Batman 1939: Three's Company

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LadyTevar
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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by LadyTevar » 2020-07-11 10:58am

Stewart M wrote:
2020-07-09 08:28pm
The curious thing is Selina has almost never heard his default voice...
Huh... never noticed that.
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.
"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP" -- Leonard Nimoy, last Tweet

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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by Stewart M » 2020-07-11 01:14pm

Who know, it might be meaningful.

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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by SpottedKitty » 2020-07-12 10:17pm

LadyTevar wrote:
2020-07-11 10:58am
Stewart M wrote:
2020-07-09 08:28pm
The curious thing is Selina has almost never heard his default voice...
Huh... never noticed that.
On the gripping hand... does he have a distinctive chin, like Judge Dredd? :wink:
“Despite rumor, Death isn't cruel — merely terribly, terribly good at his job.”
Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by Stewart M » 2020-07-12 10:21pm

SpottedKitty wrote:
2020-07-12 10:17pm
LadyTevar wrote:
2020-07-11 10:58am
Stewart M wrote:
2020-07-09 08:28pm
The curious thing is Selina has almost never heard his default voice...
Huh... never noticed that.
On the gripping hand... does he have a distinctive chin, like Judge Dredd? :wink:
Not to some Leno-esque magnitude, but it's pretty chiseled.

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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by LadyTevar » 2020-07-13 12:33am

Stewart M wrote:
2020-07-12 10:21pm
Not to some Leno-esque magnitude, but it's pretty chiseled.
TBH, I've been seeing him as B:TAS. They went pretty 30s with a lot of the imagery, so that's where my mind went.
Image
Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.
"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP" -- Leonard Nimoy, last Tweet

Stewart M
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Posts: 185
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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by Stewart M » 2020-07-13 09:55am

LadyTevar wrote:
2020-07-13 12:33am
Stewart M wrote:
2020-07-12 10:21pm
Not to some Leno-esque magnitude, but it's pretty chiseled.
TBH, I've been seeing him as B:TAS. They went pretty 30s with a lot of the imagery, so that's where my mind went.
I consider B:TAS a core inspiration for the series. That's a fine mental template.

Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by Stewart M » 2020-07-16 06:53pm

Batman 1939: Three's Company

Chapter 6: Homecoming Queen​


Gotham City. Fourteen years ago.

Giovanni Zatara had never lived long at one address. He liked the traveling lifestyle, but it had its disadvantages. Being a single parent was more difficult on the road. Yet over the years he grew accustomed to raising a daughter without a community. What he never grew accustomed to was his lack of a workshop.

Professional magic was part acting and part invention. A magician could practice his stagecraft until he upstaged Chaplin, but he would never be a star with old tricks. Professional magicians needed to design and rehearse new material. While some styles of magic fit in a suitcase, the big crowds demanded big stunts, which meant big props, which required a dedicated workshop. Giovnani had struggled for years to rent or borrow the space when he could. His performances had suffered for it. Worse, he couldn’t teach Zatanna how to make her own magic without a place to call her own.

So there was little regret when Giovanni officially suspended the Zataras’ traveling lifestyle by signing the lease for the old Fox Playhouse on Anderson Boulevard in Gotham City. The theater’s office and loft were converted into a living space, and its stage offered all the room a magician could need.

In the early afternoon of their third day in their new home, Bruce Wayne arrived for his lessons. Giovanni was hammering scaffolding together on the stage when he heard a motorcycle purr to a stop in the alley. There was a knock on the side door. His daughter Zatanna, twelve years old, was sweeping nearby. Giovanni hustled over, but she reached the door first and opened it.

Zatanna said, “Hi, I’m-” then froze.

A grim young man filled the doorway. He was lean and wide-shouldered; Giovanni had pegged him as a boxer before, and here a split lip completed that impression. The young man couldn’t be a day past sixteen, but he had bags under his eyes and a tense, rigid demeanor. His short hair was messy from the leather helmet tucked under his arm, and his face seemed like it was installed without the option to smile.

Zatanna stepped back in alarm. The young man looked down at her blankly.

“Good afternoon,” he said.

“Ah!” Zatanna slammed the door. “Daddy, there’s a robber at the door!”

Giovanni called out as he ran over, “Hush, it’s okay.” He stood in front of her and re-opened the door. “Welcome, John. Please come in. Zatanna,” he looked at her intently, “you remember I mentioned I was teaching a new student today? Well, this is John. John, this is my daughter, Zatanna.”

Bruce glanced down at her with his stony expression and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He looked back at her father. “I’m grateful for your invitation, Mr. Zatara. It’s an honor to be here.”

Zatanna pulled at the back of her father’s vest and hissed, “Tell him we don’t have anything to steal.”

Giovanni smiled uncomfortably. “The honor’s mine, John. Please come with me. Let’s see what we can do for you.”

He led Bruce to the stage with Zatanna trailing several paces behind. For Giovanni, their mutual aloofness was disappointing. Amid all the other hidden motivations behind this teaching arrangement, Giovanni had nurtured a secret hope that John might be Zatanna’s playmate for the summer. The girl would be entering school in the fall, and Giovanni was worried she might have trouble making friends. It was telling how few chances he had given Zatanna to play with other children that a strange older boy whose only known habits were violence and motorcycles was the best companion he could wish for his daughter.

But alas, Zatanna was suspicious of their guest, and John’s feelings about Zatanna depended on whether John had feelings.

He brought Bruce onto the stage and offered him a stool. “Sorry for the humble furnishings. We’ve just moved in.”

“It’s fine,” said Bruce as he sat.

“Can I get you some tea or something to eat?” asked Giovanni, finding a stool of his own.

“No, thank you.”

“Very well. John, I’ll admit this is all new to me. I’ve never had a student before.”

There was a loud “Humph!” from the edge of the stage. Zatanna glared at them with folded arms.

Giovanni smiled. “With one lovely exception of course. I’ve been training Zatanna here in the family business.”

“That’s right,” boasted Zatanna.

Bruce ignored Zatanna and answered, “Sir, I’ll adapt to whatever fashion of teaching you try. I promise I’m an attentive learner.“

“I’ve no doubt. Well, it may be useful to know what brings you here. Let me guess,” Giovanni pointed with a twinkle in his eye, “You saw one my Gotham shows last month and decided you had to peak behind the curtain?”

“No.”

“Oh,” Giovanni said, mildly put out, “My most recent visit before that was two years ago. I don’t imagine-”

“No.”

“Then where have you seen me? One of my East Coast tours, I’m sure.”

“Sir, I’ve never seen you perform.”

Giovanni struggled in confusion. “You’ve never seen my show?”

“I don’t mean to offend, Mr. Zatara. I’m too busy to visit the theater. But I’m certain you’re very good.”

“I see. That’s kind of you to say.”

“That wasn’t intended as flattery. I meant that in the consensus of your peers, you are one of the most accomplished magicians in the country, at least in certain disciplines that I’m interested in mastering.”

