Ultimate Knights #6: Cat Out of the Bag May 24, 2015 23:19:13 GMT -5
Post by Drake on May 24, 2015 23:19:13 GMT -5
#6: Cat Out of the BagBy Drake and Adrini
Di was making French toast. The kind with extra cinnamon and just that touch of nutmeg that made it perfect. The wafting smell of frying bacon was right behind that, hinted with maple syrup and salt. Following that was fresh coffee, the barely sweet beans that the house lived on by the gallon. Morning festivities were about to begin; Babs didn’t want to miss the kids’ morning kisses.
Opening her eyes she once again faced the reality that she wasn’t in Star City. The window looked over the far more dismal skyline of Gotham. Yet the smells of the far away home were still there.
Jumping out of bed and rushing to the hallway she started to carefully look around the corner, though who would bypass all of her defenses and break in to make breakfast was something she couldn’t quite fathom.
“Your floorboards are more than a little rotted.” Said a familiar voice. “You should see about having them reinforced before they become a health issue.”
Putting two heaping plates on the table Jade had already placed the coffee and orange juice. Looking at Babs she nodded to the chair and started eating. Di’s recipes but not the woman herself, then.
“It’s after nine.” Jade said, digging in. “I already visited the old gym, picked up your kitchen and dining room, and went shopping. And cooked.”
“Well, I’m not you.” Babs said, sitting down. Her time as a single mother, then seeking a new home, had turned Jade into somewhat of a drill sergeant. “I thought you were sending help?”
“We are.” The woman said, matter of factly, though she grinned a little at the sight of Babs digging into her food. She had sounded lonely as well as in need of help making sense of a few things. “Me. This place is so quiet, I love it.”
“How is the house?” Babs asked and grinned. “Still chaos?”
“Constant chaos. Tommy has an ear infection and he is not happy. Gage is alright but I could do without Robby’s colic.” Babs smiled at the description. It didn’t sound bad. “Rose and Thea are graduating. Just be Mia at the house soon. There is no need for alarm clocks with construction.”
“She’ll be crushed. Seriously, why are you here?” She loved the help but Jade never left her family for anything less than major needs.
“Because I have leads you need, ‘haven wasn’t home to you.” The woman explained. “And whatever I don’t know I know someone who does. My mother.”
“How does your mother know about gangs and secret groups?” Barbra asked, confused. How would she miss a source like that? Jade didn’t respond for a moment.
“She’s Lady Shiva.” Jade said softly, not meeting her eyes. Babs quick mind figured out the rest. Jade said it before she could say it. “I’m the heir of the Dark Lady. She’s been wanting me to visit, I’ll get you in.”
“Three, two, one!” Harvey chanted with his men, swinging the police barge against the steel doors. The lock buckled, then broke, and the doors swung open. The hired factory workers inside rushed to the exits where Harvey has his other group of men waiting for them. This was another one down.
The Gotham Untouchables, as they had come to be called, ran into the room and tore open packages. Several of them opened their investigative kits and started processing the area.
“There’s some of everything.” An officer said as he smiled, walking over and looking at his camera’s files. “This looks like a Penguin stash, he’s not going to like this.”
“That’s our job, Charlie. If he were happy with us we’d be doing it wrong.” Harvey said, grinning. This was the seventh major warehouse this month. Trade on the east side was actually down.
“And we’re doing it well, DA.” The cop said and nodded. “Lives will be easier for this. That’s not nothing.”
“Boss, over here!” Another officer yelled and Harvey hurried over. “This is what you were looking for, ya?”
Slave drug. This is what he was looking to eradicate from the city. It didn’t take a huge amount of detective work to figure it out. Harvey had met Di in college, encouraged her to apply for graduate school – she had the intelligence for it. He had been disappointed when she instead decided to move in with her mother, who had just been attacked, but understood. Family was important.
Di was a changed woman now; she had been broken and remade. A quick digging got him her medical records after the brawls, every page mentioning the slave drug. He wasn’t close enough to ask, they hadn’t hit it off, but he really didn’t have to. He had worked SVU for a few months. The evil of men’s souls he couldn’t change. What he could do was take away a tool.
“Find all of it you can, first thing when we get back-“ He didn’t have to say.
“Right into the incinerator. Hell yes.” The man said, he wasn’t unfamiliar with the substance himself. “Exactly what I had in mind.”
The early morning sun glinted off an all-white airplane as the metal monster soared over Italy. Inside, its three passengers lay quietly in their seats, all seemingly asleep. However, appearance and reality were not the same thing.
“Riddler?” Cassandra Cain murmured, her eyes still closed.
