Batman Quest: Bethlehem Rising, Issue #7

The tenuous moor that anchors Gotham city to its sanity is slowly giving way. Due in part to spiking temperatures, the streets have become ever more perilous, as only the desperate and insane walk them now. The relief centers, funded by Wayne Enterprises and set up across the city, are all over-populated and have become breeding grounds for violence and disease.

On the news are several reports of super villain activity in and around the centers: Phosphorus Rex appears to be attacking them at random, murdering their inhabitants without apparent motive.

Two-Face-Two has been hitting the centers as well, holding the civilians inside for hefty ransoms. As always, he’s moving in a pattern, but not one you’ve been able to nail down yet.

William Cobblepot has been charging extortionate entry fees for his Iceberg Lounge. The high-class night club was declared a public relief center by city council and should, for the time being, be providing free access.

Max Roboto has been spotted in the downtown financial district, knocking over largely empty banks. Though little hard currency is held at any bank in Gotham anymore, the villain’s unique physiology and skill set are allowing him to interface directly with the supposedly secure systems and transfer obscene amounts of funds to an offshore account from which they cannot be retrieved.

In all of this, the global environmental summit, set to take place in Gotham’s own Wayne Tower, has become a footnote. Though a team of crack scientists are promising a revolutionary reveal for the planet’s future at the summit, hope doesn’t sell nearly as well as despair, and so the story is pushed further and further back in the collective consciousness of the city.

You sit before O.R.A.C.L.E.’s main panel on Wayne Tower’s penthouse level, where you moved your base of operations to shortly after father’s passing. You like to tell yourself that you did so because of practical reasons, but in your rare moments of honesty, you admit that you simply couldn’t bear to be so close to something that reminded you of father so sharply. Not if you were to carry on his legacy.

Somewhere in the background, a glass shatters as Alfred knocks it from the counter-top. Unlike the man for whom he was named, Alfred the cat is hell-bent on achieving a state of complete disarray in the Wayne household. So far, his plans are coming along nicely. With a sigh, you return your attention to O.R.A.C.L.E. and ponder where you’ll start the night.

While the crime sprees in progress are all worrying in their own way, there is one in particular that stands out. Phosphorus Rex’s wild rampage through the relief centers seems mindless, compulsive… Classically Rex. He has taken advantage of the concentration of innocents to fuel his insane desire to burn. Keying in the coordinates of his last known location, you summon a Ro-Bat and step out onto the helipad. Moments later, it announces itself with a keen screech. You extend your arms and let it scoop you up as it swoops low over Wayne Tower and on toward the south.

Even before you arrive, you smell the sulfur. Then come the various and acrid scents of other things ablaze: plaster, wood, chemically-based insulation… Flesh. Next come the screams. Carrying on the ashen wind, some sharp and pleading, others wailing for loss. The site at the location is not pretty. Rex has had his fun here already, reducing the entire building to rubble and smoke. Bodies lay here and there, and there are surely more under the remains of the structure.

Dropping to street level, you take in the chaos. Police officers are rushing to and fro around you, most too busy to notice even you amongst them. Those that do offer you hard stares, but none dare raise the call, much less take you on. For now, it seems, your work will proceed unimpeded.

Gordon must have taken a sick day.

It’s impossible to enter the building proper, as it is almost entirely collapsed and is otherwise ablaze. Those that had taken shelter inside now stand or sit on the street, sweating and weeping. The heat in Gotham is unbearable, and the roaring inferno that was once their refuge isn’t helping. If it isn’t gotten under control, it could spread to other buildings. The location’s exterior offers you no valuable insight as to why Rex did this or where he’s gone.

You scan the small crowd lingering on the street, watching their safe haven burn, looking for a likely interrogation target. You find one in an elderly man, bent, tired and angry. He eyes you skeptically as you approach.

“Am I off my meds again?” He questions as you near.

“I’m not a hallucination, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Alright then,” he says, as if surprised. Then, gruffly, “What do you want?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“I know who you pretend to be. But he was a better man than you, if what the feeds say is true.”

