Ultimate Knights #8: War Aug 17, 2015 15:07:15 GMT -5
Post by Drake on Aug 17, 2015 15:07:15 GMT -5
#8: WarBy Drake and Adrini
Blüdhaven, New Jersey
Two Hours Ago
“Remind me again why we’re staking out the home base of a cult of psychotic vigilantes who tried to kill me,” Gar grumbled quietly, peering out in dog form from behind the edge of a wall at Scarlet.
“Because there were no guards when we first tried to enter the subway system—“ Cullen began, eyeing the enormous camp.
“That totally wasn’t a bad idea in the first place,” Gar sarcastically interjected.
“—meaning something was seriously wrong,” Cullen continued, before adding, “And we were bored.”
“At least we weren’t about to die,” Gar retorted. He paused, and admitted, “Actually, I guess we kinda were. Fall in the Haven is a bitch.”
“Coming from the dog,” Cullen teased.
“Which means I would know—“
“Shh!” Cullen hushed. He pointed to a mass of Red Hoods exiting at an opening near the western edge of Scarlet.
“Uh oh,” Gar muttered.
“Looks like they’re going to war,” Cullen stated after noticing the Hoods were armed to the brim. “Can you see my sister?”
“I’m color blind,” Gar spat.
Cullen glanced at him. “You are?”
“As a dog, yes.”
“Then turn into something else!” Cullen quietly demanded.
“Right. Because a green hawk isn’t noticeable at all,” Gar said.
“You’re a bright green dog in a camp full of red,” Cullen pointed out.
“Touché,” Gar surrendered, morphing into a hawk and flapping up into the air to see. After about ten seconds of scanning the ground, Gar returned to the ground and shifted into his human form. “Just going off your creepily specific description, I think I saw your sister. Problem is, there are like two girls who look just like how you described her.”
Cullen furrowed his brow, thinking. “That’ll have to be good enough.”
“So then, what’s the plan?” Gar asked, leaning against the wall.
Cullen eyed his friend curiously, his lips curling up into a sly smirk. Gar’s face immediately paled when he realized what the other boy was implying. He shook his head and backed up a step.
“No. No no no no. There’s no way,” Gar said.
Cullen cocked his head to the side, “Please?”
“No!” Gar affirmed.
“C’mon, help me Obi-Gar Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” Cullen begged.
Gar’s face softened, and he looked away, crossing his arms to pout. “I hate you. You know Star Wars is my weakness.”
When Gar continued to remain in human form, Cullen pushed, “So…?”
Gar sighed, “Fine. I’ll follow them.”
Cullen’s face lit up. “You’re the best!”
“Don’t I know it…” Gar grumbled, already transforming into a little, green mouse. Without another word, he scampered off after the Red Hoods, leaving Cullen to watch him go, his eyes alight with worry.
It was after three, which was why Bab’s was feeling a little off. She was a night owl, but her day job made that reality more difficult than it would be. However she was about to the end of her rope, it was time to call it.
Standing up, she grabbed onto the table. She was lightheaded. Sure, she was tired. But why was she lightheaded? And the air, it was sweet. Had she made a treat? It smelled like walnuts, roasted walnuts. She hadn’t made those in ages. She could have sworn she hadn’t. She needed to get to the oven. They were going to burn. They smelled awful when they burned.
The oven wasn’t that much farther. This was a studio. There wasn’t much too it. The lightheadedness was strong now. She leaned on the door frame. She could just turn the oven off. Maybe they wouldn’t burn that badly, just so tired.
The oven never happened. The house would smell terrible, but she was so tired. Just a little rest, a few minutes, even there on the floor.
Discretion was the name of the game, at least for a proto militia like the Red Hood Enforcers. Particularly in contrast to their target, their enemy, the Black Mask gang, the Hoods didn’t have many resources, they weren’t a particularly large group (the soldiers, at least) or well trained, so fighting quietly and quickly was there only hope of victory. In many ways, they took after the same vigilantes most of the Hoods grew up admiring—Gotham’s Batman, or their home city’s own Outlaws. However, the primary difference between the two groups—the so-called superheroes and the Red Hoods—was that the first were trained and knew a trap when they saw one. The Hoods? Not at all. So, discreet or not, the Red Hoods walked right into a trap.
“Drop your guns,” Bane ordered. The enormous behemoth of a man suppressed a shudder as his veins flowed with Venom, his super steroid of choice. Above and around him stood nearly a hundred of his finest soldiers, all armed to the brim, visibly waiting in Santa Prisca’s rafters or at the edge of the ring to blow the brains out of the vigilantes. “Or die. It’s really quite simple.”
“We got all subtle and shit,” Josh Henderson grumbled from the second row of Red Hoods. “How the hell’d they trap us?”
