Master Key (for [personal profile] raggedy_doll)

May. 22nd, 2013 09:28 am
hypnotic_patter: (Suited for Suits)
[personal profile] hypnotic_patter
Given the nature of his business Ragdoll had a habit of going off the radar for days or weeks at a time. Billy was generally all right with it. Plenty of people had long-distance relationships where their first conversation in a month involved giddy Skype calls from remote South American dictatorships that had recently had a major administration shift.

Still, he kept tabs in the best way he could. When his Google Alerts notified him that "Peter Merkel Jr." had made the news again he abandoned his half-finished sonic gun and ran to see what his dancing doll had done to make the world more interesting. The scene of a smoking building half-submerged in the river made him smile. Meister popped open a soda and stretched out to watch the news report.

The costume worn by one combatant was identified as that of Peter Merkel Jr., better known as Ragdoll, while the identity of his attackers was unclear. Their brutal battle spanned several city blocks, ending at a fuel station used for local barges. It's unclear exactly how the fire started but the blaze quickly led to a massive explosion that demolished several nearby buildings. Witnesses report that Merkel's injuries during the battle were quite severe, indicating he most likely died in the explosion. The only bodies identified so far were those of local dock workers, and two others were burned beyond recognition. So far no one knows the motives behind--

Some part of him had always assumed Ragdoll was invincible. Rubbery, able to bounce back from any catastrophe with a smile and a bizarre quip. In some ways he had seemed more force of nature than mortal human. Billy left increasingly desperate messages on Peter's voice mail, but after a few days of silence denial seemed impossible. He huddled in his dressing room trying to write some appropriate requiem in Peter's honor. Nothing he could create seemed grand enough to encompass the beautiful kaleidoscope chaos that was Ragdoll. He spent hours staring at the ceiling with the RENT soundtrack playing in the background, devoid of inspiration or the will to create.

At the end of the week a knock on the back door roused him from restless drowsing. He leapt from his bed and ran to the door, still in t-shirt and boxers, hoping against hope that--

Who the heck were these dorks?

A group of one man and two women were gathered in his back alley. Their clothes were loose white muslin with embroidered red coats. All of them wore elaborate jewelry and golden bangles around their wrists, as well as beads threaded into their long braids. "Music Meister." The group bowed low to him, as if he were some pope of weird people. "It is an honor, a privilege, to finally be in your presence."

"Eh?" He brushed his hair out of his eyes. "Who exactly are you?"

"We are the Acolytes of the Celestial Echo." Possibly they could sense how close he was to ordering them to pile themselves in the nearby dumpster, so the explanation was extremely rushed. "We believe that the universe was created by a single song, and that this song was then taught by the gods to the first humans. All songs thereafter are humanity's feeble attempts to recreate that which they once knew, buried deep within our ancestral memory. No living person can repeat it, for time has withered our voices."

"I see. You're crazy people." When he found who gave them his address he was going to beat them with a stick. Billy frowned. "I'm really not in the mood for creepy cults right now."

Again the low bows, their jewelry clinking. "We are sorry for your loss. We know how it must pain you."

"You know nothing about it." He had the door slammed in their faces before the implications of their words fully sunk in. The door opened a crack. "...what do you know about it?" Few people knew he was connected to Peter, let alone dating him. It wasn't their business.

"We have been following you for some time. You have a voice like no other, something precious beyond measure, and we believe it may accomplish what no other voice can. You alone, Music Meister, could bring the first song back into the world."

"So basically you're saying you're my stalkers." He leaned on the door, arms folded. This was not garbage he needed to be dealing with before coffee and a shower. "I appreciate the sentiment, I just don't care. There won't be any performances for a while, and you should understand why."

"Fully." The lead man reached into the ragged bag hanging at his side and produced a familiar mask. It had obviously been cleaned, but traces of dried blood and dirt lingered where the false hair met the pale face. Billy gaped.

