Chapter 17: All In
A fresh new day in its early hours was the setting amidst the kitchen and dining area of Titans Tower. A day not so different from so many others that had preceded it. Robin sat slightly slumped at the table sipping a glass of orange juice as he scratched his chin with the back end of a ballpoint pen, sharpening his keen mind on the daily crossword puzzle in the morning paper. Starfire happily hummed in a particularly chipper tone, sporting an apron by the stove as she patiently waited for the perfect moment to flip the first of several gobs of batter sizzling in a skillet on the burner. Curiously she would occasionally lift the edges just enough with a spatula to ensure they had cooked enough to make them stable enough to flip.
Starfire had always found a second calling in the kitchen and was always ecstatic when it was her turn to cook. And while her dishes were occasionally somewhat… contrived in terms of flavor for a pallet to those of earthly origin there was no denying the amount of skill and passion she put into every morsel of mixed cuisine she was bound to turn out. But like every good chef Starfire was not so easily discouraged despite her infrequent culinary indiscretions of Earth and Tamaranian ingredients.
“The savory cakes born of pan shall be ready momentarily,” she called cheerfully to her friends at the table.
Robin looked up with a nod and a smile.
He looked back down at his crossword puzzle having made significant progress but still a few columns remained blank. “Hmmm,” he narrowed his eyes, “Number twenty-two across.” He pondered on the clue given for a moment. “Hey, Cyborg, any thoughts on a six letter word, means ‘to be condemned’.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said enlightened, seeming obvious, “Thanks.” He looked to his side. “Uh…Cyborg?”
Cyborg sat quietly beside Robin at the table, passively almost blankly stirring a mug of coffee. He stared straight ahead, zoned out in deep inner thought.
It seemed unfathomable. Incomprehensible. Outright impossible. But here he was. For today was not just any other day. It was THE day. The ONLY day left.
As hard as it might have been to believe his month long wager with BeastBoy and Raven was drawing to a close. The terms were simple. From sunrise to sunset, beginning to end of each day encompassing one month the two of them would be in close proximity to one another, not leaving the others side. A feat seemingly impossible given their opposing nature and sometimes conflicting personalities. Raven, the quiet, solitary intellectual. BeastBoy the spontaneous, untamed joker. Oil and water.
The stakes? Cyborg’s only ante in this was the spectacle sure to follow. Certainly a few laughs to be had and a more dynamic life to lead around the tower. But should the two of them succeed, Raven would claim a special pair of custom-made sound filtering earpieces. And as for BeastBoy?
Cyborg’s human eye gave a slight twitch. Loosing one of his techno toys he could easily get over. Re-designing and re-building to improve his tech was practically a hobby for him. But this…
He’d clean BeastBoy’s room. Perhaps ‘clean’ was an understatement. Sanitize was more appropriate. In boiling bleach. After it had been set on fire maybe.
It was no secret BeastBoy’s room was somewhat of a sty. But attempting the task of cleaning and restoring some degree of hygienic standard was an immense undertaking. It was like being assigned to scrub a decomposing trash dump. You have a rough idea what you’re getting into, but you’d rather not go near it if you didn’t have to.
Which brings us to today. Hours had turned into days, days became weeks. And now the end was upon us. It started off as rocky as he might’ve hoped. Nerves undermined, routines disrupted, and even the occasional momentary slip of sanity here and there. But throughout this entire ordeal the two of them exercised the one thing he never thought would come to bear in this circumstance. Patience.
Sure he liked his friends to get along. But not this well when these kinds of stakes were involved. Why couldn’t they have gotten along so great next month? It almost seemed like they were against him. Like they were able to put aside their squabbling with one another just to spite him. They were in cahoots on this. Yeah, that had to be it. They were sitting on all those hostile vibes that normally just gushed out of them when they shared the same space, and as soon as his back was turned, Oh they were just pickin’ their spot to put one over on him. Just waitin’ to…
Cyborg shook his head, turning to Robin and snapping back to the real world back at the table.
“Cy, are you okay?” Robin asked somewhat concerned.
“Uh… okay? Yeah. Sure. Sure, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be okay?” he forced a grin.
“Um, cause you’re stirring your coffee with a strip of bacon.”
Cyborg looked down. Sure enough in his disoriented state he’d been stirring his coffee with a strip of bacon. He lifted it out of the mug watching as the once sizzling strip of pork soggily dripped into his mug.
He merely shrugged, biting into the bacon with a ferocious chomp. “Mmmm,” he gulped in approval, “Ain’t any wrong way to eat bacon.”
Robin just smirked and went back to his puzzle. “A little anxious?”
“What makes ya say that?” he dunked the bacon back into his coffee with a forced laugh. “I just happened to invent a new breakfast combo. Now my bacon tastes like coffee and my coffee tastes like bacon.”
“I believe Robin is referring to your most sociable wager amongst friends BeastBoy and Raven.” Starfire said as she flipped her pancakes. “Today is the last and final day, is it not?”
“No,” he said coyly, “It’s not the last ‘day’.” He scoped a digital readout on the underside of his forearm. “It’s the last seventeen hours, forty one minutes and… seven seconds. But who’s countin’?”
“There’ll be other bets, Cy,” Robin gave a sympathetic pat on the back. “And besides, ya never know. Something could still happen.”