“So someone else inspired you to be a magician.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

“I have no interest in being a magician.”

At this remark, Giovanni seemed modestly offended and Zatanna seemed very offended. Giovanni sputtered a moment and scratched his head. Finally, he asked, “Then what exactly do you want to learn, John?”

“My first interest is escape artistry: breaking out of locks and bindings, opening sealed containers.”

“Yes, I’m familiar.”

“Some critics have called you the world expert since Mr. Houdini passed away.”

Zatanna huffed. “Daddy was two hops better than Houdini.”

Giovanni tutted good-naturedly. “No, Zatanna, that’s not true. And we shan’t speak ill of the deceased. But between you and me, John, I was better than ol’ Harry at sleight-of-hand.”

Giovanni winked and a pair of aces appeared in his hand. Bruce’s eyebrows rose. The cards disappeared and a yellow daffodil appeared in their place. He tossed the flower to Zatanna who dropped it in a stovepipe hat on a table. She shook the hat, turned it over, pulled out a full bouquet of daffodils, and took a bow.

Giovanni gave her a short round of applause. “Brava! Benissima!”

Bruce clapped stiffly twice. “On that note, I’d like to learn sleights-of-hand from you as well.”

“Lock-breaking, sleight-of-hand tricks, but not a magician. You aren’t aiming to rob banks, are you, John?”

Bruce’s eyes narrowed. “No, sir.”

Giovanni chuckled. “Good. I’d hate to be a party to that. Anything else?”

“I’m not sure whether your profession has a single term for what I have in mind, but I’d like to learn the general art of misdirection. I imagine this would include optical and noise illusions, disguises, decoys. Not to suggest any particular tool, of course; I defer to your judgement.”

“Is that all?”

“For now.”

“John, you’re proposing quite a demanding curriculum to learn in a few months.”

“Respectfully, sir, that’s a matter of opinion.”

---​

Two months later.

Bruce Wayne was in peril. Bound in a straitjacket and leg irons, he was suspended headfirst over a pool of water. Every few seconds, the motorized pulley supporting him lowered more chain. Bruce stared ahead with anxious concentration as he swung and wiggled in his straitjacket.

“Ugh! Summer school is boring and dumb! I hate it, hate it, hate it!”

Bruce glanced at the interruption. Upside-down, he saw Zatanna Zatara marching across the stage carrying a stack of books. She dropped the books on a table and collapsed dramatically next to them.

In case he wasn’t paying attention, she slapped a book to the floor and cried, “Since when does math have letters in it?”

Bruce rolled his eyes. “Hello, Zatanna.”

She sat up brightly, as if just noticing him. “John! My good buddy pal, John.”

“Homework trouble?”

She rubbed her forehead. “I don’t understand. I’ve always been a great student. It’s like they’re trying to trick me.”

“Well, you’re used to being taught through correspondence courses. Standards in the Gotham school system are more advanced.”

“Advanced at being dumb.”

“Actually, Gotham awards the most doctoral degrees in the country,” said Bruce, “It's irritating that half of the graduates move to Metropolis, but the schools are fine.”

Zatanna leaned against the pool and batted her eyes at him. “I don’t suppose you-”

The chain lowered. “No, Zatanna, I’m not doing your algebra again. You need to learn it.”

“Humph.” She looked closely at his restraints. Bruce was three feet above the water and struggling harder now.

“Handcuffs under the jacket?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said as the chain lowered.

“No key?”

“No.”

“No hairpin?”

“Your father took it.”

“Thumbcuffs?”

“Yes.”

“Sounds like your only hope is a Boston hand pass.”

“I know,” he said bluntly as the chain lowered again.

“Swell. Then I guess you have it under control.” She took a deck of cards from the pocket of her pinafore and started shuffling. “All under control. Yep, no foolin’, John’s got it all-”

“Zatanna, please be quiet,” Bruce said with forced calm as he tried to press his shoulder into his ear.

“Whoops! Sorry.” She lowered her voice, shuffling faster. “If it was anybody else, I’d be worried. When I had to learn the Boston hand pass, Daddy told me that everybody forgets the finger slide. You know? Right after you cycle your wrists? He made me practice twenty times a day until I got that finger slide. Took me a month.”

Bruce stopped. “Finger slide?” He furiously cycled his wrists.

Zatanna feigned surprise. “Gosh, don’t tell me you don’t remember the finger slide. He showed you yesterday. Oh well. In that case, don’t forget the pool’s escape hatch.”

Bruce closed his eyes. He could smell the chlorine in the water now. He let out a long breath. “Get your algebra.” The chain lowered again. “Quickly.”

Zatanna let out a cheer and raced to get her books. “Okay, ready?”

The chain lowered again. Bruce said, “Yes.”

“Four plus X equals sixteen.”

“X equals twelve.”

“That doesn’t sound right. Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Nine minus X equals minus three.”

“X equals twelve.”

“Are they all twelve?”

“Probably not.”

“I still don’t understand how a number can be minus. You can’t count something that isn’t there. How can something be less than not there?”

Bruce’s hair touched the water. “I’ll explain negatives again later.”

“You better promise.”

“I promise.”

“Good. Two times X equals twenty-two. Wait, elev-”

“X equals eleven.”

“Hey, I had that one. You didn’t let me finish.”

“Sorry.”

“I forgive you. How about X divided by two equals eight?”

Now Bruce’s eyes were underwater. “Zatanna, the finger slide?”

“Hm?” Zatanna looked up from her book and jumped. “Right! Okay, watch this.”

She stood near the pool’s glass wall and started miming a hand motion. Bruce took a deep breath as his nose submerged and tucked close to the wall to see her. She mimed the motion again and again. Bruce shifted in his straitjacket, squinting through the water. He tried to replicate her gestures, but his movement splashed the water, blurring his sight.

But they didn’t give up. When Bruce’s chest passed under the surface, she crouched to keep her hands at his eye level. Finally, there was a new billow in the arms of his straitjacket. Bruce writhed, sending trails of bubbles to the surface. He stretched, and the heavy jacket slipped off, sinking slowly away. He tucked up, forcing his face over the water for a deep breath. When he submerged again, it took three seconds for him to discard the handcuffs and thumbcuffs. He tucked up again, catching his own legs, and started slipping out of the leg irons. His head was almost submerged by the lowering of the chain yet again, when he got his final foot free.

Bruce let go and flopped over. He swam one stroke to reach the edge of the pool and climbed out.

Zatanna watched him, shuffling her cards. “Eh. Not the worst.”

Bruce sat panting on the stage floor. “Thanks.”

“Escapes are for dumb boys anyway.”

He took off his soggy shoes. “Uh-huh.”

“I like illusions.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Hey, are you okay?”

Bruce gulped and nodded. “I’m fine, Zatanna.”

“Great. So, X divided by two equals eight?”

---​

The present.

Zatanna Zatara shouted questions and accusations and curses at the apparition of her father until her throat was hoarse. The thing watched her tirade like a waiter taking criticism for a meal, then, when she could shout no longer, it said, “Mistress, I am and shall ever be your servant.”