Red Dart stepped out from her place in the crowd, the tension in the room skyrocketing as a result. “We came for your head, Bane, and we won’t leave until the deed is done. We’ll make the Haven safe again.”
The masked man sighed and shook his head in disappointment. “I warned you.”
Suddenly, Bane charged Red Dart, lashing out at her. The Red Hood leader managed to react in time, despite Bane’s incredible speed, and used her attacker as leverage to flip onto the ring. That act seemed to behave as the opening shot, driving the Red Hoods and Black Masks to open fire on one another. Chaos exploded to life throughout Santa Prisca.
Red Dart stayed on her toes, dodging bullets and taking down Black Masks in the rafters with metal darts—each one a perfect bullseye right between the eyes. Elsewhere, Bane tore through the Red Hoods in an attempt to reach their leader. It didn’t take long for her to catch on. She faced the masked man.
Over the sounds of gunfire, Bane roared, “THEIR LEADER IS MINE!” The gunfire aimed at Red Dart pattered to a stop.
Before the two leaders’ brawl began, the rest of the combatants’ primary weapon of choice switched from a gun to a knife or bat, as the two sides drew close together and it became difficult to differentiate within the mass.
“Ever heard of David and Goliath?” Red Dart mused as the behemoth of a mobster stepped into the ring. Bane shrugged the comment off. The redhead smirked and raised a dart. “It took David one rock to kill the giant. How many darts do you wager it will take to kill you?”
Bane’s response was a monstrous roar and a right hook. Red Dart ducked under the blow and rolled back. As she got onto her feet, she leaped into the air. Bane tried to grab her, but Red Dart used her legs to snag onto his right arm and swing herself around so she was face-to-face with the masked man.
“I wager one,” Red Dart quipped, raising her weapon.
She jammed the dart between Bane’s eyes before he could react and flipped back to the ground, leaving the masked man to suffer. Bane reached for his face and let loose an animalistic howl before collapsing onto his knees.
Red Dart kept a safe distance from Bane as she continued her spiel, “You’re tougher than I imagined. I guess it’ll take one more to end you.”
Bane continued to hide his face with his hands, the dart sticking out from between his fingers like a horn. He didn’t move or even speak as Red Dart produced another projectile. She eyed him cautiously before pulling out three more.
“Four should do it,” she whispered to herself.
With a flick of her arm, Red Dart tossed her projectiles, each one landing in Bane’s chest. The man cried out but did not fall. The Hood leader frowned. She threw another five darts, one lodging in each limb and another in his stomach, before Bane’s sobs became truly loud. However, it was at that moment that the man himself finally moved.
Bane slowly stood up, one foot at a time, but continued to hide his face as he howled. Red Dart began to produce more darts. Bane didn’t seem to notice or care. Six more projectiles pierced the masked man’s skin and then the cries changed—they morphed, transformed into maniacal laughter, leaving Red Dart to step back in fear.
“I see you’ve finally stopped talking,” Bane chuckled. He removed the dart in his head in one swift motion, revealing his masked face and cruel grin. Even as blood dripped down over his eyes, he did not flinch. “I was waiting for that.”
“No…no. H-how the hell are you…? You should be dead!” Red Dart stuttered, backing up. She began to reach for darts, but her hands tremored so much she dropped every one she tried for.
Simultaneously, Bane matched her every step, pulling a dart from his body each time his foot touched the floor. “I was waiting for this…when you would break.”
“You can’t be alive. Y-you’re just human. Even with the drugs, y-you’re human…” Red Dart managed. Tears threatened to cloud her vision.
Bane pulled the last dart from his leg, and tossed it between his hands, never breaking eye contact. “No, I am Bane.”
In one swift motion, Bane ended the terrified woman’s life with her own weapon. With a dart lodged between her eyes, Red Dart collapsed backwards off the ring, drawing both depressed moans from her subordinates and victorious cries from the Black Masks. However, neither were quite as loud as the voice that boomed from inside Santa Prisca’s ring.
“YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS, VIGILANTES!” Bane roared, his hands raised in victory. “PLEDGE YOUR ALLEGIANCE TO ME, OR DIE!”
The battle simmered down. Hoods exchanged worried, conflicted glances. Black Masks prepared for finishing blows.
“ONE MEMBER OF YOUR RANKS HAS ALREADY JOINED MY SIDE. HE IS THE ONE THAT DOOMED YOU. HE IS THE ONE THAT INFORMED US OF YOUR PLAN,” Bane explained, hoping to further crush their morale. Upon his call, one of the Red Hoods crept out from the corner of the enormous room. One Hood by the name of…
“JOHN SMITH,” Bane waved the man forward to his side. He complied. Oddly enough, not one of the Red Hoods seemed all that shocked by his betrayal. Glares replaced potential surprise. He was the enemy.
