platitude handed out to any overachieving child on this planet. You have no conception of what faces you now, Trigon. These children are something far, far worse than anything even you could dream up.

The impact of the two giants was like meteors colliding, and the shockwave they produced reduced every demon within twenty feet to mangled pulp, but neither one paid any of the demons the slightest mind, each one outdoing the other in howls of rage as they strained and twisted and wrestled with one another, staggering back and forth. Cinderblock's hide burst forth in fiery glory, flames scorching Beast Boy's green scales black, yet Beast Boy did not relent, and biting down on Cinderblock's shoulder, he spun in place and smashed the living monolith into a nearby office building, shattering its face and half-burying them both in a torrent of loose rubble. David coughed and waved the dust cloud from his face, and when he looked again, he saw Starfire in amidst the two gyrating monsters, flying around and over and even betweenthem, beams of green energy flying from her hands and eyes as she traced patterns of scoring over Cinderblock's fractured hide. Again and again, surviving demons sought to drag her down with their whip-like tendrils of living flame. And again and again, she evaded them with ease, leaving the demons themselves to be erased under a fresh barrage of sonic blasts or micro-missiles from Cyborg's bottomless arsenal.

These are not frightened children begging you to leave them be. They are not mortals cowed by your magnificence into betraying their fellows or worshiping your greatness. They are Heroes, Trigon. And you may be a God of Evil, but they exist to defy and destroy those who would be Gods. Had you only heeded the warning implicit in their very name, you might have realized what it was you had undertaken to attack.

As incomparable violence exploded before him, David held his baton ready, and sought for targets of his own, looking to add his fire to the inferno before him, and yet he did not strike. For one thing, there was little he could do. Beast Boy and Cinderblock were at such close quarters that to throw something explosive at one would be to hit them both, and such few demons as remained were being systematically winnowed by Cyborg and Starfire. And so it was, after a few moments, that David lowered his hand, and extinguished the flaming baton, and simply watched. Once, many miles and months away from here, he had done something similar, when he had sat upon a tower and watched five Olympians battling a fire-breathing dragon. But this was not like then. Then it had been a matter of humility and insignificance, of the sharp and mighty distinctions separating someone like him from someone like the Titans, an unmistakable reminder that he was not and never would be one of them. This time was different. It was not a matter of who belonged with what, or who was and was not significant, in the grand scheme of things. It was simply the fact that this battle, this time, this occasion, they did not need him. If they had, he was here. But until they did, for what might be the last time ever, he could sit back, and simply watch the Teen Titans battle evil.

I do not need to call on hosts of Heaven, Trigon. I do not need to place my faith in armies of angels and saints, marching forth to the sound of clarions to battle the risen devil. I do not need these things, because my forces of Light have already arrived. They never left. And you, who warrants yourself such a master of these fields, have walked in among them, and now stand ignorant to the danger you lie in. These children are the Teen Titans, heirs to the Heroes and Godslayers of ancient times. And all you have accomplished, with all your craft and subtlety, is to obtain their undivided attention.

All of a sudden, Beast Boy twisted in a manner he should not have been able to, and shoved against Cinderblock with the force of a prime mover, and Cinderblock was half-staggered, half-hurled back, stumbling obliquely away from the enormous changeling. Before he could recover, before he could even determine what had happened, Starfire was upon him, streaking in like a bolt of lightning. She did not fire starbolts this time, but struck with her clenched fist, smashing into Cinderblock's chest with the force of a howitzer, doubling the great monster over, before shifting momentum in mid-air and uppercutting him in the chin. Cinderblock's head snapped back like a punching back, and he stumbled back yet further, reaching out and grabbing a nearby building for support, only to have Cyborg cut the section he had seized free of the surrounding structure, leaving him unsupported once more. Now he was at the precipice of the cliff itself, arms waving in the air as he fought for equilibrium, tottering on the very edge with his enemies closing in. Yet before Beast Boy could lower his head to charge, or Starfire raise her hands to fire, or Cyborg lock his sensors to launch his missiles or beams of sonic death, David took a deep breath, let it slide softly out from between his teeth in the same way that it had all those months ago, and lifting his baton with one hand, casually blew the ground out from under Cinderblock's feet.

That, Trigon, was a mistake.

Cinderblock fell like a toppling skyscraper, screaming angry defiance to the end, even as he plunged out of view. Standing near the edge himself, David turned to follow his fall, watching as the nightmare that had haunted his very dreams for months on end plunged down, down, down, into the chasm of fire. It seemed an eternity that he hung in the air, his limbs slowly twisting and turning, dwindling in size as he plunged away, before at long last the shroud of orange smoke that churned within the depths of the chasm swallowed him up, and Cinderblock was gone.

