Bruce wakes up in a strange place.
Continued from the end of S3E15 ...
Daylight brushed against his cheek as Bruce slowly drifted out from a dreamless sleep to reality. The air that he breathed in was chilly, absent of the chemicals that flooded his lungs what seemed like moments ago. "Five..." he whispered through parched lips. His memory of the events that preceded that very moment was returning, and the betrayal of his lookalike stung, especially after all that he had done for him. It didn't help that the ground beneath him felt as calloused as the frigid gaze Five had presented to him as a parting gift, "This... is what I was made for. To be Bruce Wayne." Five's words echoed in his head, the voice that sounded just like his - yet another bizarre product of Hugo Strange's malevolent genius.
Bruce's eyes widened fully. He was in a simple cream-colored cotton robe and trousers and his shoes were nowhere to be seen. He looked around. Nothing appeared familiar in the least. Four walls and the ground beneath him lined with stone, an iron-gated door that led to an empty hallway, and a window overlooking a snow-capped landscape that was the only sight that was reminiscent of the view from his chalet in Switzerland. But as he studied the mix of limestone and granite in the walls that kept him in, as well as the asian notches on the archaic iron spokes that kept him from escaping, he suspected he wasn't anywhere near the Swiss alps. To make matters worse, he was a prisoner.
"Let me out!" came a dry-throated guttural sound emerging from deep within him. His tongue tasted sand. He couldn't remember the last time he had a drink, or how long he had been out. All he knew was that one moment he was in the Narrows, and the next... wherever 'here' was. Five couldn't have been working alone. And Bruce had the strongest inkling as to who was really behind the kidnapping. He slammed the gate with his fists. The thudding echoed through the hall. "You can't keep me here!"
Thoughts of Alfred ran through his mind, how worried he probably was at this point. It was odd how the most trivial of things rose to the greatest importance - like Alfred's shepherd's pie. What would come of it? Was Alfred still keeping it warm? He pummelled his fists against the gate again. Anger began to melt away into fear. But it wasn't exactly his life that he was worried about, there were too many unknown factors that prevented him from properly assessing his situation, and he hated not being in control. He needed answers, and soon. "Open this door!" he yelled, even as he dropped his face towards the ground. Yelling into the empty space began to felt like a futile effort. The hall remained as empty as it was when he had awoken. He wondered if he had simply been abandoned in the vast, ancient abode to die a slow death. Kathryn had warned him about carrying on his investigation, and yet he had persisted. But how could he have not when everything he knew was being threatened?
Just as he was about to lose hope, the clicking of a lock falling into place brought him back to attention. He looked up to see an elderly man standing plainly in front of him as though he'd been there forever. His hair as white as powder, a level expressionless look on his face. He wasn't someone that Bruce recognized. "Who are you?" he asked, even as he stepped back to avoid the swinging gate. Gathering what courage he had, he said with as much conviction as he could muster, "I want to speak with whoever's in charge."
The elderly man, clad in robes much similar to his own, stepped boldly into his prison and gazed at him. The lines surrounding his mouth stretched as he spoke, "That would be me."
Bruce didn't believe him. Surely there was more to this than just an old man. "Is the Court of Owls behind my abduction?"
"The Court is a tool, nothing more."
Bruce paused, he couldn't understand how one who had the insight on what was happening could so casually brush away the Court, knowing full well that they had their fingers all over Gotham, playing its system like a puppet. "You won't get away with this. People will know I'm gone."
Unfazed by Bruce's threat, the man continued, "We've taken precautions to ensure your absence won't be noticed."
It dawned on Bruce then, how the entire puzzle fit together. "My clone..." he muttered. That's what Five had been created for... Hugo Strange, then the Court of Owls. They all led to this. This one man. "He's in Gotham pretending to be me, isn't he?"
The man nodded in an almost robotic fashion. There was nothing about him that gave even a hint of human compassion.
"Alfred will figure it out," Bruce blurted out in certainty - if there was one person who knew him better than anyone else in the world, it was Alfred. And his background with the SAS wouldn't hurt either.
"Perhaps," admitted the man. "But by that time I'm certain you will come to see the light."
"The light of our cause."
A little frustrated with the man's cryptic nature, Bruce couldn't hold back a bite of sarcasm. "No thank you. I'm not interested to join your cult."
For the first time since the man had entered his cell, what looked to be a smile bent a corner of his lip. "You assume that I am your enemy, but I am not."
Bruce discreetly imagined himself making a dash for it. The man before him was standing in the doorway, but he also seemed frail - he wouldn't think that the man would be able to stop him if he went through the gap fast enough. "It'd be hard to convince me of that since you did take me against my will."
"Would you have come otherwise?" It was a rhetorical question. "You can't understand how important you are in the scheme of things. You must be made aware..."
Bolting towards the hallway while the man was distracted with his response seemed like a good idea for a while - till he was met with a powerful force buried into his chest that sent him reeling across the floor, coming to a halt only after hitting the wall on the other end of the room. His chest pulsed in agony where it had been hit, and he had to take a moment to catch his breath. The elderly man calmly lowered his raised fist, that Bruce could only assume was the source of the impact.
"Another thing," said the man. "You will not be allowed to leave till we have imparted all that knowledge that you require for your mission."
"We?" asked Bruce, struggling to his feet as he tried once more to plan his escape. This time he drove himself directly at the man, ducking low to knock him off his feet. It was one of the more dodgy moves Alfred had taught him - "Not exactly a gentleman's fight." was what Alfred would say, but one that Bruce would employ anyway. He figured the urgency of the situation would negate all requirement for manners.
But just the second Bruce had expected to make impact with the man's ankles, they disappeared into the air like the flutter of wings as his robes flapped through the space above Bruce, and landed right behind him. Scrambling to his feet, Bruce swung a fist at the man, only to find his fist swiftly ending its flight in the iron grip of the man's palm. He swung another fist at the man's cheek, but that in the man's other palm. Both the man's hands began to compress, and Bruce heard his knuckles popping as pain seared through his arms and he gasped in the moment of helplessness. "We," repeated the man, without even breaking a sweat. "You have many questions, but you will only get your answers if you surrender to this place. There is no escape. Even if you manage to get by me, there will be twenty more right beyond this passage. And fifty more beyond that. You will fail, and you will be returned here, more broken than you had arrived."
"Please..." cried Bruce, falling to his knees. The man responded almost immediately, removing his hands from Bruce's, and Bruce pressed his bruised knuckles against his chest to soothe the pain. Alfred had taught him a lot, but he'd quickly come to acknowledge that he might not be able to fight his way out of this one. The only option left to him was to go along with the man's demands. Maybe he would learn something about his captors that he would be able to use to his advantage once they were less wary of his will to return home. "Just tell me where I am... please."
"You are..." replied the man. "In Nanda Parbat."
Bruce seeks the man responsible for his capture.
The man requested that Bruce take a seat before him, and even though hesitant to comply, he decided to bide his time with the impression of obedience. "You said mission..." There were many things he had yet to comprehend of his capture and replacement. Someone had taken a lot of pains to move him to this place completely unharmed, yet wasn't it not so long ago that the Court of Owls had tried to kill him? Perhaps the man was indeed part of something bigger, and the Court of Owls were only mere tools to his organization. How deep did this rabbit's hole go? Bruce remembered when he first began the search for his parents' killer. He had not expected it to unravel such a tangled web of powerful individuals, each with their own nefarious hold on Gotham. A part of him wished it'd simply ended with M. Malone, and that he could finally allow himself to grieve the loss of his parents, and put them to rest. But as long as the very people behind the murder continued unapologetically to exert influence over the company that his family had tediously built, he knew that there would be no rest for him. The good name of the Waynes had to be reclaimed.
"I did," the man replied, lowering himself down to the ground in front of Bruce. From out of the shadows behind him, a second man fully clad in black form-fitting robes appeared behind the elderly man. His face was wrapped in a dark cloth leaving only his eyes exposed, and black cloth-like boots lined his feet. Bruce quickly surmised that that had allowed the man to move about on the stone without making any sound. There was a hot glass of beverage in his hands, and he lowered it to the elderly man. Without so much as looking up, the elderly man retrieved the cup as though he had entirely anticipated the arrival of the dark-garbed man, and placed it in front of Bruce. "You must be thirsty. Drink please."
Bruce stared at the steaming glass, wary of its contents. He continued not to trust the elderly man, and the rest of his people, "What is this?"
"Turkish black tea, imported all the way from Çaykur. Try it, it's very good."
Watching the dark-garbed man bow at his waist, and back his way out the door, Bruce hesitated to take anything from the elderly man.
Once more, that odd half-smile wrested its way onto the man's face. "You are meant for greater things, my boy. I would not threaten your destiny by putting something in your drink."
Even though Bruce furrowed his brow at the man's words, he found some reason to believe him. And it was true, he was rather parched. Picking up the cup and sipping its contents slowly, he continued to speak between sips. "I assume you're referring to the mission you haven't told me about yet."
"That is right, but all in good time. I'd like first to introduce you to who we are, and what we do here. Spanning all the way back to 300 A.D, our group has been an influential force over the centuries to raise up new promising empires, whilst tearing down the corrupt and depraved in order to give this world a fresh renewal of power. Without us, mankind would have torn itself apart, consumed itself from the tail up to the head. We are a necessary force to upkeep the survival of our race."
Bruce studied the man carefully. His story sounded astoundingly outlandish, and yet nothing in his stoic expression indicated that he was lying.
"All this while, we've operated in the shadows, saving humanity time and again from utter destruction so that life might go on and flourish once more as it did in the beginning."
"If that's so," replied Bruce. Nothing added up yet. "What do you need me for?"
"The fulfillment of a prophecy. You are the vital ingredient to usher Gotham into a new era of peace and prosperity. The hope of a city full of people."
"What?" Surely the man's cult could not rest their plans on a single seventeen-year-old orphan. What power would he have to do as they wanted? He could barely get his own family's company under control.
"My boy, you might not think much of yourself yet. But the League of Shadows hasn't lasted for generations because we get our predictions wrong. Our uncanny foresight has placed individuals in places of power that have brought about massive change to historical events of this world. Alexander the Great, Cyrus of Persia, Mehmet II the Conquerer of the Ottoman empire. Someday, you too will stand side by side with these men of influence, and you will rise a legend."
"You... you're mad..." muttered Bruce, right then convinced of the fact. "So deluded that you don't even see it yourself. Was it you who ordered the murder of my parents?"
The man gazed at him, cold and calculated. "You allow your emotions to cloud your ability to see the big picture. It is my hope that through time, you will come to understand that your tragedy needed to happen to awaken what is inside you."
Tears welled up in Bruce's eyes. The man did not deny the part that he had played, yet none of this mattered to him at all. "This is just a game to you?"
"Only from the ashes, can the phoenix rise," he continued.
"Stop it with the meaningless philosophy!" Bruce no longer felt the ache of his bruised knuckles, his hatred of this man had overwhelmed all his senses. He rose up, casting a shadow on the man before him.
A smile dawned on the man's face, one that barely crinkled the wrinkles beside his eyes. He also rose to his feet. "There is the beast you've been hiding inside. Let it out."
The brunt of Bruce's anger drove him to slam his fists at the man, but time and again, the man moved swiftly to deflect the blows. Moving effortlessly like a trout swimming downstream, the man took a step closer to Bruce, and all at once jabbed him in the side of his throat. The man's touch, though astoundingly controlled, sent a stinging force down his spine, and the world began turning black. As he faded off, he could barely make out the man's final words.
"You have great power inside of you, Bruce Wayne. Don't fight your true destiny."
Bruce meets his new trainer.
The spike of a peculiar herbal scent invaded the nostrils and brought Bruce back to his senses. He looked up at the one who had awoken him and half expected to see the man who had taken him out. But it was a slender lady who was bent over him with a china bowl of steaming liquid. She smiled at him through slim brown eyes that sat beneath sharply angled black brows, and moved the bowl away from him. Dressed in an oriental shirt and pants suit framed with a mandarin collar and long sleeves, and silky long dark hair kept neatly tucked up at the back of her head. Upon her ears dangled golden teardrop earrings that had engravings on them in a language that Bruce could not understand. "You've been asleep for quite a while," she said with an accent that he struggled to place.
He looked around. He no longer was in the cell that he had first found himself in. This room was much larger, surrounded by large wooden pillars that had concentric squares beneath what looked like lotus flowers, carved into them. Beyond the pillars lay four stone walls, much like the material that he had found in his cell, and two adjoining wooden doors with rice paper in the upper part of the frame, surrounded by concentric squares, much like the carvings on the pillars. Not too far from their side was a bamboo rack that held a number of wooden sticks. "I was moved..." he said.
"Yes," she said, and kept her gaze on him till he turned to her. "My name is Wu-San." She paused for a moment, and went on, "You may call me Sandra."
He nodded politely at her as he sat up. "I'd introduce myself, but I'm pretty sure you already know who I am."
"You are Bruce Wayne of Gotham City," she replied, her eyes taking a quick dip at the mention of his name.
"Sandra, do you know why I'm here?" he asked, even though he would assume that she might have a similar answer as the man he'd met before.
"You are our master's chosen one, to redeem your city from self-destruction."
"I've heard that before, but it still doesn't make any sense. What do you mean by self-destruction? What's going to happen to Gotham?"
"The process has already begun," she said, her voice brimming with authority. "The master says Gotham has gone on for years unchecked, and its corruption is vastly consuming what was once good. In time, its evil will prove to be its end."
Taken aback by the bold proclamation, Bruce gave himself a moment to let her words sink in. He couldn't disagree on the aspects of corruption. Gotham had indeed become quite the cesspool, as he himself had borne witness to. Wayne Enterprises was of course, not exempt. In fact, he'd begun to recognize that much of the rot stemmed from his own company. He wondered if that was the reason that selected him out of the many. "You believe in the prophecy as well?"
She nodded with certainty. "The master has never been wrong. Not in all the years that he's been alive."
Bruce could only assume that she was referring to the man who had been in his cell. "No disrespect. But I don't share the faith that you have in your master. All my life I've been taught that life is what you make it out to be, and that people who base their decisions on the assertion of certain prophecies coming true will be setting themselves up to fail. Besides, I certainly have no aspirations to be among the conquerors that your master has listed to me."
She frowned, "You can't have met the master yet. You've only just arrived."
"Who was it that I met then? He never gave me a name."
"It was Adept Harmen who brought you here."
"I asked to meet the person in charge and he claimed that it was he."
Sandra smiled gently. "Adept Harmen is given charge of the prisons, but we are all under the wise direction of the master."
Bruce bit a corner of his lip. "Can I meet with your master then?"
She shook her head. "No one meets the master till they are ready, and you haven't even begun your training."
Sandra rose to her feet and walked over to the wooden rack. "That's why we are here, Mr Wayne." She picked out two long sticks and threw one to him, just as he was getting up himself. "To train you to be the person you need to be."
He caught and held the stick between his hands. It was smoothly polished, even though scratches on the bark indicated it had previously been used. "I didn't sign up for..."
The end of her stick flew downwards in his direction, and instinctively he moved to block it with his own. "You asked to meet the master. Complete your training and I will take you to him myself." She flipped her stick around and met his at a different angle.
"How long will this take?" asked Bruce, already feeling impatient. The thought of Alfred alone with his clone, parading around as Bruce Wayne, greatly irked him. He hoped to God that Alfred would be able to detect inconsistencies in his behavior and figure out the truth.
She moved more ferociously in his direction, slamming her stick into his each time he managed to catch the blow. He backed off, his sight never leaving the movements of her arms, taking several steps backwards till he found himself pressed against one of the pillars in the room. She came fully at him this time, entangling his stick in a twisted spin with her own, causing him to lose grip of it, and placed him in a choke-hold.
"As long as is needed," she said to him, as she took a step away, effortlessly levered up his stick with her own, catching it in one hand, and handed it back to him. "Again."
Bruce learns more about Sandra.
With a loud thwip, the butt of Sandra's stick slammed into Bruce's cheek and drove him to his knees. "Pay more attention to your blind spots," she coached. He lowered his own arms in defeat, exhausted and aching in all the spots that had fallen victim to Sandra's martial artistry. The woman was clearly skilled, and as much as Bruce wouldn't want to admit it; Alfred's training wasn't standing up to it much. He couldn't fault Sandra as a teacher, he did pick up several tips over the course of that session, but he was mostly disappointed in himself. He knew it would be a while before he would be able to work his way up to meet this elusive master of hers - not that he knew for certain it would improve his chances of being returned to Gotham. Sandra leaned back, planting her stick by her side. "You've had enough for today. It's time for you to go back and recuperate before we carry on."
"Back to my cell?" He asked levelly. His face was already swelling up, he could feel it bloat beneath his skin.
"I'm sorry, you must stay there till we can be sure that you won't try to run away."
Appealing to her better nature was one of the few plans he had cooked up as he was getting whipped around. Not one of his best, but he figured he would give it a shot anyway. "I don't belong here, Sandra. You must know that. I have a guardian back home. He doesn't know where I am. How is this fair to either one of us?"
"Life isn't fair," she replied with a tinge of cold, her eyes narrowed at him. "Some even less than others. You are the Prince of Gotham, you don't know the hell people go through."
Bruce was startled by her sudden outburst, there was obviously more to her than met the eye. "Sandra, why are you here?" He could see the pain ingrained into the stress marks on her face. Whatever reasons that had brought her to Nanda Parbat, they were likely not good.
All at once she backed down, and the strain on her face dissipated. "Let me walk you back to your cell," The charm in her voice had returned. She offered a hand to him. "You've done well for your first lesson. Keep it up and you'll go far." Retrieving both sticks, she placed them back on the rack. It became clear that she wasn't going to answer his question, so he asked a second one.
"Just out of sheer curiosity," he said as he followed her towards the doors carved in concentric patterns. "What will I be doing that requires me to learn how to fight with sticks?"
"Kendo," she replied. "I'm teaching you Kendo. We'll be moving on to swords once you're more familiar with the movements." She opened the door that led to a moderately large central area with four equal sides, lighted by bulbous red lamps that were fastened to the ceiling by thin metal wires. The room itself was lined with numerous men in dark-garments much like the one who had offered him tea - about forty would be his rough estimate. And they were all moving gracefully in sync with one another, stretching their arms in sweeping motions across their chest as their legs bent in slow motion at the knees.
"Tai chi, I've seen this before in the books," he remarked with a tinge of reverence for the art.
"Tài Jí Quán," she corrected him. "The men do this every evening to balance out their yin and yang, and bring about harmony from within. Would you like to join?"
Bruce took consideration of her offer before turning her down. As much as he was interested to learn, he was more keen to make a mental map of the route back to his cell. His final goal was still to find a way to get out of Nanda Parbat, and find a way back to Gotham... if it was at all possible. The worst part about all this was that no one in Gotham probably even knew that he was missing, nor if they did, would know where to go looking. All that he himself knew about Nanda Parbat was that it was a remote village somewhere in the Himalayas - he couldn't even place where exactly. If he couldn't rely on anyone getting him free from this predicament, he knew he would have to figure this one out on his own. "Not today, I need to recover from all the jabbing that you gave me," he half-lied and cast her a concocted smile.
She laughed, and her eyes lit up to crescent moons as she did. "I hope I haven't hurt you too badly. The good news is that you will have a soft bed to lie in tonight. Adept Harmen said that he would add a few pieces of furniture to your cell to make you feel more comfortable."
"Really..." he said, though he didn't really appreciate the thought that he was being prepared for an extended stay.
They made a turn and headed through a large corridor flanked with wooden doors on both sides. That corridor then led to a circular open area that had a similar structure as the large hall just in front of the war room, except there was a large air-well in the center that exposed two more floors below that were full of men roaming about, albeit more casually dressed than those having their evening exercises. He also noticed a gated door on the floor that he was on, that led to a large balcony that overlooked the mountains outside. From what his limited view of the balcony, he could see long wooden beams holding the entire structure of the building in place. They were on a precarious cliff of the mountain that the entire building was sitting on. Certainly, it didn't seem like an easy climb, but it was likely that his captors had a better, more efficient way of getting to their hideaway.
After taking a turn down a flight of stairs, two large and imposing sentries stood at the end of the path, dressed in thicker armor than their comrades. They took a look at Sandra, and immediately moved aside to reveal a solid iron door. One of the sentries unlocked the door with a ring of keys hung at his side, and she ushered Bruce into that familiar hall that led to his cell.
Adept Harmen was standing right outside the gate, with his hands on the open bars. Sandra bowed to him as soon as they met, and he returned one of his own. "How was his training?" asked the Adept.
"Very good," reported Sandra. "He is a fast learner."
Bruce noticed that Adept Harmen had made good on his word. There was now a simple bed, a thin mattress and a woolen blanket sitting in his cell. There was even a night table with a bowl of water, a cloth, a plate of rice, honeyed meat and vegetables, some paper and a wooden pencil for writing. The accommodation paled in comparison to what Bruce had been used to - but given the circumstances, he couldn't complain. "Rest well," said the Adept. "You will resume training tomorrow morning." With that, the Adept shut the gate tight, and departed with Sandra.
"Hall, corridor, circular air-well..." he muttered quietly to himself, replaying all that he had seen on his route back to the cell. The gears were already turning in his head, but there was only one thing that kept him from devising a full plan of escape - that iron wrought gate that led to the balcony. It was similar to the one that kept him from leaving his cell, and in the same way, he could be assured that it would remain locked at all times. He would either manage to get the key, or pick the lock himself, but what with? He turned around to study the lock on the gate on his cell. It was embedded in the iron itself, one of those older models dating back to the early 1900s. He hadn't trained on such a lock though he was confident that Selina would know all about... He stopped himself short. Selina was gone, in all senses of the word. That last encounter between them marked the death of what they'd built up to that point. And even though he had told himself that it was time to move on, it still made him uncomfortable thinking about what they had lost.
He drew himself back from his thoughts - The gate... focus on getting the lock open. But a loud sigh left his lips instead. This wasn't going to be as easy as he'd made it out to be - and it wasn't just the issue of the lock. He knew he'd have to work out the logistics of his escape, and it would take a while, judging from the number of people that roamed the halls outside. He couldn't possibly take them all on. If they were anywhere as good as the Adept or as Sandra was, he wouldn't be getting far, and he would only be ruining his own chances of getting back. He had to do it efficiently, or not try at all. If that meant spending the next few days, or weeks getting it right, then he'd to commit himself to the task. No room for errors... he whispered to himself. It's all or nothing at all.
Five integrates into the life of Bruce Wayne.
The insertion of Five into the role of Bruce Wayne had been an enviable success. He'd managed to fool everyone at the manor for the span of nearly five months. Of course, he had some help under the guiding tutelage of Kathryn, but even she had to acknowledge that he did sell all the mannerisms of his host that he had picked up and could muster - with the exception of two separate encounters:
The first was when he'd been invited out for dinner by a Wayne Enterprises board member - something about the public representation of his parents. He'd turned down the appointment to avoid being confronted with a question he didn't know the answer to, but this red-flagged Alfred, who insisted that Bruce Wayne would never turn down an opportunity to make sure his parents were well represented within the company. Five decided that it would be safer to go in order not to make the butler suspicious, but not after going through an intensive history lesson on the philanthropy of the Waynes. Fortunately, he aced the history test, after which Alfred didn't seem to take his initial hesitance to heart.
The second time he tripped was when Alfred decided to go on a rant about the night that Bruce had left him nothing but a letter - how anxious it'd made him feel. Five wasn't expecting an inquisition about where he and Selina had taken refuge. It wasn't a piece of information he had been fed, and in a moment's notice he decided to improvise with a completely imaginary location in Gotham, hoping that Alfred would stop the line of questioning. What he didn't know was that the butler had made it a point to memorize a huge majority of the street names in the city and could not be fooled by a falsified name. For a moment, he realised that he had gotten himself backed into a corner. In desperation, he decided to break out in feigned anger, demanding Alfred to back off his case. That it wasn't his business to know where they were. To add to the dramatics of the situation, he even stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind him.
The downside was that his relationship with Alfred wasn't quite the same after that. Even while Alfred continued to serve 'master Bruce', there was a significant reduction of one-to-one conversations, and sometimes Five would catch Alfred's gaze lingering on him just that longer than he usually would. Five didn't know if Alfred had become suspicious or merely afraid to offend his employer. Either way, he couldn't complain. He had no interest in bearing his soul to Alfred, nor could afford to.
A familiar stream of blood trickled down his left nostril. He'd been feeling less energetic this past month, and had returned to Kathryn's for a check-up. The doctors had retrieved blood samples to study, but it'd been a week and they hadn't gotten back to him. It began to concern him somewhat. He quickly wiped away the blood as he dialed for Kathryn on the phone that she had given to him. She didn't take long to respond. "What is it?" she said on the line.
"It's me," Five replied in a harsh whisper, even though he was very much on his own in Bruce Wayne's bedroom. "Have the doctors gotten back to you? The nosebleeds are getting worse. I don't know how long more I can keep it from the butler."
"I know we've asked a lot of you."
She didn't answer the question. "What's happening to me?" he asked.
After a long pause. "I'm sorry. The truth is that you're dying. The process that brought you into this world was flawed. "
The news made Five feel choked up inside, even though deep inside he already suspected that it was true. "When will it be?"
Silence again. Then, "A month at most."
Her words stung. He knew he was but a pawn in a big game of chess, but the selfish part of him wanted more. He didn't want to die. Was that so wrong? Through time he'd grown accustomed to being Bruce Wayne, he wanted his time to continue - unfortunately, it was never meant to last. "Will I die before Bruce returns?"
"We will not let that happen. He will be brought back soon before anyone knows that he's gone."
Five clenched his teeth, it was sooner than he'd expected. Perhaps he'd allowed himself to get comfortable, more than he should have. "When Bruce returns, people are going to die, aren't they? A lot of people."
"You haven't gotten attached to anyone, have you?"
He considered all that had happened during his short-lived life. If there was one person who'd brought him happiness, it was Selina. He hadn't seen her since she'd left him on that rooftop, but he knew that something special had already begun to blossom between them. But she wasn't part of the plans of the Court of Owls. If people were to die, she would too. "No," he lied. "I just want to know."
"The number is immaterial. What matters is that Gotham must fall in order to rise up from the ashes. And because of your sacrifice, it will. Can we count on you?"
"Yes," he replied. Even though he knew it would not be for much longer.
Bruce makes plans for his escape.
Each day had carried a similar routine; of eating, training and returning to be locked up again. No part of the day out of his cell, was he ever left unmonitored. He'd hoped that there would be a day where any one of them would be less attentive, or perhaps decided that they trusted him enough to leave him alone. But no, that day hadn't come yet. And he wasn't about to risk any amount of the trust he had been trying to build with them, on a slipshod attempt. All or nothing at all...
So till that day came, he decided to pour himself more fully into the process. Dedicate himself completely to his lessons, to the point of skipping lunch to maximize the time he was allowed to spend out of his cell. The new skills he'd attained were strengthening him, allowing him to climb to greater heights than ever before, developing a better defense against attacks, and improving his own offensive strategies. All the while he'd think about how impressed Alfred would be with his progress - clinging hard to the hope that he would be back home really soon.
In the evenings, he would request to have his dinner in the mass hall, together with the rest of the members of the League. Sandra never prevented him from doing so, knowing full well that Bruce would have many pairs of eyes on him, and escape would be impossible. The main reason that Bruce had asked for meals with the others was that he wasn't getting anything off Sandra. She was like a brick wall and knew exactly how to respond to him without giving too much away. The rest of the men though, they looked like they might have slightly looser lips - and he wasn't wrong about that.
The only barrier he faced with the men was that a large percentage of the men did not speak the same languages that he did, and he had to familiarize himself with the different phrases that they used with each other in order to make simple conversations with them. Captor or not, he had to marvel at the master's ability to unite so many from diverse backgrounds and languages. All of them wholly dedicated to him and his purposes.
The men took a while to warm up to him, though he did his best to reach out. Small talk wasn't exactly his forte, but he'd do it if it meant getting some answers. After a while, some of the men began opening up to him and shared their stories. Most of the members had been joined the League self-voluntarily, most of them from conflict-rich nations, survivors of great calamity or were victims of government corruption. No matter how different in backgrounds they were, they all believed in the master's vision, and looked upon him like a messiah. Bruce, on the other hand, had been brought to Nanda Parbat against his will and didn't share their admiration for the master or the often brutal methods he employed in the name of peace. In their envy, they commented that the master could've chosen a more suitable candidate for the mission, especially one that could've been older. But in the same breath, they would say that they would not question his choices.
Sandra, on the other hand, was more often referred to by the men as Lady Shiva. When asked why, they mentioned it had something to do with her previous mission in Kolkata, India where she had been bestowed the rank of godhood by the locals. They didn't go into details, and neither would Sandra. But the name stuck nonetheless.
As for the master, Bruce had heard all kinds of stories about him, ranging from the amazing to the downright mythical. How he had rescued villages, taken down corrupt warlords, cleansed the land of evil. But all of them seemed to agree that the master was ageless and would not die. Some believed he was born of the gods, and others said he had died a thousand deaths, only to be reborn again. They sounded all kinds of crazy just talking about it. An immortal... an impossible concept, surely the master had managed to fool all his followers into believing such a thing was possible, but how? The mystery dragged on for days, and days to weeks, and weeks to months.
It was his hundred and forty-ninth day in Nanda Parbat when Sandra arrived at training looking less than well. She'd taken ill but insisted to carry on with the session. Bruce encouraged her to sit down while he carried on with his daily practice. Being of a half-mind, she decided to listen to him, and soon he found her asleep against one of the pillars. He watched her with her eyes shut for a whole minute, he knew his time for action had finally come. Finally... after waiting so patiently all these months, his one chance to work towards an escape had arrived. He took another glance at Sandra before picking up the sword that they'd been practicing with.
It was only the start of the day, and he knew the men of the League would be on the lower floors of the fortress. Crossing the room quietly, he made his exit into the large hall outside. He didn't have what he needed to open the lock to the balcony yet, but he'd been eyeing the wires that were holding up the lamps for some time now. He had it in his mind that he might bend one of them into shape, and hopefully, it would serve as a pick. Getting up to one of those lamps though would prove to be a challenge, except it was fortunate for him that Sandra had been training him in the art of what she called "wall walking". Wall walking involved focusing a good amount of inner strength to displace one's center of gravity, gaining momentum enough to shift vertically, just at the right time, in order to scale heights that would be impossible for a regular person.
Staring at the bulbous red lamps swinging gently from the ceiling, Bruce lowered his sword to his side, let out a deep breath and shut his eyes as he had been taught, allowing his other senses to 'feel' the length and breath of the room. Channeling all his strength to the base of his feet, he all at once let them fly. Running faster and faster around the hall as the wind whipped through his hair, he shifted his center of gravity downwards just as his feet left the floor. He could feel the surge of power that sent him in a vertical direction. The moment he began taking massive strides up the wall, he opened his eyes and kept his sight trained wholly on one of the many thin lines of wire. With a large kick, he sailed through the air, whipped out his sword, cut down one of the lamps. Then he let gravity take over, falling to the floor, rolling as he did to mitigate the force of the impact.
The moment the cut lamp landed on the floor, the flames within caught on to the rice paper and began burning it up. Bruce leapt over to put out the fire by stomping on the burning paper, and he went on to strip the cut wire from the rest of the frame before winding what he managed to attain around his finger. As for the half smoked lamp, he picked it up, and looked about the room for a place to hide it. He felt his time already running out, and he wasn't going to risk exposure of his already tenuous situation. The only place that the flattened lamp might fit under was where the large wadaiko sat. With a large heave, he tilted the drum over, shoved the lamp under it, and let the drum sit on it.
Wasting no additional time, he hurried back to the room and shut the door behind him. There was a huge sigh of relief to be heaved when he spotted Sandra still asleep against that pillar. He was safe for the moment. But now there was a missing lamp up top, and that half smoked lamp under the wadaiko. He hoped neither would be discovered in the time he worked out the rest of his escape plan. It was a small victory, but a significant one. He now had the piece of wire that he'd been gunning for since a couple of months before. All that was left was to apply what Selina had taught him about lockpicking on a lock he'd never worked on before.. and then, try to survive what was to come.
Five pays a visit to Selina.
"I boosted the premium stuff Otto," said Selina as she came through the door cracking open a can of salmon and mackerel fillets. She knew Otto would love a treat after suffering a whole week of dry biscuits, but she'd been much busier with the club than she'd been for a while, and couldn't spare the time to indulge her cat.
The black and white feline perked up at the scent that filled the room, and wished her a warm welcome.
"You're welcome!" sang Selina, putting the open can on the ground for Otto to enjoy.
"Hello Selina..." came a voice that startled her.
But she already recognized it without even turning to look. Her defenses came up. "What the hell are you doing here?" She was certain that day when she left him with Sonny that she wouldn't be seeing him again, and yet she was floored by his persistence.
"I wanted to see you," he said, as though nothing malicious had happened between them. "I missed you."
"Did you fall on your head? I told you to stay away," she replied in disbelief. There was something odd about him. They had left on such bad terms, she couldn't imagine how he wouldn't still be reacting to that.
"You did? I forgot."
Definitely something out of sorts... "Why're you acting so weird?"
"I'm -- I'm sorry, I didn't sleep well last night."
Selina couldn't get a feel of what was going through his head, though everything within her was telling her to run, "Uh huh... well I just came here to feed my cat. So if you're not gonna leave, I will."
But he blocked off her escape. "I promised myself I'd stay away," he continued, "That it would be safer that way but things have changed."
"What are you talking about?" She waited for a response as she watched him struggle within himself to explain. Her patience ran thin. "You know what? I don't care. Just don't be here when I get back." She slipped past him and hurried to the door.
"Selina wait!" he said, hurrying after her. "I'm not Bruce..."
Her eyes widened as her mind flashed back to Bruce's look-a-like who had her fooled for a while. He'd told her he'd plans to leave town, and real Bruce confirmed that he was gone a few days after. As much as she had sympathized with the clone, she was glad at the time that she'd only need to deal with one Bruce. She couldn't understand why he would come back. "Five... wasn't it?" she replied, walking back into the room. She wasn't comfortable with him sitting in her home, but she decided that she'd at least do the decent thing and hear him out.
He nodded. "I know I said I'd leave, and I was doing exactly that when a woman in a limousine pulled up and told me to get in. She told me that she could give me a home, a purpose, and an identity. She told me that I could be so much more, that I had great potential inside me. It sounded too good an opportunity to pass up."
"Wait let me get this straight..." Selina interjected. She was still wrapping her mind around the clone's return. "So this limo pulls up literally out of nowhere, and this creepy lady asks you to get in because 'you could be so much more', and you did?"
"I had nowhere else to go."
"So where have you been the last few months?"
"It's not important," he stood up and walked over to where she was seated. "What matters is you need to leave Gotham. Right away."
"Because the city has been judged, and something bad is going to happen."
He hovered over her in an authoritative manner, telling her what to do. She didn't want to say it but Five had more in common with real Bruce than he thought. That tone had never worked on her, nor would it ever. She chortled. "Judged, by who?"
He retreated, kept his words to himself. She realised then that he might have been overstepping his bounds in order to tell her what he did. "The people who took you?" An uncomfortable feeling crept up on her. The missing time, the woman in a limousine, Five's unannounced return... "Wait, your clothes, your hair... the walk you talk." He continued to keep his silence, as her mind began to put the past events together. That note that Bruce had claimed she'd left for him - she thought he had lied about it in order to meet up with her, but that never really sat right with her. It wasn't like him to do such a thing. She hadn't seen real Bruce since then, she wondered if anyone had, especially with fake Bruce parading around as him. "Where's Bruce?"
"Selina..." he finally broke his silence.
"What did you do to him?" The more she thought about it, the madder she got. Bruce might've been an ass, but he didn't deserve to have his life completely replaced by someone else. She wondered if he was still alive... if he'd died that day that she'd left him... No, she didn't want to think about that.
"He's fine, he's not in Gotham. But nothing bad is going to happen to him."
Relief washed over her - at least she knew that Bruce was still alive. Alfred would probably kill to know this. "Then where is he?"
"It doesn't matter. You just have to trust me, you need to leave Gotham today."
That authoritative tone again. "Trust you?" She'd laugh if the situation wasn't so dire. Five had been responsible for Bruce's kidnapping, he practically came out and admitted it all, and he was still lecturing her about trust. "I don't even know you."
She started heading to the door when he body-blocked her again. "Where are you going?"
Selina was getting really tired of Five's domineering attitude. She'd once allowed him to kiss her because she'd seen an innocence in him. He didn't seem as innocent anymore - quite the opposite in fact. Even Bruce Wayne with all his hundred and one issues, would not dare to keep her from leaving. "To tell Alfred. Now let me go!"
