Ultimate Knights #11: Broken Feb 29, 2016 23:18:00 GMT -5
Post by Drake on Feb 29, 2016 23:18:00 GMT -5
#11: BrokenBy Drake and Adrini
When Harper awoke, the world seemed to swirl around her. She subsequently leaned over the couch she had been resting on and vomited. Suddenly, a trashcan appeared beside her and she continued to throw up whatever miniscule amounts of food she had managed to scavenge into it. When at last it seemed as if the vomiting would stop, she remembered Cameron’s broken form and she began to dry heave.
“Tough night, huh?” came a voice beside her.
Harper glanced to her right, discovering, unsurprisingly upon further thought, Owlman casually sitting on the couch’s armrest. He had provided the trashcan. He had brought her to this apartment and laid her on the couch. He had taken care of her.
Harper boiled with rage. “You sick fuck—you murdered Batwing!”
“Upon your order,” the armored man simply replied.
The rebuttal stung. Whether fair or not, she blamed herself for his death. Then again, had he deserved it? He would not have stopped coming after her. He could have prevented so much, including Jock’s demise. No…no, no, no, that was the crazy talking. That was the delirium, the exhaustion. She had indirectly killed a good man.
“Shit,” Harper mumbled, the dry heaving finished. She leaned against the couch back and wiped away vomit with her jacket’s sleeve.
“Killing a man like that…someone who intends to do good…it’s never easy,” Owlman quietly stated, gazing at the floor. “But it had to be done.”
Harper tilted her head so she could look at the man. Even masked, he seemed tired, maybe even depressed.
“Is that really the truth, or just bullshit propaganda?” Harper wondered.
Owlman looked up and met her eyes with his blank blue lenses. “Does it really matter?”
Harper rolled her eyes. “It’s for the greater good.”
“Always,” Owlman immediately replied.
Harper nodded and curled up into a ball. She glanced around the apartment. It was decrepit with chairs overturned and pictures shattered. The dreary atmosphere was topped off by a message scratched into the wall of the kitchen: ‘SHE IS MINE. DO NOT COME FOR HER.’ Fun.
“Why me?” Harper faced Owlman again. “I mean, I’ve figured out enough to realize you want my help, but why me? I’m nobody.”
Owlman’s lips curled up into a slight smile. “That’s why. Because you recognize the insignificance of life, even if it’s only your own. Because despite that, you try to do something about the evil around you. Because you’re talented, determined—“
“And vulnerable,” Harper interjected.
Owlman paused for a moment, blank faced, as if he were thinking. “I wasn’t about to take on a self-righteous douchebag.”
Harper began to chuckle, which slowly turned to uproarious laughter. Owlman observed her, confused. Tears began to sneak out of the girl’s eyes, and even then it was the teen that spoke up first through her giggles.
“God, this is one big joke, isn’t it? It’s like this was all fucking planned.” Harper wiped the tears out of her eyes as her laughter died down ever slightly. “I’ll help you. You promise me Jock’s head, and I’ll help you.”
Owlman smiled and said, “Of course.”
As Harper continued to laugh, Owlman reached up to his helmet and began to unmask himself. However, as soon as he touched the cool metal that hid his identity, Harper stopped laughing and held out her hand.
“No,” she forcefully said.
“What? Why?” Owlman wondered, lost. Wouldn’t she want to know the man she was working with?
“I don’t need to—I don’t want to know who you are. I don’t want to grow close to you. I just need help from a faceless man,” Harper explained. “Got that?”
Owlman frowned, but agreed nonetheless, releasing his hold on his helmet.
Harper’s lips flicked up into a smile. “This is the beginning of a wonderful partnership.”
“There she is.” Ted saw the black leather and net pattern and checked to make sure no one was watching. “How goes it, kiddo?”
“Endlessly.” Dinah was tired and had a few scratches on her, but she was happy to see her mentor. “Good to have you here, Wildcat. How are they?”
“Good, making it work. What’re you doin’ here?” He sat down on the concrete of the rooftop and pulled a beer out of a bag. Di took it happily.
“Mostly evac. We have a whole crew here working day in and day out, but it still isn’t enough to take down the big guns…yet.” She was relishing the beer. “Did Ollie come with you?”
“He has a city to run, Little Bit.” It was less progress then he thought it would be; she was struggling. “I’m taking the gym back. Got things to see here anyway. I know how to track things down, Di, things you had to be there to know.”
“Whatever you say, old timer.” She said dryly and clanked bottles with him, finishing the brew. “You find leads; we go from there. If you need someone or something kept safe I can put them on the island. Thanks for stepping in, Ted. I might get home now.”
