Down the Rabbit Hole: A Gotham Tale

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IndomitableRegal

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#1  Edited By IndomitableRegal

Welcome to the official thread for IndomitableRegal and Sawed_Off_It’s DC crossover.

This is something of an offshoot from a previous writing group. In this thread are two concurrent stories, Red Hood: Blood Rites written by me and Mad Hatter: The Little Things written by @sawed_off_it. Though they’re currently being written as individual works of fiction, they will eventually crossover into something new. To anyone who reads, thank you and we hope you enjoy.

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#2  Edited By IndomitableRegal

Red Hood: Blood Rites #1

*****

Genesis 1:5 – “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And then he created Batman, to be the Night’s unrelenting warden.”

Okay, so not exactly scripturally accurate, but I know men who would rather face God’s wrath than Batman. Hell, I know gods who don’t want to face Batman. He’s this all-encompassing, almost mythical figure. He’s a savior, a guardian, a hero…a reckoning. But when you’ve spent as much time around him as I have, you realize something. Above all else, he’s just a man—as human as anyone else. He can make mistakes. He can fail. I wonder, what was the bigger failure for him? Letting me die, or letting my murderer live?

Friedrich Nietzsche has this quote. Something along the lines of “if you stare long into the abyss, it stares back into you.” Funny story—I didn’t spend as much time gazing into the abyss as one might think. Instead, I was pushed in headfirst by a psychopath with a clown motif. And when I was resurrected, yanked back out by a process I’d rather not think about, some of that abyss came with me. I was changed, fractured, and to be honest I think the abyss is what stuck the pieces back together. And oh the things I noticed once I was alive again. You see I learned something. Or maybe I always knew, and it took my own death to finally accept it. Bruce has always been a half measure. All the crimes and atrocities his rogues committed, yet he let them live. Always opting to lock them up instead, just hoping that they’ll miraculously turn their lives around. To his credit, he has had the occasional win here and there.

Unfortunately, I’ve never quite had his patience. Imagine my shock when I found out the Joker, the f***ing Joker of all people, was still alive. Well that was the final nail in the coffin—metaphorically speaking, of course…I’d like to avoid any more coffins. I decided that I would do what Bruce wouldn’t because the city needed more than a stopgap. If Batman was content to be Gotham’s warden, then I would be its executioner. Gone was Jason Todd, and I’d be damned if I was ever called Robin again. The abyss gave me a new persona, plucked straight from my murderer’s past: The Red Hood. Every crime family, corrupt syndicate, and illegal organization was in my crosshairs, literally and figuratively. I didn’t hide in shadows and patrol on rooftops. I singlehandedly laid siege to the underground and let everyone know they were on notice. And anyone who opposed me, whether it was some low-ranking thug, hired gun, crime boss, supervillain, or…otherwise, would get a bullet to the head, maybe several depending on my mood. Bats wouldn’t approve, but I was prepared to handle him accordingly. At least I thought I was. That was my mistake. I failed. Spectacularly, I might add. Don’t get me wrong, no one knew what hit them when I arrived back in Gotham. But I must have forgotten just how hard Bruce was willing to fight for his city. That man would take down anyone for the sake of Gotham—including his own ward. Didn’t mean I’d give up after one try…

Needless to say, we didn’t see eye-to-eye on most things. Somehow, I was labeled a villain, which didn’t really sit right with me. How could someone hellbent on being the most effective countermeasure in Gotham be a villain? Didn’t the ends justify the means? No, I wasn’t wrong. I was just wrong according to him. So we clashed. And I lost. Rinse and repeat. It took a while, but eventually I grew tired of getting my ass kicked, and we finally decided to reconcile. I forgave him for everything that happened with the Joker. He forgave me for…well I was never looking for forgiveness in the first place. He even welcomed me back into the Bat Family, though I kept my status as something of an independent contractor. You should’ve seen the rest of the clan when I walked through the Manor doors. Surprisingly, Dick was the one who had to be restrained. My money would’ve been on the runt. Bruce did have one non-negotiable condition if I was really going to be brought back into the fold. He knew I was much too stubborn to just go back to doing things his way, but there would be no killing as long as I was in Gotham, and he’d be watching me like a hawk to make sure I kept my word. That rule did not however extend beyond the city limits.

That brings us to the here and now. And “here” is 70 miles outside of Gotham, in a small town called Solo Santi. I’m in the penthouse suite of a hotel room registered to one Nicholai Fedorov. Him and his boys own a few legitimate businesses in Gotham, nothing too extravagant. However, they meet out here every so often to engage in some not-so-legitimate activities, namely sex trafficking. The good news for Fedorov? He chose somewhere quiet and sparsely populated enough that he could avoid Batman. The bad news? He chose somewhere quiet and sparsely populated enough that I could avoid Batman. His mistake. And that mistake has led to a middle-aged Russian begging for his life at gunpoint.

“Please! Whoever you are! Just take what you want!”

“Are you trying to bargain with me, Fedorov? Don’t you think you should’ve tried that before you had your men fire at me? You could’ve saved a lot of time…and roughly 15 lives.”

“Please! Just name your price and I’ll pay it!”

“I’m richer than you.”

“Look, Mr. Hood, I—”

“So you do know who I am. Then you should know why I’m here.” The dumbass had the nerve to look confused. I don’t have time for this. The cops will be here any minute in response to the firefight, and I plan to be gone when they arrive. I let off a shot near his ear.

“The girls, Nicholai. Where are you keeping them? Answer me or the next bullet goes between your eyes.”

“OKAY! There’s a safehouse. 20 miles south of here tucked inside an apple orchard. You’ll see two green trucks parked out front.”

“How many girls, and how many men guarding them?”

“…”

“I swear if you don’t—”

“Eighteen. There’s eighteen girls. I have ten men stationed inside. They have instructions to leave at 10:30.”

“Thank you, Nicholai. Now was that so hard?” I could hear the sirens rapidly approaching. Time to make my exit. “I don’t care what you tell them, but you will not mention me. Am I clear?” I watched him nod his assent. “Good. Do svidaniya, Nicholai. Oh, and this should go without saying, but if you’re lying to me…killing you will be the most merciful thing I do.” I left him quivering in fear as I took off into the night. Bruce would be proud. Sort of.

