Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #3

A brief moment of quiet falls over Gotham as day turns to night, the smokestacks and skyscrapers bathed in a ruddy red glow by the setting sun. You are Bruce Wayne, the Batman. For the past week and a half you have immersed yourself in three cases: first, the Narrows killer, who you now know to be Waylon Jones, better known to those he terrorizes as Killer Croc*. You’ve deduced where his lair is most likely to be by triangulating the locations of his four victims; a reservoir in an old section of sewer beneath the Narrows being the result of your calculations.

Then there’s Jim Gordon. Last night, in lieu of pursuing the Narrows case to its final confrontation, you chose to respond to Jim’s call via the Bat-signal, and met him on the roof of the MCU. There he told you that whoever had been using his ID as proxy to withdraw riot gear from the lock-up in the precinct had made another move: the commissioner had received a tip that the falsified information had leaked to the press and would be plastered across the front page of every major news outlet in Gotham tomorrow. Sure enough, that was exactly how it happened. The media had a field day, with accusations of corruption and calls for Gordon’s resignation catching and spreading like wildfire. So far Gotham PD had gotten by with a hand wave and a “no comment,” but you know that won’t last long. The time can’t be far off when the rumors and unsubstantiated accusations formalize into indictments and criminal charges. Progress on that case will have to be made soon.

Finally, Dick Grayson has been missing for a week and a half. The last sign of him was an authorized access of a Bat-bunker in France by one of his confirmed aliases. He went there, presumably, in pursuit of Slade Wilson, the assassin known as Deathstroke. Nightwing had failed to thwart Deathstroke’s recent assassination of a Gotham socialite interested in becoming a financial patron of the Wayne Foundation for Viable Futures. Every day he is gone without word you grow more concerned, more distracted from the task at hand.

You stand in the Cave near to the natural waterfall therein. The roaring rush of the falls is soothing and serves you best when you need white noise to cancel out the unimportant thoughts. Right now, the only thing on your mind is one simple question, weighted by potentially terrible consequences: “what do I do next?”

After a few more minutes worth of meditation by the falls, you pull your cowl up and head out for the night. You’ve felt restless the past couple days, and the city seems to sympathize. Instances of petty crime have been steadily increasing for the past few days, and if the heat keeps up the way its been, things can only get worse before they get better. As you approach the MCU, you see a commotion on its habitually quiet rooftop. Men and women are moving about in dark jackets and hats with heavy tools and lift gear. Upon closer inspection, you realize they’re using this equipment to dismantle the Bat-signal. A bad sign. If the department is already boxing up the signal, it can’t be long before its creator follows suit. It also means that your conventional point of entry on the roof is blocked off. Some of the people down there are armed, and you don’t yet know for sure that they’re not good men and women just following orders.

You observe the patrol patterns of those guarding the rooftop (they evidently expect you to try to stop them from taking apart the signal) for a few minutes, hoping to catch a break and find a weak spot. No such luck. Whoever they are, they have been trained unusually well for Gotham police officers and are displaying a singular discipline. It’s almost military. Then, Afred’s voice comes crackling over the radio.

“Sir? You asked me to keep tabs on Jones’ activities in the Narrows? Well, I’ve just intercepted a flurry of police chatter in that area, suggesting that he may have struck again.”

You close your eyes in frustration. Your attention has been too divided for the past week and a half, and your city suffers for it. Your friends suffer for it. The guilt is starting to eat at you… Why can’t you be fast enough? Strong enough? Why are people always dying?

Clamp down on it. No time. Not right now.

The situation on the rooftop doesn’t make sense, and you don’t like jumping into situations that make no sense without a plan. It can wait. Gordon’s situation certainly can’t get much worse right now. Killer Croc, on the other hand, is still at large and still hunting. He needs to be stopped now.

You make your way to the Narrows.

Once there, you descend to street level and wedge a flashbang from your utility belt under the lip of a sewer lid to dislodge it for removal. Then, you drop down into the dark. As you might expect from a sewer, it is dark, wet and damp. It doesn’t quite manage to be cold because of the heat wave currently roasting Gotham alive, but it’s unpleasant and smells of all the things you expect sewers to. Alfred’s voice comes over the comms once more, though this time it’s laden with static and difficult to make out.

“Sir, I–KZZT–racking your movements, b–KZAAT–some heavy interference. Expect a–KZZT–breach in comms in–ZZT–ix minutes.”

It must be the lead piping that runs under Gotham interfering with your communications channels. Not that you mind, particularly… You find you often work faster without someone talking in your ear. You detach the micro-GPS from your belt and program in the coordinates you calculated earlier. Shortly, the small device is displaying the approximate location of Killer Croc’s lair–though it’s difficult to be certain the readings are correct due to the interference down here. You set out down the maze of tunnels with more than a dash of trepidation. There’s a tang in the air, an acrid scent that leaves a metallic aftertaste on your tongue. It’s somehow familiar.

You’ve been progressing steadily for fifteen minutes when you hear it: the rushing of water over a fall, reminding you of that serene place in the Cave. This one will allow for no moments of quiet reflection, however. If you’re getting close to that much running water, you’re likely getting close to the reservoir. That means Killer Croc won’t be far, and THAT means you’ll have to be at peak alertness. It doesn’t help that the water dripping from the leaky pipes down here cast uncanny echoes that reverberate up and down the passageway, masking the sounds you should be listening for and distracting you from your goal.

