Ultimate Knights #3: The Masked Man Dec 29, 2014 0:50:16 GMT -5
Post by Drake on Dec 29, 2014 0:50:16 GMT -5
#3: The Masked ManBy Drake and Adrini
Gotham City, New Jersey
Dick awoke with one last spasm, jerking upright. The monitors around him chimed and roared, but all the attention was focused on the young man on the cot. Alfred and Bruce—who was dressed in a cowl-less Bat-suit—walked to his side. Dick looked at his mentor, anger apparent in his eyes.
“I want to kill them. I want to kill all of them,” Dick demanded. Alfred put a hand on Dick’s shoulder, but the young man shrugged it off. Bruce held him back from doing anything stupid.
“Don’t move yet. We need to run a few tests. Dick, you had a panic attack,” Bruce explained.
“It wasn’t natural. I’m telling you, I’m not scared of the Court,” Dick looked his mentor in the eyes, “I’m angry. So incredibly angry.”
“I know, Dick. It appears as if the Talon had stabbed you with a needle doused in Scarecrow’s fear toxin. I know how abhorrent it can be. Considering the last thing he said to you, I can hypothesize what you saw while you—“
“It was my parents, the torture, everything,” Dick admitted, “And it didn’t scare me. It didn’t, I swear to God.”
“Relax, Master Richard, please,” Alfred said, “The fear toxin hasn’t quite been purged from your system yet,”
Dick was still frantic, but his mentor’s touch allowed him to focus himself, to clear his mind. He took a deep breath and lay back. Bruce nodded in thanks, and turned away to work, but Dick stopped him before he could get started.
“Bruce,” Dick held his mentor’s wrist in a death grip, “you have to swear to me, you won’t try to hold me back on this case. Swear it.”
Bruce frowned and pulled his arm away, “Get some sleep, Dick. You need it.”
“Bruce…” But anesthesia had already been applied, and Dick’s train of thought faded away. Soon enough, his consciousness followed.
Harper Row crouched behind a wall, looking at her superior across the open entrance to another wall. The young vigilante was in her late teens, and had an unruly blue and—recently dyed—red mohawk. Today she’d thrown on a standard Red Hood hoodie, black leather jacket, jeans and combat boots. Her fellow Hoods were all dressed in similar attire.
Davis Martinez looked right back at Heather, waiting on the signal. Harp grinned slyly. She had to admit Davis pulled the bad boy Red Hood look off well. If she had a little more time with him…
“Good to go, Davis. Whenever you’re ready.” The voice came through the walkie talkie at Davis’ hip. The eighteen-or-so Red Hood leader glanced around at his soldiers. They all nodded or smiled, pushing him on.
“Hood Smith, we raid…” Davis took a deep breath, “Now!”
A dozen Red Hoods jumped through the opening and towards their mansion target. Attack dogs barked and growled, running towards them. They were put down with ease. Mob lackies—oddly wearing black masks—fell like dominos. The first few were tough on Harper, but the more she killed, the easier she found the process. Just don’t think about their families, she thought, ending up doing quite the opposite. Still, these were criminals. Mob enforcers, child traffickers, everyday drug dealers. They deserved their punishment.
The mansion belonged to a higher up in the Desmond Gang, ‘Haven’s primo mob family. The woman’s name was Georgia Harlot. Harper assumed her surname was fake
Georgia had no living relatives. She was responsible for dozens of murders, and that was just counting the documented killings she’d committed herself. She acted as the primary mogul for regular drugs—coke, heroin, the likes—for the Desmonds. Killing her should have…would have been easy. Turned out, someone had gotten to her before the Hoods could.
Harper, the first to reach her bedroom, stared out over the grotesque scene before her. During her time as Detroit’s resident hero Bluebird, she’d seen some messed up stuff, but this…this was new. Georgia was strung up on her bed, cut and ripped like her own dogs had been used on her. Drawn in blood—presumably the drug trafficker’s—above her head was a sick game of tick tack toe. Harper gagged.