Bane continued, “HE IS MY LOYAL SERVANT AND HE WILL SURVIVE THE NIGHT.”
“Davis?” Harper looked at her lover as they stood beside one another, guns in hand.
“We can’t,” he whispered in response.
Harper grimaced. She knew what was coming. Davis was far from the most loyal Red Hood, and here he was willing to die for the cause. Most of the others would do the same. Harper, however, would not. She took one step back, close enough that no one, including Davis, noticed, but far enough that she managed to shrink into the shadow of the bleachers like she had been trained.
“WHAT IS YOUR ANSWER?” Bane demanded as Smith stared coolly at the other Red Hoods.
Davis stepped forward and raised his pistol. “This is for Lady Dart.”
Davis slumped to the ground, a bullet hole in his head. His assailant, a Black Mask waiting in the rafters, held a smoking gun as he looked down at his victim with pride. Harper bit her lip to force back a yelp. The gunshot acted as a trigger. The battle began anew, and Harper used every skill she had to sneak out, only forced to knock out two Black Masks in the process.
Even as chaos raged around him, Bane remained calm and still, watching the battle in amusement. Whenever a Red Hood bothered to attack him, he merely crushed their skull and tossed their corpse to the side before continuing to enjoy his entertainment for the night. Bullets could do nothing against him. They made him bleed, sure, but barely. Nothing could pierce his skin lethally deeply.
Bane seemed, for all intents and purposes, unbreakable, while the ordinary humans around him shattered like glass.
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Cullen shrieked in shock, as Gar appeared beside him, growing back into human form. After recognizing the boy, Cull relaxed and said, “Give me a little warning next time.”
“All right, Captain Stereotypical Response,” Gar mused, “As I was saying, we’ve got a serious problem.” Cullen frowned and nodded him on. “The Red Hoods started a huge fight with these masked mafia guys. Problem is, the masked guys completely outmanned and out-armed them. They had this luchador guy who put the smack down on the Hoods—not that I’m complaining—and, er.” Gar’s eyes darkened. “He might’ve killed your sister.”
Cull’s face fell. “What…?”
Gar was quick to interject, “Here’s the deal though. The other girl I saw that looked like your sister—I couldn’t find her.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?” Cullen asked.
Gar frowned, “No, I guess, but…” He sighed in frustration. He couldn’t believe he was about to say this. “But we can go check. You can look for her, and—“
Cullen grabbed Gar’s wrist and dragged him along into the tunnel. “Lead the way!”
“’s kinda hard when you’re in front,” Gar retorted.
Cullen stopped for a moment, and looked back at his friend expectantly. Gar didn’t move for a second, before widening his eyes and kicking himself into gear. He turned into a horse and bent his head down. Cullen hopped on.
“Hold tight,” Gar warned.
“Speaking of stereotypical statements,” Cullen quipped.
“Your funeral,” Gar said, before galloping off into the darkness.
“So they’ll be a little scratched up, but we need to go. Wake her up!” The voice was hoarse and afraid. “I’ll run the last of it to the truck, but get her going!”
Drifting through a fog she felt herself being lifted. Unsure of why or how but she was moving. Lights were flashing. She could sense things, smell things. Somehow she felt safe, though she had no idea why. Trying to look, she saw a mass of black floating the fog. But the arms that held her were kind, and careful. She was being rushed somewhere, somewhere she had no idea. A car, she was in a car. It was moving quickly. The driver was speeding.
It was a long ride, and she could swear there was a tunnel as well. The lights went by so fast. Drifting in and out she finally began to come through and looked at an old vaulted ceiling. It was rather ornate, really. Around her she could hear people moving boxes and furniture. But she was safe, why did she believe that so much? But it was true; she just knew it.
It was some hours later but the fog lifted and she was able to move again. She was weak, but still able to move. It was something.
“She’s awake, welcome to the world, Babs.” Jade was there, helping her up. Babs could feel her head ringing. It was agony. “Ah, right. I promise I’m not poisoning you, just to clear out the side effects.”
“Ow!” Babs said as Jade scratched a neon red serum into her skin. It burned for a few seconds but the weakness, headache and fog were gone. It was a Talon thing then, oh good. “Thanks, where am I?”
Her entire house was here, quickly packed in boxes and pushed against the wall. This was a complex, a large one. Just looking at it she could tell it wasn’t what it once was.
“The former home of the JSA.” Kate said as she walked over. “Also served as a home for Mrs. Lance’s old team. Mostly storage now. Di told us to use it when we found out you were getting gassed. She says it was protected or something, that you’d understand.”
