Issue #131
Issue #132
Issue #133
Issue #134
Issue #135
Issue #136
Issue #137
Issue #138
Issue #138.1
Issue #138.2
Issue #138.3
Issue #138.4
Issue #139

Annual #12



 Changeling & Raven

Witch Hunt
By Chuck "da 'Cat " Burke

As the sun set on Halloween night, a falcon soared over New York City. Wheeling over Central Park, it glided to the northwest, coming to roost on a balcony on 109th Street. The bird looked around, then took off again, heading down to the street. In the twilight, the bird's coloration looked unusual to a couple walking up the street.Much more unusual was the transformation that came over the falcon as it approached the sidewalk.Seemingly about to dive to the pavement, the bird suddenly grew in size, and its shape changed to that of a green-skinned young man, dressed in black slacks and a dark green shirt.Alighting on the ground, he looked around as he ran a hand through the unruly mop of emerald hair that topped his head.

"Oh, sorry about that.Hope I didn't startle you too much. "Seeing the couple shake their heads, as if birds changing into men was an everyday occurrence in New York, Garfield Logan walked up to the doorway of the apartment building. He stepped inside, studied the list of names next to a panel of buttons near the inner door, then pressed the one marked "Anders & Roth ".A moment later, the speaker above the panel squawked to life.

"Hello, who is it? "The voice was soft, a low female alto, with an unidentifiable accent.

"It's Gar, Raven. Can I come up? "

"Certainly, just a moment while I- " BZZZZ!The loud tone was the signal that the door was now unlocked.

Gar stepped through and pressed a button for the elevator.Two minutes later, he emerged on the ninth floor of the building, and spied a dark-haired young woman coming down the hall toward him. "Good evening, Garfield. What brings you here? Is there an emergency, or- "

"Shh, Raven, relax. "Garfield smiled and walked with her back to her apartment. "I, ahh, that is, I have a couple of tickets to a show for tonight, and, well, I was wondering if you might, that is, if you aren't doing anything- "

Raven stopped and turned toward her friend. "Garfield, are you asking me for a date? " she asked, one fine eyebrow arched high.

"Well, I thought we could go to the show together. "He relaxed, then straightened up. "Yeah, as a matter of fact.A date.Would you care to go to the show with me? "

Raven cupped both her hands over her mouth, and Gar could see hints of laughter in her eyes.He marveled that, in the several years he had known her, it was only in the past few weeks that he had ever heard her laugh. "Certainly.Just give me a few minutes to get ready. "

Over the next ten minutes, Gar Logan examined the framed pictures of Raven's roommate, Kory Anders, better known as Starfire, as well as pictures of most of the other Titans of the past several years.In several of them, a younger girl smiled out from under a blonde pageboy cut.In the brown and tan costume or out, Tara Markov's face made him both smile and cringe.Her self-induced death had been the worst thing to happen to him since the death of his adoptive mother and her team-mates of the Doom Patrol.The fact that another Tara Markov had appeared, seemingly a refugee from an alternate universe, had done little to ease that pain. And the appearance of the original Terra's worst traits during their recent battle with Brother Blood had ripped open old emotional wounds for every one of the former Titans, but most especially for Gar. Those traits had disappeared once Blood's control of the younger Titans was broken, but everyone who had known Tara had been concerned.Gar was still unsure about how to make sure she didn't meet the same end as the first Tara.

