Sharp: Part IV
Curare fell to the ground. The nine-year-old coughed as a cloud of dust sprung up around her mouth. The other children laughed as she picked herself back up. Then the children gasped and shrunk back, and she realized that her veil had fallen off.
"See?" the boy called to the others. "She is a little freak. Isn't that right, Blueskin?"
Curare (but that wasn't her name then, was it?) snarled, or made her best attempt without vocal cords, and jumped at the boy, shoving him to the ground. The other children hollered and chanted as they wrestled on the ground.
"Hey, what's going on here?" a voice asked. The shouting stopped as Miss Roger rushed out of the orphanage building.
Curare had pinned the bully to the ground and was pummeling his face. Why wasn't he fighting back? Then she felt two strong hands grab her arms and pull her up. She turned to see the face of Miss Roger looking at her with disappointment.
"What happened here?" she asked firmly, letting go of Curare's arms.
"It wasn't my fault," the bully said before Curare could do anything. "Blueskin just jumped on me and-"
"Gordon!" Miss Roger interrupted. "That is not her name."
Gordon bowed his head. "Sorry. Angelina just jumped on me and started beating me up for no reason."
"Is that true?" Miss Roger asked Angelina.
It was times like these when she most wished she could talk. Instead, she shook her head and tried to convey complete innocence.
"Alright," Miss Roger said, "everyone else inside. Now! Angelina, you stay with me."
Curare looked at the ground while the other children noisily made their way into the decrepit building. When everything was quiet, at least outside, she looked up at Miss Roger, hoping for a kind expression.
It was there, on Miss Roger's face, but it was tinged with sadness. She sat on the ground next to the little girl. "Angelina, what did we talk about?" she asked. Angelina looked away and didn't say anything.
"I know that they were picking on you," Miss Roger continued, "but that's no reason to fight back. It is better to ignore people like that."
Angelina turned and held her palms up, as if asking what she should do.
"Ignore them," Miss Roger replied. "Find someone else to play with, someone who won't hurt you. Bullies like Gordon Mundawa will eventually leave you alone."
Angelina sighed and tilted her head onto her shoulder, as if she didn't believe that would ever happen.
Miss Roger chuckled softly. "Why did I come here to run this orphanage?" she asked. It was a question she asked many times, to remind Angelina. She wrapped her arms around herself in a hug, an answer she had invented for that question. "Exactly," Miss Roger said, smiling warmly. Then she embraced Angelina in a warm hug.
"You're very good at your job," a voice said. They turned to see a well-dressed man with thick brown hair looking at them.
"I try my best," Miss Roger replied, standing up. "May I ask why you're here?"
"I'm just looking around," he said.
"Well, I sure we have some great children for you," Miss Roger said as a large crash sounded from inside the orphanage. "Really," she said with mock exasperation, "there are some good ones in the bunch. Could you excuse me for a minute?"
The man nodded and Miss Roger hurried into the building. Then he turned his sights on Angelina. She felt disturbed by his gaze and shrunk back. No one had ever paid attention to her before, especially after they saw behind her veil.
"That was a good show back there," the man said, squatting to her level. "I saw you fight. There's a lot of spark in you…Blueskin."
Angelina growled and tried to punch him, not caring if it meant the man wouldn't take her home with him. However, he blocked her attack effortlessly. This intrigued her, and she swung again. It was blocked.
"Come on, Blueskin," the man said, "is that the best you can do?"
This man was angering her. She started swinging wildly at him, but no attack ever reached his body. After numerous blocks, she noticed a weakness in his defense. He always left his right leg open. So, after a rapid one-two punch at his arm, she swung her leg and tried to kick him. He pulled back his leg in plenty of time.
"Very good," the man said, putting a hand on Angelina's head. "My name is Mikael, and I'd like to teach you how to really fight."
Angelina batted his hand away, but what he said intrigued her. Was this man serious?
The man stood and offered his hand. "Come with me. I'll take care of you now."
A long black car pulled up. Angelina had seen that type of car before, when rich people took the prettiest kids for themselves. Her heart skipped a beat. Would she finally have a family?
She let the man take her hand and lead her to the car. He opened the door and motioned for her to enter. This was moving very fast. Was this how it was supposed to go?
She heard someone call out behind her and saw Miss Roger approaching the car with a worried expression on her face. Angelina started to reach out for her, but the man made a motion with her wrists and Miss Roger fell to the ground. Then he picked up Angelina and threw her into the car, sliding in after her and closing the door. The car sped away and she looked out the back window at the other children gathering around Miss Roger's limp body.
She turned with fright to the man, but he chopped at her neck and she felt the world start to slip away. "I will give you hell," Mikael whispered into her ear as she fell unconscious.
Why was she dreaming this now?
