Chapter Four - Obstacles
“S’over,” Harley Quinn grumbled darkly, kicking the corpse of the White Rabbit in the ribs disdainfully. “We move on.”
“A little help, perhaps, Miss Quinn?” Grifter attempted, still struggling against the strange, glowing lines that bound him. Ragdoll was picking idly through the chunks of Jaina’s skull – according to him, he was looking for a secret decoder ring.
“Yeah, sure,” Harley said numbly, reaching down and wrapping one gloved hand around one of the strands and yanking sharply, ripping it with a *prwang* sound and causing the rest of the strings to unravel.
Things were going to be awkward now, Cole was sure. They had just proven what an awful team they made, though, without an actual leader, perhaps that wasn’t the team’s fault. Anyone who could have even filled in for the position of leader was back at the hospital, watching over the Secret Six’s actual leader, Scandal Savage. And Grifter still had no clue whether the woman was alive or dead.
“Found it,” Ragdoll said finally, holding up a small, bluish nub of pulpy flesh. “Not a decoder ring… I think it’s some form of special snack.”
“That’s part of her brain, Pete,” Grifter said tiredly, struggling onto his feet and withdrawing two massive pistols. He wouldn’t be caught unarmed again, especially not if the team was venturing into the funhouse itself. They had no clue what could even be there – even Joker wasn’t a sure thing. That man was slippery in ways that barely seemed human.
The “funhouse” was tall and dour, more like a tower than an actual amusement park, or even haunted house. Glittering lights were wound around the entire thing, blinking in and out from the poor power source, and various “fun” murals and half-broken or blood-stained signs and portraits hung all over the outside of the place. Clown here, a fat lady there, donkey over there. The place distinctly resembled many of Cole’s childhood nightmares, not that this surprised him. His mother – bless her soul – had the most unique habit of telling him Joker stories before bed. And look at how that turned out; he was rolling with the one and only Harley Quinn, smack dab in the middle of Gotham City, to kill the clown prince of crime in his own funhouse. Good times.
“Like I said,” Ragdoll retorted, plopping the little blue nub into his mouth and biting into it with a sluicing sound. “Oh. It’s not very good. I find it rather tastes of oregano and sadness.”
“Kiddo, you give me the creeps, and I had to change Two-Face’s underwear once,” Harley snipped, hefting her hammer over her shoulder with shocking ease.
“Harley, are you sure you don’t wanna sit this one out?” Cole attempted, dusting himself off and stepping behind the woman. “You got shot—“
“Oh, that ol’ thing? That’s no biggie really, bullet went right through.”
“Um… yeah… right through your chest. We need to get you to a hospital.” Grifter stooped down to carefully look at the clowngirl’s back – that part of her outfit was shredded, and there was some blood, but… no hole. He poked gently at it, gaining confidence. The flesh was solid, unmarred, not even a scar marked where the bullet had gone through.
“Excuse me?” Harley squawked, turning to face the masked man and revealing that the entry wound was also gone. “Just ‘cause the shirt’s ripped don’t make it a pettin’ zoo, bozo!”
“I’m sorry, I just… you’re healed. You’re fine.”
“Yet another goober that thinks all Harley Quinn can do is bounce around and look cute,” she snarked. “I got powers, y’know. I could teach that Catman guy a thing or two.”
“I bet you could,” Grifter said suggestively, earning him a powerful smack to the shoulder. “Ow,” he grumbled. “Everyone keeps hittin’ me.”
“That’s because you are kind of a… what’s the word…” Peter began, turning his bandaged head to face the pair.
“No, no, Ragdoll, no, no--!”
“What? I was just going to say ‘jerk’.”
Both Harley and Grifter let out a relieved sigh and finally turned back to the opened gate, leading into the ominously dark funhouse. Only flickering, colored lights illuminated the interior.
“Please don’t come inside,” came a soft, deep voice from inside the tower. “Please.”
“Well that’s just plain creepy,” Grifter relented, but he took point and started moving forward.
Catman made his way over to Scandal, leaning in close. He could feel the breath coming from her nose -- she was breathing, she was alive but she looked like a zombie from the operation. Her face was as pale as the white walls surrounding her. "Scandal…" Catman attempted, "Now is not the time. We can talk when the mission is over."