"Why do you..."

"It was pulled from the rubble by the police. We recovered it by--"

"Give it to me!" Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Billy snatched it out of the acolyte's thin fingers, hugging it tightly to his chest. His fingers ran fondly through the red mass of yarn. To Billy the mask was Peter's face as much as the scarred flesh beneath it.

"If you will come with us you may get back the rest of him...and more besides. The song created the world. Bringing one soul back from the dead would be a minor affair by comparison. Come with us and we shall teach you the song that meager mortals cannot sing. You will be worshiped as a new Apollo with we your willing servants, and your dancer shall return to your side."

Billy tongued the gap between his teeth. In his thoughtfulness he did not hear the soft humming by the acolyte in the back or see the way her fingers moved in arcane patterns across the symbol held in his first two fingers. The merest nudge, though even that took a great deal of their power. They appealed to the Songbringer's grief and his pride in unison, and this was only the final push to tip him over the edge of the cliff. The mask of the fallen dancer would bring his lover under their sway.

"Keep talking."
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Date: 2013-05-22 05:18 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (well then)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
Getting out of that situation had been... taxing. Those sent after him had been obvious professionals, fast and well-armed, and while he'd managed to take care of the ones with guns, evade some of the worst blows, and greivously bite the one who'd gotten their hands on his mask, a mixture of blades and blunt instruments had been unpleasant to say the least.

In the end, blood loss more than anything had run him down. He'd managed to get into crannies where they couldn't follow, but only after the aforementioned loss of his mask, as well as a chunk of flesh from one arm, and quite a lot of broken bones.

When he heard them leaving, he found his own way out -- and the ensuing explosion had jettisoned him the rest of the way out of the water pipes and straight into the river.

That much had been lucky. The fact that he'd apparently lost his phone somewhere in the midst of all that brouhaha was much less so.

He'd been subtle for once, not able to afford being seen by police, other villains, or any lingering assassins. He'd made it back to the Secret Six base, though by that point he'd have much preferred to finish off the evening in a nice calm way instead, and promptly collapsed after saying his "hello"s and "someone tried to kill me"s.

When he woke up about a week later, he was quite grumpy to hear the news: Quite a lot of lost blood, nearly a dozen bones that needed set and/or replaced, miracle to be alive, etcetera etcetera, and no visitors. Well, aside from the Six, but that was to be expected. And a few more assassins the previous evening, who had been unlucky enough to drop in when Catman and Deadshot were there.

"Waller said if we keep killin' people in here we're gonna have to leave," Deadshot warned.

"It's the best hospital we could access," Scandal explained. "Well-guarded and discreet. But if they've found you here, it might be best to move..."

Obviously they hadn't wanted a replay of that whole Doctor Psycho nonsense.

When Ragdoll had complained of no William standing vigil at his bedside, or at least wreaths of flowers and well-wishes -- well, they knew how to roll with things like that by now, and Deadshot just rolled his eyes, giving one of those tight little smiles that meant he was only partly joking, but also saying something he thought you wouldn't want to hear.

"You sure your boyfriend didn't send those guys after you? You were reported dead on the news, and he hasn't said jack. Maybe he wanted you whacked."

Ragdoll glowered and crossed his arms -- and then uncrossed his arms quickly. "Don't be ridiculous, Floyd. William has much better taste than that. If he wanted me dead, why, he'd make quite the show of it!"

"...You know, freaky, you've probably got a point."

Honestly. The things some people thought.

But... Well, he could have borrowed a phone at that point. A potentially simple solution to the current bothersome issue of having no William around to dote on him! But somehow he had a feeling he really should go see his virtuoso in person.

He didn't bother checking out of the hospital -- it was a split-second decision, really, early in the morning a few days later, when he just didn't have patience to wait for someone to stop by again. By the time the nurse got there, Peter Merkel, Jr.'s room was empty.