David watched the chasm until the last echoes of Cinderblock's parting scream had faded into the ambient noise. And then he felt a thick glove land softly on his unwounded shoulder.

"Dude," came Beast Boy's voice, no longer monstrous, but just the way he remembered it. "I know I'm awesome and all, but just because I'm green doesn't mean you have to pick a new color too."

And all of a sudden he was crying.

He turned around, already preparing an explanation for the color shift, but Beast Boy did not wait to receive it. Perhaps he had divined from David's actions or Starfire and Cyborg's reactions to him that this was no evil simulacrum, or perhaps he had some other way of knowing. It didn't matter ultimately. What mattered was that David not only never got to explain what had happened to him, he did not get to say much of anything for quite a while, as Beast Boy unleashed a torrent of half-formed explanations and questions he did not wait long enough to hear the answer to. And Starfire was there too, and Cyborg, leaning over the edge of the truck to clap Beast Boy on the back with his massive hand, and all of them, not just Beast Boy, were talking rapidly, filling the air with their voices because speaking was plainly the only thing keeping them all from bursting into tears. And so Starfire hugged Beast Boy a little tighter than she might otherwise have, and Beast Boy her, and both of them Cyborg, and all three David, and it no longer mattered what state the rest of the world was in, or what legions of foes stood between them and the end.

There is an old human proverb, Trigon, one composed many millennia ago, a long time as the humans reckon it. It's a simple concept, but one that I have a feeling you are about to become intimately familiar with.

At length, however, Beast Boy spoke up, in a tone more serious than he had been using, one which everyone else instantly knew to listen to in silence.

'Those who sow the air shall reap the whirlwind.'

"Guys," said Beast Boy, looking from face to face, "you're not gonna believe who I found..."

*---------------------------------------------------------*

Atop a crucifix of fire that had once been a tower, a figure wreathed in storms brooded on thoughts best left unsaid, even as he visualized a single line in reply to all that had transpired.

"We shall see..."



Image

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Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
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 Post subject: Re: The Measure of a Titan (ch.37 added) PostPosted: 2013-01-20 03:50am
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White Mage
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Joined: 2003-02-12 11:59pm
Posts: 17642
Location: Tahalshia Manor
*---------------------------------------------------------*

There were no words to describe how amazing the antiseptic felt.

Granted, he was grading on a curve here, but still it was true. It wasn't that the iodine felt particularly good as it burned into the lacerations the demons had given him the cabin of the tow truck, it was more that his stinging shoulder and arm were the only things that hurt right now. After everything that had happened tonight, to have only one area of his body hurting was a reprieve beyond price. The rest of him had receded into a warm numbness, not as intense as the anesthesia he'd been under more than once in the Tower basement, but close enough for his purposes now. He had no idea what was in the pills Cyborg had told him to dissolve under his tongue, and at this point didn't much care. There were too many other things right now that were more important.

It sufficed only to glance around to remind him of what those things were.

Cyborg sat across from him, atop a workbench, a soldering iron in one hand as he made adjustments to the shiny new arm that was now connected to his other shoulder, and David simply sat on the padded medical bed and silently watched him work, watched the metal give off sparks as Cyborg connected this circuit and that one, and watched him test the actuators that governed the thing's movement. Every so often, Starfire walked back into the room, his arms piled high with supplies or equipment or some other thing he had dug out of the storage room beneath them, and every time she came in, she asked David if he needed anything, or if he was all right, and every time, David just nodded, or gave her a one-word answer. To be honest, the ability to simply sit here like this was a gift beyond price, and not simply because he was no longer in pain or covered with coal sludge (at least not as much). The last time he'd been in this bunker, he'd been here alone but for ghosts conjured from within his own head. He'd left it with every expectation of never living long enough to return. Yet here he was. And here they were. And this was real. And every moment he spent just watching Cyborg work or Starfire walk in and out made it more real.

But then, of course, there was someone else here too.

She was sitting on a couch, kneeling on it and just barely peeking over the top, watching him with the intensity of her namesake. This much he'd had to ascertain with his peripheral vision, for every time he turned the red spotlights that now served as his eyes directly on her, she instantly vanished down behind the couch, usually with a soft gasp of what he assumed was fear. Not an emotion that David normally associated with Raven, but then these circumstances were anything but normal.

On the way back to the bunker, Beast Boy had tried to tell them all the story of where and how he had found her, but try as he might, David had not been able to follow much of it. Part of it was that the story itself made no sense at all, not that he expected it to. Ice worlds and rivers of fire and the evil twins of several different people all melded together into a mind-numbing collage, particularly given everything he'd seen and done himself. Part of it, of course, was also that Beast Boy was not the most coherent storyteller, veering off on nineteen different tangents at a moment's notice. But most of it was just that, given everything, all that really mattered was the result. Beast Boy was alive. Raven was alive. The exactitudes of how and why these things had come about, David was more than willing to leave to intellects wiser than his own.

