Author's Notes: I have too... damn... many... stories going. But the only way to get them to stop haunting me is to put them down on paper. You see, this is why it takes me so long to get things done. I'm working on a plethora of ideas that either just popped up, or have been sitting on the backburner for who-the-hell knows how long. And I can only work on specific ones when I'm in the mood.
Sigh. Once this is done, I should get back to Singin' Hound. Get at least one thing done and out of the way...
The Law of the Streets
Chapter 1- Silent Night, Violent Night
Dick, or Nightwing as he preferred to be called, casually switched up the cards in his hand one by one. He glanced around the table at Raven, Terra, Beast, and Cyborg. None of them could pull a decent poker face with the exception of Raven, and she never really emoted that much to begin with. He took one card out of his hand and laid it facedown on the table. Cyborg spared only a brief glance with his one human eye and dealt him a card to replace the one he just tossed in.
"So you're really goin' through with it?" Cyborg asked.
"As if I've got a choice," Nightwing deadpanned. "It's a matter of honor."
"Honor will get you killed one day," Raven droned in her gravelly monotone. She took two cards from her hand and tossed them in, getting another two dealt to her by Cyborg. "Rancid doesn't care about honor the way you do. The only thing he knows or respects is violence."
"Even more reason to take him down," Beast piped up. He put in three cards while Cyborg took only one.
"You do realize, of course," Terra added as she tossed in two cards, "the we're going with you. Make sure his buddies don't decide to pull any shit on you. Pair o' queens, by the way." She laid her cards down on the table, now that everyone had taken their last draws.
"Fold," Beast huffed and dropped his cards to the table. A pair of 3's wasn't going to cut it.
"Two pair, aces high," Cyborg crowed with a smirk.
"Flush," Raven droned. A 2, 7, king, 9, and 5 of hearts.
"Got ya beat," Nightwing smiled. He laid down his hand, a royal flush of spades. There was a groan from half the table before Nightwing stood up, taking his jacket off of the back of his chair. "Keep your money. It's not like I'd make better use of it than you." He knew they wouldn't see that coming. But it was the truth. He didn't have much need for cash lately. What would he do with it? Buy a hooker? There were better things he could be doing with his time.
For now, he needed to get ready. In just a few hours, he would be taking on the leader of the Black Dogs in a motor-joust. Jump City used to be a hub of commerce for the megacorporations. These days it was just another piece of territory the Outcasts fought over. Nightwing and the other Titans had kept it together so far, but the battle was difficult to say the least.
Slipping his jacket on, Nightwing stepped out into the chilly late-winter air. There was still a light snow on the ground and the sun was beginning to set. He turned the corner and climbed the fire escape onto the rooftop. The cold didn't bother him much, even as the wind picked up. He tied his long black hair into a ponytail and pulled out a black, V-shaped domino mask from one of his jacket pockets. Other than the jacket, he wore a tight black T-shirt with his blue emblem emblazoned on the front, blue jeans, and steel-toed boots. He placed the mask over his eyes and took a deep breath, letting the frigid air warm within his lungs. Breathing deep of cold air always made on feel somewhat short of breath, so he would have to get used to the feeling.
As the sun continued to sink below the horizon, Nightwing moved in a graceful, fluid manner as he repeated his Tai Chi exercises.
It was drawing close to midnight when the Titans arrived at Carter Street. As the expected, Johnny Rancid and the Black Dogs were already there. Nightwing had arrived on his motorcycle, and Cyborg had driven the rest of the crew there in his car. The half-man, half-machine himself was wearing a trench coat against the cold, but he was still clearly unhappy about it. This was the first time in twenty years that the west coast had seen snow, and temperatures were at a record low. Nightwing could only vaguely remember the last time he had seen snow when he was a toddler.
Raven, Terra, and Beast stepped out in that order. Raven had her hood and cloak drawn up against the weather, but her cold blue eyes shone out from underneath the shadows the hood created. There was nothing in her wardrobe that wasn't black, grey, or blue, so whatever she had on underneath the cloak was pretty predictable.
Terra had on urban camo fatigues, combat boots, and a T-shirt with a leather jacket over it. Her trademark goggles hung around her neck, and her hair hung freely as usual.
Beast had on a similar outfit, though he wore a hoodie against the weather, forest camo fatigues, and fingerless gloves. His green fur and hair was a by-product of the experiments that made him what he was.
