Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #5

Gotham survives. Through the attacks of super-villains, terrorists and otherworldly beings, it is what Gotham has always done. Though natural disasters devastate it and its brothers forsake it, Gotham survives. It has survived the heat wave, too. It started early this morning, as you were coming home from patrol. There was a thunderous crack in the sky, and torrential downpour immediately followed. It hasn’t let up since then. Gotham hasn’t stopped being grateful.

Last night, you set out to make progress on the Jim Gordon case. Your long-time friend and ally came to you roughly a week ago for help, telling you that he was being framed for stealing riot gear from the lock-up at the MCU. Since then the case has escalated, with information being leaked to the press and another attempt at raiding the lock-up having been made last night. Luckily, you were there to stop it. Unfortunately, doing so left you in a rather compromising position, that being caught between the detectives of the MCU and some unidentified military types who were on the roof, dismantling the Bat-signal. As you ready your equipment, don your cape and cowl and otherwise prepare to set out for tonight’s patrol, you reflect on the encounter, sinking into the violent memories.

Medium caliber rounds tear through clothing, flesh and bone and bury themselves in the MCU’s floor and walls. In seconds, the detectives in the bullpen have all been killed, gunned down by automatic fire before they can so much as take aim. Their deaths afford you precious seconds with which to make your own escape. You pull a smoke pellet from the utility belt and hurl it at the group of men. It ricochets off of one of their foreheads and detonates, thick grey smoke billowing out, choking and blinding the rest. You use the opportunity to slip back into the office whose ceiling you fell through and move to the window. The smoke isn’t distracting them nearly as long as you’d hoped. No time to check your approach. Bullets are already smacking off the walls and floor around you as you launch yourself through the window.

A breathless moment of weightlessness, then your blindly fired grappling hook finds a mark and goes taut. The sudden change in motion wrenches your arm, but you hold on. It’s the only thing you can do. Your momentum carries you into the wall of the building whose roof your hook is attached to, and you almost black out on impact, slipping a few inches further down the cord…

You bring yourself back to the now. The important parts of the previous night are that you made it out of that hell alive, and that you know one more thing about whoever’s framing Jim Gordon: they’re not doing it from the inside. Still, things appear to be escalating. Time to get some kind of traction.

You have to get back in touch with Dick. Not only are you concerned for his welfare, but you could genuinely use his help right now. You’ve put off pursuing his disappearance for too long, and now it’s gnawing at you. You log in to the Bat-computer and pull up Nightrunner’s contact information in Paris. In a few moments, you’ve sent him a high priority information package asking him to drop everything and find Dick Grayson. If you had your druthers you’d be out there looking for him yourself, but Gotham is about to boil over with tension and requires your complete focus. That done, you don your cape and cowl and head out for the night.

Fourteen minutes later you’ve penetrated the heart of Gotham. Leaping from one rain-soaked rooftop to the next, you can practically feel the relief in the streets. The heat wave was brutal, and water had begun to get scarce in the city. Had the rain not come tonight, you’re not sure the city wouldn’t have devolved into widespread rioting. Now in the cool night and the refreshing rain, things don’t seem so bad.

It’s not all good news, though. Jim Gordon is still in trouble, and formal charges have been made. If you don’t do something to stop it, he’ll have to present himself in court next week to answer for a long list of phony charges. Scarecrow is still running free somewhere in the city. And despite the relief it gives, the rain brings its own troubles in tow: with the city cooled off and more amenable to human life, every two-bit thug, pusher and pimp will be back on the streets.

You decide its time you got back in touch with the city at large… You’ve been too focused on little pieces of it lately. The Narrows, the MCU… They’re just a small slice. Time to get reacquainted with Gotham’s various underbellies.

You figure it’s most likely that you’ll find evidence of the Scarecrow somewhere south of the Narrows, in downtown. It’s where he likes to operate. Largest number of “patients” willing to submit themselves to the various strains of his fear toxin for a promised (but never delivered) quick buck. At best those poor saps end up gibbering and insane, wasting away the rest of their days in Arkham. At worst the toxin is too much for their bodies or their minds, and they end up ODing or killing themselves (usually taking a few loved ones in the process).