No, what mattered was that somehow Beast Boy had defied all possibility, and found Raven. The last thing David remembered before the blinding light and searing pain of his own death had been Raven being disintegrated and transformed into a portal for Trigon's advent. And yet here she was again, reduced for some reason to a little girl of eight or nine, but Raven nonetheless, the same hair, the same eyes, the same silent stare. What all this portended, what symbolism was being done, he did not know or even know how to ask. He didn't know if it was important or not. But as he turned his eyes towards Raven once more, and caught a brief glimpse of her diving for cover under the glare of red lights, he felt something, nebulous and uncertain, gently tugging on the back of his brain.

There was a series of beeping sounds from the main entrance, and then the soft hiss of a door sliding open. David turned his head to see Beast Boy walking in, and knew instantly from the expression on his face what the changeling was about to say.

"Nothing?" asked David, unable to stop himself.

Beast Boy sighed and shook his head. "I looked everywhere," he said. "There's no sign at all."

"That's... that's impossible," said David, but he knew that it wasn't. No sooner had David managed to tell Beast Boy and Starfire that Terra was nearby, bleeding and stapled to a car, than Beast Boy had raced off to find her. Honestly, they all would have if they could, but Cyborg couldn't walk, David could barely stand, and Starfire needed to help them all back to the emergency bunker. Beast Boy, who was both reasonably intact and flight-capable, and who frankly would probably have gone looking even if those things hadn't been true, had spent the last hour or more searching for her. It should have taken five minutes.

"She was right in the middle of the street," said David. "At the center of the - "

"I know," said Beast Boy. "I found the crater. But there wasn't anyone in it. No car, no blood, nothing. I even tried to dig into the ground. I couldn't find any sign of her."

It made no sense, and yet it had to be true, for Beast Boy would not lie, not about something like this, and moreover would not have abandoned the search without scouring the entire area for half a mile in every direction. Indeed it was unlikely he'd be here even now had Cyborg not made him promise to return no later than this. Had Beast Boy not returned, he knew that broken or not they all would have left to find him come hell or high water, and with everyone in the shape they were in, even Beast Boy's inability to let go of a lost cause would not permit him to keep looking.

All this David discerned in a flash, but he did not say any of it, nor any other thing, for there was nothing for him to say. Terra had been in one place, and was no longer. Perhaps she was dead. Perhaps she had managed to escape. Perhaps the demons had seized her and borne her in torment to the feet of Trigon's throne. There was no way to tell. And so he said nothing, and lowered his eyes, and silently tried to convince himself that he had done the right thing in leaving her to die in the street.

"We're gonna finish this," said Cyborg, snapping shut the panel on his arm as he did so. "Once and for all." He swung the arm experimentally, shifting it from limb to cannon and back again, before sliding himself around on the table and dropping down onto the floor, his replacement legs flexing as he hit the ground.

Beast Boy looked from Cyborg to Starfire to David and back to Cyborg. "How?" he finally asked.

"The way this always had to end," said Cyborg. "We're gonna go after Trigon."

If that notion was a shock to anybody, they disguised it well. Starfire nodded slowly, while Beast Boy looked almost relieved, as though the mere prospect of something to think about besides Terra was a relief right now. David knew how he felt. Or rather he wished he did.

"How are we to attack Trigon?" asked Starfire. "His power greatly exceeds anything we can produce."

"Not anymore," said Cyborg, and he, and everyone with him, turned their eyes to the small girl still nestled on the couch.

The girl in question said nothing as the various teenagers turned in her direction. She had not said anything since they had arrived at the bunker, indeed not said anything since Beast Boy revealed that he had found her. Yet since that moment, David had noticed the little girl casting apprehensive looks in his direction whenever she thought he wasn't looking, something easier to determine when your eyes doubled as spotlights. Of course that was probably because he, alone among the others, looked muchdifferent than when she had last seen him, a spitting image of one of the many evil twins that she and Beast Boy had no doubt had to fight their way through. That was sufficient to explain it.

Or was it?

Beast Boy walked around the couch and sat down next to Raven, gently putting an arm around her as she watched the others warily. "You really think she can bring Trigon down?" he asked.

"Robin did," said Cyborg. "That's why he went to get her the last time we did this."

"It's not why I went to get her," said Beast Boy.

"I know," said Cyborg. "But I think she can do it anyway."

"Slade did not think this," said Starfire, cautiously.

"Slade didn't think I could find her at all," said Beast Boy. "He told me that before Trigon burned him up."

