Batman Quest: Bethlehem Rising, Issue #6

On the news in Gotham tonight, continued coverage of the record-breaking temperatures. People found dead and dry in the blazing sun, flash-fires consuming entire apartment blocks. Through your contacts in the police and clandestine informers, you hear tales of the Instigator’s exploits. He is moving again, perhaps emboldened by word of your encounter with Professor Pyg*. Several seemingly senseless gang wars ended up tracing back to him, though his motive hasn’t become clear. As far as you can tell, he was present only long enough to see the consequences of his actions. Once the shooting started, the few that survived have no recollection of seeing him again.

Then again, most of them can’t remember anything that well anymore.

Another point of interest is the ping you received on the Machinist. A black market engineer, the Machinist has employed their considerable talents to several projects in the past, all for no apparent reason beyond the weighty monetary compensations. Using an old guise of your father, Matches Malone, you were able to set up a meet with the Machinist. Whether you attend and what you do there, you haven’t quite pinned down. It might be valuable to communicate with a former associate of the Instigator’s, but letting him run rampant while you establish a profile might be a waste of time.

You stand in the penthouse apartment of Wayne tower, observing the read-outs from O.R.A.C.L.E.’s main panel.

You take a seat the console, begin reviewing your files on the Pyg case, cross-referencing them against existing information pertaining to the Instigator. You employ a methodology taught to you by the League of Assassins. It’s exacting, bullet-proof to time, the perfect system.

There’s nothing.

Other than the uncommon theme of being violent psychopaths, the Instigator and Pyg appear to be completely unrelated. On top of that, Pyg is rotting in Arkham for the time being, having been recovered by the GCPD after you took him down.

The Instigator is up to something though, without a doubt. He’s setting rivals against each other, then watching the city’s criminal element devour itself. Then you remember the tracking signal you placed on the statue in the Falcone vault. It’s moved. To a library in the south end. The basement specifically.

You stand from the console, find some food for Alfred and signal a Ro-Bat. Using your grapnel gun to get across the city on a night like tonight might kill you. Stepping onto the helipad, you breathe rhythmically, arms outstretched. In seconds, your transport will arrive.

The Ro-Bat screeches in, swooping low to carry you off toward the south end. Despite your mask of hatred, Gotham’s dire state strikes a chord of sadness in you that you cannot shake. Through the smoke and fire, your father’s legacy burns. You sharpen the feeling into something you can use in a fight. In ten minutes, you’re across the city to the south end, circling over the library that the statue pinged from. You have it drop you off on the roof… It’s a part of old Gotham, and that shows in the architecture. Multiple entry points, weak structural integrity, so improvising is an option as well.

You decide on a slow, methodical approach. Whoever the Instigator is and whatever his endgame, he’s a planner. That means the pay-off is usually much worse than the build-up, whereas someone like Killer Croc kept his level of horror steady from start to finish. You find a window in the section of the building that is darkest, at least from the outside, and attach your grapnel gun to a heating vent, rappelling down. Cowl optics active, you scan down the length of the squat, wide structure. Only a few floors, basement included. Not much activity… Occasional traces, but that could be rodents. You employ your Glass Cutter to gain entry. Plenty of time on a night like tonight. Everyone’s home or at the relief shelters. Inside, all is dark, quiet and unbearably stuffy. Books are sagging from shelves in the heat, the occasional heavy tome plummeting down from above to crack on the weathered marble floors below.

You move slowly, casting your gaze about the building, encompassing it entirely as you walk. Floor by floor, you clear the structure, each level dark and empty, devoid of anything save moldering old books and a pervasive air of abandonment. Finally, you reach the ground floor and receive your first legitimate ping on infrared. Something on the floor below, just for the tiniest moment.

You keep your wits about you, moving on. The air is close and humid down here, where heavy dehumidifiers thrum away, keeping the books upstairs from rotting completely. Up ahead, the hallway ends in a closed door. No sound, no return on infrared.

Sliding up the side of the wall toward the door, you listen intently, cowl audio sensors set to max. There’s no sound… Nothing. Absolute stillness. You stand there for a while, staring at the door, when optics picks up the tiniest flicker of heat beyond once more. For the briefest moment… It looked like a head. You wait another minute because of the glitch, but when you’re satisfied it won’t return, you try the door. It’s locked. Surprising for a door this deep into a rundown building to even have a lock, much less be properly secured.

You give the lock a shot, but the tumbler keeps slipping out of your grasp. After losing it twice, you straighten and sigh, rolling your neck. After taking a moment to focus, you go at it again, and this time the lock gives way. The door swings back on a bizarre sight; a dark room, lit in the center by a single spotlight, under which stands the alabaster statue from the Falcone vault. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but on the other side there looks to be a… Bathtub?

You reactivate thermal and x-ray, slowly approaching the statue and tub, for tub it is, filled with water and ice. And occupied by a body, lying motionless in the lethally cold water. He appears to be wearing black leather, though it’s hard to tell. The Instigator? Why would he be in a tub full of ice?

You consider lighting up the tub with your tazer, but after some debate decide that that amount of current would probably kill whoever is in that thing. Can’t question the dead, especially when they might be unrecognizably warped by the electrocution. Instead you keep the weapon at the ready, and approach the tub.

“This is Batman. Whoever you are, you’re in serious trouble. I can help you, but only if I know you won’t hurt me when I try.”

The form in the tub remains immobile, unresponsive.

After staring at the motionless form in the tub for a moment longer, you decide the most prudent course of action would be to make certain of your surroundings. You patrol the room once more, scanning every nook and cranny intently. Nothing strange. Then it strikes you to examine the statue itself, at which time you notice that the tracking device isn’t where you left it. In fact, it’s not on the statue at all. So where is it?

Your gaze falls once more on the body in the tub.

You approach the icy tub cautiously, and give it a kick when you reach striking distance. You jostle it noticeably, the icy water sloshing back and forth noisily.

The body doesn’t respond at first, but then looks up at you weakly. Its expression is blank, neither pleading nor threatening. Impassive. Unreadable.

“I can help you, but you need to give me something.” You raise your voice, trying to get through. The man raises his face slightly, his jaw shaking so badly he can hardly speak.

“I–I-Hakk!”

His shaking causes him to take a lungful of ice water down, and he’s choking badly, going from bad to worse.

Seeing that you have no other choice, you click your tongue and lean forward, taking the man by his armpits and dragging him out onto the floor. That done, you seize him by his odd suit, scream in his face.

“Who are you?”

He looks up at you blankly. “I–“

Click.

Immediately identifying the signature sound of a switchblade’s mechanism, you throw yourself backward and out of the scything horizontal arc the man cuts through the air.

“I knew you’d do that.” He grins from behind his mask, holding the knife out unsteadily. “I know everything about you, Batman.”

The Instigator.

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