Batman Quest: Bethlehem Rising, Issue #4

You see father everywhere. He is the driving force, the whip that pushes you on through the delusions and the fever. You catch the edge of his cape disappearing round corners, hear the fall of his boots somewhere ahead in the darkness, and you follow.

The leg that took the poisoned darts earlier is numb, and where it isn’t numb it’s on fire. But you ignore it. You push on, because you must. Beads of sweat streak down your face as your supernatural immune system attempts to repel the virulent poison. Every so often you catch sight of what might be the thugs you followed in here, or perhaps another hallucination. After another minute or so worth of stumbling down the corridors, supporting yourself with the wall, you slouch to your knees and assume a meditative position. Got to force this death out. As you pull the anchor of your mind, let it drift, you muse on the events of the last few days.

First, the sudden and strange appearance of Gotham’s latest costumed super villain, the Instigator. He used a highly advanced radio signal emitter to whip up average citizens into a frothing rage, spontaneously creating a riot and perpetuating its violence until your arrival. You took him out of action and left him for the GCPD, who failed to apprehend the man. Now, you see his influence spreading throughout the city. First, there was the hit on one of Black Mask’s few remaining criminal gambling establishments. Thousands upon thousands, gone from a vault. For what purpose is still unclear.

Hoping to stop this before it goes any further, you ‘interviewed’ Oswald Cobblepot’s son, William, and obtained information suggesting that the Instigator’s next target would be an old Falcone strongbox rumored to contain the last of the crime family’s once great wealth. Sure enough, two of the Instigator’s people were already here when you arrived, working their way in. You followed, but triggered one of the vault’s many boobytraps, and took a cloud of poisoned wood splinters to the calf. Since then, things have been worsening steadily.

You allow yourself two minutes of meditation, then struggle to your feet. Not only is the leg numb now, but wooden as well. You punch your thigh several times in frustration, trying to wake it up. When you look up, father, Bruce Wayne, the Batman is standing before you.

“Really, Damian. I taught you better than this. Check your belt, son.”

You do, and find there an all-purpose antidote father was rather fond of in his latter years. The Joker’s poison, Scarecrow’s toxins, Bane’s Venom… All so minimized by this one tiny vial to the point of obsolescence. He never even let you near it. You had to crack into his safe after he…

“I’m sorry, father.” You growl, stabbing the injector into your leg.

“Don’t be sorry. Be better. Now come on, those thugs aren’t going to stop themselves.”

Father offers you his hand. As you reach to take it, he becomes insubstantial, smoky, disappears. He’s gone.

He’s always been gone.

Your mind begins to clear as the drug takes hold, and soothing ice creeps down your leg. The muscles begin relaxing, untying the knots they’ve made, returning to you a fuller range of motion. Not perfect, but better. Time to put these goons in their place.

As you’ve continued down the winding corridors, you’ve noticed a steady widening in the path. You’re coming up to something, that much is sure. The light is dim and dirty, so much so that it’s difficult to see what’s a mere twenty feet away from you. For this reason, you’re upon him almost before you’re aware of it. One of the two thugs that broke into the vault, impaled on a series of three spikes. You know it’s him because he still smells like copper, not dry and rotting meat, and the blood that soaks the trap is still fresh, dripping down and pooling on the floor.

Of the other, there is no sign.

Another couple yards and you come suddenly upon the room you’ve known was coming. It’s a broad, open space, at the other end of which is a heavy vault door standing just slightly ajar. Unsecured, unlocked… Tempting. Purposefully so. You know this much because the other rat that stole in here lies in the center of the room, decapitated. There is nothing around him to suggest how he met this grisly fate. Just a large room, tiled with wide stone planks. Pressure plates, if you had to hazard a guess.

You’re good, but you’re not father. It would take hours to parse out just which pressure plates will respond to your touch with a deathtrap. Not only that, but the poisoned barbs haven’t left your mind in the sharpest state, either. Activating cowl optics, you try to get a read on what’s under the floor.

Lead. A whole lot of lead, according to the read-out. That probably means it’s lead-lined, to prevent someone from doing exactly what you’ve attempted. Sofia was dangerously paranoid in her final years, and she had every right to be: everyone was trying to kill her.

Including you.

You place your hands on your hips, sighing in frustration.

You fire your grapple gun toward the ceiling. It bites, catches, holds fast. You give it a solid tug or two to make sure, then key the retraction button. It hauls you up and off the floor toward the ceiling. Hanging there, you take a few deep breaths to calm and focus your mind before beginning the trek. Then you let one hand drop from the gun, form a fist and swing upward in a vicious arc, grunting with the exertion. To your amazement, the glove holds fast. It worries you that you weren’t actually expecting this to work. To be Batman, you must believe you are Batman. Nothing short of total commitment will suffice.