"Selina, you can't tell anyone."
"Then why the hell did you tell me?"
Once more, she saw the conflict on his face. That woman in the limo had definitely done a number on him. She continued to glare angrily at him, till he finally spoke. "Because I care about you, and if there's one person I want to save, I'd want it to be you."
He was talking about his feelings for her while forcing her into a corner, as though one would make her forget the other. It was rich that he didn't seem to notice the irony. "That's the difference between you and Bruce Wayne, he would try and save everyone. You can pretend all you want, but you'll never be him." There was hurt in his eyes, and she reveled in it. At this point, she just wanted him out of her face. Whatever she'd felt for him before, it'd completely vaporized, and she wanted him to know that. "You're nothing, you're not even a real person! You don't matter at all."
"You're wrong about me," he replied, his voice dropping down one whole octave, and his gaze hardening against her. Just like that, the real Five stood in front of her. No pretenses and no put on voices. He stepped imposingly in front of her, and instinctively she took a step back. "I do matter. And I won't let you tell Alfred."
"Oh yeah? How're you gonna stop..."
With a powerful shove that Selina hadn't predicted, she found herself smashing through glass and flailing through their air all at once. Without even the time to react to her fall, she met the ground with a huge thud, knocking the breath clear out of her lungs. And as the world slowly went dark for her, she caught Five glaring down at her from that broken window.
But nothing about him resembled Bruce any longer, all that was left was a cold-hearted killer. She wondered how she could've been so blind.
Bruce takes bold steps into the world beyond.
That evening, the thought of the wound up wire in his pocket, his one hope for escape, cycled through his mind like an excitable child. He sat alone and kept to himself during his meal - he knew there'd be no reason to interact with anyone anymore since he was about to leave. Truthfully, that in itself was somewhat of a relief. Socializing with others felt like a muscle he rarely flexed and had to put up a front for the most of it. It wasn't that he didn't eventually grow to care about some of the men. But it also felt good to be alone with his thoughts, especially on a night such as this.
"Are you alright, Bruce?" Sandra asked, looking at him with concern as she accompanied him back to his cell.
Immediately, he gave her his full attention. A little regretful that he'd been distracted enough for her to notice. "Yes I am, I'm just worried about you." Lying was becoming much easier for him. "I hope you'll feel better soon."
"Oh," she seemed flattered. "Thank you, I do too. I'm sorry I dozed off for a bit during the earlier part of your training."
"Don't apologise. We all have our downtime," he replied, discreetly thrilled that she remained in the dark about his secret exploit.
She put a hand on his arm, and that stopped him in his tracks. "Bruce, I just wanted to say that even though I've had my doubts of your ability to learn, seeing as it wasn't exactly your will to be brought here in the first place; I can see that you've worked hard towards learning and improving yourself. Your progress has been beyond impressive, just as the master predicted."
The master... Five months imprisoned in the mountains and he had yet to meet his captor. By then he'd quite given up waiting. The only thing that had kept him going was the training he'd had with Sandra. He touched the wire in his pocket - at least the hard work wasn't going to be a waste. "You've been a good teacher. I couldn't have done it without you." He figured if there was one person he was going to miss in that place, it would be her.
"You were the one who put in the hard work. I rarely come by someone as focused as you've been, especially at your age," she said, continuing down the corridor back to his cell.
For a moment, he considered telling her goodbye. But he stopped himself short.
No one must know, not even her.
An hour had passed till he was left alone in his cell. The benefit of being the only prisoner in the god-forsaken place was that there'd be no eyes on him. No one to watch him practice on the lock.
He carefully twisted the wire with his fingers the way Selina had taught him, then inserted the knob portion into the keyhole. Jiggling it just about right, he listened for the click. There was none. He moved it about a little, feeling for the mechanisms on the inside, and depressing them together. It took a couple of tries to get the lock open, and eventually, it did.
There was a grin on his face - alone in the dark where no one could see.
Stretching a hand between the bars, he pulled the wire over, and clicked the lock back into place. It was good that he'd managed to get the gate open once, but he needed to do it again and be faster about it. Much much faster.
Making himself comfortable, he began to work on the lock again.
Morning had arrived, and he'd barely got a wink. All night he'd been practising till his fingers had gone raw. But he'd gotten the movements down to a five-second timeframe, and he felt fairly confident about working the lock to the balcony within that amount of time. Picking up the towel on his side table, he folded it neatly and stuffed it into his other pocket, together with the pencil that he had only used once. Not enough to dull it.
Like clockwork, a guard arrived to escort him to the war room. There were three guards in total that rotated this duty. Two of moderate size and frame, and one who was slightly larger than the other two. It was fortunate for him that it was the duty of one of the smaller framed guards. He never spoke with any of them, though from time to time he did make it a point to smile. That day, he did not.
The guard unlocked his cell, unaware that the lock had been opened and shut a thousand times that night. He rapped on the iron door outside, and the two guards opened it for him, allowing Bruce through. They ascended the stairs to the top of that air-well, just as Bruce's adrenaline began to kick in.
With a firm stab, Bruce embedded the sharp end of the pencil into the guard's upper thigh. "I'm sorry...." he apologised as the guard yelled and fumbled about in surprise, falling to the ground as he did.
He dashed to the gate leading to the balcony, pulled out the wire, and began putting all he'd practised into action. He could already hear footsteps on the corridor downstairs. Time was wearing on and his palms were getting sweaty just thinking about the possibility of getting caught. Thankfully the lock didn't take too long, and the gate swung open on its hinges, creaking loudly as it did. Voices were nearing him.
Sprinting out into the snow, he pulled out the towel at once, wrapped it around one of the long wooden beams that led below. Till that time, he hadn't a clue what the balcony was overlooking, but he knew he'd to take the chance in order to get away. With a large heave, he placed his weight entirely on the towel, and began sliding downwards on the beam. Faster and faster as he sped downwards with the freezing wind slapping onto his face, whipping his hair away from his face. By then, smoke was coming out from the towel in his hands, and he could smell burning fibers. He sped over the balcony and down the edge of a cliff where he noticed that the beam that he was on would soon make a vertical plunge down to the rocks below.
Within the fraction of a second, he wedged his foot against the vertical beam and threw his weight in a circular motion, that he might slow down his descent. For a few moments, he spun around and around on that beam till his feet slipped and touched the ground beneath. Looking down at the rocks that he was standing on, then back up to where he'd come from, he couldn't believe he actually made it down in one piece. Part of him imagined breaking a limb on the way down, or even possibly dying. But he had descended, without so much as a scratch.
Echoes of voices from above caught his attention. The men of the League were looking down on him as he hurried stone over stone. The cloth shoes that he'd been given weren't giving much protection, and he felt his flesh getting cut on the rocks, but nothing would stop him then.
At the end of the slope of rocks was a large glacier, one that would lead to an alpine woods, and possibly to safety. The cold was beginning to seep into his bones as he slid across the smooth glacier, his arms spread out to give himself balance.
"Bruce..." came a deep voice some distance behind him.
He spun around in surprise and almost lost his balance when he did. He thought he'd be alone on that glacier, but just fifteen feet from him was a hooded figure in a dark maroon cloak, standing plainly on the ice as though he had never moved. His face was shrouded from the light. Standing against the glowing white landscape, he looked to be a harbinger of death. "Who are you?" he yelled back.
"I'm the one who's seen you, and the one you are to become."
The first name that came into his mind was... the master. He knew then that he had to put all his effort into getting away. He'd strived so much to meet the man behind the League, but now was not the time - not when he was just a few feet away from freedom.
However, scrambling on ice turned out to be a fatal error as he found his legs slipping and sliding in all directions, sending him hurtling onto his front. The impact of his fall caused a large crack to network its way through, right below him. The sounds of creaking stretched some distance away. Bruce took in a deep breath and tried not to move.
All at once, the ice crumbled to pieces, dropping him into a frigid stream. Desperately, he grasped onto something that felt solid and firmly planted, struggling to pull himself up, yet felt his limbs gradually lose all sensation. He didn't know how long more his fingers would be able to hold onto the edge of the glacier, especially with the stream rushing against drowning him, dragging him towards the deep. In that final moment, he thought of Alfred, he thought of Selina, he thought of his parents. They swam around his thoughts like fading memories of a life that could've been.
But just as he was about to give up, he felt himself being dragged out of the water. He didn't know how, or who had done it. In his exhaustion, he felt his chest being pumped, water leaving his mouth and nostrils.
And then... a gentle welcoming sleep.
Selina gets her revenge.
Selina woke to the thick scent of foliage, and beeping of machines.
"You're awake! Selina, are you okay?" It was Ivy, she knew that voice anywhere. "Say something so that I know you're okay."
"Why does my room smell like a giant bag of potpourri?" Selina opened her eyes slowly and adjusted to the light. It would seem that she was in a hospital, surrounded by plants.
Ivy laughed a gawky laugh. "Oh! You're back!" She leaned in for a hug. "Oh, I can't believe it!"
Selina raised up her hands as she tried to recall the events that had preceded her arrival at the hospital. Once again she saw Five... looking down at her from the broken window with that cold-hearted stare. Five, who had pushed her out from the fourth-floor window. Five, who had kept her trapped in her own home. A fiery wrath rose within her that threatened to consume unless she repaid what was owed. She began pulling out the bandages and needles still attached to her.
"Oh wait... what are you doing?" Ivy asked. Selina hadn't half the mind to explain what had happened. That taunting glare stayed ingrained within, beckoning her to go seek her revenge. "You just got out of a coma, you need to rest."
"This can't wait."
Ivy was miffed. "What are you talking about? Where are you going?"
"To Wayne Manor. To kill someone." Selina got up and walked out the door before Ivy could go on. Whatever she lacked in strength, made up for in anger.
The alarms sounded at Wayne Manor, but they weren't the first time they'd been tripped by accident. Two days ago a stray had triggered them, causing Five some apprehension. He'd witnessed Selina at her moment of demise. He knew that there wasn't any way that she was coming back from that. And yet something within him felt unrested, like he was being haunted by her ghost.
The moment Alfred turned off the alarms, Five listened carefully for any sounds of intrusion into the Manor. "I'll check the kitchen, stay put," said the butler, hurrying off down the stairs.
Five heard the hooting of an owl from not too far away. He strayed into the study where he noticed an open window, and a light breeze blowing through it. Something about this scene looked mighty familiar.
As he approached the window, a dark figure pounced towards him, arms outstretched. Five backed off just in time to avoid another blow to the face by someone who looked exactly like Selina. "Selina? How?"
Her lips were as pale as when he had left her lying there in that dirty alleyway, and there was something dark and devious in her eyes that told him that she wasn't here for a social visit. She circled him like a wild animal on a prowl, her hands bundled into fists, one with a small knife, ready to strike at any given moment. "I came here to do one thing. And it ain't answering questions."
She took another swipe at him, one that he narrowly avoided. And yet another, that Five caught in two hands. She struggled to get away, but whatever Hugo Strange had provided to him, it'd given him greater strength than one would have at his age. That alone enabled him to subdue her. The truth was that he didn't want to fight her. He knew exactly why she hated him, but it was an unfortunate situation where she had threatened to jeopardize the entire mission. If only she'd just listened to him when she had the chance. "Strange as it sounds, I'm glad you're alive."
She clung on to the knife in the vain hope that she might use it against him. "That is strange. 'Cause you pushed me out a four-storey window!" The heel of her boot slammed into his stomach, throwing him backwards where he slammed into a coffee table, then slipped onto the floor.
"What choice did I have? You were going to tell Alfred about me."
"You mean how you're a freak?" she replied acrimoniously as she stepped up onto the coffee table. "How you're just the cheap knock-off who kidnapped the real Bruce Wayne?"
Her ruthless words stung. Out of pure impulse, Five grabbed a firepoker and swung it in her direction. She dodged his blow, and slammed her knife into his side. He barely felt a thing - another gift by Hugo Strange. He launched another swing at her, one that she took to the shoulder, and spun her onto the ground. He leapt down with his poker, aiming to impale her with it, but she lithy rolled away just in the nick of time. Whatever he'd ever felt for Selina, whatever he'd ever felt for anyone out of that dank cold lab, it was all gone. No one mattered to him anymore.
She came back at him like a bat out of hell, knife in hand, ready to slice open his chest when Alfred came into the scene, knocking her off him. "Selina stop!" he yelled.
"He's not Bruce! He's not Bruce!" she cried desperately, just before Five slammed her on the back of her head with the poker, causing her to lose consciousness and slip to the ground.
"Oh dear God. Selina!" Alfred bent over to check on her.
But why was he taking her side? That was the first time Five began to really worry about his cover getting blown. Why did Alfred need to come in when he did? "She - she attacked me, Alfred. She's out of her mind!"
"She needs a doctor," he replied levelly.
"You saw her, she... she was crazy."
But Alfred wasn't impressed. His eyes wandered to the poker that Five still clung to. "Put the iron down, Bruce." Five looked down. "I said put the iron down!" Alfred used a tone he hadn't heard before.
"Alfred..." he took a step back.
The butler glanced over to his side and saw the blood. "You're cut." He grabbed Five's side. "You don't feel a thing, do you?" Anger began to sprout its shoots in Alfred's wavering tone. "Do you? Now I'm gonna ask you nicely, or I swear to God you're going to feel a whole lot of pain. Where is Bruce?"
There wasn't any more reason to pretend. Alfred knew just who he was, and Five knew it was all over. "Bruce is serving a greater purpose than himself. As am I." And just as Alfred shrunk in shock, Five swung his poker at him, caught him in the leg.
Alfred grabbed the poker, jabbed him in the ribs, then slammed him in the face, over and over again. He could taste the stream of blood running down from his nose to his lips. He couldn't tell if it was due to Alfred's rough treatment of his body, or that he was breaking down again. Either way, he had nothing left to lose.
"Last time! Where is Bruce?" But the butler had lost all authority. Five could hear the anger giving way to fear. It made him grin.
Five slammed his forehead into the butler's. Alfred took a second to recover. Then returned a head slam. Five barely felt it. He slammed his head into the butler's again. This time, Alfred could not recover from the blow, and he collapsed onto the ground, dazed and bewildered. Five walked over to where he was. "You're always kind to me, Alfred. Even when you thought I wasn't Bruce." He picked up the poker.
Alfred cringed. "Please..." he begged. "Just tell me where Bruce is."
But Five wasn't bending for anyone, not even him. The poker slammed right into his head, knocking him out for the count.
Five returned to Kathryn's, the only place that felt like home to him. But the truth was that he belonged nowhere, and he'd cut all ties to anyone he'd ever allowed himself to feel something for. There was something liberating yet completely isolating about the thought.
Kathryn met him at the door and let him in. Her expression was as stoic as he figured it would. Knowing her, she would have already have found out about all that had transpired. They stood in the dining hall as she waited till the door was shut, and the help had left the room before speaking. "It's disappointing how your irresponsible actions over the past few days have led to this. Did you really think you could save her?"
"I was wrong. I know that now," he admitted, reflecting on how things would've turned out if he'd simply kept his mouth shut.
"Unfortunately this job doesn't allow room for errors. There will be no second chances."
"I know that," Five replied, wiping the blood off the top of his lip. "But I'm sorry anyway."
Kathryn moved down the length of two seats. "Bruce isn't ready to come back yet, but he will be soon. You'll have to hope that his friends won't start a crusade against us before then."
Five struggled to find the right words to say. "If there's anything I can still do to help..."
A loud bang exploded in the empty room as Kathryn held a smoking gun to his head, the bullet-casing ringing against the floor like a bell. Five fell to his knees, then to the floor. "Oh child, you've done enough to help," said Kathryn to the fresh corpse in front of her.
"But now we need you to disappear."
Bruce finds himself back where he started.
Bruce turned around. He was back in Martha's art studio that Alfred had converted into a gym, just a year ago. He was in a polyester long-sleeved shirt, jumper pants, with his hands tucked into a pair of boxing gloves.
"I didn't understand what you were trying to do." It was Selina. Standing in the doorway with the rays of morning sunlight dancing off her many golden curls. "You were trying to give me a home with my mom. Regardless of the train wreck that she is."
"I'm sorry too," he replied, feeling a chill in the base of his bones, creep up his spine. "Perhaps I was too optimistic that she'd change. I only wanted you to be happy."
"I'm tired of being angry at her... of being angry at you." Selina spoke quietly, nervously knitting her fingers between her leather gloves.
He smiled as he stepped up to her. The cold that had sprung from the base of his bones had entered his cheeks and spread to his ears. But he didn't care. It felt like ages since he'd spoken with Selina, and certainly not in an amicable manner. He couldn't believe that reconciliation was finally in the cards. All he wanted to do was to live in the moment. "I hate it when we fight." His fingers were getting numb, as though there was a cold draft flowing through his gloves. "Selina... I've missed you."
Her eyes lit up as she gazed blithely at him. "I've missed you too." She moved in for a hug. Her warmth embraced his body, dispelling the cold in his being as quickly as drifting smoke on a windy day. He leaned in to wrap his arms around her. It felt good. Much better than it had ever felt.
"Oh, beloved..." Came the sigh of a female voice that didn't sound quite like Selina's.
His eyes flew open.
It was dark, but not dark enough for him to tell that he wasn't anywhere near Wayne Manor. He was on a foreign bed with the sheets draped over him. And in his arms was someone warm, but definitely not Selina. He gasped and released the person at his side, moving as far away as possible without completely falling off. It was then that he realised he hadn't a shred of clothes on. Instinctively, he grasped at the sheets and pulled them closer to his chest.
"Calm down. I know it must be very confusing for you, but trust me when I say that you are safe," that person by his side moved off the bed. The voice sounded like it belonged to a female. She glided across the room, picked up what sounded like be a box of matches, came back and lit a lamp that stood by the bedside.
The glow of the lamp brightened the room somewhat. It illuminated the curvy figure of the person who had been by his side - except, like him, she hadn't a shred of clothing on her. He turned away quickly.
"What's wrong, beloved?" she said, leaning towards him.
"Can you please put something on?" he asked, keeping his gaze away from her. "I can't look at you like this."
"Hmm..." She sounded displeased, even while he could hear her doing something about her nudity. Following some sounds of moving fabric, she finally spoke, "Alright. I have a robe on. Will that do?"
Apprehensively, he turned back to take a look at her. She had her hands on her hips, a silken black robe with golden trimmings upon her body. Her skin was the shade of pale umber, tilted eyes shaded by luscious lashes, a perfect pointed nose, and red lips pursed, waiting for his response. If he had to guess, she looked to be close to his age. "Thank you," he replied. She nodded, wrapping her arms around her chest as she did. "Will you tell me who you are, and how I ended up here?"
"Father rescued you from the valley outside. Said you nearly drowned. Told me to keep you warm." She looked at him sternly. "I used the heat from my body to do just that. You were frozen solid when you first came in here."
Images from the events of his escape began to come back to him. The dark figure, the icy stream. Ensuing his near death event, he had most likely been brought back to the dwelling of the League, and placed in the room that he was in to be nursed back to health. Bruce also remembered what he'd read about survival in the alpine regions, and sharing the warmth of the human body to prevent frostbite. "Right. I'm sorry if I don't sound grateful. I really should be." He couldn't say that he was pleased to be back where he'd started - but at that very moment, he was just glad to be alive.
She eased up, a smile picking up the corners of her cheeks as she sat on a corner of the bed, her soft raven hair flowing like a river down to her waist. Stretching out a hand to him, she formally introduced herself, "My name is Talia, the biological daughter of Ra's Al Ghul, the Demon's Head."
Bruce learns more from Talia.
"So how are you feeling?" she asked.
His entire nasal passage felt like it was on fire from almost drowning, and his limbs still felt numb, but he nodded anyway. "I'm fine." He moved the sheets over his shoulders, then huddled himself beneath. "So... what does this mean for me?"
Talia watched him quietly, then smiled and shifted a little closer. "You've proved yourself to Father. You are indeed the chosen one."
Bruce raised a brow at her. "Didn't he know that already? That's what got me here in the first place."
"He saw you in a vision, beloved. But he couldn't know for certain that you were the one till you performed what was required to truly earn that position."
This was the third time Talia had referred to him as 'beloved', it was starting to get on his nerves. Though greater than that, the master - or Ra's Al Ghul, as Talia had referred to, appeared to have had all this planned ahead. "The escape, you mean to say that he anticipated what I would do?"
"Of course!" she laughed lightly. "Every skill he had Lady Shiva provide you with, was to prepare you for your test."
Aghast at the thought of being fooled into thinking that he could've actually freed himself from Nanda Parbat, Bruce knew he could only blame himself for not picking out the signs. In his eagerness to escape, he hadn't considered it being too much of a coincidence that he'd been taught kendo sword skills, and wall-walking for the precise purpose of getting that wire down from the ceiling. And with all things considered, how odd it was that he'd been left alone long enough to practice - that in itself should have triggered alarms - not to mention the towel and the pencil at his bedside that allowed him to get the rest of the way.
"But you've succeeded," she went on, shifting herself closer still. Placing a finger upon the center of her throat, making a trail down the front of her robe, widening it slightly.
Bruce quickly clasped her finger in his hands to make her stop.
She looked at him in a mixture of surprise and intrigue. "I could be your reward..." she cooed.
"Does your father know that you're doing this?" he asked, still locked tightly onto her hand. He was baffled that Ra's daughter seemed intent on throwing herself at him. She was clearly a beautiful girl, and could possibly get a dozen other suitors if she so wished. Why settle for one who'd shown no interest?
She fluttered those lashes as she made a bashful gesture. "Yes, he does. Father betrothed me to one at the time of my birth. It was to be my duty as the daughter of the Demon to do as he wished. He would often tell me that this man whom I had been promised to, would be unlike any other. And that I was to be at his side to support him on his path to becoming a legend. I've been waiting ever so patiently for this day to come. And now... at long last you've arrived. You, my beloved, are my betrothed."
Bruce dropped her hand in shock. Obviously, there'd been a terrible misunderstanding. That, or he was in a nightmare he couldn't wake up from. "Talia, I'm not your beloved, and definitely not your betrothed. I'm sorry to say but your father has made a mistake."
She put her hand on her lap and straightened up to look at him. "There is no mistake. You are as the prophecy describes."
"A prophecy that your father made up. Look at yourself! You don't even look old enough to be married!"
Talia wrinkled her nose in disgust. She had regained that aura of displeasure he'd seen before. "I'm sixteen, and of perfect marriageable age. Father says that I'm ready."
Bruce let the silence fall between them. In a way, he felt a tinge of sympathy for Talia. She'd allow her father to run her life without realising that she could have any opinions at all. "Look... I don't mean to upset you. I'm sure you'll make someone a wonderful wife someday - but I barely know you... and I don't think these are exactly the right circumstances to get to know someone."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she began to sniff pitifully. "Did I fail you, beloved? Do you not find me attractive?"
He sighed, and took one of her hands in his. Her eyes widened in surprise. "Maybe it's better that I speak directly with your father. Will you take me to him?"
Her gaze drifted to the hand that held hers, and planted itself there. "You will accept me then?"
"Talia..." he pleaded, hoping that he would not have to answer her question.
After a few moments, she shut her eyes painfully and looked away. "I will take you to him."
Alfred is pissed.
"No I said Gordon. Detective Jim Gordon!" Alfred yelled into the phone, as he carried the old-school dial-up around the room. "Well have him call me the minute he gets this message, all right, you nancy?" He slammed the earpiece down on the receiver and looked about the room, especially at where Selina was seated. She had a pack of ice on the back of her head where she had been hit, and she was none too happy about it, neither was he.
Master Bruce was gone, and they weren't even sure how long it'd been. Selina suspected it'd been around the time she'd last seen him; when he told her about the note, but she couldn't be certain. That clone had played them, and played them good. Sure, he had his suspicions, but each time he'd assuaged them, thinking that them a by-product of Master Bruce hitting a dead end to his crusade to avenge his parents' deaths... or that it had something to do with breaking up with Selina. And he was actually pleased to see Bruce smile and have a good time every now and then - it plain blinded him to the truth, that it was a clone in his place.
Selina groaned as she rubbed the upper bridge of her nose. She'd briefly mentioned the clone pushing her out a window. She didn't mention how high they'd been, or what injuries she'd sustained from the fall - but Alfred figured that she couldn't be well, especially after being knocked out cold for the second time by the clone. "You should go see a doctor," he suggested.
"Mm-mm," she turned down his proposal, choosing instead to stay embedded on that seat.
"Fine, whatever. Listen. Think, can you remember anything else?" He didn't like the thought of pressuring an injured child to answer his questions, but time was of the essence, and Gordon wasn't contactable as of yet. He knew he'd to do something, or he'd go mad with worry.
"Only what I already told you, Alfred," she replied, still holding the ice to her head. "The clone came to me, talking about how Gotham's gonna be judged, and a lot of people are gonna die."
"It's the bloody Court of Owls, isn't it?" he grumbled.
"Mm-hmm," she widened her eyes at him to prove her point. "I warned you. Warned you what would happen if you poked the tiger."
She was absolutely right, of course. But he wouldn't admit that. "What, do you want a medal dear? All that matters is they've got Bruce."
Selina had recently come to learn of the viciousness of the Court. With the clone within their control, she knew it'd be well within their power to be rid of the real Bruce Wayne. Since her fall, she'd begun to increasingly believe that Bruce might not just be lost, but also dead. "Wait, do you think he's still alive?"
"My boy is still alive!" yelled Alfred, his face flushed with emotion. He pointed a finger at her. "And you, you're going to help me find him."
She frowned - the guy was obviously a nervous wreck, not in the right state of mind to think things through. "You want to go on a wild goose chase? That's on you. Count me out."
"Oh... no, don't do that."
The more she thought about Bruce's disappearance, she began thinking about her own. If the Court had the power to replace someone as significant as Bruce Wayne, imagine what they'd do to her. "I've had enough of being a part of you and Bruce's schemes. It's time I thought about myself."
"Don't tell me you're still angry with Bruce 'cos he never told you your mom was a wonky con artist?" Alfred rattled on. "That boy's been loyal to you! He's been good, he's been a friend. And now he's in trouble you won't even lift a finger?"
Survival... the word echoed in her head. Do what is needed to survive. "Maybe you should just accept the fact that Bruce is dead."
"You're a disgrace," Alfred said in disappointment, to which Selina snorted defiantly. "You're like your mum."
The room went silent. His words had stopped her in her tracks. If there was one person she would never ever want to be associated with, it was her mom. She couldn't comprehend how someone could be as selfish and narcissistic as her - and yet perhaps she had more in common with Maria as she'd once thought.
"Go on then," Alfred chided sarcastically. "Run away. And don't you ever, come back here." He turned around and stormed out of the room, expecting her to see herself out.
Selina got up from the chair and put the ice-pack down on the African Bubinga table closest to her. It held nothing more than a reading mat, a stationery organizer with three golden pens sticking out, and an old desktop photo of the members of the Wayne family. Thomas, Martha and Bruce. Her hand moved over the table, and she picked up the picture. Bruce... He was just a little kid when she'd first seen him in that alley. Since then, he'd been a bit of a jerk towards her from time to time, but she'd had to admit that they'd also had good times together. She reconsidered the possibility of him escaping death at the hands of the Court. Alfred seemed to be certain that he was still alive - although she could probably chalk it up to guilt on his part. He'd been living with Five all these months, and hadn't a clue. But seriously, would the Court have left him alive? And why? Or where's he been all this time? She shook her head. That'd lead to much too many questions.
Still... running away would precisely be something that Maria would do. And Selina was determined to be nothing like her mother. She put the picture down, and turned towards the window.
Wild goose chase or not, she figured she'd give the search a shot.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
The first meeting with Ra's Al Ghul
It was evening at the time Talia led Bruce out of the room they had been in. He noticed that he was in a wing of the mountain-top structure he hadn't been to, despite being marched up and down the compound for five months continuously. The war room, great hall, air-well and cells were oriental themed, though mostly functional. The new wing, on the other hand, was draped in silk curtains, painted tiles and reflected what seemed to be dome-like Iranian architecture. The walkway that they crossed consisted of large onion-shaped arches with round perches that overlooked a picturesque landscape - no bars nor iron gates in sight. The low parapets welcomed him to their side, paving a way that would lead him home.
He turned to see her watching him intently, waiting for him patiently. It was then he realised that he had stopped completely, his attention caught by the arches facing out. "I uh.. I'm sorry," he hurried over to her side, embarrassed by the undue distraction.
"You're thinking of going out there again?" she observed quietly.
Something about her felt trustworthy, although he knew that being too forthright with the daughter of his captor would probably be a poor choice. "You must know that I'm here against my will."
She moved closer. "You almost perished the last time you attempted to go out there on your own."
"Talia, I don't belong here. If your father means to keep me here for good, I'm gonna keep trying to leave... and I'd rather die trying. There's nothing you or your father can say to convince me otherwise."
She was a little taken aback by his determination to leave, though she finally nodded. "That's a pity, but I understand the sentiment. Travel the world all we must, but we always gravitate back to where we were born."
Something about what Talia had said made Bruce wonder if she was speaking about herself. They continued to walk down that corridor in silence. Bruce thought about that man in the dark cloak who'd called to him, and it left a knot in his stomach.
Talia stopped at two aligning doors with arabic engravings on them. They fit into an elaborate onion shaped arch that was adorned with what looked to be clear gemstones, and pieces of mirror. She knocked twice, "Father, it's me. The chosen one wishes to speak with you. Is this acceptable?"
She waited quietly for a few moments till a reply came. "You may enter."
The doors were opened to her, and five men stood within. Three, dressed in League garb, one burly individual dressed in a singlet, silken pants and a sash over his waist, and the man in the middle that Bruce immediately surmised was the master, a dark cloak over his shoulders that spooled onto the floor. He wasn't hooded this time. There was a thin smile over a sharp chin, dark eyes, strong nose, skin of a shade of umber, much like his daughter's, and grey streaks in his hair. "I see my daughter has revived you," he said, never taking his eyes off Bruce. Talia gravitated to her father's side, leaving Bruce alone before the master.
"Ra's Al Ghul," Bruce replied, returning his gaze.
"It's Arabic for 'demon's head' - it was a local superstition that I carried with me through the years. That name has only solidified with my position."
Bruce considered what he had said about the origins of his name - Ra's and his daughter Talia certainly appeared to be of middle-eastern origin, yet at the same time bore none of the accent. If he had to place it, both of them sounded more British than anything resembling the east. But back to matters at hand... "You've held me now for five months."
The master grinned. "And you're getting restless. That's completely understandable. You'll be glad to know that in your zeal to leave this place, you've managed to prove yourself as worthy of the title."
"Of being the chosen one?"
"Indeed. You have a great destiny ahead of you. I have glimpsed the future - your future. While others might fear the unknown, you, my boy, will step boldly into the darkness. You will tame it, master it, wield it like a sword and finally be raised above as its king. Your name will be uttered among circles in fear. You will crush tyranny like a feeble weed within your palm. Your enemies will gather against you, but you will be unstoppable... unbreakable. You will be known as the creature in the dark, purveyor of justice, a dark knight - and thus also the heir to my empire."
Bruce listened quietly as Ra's spoke, it sounded more like the ravings of a madman - though a madman savvy enough to have him kidnapped and keep him from leaving for all this time. "An heir?" He looked at Talia questioningly. "What about your daughter?"
Without even turning to Talia, Ra's continued, "My daughter is loyal, and greatly skilled. But it is tradition that no woman shall be permitted to lead the League. Instead, she will be a wife to you, and together, you will bear a son who will then carry on the mantle."
Bruce shot Talia a look of apology as he told her father, "No." She did not speak, but turned to her father with an air of apprehension.
Ra's expression flinched for a moment. It became clear that he wasn't anticipating a rejection of his offer. "You mistake your role in this, Bruce Wayne. Destiny binds you to the League of Shadows, you should not try to fight it."
"I'm sorry but I refuse," Bruce continued. "I do hope that you will find someone more suited for the position though."
The fire grew in Ra's eyes, he was losing his patience. "There is none other!" He insisted. "You are the privileged son of Gotham who will be forged in the fires of the mighty cataclysm! It will be a time of reckoning for all among the slain. Power will be stripped from those who've made a career out of the oppression of others. Criminals will be let loose to plague the few who survive and desperation will run rampant through the streets. But you, my boy, will survive it all and emerge from a city of the dead with an army of the League at your side to put things right, ultimately becoming Gotham's true savior."
He'd never given what Ra's prophecies much weight, being much of a skeptic himself. But the grim picture he painted of Gotham perturbed him enough to ask about it, "A cataclysm?" He recalled a video he'd once seen of a scientist warning the public of a possible earthquake to occur in the near future. One that would rock Gotham to the core. He'd cited research and evidence, but was mostly ignored for being a doomsday conspiracy theorist. Yet for some reason, Bruce had remembered him, and what he had said.
Ra's nodded. "It took a great driving force to send yourself out there into the cold with nothing but a pair of cloth shoes and a robe - I assume that you were headed for home."
"Of course I was."
"If you love your city enough to risk your own life, then you should heed the prophecy to save those you treasure."
Bruce had so many questions, but he doubted that Ra's would be suited to answer them. "How do I save anyone while I'm still a prisoner in Nanda Parbat?"
The master chuckled. "You're no longer a prisoner, Bruce Wayne. You stopped being one the moment that you proved yourself."
"Then send me home. If I'm to be in Gotham City at the time of the cataclysm, then you need to bring me back," Bruce replied.
"Oh trust me, I've already made plans for your return," Ra's stated, to Bruce's surprise. "But remember, there is still the matter of your marriage to Talia. Unfortunately, that is the one thing at this time that I must insist on. Look at me, I'm aging and about to pass on. I want to leave my beautiful daughter in the hands of the man she'd been promised to from birth. This is my legacy to her, and the rest of the League."
Struggling with the thought of marriage to someone he barely knew, Bruce couldn't say the prospect of finally returning to Gotham wasn't enticing him to ignore the other part. "What if I refuse the marriage?" he asked, trying to judge Talia's feelings in the matter, though she just seemed mostly pensive over the issue at hand. He hated that her father had not given her an option in the choosing of her own life partner.
Ra's hardened towards him. "Then you will not leave till you oblige! As long as I'm alive, you are not leaving here till you have bonded with my daughter, and are ready to carry out the prophecy in full."
Bruce opened his mouth to respond, but Talia cut in. "Father, you have revealed much to the chosen one. It might be advantageous for him to spend the night alone to consider everything you've said. I'm certain he will be more accommodating tomorrow, given time to think things through."
In a moment, her humble request quenched her father's rage. Offering her a gentle pat on the back, Ra's gazed lovingly upon her. "As wise as always, Daughter. Just like your mother." And turning to Bruce, "It shall be as she says, you will have a day to think things over, and you will see me once again tomorrow. By then, I hope your answer will be more preferable."
As much as Bruce thought to comment further, a night to digest everything didn't sound like a bad idea either. Perhaps he would get his thoughts sorted by then - but as for marriage, he doubted he'd budge on the issue.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
The night after Ra's.
The burly man who'd been by the side of Ra's Al Ghul followed Bruce back to the room that he had woken in. Ra's had introduced him simply as Ubu. He spoke little, and each time with a thick middle-eastern accent. For a while, Bruce sat on the bed and watched him as he stood with his back against the door, his thick arms folded across his chest, looking stoically back. It was clear that even though Ra's declared that he wasn't a prisoner, he wasn't allowed to leave. At least not until he accepted the marriage that he did not want, and a permanent place in the League of Shadows that he wasn't keen on either. Accepting Ra's deal would get him back to Gotham, but at the same time, he would be a taking on a whole new form of shackles that he wouldn't be freed from anytime soon. "I was under the impression that I'd be given space to think," he told Ubu. "I can't collect my thoughts with you staring me down like that."
Ubu 'hrrumphed', "I stay. You turn the other way to think. Then you not see me."
Ever so obliging... grumbled Bruce to himself, turning himself around. He considered leaping off the balcony and making another dash for freedom, but there were no beams in this wing of the compound - besides, Ubu standing just an arm's length from him wouldn't make it easy. He wondered how long he'd be guarded this closely. Perhaps if he still refused Ra's offer, he'd be returned to his cell in the other wing. But if Ra's had intended him to escape the first time, he wouldn't be as loose with security this time.
For a while, Bruce considered the thought of spending a much longer time in Nanda Parbat - and the possibility of a cataclysm actually hitting Gotham while he was still away. The details of Dr. Welkin's research came back to mind. He spoke extensively of the dormant fault line not too far away from Gotham that had erupted in 1721, causing half the blossoming town to fall into chaos and ruin.