Scandal seemed to ignore the man, instead limping over to Bane. Her leg was not injured – it was her mere lack of orientation that brought her off balance, causing her to seem to stagger. "Where is our team?" she growled sternly.
"Gone home, I believe." Bane replied bluntly, before the radio on the bench beside him suddenly started to crackle.
*That may not exactly be true.*
“Mr. Cash?” Bane said, tilting his head and speaking into the comm. “Is that you? What is your position?”
"We're at Joker's Funhouse… things got a little, uh... messy down here. Not sure where Harley is, Ragdoll’s with him, I think.*
Scandal grabbed the radio from Bane’s hands, holding one hand to her aching skull as she shouted into it. “Grifter?! Who are you talking about? What’s going on?!”
*He’s here! He found me! Oh shi—* The comm went off into a wild squeal as it crackled to a stop, finally going silent.
“They’re in trouble,” Catman grunted.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious. And here I was wondering what your power was,” Scandal Savage snapped, tossing the handheld back at Bane. “We need to get to them, now. Tom, did you bring the car?”
“No, this was a stealth mission, O Knower of All Obvious Things,” Blake deadpanned in reply.
“Then we run,” the woman growled, strapping the Lamentation Blades onto her arms. It had been too long since she’d had a proper opportunity to use them. The trio began to sprint towards the funhouse, taking the occasional break to allow Bane to catch up before continuing, moving across streets or rooftops, whatever would get them to the place faster.
"Wait, Blake," Bane shouted suddenly. When Catman turned to face him, he saw the man holding Scandal in his bulky arms, the woman’s skin paler than ever. Her stitching had broken, blood was beginning to seep from the wound in her chest. "Rest, Scandal Savage, rest this night has taken enough from you,” the giant whispered to her, sinking to his knees to let her rest against his body.
"No… I can….”
"Stop,” Blake said quickly. “I’m going alone. Stay with her.”
"You can't leave her!" Bane yelled desperately after the brown-cloaked man, but his words were met with a cold shoulder as Catman leapt on to the next roof. He couldn't let The Joker win, not like this. Then the man was gone in the night, still going after the funhouse and the rest of their team, and leaving Bane with his adopted daughter.
“You have not had the best of nights, I am afraid,” the big man whispered sympathetically, cradling Scandal’s neck with one massive palm. “I am sure you wished for more action, this night… or less, depending on one’s perspective.”
“Yeah… one of the two,” the auburn-haired woman growled noncommittally, a cough rippling throughout her body and staining her lips with crimson. “#$@%in’ Luthor and his %$#@in’ bullets, killin’ me.”
“I see you are taking the situation very well.”
“You suck at being sarcastic.”
“Perhaps it is my fate to… suck, at certain things. I did not make a very good leader for the team, did I?”
A little chuckle made Scandal’s body shake, blood spurting from her wound before settling back down into a steady drool. The wound was attempting to close again, but damn did it hurt for the moment. “Yeah, you did. Almost destroyed the team… th-that’s…” she coughed again. “That’s what happens when you mess with me.”
Bane ripped off one of his long black gloves, beginning to tear it into small strips and grumbling to himself. “It seems so. I was doing my best to protect you, and the team, however. I’m sure you understand.”
“Just because I understand didn’t make your leadership of the team very effective. You have to understand the team, Bane… that’s still something you don’t know how to do. I’m still adjusting to Grifter and Quinn being on the team but I can tell they’ll fit in. You have to know how to push their buttons and make them want to trust you.”
The Gotham villain chuckled softly. “I suppose I do have my flaws when interacting with the team… but it feels like we’re a family, again. Like it did before we all split up, before everything went to hell.” He began to wrap the strips of leather around Scandal’s wounds, removing the simple, soaked bandages wrapping around her midsection.
"She needs a doctor, Bane," Bane glanced behind him slowly, his eyes narrowing. Behind the man who broke the bat was the man who became the bat, Nightwing, standing above him in his black outfit, the broad blue V across his chest marking him clearly as one of Gotham’s protectors. Behind him was a girl in a Batgirl outfit, long blonde hair flowing out from beneath her cowl.