Cyborg looked up for an instant. “Yeah,” he agreed, “YEAH, You’re right! It ain’t over till it’s over. Last couple weeks could finally get to’em at the last minute. Even Rae can’t sit on THAT much BeastBoy on tap for this long. And BB can’t filter himself to her comfort zone forever.”
He looked around the kitchen noticing the both of them were still not present. “Why I bet they’re havin’ some sorta ground zero moment right now and are makin’ for both sides of the city limits right…”
The main room doors swished open. All heads turned. Well, Robin and Starfire’s heads turned. Cyborg’s fell. BeastBoy and Raven casually entered the kitchen area taking up seats side by side opposite of Robin and Cyborg.
“Nevermind,” he sighed to himself.
Cyborg looked across the table at both of them. Raven quietly sitting with her hands folded, BeastBoy with a handheld game. His eyes were narrowed at the device with his tongue sticking out to the side, no doubt in the deepest immersion with the game, harboring his total concentration.
“So where have you two been?” Robin asked politely, uncharacteristically sound for Raven to show up this late to breakfast and for BeastBoy to arrive this early. “Just wake up?”
“The roof,” Raven answered, “Early morning meditation. Not as necessary as my routine dictates but given the circumstances of today I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.” She gave the slightest glance in Cyborg’s direction. As if to remind him without directly reminding him.
“Part of the deal,” BeastBoy added not looking up from his game.
Robin gave a curious look.
“Yes. In exchange for waking up like a sensible person in the actual morning hours and sharing his presence so that I can meditate while still honoring the bet, I in turn agreed to stick it out on the couch for an hour of his video games.”
“To play, not just watch,” BeastBoy looked away just quick enough to point a finger at her as if to put the exclamation point on the precise stipulation of the deal.
“To participate, yes.” Raven nodded.
BeastBoy smiled to himself.
Robin was impressed. He had a few lingering concerns about this wager of theirs at the beginning, fearing they’d more than likely destroy one another. Not in a literal sense, but in terms of dismantling their friendship and everything that’d taken them so long to build towards getting along as well as they had. But it seemed to be having a rather positive influence on the both of them. They were downright civil and in the early hours of the morning no less when BeastBoy was hardly ever present and Raven was typically a faded grumble until her morning tea.
Cyborg remained a blank stare with the exception of a questionable eyebrow raised. He was happy two of his friends and teammates had strengthened their bond and had developed such a peaceful coexistence with each other. BUT WHY NOW OF ALL TIMES?
He was quick to mentally regroup. It was obvious hoping for this arrangement to go south was a lost cause. Action had to be taken. His livelihood was on the line. Not to mention the decaying funk he’d be scrubbing out of his parts for weeks if he were expected to live up to his end of the deal. But of course these were still his friends he was sparking devious notions about. He didn’t want to drive a rift between them but just enough friction to pull them apart long enough gain the upper hand in the bet.
Cyborg rose from his seat making his way over to the kitchen counter towards the coffee pot for a refill. “Well ain’t you two gettin’ comfortable,” he smirked in teasingly sweet tone. “Makes me wonder where this is all gonna’ go from here.”
He paused looking over his shoulder as Raven causally sipped a cup of her morning tea that had been waiting for her on the table and BeastBoy remained glued to his game.
“Rae, any second thoughts on my suggestion to add a ‘guest’ room?”
Raven’s eyes opened casually in a menacingly neutral fashion just as BeastBoy’s videogame emitted an audible beep signaling he’d paused. Both their heads turned slowly towards Cyborg. BeastBoy flared his nostrils in his friend’s direction but otherwise there was not a sound.
Robin and Starfire watched with curiosity. This was new. Normally BeastBoy would be firing back comebacks and general carnivore slander while Raven would go Poltergeist on the room in general making any object that wasn’t nailed down her own personal annoyance seeking missile. But they were completely calm. Quiet. Dangerously quiet.
Raven and BeastBoy turned their attention from Cyborg to each other, meeting eyes yielding equally vacant expressions.
“Is it my turn or yours?” Raven asked quietly.
“Mine,” BeastBoy stood from the table, “Hold this.” He handed her his handheld game which she accepted as he walked to the cupboard on the opposite side of the kitchen.
“Less of course you’d rather move right in with BB,” Cyborg continued as he poured his coffee unaware, “I mean he does already have bedding arrangements for two.”
BeastBoy pulled a small box from the cupboard.
Raven took another sip of tea as both Robin and Star continued to observe, unsure of what the proper course of action was in this situation. Yet compelled to remain silent.
“Of course the whole ‘living in a junk induced biohazard’ could be a low point,” Cyborg scratched his head as if trying to ponder if the arrangement was even plausible.
BeastBoy walked up behind Cyborg, opening a small compartment on his lower back. From there he poured the entire contents of the box into the open slot. Once verified that the container was empty with one final shake he closed the compartment with a low ‘clunk’ sound.
“Hmm?” Cyborg turned around just in time to see BeastBoy discarding a box over his shoulder, dusting off his hands.
He watched as BeastBoy sat back down and Raven handed him back his game.
Cyborg shrugged taking a sip of his freshly poured brew, walking back towards the table.
“Wait for it,” BeastBoy mused, un-pausing his game.
“Huh?” Cyborg came to a halt at the sound of what sounded like a ball bearing striking a piece of chrome.