Fully recovered or not (and the answer was not), he'd been moving around in much worse condition before, so it didn't really register to him to be more than somewhat uncomfortable. It was more discomfiting to find the Tempest Theater entirely empty of Meisters, really. Though not, as it turned out, completely empty of theatrically-themed figures. Hopefully Meister-related ones; if not, he would be very displeased.

"Pardon? Pardon me?"

Date: 2013-05-22 07:04 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: ((unsure) (unsure) (unsure))
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
"I am indeed, my charming chorister." He'd moved into his usual half-capering crouch as soon as she pointed the broom at him, a pose that he knew made him look more harmless and comical. Talk of private property and the fact that she was cleaning up the place was a potentially good sign; the 'M' logo that became easier to see when she got to the edge of the stage was an even better one. Meister had, of course, mentioned his henches before, and this woman seemed to fit the bill...

"I'm hoping that William Harris will be back before long, in fact. Unfortunately we've rather fallen out of touch over the last week or so. Have you seen him recently?"

Hopefully, of course, the answer's 'yes'; he's almost sure it's 'no'.

Date: 2013-05-22 07:29 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (i can't believe i get paid for this!)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
A bad place. Well, Peter couldn't be surprised about that; William feels things so strongly, after all. Perhaps he really had been just sequestering himself away, mooning and mourning about -- but if that's the case, then where on Earth had he gotten too now?

"Ah, of course. We never met. I am, in fact, Peter Merkel... Jr., of course. Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated, I'm afraid! That's why I wanted so terribly to see him, as soon as possible."

Date: 2013-05-22 07:53 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: ((unsure) (unsure) (unsure))
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
"Somewhat unconscious, unfortunately." Yes, for basically the week. He didn't really feel any need to explain himself; why would he? But when the Music Meister's theme song sounds from the dressing room, he actually did look concerned.

"Well, that's probably not good." He headed in that direction, traveling quickly despite his bent posture. The dressing room looks as it normally does, but for Billy's ringing phone laying abandoned on a table -- with his iPod right beside it.

Now they're absolutely back into 'terrible sign' territory. Ragdoll stops there. "When did you say you'd last heard from him, again?"

Date: 2013-05-22 08:15 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: was it the butterfly thing? i never know what's going on. (what did i say?)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
"It didn't look as if he'd touched his costumes." Only a few casual outfits? And a suitcase? Where would he go, if he wasn't planning on working? He wouldn't up and decide to quit supervillainy, so what was he planning to do, and why?

"I assume neither you nor anyone else noticed anyone strange about? Would it be possible to speak to this Alto?" He really is missing, then. The Case of the Missing Meister. Hmm, sounds like Sherlock Holmes mystery... or Nancy Drew.

Date: 2013-05-22 08:37 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (ew‚ look at her shoes‚ parademon)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
"Certainly." He was lucky they were believing his identity straight off, really; he'd have a hard time proving it was really him beyond simple frightful contortions, and he couldn't demonstrate those over the phone. More's the pity.

"And you must be Alto. A pleasure, though it would be more of one under different circumstances. I take it the iPod makes it obvious how bad this situation is, hmmm? Silly question, but may I ask if you saw anyone out of the ordinary around here before William disappeared?"

Date: 2013-05-22 08:53 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (well then)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
"It doesn't seem as if it would have been a priority for him," Ragdoll agrees -- checking the recordings would certainly be worth a try! "Thank you, Alto. We're checking security footage now. Do you mind if Soprano calls you back in a few moments?" The other one must be Soprano... and he doesn't especially feel like staying on the phone, especially when it would be so much easier to crane and see the footage if he isn't holding this.

And, of course, when he sees the footage, he probably won't be sticking around to make a phone call back. He can trust they can take care of their own little family group.

Date: 2013-05-22 09:10 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: and your blatantly obvious self-delusion (completely sincerely sort of believe you)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
"Why, I've survived worse than just assassins with fewer limbs than I have now! I'll be just fine and have William back before this week is out."