Then chairs flew across the room - a miracle spent on petty hospitality. It spoke more words which Zatanna couldn’t hear through the roaring in her brain. She could only lean on a chairback and heave painful breaths.

Behind her stood Batman and Catwoman. Batman stared intently at Zatanna. His expression was blank as usual, but he wouldn’t look away. Catwoman nudged him and whispered, “Looks like we have time for questions.”

Batman didn’t respond.

She nudged him again. Hey, Batman.

He stared resolutely forward.

Catwoman looked forward, looked Zatanna up and down, looked back at Batman, then posessively grabbed his butt.

Batman’s twitched slightly. He turned and glared at Catwoman. She met his glare with an arched eyebrow. After a few seconds, she let go of his butt.

The form of Giovanni walked past Zatanna and addressed them. “Strangers, You’ve shown your valiant intentions to protect the Mistress. Yet you promise to spirit her away. I must ensure her wellbeing when she leaves this house, so I ask you to speak your piece. Why do you need the heir?”

Catwoman shrugged. “I think everyone needs air.”

Zatanna let out a little chuckle. She turned around, red-eyed. “They don’t need to tell you a single thing. You’re the one who needs to do some talking.”

The form of Giovanni asked, “You vouchsafe their intentions? These are friends of the house?”

“What house? I have no idea what this place is. I’m guessing you two don’t either?” Zatanna looked at Batman and Catwoman who both shook their heads. “See? They have nothing to prove. She started a riot that got me out of paying a big penalty fee, and he eats evil people. They’re fine. You’re the problem.”

The form of Giovanni considered this news. Batman glared at Catwoman.

Zatanna continued, “And then they tried to save me from kidnapping before I even got here. That was what you were doing at the burned building, right?” Zatanna looked at Batman and Catwoman who both nodded. “See? And they have actual bodies.”

Giovanni’s face flickered with a moment of doubt. He said, “The visitors will account for themselves in time, but I see it is incumbent upon me to begin.” He paced past the fireplace, glowing translucent as he crossed the center of the blaze. Batman and Catwoman stepped forward to stand beside Zatanna.

She crossed her arms. “Well?”

“This estate is called Shadowcrest. It is yours.”

“Mine.”

“Yes. By birthright.”

“So you mean to tell me that my father, who spent his whole life in hotels and mid-range apartments, owns a huge mansion in the middle of,” she hesitated, “I’m sorry, where are we exactly?”

“There is no answer to that question which you would find satisfying.”

“If the man is offering you a mansion,“ Catwoman purred in her ear, “I would just take it.”

“Shadowcrest is your birthright,” the form continued, “But not from your father. He is merely its caretaker.”

“What does that mean?”

“You possess it through your mother’s blood.”

“Ha. Okay.” Zatanna rubbed her temples and walked in a circle. “Hold your horses.”

“As I said, your-”

“No no, I heard you.” Zantana dropped herself in one of the chairs. “This ought to be good. Now let’s hear about how my poor immigrant mother owned a haunted house the size of Buckingham Palace.”

“As you surely have surmised, I am not a natural being. I was created to imitate a small aspect of your father’s intellect, namly the knowledge and intentions he believed necessary to perform his duties for this house. You are correct that your father spent little time here. I exist to serve the estate in his absence. I am Shadowcrest’s genius loci.”

“I don’t know Latin.”

“Nor do I. There are great tracts of Giovanni Zatara’s mental territory which are known only dimly to me or not at all, and upon which I can but offer conjecture.”

“So my father made you?”

“Yes and no.”

“I need a better answer than that.”

“Hmmm.” The form of Giovanni flickered in the firelight. “Forgive my struggle, your father understood this lesson must one day be taught, but he did not create me to teach it.”

“Did he create you to make excuses? That sounds like an excuse.”

“Very well. Know this first: magic exists.”

“Sure,” said Zatanna, idly fanning a deck of cards, flipping them, then fanning them again to show all jokers.

“Not parlour entertainment, Mistress. I mean the supernatural. Separate rules governing the universe unknowable to most.”

Batman said, “He’s right.

Zatanna glanced up in shock. Batman was so still, she had half-forgotten he was standing behind her. She settled higher in her chair and frowned. “Fine. I guess tonight has been a dandy demonstration. Suppose magic exists. Is my father a wizard?”

“The preferred term is mage. Your father is not a mage. Your mother was.”

“So she made you.”

“Yes and no.”

“You’re killing me.”

“I’m saving your life.”

“What’s your name?”

“Whatever you wish. As I command this house, as much it exists as a single entity, your father addresses me as Shadowcrest.”

“My father talks to a reflection of himself in order to talk to a building?”

“When he must.”

“Okay, Shadowcrest. You said my mother owned this place?”

“Before tonight, Sindella Cehennem was Shadowcrest’s last lady-in-residence.”

“Cehennem?”

“Your mother’s maiden name.”

“Cehennem,” Zatanna said quietly. “I didn’t know that.”

“Your father took many steps to isolate you from your mother’s legacy.”

“I did know that.” sighed Zatanna. “So my mother used magic to build you? I mean you the building, not you the, uh, tour guide.”

“No. She too inherited this estate.”

“How long has this place been around?”

“It is difficult to express in Earth years. Six to nine centuries would be a fair measure.”

“Who is that purple man in the turban?”

“Felix, Lord of Faust.”

“Him. Why’s he have my father? What’s he want with me?”

Catwoman interrupted. “I forgot about the turban guy. Where is he anyway? Wasn’t he with you when you walked through that mist door?”

“Oh, crumbs,” said Zatanna, “I haven’t told you two about the big fight. It was ridiculous. We went in the front door, then-”

yawa ylf sloot dna taolf sregnarts!

There was a loud sucking noise, and Batman and Catwoman suddenly rose above the floor, surrounded by shimmering orange motes. They floated a foot in the air, kicking and thrashing but finding nothing within reach. They craned their necks to see Officer Arbuckle unrestrained and very angry. After yelling some nonsense, he made a series of intense hand gestures like he was trying to guide an aircraft through takeoff.

Catwoman’s whip slid off its loop. Her small satchel opened and its contents hopped out. These possessions shot across the room as if flung from a speeding merry-go-round.

Meanwhile, batarangs slipped out of Batman’s outfit from seams and hidden spaces. These also shot across the room, plunging into walls and furniture. The many pouches of his utility belt flipped open, and a hefty cloud of tools floated out. These fired around the room, but many suddenly stopped when they reached the end of metal cords welded into the belt. Orbited by small tools like the rings of Saturn, he pulled on a cord until he reeled back a thick flashlight. He pointed this at Arbuckle and flipped the switch.

A hot beam of light shined in Arbuckle’s face. He squealed and turned away. The orange motes around Batman and Catwoman faded and the pair sank to the floor. Arbuckle tried to resume his gestures through squinting eyes until Zatanna hit him with a chair.

