Batman Quest: Bethlehem Rising, Issue #1

“The old Gotham is dead; long live New Gotham.”

Those words, scrawled on walls and doorways, in alleys and slums, with paint and blood. It started at the Wound, the gaping chemical gash that was once a high security transport moving throughout downtown Gotham. Someone, somewhere knew that transport would be there at that exact time, what it was carrying and just how to place themselves to intercept. Horrifying sickness spread in a crippling wave from the detonation point. No unknown terror was this, simply death., slow and lingering. For hundreds, thousands, indiscriminate of race, age, gender or social status.

Those words are everywhere in Gotham, having recently begun to appear even in the few tenuous footholds of sanity that remain.

Your name is Damian Wayne, and you are the Batman. This nightmare realm is your inheritance, a gift unwillingly given or accepted when all his heroics caught up with him in that alley, all those years ago. Of course it was the only way he could go. It’s taken time, but you think he knew that all along. Being the Batman is not something you retire from to admire your efforts in your golden years. When you give yourself up to it, you do so totally. Body and soul.

Well, body anyway. In your case, the soul belongs to another. All part of the job.

From your penthouse apartment in Wayne Tower, you observe O.R.A.C.L.E’s readouts while Alfred purrs in your lap contentedly, having just finished a luxurious meal of fine salmon. Only the best.

You click your tongue, lip curling in frustration. Three different riots, only one of which was instigated by the crowds (the other two falling on the shoulders of overworked police officers), are already in progress.

One, predictably, is in the Narrows, which in recent years have become not-so-narrow.

Another, downtown Gotham, near the expanding influence of the Wound. Likely desperate citizens trying to escape it, forcing themselves on barricades. Could be casualties.

The third is by the yacht basin, a frequent occurrence in the last few weeks. Those with the means have begun profiting from the desperation of the people, ferrying those willing to take the risk across Gotham’s harbor. The city is under strict quarantine due to the Wound, and few make it to the shores on the other side.

You signal a Ro-Bat and prepare for transport, doing a last check over your gear and uniform. Staying above the streets will allow you to avoid the riff-raff and keep from being tempted to intervene in petty conflicts. The city is so full of them, it would be a fool’s errand to try and diffuse them all. Nor can you enlist others to your aid, as the spectacular self-destruction of father’s Batman Incorporated proved. Father left the survival of this hellhole on your shoulders and yours alone.

You step up to the balcony, unlatching the bullet-proof, self-tinting, floor length window, feeling the stench of chemical smog burn your nostrils. The sun is just setting behind those noxious clouds now, painting them a bloody red on black. Seconds after you emerge, a sharp keening alerts you of the Ro-Bat’s approach. You spread your arms wide and stand tall in the center of the balcony, and it catches you in mechanical claws, hefting you up and away over Gotham.

Moving your center of operations to Wayne Tower was one of your first moves as Batman. Father was so attached to that stuffy mansion and it’s hidden Cave that it blinded him to the weaknesses. You need to be able to respond to any threat in the city, instantly. How can you do that without residing in its very heart, from which all blood and corruption flows?

As the Ro-Bat reaches its programmed objective and begins to circle, you survey the situation below. Gotham riot squads are clashing with citizens in what looks like a protest gone bad. More and more of those these days.

From what you can see, the conflict started between the protesters and police, but rapidly spread into the onlooking crowds as officers had no sure way of distinguishing innocents from offenders. From there, it escalated into a full-scale street war, into people fighting not for their rights or a paycheck… Just fighting.

Twenty feet from the ground you drop, expelling the fall through a smooth tuck-and-roll. There is a brief moment of calm as those around you are startled into stillness. You feel the world slow around you, watch the infinitesimal contractions of muscle in the crowds’ face as their expressions change from shock to outrage. Everything snaps to as someone hurls a baseball bat at you, and suddenly the roaring chaos is all you can hear. The bat whistles by as you duck to the side, and four brave or stupid souls break off from the encircling pack to take you on.

These men are civilians, confused and frightened, lashing out because they don’t know what’s going on. There’s no need to further tarnish the symbol by killing them, and besides, father would never have approved.

The first two pile up on you. Their mistake. A savage inward kick drives the first off his feet and to the side, where you catch him with a double-fisted hammer punch and send him crashing into the next.

The third is a little more cautious, but no less incompetent. He swings a fire extinguisher in a downward arc. You side step it, break his arm and steal his wind, forcing him to the ground. The fourth lands a solid kick on your temple as you’re standing, jostling your mask and temporarily glitches optics. The hiccup lets your opponent land two more guarded blows before you’re back. You click your tongue and catch his next swing, knocking the extinguisher away and folding his wrist backward. He screams and drops to the ground.

Ahead of you are a group of Gotham police officers brutalizing protesters. It’s not right, but you don’t necessarily need to invoke hostilities with the police.