With that in mind, you release the grapple gun entirely and swing your free hand upward in one smooth motion. Another success. In this way, you make your slow, excruciating way across. At approximately the halfway point, you pause for breath, chest heaving, muscles burning, sweat pouring down your face. At least the exertion will burn the poison off faster. As you hang there, steeling yourself for another swing, you hear a clatter somewhere behind you. Looking over your shoulder, you see your grappling gun lying on a pressure plate. It takes a moment for it to respond to such inconsequential weight, but it does. There’s a loud clunk, a moment of stillness, then a slim opening extending from one end of the room to the other at chest height reveals itself, and a length of razor wire whistles out soon after.

At least you know how the thug met his end, now. Likely stepped on the wrong stone and realized it too late. Tried to drop to the floor, but didn’t get far enough fast enough. Razor wire took his head. You click your tongue and return to the task at hand.

An agonizing five minutes later, you’re almost there. Just one more swing, one more catch, and you’re clear. You arc your first upward, connect with the granite, shift your weight…

And plummet to the stone below.

Everything slows as you feel gravity assert itself. You barely feel the lurch in your stomach that comes with unexpected freefall. In the brief millisecond you have between now and impact, you consider all your options. No grappling gun to save you… It lies on the floor behind. Could try and throw a concussion grenade ahead, prematurely trigger the trap. Not enough time to get into the belt, get the device and deploy it, though. In the end, it’s touch and go. You come down heavily on your feet, feel the clunk, tuck down, make yourself as small a target as possible and roll. You feel the air displace as the razor wire rips through the air, hear its almost subsonic screech less than an inch from your ear, but you did it. God help you, you did it. Your roll carries you on and through the slightly ajar vault door, out of the reach of the previous room’s deadly traps. You stand, dust your coat off, then reach up and feel the ears of your cowl. One is missing a significant portion near the tip.

“Tt.”

That annoyance out of the way, you begin examining your surroundings. It’s everything you expected and more. Row upon row of unmarked bills. Drawers filled with jewels and precious stones. Priceless alabaster statues lining the walls. All of the glory of the Falcone family in its prime in one place. Easily enough to fund whatever the Instigator is up to and several other ops besides.

The question now is: what do you do with it?

You think of burning all of this blood money, of bringing down hundreds of tonnes of rock and steel upon it. It would be so easy… Place a few patches of Semtex in the right places on a load-bearing wall, and this devil’s cache joins its owner in history. But it’s not what father would have done. It’s not subtle enough and it doesn’t advance your cause. So instead you reach into your utility belt for a tracer and place it on the back of one of the statues, then make your way back out to the trapped room.

Unfortunately, getting back out might not be as ‘easy’ as getting in. Without your grappling gun to aid you, there’s no way you’ll reach the ceiling where your handholds wait, just out of reach.

You sigh, turn and begin examining the contents of the vault for anything of use. There isn’t much… Aside from the aforementioned bills, coins, jewels and precious stones, there are only the statues. Sure, you could break a piece off, use it to trigger the…

Ah.

You approach one of the statues (not the one on which the tracer is planted) and give it a good look over, deciding where the most likely breaking point is. It’s a beautiful piece… Likely some rich patron’s lover, cast in alabaster by an artisan on commission. There are flaws and imperfections of course, but that’s to be expected. If there weren’t, it never would have laid quietly for so long. The woman holds her arm extended in a beckoning gesture, her face haunted by desire.

“I’m sorry.” You say, giving her one last look before driving a fist into her arm at the elbow. It cracks and separates in a cloud of ruined plaster, the forearm dropping into your outstretched palm. You heft it, measuring its weight. Just about right.

Returning to the trap room, you size up the throw. All traps are mechanical, and as such, all traps require a reset time. You figure that once it goes off you have roughly three seconds. Three seconds to get across the room and seize the fallen piece of your cowl, the only way to properly cover your tracks.

Well. Time to hope the devil isn’t ready to collect.

You hurl the arm, counting down from six.

Six…

It arcs through the air, meeting and clearing the halfway point, impacting just beyond the goon’s corpse.

Five…

Impact. Rebound. The clunk of the mechanism activating.

Four…

Whistling razor wire, so fast you’re barely sure it was there at all.

Three…

You’re in movement, taking huge, loping strides toward the other end. A baseball slide takes you by your earpiece, and you scoop it up on the way.

Two…

Back on your feet and you’ve got one second to clear most of the room. A forward hand-standing flip puts you in place to seize your grappling gun. You never stop moving.

One…

Your heel hits the last pressure plate before the exit. You hear the mechanical clunk again. Whipping razor wire can’t be far behind.

Doesn’t matter. You’re already gone.

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