Davis rushed into the room followed by three other Hoods. He was armed with a shotgun, but never even had the opportunity to raise it. His jaw dropped at the sight of the drug lord’s body. He tried to speak up, to say something to inspire the troops around him, but ended up silent when Harper threw herself into his arms. She wasn’t all that upset. In fact, the move was a ploy to play with him. He didn’t mind though, wrapping an arm around her.
“Let’s…go,” Davis said. He left the room, Harper still in his arms playing coward.
“Davis—“ John Smith, the scout and double agent for the mission, spoke up.
“Hood Davis,” the senior—although considerably younger—officer ordered.
“Hood Davis,” Smith continued, “I’ve got a live one.”
“A live one?” Davis stepped away from Harper, who quit the act and looked at Smith questioningly. The Red Hoods weren’t known for mercy, let alone taking prisoners. This was new. “Let me…talk to him.”
Smith nodded, but continued to hold his knife to the terrified mob thug’s throat. The man was crying, too scared to say more than gibberish. Davis tried to fix that, hitting the man a few times and demanding he tell him his name.
“J—Jordan,” the man finally managed, “Please don’t kill me.”
“I’ll think about it. Now, Jordan, why the hell is your boss dead?” Davis demanded. Jordan let out another burst of tears and sobs. Weird, Harper noted. The way he cried…it was almost as if he wasn’t scared of Davis or the Hoods, but someone or something else entirely.
“I—I can’t tell you…but please!”
“TALK!” Smith demanded, cutting Jordan’s cheek with the knife. Blood dripped meekly out of the wound. Smith smiled. Harper repressed a disgusted look. What the hell was wrong with Smith? Enjoying torture? Really?
“P—please, h-h-he’ll kill me.”
“I…I—“ Smith cut his other cheek. Davis looked at his fellow Hood warily. “B-B-Bane. Bane. He controls the Desmond Gang now, but—but it’s not called that anymore.”
“Yeah? And what’s it called now?” Smith, now the interrogator, raised the knife. Davis readied to push his fellow Hood away.
“The Black Masks. W-we’re the Black Masks.”
And with a quick swipe, Smith slit the man’s throat, as most of the other Red Hood looked away, too ashamed or scared to say anything. Harper was the only one to meet his gaze. Smith smiled.
“Let the Punishment Fit the Crime.”
"Are you getting this?" Flamebird said as she watched the activity below. With so much focus on the owls the other fun types in the area had taken over the vacuum, but no more.
“I am, but you need intel before you can do anything more about it.” Barbara had called in an old friend to chime in, one that had experience with corruption. “Your feeds should be getting something by now.”
Looking at her smartphone, she grinned. Barbara was getting all of this. It was only the first step but at least the homework had begun.
Below the best and brightest of the criminal world were sitting around the room and doing business; at the center of all of it was old Cobblepot himself. The man had been a fixture in the town for years but with the focus being fixed so firmly on someone else he was making the most of it. In true form he was playing politics, and in a scary show of real intelligence was beginning with the grunts. It was never fun when the bad guys were smart. Babs would have to wait till she got back to her station before getting the full feeds, but she was getting enough to get the idea.
/"It's a pretty picture, ain't it boys? And you don't have to do a thing. Let me know what little pieces of this or that you pick up along the way and I'll line your pockets up fine."/ Cobblepot’s voice came through Bab’s phone. The villain was reclining in his chair and smiling, secure in what he knew was a highly effective plan. /"Don't you boys have some idea of what a little extra scratch would be useful for?"/
She shook her head but had to give the man credit. This was Gotham. Everyone needed all the help they could get. The plan was brilliant. He could use the money he had now to pay off the first comers, use the information to get more money, and repeat the process as long as he wanted. She would be willing to bet that the thugs— always from poor and trapped families in the area—would fill in friends and loved ones about the offer as well. The man had just gotten eyes and ears across the whole city. It was a master play.
“I was afraid he would figure it out.” Renee said over the line. “But I can't say I'm surprised. He's a smarter man than most people give him credit for. Alright, get the feeds and share them over here, we'll both work on them. Better chance of coming up with something.”
