A/N: Since I uploaded all of "Freaky Love" here on FFNet, I decided I might as well start uploading "Freaky Family" here as well. I'm going to finish posting all of the chapters I've completed, then I shall start uploading each chapter as I finish them. All OCs that are used are credited back to their creators in the copy of this chapter in my deviantArt gallery. R&R please!
Chapter 9: Dungeonmaster Rising
Guen swallowed nervously, trying to wipe some of the clamminess away from her hands as she looked up at the door, wondering whether or not she ought to really go through with this. Instantly the doubt was rebuked by Wraith in the back of her mind, who fervently insisted that they weren't getting out of this one. A friend was a friend, and if they had really done something by leaving to upset Magpie, then by God, they had to fix it. Still…something about the whole situation just didn't quite click.
And if it didn't click, she didn't feel like playing entirely by the rules.
She brought her wrists together, feeling a strange sense of comfort in the ringing sound before the familiar sensation of weightlessness hit her again, and she watched as her arms became completely transparent. Except this time, there was something else to the transformation. Her insubstantial body seemed a touch more…smoky? Dark? Cloudy?
Guen shook her head. She was just imagining things, that was all. And without a second thought, she charged through the door, ghostly momentum slowed by splintering, aged wood. Once inside, she took a quick glance around, and on hearing voices in the distance, moved toward the shadowy corners of the room and stayed still. She hadn't been in any of Edward's hideouts before, and she wasn't familiar with the layout of the place, but her woman's intuition said Vanessa was here.
Our gut, you mean. Wraith remarked. And right now, it's also saying that Eddy's not here either, so there wouldn't be any lackeys patrolling the place unless something's up, and I mean something big, or unless they're expecting him any time soon.
Guen winced, half-sliding into the wall as though trying to hide before she realized what she was doing and pulled back out. I can't say I'm ready to face Eddy just yet. The girls, that's one thing. But him…
AUGH! Wraith's voice was so loud in her thoughts she winced again, ghostly wings puffing behind her. Pendragon, you aren't listening! What I'm saying is instead of hiding and skulking here like some creeper would do, we should get moving! Those are probably just a bunch of idiots Edward's hired, probably playing drunk craps or something and being loud.
She frowned, knowing her other personality was right. She really didn't have any reason to hesitate, so what was the point? She wasn't going to give herself away like a moron though, and she started moving again, keeping to the darker parts of the hideout so as not to be seen. She passed through several empty halls on the left before going down the fork to the right. Wraith had been right, in a sense. A lot of the lackeys were in one of the larger rooms, drinking and shouting, most of them engaged in a card game, and a handful of the rest were crowded around a television, most likely watching some sports game or some other. She scowled as she clung to the wall, crouching low in hopes she wouldn't be spotted. Vanessa, here? It seemed far too unlikely, but she'd learned by now that it paid off to listen to her women's intuition—
Gut. Wraith interrupted calmly.
—every once in a while. She shook her head, slipping further into the wall to avoid less notice. Gradually, she made her way across the room until she reached the door at the far wall and slipped through it, still unseen by any of the guys present. The hall beyond was dark and turned sharply to the left, where the only things at the end of the hall were a restroom door and a flight of carpeted stairs up to the second level. She felt a strange urge to beat her wings, to test out their abilities while insubstantial. Could they possibly carry her up to the second floor?
Don't think it would work that way, Wraith interjected sourly, as though she too, had wanted to try the same thing, I'm pretty sure they'd have to weigh more than we do right now, and the feathers probably need to be substantial for air to pass through them.
Guen scowled again, shaking her head and bounding up the stairs. Sure, take all the fun and the mystery out of it.
Hey, I could go on and on about how we're constantly breaking the laws of physics when we ghost, but right now Mags is more important.
She had a point there. Guen made her way through the upper level, relying on instinct to try to find her friend. It wasn't easy; there were probably a good dozen or so doors on the second floor, and Vanessa could be in any one of the rooms, assuming most of them were real rooms. After all, in a hideout used by Edward Nygma, it was quite possible that any of these were traps or Riddler pranks cleverly disguised as doors. She wasn't certain why she worried, insubstantial as she was, but if there was one thing Two-Face had pounded into her head in the past two to three months, it was that you should never let your guard down. She slowed her pace, straining her ears to try to hear any possible sound that could provide a clue.