"And where will she go next?” Bane growled sullenly, looking back to Scandal, who had closed her eyes again. “Prison? She doesn't deserve to be put in with the dogs. She is better than that."
The large man slowly lifted himself back onto his feet, the woman draped across his massive arms as he observed the two vigilantes. Nightwing took a step forward and matched Bane’s position, staring the man up and down, trying to be tall beside the enormous villain. "We can all walk home alive tonight or we can all limp home, which is it?" Bane growled imposingly.
Scandal Savage opened her eyes blearily and slipped from Bane’s arms, landing unsteadily on her feet with a light cough that started leading into laughter. “Well… hehe… since I’m already limping… you mind if I take the little one? Not really feeling up to snuff to go against the big guy.” She lifted her claws and offered the most sinister of smiles. The white of one of her eyes had turned red from internal bleeding, but it only served to make her look more murderously sociopathic. Steph bit her bottom lip and reaching into her belt for a batarang, holding it awkwardly as she prepared for the attack.
Bane clenched a fist, glancing down at the woman beside him. “Scandal, don’t, be careful—“ his words were quickly cut off when Scandal roared and charged forward, ignoring the big man and Nightwing’s cry of “Bane!” to swipe both claws at Batgirl, snarling with the ferocity of someone who knew they had nothing to lose – these wounds wouldn’t kill her, and neither would the bat-buddies. Surrendering led to the same outcome as losing, so why not fight with everything she had?
Stephanie, the latest and youngest Batgirl, rolled back quickly and tossed a quick volley of batarangs at Scandal, who was currently living up to her last name with a flurry of vicious attacks. She wasn’t striking to kill, but nor was she pulling her punches. Her goal was to leave the girl with a bleeding gut wound and move on to more important things – she had never been in the business of killing heroes, specifically not kid heroes.
“Scandal!” Bane shouted.
“Batgirl!” Nightwing yelled.
"Hey, I’m just trying to stay alive, here!” Steph shouted, doing her best to dodge or deflect each of Scandal’s bladed attacks. Her defensive position, however, prevented her from doing much in the way of returning that punishment.
The older woman twisted to the side, blood oozing from her leather-wrapped wound as she managed to throw her arms around the Batgirl, trying to push her off of the roof the pair were fighting atop. Steph managed to snag one hand tightly into Scandal’s belt, yelping with fear as the two toppled from the rooftop. A last second grapnel managed to cushion the blow, causing both girls to land in a heap on top of each other, blood splattering across the concrete below them.
“Aaaagh, get off of me you stupid freak!” Batgirl squealed, yanking roughly at Scandal’s hair and rolling with her, elbowing the woman hard in the ribs as Scandal dug one thick blade of her gauntlet into Steph’s shoulder. Gore – whether hers or Scandal’s, she cannot tell – splashes across the bright yellow bat adorning her outfit.
"Come on, Bane,” Nightwing growled, breaking his staredown with the huge man and ziplining to the ground below where Scandal and Batgirl continued to grapple. He charged for the pair, drawing his escrima sticks only to find a pair of massive, black-booted feet landing thunderously on the ground in front of him, with Bane looming imposingly in front of the vigilante.
“You will not touch her, boy. And you will not defeat me.”
"Really? And here I was thinking exactly the opposite. You don’t know Gotham like I do, beefcake.”
"And you do not know when to keep your mouth shut." Bane lunged forward with a vicious haymaker, catching Dick off guard with his speed. The smaller man went hurtling backwards, barely catching his feet. “And this is a simple alleyway, fool – knowledge of the environment will bring you no solace in this encounter.”
"Okay buttercup, you got your lucky shot." Nightwing smirked. "Now here comes mine."
Nightwing leapt forward, acrobatically bouncing off the wall of the building beside them and curling his body, propelling himself forward and launching multiple sidekicks at the brutish man. He mentally counted down each kick in his mind, wondering how many it would take the knock Bane to the ground. However, he only managed to connect with four strikes to the convict’s chest before Bane lifted his arms, further strikes bouncing off of them without effort as Dick hurtled forward.
“Enough!” Bane shouted, reaching out to grab Nightwing by the front of his costume and pivoting his body, slamming him into the ground below them with a snarl.