Across the street, the Black Dogs all began whooping and yelling. "You're here at last!" came one particularly obnoxious voice. Johnny Rancid himself stepped out of the crowd. His body was bulky and angular, his skin a sickly grey shade, and his hair so dirty it stood up on its own in a spiky, swept back main.
"Let's get this over with," Nightwing drawled as he zipped up his jacket.
"Not so fast," Rancid crowed in his cockiest voice. "Before we get started, I wanted to up the ante a little. For shits and giggles, ya know?"
Nightwing arched an eyebrow and felt the warning bells in his head go off. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Johnny snapped and two of the Black Dogs emerged from the crowd. They were carrying a girl with long red hair bound and gagged. Nightwing recognized the black and silver uniform as one of a security guard from S.T.A.R. Corp. "A Civilian?!" Nightwing bellowed in outrage.
"My boys picked her up when they came in from up north," Rancid gloated. "You wouldn't believe how much Bliss we had to pump into her to put her down."
Nightwing ground his teeth. They used Bliss to tranquilize her? Fan-fucking-tastic. They'd have to get her out of here. "What do this have to do with anything?"
"You win, you guys can have her," Johnny explained. "I win, we get to make an example out of her. I thought it would add some fun to our little game."
It figured. Rancid was always a sadist. But he knew the Law of the Streets. Civilians brought into the Outcasts' battles were at the mercy of whoever controlled the territory they were in. Rancid managed to take those laws and turn them into another one of his sick games, though. He was using this poor girl like some trophy. As if he needed another reason to kick this slime's ass.
"Fine!" Nightwing spat.
"Dude, you can't be serious," Beast blurted out as he stepped up.
"I don't have a choice," Nightwing growled. "At least if I agree to this, she has a better chance of survival."
"He's right," Raven flatly stated. "We leave her with Rancid, she dies for sure."
"You better win this one, man," Cyborg said gravely.
"I intend to." Nightwing pulled out a baton from his belt, which promptly extended into a full-size staff. "Ready when you are, Johnny!"
One of the Black Dogs handed Rancid a 7-foot section of rebar with its tip sharpened to a point. Typical that these guys would play for keeps. Both duelists revved their engines twice. As Johnny grinned devilishly, Nightwing focused on watching for an opening. The Black Dogs were all tough, but none of them were very bright and they didn't care much for finesse either.
They revved their engines two more times and opened up the throttle, racing toward one another at high speed. Johnny had his rebar out like a lance, but his move was predictable. Nightwing couldn't get a clear shot at him with his staff, but there was one way to do this that Johnny would never see coming.
At the last second, Nightwing pulled his cycle up into a wheelie. He kicked the sharpened rebar underneath him and then dropped his motorcycle back onto both wheels, tearing the weapon out of Johnny's hands. As he approached the Black Dogs, who began to scatter, he kicked his bike into a power slide and turned 180, leaning so deep into the curve that he felt his ponytail scrape along the snowy ground.
There was a moment of stillness, before he righted his bike as it shot off back toward Johnny who was turning to get his bearings. Too late. Nightwing lashed his staff out in an arc and clotheslined his opponent across the shoulders, knocking him clean off his motorcycle, which skidded off before collapsing on its side, and into the snow.
Nightwing banked as he hit the brakes and skidded to a halt with his side facing the Black Dogs and the defeated Johnny Rancid. The gang leader slowly picked himself up, nursing one shoulder and scowling. "Lucky shot," he spat.
"Lucky or not, you know the Laws, Johnny," Nightwing said in his most commanding voice. "Hand the girl over to us and clear out."
"Better luck next month, boys," Terra called out with a smirk. "Now make with the handing over and the leaving."
Johnny scowled, his eye twitching a moment before he snorted in anger. He looked over to the two Black Dogs holding the Civilian girl and jerked his head toward the Titans. "Deal's a deal," he grudgingly muttered.
The two men carried the bound form of the former security guard up to within ten yards of the Titans and deposited her on the ground before backing off and going to help Johnny get his motorcycle back in place. "We'll be back!" Rancid shouted in what would have otherwise been a menacing voice, before it was drowned out by the roar of motorcycles and trucks starting up, revving engines before streaking off toward the highway out of Jump City.