It is for this reason that Waylon Jones nearly gets the drop on you. Dropping down from his perch in a tangle of piping above you, the only warning you had was the vibration caused by his movement that traveled down through the pipe you rested your hand upon. It was just enough. You wrench your body backward and to the side as the beast attempts to gather you into a crushing bear hug, then throw a vicious haymaker, propelling yourself up and away from the wall with your back foot for added momentum. The result is a blow that rocks Jones backward and sends shards of agony through your hand. Killer Croc hurts just to fight thanks to his unnaturally hard skin. Croc stumbles backward into a thin shaft of dim light, and you catch a glimpse of his face for the first time since you started this case: he is slack-jawed, his eyes wide and his brow furrowed, the freakish scales that cover his face no more disquieting for their familiarity and his teeth, filed to razor points, glinting in the shadows. They have been freshly stained with something dark.

You’ve bought yourself scant seconds with that maneuver, and you know it won’t work twice. Killer Croc may be insane, bloodthirsty and vicious, but he’s not stupid. You reach for the third pouch on the left of your belt, starting from the buckle in the middle, the one you know to contain your Batarangs. In one deft move you launch the razor-sharp projectile. It arcs ever so slightly, then plunges into Jones’ cheek, easily piercing even his hardened skin. The thing howls and throws a wild punch with one fist as its other hand attempts to dislodge the Batarang.

You throw your cape over your shoulder and fan it in front of you in an attempt to intimidate and distract Croc. Unfortunately for you, this is no petty thug you’re squaring off against. The thing’s gargantuan fist hits the cape and just keeps coming. Half a second later you’ve been hurled against the sewer wall, trailing brick dust from the ones you cracked behind you. You’re pretty sure those few bricks aren’t the only things that are broken. Can’t stop fighting now, though.

From your crouched position you gather yourself like a spring and launch yourself toward Croc, hands intertwined to form a hammerfist. The explosive uppercut catches him squarely in the jaw, launching him a foot and a half upward into the ceiling, against which he thuds heavily, then sinks down to one knee, dazed. In this moment you realize that Killer Croc is not fighting with his usual ferocity. Despite injuries already sustained, this fight should be taking a much larger toll. Something is slowing the creature down, distracting him, hindering his movement, making him indecisive. A cursory examination of his body reveals no obvious injury that might cause this. Curious.

Your scrutiny distracts you at a crucial moment, and Croc catches your next blow midswing, wrenching you up, over and onto your back. There he pins you beneath his colossal weight, rancid breath filling your nostrils, smelling of sickness and death.

“I knew you’d come,” he grates, “That’s why I saved them. You can’t hurt them anymore. No one can.”

“Them”? What is he talking about. No time to ponder it. Croc is getting angry again. He’s screaming in your face now.

“You see, Batman?! I’m not afraid of you! I stare into your face and laugh! I’M NOT AFRAID.”

And indeed he does laugh, though there’s no mirth, no conviction behind it. In fact, if you had to hazard a guess, you’d say Waylon Jones is in fact very afraid. But of what, you can’t say. It’s not like you have him in a compromising position at the moment.

From your position on the floor, you attempt to look for ways to avoid death tonight. There’s a pipe running along the ceiling that’s hissing steam from a rent, a brick that has fallen from where you struck the wall and a broken bottle not far from you. Pinned as you are, your utility belt isn’t an option.

Black spots are starting to gather at the edges of your vision and you’re feeling weak. That’s bad. Croc has a grip on your throat and is trying to crush your larynx. Can’t be choked to death down here, in the cold and the dark. Can’t let Croc kill again. Can’t let Gordon be disgraced. Can’t let Nightwing be forgotten. You stretch your left arm out and fumble for the broken bottle. Its jagged edges slice your fingertips through your gloves, but you get a grasp on it, then firmly lodge it into Croc’s side. He rolls to the side, writhing in agony, with just seconds to go before you blacked out completely. Too close. Have to end this.

Before you can deliver the kick that will put Croc down for the count, though, he raises a hand. The action only stops you because instead of forming a fist, he appears to be pleading.

“Please. Batman… Wait. We are being made fools of. The pain you gave me, it was a gift. It tore away the shadows. The… Fear.”

“Talk, Jones. Quickly. I’m in no mood for games, and you’ve taken enough lives. No matter what you have to say, I’ll be dropping you off at Arkham.”

Croc drags himself up off his knees, then sits propped up against the sewer wall.

“He came to be me two weeks ago with an… Offer. He wanted me to help kill you. I thought it was just another of his half-baked plans, destined to fail. I had been lying low, resisting my primal urges. I had no reason to incur your wrath.”

Croc is wheezing now. You’ll have to get him to Arkham where he can be treated, before his wounds become too grievous.

“But when I refused, he… He did things to me. I don’t know how or what, but he changed things in my head. I haven’t had a clear thought since then. Not until tonight.”

“Who made you an offer? Who did this to you?”

Croc’s eyes widen in fear as he forces himself to say the name, still laden with psychological fear triggers.

“The Scarecrow.”

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