Making her way to her headquarters in the broken clock tower no one would ever think to look in, she sent the files to Star City and got started listening to the tracks herself. It was a chance to get away, and one she welcomed. She loved Bruce but he was obsessed with the Owls, not that she didn't understand why. They had hit home in the small bat family and that tended to get a reaction. It certainly had when Roulette had taken a member of her Bird family so many years ago. She had been no less focused. Then she had found after that a lot of things had gone unnoticed in that concentration, a lesson she was using now.
The rest of the tape only made the picture worse. The camera in the room caught not only the sheer amount of cash but also who was taking it. There was a lot of blue. Renee hadn't been so off after all. It was easy enough to snap the faces and put them through the program. At least it wasn't a surprise that Gotham was corrupt.
“You're seeing what I am, aren't you?” Renee said, and Babs heard someone sit next to her. If the burbling was a clue it was Kate checking in with their daughter in tow. “Welcome to Haven.”
"This is a nightmare." Babs said, but couldn't be too depressed. More voices were joining the other side and offering thoughts. She could see the whole family stuffed in the Quiver, eagerly swapping ideas. It was cheating a little. Bruce might not approve of taking others into the fray but they had more than proved themselves. She heard the mic being transferred.
“This is Oliver. Di and I have a friend in the area, he just got put for DA. Harvey Dent, the man is a saint. If anyone can stand up to the place he's the guy.” She shook her head but smiled. This was her 'back up'. “He'll be announced tomorrow or soon after. Tell him you know us and he'll let you in. He and Di went to school together. He's brilliant. And please let us know what we can do. Stay safe out there.”
"I'll do my best, and thanks for the help."Babs said, already looking up the man. "Seriously, thanks, guys."
Hearing the group respond from the other side, she grinned before closing the feed. It was obvious, really. You needed one thing to clean up dirty cops, a stronger clean one. It was time to drop by.
Tim Drake wasn’t happy. He wasn’t happy at all. His hope of a future mentor, a ticket into one of the most famous super organizations ever? Gone. Moreover, a good man was dead, his daughter—someone Tim had to admit was incredibly hot—kidnapped. Now, he found himself teaming up with someone he couldn’t trust, a vigilante genius by the name of Edward Nygma, or as he preferred—The Riddler. However, he did have someone he trusted by his side. Cassandra Cain, codename pending.
The beautiful black-clad Asian ex-assassin had helped Tim, who was dressed in his standard Redbird garb, take out some thugs working for the Desmond Gang. Now, the two stood with a single conscious criminal. Tim was ready to push the boundaries of his humanity to get any information on Richard Dragon’s killer out of the man. Cass, on the other hand, was incredibly calm and controlled.
“I know Wilson Desmond is responsible for Richard Dragon’s death! Talk!” Tim demanded, throwing the druggie into an alley wall. The man tried to run away but Tim only caught him and punched him. He learned his lesson.
“Desmond’s dead. Black Masks rule now.”
“Black Masks’ the gang. Bane’s the boss, and he never heard ‘a no Dragon,” the man said.
Cass punched the brick wall just inches from the criminal’s head, causing him to flinch. When Cass pulled her hand away, it appeared relatively unscathed. The wall, on the other hand, had a solid fist-shaped hole in it.
“Explain,” Cass, ever a woman of few words, said.
“Lis’en, Bane came inta town a week ago. I come with ‘im. Lemme tell ya, he never heard ‘a no Dragon. I dunno no Dragon,” the man paused, before smiling meekly and, almost in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the heroes, saying, “Wilson not done it either. He a puss.”
“Agh!” Tim stepped away for a second, running his hands through his hair. He’d gotten nowhere in the last two weeks of interrogation. Even the Desmond thugs before these Black Mask lunatics had known nothing. Still, a death as high profile as Dragon’s should have created some news. There was nothing. Tim hated to admit it, but the Desmonds—and by default the other ‘Haven gangs—weren’t responsible for Richard Dragon’s death.
When Tim turned back around, the man was unconscious. Cass gingerly massaged her hand, the same one she’d used to punch the wall.
“What?” She asked, noticing Tim stare.
“You…you punched a wall,” Tim admitted.
“Yes.” Cass agreed.
