by Libbylawrence and Doc Quantum
In Zandia, Dick Grayson had done something that had never come naturally to him. He gave up trying to resist.
As long as he kept resisting, he knew that the Church’s efforts to brainwash him would become even more stringent. What he feared most was that Mother Mayhem might begin having Raven use her empathic abilities in the torture sessions, since she’d already become a willing convert before his arrival, and if she became involved Dick wasn’t sure he would still be able to resist. The only solution, to his mind, was to seemingly give up all resistance and join the cult.
Some time ago, when he’d fallen unconscious after a particularly grueling session under the Confessor’s hypnosis rays, Dick had come to while a couple of the guards talking about him. Feigning sleep, he overheard them say that Brother Blood’s psychological conditioning during the previous two times he’d been captured had allowed their master to manipulate the Teen Titans leader over the past several months without his knowing about it. (*) According to the red-haired guard, who repeated something that Mother Mayhem had said, Dick had in fact been sent forth into the outside world as an unsuspecting mole. But over the past year he had fought his conditioning, rebelling from it while his mind was in turmoil. If that were even remotely true, Dick realized that it might explain some of his strange behavior over the past year, particularly his uncharacteristic moodiness as of late that he’d believed to be due only to circumstances such as Starfire’s marriage to another man or the Vigilante’s murder spree. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Ashes to Ashes,” The New Teen Titans #22 (August, 1982), “Lifeblood,” The New Teen Titans #40 (March, 1984), “A Dream That Just Won’t Die,” Vigilante #20 (August, 1985), and “Shadow of a Madman,” Vigilante #21 (September, 1985).]
The Church of Blood’s techniques for converting ordinary supplicants into full-fledged converts and disciples were impressive. Combined with advanced scientific methods employing light and sound, few young people stood a chance against eventually succumbing to the will of the Church. But Dick Grayson, alias Nightwing, was no ordinary man. Since a young age he had been trained by the Batman to fight all kinds of criminals, including those that employed hypnotism in their crimes. It was so common an occurrence that it could be considered an occupational hazard for crime-fighters.
Knowing in advance that he might be captured yet again and subjected to similar brainwashing techniques that had worked in the past, Dick had called upon all of his meticulous training by Batman to resist as best he could. Batman’s training over the years was surely superior to any tactic the Church could use against him, and recalling that training prepared him even now. Knowing how much he may have been manipulated over the past several months gave him a new resolve to allow his enemies to think that they succeeded in breaking him again this time. After everything they’d already done to him in order to break his will, it would only seem natural that he’d eventually succumb to the Church’s extreme conversion techniques once again.
Thanks to his well-practiced acting ability, Dick managed to convince even Raven and her mother that he had fallen under the spell of the Church of Blood, much to Arella’s horror. Ever since he’d seemingly stopped resisting, he had been left in peace and had begun to be treated like a new convert. It had been days since his first arrival, but it felt like 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 closely resembled an angel from medieval iconography during one of the rare moments that they were both left alone.
“Azrael, I know Mother Mayhem has convinced you that you are an angel of life sent to resurrect Brother Blood back from the dead. But let me ask you this — what would Lilith think of such madness? How would that vulnerable girl be treated if Blood was brought back, only to capture her just like he captured me and other Titans in the past?”
The angelic youth looked troubled at the thought. “W-what do you mean?”
“Wouldn’t he dominate and enslave her emotionally, just as he has done with Raven?” continued Dick. “Could you stand to see that bright woman dimmed with hate and another’s dark will?”
Azrael’s mouth opened and closed several times, but he was unable to form words for a reply. It was obvious that no one had ever challenged his belief in Brother Blood since Mother Mayhem had brainwashed him, and he could not reconcile his love for Lilith with what he’d seen the Church of Blood do to his friends.
Dick knew he was deliberately playing 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, some good might come from it.
Azrael’s eyes widened with pent-up emotion. “I — I crossed space itself to find my Lilith. She… 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 ended their conversation, such as it was. But Dick had accomplished all he had intended. He had sown a seed of doubt in the heart of Azrael. Now, if only he could do the same with Raven without falling under her spell.
Elsewhere, a beautiful young woman slept in Olympian splendor. Her long, light red hair framed delicate and lovely features that were now contorted in worry and fear as she tossed fitfully under gossamer sheets.
Rising, she pressed her hands to her face. She was used to such dreams and knew very well how accurate her precognitive visions often were. Steeling herself for what must come, she smoothed down the silver shift she had customarily worn ever since her ascension to Olympus. Tying silvery sandals on her bare feet, she hurried through the splendor of lost Olympus to find those who could help her.
Turning a corner, the demigoddess passed ornate columns and magical pools until she found the palace of great Zeus himself. She was well known and thus was allowed to enter without any introductions as she presented herself before the throne room door of the king of Olympus.
Zeus sat regally next to his beautiful bride Hera, and beside him sat his own sire, the Titan called Chronos. Ever since the Titans of myth had been freed from their long imprisonment, they had lived in harmony with their Olympian heirs. Zeus smiled in affectionate greeting as the pretty woman entered. As she curtseyed out of respect, he said, “My child, speak what thoughts disturb your brow.”