“So we moved you in. The wiring looks okay, so you should be good to go.” Jade carried over a box of take out and handed it to her. Babs ate to hide her face for a moment. She did understand. It actually made a lot of things make sense. She and the Canary would have to have a nice talk later. “But you’ll have to move fast, we need eyes and ears more than ever. Things are going south.”
“Then we get started.” Dinner could wait. “Line up the table over there. I need to get the hubs set up. These assholes have no idea what we can line up.”
“Sounds like we’re all in.” Jade leaned on the wall, covered in framed metals from a past battle. “What are you thinking?”
“She’s thinking this place is screwed if it goes alone, again.” Kate’s face was satisfied, obviously this was something she wanted. “Tables, we don’t have time.”
The two boys literally leaped into action, Gar galloping full speed forward before kicking off the ground. The end result was that Gar managed to knock out a Black Mask with his hoof and draw the attention of everyone in the warring mass—including Bane.
“You vigilantes have a Changeling?” Bane wondered, before thinking aloud, "He is green.”
Naturally nobody bothered to correct him as they were caught in life-and-death combat. So, Bane made it his priority to do one thing and one thing only: eliminate Gar.
“HARPER!!” Cullen shouted, sliding off Gar’s back.
“Uh, Cull, we got a huge problem,” Gar stuttered, now in human form, his tail between his legs, as he stared at the approaching Venom junkie.
“HARPER!!!” Cullen ignored his friend. As he cried out his sister’s name, he was forced to duck under a bat, courtesy of a Black Mask.
“Idiota!” Bane shouted in his native tongue. “The Changeling and his friend are mine!”
His subordinate listened, backing off. Only now did Cullen notice the incoming threat. His eyes widened in fear. Gar shrunk back, transformed into a lion and growled. Bane paid no mind to the boy’s threat. He cracked his neck, loosening up.
“Are you ready to die, boys?” Bane asked.
“Cull, run. Get out of here,” Gar growled.
“Like hell,” Cullen managed, steadying himself and standing up straight. He whispered, “What would Harper do?”
However, Gar had to silence himself when Bane charged him like a rhino. Naturally, the boy’s instinctual response was to turn into a rhino himself and attempt to deck the masked man. Bane simply grabbed his horns and tugged him down to the ground, jerking him into a chokehold.
“Gar!!” Cullen grabbed the neck of Bane’s tank top, trying to drag him off his friend. Bane ignored the boy, gripping Gar like there was no tomorrow. The green-skinned boy transformed into a variety of animals, but the masked man held him down each time.
Cullen looked around for anything that could help. Luckily, a Red Hood corpse beside him had a bat in its hands. He begrudgingly took hold of the weapon, tearing it out of the body’s literal death grip, and broke it over his knee. Cullen turned back to Bane, his eyes burning with determination and ran at the masked man. Cullen leaped into the air and jammed the splintered bat into the small of Bane’s neck.
Bane roared in pain, loosening his grip on Gar and allowing the boy to escape as a cat. However, Cullen’s attack had a downside. Now, he’d irritated the masked man, and he hadn’t even paralyzed him like he had expected. Bane may have been in pain, but he certainly wasn’t seriously injured. Although, he was pissed.
Bane backhanded Cullen, sending him flying into a Red Hood and his Black Mask opponent. Even worse, the boy hit his head as he crashed into the ground with a smack.
Gar’s eyes widened in terror. “CULLEN!!”
“That flea is dead. Now, it’s your turn,” Bane spat.
Rage replaced fear and shock inside Gar, and he transformed into an elephant. Trumpeting in rage, Gar body slammed Bane. The masked man cried out, but remained composed. He grabbed Gar with an iron grip and slowly but surely pushed him off of him. In response, the changeling morphed into a hawk and attempted to gouge out Bane’s eyes. That proved to be his downfall. The masked man got one solid hit on him, and Gar crashed to the ground, breaking his right arm in the process.
Transforming back into his human form, Gar looked back up at Bane, fear quickly returning to his eyes.
“Die, monster,” Bane said, leaning over the boy.
Suddenly, the masked man found himself knocked away into a crowd of battlers. Gar looked up, wide eyed, at his rescuer—a young costumed vigilante in a gray t-shirt emblazoned with a blue bird, and a matching mask.
The vigilante boy looked at Gar. “Sorry I’m late. Had to help a cat out of a tree.” Upon Gar’s awestruck silent response, he continued. “You think I’m joking.”
“Wh-what? How? Who…?” Gar muttered.
“The short of it, me llamo Nightjay. I kinda got super hearing because of these…well, I can’t just tell you my secret identity, so…”
“Um, to your left,” Gar stammered, pointing at Bane, who was charging the vigilante.