Cyborg spun around at the repeated sound trying to determine where it was coming from.
POP-POP! CLANG! POP! CLANG-CLANG!
“Hey!” he shouted “Hey, what gives!”
Rapid popping and clanging sounds continued to erupt inside of Cyborg’s metal frame like a ricocheting machine gun. From the underside of his right shoulder a tiny white projectile escaped through a small gap in his outer assembly, landing in the middle of the kitchen table.
Robin picked up the small pellet, gently squeezing it to verify what his eyes identified as…
It seemed that the box BeastBoy had poured inside of Cyborg had indeed been a box of popcorn kernels. And the heat put off by his inner working cybernetic components was igniting them.
Cyborg began to flail his limbs wildly, his arms swinging and swaying, his legs bending and bounding as hundreds of popped kernels bounced off his inner circuitry. “Hey-ey-ey-ey!” he bellowed. “This stuff is seriously messin’ with my motor controls!”
He continued to strut and swing and flail his limbs every which way in a sort of sporadic rhythm.
Starfire clapped in delight. “Oh most joyous!” she cheered, discarding her apron. She whizzed into the main room snatching up a portable stereo, placing it on the kitchen counter. “I have heard much of this ancient time earth dance.” Starfire pressed a button atop the player before flying beside Cyborg, mimicking his movements as the stereo played ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’.
Robin, BeastBoy, and even Raven could not help but be amused as Star synced her movements to Cyborg’s with such uncanny rhythm.
“C’mon guys!” Cyborg pleaded in between huffs, “I get it! Ain’t this enough for you?”
“Not quite. But you’re getting there,” Raven said casually as she reclined slightly into her seat.
BeastBoy attempted but ultimately failed to stifle a small laugh.
Suddenly Cyborg shot up straight as a low rumbling inside him started to make him wobble. More and more the vibrations continued to build inside of him until…
A small eruption of popcorn came pouring out of a sprung compartment on his lower rear quarters. Followed by one or two late kernels finally popping as Cyborg took a deep breath collapsing atop a small soft mountain of popcorn. He exhaled in relief before shooting a frown at the occupants of the table. “Good enough for ya?”
Raven crooked her head slightly. “No.”
Suddenly a small saltshaker and a stick of butter encased in dark energy floated overhead. The shaker turned upside down seasoning the popcorn as the energy bubble encasing the butter compressed it into a fine liquid that also served to flavor the mounds of white puffs below.
A handful of popcorn became engulfed in similar energy lifting off the ground drawn to Raven’s outstretched hand. She popped a few bites into her mouth then offering to share with BeastBoy who happily munched a few bites.
“But close enough,” she finished turning back to the table and her tea.
Cyborg just sat there crestfallen with a few salt particles scattered on his head and a smear of butter residue on his cheek.
“Wonder if he can make nachos too?” BB queried beside Raven already resuming his game and paying Cyborg no further mind.
Cyborg hung his head with a sigh, acknowledging overwhelming defeat.
A few moments later, broom in hand, BeastBoy swept up the last remaining bits of popcorn off the floor into a dustpan. No sooner had the last kernel been brushed into the pan a field of black energy lifted the dustpan into the air, floating towards the trash bin.
Starfire stepped on the foot pedal at the base of the trash container, opening the lid allowing the popcorn to be dumped inside.
Raven gave a small nod setting the dustpan back into a storage closet.
Beastboy walked over also returning the broom to storage. “Well, that oughta’ do it,” he said wiping his brow. “Might be a little tight on snacks come movie night though.”
“Waste not, want not,” Raven replied casually.
“Aw, don’t even!” Cyborg said with a grunt, feeding a scrubbing brush into a maintenance compartment to the side of his torso. “You got any idea how long it’s gonna’ take me to get the smell of burnt popcorn outta’ my circuits?” He gave a sigh, giving up as he closed the compartment deeming it a chore to be better suited for the garage.
He slumped down resting his chin on the kitchen table. If Cyborg hadn’t been down before he most certainly was now.
“Try to cheer up Cy,” Robin made a meager effort to recover his friend’s spirits. “Could’ve been worse.”
A hefty plate of food plopped down in front of Cyborg.
“Perhaps devouring large quantities of Earth breakfast will dispatch your sorrow,” Starfire beamed with optimistic pride.
Cyborg and Robin exchanged looks. “It’s worse.”
BeastBoy and Raven retook their places at the table as Starfire placed down similar plates in front of them. Large golden brown discs, assumedly pancakes stacked high on top of each other occupied each plate, a wasp of steam rising from the top, still warm from the pan.
“Um, thanks Star,” BeastBoy said with a faint smile.
“Looks positively… brown,” Robin attempted to compliment her as a plate was placed down in front of him as well.
There was a brief stillness at the table as Starfire walked back to the stove to prepare her own plate.
The Titans began to rigorously inspect their breakfast. They sort of looked like pancakes. They vaguely smelled like pancakes. But there was still doubt as to how Starfire had put her own distinctive Tamaranean flare on today’s breakfast item. Even when following closely most recipes not of her home planet she had this habit of ‘tweaking’ the flavor ever so slightly to better fit her own palette and to present bold otherworldly tastes to her friends.
The fact that they looked perfectly normal was what made them most uncertain. Certainly Starfire had no distaste for human food. But when preparing it she always felt a desire to improve it in some way. And there was no shortage of possibilities. An ingredient of alien origin? A cultivated spore or fungus?