Batman regained consciousness. He supposed that in itself was something to be grateful for, with all of Curare's talk of dangerous assassins. His worst fears had run through his head when he had lost consciousness. At least now he had a chance of getting out of this alive, or so he hoped.
He tried to move his arms but found that he couldn't budge them from his side. Cold metal pressed against his wrists, ankles, and chest. As he shook his head clear, he also realized that he was being held upright. He opened his eyes and was surprised to find that the scanning modules on his visor weren't operating. The suit's system was down. That meant he couldn't use the suit's muscles enhancers to break free.
Fortunately, he could still see, even though the suit wasn't working. The room was dark, lit by dim bulbs in the ceiling. He could see Curare, bound as he was to an upright metal table. She hadn't woken yet. The two of them filled up two corners of the small chamber. Across from them, sitting in a slick metallic chair, was an old man with thick white hair.
"I'm surprised you woke first," the man commented, noting Batman's movement. "Blueskin's body must be worn from her exile."
"What did you call her?" Batman asked.
"Her name," the man replied, "the one I gave her."
"Who are you?" Batman asked, pushing against his shackles to see how strong they were.
The man stood and crossed over to stand eye-to-eye with Batman. "Foolish amateur," the man said, "relying on machinery to improve your abilities. It only makes you weak in the end, for you are nothing without that suit of yours operational. Though I must say, it is a fine piece of work."
"You didn't answer my question," Batman said.
"I am Mikael Garnovk," the man said.
The name triggered something in Batman's memory, Curare's rage at reading that same name.
"Don't believe him," a voice said. "He is really the devil incarnate."
"You join us, Blueskin," Mikael said. Curare roared and strained against her bonds at the mention of that name. "Don't be foolish. I know how strong you are; escape is impossible."
"You know nothing about me," Curare seethed. "I will send you back to the hell that spawned you."
"So poetic," Mikael said. "You are really enjoying that new toy of yours." Curare grew strangely silent as Mikael approached her. He lifted her veil, exposing the mesh covering her voice synthesizer. "You know what happens to the things you enjoy."
In one quick motion, a dagger flashed from Mikael's pocket and tore open the mesh, ripping apart the innards behind it. The synthesizer gave one last weak gasp before it died.
Batman was torn by the look of loss in her eyes, tears barely forming in them. She really had relished being able to talk.
Mikael slapped the tears away. "Admission of emotion makes you weak!" he said.
"Why are you doing this to her?" Batman asked.
"She knows better," Mikael replied. "It was the way I trained her."
"Wait, you trained her?" Batman asked in surprise.
"Since she was very young," Mikael said. "I found her at orphanage when I was walking around looking for prospective students. I locked her in an iron jungle, my perfect playground. The only way she could escape was to kill me. Routine torture made this truth undeniable. Her escape attempts were her training sessions, for she had to learn from her mistakes if she had any chance for freedom. The emotions were easy to breed out. When the isolation had done enough, I introduced other male prospects of mine, gave her love interests, and then killed them before her very eyes. After ten years, she was ready."
"You're the sickest man I've ever met," Batman said, barely containing himself. "What possible reason did you have for doing that?"
"Assassinations bored me," Mikael said. "That, and I knew my predicament. The Society of Assassins had me in their clutches, and there was no way they would ever let me leave their organization, even when I tired of it. So, I volunteered to train new assassins for the Society, indebting them to me and also honing my skills. Their training was my training as well. When I finally retired, they respectfully left me to my solitude, except…I still wasn't free. I knew one day they would come back for me, and I prepared myself for that day."
There was something hidden in his words. "What have you done with the Society?" Batman asked.
"They're dead," Mikael said. "If a room is impossible to enter, it provides the best protection, but it also provides the best trap. They were too trusting of me, but what choice did they have, facing the threat of my best student. I should thank you, Blueskin."
Curare said nothing, keeping her muscles relaxed and loose. Her eyes burned with a fire her body did not convey.
"You have learned well," Mikael said. "Conserve your energy all you want, Blueskin. If you couldn't defeat Batman, you have no hope to dispose of me. Your death will be slow and painful." He pointed his wrist at Curare and twitched his finger, sending a dart into Curare's neck.
"You, Batman, may leave," Mikael said, as Curare slumped behind him. "I have no quarrel against you, and I respect the fact that you defeated my best student, so you must have some merit."
Batman blinked. "Are you serious?" he asked.
"I am, however, curious as to how you were able to defeat her," Mikael continued. Then he pointed his wrist at Batman and flicked his finger. Batman felt a prick on his neck and the world descended into darkness.
Batman woke with his head lying against the cold cement floor. He moved his arms and was glad to find that he wasn't trapped anymore. Also, his suit was operational again. However, Mikael's words worried him. The old man didn't seem like the person to simply release him.