David said nothing, and the discussion proceeded without him, not an argument or debate but more of a collective decision being distilled from the air between them all. He could have chimed in of course, but he already knew what would come of it. So did they. They weren't talking to hash out what had to be done, but rather talking because they could. Because they were all here, in one place, and could talk to one another, and everyone was alive. And reticent as David usually was in these sorts of group chats, he would have liked nothing better than to chime in. But he did not. And he did not because there was something still tugging on him, something he couldn't put a name to...

"We blast our way directly to Trigon," said Cyborg. "Blow away anything tries to get between us and him. Between the four of us, we should have enough fire to do that."

"There could be any number of demons between us and him," said Starfire, who did not sound particularly worried about that possibility. "And perhaps other things we have not yet seen."

"Yeah? Well we've got some stuff they'venever seen," said Beast Boy, giving a grim smile. "We'll see how they like it."

Raven's eyes were fixed on his, direct and unblinking. Aged down to a little girl, she still had the ability to mesmerize like a cobra with a simple look. With Beast Boy at her side, she no longer ducked away from the red glare of his own stare, but simply looked at him, and he at her, as he racked his brain to try and figure out what it was that was bothering him so much. Bits and fragments of everything that had happened over the last day echoed through his mind, refusing to coalesce into anything coherent, but equally refusing to go away.

"And when we get there..." said Beast Boy, trailing off at the end of a lengthy recitation. He looked from face to face for someone to finish the sentence.

"... then... we hope that Raven can do whatever it was she did the last time," said Cyborg.

"Forgive me," said Starfire, in that manner she used whenever she was about to ask a thorny question, "but... do we knowwhat it was that Raven did on the previous occasion to defeat her father?"

Blank stares all around served as the answer. "Does it matter?" asked Beast Boy at last, gently squeezing Raven against his own side. This broke her stare, and she looked up at Beast Boy, and then around at the others, as the question sat for just a moment.

"No," said Starfire at last, "it does not."

Raven looked like she wanted to say something, but couldn't make the words come together. She looked up to Beast Boy, to Starfire, to Cyborg, searching for something with each one, before turning to the next. The others didn't rush her, didn't push her into agreeing or saying one thing or another. They just waited, quietly, letting Raven take her time before she said something, or nothing at all, each one facing the reality of what it was they had just bet the fate of the planet on.

And to all appearances, that was what David was doing too. But in reality, David was barely here at all. He was miles away, in the ruins of a shopping mall, listening to a voice that could well have been his own.

"Will is everything," said Devastator. "Will is life itself. Will is the fundamental force of the universe. Greater than gravity, greater than magnetism, greater than any nuclear absurdity dreamed up by physics. Will alone commands the cosmos at large."

It was only hours ago, yet it felt like months. Already the memory of the fighting, the screams and explosions and the feel of his back smashing into a wall or the blood seeping into his mouth, already those things were fading. But the voice, the poise, the vision of Devastator, framed in a red halo, sword and cane in hand, those things were not. They were growing sharper. He could see him standing there now, his scarred face and blinded eyes and the thin curl of contempt at his lips as he surveyed a thing that was beneath him. He could hear the voice, similar and yet completely alien. Even as a still pond one moment, a savage, biting curse the next.

And yet... something else too...

"David?"

David awoke to find everyone staring at him. He blinked, tried to recollect what he had last heard, drew a blank. Beast Boy was carrying Raven, Cyborg was leaning up against his workbench, and Starfire was standing off to one side. He blinked mutely for several seconds before mustering any sort of response.

"Sorry," he said. "What was that?"

"I just asked if you had any better idea for this," said Cyborg. "You er... you alright, man?"

"Yeah," said David, rubbing his eyes as he struggled to clear his head of everything bouncing around in it. It wasn't much use.

"You sure?" asked Cyborg. "You look kinda..."

"Pale?" suggested Beast Boy. Cyborg shot him a look, but it brought a small smile to David's face.

"I'll be okay," said David. "It's just something's... something's wrong."

Several wordy looks were exchanged by the others, Raven included. "Please, David," said Starfire, "tell us what is the matter. We shall do whatever we may to alleviate your discomfort."

What a list that would have made. "No, it's okay, Star," he said. "It's not me it's... it's this. This... here. Something's wrong with this."

The looks of concern had evolved into real confusion. "... this?" asked Starfire at length.

How to explain? "This... whole situation. Something's wrong."

Another series of glances between the other Titans. This time it was Cyborg who spoke up. "Look, David, I know this one's a longshot. It's only normal to be afraid, but none of us are goin' into this alone. 'Sides, look at everything we just pulled off."

He wasn't making any sense, not to them, not even to himself, and he knew it, and didn't know how to start, but whatever his brain was trying to tell him, he knew this was important. "No," he said. "It's not the plan that's the problem."

"Well what is it, then?" asked Cyborg. And when David didn't answer presently, he added more.

