Eye of the Beholder, Part 1

July 06, 2015:

Nightwing and Vorpal team up to try and find a mysterious artifact

Gotham.

Ew. Gotham. Gross

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"My kingdom for a Zabaione," Vorpal mutters as he crouches low. Even his impaired sense of smell catches the wafting scent from the street below, from the streetside carts that are lined along the streets for the Festa della Madonna Bruna. Although the feast itself takes place on July 2nd over in the city of Matera, over here in Collgate Heights it sort of spills out of the Fourth of July celebrations. The sun set about thirty minutes ago, and the streets are still pretty full of revelers.

This Little Italy may not light up for the San Genaro Festival as much as its counterpart in New York does, but it certainly takes its Madonna seriously.

"My stomach is screaming bloody murder," Vorpal says to the other one as they crouch on the rooftop. The other one is much better at hiding in the shadows than Vorpal is- but this is a design flaw, as he actually does not cast a shadow. "Do you think we can stop and get some zitti afterwards?"

The building they were watching was the last known hideout of Moran "The Cheese Man" Vanzetti. A certain paranormal detective had tipped the Titans off an hour ago that something strange was being housed in that building. Underground rumor hinted at some transaction going on where that strange something would change hands, and what better place than in the middle of the Madonna Bruna festival, where people kept coming in and out of houses, visiting family, etcetera?

Raven needed time to herself (read: meditation so she didn't give into the desire to eat the world), and Rain was likewise probably dealing with the fallout of the recent Darque assault on Shadowcrest with Zatanna. That left Vorpal as the only Titan of supernatural persuasion who could take the call.

And his first thought was: Oh god, we are all doomed. Which is why he reached out to Nightwing, because Gar had always said that if you needed someone with a level head and who could help you Not Kill Everyone, Nightwing was your guy.

"Great, Chewie. Great. Always thinking with your stomach."

One of the white lenses from the shadows seems to grow a bit, almost as if Nightwing is giving Vorpal a raised eyebrow before he snickers. "More of a chicken parm guy, myself. That seem boring?"

But even as he chitchats, Nightwing is pulling up his heat vision binoculars, twisting a rod on the top to bring things more into focus. Truth be told, the former Boy Wonder had his hands full on the Perrin case which had come to explode in his face this past week. But friends are friends, and when you need a hand you need a hand. Vorpal needs one, and he's happy to comply.

"We've got a few options," he says quietly. "Storm the gates mode. Operation Skylight. Or sneak attack. All of those start with cutting the power."

He holds a little detonator switch that catches the moonlight. "Which I have covered."
"How do you want to do this?"

Heat vision binos, that should be a thing he carries, Vorpal thinks. He could probably go for a utility belt and have all sorts of cool gadgets on them-

++Except that they all tend to break with every Chaos Wave?++
~We could just not use the Wave~
~~Let's see if you think the same way next time someone's shooting at you with a plasma gun~~
~~Wise-ass~

"Hmm, I think Operation Skylight. Would give us a good view of what's waiting for us down there. We'll have to jump across- I'd open a Rabbit Hole, but I'm not sure what's in there… except that it's making my skin crawl from over here. Opening anything mystical near it might wake it up."

And nobody wants that. One night of hell at the museum had been enough.

"I've got my own grapple," he adds, and it is indeed attached to his belt. The 'no mystical stuff' applied to his constructs as well. It was one of the reasons why he had asked Nightwing to come along- because he is someone who could do everything without powers. Gar's constant drilling about having to train without powers comes back to Keith and he exhales quietly. With Sifu Rand gone on a trip for goodness knows how long, he was going to find someone else to train with.

Nightwing nods at Vorpal's decision about Operation: Skylight. It would give the pair a birds eye view to ensure the targets were the targets and the targets were, indeed, in the right spot. Nothing's ever quite as embarassing as storming into a building only to realize you've stumbled into a grunge band practice or electrician union meeting.

Besides, Operation: Skylight is classic Bat-family fare.

"I'll meet you over there," Nightwing says, but oddly, the man doesn't go for his own grapple. With the buildings decently close enough together, he instead takes a quick run towards the ledge, lifts his foot up at the last moment, and launches himself high into the night via a swan dive.

