Batman Quest: Bethlehem Rising, Issue #6.5

In a dark place beneath the ground, two predators circle one another. This is perhaps a chance encounter, though it might be fate. A Bat and a Snake, facing one another across a narrow patch of ground; across no-man’s-land. Neither are prepared for this fight; one suffers from near death by extreme temperatures, the other bleeds from a seeping wound.

Last night, you traced the tracker you placed on a priceless piece of art in a Falcone vault to this library in southern Gotham. Upon arrival, you were greeted by a strange and deadly sight. There, in the center of the library, stood that statue that your signal emanated from under a single pale beam of light, the only illumination in the room. Beside it, a tub of deadly cold water and ice, and in it, a body. All a trap laid by that should-be corpse in the tub, the Instigator. Springing from his frozen tomb, employed to confuse your thermal sensors, he resisted crippling hypothermia and attacked, sinking a knife between your ribs.

“That had better not be it,” he spits, “You had better not be done. I need you to be more than that.”

“Shut up.”

He does, a grin slowly spreading behind the leather mask. Then he bounces back and forth, blade passing from hand-to-hand, trying to disorient you in your weakened state.

Good thing for you he doesn’t realize the wound is already stitching itself together.

Fed up with this bondage freak, you snarl, lashing out at the leaping blade. You manage to bat it aside into the dark, but the Instigator surprises you with his speed. He folds you with a quick jab to the stomach, then brings his knee up toward your head.

You lace your palms together to attempt to block the blow and divert its force, but the wiry man is incredibly strong. Unreasonably strong. Despite wrenching away in a last-ditch attempt at dodging, his knee crashes into your head, crushes your nose and dents part of your armored cowl. Blood flows freely, but it’s not in your eyes. Yet.

He breaks off, apparently not desperate to finish the fight. You shake off the stars in your eyes, ignore the buzzing in your head, and make ready to fight again.

In a desperate bid to end the fight quickly, you fire your grappling hook around the upper portion of the statue behind the Instigator and heave. It begins to creak and tip, but Instigator is following the plot and throws a number of quick jabs your way to throw you off-balance, then dives to the side.

You barely have time to get out of the way of the falling giant.

“Hah! What a pitiful attempt,” scorns the Instigator, “It’s not a wonder you kill your rogues. I doubt you’d survive multiple encounters very long.”

The upside of the statue coming down is that it did so between you, giving you some breathing room to regroup with a new plan.

“I don’t kill all of my rogues. But you can bet your ass I’ll kill you.” You growl, spitting blood onto the floor.

The Instigator cocks his head. “Batman, honestly. I don’t think you’re taking this seriously enough. Look at what I’ve done! You’re a blood mes–WHUFF!”

He distracts himself with his own musing, and pays for it when you launch yourself over the fallen statue and slide-kick him in the chest. The Instigator is propelled off his feet and backward, landing with a slap a few feet away. He’s scrambling to his feet, but you’re already there. You drive a fist into the top of his skull, dropping him back onto his rear.

“Sit down.” You state flatly.

He’s incredibly persistent, not to mention resilient. Ignoring your command, he starts pushing to his feet. You kick in his knee and drop him with a leaping haymaker, feeling cheekbone splinter under your fist. He screams like a child.

“I said sit down!” You raise your fist to strike him again, but pause. He’s weeping, bleeding profusely, his face swelling rapidly, but he’s trying to say something.

“C–C–Kuh…” He winces as he tries to form words with a shattered mouth. Finally, his eyes focus on something distant and he manages to scream. “CLEANERS!” Then drops back onto the floor, exhausted.

That was odd.

Rolling the Instigator over onto his stomach with your foot, you secure his hands with a pair of zip-ties and leave him to contemplate his ruined face. Then you straighten and look around the room, begin searching for clues. It isn’t long, however, before you begin to feel muted, erratic… Tremors? Supposedly the seismic activity caused by the Wound ceased months ago. And besides, you’re far enough away that you shouldn’t feel any aftershocks.

What is that?

You stop moving, close your eyes, breathe slowly and focus on the sound… On the feeling. There’s a pattern to it, but it’s jumbled, overlapping… A one-two beat, but without a rhythm.

Footsteps. Those are footsteps shaking the floor.

No sooner have you had the revelation than two extremely large individuals burst into the library from the main oaken double-doors. They are massive silhouettes in the dark, and you immediately fade back into the shadows between bookshelves. Massive heads swing back and forth in the dark, then a low rumble.

“Boss?”

“Obhur hyeer–agh!” The Instigator mangles his reply through a swollen mouth.

The giants begin following the sound of their employer’s voice, coming closer. Having already taken a beating at the hands of their boss, you decide to tight and wait for an opportunity to slip away.

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