There came a loud crash from behind one of the doors, followed by a choice string of swearing in a distinctly English accent.
"Well, that was easy." She muttered, bracing herself. In one fluid motion, she passed through the door, and on the other side, brought her wristbands together once more with a ringing tone. Magpie had been standing with her back to the older girl, face turned down, but she jumped at the noise and spun around, blue eyes wide and startled.
The younger girl's face twisted in an angry scowl, but she managed to keep an even tone as she answered with a cool, "Hey."
"Listen," Guen said, a touch awkwardly, "I, uh…I wanted to talk to you." She got no response, so she swallowed and plowed on, "I just, uh…I kind of get the impression that, well…that you're not…exactly…happy…with me."
"Don't be daft," she said quickly, perhaps a touch too quickly, "Why'd I be tossed at you?"
"'Tossed?'" Guen echoed, arching an eyebrow, but Magpie went on, ignoring her.
"After all, you're back now and what, so I don't have a reason to get my knickers in a twist." She said innocently, stooping down to pick up the shattered remnants of whatever it was that she had dropped on the floor. "Though I can't say as I was expecting you to go and pop up in my doorway out of the blue."
"Uh, Magpie?" She interjected, starting to feel slightly irritated, "I'm three years older than you. And I kind of know a thing or two more about mood swings than you do. And you're upset with me."
Vanessa immediately went rigid, pink bangs bouncing as she straightened up, and she stared at her winged friend, shocked and rapidly turning pink.
"Come on, why can't you just tell me what it is? Just talk to me already," Guen pleaded, spreading her arms, " We're friends, and if I've done something to upset you, I'd rather you tell me, so I don't do it to you again. Come on, this can't just be about me leaving. I know I upset a lot of people, but…"
"Stuff it." Magpie muttered, and before Guen could do anything to stop her, she bounded across the room, threw open the window, and dropped out of sight.
"MAGPIE!" Guen shrieked, running until her midriff hit the windowpane, leaning halfway out the opening and looking around for her friend. It was no use. Magpie had quite effectively vanished, and God knew where she'd gone to.
"Fudge bucket!" She muttered, slamming her fist against the wall. She stayed there for a long time, not bothering to make herself scarce until she heard voices shouting from the first floor to check on Magpie.
"This day just keeps getting so peachy keen." She spat, leaping from the open window to the next roof over. Fast as she could manage, she made her way back to the old hotel. Even with the annoying presence of Cassandra, it would be a lot better than hanging around here and waiting for Magpie to return. And perhaps Two-Face or The Mummy had some advice for her on how to handle this situation…
Ramsey wasn't quite sure how he had ended up in this particular predicament. After all, a fellow that was minding his own business, not doing anyone any harm, should be left to his own devices. Except things had not exactly worked out quite that way in this particular circumstance, and he had little hope that he could reason with his captors. For one thing, they were made of bright copper, and for another, no matter how many times he had tried to struggle free, they kept their grips on him, mindlessly following orders they wouldn't divulge. In the end, he decided it would be better to simply stop fighting and wait to see where he was being taken and what the purpose of this absolute impertinence was to serve.
The copper beasts were carting him tirelessly in the direction of Gotham Bay, keeping to the dingiest back alleys they could find, and somehow escaping notice of everyone except the most unfortunate homeless that scurried away at their approach, watching with wide-eyed terror. Something stirred deep in Ramsey's chest at the sight. If he were in charge of this grim hole that dared compare itself to the glory of Egypt, there would be no such poverty. He would see New Egypt reborn, and the proper caste system restored. None such as these would go hungry or need or want ever again, not if he could help it.
He was half-considering ranting about this to his captors, so that someone could at least hear the glorious righteousness of his supreme majesty, when movement at the corner of one of the intersections between the buildings caught his eye. At first, he wasn't too sure of what he saw, but a moment later, he recognized her.
"Dear sweet Ptah! What brings a splendid and exquisite deity like yourself to this dismal hovel?" He called. The copper creatures paused to look at him, and the blonde-haired woman with the ink running from one eye trotted to catch up to them.
"Ramsey? What's going on? Are you okay?" She said warily, gaze shifting between the creatures that carried him.
