Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #6.5

This isn’t how you’d planned things to go. Standing in that dark diner, a front for the Falcone crime family, you know that much. You came to this place last night seeking answers in regards to the whereabouts and activities of Jonathan Crane, a disgraced former psychiatrist who performed illegal and depraved experiments on his subjects, eventually becoming an avatar of nightmares: the Scarecrow. What you found was a mob boss clearly on edge. Some horror found Falcone early, before you got there. It was clear she didn’t want it to find her again.

Once you dispatched Falcone’s initial allotment of faceless thugs, you descended from the upstairs apartment above the diner to find Sofia herself seated at a table for two. The Roman opened a small window of insight into Scarecrow’s mad plan for you. Though you now know that he indeed wants you dead, your death will only be a happy by-product of his greater agenda. The Scarecrow claims to know of a way to turn Gotham on itself, to have the city’s citizens do his dark work for him. It doesn’t sound good. Crane has gotten ambitious in the past, but usually with the purpose of furthering his “research.” If the doctor has abandoned even the pretense of being a man of science, things could take a turn for the brutal very quickly.

Disturbing as the thought is, it’s not your most immediate concern right now. Falcone reinforcements have arrived, streaming in the back door and lining up against the wall, blocking off obvious exits. You glance back at them, then return your attention to Falcone, who has stood up from the table and is absently brushing down the front of her pin-striped suit.

“You know I can’t stop Crane if your thugs riddle me with lead, Sofia.”

Though you can’t make out her features in the gloom, you’re left with the impression that Falcone is smiling.

“And I know you can’t stop Crane if you can’t stop your garden variety Falcone man. Consider it part of a new… Exercise regime. To get you in shape.”

Falcone turns her back on you, heading for the front door and whistling sharply. The sound of sixteen Italian thugs trying to find their courage whispers behind you. You turn and face them. Time to play.

Doing mental gymnastics, you attempt to get a rough head count of the thugs while you reach for a flashbang on your belt. A flashbang that isn’t there. Then you remember that you’ve already made use of it. The second wasted reaching for the wrong item is more than enough time for the guards to squeeze a shot off. Several of them do. One such shot barrels into your shoulder and out the other side, trailing blood and muscle matter. It might have broken your collar bone, but you’re not sure. You’re too busy trying to keep your feet, and your head.

You reel backwards, and would have landed flat on your back, but you manage to tuck and roll, turning the fall into a retreating maneuver. Your uninjured arm darts toward your belt again, and this time finds the smoke bomb it was searching for. Your hand snaps out, flicking the pellet at high speed. You see it ricochet off a thug’s head, and he lurches backward, swatting at an assailant that isn’t really there. Then it detonates.

In the chaos that ensues, you manage to slip past a majority of the guards, needing only to incapacitate three on your way through the smoke. You get off the diner’s roof and keep going until you’re a safe distance from the commotion. Gotham PD should be arriving any minute now; someone must have heard the shots. No need to further complicate things for yourself by getting in the middle of that crossfire. Besides, your shoulder needs tending to. Time to get back to the Cave.

Twenty minutes later you’ve cleared the final biometric scanner that constitutes the last of the Cave’s outer defenses. You’ve lost a lot of blood, but would have lost a lot more if not for some rooftop first aid you enacted halfway out to the palisades. Nonetheless, Alfred’s expression is disapproving as he picks off the sodden bandages.

“Really sir, if it’s the sweet release you’re after, there are faster, less painful ways than death by blood loss.” He chides. You wince as new gauze is applied (properly this time). You go over the facts of the case as he patches you up.

“Alfred, Falcone seemed frightened tonight. Really frightened. I’ve never seen her like that. Her father, certainly, but Carmine was a coward underneath it all. Sofia is the genuine article.”

“With respect, sir, perhaps that is as good an indication as we need that her warnings are to be taken seriously.”

You sigh. “Crane is a psychotic, Alfred. He’s crippled by it. He isn’t like Joker, who is fueled by madness, thrives on it. He’s a brilliant man that succumbed to a tempting sickness. It makes him weaker, not stronger.”

Alfred’s brows arch as he puts the final touches on the gauze.

“Have you forgotten just how dangerous Scarecrow is, master Bruce? You’re right, he isn’t Joker. No one is. But that doesn’t mean he’s to be trifled with. Take this as seriously as any case from the clown. I promise the consequences will be no less perilous.”

“Hnh. Any word from Paris?”

“Yes, sir. Nightrunner has sent you an encoded data packet. Your eyes only.”

“Good.”

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