“Little Bit, I’ve been in the city an hour. You think I wouldn’t have something already?” Ted said, grinning slyly.
Di stared at him expectantly.
“Straight to the point like your ol’ mother bird,” Ted joked, standing up. “Follow me.”
“This way, kid.” Ted said, leading his student into the dark hallways. Following only because she trusted him, Di tried not to imagine phantom figures and voices.
Ted had arrived to reopen the gym and help the others in the fight, or at least that was half the story. He was also there to help her finish the mission she had been given.
She had known that her mother had secrets—everyone had—but the last few hours had shown her there were whole worlds she honestly knew nothing about. Hiding safe houses in overlooked buildings wasn’t a new idea.
“Watch your head.” Ted said and she barely missed the low doorframe. “People were shorter, different time.”
The door led to a hallway coated with dusty papers and old posters. The door that lay ahead – also dusty- creaked as it opened.
The room was sizable, and just as dust covered as the hall outside. Piles of old and breaking papers sat on tables, a chemistry set sat unused, and for some reason a standing staff was in a corner. She would say the place was entirely abandoned but each desk had little signs of life. The chemistry set was cleaned and put away. The standing staff had a bag of feed of some sort on it. People did come here.
Ted knew exactly where he was and made his way to a small desk with a radio. Distinctly feeling like she was intruding, Di tried to stay out of the way while Ted worked.
The machine powered on and Ted began sending out codes and directing messages. It didn’t take long, but at the end he looked up and at her.
“Di.” He said and she walked over. He would always be the surrogate father in her life. “You can help.”
He turned on a separate part of the machine and pulled out a speaker. A light turned green.
“I know you can hear this, boyo, so listen up. We got some kids that need help in this world and like it or not you’re still part of it.” Ted said into the machine. “And I got one with me you sure as hell should care about.”
Ted nodded to her and Di felt lost. What was she supposed to say? But he looked expectant.
“This is Black Canary. I work in a few cities right now. We’re fighting something bad, likely worse than we know. I was sent to find you. Please help.”
“Move out in half an hour!” Kate said over the din of the house. It was hard to hear anyone. “Stay in groups.”
Jade was checking papers to make sure that everyone was leaving together. The Untouchables were helping move items to the bus. Babs was helping the last few families pack up.
It was a family with three kids, all small. They were confused and staying close to their parents. The pair hadn’t spoken much but were anxious to leave. Watching the little ones cling was a pain that all three of the Birds tried not to think about.
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” The Mom said, filling her bags with supplies. “What we would have done without-“
“We’re ready for this room.” Kate arrived and looked inside. Even as gruff as she was, she smiled. “Almost out.”
“Do we have a moment then?” The father, a Hispanic man with thick hair and a worried expression, stood up. “I think I can help. You’re looking for those black masked monsters, the ones causing this mess.”
Kate and Babs shared a look. Apparently it wasn’t entirely unknown.
“Yeah, they’re hard to find.” Kate said. “We’ll take what leads we can.”
“In that case.” The man grinned a little and his wife smiled. “I worked as a utility worker; no one looked at us. I can tell you exactly where they are.”
“Be careful.” The woman said. “Bane’s a terrible man. This city won’t be safe again until he’s gone.”
“There’s no way…” Stephanie Brown muttered as she looked into the eyes of the Riddler. “…Dad?”
Riddler managed a weak smile. “Stephanie…”
“You son of a bitch!” Stephanie lashed out, stepping forward and slugging the man, who fell back onto the ground, holding his bright red cheek.
Tim stepped between the two, much to Stephanie’s ire. “Hold on. No fighting.”
“Move, or I’ll make you move,” Stephanie demanded.
Cass reached out to her friend and put a hand on her shoulder. The two locked eyes, and Stephanie took a deep breath, relaxing. She stepped back.
“Um…sorry, I’m totally lost,” Gar stammered. He pointed first to Riddler, then to Stephanie. “Riddler is her dad?”
The blonde nodded, and nearly began to speak if not for Tim.
“I knew from the day we met that his face looked as if plastic surgery had been performed on it, and the video diary was weird, distorted, almost artificial. And your name—Edward Nygma, E. Nygma—was annoyingly fake—“
“I knew that,” Gar interjected.
Tim continued unabated, “You faked your death, Cluemaster. God, why hadn’t I put together the pieces before?”