He hung up, on that note, and while Soprano's decision was surprising -- he'd thought she'd want to look through things herself, since this is most likely to turn anything up -- he shrugs it off immediately, crossing his legs and immediately fiddling with the controls. "Right-o! I'll call out if I see anything intriguing."

Date: 2013-05-23 10:24 am (UTC)
raggedy_doll: and i smell like an atrocity (the charge is set)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
Well, that confirmed it. Whoever had been hired to attack him had given his mask to these robed figures -- and really, Ragdoll recognized cultists when he saw them, at least when they were being that obvious -- who had given it to Billy. Which might give credence to Deadshot's ridiculous idea that Billy had hired them, except for the way he snatched the mask away from them, cradling it -- and that it seemed to be the breaking point for whatever Billy was now allowing to happen.

They'd assumed for a while that Ragdoll had been the main, even the only, target, with the attempt on his life and all. It seemed what they really wanted was his mask, and his disappearance. Their real target had been William.

Now he really was incredibly cross.

"Dear Soprano, I believe I've found our culprits." Despite his words, his voice was decidedly un-whimsical -- even, dare it be said, serious. He rewound the tape to just before when the robed people showed up, and unfolded, holding the iPod towards her when she re-entered the room. "The ones in the robes. Cult members, I'll be bound."
Edited (to add a line) Date: 2013-05-23 10:26 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-05-23 01:09 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (pardon me! sorry!)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
While she watched, Ragdoll had been looking through the costumes on the rack. He knew he'd seen a few things that may fit his purposes, and finally pulled off a black, hooded cape, tossing it over his shoulder as he went to find one of the Phantom half-masks he knew Billy owned.

"Why, if hippies are hiring assassins, we're all in more trouble than we thought!"

Yes, the robes could mean hippies, or pagans. The bowing, on the other hand, and the attempts on his life, and his stolen mask, and the fact that Meister had gone with them after some short conversation... Well, that last part was still strange. 'The hell did they say to him?' was a good question, really.

He snagged the iPod from her hand again after she'd finished watching the whole scene, not bothering to give warning for it. "Excuse me, thank you! I'm afraid I really must be going now!"

Date: 2013-05-23 02:54 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (OH MY GOODNESS)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
It had been a nice offer, really. Truly. "Hench stuff" probably didn't cover what needed to be done here, though. At least, not Music Meister hench stuff. Being punched was the very least of what he would need people to do.

On the other hand, they could always ask around to see if anyone had been asking around about Meister recently. Since he was their boss, they might have an easier time getting the info.

The Six decided to be a little more proactive.

A few days more of bed rest in a hospital with slightly worse security than the last gained Ragdoll a few more visitors with absolutely terrible bedside manners. And since they wanted to play so badly, why, they were invited all the way back to the House of Secrets. For storytime.

Actually, that was quite helpful, albeit messy. The assassins revealed the specifics of their orders, that their employers had called Ragdoll "the dancer" and ordered them to kill him -- and not just to kill him, but to be sure to bring them some of his flesh, and his mask. One of them was even coherent enough to give bank info from the money transfer they'd received, and more specific descriptions of the symbols on their robes, which were difficult to make out from the security cameras!

"I said it was a cult, didn't I? I said it was!"

"Yeah, yeah, you did. Good job. Now we've just gotta narrow that down. Gotham attracts all sorts of weirdos." But if they could track even one person down via that bank information, or find out where the group was located from the description of their robes...

He texted Soprano the updated robe and symbol descriptions, just in case.

Date: 2013-05-23 04:01 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (well then)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
That certainly did pay off. They had a name, they had activity that absolutely proved that they were using Meister for something, and they even had a location...

"North Africa? Man, why's it always Africa with these guys?"

"Was it Africa, last time? I still think it might have been Cleveland."

