Ultimate Knights #1: Opening Night Nov 2, 2014 17:39:50 GMT -5
Post by Drake on Nov 2, 2014 17:39:50 GMT -5
#1: Opening NightBy Drake and Adrini
Hope. It's not something you see much of in these parts. There's little flashes here and there, and you hold on to what you find with everything you have, but the darkness is mighty and often devours it all to soon. It can be hard to keep going, or even know why you should…until you are reminded that you aren't alone.
I've fought on both sides of the fence in this town, the overt evil of Gotham and the complex corruption of 'Haven. I've seen heroes rise, fight, and fall more times than I care to remember. The pattern never seems to change. Yet in the face of this exhaustive darkness to surrender is to let all you've given and all that has been given before you fall away and be called worthless. And so the fight goes on, though the point can seem unclear.
But times change, darkness and night, they don't last forever. They can't last forever. There has been too much light, too much cheer, and too much bold courage for the evil to rest unchallenged forever. There are the little flashes and short blasts of warmth that seem to now happen more and more frequently. They were rare at first; I'll own that. A few folks in the 60's, then that dwindled out. But the same folks came back later, as mentors and parents to a whole new generation. This set, it was bigger, much bigger. They were determined and very well trained. I really thought we had a chance. Sadly so did the baddies we were aiming for and the heroes got scattered before they really got started. But the pattern, it does not stop. The heroes are parents now too, mentors in the wings and in their prime. Ready both to take up the fight again and to train anyone willing to join them. The light, it's growing. It's stronger now, bolder, more overt. So the darkness moves once again to stop the threat they know might come.
But what if. What if all these sparks and little fires focused. What if they really worked together? So many lives have been touched here, so many stories defined. The threads of Fate wind and tie here in a way it can't anywhere else. What if, for once, we used that? The tragedy of this place is not that it has no heroes - it has always had heroes. The tragedy is that these forces, these brave men and women, so seldom seek to help each other. No one person can face down such darkness alone; it's just too much.
But together? Together we can kick some serious ass. Together we can block escapes, capture the worst offenders, reclaim our homes and make it clear that we, not they, make the rules here.
The hard part in all this, sadly, is that together part. Folks 'round here really like working alone.
Act 1: Blüd Will Run
The limousine rocked a bit as it crossed the divide from post-Gotham, external land into the immediate Gotham City limits. Barbara Gordon had to admit it was all too easy to tell the difference between her hometown and just about everywhere else. The divide was almost perfect. Outside of the Gotham limits were clear skies, beautiful green trees, and a few scattered buildings. On the other side of the line, however, a storm was brewing. A few miles away, a sea of dismal skyscrapers clouded the dark sky.
Barbara Gordon could feel the city’s fear from the backseat of the limo. She would shudder, if she hadn’t been trying to keep up appearances in front of…him.
Dick Grayson. The prodigal son. Sitting all to leisurely across from Barbara, Dick stared dreamingly out of the window and towards the looming city. Barbara hated that look; those icey blue eyes, the way he always bit his lip a bit when he was thinking…
Barbara couldn’t resist the chill now. She shuddered. Dick noticed.
After giving her a worried glance, Dick looked into the rearview mirror and at the reflected face of Alfred Pennyworth, a man the two of them had come to trust with their lives.
“Hey, Alfie, mind turning the AC down? It’s a bit chilly in here,” Dick asked.
“Of course, Master Richard.” Alfred’s response was instantaneous, developed over years of service.
Barbara gave Dick a weak nod in thanks before turning to stare out the window. Why the hell did she have to be stuck with him? Pulling this crap again, trying to be cool, act like nothing had happened, when in fact everything had changed. She could’ve taken the 4:15 flight from Star City. She should’ve. Instead, she ended up arriving at Hamilton International Airport just minutes before Dick returned from Blüdhaven.
