A/N: Okay. So this is one of those chapters that didn't quite turn out like I had planned, but you know what, I don't mind that. Because TIM DRAKE. To me, he IS Robin, and he's the Robin that owns my heart. I do have to admit that the introduction of Barbara as Batgirl and Tim as Robin does point out a flaw in regards to canon continuity in my work. In Freaky Love, I had Dick Grayson as Robin, and while I had Barbara present in a chapter or two, I did not actually put her in as Batgirl because her role in the story wouldn't have added to it at all. So I guess we could use the excuse that since Dick does leave Bruce's side in the canon of BtAS/TNBA when he discovers that Bruce knew Barbara was Batgirl but didn't tell him. And shortly afterward, Tim DOES take up the role of Robin, though the time differences and such are confusing on the whole to me. In any event, I consider the context of this story to take place about a month into Tim's training, and I will go ahead and say that Dick will not be present in this story at all. It's a poor excuse at best, but it's all I've got. WARNING: This fanfiction contains the following-Language, violence, mild canon-crossing elements, severe fancharacter/OCxCanon use. If you do not wish to be subjected to any of that, this is not the fanfic for you. NOTE: This fanfiction is the sequel to my other Batman: the Animated Series fanfic, "Freaky Love." I highly recommend you read that in its entirety before you read this. Finally, all fancharacters used (including my own) are credited back to their creators in the copies of the "Freaky Family" chapters that are in my deviantArt gallery.
Chapter 10: The Game Begins
Bruce had time enough on his hands that he had to assess the situation, to formulate some plan of action for dealing with this "Dungeonmaster" and his half-baked plot. Truthfully, he had been in worse situations. Far worse. And thankfully, he did have the costume on underneath the Italian suit, with his cape and cowl stored in an airtight compartment on his utility belt. The biggest problem with this situation was finding the right moment to switch into his costume without anyone seeing, and that had to come after he found the right moment to get out of the ropes tying him to the chair.
This Dungeonmaster was smart, Bruce had to give him that. He had ordered his automatons to tie up Bruce and The Mummy, then to stand guard over them. That was a problem; the robots were constantly on the alert, whether or not their creator was paying attention. And his attention was divided constantly. They had been joined before long, by a guy with dyed, spiked hair and multiple piercings, who stood with the Dungeonmaster in front of a computer for a good quarter of an hour. Bruce knew him; Kyle Roberts, also known as "Cube," was a brilliant hacker, and had acted as a bouncer on occasion for the Iceberg Lounge. After all, Batman had interrogated Cube over three months ago when the incident with Professor Achilles Milo and Guenhivyre Pendragon had gone down, with pandemonium breaking out at the Lounge. The trouble was, despite his hacking and programming abilities and the rumors of him having worked for Edward Nygma at some point, Cube had a relatively clean track record. Despite some parking violations on his liscence, there was no evidence he had ever down anything illegal.
"There you go, man." Cube said before long. "Every T.V. in Gotham will play your video in about two minutes. You need anything else from me?"
"Yes," he replied immediately, "I need you to play an NPC."
"What?" Cube said, thrown for a loop. "Gary..."
"I thought I was going to be an NPC!" Ink pouted from nearby. She had been working to calm down The Mummy for several minutes by this point. After a second her face brightened. "Hey, are we both going to be NPCs? That'll be fun!"
"She catches on fast, huh?" Cube remarked mildly. Bruce glanced from him to the Dungeonmaster. So his name was Gary?
"Yes, Ink," Gary answered her with a small, genuine smile, "You're both going to be NPCs. After all, the game needs several of them. Unfortunately, I've only got one other person who's agreed to be an NPC, and they've not showed yet."
"Who would that be?" Cube asked.
"Someone called 'The Peacock.'" Gary replied, shrugging nonchalantly.
"Sounds like a bad pop song."
Bruce frowned. He knew who The Peacock was too, and he somehow doubted they would show. The Peacock was probably never going to show, as a means of playing a bit of a joke on Gary. After all, the two weren't exactly on the same level of villainy yet.
