Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #16

Everything has slowed down, on that rooftop in the rain and the receding dark. The alarm klaxons, winding up to their piercing wail, sound as if they lie a mile beneath Gotham’s harbor. The men and dogs barking and shouting, a world away. Director Bones standing, startled in slow motion, his skeletal visage without expression. Falcone’s expression, morphing from surprise to terror to outrage, screaming at the guards standing by at the door. These respond too slowly for her liking, and she hurls the laptop in front of her at them. They dodge narrowly, and disappear through the office doorway, to ensure that proper procedure is followed, you assume.

Floodlights ignite with a snap all around the yard, and Falcone thugs scurry like ants. Sofia has gone under her desk and retrieved an old-fashioned street sweeper, which she now has trained on the entrance. She’s nervous under her gruff exterior. The barrel shakes ever so slightly. You wonder what’s got her so spooked. You doubt it’s you. Bones is keeping his calm a little better, and to your dismay looks straight up at the ceiling, at the skylight from which you observe. You start a little, but realize after a moment that he sees only darkness. It is the fear of what lurks in the shadows that draws him, not what is actually there.

You are the Batman, and things are closing in on you quickly. This all started months ago, when Nightwing, your former protégé and long-time ally, failed to stop the assassin Deathstroke from murdering a Gotham bigwig interested in investing large in the Wayne Foundation for Viable Futures. He disappeared shortly after while in pursuit of the contract killer. Following that, commissioner James Gordon was framed by an unknown individual for the theft of riot gear and supplies from MCU’s lock-up. Now he’s out of a job and a temporary commissioner from outside the city has been instated while he awaits trial.

Then the bodies in Gotham started piling up. First, Killer Croc went on a drug-induced spree in the Narrows, preying on the weak and desperate. That, you learned, was the fault of Jonathan Crane, better known to the world at large as the madman Scarecrow. He went on his own spree shortly after, abducting Gotham’s innocents and turning them into human incubators for his latest strain of fear toxin. Once they’re hooked, the drug turns its users into raving psychopaths incapable of feeling pain or emotion if forced into withdrawals. Mad dogs. To make matters worse, you were abducted by Thomas Elliot, the former plastic surgeon now known as Hush, while breaking up one of Scarecrow’s operations. How far his influence goes in all of this is uncertain, but he’s never been a minor player in the past, so there’s no reason to expect it of him now.

Then there’s the DEO. They’re a complete mystery at the moment. First becoming involved through Katherine Kane, the Batwoman, they have continued to make appearances since in more and more incriminating locales. It’s going to come to a head. Maybe tonight. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, is going to be bloody.

The man born as Robert Todd is nervous. He’s nervous because he thinks he knows what’s coming. He thinks he knows what’s coming because he’s spent so much time studying… No, obsessing over it. Obsessing over you. Director Bones wants to know who the Batman is, who’s hiding under that cowl. So far, he hasn’t gotten close. Red herrings and dead ends you’ve set in place over the years have seen to that. He is making progress, though, at an alarming rate. This was always inevitable, from the very first day he set his sights on you.

You fix a small amount of malleable explosive to the skylight, then step back. Director Bones, his eyes already on the sky, notices the tiny splotch of black, blacker than the fading darkness that surrounds it. His eyes widen.

“Falcone. FALCONE!”

A sound like a giant clapping is followed by the tinkling of shattered glass. Bones scrambles for his back-up. You drop calmly in after the cutting glass, land heavily on Falcone’s oaken desk, kick her in the jaw. She reels, but is already recovering when you whirl on Bones, bringing her shotgun to bear.

No time to play fair here. No time to play nice. Not that you ever do, but this is exceptional. Either of these individuals would be a big enough threat on their own… Together, they’re deadly. Even for you. First come the pellets, flitting out to either side of you, ricocheting off the walls and detonating. In less than five seconds the room is swallowed up by the soupy murk. Falcone is coughing, hacking her lungs up as she unwillingly ingests the irritants. Nothing fatal, but certainly not pleasant.

You don’t hear Bones at all.

You engage cowl optics just in time to see him swinging at you with the butt of his gun. No time to react, it cracks off your cowl, taking one of the ears with it. Good god he’s strong. He must also be holding his breath. Bones is strong, beyond human, but not invincible. The irritants should be driving him just as crazy as they are Falcone. Time to remedy that. You weave under his next swing, wild and unfocussed, then into his guard, driving an elbow up into his gut. The whoosh of air you’re rewarded with is satisfying. He’s definitely feeling it now, struggling to bring his pistol to bear. You backhand him and take the gun from him, ready to whirl and hurl it at Falcone.

Falcone, who’s bear-like grip is now crushing your ribs, pinning your arms to your sides. You drop the gun.

You throw your head back, hoping the impact will be enough to stun Falcone into dropping you. It’s not, but you almost black out from the pain. You can feel your right arm about the snap like a twig as the pressure increases.