Gotham was left mostly abandoned for about a decade, aside from criminal nuisance that thrived off the survivors of the quake. It wasn't till 1732 that a group of men from neighboring towns and villages decided to gather and reclaim what had been lost. Together, they managed to get the criminal element under control, and worked tediously to rebuild the city to what it is today. That council of men became the new founding fathers of Gotham - one of which included Hezekiah Wayne, one of his early ancestors.
It was a tale that had almost completely faded to the pages of time, till Dr. Welkin had been alerted to some on and off seismic activity in the past year, and had taken time off to research it properly. With the way Gotham had been constructed since the 1700s, he figured there wasn't a way it would survive the tremors of a quake. Bruce had taken an interest in the Dr's research then, but when he quickly faded off the scene, he could only wonder if it'd been a false alarm or if the authorities had been so convinced of what was to come that they decided to silence him in order not to cause a mass panic.
To add to that, the similarities between Gotham's tragic past, and what Ra's had prophesied was to come, were highly uncanny. Something within his gut told him it was something to be heeded. But would braving those extra shackles be worth the opportunity to go back? Maybe... If it would save a number of lives, then he began to believe that his personal freedom might be worth the cost.
A knock came on the door, and Ubu responded. Talia stood before him. She had a silk wrap with butterfly sleeves on, tied in a bow around her waist, drifting lazily around her ankles as she moved. "Father wants me to guard the chosen one till his visit to his quarters tomorrow," she said.
Ubu 'hrrumphed' again. "Mistress not strong enough to handle if he tries to escape," he complained.
She stood up to him. "Are you questioning the master's decisions?"
Immediately, Ubu backed down, tail between legs. "No Mistress. I will leave you alone." He let her in, departed and shut the door behind him.
The truth was that Bruce was as curious as to the master's decision to leave him with his daughter. "Is that true?" he asked, after he was certain Ubu would be out of earshot.
She nodded slowly. "He took some coaxing, but I managed to have him see that a little more time with me might convince you to change your mind."
Bruce turned around completely to face her. "Look Talia, I don't know about joining the League of Sh..."
"Shhh..." she'd moved onto the bed, pressing a finger onto his lips. When she knew he'd stopped speaking, she bent over his ear and whispered. "I've thought about what you've said, and even though I've never disobeyed Father, I know I won't be able to bear to see you unhappy. I must make a decision, one that will cost me." She leaned away from him. There were tears in her eyes, slipping down the contours of her cheeks.
Surprised at what he had heard, he moved a finger over her cheek to catch a falling tear. "What do you mean, Talia?"
She blushed at his touch, even as she continued in a harsh whisper, "I want to help you escape from here, beloved. You'll be able to leave before you see Father again - because he won't be as generous the second time around."
He dropped his hand. "Then wh... what will happen to you?" He didn't want to think about Talia taking the brunt of Ra's wrath over his escape.
"I will lie, that you overpowered me, and that I could not stop you from leaving. You could hit me, so that he would see the bruises and believe what I say."
Bruce looked at her flawless fair skin, the gentle curve of her face, and her bright brown eyes. He couldn't imagine hitting her anywhere, especially not after what she intended to do for him. "Why would you want to do this? You barely know who I am."
She pressed her hands against his shoulders. She was close enough for her fragrance to taunt him - she smelled like daffodils in spring, drifting lazily under a glowing sun. "Oh I do... I've known you for as long as I've been alive. I might not have been able to touch you then as I do now, but you've been in my heart...." Her tears streamed from her cheek to her chin, settling gently onto his lap. "You've been in my soul, beloved. We were meant to be together. I've waited for you for so long. But if you don't want to be with me, I can't possibly force you to stay."
"Talia..." His resistance against her was weakening, as her arms wrapped themselves around his back, and she touched his nose with hers. Electricity sparkled as he leaned into her and they met in a passionate kiss. A voice deep within him cried that he should not be kissing her, not the daughter of his captor. But being in her arms made him forget - just for those few precious moments. Deeper and deeper they fell into an embrace, as garments slipped to the floor and he soon felt the warmth of her soft skin, and the quickened breaths against his chest.
Night fell like a dark cloak and hid them there between the sheets - away from the grasp of Ra's Al Ghul, away from Bruce's destiny, away from everything that he knew.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Alfred lodges a report with Gordon and Bullock.
"Yes, yes, thank you!" Harvey Bullock put down the phone and turned to Jim Gordon with a big grin on his face. Good news wasn't easy to come by these days, and he just loved to be the bearer of it. "That was O'Toole. Strike Force beat you to it. They're bringing in Kathryn now. Finally some freaking good news, right?"
Jim heaved a sigh of relief and nodded. The damned woman had sicced a mentally unstable former Captain Barnes on him just a few hours ago because he'd come too close to sniffing out the plans that the Court had kept so well hidden. Unfortunately, in the struggle, Barnes had also destroyed the blueprint that would've been used for said purpose.
"Gordon!" That voice sounded familiar. Jim noticed Alfred hurrying up the stairs to where he stood. The man looked to be a little battered. "Where the bloody hell have you been? I've been trying to call you all day."
The truth was that he'd been temporarily incapacitated, and held hostage by Barnes till Harvey came to his rescue. But he figured Alfred wouldn't be interested to hear any of his own tales of adventure, at least not right then. "Alfred. What's happened?"
"It's Bruce, he... he's been abducted," he stammered, clearly distraught. The poor butler had had his share of worrisome moments with that kid. Initially they were mostly self-inflicted, but as of late, they seemed to be getting a slew of attacks from people connected to the Wayne Foundation, both from within the firm and from the enemy camp. He always thought that it was an unfair burden to be put upon a young orphan and his guardian, and now he wondered if they'd finally succeeded.
"Oh why?" grumbled Harvey, clearly exhausted. "Why can't anything be easy?"
"I don't know how, but he's definitely gone. And you're not going to believe this, but the people responsible are this shadowy organization that run the whole of Gotham. They're called... uh..."
"The Court of Owls," Jim completed Alfred's sentence, and exchanged looks with Bullock. It became evident that they were all after the same people.
Caught out of the loop, Alfred gave Jim a bewildered look, and Jim decided to shut the doors to his office to speak in private with both Bullock and the butler.
"We've been investigating the Court and a woman named Kathryn Monroe for months now," Jim went on to get Alfred up to speed. "Until this morning, I was working undercover inside the organization."
"Did they ever mention Bruce?" Alfred asked.
"No. Why would they want to kidnap him?"
"Well..." The butler hesitated. "We might've had a bit of.. a run-in early on in the year."
"How long has he been gone?" asked Harvey.
Alfred spoke dismally. "I don't know. Could be several days, several weeks."
"Weeks?!" exclaimed Harvey. "How can the kid be missing for weeks? That's your one freaking job!"
"Don't you think I know that?" Alfred snapped. "They replaced him, alright? With an exact.... clone, created in Indian Hill."
"H-hold on a second. Wait, back up, I thought I heard you say 'clone'."
Alfred didn't back down. "That's 'cos I did."
Harvey had witnessed some strange things in this city, but he'd to admit 'clone' might top them all. "I got to sit down."
"All right," Gordon cut in. As nuts as Alfred sounded, the man had for years been relatively reliable with his reports, and Jim had to think he might be telling the truth. Nevertheless, one thing at a time. They'd have to figure out the Court's next move, and of Bruce's whereabouts. "Let's think this through. Alfred. Is there anything you and Bruce could've done that would've drawn the attention of the Court?"
"Well, we did break into one of their houses to try to find something that would give us leverage against the Court. And all we found was this ridiculous owl thingamajig, which I managed to break."
"Crystal owl?"Jim perked up. He wondered how broken that second owl was, because the first was pretty much a lost cause. "Is there any way it could be reassembled?"
"We found another owl this morning. When you shine a light through it, a map of Gotham appears. We think this indicates the secret 'dwellings' of the Court."
Harvey raised a brow to Jim.
"So Bruce could be in one of these dwellings, right?" surmised Alfred, finally seeing a sliver of hope. "So where's your bloody owl?"
"Uh well, due to circumstances totally beyond our control," replied Harvey, taking a swig out of his brandy. "The owl went kaboom."
"But, if we could reassemble the owl that you stole, maybe we could find Bruce and whatever other plans the Court is dead set on keeping hidden." Jim had carefully used the term 'dwellings' instead of bunkers - mostly because he didn't want get Alfred involved when he hadn't sufficient evidence to back up his suspicions yet. But the truth was that the 10-inch walled bunker that Harvey and him had stumbled upon earlier in the day, had been recently spruced up and restocked, likely to survive some ominous event that was to come.
"Right," said Alfred, already on board with the plan. "Give me a minute, I'll be back with what we have." He hurried away, as Bullock leaned back in his chair for another swig of brandy.
During Jim's time undercover, the Court had repeatedly referred to a prophecy that would cleanse Gotham. But being the newcomer to these meetings, they'd never disclosed the details. On hindsight, he may have become slightly too impetuous, having accidentally blown his cover in his search for the location of the first bunker. But they'd Kathryn now under police custody, and perhaps she'd be persuaded to provide insight.
Or as Plan B, fix Alfred's owl and search them out, one by one.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Selina has a chat with Tabitha and Ivy.
Selina wasn't getting very far in the search for Bruce's whereabouts. If she'd to make an estimation, it'd be coming to six months since that last encounter under the highway. By then, any trace of Bruce's disappearance would've been washed away with the rain, or with the shuffling of weekday foot traffic. The worst part about it was that she'd been so mad at him that she hadn't even hung around long enough to see which direction he might've been headed in. Wandering aimlessly up and down alleyways near that open space was turning out to be a great waste of time. None of the homeless huddled down in that area seemed to know a thing either - or they were simply too wasted to form a proper sentence. Her best bet with Sonny had ended in some joke about his guys ripping into the 'rich boy' - didn't seem to know anything beyond then. He made it clear that Bruce was perfectly intact when he'd left though.
"Why'd you ask me here if you were going to be this way?" Bruce asked, in the recesses of her memory.
"What are you talking about?"
"The note you left in my mailbox."
"I didn't leave any note."
She bit a lip as she headed out of the alley. It hadn't occurred to her then that something might've been off. She had assumed he'd be just fine then, even against Sonny's guys - or maybe she just didn't give a damn at the time. Not like she did now. She kicked a stray can at the side of the road, causing a ruckus as it rolled along the pavement. Or perhaps she was just being dumb, guilt-tripping herself over something that really didn't concern her.
A black Ford suddenly pulled up next to her, and the window wound itself down. "Selina!" Tabitha stuck her head out, her eyes opened large. "Where the hell have you been? You've been missing for more than a week. I was beginning to think you were dead."
As surprised as she was at Tabitha turning up like that, she couldn't help but feel appreciative that someone had been looking for her. It hadn't even occurred to her that Tabs would. Through the time she'd spent with the last of the Galavans, she'd picked up quite a bit about running a business, techniques of self-defense and spotting bluffs. But it'd always been more of a unofficial arrangement, maybe even a slight inconvenience for Tabitha. She had never struck Selina as the sentimental type, but maybe... just maybe, she could've been wrong about her. "I had a personal... situation," Selina replied, as she recalled what had happened with Five - and then with Ivy in the hospital.
"A what..." Tabs asked, but continued speaking before Selina could explain. "A ton of things happened while you were away. Penguin and your friend Ivy are trying to wrangle the club out from under us with some legal bullcrap and a bunch of lawyers. Barbara's going mad, threatening bloody murder - made us a temporary alliance with Ed Nygma, which has only worsened things."
"Ivy was involved?"
"Yeah, that bitch. Working completely under Penguin's thumb." Tabitha only stopped to open the backdoor. "Get in. She's your friend, you talk to her."
During the car ride, Tabitha furnished Selina on all the details on the apparent Cobblepot-Nygma feud. She stressed on the point that she had been immensely pissed that Barbara, in her desperation to keep the club, had gone over her head and gotten themselves involved in that whole drama. "She's not listening to Butch or me. It's like this club has become her obsession. I mean... it'd be seriously wacked if we lost it to Oswald at this point, but Barbara.." Tabitha sighed. "She's barking orders at us all - like completely without respect. I don't know if I can take it any longer. She promised an equal partnership deal at the start, but now she's.... pffft"
Selina shrugged, "Hey, sometimes you've just got to put your foot down."
"You think so?" Tabitha sighed again. "I don't know what I'm more upset about. Possibly losing the club, or getting completely overlooked." She turned into 23 Oaklane, and came to a stop before a row of apartments.
"Wait... we're seeing Ivy now?" asked Selina. She hadn't sorted out the thoughts in her head, partially in regards to Ivy saving her life, and while indebted to her, be demanding action on her part to stop the Penguin deal.
Tabitha looked at her questioningly. "Why not? I've been driving around town trying to burn off some steam - now that you're here, we might as well put the time to good use."
Selina shot Tabby a look. Tabitha hadn't gone out with the intention of searching for her. Selina couldn't help but feel a bit foolish about thinking otherwise. Maybe it was better this way. After all, Selina's own motives for following Tabitha around weren't exactly pure either.
"Selina!" cried Ivy, embracing her with a hug. There seemed to be no ill-will with her, even though Selina had practically stormed out of the hospital without a word of thanks. "I'm so glad that you're alright. You gave me quite the scare when you left like that."
"Uh... thanks Ivy," she replied as she got the breath squeezed out of her. "And thanks for that... whatever you did at the hospital."
"Hospital?" Tabitha cut in. "You didn't tell me you were in the hospital."
"She was! She almost died!" Ivy exclaimed, albeit a little dramatically. Selina didn't think it could've been that bad.
"We're not here about that though. It seems that Penguin wants to take over the Sirens club, and Tabs here isn't too happy about that."
Ivy nodded, her expression quickly transitioning to what Selina would coin; a serious business-like face. There were times Ivy would unintentionally make her want to snigger - she had the appearance of a fully grown woman, and yet still perfectly resembled the fourteen-year-old girl she was on the inside. "Yeah," said Ivy. "Penguin says the club used to belong to him. Said he's going to fight to his last breath to keep it that way."
Tabitha lunged at Ivy, almost lifting her at the base of her collar. "Except it's not! It belongs to us, you twit!"
Ivy gasped helplessly, and it took Selina to separate them. "Quit it you two!" Then directly to Tabitha, "Can I talk to Ivy alone?" Tabby glared at Selina, then at Ivy, then back at Selina. Selina wasn't backing down. "I'll get to the bottom of this, trust me."
Tabitha finally relented, and stormed out the door, slamming it behind her.
"Why do you hang out with someone like that?" complained Ivy as she straightened her collar.
"Why do YOU hang out with that loser Oswald?" Selina retorted. For a moment, they looked hard at each other.
"I guess we just have bad taste in friends," said Ivy after some thought.
Selina had to chuckle out loud. "I'm learning a lot from Tabby though."
Ivy nodded enthusiastically, "I'm learning a lot from Oswald too!" Then her smile fell. "Can't help the feeling that I'm being used though."
Selina sighed as she glanced absently at the door. "Same here. Look, I don't want to cause any trouble, but Tabby ain't getting off my back till I get you to sabotage your boss."
"Why would I do that?"
The truth was that Selina didn't have a reason, apart from one. "Because he treats you like trash?"
Ivy didn't look too pleased at the suggestion. "Pengy might kill me for betraying him. Does it even matter to you?"
Selina let out another sigh. Ivy was right. How could she betray one friend for another? "I'm sorry, I'm just trying so hard to climb up the ladder - get somewhere, you know? I've never been in a position that demanded respect. Always been this street rut that nobody gives a damn about."
"Heyyy..." Ivy touched her on the shoulder. "I give a damn about you."
A smile lit up Selina's face. Ivy was right, if she had one friend in the world, it was her. "Maybe we should just let the adults fight it out. I mean... I just came out of a coma," she laughed lightly. "Give me a break."
Ivy laughed too. "Yeah, who cares about a damned club?"
Selina looked around the room, it was like a jungle in Ivy's apartment. Plants in every corner of the room. Colored flowers and fruits all crying for attention. "Maybe you should leave Penguin and start a botanical shop."
"Mmm..." Ivy agreed. "Speaking of... I've been taking up night classes at the Gotham University on horticulture-chemistry. Because nobody would let a fourteen-year-old in, I had to create a false identity and all that - that's something Pengy helped me with." She dug into her pocket, produced a red-leather wallet, and took a card out of it, presenting it proudly to Selina.
Selina read off the card. "Pamela Isley. Twenty-three years old." She chuckled. "Pamela?"
"Uh-huh! I picked out the name myself. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
With a shrug, Selina returned the card. "Why do you even need classes though? You have the greenest fingers of anyone that I know."
Ivy grinned. "I've always wanted to study about plants - I mean I've done a lot of reading on the subject, and a bit of experimentation. But to actually go to classes - it's like going to Disneyland everyday for me. That's what enabled me to help you out of your coma."
"You have a real talent Ivy, I'm happy for you." As much as Selina was pleased for her friend, she couldn't help feeling a pang of envy. Ivy knew for certain what she wanted to do with her life, but she couldn't say the same for herself. And she still had Tabitha she had to pacify. She wasn't going to be happy to hear that Ivy wasn't going to be doing anything for them. Just thinking about it made Selina groan. She stood up. "Hey, I'm going to get going. It was nice catching up."
"Yeah it was." Ivy beamed. "Know what, I might really give that botanical shop a shot. Pengy's taught me a lot about starting a business, doesn't sound too complicated."
"Make sure you invite me for the opening," teased Selina. In the midst of falling from a building, Bruce's disappearance and possibly losing the club, Ivy getting a shop of her own felt like a nice distraction. Maybe things would work out fine in the end for all parties.
She could only hope.
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
The morning after.
Dawn was soon to approach. Bruce could already see the shades of fuchsia and gold spread across the sky like massive darts, cutting across the dark sky. He'd been pacing the room in his robes, over and over, wearing down the floor beneath him - evaluating his next move, and debating his every decision. Talia was sound asleep where he'd left her, like an angel curled up under the covers. Every time he looked at her he knew he'd messed up. He hadn't planned on getting involved with her. He hadn't intended to form any attachments for anyone in this place. This made it all the harder to leave. The daughter of the Demon himself had offered to help him escape, what better chance could he have been afforded? But he had to muddle the waters because he'd let his emotions overcome him. He bashed a fist into a wall to quell his disappointment in himself.
"B... Beloved?" Talia arose to the sound.
"I'm sorry for waking you," he apologised, stepping back as he loosened his fists.
She lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the glow in the sky. "It's dawn. You have to go."
"I - " he dropped his head in shame. "I may not be leaving."
"What we did last night... it's not right that I leave you like this."
She wrapped the sheet around her chest and sat up. "Does that mean you'd agree to marry me?"
He wiped a hand over his forehead and ran his fingers through his hair. Thomas Wayne had always taught him to be responsible for his own actions, and to see things through to the bitter end. Marrying Talia would also mean getting permanently chained to the League, to Ra's Al Ghul, and the Court of Owls - the very people responsible for his parents' death. It wasn't a part of his plan, but not doing so would only betray the memory of his own father - too late for regrets. "Yeah, I will."
For a few moments the two of them sat in silence, pondering their potential future together. And after sometime came a, "No."
Bruce looked at Talia questioningly.
"No," she said again. "I know you feel some kind of pity for me. I don't need your pity."
She cut him off. "Yesterday, I offered to help you escape, my mind has not changed."
"Talia," he moved to her side and took her hand. "I - I know this isn't ideal, but I will learn to enjoy the thought of marrying you, and... of being your father's heir. I just need a bit of time to adjust to the idea."
"No," she continued, her expression even more certain than before. She got up, and began putting on the garments she had on the day before."You will leave here, beloved, with my help. You will go back to Gotham City, and you will be free of the control of my father."
When he was just about to make his case, she interjected, "This is my decision. Since I was a child, my father has never allowed me to make any major decisions on my own. Let this be my first. Give me this opportunity to make a choice for myself."
Bruce studied her closely, hesitated, and only when he knew for sure that she was certain of the choice that she was about to make, agreed.
There was a sense of relief on her face. She turned a cheek to him, and pointed at it. "Now I need you to hit me hard so we can sell this to Father," she instructed.
He took a while to consider how he'd approach her instruction, struggled to do as she'd asked, and finally found that he couldn't possibly. "I can't bring myself to hurt you," he admitted. "Isn't there another way?"
Talia smiled reassuringly at him and nodded - then she walked over to an empty wall, and with a heave, smashed her forehead into it. She did it again.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered with a wince, feeling her every blow as though it was done to him.
She held up a hand to silence his concerns. "This is my choice, beloved. Don't blame yourself." Then she put her hand onto the side of her throat and dug in with her nails, causing skin to peel, and welts of blood to form.
When that was done, she walked to a steel chest that had a silk draping over it, pulled out a key from a hidden pocket in her garments, and opened the chest. Within it were two pairs of winter clothing; snow shoes, thick woolen gloves, scarves, ski masks, and even a compass. She pulled out one set, together with the compass, and handed it to him. "Put this on," she instructed. "Do it quickly."
He received the folded garments, and began to put them on - even as he kept his eye on the other set in the box. "What if you were to come with me? Join me in Gotham. You could be free to make all of your own decisions. I swear I will make sure that you're protected."
"But my place is here, beloved," she replied without hesitation. "I may not always agree with Father making the decisions for me, but he is Ra's Al Ghul, and my duty is to serve him. I do it gladly."
"Except now," he reminded her.
"Except now," she agreed. "But I intend to make this the one and only time I disobey him."
"I don't suppose you're open to changing your mind?" he asked. He didn't think she would, but he had to admire the amount of loyalty she had to her deranged father. It was blind loyalty, but loyalty nonetheless.
"I'm not, beloved," she chuckled, slightly amused at his insistence. Moving quickly about the room, she busied herself removing the silk curtains from the balcony, and knitting them together with the sheets on the bed. "All I ask is you promise me one thing," she said in the midst of all this.
"What is it?"
"That you never tell a soul about my father, about me, or about the League of Shadows. No one must know of us or our existence." She looked directly at him, searching for a verification of assurance in his response. "Do it for me."
During the time he spent alone, Bruce had made a mental list of people he knew who would be interested to find out all about the secret compound in Nanda Parbat, and all that was done in it. When he shut his eyes, he imagined over and over again, how he would explain to them how he'd spent the five months in captivity, and all about Lady Shiva, Ra's Al Ghul and everyone else he'd met on that mountain top. But as much as he had his speeches all written in his head, ready to go - he felt the debt he owed to Talia should motivate him to cancel all of those plans. After that day, he would owe her not just his life, but his freedom as well. "I'll do that for you, Talia. Only for you. But I can't figure out how I'd explain my lengthy absence to anyone who asks?"
"First," she said, as she secured the make-shift rope to the base of an iron railing at the balcony. "Your absence hasn't become widely known as of yet, due to the clone who's been instructed to take your place since you've arrived here. Second, you must not allow the small pool of people who have just found out about your disappearance, to make this public knowledge. Make up an excuse - indict the Court of Owls if you have to. Be creative."
It was odd to hear her mention the Court of Owls, and suggest that he throw them under the bus in such a manner. For all intents and purposes, he'd assumed that they were allies and had been working very closely together. At the same time, it reminded him of a question that he'd meant to ask that he hadn't found the opportunity for. "Talia, there's been something that's been bugging me for a while now, I hope that you can help me get this clarified, once and for all - was it your father who called for the hit on Thomas and Martha Wayne?"
Talia tugged on the rope firmly and stood up to look at him straight in the eyes. "No, it was the Court who ordered it. It is to my knowledge that your father, Thomas Wayne, discovered some secrets they meant to keep hidden, and this cost him his life. It was, however, due to this tragedy that eventually put you on Father's radar. And years later, he would seek you out as the one written about in the prophecies - the one that had appeared in his dream. His association with the Court only begins and ends with him requesting for you to be delivered to him, and the clone to take your place."
"Ironic isn't it," stated Bruce coldly, just thinking about how he'd been moved about without any consent, like he was commodity. "That the principle your father preaches about eliminating oppression has been so easily compromised by his association with people who make a living out of oppressing the poor in order to prop themselves up."
"Unfortunately, in order to fix a broken system, one must be prepared to get one's hands dirty. Father had to do what has been done in order to save you."
Bruce raised a brow. "Save me?" It seemed like a poor choice of words. Kidnapping had rarely anything to do with saving the victim.
"To provide you the skills needed for you to survive the catastrophic event that is to come - so that you can in turn, rise up to save Gotham. Otherwise the city will be lost just as it was in 1728, except this time, it will be worse."
"And both you and your father are certain of this fate?" Talia's certainty only sealed his own acceptance of Dr. Welkin's theory.
"With unwavering certainty. My father never gets a prediction wrong."
"Does the Court know what is to happen to Gotham?" he asked, doubting that someone as wealthy as Kathryn would be too happy about such a prophecy.
Talia smiled widely like she knew something that the Court might not. "They know enough."
"Something that I still can't understand. What does your father hope to achieve from all of this?"
"He means for you to serve the League's purposes when you rise to rule over the new Gotham. I'm confident that you may still choose to do so, on your own accord."
"I'm sorry," Bruce looked away. "But I can neither see myself ruling Gotham, nor bending the knee to the League of Shadows. Whatever this prophecy is about - it's wrong."
She put a hand on his chin and pulled it slowly towards her. "Time will tell, beloved. You say that you are, but I don't think you're done with us yet."
"We'll have to see about that. Perhaps someday I'll come back for you," he said with a smile, wrapping his arms around Talia to embrace her with a kiss. She leaned into him, just for a bit, though her kiss ended a little more abruptly than he'd anticipated - as though there was some measure of finality to it.
He watched her curiously as she took the time to gather her thoughts before speaking, "One final thing, beloved. The moment you make it down to the glacier, head into the woods and keep south on your compass, do not deviate. Listen for the sounds of the Ganga river - it will eventually lead you to the border between Tibet and India. Tell the authorities that you'll find there that you're American and ask to be sent to the embassy."
Bruce turned around to see that the half-domed sun was already beginning its climb, time was getting scarce, and he didn't want to have to fight a dozen members of the League in order to get free. "Thank you Talia... for everything." He gratefully clasped her hands in his.
"Goodbye, beloved. I won't soon forget you."
He gazed into her bright brown eyes for the final time, "Nor I, you, Talia Al Ghul."
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Interrogating Kathryn Monroe.
"I've seen the map." Gordon sat across from Kathryn Monroe, who, aside from her complaints of being manhandled, had not betrayed any other emotion on her face. "I know the Court has secret locations across the city. We've been to one of them - with walls up to ten inches thick, and with enough food and water to last someone up to seventy days underground, it's safe to say that the Court is anticipating some kind of major blast in the near future. The question is what kind of a blast are we talking about?"
"What blast?" she asked, feigning ignorance.
He stood up and walked around the table, and sat by her. "What has Bruce Wayne have to do with all of this? Why did you kidnap him?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," she replied smugly.
"They're not all powerful you know. The Court, they can't keep you safe. Besides, what are the members going to think when they see their leader behind bars?"
Kathryn smirked at him. "You think I'm the leader? All this time, and you really don't know anything, do you?"
"Who is it then?" Jim was losing his patience, the woman was just toying with him. "Who controls the Court of Owls?"
She lifted her wrist and read off her pearl encrusted watch. "Keep it up, Detective. I'd say you have approximately fifteen... maybe thirty minutes, just to be generous."
Jim rolled his eyes at her, just as a knock came on the door. It was Harvey. "Sorry to interrupt but the butler's getting testy. I think if we continue to keep him out, he might sock an officer in the eye."
"Ah..." said Jim, using the opportunity to direct his voice towards Kathryn. "Bruce Wayne's butler. The one trained with the SAS, and has some kind of a medal with the British government for the highest number of kills of his squad. That butler."
Kathryn straightened up and appeared to be a little concerned. Harvey quickly picked up on Gordon's lead, and kept up the bluff. "Oh oh... he is dead set on getting back at the people responsible for kidnapping his ward, and inserting a clone to take his place. Just wait till he gets his hands on..." Harvey pretended to just notice Kathryn then. "Oh - isn't that you?"
She glared at Jim in unbelief. "You wouldn't dare! That'd be a violation of civilian rights."
"You said you were expecting someone to come and save you in... fifteen minutes, was it?" Jim asked rhetorically, then turned back to Harvey. "Let him in then, let's make it quick."
"What?!" Kathryn stood up, completely alarmed. "That's preposterous! Lay a finger on me and I'll sue you both to high heavens."
"Hey Jim," said Bullock, grinning from ear to ear. "If Ms Monroe is held by the GCPD under the terrorism act, doesn't that nullify her civilian rights?"
"Oh yeah," Jim replied, resting his hands on his hips. "Thank you for the reminder, Harvey! It seems we'll be having more than fifteen minutes after all."
"Terrorism act?" Kathryn's face was all scrunched up in rage. "You have nothing! You can't hold me based on such false accusations when you are without a shred of proof."
"Oh I'd beg to differ, we do have something," noted Jim, pulling out an envelope that he'd snuck off her property while he was still under cover. He watched her face go pale as he pulled the letter out of the envelope and read it out loud. "Note to the League - The safe-houses are stocked, and the riders are ready to go. Do bear in mind that whatever is left of Gotham after the 'event', will automatically default to the ownership of the members of the Court, or in the case of any of their deaths, to Kathryn Monroe. As stipulated in the prior agreement, you are to play your role, after which will take a step back so the rest of us can take over all remaining property and businesses. The moment that we have secured our hold on all of the above, we will convene for a final time to conclude the terms of our agreement." Jim studied her expression carefully. "So perhaps now you'd like to share with us what is this 'event' that you've referred to in your letter." When she hesitated, he continued. "You could really save yourself a lot of pain." Harvey nodded in agreement.
"You're bluffing..." she said after a while, looking nervously between Harvey and Jim.
Jim shrugged. "Ok send in the butler."
"Be glad to." Harvey shut the door, temporarily leaving Jim and Kathryn alone in the room.
"You're mad!" she exclaimed. "What kind of a corrupt organiza..."
"Actually, I think I can guess what this is about," Jim replied. "The Court is losing the control they once had over the city. The old leaders have passed on, or gone into hiding. The newer generation of underworld leaders don't respect the Court like their elders once did. They play by their own rules, casually bypassing all the gates you'd set up to profit from their transactions and influence them in your favor, leaving the idea of a secret Court; soon to be redundant. This scares all of you to the bone. So you're planning a reset... of sorts. You'd huddle like cowards inside underground bunkers while the city above gets blown to smithereens."
She kept completely solemn till his final line, and a smile began to form on her face. "Let's just say for argument's sake that you're right about us. You'd really think we'd be that sloppy in our execution of said plan?"
Jim leaned back in his chair as he considered the clue that she'd slipped to him, whether by accident or not. "So it isn't a bomb?"
She merely shrugged.
The door flew open then, and Alfred was right in front of Kathryn in the blink of an eye, his hands wrapped around her throat. "You damn chippie! Where did you take my boy?" Kathryn gagged as he shook her around.
"Alfred," Jim said after a while. "I don't think she can breathe."
"Oh," and Alfred released her. She clutched her sore neck as she glared at her attacker in scorn. "Well?"
"He's fine," she declared. "He'll be back soon."
"Where the bloody hell is Bruce?"
She looked at him levelly. "If I were to tell you where he is right now, I'll be dead in no time for opening my mouth, you'll be dead for listening," she motioned towards Jim. "And he'll be dead just for being in attendance."
"Who are these people that you're working for?"
"The League," Jim filled in from what he'd seen in that letter. "Who are they?"
She shook her head. "You already know too much. I'd advise that you not play with fire. Even though I'm no friend of yours, I'll say that I do sincerely mean it."
Alfred and Jim exchanged curious looks. "Wait - how does Bruce Wayne play into this entire picture?" asked Jim.
She settled back in her chair. "Let's just say - he's special."
"What do you mean?"
"He'll be playing a pivotal role in what is to come."
"We're back to this..." sighed Jim in frustration. "What is to come?"
Gunshots blasted through the air just outside that room. Gordon opened the door to check on the station. He was surprised to find smoke. An increasing amount of it that grew only as it moved through the hallway.
He coughed as he shut the door, confused as to what had just occurred.
"Well, better late than never," said Kathryn, presenting the cuffs around her wrists to Gordon as though he had expressed an intent to remove them. "That's my transport. You really should un-cuff me before he slices his way through you in order to get to me."
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Jim and Alfred fight to keep Kathryn in police custody.
Gordon had his gun aimed at the door, unsure what or who would be trying to get in next - although by that point, he'd say he had a pretty good idea. Alfred, on the other hand, preferred to keep a gun to Kathryn's temple. No one had removed her cuffs, there was damning evidence in Gordon's pocket - enough to set up a trial for her, yet the casual way she leaned back in her seat perturbed the butler.
Sounds of crashing lamps, shifting chairs and tables scraping on the floor erupted outside.
"Enough nonsense from this stuffy aristocrat!" Alfred moved Kathryn's head with the strength of his barrel trained on her head. "You tell me what I need to know right now, or I'm blowing your damned head off!"
"Hey..." warned Jim, though not too sternly, his gun still pointed in the direction of the shut door.
"That's all?" asked Kathryn, unimpressed. "I'm getting threatened with a gun in the middle of a station, in front of the reigning Captain himself, and all I get is a 'hey'?"
"I'd say this situation is a little unconventional. Bruce Wayne's butler holding a gun to your head is the least of our problems right now," replied Jim with a sarcastic smirk.
"Damn it!" yelled Alfred, right before he smacked her across the temple with the back of his gun, knocking her out completely.
Jim winced. "Was that really necessary, Alfred?"
"Whoever it is that is out there is coming for her, alright? You know that and I know that. Now can you bloody get her cuffs off so we can take her somewhere else?"
Still trained on the door, Jim hesitated a moment, then pulled the key from his breast pocket and threw it over to Alfred. Alfred caught it mid-flight, and immediately set to getting the cuffs off Kathryn.
Right then, an imposing shadow moved through the smoke and kicked open the door. Stepping into the room was an iron-plated Barnes, the former Captain of the GCPD, now driven completely insane. Jim began shooting at Barnes the moment he came into view, but he only managed to squeeze out two bullets before his gun got sliced into half by the axe that Barnes had affixed onto his left hand. Neither bullet managed to hit anything, having ricocheted off the iron. In mere moments, Jim found himself lifted off the ground, his throat wrapped tighter than a Christmas present by Barnes' other hand.
"Jim Gordon!" boomed Barnes. "You're found guilty of corruption and misconduct within the field of law-enforcement. How do you plead?" Jim couldn't reply, all he could was to gasp for breath.
"Jim guilty of corruption?" Alfred blurted out, still standing over Kathryn. "His 'misconduct' pales in comparison to the evils this woman has committed. This woman that you're trying so hard to rescue."
Nathaniel Barnes turned to Alfred with a genuinely vested interest in what he had said. He lowered Jim to the ground. "And who are you?"
"Alfred Pennyworth, butler under Bruce Wayne's employ. This woman, Kathryn Monroe, is single-handedly responsible for the kidnapping of my employer. If you're a believer in the system, then you'll arrest her first."
Barnes glared at the unconscious Kathryn, dismayed that he couldn't pass a proper sentence on her with her not being consciously in attendance. "Thank you civilian, I'll bear that in mind for when she wakes up."
Still clutching onto Jim's throat, Jim tried desperately to swing a fist at the ex-Captain, but the ex-Captain was decked out like a 15th century knight. Jim knew he wouldn't get anywhere in a fist fight. Like a child with a new toy, Barnes tossed Jim onto a wall behind him and went after Kathryn instead. Jim took the impact to his back, and slipped to the ground, groaning in pain as he went down.
Following that, there was just seconds between Alfred pulling out his own gun, Barnes slashing it into half with a powerful lurch, and knocking Alfred out in the process.
Still recovering from the blow, Jim could only watch on helplessly as Barnes picked Kathryn up, placed her over his shoulder like a large rag-doll, smashed a hole in the wall and left the station through the hole he had made like a lumbering iron gorilla.
Jerome Valeska was enjoying a lazy afternoon, stretched out on his mattress in his cell. Just three cells down the row, Hooper was howling like a dog again. Five more on the other side, Glenda was balancing a mix between crying, laughing and screaming. Occasionally you'd have a guard come in and yell something rough to quieten down the inmates. It rarely ever worked beyond a few seconds though. Like the conductor of some abstractly genius orchestra, Jerome waved his imaginary stick around, melding the sounds into a single rhythmic melody. It was pure gold to his ears - the sounds of utter chaos and insanity.