"Look, if you got a problem with all this, man, this is the time to say it."

Maybe it was Cyborg's spur, gentle though it was, that pushed him through the mess of his own running mind. Or maybe he was just tired of his own prevarications. But ultimately, David raised his eyes once more and simply said the first thing that came to mind.

"Where's Trigon?"

That was clearly not the answer Cyborg was expecting, but Cyborg fielded it anyway. "Last I saw, he was at the Tower, hanging out like he's waiting for - "

"No," said David. "Why isn't he here?"

Silence greeted that question, as the others looked from one to the other and back to David, who let the question sit. After some time, Beast Boy chimed in with an answer.

"Um... Dude? I don't think he'd fit."

It was, of course, the exact right thing to say, and David smiled, and so did Cyborg, and even Starfire, who probably didn't get the joke but liked the fact that Beast Boy had made it. And yet the voices, or whatever they were, in the back of David's mind kept pushing at him, telling him that this was too important to be sidetracked. "Just... bear with me a second, okay?" said David, taking a deep breath to set what little order he could among his thoughts.

"Trigon knows we're here, doesn't he?" he asked, pressing on before he could get an answer. "I mean... even if he doesn't know exactly where, he knows we're alive, and that we're together. He's gotta know that." He turned to Beast Boy. "He's gotta know that you found Raven. You said you fought with a bunch of evil twins and went through some frozen Hell and everything. He has to know you did all that, his own servants were chasing you around." He turned back to the others. "And he's gotta know that Warp's gone, and Jinx turned on him, and that we threw Cinderblock off a cliff. I mean... Beast Boy turned into a Dinosaur. I blew up a shopping mall with a bomb you could see from Idaho. Unless he's blind, deaf, and stupid, he's gotto know that we all made it, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, probably," said Cyborg. "Why?"

"So if he knows all this," said David. "Where is he? Where's his armies, his monsters, demons? Why isn't he sending them out to scour the city looking for us?" He looked from face to face, red light falling upon each of his friends in turn. "I mean think about it. This is exactly how he lost last time, right? That's what Slade said. He said that you guys all got together and found Raven and took Trigon on and beat him. So if you were Trigon, and you knew that's how it went down last time, and you also knew that all of us had survived his little games and gotten back together andfound Raven again, wouldn't you be a little worried?"

"Dude," said Beast Boy, now beginning to look as thoughtful as the others, "if I knew that the Titans were coming to kick my butt, I'd be petrified."

"Exactly," said David. He spread his hands, palms up, in front of him. "So where is he?"

"Maybe he just doesn't know where we are?" ventured Beast Boy.

"No," said Cyborg. "Slade said Trigon's all-seeing. If he wanted to, he could find us. And send us any company he wanted."

"But he hasn't," said David. "We've been down here for an hour. Why wouldn't he just send his demon army down to finish us all off? Why wait?"

"Perhaps," said Starfire, "Trigon knows something that we do not."

Uncomfortable silence settled around the room, as each Titan looked to the others for an answer. It wasn't until some time had passed that somebody broke in.

"He's waiting," said Raven. "He's waiting for me."

All eyes turned to Raven, but she apparently had no more to say. And it was Cyborg who continued.

"This doesn't make any sense," he said. "She destroyed Trigon once. Why would he wait around for her to do it again?"

"What's different?" asked David.

"Different?" asked Starfire.

"What's different between this time and last time? What changed to make him think that he's safe this time?" David paused, as though soliciting answers from the room, and when none were forthcoming, he continued. "It's me," he said. "It's gotta be. Me and Devastator. That's the X-factor here. That's the change he made to make sure that this time, everything went differently, isn't it?"

"That is not so," said Starfire. "Last time, Robin was present as well. That was the change Trigon made."

David did not answer that. He did not know how to. But moments later, Cyborg answered for him.

"No, Star," he said, "I think David's right."

"But Slade said - "

"I know what Slade said, Star, but think about it. Warp killed Robin to get after you, to make sure you'd come after him. He had to get Trigon's okay, but Trigon didn't send anybody to do that. He didn't care if Robin was alive or dead. He didn't care if anyof us were."

"But he cared when I tried to leave the Tower," said David. "He cared enough to send Cinderblock into a major city to keep me here, even if it meant risking that you guys would find out what was going on. Trigon had one chance to change things so that he wouldn't be faced with just this kind of situation. And he chose me. He put me in the Tower with you guys and he made sure that I stayed there until he could arrive. So why did he do that?"

"So he could blow up the universe," said Beast Boy.

David hesitated, his train of thought derailed by that unexpected offering. "... what?" he asked at length, turning to Beast Boy in puzzlement.