“Really? He’s still up after that?” Nightjay muttered, ducking under Bane’s right hook. He tried to kick Bane, but the villain grabbed his leg and tossed him away.
That was when things got weird. Nightjay flipped in mid-air and began to spasm. Before he fell to the ground, he transformed with blood-curdling screams into an enormous white Man-Bat.
“Another Changeling?” Bane wondered.
“RRREEEEEE!!” Nightjay cried, spreading his wings. “Not a Changeling—a Man-Bat!!”
“Get ready for a smackdown, Nacho Libre,” Nightjay continued, flying into the air and dive-bombing at Bane.
The masked man rolled out of the way and onto his feet. Nightjay fluttered to a stop beside Gar.
“Plug your ears, buddy,” Nightjay warned.
“Wha—“ Gar began, but did as he was told, sticking his index fingers into his ears. Not a second too late, as the vigilante let loose a scream, sending sonic shock waves over the area.
“RRRREEEEEEEE!!!!!” Nightjay howled.
Bane collapsed to the ground, his hands over his ears. After a few more seconds of screaming, the Man-Bat stopped and eyed Bane cautiously. The masked man didn’t even hesitate to stand back up, although he stumbled a bit. The cry had as good as knocked out all the remaining combatants except for Bane and Gar.
“He’s a tough sonuvabitch,” Nightjay noticed.
“You got that right,” Gar agreed, standing up. “Even with that cry, you don’t stand a chance.”
“We need to get my friend out of here,” Gar interrupted. He hurried over to Cullen’s side, turned into a lion, and picked up his friend by his collar with his teeth.
Nightjay glanced between the two boys and Bane, the villain slowly recovering. He didn’t want to leave, but…
“He’s alive,” Gar stated, dropping Cullen to the ground.
“Trust me on this,” Nightjay said, flapping off the ground. Gar nearly asked what he was talking about, but stopped when Nightjay picked him and Cullen up with his enormous talon feet.
“Don’t—don’t you dare!” Bane roared, shaking the haze out of his vision. He charged at the boys, but couldn’t reach them in time.
Nightjay had already flown off, bursting through the ceiling panel and the one following it—the restaurant’s—carrying the injured boys into the night.
“Just up ahead, second door on the left. Use the card. It will break out the lock.” Jade moved to poof to the next corner, and nodded that the hall was clear. Babs, now in costume, was following the floor plan with the wrist screen. “But be ready for a fight.”
“About time.” Kate was completely okay with that idea and watched for others while the door was dealt with. Jade swiped the card and it’s opened quietly, opening to a room inside. The sound of footsteps told them it was patrolled.
The men inside were just street thugs and not highly skilled. They went down fast. Kate, who looked worried, was searching the room. Babs was already at the computer and looking over files. Jade was tying the goons to be arrested by the Untouchables. Finally the information was found.
“Gogogogogogo-“ Babs said as she raced to the door, Kate and Jade following. On the bikes they rushed, following her, downtown.
“Where are we going Flamebird?” Kate screamed over the sounds of the engine.
“DA’s office.” Babs responded. “They’re going after Harvey. Bastards figured it out.”
“Crap, no kidding. I’ll take the back.” Having arrived Jade nodded to the direction.
“Hurry! He is not a fighter.”
Gotham DA, Harvey Dent’s ‘Haven HQ
The door to the building was busted open as Babs and Kate hurried to the top floor and into the offices. The rooms were smashed, with pots and furniture overturned and left in pieces. Three of the Untouchables were there, clearly shot. The two rushed to do what they could but two were gone, and one was likely too far gone to be saved. They called for help anyway, on the off chance he could be saved. Seeing them he strained to speak, though he wasn’t able to say much.
“Dent…warehouse…about half an hour ago.” The man said, coughing at the effort. Kate was doing basic first aid to help contain the wounds but he needed help now. “Let me go. I don’t have anything left here. Find Dent.”
The man faded into sleep, likely his last, but looked to be at peace. Maybe he really did have more people on the other side then he did here. Jade arrived and she sighed at the sight, not surprised.
“There’s two more in the back stairs. Do we know where Dent is?” She asked, closing their eyes and placing pennies over their lids. Neither of the other had seen her do that before, but she seemed to be accustomed to it.
“Main warehouse, but we need to hurry. We’re behind them.” Kate said and Babs noticed she was also doing the small ritual on a guard. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
They were nearing the entrance to the warehouse when a few more motorcycles began to surround them. Wearing the blue uniforms of the Untouchables, four of riders moved to surround the three and clear traffic ahead. Racing in the dark, the groups pushed even the faster as the building came up.