But just as he was about to drift to the comfortable embrace of sleep, there came the sharp yell of a man dying, the slicing of what sounded like a blade, and a guttural gurgling. Hooper and Glenda quietened down in apprehension, while the sounds only worked to excite him instead. He leapt up, and stuck his nose as far between the tiny little bars that the window in his door allowed him to. Unfortunately he couldn't see crap.
The jiggling of keys followed next, and the beep of the security door getting unlocked. Someone was trying to enter the domain of the musical geniuses. Jerome wanted to know who it was. "Yoo hoo!" he called out. "I spy with my little ear, someone with a little knife... hmm," he gave it some thought. "Switchblade? Or razor? Might need to use my helpline." Glenda began screeching like a bird on steroids. "Thank you for the suggestion Glenda. I'll take that into consideration."
Footsteps down the corridor, right up to his cell. That's when he saw the man who made those sounds. He had a smooth shaven face, gel-ed up hair, very model-esque, Jerome thought - moderately buff build, and dressed up as a prison guard. That moment passed by quickly, but he made certain to remember what he'd seen.
"Ooo, hello there beautiful," he said with a wink as he beamed widely. The intruder didn't reply. Rude... thought Jerome. On the upside though, the man did leave a present behind. Slid under the door was a bloodied switchblade wrapped in a piece of paper. Jerome picked up his gift as the man walked away. "Hey everyone! Christmas' come early!" he boasted proudly to the others.
Gerald, the old guy living directly opposite from him, poked his face out from behind the bars, straining to see what Jerome had been given.
"Guess you wish Santa had visited you too," he said smugly. "Let's not be jealous though, we'll all share a part of this present."
Carefully, he opened the piece of paper that had been given to him. It was smudged with the blood of whoever was gurgling before. The blood went on his fingers, making it shiny and red. Turning his attention back to his present, he picked up the weapon, and noticed there was writing on the piece of paper. Turning it in the correct direction, he proceeded to read the note out loud. "71 Welling Avenue." He turned the paper the other way, there was nothing there. He turned it back. There was just a single line of writing. He frowned - what an anti-climax. "Hmm... 71 Welling Avenue," he repeated loudly, trying to figure out what it meant.
"Seventy one!" Hooper cried out. Glenda followed in sync. And very soon, the two rows of cells were chanting the words '71 Welling Avenue', in a mess of hoots and hollers. In the midst of all the cacophony, the compound alarms were triggered. A few seconds after, the unlocking of their cell doors following a loud beep.
Jerome pushed at the door to his cell that was usually kept sealed - except now it was open. He walked out. So did others living near him. They looked as confused as he was. He slid the knife and the piece of paper into his pocket nonetheless, and began walking down the hall. All the doors were open, even the thick security doors. Peering into the guard room, he noticed three guards stacked on top of each other, and a pool of blood gathering beneath. The monitors were all displaying white static. If Jerome had to guess, the clean shaven guy was likely the one who did all this.
He must be a Bobby, Jerome thought to himself, and all at once determined that Bobby would be his next best friend. Bobby would be hunted down to be personally thanked. Till then though...
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to parrrrtaaay!" he exclaimed out loud as the patients of Arkham Asylum increasingly poured into the corridors through unlocked doors, all of them headed for the exit.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Bruce heads into the wilderness.
Getting across that glacier was much easier with the snowshoes. The cold was also much more bearable with the thick winter coat that Bruce'd been given. All that he lacked was a pair of sunglasses to eliminate the glare from the reflection of the sun on the snowscape. It'd become especially bad at around noon, the intense white glow had almost completely blinded him. Moving at a slower pace through the frozen alpine forest, he spread out his arms to aid him in navigation. Every now and then, he would shield his eyes and peer into the compass, making sure that he was still headed in the right direction.
It wasn't till he began to hear the sound of rushing water that he quickened his steps, excited at the prospect of finding the Ganga River, then the border shared by both countries. But just as he'd gotten his hopes up, a thin whistling sound whipped just an inch from his face, and landed on the side of a tree trunk five feet from him. Even at that distance, he could see that it was a morning star.
He turned around to meet his attacker. Another morning star whizzed through the air. He narrowly ducked the impact, sliding downwards away from the spinning blades. As he straightened up again, he squinted into the brightness and saw a lithe figure dressed in League outfit, with the lower half of its face covered up like a ninja. It was Sandra, that much he could be sure. Her arms were suspended in a kendo stance, another morning star between her middle-finger and pointer-finger, aimed directly at him. "Sandra, what are you doing?" he asked her, even though it seemed her intent had become clear - and that was to kill him.
"Lady Shiva," she corrected him. "You no longer deserve the right to call me by my first name. You're a traitor to the League."
He didn't like this one bit. He'd come to respect Sandra in many ways as his mentor, and yet he found himself now unwittingly pit against her for his own survival. "Doesn't our friendship mean anything to you?"
"We are not friends," she replied, still keeping up her offensive stance. "I was commanded by the master to train you, and I performed my duty. Now he demands you to be destroyed, this is an order I will carry out too."
A third morning star was whisked in his direction. Once more, he dodged its onset, "What about the prophecy? What about me being the chosen one?"
"You forwent that honor when you decided to leave without the master's consent." She pulled out a katana.
He backed off slowly, his hands spread out defensively. "If I die, what will happen to Gotham, and everything that was foretold about its future?"
"You are with the master, or you are not. There are no compromises!" Sandra rushed at him all at once, slashing her sword in his direction. He moved away quickly, just as they'd practiced in the war room - except this time Sandra wasn't wielding a rod, or a dull sword. She had every intent to end his life, and he wasn't even armed.
"Don't I deserve the right to defend myself?" He asked between dodges.
"You deserve the right to perish!" Sandra replied, making a sudden lunge that Bruce didn't anticipate. It clipped the side of his wrist, causing him to take a hasty step backwards. One that he would soon regret.
He could feel the ground tilt at the final moment before his feet began to slide down a slippery slope. They slid off the ground, and caused him to tumble instead - head, back and legs in a cyclic motion, hitting thorns and rocks on his way down. Even though his view was mostly obscured, he could see he was rapidly coming to the edge of a cliff. He knew he had to stop his descent, and stop it fast. His arms grasped desperately for something to slow his momentum. Protruding roots and stones went between his fingers as he raced down the slope. And all of a sudden, his left arm caught hold of a tangled root, that he quickly locked in a stranglehold position. The sudden halt down his rapid descent tore the bone from its joint, causing him to cry out in agony. He let go of that root, and slid down the rest of the way. For a while he braced himself to propel off that cliff, but the jolt he'd endured before had allowed him to slow enough of his momentum for him to gradually slide to a stop without going off that cliff.
Laying face down in the snow with snow in every crevice of his face, he coughed and spat out everything that'd gone into his mouth and nostrils till he could freely breathe again. But even then, the agony in his arm made simply breathing unbearable. The pain put him on the verge of retching, and all he really wanted to do was just to pass out. Unfortunately, he knew that laying there wasn't going to be a viable option when there was still the problem of Lady Shiva trying to kill him.
Drowsily, he flipped himself over to see Sandra attempting to find a way down the slope without suffering the same fate as he did. "Sandra... please have mercy," he pleaded, although it occurred to him that the weakness of his tone together with the direction of the wind would prevent her from hearing what he'd said. Not that he thought anything he said at that point would change her mind.
Oddly enough, it wasn't long before Sandra stopped trying to find a way down. Instead, her attention shifted to something close to his feet. He turned in the same direction, and his heart nearly leapt into his mouth. Just inches from him was a large adult wolf with a coat of silver-white fur, its razor-sharp teeth completely bared down to the last molar. And even though it looked like it would be snarling, it remained as silent as it was when it arrived. Instinctively, Bruce tried to move himself away from the canine, but he found there wasn't much he could do in the horrid state that he was in.
"It seems that nature will finish what I can not," said Lady Shiva, as she put away her katana. "Farewell Bruce Wayne. You were a good student. May you be granted a swift and merciful death."
"Don't leave me here, please," Bruce pleaded again, but it was too late. Sandra turned away without a second glance. And soon she disappeared from view.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
Bruce and the wolf.
Time inched along for an eternity, staring down the depths of those striking blue eyes one could've easily mistaken for being friendly. The wolf sat in one spot, occasionally pacing its way around Bruce. Once, it stopped long enough to take a good sniff at him, close enough to toss the strands of hair that hung loose from the fur lined hood of Bruce's winter coat. The scent of rotting prey on its breath was strong in his nostrils, and he braced himself for death to come swiftly. But the wolf turned away instead, and paced back to take its original place. He had to wonder what was really going through its mind. It seemed to be waiting, biding its time. Bruce recalled a few journals he'd studied concerning the hunting patterns of the wolf pack. They mostly agreed on one main strategy:
The wolves would often work congruently as a team, one cutting the prey off from escape, another two flanking the sides, and a fourth making the vital attack from the back. And once the prey was down, all wolves in the pack would take a part of the slain.
Yet he saw none of this strategy employed by this particular wolf. It looked to be alone, and seemed content to remain that way. Bruce was helpless, bleeding into the snow, and the wolf had sniffed him more than once. It had to know that he could be a potential meal, and yet it had refrained. "Are you going to eat me?" Bruce finally asked the wolf.
It continued to gaze at Bruce, its mouth widening just enough for its tongue to roll out - panting puffs of icy cold mist in a somewhat friendly manner. For the first time, that intimidating creature looked a little less frightening. Bruce allowed himself to study the animal a little more closely. He'd been so tense around the beast, he hadn't noticed how its magnificent coat of fur presented a cascading gradient of silver to white points, then back to black at the tip of its tail. Around its eyes of brilliant blue, contrasting black lines converged into the dark of its wet nose. Standing there in the cold just a few feet away from him, glowing bright against the dark wood of the alpine trees behind it, Bruce considered what an elegant painting it'd make, hanging proudly in someone's hallway.
Breathing out just a little sigh of relief, Bruce's attention drifted away from the wolf, and focused instead on his surroundings. He hadn't gotten much of a chance to evaluate his position since he'd fallen. And the rushing sound of the river was louder than it was before. If the wolf wasn't going to kill him yet, he figured he might still have a shot at making his way back to civilization.
Determined to work through the pain, he levered himself up on his bleeding arm, then clung to the dislocated shoulder to prevent further injury. The world got blurry for a moment but Bruce was resolute not to pass out. He gave himself a second to catch his breath, then cautiously checked if the wolf was still there. It was; standing behind him on all fours, watching harmlessly with its tongue still lolled out. Puzzled by the wolf's apparent passivity, Bruce decided to just be grateful for whatever length of time he was granted till the wolf would deem him edible and sample a nibble.
Step by step, he made slow but steady progress in the direction of the sound of moving water as the sun set in the corner of his viewing range. The cold was really sinking into his bones then, and at times he found himself shaking so hard it made it difficult to keep balance. His instinct told him to take a break, lean on a tree, rest his eyes - but at the same time he knew that stopping then would lose him what precious daylight he had left. Going to sleep in the open under such temperatures probably wasn't going to be the smartest idea. There were a dozen stories told to him in Switzerland of tourists choosing to spend the night on the alpine slopes, only to be found frozen solid the next morning. Those stories always perturbed him.
Thankfully, with the final rays of a dying afternoon, he finally chanced upon a number of huts on the banks of a slow moving river. The locals stood in clusters near the huts were decked out in colorful head-dresses, and rows of beads around their necks. They began prodding each other and pointing wildly the moment that he was spotted. Their eyes spread wide, commenting nervously among each other in a language he didn't understand.
He stopped in his tracks, wondering if it was his presence as a foreigner that was causing the ruckus. But then he remembered the massive animal who had trailed him all the way to the village, and that presently sat comfortably behind him. The villagers stared on apprehensively at the both of them, afraid to approach. As awesome and absurd the entire deal with the wolf was, Bruce realised that it was becoming a hindrance to him getting the aid that he so needed. "Please, I need help," he requested in English, hoping desperately that someone in that village might understand him. "I just had a bad fall..."
"That wolf." A deep voice came from the middle of the crowd. The villagers turned towards the sound, and shuffled aside to reveal a dwarf-ish Caucasian man with a ruddy red beard standing among the locals. "His name is Matschie. Also known as the sacred wolf who guards this village. How did you get him to follow you?"
Bruce recognized a significant Australian accent. The man was a foreigner, just as he was. "I didn't do anything. For a while, I thought he was going to eat me," replied Bruce with a tired laugh, in spite of the world beginning to spin around him. He knew he wasn't going to last much longer if he didn't sit down soon. "If.. if there's somewhere I can rest - I promise to compensate you when I'm able."
The man with the beard looked at him in surprise. "Compensate?" he said with a chuckle, then said something to the villagers in their native language.
Several of them took a few steps forward and bowed respectfully to the wolf. It stood in response, huffed under its breath, then turned around and ran back into the woods as though there'd been some silent pact exchanged between the villagers and the creature. Once it was gone, they offered to support him into one of the huts. Most glad to oblige, he leaned onto the man closest to him, just as he was just about to collapse.
"Oooph, take care of yourself 'ya hear?" responded the bearded man.
Bruce nodded vaguely as the villagers began to move him carefully to somewhere more comfortable.
"One last thing," the man called out from somewhere behind Bruce. "What is your name?"
"B... Bruce, Wh... Wayne..." he replied weakly, unsure of whether the bearded man had heard him. But the truth was that he couldn't think about that then. In fact, he found he was unable think about anything else.
He shut his eyes and let himself drift off.
Chapter 22: Chapter 21
Butch and Tabitha consider betrayal.
"Tabby, if you want to save the club you need to ditch Barbara, you know that. We can't take any part of a deal involving Ed Nygma," Butch Gilzean told Tabitha in the privacy of the filing room at the back of the Sirens Club.
Her eyes were shifty, nervous. He knew she'd ordinarily never think to betray her own partner, but it was quite another thing to be disrespected repeatedly, and still be expected to follow orders like a good slave. "This is the Penguin we're talking about. How can you believe anything that he says?"
"Yeah I know, he's a bit of a jackass, and he betrayed his own mentor. But I know how the guy works - as long as you keep a somewhat low profile, don't threaten his climb to the top, he'll generally leave you alone. That's how people like us survive. That's how I've survived," he explained, but he could see that Tabitha was still not convinced. "Look, I know you have some history with Babs, but I really think that we stand better chances with Oswald. He's even drawn us up a proper contract, one that we can sign in front of his lawyers. Once we do that, we'll get management of the club - which, of course, will be under a new name."
"Then we won't really be owning it, won't we?"
Butch shrugged, "You really think you own it now? Why don't you ask Babs if you do?"
Tabby glared at him, but at the same time she was beginning to relent. "Fair point."
Just then, the door to the filing room swung open, and there stood Barbara with a semi-auto pistol pointed in the direction of Butch and Tabby, a grinning Nygma beside her. Tabby gasped and Butch turned around, his hands raised in a defensive stance.
"Well well well..." said Nygma. "I can sneak up on you, or be right in front of you without you even knowing. But when I reveal myself, you will never be the same. What am I?"
Tabby looked for mercy from Barbara, but if she knew one thing about that woman, was that look she'd get when she's primed for a kill. "Ed thought the two of you might conspire against me. I told him it wasn't possible."
"It isn't what it looks..." Tabitha began, but wasn't able to finish.
"Shut up! It's exactly what it looks like," yelled Barbara. "You were going to run over to Penguin and snatch the club from right under me. You've always had your eye on having this all to yourself, haven't you?"
"That's nonsense and you know it!" Tabitha yelled back. "Not to mention, 'snatch the club from right under me'? What about us? I thought we were supposed to have equal partnership."
Barbara turned the gun to Butch. "You corrupted her! We were doing just fine and you had to plant little thoughts in her head."
"Well you ask yourself how you've been treating her lately," argued Butch. "You've been so stuck up your own ass that you couldn't -"
There was a sudden burst of fire. Butch fell to the ground with a thud, blood trailing out from a hole in the middle of his forehead. A scream got caught on Tabitha's throat as she watched him laying there, his eyes opened wide in surprise. She knew Barbara was ruthless, but this was a new low, even for her. That scream climbed up into her mouth, and it turned into a growl as she lashed out at Barbara, only to get copped on the back of her head by Nygma before she managed to do any damage.
"I'm surprised you didn't shoot her too," Nygma stated as he dumped the bloodied accounting journal on the only desk in the room.
Barbara's eyes were glassy, conflicted. "I once loved her. May this be my final act of mercy towards what we once had. The moment she leaves here, she'll be absolutely nothing more to me."
"What do you want to do with her then?"
Barbara turned away in disappointment, and threw the gun on the floor. "We are going to win, aren't we? Is this all for nothing?"
Nygma walked up to her and put an assuring hand on her shoulder. "I already have a plan in motion that should take Oswald off the table. Maybe it's better for Tabitha and Butch to have shown their true colors at this time. You need loyal friends surrounding you through this final phase, Barbara."
"Someone like you?" she asked a little coldly.
He only smiled. "You look tired. Go have a rest. I'll clean up here."
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
Ed gets rid of the bodies.
The Riddler had specific instructions about how he wanted Butch and Tabitha to be handled. Butch was to be completely mummified in duck tape, tied to something heavy, and sunk to the bottom of the pier so that he wouldn't be discovered for at least the next... thirty years. And as for Tabitha, he'd promised Barbara that he'd keep her alive - but he never said for how long. Tabitha had gone out angry, and he knew that if he didn't get rid of her, that she was likely to come back for revenge. He couldn't have that happen. So he'd cooked up an elaborate plan to suspend her from the underside of one of the bridges leading to the Narrows, with nothing more than a pair of handcuffs around her ankles. If she managed to squeeze herself out of the cuffs, there'd be an ninety percent chance of her falling to her death. Either that or remain suspended, and the blood rush to her brain would first give her a stroke, then shut down in three days.
Butch's corpse had been sent off with two grunts. And as for Tabitha, Nygma intended to handle her alone, for the cautionary reason that she might wake up mid-journey, plus he didn't want to have any witnesses. He never fully trusted hired hands. Money would always make their tongues wag. Getting her into the trunk of his car however, wasn't something he was particularly enjoying. The woman didn't look as heavy as she felt in his hands, and he was dragging her around for the most part.
"What the hell is this?" Selina came face to face with Nygma at the elevator, an unconscious Tabitha at his feet.
"Kitty cat," he replied with a sheepish smile, wondering if she'd be trouble. He knew Selina had recently been following Tabitha about, but she'd never made it clear which side she was on. "In case you're wondering, Tabby's just taking a nap. I'm about to take her for a car ride."
"Whyyyy?" Selina followed him as he proceeded to drag Tabitha out of the elevator.
He stopped moving to take his handkerchief out of his pocket to dab the beads of sweat off his forehead. "Because, this relationship between Barbara and Tabitha isn't working out. I'm sure you already know that."
"I do," Selina agreed. "But why is she unconscious? Who did this to her?"
Ed hesitated, then decided to go with a half-truth. "I did, but I only did that to protect her."
"Look, Barbara found Butch and Tabitha conspiring against her in the filing room. If I hadn't knocked Tabby out, she'd be lying at the bottom of the river with her boyfriend right now, alright? I did her a favor."
Selina crossed her arms across her chest, she seemed to buy most of what he'd said. "So what do you plan to do with her now?"
"Drive her as far away from Barbara as possible," lied Ed, picking Tabby up again by the shoulders.
"I'll come with," offered Selina, picking up Tabby's feet.
"No, you will not. I'm doing this alone," he insisted.
"I'm not leaving Tabitha, you'll take me to wherever you're taking her."
"No I won't."
"Yes you will, otherwise we'll be standing here till Tabby wakes up." She clung firmly to Tabitha's feet. Ed attempted to drag her away from Selina, but found that the three of them rooted to the same spot, swaying back and forth like some mad game of tug of war.
"This is ridiculous!" he finally blurted out.
"It is what it is."
"Fine! You can come. But you best make sure she doesn't return here. I don't think she'd survive another encounter with Barbara."
"That much we can agree on." Selina began moving in tandem with Nygma, noticing the spot of blood left on the ground when Tabitha was moved. "Take us to a hospital Ed, Tabby doesn't look like she's doing so good."
Ed rolled his eyes. Selina was vastly ruining his original plans for Tabitha. Still, he had to admit that he was quite ready to switch his plans if it was going to take Tabitha off his hands. "Hospital? Nah. I happen to know a talented someone who'd do a bang up job for nearly no money at all, and she'd be living in the Narrows."
She stopped moving again. "You kidding me, Nygma?"
"Dr. Lee Thompkins," he replied with a snarky smile. "I recently discovered that she's moved into the Narrows, and has opened a free clinic. No paperwork involved. A strict doctor-to-client confidentiality relationship. And she's still the same good doctor as before."
"Dr. Lee Thompkins, like the one with Detective Jim Gordon?"
"Well, they aren't together anymore, but that's quite another story." He began tugging on Tabitha again, though he found Selina un-moving, lost in her thoughts. "Are you coming?"
"I am," she said, and together, they loaded Tabitha into Nygma's backseat with Selina seated at her side.
"Yooo hooo!" Nygma sang out as both he and Selina carried Tabitha through a sea of sick people, jam packed into a little office on the ground floor of a block of apartments.
"Hey, you'll have to wait in line," a youth in jeans and a spiked up-do said from behind a desk. Nygma could only assume that she was hired as the assistant.
"Emergency situation," shrugged Nygma with a smile. "What can you do, am I right?"
A large man in a baseball shirt stepped into his way. "Everyone here's an emergency case, you're not the only one." He pointed over Ed's shoulder. "To the back of the line."
Nygma dropped his smile, and pulled out a revolver. "You were saying?"
One of the female patients pointed directly at him and said with a gasp, "Isn't this The Riddler?"
"Thank you!" said Ed out loud. "Someone with half a brain. Now all you plebs, time to leave."
"You can't do that," argued the assistant, even though some of the patients were already starting to make their way out of the clinic.
The door behind Ed opened, and Lee stepped out. "Everyone freeze!" she commanded authoritatively. The room turned to her. She pointed to Ed and Selina. "The two of you, get in here. The rest of you, stay."
Ed put away his revolver and carried Tabitha into the doctor's office, just as her previous client; a young girl and her sickly mother, shuffled out nervously.
"I appreciate you not scaring my patients," chided Lee, shutting the door behind her. Ed and Selina placed Tabitha on what looked like a stolen stretcher, all wrapped up in plastic. The room itself felt a little more spacious than the waiting space outside, but only because it was much too crowded there. A quick glance allowed Selina to spot all the cabinets full of medicine that Lee had built into the walls. There was a movable table full of surgical equipment as well, one of those mobile surgical lamps, and a tap in the corner with rubber gloves hung on the corner. For a low budget, Lee had really taken the effort to prepare for every eventuality. She was impressed. "Now what's the problem here?"
Selina did a backhanded point at Nygma. "This guy knocked Tabitha out. I saw that she's bleeding in the back of the head, so I thought she should be checked out."
Lee shot a disapproving look at Ed. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Anyway, I did my job, now she's in your hands," Ed said to Selina, and made a little wave with his fingers. "Toodeloo!" With that, he marched out of Lee's office and headed back to his car.
"You hanging out with the likes of him?" Lee asked her as she turned Tabitha over to study the wound.
"Let's just say, he's the acquaintance of an acquaintance."
Lee nodded in understanding. "Well, she has a mild concussion, but with a little rest, I think she should be just fine."
Selina stood up gratefully, and thought about moving Tabitha on her own, remembering suddenly that Nygma had just left. "Lee, is there anywhere we can hang out till Tabby wakes up on her own?"
"Yeah," she said pointing to a backdoor. "There's a little room at the back with a bed. It's kinda noisy, but I don't exactly think Tabitha will mind."
"No she won't," Selina replied with a smile.
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
Gordon, Bullock and Alfred decide on their next move.
"Bloody lack of security," grumbled Alfred, rubbing his bruised shoulder as the rest of the GCPD went about cleaning up the station after having it being run through by the whirlwind that was Barnes. "How are you coppers not even able to stop one man?"
"Hey, hey, hey," said Bullock, offended by the comment. "It's no ordinary man, Barnes was decked out on the Tetch virus."
"With the type of criminals and psychos we've been getting these days..." Jim Gordon rolled his eyes. "It's getting massively hard to keep up."
"I swear to you," Bullock prodded Jim in the chest. "The criminal element in this city has been on steroids or something. I wonder if other departments are having as hard a time as us."
"So, what's our lead now? I hope you had a plan B," said Alfred.
"The map," said Jim, motioning towards the butler. "I assume you have that owl."
Alfred nodded. "It's with Lucius, he said he was going to a professional to get it fixed."
Jim nodded, some good news at least. "Excellent. Let's work out where these hideouts are, and hopefully get to the bottom of this." Alfred grabbed his coat to follow after Jim and Harvey, but Jim wouldn't have it. "No Alfred, this is police business only. You need to stay behind just in case Bruce goes home. Someone has to be there for him."
"It's been six bloody months!" cried Alfred in aghast. "If he had the capability of getting home on his own, he would've done so sooner."
Holding a hand against Alfred's chest to keep him from following, Jim had already decided to keep the butler from finding out about the bunkers. "You'll never know. Keep your phone next to you. We'll call you with the slightest update."
Alfred still seemed unsettled, "You can't expect me to go back now. Do you know how much I have to regret? I can't stare at those four walls. Please, not right now."
"I'm sorry Alfred, I'm gonna have to insist this time. Stay home and wait for our call. We'll get Bruce back. That's a promise, alright?"
Caught between decisions, Alfred finally threw his coat down on the floor. "Damn it!"
"Come on man... you couldn't have known." Sympathetically, Jim gave him a pat on the back.
"It'll be fine, Alfie. We'll have him back before you know it," Harvey said reassuringly as they departed the station.
Lucius, Jim and Harvey gazed at the complete map, illuminated from the copy of the owl, spread over the wall like little stars in a dim sky.
"Why the hell do they need so many hideouts? Do you think they're all bunkers like the first one we encountered?" Harvey commented, pointing to all the spots on the map that had been marked out.
"If I'd to guess," Jim looked at Harvey and Lucius. "They got at least the majority of them converted into bunkers to salvage everything and everyone they wish to keep safe. Kathryn didn't deny that the Court was planning on destroying some areas of Gotham, but she did indicate that they weren't gonna use bombs."
"Why would they want to do that though? Real estate?" asked Lucius Fox.
"That, and to regain control. These guys have been in a power struggle with the underworld since the fall of Don Falcone. The younger leaders don't have the understanding that the old powers used to."
"All this over power..." Harvey shook his face at the thought. "By the dispersal of hideouts throughout the city, I'm guessing it isn't just a few buildings that they're trying to take down."
"Except the Narrows," commented Fox.
Fox stepped into the light, stood on his toes and pointed to the north western spot of Gotham where the Narrows was supposed to be. "Don't you find it odd that there are hideouts all over the city, except for the Narrows?"
Jim took a closer look. Lucius was right, the entire length and breath of the Narrows wasn't marked at all. He straightened up, his eyes widened. "I hope it doesn't mean what I think it means."
Harvey scoffed, "Survival is reserved only for the wealthy. Can they be more predictable?"
"That actually gives us a clue as to the epicenter of the attack," said Jim, pointing to the spot that Lucius had. "They're going to create the most devastation in an area that matters least to them." He traced imaginary waves of impact down to Gotham central. "Except the blast... or whatever they've planned up their sleeves, is not going to be contained to just the Narrows. It's going to travel." His finger continued to move down towards the south eastern part of Gotham where the cliffs met the shore. "We need to stop these lunatics, otherwise this might mark an end to Gotham as we know it."
"Don't have to tell me twice!" said Harvey, rearing to get going. "I'm going to check out some of those spots marked on the map, in case I can find any clues on the Wayne kid. You should head to the Narrows to see if you can find out anything."
Jim nodded. "I was going to suggest the same thing."
"I'm gonna go back to the station and get equipment to scan for signals in the area of the Narrows," declared Lucius. "If they're going to trigger something in that zone, I'll pick it up."
"Sounds good," applauded Jim. "Call if you find anything."
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
Bruce wakes up.
Bruce woke to a disagreeable sensation in both his head and inner core. Tucked under a woolen blanket, his body was caught between an outbreak of perspiration and a fit of shivers. Wrapped around his dislocated shoulder was a sling made out of tribal cloth, and blobs of mud-like substance spread over the many cuts and bruises he'd endured on his way down the slope. All around him were sticks of burning incense, and an elderly lady with strings of colorful beads around her neck, sitting before him with her hands clasped together in what seemed to be a time of prayer or meditation. She opened an eye, then both the moment she saw him moving. Gave him a little smile, then turned her head to the door and began yelling what sounded like, "Mr Peters!"
The door opened, and in came that dwarfish looking man Bruce had met before. He had a smile on his face, just like the lady beside him. "Bruce... was it? You were a little out of it when you introduced yourself."
Bruce nodded, gingerly touching his right temple as he winced. The uncomfortable sensation had not gone away. "And you're Mr Peters?" he guessed.
"Samwell Peters. Pleased to meet your acquaintance. This is Lhamo," he introduced the lady next to him. "She's the village physicist. The one who fixed you up."
The lady nodded, and said a couple of words in that language that Bruce couldn't understand. Sam listened intently, and his expression soured. "Lhamo says she did her best to heal your wounds, but you developed a fever from being out in the cold, and she doesn't think we have the right medicine to cure it." He shrugged apologetically. "Samiya is a very simple village. We make do with the herbs available to us in the woods, and once a month I take a trip to the city to get any supplies we might need. It might be something I'll have to do soon if your condition gets any worse."
"Mr Peters..." Bruce began.
Samwell grinned. "Just Sam, please."
Bruce corrected himself. "Sam. Listen... I need to get to the American embassy as soon as possible. I need to get word back home that I'm alive."
Sam traded a curious glance with Lhamo. "Your family not know that you're alive?"
"It's a long story, but I was taken against my will by a group of people up in those mountains for about half of a year now. I've barely managed to escape. I appreciate your warm hospitality, but I do need to leave soon. If you can offer me some directions to where the embassy is?"
Samwell suddenly tensed up, "Were you taken by the Ghul?"
Silence fell between them as it suddenly occurred to Bruce that Ra's might have control over the nearby villages. He wondered then if Samwell would send him back to Ra's, after all the trouble he had gone through to leave. "Yes..." he said nervously.
Clasping a hand around Bruce's, Sam sighed loudly as he looked on in relief. "Oh my Lord, I can't believe you managed to get away. They are indeed a tribe of evil, evil men."
Bruce let out a sigh of relief himself. "What do you know of them?"
"It is superstition around these parts that Ra's Al Ghul is the half deity of the god of war. That he's crumbled empires simply on whim, but not before luring them in with promises of greatness. There are tales of men around this region who ascend the mountain never to return. The people here speak of his name in fear. If what you say is true, then you're literally the only person I know who's come out of there alive. How did you do it?"
Bruce considered all his best laid plans to leave the compound, but ultimately, he knew that if it were not for the wolf, Lady Shiva would've surely bested him. "Matschie. Did I get the name of the wolf right?"
"Ah..." Sam replied, leaning back. Lhamo put a hand on his shoulder. "The fabled wolf saved you. People say that Matschie can sense goodness in a person. The fact that he accompanied you all the way down here says a lot about who you are inside."
"You believe that?" Oddly, it'd become less of a stretch to consider the possibility of a sacred wolf roaming the countryside. From Ra's immortality, to the prophecy, and now to Matschie - even though he'd arrived in Nanda Parbat a skeptic, he found himself warming up to the idea of the unknown.
Sam shrugged absently. "The land changes you, you know? I traveled here from Brisbane, three years ago, an aspiring missionary aide. Went to several places, didn't believe all the stories that were told to me - I mean, I was the one from the more advanced society. What could a backward little village in a remote part of the Tibetan valley teach me?" He nodded knowingly at Bruce. "You'd be surprised."
"I'm starting to see that myself. It's not the world that I'm accustomed to, but oddly I have seen merit to some of the things that they've said." Regardless, Bruce had had enough of Nanda Parbat, of Tibet and mystical men and mysterious wolves. He'd left Ra's to do one thing, and time wasn't going to wait. "Look, Samwell, Lhamo, I appreciate all the help, but I really do need to leave." He struggled to sit up, even though his temples were throbbing as heavily as drums.
Lhamo stood up and began fussing in her native language, pushing him back onto the bed.
"You need to lay down, Bruce," coaxed Sam. "Your fever's not going away yet, and is only going to get worse if you exert yourself. Lucky for you though, I happen to be in possession of a satellite phone. I was provided one by the association that sent me here, in the case of an attack on my person. You know how missionaries get kidnapped all the time," he chuckled regardless. "I'm to use it only in the event of an emergency. I think we can consider this one of such. Now who would you like me to call?"
There was only one person back in Gotham he'd been aching to call. A smile spread across his face just thinking about it. "Alfred Pennyworth."
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
Ivy meets someone, Alfred gets a call and Gordon searches the Narrows.
At the end of the lesson, Ivy hurriedly collected her books. She was supposed to be at Penguin's manor at a quarter to four, and already she was late. One of the books slipped out of her hands and tumbled noisily to the ground. She moved quickly to pick it up, but she found a hand there before hers, holding up the book to her. She looked up at a dashing smile that belonged to Derrick Carter - a rather tall fella, soft brown hair, green eyes, good build. She'd seen him before in class, he always had a girl on his hand. "Hey there, beautiful," he said as she took her book from him.
"Hi," she nervously laughed. Since she'd aged several years, men weren't exactly in short supply - but they were either always boring, or repulsive to her. She'd use them if she needed to. The pheromone perfume that she'd concocted did the trick of keeping them bent to her will. It certainly helped her get into college in the first place. But Derrick Carter, he'd been a conundrum. The only one that seemed to be immune to her looks, the only one who'd regularly ignore her along the hallways. Ironically, he was the only one she didn't want to cheat with her perfume. She didn't exactly know why. There was just something about him that truly fascinated her - and now he was speaking directly to her.
"You seem rather knowledgeable in botanics," he noted. She supposed he had noticed when she'd raised her hand a dozen times each lesson to ask additional questions, much to the chagrin of the lecturers. "Beauty and brains, a deadly combination."
"Naw..." she chuckled sheepishly. "I'm just curious, that's all."
He shifted closer, and her heart began to beat twice as fast. "Say... I was wondering if you could help me study? You understand all this while it's all still jibberish to me. Can I sponge off some of your intellect?"
"Really?" she said out loud, and suddenly felt embarrassed afterward. He nodded nonetheless. The guy had never showed a hint of interest, and suddenly here he was - the beautiful male specimen of Derrick Carter, asking her to teach him about botanics. How could she refuse? "Sure! I'd be most happy to."
She felt then her day would not get any better.
Alfred wasn't sleeping, he wasn't eating. He must've paced a hole into the floor, just waiting for Gordon to call - with something. With anything. By that point, he figured he'd be glad if the cops found Bruce dead somewhere. At least he'd know what happened to his boy, at least he'd be able to put him to rest.
He knew he had to get out, the wait was simply driving him insane and he might soon be pulling all his hair out if he waited any longer. He popped into the Rolls, and headed out of the property with a bunch of roses he'd picked from the garden. Racing through a forested road in the wealthier part of the city, the autumn trees whipping by in shades of green and gold. None of that managed to take his mind off all that burdened him.
Finally, he made a turn towards the Gotham Cemetery and crossed under the bronze arches that heralded his destination. Stumbling out of the car like a drunken fool, he ascended the short knoll where the Waynes had been put to rest.
He was sobbing when he knelt down before the graves of his slain employers - the promise he had made to them had been broken. He didn't know where their son was. The only living member of the Wayne family. His only charge. "Can you ever forgive me?" he cried to the slab of marble that sat before him. Engraved upon the stone were the names of Thomas and Martha Wayne, two of the finest people he had ever known. "I tried my best, I really did. But I failed. I could not keep that promise to you. To the both of you."
The slab of marble gazed down at him, cold and judgmental. They knew what he'd done. They knew how he'd neglected the signs. They knew how he'd let Bruce get kidnapped. "Don't do this to me," he continued to mutter. "Please... I need resolution. If I have to suffer for it, so let it be."
A cool gust of wind blew through the field, tossing about leaves of shades of ochre. For sometime, he watched the leaves getting tossed about, wondering if the Waynes were speaking to him from beyond the grave.
Then his phone rang.
He'd been waiting for that phone to ring for days. Snatching it out of his pocket clumsily, the phone almost slipped between his fingers from sheer enthusiasm. "Gordon!" he yelled into the phone without even checking caller ID.
"No..." came the spotty response, vague through a veil of static. "This is Samwell Peters, calling from Tibet. I have someone here who's been wanting to speak to you."
