Dick Grayson stood mutely by Brother Blood as the megalomaniac addressed his followers in the Church of Blood. “Today is a day of triumph as we grow stronger,” trumpeted the cult leader.
Mother Mayhem sat next to the captive Arella, whose daughter Raven smiled demurely and blissfully as her white gown blew in the breeze.
Dick’s impassive face hid a mind that worked at top speed. He had resisted all of Blood’s commands and mental attacks, although to those around him he now appeared to be the perfect new convert. His attempt to speak with Azrael had only mixed results. He recalled the conversation as he watched Blood fill his masses with raw emotion that he, in turn, fed upon himself in a mad vampiric feast.
Thanks to his acting ability, he had convinced even Raven and Arella that he had fallen under Blood’s spell. The truth was that Batman’s training over the years had proven superior to any tactic the island’s master had used, and he had been left in peace. It had been days since his first arrival, perhaps even weeks. Time seemed to have little meaning in the cells.
Still, he had retained his own free will and his faculties, and had thus taken a chance to approach the winged alien who looked like an angel. “Azrael, I know Blood has convinced you that you are his angel, but let me ask you this — what would Lilith think of such madness? How would that vulnerable girl be treated if Blood had her? Wouldn’t he dominate and enslave her emotionally, like he has done with Raven? Could you stand to see that bright woman dimmed with hate and another’s dark will?”
Dick had deliberately played upon Azrael’s feelings as he drove home the idea that the alien’s beloved would never condone Blood’s ways. He felt some guilt at his ruthless manipulation, given how innocent Azrael seemed to be, but he knew that in the long run, good could come from it.
Azrael’s eyes widened with pent-up emotion. “I — I crossed space itself to find her. She was the embodiment of all I want from life. She… was taken from me.”
Dick nodded. “Yes, but don’t you see? Blood would hurt her if he ever got his hands on her. He would keep you even more apart by making you a murdering agent of his church. Lilith hates violence. She would be hurt to see you serve such a man. Just think about her.”
That had ended their conversation, such as it had been. Dick hoped that a night to think it over had moved the alien to change sides, and he was pleased that Azrael did appear uneasy this day.
Presently, Brother Blood placed one hand on Raven’s head and waved his other hand toward the masses. “Allow me to feel your love!” he shouted. “Allow me to commune with your emotions!“
Dick saw the empath Raven stiffen, and he knew that Blood was using her to tap into the feelings of his flock. He had to do something quickly.
Azrael caught his eye. He felt the powers surging between all; the alien also had some empathic ability.
“Lilith,” mouthed Dick as he exchanged glances with the winged youth.
Mother Mayhem saw this exchange and moved forward, as Blood was too deeply entranced in the parasitic act to see.
Dick spun and kicked her flat, then said, “Raven — fight him! He’s worse than Trigon!“
Azrael flew closer to him. “What should I do?”
“Save her!” cried Dick. “For Lilith! Reverse the empathic flow!”
Frowning uncertainly, Azrael suddenly grabbed Brother Blood and concentrated. Raven gasped as the surge of emotions she had been absorbing and transferring to Blood now gained a new texture, as the alien interjected his own desperate efforts to awaken her from Blood’s sway.
“Raven! Turn that darkness within you against Blood!” urged Dick as he smacked a guard off the balcony.
Azrael nodded. “I’m reaching her!”
“Kill them before they release her!” cried Brother Blood.
Guards shouted and closed in as Dick tried to wage two wars — one against the troops on a physical level, and one more dangerous, more tenuous as he fought alongside Azrael to free Raven’s troubled mind and soul.
At once it happened. Raven’s soul-self enveloped Brother Blood, and he screamed. She gasped in pain, perhaps even in relief, as the remnants of darkness left behind when Trigon fell now flowed directly into Blood. The leader of the Church of Blood now found himself overcome by a power stronger than his own, yet his own purpose, his own sense of self, refused to allow any easy transfer. This led to a conflict most powerful, most personal — all within Brother Blood’s own mind. He screamed, and as two wills fought, his body simply shut down as a protection.
Raven ran to Dick’s arms as troops rushed to aid their stricken ruler. “Richard, I feel as though I am finally completely free of all taints from… my heritage. I know my father fell already, but such malice still darkened my spirit till now. Perhaps I will never be a pawn of anyone again.”
Dick smiled. “Blood could not handle his own urges and drives when he joined himself to the darkness left behind by Trigon. They seemed to short each other out, so to speak.”
Carrying Arella in his arms, the winged Azrael swooped above to lift all three to freedom. “I may help you escape, but… I grieve for the loss of Blood,” said the alien haltingly. “His potential may never be known again.”
“Or his evil,” muttered a relieved Dick.
Later, as a clean-shaven and fully costumed Nightwing sat across from Raven in a rented villa, she expressed her appreciation for his rescue efforts.
“Richard, I want to thank you for risking so much to save me after all I’ve been through,” she said. “I sense you have suffered much yourself since last we were together.”
Dick smiled sadly. “I can’t keep secrets from you, can I? It’s true that things have fallen apart for me lately. Kory and I seemed to be so much of a sure thing, even though all logic, all past experience, our backgrounds — all combined to indicate that we were wrong for one another. Now, the political demands of Tamaran have forced her to marry another. A guy named Karras is her new husband. She — and he — claim it’s just a civil or ceremonial ritual signifying nothing spiritual, but that’s not the way I can see it. So, we’re apart.”
Raven touched his chin. “You and the princess have ever been of two worlds, both literally and figuratively. How one raised — much like myself — to always keep his emotions in check could ever be the soul-mate of a being who is driven by heedless emotion and passion is a riddle not even the Batman could solve.”
Dick nodded. “It’s true. She’s nothing like the girls I knew at Hudson U. or elsewhere. She’s such a free spirit — moreso than even other super-heroines I’ve met, like Batgirl and… Bat-Girl.” He stood up. “I’ve learned a lot in the last few days. Maybe part of that lesson is how to let go.”
Raven smiled sadly. “That has to be a part of any healing.”
Doctor Light was nervous. He hated to be rushed; he considered that beneath his dignity. Yet these enigmatic Children of the Sun seemed to expect him to work on a timetable of their own devising. The nerve. The raw impudence. Still, he did as he was told.
After using the Children of the Light as pawns and having them send Cheshire to kill him, he had learned not to anger even those villains whom he considered his lessers. Look at what had happened to Psimon.
“I have completed the machine,” he finally announced. “It should draw upon the ever-regenerating promethium energy source provided by Mento and hopefully allow your Thia to re-form herself materially after being consumed in flames with her angry husband.”
The reddish-blond man smiled. “Excellent, excellent. Now, if we can pull Mento away from our youthful captive, the Flash, we may begin Operation: Rebirth.”
Doctor Light smiled calmly. “And then I shall leave this wretched rocky pile for better grounds.”
Mento gazed directly at the bound Flash. “You represent all I hate,” he roared menacingly. “You are the embodiment of the successful super-hero, something I never was. You are the personification of the survivor who beats all odds, something my beloved Rita was not. And so, I’ll delve into your mind and raze its shallow barriers to ashes!”
The Flash groaned as he felt his very thoughts rebel against him. From darkness to light to lightning, he saw his life play out in vivid mental images that resonated in a lurid 3-D format. At the heart of them all, he saw two people: his Aunt Iris and her husband Barry Allen, the original Flash.
As nightmarish images of a harsh and alternately distant father switched with those of grinning rogues in costumes bright and garish, he sought the comfort of Barry’s steady, guiding hand.
Yet it remained just out of reach, seconds in front of him — beyond his rate of speed.