Okay, I'm going to do something I haven't done before.
Although Chapter 15 is not yet finished, I've decided to post a preview (i.e. the first couple pages) of it here, as a way of saying "Hey, thanks for being a part of my forum and stuff."
Family chapter 15: Heritage (highlight to see)15. Heritage
"I don't expect any of you will be especially happy to see me."
Slade's words hung in the air for a long moment. For several seconds the room was completely silent, save for the distant sounds of the chaos unfolding elsewhere in the base.
Robin struggled to reconcile what he'd seen earlier with what he saw now, and could arrive at only one conclusion. "So...it was just another trick, then."
But Beast Boy shook his head. "No way, dude. You can't fake that."
Robin shot him a sideways glance, aware that his teammate's senses were much more acute than his own. "You're sure he was really dead?"
"As a doornail," the green boy nodded emphatically.
"Be that as it may, the situation has obviously changed," Slade replied.
"How--?" Wonder Girl began, but Slade quickly interrupted her.
"We have very little time, so explanations will have to wait." As he spoke, Slade took a machete from the belt of the H.I.V.E. trooper he'd just killed, and then walked over to the power generator. "As you can see, I've retrieved your equipment," he continued, lifting his arm to draw their attention to Robin's utility belt and staff and Wonder Girl's lasso, all of which were tucked under his own belt. Robin's eyes followed his every movement, trying to anticipate and plan for whatever he was going to do next.
Slade stopped next to the bundle of cables connecting the generator to the Titans' glowing prisons and Raven's collar, and turned back to face them before speaking.
"Listen to me now as you have never listened to anyone before in your lives," he said heavily. "In a moment, I am going to free you from your restraints. I am certain that your first impulse will be to attack me. This will be a waste of valuable time and energy, though I expect you will probably go ahead and do it anyway. But before you do, understand this: Everything that has transpired up to this moment, including your capture and my...execution...has unfolded exactly as I expected, and precisely as I had planned, from the very beginning. Every single moment was necessary for us to penetrate Brother Blood's defenses, for him to believe we were beaten, so that we could position ourselves to put a permanent end to his plans."
"You speak as though we are still on the same side," Starfire said icily.
"Because in this, at least, we are," Slade answered readily. "The plan has not changed, and proceeds as expected. My ‘betrayal' was, itself, a part of the larger ruse. It was for the benefit of Psimon and Brother Blood, who remain the enemies on whom you should be focused...and who are probably on their way here, as I speak. As such, we've no more time to waste."
Robin readied himself as Slade raised the blade, his muscles tensing like coiled springs, mentally plotting out precisely what he would do the instant the cables were severed. He knew without looking that his friends were doing the same. Save for Raven, of course, and also Jericho, who still remained where he stood when Slade first entered the room, perhaps too stunned to move.
With a single downward slice, Slade severed the cables, including the one connected to Raven's collar, and the golden force-fields immediately vanished.
Starfire and Beast Boy launched themselves at him the instant their fields came down, but Robin forced himself to wait and watch as Slade used a flash-bang from his own utility belt to temporarily blind his friends – just as Robin had suspected he would. The specially-designed, polarized lenses in the Boy Wonder's mask shielded his own eyes from the effects, allowing him to continue tracking Slade's movements as he easily sidestepped the disoriented green panther and Tamaranean princess, who ended up in a tangled heap against the wall behind him.
Then Robin made his move, leaping forward and driving Slade back several steps with a series of acrobatic kicks.
"Using your friends' mistake to gain a tactical advantage, Robin...?" the armored villain taunted as the two squared off. "How refreshingly ruthless. And, I might add, how very like the strategy I just finished explaining. Perhaps you finally have learned something, after all."
"You're not going to be able to talk your way out of this with more lies and mind games," the Boy Wonder growled, peripherally aware of Jericho and Wonder Girl taking up supporting positions behind him.
"No, I suppose not," Slade sighed. "Speaking of which...you should duck."
Robin's gut reaction was to ignore Slade's words while repeatedly kicking him somewhere painful. But his mind reminded his gut of the reason he should listen, instead.
He glanced over his shoulder at Raven – or, rather, where both Raven and her cage should have been, but where there was now a rapidly expanding column of angrily sizzling black energy, instead, already reaching from floor to ceiling and quickly growing to fill the entire room.
Robin didn't even have time to shout a warning before it swept over them all, and when it did, it instantly drove him to his knees. It felt like he was being drowned and suffocated and frozen and incinerated all at the same time, but even overwhelming all of that, he could actually feel a wave of such visceral, withering hatred driving it all that was far, far beyond anything he could ever have even imagined. He felt reduced to a helpless infant staring into the face of every evil thing that had ever lived, and his very soul recoiled from it.