Tibet? Alfred wondered. He couldn't recall anyone he knew from that small Asian nation. That Samwell person didn't sound like someone he'd know either.
"Al... Alfred?" came a voice on the line he would know anywhere. But could it really be? He pinched himself.
"Master Bruce?" he whispered, almost afraid to allow himself to hope.
A gasp of joy was heard on the line. "It's me, Alfred. It's me!"
Alfred felt his body go weak, he put a hand on the earth beneath to support him from falling over. "Master Bruce? You're... you're... " he stammered. "Where in God's name have you been?"
"It's a long story, but I'd like to come home."
Scampering up to his feet, Alfred held his phone against his ear with two hands. Wouldn't want to go dropping it then. "Just tell me where, I'll come right away to fetch you, alright?"
"Well, I'm in a little village along the banks of the Ganga River. Sam has the coordinates. But if it's too difficult to find, I'll try to get to an embassy, and maybe they can send me to an airport."
"Master Bruce, I'm not going to bloody spare any expense to getting you back here. Don't you be silly and run off to an airport."
"Alfred... just one more thing," he said in quieter tones.
"What is it, sir?"
Gordon had been searching through the Narrows for signs of tampering, perhaps a recently built contraption somewhere in the area, or any individuals spotted in the area who might not belong. Just anything, basically. He knew it'd be a long shot. He figured Lucius probably had a better chance of tracking something down.
It was about midday when he caught a glimpse of a small crowd gathered at the base of a block of apartments. They seemed rather engaged, talking among themselves. He crossed the street, flashing his badge to the pedestrians. "Detective Gordon. What's going on here?"
They shifted uncomfortably at his approach. It was likely that they weren't exactly friendly with cops - not surprising either. Cops weren't always keen on people from the Narrows. "We're just paying a visit to the Doc."
"The Doc?" he hadn't heard that term thrown around the Narrows. He wondered if a new power player had moved to town.
They nodded. "It's all backed up in there too. Blame it on someone like the Riddler to make himself priority," said one of the younger females.
Instinctively, Gordon pricked up at the name of the Riddler, moving to the gun that was strapped to his chest. He drew a probable conclusion that Ed might be part of the Court's schemes. "What? Is he in there?"
"Nah," said the girl. "He's gone. Brought in some unconscious broad. She's still in there though."
Alarm bells spiked in Jim's head, Ed Nygma was commonly a signal of bad news. He didn't like the sound of Ed bringing in an unconscious woman, or leaving her in there. He pulled the gun completely out of its holster. The crowd gasped and slowly moved aside. "Clear it, clear it!" He held the gun right ahead of him as he made his way through the crowded office.
The patients moved away from him in fear. The assistant stood up from behind her desk. "Mister, I need you to put away the gun!" she yelled boldly.
He held out a hand to calm her. "GCPD," he assured the young lady.
The door to the doctor's office opened. Lee stood there, as surprised to see him as he was of her.
He lowered his gun. "Lee... I thought you left."
"First the Riddler, now you," she grumbled. "Come on, get in here." And to her patients. "I'll just be a while, sorry to make all of you wait."
And the crowd groaned in response.
Chapter 27: Chapter 27
Harvey tracks down the lead.
Detective Harvey Bullock tracked down the nearest location of a Court hideout to a newly erected office building currently owned by Gilbert Sionis - coincidentally the cousin of one Richard Sionis, who had been arrested by the G.C.P.D about three years ago for the sadistic treatment of his staff and was still serving time in Blackgate. Harvey didn't want to cast stereotypes, but according to his own experience, scum tend to be related to more scum. Wouldn't be a surprise if Gilbert Sionis was in on the Court.
It wasn't a particularly tall building, nor did it really reflect the luxury of Gilbert Sionis' other properties, and it was on the edge of town. Being newly built, it was yet unoccupied, even though the glass panels had already been fit in their panes, and wiring work seemed to near completion - with just a few sockets missing. The flooring, on the other hand was incomplete, even though the doors had been put up, obscuring Harvey from a good look at the place from where he was at - which was behind the glass entrance that had been locked and chain sealed. There had to be more to the place. If it was anything like the previous location, there would be a hatch of some kind, and a ladder leading deep into the ground. If he were to perform a more thorough check, he'd have to gain entry, somehow.
Walking around the building, he soon found himself in an alleyway with a mass of brick looking back down at him. All except for a grid hatch slightly above reach from himself. He heard the faint sound of a motor running through that grid, and decided it was worth to take a closer look. Searching about for something that could prop him up to that hatch, he soon found a trash container unit behind a food place just two blocks away.
Without even asking, he began pushing it through the alley, right to the Sionis building. Thankfully it was still early in the day and the unit wasn't particularly heavy, or smelly. He raised himself up onto its hood, and peered into the hatch. It was pitch black in there, warm air came out from it, and the sound of the motor was louder now.
He dug into his left pocket and pulled out a hand knife, which he then employed to remove the screws from the hatch to get the thing opened. Then he turned on a torch and stuck his head into the hatch. It was like looking into a tunnel leading all the way down - like waaay down. Exactly as he'd suspected - a deep basement, like the first.
Right then, the lid of the trash container unit underneath his feet began moving to the right. "Hey hey, what are you doing?" he asked, clinging to the open hatch to prevent himself from falling. He turned around to see two men in dark suits pushing the unit away from him. They did not speak. And they didn't acknowledge his presence either. "Can't you see I'm standing here?" he yelled, but the unit continued to move till he was dangling with his elbows in the hatch, the only thing keeping him there. He looked down, it seemed a lot longer way down than he had originally thought.
The two men looked at him. They had their hair slicked back, and black gloves on their hands. It was kind of eerie how they continued not to speak, or help him down, yet would not go away.
"Who the hell are you guys?" he asked, now getting a little more panicked than before, and his arms were getting sore already.
They exchanged glances in what seemed to be an unspoken dialogue, and moved close enough to catch him from below. Harvey didn't trust the two men, he didn't trust anyone who was purposely holding their tongue in his presence. The ground still looked far away, but he didn't want to wait to fall into the arms of the two men.
With a hard kick against the wall next to him, he propelled himself over the men, and onto a patch of grass just a stone's throw away. He tumbled, and hit the ground hard enough for his right ankle to send a shot of pain through the rest of his leg. He cried aloud, even while he struggled to get to his feet in order to deal with the two men. But he was too late. The two men kicked him down, again and again till he felt the wind leave his chest and his body ached a riot especially in the mid region. Then with a heave, the two men picked him up, each one leveraging under his shoulders, dragging him through a locked side door, and into the building he'd intended to enter - just not in this way.
That's when his phone began to ring.
Bruce's condition had worsened. He'd developed hacking coughs that'd cause him to throw up anything he managed to get down. His skin had become waxy, and dark rings formed under his eyes from the lack of rest and exhaustion from battling his fever. And he seemed to be constantly out of breath. Lhamo had become very concerned, and sought Samwell's help to drive him to town to seek a proper doctor. But just two days ago, Bruce had been very specific after speaking with Alfred Pennyworth, that he should stay put and someone would be sent to fetch him. Samwell didn't know how, or when, and didn't manage to get any answers once the coughing started.
All that Samwell knew to do was to keep Bruce warm, and watch the road for help to arrive. Little did he know that help would come from the sky.
It was evening when the sound of a chopper broke the serenity of the otherwise quiet town, and soon its rotary blades began to sweep clothes off their lines, pots off the tables. The villagers panicked, not having seen a helicopter before, thought that the sky might be falling. But Samwell assured them that it would all be fine, and they decided to watch the scene from a distance.
It was a shiny jet-black chopper with smooth rounded edges, like one of those luxury types - not the common ones that Samwell would occasionally see flying past. Upon its side was an emblem with a large letter "W" on the side. If the chopper was for Bruce, as he'd assumed, he could only infer that the boy belonged to a wealthy family.
The chopper landed right in the middle of the clearing, in the center of the village. The engine kept going as a couple of men in polo shirts with the same emblem down the back, hopped out and began unloading boxes onto the ground next to the chopper. Another man, who was dressed in a gentleman's coat, exited with two paramedic staff and a stretcher. He barked some orders to them that Samwell couldn't hear, and they began carrying the stretcher over the rocky ground towards his direction. "Samwell Peters?" he yelled over the sound of the blades.
"Yes!" Sam shouted back. "You're here for Bruce?"
The man nodded, his eyes red with emotion. Sam guessed that he might be the man who had spoken to Bruce on the phone. "Where is he?"
"Here!" Sam guided the three men into the hut where Bruce lay. "He's not doing too good, you've arrived just in time."
But the man Sam believed to be Alfred, had already hurried to Bruce's side and had his arms around him. Bruce continued to cough through the embrace, but Sam could see him leaning into the hug, a wide smile on his face. Then picking him up gently, the three men transferred him onto the stretcher. Bruce reached out a hand to Sam, beckoning him over. "Thank you... Sam," he said between wheezing coughs.
Sam took his hand and squeezed his appreciation. "We'll miss you," he replied.
Alfred gave him an approving nod, and they carried the stretcher outside with Sam following close behind. He noticed that the men in polo shirts had finished their unloading - there was a heap of boxes on the ground that they didn't seem interested to retrieve. "Wait!" he yelled to Alfred over the whirring. Alfred stopped and turned around. "What are the boxes for?"
Alfred replied, "Master Bruce thought that you might need supplies for your little camp. There are pills, medical equipment, food and other things I figured you might find useful for survival out here."
Sam was astonished by Bruce's generosity. But more than that, he'd come to assume that Alfred must be a relative - except a relative wouldn't refer to his nephew as 'master'. "Sorry... but how are you related to Bruce?" he asked.
"I'm the personal butler to Mr Bruce Wayne," said Alfred proudly, a smile on his face. "Thank you for all your help Mr Peters. I wish you well in all your endeavors." With a brief bow, Alfred followed the stretcher and popped himself back into the chopper as it began to take flight.
Mr Bruce Wayne... Bruce had said his name to him before, though he'd caught just the half of the last name that first time. For some reason, his name in full sounded very familiar to him. Sam caught the last glimpse of that emblem as the chopper rose to the sky and took off into the sunset. W... for Wayne. As in Wayne Enterprises? "You don't say!" Sam blurted out to himself. At that point, it seemed to be very much the case. Bruce Wayne had been in their camp for three days, and they had no idea.
But even curiouser still - what did the Ghul want with Bruce Wayne?
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
Gordon visits Lee.
Tabitha had finally come to after a moderately long wait in that room behind the clinic, that coincidentally could've doubled up as a sauna. Selina was slick with sweat and kind of an expert at paper ball waste-bin tossing by then. Lee wasn't kidding when she'd warned of the noise. Everything discussed in the doctor's office rang loud and clear, as though Lee herself, was standing in that very room.
"Geez... hope you had a good nap," she sniped at Tabby.
Still groggy, Tabitha rubbed the back of her head where she'd been clubbed and tried to remember how she'd gotten to that room. "Where am I?"
"You're in the Narrows. Ed and I carried you here."
"Ed?" Memories of that conversation with Butch began to come back to her.
"According to him, Barbara would've shot you had he not knocked you out first. Looks like that relationship is over."
Butch was dead. He was shot in the head, by Barbara, no less. He was dead because Barbara trusted Ed over them. That much Tabitha remembered quite clearly. She grit her teeth, finding all the motivation in the world to get off that bed and go get Barbara back.
"Oh whoa whoa whoa..." Selina backed her down. "You're not going back."
"Are you suicidal? Barbara is going to kill you."
"Not if I kill her first," snapped Tabitha, touching the side of her hip in the search for her gun. It wasn't there. Her whip was gone as well.
"Come on! Ed said you and Butch were planning on betraying Barbara anyway. Why go back to that?"
Tabitha glared Selina down with wide open eyes. "Barbara shot Butch. She should not be allowed to come away from that."
"Tabby, calm yourself down! If you go over there this hot-headed you'll...." she trailed off when she thought she heard Detective Gordon's voice in the next room. Tabitha must've heard the same thing because she immediately turned around and temporarily put all plans of revenge on ice.
"So should I ask you what are you doing back here, or should I ask why didn't you tell me?" Jim asked Lee, the moment they got some time alone.
She sighed and leaned on her steel filing cabinet, trying to think of the best way to approach his question. "I've spent such a long time being mad at you, Jim - about the whole Mario situation. I was so bitter that it made me unprofessional. I don't like being that person."
"I know," he softened to her. "I don't blame..."
She cut in quickly. "No, let me finish." And only continued when he backed down. "I knew I had to leave you, and I got on the train to do that. But I didn't get very far. I wanted to leave you, but it was you, not the city, I didn't see the point to leave completely. So I turned around and came back. By then, I'd already ended my contract with my previous landlord, so I knew if I were to return to Gotham, finding a new place would have to be my first and utmost priority. Just..." she absently shook her face. "It was really last minute, and I didn't want to be anywhere I might accidentally bump into you, so I ended up in the Narrows. You probably know that I've not spent a lot of time in the Narrows, the last time I visited was... I think seven years ago, but little did I think that it would deteriorate to levels I never thought possible - it was just appalling. The poor sleeping on bare pavements. Factories turned into drug-houses. Under-aged girls trying to earn a wage selling their bodies. Kids, rummaging through the trash. It was so painful to see that I thought about leaving Gotham for real and never coming back - but just then I stumbled on a crowd gathered in an alleyway. They surrounded this poor woman who was laid on the ground, going through labor all alone, crying for help. Nobody knew how, so they just stood there and watched. I guess... it was sheer instinct on my part - I dove in with whatever knowledge I've gathered of childbirth, and delivered the baby into its mother's arms." She paused to savor the memory, a smile brightening her face. "That moment, Jim. I can't describe. It was like I was reborn. I finally understood my purpose in this world - and wouldn't have to go on wandering it aimlessly. Regardless of how far gone the Narrows looks, it has hope." Instinctively her hands extended as though she were holding the baby from the alley in her own arms. "I could be that person to bring hope."
Jim soaked it all in, and finally he nodded when her motivations became a little clearer to him. "So you built this place?" he asked, looking around in newfound admiration.
"I put all my savings into setting up this free clinic, but it hasn't been easy. With no money coming in, and so many people here who still need help, I think I might've been more ambitious than practical about it."
"Lee," he said, holding onto one of her shoulders. It made her tense up. "You're doing a good work here. I can't express how inspired I am of you."
She stared at his hand on her shoulder, then she just shook it away. "That time is past, Jim," she said coldly. "My work is here now, in the Narrows. I won't have the time or energy for a relationship."
"You mistake my intent. I..."
"You're here for the Riddler," she completed the sentence for him, very matter-of-factly. "He came, dropped off Tabitha Galavan and left."
"Tabitha Galavan..." he repeated, looking about the room. He'd almost lost track of what he'd intended to do in Lee's office.
"She's in the back," Lee pointed to the door behind her so that he would know where to find Tabby.
But Jim didn't need to open the door because Tabitha did it for him. Selina a few steps behind her.
"Hmm," he said, addressing Tabitha directly. "Perhaps you'd like to tell me what two of you were doing with Edward Nygma."
"That's our business," replied Tabitha, haughtily.
"It'll be everyone's business if Ed is connected to some very dangerous people I've been investigating. I need to stop them."
"And who might that be?"
Stubbornly, he put his hand on a hip. "Need to know basis. Do you know if Ed Nygma has been paying visits to the Narrows?"
Tabitha exchanged a puzzled look with Selina. "I don't think so. He's been spending all his time getting Barbara under his spell - and plotting revenge against Oswald." Jim opened his mouth to ask, but stopped when Tabby added, "Don't even ask. Anyway, with all the time he's put into replacing us, I can't see how he'd have time for anything else."
"So why did he drop you off here, of all places?" Side note to Lee, "No offense."
Lee and Tabitha turned to Selina for answers. "Hey, he said Lee was offering free medical care."
Tabby looked at in disbelief. "Really! Selina..."
"Come on, it's Lee," Selina tried her best to explain. "We all know she'll do a good job."
"Maybe I should point out that 'free healthcare' is a privilege only reserved for those who can't afford it." Lee pointed out.
Jim's phone rang, and he answered it. Inevitably cutting short the discussion among the females in the room. "What?" It would seem that the person on the other side of the line had sprung some rather surprising news on Jim. He replied, "I'll be there as soon as I can." Then put down the phone and turned to the others in the room. "You'll have to work this out without me. I need to head off..."
The phone rang again.
"One sec," he excused himself as he retrieved the second call. "Gordon." The room waited for him in silence as he remained engaged with the conversation on his phone. "Where's he been?" asked Jim. As the person continued to speak, Jim took a panning look at the ladies that ended with Selina, his glance remained on her. Selina creased a brow, suspect that his phonecall might involve her directly or indirectly. "Alfred, at any other time I'd drop everything to be there, but right now, there's been umm..." he continued to look at Selina. "Something's just happened that I urgently need to attend to. Meanwhile, I'll send Alvarez and a few other cops to Gotham General to watch..." The person on the other side of the line might've have cut the line prematurely because Jim never got to finish his sentence. He only removed the phone from his ear and stared at it for a bit.
"Who's in Gotham General?" asked Selina, already holding her suspicions. There'd only be one reason for Alfred to call Gordon.
Jim looked thoughtfully at Selina, then told her, "It's Bruce, Selina. They've found him."
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
Ivy studies with Derrick, Gordon deals with a breakout.
Ivy had been babbling along on plants for the past hour but Derrick wasn't listening. His gaze upon her was apparent and it made her nervous. Men looked at her like that when she tantalized them with the scent of her perfume, but Derrick was entranced with none of that, she'd made sure to leave it all off her person - she simply had to know if Derrick was genuinely interested. "Are you even listening to me?" she asked with a laugh.
He smiled briefly, a dimple forming on the cheek that he rested on his palm. "Horticulture, perennials, shrubs..." he went off the top his head. "You sure have a lot of passion for plants, that much I can see."
"I thought we all did," she replied. "Plants are the raw essence of the earth, the flesh and blood of a living breathing world. Without them, we would not survive."
Derrick chuckled. "Look at you, a true blue environmental activist. I like that crinkle in your nose you get when you get all excited."
Instinctively she put a hand on the bridge of her nose. "There's a crinkle?"
He put his hand on hers, and moved it away from her nose. His touch made her tingly inside. "Don't hide it, Ivy."
Then without any warning, he dove directly onto her lips, clutching her tight as he did. Ivy was surprised at his approach, and yet she didn't find herself minding much. She leaned back on the couch where they'd been sitting together with his weight pressed upon her. Derrick's hands weaved up her back in circular motions till they found the zip of her dress. His fingers wrapped around the zip in an instant, drawing it down in one smooth movement. Ivy blushed, she'd never been with a man like this and didn't know if she was ready to completely give herself away. Wriggling away from his lips, she managed to free herself temporarily, "Wait... we're going a bit too fast."
"You say that, but I can see that you want it bad." He held on even tighter.
She couldn't tell him that deep inside she was still a fourteen-year-old. How could he know? How would he understand what had happened to her? But right in that instance, she wasn't sure she felt comfortable with his hands all over her parts. "I don't know, I don't like it," she said bashfully.
"Don't play coy, Ivy. You'll wake the predator in me," he paused. "Unless that was your intention all along. Oh you bad girl," Derrick growled dramatically and came onto her with twice the intensity.
A little less sure of him than before, she struggled to get free, but that only made him bite down onto her bottom lip. It made her yelp, and she could taste blood in her mouth. She didn't want to do this anymore, but he was stronger than she was and wasn't giving her up yet. Her dress was coming off, and she didn't have the ability to fight him off with his knees clamped down on her thighs. The sense of helplessness made her whimper.
The weeping sound from her made him push off her. For a moment, relief swept over her, thinking the message had finally got through to him. But he just stared down and spoke harshly to her face, "Quit it bitch! You're supposed to enjoy this."
She shook her face, her lips quivery with the pain of the torn lip and fear of the mass of testosterone that towered over her. "I don't want it. Let me go."
But she found no mercy in the man. Instead he slapped her right across the face, hard enough to make her stop whimpering. "Yeah right, you start me up and expect me to just leave like that? No way." He came down on her again, tearing the rest of the clothes from her body.
The true terror of the moment began to dawn on Ivy. Desperately, she put in her best effort to struggle to get free, but this only resulted in her getting pummeled repeatedly by Derrick Carter, a man who had spent hours in the gym to perfect that body of his. A body that was presently crushing her, over and over again, and wouldn't stop till she relented.
Gordon arrived to a chaotic scene at Arkham. Cops shooting down inmates on the loose, taking any in they managed to capture. Throwing his weight into the effort, he spotted an individual dressed in the signature Arkham uniform, trying to make a break for the fence that was supposed to keep the inmates in. He took a running leap at the guy, and tackled him onto the stony ground. The inmate screeched in frustration. He'd come that close to freedom, but it wasn't his time to leave yet.
Locking the inmate's arm around his back, Gordon picked up the unwilling man and headed back. He found Officer Bailey standing next to the single G.C.P.D armored vehicle they had driven down from the station. He had his gun extended, pointed at the crowd, but wasn't shooting. "Careful with that," said Jim, pointing at his gun.
"Detective Gordon, I'm guarding our armored vehicle," he reported.
Jim raised a brow. "I think you may need more guarding than the vehicle," he commented, and Bailey looked at him. He decided to change the topic. "So, have we formed a secure zone? I have this inmate I need to deposit."
"Right," said Bailey, putting his gun away quickly. "Yeah, the officers have locked down the cafeteria, we're holding the captured inmates there for now till we can get things back in order."
"Do we know how the breakout happened?"
"I heard that several men entered the premises, killed the guards, and unlocked like the entire east wing," replied Bailey.
"We know who they were?"
Bailey shook his head. "We'll have to have a look at those security cameras first, Detective."
Gordon gave what Bailey had told him some thought. "East wing... isn't that Jerome Valeska's wing?"
Jim nodded. Bailey's eyes went large. It seemed not to have occurred to him before. "Did someone get Valeska?"
"I haven't the time to look at the prisoner log, sir. But I haven't seen Valeska, no."
Jim sighed loudly. It was going to be one long week.
Chapter 30: Chapter 30
Selina visits Bruce in the hospital.
"You don't get that I might've just saved your life!" Selina raised her voice over the usual hustle at Gotham General. She didn't want to have to babysit Tabitha, but she didn't trust her to keep away from Barbara. Tabby had only followed her as far as the hospital before making some lame excuse to split off from her. With the need to keep an eye on Tabby, Selina had considered abandoning her attempt to visit Bruce. After all, the last encounter they had wasn't particularly pleasant, and she wasn't sure if it was still going to be awkward with him. But she figured she owed him that much just to check that he's alright. Anyway... it'd been six months since the fight under the bridge, and to risk a pun - it should be water under the bridge. She shuddered just thinking about how long he'd been gone to god-knows-where.
"Fine, you saved me," admitted Tabitha, unhappy with the arrangement, yet she still followed after Selina for the moment. "But you can't expect me to just hang around you and twiddle my thumbs. Even if I can somehow put aside Butch getting shot in the head, half of that club still belongs to me. How long do you expect me to keep away?"
"Till we can get this figured out. We'll find a way to get back what belongs to you, Tabby. Just give it time, and let me deal with this first." Selina turned to the lady at the information counter who welcomed her with a polite smile. "Hi there. Can you tell me which room Bruce Wayne is in?"
The lady's smile slipped as her focus shifted to Selina's leather getup. "Erm... we've instructions not to let just anyone in."
"I'm not just 'anyone'," she replied, a little offended by the lady. "Bruce and I are friends."
The lady looked away and cleared her throat intentionally as she whispered, "Yeah right," under her breath. "You should come back some other time, miss. Bruce Wayne is in a secure ward that is only open to friends and family."
Tabitha laughed from where she was standing, didn't seem to care about helping Selina with her problem. Selina glared at the lady behind the counter, feeling tempted to smack her in the face when she noticed a huge, elaborate wreath of flowers on a wooden stand, making its way through the lobby, with the words "Get Better Soon - from all of us at Dechert & Paxton LLP" plastered on the front. She recognized the name from billboards around the city - they were a reputable law-firm, at least, according to them. A big name law-firm sending an expensive wreath of flowers to someone upstairs could only mean a desperate attempt to impress.
Selina grabbed Tabitha's hand and whispered to her, "Follow that wreath!" Tabby hadn't a clue what plans Selina had up her sleeve, but decided to follow just out of curiosity.
Picking up the pace, they managed to slip into the elevator that the delivery guy had entered, just in the nick of time. "Which floor?" he peeped out from behind the wreath.
Selina stole a glance at the number panel and saw that the twelveth floor was lighted up. "Twelve," she responded nonchalantly.
The delivery guy smiled, particularly at Tabitha, "What a coincidence, we're going to the same floor."
Tabitha noticed the attention and rolled her eyes.
"What a big wreath you have," Selina commented mid-way up to the twelveth floor.
"No kiddin'. Not cheap either, but these law firms would move the heavens to get a contract with a company as large as Wayne Enterprises."
"Hmm... Wayne Enterprises, you say?" Selina caught Tabitha's familiar grin, just as she slammed a fist into the face of the delivery guy. He hit the wall of the elevator behind him and folded onto the ground.
Just moments after, the elevator door opened to the twelveth floor. The lighting was dimmer on this floor than it was on other floors, and the wards were preceded by a lavish second lobby surrounded by lots of glass paneling, wood flooring and high-end seating. Both ladies picked up the wreath as they stepped over the man on the floor, and entered the lobby, waiting till the elevator door, together with the unconscious man, shut behind them before they carried on through the lobby. "Delivery for Mr Bruce Wayne," Selina announced to the nurses behind the counter.
They barely spared Tabitha and her a glance before pointing the way down the west corridor. "Fifth door to the right," said one of them. Selina peered down the west corridor and noticed the fair number of elaborate wreaths and bouquets already lining the corridor. "No flowers in the ward," warned the nurse. "Leave the wreath outside."
Selina nodded quickly, and moved to the fifth room down the corridor. Tabby and her put the wreath down beside the others, and Selina went ahead to open the door to the ward.
Within the huge glass paneled ward, surrounded by three large television screens, three nurses surrounded the only bed in the middle of the room, a cop standing watch just a few feet away. They turned apprehensively when she entered, the cop reaching for his gun. She froze in place, not having expected to receive such a reception. "No visitors allowed," said the cop, moving towards her.
Bruce looked up from the bed, his face was rife with thin scabs and bruises, and he had a respirator on - one that he tore away quickly. "Let her in," he said to the cop.
The cop turned to him in protest. "But Mr Wayne, doctor's instructions..." The nurses nodded in agreement.
"Need I remind you all that Gotham General receives annual donations from my company," he told them firmly. "Should I speak with your supervisors?"
They traded anxious glances, the nurses relenting first. "If Mr Wayne wants to have a visitor, he should be allowed," one of them said, the others agreed almost immediately.
The cop initially hesitated, then decided to negotiate for a compromise. "Maybe just one visitor instead of two?"
Selina turned to Tabitha. Tabby shrugged. "Whatever, the seats look comfortable outside anyway. I'll see you later," she turned to leave.
Bruce placed his attention on the nurses. "The three of you too," he said, then to the cop, "And him."
"But Mr Wayne, we aren't done..." argued one of the nurses.
"You're done when I say that you're done," he told them stubbornly.
They seemed uncomfortable with the proposition, but more afraid of him than they would risk their careers for. Obediently, they shuffled out, including the cop, who right before he left said, "I'll just be outside if you need me, Mr Wayne." And the door shut behind them, leaving Selina alone with Bruce.
She laughed at the thought of Bruce bossing those adults around. It rarely occurred to her how influential he might be in society. He was always just plain o' Bruce to her. "That was pretty cool... what you did," she said, motioning towards the shut door.
"Selina," he said, looking intently at her. "I didn't expect you to come. I didn't know if we were still on speaking terms."
"Are we?" she said with a smile, moving closer to him.
"I'd like to be," he replied quietly. "Thank you for coming."
She plopped herself down on the edge of his bed, noticing for the first time that one of his arms was wrapped up in a cast. The other arm was bandaged up to the elbow. "What the heck happened to you, Bruce?"
"A lot," he said with a mild chuckle.
It suddenly occurred to her that Five looked exactly like Bruce, and she never knew where he went after that fight in the Wayne Manor. She stood up from the bed, cautious not to be fooled again. "You are Bruce, aren't you?"
"Ah... Alfred told me about that encounter you had with Five. Guess we all got fooled by him."
"Wait, before we go on," said Selina, still cautious. "Tell me something only the real Bruce Wayne would know."
Bruce smiled as he mimicked Selina. "Have you ever kissed a girl?"
She laughed in response, thinking to smack him playfully for his poor imitation - then deciding against it due to his current condition. "I can't believe how lame I was back then," she said in embarrassment.
"We were both lame," he replied. "But we were kids, so we're excused."
She returned to the corner of his bed, elated that her friend was back. And that their fight was, at least for the moment, resolved. Six months ago, she'd determined to stop speaking to him, but she'd never really felt at peace in regards to the whole situation. Sure, he'd got her in a susceptible position to be hurt by Maria, again. But deep inside she knew he'd meant well, in his own odd twisted way. "So that arm," she inquired, pointing to the one in the cast.
"Dislocated, but it'll be fine soon," he replied. And when she continued to question with her expression, he carried on with a brief explanation, "I fell."
"And everything else?" she asked, waiting for a more in-depth explanation.
Again, he kept it brief. "The fall."
"So..." she said, suddenly feeling awkward about him holding back with her. She couldn't understand it - he was so warm one minute, only to be cold the next. "Where were you for six months?"
"Tibet? Why? Who took you?"
His expression tightened, and his eyes went shifty. She remembered when he'd last been like that - when he was trying to hide Five from her. "Selina, I'm really sorry but I can't talk about it."
She stood up. As much as she enjoyed being with Bruce, she couldn't seem to shake that side of him that would occasionally keep her locked out. She wondered if he knew how much stuff like that annoyed her. "You think you're trying to protect me again. Haven't I already told you that I can protect myself?"
Bruce pushed himself up into a sitting position. It seemed to take quite a bit out of him to do that. She only then noticed the beads of sweat running down the side of his temples, and the thin whistle out of his nostrils. "I don't mean to fight. Let's not do this," he told her, already looking exhausted.
Selina remembered the respirator that he had removed when she'd entered. She pointed to it, "Do you need to put that back?"
"I will, later."
"Why do you need it anyway?"
He picked up the respirator and held it in his hands. "I came back from Tibet with a mild case of pneumonia, but I'll be fine."
"Let's see," she wrapped her arms around her chest and looked at him. "You spent six months in Tibet, goodness knows how you got there in the first place. Then... something that you won't tell me. And then you fell, dislocated your arm. Oh and now you have pneumonia. But all in all, you'll be fine. Did I get that right?"
He let out a laugh, though it sounded more like a sigh. "That pretty much covers it. Are you mad?"
Selina widened her eyes in sheer disbelief that he would ask her that question. She wanted to storm out of that room in anger, but something bid her to come to terms that that was a Bruce Wayne trait that would probably never change. He'd always want to protect her, even if it came down to her own disadvantage. "Nah," she said after some thought. "Why would I be mad over some dumb little thing like that?" She lied about not caring, even though she did. But she figured it wasn't exactly worth losing their friendship over.
Bruce smiled appreciatively at her, then leaned back in his bed.
"You'd better get some rest. I have to go look for Tabitha."
He nodded slowly, holding the respirator to his face as his lids started looking droopy. "Thanks again for coming, Selina."
"Sure, get better soon Bruce."
Then she left his room to search for Tabitha. But Tabby wasn't on the seats on the twelveth floor like she'd said. And when she got down to the first floor, she found a bunch of hospital staff standing over the still unconscious delivery guy, looking through his wallet to figure out his identity and why he'd passed out in the elevator.
A quick sweep of the place told her Tabitha wasn't on the ground floor either. There was a high chance that Tabby had gone to confront Barbara after all, just in the few minutes she'd allowed herself to be distracted.
Chapter 31: Chapter 31
Jerome meets up with others, Harvey meets the man in charge.
"71 Welling Avenue," repeated Jerome as he stood before a moderately large low rise building with a large two panel door. "Hmm... why would Bobby send me here?"
He'd broken off with the rest of the escaping inmates before the cops had arrived. From there, he'd entered the first vehicle he'd encountered, stationary before a traffic junction. The driver, a short hispanic man, hadn't recognized him. He'd yelled a string of angry words at Jerome before he lost his throat, and rode the rest of the journey in a pool of blood in the passenger's seat. Jerome continued to converse with him - told him all about his friends at Arkham, and all about Bobby. But his travelling companion would only gawk at him with lifeless eyes. So Jerome decided after a while that silence would probably serve them all best.
There was a camera right above the door to 71 Welling Avenue. It turned to look at him, and in turn he looked at the camera. Giving it a friendly wave, together with a large grin on his face, he relished in the attention. "Bobby!" he said to the camera. "How'd you know that I love surprises? I'd have to say that so far, this is a pretty good one. Can't wait to see what you have in store for me!"
He worked the knob on the door, it wasn't locked. It opened up to a large open room, full of barrels. The words 'Indian Hill' printed on the side.
"Jerome Valeska, I presume?"
He realised he wasn't alone. Apparently Bobby had sent friends to his party! On the other side of the room stood Jervis Tetch and Jonathan Crane. He recognized them from having shared the same wing at Arkham.
"Three old friends meet in a room, shall we know the reason for this soon?" Tetch was still in Arkham uniform, though Crane was fully decked out as a living, breathing scarecrow. The folks back at home had decided after a couple of psychological tests that Crane would be a lot more lucid with his attire on, and granted him use of it.
"I was given a note with this address," Jerome responded, holding up the bloodied piece of paper.
Crane raised up his hand with a similar note of his own, and so did Tetch. "Curiouser and curiouser!" Tetch said with glee. "I wonder who's our host, and whether he is close. Three more notes scribbled in ink," he pulled out a note and handed it to Jerome. "Read yours and tell us what you think."
Bobby's surprise kept getting larger and larger, Jerome was most impressed. He accepted his note gratefully, and opened it up. A key fell out and into the palm of his hand. Scribbled on the second note were details on usage of that key to get into the Gotham Broadcasting station. Then instructions on how to tap into live broadcast. He read his note out loud to the other two men.
"My note gives instructions to an underground lab right underneath this place, the chemical composition of the substance in those barrels, and instructions on how to turn them into a gaseous compound," added Crane, tapping the side of one of the metallic kegs.
"I have an address of a hangar in mine," said Tetch. "It says a blimp is what we will find. There is also a date for when all this should be done, all three of us executing our roles on June oh-one."
Jerome giggled in delight. Tetch, Crane and himself were all meant to be parts of some elaborate plan by some insane genius. "Oooh, I love this surprise, don't the two of you?"
"Do you think it's a trap?" asked Crane, and Tetch shot him a look of concern.
"A trap wouldn't be half as fun," he replied. "No my friends, I believe this is the real thing. The question is, why? We can start by finding out what exactly that substance does."
"Oooh, let me search for an unwilling victim," volunteered Tetch, rubbing his palms together. "He will uncover the secrets hidden within."
"I'll open up the lab, get it ready for experimentation," said Crane, pleased about the prospect of having his very own private lab.
"And I..." said Jerome with an ecstatic grin. "I'll hunt down the people responsible for this delight so we can thank them properly."
Harvey's phone had been ringing off the hook till one of the men who'd taken him captive, decided to turn it off completely. He'd been taken into a room behind one of those doors that was visible from the front. The two doors led to a single empty room that had no windows and not even proper flooring, very much unlike the front of the building. Suspended from the ceiling was a single florescent light-bulb that cast long shadows onto the walls. The only thing significant in the room was the large square hatch on the ground, very similar to the hatch that led down to the bunker in the first location. It was all starting to look like a pattern.
His hands were bound behind him, his sides hurt like crazy from the beating he'd taken, and with those two silent men still criss-crossing around him, he didn't see any way to leave. "So... how long do we expect to stay like this?" he asked them, not exactly expecting an answer. "What if I need to get up and pee?" The two men didn't stop, they continued to pace and keep an eye on him. "Yeah... crap..." Harvey grumbled to himself.
It wasn't long till one of those doors opened though - Harvey couldn't say he'd expected to see the man standing behind that door, although by that point, he wasn't particularly surprised.
"Harvey Bullock... how fascinating to find you here. Now what shall I do with you?"
Dr. Hugo Strange shut the door behind him and stepped into the light.
Chapter 32: Chapter 32
Tabitha makes her move, Jim gets more news.
