And Tigers and Bears

July 24, 2018:

Titans Tower increasingly becomes a potential Kraven the Hunter target. Also: The seeds of a magical hair rivalry are planted.

Outside Titans Tower, NYC

A man-made island in the middle of the East River, nice and green in the warmer months. Definitely no wild animals now though.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Angela, Batman, Hercules, Impulse, Molly Hayes (and the Runaways generally), Zatanna Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Nico Minoru asked if she can keep a rescued animal around until he can be moved to his forever home. It sounded like some kind of a large cat.

Boy, was it.

THE GENETIC CLONE OF THE NEMEAN LION has been living in a garage.

KEY FEATURES OF THE GENETIC CLONE OF THE NEMEAN LION:

  • The size of a smallish elephant
  • Invincible
  • Slightly weird looking for a lion; like, were lions different back in history times?
  • Completely utterly tamed by Nico Minoru.

Nico has been pretty conscientious in her care for the giant genetic mythical lion. She has kept him penned up in the empty garage during the day, which has seemed to suit the animal. Probably, like any cat, he has a lot of sleeping to do. She has let him out at night with a strict charge to stay on the island, which is probably not going to hurt the risk of Harley Quinn or whoever coming ashore to steal the secrets of the Titans.

But you might fairly ask: How in the name of Jesus Christ is Nico feeding this thing? Funny you mention Jesus Christ.

Night has fallen and so the cat is being drawn out. "Here boy," Nico calls from outside the open garage. "Just c'mon out. Let's just get clear and then we'll have dinner! It'll be great!" With her other hand she is reviewing…

An app. An app with the online text of the Bible in every modern language.

Around Titans Tower, what would otherwise be unusual requests seem to be the norm instead of the exception.

As darkness slowly overtakes the midsummer evening, the lights of Manhattan off to one bank of the East River, and Long Island to the other obscure the night sky; around the plaza in front of the Tower itself, lights turn on, illuminating the T-shaped structure to avoid any accidental late night collisions with watercraft or low-flying aircraft. Or, you know, low-flying people.

Fortunately, most of the Tower's inhabitants, fulltime or otherwise, aren't likely to be wandering around the island in the dark… Which is probably for the best, considering the unusual temporary pet Nico Minoru has brought back.

"So," says a voice from above. "Admittedly I only know a couple of witches, but don't you usually prefer your familiars to be… Smaller?"

The speaker is, of course, Red Robin, the ostensible leader of the collection of strange young people who make up the Titans. He perches up there as though this were completely normal, an extraordinary sense of balance (and geckskin patches strategically placed on his suit) letting him settle places most people just couldn't.

"If you really needed a giant cat, you could just ask to borrow Impulse's."

"Gahh!!!" Nico says, jumping about two feet up in the air. (The GCOTNL looks up at Red Robin with curiosity but no aggression. To the Lion this was less of a surprise.)

"Jesus," Nico says, breathing out and turning her head to look up. She doesn't have to shade her eyes, given the hour, but she sounds defensive, faintly. "He's not a familiar," she says. "… I guess I didn't give the full explanation in the texts, huh. Sit," she tells the Lion.

The Lion sits.

"— What kind of cat does Impulse have?"

If it was full dark, it would probably be worse: Just two faintly gleaming eyes out of the stretch of black.

Instead, at least, what Nico sees after she's gotten an impressive standing vertical jump in is at least a human figure… Watching her, fairly blandly all things considered. Whether he's keeping wary attention on the Lion is difficult to tell, one of the advantages of a mask that hides your eyes, and years of experience dealing with (and having to lie to) the Batman.

"A giant pink one," the vigilante explains, when asked about Impulse's oversized feline. "He calls it Clawminator Destrucat Mk.II. It started out as a normal-sized cat, but apparently it won't stop growing." Well, that's what happens when you bring home liberated science experiments, one supposes. At least the speedster has taken the responsibility of feeding the thing.