Zatanna yelled at Shadowcrest, “Why didn’t you stop him?”

Shadowcrest answered, “I vowed to not obstruct him with any force under my control.”

“You could’ve at least warned us.”

“That would stop him.”

While Zatanna fumed at this logic, Batman dragged Arbuckle into a chair. Catwoman retrieved the scattered tools and handed Batman his share.

“Hey,” she said, “why were your gadgets on strings?”

To stop pickpockets.

Catwoman thought about this for a moment, then narrowed her eyes. She let out some frustration by kicking Arbuckle in his expansive gut as he tried to stand.

Zatanna was still arguing with the house. “You let Batman and Catwoman sneak in. They obstructed him.”

“They are not under my control. For all I knew then, they were allies of your captors.”

“You said we weren’t in any danger here.”

“Are any of you harmed?”

“If I threw something at a wall, would you feel pain?”

“No, Mistress, but for you I would pretend.”

Batman and Catwoman finished repacking their equipment. Batman inspected Officer Arbuckle’s discarded restraints. Arbuckle was just regaining the ability to breath when Catwoman grabbed his chin and forced it upward.

“Short and sweet, bud. What do you want?’

“Justice,” he wheezed, “for all you murderers.”

Catwoman was not an easy woman to surprise. She shared a look with Batman who showed no reaction. She released Arbuckle.

“Okay, less short. Explain that.”

Zatanna joined the interrogation. Arbuckle looked regretfully at her. “Sorry, Zatanna. None of this was your fault. No hard feelings.”

Catwoman snapped in his face. “Storytime. Go.”

Officer Arbuckle looked at Zatanna again. “Her dad, Giovanni, is a monster. We came to stop him before our whole family’s dead.”

Zatanna, Catwoman, and Batman looked at each other. Catwoman noticed the tendons in Batman’s neck were tighter than ever. Zatanna turned back to the fireplace. With a tone of rising concern, she asked, “Shadowcrest, what is he talking about?”

Shadowcrest answered, “I imagine he’s referring to all of the relatives your dad hunted.”

With a quiet fury, Zatanna folded her hands to her forehead as if in prayer. “Shadowcrest, Officer Arbuckle, I want both of you to work together until I understand what you’re talking about, or so help me, I won’t rest until I bring this building down with all of us in it.” She looked at Batman and Catwoman and added, “Except you two. You seem nice. I hope when this is all over we can get to know each other.”

Catwoman gave her a bemused smile. Batman didn’t react.

Arbuckle said, “To start with, can we dispense with this ‘Arbuckle’ talk? My name’s Abdiel.”

“Um, okay. Officer Abdiel.”

“No, just Abdiel. I’m not a cop. I’m not even from here.”

“Fine. Abdiel.”

“No, The stress is on the ‘ie’ with a little on the ‘l’. It’s Hebrew. Say it like ‘deal’. ‘Ab-deal’. You can call me Dee if you have to.”

“Abdiel,” said Zatanna, slowly.

“Close enough. Listen, Zatanna, there’s no easy way to say this, but we’re family.”

Catwoman muttered, “That was easy.”

“I’m your cousin,” said Abdiel, “Your mom and my dad were siblings.”

Zatanna asked, “So you’re a Cehennem?”

“Yeah,” said Abdiel in shock. “Abdiel Cehennem. How’d you know? My folks said your dad never told you anything about us.”

“They’re right. I just learned the name Cehennem two minutes ago.”

“It’s pretty,” said Catwoman.

It’s Turkish,” said Batman, “For inferno. Or Hell.

“That was unnecessary,” said Catwoman.

Shadowcrest spoke in a lofty voice, “This estate was the sanctuary of the Cehennems for five generations, an exceptionally long-lived dynasty.”

“Yep,” said Abdiel, “Then your mom off and married some Zatara fella, took his name, and ruined it. Of course, then your dad murdered all the Cehennems, so I guess that’s moot.”

“What murders are you talking about?” asked Zatanna.

“Over twenty years ago, your dad killed one of our uncles, a man by the name of Ekrem. We don’t know why. I was just a baby then. To be fair, everyone said that Uncle Ekrem was a blowhard with a mean streak.”

“Ekrem Cehennem was a profound fool,” said Shadowcrest.

“Maybe he picked a fight with your dad. Maybe what your dad did was justified. The point is that after your dad killed him, the rest of the family came round to settle matters. But your dad wouldn’t meet with them.”

“Hold on,” said Zatanna. “Shouldn’t someone have called the police?”

Abdiel gave her a pitying smile. “Zatanna, we’re mages. That’s not how it works.”

“My dad wasn’t a mage. The house said so.”

“He wasn’t. And it’s not often you see a regular guy get the better of a mage; we were all very surprised. Still, mages don’t snitch, and your dad knew the rules.”

Catwoman said, “Get to the murders. This Ekrem bozo hardly sounds like one.”

Abdiel said, “Maybe not, but Giovanni wouldn’t explain himself. Things got heated. Then he attacked us again. Tried to kill my mother, as a matter of fact.”

“Tried? So she lived?”

“She did,” said Abdiel in a hard voice. “Ever since then she’s been in a sanitarium in California. She thinks the sun is spying on her.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Not your fault. But for your dad, that was it. He started a one-man war. Another uncle of ours, Uncle Iso, Giovanni trapped him in a dumpster.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Then dropped the dumpster in a geyser.”

“Oh.”

Catwoman interrupted. “And how would he possibly do that?”

Abdiel shrugged. “Some spell or enchantment. I wasn’t there.”

Zatanna shook a finger at him. “You just said he wasn’t a mage.”

“Don’t need to be a mage to use magic. You just need to be a mage to make magic.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Well, look at Shadowcrest. Your dad didn’t build the building. But he can tell it what to do.”

Shadowcrest, still by the fireplace, said, “Giovanni tells me little of his affairs beyond these walls, but his visits here are often spent collecting potent artifacts and studying infamous texts.”

“That’s exactly what we assumed,” said Abdiel. “That’s how he kept getting the better of us. After Iso, he shot our cousin Eddie.”

“With a spell?” Zatanna asked hopefully.

“With a bullet.”

“A magic bullet?”

“Forty-five caliber.”

“Oh.”

“It was a slow feud. We had our own lives to live, you know? And we had our own disputes. But every so often, someone would get a hint where your dad was hiding, so a team of us would get together and take a run at him. He’d duck us, lay low. Then the next year someone would show up dead, so we’d wait for another clue and try again.”

“I don’t understand. What do you mean ‘hiding’? My dad’s famous. He does stage shows all the time. How could he possibly hide from you?”

“It’s mage stuff. Hard to explain. You can’t just walk into a theater with a pistol.”

“You just said he shot a cousin.”

“Not in a theater.”

“And you’re sure it was him? My dad randomly attacked your family for two decades and never explained why?”

“Our family,” said Abdiel firmly, “and yes. Most of us assumed he’s a lunatic. Your mom passed away before it all started. Maybe losing her made something snap”

Batman asked, “Why are you here tonight?