The officers didn’t need orders. They were listening to earpieces, so Babs had one less thing to worry about. The vigilantes hurried into the warehouse, and rushed into the center of the room where they could hear laugher and jeers. The officers were already moving to block exits and nodded as the three jumped to the ground.
Batwoman landed first, wrapping her arm around a grunt as she did. Spotted by two others, they tried to attack but ended up hitting their buddy, who was being used as a human shield. As the man fell, knocked out, she leapt and, with the strength of her leap, launched the two against the wall. There were four more to go.
Flamebird followed shortly after, using a tool to wrap three of the men together to be gathered after. After she blocked a punch and dodged two more, the men were badly trained but there were many of them. Numbers did matter.
Jumping last, Cheshire already had her nails coated and ready to cut. On landing she had no lack of targets. She didn’t often use so much of her toxins but it actually occurred to her that she might run out of a couple of them. They just kept coming.
The laughing taunts of Penguin leaving was the last straw, not needing to talk the three jumped and dodged to the walls of the room, quickly making the same move. On the same count, they tossed.
Three screamers landed in the center mass of the resultant pitch brought the crowd to the floor, and after a time, out. It was the first time since the city invasion in Star City they had even had needed to be used.
And in the middle was the broken form of Harvey Dent. Beaten, bloody and half his form seemingly burnt with green sludge that had been taken from the vat nearby. The Untouchables moved in a rush to grab the body and move him. They were acting on orders the Birds didn’t hear. But they seemed to be orders that had a plan, which meant that someone out there did.
The aisles and alleyways of Scarlet boomed with activity. So much, in fact, that Harper refrained from entering the underground city, panic and regret tightening her chest and convincing her to hide. She had run straight from Santa Prisca—a two hour run. With sweat pouring down every inch of her body, she was naturally dangerously dehydrated. Even still, she refused to get help, only collapsing onto the subway floor and drinking out of a small puddle on the ground.
Raising the grimy water to her mouth, Harper began to sip it, only to find herself choking on it in shock when she felt someone tap her shoulder. She spun around on her knees, as ready for a fight as she could be in her condition. However, she couldn’t bring herself to move, let alone spring onto the person in front of her. Ignoring all physical restraints, she knew there would be no point. He was dead….unless he wasn’t.
Marcus Row, Harper’s father, stared down at her with cold, blue eyes. His black hair was slicked back with far too much grease just like she remembered it. His front two teeth were chipped from a fight with a bookie. His scowl—oh God, his scowl—made it look like he was ready to hit her.
“You let me die, girl.” Suddenly, a bloody hole grew between his eyes. “You were too weak to save me. You’ve always been weak. Look at you now. What’s changed?”
Marcus collapsed, causing Harper to gasp and shrink back. However, she only discovered she had yet to reach the depths of despair when she looked up, only to find a man standing before her with a smoking pistol raised in his hands. Jock, a wicked-smiling, ratty, fake-looking, long blond-haired son of a bitch grinned down at her.
“You can’t catch me. I can disappear. Change my name, my face,” Jock aimed the pistol at Harper’s head. She couldn’t move. “Or just kill you.”
He fired. Harper didn’t shriek, but she didn’t die either. However, she did close her eyes. When she realized nothing had happened, she looked up, only to find two more ghosts waiting for her.
Red Dart looked down on Harper joylessly, without her trademark grin. Davis appeared equally grim, his arms crossed and his skin pale.
“How could you, Harper? You left me without a second thought. You wouldn’t even avenge me. You wouldn’t even try,” Davis said disappointedly.
“You let us die, Harriet Snow. You ran away like your coward father, pathetically scared when a real opponent came knocking,” Red Dart grimaced. “You are no Red Hood.”
“No Bluebird.” Harper swiveled around, coming face to face with her mentor, Batwing, in his full high tech black armor. “You’re a failure, Harper. I tried to fix you, but you never had a chance. You’re deranged, psychotic, and cowardly. You’re not a hero.” He chuckled sadly. “You’re even too pitiful to be a villain.”
“And me, Harp…” Harp’s face fell, fading from its usual fair complexion to ghost-like paleness. She slowly turned around. Cullen stared down at her with anger unlike anything she’d seen in him.
“No, Cullen, I swear I meant to…I tried…” Harper struggled to find the right words.
“You didn’t try to do anything. You didn’t try to protect your friends. You didn’t try to listen to Cameron. You didn’t try to stay by my side. You ran away. For good reason too, I guess,” Cullen bent down onto one knee and got within an inch of his sister’s face. “You’re weak. Pathetic. Unable to do anything right. That’s why you’re scared. I get that, but you still didn’t try. You left me, just like Mom left us.”
“No, Cull…” Harper tried, but the boy interrupted her, raising a knife that phased into existence like gas.
“I wish you would just die already!” Cullen impaled Harper with the knife.