"Looks a bit like a European cave lion," he suggests, though now he's referring to the Lion, rather than Impulse's mystery pet. Why does he know anything about extinct lions? Well, that's probably a good story. "Been settling in well?"

"He's been comfy," Nico says, petting one of the Lion's leg. "That would make sense actually," she continues.

"So," she says, "this cool lady who helped out in the Hell's Kitchen stuff, fighting off this fire demon thing, asked me to help /her/ out, along with Hercules. You know Hercules of course."

INSERT: File photo of Hercules in a middle-school social studies textbook. He's giving a thumbs up.

"Some guy had stolen his like… he had the hide of the Nemean Lion, right? So they were getting it back, and it turned /out/ that this guy had done all kinds of evil genetic crap, including cloning this guy. Hercules is gonna build, like, a pen on this Greek island he hangs out at, but we can't just have a giant invincible lion wandering around. Right?"

The Lion yawns. It's pretty impressive.

"I'm gonna feed him," Nico continues, taking out a small bag from somewhere in her jacket and crouching down to unpack several cans of cheap tinned fish. This is nowhere near enough food for the Lion, but he seems patient.

"That's a really strong name for a cat, though. Clawminator, I mean. We had a cat named Tsuku when I was a kid, but she ran away when I was eight."

You know Hercules of course.

"Not personally," Red Robin replies, although it's difficult to make a joke out of that given the sort of lives they lead in the first place. Otherwise, he does one of the things he does best: He remains quiet, and listens to what Nico has to say, not interrupting her story any further. 'Good listener' is one of those traits people like to find in another human being, of course they generally don't mean someone trained to hear things most people would ignore, and to file away everything he does hear for later recall. Also, probably not while sitting absolutely, almost unnaturally still.

The Red Knight gets more curious as Nico produces what is definitely not enough food for the Lion, his weight shifting a bit further forward on his current perch. Having associated with Zatanna for more than a year and a half now, he's not one to write off the possibility that the witch has more up her sleeve than is immediately apparent.

"That's just the sort of guy Impulse is. He doesn't do anything by halves." This, with the mixture of fondness and exasperation that comes with years of friendship. "What about you though, Miss Minoru? Have you been settling in well?"

Nico opens one can and dumps it on the ground. She does the same about a yard away.

As she does the final one, she says, "I've been having a great time here, honestly, like… it's super comfortable? I talked to Cyborg about shopping and everything. I don't know how serious he was about the list."

Nico then straightens up and mutters to herself. It is not hard to overhear but she isn't shouting it. 'When blood is shed, let the Staff of One -'

There is a lavender-magenta nimbus as she reaches forth and draws the long staff out from… /herself/, her eyes agleam and then fading as she shakes her head once. The Lion seems used to this performance.

"It's kind of - don't take this the wrong way but I'm sort of wondering when the other shoe drops," Nico says, looking up to Red Robin. "Like, there has to be a catch, right? How did you guys get started, with all the… building, and island, and everything."

She then consults her phone. /rude/. She seems to be browsing for something though.

It's curious, almost like the strange, whispery-yet-carrying way Raven speaks. Red Robin supposes that if they were normal they wouldn't have vast magical powers… Or maybe it's the vast magical powers that make them unusual.

Sort of a chicken/egg situation.

"A little suspicion is healthy in this line of work," the vigilante agrees, rather than taking any apparent offense at Nico's concern that there'll be some sort of a catch. "It's easy to take everything on faith when you're a quasi-invincible demigod, not so much when you're a comparatively vulnerable human. The building and the island actually belong to the city," he explains, while Nico looks up something on her phone; as a fellow Young Person, he's well aware that someone can do that and listen at the same time. At least, he can. He's not exactly a typical specimen.

"The original Titans were given it when they saved the city while the big name heroes were dealing with something else. It was empty for a while, so I decided to gather a new team. To help people. A lot of times, young metahumans are just sort of… Left to get by. They fall through the cracks, they wind up turning to violence and crime to survive. So, we do what we can."

He watches her, curiously still, his head tilting slightly to one side. Like a bird.

