Titans West: Proffer of Chaos, Chapter 2: The Price of Failure

by Martin Maenza

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Twin blasts struck the villain from behind. “Let Hawk go, you creep!” The Bumblebee continued to fire as she and Golden Eagle launched an assault from above.

“Speaking of your partners…” Kestrel began to say.

“Dude, shut up!” Golden Eagle ordered as he swooped in, striking Kestrel with his gauntlet-covered fist. “All your rantin’ is giving me, like, a mondo headache!”

“You’re in way over your head, bird-boy!” Kestrel growled. Suddenly, the smaller floating rocks began to respond to the villain’s thoughts. They swarmed as if they were alive and targeted the two flying heroes. Golden Eagle and the Bumblebee had to work very hard to stay out of their threatening paths. Kestrel laughed. “Now, where is the other little birdie?”

Dove was having difficulty rising to her feet. “C’mon, girl, pull it together,” she ordered herself. “You have to try and focus — block out all the distractions. You need to help Hawk.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about Hawk,” a voice growled from above. Kestrel leaped down at her, claws slashing. Dove barely dodged them. “You’re a little slow, Dove. Something wrong? Maybe the little agent of Order doesn’t like the random nature of the Chaos Realm?”

The heroine leaped away to another rock, trying to widen the distance between herself and him. Kestrel gestured, and the rock he stood upon began to follow her. “Ah, but what do I know? I’m just some kind of costumed crazy. Isn’t that what you called me, Dove?”

Dove kept moving. “How… do you know so much about us, Kestrel?”

Kestrel smiled wickedly as he pursued her. “The real question, Dove, is how do you know so little? It’s all an experiment, my dear! You and Hawk are just mice in a maze.” She continued to move from rock to rock, but the gap between them was closing fast. “You both move here, you both move there. You have no control over your actions, no idea why you are who you are. But you’ll never find out the reason why, Dove, because it all ends here.”

Kestrel’s own rocky platform darted forward, heading on a collision course with Dove’s. The two slammed together with an explosive force.

“Dove — no!” the Bumblebee cried out.

Dove rose slowly from a smaller nearby rock. If I’d stayed there a second longer, I’d be dead, she thought. Even Kestrel couldn’t have survived that. She glanced around, but the debris in the air was fairly thick. The others were not in immediate sight.

“Worried about me, Dove?” a voice asked from over the rock’s edge. Two black-gloved hands appeared and hoisted Kestrel up. “Don’t be. Nothing can kill me!”

Dove tried to move away, but Kestrel lunged forward and caught her foot. “You, on the other hand, can be killed, my dear,” he said. “You’re getting slow; plus, I am learning your moves.” He tossed her to the ground. “No one can save you now.”

“Wanna bet?” Dove said, smiling. A large shadow cast over them. Kestrel whirled around in time to see a form descending upon them both.

Kestrahhhlll!” growled someone who appeared to be Hawk. His costume was now all red and black, and his body was swelling with power.

Hawk nailed Kestrel with a punch. “Is this what you want?” he yelled. “You pushed me and pushed me! You’ve made me fighting mad! You think I won’t pound you into a pulp now?” The villain’s body hit another rocky platform below like a bag of wet cement. “Answer me, scum-bag!” Hawk stared down at the barely stirring Kestrel, ready to pounce should he make another move.

Dove put her hand to her head as she approached her friend. “Hawk, what happened to you?” she asked. “This place — it’s having an effect on both of us. You’d better–”

Hawk whirled around furiously and caught her by the throat. “Shut up!” he yelled at her. “Stop telling me what to do!” She struggled to speak, but barely a sound escaped her throat.

Hawk raised his other fist to Dove. “You keep wanting to be my partner, lady, showing up whenever you like! But you treat me like I’m just a grunt — like I’m the novice hero, here! I’m sick of your whole superiority act!” His grip tightened around her throat; all Dove could do was gasp for breath. “I know what I’m doing, and you’d better leave me alone, or else I’ll–”

Kestrel watched the events unfold with glee as his rocky platform rose to meet theirs. “Do it, Hawk!” he encouraged the angry hero. “She doesn’t understand you, and she never will! She confuses you, makes you weak. She holds you back. Get rid of her now!”

Hawk pulled his fist back, the waves of chaos and anger ready to wash over the hero.

Kestrel knew Hawk was on the brink and was eager to push him that final step. “And once she’s gone, you can join me, Hawk! We were meant to be a team, because we are so alike, men of action. We’d be more than just partners. We would be brothers — blood brothers!”

Hawk’s face contorted. Kestrel’s words were sinking in. The hero glanced down at the woman he held so easily at bay and took a good, long look at her. For a second, he didn’t see the woman, but the costume, a variant of one that meant so much to him. For a moment, he did not see Dawn. He saw his brother Don.

Nooo!” Hawk screamed out, his anguished cry echoing out through the Chaos Realm. “No, not brothers!” As he released the woman, the effects of Chaos faded, and his form slowly reverted back to his traditional Hawk appearance. “Not with you, Kestrel. Not with anyone ever again.”