"Guess I've got nothing better to do today." Cube sighed, shrugging his shoulders lazily. "Do we get costumes to go with the part?"
"Costumes?!" Ink gasped, her face lighting up as she charged over.
"Well...yes." Gary said helplessly. He turned away from them for a moment, marching over to a box in the opposite corner of the small room, bending over to inspect its contents. Bruce took the moment to glance at the automatons again. The elfin robots kept their focus on their creator, but there was another automaton that was slowly prowling the length of the room, its joints creaking softly as its head swung from side to side, no doubt acting as surveillance for Gary. It was an odd thing, shaped like a too-thin panther with six legs and long, wiry ropes of muscle that sprang from its shoulder blades and ended in flat, round pads with several small spikes rising from them. He narrowed his brows at the thing as it passed him, then glanced back to Gary, who had several pieces of costumes cradled in his arms and was carrying them to Ink and Cube.
"Here you are. This one is yours, Kyle, and this is yours, Ink." He said firmly, handing them each the costumes. "You don't need to completely change if you don't want to, you can just wear them over your clothes. If you want to though, there IS a restroom...Kyle, could you show her?"
Cube shrugged in response and motioned for Ink to follow him, and in that moment, Gary's eyes flicked onto Bruce, and he arched an eyebrow.
"Watching my security, huh?" He said, a note of smarmy pride in his voice, tossing a look at the prowling robot cat with six legs. "Just remember he's watching you, too."
"What is it?" Bruce asked, keeping his tone light. "I've never seen a big cat with six legs and, uh..."
"He's a displacer beast." Gary answered, chest swelling with pride as the automaton in question stalked up to him and sat at his feet. He gave the thing an affectionate pat on the head, smiling. "Highly underrated stock monster from the monster manual. I love 'em."
"Those barbs look like they could kill..."
"Perhaps if you were stupid enough to try using them as a pillow." The Dungeonmaster agreed with a snort and a rolling of his eyes, crossing his arms in annoyance. "If you're worried about getting hurt, Wayne, relax. None of my automatons will kill. They won't even seriously maim anyone. They can disarm, fight defensively, and could probably lay you flat on the ground, but seriously hurting or killing people is not my goal, so it's not in their command parameters."
"You know, for someone wishing to be a supervillain, you've got a strange code of ethics and morals. Doesn't really seem to fit the whole supervillain mindset." He remarked, hoping to keep Gary strung along in a casual conversation. But when the younger man said nothing, he continued, trying a different approach. "If you're not doing this for personal gain, what are you doing it for?"
"You're awfully nosy for a philanthropist."
"Not a whole lot to do until the police come and save me."
"Hmm..." The Dungeonmaster regarded him thoughtfully, steely gray eyes studying Bruce as though trying to detect something. "I suppose it can't hurt to tell you. I mean, after all, the more people there are talking about this, the more it might help. If you must know, Mr. Wayne, I'm trying to flush someone out of hiding by sticking my neck out."
"What do you mean?" He asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"I'm not sure if you heard of him, but my father was a respected authority in the robotic science and engineering community. When I was rather young, he left home for a while, taking on a rather big job that was going to pay really well, commissioned by one of the wealthiest families in Gotham, like your own. However, he and the man paying him for the work were both murdered one night, and authorities never found out who was behind their deaths. I'm hoping that by getting my name out and among the more respected rogues, I'll prompt my father's murderer to come find me and finish the job."
"But that's suicidal!"
"Maybe," Gary agreed with a mild shrug. "But I doubt I'll find the guy any other way. I've tried simply researching and doing a little detective work on my own, but the trail is old and always leads to dead-ends. This is my chance; I want to see if I can get this lowlife to surface. And when I do, perhaps I'll be able to have someone on my side at that point. Someone who can help bring this killer to justice for what he's done."