"We're not hurting for funding, if that's what you're worried about. Our food budget's pretty big, by necessity. Impulse and Fairchild eat a lot. But nobody's gonna force you stay, Miss Minoru. Nobody's going to ask you to do anything you're not comfortable with. Also if we were gonna sell your organs on the black market we would've done it already."

It's a joke.

Probably.

That guy's got a good poker face.

Nico's answer is to read off a phrase in a language that Red Robin PROBABLY doesn't know - Icelandic. The phrase could be translated even if Nico is saying it with slow, sonorous invocative force. 'Feeding Of The Multitudes.'

The Staff of One sparks. The light flows outwards, rippling with a sigh and a faint suggestion of distant minor-chord choral music. It touches the tiny heaps of canned fish on the ground.

Nico looks up at Robin then, once more. "Oh!" she says. "OK, that makes some sense. I was just like, hm, skyscraper. I know Tony Stark has his big old p - uh, structure in Manhattan, I saw it in the bus window when I was there…" Ugh, Nico thinks, I'm babbling.

Her eyes turn down. "No, it's fine. I'm seriously really comfortable here. It's just all my old teen bullshit coming back, I guess. You've all been really sweet to me and I want to help out, if I can. I should just be up front about what I can do, I guess."

A pause. "When you say 'do anything you're not comfortable with,' though, what do you… mean?" Nico asks.

Meanwhile, the Lion's face bursts into a look of pure and unrefined joy. It is a divine joy, a blessed joy; the pure happiness of one who has seen a miracle performed, just for you (er, for one) and who now has nothing at all to fear.

Nico is now surrounded by approximately eight hundred pounds of canned fish. "Go nuts," she tells the Lion.

She walks round the Lion, for the resulting carnage is not something anyone wants to be next to.

Icelandic is, in fact, not a language the Red Knight has had cause to learn.

Not being a person of any magical persuasion himself, the vigilante only has the vaguest awareness beyond the obvious effects of the Staff of One's power that something spooky is occurring. That's another fascinating thing to him, too: The differences in the sorceries employed by the various magic users he's met. Information filed away, saved for a later date that might never come… But it's better to know something and not need it than to need it and not know it.

"Yeah, ours isn't as big as his," Red Robin admits. "But you know, the T shape is ostentatious enough."

The question as to just what she might not be comfortable with elicits a shrug from the perching crimefighter. One of those gestures that could mean all sorts of things.

"Not everybody wants to do the superhero thing. It can get dangerous, people have died. Obviously, we're all going to watch each other's backs, but… If you want to participate in all the risky and ill-advised stuff the Titans do, though, you're more than welcome. You already met Raven, and there's also Zatanna who does magic stuff." Briefly, he wonders if the goth thing is part of the magic thing. But no, that doesn't make sense. Constantine is clearly more of a British New Wave kinda guy. "So it's, what," he wonders, while the Lion gets to enjoy a whole lot of fish. "Logomancy? Magic words focused by the staff?"

"His building is ugly as shit," Nico opines, which may be an effort to kiss butt. Then again, she IS insulting Tony Stark, and that is absolutely something she would do.

As she pockets her phone, Nico watches the Lion get his Fish on. It is eerily like a normal cat's eating, in that it is kind of messy and some gets everywhere, but hey, he's havin' a great time! Nico explains, "I do that every other day. I hope Hercules doesn't like, go on a bender because eventually I'm going to run out of languages."

A beat. "Kind… of? It's hard to explain. I'll be honest with you." OH SO YOU WERE LYING BEFORE NICO? she thinks.

"I don't understand the Staff fully. My mother - who was an evil wizard, so was my dad - she tried to hit me with it when we, me and my friends I mean, when we'd found out about the whole 'evil wizard' thing. And it kind of…"

Nico is silent for two seconds.

"Stuck? In my soul. I don't know how to put it better than that. The big thing is that it only lets me do any given spell once, but I kinda cheat for things like this."

