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A New Shade of Red - Scarlet

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“Hrrn… The box, the box, the ‘despair pit,’ he said… in the corner… the inside went on forever…” The ramblings of a mad man dressed with a pig’s face above her did nothing to soothe Sasha’s shot nerves and muscles, her limbs pinned down to a table with ropes so tight they were starting to cut off her circulation.

 

“So…”

 

Sasha’s heart beat faster at the unfamiliar voice, a mix of hopeful adrenaline and anxious terror ripping through her body alongside the agonizing pain and burning on her face, where a mask, the same as the masks on the dolled up, emotionless people around her, touched her skin like poison.

 

“Whose neck do I break first?”

 

“Oh.” Professor Pyg blinked, straightening from where he had been leaning over her, his head turning towards the voice. Sasha strained to lift her own head up, and her heart stuttered as she saw Robin tied to a chair with an angry, but confident, scowl on his face. “Look who just came back from dreamland.”

 

‘Robin! Robin,’ her mind thought with a relieved sigh, but her blood still raced, and her face still burned, reminding her she wasn’t safe yet. But… ‘Robin will save me! And where Robin is, Batman can’t be too far behind…’

 

The pessimistic part of her brain screamed about how much pain she was in, how it was too late already, how it was too late for her father- her papa- already. Whispers reminded her about the rumors of Batman’s disappearance- death? The ones she had never believed because Batman- Batman couldn’t die . And the observant part of her mind noted, distantly, the lack of an ‘R’ on Robin’s chest. And how much smaller- younger - he looked than she remembered him in pictures, online or in the papers.

 

“You first, then,” Pyg commented almost absentmindedly as he picked up his tools- the ones that had just about to be used on Sasha, two drills, one with a saw blade attached. “You can be perfect first. Did I tell you on Monday, she’s Mormo , formless chaos?”

 

“Help… me…” Sasha whispered as loud as she could, which wasn’t that much. Her lips burned and pulled at her entire face, creating an inferno of pain, just to create those soft, pleading words.

 

It was hard to tell if Robin’s eyes flickered to her or not, covered by the lenses of his domino mask. His gaze seemed to stay locked, smartly so, on Professor Pyg as he made his lumberly way over to the Boy Wonder. Pyg’s walk turned almost into a dramatic dance; a dance to a song of nonsensical madness that fell from his mouth.

 

“On Tuesday , it’s all Tiamat this and Tiamat that ,” the man huffed as he put his saw bladed drill-holding hand to his head, and the other one on his hip, as though he was a whining and over dramatic teenage girl. “Tohu va bohu and boo-hoo-hoo!” He threw his head back. “Wednesdays, the Gorgon Queen comes in on tiptoes with a million forked tongues for hair.” Robin stared with the same furious yet somehow unconcerned expression at Professor Pyg as the man continued on with his crazed speech. “That’s what it’s like to grow upside down in a world where a hug is a crucifixion . Dollotron after perfect dollotron! And it’s still always the same…”

 

Pyg glared up at a mask sat creepily atop a structure of wooden planks, nails jutting out of the sides dangerously. In a weirdly mocking, childish voice, he said, “ You can do better! You can do better! ” The man snorted, throwing his hands into the air. “Nothing’s good enough! Nothing’s ever good enough! ” Sasha struggled against her restraints, hoping feebly that they might suddenly loosen just by Robin’s presence and Pyg’s distracted monologue. Of course, they were as tight as ever, and she sent a desperate look Robin’s way, but he waited patiently for Pyg to finish… whatever he was doing. Sasha couldn’t make sense of his words, hadn’t been able to since she got her. Just that he planned to painfully turn her into one of his… dollotrons.

 

Why had her father ever made a deal and worked alongside this twisted man and Mister Toad?