“Are you done, Sherlock?” Stephanie quipped, driving Tim to glare back. “And no, he didn’t get plastic surgery. He cut and dyed his hair, yes, put on glasses and green contacts, and got a new outfit, but he didn’t get surgery. My stupid, lying father just looks that weird. Thankfully I got my mother’s genes.”
“Despite your statements otherwise, you did get one thing from me, Stephanie: my mouth,” Riddler noted, standing up and dusting himself off. “It would behoove you to stop talking and to let me explain my side of the story.”
“’Behoove’…? Who the hell talks like that?” Aaron muttered.
Tim smirked. “Welcome to my life.”
“I understand the sentiment of jokes in tense situations, children. Believe me, I have been in your position, but please shut up for a few minutes,” Riddler demanded.
Aaron rolled his eyes but motioned Riddler onwards, nonetheless. None of the others—even Stephanie—spoke up.
“Thank you,” Riddler began, “Now, I think, in my defense, I should say that Cassandra knew who I was—“
“What?” Tim and Steph exclaimed simultaneously. Cass frowned.
“Yes, it’s true,” Riddler admitted. “She—“
A ringing sound came from Tim’s left gauntlet. He looked up, blushing slightly, and said, “Sorry, this has to be important.”
He flipped open the gauntlet, unveiling a small computer monitor, which displayed the face of his mentor: Nightwing. Riddler would have yelled at the boy if not for the source of the call. Even before he’d worked with Tim, Arthur Brown had known of Nightwing, once Robin, Batman’s sidekick, the Boy Wonder.
“Dick, now’s not a great time,” Tim said.
“Wonderful. Drake is busy. Hang up, Grayson,” came Damian’s voice from the background of the call.
“Shut up,” Dick whispered back, much to Tim’s amusement, before saying, “Sorry, Tim, but on a scale of ‘Elvis is back from the dead’ to ‘Batman smiled,’ this is an easy ‘Aliens have invaded,’ Defcon ten, code black level of importance.”
“Aliens are invading?” Tim wondered. Stephanie rolled her eyes.
Dick sighed, shaking his head. “Your social retardation would be funny, if the situation wasn’t so tense. No, Tim, aliens are not invading. It was a joke.”
“A bad one,” Tim retorted.
“Good, bad, whatever, that doesn’t matter right now. We—we being the Birds of Prey, Damian, and I—have a plan to take down Bane, but we need your help,” Dick explained.
Tim frowned. He glanced back at the others. “I…have a team who can do just that.”
“The more the merrier.”
“Where should we meet you?”
Dick smirked. “Where we met. One hour. Don’t be late.”
Tim paused for a moment, surprised, before smiling slightly and nodding. Maybe Dick hadn’t forgotten all about him after all.
“We’ll be there. Redbird out.”
The line cut off as Tim closed the computer. He looked back at the others.
“I’m sorry, but this has to wait. Who wants to save the Haven?” Tim asked.
Aaron and Gar’s hands immediately shot up into the air. Cass smirked at the two boys’ enthusiasm, and nodded at Tim. Stephanie rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, no,” she said. “Have fun dying.”
Tim ignored the comment, and looked to Riddler for his response. The older vigilante failed to meet his gaze.
“I…I need to speak with my daughter,” he said.
Stephanie was surprised. Her father, for so long, had put crimefighting—or whatever the hell else he did at any given time—before her. What had changed?
Tim nodded, and looked between the others, one by one.
“This fight—we might not come back from it. Bane and the Black Masks are a hurricane that’s only picked up speed with every home they have destroyed and every person they have killed. They may very well be unstoppable. Honestly—“
“Let’s get a move on already,” Aaron interrupted, faux-yawning.
Tim sighed, and massaged his temple. “Why do I even try?”
Cass began to lead the others out, patting Tim on the back as she passed him. “This is why we get along. You talk; I punch.”
Tim rolled his eyes as he turned to follow his partner and the other teen heroes. “I punch bad guys too, you know.”
“Uh huh,” Cass teased.
“Dude,” Aaron gave Tim a jeering glance, “You are so on bottom.”
“What? Aren’t you like fourteen?” Tim exclaimed as they ran out of the hospital. “And what’s wrong with being a bottom—“
Stephanie groaned as the door shut after the teenaged heroes, saying, “They’re doomed.”
The Birds of Prey and the new Dynamic Duo consisting of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne waited in a dark alley in one of the many ghettos of ‘Haven. A shadow crossed over the Birds’ leader, Dinah Queen, as she spoke.
“Our contacts worked out. The Black Masks’ base is just below. I can’t imagine what you’d do without us, boys,” she remarked, much to the ire of the young Wayne heir.
