The lovely empath named Raven had felt uneasy since she and Artemis first entered the ruins of an amusement park that stood above the fire-damaged community of Palaise, Minnesota. She felt pity for those who had lost homes to the sudden blazes that had swept through the community with no apparent cause. She also felt concern for her friend, Donna Troy Long, who was still recovering emotionally from the recent murder of Marcia Long. Marcia was the ex-wife of Donna’s college professor husband, Terry. Donna had battled her killer the Cheetah and had expressed regret at the psychotic woman’s death after the battle. She was too caring a woman not to consider even the feelings of a woman who had inflicted such hurt on those she loved. It was Donna’s nature to mother others.
Raven also felt sorrow for the fact that Arsenal was away. He had departed to visit the mother of his own child. Cheshire was an assassin with poisoned nails and lethal martial arts training. She killed for pay and felt nothing but satisfaction afterward at a job well done. Roy had talked with his friends and had reached the decision that he needed closure. Thus, he had departed from Titans Tower to talk to the imprisoned woman he once had loved.
Azar! My feelings for Roy are exciting to me! I still cannot define them with any clarity. For so long, all such emotions were denied to me because of my heritage. Now, I am finally freed from the evil of my father Trigon. Now I can love, and the prospect both excites and frightens me, she thought, drawing her white cloak and hood closer around her supple form and glancing to Artemis, who was staring at a tall tower.
“That is a tilt-a-whirl,” Artemis said. “It lifts riders high and then spins them around. It’s no longer working since the park closed, but I’d wager our detector will beep when we get closer. Vic’s machine shows promethium within it.”
Raven nodded. “Shall I enter and search the place?”
Artemis said, “Sure, but be careful. I’ll be right behind you.”
In a cloud of smoke, Raven was within the structure. Her white high heels clattered across the floor as she saw a large network of wires and metal. She also saw one of largest men she had ever seen since their involvement with the Titans of myth. He was a hulking Asian man in armor. His companion was a slender girl with short dark hair and malicious eyes.
“Behemoth, look! We’ve got company. The Master will enjoy playing with her!” cried the girl called Touch-N-Go. Behemoth, the former Sumo wrestler Taro Raiden, nodded ponderously as the agile Amelinda Lopez charged toward Raven.
“Legs, I can drain you dry of all your energy with just a touch!” gloated the brazen girl. She reached out for Raven, only to gasp as the empath touched her face.
“You will remain still,” said Raven in measured tones that expressed sorrow and little pleasure. Touch-N-Go stiffened as she fell beneath Raven’s impressive powers.
Behemoth merely grunted and lifted a large booth from another old ride. He hurled it directly at Raven, who gasped and vanished in smoke to reappear across the room. “Run! Behemoth shall crush you for the Master!” he said with an ugly laugh.
Artemis leaped into the room and looped her lasso around the booth. She ripped it out of his grasp and placed it to one side. “I have an opinion or two on the topic, if you don’t mind!” she said.
He roared and reached for the Amazon princess, who dodged nimbly and rammed a knee into his midsection. She followed this move with four swift kicks. He staggered backward and gasped as Raven’s soul-self enveloped him. He fell with a crash and landed on the still-stunned Touch-N-Go.
Raven’s mystical form returned to her own body, and Artemis helped her to her feet. “Nicely done,” Artemis said with a smile.
Raven shook her head. “Combat is not one of the things I wish to excel at.”
Artemis said, “Great Hera — Mento!” Indeed, the looming features of Steve Dayton’s costumed alter ego filled the room as mental energy struck the girls.
“No! It is not truly Mento! I sense another mind behind the façade!” said Raven even as she collapsed near Artemis.
Starfire’s agile form had flown through the gusty winds that had plagued a small Texas town called Leonore. She carried Nightwing and, in spite of the dangerous weather around them, the alien beauty relished their gradual return to closeness.
X’Hal! It’s so wonderful to feel a degree of the old intimacy Dick and I shared before I was forced to marry poor Karras! she thought.
Nightwing was equally relieved to have the Tamaran princess back in his life. Their recent dates had healed much of the pain caused by her political marriage. Still, Nightwing had been taught well by his mentor and friend Batman. He kept his keen mind on the job at hand. “Kory, below us is a house in which the promethium-detector registers a high level of the element. I’d say we’ve found the source of the high winds and more members of the Hybrid.”
Starfire’s green eyes widened. “I hope we can end this case soon. Poor Gar is so defensive on the part of his stepfather. Dayton made these creatures, but he is truly repentant for what he did while sick and mad.”
Nightwing nodded. “He was the Dr. Frankenstein who made the Hybrid, but someone else wants to make more. Dayton has no need to steal promethium or go looking for more, as someone had Harpi and Gorgon do at Kole’s old home.”
They soon reached the house and entered through a wide front door. “Nice house at one time. Georgian architecture,” mused Nightwing.