“You thought you could come into my house?” Falcone growls in your ear. “Into my father’s house and do… What? Stop them? There’s no stopping them now, there’s n–NNNNGUHHHHK.”

The current from your suit has a more tangible effect, and saves your skin. For now, at least. Won’t be enough juice for another charge like that. She goes into convulsions, and while it doesn’t initially make her release you, a minimal amount of struggle sees you set free. Free, but with a fracture right arm, you’re fairly certain.

Bones is on his feet, recovering his gun. You lunge to intercept, but it’s too late. You barely dodge the wild stitching of shots that he sends your way. That sound alone will bring the rest of Falcone’s thugs down on you sooner rather than later. Bones is making for the door, now. Sofia is almost recovered, staggering a bit as she tries to move before she’s ready. She’s furious, unstoppable, like a rhino with red in its eyes.

There’s too much going on and not enough time to respond to it all. Pirouetting, you hurl a Batarang at Bones’ back as he flees. It buries itself in his shoulder, eliciting a howl of pain and rage. His back-up clatters to the floor as the nerves in the arm holding it go dead, and he crashes into the heavy office door. It doesn’t budge, and Bones reels backward.

You’ve long since stopped paying attention to him, though. Sofia is gripped by a powerful rage, and she’s just about ready to unleash it on someone. You aim to ensure that that someone isn’t you. She bellows, spittle flying from her lips, and charges you. You don’t move, ignoring your every instinct, the very twitching of your muscles. Wait… Wait…

Wait…

As her great arms begin to close in about you, you drop to one knee, quicker than thinking, then seize her right arm and drag it over your shoulder. A feat you could have never hoped to achieve from a standing position, but thankfully Sofia provides most of the necessary momentum. Behind you, the heavy oaken door is opening, thick fingers visible at the edges.

Those fingers splinter and bleed as Falcone’s massive weight lands against the door, which cracks and bows. There’s a stifled yelp from the other side, then raised voices. Arguing. They’re worried about hitting the boss with an indiscriminate spray of fire. Good.

Bones is on his feet, crouching into a fighting stance.

“This isn’t how it was supposed to happen, Batman. Sorry it has to end like this for ya’.”

“Hnh. I was about to say the same thing.”

You lash out with your foot, going for Bones’ groin. He’s ready for you though, and faster than any man should be to boot. He sidesteps the attack, chops at your neck, cutting off your air supply. You reach upward instinctively, and that gives him another opening. Soon he’s raining blows on your midsection, forcing you back to the wall, hot agony coursing through you. He grabs you by the throat, lifts you off your feet.

“This doesn’t end for me here, Batman. You see, you’re just a freak in a mask. I’m the government. You never, ever win against the government.”

“Hkkk…” He’s killing you. No breath. Can’t focus. Slipping into darkness.

“This isn’t a war you can win, little bat. Now…” He says, reaching for your mask. “Let’s finally get a look at who’s under there.”

“W–gakk–watch…”

He pauses momentarily, eyeing you. “What did you say?” Then he shakes his head vigorously. “No. I’m not going to be another of your rogues, bat. I’m going to end this NOW.” He seizes the lip of your mask.

And hits the opposite wall seconds later. Not as much charge as when you used it on Sofia, but enough. He’s down. You’re not much better off. Rubbing your throat, you struggle to a standing position.

“I said, ‘watch out for the wall.’”

You’re barely going to get out of here alive as it is. It’s time to leave, and there’s no sense in trying to haul Bones, or worse, Sofia, with you. Still coughing, wheezing and rubbing your throat, you step over Sofia (snatching her splintered laptop on the way) and kneel by Bones’ unconscious body, rifling through his pockets. The thugs outside are slamming against the door now, trying to finish what Sofia’s body mass started. It’s a good thing she was so paranoid about would-be assassins. That door is still holding.

In Bones’ pockets, you find a cellphone, the kind you would see at any given supermarket that can be paid for with cash and is nigh untraceable. You find his badge and ID, which you slip into your belt, more to make trouble for him than anything else. There’s a wallet as well. It gets left behind.

Satisfied that you haven’t missed anything, and with Sofia beginning to stir, you turn away from Bones and leap atop Falcone’s desk, firing your grappling hook up through the skylight from whence you entered. It snags something and begins hauling you up. You bite down on your lip hard enough to bleed to keep from crying out in pain at the strain on your wounded arm. Outside, the sun has begun to come up. Shadows are shortening, visibility is improving. Have to leave. Luckily, all hands have been called inside to respond to the threat on Falcone. The lawn is deserted, and you’re able to limp back toward the woods largely unchallenged. Once there, you find the copse where the Batmobile is hidden and clamber in, sore and aching.

Finally. Safety. Nothing the Falcones have on them could reach you in here. You take a moment to bask in the feeling, in the comfort, before programming the Cave’s coordinates into the GPS system. Unable to give vocal commands, you start the vehicle up manually, and it roars off into the pale morning on auto-pilot.

You’re asleep before you get there.

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