I pushed my motorcycle – which is definitely better than Dick’s by the way – as fast as I could. Assuming these guys were the punctual types, I had about 7 minutes to get there. It wasn’t long before I spotted the orchard, and then the green trucks in front of a small, unassuming 2-story house. I watched them walk out of the safehouse and assessed their numbers and positions. Two in the front, 3 on each side of the girls, and 2 in the back—10 total. In the middle of them all, I could make out just under 20 heads. Looks like Fedorov enjoyed living. Too bad his men wouldn’t be afforded the same luxury.

Truth be told, it was more difficult than I anticipated. Killing Fedorov’s men was easy enough. If I had to make a guess, I’d say they were hired mercenaries, probably ex-military. Definitely not on the cheap end, but nothing I couldn’t handle. My main challenge was killing them and keeping the girls unharmed. The fact that I left the cops an anonymous tip beforehand didn’t do me any favors either. That meant no guns and a time limit. I don’t know what type of trauma any of those girls had before tonight but seeing me tear through ten men with just a blade probably added to it. But what’s done is done. They’re in police custody, presumably getting help, and I still have other issues to worry about. Priority number 1 is whoever’s been tailing me…

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Sawed_Off_It

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#3  Edited By Sawed_Off_It

Mad Hatter: The Little Things #1

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2 Years ago...

Another Failure. It just isn’t right.

You don’t get it!” “You don’t get it!

I shouted this with an intense disdain for the one person, and yet another liar, whom once held my heart and in doing so, my true ambition from me.

I curse you. You wretched whore.”

I fancied this one for a long while and had been blinded by my love for her, I told myself during a fit induced epiphany as I wailed on and kicked the stiff and beaten vessel of my beauty, Alice relentlessly.

Oh, how she captured my glimmering eye and how ironic that I began to tear up in this moment. Imagining what could have been; aware that all I wished for her was comfort and passion, but here I find nothing but emptiness as I sink her chest cavity and fracture her rib cage by repeated battering of her still warm corpse. Localized pressure to her upper torso with strike after strike upon her lifeless frame. Defiant acts of violence and utter defilement completely degrade her being and tarnish even the remote possibility of her fitting into my perfect reality.

An epiphany bred from defeat

“A pity...

I begin, before I feel my throat harden and it difficult to breathe as the ongoing visage of a deceased Alice, starts to spurn my ability to offer any final words. Dissatisfaction, not sadness or a very real goodbye for my close friend, conjures a minor struggle within me. A torete latent rant follows a broken heart as I bleed emotion into the following words:

“ It is I who swore devotion to you. It is I who sacrificed what I perceived to be reality into obsession, you ungrateful heathen. It is I who traded tenderness for malice in an effort to keep away those who would unlatch your soul from me, and most importantly, to obtain your loyalty — You certainly had mine”,

I mutter to her as I drop to one knee by her side and hold her bludgeoned skull in my hand as I weave my fingers through the strands of blood drenched and matted hair in order to get a good grip before sharing an epiphany. An epiphany born from a depressing equation: (defeat) multiplied by (failure) doubled by a (lack of creativity).

No, it did not work, but with each failure I come closer, much closer, to a realization; a new light, of which has guided me to this vision. This venture of embodied wonder and it was no longer a dream. This is what needed to be done.”

Pacing around my makeshift homestead of magnificent wonder, I find my disappointment again, but this time in the form of a second me. Stuck inside a glass prison used to thwart the approach of those that weren’t supposed to be here and trapping them as well. T’was an invention I had scrapped together for unknowing visitors to my Wonderland. This particular device allowed for those that scurry madly through their day, just wanting to get through their life, a chance to live alongside me and all of my friends!

In a world without the mundane and the routine, and free of judgement. Come. With. Me. I say and still, no one sees... but they will.

Mad Hatter’s Gotham Wonder Land

All I can focus on now is the look of high hope on my manufactured doppelgänger. It looked at me but it was still smiling. It looked at a tortured and dead Alice on the floor and it was still smiling! It looked at the memories of havoc and war that was brought on by tussles with the Batman and had left its physical dent on my homestead and it was still smiling; it looked at me! And it was still smiling! A nod in agreement, perhaps? My dreams of monopolizing the Hatter’s Wonderland from cubicle-like quadrants in the grand scheme of things, and into a vast and plentiful land anchored by imagination is on the horizon. A manifestation of my work is soon to be, and the scum and forgotten poor of this city will become servants and necessary components of a greater purpose. From the tallest buildings to the most pungent of sewers, even the most hidden of crevices across Gotham, they will all, and I mean ALL, will flash with envy in the eyes of those less fortunate and they all will desire stake in my achievement. For anyone who opposes or disagrees will be cast out and diminished to that of an incomplete being; these will be used as teachings of what not to aspire to when a new dawn arises on this dreadful city.

I peered hopelessly beyond my happy reflection and into the many clocks that hang purposely adjacent to one another on the oak wood walling behind me. I remembered that interaction well. Thugs in a cape and a masks. It’s density lost, a splintered and disproportionate surface still creeks, screeches, and moves slightly if the noise in this room is too loud. It doesn’t require much vibration for this patchwork; this rigged up and hastily remodeled area of my hideout to boisterously warn of its vulnerability to force ever since then. Since the Batman and his overly enthusiastic cohorts, or imbeciles as I’d label them, (they themselves didn’t leave quite the impression like their daddy did) invaded my very teet of enchantment and drove through, literally and figuratively, hoards of my friends; those that I saved. I won’t forget what Batman and his groupies did that day, and many times before. Their demise will come in time but as a whole, something much much bigger is at hand and I’ll deal with the Bat cult soon enough.

This building, along with a few others being the epicenter of my dealings, and beyond that single wall and many others across Gotham, my ambitions for a new and better Gotham lie uninterrupted. My hands are all over this damned city.

