by Starsky Hutch 76
“That’s enough!” a stern female voice said. “Put the sword down, Azrael. You’re bleeding and need medical attention.”
Recognizing the speaker, Azrael moved with lightning speed, dodging out of the way of the enchanted lasso that would have sapped his will. Before Artemis could pull it back, he managed to grab hold of it and jerk her toward him. He delivered a backhanded blow that left her dazed. Again, before she could react, he twisted her arm behind her back in such a way that the harder she struggled, the more intense the pain. In effect, her own Amazon strength had been turned against her.
“Cease struggling,” he commanded emotionlessly. “Or I shall be forced to bind your bracelets together with your own lasso, permanently removing your powers.” A startled gasp escaped her as she realized she was at his mercy.
The stench of brimstone suddenly filled the air. With blinding speed, Azrael suddenly spun, turning the former Wonder Girl into a human missile. She struck Raven just as she materialized and sent her crashing into the wall, knocking them both unconscious.
A blast suddenly fired in his direction; Azrael narrowly avoided being hit by it. The golden-skinned warrior known as Starfire rocketed toward him, glistening from the rain that was now pouring outside. Azrael managed to fly out of the way before they collided.
As a pupil of the Warlords of Okaara, Princess Koriand’r was one of the finest warriors in the Vegan system. Yet, somehow, Azrael was matching her blow for blow. For every move she made, he had a counter move as well as a defense.
“X’hal!” she gasped. “He’s like a man possessed!”
“He might be,” Nightwing said, arriving upon the scene. “Look at his eyes!”
“Let’s take him down and worry about his eyes later!” Cyborg said. “The guy’s already managed to take down three of us!”
“Who would’ve ever thought he had it in him?” Arsenal said, his bow drawn and ready. He fired off an arrow in Azrael’s direction. The winged man side-stepped quickly, caught the arrow, and sent it sailing back toward the owner — all while dodging Starfire’s blows.
Arsenal let out a startled cry as the explosive arrow hit the wall next to him. “How the hell–?” A cunk of ceiling came crashing down upon him, knocking him to the ground.
“Roy!” Cyborg exclaimed. “OK, that’s it! This has gone on long enough!” His hand came alive with crackling electricity.
Having just delivered a blow that drove Starfire to her knees, Azrael whirled upon Cyborg and said, “I decide when it’s enough.” He withdrew his sword and severed the mechanical hand.
Cyborg stared in horror at the stump that protruded with exposed severed wired and crackling bolts of electricity.
Suddenly, Azrael was upon him. He jerked him by the arm and shoved the stump into the pool of rainwater the kneeling Starfire stood in as she struggled to her feet.
“No!” Cyborg exclaimed.
“Aaahhh!” Starfire let out a cry of pain as the water was suddenly flooded with electricity. She slumped to the ground, unconscious.
“You — you bastard!” Vic gasped.
Without a word, Azrael delivered a right cross to the human side of the stunned Victor Stone’s face, knocking him out.
Nightwing took a defensive posture. He had just watched the winged man take down his entire team. What chance did he have?
“Further battle is unnecessary,” Azrael said. “Your team is bested. Step aside, and I shall leave with Lilith.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Nightwing said.
“You can’t win,” Azrael said matter-of-factly.
“We’ll have to see about that,” Nightwing said, raising his chin.
“Very well,” Azrael said. “Then I shall be forced to dispatch you.”
There was a sudden, angry cry; Gnarrk leaped to his feet and ran toward Azrael. “No way in hell you’re gonna–!” Gnarrk’s words were caught in his throat as Azrael spun with lightning reflexes. In an instant, his sword was drawn and shoved forward, impaling his rival for Lilith’s affections.
“My God!” Nightwing said, stunned.
Azrael’s grasp on his sword’s handle loosened, and Gnarrk slumped to the ground. A fog seemed to lift from his eyes as he was confronted with the full horror of his actions. “What have I done…?”
“NOOO!” Lilith screamed. She lashed out at Azrael with the full extent of her mental abilities, his most painful memories dredging suddenly to the surface.
Azrael grabbed his head and screamed, falling to the floor. The room disappeared from his view, and he found himself in a darkened lab with silhouetted figures above him. They brought him so much pain. Why did they hurt him so?
The various members of the Titans struggled to their feet, still sore and bewildered. They stared down at their attacker, who now lay on the ground, curled in a fetal position and moaning to himself in a child-like voice. “Veuillez ne pas me blesser. Je serai bon. Veuillez ne me blesser plus.”
After a few moments as the team regrouped, the fallen Gnarrk began to snicker slightly. Lilith turned back around, shocked to see this. “Gnarrk? You’re alive?” she asked.
Gnarrk burst out in uncontrolled laughter. He opened his eyes and propped himself up upon his elbows. “Of course, you foolish girl!” he said. “T’would take much more than this to kill one such as I!” He rose to his feet, grabbed with two hands the hilt of the sword that was protruding out of his bloody chest, and withdrew the blade. He held out the weapon toward the surprised Azrael, who began to regain his composure. “Here you go! I believe this is yours!”
“What’s going on here?!” Lilith exclaimed.
“I’d like to know, too!” Nightwing stated.
“Oh, that is easy to explain!” Gnarrk said, his voice sounding more proper and less simple. “You see, old bird-boy, here, is not who he believes himself to be! A seed of the Titans? Oh, please! He has more in common with a pomegranate seed than he does with anyone of Olympian origins!”
“Liar!” Azrael exclaimed. “Lord Chaos revealed the truth to me many months ago! He said I was among the early seeds brought to New Cronus by the Titans before their fall! He gave me these wondrous wings and tracking abilities! It was only through Chaos’ manipulations that I ended up on Earth, my memories of my youth hidden so that I would do his bidding in locating Wonder Woman for him.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: Quest, Chapter 6: Seeds of Chaos.]