“We’re desperate. Zachary and I are some of the last of the Cehennems.”

“Zachary?” asked Zatanna.

“My brother. You know him as Kravitz. Also not a cop.”

“What’d you do?”

“We made a deal with the devil.”

“That arch-scoundrel, Felix, Lord of Faust,” said Shadowcrest. “Even I know the knave. There is a small list of visitors who are never welcome in this home, and he is near the top.”

Abdiel explained, “Magic is dangerous. People who tango with it and survive are very dangerous, and usually a little cuckoo. Most mages keep to themselves to avoid being targeted. But there are a few exceptions: Faust, that scary man with the turban, he’s one of the big exceptions. He has a wild reputation.”

“From doing what?”

“He robs powerful people, loots cursed tombs, experiments with some real dark business.”

“Sounds like a terrible person.”

“Yeah, but the people he’s robbing also tend to be terrible, so it’s sort of a wash. The point is, Faust never hides and never runs from a fight, and he’s still alive. It’s hard to explain how impressive that is.”

“I think I got the message back in the hall.”

“Zachary and I decided that we had nothing to lose. Somehow, your dad had outsmarted our whole family. We didn’t have a chance against him. So, we went to Faust for help. We half-expected he’d kill us for fun. But he listened. Then he set a price. It cost us everything, but he agreed.”

“He kidnapped my dad.”

“That’s right, and now he’s here to make sure your dad will never hurt anyone again. And nothing’s going to stop him.”

The room was quiet for a while. Zatanna sat down by the fire again, her lips trembling from a broken heart.

Batman watched her from a distance.

Catwoman leaned on Abdiel’s chair and quietly asked, “Out of curiosity, what do you pay an evil sorcerer in?”

“It depends. Our upfront fee was Swiss francs.”

“Really?”

Abdiel shrugged. “They’re stable.”

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LadyTevar
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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by LadyTevar » 2020-07-16 10:15pm

That's... interesting. I wonder what Zantara's side of the story is, because TRUTH is always somewhere in the middle.
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by Stewart M » 2020-08-03 02:21pm

Batman 1939: Three's Company

Chapter 7: Questions for the Chairman​
Batman clung at the edge of panic.

There was sweat on his neck. He felt a buzz radiating through his limbs like feedback through a speaker. His fingers twitched, so he folded them into fists. His mouth was sandstone, so he swallowed in vain. Blurred gaps crossed his vision, so he closed his eyes. He resisted the urge to take frantic breaths when each steady breath burned half-empty.

Batman’s mind had torn when he was young and never fully healed. He had since built a sprawling castle of self-control to entomb the old scars. But there are damages that a mind cannot fix on its own: chronic nightmares, episodes of rage, and tonight, panic. They had fallen into a battlefield of sorcerers. What hope did they have when reality was putty in the hands of madmen? This near-panic brought memories: little Zatanna forcing a rabbit into a hat, Wonder Woman’s sneer as she crushed his ribcage, Catwoman freezing to death in his arms, his father bleeding in an alley, Faust and the cops abducting Zatanna, now a terrified woman, Der Wehrwulf using him as a puppet gunman. Waves of anxiety crashed over Batman while his self-control bailed water, a stalemate just short of drowning.

Catwoman stood behind Batman and watched him squeeze his hands. She sympathized - punching through chairs was hard on the knuckles. Still, she was surprised the Dark Knight could be so aloof given the hammer blows of news Zatanna had just received: her father was a killer, her mother was a witch, her father had killed most of her witchy relatives, and the survivors were here for payback. Catwoman was barely a rubbernecker to the drama and already had a headache. Batman ought to say something to the poor girl.

Catwoman stepped up and nudged Batman’s arm. You okay in there?

Batman’s body language was garbled. His throat flexed and each breath was a silent huff. He seemed off-balanced. Finally he turned to her, but Catwoman needed a moment to be sure he was giving her what passed for eye contact. She prodded him again and nodded expectantly toward Zatanna. Go be nice. He was the hero after all. Even a self-centered thief knew that.

Batman looked. Zatanna sat in front of them, lost and choking on anguish. He straightened with a short nod. Catwoman watched as he stepped around Zatanna’s chair and stood at her side. Zatanna looked up. Her melancholic slouch jolted to surprise as she watched as he moved his hand toward hers. An inch away he hesitated. His fingers twitched and he pulled back. Zatanna tried to peer through his lenses.

Before either spoke, Catwoman sauntered around and clasped Zatanna’s other hand with hers. “What he’s trying to say is ‘Chin up, we’re going to get through this just fine’. Isn’t that right, Batman?”

Batman set his jaw and stepped back.

Catwoman said, “Sorry, he’s usually more talkative.”

Zatanna watched him over her shoulder. “I hear it’s the thought that counts,” she said idly.

Batman appraised Shadowcrest who was looming at the fireplace. He swallowed again and forced his vertigo aside. “You told us that Zatanna would never leave this place on her own. You have a plan. Why haven’t you shared it?

Zatanna shook her finger. “Good point. If our lives are on the line, why the runaround?”

Shadowcrest looked down at Zatanna. “You, Mistress. Although I am feeble at shows of empathy-”

“No kidding.”

“-I can see these revelations cause you grief. I wished to let you rest before adding to your cares.”

“Rest? I’m not a baby,” said Zatanna, jumping up. ”Who knows how much time we have? Spill the beans.”

“I know how much time you have.” replied Shadowcrest. “I shall spill no beans. The threat is grave but not urgent.”

Catwoman crossed her arms. “So we’re supposed to stand here like bumps on a log until you think your new gal is looking perky enough?”

Shadowcrest said nothing.

Catwoman looked at Batman. “I don’t get it. What’s going on?”

Batman stood tightlipped, pushing down his panic to watch Shadowcrest. It watched him back intensely. “It’s waiting,” said Batman in a curious tone.

“For?” asked Catwoman.

Batman realized his hands had stopped twitching. “Shadowcrest is the house. It welcomed us.

“Even gave us tea. So?”

It welcomed us, but it delayed us. Kept us outside. It was waiting then as well.

“This is taking forever,” said Catwoman, tapping her foot, “Hey, Shady, if we leave, are you going to drop a brick on our heads?”

Shadowcrest ignored Catwoman and continued to stare at Batman with a singular intensity.

Batman no longer felt the need to swallow. He asked Zatanna, “What did you see when you arrived, Zatanna? You mentioned a fight.

Zatanna nodded. “Faust and the Bludhaven officers - well, I guess they’re not really officers - they brought me inside the house. Then my dad showed up, but he wasn’t my dad, he’s some kind of ghost and I guess also a property manager, and he could make the candles burn hotter. I’m sorry, I know none of this story makes sense.”

Go on.

“Faust and my ghost-dad-property manager start arguing.”

Batman’s sight began to clear. “About what?