Bruce pondered that for a moment. The very idea was crazy, but he had so many brilliant foes among the Rogues Gallery already that proved to dance along the line that separated genius and insanity. Gary was no different, albeit not homicidal. Still, something about this all bugged him.
"Did you ever figure out who commissioned your father?" He prompted.
What the younger man said next was one of the last things he expected to hear.
"I vaguely remember Dad mentioning a name. I believe it was Arty Pendragon. Mind you, I have tried to get ahold of the guy's son, Lance Pendragon. D'you know him? Oh, who am I kidding, you guys probably went to frat school together. Can't get ahold of Lance to talk about this though; his butler keeps saying he's busy dealing with family matters, something about a little sister or whatever who ran away from home a few months ago."
Gordon's mood had been rather sour since the televised message from the man in the dark, forbidding robes and it had gone from bad to worse on the drive to the address they had been left. He was not in the mood for this at all, and he doubted that his detectives and the squad boys felt any differently. The address in question turned out to lead to a warehouse just off the docks of Gotham Bay, and this particular warehouse, according to Lieutenant Rossin, had been out of use for a handful of months or so.
"Commish!" Bullock said almost the second his foot touched the ground outside the car. "We've got the place surrounded. Give us the word and we'll-"
"I don't want any unneccessary violence or gunfire, Bullock," he said in a tone of strained patience, "Don't forget this guy's got Bruce Wayne hostage, and probably more people besides."
"Right," Bullock said with a nod, unfazed, "Johnson still ain't showed up but other than that, we're in place. So whaddaya think?"
He paused for a moment before answering. Johnson wasn't with the others? That was strange. If there was one thing Shakia loved, it was being on the field and busting heads. In fact, sometimes she seemed to love it a little too much, and it made the commissioner worry, but still...he hoped she was alright.
"I'm not sure," he answered the detective, "Something about this whole situation doesn't seem right. It seems to be too open, like this 'Dungeonmaster' wants everyone to know who and where he is."
"He's not gonna be the first whack-job t' think like that," Bullock remarked, stuffing his hands in his pockets, "Or the last. But yeah...somethin' about all this seems off."
"Commissioner?" Lieutenant Rossin piped up for the first time in several minutes, looking a bit nervous and pale, "Do you want me to go ahead and give the signal?"
"Not yet," he replied, "Bullock, you're going in with me. Montoya takes point out here, and tell her she'd better be ready to bring the rest of the boys in the second she hears my gun go off. Rossin, you're coming in with us."
The lieutenant swallowed hard over a lump in his throat but nodded, hand slipping to close over his baton as he trotted along behind the commissioner. Harvey Bullock broke away for a moment to relay the orders before rejoining them at the door, adjusting the gun holster on his suspenders under his jacket. Gordon stared at the door for a moment, frowning, still confused by the utter absurdity of the whole thing.
Well, here goes nothing, he thought. Slowly, he opened the door, stepping inside, Rossin and Bullock on his heels. The inside of the warehouse was only lit dimly, but at once they could tell that the structure of the place had been modified; large sheets of dark metal had been erected to form walls, walls that probably ran all over the warehouse in some sort of bizarre attempt at a maze. Beyond that there was little to behold, save for a small, familiar blonde person waiting for them just inside, at the corner of a bend in the makeshift wall.
"Hi, Commissioner! Hi, Harvey!" She called, bouncing on the soles of her feet and waving, her blonde ponytail swaying back and forth.
"Ink?" Bullock spluttered in disbelief. He had been instinctually reaching for his gun, but dropped his hand at once, shocked to see the girl there. Gordon couldn't blame him; Ink was one of the generally more complacent patients at Arkham, and they had both been there the night she first arrived at the station in the dead of winter, with no idea who she was and no memory whatsoever. She was generally well-behaved, with an innocent mind and child-like behavior, but she was the last person they were expecting to help this 'Dungeonmaster.'
