Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #21

How it’s come to this, you’re not entirely sure. You know the events forward and backward, of course, but the logic evades you. All of this. Why?

Nightwing’s abduction and infection.

Jim Gordon’s fall from grace and replacement.

Scarecrow’s new nightmare, taking the city by storm.

Hush, orchestrating it all while Crane rots in Arkham.

The DEO and whoever else hovering in the background, motives unknown.

Whatever’s going on behind all of this, that shadowy thing moving just beyond the range of your sight, it’s about to make itself known. Here, tonight, you can feel that. Tim Drake, the young man masquerading as the vigilante Red Robin, has accompanied you to Blackgate Prison, where he has received word via his informant network that there is to be a major move made tonight. You are currently holed up in an employee’s office, listening to someone arguing with the prison warden in the central passage outside after scaling the walls and breaking in through a fourth floor window.

The options available to you swirl around your mind, whipping into a storm so as to overwhelm you. Finally, you shake your head and step back from the doorway, rolling your shoulders. Tim looks at you quizzically.

“Batman, what are yo–?”

“Robin, sometimes the best thing a detective can do is just get to the bottom of things. Step aside.”

Drake looks as if he’s about to make to argue, but finally sighs and stands away from the door. Seconds later, your armored heel crashes into the lock mechanism and the door gives way with a squeal of splintering wood. All argument ceases as you step into the main walkways. Looking over the rail, you see the warden being place in cuffs by Cyril Hobbes’ men. The interim commissioner himself is looking at you with naked shock.

“Look out,” you say, smirking over the rail at them and reaching for the pocket EMP in your belt, “Batman’s here.”

You drop the sturdy gadget over the edge and watch the procession of darkness, beginning at your floor and spreading downward to the bottom floor. Secondary locking mechanisms engage on the prisoners’ cells, ensuring you don’t have more problems to deal with any time soon.

After the initial startled shouting, the men below calm down and you consider your approach. Three smoke pellets ought to make things soupy enough down there, so you toss those ahead of you before vaulting the rail and whipping out your cape. The specially treated fibers in it snap rigid as you go, slowing your descent. You land with a swirl of smoke on the first floor a few seconds later.

“Heh,” you laugh, activating your cowl’s thermal optics to cut through the smoke, “Never would have been able to pull that on Gordon. You’re sloppy, Hobbes.”

No reply. You keep moving so as not to give away a location with your probes.

“What are you doing here, anyway? Could have sworn there was some press event you could have weaseled your way into by now.”

You can see Hobbes and his goons now. Their silhouettes, anyway, in stark, hot contrast to the cool blues around them. They’re backing away toward the door, tightening up around the warden.

“Officers,” says the Metropolitan man, “fire at will.”

The officers with Hobbes are panicked already. Beat cops, this isn’t what they signed up for. Find a perp, bring him in, take him down if you have to, sure. Not freaks in masks that can turn the lights out and drop four stories without a scratch. You know there’s not much time between now and when they start firing indiscriminately into the dark. There are only prisoners here, after all. Most of them are on death row anyway. What’s a stray bullet in a con to keep the Batman from getting them?

“You need to work with me, Hobbes.” You growl from the dark. “Whatever’s going on here, you’re in out of your depth. I won’t let you drown and take Gotham under in the process.”

“Somewhere to our right, gentlemen. Weapons trained, keep sharp. He’s trying to trick us.”

“Let me help you, Cyril. Things are moving too quickly for thi–”

“There! Fire!”

Shots streak past you into the dark, one boring a strip of flesh out of your ribs as it does. They’re almost to the door now.

Negotiation time is over. Time to stop Hobbes and his men from being a threat. There are lives at stake here, no matter what they did to deserve imprisonment. You cross the room silently, crouch and paint yourself across the wall.

“Red Robin,” you whisper into your mic, “I need you here now.”