“Faust wanted to go through the house, and dad, I mean Shadowcrest, wasn’t happy about it. At least I think that’s what they said. Have you ever listened to a real old professor? The sort who sounds like he learned to talk a hundred years ago? They were both like that. I do remember Faust bragging that Shadowcrest’s ‘sentries’ failed to stop him at the ‘portal’. I guess he was referring to you two jumping him near that weird doorway in the burned building.”

“We’re not anyone’s sentries.” said Catwoman.

“You’re not?” asked Abdiel groggily.

The other humans in the room looked at him. Abdiel was still slumped in quiet agony over the night’s various beatings. He had seemed eager to be ignored, so his question came as a surprise.

“Why would you think we are?” asked Catwoman, raising an eyebrow.

“Because I just …” Abdiel looked among their faces and decided he didn’t like scrutiny. “Nothing. Just seemed funny.”

Batman noticed Shadowcrest was still staring at him, somehow with even more mechanical intensity since Abdiel’s interruption. The investigative engine of Batman’s mind upshifted a gear and tested the throttle. His panic had gone quiet. Catwoman recognized this little change in Batman’s posture and quirked half a grin. Zatanna saw Catwoman grin and questioned her sanity.

Batman, in a firm new voice, commanded Zatanna to continue.

Zatanna nodded. “Faust and the house are trading insults, then all of a sudden the floor starts turning into hands.”

“Wait, what?” asked Catwoman.

“That’s what I saw. Floor hands.”

Catwoman pointed at Abdiel. “What is she talking about?”

Abdiel shrugged. “Y’know, floor hands.”

“No, I don’t know floor hands. And what were our fake cops doing in all this?” asked Catwoman, turning back to Zatanna.

“Hiding,” said Zatanna, “and I don’t blame them. The floor hands try to catch Faust but he turns green and starts flying around the room.”

“You want to try that again?” asked Catwoman.

Zatanna frowned, trying to mentally rearrange her description before giving up. “You kind of had to be there.”

“I’m kind of glad I wasn’t.”

“Did you see those suits of armor in the hall?” asked Zatanna.

“Yes,” said Catwoman cautiously.

“They’re alive, and they also fly. Faust knocks a few out of the air with these beams of light from his hands, then one of them cuts off his arm. But then he disappears and reappears at the top of the stairs and destroys the rest.”

“Hold on.” Catwoman looked to Abdiel.

Abdiel shrugged. “Good summary so far.”

“Thank you,” said Zatanna. “So all these praying mantises jump out of a painting and swarm the guy, so Faust gives up.”

He surrendered?” asked Batman.

“It seemed that way,” admitted Zatanna, “then Faust and Shadowcrest started negotiating, which was strange, since they were just trying to kill each other. Did I get that right, Abdiel?”

Abdiel said, “You forgot the chandeliers.”

“Right: the chandeliers turned into shotguns. That was before the mantises. While they’re negotiating, Faust rips off his shirt - his arm is growing back by then - and he has a chain sticking out of his chest. At the end of the chain was a locket.”

You could recognize a locket from across the hall?” asked Batman.

“Not at first,” admitted Zatanna, “But then the locket starts to grow until it’s taller than he is. He opens the clasp, and my inside is my dad!”

Shadowcrest was inside the locket?

“No, no, it’s - ugh - my dad, my dad-dad, was sleeping inside.”

How do you know it was your father?

“That’s what Faust said. Even Shadowcrest admitted it.”

“This is true.” said Shadowcrest. “Giovanni is held captive by Lord Faust with a cardial chain.”

Which is?” asked Batman.

“A cardial chain binds the life of its captive to its owner’s will. Should Lord Faust die or choose to cease the connection, Giovanni’s heart will stop. To my knowledge, the chain is impossible to remove without its owner’s consent.

Giovanni’s a hostage.

Shadowcrest said nothing, content to stare.

Zatanna scowled. “Faust said my cousins wanted him to do something to the house. I think he wants to destroy it. Something about a stone. Then he said he’d free my dad and we could all leave.”

Catowoman was about to speak but Batman interrupted. “Did he say anything else?

Zatanna nodded. “Faust wanted to take me along with him. Shadowcrest convinced him to leave me behind with Abdiel and Zachary. So long If they didn’t hurt me, he wouldn’t bother them.”

Bother?

“He used the word ‘obstruct’. Doesn’t that mean bother?”

“Close enough,” said Catwoman.

“Well, that’s the story. Once Faust left, Shadowcrest disappeared, then Abdiel pointed a gun at me and we all waited until you two showed up.”

At the mention of a gun, Batman slowly glared at Abdiel who flinched at the sight. But then Batman glanced again at Shadowcrest. He noticed a pleased tilt to its expression. Acting on an investigative instinct like a wolf tracking a scent, Batman stalked over to Abdiel and began to circle his chair.

Anything you care to add to the account?

“No,” said Abdiel hastily, “She got to the bottom of it.”

Faust is seeking a stone to destroy the house?

“Uh, yeah, the keystone.”

Keystone.

“Call it the, um, the magical heart of the house. It’s about the only practical way to destroy a place like this.”

And where is it?

“I have no idea. I’ve never been here before. But Lord Faust knows.”

He’s visited Shadowcrest before?

“Nah, I doubt it. But he knows just about everything.”

Where is your brother?

“I dunno. Must’a woke from you roughing him up and split.”

Faust captured Giovanni Zatara. Why pay him to destroy Shadowcrest?

“We didn’t! Not at first. I mean, uh-”

You didn’t?

“Never mind. Forget it.”

Tell me why, Abdiel.

Abdiel scoffed. “I don’t need to put up with this. Lord Faust is just about done, then he’ll teach you two-”

Batman, pacing behind Abdiel, seized his collar and slammed a batarang through it, staking his police uniform to the wooden chair. Abdiel frantically reached to free his collar, but Batman caught his arms and twisted them behind the chair. “Hey!” Abdiel cried, feeling his shoulders stretch to the edge of pain. Batman held his wrists together then stabbed another batarang through the thick fabric where the sleeves crossed. Abdiel struggled, but the blade was stuck clean through the wood: his arms were pinned to the chair. He was keenly sensitive to the batarangs’ sharp tips pressing against his neck and spine.

Abdiel’s protests grew more shrill as Batman grabbed his top of the chair and yanked back, tilting it onto two legs and sending his massive girth rocking. Abdiel whined, “Is this necessar-woah!” His complaint was interrupted as Batman pulled further, levering Abdiel just past his center of gravity. The chair legs creaked. Abdiel sat very still.

Finally, Batman spoke. “I don’t know magic, but you look tired. Maybe you can incapacitate us. Maybe you can escape this chair. But I doubt you have the strength to do both.” Batman let the chair tip back another inch. “If I disappear, you drop and crush your hands.

Abdiel grit his teeth. “Everybody said Giovanni worked alone. Who are you people?”

I’m Batman,” said Batman.

“There it is,” muttered Catwoman.