“I have had dire visions of terrible danger to Earth and to us all,” said the young demigoddess. “They center around… my mother, Thia. Her legions of other children hold powerful positions throughout the Earth, mayhaps throughout space itself. They seek to restore her. These other Children of the Sun — these demigods and demigoddesses — are a danger to all. I beg you let me return to Earth and stop them. I seem all too strongly linked to them, and feel that the responsibility for stopping their madness should be mine.”
Zeus was silent for a moment before he spoke. “’Twas ever my goal for you to remain here among us. However, there is a ring of truth to what you say. ‘Tis right that you seek out and end the threat of Thia’s other, less-benign offspring. I grant you this boon: return to Earth and use your gifts to stop the Children of the Sun, then return to us when you will, dear maiden.”
The beauty named Lilith Clay smiled in appreciation and prepared to return to Earth.
Donna Troy shook her head. She had raced into the building just in time to see Doctor Light vanish in the arms of an elegantly dressed pair. “He escaped, yet he seemed frightened of his rescuers, at least initially,” she said. “They weren’t wearing the Light emblem, but they could still want him dead.”
The Flash nodded. “I wonder if they left any type of energy signature when they transported that we might trace?”
“You sound like a physics student, all right,” said Hawk.
Arsenal and Robin greeted them. “I found more than just a would-be assassin,” said a pale Arsenal. “Cheshire — that’s her name. She and I go back a bit. The fact is, we were involved. She claims that we have a daughter named Lian.”
“You’re joking!” gasped Donna.
“And I thought I was fast,” the Flash said sheepishly.
“Well, you always say you never miss,” laughed Hawk.
“Okay, guys, that’s enough,” sputtered Arsenal. “There are kids in shorts around here.”
Robin grinned. “She was pretty tough, too.”
“Donna, I have to check this out,” said Roy Harper. “Since the authorities will hold Jade — that’s her given name — then I have to do the right thing and… raise my child.”
“Listen, pal, we’ll help you locate her,” assured the Flash. “Even at my current reduced speed, I can provide doorstep delivery.”
The Titans walked out slowly, with much to consider.
“You know,” muttered Hawk, “those creeps didn’t even give us a good workout.”
Gar Logan was joking incessantly, and weakly, as he explained to his friend Cyborg his need to leave. “I need a break,” he said. “School is getting me down, so I can be closer to my grade point average. Mrs. Wormwood has it in for me.”
Vic Stone sat up suddenly in his hospital bed. “I know when you’re tellin’ a lie, Logan. You turn a sorta off-green, like bad cabbage. What’s really goin’ down?”
Gar hesitated before replying, “I… may have a lead on Steve Dayton’s location. Questor traced his financial use of certain resources to a Greek island.”
Cyborg frowned as he slowly and painfully began to get out of bed. “So when do we leave?”
“You don’t, Vic!” said Gar. “You need to rest, to recover. It was my fault that you got so banged up to begin with.”
“I’m my own man, slash PCU,” said Cyborg with a shrug. “It wasn’t your fault. You can’t help the actions of Dayton just ’cause he’s family. I mean, look at me. My pop was so into science that he messed me up through that inter-dimensional research he did. Other folks died then, too, as well as a bit later when that thing tried to get back here. I blamed him, but even then it was just an accident. He never meant to hurt anybody. Same goes for Dayton. He’s ill. That don’t mean he’s free of any responsibility, but it sure means that you don’t have to carry his burden for him.”
Gar grinned. “You’re a regular Dr. Joyce Brothers — or is that Dr. the Neville Brothers?”
“Either way, I’m with you,” said Vic with a nod of his bruised head.
“Oh, she’s adorable,” cooed Donna Troy as Roy Harper cradled his nine-month-old daughter, Lian.
Roy grinned. “Yeah. She has my looks — and her mother’s manners.”
“I think you need to hold her head up a bit more,” said Robin.
Ignoring the family moments, Hawk walked over to join Wally West and Garth as they labored over a strange device.
“Being around Barry and Jay helped me some, but I wonder if this thing can actually detect the energy generated by the transporting thugs so we can trace them — or if it just makes a good toasted cheese,” said Wally as his hands raced over the device.
Garth smiled. He hadn’t felt much like talking since Tula’s death, but while he was with these longtime friends, he didn’t feel it necessary to say much.
“Talk, talk, talk,” challenged Hawk. “Come on, run something other than your mouth, West.”
“Witty banter between you and Nubia,” said Wally. “That I would like to see.”
“Is she really sincere about representing Diana?” asked Donna, joining them.
Wally nodded as he flipped a switch. “She has that no-nonsense Amazon demeanor, but I think she cared for Diana and wants to carry on her crusade. Not that I wouldn’t feel just as annoyed if some rarely seen cousin showed up to be Barry’s successor.”
Donna agreed. Still, she knew she needed to meet Nubia face to face to settle things. Technically, Nubia was her sister, too, even if she hardly knew her.
“Hey, it shows a faint energy trace, but how can you track the end of it?” asked Hawk.
“Flash’ll just run to the end before it fades,” piped up Robin.
With a grin, the Flash ruffled the boy’s hair. “Well said, Boy Wonder.”
“Uh… anybody know how to change a diaper?” asked Roy. “Is a kid this age even still in diapers?”
The Flash took off at top speed as Donna rolled her eyes and rose to the occasion to help her troubled friend.
“Diapers!” said Hawk. “Next thing you know, we’ll be starting Tiny Titans Daycare!”