"Alas, my pride has been grievously wounded," he sighed, "But beyond that, I am unharmed. These beasts are carting me off somewhere, doubtless to meet their esteemed master, who clearly must wish to pay homage to my shining magnificence!"
Ink raised her eyebrows, looking from The Mummy to the copper elves, which watched her with expressionless metal faces, and couldn't help but feel that Ramsey somehow wasn't quite looking at the situation from the same perspective she was.
"Okaaayyy…" she said slowly, watching the robots to see if they reacted, and when they remained stock-still, she nodded to Ramsey. "They don't seem to be taking you anywhere right now."
"Ah, yes. I'm afraid your irresistible radiance must have stunned them into submission, lovely Ptah." Ramsey huffed a sigh of what was clearly misplaced irritation before addressing the creatures, "Ah, you may resume."
Immediately the copper elves hefted him again and continued on their way, and Ink, still feeling a little uneasy by the whole thing, trailed along behind them at a small distance, much to Ramsey's delight and desire for a conversation.
Magpie waited until she saw Guen leave, then skittered away from the hideout in the opposite direction, eager to put as much distance between her and the older girl as she could. But after she had already gone a little more than a block and perched behind a chimneystack on a different roof, she began to think about what had just occurred. She knew Guen; the winged girl was being sincere. She honestly wanted to know what Vanessa was so upset about, so she could fix the situation. But then, what did that mean? Was she completely clueless about this whole thing with Eddy?
"Bollocks!" She spat, kicking at broken pieces of shale. "How could she not know?"
But then again…what if she didn't? Vanessa had said almost more than three months ago at Guen and Ink's slumber party that she liked Eddy. Guen had been there for that, so she knew that much.
But what if she didn't know how The Riddler had reacted to her disappearance?
Magpie grumbled in frustration, pulling at handfuls of her dyed hair. She wished Akira or Ink or May or Erin were there for her to talk to, to get advice from. Akira at least, would let her rant. Erin would probably let her rant, but given the redhead's state lately, she would be more likely to break down into tears about the whole thing. Ink was always great for playing the responsible older sister…but the more she considered that possibility, she wasn't sure what sort of advice the blonde girl would give her. That left May. May would at least keep her cool about the whole thing, like she always did. But she was also equally likely to skirt around telling Vanessa the best way to handle the problem and just pump her full of vodkashakes until she tried tying her shoelaces with an orange peeler.
"Ugh! I have no one to talk to!" She groaned, exasperated.
"Aww, that's too bad, sweetie," a familiar voice said, somewhere behind her, "I was going to ask if you were up for a little chat, considering I just got here."
She twisted around, only half-surprised to see a familiar masked face grinning at her from over the rise of the chimneystack.
"Y'know, if I didn't know any better, Rags, I'd say you were followin' me around." She remarked carefully, raising her eyebrows. Ragdoll faked a simpering pout in response as he folded—she didn't think there was any other way to properly describe the motion—down to sit next to her.
"Aww, Magpie, that really stings!" He said in a voice that sounded more amused than hurt, "You know me, I'm a nice guy! I just happened to be in the neighborhood, around this rooftop, and when I saw you over here, I thought you looked a little down! And better to have me cheer you up than the Joker, eh?"
"So does that bag of pearls have anything to do with 'just being in the neighborhood,' or are you being tailed by the boys in blue?" She asked.
"I was going to take them to my dear old mother, but then I remembered she doesn't live here. And don't worry, doll-face, the Gotham police never think to check the ventilation systems. I shook them off."
"At least that's one thing I don't have stress about." She said with a sigh, leaning back.
"So what are you stressing over?" He asked, reaching into the leather bag that hung from his thin shoulder and withdrawing a long pearl necklace. Gingerly, he lifted it over her head and let it fall in place. "We're friends, aren't we? Come on, you did say you need someone to talk to."
"I said I don't have anyone to talk to." She corrected, though she couldn't quite hide the smile that was creeping onto her face.
"Same difference," he said with a shrug, "One implies the other."
She let out another sigh, this one heavy and drawn-out, and she shut her eyes.
"Have you…have you ever liked someone, only to find out they like one of your best mates instead?" She asked.
"Numerous times." He answered with a solemn nod. "It's not exactly easy to find a lady interested in you when you're the triple-jointed freak of a wingman."
"You're somebody's wingman?"