I don’t know a Giovanni,” continued Batman. “But I do catch men who drag women into abandoned buildings.

Abdiel snarled, “So you’re some noisy neighbor, dressed like that? Some wannabe cop? I don’t buy it, bud, you are so-”

Batman let the chair fall a foot then caught it again. Abdiel let out a noise of pain from his strained shoulders that ended in a high note from the batarang pricking his back flab. Catwoman and Zatanna joined Batman at the interrogation.

Shadowcrest.” said Batman.

“Yes?” asked the specter of the house looming by the fireplace.

You demanded to know my intentions.

“Indeed.”

Do you know me? Does this Giovanni know me?

“I have never seen you before.” said Shadowcrest. “To my knowledge, you are no colleague of our senechal, but he did not share everything.”

Hear that, Abdiel? I don’t know your family drama, and I don’t care. My only intention is to take Zatanna home. Once she’s safe, I’m-

“The Lady is home.” interrupted Shadowcrest with a touch of impatience. “Your selflessness is laudatory, Batman, but her safety depends on the resolution of her ‘family drama’.”

Fine.” Batman looked back to Abdiel and asked, “What was your plan with Faust? I want all of it.

Abdiel blanched like he briefly forgot he was pinned to an over-tilted chair by a large muscular man in a mask. “I’m not telling,” he said.

Brave,” said Batman. “Catwoman?

“Yes, Batman?”

My hands are starting to cramp. Do you mind taking him?

“Gosh, I dunno,” she purred, “he’s probably four hundred pounds.”

I can’t hold him much longer.

“If you really need a break, I suppose I-”

“Okay! Fine! Stop wiggling the chair!” shouted Abdiel. “We wanted to get rid of Uncle Giovanni, but the old man had the run of this place for decades.”

“So?” asked Zatanna.

“Right, you’re new to this.” Abdiel pursed his lips, trying to cobble hours of explanation into a summary short enough to save his fingers. “Listen, Shadowcrest is special. There aren’t many magical strongholds that exist outside of time and space. They’re hard to build, and they usually get wrecked by feuds or accidents. But if a home like this survives a few generations, it tends to be chock full with sweet, sweet treasure.”

So?” asked Batman.

“Giovanni wasn’t a mage, but we knew he was illuminated.”

“You put him under a light?” asked Zatanna.

“No, illuminated: that’s what we call someone who knows the lore. He understood mage behavior, tools, that sort of thing. Like I said before, there’s all kinds of magical inventions that you mundanes can use. The trick is getting your hands on one and knowing enough that your hands don’t turn to cheese. Shadowcrest would have lots of them.”

Your point?” demanded Batman.

“We knew Lord Faust could bring us Giovanni. But we didn’t know whether Giovanni had a backup plan.”

“I’m sorry,” said Catwoman, “a backup plan for death?”

“Sure. Maybe he stored a clone in the mansion. Maybe he hid part of his soul in a clock. Maybe he’s a time traveler using the mansion as his temporal anchor. Maybe there are doors here to other realms where his friends would come for vengeance. That’s what I thought you goons were.”

“But daddy's alive!” said Zatanna. “You didn’t kill him.”

“I’m getting to that,” said Abdiel. “Zach and I knew that if Giovanni had some tricks up his sleeve, it would come from Shadowcrest. So we planned a two-pronged attack. Lord Faust would bring us your dad while we cut Shadowcrest’s portal to Earth.”

How?” asked Batman.

“Faust discovered that the portal was hidden in Giovanni’s apartment. But we didn’t know what sort of security he had protecting the thing. So we played it smart and burned it all down.”

There was a stillness as if the air had left the room.

Batman quietly grabbed Catwoman’s wrist as her hand bent to claw. He leaned slowly over Abdiel. “You burned down the Lisbon.

“Yep,” said Abdiel, “set the incantation across the street. Run-of-the-mill fire actually does a swell job on all sorts of magic if you use enough of it. Didn’t work in this case; the portal’s sort of indestructible. We had to come up with a Plan B.”

Batman said nothing for a moment. Finally, almost casually, he asked, “Did you know that people died in that fire?

“Hmm?” Abdiel heard a layer of frost in Batman’s tone and had tried to sound solemn. “Well, uh, I guess a few people, I mean it makes sense if-”

Nine deaths so far, forty hospitalized, two hundred residents made homeless.” Batman let go of Catwoman’s wrist but squeezed her hand. “You and your brother caused more misery yesterday than a cell block of felons will in a lifetime.

Abdiel simply said, “A monster killed my family.”

A monster’s going to finish the job.

“Huh?”

Batman pulled the batarang out Abdiel’s sleeves and shoved his chair forward. Abdiel’s considerable mass ripped the other batarang out of his collar as he flung to the floor. Batman turned and stared into Zatanna’s eyes. She was still flinching from his show of force and gave him her full attention, He silently mouthed the words: stand still. Zatanna fearfully nodded.

Abdiel had risen to his elbows and knees. He was crying, and there was a gash on his chin. As he struggled to stand, Batman put him in a headlock and lifted him to his feet. Batman released him and clapped Abdiel’s cheek.

“Ugg! Wha- what are you-”

Hit me!” barked Batman.

Abdiel stumbled away and folded his hands sinisterly at Batman. He began to mutter in a dark tongue, but he didn’t finish his second syllable when Batman backhanded his throat. He gagged and tried to curl up in a ball, but Batman grabbed his lapels and forced him to stay upright.

Hit me!” barked Batman into his ear.

Abdiel lifted his fists in a sniveling defense and swung. Batman let the blow bounce off and prodded Abdiel in the chest.

Hit me!

Abdiel swung again. Batman took a half-step back and prodded Abdiel again, harder.

Murderer! Hit me!

Abdiel galloped forward and launched a left-right combo with the finesse of a man who had just discovered hands. Batman ignored them and jabbed Abdiel in the nose.

Hit me now!

Abdiel stumbled, half-blind from crying and the strike to his nose, half-deafened from the yelling. He screamed and advanced again, throwing a volley of punches ahead of him.

Batman then performed a move that could only have come from the ballroom. He pivoted to face Zatanna behind him, holding her by the hand and waist. Then smoothly, gently, he led her into a turn, guiding her to take his place. Her steps briskly followed his, as a student does with the dancing master. When they had nearly switched places, Batman let go. Zatanna continued forward for an instant until Abdiel punched her in the ear.

“Ow!” screamed Zatanna.

Abdiel’s response, if he had one, was interrupted by a salvo of iron bands breaking through the ceiling and binding him like a metal mummy.

Zatanna marched in a circle, cursing a stream of unimpressive profanities as she rubbed her ear.

Catwoman watched the scene in blank disbelief. She caught Batman’s attention and planted her hands on her hips. Did you know that was going to happen?

Batman paused then offered a head-shrug.

He cautiously approached Zatanna, considering what he could say, then Shadowcrest appeared at his shoulder. It stared at him again, but its eyes were softer than before, if not with genuine approval, then at least with a new sort of acknowledgement. Batman had the unsettling impression that it looked more than ever like Giovanni.