“Yes?” The only adult other than the pilot replied equally quietly. Cass knew he would be awake. Something about the man seemed almost manic.
“Tigress…she is a trained assassin.” It was something between a question and a statement.
Riddler took a deep breath and exhaled. “Yes.”
“Tim is not,” Cass said simply, turning onto her side to face the boy next to her. He slept so peacefully. Cass couldn’t help but smile despite the terror hidden deep within her. Tim never seemed this content, not with the tragedy and anger always so present within his eyes.
Riddler did not respond for a moment. His slow, steady breathing almost fooled Cass into believing he was asleep, and just as she began to fade back into her own thoughts, he spoke up.
“I will not allow anything to befall Timothy. You have my word.”
Cass continued to stare at the snoring boy as she responded, “I knew you, Riddler. I knew you from the moment I saw you. You do not have a history of successfully protecting young, reckless heroes.”
That Riddler did not respond to. Cass’ hands tightened into fists.
“Your secrets are yours to keep, but know if anything happens to Tim…” Cass didn’t need the finish the threat. The implication was enough. Again, Riddler did not respond aloud, but Cassandra understood the silence. It was far more telling than anything the vigilante could promise.
With a few final deep breaths, Cassandra closed her eyes and forced herself to sleep.
“Grayson, you’re killing me.”
Damian Wayne crossed his arms and cocked his head to the side as he looked at the older vigilante, who lay on his side on a cot in the Batcave, his body covered with bandages.
“Or rather the boredom is,” Damian finished.
Dick sighed, causing his core to ache, “Damian, just shut up already. I’m in no shape to take you out again.”
Damian scowled. “It’s a pity you come from such a weak breed.” He turned around. In the blink of an eye he produced two birdarangs from his utility belt and pitched them at dummies on the other side of the cave—perfect bullseyes right in the dummies’ heads.
The scowl flipped around, “I’ve already recovered from our duel with the Terminator.”
“Gah!” Damian cried out, rubbing the back of his head as a metal bowl still wet with soup clattered to the ground. “What was that for?”
Dick leaned back into the cot, which proved to take far more effort than it should have. “Insult me all you want, but don’t even think of dragging my parents through the mud again.”
Damian’s expression softened. He looked down at his feet. “I…apologize. I’m sure your parents were wonderful people.”
Dick smiled, if only slightly, “They were…”
Gotham City was home to thieves, mobsters, serial killers, and every other form of criminal one could imagine. The reason for the city’s unhealthy criminal population remained unclear, particularly for a place with so potent a spirit, an energy driving ordinary men and women to act for the better and the lighter side of Gotham. Then again, maybe it was the same energy that drove so many mad.
However, maybe the reason Gotham was home to such a variety, a population divided between two extremes, was because there needed to be mediation. Every action had a reaction. Every light created a shadow. Every life was followed by death. Maybe there existed a cosmic scale so large in scope it was impossible to understand.
Then again, maybe there was no reason. Maybe Gotham was just as mad as its inhabitants. Order or chaos: which stood tall in a city of extremes? A city also particularly known for the line between light and shadow, a city with a gray overtone…
A city that was home to the Cat.
“Hello, handsome.” A woman in a black catsuit smiled to herself as she gazed over a million-dollar diamond cat statue in her hand. Orange goggles further obscured eyes that shrouded emotion like darkness. Crouched over a rooftop’s ledge, proudly sizing up her latest score, Catwoman continued, “I wasn’t talking to the idol.”
Batman stepped under the dim, clouded light of the moon. “Selina.”
“Ah ah ah,” the calculating beauty swiveled around on her heels, turning to face the Batman with a sly smile. She slid her finger over the logo on his chest. Batman’s gaze did not stray from the seductress’ eyes, even as she knowingly gave the vigilante the opportunity to view something most men would not pass up.
“It’s Catwoman while I’m in the suit,” the thief finished, standing back up and stepping away. “You started that, you know: the codename MO.”
“I need your help,” Batman stated.
“Moving a little quickly, aren’t you? What ever happened to dinner first, playtime second?” Catwoman teased. “I am in the mood for seafood…”
Batman reached out and grabbed the thief’s wrist. She didn’t even flinch.
“No more games, Cat,” Batman growled. No response. The vigilante softened. A raised eyebrow broke him. Batman took a deep breath and let go. “Please.”
“So you do have manners,” Catwoman cooed. She slid back onto her heels, “What do you need?”
Batman’s expression hardened again, “Tell me everything you know about the Court of Owls.”
Catwoman crossed her arms.