"That's what Slade said," said Beast Boy, letting Raven slip back down onto the ground. "He said that because Trigon's a demon lord, he could use Devastator to blow galaxies up, kill everybody in the whole universe. Slade said that's why you were dragged into this whole thing."

David chewed the matter over in his head, looking to Cyborg and Starfire as he did so, but neither of them had anything further to add. For a time he said nothing, but then at last he simply shook his head.

"No," he said. "I don't think so."

"Why not?" asked Beast Boy. "Sounds to me like something Trigon would wanna do."

"No, it sounds like something Sladewould want to do," said David. "I don't think Trigon wants to do that at all."

"Why should he not?" asked Starfire. "Is not Trigon's cruelty far in excess of even Slade's?"

"That's just it, Star," said David. "It's too easy. It's not how he operates."

"Is it not?"

"No," said David. He shook his head, closing his eyes and trying to pull a memory out of his tattered mind. "Devastator said something," he said. "He said that Trigon was the Lord of Evil, not the Lord of Death. That's why he didn't kill you guys, he wanted to make you suffer. It's why he froze everyone in stone instead of killing them."

"Wait, what?" asked Beast Boy. "All those people are - "

"Alive," said David, desperate to finish before the ephemeral thought floated away. "He didn't kill any of them, just locked them up in a stone prison so that he could play with them all. That's what he wants to do, not blow things up. He wants to hurtpeople. And Devastator doesn't help him do that."

"Then perhaps he wishes to use Devastator to destroy us?" proposed Starfire.

"Then what's he waiting for? He's got more than enough power to kill us just by himself, and now that he's got Devastator he could just blow the entire city up with one thought. I mean he knows we're all here somewhere, and he knows we have the only thing that can - "

David stopped.

It was not immediately apparent why he stopped. Not to the others at least. That much was clear from their expressions, which began to morph to concern as they waited for him to continue and found that he did not. Yet he could not have answered their unspoken inquiries if he wanted to, so sudden was he transfixed by a single piece of the mental jumble in his head sliding suddenly into place. And like the key to a cipher, no sooner did he perceive the last piece of the puzzle that had been eluding him all day, than everything, miraculously, became as clear as crystal.

"Oh my god... " said David finally, his voice weak and his eyes blank. He lifted them, to the others who watched him, to Raven, who stood in the corner, her own eyes fixed on the discolored demon with the spotlight stare, who now looked at her in turn with an expression of apprehension mingled with astonishment.

"I get it," said David. "I understand."

More concerned looks from the others, both to one another and to David himself. "Understand what?" asked Beast Boy.

"Why I'm here," said David. "Why all this happened. Why Trigon chose me." Slowly, he lifted his head up to the others, who were watching him with the same expression he now wore. "It's Raven," he said. "It's all because of Raven."

"Raven?" asked Beast Boy, and he glanced back at the little girl still pressed against the corner of the room. "What about her?"

"Everything," said David. "It was staring us in the face... staring mein the face, the whole time. And I didn't see it. None of us did."

"Saw what?" asked Cyborg.

David turned his head to Cyborg, his voice trembling as he spoke. "Raven shot me with a beam of pure void," said David. "Powerful enough to disintegrate a building. But it didn't do anything to me. She conjured up tentacles made of shadow magic to pin me down. As soon as they touched me, they melted." He turned back to Raven, whose expression had gone from apprehension to full on fear, quivering where she stood, afraid to even move.

"She stopped time," said David, with finality. "All of time throughout the universe. But it didn't stop me. Because I had Devastator."

It was as though a chill had settled over the room. All three Titans still stood where they were, yet none of them said a word, nor dared to move, save to turn their heads first to Raven, then to David, and then to one another, as though each were looking to the other to find some way of rejecting what had just been said, and yet each knew that there was no way to do so. And as the potential consequences of what David was saying became apparent, all three of their expressions turned to stunned horror.

"That's why I'm here," said David, his eyes still fixed on Raven. "That's the only reason I ever met you guys. It's why he set all this in motion. He didn't need some weapon to blow up planets or destroy galaxies. He needed something he couldn't get anywhere else. Something he probably never thought he'd ever need. He needed a way to protect himself from one of his own minions... from his own daughter."

All at once, as though it were more than Raven could stand, she bolted from her corner, running for cover from David's red eyes, but not towards furniture. Instead, she ducked behind Beast Boy, who watched her but did not move. Yet moments later, David averted his eyes down to the floor, drawing a slow breath and releasing it slowly.

"That's why Trigon isn't coming for us," he said, as much to himself as to the others. "It's why he's leaving us alone. Because he's got the trump card. The one he set himself up to get from the very beginning. He's got Devastator. And as long as he has Devastator, Raven can't hurt him."