Now, the girl could feel real pain. She grabbed her chest, and looked down, only to discover there was no wound. She wasn’t bleeding, but the pain remained.
Left with only one thing to do, Harper struggled onto her feet, glanced once at Scarlet, before turning away to look into the darkened tunnel.
“I’m coming, Cull,” Harper whispered, awkwardly stumbling into the darkness.
Gar leaned against a wall outside St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, raining soaking his furry skin. He grimaced, tightened his hands into fists and slammed them against the wall. Movement at the edge of his vision caught his eye. Gar turned to greet Nightjay, who waited casually in a new costume just a few feet away.
“He’s in a coma,” Gar managed. “But thanks to you, he has a chance. Not a good one, but…it’s something.”
It was impossible to read Nightjay with his mask on, but Gar could swear the boy looked defeated, depressed even.
“I was stupid. I should’ve focused on him first, not taking on—“
“Don’t even talk like that. We’d both be dead for sure if it wasn’t for you,” Gar interrupted.
Nightjay nodded, but didn’t look sure. Gar clapped the other boy on his shoulder, surprising him. Nightjay looked up, confused. Gar successfully managed a weak smile.
“Lighten up a bit. The sky’s sad enough for both of us,” Gar said.
“That’s gotta be the lamest joke I’ve ever heard,” Nightjay retorted.
“Clearly you haven’t heard yourself in the middle of a fight,” Gar quipped.
Nightjay smiled, however slightly, under the mask, something that did not go unnoticed by Gar. The boy vigilante began to back up, step by step.
“I’ll be back…”
“Gar,” the green-skinned boy said, “Gar Logan.”
“C’mon.” Nightjay leaped to superhuman heights into the air, latching onto the hospital’s wall with his hands, or more specifically fingers-turned-white, hairy claws. “You’re a superhero now. You gotta have a better name than ‘Gar.’”
The other boy frowned. “Superhero…?”
“We’re a team. Nightjay and the Boy Wonders,” Nightjay replied.
“That’s a lame name. You might as well call me ‘Animal Kid’ or ‘Beast Boy,’” Gar retorted.
“That’s not bad actually…” Nightjay thought aloud, much to Gar’s disapproval. The boy vigilante saluted him goodbye and leaped over to the roof of an adjacent building. “See ya later, Beast Boy.”
There was nowhere really to go. Shops were closed off. Lights were dark. The whole city seemed to have just given up. Leaning on the wall of a small shop, the Birds sat in silence and tried not to be entirely numb. Near them the bike radio went on about chaos in the ‘Haven underground. Usual ‘Haven thing. Only, somehow, it was worse. None of them would have thought it possible.
Eventually they got up, back on the bikes and began to drive back to the tunnel to the lighthouse. The only chance this city ever had was working together, but once again no one had listened. Maybe on some level it liked being like this, broken and bleeding. It had been like for so long it wasn’t impossible that it had just grown accustomed. Jade and Kate had worked in it for years for some hope, to offer some light, but it was like they had never existed. Even Babs had given it her all, but nothing seemed to help.
They were nearing the tunnel when all three heard their helmet mics go off, and turned on the mic to hear whatever message it was. They expected a call from home, a place they were all thinking of just then, but found it was nothing of the sort. It was a simple four-word message that only played twice before switching off.
-Meet at the house.-
They pulled over, confused. There was no house. There was a lighthouse, Bab’s apartment, and Wayne Manor if they really needed to hide.
“I think we were hacked.” Babs was looking at her helmet, worried. If someone could hack her they were in even bigger trouble than they knew. “Or it’s malfunctioning.”
“Putting words together. It would make sense. Machines get screwed up all the time.” Jade liked the theory. It made sense in an odd way and precious little did just then. “Next it will tell is to pick up bread on the way home.”
“Like Mrs. Lance did before, just to mess with us. We’ll check it out when we get back.” Kate shrugged it off. She was done for the night. “Sounds like some code that needs fixing.”
Babs, however, was thinking. The idea was insane, but they were in ‘Haven and ‘Haven was always insane.
“Wait, we do have a house.” She said, the words sounding odd, even to her. “We all did, before this. It was different, a refuge. We could escape there. Somehow it kept all this outside.”
“Game nights and that horrible greasy pizza.” Kate’s stern face couldn’t hide a sad smile. “I don’t think that soda they got had any actual ingredients in it.”
“Best pop I’ve ever had, that I’ll ever have.” Jade had the same look. “I still remember when Mrs. Lance gave up and moved Di and me into the same room. We were up till three am. We talked about everything and nothing. The first time she called me her sister. It just slipped out like she had been thinking it for ages. Best moment of my life. I wasn’t alone anymore.”