Redbird and Cassandra Cain landed quietly on a skyscraper across from the Luxury Arabian Inn and folded their parachutes back into their packs. Both vigilantes glanced at the other and then walked over to the edge of the roof.
Redbird reached up to his earpiece. “We’ve landed. Doesn’t look like anyone noticed.”
“Told you I jammed the radar,” Riddler bragged.
“Riddle me this: who’s loud, obnoxious and has an ego the size of the moon?” Redbird shot back.
“Why, you, of course,” Riddler amusedly said.
“Hilarious,” Redbird sarcastically muttered. He aimed his grappling hook at a suite’s deck about a dozen floors and a street away. “We’re going in. Let’s just pray we’re getting to Tigress before she got to her target.”
“Oh yes. We mustn’t forget to pray for the wellbeing of a terrorist,” Riddler quipped.
Tim clicked the edge of his earpiece, shutting of his comms and silencing Riddler. He looked at Cass. She did the same and then nodded back at him. Redbird looked back at Tigress’ suite.
“Cowabunga,” Redbird muttered haphazardly, firing the grappling hook over the suite and swinging down onto the deck. Lights were off. Weird. Riddler’s sources claimed she wouldn’t leave for the kill job till noon. Redbird reached for the door handle, willing to risk it.
As soon as his hand grazed the metal handle, the vigilante found himself pulled over the edge of the porch. No sooner than Cassandra had swung down and grabbed hold of Tim, the entire hotel room blew to smithereens, debris raining down onto the street and drawing the attention of dozens of civilians. Tim and Cass, luckily, managed to make it to a rooftop and duck behind cover before anyone could get a good view of them.
Heaving, Tim looked at Cass. “Words can not express how cool you are.”
Cass’ lips perked up slightly, but she remained focused on their surroundings. No assassins, no choppers, no government officials. They were in the clear for now.
“We need to leave,” Cass said. Tim nodded and followed her away, leaping from roof to roof, trying his best not to be seen.
“Please, help me, Selina,” Batman grimaced, “Catwoman.”
The catsuit-wearing thief shrugged and leaned back against a vent. “I suppose I could help you, yes, but then what do you plan on doing to help me?”
Batman had expected this. Even with their…complicated relationship, Selina was still a thief—a middle-class thief, no less. She had bills to pay and cats to feed.
“One month. You get one month without me so much as watching you,” Batman coaxed.
“That’s no fun.”
“Fine,” Catwoman nodded, “One month off your ‘list.’ One month when I can do whatever I please without your interference.”
Batman’s hands tightened into fists. Catwoman grinned. “Anything.”
“Just talk,” Batman growled.
Catwoman took a deep breath, stretched and began, “Yeah, yeah. The Court of Owls. There’s been rumors they’re back. Not a lot, just…whispers, but it’s enough to scare the mobsters out of Gotham.”
“That’s all?” Batman demanded.
Catwoman held her hands up in surrender, “You wanted to know what I know. That’s what I know.”
Batman turned away and leaned over the edge of the roof. “You get three days.”
“Wait!” Catwoman shot up and put a hand on the vigilante’s shoulder. “There’s more.”
Batman didn’t turn to her, but he also didn’t bother to move. She had his attention.
“Matches Malone. He’ll know more. He knows this city more than anyone…more than you,” Catwoman explained.
Batman frowned and faced Catwoman again. Right on time too as he noticed knives arcing towards the thief. Batman pulled Catwoman out of the way, and immediately rolled to his feet, throwing batarangs at a figure on an adjacent roof. The figure flipped over the blades and took off, leaping to another roof.
“The Court?” Catwoman asked, getting to her feet. Batman was already off, sprinting and jumping after the would-be assassin. The thief shook her head, a small smile planted on her face, “No manners, I swear.”
Catwoman ran after Batman. Years of living on the run paid off, and the thief caught up to the vigilante, who was used to the ease of chasing someone in a high-speed tank.
“I have this,” Catwoman teased, flipped onto a roof. Batman grunted in response. Up ahead, the assassin—now visibly a Talon—wasted a second to throw back a volley of knives. Batman had to roll away, but Catwoman managed to continue her chase, merely maneuvering around the projectiles.
The Talon roared in rage and threw back more knives. Catwoman gracefully slid under them on her knees, got back onto her feet and continued to catch up to the Talon. The assassin reached the edge of a roof, and flipped over it, throwing blades as he did so. Catwoman, mere feet from the edge, smiled slyly as she pushed off her legs with all her might and pounced over the knives and onto the Talon. She tackled him onto the roof and held the struggling Talon down with sheer force of will.
Finally catching up, Batman landed beside the cat with the bird in her grasp.
“Talk!” Batman bellowed, taking the assassin and slamming him into the ground.
“Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time,” the Talon began to hum.
Batman let out a guttural roar and dragged the assassin over the edge of the roof. “WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING??”
“Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime,” the Talon continued.
“Batman…” Catwoman approached the vigilante, wary. She’d never seen him so scared.
“They watch you at your hearth. They watch you in your bed.”
“I swear to God I’ll do it,” Batman loosened his grip on the Talon. “I’ll do anything for him.”
“Speak not a whispered word of them…” The Talon began to cackle as he finished, “Or they’ll send the Talon for your head!”
The assassin kicked off the Batman’s chest and plummeted to the ground.
“NO!” Batman shouted, reaching down for the Talon, but it was too late. The Court’s weapon smashed into the pavement with a crack. Batman wasted but a second to stare at the body before letting loose a monstrous roar into the night.
Catwoman gently put a hand on the vigilante’s shoulder. He merely quieted and closed his eyes in response. Recognizing he wasn’t pulling away, Catwoman held Batman in her arms. Then, the Dark Knight did something he so very rarely did: he broke, if only for a moment.
“I can’t stop them…” Batman whispered weakly. He opened his eyes. The Talon was gone. Rage replaced weakness. “But I have to try.”
Batman stepped away, and, without even responding, he leaped off into the night, leaving Catwoman to watch him, her eyes flooding with worry.
“As of today you are now officially a Bird.” Jade said, as she and Babs jumped and traveled over the rooftops. Babs jumped anyway. Jade just poofed. “Only Birds know this place.”
They were in their costumes and on their way to some super-secret hideout that Jade said belonged to Lady Shiva. It was the one she used when she even wanted to hide from the Talons.
“So does that come with a membership card? Nametag? How’s the dental?” She asked and Jade laughed. “How much do you take out of withholding? These things are so easy to overlook.”
“Well, you’re on the Gotham plan and the Star City plan already, so I don’t think you need to worry.” The woman stopped suddenly, looking at the back of a brick building. “We’re here. Say nothing and follow my lead. And don’t jump at anything, they see it as a sign of weakness.”
Nodding, and feeling nervous, Babs followed the masked hero to the ground and saw her push in three bricks. The back tunnels of ‘Haven. They were legend, but Babs had never actually seen one before, it seemed like they were true.
The wall opened and, following closely, Babs and Jade went in. The feeling was eerie. Like they were being watched, but couldn’t see how. Calmer, if unhappy about where she was, Jade lead and they arrived at an ornate silk covered room It seemed empty until she noticed there was a dagger at her neck.
“I claim her.” Jade said firmly. “And she is mine.”
The dagger was pulled away, though very close to her throat, and she swallowed. Silk curtains were pulled away and the dark, mysterious form of Lady Shiva appeared. Babs couldn’t help it. She shivered.
“Daughter.” The woman said, looking at Jade. The resemblance was uncanny. The same forms and coloring that Tommy had, strong genes.
“Mother.” Jade responded stiffly but joined her seti, motioning for Babs to join them.
Lady Shiva, the Dark Lady waved and a large pot of Turkish coffee was carried in, and three cups were poured. Jade tried Bab’s cup before nodding and handing it over.
“Do you still not trust me, daughter?” She asked. “After all I have done for you.”
“Yes, all you have done.” Jade replied, there were a lot of issues here. Deep issues, Babs had heard for years that there was bad blood between Jade and her mother. More than ever she believed it. “I’m not here for the personal, just the business.”
“Fair enough. There we can help each other.” Shiva said and sat up, like Jade she had long perfectly manicured nails. It was easy to guess what they were used for. “We’ve been having issues as well. I’ve barely been able to keep my own agents in line.”
“We keep finding leads that won’t talk.” Jade replied. “What’s the cause?”
“I don’t have a name, but I can guess the form – one not so different from our own.”
She motioned to their similar poison belts. “There is a gaseous form, one that induces great terror. Obedience is immediate. I’m almost sad I didn’t think of it myself.”
Jade glared, and Shiva sighed.
“Yes, yes. I can give you an area. It won’t take long to search, but wear protection from the atmosphere.” Shiva sighed and sat up. “Also, the second group is called ‘the Red Hoods’. Punks, really, but ‘Haven punks so even the nibbles hurt. Angry, driven. Convinced they can take on whoever is in charge of the gases if they try hard enough. Would be heroes. I don’t see it ending well. It never does.”
“Where?” Jade asked.
“A map with both; do not worry. This helps me as much as it gives you something to do.” Shiva handed over a scrolled roll of paper. “There is one other matter you may want to see to also, Jade. However, it is personal.”