Oswald Cobblepot stood over his slain lawyers, the city state title deed torn to shreds and scattered over their corpses. He cried out in frustration, turning to Victor Zsasz who had entered the meeting room with him. "I meant to do this the proper legal way, and this is what I get in return?! Why are people in this town so sick in the head?"
Zsasz merely shrugged, a look of amusement on his face. If murder was indeed a sickness, then Zsasz was the unapologetic master of it.
Penguin took a quick scan across the room, apart from the slain lawyers, Ivy was obviously missing. "Guarding the lawyers was Ivy's one and only task, and her last chance... may I add. Even then, she has failed at my most basic command. Out of my immense goodwill, I allowed her to register for those classes, I even paid for them for Pete's sake. And what do I get in return? She's always late, always lost in her thoughts."
"I told you to hire Wendell instead, you didn't listen," Zsasz gently reminded.
"Wendell doesn't exactly come cheap - but at this point, I don't really care. I'm firing Ivy. Get Wendell on route, and that Fries guy too. As for Barbara, I want her torn limb from limb! And Ed... ooh I have something very special planned for Ed."
The door opened behind Oswald. Both he and Zsasz spun around, guns aimed at the sound. Tabitha stood in the doorway, unafraid of the danger those barrels posed. "I want in, Penguin. The deal you presented to Butch, revenge on Barbara and Nygma."
"Oh?" said Oswald skeptically. "And what makes the Tabby-cat suddenly have a change of heart? This stinks of a trap. Tell me, what did Barbara tell you to come here for?"
"No trap," she replied. "We've had our differences Oswald, but I'm willing to put all that aside when there're bigger fish to fry. I cannot forgive the man who took my hand, nor the woman who took Butch. And you need to get revenge for what she's done to your lawyers."
Surprised by the news, Oswald turned a ear to her, wobbling a tad closer. "Excuse me? Took Butch?"
"Butch is dead," reported Tabitha heavy-heartedly. "Shot in the head by that bitch. She's gone too far, power's gone to her head, she's completely out of control!"
"I agree!" yelled Penguin, pointing at Tabitha for her conclusion. "I only wanted to reclaim what was rightly mine. And they can't fault me for being unreasonable, I had a proper reimbursement offer. They had to refuse it completely and then spit on me with all this violence!"
"Wait," Tabitha just had to confirm. "Butch said the deal you wanted to make involved letting me run the Sirens club. Is that still on the table?"
"The Iceberg Lounge," corrected Penguin. "It will belong to me. But if you join me, I will allow you to manage it. If you ask me, you won't get better on that offer. Especially not with her."
Tabby gave it some thought, then extended her hand. "Fair enough, you have a deal."
"Jerome Valeska, Johnathan Crane and Jervis Tetch are among the missing," Officer Bailey reported after taking a count of all retained inmates against the Asylum log.
Jim wiped the side of his forehead as he reviewed the security footage on the breakout. There were about three men involved - all dressed smartly in black, and apart from one in particular, a thin mask across their eyes, hair slicked back in a similar fashion. Jim had previously encountered men in get-ups similar to these three before; the Court referred to them as Talons. Silent professional assassins who did the Court's bidding. The real question was, nonetheless, what would the Court stand to benefit from an Arkham breakout? "Do you know how much trouble these three could cause, just all on their own?"
"What should we do, sir?" asked Bailey, the concern finally showing on his face.
Shaking his head, Jim muttered to mostly himself, "If the Court is planning some major devastation in the city, maybe this is all a part of it. But how would they bend the lunatics to their will?"
Speaking a little clearer, Jim asked, "Where is Harvey? It's sure taking him an eternity to get here."
"Bullock's un-contactable on his phone, Detective. We've tried dozens of times. And the line is now disconnected."
"What?" Jim exclaimed with a growl. "Why wasn't I told of this?"
"You were occupied, sir. We all were," Bailey explained, instinctively leaning away from Jim.
Gordon grit his teeth as he went on, "Is there anything else I wasn't told while I was 'busy'?"
"Alvarez called a while ago. Said Bruce Wayne has important information for the GCPD. Says it's urgent and you have to be there."
"Darn it!" yelled Jim. It was true when they say that when it rains, it pours. "I'm getting pulled in all directions. I can't be everywhere at once!"
Bailey waved a hand to calm down the detective. "We'll handle things here at Arkham. Get the inmates back in their pens. You don't have to be here."
Jim nodded, trying to get his focus back. "Alright. Call the station, ask Harper to check street cameras to track down Valeska, Crane and Tetch. Get someone else to ping the last whereabouts for Harvey's phone and call me once it's available. Meanwhile, I'm going to go get that information from Wayne."
"Yes sir," Bailey reported, taking out his phone and dialing numbers in.
Chapter 33: Chapter 33
Ivy returns, and Selina looks for Tabitha.
In the middle of the night, the heavens opened and poured torrents down onto the streets where Ivy stumbled; hurt, confused and alone. She'd managed to wrangle herself free the moment Derrick Carter fell asleep. As soon as she was able, she retrieved her items and hurried onto the street. She was free at last. Except it didn't feel like a victory at all, quite the contrary in fact. Something in her had perished in that room, she felt it crumble to dust beneath her waking breath. She didn't know what it was, but it felt important.
Every street light glared menacingly, every splash of raindrop cruel to her ears. The seedy eyes of strangers followed her everywhere she went, all wanting to devour a piece of her; like scavengers scouring the scraps of a predator after it had had its fill. She wanted to break apart as the rain continued to batter indiscriminately on her aching body, but she willed herself to continue trudging on, telling herself that Oswald would care. He would shelter her. He would get revenge for her.
But it wasn't Oswald who met her at the gate, it was Victor Zsasz. The man who specialized in a hundred methods to inflict the most torturous wounds on his enemies, had become calloused to the sight. "I've got specific instructions to keep you out." He stood in her way, without a single sign of sympathy at the state she was in.
"You've been late, and you haven't been... all here. Those were his words. As such, it's my duty to inform you that you're fired, Ivy Pepper."
"I've had things happen to me! I've had a really really crappy day, I don't want to deal with this now," she cried above the sound of the rain. "Let me in there immediately!"
"Nope," Zsasz wouldn't budge, holding a hand out to stop her. "You don't belong here anymore. Time to scoot along."
"Has Oswald forgotten that it was me who fished him out of the harbor and nursed him back to health? He wouldn't be alive if not for me."
"Don't care," said Zsasz, completely disinterested in her story. "Tell that to someone who bothers."
"So you'll what? Turn me away in the middle of a storm?"
Zsasz nodded. "Looks like it."
Ivy let out a low growl as she unleashed herself at Zsasz that she might tackle him away from the door. Unfortunately, true to his reputation, Zsasz already had a revolver pressed against her forehead before she even managed to touch him.
"Try it," he dared her. "My finger's getting slippery."
Her growl had turned to a quiet whimper. She knew she wasn't getting past Zsasz, and probably what he said was also true - that Oswald didn't care for her anymore. Oswald had been getting increasingly impatient with her. Her lateness had probably exacerbated things. As she backed away from the gun, her whimper turned into weeping as she realised that she'd come to the end of the relationship she once had with Oswald Cobblepot - as for helplines go - she had a final one. One final friend to look for.
"Where's she?" Barbara burst out at Selina, her hands threatening to strangle her ex-partner's mentee. This made Edward Nygma nervous. It wasn't even a day and Selina had already lost sight of Tabitha. He silently chided himself for leaving his potential enemy in the care of an eighteen-year-old girl.
"I thought she'd come here!" stated Selina, partially relieved not to have found Tabitha in the middle of shooting up the Sirens Club. Her being missing still presented some measure of concern though, especially now that Barbara had just caught wind of it.
"Where did you two idiots deposit her?" Barbara asked sharply, looking also at Ed.
"The Narrows," Selina replied when Nygma chose to keep mum.
"What the hell? You think she wouldn't come straight back?"
"Where in God's good earth did you think we could deposit her and not have her return, Barbara?" Ed said in a rhetorical fashion. "Might've been better if you'd killed her when you had the chance."
"Yeah, you'd love that wouldn't you?" Barbara snapped at him.
"Maybe you wouldn't have this problem in the first place if you hadn't gone and killed Butch," reasoned Selina.
Barbara turned to her. "You weren't here kid, you didn't see them plotting against us. And to think all this started because of Butch's jealousy."
Nygma grinned regardless of the situation. Selina let out a sound of disgust. "This is ridiculous! You're all ridiculous. I can't believe I came here to learn from people like you. You guys have nothing to offer me." She turned around to leave.
"Oh yeah?" The click of the safety being taken off a gun echoed in the emptiness of the Sirens Club. Selina turned to see Barbara with a gun aimed at her. "Rule one, always exploit the chance to hold your enemy's mentee for ransom, especially when your enemy is out for blood."
"You really want to do this?" Selina asked. It wasn't even funny anymore.
A second gun from Nygma lowered itself in front of her face. "I'm only good when I'm kept, but when I'm shattered, trust is broken. What am I?"
"Who cares with..."
"A promise!" he explained with some measure of irritation at her unwillingness to play along. "We all know that Tabitha is on her way here. You'll be seated here, front and center. Let's see if you give your mentor pause at all."
Just a few hours after Selina had departed for the Sirens Club and had unfortunately been detained, Ivy came pounding for minutes on the door to her apartment. Unaware of what it was that kept her friend from being there for her as she had been for her. The injustice of it all weighed heavily on Ivy, feeling more alone than she'd ever felt before - even beyond the great suffering she'd endured sleeping alone inside cardboard boxes in cold alleyways slightly before her transformation. She wondered if Selina, like Oswald, had forgotten how she'd once saved her life, and intended to shut her out like he did.
Humanity was indeed a cancer; ungrateful, uncaring and altogether evil. Ready to chew up the innocent and spit them out in disdain. She couldn't understand the reasoning of people, and in many ways, she'd always struggled to identify. Sometimes it was easier just to shrink away to what she understood best.
Resigning to her mental conclusions, she slid to the floor and coincidentally found herself seated beside a shriveled potted plant that was just struggling to survive with minimal sunlight in that long hallway. She picked it up. Its leaves were as faded as was her heart. It hung low, barely recognizable as what it would've looked like if it were healthy. Nobody could hear its cry except her. Nobody could feel the faint of its spark of life except her. "Don't worry little one, I'll bring you back to life," she promised. "And I won't let anyone hurt you, ever again."
She rose from the ground with the plant in hand. It seemed to glow in her presence, glad to finally be rescued.
And she too... for the first time that night, she smiled.
Chapter 34: Chapter 34
Gordon meets with Bruce.
"Master B, can't we wait a little longer?"
Barely two hours ensuing the breaking of Master Bruce's fever, he began making no secret of his intention to leave the hospital. He'd been displaying a restlessness Alfred hadn't seen since he'd first discovered the name of his parents' killer, pulling the needles out of his arms, arguing with hospital staff - generally making a nuisance of himself. Alfred welcomed the nuisance though, it only meant that Master Bruce was feeling himself again.
"You can remain here if you'd like. I have more urgent things to attend to," Bruce told Alfred as he removed his bandages. He'd been very brief about his time in Tibet, promising to reveal more during a private meeting with Gordon. Gordon and only Gordon, he'd insisted. Even Alvarez could not cut the mark. Unfortunately, it'd seem that Jim would be kept busy since the time they'd arrived, and Master B decided to take things into his own hands.
"More urgent things like what? You haven't given me much to go on at all. What if you stay here and let me do whatever you need?"
"Did you track down Dr Welkin like I asked, Alfred?" asked Bruce, tugging on the sling in a determined effort to get it off his person.
Alfred placed a hand on Bruce's. It caught his attention, and there followed a brief moment of understanding between both men. Only then did he allow Alfred to help him get the sling off. Alfred knew the doctors would probably be upset if they found out, but he'd had learnt over the course of time to never dissuade the master from his next course of action. His proper role was only to abide and support, after the appropriate amount of protest, of course. "Yes, in a matter of fact, I did. But you may not like that the man has been missing since a year ago. I do have the address of his next of kin though."
Frowning at the news, Bruce went on to the neatly pressed clothes that Alfred had brought for him, and began putting them on with help from Alfred. "That'll do. I'll check on that address soon."
"Master Bruce, if you'll permit me to suggest that this is a job more suited for Detectives Gordon and Bullock to handle?"
He did up the final button on his shirt then gave Alfred a hard stare. "I'm sure you've realised by now that they're over worked and under-staffed as it is. Now I'm not sure this is the right time to get Jim involved, especially without having talked to Dr. Welkin yet."
Just then, the door opened and Jim stepped into the room. "Bruce... I'm so sorry I've kept you waiting. Since you've been back, I've wanted to get caught up, and I know Alvarez emphasized on the importance of the information you wanted to provide to us. Unfortunately, I've been caught up with a number of things - I'm here now though."
"Detective Gordon," said Bruce with a warm smile. "Please don't apologise. I've just seen on the news that there's been a recent outbreak at Arkham that I'm certain has you as part of the clean up crew. Alfred also informs me that you've recently launched an investigation into hideouts belonging to the Court of Owls. It can't be easy having all this on your plate."
"Uh huh," nodded Gordon. "We looked into the Court of Owls, assuming they were the people behind your disappearance six months ago. I wanted to ask you about it sooner, but I was informed that you weren't well enough to be seeing people."
"Well I am now," Bruce said as he leaned steathily towards Jim. "I will answer any questions that you need answered, but I will have to request complete confidence. Aside from Alfred and myself, you will be the only other person who will know anything of this."
Jim raised a brow at him. "You know I can't promise that, Bruce. Anything relating to the law has to be logged and shared among the parties involved. But rest assured that none of it will be leaked to the public till the investigation is complete."
Leaning away from Jim, Bruce let out a breath of disappointment. "I'm afraid then that I've wasted your time. Thank you for taking the effort to come here Detective Gordon. I do appreciate it."
Jim stopped Bruce just as he was about to brush past him. "Hey wait a minute there. Why do I get the feeling you're going to go and do something foolish? And aren't you supposed to be in bed recovering?" He looked to Alfred for support, but the butler merely turned to his employer to wait for his response to Jim.
"I'm much better, Detective Gordon," insisted Bruce, maintaining a coy facade. "And I'm sure you have many matters you need to attend to, so I best not keep you."
"You didn't say no," Jim observed. With Bruce deciding not to respond, Jim continued. "Bruce, there is a reason people like us are paid to do this job. I know you want to take matters into your own hands, and you probably have good reason to, especially after what they did to you. But you must let us handle this matter that you're trying to hide from me."
"Tell me, Jim Gordon," Bruce gave Gordon an intense look, one that gave Jim some consternation. "Aside from the choice of career, how do you and I differ?"
"For one," he began. "All officers go through the proper training in order to defend ourselves in dangerous situations, and gain the knowledge of the protocols required to apprehend criminals. An inexperienced civilian can find themselves in great harm if they choose to do what only the properly trained should be doing."
Bruce stopped to give this some thought. "So essentially you're saying that the only thing that divides the two of us is the knowledge of law enforcement protocols and capability to protect oneself in time of peril?"
Gordon knew the conclusion Bruce was attempting to draw out of this exchange, and he struggled to think of a good argument to dissuade him from his next course of action. Often enough, he found it quite perplexing to try to reason with Bruce Wayne. The young man had grown up with an astoundingly inquisitive mind that attempted to challenge every status quo. "That and a badge. Someone like yourself would not be qualified to enforce the law because you're not certified."
"Surely under extraordinary circumstances, the lack of a badge can be ignored," Bruce continued to push.
Jim hesitated for a moment. He didn't like where Bruce was going with this, but he had to agree with just that particular statement. "Yes, but only in EXTREMELY extraordinary circumstances," he emphasized.
"Wouldn't you consider this one?"
Bruce glared at him. "Are you sure? Admit it Detective, the G.C.P.D is stretched thin, inmates are running wild through Gotham and your partner is clearly missing."
Instinctively Jim turned to the empty space beside him where Bullock would usually be. He couldn't deny that he'd wished several times for additional help just in the span of the past few days. "What do you want to do, Bruce?"
"I need your assurance of confidentiality before I tell you what I intend to do. I know this is expecting a lot, and possibly putting you in an awkward situation with your colleagues, but this is unfortunately the way it has to be. Do I have your word?"
Jim looked to Alfred for his response, and Alfred merely nodded. With an audible sigh, Jim reluctantly agreed to Bruce's terms.
"Good," Bruce replied, then to Alfred. "Alfred, please secure the doors so we don't have anyone walking into this."
Chapter 35: Chapter 35
Bruce reveals details on his capture to Gordon.
"An earthquake might hit Gotham soon, Detective Gordon," warned Bruce once Gordon, Alfred and himself were certain they would not be disturbed. "And my gut tells me that Dr. Welkin is the key to this entire puzzle."
"What?" Jim hadn't a clue what Bruce was going on about, but he seemed certain of impending danger to the city.
Bruce paced the room, trying to assemble the thoughts in his head, and only stopped when he decided he had something coherent to present. "You were right when you deduced that I'd been taken by the Court of Owls, an Indian Hill clone put in my place so as not to arouse suspicion." Jim and Alfred traded glances. Jim hadn't believed Alfred about the clone up to that point, but now it was Bruce who was going on about the same thing. Bruce noted Jim's reaction, and decided to address it, "Think about it Jim, you've seen a croc-man hybrid, a woman immune to fire and Fish Mooney come back from the dead. Is the creation of a clone of myself really such a far-fetched idea?"
Gordon shook his head somewhat hesitantly, "This is Gotham, after all. At some point, it's become a side-show for freaks."
"Not to mention, I'm still healing from the injuries that damned clone inflicted on me," grumbled Alfred, tugging on his collar.
"So where did the Court of Owls take you, Bruce?"
"A compound, high in the mountains in Nanda Parbat - not owned by the Court of Owls, but a much more treacherous secret organization named the League of Shadows - led by someone preceded in the region only by his reputation, a man named Ra's Al Ghul."
"There are others behind the Court of Owls?" asked Jim, perturbed by the very thought.
"I'd say it's more like they're affiliated due to a united purpose. That purpose being the earthquake I talked about, and the devastation of the city of Gotham - although I can't understand what the Court would get out of this."
"The Court feels like they're losing control of the city." It was all starting to come together - everything that Jim'd learnt from Katherine, the underground bunkers, and now Bruce's own testimony. "They want a reset, that they might claim back the power they'd lost since Falcone's empire fell apart." Jim considered the secrecy that that Bullock and himself had kept in their discovery of the bunkers - but in that moment of shared honesty, he decided to reveal it in the hope of uncovering the truth. "Much like your secret, you must not reveal what I'm going to tell you either."
Both Bruce and Alfred nodded in unison.
"Sometime ago, Bullock and I found ten-inch-thick walled underground bunkers hidden all over the city belonging to the Court of Owls. If what you've said is true, about the earthquake, that's probably what they're attempting to hide from."
"Let me get this straight, these lunatics would destroy an entire city and all its inhabitants in order to regain their hold on it?" asked Alfred.
"That's what it sounds like, Alfred," said Jim.
"But it's not like they can control when and where an earthquake will hit, am I right?"
Jim shrugged. "What I do know is Katherine Monroe, and that the woman is as strategic as a chess player. She would not leave any of this to chance."
"Ra's spoke of the earthquake in the terms of a prophecy," added Bruce. "But he seemed certain of the time frame as to when this might occur."
"What did this man Ra's want with you, Bruce?"
Bruce shook his head slowly. "Said something about me being returned to Gotham at the time of the quake in order that I might be forged by it, and rise with an army of his as the eventual savior of the city. He was raving on like a lunatic, and I wanted nothing to do with his plan. It was the part about the quake that had me concerned - enough for me to try to escape on my own to come back and deliver this warning before everything started going into motion."
Alfred put a hand on Bruce's one good shoulder, and shook it proudly. "I can't believe you made it out of there. It couldn't have been easy."
"So we know what is to happen will happen soon. We know it involves a quake, but we don't know how they will achieve this at will." Suddenly, Jim remembered something else that might play a role in this confounding mystery. "Also - during that recent Arkham breakout, security videos showed the three men who initiated the release of inmates dressed up very similarly as Talons. Talons are..."
"Private assassins hired and trained by the Court of Owls," Bruce finished his sentence. "We've had our own encounter with one of such. Twice."
"Ah..." said Jim creasing his brow. He'd known that Bruce and Alfred had been playing detectives in their spare time. But it'd gone into perilous territory lately, and might've led to Bruce being kidnapped in the first place. "Why am I not surprised?"
"If Talons are involved in the breakout, we can only assume this was premeditated by the Court and could be related to the quake," Bruce went on. "Do you know who is missing, Detective?"
"Johnathan Crane, Jervis Tetch and Jerome Valeska, among others," replied Gordon, noting the change in Bruce's expression when the last name was mentioned.
"Do you know how much trouble it was getting Jerome Valeska in there the first time?" Alfred spat out. "How can we trust the system when it behaves like a revolving door?"
"They need to be hunted down," Bruce said as the dread on his face transitioned to an air of calm resolution.
"Not by you," warned Gordon, taking a step in his direction. "The G.C.P.D will handle this, please let us do our job."
"Oh yeah, like the last time you bloody let an entire asylum of lunatics loose?" Alfred continued to go on his rant.
But Bruce held his hand out to his butler to calm him down. "Alfred, we need to have faith in the system, otherwise we've already lost." Then turning to Jim, Bruce said, "Detective Gordon, remember that time is short. You and I know that missing the chance to get Jerome Valeska back under custody soon will prove fatal to this city, and more."
Gordon nodded stoically. "We will do our best, Bruce. I just need to know that you won't try to intervene."
There was something shady about the look that Bruce returned him. "You've made yourself clear on your position, Detective Gordon. I hope what I've provided will prove useful in your investigation. Thank you for coming and don't let me keep you any longer."
Knowing that his welcome had been worn out, Gordon quickly nodded back at Bruce with a smile on his face, and turned around to walk out the door.
"But you didn't say you won't..." he mumbled silently under his breath, knowing full well that both Bruce and Alfred wouldn't be able to hear him.
Chapter 36: Chapter 36
Harvey talks to Hugo Strange, Crane and Tetch do an experiment.
"So what do you have hiding down there?" asked Bullock, motioning towards the hatch on the floor. "Another bunker? All you rich folk going to hunker down there while the rest of us up here get obliterated by whatever you have planned?"
"My my, someone's inquisitive," commented Strange in amusement. "And pretty on the nose as well. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that Detective Gordon and yourself have that much figured out by now. But it shouldn't matter, since D-Day will happen very very soon." He looked at Harvey and grinned, "Would you like to participate in it, or spectate it?"
"You sicko! How can I even choose either one?"
Strange laughed. "Well, let it be said that I gave you a choice the others won't enjoy."
"So what will it be huh? Bombs? Chemical gas? How exactly do you plan on exterminating the masses?"
"Aww... don't be a disappointment Detective Bullock. You're so close, and you're giving up already? Tsk tsk... No, I'm not going to make it easy for you."
Harvey leaned forward. "Let me go and we'll see who makes it easy for whom?"
"Hmmm," said Strange, juggling a thought. "Actually you could be useful after all..." He turned to the two men and spoke to them, "Take him to the hangar. When the lunatics are ready to go, strap him to the blimp."
"Blimp? What blimp?" cried Harvey, but a clobbering to the back of the head took him right out.
Jervis Tetch, now dressed in proper men's attire and a top hat, entered Crane's new lab with a man in a coat standing obediently by his side. The man had a faraway look in his eyes, often the effect of Tetch's hypnosis. "A businessman have I found, shall I have him tied down?"
Crane, who was bent over a microscope, looked up and nodded. "We don't know the effects of the chemical on a man yet, but I've tested with rats, and fascinatingly, they've chewed each other up." He pointed to a bloodied glass cage in a corner of the room.
"I wonder what our hosts intended. Perhaps they, like us, are as demented," said Tetch, ushering the man onto an empty stretcher, and securing him with the straps that hung down the sides. The man lay listlessly on the stretcher, not making any attempt to leave.
Holding a needle filled with the crimson substance, and inserting it into the man's flesh, he went ahead to inject the liquid into his veins. Together, the two inmates watched their test subject's veins suddenly protrude all over his face. The man screamed involuntarily as his retinas shrunk in his eyes and turned a fair shade of blue - and then his scream faded momentarily to silence. During this silence, his tongue hung out, and saliva began to dribble off the corner of his lip. Then without warning, his teeth snapped together like a hungry alligator, and he flung himself against his straps with his teeth bared, in the hopes of taking a bite out of Tetch and Crane. Instinctively, they moved back, watching the man foam up at the mouth, staring eagerly at them as though they were to be served on a platter. "So we can safely say that the effect on a man is similar to that of the rats," deduced Johnathan.
"Something else to note, as the effects fare," observed Tetch with slight disdain. "I'm certain Alice's blood is mixed in there..."
"You think someone weaponized your sister's blood?"
"I suppose it was to happen sooner or later," said Tetch with some resignation. "Those people at the top have only wanted to use her."
Crane replied with a sympathetic nod. "This might be our chance to get back at them. All of them. If I were to develop an antidote, the whole of Gotham will be infected save for the three of us. Everyone who's ever wanted to use us, slap a label and lock us up will in turn be set against each other. And when Gotham is burning, we'll be its new masters!"
Tetch tapped his chin thoughtfully. "That doesn't sound like a bad idea, but Mr Valeska should be allowed a hear."
After agreeing to Tetch's proposal, Crane went back to vaporizing the substance provided to them by parties unknown, and creating his antidote in the process. "I'll have it all ready when the clown says yes."
Chapter 37: Chapter 37
Fox explores the Narrows, Zsasz, Tabitha, Barbara and Ed face off.
Lucius Fox had been scanning the streets of the Narrows in his car for hours with a contraption of his own creation, and all he'd been getting were random mobile signals. He'd also been getting lots of stares, especially around the darker parts of the neighborhood. Some curious, some menacing. It made him crouch down and not want to leave his vehicle.
He'd never fancied the Narrows, but now he despised it all the more. Everywhere, all around him, were forlorn expressions of hopelessness and desperation. An entire community forgotten by upper-class Gotham.
Only near the end of the day, the contraption, that took up most of his backseat, began beeping slightly louder as he passed by a narrow road leading into the woods in the northern part of the Narrows. That dirt road was flanked by the homeless, warming themselves around rusty barrels that'd been converted into temporary furnaces. They shielded themselves from the glare of his headlights when he stopped at the entrance. He realised that he'd never get his car through unless he somehow got the homeless to move out of the way.
Reluctantly, he wound down his window and popped his head out. Consulting the guy nearest to him, "Excuse me. Do you know what's up this road?"
The guy, still squinting from the glare, said in a somewhat annoyed tone. "Can you turn down those headlights? You're blinding us."
"I'm sorry," Fox quickly apologised and turned off the lights. He hadn't intended to blind those people, but the lights had given him some amount of comfort and security that helped with his nerves somewhat.
"That's better," said the guy. Then he pointed up the road. "And you want to know what's up there? It's an old radio transmitting station. Hasn't been used for years, the vines are all grown over it." The man heard the beeping of the contraption, and came closer to take a look, so did others. "Say, what's that thing in your backseat?"
Lucius was getting uncomfortable with the number of people approaching his vehicle. He thought of driving off quickly, but he also remembered that he had a job to do. "I'm scanning the Narrows for a signal that might potentially activate some kind of machinery."
"What kind of machinery?" the man asked.
"That's what I'm trying to find out. Do you know if anyone's been through this road, and done anything at that transmitting station?"
The man turned around to the others and related his question to them. Some shook their heads, and others described spotting several workers from the city, arriving a couple of weeks beforehand to set up a new fence around the transmitting station. Meanwhile, even more of the homeless crowded the boot of his car, leaning onto his vehicle to take a look at the contraption in his backseat. Lucius knew he wasn't getting out of there unless they were kind enough to leave, or that he had to do it by force. The transmitting station was starting to sound rather suspect, and he'd otherwise investigate. But he wasn't feeling safe about the place or the people and intended to get back to the G.C.P.D to log his report so that more suitable people could come and investigate in his place.
"Alright, I thank you all for your time. I'll have to head back and let the G.C.P.D know what I've found here."
Their expressions changed. "You're with the G.C.P.D?"
Lucius swallowed hard. Had he said the wrong thing? "I'm actually kind of a consultant..." he replied sheepishly.
The people around his car would not move. In fact, they began rocking his car from side to side. "You should get out of that car," advised the man who'd first spoken to him.
"Why? What's going on?" But before his question could be answered, a large man approached his open window, reached into it and began dragging him out. He fought against the man's forceful pull, but mostly found it a feeble attempt to getting out of the situation. "What do you want with me?" His heart was thumping three times its normal speed now. The large man held him against his chest, his arms locked around his.
"Your money," came a new voice, one that sounded like it had a lisp. Out of the shadows, stepped what looked like a man with scales all over his body, reptilian eyes, and a forked tongue. Lucius Fox remembered reading about a croc-man from those released from Indian Hill. He'd been temporarily detained by Gordon, but they'd not been able to hold onto him for long. He was reported to have disappeared down the sewers, and the ensuing search had been uneventful.
Yet here he was, in the flesh. "And your coat."
Barging into the Siren's club were Zsasz and Tabitha. The lights were dimmed, tables and chairs cleared save for one in the middle of the empty room. Selina sat on that lone chair, her arms tied around the back of the chair, her ankles bound and a gag that sank into the sides of her mouth. Her hair was ruffled, and there was a gash on her forehead, giving signs of a prior struggle.
Selina looked at Tabitha, and Tabitha stepped in her direction only to be stopped by Zsasz. "Tabby-cat, haven't you learnt anything? This is clearly a trap."
"So where are they?" she asked, as Zsasz surveyed the environment, his dual pistols locked and loaded in front of him.
"Yoo hoo, Barbara Kean and Edward Nygma!" Zsasz called out into the empty space. "We know you're watching, you might as well come out." But no answer came, and they waited a few moments after that.
Selina looked around, she seemed both frightened and dazed.
"Selina, do you know where they're hiding?" Tabitha asked.
Selina shook her head.
Zsasz found a camera in the corner of the room, looking at them. He shot it off its stand. He then silently pointed out the accounting room to Tabitha for where he thought they might be. She nodded her head and pressed herself against the wall, following the circumference of the club to make her way to the accounting room. Zsasz followed stealthily after.
But it wasn't till they were halfway there when the doors to the Sirens Club opened again, and Barbara and Nygma stood at the entrance, together with half a dozen paid-for armed thugs. There was a large grin on Barbara's face. "Didn't exactly think it'd be that easy, did you?"
"Not exactly," came Oswald's voice from the hallway behind Barbara.
She spun around quickly, only to the sounds of a machine gun fight between her thugs and Penguin's own. Oswald himself stood beside Victor Fries, who then erected an ice wall to protect themselves from the hail of bullets that went both ways. Barbara and Ed found no other means of escape but to dash into the club where they found themselves looking down Zsasz's pistols.
Zsasz wagged his finger at Ed like a disappointed father. "I've heard a lot about you, Mr Riddler. They say you're a genius, but this show was just... lackluster."
"Oh yeah?" Ed began a series of laughter that sounded like the low rumbles of thunder. He pulled a hand out of his pocket, and within it was a trigger. "I take my finger off this trigger, and mini-kitty over there gets blown off." He pointed to the relating signal bomb that'd been planted behind the chair that Selina was seated on.
But Zsasz didn't lower his guns. He raised a brow. "You really think I give a damn?"
"No, but she does." Nygma pointed at Tabitha.
Tabby was clearly conflicted. She took a quick glance at Selina - her eyes open wide, unable otherwise to express how uncomfortable she was with the whole situation. "Don't shoot Zsasz..." she pleaded.
"I should've killed you when I had the chance," said Barbara to Tabitha. "To think you've had the audacity to come back here looking for revenge even after I was kind enough to spare you."
"Think I'd forgive what you did to Butch?" Tabitha snapped at her.
"Ladies... ladies... let's calm ourselves down," requested Oswald as he stepped over the slain henchmen, Fries at his side. Then turned to Zsasz, "Is there a reason Barbara Kean is still alive and yammering over here?"
"Nygma says he has a trigger that can blow that one away," Zsasz waved one of his guns in Selina's direction.
"Ah... a standoff. And you expected Tabitha to have come to us, otherwise your plan would not make any sense," reasoned Penguin.
"Of course," replied Ed. "Take one more step, my finger goes off the trigger, and you've made yourself a new enemy."
Oswald slung his cane over his wrist, and began clapping. "Very clever. But your finger will never come off that trigger."
"Don't be so su...." Ed began, but Victor Fries had already activated his gun, causing Ed's hand to be completely encapsulated in a block of ice. Nygma cried out in horror.
Barbara gasped in return, stumbling all of two feet away before Zsasz's finger went down on the trigger, firing a bullet into her middle, causing her to crumble down to the ground.
"It's a pity that you chose to come against me, Ed. We could've done great things together," Penguin said to him, in that moment sounding genuinely wistful of the past. Then, as he turned around so that he would not see - "Finish the job."
Edward Nygma's cries faded into the block of ice that in a moment's notice, covered his entire being, and froze him mid-motion, with his mouth open wide, and his arms extended out.
Tabitha looked down at Barbara. The former owner of the Sirens Club lay bleeding on the ground, in a state of shock and growing weaker by the moment. Barbara's mouth was still moving, but she was incoherent. For a while, Tabitha debated leaving her there to bleed to death, but some distant memory of their forgone friendship bid her to show mercy.
"You're thinking of saving her?" Oswald observed Tabitha's reaction to Barbara's shooting, and he found it very much mirrored his own ending of a chapter with Ed.
"If you do, she'll probably never walk again," added Zsasz proceeding to remove Selina from her restraints. "I'd assumed that the both of you wanted her to die a slow death, that's why I aimed for her spine."
"If she's paralyzed, she won't be able to come back for revenge," reasoned Tabitha. "What's the harm in keeping her alive?"
Oswald shrugged and smiled. "She is your burden. Do with her as you please. As for me, I'll keep Ed as the centerpiece of my new club. A frozen reminder of what used to be."
"I guess deep down inside, we're just sentimental old fools," Tabitha said quietly.
Oswald agreed. "Maybe we are."
Chapter 38: Chapter 38
Jerome meets his followers, Bruce meets Mrs. Welkin.
Meryl, the steam-punk-emo-goth chick with a painted smile across her face, stepped in front of a rowdy crowd in the abandoned warehouse where they'd been meeting off and on for two years. Each time that they did, it'd always be a riot. They'd play clips of Jerome Valeska, recite his every line. How they'd mourned together at the news of his death, and when he'd returned, what a celebration it turned out to be! -- till the crooks at the G.C.P.D put him away again, of course. But they knew Jerome was going to be held back by bars. The man was a legend in more ways than one. And as predicted, Jerome escaped from Arkham during the recent break out. Meryl had called for the emergency meeting immediately - where something like fifty people turned up. And in unison, the followers of Jerome decided to hunt the city for their leader.
"Don't give up hope!" cried Meryl into the loudhailer to loud applause. "He's out there, somewhere. Out of reach of the cops, plotting his next move."
"Jerome is king!" yelled a voice in the crowd, to hoots and hollers.
"We will keep searching, and we will defend Jerome Valeska to the death!" Meryl waited for another round of applause to her charge, but a hushed silence moved through the crowd like a wave.
That was when she noticed the crowd slowly parting, much like Moses parted the Red Sea. There were gasps and sounds of sobbing, some of the members falling to their knees. In the middle of the crowd walked a man dressed up in Jerome garb... no... it was Jerome himself! Meryl fell to her knees like the others, she began sobbing uncontrollably. Life had been so dull without news of Jerome Valeska loose on the streets, making fools of the cops with his usual artistic flair. Jerome had become the soul of Gotham, the great smile in the darkness. And now, the man himself graced them with his presence.
Jerome had a large grin on his stitched up face, greeting his awestruck followers with child-like waves of his own. He made his way up to the makeshift stage, and took the microphone from a sobbing Meryl. "My dear dear dear followers," he said in that ever familiar voice. The thunderous cheer that followed could've rocked the entire building. But Jerome, in all his humility, waved down the commotion before speaking again. "I heard you were looking for me." They cheered again. But Jerome didn't wave them down a second time. "Shut up!" he yelled, and apart from some scattered laughter, the commotion died down much quicker than the first time. "Hm... So I might actually have a job for you guys."
"Anything for you king Jerome!" came a shout from the back of the crowd, to great agreement.
"That's good to hear," he replied. "The thing is, I'd like you to raid the G.C.P.D and pull the security tapes from the Arkham breakout. I want to know the identity of the man who broke into my cell." He looked down at Meryl. "And I'd like you to come with me to meet two friends of mine."