"… I could totally do that!" Vorpal mutters. He's a cat, after all. But while he seldom misjudges a leap, right now he feels incredibly insecure at the thought of not being able to rely on his Rabbit Hole or Constructs to save him if, by fluke, he happened to miss. And when you're feeling insecure, your internal panorama goes all wobbly. So what if he has the proportional strength, agility and reflexes of a feline the size of a human? So what if he's never missed a leap except for the time when a whole building vanished (dear god that was a weird New Year's Eve)? Unlike Dick Grayson, Keith O'Neil never trained to jump without a net- a rescuing device has always been just a thought away.

So he goes the grapple way by tightrope approach. He can't swing low into the streets because there's revelers down there. But hardly anyone ever looks up, so when he walks across the space between rooftops (and that's one advantage he does have- he can tightrope without hardly any effort) nobody really notices. But if they had noticed, he could simply pretend to be one of the festival acrobats.

He drops down on the roof, trying to tell himself that he's shaking a little only because it's a cold night (it isn't) and not because he kept thinking that there was no net under him (it totally was).

"G-Good leap, that one," he says when he catches up to Nightwing.

"Yeah," Nightwing says as he looks down toward the skylight. "When you're an old timer like me, you'll find all sorts of ways to show off. Now," he says, interrupting himself. "Let's see what we have here."

To the belt Nightwing goes and takes out a rubbery substance that he inexplicably begins to wipe upon the windows of the skylight. Vorpal will be able to see small little transmitters of some sort in the middle of the good. Suddenly, the conversation below is re-broadcast for the two vigilantes above.

"I hate it when I forget I have the mute button on."

"-not a scratch." A rugged, gravelly voice, clearly belonging to an older man.
"I can see. You won't object, of course, if I verify that this is actually the eye?" Another male voice, but this one belongs to someone who cearly asks for 'a whisper' of cinnamon on their coffee and indiscriminately employs such words as 'bonhomie' and 'badinage' freely in conversation. It is the kind of voice that seems to emanate from the nostrils and still manage to look down on everybody else in the room.
"What're you plannin' to do?"
"It should only take a minute. If you please-"
"Hey there, wait, the witch said not to touch this-"
There's the sound of people moving. Probably weapons being drawn.
"Ah… right. Well…"

Looking through the skylight, it will become evident that that is indeed the case. A middle aged man in an impeccably tailored suit has his hands up, while several men have guns aimed at him from the opposite side of the room. On taht side, there is a large desk at which a corpulent and intimidating older man is sitting. An exquisite box is on the desk, open, to reveal what looks like a ruby… except that it glows with some inner light and is easily half a fist in size.

Vorpal stares at the jewel and slowly says "… bingo. That's the thing…"

"Then that seems like our sign," Nightwing responds as he depresses the button that kills the power toward the building. Immediately all the lights go off, and people start yelling.

Above, there's a cracking sound as glass begins to fall toward the ground before crashing into millions of pieces on the floor below. The guns come up and begin to fire upon the figure who comes through the skylight. Just as Nightwing planned, he's pulling their fire away from where the man with the case is, and where Vorpal is headed.

Nightwing lands in a roll and pops up feet on the chest of his first victim, fingers laced back behind the head as he rolls up…and back, flipping the man back over and sending the gun flying. In an instant, he's up and has released a trio of sleepy-time Wing-dings which graze three of the men. The green liquid they're laced with should cause them to fall unconcsious soon.

Gunfire erupts in earnest now, but by this time Nigtwing is already gone into the darkness behind a storage tanker.

"Where'd he go? Where'd he go?" The thugs begin to fan out. One particular unlucky one tramps along as the room has now gone eerily quiet. There's a moment of a scream as he's pulled into darkness, but then nothing.

Vorpal's own natural night vision allows him to see what Nightwing is doing. The straight dive he makes end up with him in a roll and snatching the box as he gets to hi feet-

Or, rather, reaching for the box at the same time as the rather pompous gentleman who, unlike the mafiosi, is not interested in shooting intruders so much as taking the prize and running away with it. It also turns out that the Cheese Man, a veteran at shady exchanges, also reaches for the box in the dark (or rather, the dim glow cast by the magical gem, which only helps to intensify the shadows.) The result is a three-way tug-of-war on the box, because you clearly must not touch the gem.
"Give me that!"
"It's mine! I bought it-"
"I ain't seen no money yet! Git!"