Most of the pictures he recognized as having been taken by Donna Troy, but some of them were more recent, and obviously not the work of a professional photographer.He spied an expensive digital camera and other equipment in one corner of the living room, and a stack of books on photography.When Raven returned to the room, he waved a hand towards the equipment. "Taking up photography? "

The black-haired young woman bowed her head and smiled. "Yes.In the past, I tried studying philosophy and history, and I discovered that the sisters of Azarath had already taught me more on those subjects than most college classes cover. Since I no longer need to keep such a tight reign on myself, I wanted to try expressing myself more. I thought I would try studying something totally new to me. And perhaps, someday, I might even be able to make a living at it. " Then she stood and spread her arms, her hands gracefully outstretched as if to encompass herself. "So, do I appear, hmm, proper, for a night at the theater? "

Gar looked her over.She was dressed in a calf-length emerald skirt and a loose-fitting, long-sleeved blouse of grey silk.Her long black hair was pulled loosely to one side, tied in a matching silk band. The green-skinned hero whistled appreciatively. "Wow!That's, like, a totally different look for you. "

"Kory insisted on taking me shopping after I moved in with her. She seemed troubled that I only had one suitcase of clothes, for some reason. " Raven glanced at a clock on the wall. "I think we had best leave, Garfield.Would you like me to get us to the theater? "

"Yeah, that would be easier than calling a cab. " Gar ran a hand through his hair again. "I mean, if that's all right with you.We can take it easy coming back after the show. "

Moments later, a cloud of ebony smoke rose from the ground outside of the Gershwin Theater on West 51st Street. The cloud quickly vanished, leaving Raven and Garfield Logan in its place.A few bystanders stepped back as the cloud started to form, but when the people emerging from it were recognized, the reactions were a mix encouraging and confused.

"Look, it's a couple of the Titans! " "Is there some kind of trouble? " "I remember him, he was on that old TV show my brother watches. " "Isn't she the one who saved those kids in LA? "

"Come on, Raven.Let's get into the theater, " whispered Gar.Then, he raised his voice and waved to the onlookers as they walked. "Heya, folks. Nothing to be worried about, just a couple of kids, in town to catch the show. "

As they entered the theater, Raven paused, reaching to lay a hand on Gar's forearm. "What's the matter, Raven?I've seen that look before. "

"I'm not sure.For just a moment, I felt the echo of somebody's fear.And there was magic at work, for just an instant. "

"A disturbance in the Force, eh? "Seeing her puzzled expression, Gar brushed it off. "Look, this is New York City, weird stuff happens constantly here. Unless you've got a bead on it, I'd say it's nothing of real importance. "

"No, both feelings are gone now. "

A few moments later, they were seated near one end of the front row of the mezzanine in the theater as the lights went down.A voice came over the public address system. "Ladies and gentlemen, for this evening's performance, the part of Elphaba will be played by Jamie Ramirez, and the part of Galinda will be played by Helen Jansen. "Gar leaned over the Raven and spoke quietly. "That's odd.Both of the lead parts are being covered by understudies tonight. "

"Understudies? " asked Raven in a hushed tone.

"An understudy is a member of the cast who is prepared to take over a part in case one of the lead actors or actresses is unable to perform.There is usually one or more for each of the main parts in a show, but it's not good to have too many of the leads out in one performance. " Gar settled back in his seat. "I hope they're good, though. "

The show started, and both of the substitute performers seemed to fill their roles well.But halfway through the first act, Raven and Gar both turned as someone walked up to their row and leaned over to speak with them.

"I'm very sorry to disturb you, but when I heard you were here, I thought you might be able to help. "The visitor was a tall, slender man with graying blonde hair.He was dressed in a dark suit, and he had a headset on with a single ear-piece and a microphone on a short boom. "My name is Lowenstein, Arthur Lowenstein, and I'm the manager of the Gershwin. "

"All right, Art, " said Gar. "What can we do for you? "

"It's our two stars.Something happened to them, just before the show, they just up and disappeared.I was about to call the police when I heard you were here. "

Garfield and Raven looked at one another. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking? " asked the green-skinned shapeshifter.