“Tommy stays where he is.” Jade said, reflexively. “We have a home now.”
“So it would seem, I know.” Shiva stretched out again. “But if you’re ready to take a break from your friend-sisters you have a real one here. She’s been corrupted beyond use so far as I can tell, but you’re the soft-hearted one in the family. You might give it a try. She’s in a bad way. Do what you can, will you dear? Her name is Cassandra. Cassandra Cain.” Shiva shrugged, “The man had to have an heir. Just keep an eye out.”
Conference over Jade stood and bowed slightly before leaving, Babs staying close. Once outside both could breathe easier.
“That was-“ Babs said, not quite finding the words.
“My mother. But the intel is good, you can count on that.” Jade was trying to shake off the air of the place, Babs could see it was easily a place she could fall into. “That enough for now?”
“More than enough.” Babs was looking at the map, it included a number of secret tunnels. “Thank you. I could tell you didn’t want to be there.”
“Needed to be done. I already thought I lost a friend out here once, I don’t want to repeat that.” Jade said looking over and smiling a little. “We mean it when we tell you to stay safe out here. You are loved, and missed.”
“I know.” Babs said, remembering. It was a warm feeling, helped keep the darkness at bay. “But I have to do this.”
“But you don’t have to do it alone. Never be afraid to call.” Jade messed her hair up for a moment. “Or pull out till things calm down. We need you to survive this. You’re fully stocked with food and such again, and there are two care packages on your desk for you. We came up with a few new toys over at the R&D, thought of you. Let’s play with them after we order pizza.”
Laughing, Babs followed. This would be more fun then she had had in some time. Both missed the street kids who looked at the two wide eyed and hurried to run off, excitedly whispering to each other that the Birds of Prey were back.
“The whole east quarter?” Said a nervous grunt wearing a cheap suit. His eyes were big, and stressed. “That’s not possible.”
“The whole thing, and the west-north is almost as bad.” His friend, heavier set but sweating no less, looked around. “We have people!”
“Had people.” A young woman said, a street spy by her clothing. “I hear four whole stations have been cleaned out. They didn’t even send them to our prisons. This Dent guy is scattering ‘em so they can’t do anything. Someone gave him heads up.”
“How’s a man supposed to run a business with no product.” A fourth man joined the table, lamenting as he held his head in his hands. “Gah, this sucks!”
“Now everyone calm down, we’ll get back.” The boss himself walked in and slid into his chair. “It’s all in the works. More product on the north side, and it’s coming your way. It’s just a matter of moving things around. As for the officers, my dear, there are over thirty stations in this city. I’ll give them four. We’ll take the territory back.”
The four looked at Oswald Cobblepot, not remotely concerned, and took a breath. He nodded.
“But on to better things. If Mr. Dent wants to target street drugs why should we get in the way? It’s cute and lets him feel special. The market is more than ready for better things.” He put a few small bags on the table and the room paid attention.
“Stronger, cheaper to make and can be cut with anything. Selling shouldn’t be-“
“Boss, Boss!” A group of men ran in and Cobblepot turned, annoyed. “The shipment! The coppers got to it. Look!”
The two ran over to the window and opened the blinds. The warehouse on the docks had a wide view of the bay – where the ship of the new wonder drug was baking in blue flames and was already half suck into the bay. They were lost. Cobblepot’s eyes narrowed, and he scowled.
“This is not going to stand.” He said as his fists tightened before turning as another grunt rushed in and looked at him, scared. “What! Spit it out!”
“Birds.” The messenger said, pale from fear. “The Birds are back. Cheshire, working with Flamebird.”
Penguin was now pale, even he knew who the Birds were and he had no intention of dealing with them.
“Word is they were talking to Shiva.”
Bodies. Bodies everywhere. Tim held back the urge to throw up. Desert winds made it hard to breathe, but the stench of the corpses made it impossible. The young vigilante stepped out of the underground cave for fresh air. Cass followed him.
“Oh my God…why did we do this? We knew we’d lost her. Why?” Tim crouched down into a resting position, his elbows on his knees.
“Artemis.” Cass replied, kneeling down beside her partner.
“Tigress’ target was our next lead,” Riddler added.
“We’d lost her,” Tim whispered.
“It’s a pity you did, because I know she really would have like to meet you.”
Both Tim and Cass swiveled around onto their feet. Standing just a dozen yards away, at the edge of the cave, was a dark-haired woman dressed in orange and black armor.
“Tigress,” Redbird muttered, anger rising in his chest.
“Yes, and who are you?” The assassin crossed her arms, “Because I’d really like to know why the hell you’ve been tracking me.”