“Please, do not… do not scream. I couldn’t bear it.”
“That’s just… urk… that makes about as little sense as… kkkkAHHH!!!... as anything could… make….” Grifter raised his head slightly, his eyes leaving the phosphorescent-chalk-stained dungeon floor and moving up, gazing into the eyes of his torturer. The soft, pale blues eyes, rimmed with darkness and tears.
“I am sorry. I am being as gentle as I can, but… I must.” The man sniffled and gently, almost caringly, tied a small bit of string around each of Cole’s fingers, tightening them and then prodding the man’s fingertips with the tip of his straightrazor. “I have to hurt you. I’m sorry.”
“Alright… nkk… buddy. I’m no genius but I did go to school, and sorry means you wish you hadn’t done something. People who are sorry don’t just continue to do those things!” A numbness crawled through his fingers as his circulation was cut off, blood caught in his fingertips and trying to flow free. This was just the latest of the atrocities that this man, who Joker had called The Weeper, had visited upon him.
The torturer slipped off his shabby black top hat and set it down on the table of tools beside him, wiping his nose on his sleeve before leaning in and dragging the edge of his blade along Cole’s index finger, along the skin just behind the string. It made his fingertips surge with pain, pulsing with collected, stagnant blood as it attempted to rush free of a wound it could not reach. Grifter leaned back his head and let out a long shriek of horror, his body contorting against the cords that bound him.
There was a sudden crackle and buzz in the top corner of the room. One of the television screens that littered the place flickered to life and showed a pale-skinned man in a purple suit, lounging back in a velvet sofa with a wide, manic grin. “Weepy! My favorite hench-fella! How’s the torture coming along? Is Mr. Cash putting up a good fight?” The joy in his voice was sickening. Grifter had done some unpleasant things in his life but he never relished them, not the way Joker did.
“He… his screams…” Weeper choked back a sob, a solitary tear rolling down his dirty, white-stubbled cheek. “Please, master… make him stop screaming, I cannot bear to see him in pain. Please.”
Cole breathed out heavily as Weeper turned his attention to Joker’s electronic visage, his body still trembling. He had endured torture, but never like this. Weeper wanted… no, not wanted. The Weeper needed to hurt him, but every time Grifter squirmed or screamed from the pain the man in the overcoat seemed to pause, his eyes rimmed with moisture and his lip quivering, as if he couldn’t bear the thought of causing another person pain.
“Now now now,” Joker jeered, putting his feet up onto the desk where Grifter assumed his camera was, and popping a slim, green cigar into his mouth. “Weepsy, we all know about your little problem, but we can’t let that stop us, now can we? Everyone knows you’re the best at what you do…” a low, sinister giggle rippled from the villain’s ruby lips, and his voice dropped an octave. “…And what you do isn’t very nice. Eheheheheheheheheeeh.” As if he couldn’t hold still, the Joker leaned forward in his chair, pressing his cheek against the camera and lighting his cigar, taking a long puff from it before exhaling noxious blue smoke and speaking again. The close-up profile of the crime legend’s smile, those awful, twisted red lips, made him shudder with a fear that Weeper couldn’t begin to approach. “You’ve been asking those questions, haven’t you, Weepz my boy? You know there’s not much point in torture if you don’t ask questions.”
“Y-yes, master. Some. He does not answer them… he just screams and writhes against his constraints.”
“Ooh, a tough one, eh? I like tough ones. Great thing about them is they’re… haha… they’re all the same. Hurt someone they care about… and they turn out to be weaker than the soft ones.” The clown prince leaned back again and popped his cigar into his mouth, his rictus grin only widening. “Have you gotten Harley, yet?”
“Not yet, master. She seems… familiar, with many of the Funhouse machines. I have had difficulty keeping track of her.”
“Shame. No bother, though, I know how to take care of that heartsick idiot. Go see what the, uh… that little one can take. The one who looks like he belongs in one of those gloomy kiddie bands.”
“The Ragdoll, master?”
“Yeah, him! Now go! Leave this one in silence and get your groove on. Can’t wait to see the outcome of your work, hahahahahahahahhahahahahahaha.”
Weeper left, and the television screen flickered off, leaving Grifter alone.