Batman placed his palms against the floor and pushed himself up. He looked to his right side and saw a horrible sight. Mikael lay dead on the ground, a batarang in his neck, blood dripping out beneath it. Curare stood before the dead body, her sword gripped firmly in her hand. Batman saw the look in her eyes and knew he was in trouble.
Silently, she sprinted towards him, sword held high. The two commenced a strange, deadly dance. Batman leapt and dodged as the metal blade swung close to his body. There was no sound but the tapping of their feet against the floor and the cutting of the air as they threw weapons at each other. She jumped over his bolas. His batarangs never touched her. Even the smoke bomb didn't faze her. She passed like a wraith through the smog, her sword lashing out to taste his blood.
The whole scene felt unreal. The dead body, the cold determination in Curare's eyes, the ache in his muscles all seemed to belong somewhere else. If Curare would just leave him alone, he could try to figure out what was going on.
He tossed another random batarang, noticing with concern that he was backing into a wall. This concern was driven from his mind when, instead of dodging the batarang, Curare just let it sink into her arm. His distraction allowed her to lash out and slash his left forearm. As he gripped it in pain, Curare flipped her sword around and shoved the blunt edge under his chin and against the wall, suspending Batman by the neck with her sword. As he struggled to breathe and kicked at her, she grabbed a dagger from her belt and threw it into Batman's right leg, causing fresh waves of agony.
Curare pulled back her sword and let Batman slide to the floor. He noted with despair that Curare's dagger was sticking through his lower leg. Blood was soaking into his suit. He knew he was beat. She placed her sword point against Batman's neck.
"You won," Batman croaked. "Happy now?"
The look in her eyes suggested this was not the case. She brought back her sword and prepared to slice off his head. "Why?" Batman asked.
The question made her pause. She stood there, thoughts seething in her mind as she wrestled with her desires. Then she turned and started carving words into the cement floor. Batman was surprised she was honoring his request. Maybe there was a part inside her that wanted to still be able to speak and convey something. She probably also knew that, with an injured leg, Batman wasn't a threat anymore.
She finished and stood to the side, allowing Batman a clear view of her message. "You stole my vengeance from me," she had written.
Thoughts ran frantically through Batman's mind. Her vengeance? Did she mean revenge against Mikael? Then…she believes that I killed Mikael. The words Mikael had said, Curare's almost predictable response, it fits too well together. Something is wrong.
He fired a batarang, hoping that it would hit its target. Curare, startled by the sudden movement, raised her sword and prepared a death blow.
"Mikael's alive," Batman said, smiling.
Curare stopped, and then cautiously turned to follow Batman's pointing finger. His batarang had struck the body and dislodged the arm, revealing empty space beneath its exterior. Batman's smile grew as he noticed the realization on Curare's face. Mikael had set up their fight, using a fake dead body as the catalyst.
His smile faded as Curare sprinted away to find the real Mikael. He had to stop her before she killed him. He pulled a roll of medical tape from his belt and stared resolutely at Curare's dagger. Then, with determination, he curled his hand around the dagger, yanked it from his leg, and wrapped tape around the wound. It wasn't a perfect job, but it would do for now. He patched up his arm and left to find Curare.
The clashing of metal led Batman as he moved as quickly as he could through the cold hallways, favoring his right leg. At last, he looked through a doorway and saw Curare and Mikael locked in battle on the floor of the large room where they had been captured earlier. The fighting was fierce and quick, every movement calculated and precise. The old man was very good for his age, apparently wielding a sword as equally sharp as Curare's since it was still in one piece and firing occasional darts at her. Their equality in skill was contrasted by their difference in strategies. Curare was doing all the attacking, while Mikael worked only to defend himself, but even her movements had a sense of restraint and thoughtfulness to them. She was concentrating everything she could on winning this battle.
As Batman watched, he realized that there was very little he could do. If he tried to interfere, restrain one of them, then that person would die. Trying to talk them out of it would have the same result, though he didn't think they'd listen anyway. He could try to capture both of them at the same time, but it was very risky. Still, he saw no other options. The battle would lead to a victor eventually, and he had to stop that from happening.
He was pushed to action sooner than he wanted. Curare's back was to Batman, so she hadn't noticed him enter the room, but Mikael saw him and for a second it drew his attention away from Curare. She used this opportunity to deliver her death blow.
Without thinking, Batman fired a batrope from his arm and it wrapped around Curare's waist, stopping her. Then Batman pulled strongly as Mikael almost used this opportunity to kill Curare.
She skidded to the ground at Batman's feet and glared up at him. "You can't do this," Batman said. She answered by swiping at him a couple times. He was able to dodge by hopping on one foot. "It won't make you happy," he pleaded.