Cyborg jammed his fork into the top of one of the pancakes in question. It penetrated quite easily showing that it was quite soft and moist. “Passed the first test,” he said with a glimmer of caution, “Didn’t squirm or make any noise.”
Robin held a whole pancake above his plate peering closely. Most noticeably baked into the surface of the pancakes were numerous deep red blotches. “Strawberries maybe?” he guessed with hopefulness.
“Dude, never known strawberries to turn into a bloody pulpy mess when ya cook’em,” BeastBoy squinted at his plate.
“Not helpin’, man,” Cyborg continued to prod the food lightly with his fork.
Raven too looked down in quiet hesitation at her plate. She turned to BeastBoy.
He forced a smile as best he good. “Uh… ladies first.” He gestured towards her the self deemed privilege of the first bite.
Raven took firm hold of the fork, jamming it into a whole pancake. She hoisted it off the plate just as she grabbed BeastBoy by the nose, lifting him by the nostrils and causing his mouth to open. Raven crammed the entire pancake into his mouth before prying her fork loose, releasing his nose to let his mouth snap shut with his cheeks full.
Robin and Cyborg stared in anticipation, concerned to be certain but more curious as to what reaction the food would yield on BeastBoy.
A few seconds passed as he began to chew.
Thus far no obvious sign of discomfort.
BeastBoy continued to chew slowly but steadily, his eyes shifting between bites. His taste buds on high alert as if waiting for that one particular taste that would push him over the edge.
Again there was no sign of any particular side effect. BeastBoy appeared to be fine and hadn’t burst into hives or changed color or any such other alien side effect prevalent in Star’s other dishes. Unless of course he was turning another shade of green and no one noticed.
BeastBoy closed his eyes briefly sinking his head between his shoulders before lifting back up again as pushed the food down his throat with an audible gulp.
Raven, Cyborg, and Robin leaned in a bit closer.
BeastBoy opened his eyes slowly, smacking his lips a few times as he monitored his taste buds for abnormalities.
“BeastBoy?” Robin asked warily.
He gave a brief pause looking up at the ceiling as if waiting for a grace period after swallowing.
His eyes went wide as a pleasantly surprised expression painted itself on his face. “Mmmm,” he approved. He shoveled another pancake from his plate and downed it as he had the former.
Cyborg looked to Robin still somewhat doubtful. “What do ya think?”
Robin cut up a small slice of a pancake from his own plate lifting it to eye level. He took a bite. He chewed slowly but then quickly swallowed. “It tastes… normal.”
Raven followed his example taking a more casual bite for herself. She waited a moment after swallowing at an equal pace Beastboy had. Her taste buds rendered the same verdict. “It’s surprisingly… non-spit-up able”.
Finally Cyborg took a bite to share his own experience. “Ya know it ain’t half bad.”
In only a few more bites all dread and skepticism was forgotten. The group continued to eat collectively at a less threatened pace.
“What do ya think she put in’em?” BeastBoy asked between bites.
“More like what’d she leave out?” Raven rephrased.
“Hard to believe this is from the same girl who made food a five letter word,” Cyborg said with hardly a care.
Starfire returned to her place at the table with a hefty stack of pancakes of her own. “The customary morning jacks are flapped to your liking?” she inquired sweetly.
“Got that right,” Cyborg answered swiftly as went for the syrup to fully saturate his next bite.
“Wicked good stuff, Star,” BeastBoy said. “Has this really sweet after taste to it, but… I can’t put my finger on it.”
“I picked up that as well,” Raven seconded BeastBoy’s critique.
“Fess up Star. What’s your secret?” Cyborg added as he swabbed his plate clean.
“Oh, no secrets friends. The batter is most common of the store of groceries. I merely added a little something special while cooking to heighten the flavor.” Starfire explained with a warm smile.
“I guessed there had to be something to it from the red blotches cooked into the top,” Robin commented. “Cherries?”
“Raspberries?” BeastBoy wagered a guess.
“Zorkaberries.” She answered.
All forks froze in their hands while in transit to their mouths, save for Starfire who continued to eat regardless.
“Those alien juju fruits that turned Silkie into a ginormous mega sized super moth?” BeastBoy asked.
The other Titans looked questionably at their plates once more.
“Yes, but fear not. Zorkaberries are quite harmless to the earthly digestive system. Of this I am certain.” Starfire explained calmly.
“You sure, Star?” Cyborg asked with a hint of doubt but not trying to sound distrustful. “I mean, I’m not doubtin’ you personally but your food ain’t exactly known for always…”
“Agreeing with us?” Raven finished in an equally sympathetic manner.
“In or out of our stomachs,” BeastBoy added sensitively, but still yielding a light jab from Raven to his side.
“Your concern is understandable, but I promise the berries will ail you not,” she affirmed with an earnest look of sincerity in her eyes. “Though past instances of Tamaranean sustenance have proven quite fickle I remain certain that the zorkaberries will be of no consequence. I have even refined them with copious amounts of the white powder of sweetness to make them more palatable.”
The Titans shared a look at each other as if mentally agreeing. Starfire’s delicacies were at times a sour note on their taste buds, but she had never, nor would ever intentionally serve them something harmful in any manner.