That small fight with the Batman, or the tensions that exists between Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler, Deathstroke, all of them and the wannabe “heroes” as they all vey for prominence in this miserable city, is a distraction. I too found myself scratching and clawing, scavenging for scraps like a second act to these less than imaginative clowns... I loathe what I’ve become and how low my standards have been placed.

I am aiming far too low.

Why aim so low and gravitate to such minuscule efforts for a tiny region of Gotham when I can influence the whole damn place?! It will take time, it will take force, and it will take killing the Batman. But who’s worried about little old me? I glance toward the grandfather clock/blinding light, swinging blade trap/secret doorway, to a secluded sector of my home. I recall my villain-es que-rogue-status for the Dark Knight, and what exactly my position is in Gotham and then I find myself grinning even wider.

They won’t even see it coming. They won’t see the Mad Hatter.

I mean, I’m Mad. Remember.

My smirk remains strong as I reverse my posture back towards the mirror, seeing my still joyful reflection hadn’t changed a bit. I then say out loud the first thing that comes to mind:

Let’s begin shall we?”

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Red Hood: Blood Rites #2

*****

Matthew 4:19, 20 – “And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you deeply regret it. And they did not heed his warning and followed him.”

Three days. Sixty-seven hours to be exact. That’s how long it’s been since I noticed someone following me. Whoever it is, they’ve been keeping their distance, sticking to shadows. Any move to identify them would give away the fact that I know they’re there but being watched without permission is…well it pisses me right the hell off. I feel like a damn lab rat. But Bruce used to say that you should gather as much information as you can, whenever you can. And who am I to disagree with the world’s greatest detective?

First and foremost, I can eliminate the entire Bat Family. If it was Batman, I’d have no clue. Not to mention I noticed my little shadow while taking care of the Russians. No way he wouldn’t have intervened. It’s not Nightwing either. He did secretly promise Bruce that he’d help keep an eye on me – how they think I don’t know this is beyond me – but the truth is he’s going through something of a quarter life crisis. Ever since Bludhaven was destroyed, the guy’s been pretty withdrawn. Anyone else either wouldn’t be able to stay hidden this long or wouldn’t care to trail me in the first place. It’s also safe to say my shadow wasn’t hired to kill me. I gave them plenty of opportunities to try, and they didn’t take a single one. So, what is this? Why the observation? Are they assessing me? Waiting for some sort of sign? I’ve saved lives and I’ve taken them, so what else do they hope to see? This can’t simply be to figure out who I am. No one’s that interested in the Red Hood, and there are easier ways to go about it. Maybe it’s my frustration talking, but I’ve come to a new conclusion: whatever their interest is, they’re hanging back because they’re not sure they can take me. And you know what? I’m pissed enough to draw them into the open and find out.

I’m pursuing a mark. No one special, but he and I have some unfinished business. He’s a slippery bastard though, so I’m on foot. Less chance of spooking him that way. While I’m pursuing him, my tail is still pursuing me. I can’t see them, but I can sense them slinking along somewhere from the rooftops. Yet another thing Bruce instilled in me: Be aware of everything, even the things you can’t see. Funny enough, I’m pretty sure my mark knows he’s being followed, but he’s playing it safe much the same way I’ve been doing. I pick up my pace, steadily closing the gap. Eventually he glances back, and when he sees me, he darts into an alley. I don’t want to lose him, so I run after him. It’s only seconds, but I emerge from the other end of the alley and he’s somehow gone. Like I said, slippery. I take a brief moment to consider my next course of action, before ultimately deciding to head back to my makeshift hideout. I’m still being silently followed from the rooftops, and it’s a bit unnerving. It doesn’t matter though, because there’s no longer anyone in the area…and they’ve been following the wrong Red Hood.

“So you’re the one who’s been following me.” Stealth isn’t exactly my preference, but it’s still a part of my arsenal. Seems my pursuer was too focused on the ground and didn’t notice when I made my way up a fire escape…. I’m on the rooftop, and not even 10 feet in front of me stands a female Talon – an assassin for the Court of Owls. She doesn’t say anything, and I can’t see her face thanks to her mask, but her body language says that she’s confused and maybe just a little afraid. Good. Her head quickly whips between myself and my doppelganger below. “Go ahead. You can ask.”

She tilts her head towards the ground. “…Who?”

“They call him the Human Target. He’s a master of disguise…and he owed me a favor. We made the switch in the alley.”

“…I’m not here to—”

“My turn. Why have you been following me for the last three days?”

“Five.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s been five days.”

Okay. As a man, I can admit that hurt my pride. Three days means she tracked me from Solo Santi back to the outskirts of Gotham. Five means she tracked me from when I left Gotham in the first place. I completely forget my original question and rush in for the attack, immediately putting her on the defensive. I throw a straight right, which she ducks. I use my momentum to launch a wheel kick, but she backflips out of the way. I push the assault, but she’s difficult to land a blow on. Even through my rage I can tell she fights differently from the other Talons. Most of them are strictly offense, relying just as much on aggression and physicality as their skill. This one is more lissome and evasive – reminiscent of Batgirl. My barrage starts to get through, and I land a blow to her ribs before following up with a back elbow. She recovers quickly and manages to connect with a kick to my head, then springs forward with her clawed hands. I read her move though, simultaneously grabbing her wrists and moving backwards, using her momentum to flip her over my head onto her back. I quickly straddle her, throwing repeated strikes to her face, but she grabs my arm and pivots her hips to throw me off. When I get up, she’s brandishing dual swords, and suddenly I’m the one on the defensive. She’s swinging, but her intent feels less than deadly. It’s like she’s more concerned with keeping the distance between us.

“Red Hood, you need to—”

“Not interested.”

Instead of backpedaling further, I move into her space, grabbing her at the forearms and headbutting her. It’s enough to stagger her, and I follow up with a knee right under her chin. Whatever this was about, I’m done. I pull out my pistols intending to finish her off, and even though she scrambles out of the way, a bullet still manages to catch her leg. She lets out a sharp grunt, and…something doesn’t feel right. She’s too defensive, and she’s using her swords more like a barrier. Talons are physically enhanced – low tier superhumans – yet she hasn’t been able to keep up with my speed, strength, or stamina. And despite the healing factor she should have, that bullet to the leg really seems to be bothering her. Now that my anger’s fading, I finally notice that something about her seems familiar. Assuming I’m right…

“I’ve read about you. You’re Strix.”