Finally, Vorpal delivers a blow to the jewels to the buyer and manages to wrest the box away from the Cheese Man by using the desk for leverage-

And because of all the tugging, the box just flies off Vorpal's grip.

"Shit! No! NOBODDY TOUCH THAT!" he shouts, and jumps after the box-

Nightwing, meanwhile, continues his sneak attacking, pulling men into the darkness one by one and beating them senseless with punches. Eventually those he stalks get smart enough to stay within the light, so he needs to change tactics.

"You go that way, I'll go this way," one of the gangbangers says with a nod to his ally, but when he makes the trek toward the back end of the storage container, Nightwing leaps in from above!

*BIFF!*
*BAM!*
*BAK!*

Just like the olden days, Nightwing takes out his foe with some well placed punches. But, unfortunately, is caught off guard by the other foe coming around the bend…

Even the best get caught off-guard. If Vorpal were there, he'd be able to have Dick's back, but he's currently preoccupied with the falling box- the falling gem. Looking at it better, it's actually just a crystal. A frail crystal that could shatter, unleashing who-knows-what untold eldritch nightmares. So it's clear that it can't reach the floor.

So of course, Vorpal catches it in his hand.

There is one moment of absolute disorientation for everyone in the room, but that passes very quickly. Nightwing's attacker is not there- there's, actually, nothing there as the two heroes seem to be trapped in a zone that is completely dark, except for the circle of light on which they are standing. No sign of Heights, the mafiosi, or the building…

"The hell??" Vorpal says, staring at the area around him, the gem glowing with disturbing and fast light patterns in his hand, as if it were reacting to the chaos magic.

The room slowly starts to gain some features, but everything is indistinct and rather out of focus. Nothing seems to make much sense, though, figures simply can't coalesce…

"Maybe you should be holding this-"

Nightwing's eyebrows raise and he shrugs, holding out his hands. "Do you have any idea where we are?" he asks as he takes over holding the case. "Thanks for the save, though. I was in a bit of a spot with my back turned like that." He looks around, "We gotta get out of here. Do you know where we need to take this thing?"

"I was planning to take it to Zee at Shadowcrest but- I wasn't supposed to touch it. I'm not sure what it does… but maybe it's better in your hands than mi-"

It's at this point that he deposits the gem in Nightwing's hand, and the world changes. They're still standing in the spotlight, but now it's the center of a three-ring platform. A circus. There are several things wrong with this place- to begin with, the public is full of mobsters.

Not individual, identifiable mobsters, but rather they look as if they had all been poured out of some psychic stereotype of what a mobster should look like: the long coat, the fedora, even the automatic. The Ringmaster of this bizarre circus is a man Vorpal has never seen before, but whom Nightwing would be able to identify in a heartbeat: Tony Zucco.

Zucco doesn't say a word, he merely grins and cracks his whip, and the earth under the two heroes begins to crumble away like eggshell, revealing a yawning abyss- except for the posts that hold up the trapeze platforms. Those seem to go all the way down into infinity… and yes, there is a trapeze up there, several in a row in fact… and at the other end of the tarp, high up in the air, a bizarre window of light floating in midair.

"Holy shiw, Nightwing, the earth's breaking up!" Vorpal says, backing up and away from the crumbling ground as fast as he can.

Nightwing scurries backwards as he tries to reach out for his friend, but the earth gives way. "Vorpal! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" he exclaims!

Nightwing falls away quickly, his voice echoing as he disappears into the abyss!!!


There is darkness for a while, but eventually it is lifted as consciousness returns. Dusty sunlight comes through an open window, Kansas weather coming through it to keep everything a nice level of stifling hot.

The room may seem familiar to Dick Grayson- it was one he probably spent a few fleeting nights in during the circus' travels. The owner had some property in Kansas and would sometimes lodge some of the performers in the rather aging ranch house during maintenance stops. The room that Dick ended up sharing with one of the other circus kids (not a performer himself but the son of Magali, the magician) looked like it had been drawn right out of a Grant Wood painting- though in greater disrepair.