Perfect silence greeted this last declaration, as the other Titans searched for a hole in this logic, and did not find one. Beast Boy looked in vain, to Cyborg, to Starfire, but neither one said a word, either unable to find words or unwilling to vocalize them, lest they say aloud what every one of them must now be thinking. That after all this, there was no hope at all.

"So then... what do we do?" asked Beast Boy aloud, not directing the question at anyone in particular. He sounded as though he wasn't sure if he was going to get an answer at all, and that he was afraid of what answer he might get even if he got one. And yet, before Starfire could compose a reply of sufficient weight, before Cyborg could chime in with a reasoned measure of the encouragement everyone desperately needed, before anything of the sort could happen, of all people, David offered an answer of his own.

"We take it back."

It wasn't the suggestion itself that stunned everyone, though that was certainly part of it. But if anything, it was the manner in which he offered it, no histrionics, no grim declaration of intent. David suggested taking the weaponized embodiment of Destruction away from the Lord of Hell as casually as he might have suggested what to eat for dinner, as though it were the easiest thing in the world. It was left to Cyborg to respond in the only appropriate manner.

"What?"

"We take Devastator back," said David, raising his head once more. "Take his protection away. Let Raven do what she's supposed to do. Without Devastator getting in the way, Trigon won't be able to stop her."

"But how do you propose to remove Devastator from Trigon's grasp?" asked Starfire.

"The same way he took it from me," said David. "Will."

Beast Boy looked as puzzled as the others no doubt felt. "You're gonna... willDevastator out of Trigon?"

"Why not?" asked David, as though this were a perfectly normal thing to suggest. "It's what Devastator responds to. It's allhe responds to. Devastator doesn't care how powerful you are, all that matters to him is will."

Beast Boy's evident puzzlement did not slake. "You can do that?"

"I think so," said David. "I mean... really it's not any different than what I normally did with him. When I blow something up, that's all it is. All the mental exercises and molecules and so on, those are all just the tricks I use to get my mind to work the right way, but it all comes down to me telling Devastator what I want, and him doing it for me. If Trigon can do it, I don't see why I can't."

Cyborg cleared his throat, a method of dissimulation that he almost never used, and only when he had something particularly thorny to say. "No offense man," said Cyborg, "but uh... Trigon's got a will too. Pretty strong one, I'd say. I'm not tryin' to say you don't know what you're talking about, but... you really think you can match wills with Trigon the Terrible and come out on top?"

All eyes turned to David, who blinked and shook his head. "No," he said. "No, I can't do that..." He trailed off, but the others did not turn away, sensing perhaps, that David had a corollary to add.

"But... what if it wasn't a fair fight?" said David.

Slowly, Cyborg got up off the wall and walked over to the medical table David was still sitting on. "What do you mean?" he asked.

David took a moment to set his thoughts in order. "Trigon's a novice at this," he said. "He's gotta be. He's never had something like Devastator before. There isnothing like Devastator, right?"

"Probably," said Cyborg. "So what?"

"So I'd say it's a good bet that he doesn't know how to use Devastator all that well. I mean... I didn't know how to use him properly until Raven taught me."

"Dude, Trigon's the Devil," said Beast Boy. "Doesn't he know everything?"

"Not this sort of thing," said David. "He's a cosmic being, a God even. How often would he ever have to use powers that aren't his?" He thought for a moment, turned to his right. "Star, didn't you tell me that you and Raven once switched bodies or something?"

Starfire nodded. "Yes," she said. "The Puppet Master caused us to inhabit one another's bodies. It was... most disorienting. But... forgive me, Friend David, I do not understand why that occurrence is relevant to Trigon."

"Well, you're a Tamaranean," said David. "Your powers, the flight, the starbolts, that's all natural to you, just like walking is to us, right? So when you had to change bodies with Raven... "

"... I lost all of the capabilities I was accustomed to, and had to adopt new ones," said Starfire, finishing David's sentence as she suddenly realized where he was going. "And it was extremely difficult for me to do so."

"Even though you're way more powerful than any of us," finished David. "It was still alien to you. Just like Devastator was to me, before I knew how to use it. Just like it must be to Trigon."

Cyborg neared the medical bed, stopping and folding his arms, like a schoolteacher trying to coax the answers from a reluctant student. "All right then," he said, "let's say you're right. How does that help us?"

"It helps us," said David, "because it means that if we can disrupt his ability to control Devastator, he won't know how to stop us, or what to do about it once we do it. He'll be stuck trying to learn how to work Devastator on the fly."

"Okay," said Beast Boy, "so then how do we disrupt him?"

It sounded like an impossible question, but David simply turned his head to Beast Boy, the vaguest hint of a smile on his discolored features. "That's simple" he said. "What works on me?"

It took Beast Boy a couple of seconds to figure out what David meant. And when he did, the smile spread to his own face, broader now, and feral. "We piss him off?"