“Yes. I wasn’t here for a fight.” She visibly relaxes.

I slowly lower my guns. “Right. That’s what you were trying to say before. Then why are you—Wait, since when can you talk?” I’ve located and read as many files on Talons I could. This particular one, Mary Turner a.k.a. Strix, was too close to an explosion when she was a kid. Her face was horribly scarred, and her vocal cords were damaged. She hasn’t or at least shouldn’t be able to talk. I wait for a reply but don’t get one. Instead, she readjusts her stance, taking the weight off the bad leg, and takes off the signature owl themed mask. I honestly wasn’t prepared for what I see. Dark skin, short, curly, black hair that just passes the base of the neck, soft facial features, amber eyes, and…not a scar in sight. Her face is perfectly fine. What in the hell is going on here? I raise my gun again.

“Start. Talking. You can speak, coherently at that, your scars are healed, and you definitely weren’t the fighter your file made you out to be – no offense.” I see a slight look of annoyance at that last part, probably because we both know I meant nothing but offense. She takes a deep breath before finally speaking again.

“A lot…has happened.”

“No shit. Explain.”

“You know I left the Court. After that…The Birds of Prey.”

“Batgirl’s team. And if my sources are correct, you spent some time with the Secret Six after that, right?”

“Yes.”

I can’t tell if her short, broken speech pattern is from not using her voice over the years, or because of the leg wound, but I can see her discomfort, and I pull a salve from my jacket lining. It’s not much, but it should dampen the pain and the blood flow.

“For your thigh.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem. So, the Secret Six – Catman and the crew. How did that work out for you?” I see her stiffen again, and she casts her eyes downward. Not a good sign.

“Fine…for a while. But there was trouble. A.R.G.U.S. agents. Amanda Waller caught me… She placed me in Task Force X.”

And now I’m completely on edge. Amanda Waller is something of a wildcard. She has the resources to rival just about anyone, the government’s full backing and support, and balls so big even Bruce has to respect her. To top it off, her morals are even worse than mine. On one hand, she really does care about national security. On the other, she’s not above using her Director position to further her own goals. Actually, she uses every opportunity to do so. And Task Force X? Well that’s about the worst position you can find yourself in. They’re basically a bunch of hardened criminals, usually metahumans, who go on impossible missions just for the chance to take a couple years off their sentence. They have another name – The Suicide Squad. And the prerequisite for joining? A tamper-proof bomb at the base of the neck. Waller does not play around.

“Okay, so sometime after the Secret Six, you end up on the Suicide Squad, which isn’t much better than a death sentence. And yet you’re here. In front of me. And you’re not having your head blown off. Which means that for some reason Waller set you free. Why?”

She still refuses to meet my eyes as she speaks, and I can hear the anxiety in her voice. “…Waller saw me on missions. She saw me heal, and she was…curious. Learned about my past…”

“You mean the fact that you’re eighty-plus and you barely look old enough to drink?”

“She offered me a deal. Took me to a secret site. They could reverse all the damage from my childhood. Take away my scars; give me back my voice. And she would let me leave. In exchange, she wanted what made me, me.”

“NO. Please tell me you’re not saying what I think you are. You could NOT be that stupid.” She finally looks up, and I can see the guilt in her face. You idiot.

“I let her extract the electrum from my body. Physically…I’m just a normal girl now.”

Amanda Waller now has access to a compound that if used right, can make a person stronger, faster, and just about impossible to put down permanently. Electrum can resurrect the dead, and it’s now in the hands of a woman with her own personal strike force. Of metahumans. Wonderful.

“I should kill you just for being that dumb. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?! Waller was a handful before—”

“Calm down!” She throws her hands up defensively. “I don’t think she knows how to use it. Her…scientists seemed confused. It’s too complex for them.”

“You underestimate her. It’s only a matter of time before she figures it out.”

“She’s…not our concern right now.”

Our concern?” She ignores my distinction entirely and presses on.

“I caught wind of something else. Something…dangerous. A sect calling themselves the Wildflower Druids. It’s why I’m here…I need your help.” Something about the slight way her eyes widen and the hint of desperation in her voice tells me that she’s scared. And I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I should be too.

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Sawed_Off_It

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#5  Edited By Sawed_Off_It

Mad Hatter: The Little Things #2

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2 Years Ago

Hatter's Secret(s)

" Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum - Can you see what we've become?

No more games, no more fun; For so imminent is the day of the maddening one.

So come along now my haven: Pyer, Violet, Karys and Dunn; we move as a unit, for we've prepared as one.

No more glimmer with no result. We cannot consider phoning this home.

I've kept you at bay, stowed and away, and at such a young age so that you could join me one day."

I cease for a moment and pinch the dramatic tone from peeling over into my next statement as I work to stand from my vintage accent chair. Tall and equipped with an abundance of padding, it is a sleep inducing nook simply on fabric alone. I’m always hitting the floor toes first due to my own shortcomings (again no pun intended) so I often have to thrust myself from its hold by utilizing the expertly carved arms - clearly sculpted by a talented individual long ago - as my bearings to jump down and to regain balance. I look in their direction and with a slight sigh, I offer more condolences than rhymes.

" To your miserable cages and to your homes I came. All of you violated by your own name. Your parents never should have birthed you and they know no shame.

Enslaved and code named for the pleasure it takes for them to atone pain, but all four if you I saved."

As they they stood in front of me, this quadruplet of once intended-to-be-Alices, I became more assertive and played to their nostalgic remembrance of our first encounter.

" Remember when I grabbed you awake and told you my name?

At first you all jolted in place as if you were going to escape. Until I told you I'd show you a way to an extraordinary place.

No, NO no no no, now absolutely NO time to delay, we have a game to go play."

Delving In

That was 15 years ago that I saved them.