Hawk took Dove’s hand and helped her to her feet. “All right,” he said to her, “any suggestions on how to take this sucker out, partner?” She smiled as he emphasized the last word.

Suddenly, the whole Chaos Realm began to shake. “You’ve failed, Kestrel!” voices from every corner rang out loudly in unison. It was louder than thunder at the heart of a storm. “You know the price of failure!” Suddenly, some of the rocky platforms exploded into dust.

Kestrel stood up with his hands in the air before him, palms stretched out. “No!” he begged. “I can still win him over! Give me time.” The only response was the rocks beginning to explode faster and more furious. The voices had passed their judgment and had turned a deaf ear to their disgraced agent. “More time,” Kestrel pleaded. His body writhed and burst into crimson flame. “No… please…” His face expressed the anguish of the torture that was inflicted upon him by the unseen Lords of Chaos.

Now what?” Hawk wondered, turning to Dove.

“We’ve got to find the others and get out here,” Dove suggested. She took his hand, and together they leaped for safety. The rock they had been standing on began to fall apart. The entire Chaos Realm, or at least this manifestation of it, was coming completely apart. The duo misjudged the movement of the rocks and began to tumble forward, falling.

Two golden gloves grasped Hawk’s free hand tightly and pulled. “Parker, for once I am so glad to see you!” Hawk exclaimed.

“Hold tight!” Golden Eagle flapped his armored wings and lifted the two heroes. “We’re, like, getting out of here pronto!” He banked to the left, avoiding another rock as it exploded, and rocketed toward a rock where the Herald and the Bumblebee were waiting.

The Herald was focused on the instrument in his hand. As he blew into the mouthpiece of the horn, he entered in a sequence on the side buttons. The device was a complex piece of machinery, much of whose nature was still a mystery to its owner. Yet the Herald knew that one of its capabilities was to open dimensional portals, a function that was proving extremely useful now. Having recorded the frequency of the portal that brought them to the Chaos Realm, the hero hoped now to reverse it and send the group home again.

“Keep it up, baby,” the Bumblebee encouraged him. She noticed the air before them shimmer as a rift began to form. “You’ve almost got it! Don’t give up now!” She knew her husband had been through some difficult times over the years, and he often felt he needed to prove himself around the other Titans. She also knew he was good man with a strong heart, part of the reason she fell in love with him.

The portal expanded larger and larger, soon big enough for bodies to pass through. “Everyone hurry!” the Bumblebee called out. “We don’t have much time!” She could feel vibrations starting in the rock upon which they were standing.

“Coming through!” Golden Eagle called as he soared toward the lit opening. With Hawk and Dove in tow, the three passed through the rift.

The Bumblebee grabbed the Herald’s hand and pulled him with her. “Don’t stop until we’re through, Mal,” she told her husband. In a moment, the two entered the rift just as the rock they had been standing upon exploded.

The sun was just started to peek over the horizon as the five heroes materialized back on the Golden Gate Bridge. “Whoa, dudes and dudettes!” Golden Eagle exclaimed. “So, like, what happened back there to bring down the house?”

“I’m not really sure,” Dove said. “We’d better get moving, though. I think the danger has passed.” As they hurried along, Dove began to revert to the form of Dawn Granger.

“I’ll tell you what I think,” Hawk said as he began reverting to Hank Hall. “I think we kicked Kestrel’s butt big-time!”

The Bumblebee put her arm around the Herald’s shoulder. “And thank you, baby, for getting us back home in one piece.” She gave him a peck on the cheek.

“So, who’s up for some breakfast?” the Herald said. “Helping Hawk always leads to working up an appetite.” The group laughed as they headed for the Duncans’ van.

***

After a hearty breakfast at an all-night restaurant, Hank got his jeep and offered Dawn a ride back to her apartment. “You were quiet while we ate,” Hank said. “I hope you don’t feel uncomfortable around the group. They really liked you and want you to be a part of our team, if you are interested.”

“It’s not that, Hank,” Dove said. “I do appreciate the offer, and I definitely think it will be easier to get into this super-hero role with friends around to help.” She paused. “No, something that Kestrel said has been bothering me, and since we escaped the Chaos Realm, my mind has had time to process some of it.”

“I’m sure he was just trying to get to you, like he was getting to me. Creeps like him never tell the truth.”

“I don’t think so. Kestrel was right in that we don’t know enough about why we’re Hawk and Dove. He said we were an experiment. What could that mean? Are we part of some greater picture, something to do with Order and Chaos? If so, who’s behind it? Who were those voices? What did they do to Kestrel? There are just so many unanswered questions.”

Hank parked the car in front of her apartment and turned off the engine. “Dawn, I haven’t known you long, but I can tell you think too much. We’re Hawk and Dove simply because we were in the right places at the right times. What more do you need to know?

Dawn was about to speak, but she saw the look on Hank’s face. She wanted to debate this with him but felt it best just to let it go. It had been a long night for both of them. “OK, Hank, I’ll let it go.” For now.

The End

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