"Hi, lieutenant!" She waved at Rossin before turning back to them, gesturing to the ridiculously bright, feathered costume she was wearing. "I get to be an NPC!" She declared proudly. "I'm supposed to help you find your way through the monsters and rescue Mr. Wayne and Ramsey. Oh, and Batman and Robin too, when they show up!"
Bullock threw a significant look at Gordon, as though questioning why the Dark Knight and his sidekick hadn't already arrived on the scene. Gordon tried to ignore him, worried as it was that the two had yet to show up.
"Ink, this isn't a game-" Bullock started.
"Yes it is," she interrupted, very matter-of-fact and serious, "That's exactly what it is! Mr. Ga-sorry, The Dungeonmaster just wants us all to play his game. He's not even gonna hurt anyone."
This time the commissioner did meet Bullock's gaze. Ink's trusting naivete was probably going to get them all in trouble again, but she wouldn't lie. Not intentionally, at any rate. Reluctantly, they eased up a little, gesturing for her to lead the way, and she squealed, practically bouncing on her toes. None of them noticed the small shadow slip into the warehouse behind them, hugging tight to the darkened corners before scrambling up and over one of the fake walls...
Tim could feel his heart pounding underneath the suit as he tried to navigate the giant maze on his own, slipping over the false walls where he was able, and crouching low as he snuck past prowling automatons, intent on finding Bruce. Barbara was guiding him through as best she could over the comlink in his ear, but the connection was fuzzy, probably thrown off or dampened by some effect of the Dungeonmaster's making.
"Come on, Batman, where are you...?" He muttered, gritting his teeth as he rounded a corner. He could faintly hear Ink chatting away to Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and Lieutenant Rossin elsewhere in the maze, and his sole comfort came in the fact that the automaton monsters were probably programmed to move toward them, since they came in the front door. But even as he thought that, he heard a low, metallic growl nearby and froze, slipping a red Batarang from his utility belt and holding it at ready. Slowly, a lumbering monster came around the corner to his right, towering high above him, its five heads swiveling to focus on him in surprise.
"Oh, shi-take mushrooms..." He mumbled, eyes widening.
"Robin?" Barbara's voice squawked fuzzily over the comm. "What's going on?"
"Got any tips on how to dodge five heads at once?" He muttered back to her. The metallic creature made several clicking, squawking noises, and suddenly the walls on his immediate left and right sides flared to life, lighting up and illuminating the small enclosed area with the moving image of an ominously cloaked man. Tim glanced between the two screens, half-tempted to reach for his collapsing quarterstaff to use.
"Ahh, there's half of the dynamic duo." The Dungeonmaster spoke in a deep, impressive voice, the sound echoing loudly throughout the warehouse. "Though I must say, you're a bit...shorter than I expected, Boy Wonder. So tell me, where's your menacing mentor? On his way to cheat the system and try to rescue Mr. Wayne before the cops?"
"Actually, he's not here yet," Tim answered lightly, "Fashionably late."
The Dungeonmaster withdrew slightly from whatever camera was focused on him, recoiling in anger. "What?!" He squawked, and the automaton shifted restlessly, its five heads moving in agitation. "You mean to tell me that I set up this game-my game!-in hopes of going up against one of the other greatest minds in Gotham, and he doesn't even bother to show up?! He sends his sidekick instead? This is an insult! AN OUTRAGE!"
Tim frowned, both a little irritated and exasperated.
"You know, you should be happy you're lucky enough to even get me here," he quipped, "If you're gonna set yourself up as a third-rate hack in a warehouse to start with, you usually aren't gonna get Joker's level of attention."
He thought he could faintly catch the man's features beneath the hood, shocked and furious. Admittedly, he'd probably gone a little far with that last remark, but still...
"Hydra!" The Dungeonmaster's voice boomed, and the five-headed automaton went rigid in response. "Engage Robin. Attack sequence seven, pattern jaguar!"
The screens winked out, and the hydra's heads swung around to face him.