Now, these girls have turned full bred women and were isolated and kept under my watchful eyes and remained there until I felt them completely trustworthy to mingle (at very specific times) with the outside world. Their devotion to me and complete gratefulness for sheltering them from further abusive was still ever thriving and has only increased over the course of fifteen years. I continued enforcing my love for them for my own gain, and my own perfected deceit has become second nature. Don't get me wrong. These girls grew up under my care but they, just like everything else that has opposed me in my past and will oppose me in the future, they will not stand in my way from obtaining and recreating a better Gotham! A Hatter's Gotham. I can certainly use their loyalty though. As much combative preparation/training and physical toughness, years of hellish workouts, and early sister-ish bonding evolving into an unstoppable unit of death dealing, they have been and will be a proverbial ace in the hole - literally hahahahah - for an imaginative and intricate but so simple plot. Everyone will see!

I have a soft spot for them, I do... but there are bigger things that harden the very tissue behind that very small soft area that their likeness for me have kneeded within me. So I placate to their development and manipulate my words to suit each and every one of them. For they can help me achieve my goals.

Hatter's speech to Violet:

" Violet, with eyes as blue as the sky, you're just as ruthless, but even more savage than I.

Infused with a mastered design that I once used to capture minds, you now use it to stagger time.

As I've fused it with a patterned device to attach to your spine.

Now that connects to your neck, and from your view it tracks your sight!

Time isn't moving slower. NO, no, no, Violet. That'd be a lie.

But you'll find it quite amusing how you can react on a dime. Quite a bit faster than even that intrusive BAT - man guy."

Hatter's speech to Karys and Dunn:

"Shock, Shock, Shock!!! You two are just so en-lightning in all.

Pun intended once again but it kinda involves mastery over every one of the wiry prongs that slide and charge in the sides of your arms.

Lookee there! For with high voltage involved, no job is too small.

An elect-ric set of twins, this is who you are! A duo of sparks you are, but hey! here's the juiciest part!

From being directly supplied to your palms, every limb of your body has harnessed an electrifying charge! "

Hatter's speech to Pyer:

"The oldest of the group, so swift you move. The potent precision in use when you're focused on who opposes you.

With darkness as your cover, you prey in the suit, or it's a razor you threw, maybe you'll even engage them too. No pun intended but that in itself is quite engaging of you.

A question I raise to you - You play it cool, but how do you make due?

I mean most of your victims fell at your blade without even knowing you were in the same room. "

A grin ensues as I see how the appreciative and cherishing outlook of me, Jervis Tetch, is molded across their faces. I knew they were entranced after my third word. A fiddle. Four fiddles on elementary settings, I played them flawlessly.

Come now my children, you've earned this.

Father/Spectator/Manipulator? I wear many hats.

Brought into this world victims of deviant behavior by ones meant to care for you most, they were a rather easy target for what I wanted to do. Honestly, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at that time. All I knew was that I craved a cemented status. Whether it was out of fear or respect, I would do whatever it took to gain control of such a clueless and lazy society. A swift kick in the nads would wake up a sheep like society such as this one. If they needed to be awoken though, I really want nothing to do with them as those: the poor, the homeless and the struggling understand. Without much in their life, they tend to truly appreciate opportunity. Mad Hatter's City, whether a Pawn or a Bishop or a King, you would be awarded opportunity under my rule! You'll all have purpose if I so deem it.

As for Pyer, Violet, Karys and Dunn, they all experienced despicable acts perpetrated on their self. Some were abused and neglected. One of them was fed scraps (if their guardians remembered them). Cold, alone, and learning to live quietly in the shadows; a weeping soul of single digit age left to fend for herself in her own abyss, a dim and locked cellar; chained to a thick pillar in the corner of the room adjacent to a useless furnace. Nothing more than an out of style hunk of metal. A child finding the will to live under such unrelenting and undeserved torture was the precursor that brought them to me. In her (Pyer’s) personal scenario, a constant but forgiving solitude was her only friend. Considering...

Considering the ones who would visit her occasionally and.. use her. Again and again. Bloody responses and dirty mattresses did nothing to stop the reoccurring assaults on her innocence.

Their penchant for making amends with who they once were reminded me of myself. Hence why they survived under my tutelage for so long.

I was a laughing stock for a cruel god. My existence here was intended only for indecent gazes at my stature with immediate shame and pity for Jervis. A quick double take ensuing their glance before they pretended that they couldn’t see me was the norm. It still is. But at least I understand it now. At least I am aware of what compulsions drive me to do the things that I do! All I wanted at one timewas acceptance and the compassion that the rest of humanity so often shows among themselves. Why was that so bad? Why was I wrong in desiring it?

Is what I would have once said.

Humanity is a pit of misery and pain and no one truly cares about anyone. From mothers drowning all of their children in the bathtub one by one because she's "sick"; to a mother stuffing her baby's head into a shoe box in an effort to conceal her wrongdoing; to a sardonic cheating father murdering his youngest daughter in front of her sister via suffocation and then doing the same to said witness; to a grandmother stabbing into and cutting off a screaming newborn's arms while humming along to a gospel soundtrack.... am I really all that Mad? The answer is Yes. I am.

These girls looked to me, Tetch - The Mad Hatter for guidance and life support. If I wanted to care for these angels I would need to keep them safe and in seclusion for as long as possible. Was it for my own means? Of course but at least they were better off with the Hatter than they were with the deviants that littered the populace.

I had so many locations across Gotham to house my girls but none of those was ever going to be a hundred percent safe from that uptight bumbling crusading psycho that perches atop rooftops. So I wasted no expense and I wasted no secretion of brain matter that still functioned normally in even my ill - fated but abnormally sized skull.

I hid them near water and raised them as my own for a very, very long time.

I trek far away and into distant lands in order to convince the most skilled fighters and some of the most deadly mercenaries to download all of their knowledge onto my girls. They weren't that hard to find actually. If they were hesitant or denied - most of them were - a dose of encouragement that was located tucked into my sleeve came in the form of white powder. I would rile it up into a gust of wind as I would subtly exhale in order to propel the grains of influence into their faces and invade their senses. A quick huff and puff transitioned them from unwilling participant to getty volunteer. My girls trained hard and battled through massive sores and gaping wounds. Decade old scars adorned the toned extremities of them all. With special forces style endurance, pinched nerves, torn muscles, broken bones and mental draining was every Thursday for them. Their discipline and reliance on each other was astounding. They would know that it was necessary to brave this era of their life and they did. The blood was no longer the only difference between the four of them but it was an irregularity. A farce. They might as well have been spun from the same origin and mother seeing how close they had gotten.