"I'd think that ladies would be keen on a guy as flexible as you."
He gave her a look she couldn't quite read, half-hidden by his mask as it was, then shrugged helplessly, splaying his hands.
"So…" she said slowly, hoping to get back on-topic, "What've you done when that happens? When you like somebody and they like your best mate?"
"I give it up as a lost cause," he answered simply, "Occasionally I'll go out for a few drinks first, then when the hangover hits, I just give it up, move on, try to find someone else."
"You make it sound so easy."
"It just sort of becomes a routine after it happens to you a lot."
Silence fell over them, and she touched the string of pearls, running her fingers over and over the smooth surface, thinking hard. She didn't trust very many people, and she was hesitant to tell him more, but she got the feeling Ragdoll was being sincere with her. Still…
"Promise you won't tell anyone what I'm about to say to you?" She asked.
"Thief's honor." He answered with his most charming smile, and she took a deep breath, held it in for a moment, and let it out in a tirade that she'd been holding in.
"I've really really liked Edward for a long time now and I don't think he's ever caught on because I've never had the guts to tell him, but all my best mates know I like him, and just recently I learned he's got it bad for Guen, but I don't know if she knows it, and none of us know if she likes him back or not, and I just all but shoved her away when she tried to talk to me and ARGH! Bloody hell, things have just been a wreck since she left and came back and this all happened!"
The silence came over them again, this time with a distinctly awkward atmosphere, and she felt her face go quite hot as Ragdoll watched her. But it didn't last long before he spoke up.
"Sounds to me like you're not quite sure what you want or not." He said. "Sounds a little bit like running away from the problem too, if you ask me. Then again, we're thieves. Running is what we do best."
"But that doesn't have anything to do with a friendship problem!"
"Hey, do I look like some guru Princess Skittle-Hair uni-pega-pony here?" He asked, gesturing to his patchwork costume. "I don't have all the answers, sweetheart. I'm just ruggedly handsome."
She grinned in spite of herself and let out a small chuckle.
"Fair enough." She answered, offering him a warm, genuine smile that made her cheeks go even hotter. "Thanks for listening anyway, Rags. I think you helped me answer my own question anyhow."
Gary Myers slowly removed his glasses, taking a long moment to clean the lenses, before replacing them upon his long, sloped nose and meticulously adjusting them. His drow automatons, all four, had returned with two different men in tow, and he knew in that instant, he was going to have to reset their command parameters.
"I said we need a damsel in distress for this job. You brought me Bruce Wayne," he said to the first set before turning to the second, "And some crack head in need of a haircut and some serious remedial Egyptology classes."
"Hey, Rams isn't a crack head! You're being really rude!" Came an indignant voice from a few feet behind the automatons. Ahh, that was right. He thought he had seen a girl come in behind the automatons. He waved for the drow to part, then approached the young woman. She was perhaps a few years younger than he, a few inches shorter, with wavy blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, a left eye that was a pleasant shade of blue, and a right eye that was a glistening black pool of…well, what appeared to be ink, considering it was trickling perpetually from her tear ducts and running down to clot at the collar of her gray hoodie.
"Interesting." He remarked, tilting his glasses slightly as he peered at her. "You're a patient at Arkham, aren't you?"
She clamped her mouth shut, studying him with such a scrutinizing gaze that he was reminded forcibly of his mother, and he let out a somewhat irritated sigh.
"Very well," He went on, somewhat mollified, "I apologize for my remark about your friend. Really, this entire thing looks rather poor from my perspective."
At that she relaxed a bit, and he slowly walked in a circle around her, humming to himself. The action must have upset the guy in the ridiculous mummy get-up, as he started shouting something incomprehensible behind his gag and kicking his feet wildly, but Gary wasn't too overly concerned. His automatons were built for some decent durability if nothing else, and would hold their grips. He finished his circle, stroking his chin thoughtfully, and the girl raised her eyebrows suspiciously.
"What?" She asked.
"Hmm? Oh, don't mind me. I was just wondering, what exactly can you do?"
"What can I do?" She said testily, and he gave a heavy nod, hoping she'd catch on. Thankfully, she seemed to understand exactly what he was aiming toward, and she raised a hand, looking to the gagged guy in the linen bandages. His shining black gag flew off his mouth with enough force it caused him to recoil, gasping, and the black substance flew to the girl's outstretched hand.