"Exactly," said David. "Devastator doesn't respond to anger. Doesn't matter how much there is, it won't work. To make Devastator do what you want, you need concentration and focus. Terra knew that. That's how she beat me. That's how I - " he stopped, mid-sentence, hesitated on the brink of saying more, then slid instead into a new thought. "If we annoy Trigon enough, he won't be able to use Devastator at all. And then... if we're lucky, I might be able to take it away from him."

"And what's to stop him from just taking it back from you?" asked Cyborg.

This one David plainly had no answer for, and he sighed and lowered his eyes. "Nothing," he said at length. "Nothing but Raven. She's the only thing that can stop him." He lifted his head once more, watching the little girl behind Beast Boy from the corner of his eyes. "This was always gonna end with Raven and Trigon," he said. "All we have to do is make sure that Devastator and I don't get in the way."

Silence reigned as David stayed resolutely silent and left the others to ask what they would. But when no further questions were forthcoming, he finally turned to Cyborg, who was now standing directly before him.

"So..." said David, "what do you think?"

For a few moments, Cyborg gave no sign, but then a smile slowly spread over his bruised face, and he laughed, and clapped his new hand down on David's shoulder, the weight of it nearly knocking him off the table, and yet somehow to David it felt as light as a feather.

"I think," said Cyborg, "Robin'd be proud."

If David's nerves had been any less stunned from the accumulated effect of everything that had happened, that one statement would have precluded any possible coherent reaction. As it was, he needed a little bit to recover from it. "You... you don't think it's a bad idea?" he finally managed to say.

That one provoked another laugh. "Man, I don't know if you noticed, but we're not really big on good ideas around here. No, what that was, was a grade A, 100% authentic Bad idea with a capital 'B'." He grinned now, broad and genuine. "My favorite kind," Cyborg said. "Hell, you come up with a couple more of those, and we might have to let you run things for a while."

Now David knewthey were in the realm of the absurd. "I think if we survive this one, it'll be enough for me, Cy," he said, as Beast Boy picked Raven up once more and walked over to where they were, as did Starfire.

"Dude," said Beast Boy, grinning in the lunatic way only he could manage, "our plan is to annoy Trigon to death. Do you really think anybody can do that better than me?"

"Trigon shall not know what it was that struck him," said Starfire, her own smile warm and convincing. "We shall render him so infuriated that he will forget he even possessesDevastator."

It all sounded simple, so simple that David felt himself beginning to believe them despite his better judgment. But then, he reminded himself, better judgment was another thing the Titans had never been big on.

Right now he was infinitely glad for that.

Carefully, he slid off the medical table and onto the ground, picking up one of the steel batons that Starfire had laid out next to him, and turning it over in his hands. Almost reflexively, he set it alight, letting the warmth pulse through his fingers as he nervously passed it from hand to hand. Yet as he did so, Raven caught his eye, for she was watching the burning baton as it moved about, the flames dancing lazily through his fingers, licking at the air around him. He couldn't be sure of course, but he even thought he caught the faintest hint of a smile, before he finally turned back to the others.

"Where shall we commence our attack?" asked Starfire. "Would it be best to be direct, or should we attempt to infiltrate the island before we begin?"

"Neither," said Cyborg.

Starfire paused, confused. "Then... how shall we proceed?" she asked.

"We're not," said Cyborg. "Not yet. Not today."

This only made the confusion worse. "Not today?" she asked. "I do not - "

"Star," said Cyborg, "we're beat up, we're tired, some of us can barely walk, and I can tell that stab is bothering you more than you're letting on." Starfire opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it, her hand sliding automatically to the wound in her chest. "Maybe we can't do anything about some of that, but I figure if Trigon's willing to wait for us to show up, then he can wait a little while longer. So we'll stay here tonight, today, whatever it is now. We'll get patched up, get cleaned up, have something to eat, get some sleep... and we'll take Trigon on tomorrow."

A quick survey of everyone's face told David that there would be no objections. Certainly he did not plan to raise any. Beast Boy looked like he was trying to disguise the fact that he was secretly relieved, while Starfire needed only to look to David and back to Cyborg to swallow whatever she was about to say and simply nod.

"Good," said Cyborg. "Let's get it all set up then. He moved as though to walk off, but stopped himself before he had finished, and turning back to David, he considered the dark grey gunk on his hand from where he had laid it on David's shoulder. "Hey uh... what is this stuff?" he asked.

David had honestly lost track of all the various substances he'd been drenched in tonight. "Coal slurry, I think."

If Cyborg had any questions as to how David had contrived to get himself soaked in coal slurry of all things, he did not ask them. "You know what?" he said. "We'll set it up. You can have the first shower."



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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