Gotham’s fever has not yet broken as the light of a new day stretches blazing fingers over its streets. Her people suffer as commercial air conditioners fail under the strain and homes become inhospitable, condensation streaking the walls, young and old suffering dehydration and heatstroke as they lie in their beds. Almost all labor, private and governmental, has ceased. Curfews are being imposed in an attempt to keep people out of the streets during the day.
Some whisper that the dark city’s reckoning has come at last.
And still, despite all of this, there are those who would take advantage of Her. Vampires, leeches hoping to sap the city of its last, hoping to grow fat upon its corpse. William Cobblepot is one of Gotham’s monsters. Son of the Penguin and twice as mercenary, he has been charging extortionate entry fees to his Iceberg Lounge, even as the city declared it a disaster relief center and thus lawfully open and free to the public. You have a feeling his willingness to push Gotham’s people over the edge has something to do with his planned move to Metropolis, where he hopes to set up a new empire. Since Kal-El’s departure from earth, that shining city has been on a steady slide. You and the few other remaining vigilantes have done the best you could, but without a force like the Superman, Metropolis’s own cadre of psychopaths and horrors have begun to overwhelm it. It’s a thought that plagues you often. Father would have known what to do.
You are Damian Wayne, son of the Bat and his successor, and you are presently standing on the thirdfloor, inward-facing balcony of the Iceberg Lounge. Moments ago, you unwittingly triggered a safety mechanism on the door to Cobblepot’s secure office.
You are Damian Wayne, son of the Bat and his successor, and you are presently standing on the thirdfloor, inward-facing balcony of the Iceberg Lounge. Moments ago, you unwittingly triggered a safety mechanism on the door to Cobblepot’s secure office. The club has been cleared of all but the reigning Penguin’s personal guard, gathered on the dance floor below you. Looking over the rail, you quickly scan each of the five men. They are monsters all; either on a Venom-derivative or some other extremely potent mass booster.
Blading your body to conceal the action, you reach into your utility belt and palm three smoke pellets. Then, not a word uttered, you hurl the pellets down onto the dance floor, vault over the railing and come to a rolling stop amongst the massive bodyguards as gunmetal grey smoke swallows the room. To their credit, they spring into action quickly, but you know they’re affected. You see it in their eyes as they sink into the murky clouds and your infrared activates. The nearest makes a clumsy, blind attack, swinging a massive fist in a downward arc where he hopes you’ll be.
The fist whistles past you, slamming powerfully into the ground where you once stood. You plant your foot between his legs and throw your weight into a shoulder charge to throw him off balance. It works, and the hulking form yelps as it crashes to the ground. Two others are closing in on the source of the sound, fighting their way through the smoke, choking and gagging. Regardless of its efficacy, however, the clouds from your pellets can only persist so long before dissipating.
You duck low, beneath the thickest part of the swirling smoke and come up behind the one on the left, tapping him on the shoulder, then quickly ducking away. He responds as you had expected, swinging wildly in the direction you point him. Getting in close to his ear, you whisper.
Again he whirls, and again you duck away. This time, however, his friend takes the brunt of it, growling as he staggers back into the smoke. Blindly, he charges the source of his pain and with that, they’re both locked in a struggle of the sightless.
Two more left. Smoke’s all but gone.
The thug on the left reaches for something at his waist. Whatever it is, it’s bound to be unfriendly. You hurl a Batarang at him and it embeds itself into his arm, a stream of blood jetting through the air. His partner staggers back in surprise as the stream splashes across his cheek.
“Fuck!” He screams. “Marney! Alright, alright! Go easy!” The man says, dropping to his knees and putting his hands behind his head.
You advance towards the man, kick him over with an armored boot, then rest your knee on his chest, leaning in close.
“Where’s the Penguin?” You growl.
“Can’t… Tell–hrrk!” The man winces as a rib cracks. “He’ll kill me.”
“That so?” You say, pulling out a Batarang and pressing its razor-sharp edge into the flesh of his neck, right where his central aorta should be. “And what do you think I’ll do to you?”
The ploy works, or at least seems to. The man’s gaze flickers nervously between you, the piece of metal and the office on the third floor.