“Woman, I will have you know—“
“With the devil’s name it’s no wonder you’re a brat,” someone quipped from above.
Kate drew a batarang, but Dick waved her down. The group of crusaders looked up into the lensed eyes of one Tim Drake, and with him the young heroes that made up his motley team.
“Dude, we so snuck up on them,” Gar happily buzzed in the form of a bee.
“Been there, done that, got the T-shirt,” Aaron confidently replied.
Dick cocked an eyebrow and addressed Tim, “This is your team?”
Tim remained unfazed as he replied, “We were all green once, Nightwing.”
Upon Gar’s transformation from green bee to green boy, the hacker-hero added, “Some of us more than others.”
“I’m, uh…” Gar stammered.
“Here’s the headcount. Me llamo Nightjay,” Aaron said, having since changed into his costume. He pointed down at Gar from his perch against a wall, his Man-Bat claws holding him steady. “Honey Nut Cheerios here is Beast Boy…”
“The boy with the cape is Redbird, my former protégé,” Nightwing noted. “And the one without a codename or a decent costume is—“
“Cassandra Cain,” Kate interrupted. All eyes on her, she said, “What? I had a life outside of the Birds.”
Cassandra and Kate exchanged a tense nod in greeting after most of the others turned away to introduce themselves. The one who remained transfixed on Cass was none other than Jade, who recognized the girl and her name. The incessant stare did not go unnoticed by the teen, who scanned over Jade, checking her for any physical signs that would reveal her intent.
If only the timing was better, Jade thought.
“I’m Black Canary,” Di said.
“The second!” Tim enthusiastically interjected. Upon stares, he blushed and admitted, “I’m a geek. Sue me.”
“Don’t be ashamed. I’ve been there,” Babs said, and then looked up at the others. “I’m sure Redbird could introduce me if I was in my original costume, but—“
“You’re Flamebird, AKA Batgirl, AKA Bar—“ Tim cut himself off. Babs glared knowingly at Dick. He shrugged.
To move the conversation along so the other teens wouldn’t notice his near slip up, Tim continued, “The woman with the Cheshire Cat mask is, um, Cheshire. You all probably know Batwoman, one-time leader of the Outlaws, the original Bat-Girl and Redbird, and the second’s mentor.”
Kate nudged Dick. “The kid puts Bruce to shame.”
Dick smirked proudly. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
With introductions finished, it was back to business as usual. That meant explaining and executing a plan that could determine the very fate of Blüdhaven. No problem, right?
“You’re doing better today.” Oliver leaned forward and watched. He wasn’t lying. Harvey had improved, if only incrementally. The medication wasn’t as heavy and he was able to speak. He had also begun to understand what had happened to him.
“How is my Mom?” Harvey asked. He was still sullen but coming out.
“Worried but safe. We’re taking care of her until you get back on your feet.” Harvey nodded. “She’s been here a couple times but you were out.”
“I don’t want her to see me like this!” The man groused.
“You’ll heal; give it time. She didn’t care. I can update you if you think you can handle it.” Oliver offered and Harvey sighed.
“Nothing better to do. Sure.” The savage side was away at the moment and Oliver could see that the man was bored out of his skull. “What’s the mess now?”
“They found the big bad. They’ve gotten most of the populace out of the city.” Harvey was interested, listening. “They’re pulling what help they can to have a go, only way this ends.”
Harvey didn’t speak, Oliver looked up to see him looking at him.
“You’re worried. She’s with them.” Harvey said, not agitated, but thinking. “She’s in the middle of it. She’s always in the middle of it. They’ll never get everyone out. The city will burn for this.”
“We have this. You focus on getting well. This isn’t your fight.” The doctors appeared and Oliver took the cue. “Rest, you’re doing better.”
His mind active behind his eyes, Harvey wasn’t paying attention to the medical staff. He had other things to consider.
“Grayson, we have a problem. I’m going to die,” Damian whispered into his comms system as he, Tim, and a mouse-morphed Gar quietly crawled through the ventilation shaft, “If I have to spend another minute with these two.”
“Grow up,” Tim murmured.
“Robin, codenames! And again, only use the comms line if there’s an emergency,” Dick demanded.
“This is an emergency. I swear, I’m going to kill myself,” Damian muttered, continuing ahead.
Elsewhere, leaping over vantage points, Kate, Jade, and Cass moved near-silently over crowds of intoxicated Masks.
“Cassandra, do you recognize me?” Jade asked, before quickly adding, “Not that you should.”
“Cheshire, now’s really not the time,” Kate warned.