Behind Shadowcrest, the middle of the dining room wall folded away, its bricks turning inward by the dozen. In seconds, there was a new arch through which they could see a vast library.

“Come,” Shadowcrest commanded. “Now the contest is afoot.”

---​

Several minutes earlier.

Far away, deep in the mansion’s maze of serpentine halls and cobwebbed chambers, Zachary Cehennem - the self-styled Officer Kravitz - descended an enormous spiral stairwell. He didn’t know how far beneath the earth it sunk, hundreds of feet at least, but he had already come far underground through many other stairs and sunken passages to get here, so any sense of distance to the surface was long lost. He couldn’t rule out the possibility that the stairwell led straight to Hell.

Given that he was on the trail of Felix, Lord of Faust, this wouldn’t be too surprising.

When Giovanni’s minions had ambushed Zachary and his brother in the front hall, Zachary was certain he was a goner. The big cut on his nose still stung, and he could feel the boot-shaped bruises along his ribs, but the thugs had left his stunned body to chase after Abdiel. After Zachary came to his senses, he decided his brother was doomed, and it was no good throwing himself to the wolves. Even if his brother was alive, Zachary needed backup. He had to find Lord Faust.

Faust had a several minute head start. Normally, that would be more than enough to evade pursuit. Zachary knew spells to track a person, but magic had countermeasures, and Faust operated leagues beyond any mage Zachary had met. He could nullify Zachary’s best efforts in his sleep - if he slept. And Shadowcrest was not a regular building. The architecture gave the strong impression that any attempt to perceive through its walls would probably fail and probably hurt.

Fortunately, there were mundane ways to track a person. For instance, Zachary could follow the gory residue where Lord Faust had crossed the beastly things lurking in the mansion’s dim places, and Shadowcrest was ninety percent dim places. Whatever his mystic credentials, Lord Faust didn’t mind leaving footprints from the puddles of ooze and ichor that remained of his fights. And where combat had been scarce and footprints ran dry, Zachary watched for simpler signs of passage like broken spiderwebs or melted locks. Perhaps these sounded like obvious clues, but there was a stereotype that older, stronger mages lost common sense as they grew older and stronger, and Zachary Cehennem took pride in avoiding that rut.

Round and round, Zachary crept down the stairs, the dank space lit by some weak sourceless glow. He saw a texture to the shadows below which formed more clearly into a floor as he approached. At the bottom of the stairwell was an open door. Its frame was fitted with many locks and chains, all ruined. Zachary crept to the doorway and peered inside.

The room beyond was a square chamber bathed in deep greenish-blue light, like an aquarium or a forest glade under a full moon. The black onyx walls were etched with geometric patterns. Hundreds of whorls and constellations as small as a thumbprint combined to form larger and larger shapes, the largest the size of a man. Spotting them in one’s peripheral vision gave the illusion of movement, making the walls seem to shift wherever one looked. The room was empty, save for a small onyx pedestal in the center. Lord Faust stood over this pedestal.

“Enter, lackwit,” he proclaimed.

Zachary cringed and stepped into the room. The air had a dense magical charge, like the hum around a transformer. He suspected both were capable of powering a neighborhood or vaporizing a squirrel.

Zachary bowed. “A thousand apologies, Lord Faust. I-”

“Neglect simple commands, you unexcretable dunce? Indubitably.”

“We were attacked, my Lord. I hardly escaped with my life.”

Faust finally looked at him. His arm and face were nearly healed, though the mending flesh was bulbous and pale. “There were no wild foes in the front hall.” Faust closed his eyes. “And this overbuilt yurt has not violated parlay.”

“They were the sentries from the portal. They attacked my brother and I.”

“Hmm. Human sentries would mayhaps stand exempt were they beyond the house spirit’s authority. Yet they interfered betimes. Had we not just approached? Such alacrity! Perchance both serve a greater master. But whom?”

“Please, Lord. We need to go save Abdiel.”

“If he lives, he will live a few minutes more. Wait outside.” Faust returned to his work over the pedestal.

Zachary knew that arguing further would be a quick form of suicide. And he was eager to leave this chamber where the walls made him dizzy and the thick air gave him goosebumps. But from here he could see that the pedestal supported a rough wedge-shaped brick: the keystone.

When the brothers discovered last night that the portal to Shadowcrest could not be easily closed, they decided to visit the house itself and destroy it from the inside. Only then could they kill Giovanni Zatara in peace. Lord Faust agreed to help in return for all the plunder he could carry on the way out. Zachary didn’t like this plan and decided he ought to research how precisely one destroyed a keystone, to confirm the feasibility of Faust’s offer.

The deep magics required to craft a private dimension were obscure to say the least, but Shadowcrest wasn’t the Cehennem’s only repository of mystic knowledge, and Zachary Cehennem was an ambitious student. As expected, he found that the inner workings of a keystone would take decades to grasp, but his few hours of research were enough to find what it might look like to break one.

Faust was not trying to break this keystone. Instead of cracks, red threads were weaving their way through the porous gray stone. Something was wrong.

Zachary finally managed to stutter, “Ah. Of course, my Lord. I’ll, uh, I’ll be outside.”

He took three steps backwards and began to turn when a green lance stabbed through his side. He cried and tumbled to the floor of the giant stairwell.

“Clever worm!” crowed Lord Faust, walking slowly to the open door. “You noticed, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know what you-”

“Hist!” Faust pointed a flat palm and another green lance shot at Zachary. But Zachary, though he writhed in pain as his shirt pooled with blood, raised a glowing hand as well. The glow deflected the green lance into a wall.

“Stop,” Zachary begged, “please.”

But Faust didn’t hesitate. He fired another lance, which was deflected as well. Faust closed his fists and punched them together, and a wall of flame rolled from his forearms across the floor. Zachary disappeared in a glittering flash as another dropped him on the stairs.

“I’m tired, whelp. Don’t make me chase you.” Faust began humming and moving his hands apart in a rounded fashion like he was wiping a globe. A dark orange flicker grew between his hands, sparking brighter by the moment.

Zachary was too exhausted to lift his head. He felt very cold.

He didn’t see two ropes twirl out of the darkness above like tentacles of some impossibly-long squid. He barely felt as they wrapped around his arms and lifted him off the stairs, pulling him up the stairwell like a rocket. Then an arc of orange energy disintegrated the stairs and a five yard circle of wall around where Zachary had lain a moment before.

Faust, orange sparks still falling from his fingertips, scowled.

“Zooterkins,” he muttered.

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LadyTevar
White Mage
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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by LadyTevar » 2020-08-03 03:39pm

Well well well. I'm assuming he's trying to take over the house, not destroy it?
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.
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Simon_Jester
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Re: Batman 1939: Three's Company

Post by Simon_Jester » 2020-08-04 03:15am

I hardly ever come back to SDN these days, but my God is it nice to see this back...

[smiles]
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