“Just checkin’,” Cyborg smiled.
“Yeah. If ya can’t trust something with a lotta’ sugar what can ya trust?” BeastBoy returned to eating.
Raven lightly shook her head. “Will there ever come a day when you’re sick of sugar?”
BeastBoy looked at her whimsically. “Laid up in bed sick or emergency room sick?”
Starfire just smiled warmly as she began to eat along with her friends.
Suddenly bright red lights began flashing, flooding every room of the tower in deep crimson light overhead to the sound of thunderous buzzing. The Titan’s warning alarm was sounding indicating trouble somewhere in the city.
Startled at first from lack of any activity the Titans quickly responded, springing from their seats.
“Trouble!” Robin shouted racing to the monitoring station. The others following close behind.
“Was startin’ to wonder where all the bad guys had gone,” Cyborg said casually to the lack of activity. It was a rare occurrence for the city to go without incident for so long. There always seemed to be no shortage of up-and-coming criminals and villains determined to prove their status as a true super villain either to the Titans, the underworld, or both.
“I was thinkin’ we were gonna’ have to start labeling the back of milk cartons,” BeastBoy responded. “Where’d they get to?”
“Doesn’t matter. Whoever they are, they’re back and up to no good,” Robin stated. A grid of the city was brought up onto the main view screen. A large section of the downtown district was highlighted. “And it looks like they’re making up for lost time.”
“Who is it?” Starfire asked peering over Robin’s shoulder.
The screen flashed bringing up footage from a nearby traffic cam.
Raven raised an eyebrow in annoying disbelief. “You’ve gotta’ be kidding me.”
Downtown the streets of Jump City were rampant with the screams of panicked citizens scrambling in every direction, as if trying to put distance between the chaos breaking loose. Cars came to an abrupt halt, their passengers abandoning their vehicles and retreating back the way they’d come on foot.
Debris lay scattered in the street, nearby windows broken in with glass fragments below.
At the center of all this commotion stood a single individual calmly surveying the scene before him. Adjusting the position of his black top hat, straightening the collar of his matching black suit, a proud smile beamed from his blue complexion. “Tough crowd,” he scoffed to himself. “But, the show must go.”
Clapping his hands together then pulling them apart a slim magic wand materialized from nowhere between his palms. With a flick and twirl he cast the wand forward. “Mumbo Jumbo!” he exclaimed.
A nearby banking machine gave a sudden twitch then began to inflate at its base before it burst a steady stream of bills into the air, wafting to the ground.
“And they say working a street corner is no respectable place for a performer,” he grinned at the heaping wads of cash on the ground, ripe for the taking. “And now may I have a volunteer from the audience?”
Mumbo turned to face a window display of a gentleman’s clothing shop. Three blank faced manikins stood in plain view, each dressed in a finely tailored suit. “Yes! You sir,” he pointed.
With another wave of Mumbo’s wand the manikin in the center sprung to life. After a brief stretch of it’s now flexible plastic limbs it burst through the window showering glass fragments to the ground around him. Casually walking forward and then stopping just short of the magician who’d summoned him to life.
With a flick of the wrist he whisked a large sack out of thin air in his hand, handing it to his volunteer. “If you’d be so kind,” he gestured to the large heaps of money on the ground.
The manikin began scooping up handful after handful of currency into the sack.
“Moving right along,” he straightened his bow tie. He turned to a pet store across the street. From the main display window was a large viewing area of several rabbits at play. “A little something for our younger viewers.” He threw back his cape taking aim with the wand. “Mumbo Change-O!”
Inside the viewing area the three rabbits quadrupled in size, sprouting long legs and massive forearms, hunched over in posture resembling Neanderthal bunnies. Their eyes curved as their noses grew pointy resembling Mumbo’s facial features.
With a mighty swing one rabbit punched through the Plexiglas display, causing the whole casing to topple over onto the sidewalk. The three behemoth rabbits bounded from the store, merrily hopping to Mumbo’s side.
“Onto the next act,” he pointed to a nearby jewelry store.
The henchbunnies leaped and skipped towards their assigned target. They dove head first through the window, setting off an alarm mounted on the wall.
“Please, no distractions while the performer is on stage.” Mumbo gave another wave of his wand, instantly turning the blaring alarm into a tiny alarm clock that fell to the ground, breaking apart on impact.
Inside the jewelry store the rabbits tore open display cases, chomping off thick locks and outright prying open the thick metal sliding cabinets behind them. They scooped up as many diamonds and expensive looking trinkets as they could carry. Watches and necklaces draped over their arms and hands full of rings and precious stones.
Just then a bushel of carrots lowered into view of the broken window, levitating inside a field of black energy.
The bunny’s noses began twitching, their heads perking up. Even under magic, their animal instincts were still very much intact amidst Mumbo’s spell.
The rabbits turned catching sight of the carrots as if in a trance, dropping their loot to the floor as they slowly hopped towards the tantalizing aroma. The carrots floated backwards leading them away from the store and out into the center of the street.
From the end of the street Starfire swooped down, BeastBoy beside her in the form of Pterodactyl, the two of them seizing a firm grip on the opposing sides of a chain link fence. With hardly an effort between the two they gave a yank uprooting the fence from the ground and continuing to charge forward, the fence outstretched like a wide net towards the still preoccupied rabbits.