“Quiet!” Cass harshly whispered, both into the comms at the bickering boys and to the women near her.
Tim could practically hear Cassandra’s glare over the line. He gulped. Damian, in a surprising show of character, quieted. Gar merely continued to scramble along, only stopping when he discovered slits in the ventilation shaft. He looked down past them into the room below, where dozens of armed Masks stood around, listening to the only one sitting.
This particular mobster stood out from the rest, both because he hadn’t removed his trademark mask, and because it wasn’t a basic ski mask like the rest of the thugs’. His was made in the style of Mexican luchadores with a skull stylized over the front.
“What is i—“ Damian cut off when he noticed the man below. “I have eyes on Bane…he’s skinnier than I imagined.”
“Where is he?” Di asked.
Tim checked their location with his wrist-computer. “Four rooms in from the South end, past the ring, showroom, and…”
“Throne room. It’s a throne room,” Damian interjected, and then quietly added, “I’ve seen something similar in Nanda Parbat.”
“Out of the mouth of babes,” Kate muttered. “We’re on our way.”
“Hurry,” Damian said. After a tense pause, he explained, “I really can’t stand having Drake look right up my ass.”
Owlman’s secret base was almost exactly what Harper expected. High above the city in a secret hidden floor near the top of some multibillion-dollar corporation’s skyscraper headquarters, past a password encoded, thumbprint and eye scan protected hidden door was an enormous room dedicated to one thing and one thing only—
“Kick ass,” Harper muttered.
“You like’a the merchandise?” Owlman said with a purposely-bad Italian accent.
Harper looked up at him, amused. “Anchorman 2?” She grinned. “And of course.”
What ‘kick ass’ entailed was a multi-leveled armory that took up half the room with the rest split into an open vehicle dock and an enormous computer system. It was like Cameron’s base only without all the extraneous trophies and with a lot of owls sprinkled throughout.
“You really take the whole owl thing seriously,” Harper said, glancing back at nearly the twentieth owl statue she had spotted.
“It’s not to my taste. Never been a bird of prey guy myself,” Owlman explained. “My boss has a penchant for ‘em, but I think it’s more of a gag he pulls to make fun of the rest of the Court than an actual fetish.”
“Pretend I don’t know what the Court is for a moment,” Harper said, walking down a staircase toward a small jet.
Following her, Owlman clarified, “Think the Illuminati, add in some owls, and you’ve got the Court of Owls. Technically they’re my bosses, but I don’t really give a shit. I work for one man.”
“So you’ve said. When do I get to meet him?” Harper asked.
“After you’ve seen this.” Owlman tapped her shoulder, pointed to the floor, and then pressed a button on his right gauntlet.
Harper looked up at him questioningly, but had her attention redirected when the base’s floor began to split open from the middle, sliding to reveal hundreds of masked warriors buried in glass coffins filled with neon blue liquid. Even while a few staircases and floors separated the two from the bodies, the glow of the mysterious fluid caused Harper to have to squint to make out the many forms below.
“What…what are they?” she wondered, awe-struck.
“The Talon army. Undead warriors that are at my beck and call. This is how we’ll save the world,” Owlman said.
Harper gazed up at him. “From what?”
Owlman tightened his jaw. “Humanity.”
Bane wet his lips before speaking. “Scarlet burns. The Red Hoods are dead. ‘Haven is ours for the taking. No more wars. No more rampant crime. Tomorrow, we begin to conquer the city as we should: quietly, with limited conflict. We begin with the local politicians and small businesses, and move out from there. Pierce, I want you to be in charge of finding a new mayoral candidate. Jock…where the hell is Jock?”
Nobody spoke for a moment, as most of the men looked around, noticing their missing comrade. Finally, someone answered.
“He said he had to go to work,” a Mask commander said.
Bane frowned. “Work?”
The commander shrugged. “I don’t know, sir. That’s all he said.”
Bane’s frown morphed into a vicious scowl. “No man—“
Suddenly, an enormous form crashed atop Bane, destroying his throne. The Black Masks froze, surprised and terrified. An enormous white Man-Bat stared back at them, something akin to a smile flicking over his lips.
“Told ya it wouldn’t be a problem. Bane is down,” Nightjay said in tone caught between a boy’s tenor and a beast’s guttural growl.
“Bane is not ‘down.’”
Nightjay found himself thrown back into a wall, as Bane pushed himself up, a bottle of pills in his hand and eerie green Venom flowing through his veins.
“Bane is, as always, unbroken,” the Mask’s leader exclaimed, before reaching for a walkie talkie on his belt. “All Black Masks, to my throne room! We have intruders!”