Starfire jumped ahead of the detective and blasted out with her blazing starbolts. The energy sliced through a web of wire and metal to strike a man whose skin was gleaming like metal itself.
“Your pretty lights don’t hurt me!” he drawled in a deep Southern accent. He approached the pair with loud footsteps.
“He’s coated with promethium!” realized Nightwing.
“Ah’m Prometheus,” said the silvery man as he grabbed for the agile hero.
Nightwing rolled aside and came up directly in front of a stunningly beautiful brunette with waist-length brown hair and a sea shell bra above her shapely bare legs. “I’m Syren,” she said and then began to sing.
Nightwing stood transfixed as her song captivated him and stimulated his every sense. Slowly, he fought to regain control. Got to resist! She’s as vibrant as Betty Kane. She has the grace of Vera Lovely. Her perfume makes me think of Barbara Gordon. Her eyes are like Daphne Pennyworth’s. She is as sensual as Kory, he thought.
He raised his hands and placed two small round objects in his nose. The spell of allure faded, and he swiftly knocked her cold with one precise jab. “Pheromones. Her song was merely sound. She controls through scent,” he said.
Meanwhile, Starfire was being crushed in a tight embrace by the gleaming Prometheus. “I like your style, little lady!” he said with a leer. She felt his metal shell heat up and radiate high temperature.
He’d kill another person by that heat, but I can withstand even greater levels of heat. The torture my sister inflicted on me was worse than his flames! she thought, raising both knees and breaking free of his grip. Then she flew higher and burst through the roof with her foe ahead of her as a human battering ram.
“I’m sorry to have to do this, but you leave me little choice!” she announced as she casually kicked Prometheus away from her and watched him crash to the ground far below.
“The impact has knocked him out. Great job!” said Nightwing as he rushed over to greet her when she landed.
“Congratulations are all-too premature!” shouted a voice as the head of Mento appeared before them.
“Can it be?” asked Kory.
Nightwing shook his head. “No. I have seen another old pattern in this case all along. Disasters as a reason for extortion. Making the impossible happen. Obvious mental powers. You’re not Mento! You’re–!” he began and then fell stunned, as did Starfire.
The Titans awoke to find themselves locked within clear tubes of unknown design. The Hybrid watched them warily and alternated such vigilance with adoring or fearful looks at the man in blue and gold, who sat above them all on a throne.
Changeling was visibly shaken. It can’t be Steve! I can’t believe he could be sick again! I’d have sworn he and I had become tight. He was recovering. He even spoken of some plan to begin his own crusade for justice. Am I to blame? Is this another Terra incident?
Cyborg knew what his buddy was feeling. He understood the teen’s mannerisms. Gar’s sick with grief and guilt. He always blames himself when somebody close to him does something weird.
Starfire frowned as she fought to break out of the tube. “I’ll be free! I won’t be a prisoner again!”
Nightwing was busy thinking. This is not Mento. He’s posing as their creator to keep a stronger hold on the Hybrid. He also has formed some link with the Mento helmet. It’s powering him and causing all these disasters from afar. It’s a nice scheme.
Jericho was blindfolded, and his hands were bound. He could see nothing, but his sensitive nature allowed him to draw many conclusions from what he heard and what he felt.
Kole Weathers picked up on all or much of what Joe Wilson felt. In some way, perhaps due to the frequent times the mutant youth had resided within her body for a case in recent months, she was almost psychically in tune with him. She saw the Hybrid team as a whole and again wondered what would have been if her father had made her such a creature. Could even Joe love a monster?
Artemis thought of Terry and Jen. She hoped she could be back with them soon. She had to be. This was not going to be the end of their family. She would not let some villain end their lives together.
Raven felt all her friend felt, but she probed deeper to gain understanding of the man who looked like Mento. He is not Steven Dayton. This much I know. He is pretending to be him. He is using some form of the Mento powers for his own gain, but he is not the man I’ve met before, she mused.
He laughed. Perhaps he, too, understood all they were thinking and feeling. “You Titans are the old generation. The Hybrid is the new generation! They will supplant humanity, and I will rule them!” he said.
Nightwing said, “Lofty dreams from a guy who lost to me under two different names already!”
Mento frowned. “Seeing you helpless enables me to gloat. I know you were once Robin. I know all your secrets. You know me, too, don’t you? Clever boy!”
Harpi frowned. “Master? What do you mean? He knew you as Mento and Dayton, but who else were you?”
Mento turned to the woman and said, “Do not question me! Do not question the one who gave birth to you! It is enough that you live to serve me. You shall continue to serve me until the day I end your miserable existence! The country will pay me to withhold my powerful hand. They have felt my anger through the disasters I have made with my helmet and broadcast via the receivers. They will gladly bow down to me!”