“You've fought well, boy,” Bane said, squeezing Nightwing’s throat tightly. “But you must give up. You cannot succeed this day.”
“Ack, I...” Nightwing attempted, spluttering and kicking his legs weakly.
“What is it?” Bane inquired quietly, leaning in close to glare at the young man.
“I…” Dick gasped again. “I got a new toy… for my birthday, y’see.”
There was a sudden mechanical sound as a length of high-strength cord fired forward for the other end of the alley, wrapping tightly around Bane’s waist and then constricting. “Coward,” the big man growled as the motorcycle that the rope was attached to zoomed forward erratically, dragging Bane violently across the tarmac.
“Well that was fun,” Nightwing chuckled to himself, touching his blue-striped fingertips to one cracked rib and hissing. He glanced at the tracker on his wrist, nodding happily as the little red marker that indicated his bike moved farther and farther away. Bane would be in Metropolis by morning.
He turned his attention back to the grappling Batgirl and Scandal, beginning to move towards them before pausing. His wrist buzzed silently against his skin, which meant… that his motorcycle was back in proximity. And that it was no longer on the ground.
“I broke your toy,” Bane growled from behind him, holding up both halves of the destroyed motorcycle, one in each hand. He stepped forward hard, his face stoic as he began to swing punches as if the hundred-pound chunks of broken machinery in his hands were little more than impromptu boxing gloves. He leaned in fiercely, flogging the smaller man with his makeshift weaponry. Dick ducked backward, swinging his batons defensively, trying to deflect or evade Bane’s heavy blows.
Their battle had begun again, just when he had thoughts things were going so well.
Harley flipped nimbly over yet another Extend-O Boxing Glove, grumbling idly to herself. This place wasn’t anything resembling a funhouse – Joker had been watching the Saw movies again and had gotten a few ideas, that much was obvious. This entire place was a deathtrap, and if she didn’t know how Joker’s mind worked she would have been captured just like the others. Grifter had been caught in what had appeared to be a spiderweb of silly string within the first five minutes, and it wasn’t long after that that Peter had dropped into a pit trap. If his bones weren’t so… well, gooey, he would have become a splattermark at the bottom.
But now she knew that they were both in the hands of the Weeper. She had seen him nearby, from time to time. Heard his soft sobs, cries of despair that always followed a gurgling scream. She wanted to rescue her teammates, but at this point there was only one way to do that. Without encouragement, she knew that Weeper would give up eventually. Once his bloodthirst was satisfied, most of his victims were released, or at least put out of their misery. He had a merciful side, a human side, that made Harley pity him as soon as think of him. He was tragic, and his gravitation to a strong leader like Joker had been obvious.
At this point, if Harley Quinn wanted to save her teammates, she would have to take the fight to Joker. It was something she had done before, and this time she wouldn’t fall back into his arms… his lean, strong arms. She wouldn’t look up into that adoring smile of his and melt. She wouldn’t… she wouldn’t lean her head against his chest and wait for him to let her come home again…..
“Get off of me you creep! You don’t brush your teeth often do you? Or, no… you do. I’m sure you do. But instead of toothpaste you use a blend of dried blood and single malt,” Batgirl quipped roughly as she struggled with Scandal Savage. Every twist and wiggle was a fight for her life – Scandal wasn’t holding back. Steph was riddled with small cuts and gashes now, her moderate grappling skill not saving her from most of the older woman’s close-range cuts.
“This is funny? That’s what you think? You think I’m something to joke about?” Scandal snarled quietly. Her eyes could barely keep focus, pain throbbing through every part of her from her wounds, from the fall, and even from Batgirl’s weak blows. She was almost overloaded… and she had to end this.
“If you want to laugh, then let me show you something really funny,” she continued, straining every lean muscle in her body and pulling herself up, ripping one arm upwards and pointing it downwards. The two blades of her Lamentation Blade zeroed in on each of Stephanie’s eyes – one lunge downward would leave the girl a corpse. “Is this funny, Bat-bitch?
Stephanie’s eyes widened, and her body went stiff. Nothing prepared a girl for this – and that was exactly what she was, Scandal saw now. A girl, a teen. What was she, sixteen? Why was she even here, fighting the likes of the reformed Secret Six? She should be home watching My Little Pony and chatting about boys with her friends while they braided each other’s hair. She shouldn’t be here, beneath Scandal Savage, ready to die.