“So, Alfie, what’s changed while I’ve been gone?” Dick seemed to read Barbara’s mind like before, like always…
“That’s an…interesting question, Master Richard. You’ve been gone nearly two years. A lot has changed,” Alfred responded.
“Yeah, Bruce sure has. Calling us all back like this. It isn’t like him,” Dick said rather too coldly. He realized his fault and jumped back in, “I guess a six month coma will do that to you, right? Can’t imagine what I’d be like with six months gone.”
“Imagine what you’d be like without your legs,” Barbara interjected. She hadn’t meant to say it. It had just…slipped out. Crap.
Dick’s expression sunk. She could read the guilt on his face, even as he tried to hide it with a smile. Old habits die hard.
“Luckily I don’t have to, and neither do you. I assume the surgery was a success, otherwise I really need to catch up on sleep ‘cause you sure looked like you were walking back at the airport,” Dick retorted. He hadn’t meant it to sound mean, but it certainly came off that way. Barbara had to hold herself back from slugging him. Dick. Barbara nearly laughed at her silent joke.
“Master Richard, to answer your question,” Alfred interrupted before things got too bad, “Mayor Hady was reelected again, and for that reason Gotham politics haven’t changed all that much, but the city as a whole has. It’s become quieter since…since that night.”
“Whatever happened to the clown, anyway? He hasn’t popped up again, has he?” Dick pushed on, aware this was a sore subject for everyone in the car.
“No…but Master Bruce remains adamant he will,” Alfred admitted.
“Well that’s reassuring,” Dick joked, “Bruce is still as paranoid as ever. I mean, there was a body, right? I saw it. Commish saw it. Lord knows Bruce saw it. The guy’s dead. My thought’s if he was alive, why wouldn’t he show his face? The clown’s not exactly subtle.”
“Yes, well…” Alfred began, but Barbara didn’t give him a chance to finish. She couldn’t stand another minute in a cramped space with Dick talking about that night.
They were. Wayne Manor. Still as old, dark, creepy, and oddly beautiful as Barbara remembered. Kind of like Gotham in that way, actually. A lot like Gotham.
“Welcome home,” Alfred said.
Wayne Manor was surprisingly bright for any time of the year, let alone the shady month of October. It symbolized—to the man sitting alone in the library, at least—the change undergoing inside him. The change that would soon occur in Gotham: a brighter, better future for everyone.
But still, Bruce Wayne hated the light.
The front door opened. Bruce could hear it creak from his seat three rooms away. The muscular, all too consistently sore man of thirty five set down his copy of A Tale of Two Cities and stood up to greet his guests. He knew Alfred was aware of where he was, but he also knew he needed to meet Dick and Barbara at the front. It would mean something to them, coming to see them personally. All too often they had had to chase after him.
Upon meeting the three new arrivals in the entryway, Bruce and Dick’s gaze collided. It had been a long time since the billionaire crusader had seen his ward. He wasn’t sure what to expect. Anger? Resentment? Surely at least a bit of unease.
“Dick…” Bruce tried to break the ice. He didn’t get the chance.
Dick practically leaped across the room and enveloped Bruce in a fierce bear hug. The older man paused, shocked. This was certainly unexpected. Years of studying people and he still hadn’t figured everything out. At least, not everything about Dick. That was something he had always liked about the young man. He was hard to put a finger on.
Slowly, almost reluctantly Bruce returned the hug.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think your wrinkles have wrinkles, old man,” Dick teased.
Bruce almost smiled, “It’s been two years, Dick, and I’m only thirty five.”
“That’s not counting the years you lost fighting crime and getting your ass handed to you,” Dick retorted, stepping away. Alfred couldn’t help but grin widely at the sight. Master and student, father and son reunited again. Barbara on the other hand couldn’t have been unhappier. She still wasn’t comfortable around Dick. His cheery attitude really didn’t help.
“Barbara,” Bruce began.