Nico shifts the staff from hand to hand. "So I have to be creative."

Privately, Red Robin is glad that Krypto is not right at this moment at the Tower, because the idea of an invincible super-lion and an invincible super-dog having it out - or even trying to 'play' - is one that comes with visions of a collapsed Titans Tower and probably half of Manhattan levelled.

And really the city doesn't need any more help getting wrecked.

"Well, if he forgets, we'll… Think of something else." Surely there's something else that could be done if it came down to it. Surely.

Nico's claim that she's being honest, perhaps in comparison to how she was being before, doesn't produce any visible reaction from Red Robin, who is instead committing to memory the details of what she tells him. Evil wizard parents, magic staff that's stuck in her soul.

That detail, at least, produces a faint chuff of something like laughter from the young man. Not mocking or disbelieving, it seems, but the sound of someone reminded of something amusing.

"Seems like magic items like that never work in easy ways. Someone told me once that magic always comes with a cost… I guess having to find new ways to phrase things is yours. We'll try to keep from being too much of a burden on that for you, don't worry… Besides, I'd be disappointed if we all got soft relying on magic solutions."

But something else Nico said in there makes him wonder.

"What happened to your friends? Living alone in a bad part of Gotham isn't something friends generally let friends do."

Nico takes a deep breath and lets it out.

"Yeah," she says. "I read a book that said everyone does magic all the time, just most people don't really think about it, or are so used to the trade-offs… like, you go to the store for an hour, you buy some food and maybe you get a drink… but you gave up an hour to shop and what, however many hours it took you to earn that money. That's magic."

"I thought it was bullshit but I kind of saw the point," Nico says.

She then looks out to sea. Sound, technically.

"Oh," she says. "Well, uh… I thought about going to Europe but, I do still have one old friend from those days. Her name's Molly. She goes to a special school upstate."

A couple more seconds past.

"The rest of them died," Nico says. Then, with a withered bitterness, she says, "Or left."

After this she exhales again, with force. "So yeah! That's why I was digging that place out. I guess it was sort of a half-assed idea but I figured nobody was going to give me any trouble there. And if any of them came /back/. You know. I'd have a place."

And a door to slam in their faces. (So Nico thinks but does not say although tbf it's probably pretty clear from her tone.)

"We, uh. All our parents were pretty evil. They were kind of a gang, they were just really low key about it. Don't worry about them, though."

The Lion is STILL WORKING ON IT. That was a lot of fish, even if it's now a lot less than when Nico ensorcelated it.

At some point between when Nico turns to look out over the East River and whenever her attention might turn back towards Red Robin, the young man has moved: Instead of his lofty perch, the costumed vigilante stands on the ground a few feet away from the witch, without much of anything really in the way of noise to have betrayed this fact. It's definitely not magic, but one supposes that for most people it might as well be.

"Okay," he says, when told to not worry about her evil parents, and her friends' evil parents. The repeated use of the past tense does kind of suggest that the situation has been dealt with… And possibly that he doesn't want to know quite how.

"It probably won't help much, but I've seen worse places in Gotham." And better, but there's no point in going into all that right now: Sure, the guy who grew up in one mansion and then another, larger mansion has seen better places to live than abandoned, probably condemned warehouse space. "Probably less goat demons here. And most gangs don't want to bother with the swim across the East River to cause any trouble, anyway. Maybe the occasional supervillain," he muses, while the Lion's fishpocalypse continues. "Any archnemeses we should worry about coming looking for you?"

"Jeez," Nico says, though she's not jumping this time. She does stiffen up, shoulders getting closer as she hugs the Staff to herself. "Where'd you learn to do that, anyway?"

The question of arch-nemeses arises. Nico looks at the ground for a moment.

"If a blonde chick who's like, wrapped in rainbow light shows up, don't talk to her," Nico says. "… And if giants with six fingers on each hand do, uh, kill them? I guess maybe you don't want to do that, but shoot them, whatever. They're evil."