 

“Woouuaahh…” Pyg flared his arms out again. “But television is... different , in the turvy world. Even wrong way round, this little gent could make a well-spoken lady out of a monkey, or a flower girl out of a snail. And so was born Professor Pyg, you see?” Wait, this was his origin story? Sasha hadn’t been following. Should she have? Why would she- he was a lunatic!

 

Pyg grinned as he pressed play on his pink ipad, propped neatly on the table beside the weird mask shrine-thing. “Good. I like to work to music. Sexy disco hot.” As the music, ‘sexy disco hot’ as Pyg described it, blared out of the speakerless ipad, Sasha jerked against her restraints again, hissing and biting her tongue as rope dug into her wrists.

 

She listened and watched, gaze flittering between Pyg and Robin- who was as stony as ever, in terrified disgust as Professor Pyg danced around, singing about his madness. Something about a girl at a dance meeting a guy with pig’s feet? It sounded like a fever dream, and well, Professor Pyg was a fever dream himself. And a monster. Her eyes flicked to the dollotrons standing lifelessly around her. Her fate would soon meet them if she wasn’t saved soon- if this stupid, torturous, creepy mask wasn’t ripped off her face.

 

‘Robin!’ she willed him to hear, to look at her desperate face- or well, her desperate eyes and mouth, seeing as the rest was covered by a mask attached to her skin, burning persistently still. ‘Do something! This is the perfect opportunity! He’s just singing and dancing and monologuing . Rescue me! Save me! Please!

 

“I’m an artist! ” Pyg wailed, practically screeching as he fell to the floor, his shirt buttons undone to reveal his ugly, hairy chest and belly. “Who can expect me to work on anti-psychotics? I HATE THIS MUSIC!”

 

He suddenly jerked up, pushing his face in front of Robin’s, so the pig nose of his mask pressed against Robin’s small, button, human nose. “Oink. Oinkety, oinkety, oink .” Robin didn’t even flinch. Pyg leaned back, dropping his head down. Softly, he admitted, “I want to be sick.” He gurgled, maybe over his own saliva, or something. Wouldn’t it just be great if he choked on the spot? “I want to operate. I want to be sick in front of everyone.” He kneeled onto the ground, as though he was in pain, silent for a moment. Then, he waved his drill, yelling at his dollotron slaves, “Put his face on him! I’m nearly ready… nearly…”

 

Sasha gagged as a dollotron walked passed her obediently, in its hands a fleshy mask that stunk like hell . Her mask had smelled like dogshit too, but that one? It took the cake. A cake made of shit, cigarettes, and rotten eggs.

 

“Perfect. Little. Trotters,” Pyg commented, pleased, as his dollotron approached Robin. He lifted himself up, pressing the button on one of the drills to start it. Sasha felt her heart skip a beat.

 

“You,” Robin finally spoke, voice low, sharp, and harsh. Sasha strained her neck to raise her head further, watching as the kid vigilante raised his hands upwards, when they had previously been tied behind the chair. The ropes fell away from him as though they were never tied in the first place. Robin’s lip curled in disgust. “You just redefined ‘wrong.’”

 

Pyg screamed as Robin suddenly lunged forward, grabbing his arm and twisting it. Pyg crashed to the floor, drills falling out of his hands. Then, Robin spun around, using the back of the chair for momentum as it fell backwards. He used the drill with the saw blade to slash across the masked faces of the dollotrons, then chucked it at the third dollotron, the one holding the mask that had been meant for him. Sasha choked over her breath as she watched blood fly. Robin was unphased, turning to his next opponents and knocking them down with ease.

 

Afraid Robin had forgotten her, or never even noticed her, she called out weakly, ropes straining against her throat, “Help me!”

 

To her relief, Robin was at her side in an instant, cutting off her ropes with the saw blade. Gasping for air as she jerked upwards, she said, “Sasha! My name is Sasha.” ‘I’m not one of the dollotrons,’ she hoped her words said. ‘Don’t hurt me too.’ “What’s happening? What did he do to my face? ” It was burning- the mask- it wasn’t-

 

“Stay with me,” Robin ordered, turning to face the onslaught of dollotrons as they ran towards them. “I’ll get you out. I promise .”