They were dangerous and they were mine.

A Calculated Revelation

Back at my most unknown and concealed residence, only known to me and them, I unlatch the door from what they've known for fifteen years with tears welling up around my eyes. Another uneven feature from a dissimilar symmetry that made up my rough and naturally gnarled face. I gripped the handle already nearly unhinged from the bolted frame (my upkeep on this particular place wasn’t a main priority seeing how they had gotten older and wiser) with forced heartache drawn on my face. Adding onto that, I made it as though it was difficult for me to look at them due to the immense "sadness" I was feeling. Pyer stepped forward. Her silhouette clashing with the intruding moonlight as she approached the exit. The other three followed behind but began to flank my view of the outside in what seemed to be a planned catechism on their part. I knew what was coming but the dramatic aspect of this exchange was still necessary. Pyer began,

"Father we know who you are. We know what you are and why you tend to appear and disappear for days and weeks, and even months on end."

I pretended to wipe away tears and stayed an approaching smile. I then looked up at her waiting for her to continue.

"People aren't like us. Our own parents beat on and refuted our very existence. We all gave up on life long ago, father. It is because of you that we harbor even a modicum of hope. We know that your past attempts to change others into beings of wonder and acceptance has been thwarted by the Batman.

Countless times."

Pyer says while seeming to be deeply bothered by the fact that the dark knight has been so successful against her savior. An under achieving genius with an intangible handicap; primarily his Alice obsession interfering with his detailed and extravagant plans. Of which, would work on almost anyone had the Mad Hatter not pursued acceptance for most of his life. With reassurance of his relevance taking priority, the compulsion for it blinded Jervis to what his potential could be.

Last night all of that disintegrated and his true purpose was laid out before him. Pyer's description of what ails Mad Hatter continues to impress Tetch.

"But it is also because you collapse and falter in your ideals when it isn't fun or fit your world."

"Don't you think I know that.." I begin before being drowned out by the inner thoughts of sheer honesty from Pyer. I'd have to admit, she was right. She was always a very observant and curious young woman. I listened for what else she had to say.

"You're a highly capable man, father. You are worth so much more than half assed robberies, corny schemes and lyrical wordplay. You fail because inside of you, deep inside of you, you are just like all of us were before you recused us. Lost and wandering around in a world and in a society where you don't fit in. By opposing force and by exhausting hopes for acceptance, do you now yield to standards placed by people around you that don't understand you and have no interest in ever doing so? You believed in us and gave us what we needed most."

"What's that?" I ask still fixated on every motion of her lips. The way they keep moving, the more raging a fire burns within me to prove her right. She's impressed me with her hypothesis on my life of crime and why it hasn't panned out. I am however still enthralled with inner excitement. An abundance of butterflies flutters inside my chest and tickles my lungs as I give deep breaths because literally every thing she has said is what I expected her to. They won't leave. Even if I open the door and offer them to. No mind control needed. They want to be alongside me, for me! And in that is a success!

"Belief."

Mossandra spoke with certainty, excitement, love and conviction all at once.

"You made us believe, father. Let's make Gotham believe in you. Let us help you. We can make everyone believe wholeheartedly in the Mad Hatter. In us.

(Inner doubt combats my apparent prediction of their choices and words being correct. I very much enjoyed being four, five, six steps ahead but -

Are they even capable of eliminating hurdles/lives to get what they want?)

I surveyed what I had created and looked every one of them in the eyes.

"I, I just am not sure if.."

I halt my twitching nerves as I gaze at an open floor in an area where it shouldn't be empty. I recalled the previous night's interaction with my most recent flawed Alice and pondered why her slain carcass was no longer there. I glanced toward the nearest wall as the door had been swung ajar and the moon continued to provide a clearer view in the darker corners of the house. The brightness of the moon cut through the night and lit my tiddly shape, effectively tossing my dim shadow on an otherwise blank white canvas that hung no pictures but I was not a singular silhouette for long. I was joined by a trio-like contour of figures that were of similar size and stood idle beside me as their shadows met mine.

"She's gone." The one on the right muttered matter-of-factly. I began to turn around and my timid stance was now one of unsureness and complexity.

"She is taken by the undertoe by now."

Violet speaks up.

"Or she was eaten. A lot of sharks come close to the shore this time a year."

"Yeah, that trash is long dead by now. She was really pretty though, even when dead." Dunn said unapologetically as she un-bottoned a bottom clip of her cyclist jacket; a black leather one with the letters AIF on the left shoulder patch. A personalized touch for the youngest of them. I was then finally able to respond.

"Where did --" I start to request the scene in which the act took place.

"A bay out of town." Dunn said as she dug her ringed fingers in her pockets. She's always wore rings on every finger. This time she hid her hands for more of a convenient posture than anything. Dunn was the youngest and the second birthed of her Karys. Karys was three minutes older than her.

I find myself disappointed at the lack of creativity or the caution they need to cover their tracks as I go on confused.

" The only body of water that aggressive sharks navigate is under constant surveillance by a private militia; cold blooded killers extensively trained in the art of war. Surely there are cameras and constant security maintaining the docks. I mean, if.." Again, I was interrupted.

"There were." Karys said as she stepped beside a stoic and motionless Pyer.

Pyer adds:

"There was security. Armed and dangerous and on high alert seeing as its perimeters were cloaked and guarded by hundreds of yards of barbed wire, sixteen snipers, electrical fencing, guard dogs and a literal mine field."

Dunn chimes in almost unnecessarily:

"We needed alot of cement blocks. Extra for the chubby ones."

"It took a couple more minutes than we thought it would."

Pyer's face never changed as she awaited my thoughts. I couldn't resist my feelings (something Iost long ago) of anger, sadness, disappointment, and confusion devolving into a single emotion - un-repressed joy.