“The house had nothing, no money, no room, constantly running out of supplies-“ Babs had visited more than a few times.
“It had everything. This is insane. Di sold the house years ago. It has to have a new owner now.” Kate was leaning on her bike, eyes wide in disbelief. “It’s impossible.”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense. It’s the only house we have.” Babs was getting on her bike, determined. “I’m finding out.”
“I want to know.” Kate got on herself. Jade was already turning her bike back on. At least they’d get to see the place again.
Atop a mound of broken, red corpses stood Bane, the last remaining Red Hood survivor in his grasp, struggling for air. Turncoat John Smith rested by his side on the edge of the ring, the remaining Black Masks situated around him, awaiting further command.
“You can lead me to their city?” Bane asked, enjoying the view of his captive’s life draining out of him.
“Certainly. That was the deal, after all. Scarlet will be yours,” Smith agreed, grinning subtly as he flipped a coin in the air.
Bane tossed the corpse to the side and turned to Smith. “I would like it to be known that I am fair to my subordinates. You asked simply for your survival in return, but I do not believe that is enough.”
“Oh, I’m quite fine with what I’ve got. Overjoyed, in fact,” Smith replied. “Truth is, I was getting tired of those Red Hoods. It’ll be my pleasure to help you kill ‘em.”
Bane nodded and addressed his other underlings, “Prepare for war! Prepare for a massacre!”
The Black Masks cheered and headed out of the arena to ready themselves for the coming battle. Bane smirked as his army made their way out the door, and he turned to do the same. However, before he could take one step, Smith stopped him.
“Hey, boss, before you go there’s something you should know.” Bane faced Smith, eyeing him, curious. Smith caught his coin in mid-air. “John Smith isn’t my name. It’s Jock. That’s what people in the underworld call me, anyways.”
“Jock…” Bane tested the name. Hiding his identity, his apathy, everything about him seemed off. Bane would have to watch him carefully.
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t tell anyone else. Got a new identity and all,” Jock admitted. Bane’s curiosity only grew upon that statement. “That’s all.”
“You will fight for me,” Bane ordered.
“Course,” Jock nodded, sliding off the ring and onto his feet. He flipped the coin again and snagged it, holding it between his index finger and thumb. The heads side faced him, allowing him to look upon his handiwork—Abe Lincoln’s lips scratched up into a smile.
Jock grinned as he followed Bane out of the room, stepping over corpses in the process. “I’m a grunt. What’s a grunt good for if not fighting and killing for his boss?”
The first thing the Birds noticed when they arrived at the house was that the lights were on. It wasn’t really strange—anyone living there would use the lights—but the sight of the house alive again was something they didn’t think they would see again. It was hard to make out in the dark, but the flag was back too, though it had only been for the local sports team, so it was reasonable that the new owner had put that up as well.
They had quickly changed into civilian clothing, as three crime fighters showing up at a person’s door was a bit more than most people expected, and were looking at the alive, decorated house.
It felt like they had walked up that broken concrete walkway a hundred years ago, and yet they could still walk it from memory alone. Arriving at the door, Kate and Babs moved to allow Jade to go first. This had been her home. It was her right. Taking a deep breath, Jade pressed the doorbell, hearing the just off key buzzer, and waited. Someone was home. They knew that at least.
The door opened and a man and woman stood there, clearly civilians. They looked for a moment, then shared a glance and smiled, waving the three inside.
Every square inch was covered in boxes and crates. Furniture, still covered in its wrapping, was placed against the walls. Bins and piles were in a state of utter chaos. A troop of people, all in civilian clothing, were busy opening and setting up the items. They looked like civilians, but they weren’t. Civilians didn’t move like that, these were trained somehow. They looked familiar.
The woman from the door stepped over boxes and waved them to the back of the house, where the small bedrooms were. Following was hard. The hallway was just as full. At the end of the hall, the small office Mrs. Lance used to pay bills and do the paperwork, she stopped and went back the way she came. This was clearly where they were supposed to be.
Opening the door the three saw a large black chair, and a computer set up that rivaled anything Babs had set up in Gotham or Star City. As they stood there the chair turned and Dinah appeared, looking grim but resolved. A moment later both Oliver and Roy, who had been leaning on the wall behind the door, also appeared. Suddenly they knew what was in the crates and boxes. Star City was joining the fight.
“This place has been dry kindling for decades.” Dinah stated dryly. “Now someone’s lit the match. War is here.”
Meanwhile, as a dark, gloomy dawn broke over Blüdhaven, two planes docked on opposite sides of the city. Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, and the Riddler exited the first, a luxury jet, while Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne hopped out of the second, a black, military stealth aircraft. Neither party knew of the other’s arrival, nor of the storm that awaited them.