The ones to leap to Nightjay’s rescue were Robin, Redbird, Beast Boy, Cass, Cheshire, and Batwoman, who fell into a semi-circle around the injured Man-Bat with Robin in the lead.
“Told you it was a throne room,” Robin said.
“Congrats. If we survive this, I might just shake your hand,” Redbird sarcastically remarked.
CH CH CH CH CH!
The thugs with automatic weapons fired first. The heroes, including Nightjay, scattered, taking on individual commanders. By that point, a group of two-dozen Masks broke through the doorway and joined the fight. Firearms quickly became a poor option after two Black Masks shot five of their companions, and were replaced by blunt weapons and knives. The tide changed quickly.
Even as Black Masks surged in like a tidal wave, the heroes managed to beat them faster than they could be replaced. Redbird flipped over one and attached a grappling line from his utility belt to the criminal’s chest. He then proceeded to activate a helicopter function that sent the man spiraling around him, knocking others out in the process. Robin had to jump over the man-turned-weapon, and landed atop a grunt, whom he flipped over and threw into a crowd. From there, he jumped straight into the pile and beat the Masks to a pulp.
Batwoman and Cheshire worked like a well-oiled machine. Old habits clicked, and the two traded opponents like cards. Punch. Kick. Batarang. Claws. Throw. Tackle. Kick. Stun pellet. Batarang. Black Masks fell like rain, quickly and wet with their own blood.
Cassandra was a hurricane of action, knocking out Black Masks more quickly than any of the others. With each hit, she held back just enough to avoid lethal blows. On one, she moved just an inch to the left to avoid a fatal contusion, and on another slowed her kick to prevent a life-changing break. At one point, Damian noticed how she held back, and nearly asked her about it, until she saved him from a coke-fueled Mask with a knife.
“Fight,” she ordered. Damian nodded, eyes wide, and leaped back into the fray.
Nightjay and Beast Boy aimed the highest in terms of the pecking order. They smashed and stomped crowds of Masks as a Man-Bat and an elephant in order to reach Bane. The Man in the Mask noticed, and he approached them, popping his neck. Nightjay unleashed a shrill sonic cry that knocked out a dozen grunts, but left Bane unfazed.
“Um, ow. Warn me next time,” Beast Boy said, transforming into a rhinoceros.
“Just charge him already,” Nightjay retorted, glaring at the approaching villain.
“Sir, yes, sir,” Beast Boy teased, acting on the order.
Bane didn’t even flinch. He waited until Beast Boy had trucked a few of his men before running forward, side stepping the rhino-boy, and grabbing ahold of his horn. He proceeded to spin around and use his newfound momentum to toss Beast Boy at Nightjay, who toppled under the weight.
“Beast Boy!” the Man-Bat cried.
But it was too late. As Gar transformed into a wolf, Black Masks mobbed them. Robin had to interfere, and barely managed to fight off the criminals.
Blood spattered over his face, Robin looked down at the two boys, who had since instinctively returned to their human forms, and said, “Get up and survive.”
The two nodded and crawled up beside their savior.
Bane smirked, eyeing Robin and the unconscious grunts around him. “Boy, you have talent. Have you considered joining the winning side?”
Robin threw a birdarang without looking. Bane easily caught it, and cocked his head to the side.
“Pity,” he cooed.
Suddenly, the birdarang expanded and fired an electric shock throughout the villain’s body. Bane roared in pain, but did not fall.
Crushing the projectile, Bane said, “For that, you die, brat!”
Bane stepped back, preparing to charge.
Nightjay glanced at Robin. “I can transform—“
“Didn’t you hear me, you idiot? Run. Survive! Otherwise, you’ll get in my way,” Robin demanded.
Bane charged, and the two boys reluctantly did as they were told, sprinting into the crowd of Black Masks. As the villain neared him, Robin tried to flip away, only to be dragged down by his leg. He instinctively kicked at Bane, which resulted in his other leg’s capture. Next up was another taser birdarang, but this time Bane was prepared, and he shook the boy, causing him to drop the weapon.
The Masked Man lifted Robin over his head by his legs and neck, and boomed, “Where is your master, the Batman, to watch you die? Answer me! WHERE IS HE??”
A mouthful of foam silenced Bane, and 10,000 volts to the neck freed Robin, who fell to the ground and erupted into a coughing fit. His rescuer? Nightwing, who had thrown the pill that had produced the foam, and had tased Bane with an escrima stick.
“How ‘bout the next best thing—Nightwing!” the hero declared as he flipped back to safety.