Father. Even dead and gone, you cannot step outside of his shadow.

“I don’t pretend to be him. But he left this hell in my hands. That means you, too.” You state, opting for straight-talk. “I need to know what happened here if I’m going to help you.”

The man scoffs.

“You mean you don’t recognize the handiwork of one of the city’s most infamous? Phosphorus Rex! Are you sure he entrusted Gotham to you?”

Blink-clicking through cowl options, you pull up a direct feed of O.R.A.C.L.E.’s alert network. Listed are the various and ongoing calls to 911 for the blaze in progress at your location, but being overwhelmed and forgotten because of the inundation of those calls are a series of others coming from six blocks away. Rex must have run to his next hit. No planning. Just the irresistible compulsion to burn.

It takes you a minute and a half to get there, and by that time a new chorus of screams has begun. Landing on the apartment building’s roof, you see fires have started on the first floor, but haven’t spread yet. There are tenants trying to evacuate, but the flames are keeping them trapped in their homes. Somewhere in there is Rex.

You secure your rappelling line on a sturdy air duct, then drop over the side of the building. It takes only seconds to get to the bottom. You charge through the broken-in doors and activate your cowl’s most powerful visual filter to see through the smoke, then attach the re-breather from your belt to the hooks on your mask. The heat is intense; even accounting for your suit’s thermal conditioning, you’ve only got minutes in here before temperatures become lethal. Have to make the most of them.

You start off in the direction where the destruction is most complete, figuring it an easy bet Rex would be found wherever he feels the most damage can be done. Sure enough, you soon hear his insane, euphoric laughter up ahead. He alternates between schooboy giggles and chilling cackles as he goes about his dark work, setting all about him burning. You steal away up into the rafters, making use of what shadowy vantage points are left. Looking down on him as he incinerates a dinner table, you ponder your approach.

You hurl a paralytic smoke pellet at Rex’s feet, watch as the noxious yellow gas billows outward. Screaming with rage, Rex inadvertently takes down a lungful. In seconds he’s on his knees, coughing and wheezing, his hands cramping as the gas attempts to take hold. Suddenly, a second great lungful of air, another bellow, and you’re hit by a wall of fire. Thrown backward through the doorway, you pick yourself up, parts of your suit still smoking.

“Tt.”

Phosphorus Rex comes hurtling out of the doorway through which he just sent you, murder in his eyes. It appears that by rapidly consuming all of the oxygen in the room, he was able to diffuse the nerve toxin. Not good.

Rex holds nothing back with his lunge, but that’s always been his problem. He’s predictable, kind of like fire. The one thing you can rely on them both to do is destroy and consume. They don’t stop to ponder the moral questions, they don’t formulate elaborate plots. They go forth and burn.

And that’s why you were expecting his attack.

You sidestep nimbly, catching only a graze of heat on your right bicep for all of the villain’s trouble. Then, making use of the few seconds of respite while he recovers, you leap through a window onto the street, rolling as you hit the pavement. Rex follows soon after, eager for a rematch.

Reaching for and hurling a Batarang in one smooth motion, you catch Rex as he’s off guard, regaining his balance after his own flight through the window. The projectile buries itself in the meat of his thigh and he howls, dropping to one knee. He’s grasping at the weapon, grimacing, but the flames around him grow more intense. Rex is building toward something. If you’re going to finish it, it should be now.

As the flames surrounding Rex swell ever higher, you stride calmly toward him. When you stand before him, the mutated man looks up.

“BATMAAA–hkk!” His damning cry is cut short as your lunge forward, tazer in hand. The device is melted by proximity to Rex, but it gets its point across before it goes. Your quarry’s flaming form drops to the ground, twitching as several thousand volts course through it, then lies still. Patching into O.R.A.C.L.E., you send a tip to the GCPD via the encrypted channel that Barbara knows to be yours. Your next message is to a Ro-bat for pickup. Phosphorus Rex was only the first stop tonight.

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