 

While Robin flew towards the dollotrons, kicking them effortlessly in their faces, Sasha stumbled off the operating table, clawing at her face, at the edges of the mask. It burned, seared, hurt , just to touch. “How do I get this off? It’s stuck…” Her body trembled with quickening breaths. “It’s stuck! And…” She rested a hand against a table to steady herself, tools flecked with blood and a single candle atop it. “My papa…” He was- her dad- was he- where was he…?

 

“This way!” Robin called as he roundhoused kicked another dollotron in the face, not even pausing to watch it crumble to its knees.

 

But Sasha’s eyes had caught on Professor Pyg, rising upwards. His hand flew out to snatch one of his dollotrons by their red-haired wigs. And Sasha- somehow, even though the dollotron was dressed in the same purple dress as the others, wearing the same mask and wig, she could tell, by its legs, its arms, the shape of its body- that was her papa .

 

“Leave my papa!” she shrieked at him, her hand snatching the candle at the table as terrified fury lit aflame in her chest, angry and snarling like a beast, clawing its way out. “Let! Him!-”

 

She threw the candle at Pyg’s uncovered chest, vengeful delight rising within her as his chest hairs caught on fire, then his surgeon’s coat, and the man squealed like the pig he was.

 

GO!

 

“Oh, piggie!” The man yelled as he ripped a curtain away from the window, revealing behind it the cart of a rollercoaster- were they in an amusement park? “Run, piggie! Run!” Pyg leaped into the cart, even as fire burned at his flesh.

 

“You!” Robin screeched as he ran and jumped after the villain, fingers catching on the edge of the cart as it started moving down the track.

 

“No!” Sasha screamed as she tried to scramble after them, tripping over the bodies of dollotrons. “Don’t go! Don’t leave me in this terrible place!” Robin seemed to realize his mistake, twisting his body around and reaching out for her, but his fingertips were too far away to even touch her own outstretched hand. The dollotrons grabbed her, slamming her to the ground. She felt tears prick her eyes and slide down her cheeks, in-between the cracks of where the mask met her face. “ Don’t leave me! You promised!

 

“Got you,” was the last thing Sasha heard as a burning Pyg wrapped his arms around Robin’s neck, and then the cart flew off the track, sending them flying, down and down and…

 

And she was alone.

 

No, not alone.

 

Her papa.

 

She shoved the dollotrons off her, and to her surprise, they went compliantly, falling or shuffling off her like zombies, lost without their master. Or maybe they thought she was one of them. Maybe she was.

 

“Papa?!” she cried, but she couldn’t identify him from the others anymore, lost in the crowd of dollotron bodies, dead and alive....

 

And… the candle. The one she had thrown- it’s flames licked at the floor, licked at the dresses of the dollotrons. Her breath stuttered as she inhaled the flecks of flame and smoke before she coughed it out. She needed to- she had to run, before the fire ate her alive. She glanced desperately around for her papa once more, before her tears blinded her vision and the heat of the flames burned as much as the mask.

 

And then she bolted for the way Robin had originally attended them to get out. She ignored the blood squelching under her shoes as she stepped over one of the dollotrons’ that had taken a saw blade to the face from Robin. With that much blood loss, surely it was dead, but- but, Robins didn’t kill, right?

 

Robins didn’t abandon the helpless victims to suffer their own fate either, though.

 

She stumbled down stairs, and some dollotrons followed after her, as though they had some semblance of a will to survive, or were simply following the leader. She hoped her papa was among them.

 

She sucked in a breath of fresh air as she burst out from the bottom of the building. She stumbled forward a more paces, desperate to get away from the heat of the fire, before she realized- or remembered- that the burning feeling was because of the mask, because of the rope burns on her arms and neck and thighs.