"I think so, " said the dark-haired empath. "Mr. Lowenstein, I think I need to see where they were when they disappeared. "

It took less than five minutes to make their way from the luxurious box seats to the dressing rooms under the stage area. They walked pass the large group dressing rooms for the minor players and members of the theater company, to a pair of rooms side-by-side with a security guard standing in front of them.He quickly stepped aside as Lowenstein led the two one-time Titans in. "This is Ms. Mendez's room.From what we have been able to determine, they were both in here, with the door partway open, and there was a brief flashing of lights.When anyone looked again, they were gone. "

"What do you mean by flashing of lights?Problem with the electrical? "

"No, this was like a burst of fireworks.Many different colors. "

"A gathering spell, " said Raven, looking at nothing in particular. "They were grabbed from here by magical means. "

"Can you follow them? " asked Garfield.

"They became aware of what was happening, and that was the fear I felt earlier.I can follow that fear.Take my hand. "As Gar grasped her left hand, she raised her right arm and a reddish-black cloud billowed around them.

When it cleared, Gar blinked and looked around.They were in a large brightly-lit room, with windows on one side looking down over a cityscape.Gar spotted the Empire State Building in the distance, and realized that at least they were still in New York.With them in the room were thirteen women, varying in age from mid-teens to at least seventy, if he was any judge of age.They were all dressed in simple black dresses and multi-colored shawls.In the middle of the room were two other women, one in green makeup and body paint wearing a similar outfit of black, and the other in an elaborate gown glittering with gemstones and metallic threadwork.

"There's our actresses, " said Gar. "And why do I have a bad feeling about these others? "

"Because you have good instincts, Garfield.There is a ceremony of summoning at work here. "Raven was already shifting form, growing larger and less substantial as her soul-self took flight.She soared across the room, striking a middle-aged woman holding a tattered book in her hands. As the woman fell, the room erupted into chaos.

Garfield's body shifted and flowed into the form of a longhorn steer, and he moved through the room, herding women with his prodigious horns.In one corner, Raven had the bearer of the book wrapped in her soul-self, seeking information, trying to determine what they had done to the two actresses and why they were doing it.

Finding himself surrounded, Gar changed into an ape, leaping up to grab a chandelier.Unfortunately, the ceiling broke away under the added weight, and Changeling crashed to the floor.He started to rise, but a chair was brought down upon his head before he could change into a smaller animal. One of the women raised a broken table leg over him as he changed back into human form. "Hear us out! " she cried, placing the jagged, broken end of the leg at his chest. "Hear us out or he dies! "

Raven returned to her normal form, and the woman she'd held in her otherworldly grasp collapsed into a chair.An older woman came and took the book from her.She opened it to a marked page and read over it quickly, the action of one who has already read a passage, and just wants to refresh their memory. She looked at Raven with an expression of sadness.

"Surely, of the many heroes in this city, you are the one who might best understand our motives. You walk the path of the Lady and the Lord, do you not? "

"The Lady and the Lord? Do you mean the Wiccan path? "Raven looked around the room again. "Yes, I see some of the instruments and symbols I have read about, but I follow no religion known in this time.But what I know of Wicca is that it is a religion of peace and harmony.Why have you taken these women from the place of their work? "

"Do you really need to ask?They mock our religion, holding themselves up as storybook witches and people believe that is what we are?Our religion has been shunned and forced to hide for over a millennium, and it is time to fight back.And tonight, with the Lady's blessing, our coven offers these two up to the Lord to satisfy his lusts. "

"Surely your Lady would not approve of treating your fellow humans as chattels to be traded, regardless of any insults they have wrought upon you. "As Raven said this, the older woman slapped her across the face, then uttered a few sentences in an ancient tongue.As she finished, Raven felt as though a part of her mind had been locked away, and as she tried first to shift into her soul-self, then to teleport away, she found herself unable to do either.

Surely a twisted interpretation of their religion's precepts, thought Raven as she was bound in ropes and shoved over to one side of the room near the unconscious Garfield Logan.She could hardly move, and her attempts to nudge her companion elicited no response.How can I disrupt them, she thought as they started again on their ceremony.Her powers of empathy left her few offensive options. She briefly considered trying to undo the ropes telekinetically, but the memory of the few times she had used those powers was painful, to say the least.With her soul-self denied her, and her teleportation ability likewise shut down, about all she could do was feel the emotions of those around her. A ghost of a smile came across her face as she considered this, then she focused on feeling those emotions.