However, seeing the old grouch created an odd sense of relief and happiness inside the redheaded woman. She smiled.
“Bruce, don’t even try. We all know you aren’t very good at this.” And with that, Barbara hugged Bruce, who barely hesitated to return it this time around.
A few more awkward teases and comments later, and the three past-partners found themselves sitting in the library, a cup of tea at their sides. In a matter of minutes, Bruce’s expression changed. He had gone from reluctant father to strict general. The Batman was back.
“I think it’s evident why I called the two of you here,” Bruce stated. He expected a snarky comment from Dick, but received none in response. The boy—or young man, Bruce had to remind himself—really had changed.
“I need only the people I can trust most at my side now, but I do need an army.”
“Mhm. Great way to start us off, Bruce. We’re soldiers fighting your war again,” Dick grunted.
“No.” Bruce’s response was immediate and intense. “This is not my war. It’s all of ours. It took me six months in a fierce, fear toxin-induced coma to realize it, but I know now… You do not fight for me; you fight with me.”
The two ex-sidekicks were taken aback. Before they’d been just that—sidekicks, pawns in Bruce’s game. Hearing this—while not quite where they’d wanted to be—was at least a step in the right direction.
“So, anything else? Any other reason you wanted us back?” Dick pushed.
“Yes, actually,” Bruce appeared surprised, “I’d like someone to take over for me at Wayne Enterprises.”
“What?” Barbara nearly spit her tea out.
Dick had the opposite reaction. He was defeated. While he may not have expected this request, he knew Bruce wouldn’t open up. Not yet. Maybe he never would. Or—worse yet—maybe he had opened up, and he really just didn’t care.
“I want to fully commit my time to fighting crime, ending the war I began ten years ago,” Bruce explained, “I need someone I trust to take care of Wayne Enterprises while I am busy with other…dealings.”
“Yeah…no,” Dick muttered.
“I’ll do it,” Barbara nearly jumped out of her seat, “Absolutely! I’ve been waiting for something like this. You can only hack and clean up servers for so long before you…sorry, rambling! Yes, I’ll do it!”
Bruce eyed Dick carefully. He’d wanted his surrogate son for the job, someone with the name Wayne, but Barbara would do.
“Wonderful,” Bruce said, but his brief lapse of focus hadn’t gone unnoticed. Barbara fell back into the chair. Suddenly she remembered all too well she wasn’t the favorite. In fact, she wasn’t even really Bruce’s daughter or family. She was just some kid who’d jumped headfirst into a life of crimefighting. Just a kid who wasn’t even her own father’s favorite, and that was saying something because when it came to her brother…
“Master Bruce,” Alfred stepped into the room. He’d overheard much of the discussion, and had actually seen the brief interaction that had just occurred. He knew when to stop a conversation and let it defuse. Moreover, Alfred realized all too well the air needed to be cleared between Dick and Barbara. “I need help with something in the kitchen,” Alfred said.
“Can’t you handle it yourself, Alfred? We’re in the middle of something important.”
“Master Bruce, now.”
Like a spoiled child, Bruce sighed and reluctantly stood up. Without a word, he followed Alfred into the kitchen, leaving Dick and Barbara alone.
’Oh no,’ Barbara thought.
The two protégés of the Bat sat in silence for about half a minute. To Barbara, it felt like ages. Neither would look at the other. Emotion threatened to bubble over, until, at last, the silence was broken.
Dick tried to begin, “Babs…”
Barbara wouldn’t have it. Being alone with him, all the anger pent up over nearly an hour of silence, Barbara couldn’t control herself anymore.
“Don’t call me that!” Dick sunk back into his seat. “Don’t pretend like nothing happened. You were gone for—for two years!” Barbara couldn’t look away now. “That night, I—I—I was shot, and…”
“Barbara, you don’t have to—“
“No!” Barbara gripped the arms of her seat tightly, holding on for support, “No, I really do. Dick, I lost my ability to walk. No one was there for me except my Dad, and—and eventually the…I wanted you! More than anyone else, I wanted you by my side! We had been so close, done…so much together, and you left me when I needed you most.” Tears were freely falling down Barbara’s cheeks, dripping onto her jeans. Dick wanted to speak up, but he didn’t. She needed to finish.