 

She collapsed next to another building- some amusement park game, a ring toss, maybe- she didn’t care. Dollotrons around her did the same, but, some were much more unlucky than her, bleeding from wounds- from Robin- or burning from the fire. She curled up, pressing her knees to her chest as she sobbed. She slowly raised one trembling hand to her face- not her face- a mask. She drew her fingers delicately across it. It felt like soft baby skin, but stretched, and wrinkled, and she hated it . She wanted to throw up on the spot, as her stomach curled with bile that threatened to rise up her throat. Instead, her hands flew to the sides of the mask, tugging, curling her nails in.

 

She stopped immediately with a loud cry, all pain and burning . She swore it felt like her face was going to melt off on the spot, but then the pain subsided, still sharp, and she sucked in an unsteady breath. Her face was… fine. Not melting anyway. But she dropped her hands to her shoulders, squeezing them tight.

 

She wanted… her papa

 

“Over here!” A voice yelled out. She jerked her head up, dimly recognizing sirens of all kinds over the cackling of fire eating a building alive. “ Oh my God- quickly! There’s- I don’t know-”

 

She winced as sirens got closer, as an ambulance, maybe multiple, appeared on the scene. People rushed about, grabbing the dollotrons that lolled lifelessly in their grips, and shoving them onto stretchers, prioritizing the ones that were leaking out practical gallons of blood. Though they wrapped those ones in bandages first. They had fire extinguishers and leather blankets to put out the ones on fire.

 

For some reason, Sasha was surprised when a worker approached her. She flinched away from them, then coughed out, “Help…”

 

The lady seemed startled that she spoke. She frowned, then kneeled down to her level. “Can you understand me? Can you respond? Yes or no?”

 

“Y-... yes…” Sasha whispered, even though, for some reason, she didn’t feel like talking anymore. She just wanted it to be silent. She wanted everything to shut up.

 

“Are you okay?” The lady asked her, as though the answer wasn’t obvious. “Are you in pain anywhere? Bleeding?”

 

Sasha was silent, prompting the lady to repeat her questions, before Sasha softly said, “I want… my papa.”

 

The lady, too, was silent for a moment, before she rested a hand on her shoulder that Sasha fought a flinch at. “Okay. We’ll find your papa. Can you stand up? Stand up for me.”

 

Sasha numbly, shakily, pushed herself up onto her legs. The woman grabbed her arm and steadied her, murmuring meaningless reassurances to her. Sasha kept her head angled towards the ground, her eyes locked on her feet as the lady guided her towards one of the ambulances.

 

Sasha’s eyes fluttered closed as they sat her down, buckling her into something of the other. The next time she opened them, it was because she was jerked awake (was she asleep? She didn’t feel like she had been sleeping just… her eyes were closed. There was darkness.) to a pained, gurgling scream, alongside someone exclaiming, “Oh dear God!”

 

“Their faces are coming off with the masks!”

 

Her eyes blearily focused on things- stretchers with dollotrons on them, nurses and doctors pulling them- running passed. Mostly, she noticed the dark red blood.

 

And her papa.

 

Her eyes blinked away her numbness, as she jerked upwards. “Papa?!”

 

Already, his stretcher was gone, she had lost it, in one quick blink. She glanced frantically around, but then someone’s hand was on her chest, gently but firmly pushing her back down. “Hey, hey, it’s okay… We’re gonna take care of you, alright? It’s okay. You’ll be okay. Just rest.”

 

“Papa,” she cried helplessly, because what else could she do?

 

“It’s okay, we’ll find your papa.”

 

‘No, no, you won’t,’ Sasha thought hysterically. Only she could find her papa. The dollotrons all looked the same- that was the point- but her papa… She knew her papa.

 

So she layed back down, knowing she couldn’t do anything else. She wouldn’t be able to find her papa in this chaos. But when it was quiet again? When she finally got the silence she wanted?

 

She would find her papa.

 

She would free them.