"Man, you look like the detention lady at school!" He snapped, flinging the Batarang at the hydra, darting forward as the weapon bounced off three of the thing's heads in quick succession. The other two lunged to snap at him, but Tim had always been quick and compact for his age and he dropped to his side at the last second, sending himself sliding between the automaton's massive forelegs. The hydra lumbered clumsily, trying to move aside so it could get a better aim at him, but he slid further along the cold, tiled floor before bouncing back to his feet and charging away. Unsurprisingly, the creature followed him, crashing along and knocking the false walls aside. Whatever "attack sequence seven, pattern jaguar" was, the thing wasn't very good at it. But he was counting on it being persistant, like Batman said most automatons were. All he needed to do was provide enough of a distraction for Bruce to slip away and switch to his costume.
"Robin, what are you doing?" Barbara's voice demanded, squawking and staticky.
"Making a diversion," he answered lightly, hopping into the air and tucking his legs under him to avoid a sweeping lash of the automaton's tail. "Why aren't you here? He needs both of us."
"I'm stuck in the girl's bathroom on campus, hiding out with my laptop trying to help you!" She shot back, indignant. Tim raised his eyebrows beneath his domino mask, feeling a little grossed out.
"Do I even want to know why?"
"Look, just try to find him first. This Dungeonmaster guy doesn't seem to be that stupid, so I'm guessing that he's got another of those robots guarding Bruce. We've got to take that out too, if that's the case."
"Aww, crud." Tim muttered, vaulting himself over another of the false walls, managing to hit the ground running just before the hydra came crashing after him, slamming the wall to the ground and narrowly missing his cape. He hadn't thought about the possibility that another of those stupid robots guarding Bruce; this was going to be a lot harder than he'd thought. He started to zig-zag through the maze, vaguely aware that from time to time he caught sight of Commissioner Gordon and the others, who seemed to get the fact immediately that things weren't exactly going according to the Dungeonmaster's plan.
"Come on, Hydra-bot!" He shouted at the automaton, pausing to turn and pull a taunting stance, "I bet you couldn't hit the broad side of a barn! You're never gonna get me!"
The automaton swung its long tail again, and this time it caught him directly in the stomach, sending him flying through the air, knocking the wind out of him. He expected to hit the ground with a merciless impact, but instead he was caught from out of the air by an unexpected black net, which slowly lowered him to another segment of the floor.
"Geez, Robin!" Said a vaguely familiar voice as the net set him down, and he spun on the spot, watching Ink pull the black substance back into herself. He had to blink several times to realize it was actually her. She was dressed in warm red, gold, and orange hues, outfitted in leather armor that had been decorated elaborately with costume feathers. She wore a stylized helmet too, designed like rising flames that surrounded her face, and her ponytail rose at the back of the helm like a large gold plume. "I know you're Batman's sidekick, but even you should know better than to go off into the high-level areas by yourself when you don't have the right weapons or armor. Experience alone isn't going to cut it!"
"Robin, what's going on?" Barbara's voice squawked over the comm, and he pulled a face, tapping the earpiece to reply.
"You don't wanna know." He answered. Before much else could be said, there came another loud crashing sound and the automaton hydra came sliding around the corner, its five heads rearing back and letting out a loud, mechanical blast of sound as it roared.
"JEEZ!" Bullock yelled, fumbling for his gun. Rossin let out a whimper and grabbed feebly for the feathered gaunlet on Ink's arm.
"Please tell me you can stop that thing!" He yelped in a high voice.
"Tell me we can shoot it." Bullock added in.
"Negative." The Dungeonmaster's voice crackled throughout the warehouse. "Mundane technology and ordinary weapons are forbidden. You could have taken the weapons that the Phoenix Maiden offered you, detective-"
"THOSE WERE ALL FOAM AND PLASTIC!"
"-But now you'll have to rely solely on your wits to take down Robin's hydra."