"I love you Jerome, thank you for choosing me," said Meryl between sobs.
"Yeah yeah yeah..." he said clapping his hands twice. "Well, chop chop, we don't have a lot of time."
The evening of the same day Bruce got himself discharged from Gotham General, he had Alfred drive him to the address of the Welkin household. It was in a respectable neighborhood in the suburbs of Gotham - not quite as luxurious as his own, but with its own grocery shop, high school and playground, wasn't too shabby either.
A middle-aged woman came to the door, wrapped in a shawl. "Yes?"
"Mrs. Welkin," Bruce reached out to her, and she met him in a handshake. "My name is Bruce Wayne. I'd like to ask you a few questions about your husband, if you don't mind?"
"What? Of Wayne Enterprises?" she said, surprised. She tightened the shawl around her shoulders, and swept the stray hair away from her face in a feeble attempt to be slightly more presentable. "You should've called. I'm a mess!" She laughed bashfully.
"Mrs. Welkin, there really is no need. And I'm sorry I didn't call beforehand. There's something very urgent I need to discuss with you."
"Oh yes! Sorry for my manners," she moved aside. "Please come in and make yourself at home."
As Bruce entered the house, he gave a reassuring nod to Alfred who continued to stand by the car. Alfred had wanted to follow, but Bruce would not allow it. Alfred had reluctantly relented. He knew that Bruce was growing into a man, and would need him less and less - it didn't stop him from worrying about him constantly as though he were his very own son.
Mrs. Welkin's living room was spacious and thoughtfully designed. Every piece of furniture matching the next, not to mention the wall to wall coverage of bookshelves filled with books. Bruce moved to her rose lined linen sofa and took a seat.
"Let me make you some tea or coffee, which would you prefer Mr Wayne?"
"Really, there is no need," insisted Bruce. Her hospitality was much appreciated but he wanted to get down to business as soon as possible. "Please sit with me, if you wouldn't mind?"
She seemed a little conflicted between being a good host and adhering to his wishes, but she finally decided to sit next to him.
"I'm sorry for the intrusion Mrs. Welkin. I've just been doing some research on your husband, Mr. Welkin, and discovered that he's been missing since a year ago."
The woman nodded soberly. "I lodged a report to the G.C.P.D but apparently there was some odd record of him purchasing a ticket to Columbia, and a really suspicious deposit of fifty-thousand dollars into his private bank account. After a moderately short investigation, the G.C.P.D decided that Harold must've had some financial dealings that got him into trouble and fled the country to avoid facing the consequences. But that's impossible! Harold's never been that irresponsible. He's also never told me a thing about any suspicious financial deal - nor has he ever been to any part of South America. It's just not like him. Harold's always been an avid bookworm who's always loved the familiar, and never thought much of risk-taking. He loved his research, said he wished the world took more time to learn about the world they lived in."
"Do you know what he was researching right before his disappearance?"
"The Gotham quake of 1728, he was on television..."
"Yes, I saw him then," Bruce chimed in. "He seemed very certain about his convictions of a quake occurring in the near future that might devastate the city."
Mrs. Welkin nodded. "The ground beneath Gotham has become increasingly unstable. If you weren't aware, about seventy percent of Gotham is built over ancient swampland. Harold always believed it was very irresponsible of the city planners to construct skyscrapers on land that might not be able to bear the weight. In the realm of architecture, every possibility has to be meticulously calculated and evaluated. With an abundance of overweight structures sitting on already unstable land, it might only take a tectonic shift from a distance away to sink the entire city."
"Was Dr. Welkin able to predict the next tectonic shift?"
Mrs. Welkin nodded, then excused herself to retrieve a calendar belonging to her husband. It had all kinds of scribbles of events and dates written all over it. Circles marked in red and black. She pointed out a span of seven days underlined in red. "That's when he thinks the next tectonic shift will be. It's a whole city away, but he thinks it might affect Gotham in a similar way that the shift hurt the early incarnation of the city."
Bruce took a look at the dates marked out. "But Mrs. Welkin, that's just a few days away."
"And you aren't afraid? I see that there's nothing packed."
"Mr. Wayne," she said, putting a hand on his. "Harold's attempt to warn the city of impending doom was what I believe caused his disappearance. The media won't tell this part of the story, but I believe that there are evil people out there who will do everything to silence the truth-tellers. If Harold is gone, then the heralding of the quake is his legacy. I will sit in this very spot to see it come to fruition, and I will watch all those who silenced him get eclipsed by what is to come."
The woman spoke of a bleak future, and yet she seemed excited to relish in the deaths of those who might've gone against her husband, even if it'd mean the deaths of many more. "Who do you think would have reason to silence your husband?"
"For a start... the execs at the Gotham Broadcasting Station. They'd said they were very interested in Harold's research right after his live broadcast. He was so excited then, said that people were finally paying attention to him, and maybe something will finally be done to save Gotham. But it was that same week that he vanished and never came home again. A week after that, Sionis Design House announced yet another ambitious construction project. But I'm just sitting here thinking; who in the right mind would put money into any form of new construction in Gotham if Harold is indeed right?"
"Mrs. Welkin, do you remember who at the station in particular was in contact with him? Did you ever get a name?"
"Yes, Mr. Wayne," she replied with certainty. "A Mrs. Katherine Monroe."
Chapter 39: Chapter 39
Grundy is born, Ivy struggles with what's happened to her.
It'd been several days since Butch lay stewing in Slaughter Swamp when he finally reawakened. Dragging himself out of the chemical wasteland, back into the world of the living, he found he could not remember a thing.
In the distance floated the words of a child's nursery rhyme, "Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Took ill on Thursday, Grew worse on Friday, Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday. That was the end, Of Solomon Grundy." They echoed through the swamp from some old record, spinning around on a needle.
"Solo..." he said, listening to the rhyme play on repeat. "Solomon..." He stumbled through the woods towards the sound. It got louder and louder as he approached a small cottage in the woods where a little girl sat next to a record player, humming the tune as she played with her doll. Her back was towards him. "Grundy..."
He pressed his face against the glass. The shadow that it cast drew the little girl's attention. She screamed, dropped her doll and ran out of the cottage without even a second glance.
The doll lay askew on the floor, abandoned by its owner. Lost and alone, much like how Grundy felt at that very moment. He knocked on the glass, but ended up smashing through it. He did that again, and the log of the cabin crumbled beneath his fist. Putting a foot through the broken wall, he stepped into the cabin quite gingerly and picked up the doll.
Again, the nursery rhyme played all the way through. It only confirmed who he already was in his mind. "Solomon Grundy."
Ivy held the bottle in her hand, taking little sprays at the shriveled weed she'd rescued from Selina's apartment block. The plant was doing a lot better - holding up its weight and sprouting leaves even, all thanks to the formula she had mixed up, aimed at nourishing it. The other plants in her apartment gazed down at their new friend, yearning for the same nourishment that the little weed found in Ivy's hands. Ironically, Ivy found herself yearning for nourishment as well. Nursing back that weed had felt satisfying to a certain degree, but not nearly enough to eclipse the immense hurt that continued to haunt her. She knew that without Penguin's funding, her own expenses would vaporize in time. She'd thought once or twice about going out with her pheromone perfume to get more of what she needed, but the truth was that she'd almost completely retreated from man's world. Since she'd returned that day after Selina was nowhere to be found, she'd not gone out once and not planned to ever again. Ivy only wanted to be with her plants... in fact, if she had it her way, she would be one of them. Blooming, beautiful and uncomplicated. Her plants would not betray her. They wouldn't harm her. They wouldn't reject her. None of the things she'd suffered under the hands of a cruel mankind.
She held the spray bottle in front of her face and swirled the liquid around and around. Its emerald hues glittered in the fading light of day. The weed had sprouted after taking in the liquid. As she watched the liquid go around and around, she wondered if she would sprout too. Taking a hold of the lid, she wound it open and held it to her lips. "Let me be one of you..." she said softly, watching the weed enthusiastically look up at her.
And with three large gulps, she ingested the formula. She put the bottle down and stood up. She didn't feel any different. She didn't feel any better. Reaching for a larger storage bottle she'd filled with the same liquid, she wound open the lid and took it all in as well. Nothing changed about her situation. She was still 'unwanted' Ivy. Unloved, used and abused. The tears began to stream down her face as anger surged within what was left of her heart. With a sweep of her hand, she knocked glass beakers off her desk, causing them to shatter upon impact. The sound of shattering glass bid her to knock more things off her desk - books, stationery, bottles. They made a cacophony of sounds as they hit the ground... and within this symphony of chaos, came the smashing of ceramic.
It made Ivy spin around to see the little weed she'd just saved, lying broken under a heap of fallen books and stationery. "NO!" she screamed, digging through the pile to rescue what once had barely thrived, only to have its stem snapped into half. "No..." she said again, crumbling to her knees. She couldn't keep alive the one final thing that held her to this life. She'd failed, and failed miserably. Cradling the broken plant in her hands, she took a final walk across her apartment, nearly blind from sobbing, and stumbled towards a shelf in her apartment where she'd kept an assortment of hazardous liquids away from the plants.
She placed the plant gently down at the side of the shelf, and picked up a bottle of toxic weed killer. That little plant had become the final trace of who she once was. She'd unknowingly extinguished that precious little life, and in turn, had become a weed killer, much like the contents in her hands. Unscrewing the bottle of weed killer, she held it to her lips. There'd be no more reason to holding onto a pointless life. She shut her eyes. Holding her breath, she took in the entire bottle. Every single drop to the last bit.
Then she waited... waited till she was finally gone from this world.
Chapter 40: Chapter 40
Gordon goes back to the station.
Jim was almost back at the station when a call came in for him. It was Harper. He'd ordinarily try not to take a call in the midst of driving, but with everything that was going on, he didn't think anyone would mind. "Gordon."
"Hi," came Harper's voice. "We've tracked down the vehicle that Jerome Valeska was last seen entering. It scooted down Advent Street and ended up in Welling Avenue. Traffic cameras spot it being stationery for over a day. Also, last seen locations for Tetch and Crane also place them loitering around that area. You might want to go down there and check it out."
"Great." The lead sounded solid enough. "What about..."
"The identity of the three men who broke into Arkham?" Harper finished Gordon's sentence.
"We were only able to identify one. Miller and Smith are already on it."
"Ah. Call a swat team if needed. I tend to think any of those three will be hard to capture," Gordon instructed, reflecting on what he'd witnessed of the Talons.
"What about Harvey's phone?"
"We can only trace where its last signal was coming from before it was turned off. And that is a new property by Sionis' Design House. According to my records, it hasn't even finished construction."
"Fine, can I have the address?"
"Sure. Just give me a..."
A loud banging and sounds of muffled yelling erupted from where Harper was.
"Harper, what's going on?"
"Seems like..." she said after a while, audibly panting from what Gordon could only assume was the result of her running around the station. "A large group of people in circus gear, trying to get into the station. Alvarez has sealed the doors."
"Jerome followers?" he deduced.
"Could be," she replied. "A man is standing in the front. I think it's their leader. He's shouting something about wanting the identity of the man who broke Jerome out of Arkham."
Jim was taken aback by their request. All the while he'd assumed that Valeska, Tetch or Crane might've somehow been responsible for the breakout, but if Jerome's followers were at the station, demanding the identity of the men who'd broken their leader out, perhaps the two incidents were purely coincidental. Except... when does anything coincidental ever happen in Gotham?
"I'm coming back to handle this," he said, keeping his ride on route to the station. Originally he'd planned to check out Welling, but it'd just have to wait. "Sit tight and don't let them in."
"Copy that sir."
Jim noted the massive crowd, and made a turn to the alleyway behind the station. There were just too many of them clustering the front to approach - what with the crazy hair-dos, painted faces, and spiked jackets, they didn't exactly appear to be civilized, reasonable people either.
He wasn't sure what they'd do to him if he'd to walk up to the crowd, so he entered the station instead through the backdoor. The cops within were up in arms, nervously watching the front door as it vibrated with each thump. The crowd outside had gotten hold of a heavy item and had been using it as a makeshift battering ram. They'd still have to make it through the steel bars that lay just behind those heavy doors, but the crowd didn't know, nor did they care.
Jim found Harper, crossing the split level with a stack of notes in her arms. "Harper, can you hand me a loud hailer?"
She nodded quickly, picked one up from a nearby shelf and tossed it to him. He caught it nimbly and smiled at her. "Thanks."
Then walking to the front door, he turned the hailer on and spoke into it. "This is Detective James Gordon. I've heard your request, and am here to address it. But only if you back away from the main door." The thudding stopped. Several muffled shouts were heard from outside. Gordon couldn't make head or tail of it. "I'd like you to pick one representative for me to speak to. He or she will be allowed into the station. The rest will remain outside. This is the only way you'll be getting the information you want. We're not negotiating otherwise."
Again he heard a commotion outside. An administrative staff at the station handed him a ring of keys that would allow him to open both the gate and the door. He went ahead to open both, and widened the outer door just enough for him to peer out. The crowd watched him stoically, a man with green hair and painted tears on his face a whole few steps in front of the others. Jim looked at him. "Are you the representative?"
"Yeah," he replied. "My name's Donny."
"Fine, get in."
Donny entered and the doors and gates were shut behind him. "Whoa..." gasped Donny the moment he entered. "The lair of the coppers."
Jim cleared his throat. "So, what's this about Jerome wanting the name of one of the three men who broke him out of Arkham?"
"Daas what he said man," replied Donny. "'Raid the G.C.P.D and pull the security tapes from the Arkham break so ya can find the dude who broke into my cell.' We were plannin' on raiding this place, but it's much easier if you juz giveet to us."
Donny was the type of scum Jim regularly put away into cell blocks. With him unarmed and all alone, Jim found it incredibly tempting just to lock him up for whatever damage they'd inflicted on the front of the station. But there was something much larger at stake, and oddly enough, it sounded like Jerome was trying to figure out the same thing. Jim wondered if perhaps the maniac could be put to good use. Turning to the other cops, he asked, "Can someone get me the name of the perp connected to the Arkham break?"
"You aren't caving in already?" asked one of the cops in clear disappointment. "People can't just come in and demand stuff."
"I know that," Jim replied. "Consider this a special case. Trust me." Donny grinned, rather pleased with his skills of persuasion. The cops did as he asked, and handed him the name and address of the Talon, which he then handed it to Donny, together with his cellphone. "I'm sure Jerome will want to know the name and address as soon as possible, and he'll want to know the name of the brave follower who managed to get it for him. Why don't you use my phone to call him and let him know right away?"
Initially Donny hesitated. "I don't think Jerome has a phone... but Meryl does, and Meryl's with him."
"Right," coaxed Gordon. "Call Meryl then."
Donny set to work, dialing in Meryl's number. She picked up on the other end, and he gave her all the information, with a hand cradling his mouth at the receiver - as though that would prevent the fifty cops surrounding him, from hearing a thing. When all had been done, he handed the phone back to Gordon, and Gordon escorted him back outside.
"What about Miller and Smith?" asked the cop who'd questioned him.
Jim kept his eye on the crowd as Donny spoke to them, most likely relating what he'd accomplished in the station, and to get Jerome's followers to go back to wherever they'd come from. "Call them off," said Jim, handing the cop his phone. The same one that Donny had used. "Track the location of where that last call went to, and get Miller and Smith to follow behind Jerome. I'd like to see how all these parties fit into the whole picture. Also, get people down to Welling Avenue to look for the location of a stolen car. Once found, search the area for traces of Tetch and Crane."
"On it," replied the cop. He was starting to understand Gordon's plan to outsmart the inmates, and it made him a lot more confident to carry out Gordon's orders.
"Well look at you..." Gordon turned around. Harper was standing right behind him, a large smile on her face, "You're delegating. Perhaps the first signs of a future commissionership?"
"Nah," he replied, bashfully. "I think I've been taking too much on myself, and haven't been effective at all. Perhaps this way, we'll finally get something done."
She nodded. "I agree. And if you'll let me help you, I'll take someone and look for Bullock while you stay here and organize the troops."
"Harper, you don't have to..." he began, but she cut him off.
"Trust me, I want to. I've had enough of sitting in the station, staring at computer screens. It's your turn now."
He laughed, knowing that as much as he loved being a part of the action, since Barnes' incarceration, the G.C.P.D was badly lacking a commander and a strategist. Harvey, with all his great intentions, wasn't exactly the best delegator or planner - and with him gone from the scene, the rest of the force was basically directionless. If Jim wasn't going to step in, no one would.
"Fine, I'll stay here and take phone calls," he replied with a pout.
Chapter 41: Chapter 41
Selina has a talk with Tabitha, Bruce investigates Katherine Monroe.
Tabitha had left Barbara at the nearest hospital and walked away. The final shred of kindness that she would afford to her former partner. As promised, Oswald had started renovations on his new club, with a glass enclosure center-piece with base freezing units for where the block of ice that encased Edward Nygma would be set.
Even though Oswald had promised Tabitha with management of his new club, Tabitha remained restless. Perhaps the bulk of time both Selina and Tabitha found themselves with during the ongoing renovations might've contributed to the sense of unease that Cobblepot might not hold up his end of the deal.
"I think we should look into a side business," Tabitha told Selina over drinks at a bar that they'd begun frequenting since the shooting.
"You don't think Penguin is going to think you're conspiring against him like Barbara did?" Selina replied as she spun her glass of whiskey around in her fingers. Technically, she was still under the legal age limit to drink, but Tabitha held some sway with the sleazier side of Gotham, and so certain bartenders would intentionally look the other way. All in all, Selina was pretty much enjoying the privilege of hanging out with Tabitha, and the fact that the association lent to her in some way. The fences weren't as dismissive of her as before, not especially after news had spread about what'd happened to Barbara.
"That was different," assured Tabitha. "There's nothing wrong to have some cash on the side. Even Oswald would understand that."
"So what're we talking about?" asked Selina. The idea of a 'side business' only brought Ivy's proposed plant shop to mind, but she doubted Tabitha would be the least interested in investing in plants. Knowing Tabby, she'd probably had much larger dreams than Ivy could even conjure up.
"Remember that drug that was circulating the market sometime ago that would give its user an adrenaline rush, so powerful it'd triple his strength threefold?"
Selina planted her cheek on the palm of her hand. "Didn't it also kill people?"
"It did," replied Tabitha. "But I've heard whispers about someone that goes by nothing more than a code name, who's perfecting the drug. Claims to be able to take away the defects, leaving only a temporary sense of euphoria and empowerment. Let me tell you that if we manage to control that drug, we'd be rich beyond our wildest dreams. We might even be able to buy over the Iceberg Lounge."
Selina narrowed her eyes. "So this is what it is about, isn't it?"
"Well... yes and no." Tabitha leaned back in her seat. "It's about being independent. You want that too, don't you?"
With a casual shrug, Selina replied, "Yea, of course I do."
"So are we doing this?"
"As long as it doesn't involve killing. I don't necessarily have the stomach for it."
Tabitha smiled. "If it comes down to that, you can leave those particular tasks to me."
Night had fallen, and Bruce kept within the shadows as he scaled the home of Katherine Monroe's, right to the rooftop. Decked completely in black, together with a dark ski mask to conceal his identity, Bruce took every effort not to be spotted by the Court of Owls nor their associates - if spending six months in a prison in Tibet hadn't been enough to teach him that.
"Are you doing alright, Master Bruce?" came Alfred's voice over the discreet little spy radio sitting in his ear.
"I'm fine," he whispered back, hoping that Alfred wouldn't be talking throughout the mission. It was hard enough to convince him to let him do this - the only way Alfred would simmer down about it was a promise on his part to have that radio ready and active at all times.
"Do take care of that shoulder will ya?"
Bruce couldn't deny that he appreciated the concern. Yet there was a proper time and place for such things. It concerned him that replying to Alfred's every worry might put him in more serious trouble, so Bruce decided not to respond at all. He felt bad to do that to Alfred, but he supposed he'd just make it up to him later.
Crouching right above one of the upper bedroom windows, Bruce peered in as Alfred went on, "I know you're probably not replying me because you can't. That's fine with me. You should be keeping your eye on the ball..."
What really stood out to him was that the bedroom was mostly empty. Aside from the few pieces of furniture in the room, there was nothing to identify who that room belonged to. Not a framed picture, not a trinket, not a stray piece of clothing. Opening that window carefully, he slid his way into the room.
And that radio receiver continued speaking in his ear, "Wait... did you just go into the house? Do be very careful. You don't know who's roaming about in there. Remember what happened that last time with the Talon..."
Bruce sighed quietly. He didn't want to say anything about Alfred incessant talking being a distraction - in fact he had half a mind to turn off the radio, but he had promised to keep it on. Moving across the room, he dragged open a drawer at his chest level. It was completely empty. He moved on to the one beneath the first. It was empty as well. His mind was already firing pistons about what was going on, but he wouldn't know for sure till he'd gone through more rooms.
The cloth shoes he'd put on for this mission helped in a great way to minimize the sound of his movements. He'd practiced with them endlessly in Nanda Parbat, and as much as he didn't want to dwell too much on his time in captivity, he could see that several of the skills he had picked up there were starting to come in handy here.
"To think all these dangerous associations are all connected. If Thomas Wayne were alive today, and to know what they did with you..."
The hallway was silent, empty like the previous room. The room next to it... pretty much the same way, and the room after that. After the fourth room, Bruce could conclusively state that Katherine Monroe wasn't about, and that no one else was. Not even a Talon remained behind to guard the property. Truth be told, he wasn't sure how he'd do against a Talon, even with the skills he'd gained in Tibet. The thought of it being an empty house was in part a relief.
He became a little bolder in his attempts to search for signs of where Katherine had gone to; opening wardrobes and cupboards with greater quickness, less silence. He found it odd how she'd not removed a piece of furniture, though all their contents had been claimed... or stolen. Then again - no thief would have the time to leave every drawer in its original position, nor would he swipe the seemingly less important items. No. Someone had been through the house and intentionally removed every single item.
There were just two possibilities for this - Katherine had been forcibly removed by someone more powerful than her, or she had already gone into hiding in anticipation of the quake. Either possibility spelled trouble.
Chapter 42: Chapter 42
Bruce tracks down Katherine Monroe.
Bruce had managed just four hours sleep before he was up again at 8am, dressed up in a coat and a tie, sneaking off to grab one of his family's cars to head into the city. He was surprised to find Alfred standing in the garage looking back at him. "What're you doing in the garage, Alfred?"
"I could ask you the same thing, Master B. Aren't you supposed to be sleeping?"
He shook his head. "I can't, not now. Time is ticking down, Alfred. With Katherine Monroe gone, I've reason to believe whatever's going to happen will happen very soon."
"Well before you go running off," said Alfred. "There's one really important thing you've forgotten."
A mental list of everything that had been said or explored related to Ra's and the Court ran down through Bruce's mind. He knew he'd covered most of the basics of what they understood of the case, which made him all the more curious as to what Alfred might be referring to. "And what might that be?"
"That it's your birthday," stated Alfred with a grin.
"Really..." Bruce couldn't deny that it'd completely slipped his mind. Kinda felt a little frivolous to indulge in a celebration at such time.
"I kind of thought that you might decide to sneak off at some point, and without me here to stop you, you'd end up ruining your own surprise."
Alfred walked up and handed him a little red box neatly wrapped in a black bow. "Happy birthday, Master Wayne."
A birthday surprise was the last thing that Bruce had expected that morning, yet he figured that he could do with a brief distraction. "I can't believe you remembered," he said as he picked up the box, a smile reflected on his own face.
"Of course I remembered. I bloody love your birthdays," declared Alfred proudly. "Your seventh was an absolute binder. Yeah, I remember you had about fifty kids come up here, but you were off outside, on your own. You were obsessed by this one gift that your dad gave you - this bright red wagon. You were in the garden all day collecting all these rocks. When I asked you what you were gonna do with all these rocks, you said, 'I'm gonna build a home, for my wagon. A secret place that only I know about.'"
Bruce remembered that event. He remembered the red wagon. The same wagon he'd brought with him everywhere he went - till the day he lost his grip on it and it went tumbling into a hole on the ground, leading into a cavern hidden out somewhere on the property. In an effort to rescue the wagon, he'd attempted to climb into the gaping cavity, only to slip and land in the darkness, badly twisting his ankle in the process. Both Alfred and his father only found him after about an hour's search, and fished him out of the cavern; more traumatized by the resident bats that'd swarmed him during the time he spent down there, than concerned about his swelled up ankle. Dr Thomas Wayne bordered up the entry point during the time Bruce was sitting at home, getting his ankle iced. They never retrieved the wagon.
Tugging on the bow, Bruce lifted up the cover on the box, and found a remote controller sitting inside with a single large button in the middle of it. "What's this?"
"It's the reason why I made it a point to stand here in the garage before you got here yourself, Master Bruce."
Bruce picked up the remote and pressed the button. A resulting engine purred into action. Alfred stepped aside, revealing a new car in the garage; a black matte-shaded Ford Mustang with a low front and an arched back. Surprised by the reveal, Bruce walked over to examine the vehicle. "Alfred, I don't know what to say."
"V-8, five liter, 460 horsepower engine. Painted matte black, anti-reflective. Very difficult to see at night. Oh and of course this..." Alfred pulled a gun out of a holster hidden under his jacket, and shot at the car. The bullet ricocheted off the frame without leaving so much as a dent. "100% bulletproof. Best be prepared, eh?"
Looking at the beauty of a vehicle sitting right before him, Bruce found himself lacking the words to express how he felt about Alfred's gift to him. It wasn't just the effort of saving the money for such an extravagant present, or the fact that he'd stayed up all night to surprise him, but it was a sign that in spite of all the protests, Alfred condoned what Bruce had set his mind to do, and wanted to lend his support. Bruce knew there was only one way to thank him properly. He turned around and enveloped Alfred in a big hug.
"Oh oh... mate," chuckled Alfred.
9:30am, just half an hour after the realtor office had opened its doors to the public, Bruce Wayne waltzed in with a charming smile on his face. He walked right up to the lady at the front desk, and leaned over the side. She figured she must be a whole ten years older than him, but he had just hit the peak end of his adolescent phase and already had both the height and the appearance of a man. "Hi there," he said to her, as though he'd met her before.
"H... hi Mr Wayne?" replied the lady, a little unsure of how she might approach the billionaire.
He picked up the tag at the user end of her desk, and read it out loud, "Lindsey Nasser is glad to serve you." His chestnut-brown eyes flicked back in her direction. "Nice name... Lindsey."
"Thanks." She knew she was getting flustered, and for a moment felt a tinge of embarrassment that it was over - well... essentially a teenager. There was something magnetic about him nonetheless. "How can I help you today, Mr Wayne?"
"Yes, I'm thinking about purchasing some property. Close to town, to be exact."
Instinctively, her fingers hovered over the keyboard to her side. "Which part of the city would you like? I'd be pleased to list you all the available units."
"Not just any unit," he said, still keeping his gaze trained on her. "One in particular. The town house belonging to Ms. Katherine Monroe."
"Oh.." Lindsey set to work, typing the details into the system, and waited till the results presented themselves on screen. A frown worked its way onto her face. "Gee... I'm sorry Mr Wayne, it seems Ms. Katherine Monroe has recently sold off her property. She's to hand over her keys next week."
Bruce wasn't particularly surprised by the news, it'd only confirmed what he thought she might've done. "Do you know which property she's purchased in place of the one she's sold?"
"Uh..." Lindsey said uncomfortably. "I'm sorry, but that information is confidential."
Sighing audibly, Bruce clasped his hands together. "That is a real pity. You see, Katherine is an old friend of the family's and I know how precious that town house has been to her. After all, it's been in her family for... quite a long time. I know she's been having money problems, due to some bad share investments. I'd have hoped that she'd feel at ease to approach me for a loan, but I take it that she was embarrassed to do so. And now she's lost a vital piece of the Monroe heritage. How tragic! Wouldn't you think so, Ms. Nasser?"
Lindsey nodded readily. Feeling bad for Katherine Monroe already.
"Well... it seems I can't stop this exchange, but perhaps if I knew where she plans to reside next, I can pay her a visit... perhaps improve her way of life," Bruce Wayne turned a charming smile towards Lindsey, and she found herself staring at the results on her screen. "Perhaps both of us can do a good deed today, don't you think, Ms. Nasser?"
"Mr Wayne - I'm really not supposed to tell you this but, I'd noticed something odd about Ms. Katherine Monroe's other purchase. It isn't the address of a house, but of a hangar."
"A hangar?" Bruce straightened up. "The sort that houses planes?"
Lindsey laughed lightly. "I suppose one can house a plane there too. But this one in particular was built for housing blimps. That's why it has a retractable skylight. Perhaps Ms Monroe is thinking about jump starting a blimp rental service?"
Bruce nodded. "Perhaps. If that's so, I'd like to pay her a visit to help her with her new endeavor." He subtly motioned towards her screen. "If you'd be so kind as to aid me in that effort, Ms. Nasser?"
Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she sent the document to the printer. "Already on it, Mr Wayne. Let me just black out some of the details before handing you the document, but the address is all yours."
He grinned. "I am greatly indebted to you, Lindsey."
Chapter 43: Chapter 43
Jerome returns to Tetch and Crane, Lucius talks to Waylon.
Their mysterious benefactor's instructions were fairly easy for Johnathan Crane to follow through with. The crimson brew bubbled into gaseous form and began filling the first of the many canisters they were meant to fill.
As for their little science experiment, he remained strapped down, looking just a little more bloodthirsty than before. The veins in his throat were protruding and pulsing in shades of violet.
Valeska returned then with a female assistant by his side. Right away he noticed the test subject, and bent low to study him. "Is this a result of the gas?" he asked.
"In liquid form, a more concentrated dose," replied Crane. "But I assume the gas will have similar effects, just react a little less quickly."
"Ah, that's good. By the way, this here is Meryl," he introduced. The other two men waved at her. "She's here to help out. I've sent my feelers to the G.C.P.D to find out who it was that broke us out, and they came back with a name and an address."
"Think that they aren't well-meaning?" asked Tetch. "I was just starting to get the same feeling."
Valeska smiled. "Nobody gives away gifts of mass murder for free, we'd be fools to believe otherwise."
"I didn't," said Crane. "That's why I made us antidotes." He pulled out three syringes from his pocket. Then he looked at Meryl. "Um... none for you, sorry."
She nodded in an accepting manner.
Jerome paced slowly as he presupposed what was to happen next. "See... our friend Jervis here is supposed to visit a blimp hangar next. If these guys are as crazy as I think they are, they're going to ask us to load them up with the insanity gas, then send the blimp riding high in the sky for the best possible wind distribution. They'd paint the rest of Gotham just like..." he pointed to the strapped up test subject, "This guy here."
"It doesn't sound like a bad plan, why do I feel like you're not a fan?" asked Tetch curiously.
Jerome shrugged, "What I don't like is that there's a second part to it, my part. I'm to pay a visit to the Gotham Broadcasting station, likely to plaster my face on screens across the city. All of Gotham will assume that we're behind this."
"And what's wrong with that?" asked Crane. He wasn't exactly opposed to taking the credit for someone else's plans for city-wide madness.
"Nothing completely wrong about it. But think about it a moment, the real masterminds would've played us like pawns. They'll get away scott free while we become the faces of this event. Do you like being a pawn?"
"Not I, not I," declared Tetch. "I'd not want to be one of those. What then do you propose?"
With a wide grin, Jerome took a pack of poker cards out of his front pocket and began laying the cards down on Crane's desk. He did that one by one, with the picture-side up. "Well, the real joke here is they've convinced themselves that they're playing us, but they'll soon realise that this game can be played by two. After all, we hold the wild card." He flipped over the Joker card and pointed to it. "They'll never see it coming." He erupted into giggles.
A call came in for Gordon from Smith the morning after a back-trace of Jim's phone had been done, and an address derived. "We've spotted the three inmates, and a single female individual. They seem to be loading some boxes into a van parked just outside of 71 Welling Avenue. Should we attempt arrest?"
"Need I remind you that any one of those three can easily take the two of you out with ease, not to mention all three of them together. Wait for backup. I repeat, do not approach," replied Jim. "Keep a safe distance and continue to report on their location."
"Roger that," came his reply after a short pause. "They're moving off, we'll be tracking them. Will check back in soon."
Lucius Fox reluctantly forfeited his coat and all the cash he had on hand to the reptilian man - who asked to be called Waylon Jones. But as he did, he made sure to apprise Waylon of everything they knew of the Court and a possible calamity that was to befall the Narrows. Waylon listened quite intently, especially when Lucius mentioned how the wealthy planned to save only themselves.
"I wouldn't like that," he finally admitted. "I've made a home for myself here, it isn't fair if everything came crumbling down."
"Help me then, Mr Jones. This involves all of us, not just myself, or the G..." he stopped short of a second mistake reminding these people of Gotham law enforcement. "My tracker has been picking signals up from that radio telecasting station. It might be where the Court will attempt to create an epicenter of destruction."
Waylon raised a brow, "How do I know you aren't just saying all this in order that we'd let you go?"
"Why don't we go take a look together? It won't hurt, and if I'm wrong, you get to keep me or dispose of me how you please." Lucius beat himself up inside making such promises. He really didn't know what they'd find in there, and he was waging a lot on a completely unknown factor.
With a laugh Waylon rose to his feet. He towered over Lucius, easily over six feet. "I like this guy, he takes big bets." And after a short pause, "Fine, we'll go see this tower of yours, and then we'll decide what to do with you."
Chapter 44: Chapter 44
Lucius uncovers the tower.
Lucius, Waylon, and a group of his followers gazed at the old tower, surrounded by a brand new thick stainless steel fence with barbed wire going all around. "We thought you would know of this," offered an old man in the crowd. "It was set up by a bunch of engineer-types surrounded by men in uniform and heavy rifles. We were instructed not to come near or get blown to high heavens."
"What? Those don't sound like standard law enforcement agents. If you'll permit me speculating here, maybe those men belonged to some other nefarious group, but were parading as agents," Lucius offered. The men and women exchanged glances, appearing to accept that as a probable fact.
"What do you think the tower is supposed to do?" asked Waylon.
"I can't tell, not till I get in."
Waylon bent to the ground, picked up a rock at his feet, and tossed it at the fence. The rock made the fence spark brightly and buzz with energy. "Hmm... an electrified fence." He looked about and found a rock the size of a dish, picked it up with two arms and tossed it at the fence. The light that was produced was a lot larger, and so was the sound of electrical humming. But the fence stood strong against the croc's attacks. His followers began to follow his lead, tossing stones at the fence, causing it to erupt in sparks each and every place it got hit.
"There must be an easier way in," said Lucius, breaking off from the others to study the fence at closer range. Already, he could see a locked gate with some kind of remote contraption and... what looked to be a camera. "Uh oh..."
"Uh oh?" asked Waylon.
"Don't panic now, but I think we've been spotted."
"Good!" declared Waylon, planting his feet in the ground as he turned around to the woods around them. "Let them come. I want to meet the people responsible for installing this trash in my forest!"
"Your forest?" Came a voice in the woods. A slim figure in a dark hood appeared on the scene, and beside him a number of men in dark robes leapt down from the trees to land silently next to him. "I should think not."
"And who do you think you are?" asked Waylon, unimpressed by the display.
The dark figure laughed, and slowly he lowered the hood to reveal a tanned skinned man with dark eyes and greying hair. "I'm your lord. You'd do well to bow before me."
A steel chained net surrounded by weighty ball bearings fell over Waylon, causing him to be trapped beneath. The croc-man angrily lashed out at the chains, but all his attempts only caused him to become even more entangled in the mesh. He roared under the weight of his constraints.
With two-to-three somersaults through the air, the men in robes landed right before Waylon's followers, katanas slicing through flesh and bone. They moved so smoothly and silently, they were almost invisible to the eye. A cry caught in Lucius' throat, his life flashing before his very eyes. He tried to back off the scene, but soon felt an arm wrapped around his back, the glint of a katana before his eyes. And all around him, the mangled bodies of all those who had followed. A sickness invaded the pit of his stomach, he wanted to retch, but fear of the katana in his face made him hold it all in.
"You..." said the man in the hood, pointing at him with a slender finger. Lucius shivered, feeling more helpless than ever - he was dead wrong when he thought the croc-man was the worst he had to contend with. "You know the whereabouts of Bruce Wayne."
Lifting up his arms in surrender, Lucius swallowed a huge gulp. Bruce had just returned to Gotham after spending six-months in captivity. He hadn't stated who or what was behind his capture, but if Lucius had to guess - this guy was probably it. "N... not exactly." It was the truth, but he didn't think the stranger would be satisfied with his reply.
"With a snap I can end you," said the man in the hood. "Do you really wish to gamble with your life?"