 


 

“We’re on that emergency call, ward 30!”

 

Sasha felt her breath hitch as the distant, commanding voice reached her ears. No. No, no, she needed to have more time! Her papa- her papa-

 

He was beneath her, hooked up to some IV bag thing, but she didn’t care. His face- his face- she had to get the mask off. She wanted to see her papa’s face again. She had to see her papa’s face again.

 

She had to know it was possible .

 

She wanted everything to be normal again.

 

She wanted answers .

 

She wanted to scream in his face. Demand why he would let this happen. Why he would listen to Uncle Lev, why he would work for the scum of Gotham, for crazy lunatics. Ask him what he thought would happen- ask him if he’d have done it if he knew what it would do to his daughter.

 

Her nails dug under his mask, her arms heaving as she felt it pull off his skin. She ignored his gurgled screams. Ignored the blood pouring from his face. Ignored the ripping sound of flesh.

 

“One of the doll-people!” An officer yelled as he opened the door.

 

“Requesting assistance,” the other officer said, as they both stared in horror at her. She felt tears prick at her eyes as they looked at her like that. She wasn’t- they didn’t- how dare they look at her like she was the monster, and not Professor Pyg!

 

“It’s killing the others!” The first officer screeched, as his flashlight hit her eyes, making her flinch. He quickly pulled out his gun.

 

Killing?! What no- she wasn’t- monsters killed! She wasn’t a monster!

 

She looked back down at her father, at the way his form had stilled, even as blood dripped down his face and his neck, soaking the bed below him. She lifted her hands away from him, staring at her hands, at the blood all over them, at the flesh under her nails.

 

No- she wasn’t-

 

“I’m DIFFERENT from them!” she shrieked, leaping up from the bed. The first officer took a cowardly step back, face slack and startled, perhaps because of her rage, or perhaps because her voice sounded so young and scared, or maybe he was inexperienced on the field, new to Gotham and her horrors. She threw a punch at one of the officers, managing to actually strike him in the shock of it all. But the other officer kicked her and she flew into the wall.

 

She coughed, and blood came trickling out of her mouth- but she didn’t know if it was her blood or not, or if, maybe, her father’s blood had gotten into her mouth.

 

The thought revolted her, and she gasped. She stared, wide-eyed at the officers, as she frantically tried to explain herself, “He’s my-”

 

As one of the officers raised his gun again, and the other moved towards her threateningly, they were both suddenly knocked to the floor with two bangs of a gun that made her jump. They crumpled to their knees with screams, where blood gushed out of them.

 

“Papa…?”

 

She stared as a giant man swiftly knocked out the two officers with the blunt side of the gun, whacking them in the sides of their heads. They groaned as they both simultaneously drifted off into unconsciousness.

 

Her breath hitched as her eyes dragged themselves away from the officers, up towards the man towering over her. She was tall, for her age, but even still, the man was huge. With broad shoulders too. And the leather jacket and dark clothing wasn’t helping either. Nor the gun.

 

But the- but the symbol on his chest, red, in the shape of a bat- or a bird, if she didn’t know any better- and the equally red helmet with two slits for eyes told her exactly who this man was. She, having moved to Gotham two years ago, only knew of him from social media, newspapers, and word from her father and uncle. The Red Hood. Scourge of the Gotham Underworld. The one they- well, her father and her uncle- had to watch out for. More dangerous than the Big Bat, because he killed.

 

“You need a friend, right?” The anti-hero asked, voice rough, but the question not. There was an almost understanding tone to it. Her sniffles as she tried to hold back her tears were his only answer. “And me? I wouldn’t mind some company. All this wiping the vomit off the face of Gotham once and for all gets pretty tiring. And lonely.” He leaned against a window sill, studying her as she sucked in shaky breath after shaky breath. “I can help you… You have anything else planned? Well?” He raised a hand out to her. “If you can’t trust the Red Hood, scourge of the underworld, who can you trust?”