“I get that you weren’t happy with Bruce, that he was being…himself, but still, after everything, at least Bruce stayed in Gotham; at least he watched over me from afar. You just left all of us…left me. I needed you, Dick, and you left me…”
“Barbara,” Dick stared down at the floor, “I am…so sorry. I made a mistake. I was angry and scared and stupid, but I had no right to leave you. Every day in the Haven—in Blüdhaven—I thought of you, of Bruce, of Alfred and even your father. I hated myself for leaving, and I…I swear I won’t make that mistake again. I’ll do right by all of you, I promise.”
Silence enveloped the room again. Dick managed to glance up at Barbara. She couldn’t look back at him. The young man stood up, and turned away.
“I don’t deserve your friendship, but maybe…I hope someday I can at least have your forgiveness, Barbara.”
“That day isn’t today,” Barbara whispered. Before anything else could be said, Bruce came crashing through the library doors, both calm and erratic at the same time.
“Both of you, suit up. The mayor’s just been murdered,” Bruce said, before pausing and staring at Dick.
“What is it, Bruce?” Dick had frozen in place. His heart seemed to creep up into his throat. The look Bruce gave him…it couldn’t be…after all these years, there was no way...
“The only clues at the crime scene were the knives stuck in Mayor Hady’s chest…knives emblazoned in bronze with the picture of an owl.”
Blüdhaven, New Jersey
In the midst of one of ‘Haven’s nicer districts, hidden atop a cheap pizza joint was a fighting ring. It was illegal, no way around that, and always busy. Politicians, off duty cops, and what remained of the mob bosses hit up the ring—cheekily known as Santa Prisca, or the Saints’ Prison—every weekend. Santa Prisca was one of the oldest traditions in ‘Haven. For decades, the Desmond Family—‘Haven’s premiere patriarchy—had run the ring, sending in dogs, cocks, and sometimes even men or women if they had them.
The contestants changed constantly. Since fights were thrown nonstop, sometimes for over a day, most of the fighters died after a few rounds. However, for two years straight amidst the Desmonds’ fiercest rule of ‘Haven, a single champ had stood strong. Two. Whole. Years. Weekend after weekend, fight after fight, night after night, the man had won. The crowd loved him, particularly for the spice he provided. He always wore a mask. No one knew why, and he never told a soul. Roland Desmond, the boss of the time, dutifully kept the Masked Man’s secret.
One day, the Masked Man disappeared. No one knew where and no one knew why. Still, the fights continued and the spectators slowly forgot Santa Prisca’s only true champion.
But the Masked Man never forgot the spectators. He never forgot how they just watched on as he struggled and fought and killed for nothing but scraps of meat and a damp cell. The Masked Man remembered it all too well.
“Tonight, folks, we’ve got a special treat for all of you!” The announcer, dressed in a flamboyant purple suit and tie, stood in the middle of the caged ring. The crowd cheered. He loved it. With a huge grin, the announcer dramatically pointed to his right.
“On my right, we welcome the three night champion of Santa Prisca, the murderous monster, the wicked wounder, and the holder of the longest streak in Santa Prisca all year: Rex Cartelione!” The crowd cheered as Rex motioned them on with a weak wave. The prisoner was exhausted. His nose broken, jaw dislocated, and skin covered in cuts and bruises, Rex was a dead man. The crowd cried out his name, but in truth most of the crowd was betting against him. He’d lasted too long. No one in his shape could last another round, even against his puny opponent.