The man had a good point, yet Lucius had no immediate plans to give Bruce up if he could help it at all. "Speaking of gambling, Bruce didn't mention anything about you or..." he glanced at the men in robes. "Any of your associates to the rest of us. Surely that means something? Can't you show him a little mercy?"
"Mercy..." the man in the hood said with a laugh. "I may have room for mercy, but only after I find him first. And I will do that, with or without your help." He turned to the men at his side, and motioned towards Waylon and Fox. "Remove both this creature and this man from the tower. I do not want them meddling in our affairs."
As the katana was lowered from Lucius' throat, and placed behind him as his captor beckoned him forward, he mustered whatever courage he had to ask the man in the hood, "Why is that tower so important to you? What do you plan to do with it?"
"I suppose with Gotham coming to an end, it wouldn't hurt for you to know," he said. "That tower will enhance the strength of the quake - turning what might be a minor event into something that will rock every structure to the core."
Lucius gasped, it all finally made sense to him - the bunkers, the talk of devastation, the Court... everything except the man in the hood. He didn't understand how he fit into the picture. "I understand that the Court of Owls wishes to regain the power they once had over Gotham, but how are you to profit from this?"
"I happen to be a man with many fingers. Each with a hold on a city or a nation in the world. The Court is merely a tool for me to achieve my will for Gotham."
Lucius fell a step behind. Just like that, he'd all his questions answered. At the same time, he feared the truth would be buried with him. He could only pray that Harvey, Jim and the rest of the G.C.P.D would be able to prevent what would soon befall the city.
Chapter 45: Chapter 45
Selina seeks the chemist, Bruce finds the hangar.
The tinkering of a bell resounded as Selina stepped into an antique shop down Garner Lane. It was the only lead given to her by Tabitha, together with the name 'Bilco'. The owner of the store sat behind the counter, flipping through what looked to be a magazine of sorts through a pair of heavy degree glasses. "Yes?" he acknowledged her presence without even looking up. "Anything I can help you with?"
"I'm looking for Bilco, any idea where I might find him?"
The shop owner turned to her in freshly vested interest, lowering his glasses to end of his nose to observe her with raw sight. "How do you know this name?"
"I was given it from a ready buyer. Said Bilco's created a new drug. My buyer's interested to sample and possibly to purchase," Selina stated, lifting up the piece of paper on which the information had been scribbled.
He pushed his glasses back into place, subtly pointed to the staircase at the back of the shop, then slumped back in his seat, going directly back to his magazine as though there had been no exchange at all.
"Hm.. thank you," offered Selina anyway. She made her through the store and up the stairs. There was a door at the end of the staircase. She knocked once, then twice, before a voice came through it. It belonged to a female.
"Is Bilco in there?" Selina asked.
"Can I come in? I'm to retrieve a sample for my employer who's interested to buy."
"Who's your employer?"
A pregnant pause followed, long enough for Selina to wonder if the woman on the other side of the door had gone away, before the sound of a key being inserted into the door that stood between them, and the click of a lock disengaging. The door widened, and there stood before Selina a petite white woman just about her height, maybe a few years older than her, dressed up in a red jumper, blue jeans and large black rimmed glasses. She spread out her hand, offering it to Selina. "I'm Bilco," she introduced.
"Hey Bilco," replied Selina with a modest amount of admiration for what she'd heard Bilco had achieved - and that she was really a woman. She took that hand in hers and gave it a firm shake. "I'm Selina."
"Nice," Bilco replied, letting Selina into the apartment - which really looked more like a makeshift laboratory. A large bubbling chemistry set up occupied at least three quarters of the living room. A slept in mattress and a single table and chair occupied the rest. "I'm sorry, you'll have to stand."
"That's fine," said Selina, more curious about the contents in the apartment than offended by the lack of hospitality. "I don't plan on staying long anyway."
Bilco picked up a little lime-hued tincture from a wooden box on the table, and handed it to Selina. "There it is; my improvement on the drug named Viper. My version; I call it Venom. Tell your employer that she'll only get one shot. The next one is chargeable."
Selina held up the tincture as she carefully looked it over. "And you brewed up Venom all by yourself?"
"When I received the Viper formula, it was already dead close to distribution-ready. It took me some time... and many dead mice, to crack the final missing component. The resulting drug is the one that you're holding in your hands."
Narrowing an eye at Bilco, Selina had to ask, "And you're sure that this little thing is safe?"
Bilco nodded. "It's been tested on humans, and we haven't noticed any side effects yet. Of course note that it's still a work under progress. That's why I'm letting it go for half the price till a wider audience has sampled and nothing's happened to them as well."
Selina frowned. "That's a big risk for us to take."
"It's your choice. If you do take it up, I'd like to know the findings," Bilco offered, tucking her hands into her jumper pockets as she waited for a response.
"Fine, I'll talk to Tabitha about this and get back to you afterwards," replied Selina after some thought, then headed back down the stairs.
It was close to noon when Bruce arrived at the hangar. He had Alfred position himself on the rooftop of a nearby building, armed with a pair of binoculars and the transistor radio to inform him of impending danger. Between the last mission and this one, he'd politely requested Alfred to keep the channel silent, apart from emergencies. Alfred took it surprisingly well, agreeing to it quite readily.
Only when Alfred was in position did Bruce crack the lock on the only man-sized door leading into the warehouse and first make his entry.
Lindsey was right about the blimp - the gold and red balloon sat right in the middle of the large hall, tied down by six cables. A seemingly innocent enough sight, apart from what looked to be a number of ropes holding down a life-sized statue on the nose cone of the balloon. The statue, very much resembling a sleeping man in a trench coat and a hat, reaching out in both ways by outstretched arms - No, on closer inspection, the statue was an actual man! He was slumped over and held in place by the ropes that bound him to the blimp. And the man... he looked exactly like Harvey Bullock!
Taped to the door leading to the engine room of the blimp, Bruce found a note. He pulled it off the door and read it quickly, "Sending you the Captain of the G.C.P.D. Keep him strapped to the front to deter any attempts to shoot down the blimp."
Crushing the note within his palm, Bruce looked about for something sharp to sever the ropes. A tool rack of four axes offered that very function. And they sat just a short distance from the ropes that held down the blimp. He picked up one of the axes, and took it upon himself to scale the side of the blimp with the help of each support beam and suspension cable on the side of the blimp that offered him access to the sleeping Captain.
On arrival at the place the Captain was kept suspended, he began sawing away at the ropes that held him in place. Once or twice he thought about trying to wake the man. But there was always the risk Captain Bullock would wake to realise what was really going on, panic and struggle, causing the already loose ropes to loose their grip on him, causing him to fall a great distance to the ground and ultimately hurt himself. Bruce decided that it'd be much safer to leave him unaware, and instead, to tie a noose around his waist with recycled rope that had previously bound him. He would then lower the Captain to the ground with the noose slung around his middle.
As a concept all on its own, it sounded pretty much flawless. But it was quite another thing to try to execute the plan, especially with that bad shoulder of his. Instinctively, he relied more heavily on his other shoulder, but that only lent to a clumsy descent of Captain Bullock.
The Captain was midway to the ground when Alfred's voice rang clear over the radio hidden in his ear. "A van has just stopped outside the hangar, Master B. Someone's coming out, I think they're headed your way. Get out of there now!"
Bruce had heard Alfred, but Bullock was still on his way down to the ground. He couldn't just abandon the Captain. "I'll be out in a little while," he said, moving Bullock faster than before, groaning at each tug against his hurt shoulder.
"You've got to hurry up, Bruce! He's right outside."
Bullock had just hit the ground with a quiet thud when the door to the hangar opened.
Bruce fell completely silent, watching the scene from his perch above. How glad was he to have decided to lower Bullock to the side of the blimp facing away from the door. This would result in the Captain being obscured by the side of the gondola, and therefore not susceptible to what looked to be the Court's original plans.
Through the door walked in one of the escaped inmates.
Chapter 46: Chapter 46
Gordon gives instructions, Lucius and Waylon face danger.
Smith got on the line with Gordon not long after the first call. "Jerome Valeska and the single female, they're getting out at Wesker and third. The other two are staying in the van. A cop car just caught up with us. What should we do?"
"Split up," ordered Jim without much thought at all. "Who knows the amount of damage Jerome Valeska can do there. Take the cops with you."
"Alright, I've let Miller know to follow the van and to keep you notified. I'll go after Jerome. Looks like he's headed for the Gotham Broadcasting station..." Muffled sounds of shifting ensued, like Smith's phone was placed into his pocket without the receiver being turned off. The sound of a car door being slammed shut. The engine revving and the car driving away. A gun getting cocked. And then the not too distant warning voice of Smith's, "Stop there! Take another step towards the station and be shot."
Jim continued to hold on to the line as he strained his ears to pick out what muffled dialogue followed. There seemed to be a rather lengthy exchange between both Jerome and the cops who'd stopped him in the street. The sound of visceral yelling erupted out of the blue, Jim couldn't tell who from. Two shots that rang through the air. Some shouting. A loud thud. More muffled dialogue and after the world went quiet on the other end, Smith's voice returned to the line. "I'm sorry sir. We've failed to apprehend Jerome Valeska. He tricked us... made us think he was going to be compliant, then he injected one of the cops with a red substance. It turned the cop mad. The guy tried to attack us - should I say he tried to claw at us."
"A red substance, you say?"
"Yeah. He left the syringe sticking out of the guy's throat. We had to wrestle the guy down, and this gave Jerome the opportunity to make his escape - which he did. And now he's disappeared into the station."
"Damn it..." cussed Gordon, though he wasn't exactly surprised. Jerome always did have those extra tricks up his sleeves. "Fine... follow him into the building, as far as you're able to. Keep me updated."
Jim could see another call waiting for him, it was flashing on line 2. He ended line 1 and switched over. It was Harper.
"Gordon, Bill and I managed to track down Bullock's phone. It's in a construction site belonging to Sionis' Design House - even though the building's like eighty percent up already. The doors weren't locked on entry. We found the phone in a room, all on its own. No Harvey here. There's nothing in this room, no furniture and the flooring's not even done. But there is a large wooden hatch on the floor, should we attempt to enter?"
"Yeah do that, but proceed with caution. Get Bill to go first, you back him up."
"Alright," she replied.
Line 3 was already blinking urgently. Gordon knew he'd be kept busy that day, but this was just one thing after the next. "I need to hang up now, Harper. Keep in touch."
He switched lines. He found Miller on Line 3.
"Detective, the van's stopped again in front of a blimp hangar. Johnathan Crane has exited, he's carrying a large box. Jervis Tetch is still inside the van, and he's about to move off. Who should I follow?"
Wiping a hand over his forehead, Jim debated the decision in his mind. He didn't want to lose either one of the two inmates, but he'd to choose.
"Sir, you'll have to decide quickly. Tetch is getting away already."
Jim hated the position he'd been put in. Just one of those getting away could prove disastrous. But the thought of Johnathan Crane with a large box of goodness-knows-what and given free reign over a blimp - that sounded like the more immediate danger. "Stay with Crane," he instructed. "Stop him by any means possible."
"Roger that sir," came Miller's voice. "Wish me luck!"
"Luck..." replied Jim flatly. The truth was he wished he was there himself, in Miller's place. But he knew he'd to have faith in the men under his charge. He'd never be able to be all places at once. Even though he hated waiting behind a desk for the phone to ring, it's the only shot at getting a few things done at one time.
He ended Line 3 and dialed the one final person who was left unaccounted for. Lucius Fox. The phone began to ring. Jim listened to the repeated tones, going over and over again. He wondered where Lucius could be. Last he'd heard, Lucius was headed for the Narrows, but he ought to have been back by then. No other lines were flashing then, so Jim decided to let Lucius' phone go on ringing. And it did... till the signal was suddenly cut off. Jim dialed him again, and this time, all he got was an error message from Lucius' service provider about the phone not being accessible. He didn't know what that meant for Lucius - if Harvey's disappearance wasn't enough...
"Hey Alvarez," he called over his colleague. Alvarez responded. "Can you try to ping Lucius' phone? We might have another missing agent."
It took five of the robed men to drag Waylon Jones up a cliff while he desperately struggled under his constraints. Lucius could tell that his energy was getting sapped by the end as he was struggling a lot less when they left him right at the edge - or perhaps he was merely afraid to fall. Lucius hadn't thought much of the croc-man, but now, he was the only potential friend he had in this entire affair.
The robed man who kept beside him since the tower, urged him to Waylon's side, instructed him to sit down, and two other men came to constrain him to Waylon's tangled chain net with two separate ropes. Lucius knew they were preparing him for his death, and logically, there'd be no reason to continue to be compliant. But he didn't think he'd a chance in hell to overpower this lot.
Coincidentally, his phone began to ring then. The men in robes perked up, and pointed to his pocket where his phone sat comfortably.
"Your friends are searching for you," said the man in the hood. "They don't know that you'll be dead soon."
Lucius didn't like that, he didn't like it at all. The truth was that he wasn't prepared to die, especially not in this manner - chained to a croc-man, at the edge of a cliff off the worst part of Gotham.
"Last chance," he offered. "Give me Bruce Wayne, and I may consider letting you go."
Beads of perspiration dripped off the side of Lucius' face. He knew Bruce's last known location was Gotham General, but he couldn't be sure if he was still there or if he'd left. He'd been reluctant to share even that, but he was close to caving.
As he considered his options, his gaze drifted over to Waylon. The man with the reptilian appearance stared back at him with a look of melancholy - the first sign of true human emotion from someone he wouldn't expect it from. He didn't know if the man could read his low opinion of being chained to him, but it sure felt that way.
"Choose now, before the world ends," said the man in the hood.
Ironically, something in those sad eyes gave him the determination to withhold what little he knew from the stranger. If the world was to end, why go out as a coward? He would keep his conscience clear down to the final second. "No," he said with newfound courage. "You won't get a thing out of me. You'll just have to find Bruce on your own."
Waylon's expression changed. He too seemed empowered by Lucius' sudden boldness. Both men turned to the man in the hood, who seemed a little more disappointed at these turn of events than they would've expected. "Toss them over," he instructed, turning away.
The phone still rang as the robed men pushed the both of them closer and closer to the edge. Lucius wedged his eyes shut, bracing himself for a painful end. He felt Waylon moving slightly, as though he was straining to look over the edge.
And all at once, gravity took over - the wind whistled swiftly through his ears and he felt the splash of salt water all around, encompassing them completely. The ringing stopped. For a moment, everything else stopped as they sunk like heavy stone.
Then Waylon began writhing through the chains. His struggle got more and more vicious - enough to jolt Lucius' eyes open. The croc-man had already managed to get his arms free, and was busy untangling his legs. But they were still sinking. Lucius looked up at the fading rays of light from the water's surface, what seemed an eternity away. The little oxygen in his lungs were threatening to disappear completely, and he thought about drowning. But Waylon Jones hadn't given up. In three ticks, his legs were free and he emerged from his constraints, leaving the weight of the chains and their attached ball bearings entirely attached to Lucius.
For a moment, the two men caught each other's glances - Lucius helpless and pleading for his life, Waylon, a free man, and considering going up to the surface for air. But that moment passed quickly, and Waylon swam downwards instead, tugging on the ropes that held Lucius down. They had been secured tightly. Holding the two ends of the rope, Waylon gnawed down on the fibers with his sharpened teeth. The ropes snapped in no time, and Waylon slipped an arm under Lucius' shoulders, swimming vertically upwards with speed unlike that of a regular man's, and broke through the surface with a huge splash.
The two men gasped for air as they looked above at the cliff from where they'd fallen. The robed men, and the man in the hood were gone, leaving them bobbing in the water all on their own. The two of them - they'd survived miraculously. "Those fools didn't know that I'm twice as strong underwater," explained Waylon, blinking reptilian eyes. "Indian Hill turned me into a freak, but this freak has just proved he can survive where no other man can."
For some reason, Lucius found that thought absolutely amusing. He burst out in laughter, feeling a surge of new joy, just for being alive. He gave Waylon a grateful pat on the shoulder. "You sure showed them!"
Waylon grinned proudly. "Now let's go back and ruin the plans of these twits."
"I'm with you a hundred percent."
Chapter 47: Chapter 47
Harper searches the basement, Crane tries to get the blimp in the air.
Harper and Bill made their way down the hatch. It was at minimum, a five-storey drop into the ground down a solid tunnel, a ladder secured to the side. There were LED lights attached to the sides, but without knowing where the controls were hidden, they could only depend on torches to light the way down.
At the base of the descent, there lay a horizontally sealed solid-steel submarine door with a steel jamb. "Hold onto this," said Bill, handing Harper his torch. She took it from him, and he began putting his weight into the jamb. It budged like three-inches before hitting an obstruction in the mechanics. With a large heave, he attempted to turn it again, but it wouldn't budge beyond those three-inches. "Someone's down there, I'm certain of it," he said. "They've locked it from the inside. Unfortunately we'll need a blow torch and a few hours to get them out."
"Damn it..." said Harper, reaching for her phone to report on the situation.
"Wait. Don't call home yet. There's something that we haven't tried." Bill began climbing back out the hole.
Curious, she followed after him. He left the building, and began circling it, all the way to the back. There, they found the vent that had coincidentally been left open. Bill burst out into laughter at the sight for he knew exactly how he'd get those individuals out. "Dial someone from SWAT, Harper. Get them to bring us a smoke bomb."
Harper raised a brow at the idea, but she did what he requested anyway.
About an hour later, Harper's contact arrived on the scene. He had on him a suitcase with several forms of non-lethal explosives, among them, the smoke bomb that Bill had requested for. The cop picked it up, scaled up the wall, and dropped it into the vent.
Then the three of them returned to the open hatch and waited patiently with weapons un-holstered.
After sometime, the steel jamb began to crank open all on its own. It wound all the way around and swung open, releasing a puff of smoke that wafted through the tunnel. Breaking through the smoke - a steel cage of sorts, moving rapidly from the base of the tunnel to where they were standing. Harper reasoned that it was some kind of an elevator, operated from basement. In the cage stood Gilbert Sionis, his wife Melody, and two other men in fairly expensive looking suits. They gasped at the three officers, staring them down with pistols.
"Get out of there," Bill demanded firmly. "Put your hands up."
They complied readily, exiting the steel cage before raising up their hands.
"Who else is down there?" Harper inquired.
"About three more," replied Gilbert Sionis. "We came up because it was hard to breathe through the smoke."
Harper chortled. "That's the whole point. Is Harvey Bullock down there?"
All four individuals shook their heads.
"It'll be happening soon," said Gilbert nervously, looking at the door.
"What will?" asked Bill.
The four members of high society exchanged glances. "Look, let's air out the place a little bit, and then you can come down with us. There's room enough for three more."
Harper asked a little more intensely, "What will happen soon? Why were you battened up down there?'
"A quake..." replied Melody. "Come down with us, quickly, we'll explain more there." She took a step back into the cage.
"Don't you dare take another step!" threatened Harper. It froze Melody on the spot.
That was when they heard the first rumble...
Johnathan Crane walked into the hangar with the box of cannisters in his hands and gazed up at the unmanned blimp. He hadn't ridden one before, but he was fairly confident he'd get the hang of it in just a matter of time. Stepping into the rider's seat, he found a list of instructions for getting the blimp into the air - which made it all the easier.
Placing the box on the floor inside the gondola, he proceeded to warm up the engine. But the door to the hangar swung open, and one of those pesky policemen entered, pointing a gun at him. "Stop it right there Johnathan Crane! You'll come out with your hands up."
Johnathan turned towards the cop through the windows of the gondola, then all at once he flopped down onto the floor, obscured by the chassis.
"Get up, Johnathan Crane!" instructed the cop. But Scarecrow would not respond. The cop took one step forward, then a second step. "I'm warning you!"
The cop walked up to the door, reaching for the knob when the door swung open hard enough to knock the cop off his feet. Crane burst out, a metal cannister in his hands, and he slammed it into the man's face. The cop tried to kick him off, but Crane slammed that cannister again. There was the risk of the cannister bursting, but there was nothing greater than Crane wanted in that moment but to see the man's face crushed to a pulp. He raised his arms to slam the man a third time...
But a dark shadow came over him, falling directly on his person. The dark shadow pummeled what looked like fists into his temples, causing the world to spin. Crane didn't know what he'd been hit with, but there was always the chance that even shadows have fears. Hitting the trigger under his sleeve, a cloud of gas burst out at whatever it was, pinning him down.
The pumelling stopped, and the weight holding Crane down lifted. He sat up, trying to slow the spinning in his head. As it did, the shadowy figure before him took more of the resemblance of a mere man in a dark suit and a ski mask. The gas was already working its magic - the man in the ski mask was groaning, holding his hands over his face. Crane got up, gave the man a firm kick in the middle. He buckled.
The cop, just a foot away, was bleeding down the temples but already coming to, staring at him angrily. Crane knew if he wanted to leave, he should do it soon. So he quickly loosened the cables, bounded back into the gondola and locked the door. Following the instructions at the driver's seat, he started up the engine.
The cop was at the door, slamming on it, yelling threats that he could not hear.
The blimp began to rise into the air, the skylight open wide, welcoming him into the skies. The cop began shooting at the gondola, and Crane rolled away from the driver's seat. A bullet shattered one of the side windows, and three more pierced holes into the chassis, but none of them did anything to prevent Crane's escape.
A cold gust of wind met him as the blimp rose high above the hangar.
In the distance, Crane heard a low rumble.
Chapter 48: Chapter 48
Jerome takes control of the tv station.
With a static flicker, Jerome Valeska had himself telecasted on all channels at the same time. He grinned wide, "Well well well... hello there to you Gotham City! It's your favorite buddy o' pal, Jerome Valeska, here to save you from your mundane lives."
Getting into the station was marvelously easy - with hardly a person in sight to stop both Meryl and him from entering, and everything set up just perfectly for his specific usage. Not that he'd have a lot of trouble otherwise, but making it this easy did sorta take the fun out of things.
There'd been a card left for him beside the microphone, clearly a script to follow. Jerome picked up the card and read off it for a while, "I have hijacked every channel getting broadcasted in Gotham to bring you this very important announcement: Wherever you are right now, be it at home, in the office or in transit, you will soon bear witness to a great reckoning. Justice will soon befall the city like..." Jerome stopped reading. "Boring!" he declared and tossed the card aside. "Folks out there, you know what's really going on? Someone's trying to play us all like puppets, yours truly included. But who likes to be a puppet? Do you?"
The muffled sound of sirens began sounding from outside the building. The cavalry had arrived, but they wouldn't be getting in. Not too soon at least. Meryl had barricaded the exit with any and every piece of furniture that she could find. Every other door leading up to where he was at was locked tight too.
"The real question here is who is the puppeteer?" Jerome continued. "Who's put me in this station to keep you all occupied while you get sprayed by insanity gas?" He looked directly into the camera, and spoke quite purposefully. "Yes you've heard me, you'll all be sprayed by insanity gas in just moments. Trust me, I've seen its effects, it's not nice at all."
The sound of a loud-hailer erupted from outside the station. It called for his name, asked him to come out. Warned him not try anything foolish.
"If I were you, I'd start running." He paused, scratching his chin in thought. "Now you'd probably ask why Jerome, why are you offering a warning when you could easily see this through and claim the handiwork as your own. I'll tell you why... because I don't want to be a puppet. If I destroy Gotham, it'll be under my terms, nobody else's."
An explosion erupted at the outer doors, Jerome knew the cops were getting close.
"The people responsible for all this though..." he laughed as he spoke. "You thought the joke was on all of us, but guess what?" Pulling the Joker card out of his sleeve and showing it to the camera, Jerome grinned out the side of the card. "No good magician ever forgets the card up his sleeve."
Just then, a great rumble rolled and began shaking every wall, every unsecured furniture. Powdered plaster rained down from the ceiling.
"Uh oh..." he mumbled, looking up at the ceiling. Meryl peered at him from behind the camera she was using to film him. But as the rumbling got worse, entire slabs loosened from the ceiling, and began crashing down on the ground. One of those pieces fell on Meryl.
Jerome hurried below the desk he was seated at as more rubble fell all around him. He wondered then if the quake was part of Bobby's plan.
All over Gotham, every mall broadcasting Jerome's telecast, and every home with a television on had its viewers plastered to the screens. They'd initially hesitated when he spoke of the insanity gas. Who knew when Jerome Valeska would ever be serious about his threats? But one by one, the panic began to set in, and people ran out into the streets, tossing the bare minimum into their vehicles and rearing up their engines.
In a short time, Jerome Valeska managed to flood Gotham's streets with both vehicle and pedestrian. Fingers were pointed at the gold and red blimp in the sky, the greatest suspect for a gas attack that was threatened by Jerome himself. Screams rang out as people fled away from the blimp.
But screams were not enough to cover the great rumble that rang throughout Gotham. Buildings quivered at their core. As unprepared for such a shaking as Gotham was, the glass windows were first to go; shattering in place, razor sharp shards raining down on the public. The pieces hit random pedestrians, some causing anywhere from minor to major injuries. Cracks started to creep their way through the concrete. Buildings swayed from side to side, and escaping cars smashed into each other as potholes began to appear at various parts of the roads. Wires tore. Ceilings came down.
And still the screaming went on - peppered with cries of anguish. Gotham was in a mess, maybe more than it'd ever been before.
Chapter 49: Chapter 49
Tetch, Gordon, Waylon and Lucius.
Jervis Tetch was the final runaway inmate to reach his destination. It was the address of a home, though the home seemed to be completely abandoned, apart from a paper pad on a desk, next to a phone. The top piece of paper had been torn off, leaving just impressions of what had been written there before. Tetch turned on a nearby lamp and read out what looked to be a second address. He memorized it quickly. That address wasn't far from where he was.
He followed it to a construction site. Apart from the frame of what had been set up, the dual front loaders that stood at its entrance sat there unmanned. Within the half constructed building however was a large hatch on the ground. Tetch tried to pull it open, but to no avail. The thing was locked up tight, possibly from the inside.
He noticed, however, an air vent that led up from the hatch to the half constructed wall that surrounded the hatch. "Oooh, do I spy a vent for air? Could there be people down there?" A cross grill blocked him from directly accessing the vent, but air was getting sucked in from there. He figured releasing the canister right in front of the grill would be enough.
Carefully, he unlocked the canister and let the scarlet gas leak down to the basement. He did it with a laugh. Then he listened carefully to sounds emitted via the vent. Just like the subject in Crane's lab, he began hearing a mesh of snarls, screams and things getting tossed about and smashed.
And then a low rumble came his way, shaking the earth under his feet. The partially constructed walls began to come down, like a kid's lego set. Tetch leapt out of harm's way just in time. The rest of Gotham was shaking too, and the ground was visibly swaying.
"Get out of the building!" yelled Gordon, just as slabs of concrete began to come down all over the station. The majority of the force exited the G.C.P.D in moments. The quake had started while they were watching the live stream of Jerome on the air. He was still on the air when they'd left. He'd mentioned something about puppets and puppeteers. It would seem that he was taken by surprise as much as they were. But what was that about insanity gas? And the timing of the quake - it all seemed too huge of a coincidence.
Shortly after Waylon and Lucius had returned to the tower, they began feeling a bit of a rumble. Suddenly, the tower came alive, a clear beeping sound from within, and then what seemed to be a sonic blast getting sent into the ground, enhancing the strength of the quake. It shook trees, showering their leaves down around both Waylon and Lucius.
"We need to get into that tower!" yelled Lucius.
Waylon nodded. "I'll go get a rock," he offered.
"Actually, I have one better," he turned to look at his car. His car was bouncing around on the earth from all the quaking - natural and unnatural. He figured he might still be able to drive it in one single direction.
Waylon obliged almost immediately. Both men walked over and just Lucius. got into the car. For a while, all the swaying felt surreal - like he was in a theme park with his vehicle shaking in a controlled environment. But as Lucius reared the engine, it brought him back to earth. Waylon handed him one of the large rocks he had tossed earlier, and Lucius it used to wedge the accelerator down.
"Here goes nothing.." he muttered, releasing the brakes. With a jolt, the car lurched forward, and Lucius opened the door, rolling himself out before the smash. With a loud crash, sparks flew everywhere on impact, and the sound of electrical energy bursting crackled all around them. The car's front bonnet was crushed, but its wheels still kept turning. It'd landed itself through the gate and onto the tower, where the aged structure proved to be unable to bear the strength of the car. With a final sonic blast through the ground, the earth began to split apart, Waylon and Lucius on one side, and the cliff from which they'd come, on the other side. The car kept going. Lucius could see the tower weakening and bending.
With a high-pitched creaked, the tower finally gave way, and was overrun by the still moving car., sending both the vehicle and the tower, flying off a cliff, out into the sea. Lucius listened carefully. The sonic blasts had stopped. The original quake itself was fading quickly.
Then it dawned on them - they'd stopped the plans of the Court of Owls. The tower was down - although the extent of damages to the city had yet had to be determined, at least it wasn't going to be worse.
Chapter 50: Chapter 50
Bruce stops Johnathan Crane.
In an attempt to save the cop from getting his face smashed in, Bruce, with a black ski mask obscuring his face, had leapt onto Johnathan Crane, pummeling his fists onto Crane's temples in order to subdue him. But Crane released a plume of his special formula gas into Bruce's face before he could dodge the attack - and the fear toxin swiftly entered his lungs, invading his bloodstream and then his mind.
The world darkened around him. He was still aware that he was in the hangar, but it did not look the same. There was something evil... sinister, lurking in every corner of the building. He found himself seized with the same fear that had tormented him in that cave so many years ago. And as before - dozens of demonic bats began to soar towards him, clawing at him belligerently with the intent to gorge out his eyes. Instinctively, he covered his face, hoping in desperation that they would depart.
Without warning, a firm kick into his middle was added to his misery, causing him to crumble to the ground. The bats continued their attacks - but deep within his mind, he began to realise that something was off. When he'd fallen into the cave, he'd been all alone. The solitude of the situation had been a huge factor in the trauma of the event, the sense of being alone made him feel most vulnerable. The bats had swarmed him, and they'd terrified him, but there'd been no one present to send him a kick in the guts.
He took his hands off his face. The screeching bats and their razor sharp claws began to flicker. In those moments absent of the demonic bats, he saw Johnathan Crane enter into the gondola and lock the door. It dawned on him then that he must have been hit by a hallucinogen of some kind. It proved to be a challenge to separate falsehood from reality. Stumbling drunkenly towards the gondola, he managed to grasp a loose cable just as the blimp began to rise off the ground.
Gun shots were fired in the midst of the screeching of the bats. He couldn't tell if he was hallucinating the shots or if there were actual bullets hitting the chassis of the gondola. Between glimpses of the cable he that he was clinging to, and the rising blimp, he saw himself back in the alley, the blood of his parents' on his hands. He heard himself screaming in agony as he felt himself die in that alley with them. But in this twisted reality, the dead do not stay dead.
Both Martha and Thomas Wayne rose up from their slain states - their bodies already in the process of decompose. They glared at him from the worm filled sockets where their eyes used to sit. "Vengeance for our blood," they chanted. "Vengeance for our blood."
"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," he shouted into the wind.
"You've failed us," said his father, towering over him. A rotted finger pointed at him. "You did not kill M Malone. You did not avenge us."
"M Malone wasn't completely to blame. It was the people who hired him. It was the corruption. It was the city. The city turned him into what he was!" All that he'd kept locked inside him spilled out in torrents. He recollected everything he'd gone through to track down his parents' killer, only to put the gun down and walk away from him. "But I vow that I will stop it. I will end the corruption. I will end the crime. I won't let anyone else suffer the hurt that I've suffered."
His father went silent. He looked at him thoughtfully and gradually, his irises reappeared. The rot receded. Flesh returned to his skin. Bruce saw that the same had happened with his mother. They began to look exactly like how he remembered them to be. And they gazed lovingly at him from his place in the sky - he looked down. He saw that he was still clinging to the cable that was flapping freely in the wind - soaring high above Gotham City.
When he turned back to his parents, they'd already gone. All that was left was the vow that he had made. And Jonathan Crane holed up in the gondola.
With a heave, he began swinging himself on the cable. Further and further. He could see Crane operating the blimp, unaware of the stranger that hung to the back of the gondola. Just a little more. Just a little further. And with a huge lurch, he let go of the cable, smashed right through the window, and landed right behind Crane.
Crane was taken by surprise, not expecting to encounter anyone so high in the sky. Bruce swept a leg under his, and the inmate tumbled to the ground. Slamming fists into his temples, Crane was finally rendered unconscious.
A loud rumble cut through the land below. Bruce peered out the windows, only to see a couple of buildings crumbling. Dust clouds pluming into the night sky. Electrical cables shorted, they sparked and faded. Then an eerie darkness swept through the land.
The quake had occurred. He wasn't able to stop it. But he did prevent whatever Crane intended to do. He picked up a canister from the box that Crane had carried with him. Whatever was in that can... Bruce could only figure would be better in the canister than out of it.
The Court of Owls, the League of Shadows, and everyone else who was contributing to the creation of career criminals like M Malone - they all would need to be sought out, and stopped.
He would be Gotham's cure. He would bring the dream of a better Gotham that his parents once had for the city. That decision had already been made for him as he clung to that blimp.
A decision that he would carry with him the rest of his life.
Chapter 51: Chapter 51
Evacuation work was going on as cars crowded onto the bridges leading out of the city. Warnings were issued of unstable ground, that residual quakes might follow the initial event. The mayor in a bid to save himself from potential harm, was one of the first to leave.
Miller hadn't managed to stop the blimp from getting away, but as a surprise concession, he found an unconscious Bullock behind several crates in the hangar. Upon waking, Bullock didn't recall how he'd got there, all he remembered was meeting Hugo Strange together with a couple of Talons.
Due to the effect of the quake, part of the not-yet-opened Iceberg Lounge caved in. The rubble had cracked the huge centerpiece that held a frozen Edward Nygma. Penguin had returned with Zsasz to find him gone - how devastated was Oswald, perhaps more for the loss of his nemesis, than the partial destruction of his club.
Tabitha Galavan had barely escaped falling rubble, but it wasn't her that she now worried about. She had sent Selina Kyle to get the sample of Venom, and Selina had not returned. She was still out there, possibly harmed by the quake, possibly unable to return. Tabitha set out to look for her.
The swat team had entered the broadcasting station after the event of the quake. The effects of the quake had been less severe in the main city than in the more northern part, especially in the vicinity of the Narrows. Apart from some structural cracks and crumbling ceiling, the broadcasting station, together with other the buildings nearby stayed mostly intact. Jerome Valeska however, had already made his escape by the time of their entry. All they found was his female accomplice, hit on the head by rubble and sent to a vastly shorthanded Gotham General for recovery.
About half of the patients at Gotham General had been sent out into the great exodus of vehicles departing Gotham City. The only ones that were left behind were the immobile patients - among them, Barbara Kean lay on her bed, paralyzed from the waist down by the bullet left behind by Zsasz. She'd been scheduled for surgery, but with all that had occurred, her appointment would be indefinitely delayed.
Waylon Jones and Lucius Fox had parted ways shortly after crashing Lucius' Ford into the old radio tower. From there, Lucius made a long trek through perilous territory where the enhanced effect of the quake had been most severe. Almost the whole of the Narrows was covered in rubble. On his trek back to the main city, he found a group of beleaguered survivors who decided to follow him to where they might get help.
Gordon and the rest of the police force made themselves busy with rescue efforts. Thankfully the G.C.P.D continued to stand strong through it all, and none of the cops had been hurt by the quake. Hearing from Miller and Bullock was a great relief, and even more when Harper and Bill returned with several men and women in their custody. It was strongly suspect that those men and women were part of the elusive society named the Court of Owls, also believed to be partially responsible for the state that Gotham now found itself in. They would be made to answer for their crimes in court.
Jervis Tetch never got that hatch opened. He waited till the quake had calmed before escaping. The snarls from the basement had quietened down even before the quake had ended. Tetch never got to find out who exactly was down there, but he was fairly certain that they'd all be dead in there.
As for the blimp, it remained in the air for a while. The insanity gas that Jerome Valeska had warned of was never discharged. Instead, they found an unconscious Johnathan Crane on the rooftop of the G.C.P.D, a long severed cable attached to his waist - almost like he'd been lowered down from the sky. A box of gaseous canisters lay beside him, a note attached that read "Do not open."
Close to dawn, the blimp came down. It settled on the outskirts of the city and was found empty, apart from a single black ski mask. Miller had sworn that Crane had escaped into the sky on that blimp, but he couldn't explain how Crane had ended up on the rooftop of the G.C.P.D, or how the blimp had landed itself. Perhaps there was a second party on that blimp, one that belonged to that ski mask. One that had long departed the blimp.