“Tt. As I suspected. You have an access card on you.”
He starts to shake his head.
“That wasn’t a question. Give it to me or I’ll take it and the front row of your teeth.”
Slowly, reluctantly, he begins to withdraw a passcard from his suit jacket. Before he finishes, though, a crimson flower blooms on his temple accompanied by the crack of a high-powered rifle. Reacting instantly, tracing the trajectory of the shot, you whirl around to look up at the third floor balcony.
The slimy, stocky successor to Gotham’s infamous Penguin looks down his nose at your aristocratically.
“Poor Samuel. He was such a good pair of hands. Too bad he couldn’t keep his discretion.”
You shrug your cape over your shoulders, letting it enshroud your body, leaving your hands free and out of Cobblepot’s sight.
“Why, William? Like a vulture, you’d feast on Gotham’s carcass. Dozens dead already and you still place value on coin over human life.”
“I’m as businessman, Batman.” He grins past his cigar. “And businessmen don’t pass up opportunities, especially when they’ve been informed in advance.”
Your eyes narrow. He knew that the city would descend into chaos? How could he know what the temperatures would be like, what they would do to Gotham?
“So you knew,” you say, fishing for answers, “you knew all along.”
The Penguin cackles. “WAUK-WAUK-WAUK! Of course I knew! The Cobblepots know everything that has, is or will be happening in Gotham! I knew about your little friend in the bondage suit before you did.”
Jackpot. Not the temperatures. The Instigator.
“He approached you too, then? And I assume your morals didn’t stop you from making a deal.”
“My morals? No.” Cobblepot says, screwing up his face. “But my business sense did. What the crackpot wants has no monetary value attached. He’s an idealist, and there’s no room for them left in the world. Not anymore.”
“So you turned him down. Hnh.”
“I did. Because what wealth can be harvested from a cinder?”
“Yet you chose to exploit Gotham at its weakest. From where I’m standing, there’s not much difference between the two of you after all.”
“Gotham is dying, Batman,” he says, stressing the word, “There’s nothing you or I can do about that. She’s poisoned. It’s too late. That’s why I’m getting out. I won’t catch what She’s got.”
“And what, you think you’ll be safe in Metropolis? You think the sickness won’t spread there, too? You think it hasn’t ALREADY?”
A brief moment of doubt crosses his face, but then it’s gone.
“I’ll not have you doubting my word, whelp,” he says, his chest puffing out, “You are nothing to the Cobblepot empire! Gotham is NOTHING. And I will feel NOTHING as I kill y–RAAAUK!”
The Batarang that you threw faster than the eye could follow buries itself in his shooting hand and knocks his father’s umbrella-gun over the railing. He groans and curses, spitting venom. While he recovers, you fire your grapnel gun and it secures itself on the third floor railing. You flick the retraction switch and seconds later your boots hit the floor beside the Penguin.
“Enough… Enough…” He says, holding out his good hand as if to ward you away. “I’ll give you whatever you want…”
“Information. On the Instigator. Now.”
“I can give you the name of the next in line on his recruitment circuit.”
“‘Circuit’? How many of you was he looking to get on his side?”
Cobblepot steadies himself on the railing, then looks up at you gravely.
“All of us.”
Ambitious. The entirety of Gotham’s villains?
Even the Joker?
“Immunity!” He cries, desperate to wring something out of the deal for himself.
“Your life.” You counter, your voice gravel. Then you place a palm on the Batarang protruding from his shooting hand, start pressing down. Hard. He yowls.
“Alright! Alright! It was Scarface! He’s after the puppet next!”
You release your hold, let him collapse onto the ground.
Scarface. A ventriloquism dummy supposedly fashioned from the wood of an old Blackgate gallows. Somehow it took on a life of its own, pulling the weak of will into its service, the dummy/ventriloquist relationship reversed.
New evidence to consider, and the sun is already up. Long past time the Bat returned to his Cave. You put Cobblepot in cuffs, then toss him over the guard rail to join his unconscious goons. He lands with a squawk and a curse. By the time he has regained his composure enough to begin insulting your heritage, you’re already gone.