The man on the other side of the ring was lanky. He wore only a black tank top, pants, and an equally black skull-patterned mask. His skin was pale with an eerie green tint to it. He was fit, sure, but he wasn’t big by any stretch of the imagination. Rex easily had fifty pounds on him.
The announcer turned to the slim man, “And on the other side of the ring, someone who’s broken all expectations, a man who actually volunteered to fight: the Black Mask!” The crowd lost it.
“Yer dead, prick,” Rex garbled through broken teeth. The Black Mask didn’t respond.
The announcer stepped out of the ring, closing and locking the gate behind him. Once outside and ready, the announcer turned to the crowd.
“The fight begins…now!”
Rex rushed the Black Mask, a sudden surge of energy apparent in his step. Adrenaline could be a life saver. Could be.
The Black Mask had Rex in a pin before he knew what hit him. The crowd roared, crying for the finish.
“Wait, no…” Rex begged, “No!”
“I apologize for this,” the Black Mask whispered, before breaking Rex’s neck.
Everyone lost it! No one could remember the last time they’d seen a fighter so fierce, so unexpectedly strong, so odd! Their cheer didn’t last long. Black Mask quieted them all before the announcer could even enter the ring.
“QUIET!” the Masked Man roared, “SILENCE!” The crowd shut up. “Wilson Desmond,” the Black Mask pointed to the blonde-haired mob boss in the crowd. The middle-aged man nearly jumped out of his seat in shock. Pathetic.
“You shall be my next opponent!” The Black Mask declared.
“Alright, we’ve got a funny guy here!” The announcer was by the Mask’s side now. He held the mic away to whisper to Black Mask, “Hey, cut this out. This ain’t gonna—“
The Black Mask slugged the announcer away, and then immediately turned back to Wilson Desmond. “Face me, coward, or surrender now! I will spare your life if you give your name and your men over to me!”
Wilson wasn’t going to give the Black Mask the respect a verbal response required, instead motioning for his men to go take him out. A squad of six armed men surrounded the cage while the crowd remained silent. No one spoke up as the guards aimed their guns through the holes of the cage.
“So you choose death,” the Masked Man reached into his pocket and pulled out a green pill. He lifted the bottom of his mask and calmly popped the pill into his mouth. “As a coward.”
Suddenly, the Masked Man’s body writhed. His muscles spasmed, then grew until he was nearly seven feet tall and four hundred pounds of pure power. His tank top lay in heaps around him. Wilson Desmond wasted no time ordering his men to open fire. Bullets simply scraped off the Masked Man’s skin as if it was made from steel.
The Masked Man walked to the edge of the cage and ripped it open. He hopped down and wrapped one of his assailant’s head in his hands as the man continued to fire at him, doing nothing more than annoying him. With a crunch, the Masked Man crushed his victim’s skull. The crowd cried out. People rushed for the exits, but were stopped there by men in black masks, armed with heavy machine guns.
“No one leaves!” The Black Mask declared as he killed another of Wilson’s guards. One by one they all fell, until the murderous warrior stood in front of Wilson Desmond himself, who cowered before him.
“I—I’ll give you anything! You wanted the family, you got it, just don’t—“ The Black Mask lifted Desmond off his seat and held him over his head.
“Your sin, Wilson Desmond, is cowardice. Your punishment?” The Masked Man slammed Desmond down onto his knee, shattering his spine, “DEATH!”
The crowd remained terrified at the Masked Man’s presence. They would never forget him, never forget his name…
The Masked Man motioned for the announcer, who had remained in the ring, too scared to move. The announcer pointed to himself. The Masked Man nodded. Without a second to lose, the announcer reluctantly hurried over to the invincible murderer.
“Yes, sir?” the announcer asked.
“Ask me my name,” the Masked Man ordered.
“What’s your name?” The announcer tried.
“Into the microphone for all to hear,” the Masked Man demanded. The announcer looked down at his mic, paused, and then lifted it to his mouth.
“What’s your name?”
They would remember his name. They would remember…