Tim immediately felt all eyes shift to him, and he had to resist the urge to squirm uncomfortably. Man, was he in for it now! He brandished his Batarang, pulling it back for a throw, when something went soaring over everyone's heads and smacked the automaton dead-center in one of its heads. A rubber-foam hammer clattered to the ground, and he whirled around in surprise, stunned to see it was Commissioner Gordon who had thrown the thing. The automaton seemed to be quite aggravated, throwing its five heads back and hissing loudly before regaining its composure and advancing on them slowly. There was a yelp of fear from Lieutenant Rossin, who fumbled and finally raised his flashlight, the bright beam shining in the hydra's face.
"Get back!" He shouted at it with all the courage he could muster. The hydra recoiled, stunned, and Ink held up her hands, palms facing the automaton.
"Stop! The Phoenix Maiden commands you to stop! We have won this battle!"
The reaction was slow at first, but unmistakable. As though she'd said some secret password, the creature reacted, sitting back on its metallic haunches and staring in confusion. It coiled its tail back under itself, pushing its forefeet down in a strangly submissive gesture. Ink stared in surprise, lowering her hands and staring at them in astonishment.
"Why didn't you tell us you could do that?" Gordon asked in mild shock.
"I-I didn't know I could." She answered, turning her hands over and trying to study the leather gauntlets on her arms, to see if there was some hidden property there.
"Do you think you could do that to the rest of them?" Tim asked immediately, a grin spreading over his masked face as an idea came to his mind...
Gary reeled back in astonishment at the situation occurring on the monitor. That wasn't supposed to happen! While the automatons were certainly programmed not to harm anyone too much and to avoid striking at the "Phoenix Maiden," they weren't supposed to obey a direct verbal command from anyone other than himself. Had something corrupted their ability to follow their command parameters? Suspicion crept into his mind and he snapped his fingers irritably, gesturing toward the displacer beast automaton as it crept toward him.
"Deploy to the lower floor. Stop the players from reaching this room. Don't harm them, but bar their way." He ordered, and at once the sleek mechanical monster loped off gracefully, slipping out the crack in the door. He released a tense breath, clenching and unclenching his fists several times, praying the automaton would buy him some valuable time. His hands were growing clammy with apprehension. He never lost the game, never! This was his world, his rules, his home away from home. He was The Dungeonmaster, and the players had to respect his will! His monsters had to respect his will.
So why weren't they?
His thoughts immediately jumped to Cube. Had his old friend sabatouged some of the functions of his automatons earlier when Gary had turned him loose on the computers? It was possible; Kyle was perhaps the only person in Gotham outside of maybe Batman and the Riddler capable of hacking his codes. But Kyle wouldn't do that to him, would he? After all, they were best friends and had been since early grade school.
But things change. Wasn't that how the saying went?
He drummed the fingers of one hand rapidly against the cold metal surface below the moniters, using the fingers of his other hand to push his glasses back up the bridge of his long, sloping nose, the cogs and wheels in his head spinning rapidly. Hadn't Kyle briefly taken up working for The Riddler? Or the Scarecrow? In fact, hadn't he worked for both of them simultaneously even, functioning as a double agent? Then that surely meant his loyalty and trustworthiness was to be questioned.
Gary shook his head, and attacked the keyboard for his computer, fingers rapidly smashing out several series of passwords, accessing his program that controlled the remote functions of his automatons. His gray eyes scanned several lines of code, over and over, trying to pick out any possible errors or changes. He found none.
"Thank Bahamut..." he sighed, "Everything is going according to plan."
A huge, rippling shadow rose behind him, obscuring the monitors' glow, two menacing points rising at the top of the shadow's head, and he froze.
"Not quite." A deep, gravelly voice said calmly. Gary spun slowly on his heel, eyes going wide behind his glasses. Bruce Wayne and Ramsey were gone, their chairs empty and heaped with the ropes they'd been tied with, and a single figure towered alone with him in the observation room. Batman's eyes narrowed in an unspoken threat as he advanced.
"It's game over for you, Dungeonmaster."