Most markedly, she felt the fear of the two actresses across the room.And she focused on that, letting the fear flow through her, amplifying it and sending it back out against those now circling the glowing mist forming in the center of the room.The actress in green looked over at her, feeling the emotions in the room rise even as the temperature dropped and the air crackled with energy.Still Raven concentrated on making her foes feel the emotions they had brought forth in their intended victims.One member of the coven dropped to the floor, grabbing her head and crying.A second let out a scream and ran from the room.The mist shrank back into the floor, and the leaders of the ceremony turned toward the young heroine.

"You little bitch! You think I wouldn't know what you were doing? "The older woman advanced on Raven, a ceremonial dagger held high over her head. Raven tried to shrink back from it, and realized that Changeling was no longer behind her.

"I think the big question is, did you really know what you were doing? " asked a fly crawling on the ceiling, which suddenly changed into a massive green walrus and dropped onto the older woman. As she was knocked out, Raven felt the mental and emotional shackles fall away, and shapeshifted into her soul-self.The shadowy form flew about the room to each of the witches, enfolding them momentarily. When she released them, they dropped to the floor.

Changeling was up off the floor, and back in his human form, checking on the coven's captives. "Are you ladies all right? "

"I think so, " said the blonde in the brightly-colored gown. "But we must have missed the performance by now! "

"Don't worry, they've got things covered at the theater- "

"Oh, my God! " shouted the blonde actress. "We've got to get back there before they mess everything up! "The second actress nodded agreement.

"Changeling, we had best leave now.We can contact the police, but I don't know if they will believe what was happening here. "Raven looked around the room at the several women lying on the floor.

"Just get us back to the theater now! " begged the actress in green makeup and black costume. With that, Raven lifted her arms and smoke curled up around them. When the smoke cleared seconds later, they were in the wings of the Gershwin Theater. The two actresses took off, one heading to the dressing rooms and the other making her way purposefully to one of the people directing cast members about in the cramped off-stage area.

Before Raven and Changeling could try to locate Arthur Lowenstein, one of the understudies came off of the stage and hurried toward them.

"Oh, you did it!They said that you were here and that you were going to try to find our missing divas, and you did it! I'm so glad I go the chance to meet you, I've been an admirer of yours for years! " squealed the perky young girl in a towering blonde wig and a puffed-out gown of silver and green.

Changeling smiled and started to reply, "Oh, it was nothing, just- "

"Please say you can come back to the dressing room for a bit, Raven!Jamie would be so upset if she missed you, she's a fan of yours as well. "Helen Jansen looked at Changeling, who was showing signs of a blush in his green-toned face. "Your friend can come too, of course. "

As they followed the young lady back to the area normally reserved for the actors, Raven looked at her friend and smiled. "It appears I have, what would you call them, fans? " she said as she was quickly led off to the ladies' dressing area.

"Yeah.I guess you do, " agreed Changeling in a low voice. "I suppose that's not a bad thing, is it? "

"No it isn't, " said a new voice.Garfield Logan turned to see a man in a garish green suit, his features obscured by heavy stage makeup.Knowing the show's characters and players, however, Garfield knew him.

"Hey, aren't you Joel G- "

"Yes, yes, and you are Gar Logan, late of Space Trek 2022.Oh, yes, " he chuckled, "I was an unabashed fan of that show. "

"Nice to know there's at least one left out there " said Gar, taking the hand that the older man offered.

"You've given up on show business, I take it? "

"No, I'd say it's more like show business gave up on me.Besides, even the best make-up artists have trouble with this complexion. "

The older actor smiled through his own make-up. "Actually, if you are interested in working here in New York, I know of some folks you might want to talk to.Have you ever considered working in public television. "

The End?

Nah, never the End!

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