Before the villain could react, Flamebird and Black Canary leaped out from the shadows and pulled Robin away from him.
“Sorry we took so long, honey. We didn’t exactly expect Nightjay to go so far off-book,” Flamebird whispered to the boy, who rested in her arms.
“Ms. Gordon, you are, as always, appreciated,” Robin managed.
Flamebird smiled down at the boy, and then handed him to Black Canary.
“Take care of him. I have to help Nightwing,” Flamebird said.
Black Canary nodded.
“I’d say ‘stay safe’ but…” she quipped, shrugging, and ran off, blasting away any Masks in her path with her canary cry.
Meanwhile, Flamebird joined Nightwing in his brawl against Bane. The battle had remained close. Bane couldn’t get ahold of the nimble knight, and Nightwing couldn’t land a crippling blow against the villain. They were at a stand still.
Nightwing tightened his grip on his escrima sticks as he landed beside Flamebird. “You remember the ol’ Pennyworth?”
“I take it you mean the maneuver, not the butler,” Flamebird said as Bane cracked his knuckles.
“Bring it on.”
The two ran in opposite directions around Bane, who struggled to decide which one to attack. Flamebird produced a large pellet from her utility belt and tossed it at the villain’s feet, releasing a mass of liquid. Before Bane could react, Nightwing threw his escrima stick at the fluid, stunning him. From there, both heroes tossed three pellets apiece that exploded out into a wall of foam, which effectively contained the Masked Man.
“Last but not least,” Nightwing said as he flipped over the villain, and, with a flourish, tossed an ignited lighter into the foam.
Flamebird used her cape to ward off most of the smoke as Nightwing landed behind her.
“It was reckless to jump over him,” Flamebird chided.
“Yeah, but it was cool,” Nightwing replied.
Flamebird rolled her eyes. “That is exactly why Alfred hated it when you called it ‘the ol’ Pennyworth.’ As if we don’t put ourselves in enough danger as is.”
“Um…about that…” Nightwing said, peeking out from behind her cape.
While the battlers at large had stopped to examine the apparent defeat of Bane, the man himself hadn’t gotten the memo. Marching out of the flames, his veins bulging green with additional Venom and his shirt a burning heap behind him, Bane appeared like a devil: unexplainably invincible and terrifyingly enraged. For him, the battle was far from over.
“He’s literally on fire,” Beast Boy muttered in awe.
However, the onetime protégés of the Batman wasted no time gawking. Both leaped into action, encircling the villain yet again as he popped one last pill and tossed his empty bottle to the side.
“No more!” Bane shouted. Learning from his previous mistake, he immediately focused in on one opponent: Flamebird. “NO MORE!”
The redheaded hero tried to roll away, but Bane proved too quick. He smacked her into the ground, dazing her. The villain would have hit her again if not for Nightwing, who leaped onto his back. Two charged escrima sticks to the neck proved to be a futile attempt to take down the Masked Man, and now, with Nightwing so close, it was far too easy for Bane to capture him.
Raising the hero over his head as he had done to Robin just minutes ago, Bane shouted, “You hit me, electrocute me, and burn me! Still, I stand! I am unstoppable, invincible—a GOD AMONG MEN!”
Nightjay unleashed a sonic cry in an attempt to save Nightwing. He hurt more than he helped. Flamebird rolled over in pain, covering her ears, but Bane stood tall.
Nightwing squirmed, but couldn’t move. Panic overrode his instincts to quip. He cried out in pain.
Bane finished, “Know now, boy, that it is at Bane’s hands that YOU. ARE. BROKEN!”
In one swift motion, Bane brought the hero down upon his knee, and a horrifying crack echoed over the room. Flamebird looked up from the ground, eyes wide. Robin stepped forward, but couldn’t bring himself to do more.
Redbird screamed, “NO!”
All at once, Bane became the focus of every hero in the room. As he tossed Nightwing aside, dozens of projectiles arced toward him, stunning, burning, blasting, and blinding him. Flamebird forced herself up onto her feet and pulled Nightwing over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry.
She looked back at the others and shouted, “We have to leave!”
Bane stumbled toward the sound of her voice, but she was long gone, having disappeared into the darkness.
Robin punched a Black Mask without looking, saying, “She’s right, as usual.”
Nightjay, in Man-Bat form, grabbed hold of the Boy Wonder and Redbird, and crashed through the two ceilings that separated him from the outdoors. He burst into the ‘Haven night, leaving a trail of debris behind him. The others followed Nightjay out, whether with grappling hooks or as a bird. The remaining Black Masks tried to shoot them down, but by the time they drew their guns, the fleeing heroes were gone.