Small quibbles aside, they had at least a good guess as to where Meister might be. If, by good guess, you meant an entire continent, and a very large one. But since that was only one out of seven, it did narrow it down somewhat... If he was actually there.

They really needed a way to be sure.

"...Are you sure, Mr. Merkel?" Scandal had driven him out to the Zechlins' house, and she looked, if not worried, then slightly concerned. He had to admit, he was feeling unaccountably anxious himself.

"Of course! Just because we haven't spoken since all that mess doesn't mean we can't ask an old friend for help. Why, I'd be remiss if I didn't seek out her expertise."

"If you say so."

He did say so.

He said as much to Lori, who was definitely shocked to see them -- shocked, and awkward. In fact, he didn't actually say as much to Lori until after some awkward silence and back-and-forth between them. When she heard that they needed her help, she was hesitant, but eventually... well, something made her agree, though he'd begun to think she might not. He wasn't really sure why.

"But you don't know where this guy is? Trying to find Blake last time, it was... big. Really big. I don't know how else to describe it."

"Yes, I thought of that." Ragdoll pulled out Billy's iPod, offering it to Lori. "Here. This belongs to him. He hardly goes anywhere without it. Some magic user out there should be able to trace people through things like that, do you think?"

"Yeah... Yeah, I'm sure there is." She sounded more confident, taking the music player -- then glancing at the two of them. "Uh -- Is it gonna be just you guys?"

They glanced at each other, then. After a moment, Scandal sighed, brushing her bangs out of her face. "I'm sure Bane would want to come. Maybe Kay, too. The others should probably stay behind to field assassins, or in case someone spots him around the city."

"Well, come on, then." Suddenly decided, Black Alice headed toward the door. "I didn't feel like going to class, anyway."

Date: 2013-05-23 05:38 pm (UTC)
raggedy_doll: (oooh dear)
From: [personal profile] raggedy_doll
Musical cultists -- no, cultists with a specific attachment to very old music. Not a surprising revelation, and apparently even less so given Meister's apparent current location.

"It makes sense," Alice said. "Most scientists think the earliest humans were born in Africa. We learned about this a little in school. If they're into really ancient songs, they'd be there."

"William is probably enjoying himself, the scamp." Actually, he probably was not. The sooner they set out, the better.

They had to rely on Black Alice for quite a lot, in the end. Without her, the trip would have taken a very long time, whereas with her magic they stepped out into Ethiopia within a few moments. And as there was a dearth of people who knew how to speak English (or Spanish) within such a rural area, the fact that she could give herself the gift of languages was incredibly important -- especially when they showed around the symbols on the cultists' robes, and several locals recognized them.

They were incredibly strange, and they weren't far away. If they could "borrow" a vehicle, it wouldn't take much time at all to get there.

(In the backseat of the vehicle, Black Alice placed one of her hands on his.

"Hey... Ragdoll... Peter. Um. He'll be okay."

"I know."

"I'm sorry."

"Tut, tut. Think nothing of it, Lori, dear.")

They ditched the vehicle as soon as the building -- almost a temple, really -- came into sight in the distance; it wouldn't do to be spotted. As they got in close, Ragdoll volunteered, "I'll go in myself, shall I?"

No one argued. He was the stealthy one of them. Besides... "We'll stay out of range of his voice," Bane said. "In case there is trouble."

"If anything happens, we'll come in swinging." Knockout seemed to enjoy the prospect.

"You sure you don't want me to come with? I can maybe help you find him...?" Lori worried at her lip, worried at both the prospect of going in and staying out here to let Ragdoll go it alone.

"That won't be necessary."

As Ragdoll prepared to duck inside, Scandal stopped him, calling out quietly. "Mr. Merkel?" When he paused, she continued, "Remember that... there's hope. Even for us."

"...Thank you, Scandal." And then he slipped inside. All he had to do was find William, now. Then those reassurances would prove entirely unneeded.
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