The bed is tough and old, just as it was before. And the other bed, where Magali's son used to stay, is currently occupied by a young boy of about nine or ten, bright red hair and freckles, and sleeping like a log.

Dick Grayson, laying on his own bed, isalso a child close to that age. Perhaps a little older. Wasn't he much older than that? If he tries to think about it too much, something in the environment becomes extremely distracting- like the 'singing' of hundreds of cicadas inside his head.

"Dick, are you awake already?" A familiar voice. Female. Coming from somewhere in the house. The other boy is still asleep.

LOG: REPOSING FOR FIXINATION!

There is darkness for a while, but eventually it is lifted as consciousness returns. Dusty sunlight comes through an open window, Kansas weather coming through it to keep everything a nice level of stifling hot.

The room may seem familiar to Dick Grayson- it was one he probably spent a few fleeting nights in during the circus' travels. The owner had some property in Kansas and would sometimes lodge some of the performers in the rather aging ranch house during maintenance stops. The room that Dick ended up sharing with one of the other circus kids (not a performer himself but the son of Magali, the magician) looked like it had been drawn right out of a Grant Wood painting- though in greater disrepair.

The bed is tough and old, just as it was before. And the other bed, where Magali's son used to stay, is currently occupied by a young man of about eighteen, bright red hair and freckles, and sleeping like a log.

Dick Grayson, laying on his own bed, is also close to that age. Perhaps a little older. Wasn't he much older than that? If he tries to think about it too much, something in the environment becomes extremely distracting- like the 'singing' of hundreds of cicadas inside his head.

"Dick, are you awake already?" A familiar voice. Female. Coming from somewhere in the house. The other boy is still asleep.

Dick pushes himself upon his elbows and looks around, trying to shake the sleep from his eyes and the haze from his mind. Everything feels familiar, but wrong. He's been here before but it was a long time ago.

Something with the timing is not right. He feels older, but he was in this room as just a boy. He shoots out of bed, searching for the voice that beckons him; one that has not been heard since that fateful day all those years ago.

The house is dusty- but then again, this is Kansas. The many rooms of the old house are occupied- some doors are open halfway to reveal some of the carnies talking with each other or, in Marco's case, practicing sword-swallowing. The voice came from the floor below-

But a voice comes from behind Dick. "… Dick?" the young man says, getting up from the bed with bleary eyes. "What… where?"

Only he didn't say 'Dick'. He said 'Nightwing.' But Dick didn't hear that, just like the young man didn't hear the voice calling for Dick.

"Richard John Grayson, you had better be awake already!" that voice, again.

Dick turns to look at the young man with red hair, but double takes back to the door. He doesn't know him, or doesn't seem to, and the call of his mother has him chomping at the bit. "I don't know," he says wearily, but leaves the room abruptly, searching for the voice.

"I'm awake," he says dreamily as he makes his way down towards the voice. Whether the young man follows him, he doesn't seem to register—somewhere in between reality and a dream.

Mary Grayson is as striking as always. Perhaps a little older- but not too much. Her hair is cut shorter and held back in a short ponytail. "There you are," she greets Richard with a smile. She's sitting in the dining room- which has been turned into a makeshift sewing room where Mary is doing maintenance on the Flying Graysons' outfits. "Our college boy. The drive must have tired you out, you were out like a light. Is your friend still sleeping?"

The outfits, Dick might notice, are those of his parents… and an outfit for a small child, about the age he was when he was performing at the circus.

"Your father should be back soon. He went into town to get ice cream for Michael."

Keith O'Neil doesn't remember exactly what happens. He doesn't know where this house is, exactly. But he knows he's friends with… why can't he think of the name? He gets to his feet and groggily begins to amble out of the door.

He walks past the carnies, to the third floor. Something tells him not to go to the ground floor, so he goes up the stairs to a floor that is mostly deserted… except for one of the rooms. One of the rooms shows signs of life… literally. There is the beeping of life-support equipment. He starts walking towards the sound.

Dick stands towards the back of the room, and even as his mother speaks to him, something deep inside him realizes that something is terribly wrong. It should be a joyous moment—it's what he's dreamed about ever since his family passed away, but something inside makes this feel rotten.

"This isn't real," Dick says. "You're dead."