A beautiful woman appeared. She wore a very short tunic and silver sandals, and her long hair was reddish-gold. Beside her stood a winged man with a possessive manner. She said, “I shall stop you. Did you think you could use your mental powers in such a way without my becoming aware of it? You used me as a pawn once, and I still retain an awareness, although it be whisper-thin of your mental powers. I have been drawn to you like a moth to a flame. I shall use my empathic fires to reveal your true nature!”
“Lilith and Azrael!” cried Artemis as she saw her friends.
Mento cursed as Lilith’s empathic fire swept over him and changed his appearance. She dispelled the illusion of Mento and revealed him as their old foe, Mister Esper.
“Esper — or is it Captain Calamity this week?” said Nightwing with a grin.
Artemis nodded in realization as the fake Mento regained his true appearance. His costume was now a purple and orange, and he lacked any beard. He was their old foe Mister Esper, who had also briefly called himself Captain Calamity when he had tried to tap into Lilith’s powers to create his own disasters with which to extort money from the government.
Azrael said, “Lilith is special. She should not be the object of such improper tampering! I will not allow it!” He flew forward but quickly gasped as Mister Esper drew upon the Mento helmet power to send a force-bolt directly into the winged youth.
“Dolt! By any name I shall triumph!” he said.
Lilith darted forward and touched him again. “You shall triumph or fail, but on your own merits and nothing more! I free these poor beings from your thrall as one who also suffered under your manipulating touch!”
Gorgon, Harpi, Touch-N-Go, Behemoth, Syren, Prometheus, Scirocco, and Pteradon seemed to move as one. They stirred slowly with awe etched upon their individual faces as dreamers shaking off the effects of a long and deep slumber.
“Angelika, I am free!” cried Gorgon.
Harpi’s normally bitter expression became almost tender as she took her husband’s hand. “Andonis, my love, can it be true?”
Touch-N-Go merely rushed at Mister Esper with anger in her eyes. “I can rob you of your very ability to move! I’ll make you pay!” she cried.
Behemoth slammed into his former master with considerable force. “I shall break you in half!” he declared.
Azrael and Lilith freed the New Titans as Garfield Logan sighed with relief. “Man, this is a load off my mind. I couldn’t believe Steve had gone bad again!”
Cyborg smiled. “See? You’re the odd one in your family, not Dayton!”
Jericho took control of Touch-N-Go even as she drained Mister Esper of his ability to move. He stood inert and helpless.
Artemis cast her lasso around the broad shoulders of Behemoth and said, “Stop! He’ll pay for his crimes, but not with his life! You don’t want to be as bad as he was!”
Raven touched the equally angry Pteradon as he started to attack Esper. “Stop! Act not with such malice. You are finally free!” she urged.
Nightwing nodded. “Right! Starfire, Cyborg, Kole — shatter all the equipment here. We can’t let him broadcast the stolen mental energies he took from Dayton’s helmet any longer!” He turned to the shapely Lilith. “It’s a good thing you sensed his use of his powers at such a wide level. If you had not broken his hold on the Hybrid, we might have been in big trouble.”
Lilith flashed a brilliant smile and said, “That is what friends are for! As I said, I felt it when he drew upon such a high level of psychic energy. I merely had to follow the source.”
Azrael scowled. “You are lucky to have Lilith. You must value her more!”
Gar grinned. “Hey! As long as she keeps wearing that little number, I’ll value her like nobody’s business!”
Harpi said, “Titans. We owe you our freedom. He enslaved us and made us believe that he was our master. Now, we serve no one but ourselves.”
Jericho signed rapidly, and Kole called out. “Jericho says he has calmed Touch-N-Go as well.”
Touch-N-Go relaxed as Jericho emerged from her body. He gave a thumbs-up signal, and Nightwing nodded. “We’ll take Mister Esper in,” the New Titans leader said to Lilith. “I assume you can prevent him from tapping into the Mento helmet again.”
She tossed back her flowing hair and said, “Yes. As I protected myself from his vampiric power, so may I shield Dayton’s creation!”
Mister Esper looked beaten and helpless as he was. “Take me away! Don’t let those monsters hurt me!” he begged.
Gorgon said, “You are the monster. You can’t even excuse yourself like our maker by claiming madness. He was not to blame for his deeds, but you assuredly were. We will leave this place and find some refuge where we can live in peace.”
Starfire said, “Perhaps we can help. We have access to science from several places and of several types.”
Changeling nodded. “Steve Dayton will give you shelter or money or anything he can do to help. He’s sick with guilt and remorse. What he did to you has really inspired him to try to help make things better in his own way.”
Harpi said, “We shall go our own way. We feel he cannot cure us, so we shall avoid him. He was ill when he created us, but we bear him neither love nor hate.”
Nightwing placed an arm around Starfire and said, “Let them go. They’ve earned peace, if nothing else.”