Finally regaining his sight, Bane looked up through the hole after the runaways. For a moment, he did not speak, until at last the proper words dawned on him.
“Leave them. Let this be a lesson to anyone who would oppose me. I am the bane of Blüdhaven, and I am inevitable.”
“We don’t know how it happened. He was in all the typical restraints. The drugs weren’t due to be renewed for another three hours.”
The Doctor led Ollie into the suite. Anderson was already there.
“Then there’s the matter of the window.”
The broken window. The glass was shatter proof, or so it was sold. This was an expensive suite. It was built as such. That didn’t change how ransacked the room was.
“Not going to lie, I haven’t seen this before.” Anderson walked over as his blues kept working. “It’s like a wrecking ball went through there.”
Several panes were torn out. A section of wall was blown out. There was medical equipment torn apart as well. Harvey had created some kind of means of pressure.
And he was gone.
“The question we should be asking is where he went. Did he know anyone here?” Anderson asked. Oliver didn’t wonder.
“Yes, but she isn’t here now.” He said as he turned to leave. “I have a call to make.”
Babs looked out over the crippled city from the rooftop of St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital. Dick was in the ER, undergoing surgery. The others had remained behind to wait. Di had offered to stay with her, but she needed some space. After all the hell they’d gone through together and caused, Dick still fearlessly leaped to her rescue.
”Not because you need my help,” he had told her almost half a decade ago, “But because it’s what I do. I love you, Barbara Gordon, and I can’t help it. When I see the people I love in danger, I act. I don’t think; I move. It’s just what I do.”
“Dumb ass…” Babs weakly whispered, looking down at a small bat-shaped communicator in her hand.
He needed to know. They had waited long enough already. She flicked the switch, activating it.
“I know everything.”
Babs swallowed her surprise. After all these years, he could still sneak up on her.
She turned around to face Batman, the meaning behind his statement finally registering. Her blood boiled, and her face burned the same bright red as her hair.
“You knew, and you didn’t save him?!” Babs shouted.
She knew it wasn’t fair. Maybe he couldn’t get there in time. Maybe he was in Gotham when Dick had implemented his plan. She didn’t care. Babs slugged him, and he took it without flinching.
Babs immediately regretted the decision, but did not apologize. He did not strike her back.
Gazing away, Batman said, “I’m going after Bane.”
Oh my God. He really was upset—sad, frustrated, remorseful. Hands shaking, Batman did what he did best: he brooded.
“Bruce, you don’t have to—“
But he was gone. Barbara lost him in the darkness of the night.
Harper stepped through the shadows into the neon light. The eyes of a man she couldn’t recognize yet somehow knew stared at her, his green irises’ aglow with the emerald light. His eerie pale skin seemed patchy and snow white. She nearly lost her breath. Something about the way the man carried himself, the way he sat, the way he breathed made him appear larger than he actually was. Harper could not explain it, but he seemed supernatural—a force of nature.
And he hadn’t even talked yet.
The man’s lips flicked up into a crooked, yellowing smile.
“Welcome, Harper, to the Court of Owls. You can call me Hush, or, if willing, boss,” he said.
Finally, Harper realized why the man’s skin seemed so odd. His face was covered in wrappings. Yet this mummy of a man did not seem ridiculous to her.
She managed to speak, “How’s Pharaoh sound?”
Hush chuckled, “Owlman didn’t lie. You really are funny. I can respect that.”
“Boss…” Owlman began.
“Yeah, yeah. We have our Talon. The army’s ready. Blah blah blah. Let the final phase of my plan begin! Is that what you were waiting for?” He casually teased.
Suddenly, Harper felt a sharp pain in her neck. She reached up to it, only to discover a syringe. Fire coursed through her blood. She could not breathe, and this time it wasn’t a matter of awe. She felt like she was dying.
“Why…?” Harper wondered, looking up at Owlman, who removed the syringe. The bright green light faded to an endless blue sky.
“Sleep, Harper. When you wake, you’ll be someone different—someone great,” Owlman whispered.
With that, darkness overcame Harper’s vision and she fainted. Owlman caught the girl and looked up at his master.
“She’ll be ready by morning,” he said.
“Good.” Hush nodded solemnly. “Good.”
As Owlman left, Hush produced a coin from his trench coat. He flipped it, and then caught it. Abe Lincoln’s marked face grinned up at him.
Hush matched the expression, smiling cruelly.
“How exciting! I’ve waited years for this…”