Her lips purse for a moment. "So who was that you mentioned before? Satanna? That's a pretty good name. You guys are way better at that than we ever were."

Where'd you learn to do that, anyway?

"From Batman," is the simplest explanation.

The reality is a bit more complicated, of course, but it's important to maintain a certain air of mystique. Besides, it sounds cooler than saying he got some help from a butler and a former circus acrobat.

There's a faint nod when she describes a 'blonde chick wrapped in rainbow light' that they're not supposed to talk to, though that sounds less like a mortal enemy thing and more like a group solidarity thing. Six fingered evil giants, though…

"Not big on the killing around here," Red Robin says. "Though mainly that applies to humans. If there's a slavering demon or something, hey, blow it up." Which he'd put into practice at their first meeting, after all.

There's a brief moment of what might be surprise when Nico refers to 'Satanna', which is soon swallowed up by amusement, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Zatanna," he corrects mildly. "She says it's the name she was born with, but she might be trying to cover up something embarrassing, like Bertha, or Marjorie. She does stage magic too, not just magic-magic. You can look her up on Youtube."

"The Gibborim are… I guess they were like demons," Nico says. "I kind of wonder about that goat."

The Lion finishes up and looks at Nico, who tells him, "Once around the island, okay? Take it easy. Don't puke!" The Lion ambles into the darkness, though it isn't really all that sneaky given that it is huge like whoa.

Back to Red Robin. "Marjorie isn't bad," Nico says, getting out her phone and already browsing through videos. "We had names like… Sister Grimm, Princess Powerful, Arsenic and Old Lace - Old Lace was the dinos-"

Nico squints.

"I am so mad at her hair," she says. "Is that a wig? Tell me that's a wig and she has like scraggly-ass alt girl hair like me. PLEASE."

Truth be told, Red Robin was wondering about the goat too. The experience of it talking to them, and talking like it knew Nico and perhaps trying to get into the young woman's head, reminded him of the incident in the tannery, a year and a half gone: When the serial killer Michael Kazinsky was taken over by his demonic patron, Mammon, who spoke to Red Robin in an unsettlingly familiar way. While, you know, trying to beat him to death.

"It said every human you spend time with dies young," the vigilante reminds her, although she probably doesn't need him to say it. "Personally, I like to prove smug goat demons wrong."

See? Encouragement! A welcoming environment! And…

"Like the Capra movie?" he wonders at the mention of 'Arsenic and Old Lace', the later of whom is apparently a dinos.

…And a nerd!

Fortunately, his nerdery might go unnoticed since Nico is already looking up those videos, a swath of sleight of hand and street illusions done across Europe. And getting mad at the Princess of Prestidigitation's hair.

"No, sorry, she has really amazing hair," the young man says. "You can tell 'cause there's a couple of them she did on the beach, and you know, wet hair, swimsuit anyway…" Quick, Red Robin, change the subject! You're a genius and thoroughly trained in how to manipulate other people, you can do this! "Your… Hair is… Nice?"

There we go. Flawless work.

"ughhhhhhh" Nico says about the reports of Zatanna's naturally good hair. It is probably at least kind of feigned.

"Thanks," she sighs, "but I know it's not too exciting." Well, she's got it in an asymmetric cut and has blue in it but that's, obviously, not how it came naturally.

"And yeah, actually, exactly like that," Nico says, glancing to the side. "You like old movies? I actually watched that one with her, I almost fell asleep. She was gonna kick my ass for it."

It might not be natural, maybe Shadowcrest has a cabinet of magic hair conditioner.

"No, I mean, it suits you," Red Robin says when Nico claims her current coiffure isn't 'too exciting'. "And the dye is good. Don't see a lot of blue hair around here." He's really bad at this. It's probably a consequence of spending so much time focused on the Work instead of not being awkward with other humans in social situations. "You should see Iso's hair, she's got this whole undercut thing."

He doesn't bother explaining who Iso is; living at the Tower, Nico's sure to run into the Nuhuman sooner or later.