They flew straight forward ensnaring the group of hench-bunnies in the fence, circling around them tightly, corralling them in the wrapped metal barrier.
At that same moment a bird-a-rang whizzed through the air severing the manikin’s loot bag, causing the sack to rip and tear as the once gathered cash spilled back onto the ground.
The manikin looked up just as a burst of bright blue energy collided with his head, dislodging his thick plastic cranium from between his shoulders to bounce onto the pavement. The manikin’s arms reached aimlessly where his head once sat finding only an empty space before his body became lifeless once more and fell over onto the pile of money he’d been gathering.
Alarmed by the sudden commotion Mumbo turned. He looked up to the rooftop across the street where Robin and Cyborg stood, Robin pulling another projectile from his belt at the ready, Cyborg blowing a gust of smoke from his sonic cannon.
“Hmmph!” Mumbo folded his arms with a scoff. “Every time I branch into a new venue, I always get hecklers.”
“Show’s just gettin’ started, blue boy,” Cyborg remarked.
“And you’ve got a command performance. For ten to fifteen years.” Robin added.
“Sorry, I don’t do private parties,” Mumbo shrugged with a smile. “Besides I’m booked solid through New Years. You’ll have to get in touch with my agent.” Mumbo turned just in time to duck from the path of a hurled tomato that hit the ground with a splat. He looked back to find the rest of his audience.
BeastBoy sat perched atop a produce stand lightly tossing and catching another tomato in the air, Starfire and Raven hovering beside him. “And that’s just the reviews from your first act,” he grinned.
Mumbo frowned as he straightened his hat before smiling once more. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t take to heart pedestrian criticism from rank amateurs at children’s parties who throw toma-WHOA!”
Mumbo ducked another hurled tomato.
“Fine! Stage is getting crowded anyway and if it’s one thing I don’t do it’s share the spotlight.” He dusted off his coat as he removed his top hat. Reaching into his hat he pulled a small cup before returning the hat to his head. He tossed the cup into the air directly above him. Once above him the cup magically expanded to enormous size. “Mumbo-Switch-O!”
The cup landed upside down covering Mumbo from view inside the large cup. From the single cup sprang two more, one at either side. They then began to shift position; sliding and shuffling round and round. Faster and faster they mixed between each other.
The Titans tried to keep sight of the center cup, which Mumbo had been under, but the cups were switching positions so quickly it became difficult to keep track. BeastBoy’s eyes felt like they were spinning inside his own head.
Suddenly the cups came to a stop. They then began dashing forward picking up speed as they broke off into separate directions down a three-way intersection. One cup hung a left down the main street, another bearing right towards the next city district, and the third continuing straight ahead towards midtown.
Mumbo was many things but careless wasn’t one of them. Past experiences had taught him well the odds of taking all five Titans single handedly were not in his favor.
“Titans, GO!” Robin exclaimed as he leaped from the roof firing his grapple launcher latching onto an adjacent building swinging after the cup that had proceeded down the center path. “Split up.”
Cyborg hit the ground running, but not long as Starfire scooped him up by the shoulders taking to the air to pursue the cup that had fled to the left. That only left Raven soaring above street level to chase down the last cup’s remaining escape route to the right with BeastBoy following on foot in cheetah form.
A few moments later Raven touched down on the street below as BeastBoy met up with her shifting back into human form catching his breath. She scanned the vacant streets surrounding her. No doubt word had already spread of Mumbo’s crime spree and people were already off the streets. Just as well as it was one less detour to bringing down the bad guy.
“So where’d ‘hocus-jokus’ get to?” BeastBoy asked as he looked for any sign of a trail to follow.
“Not sure,” she replied. Raven moved forward slowly, alert for any sign of Mumbo’s presence. No obvious signs of Mumbo having passed through were apparent. It would’ve appeared they were following a cold trail. If not for the stirring feeling in her gut. “But he’s close.”
“Are ya sure?” he asked.
A thick metal ring flung towards BeastBoy striking his wrist sending him reeling against a building, anchoring itself into the wall with BeastBoy’s arm stuck inside. “Whuh!” he yelled caught off guard.
Raven looked from BeastBoy to the direction it’d come from finding Mumbo casually reclined on top of the marquee of a local theater. He twirled three more magic linking rings around his finger.
“Are you convinced now?” she dryly called to BeastBoy, not taking her eyes off the magician.
BeastBoy struggled to pull the ring loose. “Sorta,” he grunted.
Raven took to the air at eye level with Mumbo. “I thought you didn’t do private parties,” she put up her guard.
“Professional courtesy,” he tipped his hat, “One magic user to another.”
“Magic, yes.” Raven threw out her hands, levitating several manhole covers up from the streets to her side, “Parlor tricks, no.” She pushed her palms forward causing the covers to fly at Mumbo at high speed.
Mumbo leaped from the marquee just as the thick metal discs dug into wall where he’d been nestled. As he fell to the ground he pulled a long lasso of multi colored handkerchiefs from his sleeve. With a quick twirl he threw the lasso ensnaring Raven’s leg with a firm downward yank, plucking her from the air and into the pavement below.
“Argh!” Raven shouted as she hit the ground.
BeastBoy morphed into a gorilla swinging his arm with a mighty heave, breaking the ring that held him in place in several pieces. He bounded towards Mumbo just as he touched down onto the street, shifting form to a lion.