It’s always tricky, operating downtown. So many lights, so much noise. Hard to stay hidden, hard to find those hiding. They always betray themselves somehow, though. It’s one thing you can count on a criminal to do: get greedy. Overextend. Expose themselves. It’s not long before a group of them do just that. They’re herding a terrified young couple down an alleyway, having intercepted the two as they emerged from a rock club. The music is still loud, shaking the ground around the place and drowning out the girl’s cries for help. Lucky you saw them.

It’s a pretty clear view to the alley below. You count two knives, maybe a nine millimeter on one of them, judging by the bulge in his jacket. The thugs almost have the couple’s back to the wall. Time to step in.

Standing on the rooftop of a building across the street from the alley, you fire your grappling hook and leap, following its arc as it strikes home and goes taut. Activating your cape’s gliding ability covers the rest of the distance to the couple. You come crashing down onto the shoulders of the one you suspect to be carrying, dropping your elbow on his skull to make sure he goes down. Two more left. One produces a knife and lunges. The girl screams. Grab his wrist, twist it, kick in the knee. He’s down.

Next.

The kid takes a couple of swings with the blade. You fade away easily each time. He’s sweating and crying. Scared. New. Maybe you can encourage him to stay on the straight and narrow. You do so by deflecting another ineffective stroke of the blade, then punching in his collar bone. He won’t ever throw a baseball properly again, but he won’t be much good with a knife anymore, either. And he’ll be scared. That’s what’s important. Scared of what he thinks might happen next time. What WILL happen next time.

The kid drops to the ground, whimpering. The couple is still standing where they were when you stepped in, gaping and wide-eyed.

“Be more careful,” you growl, “I might not be here next time.”

With that, you fire your grappling hook up into the dark and soon disappear with it. Your last glimpse of the couple, they’re kissing and holding each other, tears flowing freely. You follow them a few blocks to make sure they stay safe until they hail a cab.

You head to the docks, where Sofia Falcone carries on her father’s legacy of crime and corruption. Sofia’s had her hand in everything from human trafficking to fixing elections in the past few years, but her biggest export by far is muscle. Whenever anyone in Gotham needs some firepower, they turn to Sofia. Super villains, criminal masterminds, even private armies have employed her services in the past.

Luckily, traditionalists like Falcone never make themselves hard to find. Hiding is seen as a weakness in their world. And weakness is a seen as a deathwish. Falcone will be in one of the many restaurants she operates as a front on the south side, posturing and seeing to the trivial tasks in her line of work. Smart girl, she practically has the empire running on automatic.

The sight of the diner is so comically stereotypical you can’t help but laugh. From the rooftops across the street you see the diner’s warm light spilling out from the windows, painting the pavement gold, catching on puddles and glinting. Two thugs outside keeping watch, both exceptionally large. Probably vets, by the look of them. Sofia would keep the best protection she could offer for herself. There might be an alternative route into the building. Or you could just go in guns blazing (figuratively, of course).

Trying to brute force a Falcone front would be like standing your ground in front of a charging rhino. Not likely to go your way. Instead, you head to the building’s rooftop in search of another way in. There’s a skylight alright, but it connects to the upstairs apartment, not the diner downstairs. Looking down at the dark flat, you see nothing that immediately arouses your suspicion, so you begin looking for a latch to unfasten. No such luck; the latch is on the inside. No way to break the glass without getting some unwanted attention. You sigh in frustration, gather yourself and keep looking. There’s a maintenance access hatch, securely locked, probably booby-trapped by the mob.

No better way than the skylight. The hatch is just too risky. It might call the whole diner down on your head, but you don’t have much choice. With that in mind, you decide to forego stealth in favor of raw speed. An armored boot softens the pane, spiderweb cracks spreading outward from the point of impact. Your body weight does the rest. Shattered glass sparkling in the low light around you, you land with a solid thud on the floor of the upstairs apartment. You stand there for a breathless moment.

Then the lights come on.

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