You thread your way through the chaos, putting down what appear to be the sources of unrest where you can. It’s hard to pin down just where this is all radiating from. There seems to be some kind of haze of anger hanging over this place, and it’s affecting you, too. You feel it every time you have to put a civilian or cop out, every time they fight back. An itching at the back of your skull, goading you into going further, hurting more.

You begin drifting toward what you believe to be the center of the madness, the place where the buzzing in your skull grows strongest. As you come closer, you find it harder and harder to resist lashing out at those around you. Idiots and fools, they have no idea what you sacrifice for them, to keep them safe. What father sacrificed, and Grayson after him. It’s so enraging, it makes you want to seize the whole city by its greedy, ungrateful throat and squeeze until it stops kicking.

But you can’t do that. You made a promise.

The distraction of the maddening buzz puts you off-balance, so when the blow comes you’re completely unprepared.You howl as the lead pipe breaks your arm cleanly, slide down to your knees and spin, throwing out a boot in blind retaliation. It finds something to hurt, catching on your assailant’s chest and knocking them from their feet. You growl and clutch your arm, the bone itching as it begins to re-knit itself.

As for the attacker, he’s getting to his feet, dressed head-to-toe in black leather. He’s holding a briefcase in one hand, handcuffed to his wrist. The other still clutches the pipe. He leans on his knees for a moment, trying to catch his breath. All the better for you… Might give your arm a chance to heal.

“Didn’t know gimp suits were so popular at protests these days.” You growl, grinding the bone together to try and speed up the regeneration process. The man nods appreciatively, hefting his pipe over his shoulder.

“Good. That’s good. You still have your spirit. I wasn’t sure if I would unmake you, breaking your arm like that.”

You laugh, tasting blood in your mouth. “Please. Think I’ve never had my arm broken before? Goddamn amateurs. I’ll take down three like you before the end of the night.”

“Oh, I assure you, they won’t be like me.”

He begins pacing around you, circling like a predator sizing its prey.

“No, of course not,” you mock, “You’re the next Joker, right? Going to knock Two-Face-Two of his daddy’s throne, I bet.”

The man stops for a minute, then resumes his pacing.

“You really think I’m like one of those madmen? That I aspire to plummet into darkness, as they have? This isn’t even about ME, Batman. If anything, it’s about you! I’m just… The Instigator.”

You let him talk while you get a better look at the briefcase. Appears to be brushed steel, cuffed to his wrist, reinforced. Almost certainly the source of the soundwaves behind this riot.

“Instigator of what?” You ask, more to stall for time than out of any genuine interest. Every masked villain you’ve ever ended has had their own excuses for going off the deep end. Weak simpletons.

“Change, Batman. I am going to instigate change in this awful city. We’ve slipped too far,” he says, pausing to take a couple of swings at you with the pipe. You block them all cleanly with your gauntlets. He’s just probing for weaknesses. “I’m going to bring us back. And I’m going to start with you.”

Time to end this. There are too many situations requiring your attention tonight to waste anymore time on this goon. When he rushes in to attack you again, you surprise him by blocking with your “broken” arm, which has had time to heal substantially since the break. Then you bring your fist up in a scything uppercut, catching him in his gut. A whoop of air tells you it struck true.

“I’m going to put you down,” you growl into his ears, “And Gotham is going to forget you before ever learning your name.”

You flip him over onto his back, grabbing his throat and hitting him over and over. He’s screaming at you… No, laughing. He’s pushing his head into the attack, causing more damage than you ever could alone.

“Yes, that’s it! Let them see, Batman! Let them see what you’ve become, how far you’ve fallen! The symbol is broken and Bethlehem burns!”

You slow your assault, then stop altogether.

You grip the man by the leather of his jacket, chest heaving. He’s still struggling weakly, though blood seeps out from the slits in his mask, dribbling down the sides. Sucking in air through your nose, you crack your armored forehead against his, and he slumps back, unconscious. Next, you dive into your utility belt for a pair of miniature wire cutters and relieve him of the briefcase. Securing him with plastic ties, you heft the case and look around. The riot’s still going strong. Apparently the effects of the case were not linked to the fool in the suit. Time to get it out of here.

“Ro-Bat, fix on my position and close in for package retrieval.”

You feel slightly foolish, standing there in the eye of the storm, arm outstretched, briefcase in hand. Moments later the Ro-Bat streaks overhead and snatches the package from you, arcing back up into the sky as it does. You watch as the effects spread over the crowd. It’s almost immediate: the maddening buzz must have a greater effect on those without mental conditioning. A kind of exhausted, thousand-yard-stare settles over the crowd, and their struggle ebbs, ceases. One by one, they begin dropping to the ground, utterly spent.

You click your tongue and look to the skies. More work to do yet.


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