Mumbo grinned. “Now there’s something fresh for the act.” Mumbo retrieved a whip from his hat, cracking it into the air as he pulled a small chair from behind his cape that he held out in front of him to keep the green animal at bay.
BeastBoy stopped just short of Mumbo as he prodded and poked the chair towards him. To which BeastBoy cut a thunderous roar.
“Back! Back I say!” he dramatically shouted cracking the whip repeatedly. “What do ya think? Too much?” he glanced in Raven’s direction who was still steadying herself from the fall as if fishing for comments.
Mumbo looked back as BeastBoy bit into the chair with his sharp teeth, tearing the wooden legs from its base and chewing them into paste as if it were nothing more than bubblegum to his ferocious jaws.
Mumbo gave an audible gulp as he dropped the remains of the chair. “I think we should hold off on the ‘putting my head in your mouth’ bit. Crowd might be squeamish. Not to mention me.” Mumbo reeled back the whip cracking the air once more in BeastBoy’s direction. But the lion snapped its strong grip on the end of the whip in its mouth before he could retract it.
Mumbo wrestled and pulled furiously to pull the whip free. But the lion merely gave an un-amused glare as it swung his neck back to send Mumbo hurdling through the air and tumbling to the ground.
The magician was laid out on the ground flat on his back with his cape draped over his head. He shook his head with a small groan, unable to see.
Suddenly a low growl caught his ear. Cautiously Mumbo lifted his cape from over his eyes looking up at the green lion standing ominously over him and the hostile snarl on his face. “Not bad, kid. Ya got potential but you come up just short on the execution.”
The lion reared back, springing off the ground about to pounce on its prey.
“Eh-heh,” he coyly laughed, “Poor choice of words.” Mumbo quickly rolled to his side, brushing back his cape to reveal his top hat in hand. Into the hat BeastBoy fell, magically sucked inside without the hat altering its shape or size as the large feline disappeared inside.
“See, in this line of work it really is style over substance,” Mumbo smirked triumphantly.
“BeastBoy!” Raven called, now on her feet and advancing towards his captor. A nearby lamppost glowed black before rising from the street, the concrete once holding it in place crumbling free. With a swish of her arms the post acted as a telekinetic club striking hard against the ground.
“Ya know…” Mumbo began sidestepping the attack.
“…You should really give some thought…” he leaped backwards avoiding another strike.
“…To putting this whole hero profession…” he narrowly dodged another swipe.
Raven pulled her hands back before thrusting them forwards sending the lamppost flying at Mumbo like a javelin.
Mumbo ducked as the pole soared past him driving itself into a wall.
“A magician’s life is so much more fulfilling. No collateral damage, no violent tendencies,” he gestured to the surroundings of their battleground. “Whaddya say? I could use an assistant of your caliber. You and me, we can go places.” Mumbo offered with a taunting smile.
Raven silently stared him down not bothering to reply.
Mumbo’s shoulders sank, hanging his head. “So that’s the way its gonna’ be, eh? Well, guess there’s only one way to settle this.”
Mumbo pulled his cape around him, quickly throwing it back out to reveal a slight change in attire. Stirrups on the heels of his now black boots, leather chaps over his pants, a red vest over his coat with a small silver star pinned to the side. A holster attached to a black belt hanging low to his side with a magic wand in place of a six-shooter. He pressed down against his top hat just before it sprung back up as a ten-gallon hat. “Let’s see who’s quicker on the wand,” he spat to the side in cowboy fashion.
Raven narrowed her eyes as if visually accepting the duel.
Mumbo narrowed his right back. He let one hand fall low to his side, flexing his fingers eager to draw.
Raven clenched her fist, black energy crackling from her knuckles. She didn’t need a weapon. Only the will to close the curtain on this second rate illusionist.
A newspaper blew across the street like tumbleweed.
Mumbo spread his fingers wide.
With a swift motion Mumbo pulled the wand from his holster swinging his arm forward towards Raven. As soon as he drew his wand on Raven a narrow tidal wave of trick flowers erupted from his sleeve bearing down on Raven.
Quickly Raven flew into the air avoiding the colorful onslaught below her as the stream of flowers struck a city bus behind her with the force of a tidal wave, knocking it over. She cast her hand to the side engulfing a floral delivery truck with an aura of black energy, levitating it slightly off the ground before tossing it high into the air like a lawn dart.
Mumbo looked up as the shadow of the plummeting vehicle began to close in around him. Leaping out of the way he narrowly dodged the falling truck as it half buried into the street with such force, the back door of the truck cracked open raining flowers to the ground around its close proximity.
He dusted a few stray carnations and other assorted flowers from his person. “Remind me not to catch the bouquet at your wedding.”
Raven went into a dive flying towards him.
Mumbo pulled a deck of playing cards from his jacket. With a quick shuffle he split the deck between his hands, scattering the cards at his feet. Upon touching the ground the cards began to squirm and twitch, digging into the ground, burying themselves like seeds.
Raven continued towards him, arms out in front of her, hands glowing with energy amassing in her palms prepared to attack.
Suddenly the ground began to rumble. The street split open as a giant house of cards sprung up, obstructing Mumbo from view.
Raven didn’t slow down, merely continuing forwards. She fanned out her hands sending a ripple of energy out in front of her that hit the dead center of the makeshift structure, toppling it as quickly as it had been created.