Nightwing climbed off his bike and stepped over with Raven toward the Civilian girl. The first thing he did was check for a pulse as Raven untied her bonds. She was still alive, but she'd be out of it for hours, and after that she'd be living a wide awake nightmare for twenty-four hours as her system went through Bliss withdrawal. It still boggled Nightwing's mind to imagine that people were now inventing synthetic narcotics to create more powerful highs and buzzes. Reality wasn't exactly a bowl of cherries, but did tripping and destroying your mind really solve anything? Just an easy out for the weak-minded it seemed.
"She gonna be okay?" Beast asked tentatively.
"She'll be fine," Raven stated flatly. "Though we're going to have to keep her restrained when she wakes up. My magic can only cleanse so much of that junk from her system. The withdrawal she'll experience will still be... unpleasant."
"I don't believe this," Cyborg chimed in. "They're getting worse. Now they're abducting Civilians."
Terra folded her arms in front of her chest and scowled. "I say the next time they come back, we finish them off."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Nightwing said with finality. The conversation was over as far as he was concerned. "For now, we need to get her to safety." He slipped off the helmet and face shield she had been wearing and his eyes widened behind his mask at the sight of what was possibly the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. Her large green eyes stared ahead with a glassy expression, and her breath was shallow and soft. As Nightwing brushed her red hair aside to check her temperature, he felt her break into a cold sweat.
Delicately, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her bridal style to the car, setting her in the back seat. "Let's go," he ordered in his "leader voice" as he climbed back onto his motorcycle and turned in the direction of their headquarters.
Kori wasn't sure where she was or what was going on. She remembered fighting off several men from the notorious Black Dogs gang. Something had pierced her neck, and then it felt as if she had left her body. For what felt like an eternity, she drifted in a state of awareness unlike anything she had felt before. Her senses seemed to switch places. She could see sound and hear color. She felt weighted down, yet incorporeal at the same time. Shadows of visions danced before her eyes, but nothing stayed long enough. And she began to feel as if she could carry on multiple trains of thought at the same time.
At last, the sensations began to fade. Kori found herself slowly drifting back into what she considered a normal state, but her mind was still fuzzy. Her senses seemed dull and muted after such an experience, and her body felt as if it were made of lead. She felt a cool, damp sensation on her forehead and tentatively opened her eyes. It took a moment, but they steadily came into focus.
The sight of a concrete ceiling in a dimly lit room greeted her. Kori tested her vocal chords, and managed to produce a weak whimper. She felt something warm and hard as iron gently touch her cheek and looked to her side. She then realized she was lying in bed, and sitting by her bedside was a handsome young man with long black hair and blue eyes sitting at her bedside.
"You've finally woken up," he said softly.
"Where..." Kori was struggling to remember how to speak. Everything was clearing up, but it was struggling like she was swimming upstream. "Where am I?" Even in her own ears, the whisper she spoke sounded weak and pathetic.
"Let's just say you're with the good guys right now."
Wanting to try and get a better idea of where she was, Kori attempted to sit up, only to have the longhaired stranger put a hand on her shoulder to stop her. "Don't get up," he gently ordered.
"Why not?" Kori had meant that to sound like more of a challenge, but she couldn't quite will it to at that point.
"Two reasons," the stranger explained. "One, you're going to need to save your strength. Second, you're uh... you're naked under that blanket." A faint blush had crept into his cheeks as he said that.
Kori sat still for a moment as the information came to her. She realized then that the shoulder the stranger's hand was still on was bare. The feeling of the wool blanket against her skin finally registered and she realized he was telling the truth. She let out a soft squeak and tried to sink into the mattress.
"Don't worry," the stranger offered comfortingly. "I didn't look. Raven tended to you, and she's as straight as a line. I came in just a couple minutes ago to check on you."
A moment of silence passed. Even though her body was covered, Kori shifted her arm under the blanket to cover herself up. "Who are you?" she asked at last, finally able to regain some strength in her voice.
"Just call me Nightwing for now," he answered. "I'll go get you some water. Do you want anything to eat?"
Kori shook her head softly. She wasn't sure whether or not to trust Nightwing just yet. She still had no idea what was going on. But in this state, she didn't have much choice other than to lay back and bide her time.
Nightwing stood up and stretched his legs. "I'll be back in a minute. From there, I'll explain everything."
With that, he crossed over to the lone door out of the room and stepped out, closing it behind him. Alone at last, Kori wondered just what was going to happen next.
Author's Notes: Good to get that off my chest. Those of you who are familiar with the RPGs published by Wizards of the Coast, this story all came as an inspiration from a single picture out of the D20 Modern core rulebook. Can you guess which one?