"I thought he might get himself in trouble if he started talking right away." She said with a slight nervous chuckle, looking slightly guilty, and the man burst into a tirade.
"Of all the audacity! Insults against my person are one thing, but how dare you speak to the goddess Ptah in so familiar a manner!" He roared, "You sir, shall be smote by the holy fires of Lord Ra where you stand! Your body shall be left on display for the carrion eaters of the sky to pick clean! You—"
The black inky substance flew from its perch on the girl's hand and affixed itself back into place over the huge man's mouth, cutting off his rant, and Gary arched an eyebrow at her.
"Might get himself in trouble, huh? What's your name?"
"Ink!" She said brightly, pointing to the trail of the stuff oozing out of her eye, and he almost groaned at how obvious that was. Still, despite her abilities with her…ink, she had a personality that seemed relatively harmless enough. And in order to avoid doing anything that might upset her and result in one of his ribs being broken, what was the harm in asking for her help?
"Tell you what, Ink," he said with a smile, "What I'm trying to do here is set up a game for Gotham PD and the Batman. And I could really use your help."
"What kind of game?" She asked, frowning. "You aren't planning on hurting anyone, are you?"
So she was sharper than she let on! That was a refreshing addition.
"I'm quite glad you're interested!" He said brightly. "You see, it's always been my dream to run with the big names; Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow…but I'm just a nobody right now. Then it hit me: there are three of the world's most brilliant minds, right here in Gotham! The Batman, The Riddler…and myself. So why not use my genius to my advantage?"
She worked her face into a neutral expression, showing mild, polite interest.
"Sounds reasonable." She offered.
"Precisely!" He agreed, "And as such, since the Batman and the Riddler have brilliant gimmicks, I need one too. And mine is my game! The Dungeonmaster has to bring some structure to the chaotic game of Gotham City! But in order for that to happen, I've got to get my name out there, and what better way than to find a damsel in distress for the city's heroes to rescue, and the media to capture it all on film?"
"So…kind of like a medieval knights rescuing the princess thing?"
"That was the intent. Although my automaton drow need their parameters tweaked a bit. And that's where I need your help! One of the other essential parts of the game is that it requires memorable NPCs, Non-Player Characters, that can give assistance to the players."
"So you want me to be an NPC-thingy?" She asked.
"If you're alright with that. You're pretty much going to wait in one spot for Batman and the police to arrive, and then when they show up, you help them by acting as a guide." He explained. Her eyes flicked over to Bruce Wayne for a brief second, and she seemed to ponder hard on the offer before her face finally beamed.
"Sure! It sounds like fun! As long as I don't have to hurt any of the heroes!"
"Perish the thought, Ink." He said, shoulders relaxing, and turned to face Bruce Wayne, stroking his chin again. "You've been awfully quiet this whole time, Mr. Wayne."
"I didn't think it was a wise idea to try antagonizing my kidnapper."
"Hmm. There's no way I'm the first person to ever kidnap you."
"Look," the billionaire said, skirting around the hidden question in his statement, "I'll uh…I'll cut you a check if you let me go."
"I'm not sure about that, Mr. Wayne." He said, shaking his head slowly. "I'm not in this for monetary profit, I just want some recognition. Besides, between you and the reject Cairo diva over there, you're looking' to be my best option for a damsel in distress."
"Surely the sound of one million dollars in your bank account is worth more than all this trouble?" Bruce said in an enticing voice and Gary winced.
"I won't deny that it does sound nice, Wayne. Money like that could not only pay off my mother's mortgage and medical bills, but my debt too. Believe me, I could use a check like that." He said with a sigh, before glaring in irritation. "But I've already come this far, and I'm close to my goal. I never give up the game without a fair roll."
He withdrew a twenty-sided die from a pocket and held it up for everyone to see.
"For the game." He said slowly, and he bounced the die from his hand, where it hit the tiled floor, bounced a few feet away, and rolled to a stop against the wall. Hesitantly, Gary approached it, kneeling down to get a better look.
"Seventeen." He said with a sigh of relief, scooping the die up in his hand. "The game goes on."
He turned to face them all, wide eyes staring at him, and he smiled coldly.
"All that's left is to set it in motion and alert the players."