"So, we heard you talking to yourself last night. We want in.

So...

Can we get started?" Violet said quickly.

I glanced up, as she was quite tall. Even more than her sisters, Violet towered over me. Etched across my face was the evidence of what I was feeling - an unforced smirk. My question had been answered. I hadn't had much to say during this interaction but there was so much to listen to! They were everything I thought they were going to be, and more! The plan to give them a choice to stand by my side or leave the mansion couldn't have gone better. A smile was indefinitely plastered on the rigid and knobbly base of my jaw before I let my response seep out:

Mad Hatter:" My Girls. "

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Red Hood: Blood Rites #3

*****

Hosea 10:12 – “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap without mercy; raze this hallowed ground: for it is time to follow Bloom, till he come again and rain righteousness upon you.”

The city of Gotham has faced many threats. Psychopaths and mad men. Geniuses and megalomaniacs. Monsters and the wholly unexplainable. Everything from common criminals to sinister supervillains. It’s seen those who thought themselves monarchs, boisterously proclaiming their rule, intent on recreating the city in their image. And it’s seen clandestine orders, moving as specters behind the scenes, influencing and manipulating from the shadows. And throughout it all, Gotham has survived and taken pride in its preternatural ability to do so.

But there was once a man – if one could call him that – unlike any Gotham had ever seen. His body was a perversion of the human form; tall and inhumanly slender with long, spindly limbs and digits, and exaggerated movements. His figure contorted in ways that shouldn’t be possible, as if the natural limitations of joints and muscles were merely ignored suggestions. The twisted and warped nature of his anatomy was only exceeded by that of his mind. His ideologies fell somewhere between anarchy and survival of the fittest, only with both taken to the extremes. He was a plague upon the city, one which nearly brought it to its knees and destroyed it entirely. And despite the impact he left, despite his blood-soaked legacy, no one knew his true identity. For much like Gotham’s Dark Knight, its self-appointed liberator and would-be destroyer wore a mask. It was a peculiar design, blueish grey with a large sunflower motif concealing his visage, and directly in the middle was a crimson maw. Many speculate that it was this mask that inspired his lone eponym – Mr. Bloom.

Bloom was bedlam in a time when Gotham's greatest protector was thought dead. But where some saw madness and chaos, others saw inspiration. They saw a revolutionary. Because even if he sounded just a tad crazy, was the same not said of all the greatest minds throughout history? And when the night came that he grew in stature, so much so that he could peer over Gotham’s rooftops, he loudly made his proclamation to the denizens of the city – and they listened. They listened as he likened Gotham unto a garden. Not for its beauty, but for its falsity. He considered it nothing more than a façade. Bloom spoke of the true nature of gardens – how they were artificial and unnatural, how they were composed of naturally combative wildflowers forced to fight for resources. Meanwhile, the government – Gotham’s gardeners – unabashedly pushed their city officials and wealthy class to the forefront, proudly displaying them to the world. These roses were given more than they would ever need, but the wildflowers such as himself and his fellow Gothamites were forced to contend with crime, corruption, and poverty. He urged them to embrace their wildflower nature – to take what they wanted with no apologies. He told them to be honest about how they felt with their situation and those around them, and to take action. And then…he provided them with the means to.

Throughout Gotham, Mr. Bloom had hidden “seeds”, small pieces of nanotech capable of giving random superpowers to anyone who slipped one into their bloodstream. And for a short time, the city’s citizens bought into his message and searched every dark corner looking to seize the power they had begun to feel they deserved. But in the city’s darkest hour, the impossible happened. The Dark Knight returned. He was the bastion of hope that Gotham desperately needed, and his presence was enough to restore rationality to his city. Virtually all the seeds were abandoned, Mr. Bloom was defeated – ironically disintegrated by a large energy sphere of his own creation, and the city once against survived what should certainly have been its ruin. Gothamites cheered and celebrated the closing of one of their darkest chapters when the GCPD proudly announced that they had recovered and destroyed all of Bloom’s seeds. But it seemed there was some truth to Mr. Bloom’s words. This was yet another façade presented by the gardeners. In total, Bloom had spread 1,178 of his seeds throughout the city. Of that number, the GCPD had actually recovered 1,106. Somewhere in Gotham seventy-two seeds were left unaccounted for.

And so, five months after Bloom’s demise, a gathering took place. Seventy-one men and women stood before a dais in a dilapidated building, awaiting something – though what exactly that “something” was, none of them were certain. Whispers and grumblings slowly broke out among the crowd as they grew restless.

Finally, a throat was cleared. The small assembly fell silent as they watched a man ascend the platform from the small set of stairs in the corner. The man walked with an unassuming swagger to the front of the platform. At first glance, there was nothing remarkable about him. He was of average height and build. His dark hair, which was cropped short, had a natural shagginess to it, and the greys in both his hair and the stubble along his jaw and chin stood out prominently. His slightly sunken green eyes held grief, but also warmth and openness. His attire was simple – a grey fleece jacket paired with navy jeans and black gloves. He looked out over the crowd of people with a small smile as everyone waited for him to speak.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm so glad you all decided to come here this evening, though I know many of you aren't entirely sure why you did." He spoke with a deep, mellifluous drawl. "I'm sure you felt compelled to come here by some subconscious sensation, you may even say it was...a voice." He briefly gestured to himself, "I was that voice."

He paused in his speech, giving the crowd a moment to react. "I know you're skeptical, and I don't blame you. This is Gotham after all. Skepticism has probably kept you alive. But humor me for a moment. By a show of hands, how many of you are familiar with all the people around you?" He surveyed the crowd again, noting there were no hands raised. "I see. How many of you received any sort of invitation to come here? No? An address? How many of you even know where here is?"

By now, the crowd chattered away in wonderment as they realized not a single person could answer any of his questions in the affirmative. The man held up his hand, silently asking the crowd for their attention. "As I said, I am that voice, and whether you know it or not, every person in this room has a very important commonality. You see, every person in this room has one of Bloom's seeds inside them. And I…I can sense them all."