“And you fell for his story completely!” Gnarrk laughed. “All because you truly wanted to believe you had a purpose, a connection to the beautiful Lilith, here! You would have believed anything that reinforced the love you felt for her! Believe me, I know all about it. And I think you are starting to realize it, too.”
“I’m not following this!” Starfire said.
“Don’t look at me!” Arsenal said. “Sounds like something out of Days of Our Lives, if you ask me.”
“I can now sense deception on his part,” Raven said, “where I could not sense it before. But I do not believe it is his words that are deceiving here.”
“I’ve had just about enough of this!” Nightwing said, letting his anger show.
Gnarrk laughed again. “Well, I guess I have had my share of entertainment for now. No reason to keep up this charade any longer!” Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash. Gone was the hulking figure of Gnarrk, and in his place stood a well-built man with blonde hair and small white wings in his back. He wore a white tunic belted at the waist, sandals that laced up to just below his knees, and a small quiver of arrows slung over his back.
“You!” Lilith exclaimed.
“You know this man?” asked Azrael.
“Indeed,” Lilith said, her angered stare fixated upon the man’s new appearance. “He is Eros!”
“Eros?” Artemis repeated. “I know of him! He battled Wonder Woman on a number of occasions! He’s the son of Aphrodite, and thus the Olympian god of love.”
“How right you are, my little Amazon!” Eros said. “It is indeed I, the god of love. The only one capable of manipulating the emotions of superhumans such as yourselves without the slightest detection of my work. It has been truly a joy toying so easily with your emotions over the last few years, making a number of you believe you were truly in love with one another. In truth, it was all a testament to my amazing talents!”
The group of heroes all looked upon the god with stunned expressions. Thoughts raced through a number of their heads, letting the words he just spoke wash over them like a cold shower.
Eros looked at them all. “Ah, I can see by your expressions that some of you have doubts. Well, then, allow me to completely remove that which I’ve done, exposing your true feelings for what they indeed are.” With a snap of his fingers, it was done.
A number of the Titans suddenly felt as if a fog had been lifted. Feelings of true love they had been experiencing faded like a dream vanishing from the waking mind, unable to be grasped at by any means.
Azrael’s brow furrowed as he was the first to speak. “Why? Why have you done this?”
Eros’ expression changed too, from one of glee to one of anger. It was a look not usually associated with the god of love. “Why?” he repeated the question. “I’ll tell you why! For revenge!”
“Revenge?” Lilith asked.
“Yes, revenge!” Eros spat. “Revenge against your mother!” He pointed directly to Lilith. “For the hateful acts of your mother, Thia, I decided to punish you and your friends!”
“What did Lilith’s mother ever do to you?” Artemis asked.
“Plenty, Amazon!” Eros said. “As you know, we Olympian gods have many things with which to occupy ourselves, but the actions of Thia caught my attention as well. Most of the gods enjoy dabbling in the affairs of mortals from time to time, and the Titan Thia was no exception! Taking a lead from Zeus himself, she often ventured down to the world of mortals to seduce select males of the populace. Occasionally, she’d sire children by these men, only to abandon the offspring afterwards!”
Lilith nodded silently as she listened. For indeed, this was what Thia had done to the man who was her natural father. Once the conception was complete, Thia had destroyed the man because she had no further need for him. After all, she had wed the man, gained control of his vast publishing empire, and had produced a child with him. In Thia’s mind, he was no longer of use to her.
Meanwhile, Eros had been continuing his tale. “Of course, given my station in the pantheon, I was outraged by Thia’s total disregard for the emotions of love. Some of these mortal men, in fact, loved her dearly; for others, it was lustful passion that drove them to wed the beauty only to achieve their most carnal desires. For Thia, it mattered not! She pretended to care for these men, even boldly professed lies in the name of love to achieve what she desired! All the while, she laughed on the inside at her own deception.
“After centuries of putting up with her behavior, I chose to confront her on this! Little did I realize that her manipulative ways were indeed quite persuasive. Instead of punishing her, I found myself caught in the throes of passion with her! We kept our godly liaison a secret from her jealous husband Hyperion, just as she had done with all of her other acts of infidelity.”
Artemis felt a slight chill down her spine at the mention of Hyperion’s name. The brash Titan male at one time fancied himself in love with her, to the point of forcing himself upon her. The Amazon-trained heroine managed to convince him to come to his senses. (*) Still, she was quite relieved to know that she would be able to go the rest of her life without crossing paths with him again.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Titans Clash,” The New Teen Titans #11 (September, 1981) and “Clash of the Titans,” The New Teen Titans #12 (October, 1981).]
Still, Eros was talking. “After this continued on for a long time, I came to realize that here was a goddess worthy of myself! We both held extreme pride in our accomplishments, and our interests were indeed not that much different. I decided to express myself to her, to let her know that she had truly won the heart of the god of love.”
“Let me guess,” piped in Arsenal. “She shot you down!”
Eros gave him an angry glance. “In a word: yes! She laughed at me, told me she’d manipulated me as easily as she had every mortal man with whom she’d shared a bed. She said she had no desire to leave her husband, because he afforded her the opportunity to gain power in the world of the mortals! One day, she told me, she would use her children as her tools to further increase her position of power! She was not about to let the changes in time and societies relegate the memory of her to that of mere myths!
“So, I plotted to have my revenge upon her! I learned all that I could about her children, so that I could strike at those that would lead her to the one thing she ever truly loved: power! And since mine is the power of love, I would use that tool to rise up those children to the heights of extreme passion, only to send them crashing down on the rocks of despair! That was my plan, and my hope was to hurt Thia by doing so! Thus I began my manipulation in the lives of her children, including Lilith, here.”