“I… never mind.” Tim turned away again, took a deep breath, and faced Cass again, “Listen, I hate to say it, but—“
“Told ya!” The voice came through the two heroes’ earpieces. Riddler was all too happy to laugh in Tim’s face. “Desmonds, and no ‘Haven gang for that matter, are responsible for Dick—I mean, Richard Dragon’s death.” Tim frowned at the use of ‘Dick.’ Maybe the man really was Dragon’s friend, and not just full of shit.
“We had to cover all our bases,” Tim argued.
“Sure, sure, but Timmy—“
“Redbird, right. Riddle me this: what—“
“Tigress,” Tim interjected, “The answer to your riddle is Tigress. I know she’s who we’re going after next.” The teen held back a sigh. He hadn’t wanted it to come to this, but the signs were there. Who else would kidnap Artemis, leave a message, and then kill the girl’s father?
“Well…yes, but that’s no fun,” Riddler muttered dejectedly.
“This isn’t fun, Nygma. A man died,” Tim said coolly.
“No games,” Cass agreed.
“In that case, come on back to base,” Riddler said, “We have to discuss our next move.”
Torches, Christmas lights and a variety of light bulbs lit Scarlet, the underground city of Hoods, brighter than it had glowed in a long time. It had been weeks since the Red Hoods had had a serious victory, let alone such a special gift in the form of the Desmond Gang’s new boss.
“Chaos will run the streets, not Bane,” Red Dart, in the arms of two her man-servants, declared drunkenly, “Forget him and his stupid masks. The gang’ll fall like domi-hoes.” Dart burst into a fit of laughter at her joke. The other Hoods around her did the same, alternating between laughs, cheers, jokes and swigs.
Elsewhere in Scarlet, an equally drunk Davis and Harper were sharing a more intimate moment. The two lay together inside Davis’ tent watching reruns of the Simpsons. Watching, for them, was a relative term as they spent the time talking, only using the TV for background noise.
“…my mother, she was killed too. Different gang. The Bertinellis weren’t a fan of how she ran the restaurant, or when she made her payments,” Davis said. He didn’t cry, but Harper could hear the sadness and regret in his voice. “I should have been there. I’d been taking self-defense classes. I know that’s not much, but—“
“I hear ya, Mr. Superhero.” Harper rested her head on her hand as she looked at the older boy. “After that you decided to man up and bring the pain to the criminals for once.”
“So I joined the Red Hoods,” Davis agreed, “A dead family will do that to you.” He turned onto his side and faced Harper, their heads just inches apart, “So, Ms. Row. I told you all my secrets. You gotta tell me yours.”
“My secrets? There’s not much to tell really,” Harper flipped over onto Davis. The man flinched. He hadn’t expected that. “All you need to know about me…” Harper leaned a bit closer with each word, “Is I live in the moment.”
Their lips touched gently. Harper wouldn’t have that. She grabbed Davis’ tank top and pulled it off, kissing him ferociously, powerfully. The rest came easily, and for a few hours Harper forgot her past and didn’t think about her future.
Meanwhile, Red Dart was still busy throwing out cocky declarations of power and insults. The worst of them came unexpectedly, mid-rant, when Red Dart drunkenly promised to all her Red Hoods.
“Crime’s finished in ‘Haven. I promise ya…we’ll take down the Desmonds’ HQ next. After that…the rest of ‘em.”
The next time Dick came to, the Bat Cave was empty. Well, as empty as it could be with dozens of “trophies” lining the walls, alongside glass cases with costumes, and a series of garages that would make even Lex Luthor jealous. Dick sat up, pulled the IV from his arm and ignored the blaring med system around him. Dressed in just boxer briefs, Dick couldn’t stop himself from shivering a bit in the dank atmosphere.
Batman wasn’t home. Alfred appeared to be taking a break from monitor duty. The young vigilante grabbed and threw on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, and then relaxed in the black swivel chair in front of what he’d cheekily termed ‘the Bat Computer.’ In fact, when Dick had been younger, he’d made it his goal to name everything in the Cave, every piece of equipment they used, with some sort of ‘Bat’ name. Bruce hated it. Dick had loved making his mentor’s blood boil. He still did.
Dick typed the access code into the computer and pulled up Bruce’s com system.