Nothing prepared a young girl for this… well… at least not most young girls.
“Father, please… don’t make me do this.”
“Do you wish to eat, my beautiful daughter? You wish to survive in this world, do you not?” The voice of her father, Vandal Savage, echoed throughout her ears as she gazed down at the fawn before her, paralyzed by one of her father’s toxins.
“It’s just a baby, father… I… I cannot….”
“You are just a baby, Scandal, and you will continue to be until you learn to survive, to take what belongs to you. This creature would destroy you were the positions reversed. You are a Savage… and you must be better than these animals. That is why it falls to you to deliver the killing blow. This is why the positions are the way they are. You are dominant because you are better.”
Scandal Savage raised the knife her father had given her in one slim hand, a tear rolling down her soft, youthful face as she pressed the tip against the fawn’s throat. Its eye, the only part of it that was still mobile, swiveled to stare into the young girl’s own gentle green orbs. She sniffed hard.
“Scandal, do not disappoint me. You know what the price of failure will be.”
“The hole,” Scandal whispered. Another tear streamed down her face but she dare not sob out, dare not weep openly. Her father would beat her for her weakness, and force her to spend the night in the barracks, with his men. That was worse than the hole.
“The hole,” Vandal confirmed.
“I am sorry,” the girl whispered, placing her palm onto the pommel of the blade and closing her eyes, unable to gaze at the beast as she pushed the blade downward, digging through fur and flesh and nicking along the baby deer’s spine. It offered one spasmodic twitch, the only death throes its paralyzed body could manage before falling still. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, please tell me that’s for me?” Peter Merkel Jr. grinned widely behind the bandages that coiled around his face, wiggling excitedly on the steel operating table he was strapped to. His eyes widened gleefully as the Weeper approached with a thin, sharp screwdriver, and what appeared to be a puffer fish.
“If you knew what I had to do, you would not be so happy,” Weeper intoned sadly, prodding the little fish with a small, water-filled syringe, keeping it hydrated and able to breath – he was injecting its lungs.
“I don’t know about thaaaaaat,” Ragdoll teased. “You look like you’re about to get creative, and I like creative.”
“Then allow me to explain. Your friend, Mr. Cash, will be going after you… so I want to test out how effective this method is. As you know, the puffer fish expands when it feels threatened. This particular technique – an experiment of my own – relies on it staying alive out of water for a short time, due to injections of water that allow it to breathe. It also relies on the fact that its expansion will be significantly unpleasant when it’s been inserted into your urethra. Of course, this will be challenging…” Weeper held up the rusty screwdriver. “That’s what this will be for. Now… for a group based on secrets… let’s see what secrets you hold…” Weeper gently tore away a strip of cloth from Ragdoll’s trousers, finally revealing a scarred, mutilated patch of flesh.
“Yeah… I’m afraid urethral insertion will be a bit difficult for me. I have… other methods of going number one, and trust me; you don’t want to know what those methods are.”
Scandal stared into Stephanie’s eyes, her body as still as that fawn’s had been, all those years ago. Batgirl only stared back, unmoving.
“Is this what you want, Nightwing?” Bane asked softly, dropping the broken hunks of Dick’s bike to the pavement. The smaller man was battered and bruised, but still standing, and at Bane’s inquiry he turned his head to face the pair. “The girl will die.”
Dick took a long, deep breath before turning back to the huge man, his face stern despite the puffiness around his jaw. “Call her off.”
“Will the pair of you return to where you have come? Leave us to our task.”
“You know that I can’t do that.”
“Do you have a choice?”
Dick turned back to the pair, and Steph’s eyes pivoted to face him. She was hopeful, desperate. Fearful.
“Let her go, Scandal. We’re going home.”
Thomas Blake grumbled quietly as he sprinted up along hillsides and border walls. This area of Gotham was desolate, unpopulated but for abandoned factories and old rimrocks. If he could get to the tops of those rural plateaus, he could get to the top of the funhouse tower without passing through the gauntlet he was sure it would present. Maybe, if he was fast, he could get there in time to help the others.
Before it was too late.