She coasted to a stop above the scattered pile of cards on the ground. She searched the area, but there was no sign of Mumbo. Another diversion, as she’d expected.
“Another admirable quality of a performer in training…”
Raven turned to find Mumbo on the other side of the street leaning against a mailbox, casually re-shuffling another deck of cards, fanning them out in front of him.
He swung his arm forward sending several cards whizzing through the air landing a few feet short of Raven. The instant the cards landed on the ground a large puff of white smoke erupted from each card. When the smoke dissipated there stood in place of the cards large magically transformed figures matching the likenesses of a jack, a queen, and a king. Each standing tall with a familiar blue complexion, looking down at Raven with sinister smirks of mischievous intent.
“…Performing before a ‘full house’,” Mumbo grinned.
The royal figures took a step towards her, the jack pulling a mace, the queen donning an axe, and the king sporting a long sword. In unison they raised their weapons high.
Raven crouched low to the ground. “I prefer a roundhouse.” She sprung into the air just as their weapons came bearing down on her, swinging her leg forward. Her foot struck all three in semicircular motion leaving a trail of black energy rippling from her ankle which intensified the blow as all three attackers were sent skidding across the ground on their backs.
Steadily the three royal garbed minions got back to their feet, firmly gripping their weapons once more. All the while a proud smile matching Mumbo’s never leaving their faces. Raven held firm, arms out to her sides preparing for the next attack.
“Hmm,” Mumbo scratched his chin harboring doubt that the playing field was still too equal for his taste. “Card tricks certainly aren’t what they used to be. Let’s see if we can’t find a little something extra to really get the crowd on their feet.”
He removed his top hat, waving his hand over the top. He reached inside. “Observe. The hand is quicker than the ey-yi-YI-YIGH!” Mumbo shouted as a loud snap echoed from the hat, removing his hand and with it a green lobster clamping its claw firmly across his fingers.
Mumbo shook his hand vigorously in between yelps of pain trying to shake the infernal creature free. After a few frantic flails the lobster released its grip, flung in the direction of Mumbo’s minions as they began to advance towards Raven. BeastBoy expanded in size midair into the form of an elephant, shifting to his side.
The royal henchman looked up just as the large green pachyderm plunged down on top of them, rolling over the three and pan caking them into the ground.
As he rolled clear BeastBoy returned to human form, skidding to one knee by Raven’s side still at the ready to fend off another attack. But it was unnecessary as all three figures remained down and motionless, eventually dematerializing into ordinary playing cards once more.
“Boy, talk about performance issues,” BeastBoy quipped.
Mumbo sucked on his fingers, as if trying to numb the sharp pain still lingering in his hand. Removing his hand he gave an irked grunt firmly pulling his top hat back onto his head. “Okay! That does it!” he rolled up his sleeves, his once carefree smirk now a malicious grin. “As much as it pains me to break up a good performance, it’s time to split up this act.”
Mumbo threw his hands forward, his gloves flying from his hands. One landed square on Raven’s face, its fingers grabbing a tight hold over her nose and mouth. She struggled to pry it off, but its grip was too strong and with her mouth sealed she couldn’t chant her mantra to properly focus her energies around it.
BeastBoy reached for her. But his attempt to help her was short lived as the other glove grew to the size of a car, crashing down on top of him and pinning him to the ground under its palm.
Raven continued to pry at the glove, ripping at its fingers and wrist. But just as she began to lift it an inch from her face the glove burst into a puff of smoke. More precisely, knock out gas, causing Raven to cough before an exasperated gasp as she collapsed to the ground.
BeastBoy pushed and wriggled every muscle in his body to get loose. The large animate glove still anchoring him merely dug its fingers into the pavement solidifying its hold. Still he resisted as best he could.
He looked up as Mumbo casually stood over him.
“Don’t feel too bad, kid,” he gloated as he dusted off his coat. “Ya put on a good show. But a good magician always has an ace up his sleeve.”
A large playing card with the ace of spades sprung from the gloves wrist, its razor sharp edge stopping just short of BeastBoy’s neck. One false move and he was sure to get the mother of all paper cuts.
“Shame really. Could’ve used a well-trained rabbit for the hat tricks. Even if he was a little green.” Mumbo leaned over giving a satisfied smile. “But I guess the next hat they pull you out of will be six feet deep.”
BeastBoy shifted his eyes to the side looking for any sign of movement from Raven.
“Aw, don’t worry,” Mumbo took notice. “No hard feelings. It comes with the territory. Sometimes ya work the good crowds and sometimes ya don’t. There’ll be other acts to follow.” He placed his hat over his heart looking up.
“Dude, seriously. Do you EVER get tired of listening to yourself talk?” BeastBoy gave a dry stare. “You’re not the only one who knows a trick or two ya know.”
Mumbo glanced questionably at the trapped green boy. “Confident till the curtain falls. I respect that,” he smirked. “But you don’t really think you can beat a magician at his own game do you?”
“You don’t really think I’ll let ya just walk off without a fight, do you?” he replied. “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Now ya see me…”
Mumbo flipped his hand up. Though it wasn’t really his intent, he refused to risk being upstaged by another do-gooder.
The ace swung downward.
The edge of the card cut deep into the ground like a blade, even penetrating a few inches into the pavement.