"I had a whole film snob period in highschool," is the answer to his theoretical fondness for old movies. "Not really proud of it. Look… I'm sorry if this is dredging up painful memories for you. You probably came out this way for something of a fresh start, so let's focus on that, okay?"

Which isn't say he isn't going to look into her past and connections on his own, of course. Somebody instilled all sorts of unhealthy behaviours in him from a young age.

This makes Nico burst into laughter. It's surprised, and a little deeper-voiced than she usually is. She then smiles, /also/ probably kind of a first. "Dude, don't apologize! I like movies, I just can't stick with those old ones. Also my mom hated Frank Capra."

The evil blood wizard? That mom?

"Did you ever see Heathers?"

Nico's background seems to track what she says: a private school background, apparent affiliation with a Catholic parish in southern California, and then, poof! About two years ago it's like she stopped existing.

DIAGNOSIS: TRUANCY

"How do you hate Frank Capra?" Red Robin wonders, his consternation at that overwhelming any embarrassment that might've tried to materialise when Nico started laughing. "Though I guess evil wizards in a gang wouldn't really like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Or It's a Wonderful Life, probably.

It's good to see, at least, that she can smile - and without losing her Goth Card when she does it, either. The return expression from the vigilante is fainter, probably because he's trying to recover and maintain some of that stoic and mysterious cred.

"I did see Heathers, it's hard to match a lot of those old '80s movies… Probably why they keep remaking them. Or is this you telling me you tried to blow up your highschool?"

It's a joke, but given that sudden disapparance and evil parents situation you never know.

"You ever see the one he did about Japan?" Nico says.

Then she laughs again. She laughs long enough that the Lion comes back and she calls to him, "Good! Good cat! C'mere!" Back to Red Robin, she says, "If you're not going on patrol or some shit, you want to put it on? I don't know if you have a ready room or something… Spider-Man called me 'cause I think I was the only one up, the one time. I don't mind being on call, s'the least I can do."

So what about the high school

Oh right, Red Robin thinks to himself. The war propaganda movies.

Fortunately, enormous invincible lions are good for diffusing any potential awkwardness, as the Lion returns during Nico's laughter and she summons the mighty creature over. And…

"No, I was just going to work in the lab," is the answer as to whether he was going to be on patrol: Working in the lab has become an increasing (definitely not obsessive (okay maybe a little obsessive)) part of his time recently, between the Hell's Kitchen investigation and the one involving the exploding man from a few months back. "But we could, sure. There's the common room, or the lab screens… The Tower'll let me know if any alerts come in." Only Cyborg was more wired into the building's functions - as well he might be, since his father originally designed it.

"Can you fly?" he wonders, rather than pursuing a doomed line of questioning about school arson.

"Lab's cool if it won't wreck your concentration," Nico says.

She takes a deep breath and lets it out.

"Only with a spell," she says. "Can you?"

It might be his half-vampire power, Nico thinks, having made a fatal if understandable misapprehension of the nature of the Bat.

"Nah, it'll be fine," is Red Robin's response. Multitasking is an important skill in his line of work, because his line of work often involves getting into fights where five on one is a best case scenario. Given what Nico's revealed about the downsides of her magic, though, it seems like flight spells aren't going to be a reliable method of transportation for her: It may be that the witch is doomed to that most embarrassing of positions on a superhero team, the person who gets carried by someone who can fly.

Which is why… "Wingsuit and jetpack," the vigilante explains, turning and gesturing at the low profile backpack on his suit. "It's actually muon repulsors, not 'jets', so I don't burn my legs off or something. The wings are an inertrite weave that unfurl like a cape, but harden through a reverse piezoelectric reaction when the suit runs a current for them. I got really sick of getting carried to fights by Superboy or Wonder Girl," he confides. "Can't take a jet everywhere."

He tried.

"C'mon. Let's, uh, is he going to be okay or do you need a giant chewtoy…?"

"Oh, nah, I'll wave him in," Nico says. "I feed him every other day. Tomorrow he gets catnip."

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