“I can’t get there now, Bruce, I have to get down four stories. Maybe if you would let Fox make me a cape like you–”

You cut comms. He’ll complain about it, but Tim will be here as soon as physically possible. Hobbes is in the hall with the warden now, holding him at gunpoint. Something is definitely up. The two officers that accompanied the commissioner are holding at either side of the door, trying to bottleneck you. You glide up to the one on the right, hoping to take him down without the other noticing. You inhale sharply, stand and kick in the back of his knee, reaching as you do to catch him in a chokehold. You manage it, but not before the man gives out a single, desperate yelp. It’s more than enough to alert his comrade, who’s raising his weapon to fire with shaky hands, eyes wild.

Red Robin is there before the trigger is pulled. His Bo staff cracks against the man’s forearms and rebounds on his forehead. Drake jabs the man in the ribs to rob him of air, then throws him to the ground. You stand facing each other across the darkened room, the red throb of emergency lights in the hallway bisecting you like a crimson river. You’d expect Hobbes to be terrified by now, or at the very least unnerved. Instead, you hear laughter from that hallway.

“You still don’t know, do you?” The man croons between fits of laughter, “After all of this, you don’t know. The dark knight detective, at a loss. I must say, I’m disappointed.”

Tim’s voice comes across the comms. “Batman… What is this? What’s he talking about?”

“I…” You trail off.

You crane your neck around the corner, trying to get a better look at Hobbes. He is as you remember him that night on the roof of the MCU. Well, add wild terror and homicidal intent to that and you’re pretty close, anyway. You settle back into position so as not to alert him of your surveillance, then whisper to Drake.

“Any ideas on how to settle this, partner?”

“It’s a tough play regardless, Batman. Maybe we should let him go, see what happens?”

“No. Gotham is in dire straits as it is. We can’t afford an incident like this making the evening news.”

You heft a Batarang in your palm, weighing it, sizing it up. As if you haven’t thrown a thousand like it before. As if it’s not made to your specifications at Wayne-tech under Fox’s exacting supervision. Red Robin looks at you, his expression stark.

“You cannot be serious.”

“I’m never not.”

Running your thumb up the Batarang’s edge, you debate the call.

“Batman! Come out or the warden here will be honored in tomorrow’s obituary!”

Decision made.

Retreating further into the shadows, you begin breathing slowly, rhythmically. Then, quicker than thought, your hand snaps out, propelling the weapon along a blistering, whistling arc. It careens into Hobbes’ hand, piercing it cleanly. The man whips back as the razor sharp steel then embeds itself into the wall. The warden collapses, sobbing in relief on the ground.

Cyril Hobbes is still laughing.

“Red, I need you to get the warden out of here now. Call Gordon and tell him he’s back in charge, to scramble his trusted officers and that I’ll explain later.”

Tim nods, then gestures at the manic Hobbes. “What about him?”

You stride toward Hobbes, eyeing him intently. “I’ll deal with this.”

Without another word, Red Robin slings the warden’s arm over his shoulder and makes for the door at the end of the hallway. Watching him go, you hope that the worst of the night’s events have passed. Then you turn on Hobbes.

“You’re not Cyril Hobbes.” You state flatly.

“O-ho… Very good, Batman. Glad we’ve finally got you awake.” The man chuckles. His voice has changed now, and it’s all too familiar.

“You caught me off-guard, I’ll admit,” you continue, “but you knew your time was running out as soon as I saw your face in my city. So you rushed it.”

“Haha, as soon as you saw my face? Do you even know what my face is anymore, Bruce?” He spits your name. “Because I’ve begun to forget.”

“I’m not surprised,” you growl, “you change it so often. Don’t you, Tommy?”

The madman called Hush reaches for his ear with his free hand, and yanks savagely before you can stop him. As you suspected, the late Cyril Hobbes’ face comes free and flutters to the ground. The seemingly senseless murders, weeks ago. Three men and two women found faceless throughout Gotham. You thought it was Hush’s bravado that drove them, but it was a cover-up. One of those men was Cyril Hobbes, the real Cyril Hobbes. Metropolis’ golden boy, murdered by Thomas Elliot before he could help Gotham. Replaced with a figurehead to ease the passing of Jim Gordon’s career, and to cast a mask of ineptitude over the Gotham police department by feeding them poison.

“I don’t know!” He screams, his face a bloody ruin of exposed tissue and mutilated cartilage, “You tell me!”

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