He couldn't believe, didn't want to believe, that this was actually coming from Raven. The very thought was utterly terrifying. He had never felt anything even remotely like this from her before, not even when she'd been inside his mind, or when he'd been--
"Don't look at it," her voice suddenly drifted back to him, as if from a half-remembered dream. "It will drive you insane."
A tiny glimmer of understanding threatened to intrude on his conscious mind, and it was the most terrifying thing of all.
Mercifully, the darkness withdrew, leaving him gasping on the floor. But then a piercing, inhuman howl of absolute rage filled the room, completely drowning out all other sound. He dared to look up, and immediately wished he hadn't.
The glowing black energy blanketing the room flowed back to its point of origin and coalesced into Raven – arms outstretched, her head thrown back and mouth open impossibly wide, so much so that it honestly looked as though her jaw had come completely unhinged from her skull. The black energy continued to flow out of her, gushing forth from the very pores of her skin and billowing around her in a whirling cloud, like blood in water. At the same time all the shadows in the room seemed to be pulled toward her, all of it converging, crackling and whirling around her in a barely-contained vortex, and without her cloak it was difficult to distinguish where her body ended and the darkness began.
It was...horrifyingly beautiful.
As Robin watched, transfixed, she stopped howling and her head and shoulders snapped forward, her posture shifting to that of a predatory bird swooping down on its prey, teeth still bared...and four blazing red eyes glowing brightly.
She thrust out a clutching hand and Slade suddenly flew through the air toward her, coming to an abrupt stop and hanging suspended directly in front of her, and it was then that Robin realized she had somehow become much larger than herself; much taller, in fact, than Slade.
"I'LL TEAR YOUR SOUL APART." Her voice was a growling, guttural snarl, barely recognizable as human, let alone as her own. A long tendril of black energy seemed to spew out of her hand, flowing, snaking and twisting itself around Slade's body like a living thing. The black tendril solidified into a long, barbed chain, completely entangling the armored villain as he hung in the air before her. She then seized one end of the chain with each hand and pulled them in opposite directions, the constricting pressure forcing Slade into a painfully contorted position. His armor groaned audibly under the strain; it appeared that Raven's intention was to crush him like a tin can.
The first to react was Wonder Girl, who leapt to her feet and ran toward Raven, reaching out a hand toward their friend and teammate. “Raven, wait! He was telling the—”
Raven did not hesitate. With little more than a backhanded gesture, she flung the young Amazon across the room.
Seeing Starfire fly over to attend to their friend, Robin gritted his teeth, pushed off from the floor and sprinted toward the shadowy vortex at the center of the room.
“Raven, calm down!” he shouted, drawing from a well of courage whose presence even surprised him, a bit. “I know you’re angry, but this isn’t—”
Her reaction was unexpected. She released her hold on one end of the chain and reached toward him, instead, and he found himself abruptly pulled into the air alongside Slade. He suddenly felt unable to breathe, and although she wasn’t touching him, he swore he could feel burning, freezing talons digging into his neck.
“BETRAYER,” she snarled, her four blazing eyes burning into his, and through them, he could feel the force of her hatred shifting from Slade to focus directly onto him. “TRUSTED YOU. YOUR TURN WILL COME.”
Flecks of light began to dance around the corners of Robin’s vision, he felt lightheaded and realized he was on the verge of passing out. But as his world started to dim, Raven suddenly dropped him to the floor, because a huge, green gorilla had just grabbed her in a bear-hug.
With a frustrated growl she released a burst of black energy in every direction, flinging Beast Boy away from her. She then spun around in a full circle, swinging Slade through the air on her chain before slamming him into the nearest wall. The chain quickly disintegrated after leaving her grasp and the armored villain slid to the floor, coughing and gasping for breath.
Robin, meanwhile, found himself doing the same, fighting to catch his breath as he lay on the floor in a heap. Someone took his arm and helped him to his feet, and as his vision cleared he was briefly startled to see the ivory armor of one of Brother Blood’s private guards before he remembered that it was really Jericho, in Sebastian’s body.
Raven turned toward them, the darkness still swirling angrily around her, still snarling with unrestrained fury. Robin did not want to fight her. He wasn’t even sure if they could fight her, like this…but as her four blazing eyes settled on them, it was beginning to look like she wasn’t going to leave them any other choice.
Special thanks to Phiend for sparing me the time of adding the appropriate BBcode tags to this.