A deafening hush fell over the small mob. "I can feel it. Every single one of you, connected to me. I'm positive you feel it as well." He was silent, waiting for some reaction from his audience. Finally, a small man to the far left spoke.

"I – I feel it, but… The Mayor said that the GCPD found and destroyed all the seeds. How can everyone here have one?"

The man on stage gave a warm smile before answering. "Well that's simple, isn't it? The fact that you yourself have a seed should answer that question for you. Mr. Bloom told you how we've been lied to. This is just another notch in the column, so to speak. The GCPD is not our ally. Nor is the government. Do you know how we were so callously overlooked? Because everyone here is from the poorest, seediest part of Gotham, on the southside of Robinsville. The police department went out of their way to sweep our neighborhood last, and in doing so, all but ensured they would be too late. My brothers and sisters, I believe Bloom foresaw this oversight. I believe that is why our seeds are special.

“Consider this: everyone else who took a seed received radical powers and physical transformations. But the people in this room? We received a mental bond. A link from you to me – however tenuous it may be at this moment. We were meant to unite. We were meant to be Bloom's most devout followers. We are the true wildflowers he spoke of."

The crowd buzzed with excited energy following this statement. However, there was still some trepidation and even a small pocket of outrage among them.

“What makes you so special?!” A frail, blond haired woman cried out. “Why is our link only to you?! We don’t even know who you are!”

There was a brief flash of emotion in the man’s eyes, but it quickly dissipated, and he offered his same warm smile and soothing voice. “My sister, I implore you to calm down. We’re all family here. A new family. But you’re correct. So wrapped up was I in my oration, that I forgot to properly introduce myself. How thoughtless of me. My name is Judah. Judah Morgan. And I welcome you.”

Another man, tall and tanned with glasses, spoke this time. “Okay Judah Morgan. You still didn’t answer her question. Why you?”

“Ah, dear brother,” Judah answered with mirth in his voice, “I don’t know why I specifically was given this gift. But I do know that Bloom intended for someone to have it. And I do know that one does not question God’s will. So I will think less on why I was chosen, and instead focus on the role I was meant to play. Because why else would I receive this ability, if not to lead my people, Bloom’s people, into the future?” There was a hum of approval following his reply.

The woman spoke again. “You’re insane. You sound like a damn zealot!” The woman turned to her attention to the rest of the crowd. “This is madness! Are you all really going to accept what he’s saying? He’s trying to turn us into a cult for God’s sake!”

All humor left Judah’s face. “Do not use His name in vain. Why don’t you come up on the stage? And sir, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to come up as well.” He gestured to the man and woman, beckoning them to take a place to his right. “May I ask your names?”

“…Sarah.”

“Elliot.”

“Sarah and Elliot. Such lovely names for two lovely people. Would you be so kind as to answer a question for me, Sarah and Elliot?” He smiled at them both, waiting until they nodded before continuing in his same unwavering tone. “Oh good. My question: what would you say if I said you either join or you die?”

“Ex-excuse me?!” Sarah responded in horror.

“What would you say if I said you’re either with us or you’re against us, and if you don’t join, I’m going to gut you both right now? Run a blade all the way from your navel to your throat and watch your entrails spill out? That’s what a cult leader would do, correct, sister Sarah? Brother Elliot?” The pair stared in stunned, terrified silence. All the while, Judah never lost his warm expression. He observed them for a few more seconds before finally chuckling and breaking eye contact for just a moment. “Of course, I’d like everyone here to become proselytes of Bloom, but I’m no madman. You have a choice, and I will not begrudge you no matter the decision you make. All I ask is that you make the decision quickly, so that everyone can move on.” He gestured to the crowd, who while curious at the scene playing out on the dais, now seemed otherwise at ease.

“I’m…I’m leaving.” Sarah announced.

“I see. And you, brother Elliot?”

“I’m not sticking around for whatever this is supposed to be. I think you’re nothing but a con artist.”

“How unfortunate. Well, I told you that you had a choice. And I meant what I said – no hard feelings. I completely forgive you. I can only hope that you forgive me as well.”

Before either had a chance to ponder Judah’s words, he pulled a long karambit knife from under his jacket and stabbed through Elliot’s abdomen, before promptly ripping upwards, stopping just below his jaw. A small gasp came from the crowd as Sarah began screaming.

“Sarah? Sister Sarah, please don’t scream—”

“SOMEBODY HELP ME!!!” She frantically turned to the audience, only to find they were transfixed on Elliot’s body, staring in awe and something akin to appreciation.

“Wha – what is this?! Why won’t you help me?!”

“Because they’ve accepted.” His voice came low and smooth next to her ear. She spun around, only to have the same blade plunged into her stomach as Judah repeated the same actions on Sarah as he had on Elliot. Judah felt a euphoric sensation as their lives drained away, and his link to them was severed. The crowd watched on, rapt by the sudden exsanguination.

“And thus, seventy-two became seventy.” Judah’s words were punctuated by a small chuckle that escalated into maniacal laughter, and his eyes were blown wide and wild. He looked down at the still scarlet blade in his hand, and his laughter died down. He let out a remorseful sigh before turning to address the crowd again, who simply watched and waited for him to speak. “I’m terribly sorry about that. It was…uncouth of me. But now, we can put that behind us.” He slowly removed his gloves as he continued. “We’ve all been through so many hardships, lost so much,” his eyes quickly flicked down to the dead bodies to his side, “…lost so many. We’ve been forgotten, beaten, and victimized.” He held up his now bare hands, showing his captive audience the large holes in the center of each palm.

“But Bloom had a plan for us. Gotham belongs to the downtrodden, and none have been so more than the people in this room.” He listened as they quietly voiced their agreement, then continued. “Did any of you know that we had one more ability granted by the seed? You’ve probably only used it subconsciously, but that’s okay. It took me a while to master it, but here, amongst all your new brothers and sisters, you’ll learn to properly harness it as I have.

“How many of you were frightened by what you saw on this stage?” Judah was met only by silence and determined faces. “Of course, you weren’t – I didn’t expect you to be. Sister Sarah and brother Elliot refused to accept their new role, and so their fear gripped them like a vice. But we are different. We don’t feel fear…We induce it.”