“No, it’s me, Batman,” Dick said.
“Oh…Nightwing.” His displeasure couldn’t have been clearer.
“How’s the hunt for the Court coming?” Dick asked, leaning back in the chair.
“Don’t play games with me. Don’t try to hide the case.”
Batman became silent on the other side of the line. Half a minute of silence later, he finally spoke up, “I’m on my way back now.”
“I’m not going to lie to you. I was investigating the Court of Owls case. My last stop was Arkham Asylum—specifically Jonathan Crane’s cell,” Batman admitted.
“To interrogate him about the fear toxin,” Dick agreed, following Batman’s logic, “Did the Scarecrow squawk?”
“Almost immediately. He was infuriated that someone had used his formula.”
“So he wasn’t involved?”
“No, his vitals were normal. Unless the Scarecrow has miraculously learned to control his own heart rhythm in the past six months, he was telling the truth,” Batman said.
“Was that a joke?” Dick asked.
“Well, we’ll figure this out together then, right? Two heads are better than one?”
No response again.
“Nightwing, as long as the Court of Owls is in Gotham, I don’t want you to leave the Mansion,” Batman said.
Dick resisted the urge to punch the rather expensive computer monitor. Bruce hadn’t changed at all. “Screw that, Bruce.”
“Screw you! You called me back! I was happy in Blüdhaven!” Dick shouted.
“That was before I knew about the Court. In fact, I never should have let you go to Blüdhaven in the first place. The city’s been the headquarters of the Court of Owls for more than a century,” Batman replied.
“I can take ‘em! I’m not scared of them!” Dick declared.
“You were out for a week!”
“Wait, what?” Dick had been left reeling. A week? Crane really had upped his fear toxin. At least it wasn’t six months, Dick mused to himself. “You know what? Forget that! Batman, we’re not doing this again! I am not a child anymore. You don’t have the legal power to force me to do anything!” Dick argued.
“You are my ward—“
“I was your ward, not anymore.” The tension escalated. Dick could feel Bruce’s anger through the computer. He didn’t care. “Bruce, you don’t make these decisions for me! You’re not my father!”
Dick swiveled around, but couldn’t do more than that because if he moved just another inch, his neck would have been slit on the edge of a razor sharp sword. The blade’s owner was a boy of no more than thirteen, who—Dick couldn’t believe his eyes—looked like a mirror image of Bruce at that age, only tanner and much, much scarier. Maybe it was the sword that had that effect on Dick.
“Damian, that is not how you treat a friend.” The next voice came from a man standing behind the boy, a man Dick recognized all too well. Dressed in his standard flamboyant green cape and gold and black armor, with a gemmed sword at his hip, was Ra’s al Ghul.
Damian held the sword at Dick’s throat for a moment longer, before reluctantly lowering the blade.
Batman’s voice came through the monitor, “Nightwing, you’re right, I’m not your father, but that doesn’t mean—“
“Not now, Batman. Kind of busy,” Dick managed, already looking around for a way out, a way to beat the master assassin and the crazed child at his feet.
“Tt. Look at him squirm. The man’s a coward. I don’t understand how father could have ever thought him a worthwhile partner,” Damian said coolly.
“Relax, child,” Ra’s al Ghul was talking to Dick now.
For whatever reason, the young vigilante thought the best response was, “I’m twenty one, asshole.”
“Really? You don’t look older than sixteen to me,” Damian chided.
“You don’t look older than ten,” Dick lied.
“I’m thirteen,” Damian retorted.
“And a brat,” Dick said.
“Please, please, both of you,” Ra’s stepped between them, and held his hand out to Dick as a sign of peace, “Grayson, I am not here to kill you or your mentor. I am here to deliver a package…”
“Grandfather, could you dehumanize me any more?” Damian whined.
Dick nearly gasped, finally putting two and two together. It took him half a second to pick up on the boy’s age, but he couldn’t grasp his heritage till now. Dick couldn’t comprehend it. There was no way…unless the boy was a clone? Certainly, the kid couldn’t be…
“This child is Damian Wayne, son of your mentor, the Detective—son of the Batman.”