Mary blinks slowly. "What?" the words are uttered with utter bewilderment. "Dick, are you sure you're alright? Did you drink enough water during the ride?" She gets up and sets aside the spangled costume in order to walk up to him and touch his forehead, a concerned look coming over her.

"Keith…" the voice is raspy. The voice of someone who has suffered. The voice of the woman on the bed, attached to the life support machine. She resembles Keith- or rather Keith resembles her. The young man stops at the door, turning pale. "M-mom…?"

A minute later he's kneeling by her side, eyes moist. Eighteen. He is eighteen and she is dying. A thin smile appears on her face and she reaches a hand out to him.

As her hand touches his head, Dick's eyes flare as if he's just been hit with a potent drug and is desperately trying to shake the effects. He tries to back pedal, and gets one step back, but runs up against the wall.

"This isn't real," he says quietly, even though he really wants it to be.

"Honey, stay here. I'm going to get you some water with salt and sugar, you've got heatstroke." She reaches for his wrist and gently pulls him towars one of the chairs. "Let me fetch it for you before your father and brother come back, alright?"

She slips away towards the kitchen, and silence falls like the lid of a tomb over the room.

"It could be forever," a voice near Dick says. There's a man sitting on the table, but he wasn't there before. "I've brought them back, like they should be. But if you don't want them…"

A trapeze. A rope breaks. A scream in the dark that ends in a quick stop at the center of the floor, surrounded by spotlight.

But that isn't here, not yet. There's only the threat of it. The man, who looks rather kind and avuncular, looks at Richard Grayson with infinite pity. "Don't do that to your mother, boy. It ain't nice."

"It could be forever…" a voice is saying in Keith's ear, two floors above from the dining room. "She doesn't have to go away…"

Dick's eyes turn towards the man, searing red with a tempered rage. "Who are you and what do you want?" Imperceptibly, his hands ball up into a fist and it takes everything he can to not leap at the stranger.

"This is cruel," he says quietly.

"It is cruel. A young boy and his momma torn like that." He sits back on his chair and crosses his legs, displaying very polished, expensive shoes. "I'm Mr. Gusion, Richard. I give back to people what has been taken from them. I save people. But nothing comes free, nothing like this."

The old man nods towards the kitchen, "Saving her, and your family. It's something that has no price. Nevertheless, I can only do so much by myself. What are you prepared to do, Richard, to save them?"

The same speech is being repeated above, in that sordid room where a thread of life is slowly growing thinner.

"What are you prepared to ask for?" Dick says, immediately wary. "For someone with such power, it seems as though you're making up rules in order to get something from me. So what is it?"

Dick looks to Mr. Gusion with a look of defiance, but even he doesn't know if his heart is in it.

"Every action. Equal and opposite reaction, young Grayson." The man says with a quiet sigh. "This?" He encompasses the room with a wave of his hand, "Is but temporary. As all life is, but this even more so. I am not as young as I used to be- I haven't been for a long time. For wonderful worlds to thrive, a young heart is needed. Young souls for it to thrive." He unrolls a piece of parchment that he takes out of his jacket. "Life for life and breath for breath. I am prepared to offer you, Mister Grayson, the ability to keep your parents alive."

A brief pause. "Unfortunately, it means that you must be willing to live a drastically shorter life. One day, in fact. But your family will remain once you are gone, of course."

"The ultimate gift from one son to his mother and father. And brother, of course," he nods, "Oh yes. There is a brother- the one you would have had."

Dick sits there and stares for a long time after the offer is made and when the comment about a brother reaches his ears, his eyes begin to well up. He looks away in anguish before he steps forward, "Why are you doing this?"

"Because it is what I do, Mister Grayson. You have your purpose, I have mine. I rebelled against the great injustice, long ago, and since then it has been my life's work to undo these… pains. To know the past, the present and the future is a heavy burden. It would be heavier still without the ability to change any of those, would it not?"

He unrolls the parchment and holds it on the table with a pen. It is a strange pen- the fountain looking more like a sharp spade.

Keith stares at the parchment in front of him, eyes welling up with tears.

Dick turns to look at the old man and steps forward. His hands grip the edge of the table in front of him as he obviously is having a terrible time coming to a decision.

Dick takes the pen in his hand and inspects it before he pushes it down towards the paper.


TO BE CONTINUED

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