Curare glanced over Batman's shoulder and threw a dagger at him. He fell to the side, just as Mikael's sword sliced through the air he had previously occupied. Curare saved me, Batman thought as he fell to the floor.
The dagger Curare had thrown slashed open Mikael's hand. He dropped his sword and clutched it in pain. Curare leapt at him, but Batman kicked up his foot and caught her right in the stomach, throwing her back and making her drop her sword into Batman's lap. Curare sat up and glared at him, massaging her stomach.
"That's enough," Batman said, standing up with Curare's sword in his hand.
"Agreed," Mikael said, his hand failing to stop the flow of blood. "I'm no longer in fighting condition."
"No, I want this whole thing to stop," Batman said. "You two have no reason to fight anymore. What happened is in the past now. Put it behind you!"
"Talk to Blueskin," Mikael said. "All I want is to be left alone."
"And you'll have plenty of time alone in jail," Batman said.
"Would you send an old man like me to rot away in a place like that?" Mikael asked, trying to rouse sympathy.
"For your atrocities, the only other option is to leave you with her," Batman said, pointing his thumb at Curare. He did a double-take; Curare wasn't there.
Mikael turned and ran. Batman made to follow him, but he felt a presence behind him. In a split second decision, he tossed Curare's sword far away from him, whipped out his batcuffs, and snapped them onto Curare's wrist. Then he snapped the other cuff around his own.
Curare's eyes were wide open with shock and surprise. "It's for your own good," Batman said. She responded by chopping his neck. How many times am I going to be knocked out in one day? Batman wondered as he fell to the floor.
Batman awoke and found himself sitting against a wall. He groaned and rubbed the tiredness out of his eyes. "You deserved it," a rough, mechanical voice said. Batman turned to see Curare leaning against the wall next to him.
"Was that…?" Batman asked, pointing to her veil.
"I made some rudimentary fixes," Curare said in her monotone voice.
Suddenly, Batman remembered Mikael running away. "What have you done to Mikael?" he asked, fearing the worst.
Curare huffed with disgust. "Thanks to you, he escaped," she said.
Batman breathed a sigh of relief, but he noticed the fury still raging in Curare's eyes. What could he say to her? How could he save her? Now that he knew her past, he felt sympathy for her. She didn't deserve this life.
He would try anyway. "You don't need to pursue him," he said. "You're free now; there's no reason to kill him."
Curare shook her head. "My soul is still trapped in that hellhole," she said.
"I know a bit what it feels like," Batman said, remembering Mr. Fixx and his father. "My father was murdered. I exacted my revenge, but many times I think back and wonder about it. Revenge doesn't make the pain go away."
"At least you knew your father," Curare said bitterly. "I was born like this." She indicated her skin color and veil. "I later learned that my parents were workers at a nuclear power plant that only followed its safety codes on paper. When I came out like this, my parents dumped me at that orphanage."
Batman reached out a hand toward her, but there was nothing he could do. "I'm so sorry," he finally said.
Curare sighed and walked away. She stopped with her back to him. "I don't understand you," she said. "You're so foolish, so naive, but I believe you meant me no harm. That I just don't understand."
She waved a hand over her shoulder. "Goodbye, Batman. Perhaps we'll meet again."
Batman grunted and slowly stood up. When he raised his head, Curare was already gone. He could go after her, but his leg was starting to bother him. He needed medical attention. Unfortunately, if he didn't follow her now, there was very little chance he would be able to find her again before she caught up with Mikael.
As Batman thought of this, his mother's face drifted into his mind. He straightened in surprise, but then he started thinking of Dana, and Max, and even Matt. How many days had he been gone? There were people back home waiting for him, people he cared about. He had never appreciated them more.
He started slowly walking out of the building. Though it was sad, it was Curare's choice. There was nothing he could do now. Hopefully she would find some peace before she died.
Batman hobbled out into the moonlight. It was time to find a plane to hop a ride on.
Curare sat with her back against the wall of the rickety old plane. She was finally able to fully consider the circumstances. Amazingly, her primary goal had been accomplished; the Society of Assassins would no longer trouble. Even Mikael seemed like he would leave her alone, but no, it wasn't enough. Mikael had to die. He had to.
But why? Batman's words had shaken her too much. For many years, her vengeance had been the only thing keeping her alive. Without that, what else would she have? Was there something else?
She picked up a rock and flung it angrily across the plane. It clattered against the metal wall and floor. Damn it, Batman! Why did you have to be so nice? Why did you have to be…like Miss Roger so much. She ducked her head into crossed arms. I feel alone now.
Involuntarily, a tear ran down her cheek. It felt good to cry.
"McGinnis, where the devil have you been?" Wayne roared.
"Nice to see you, too," Terry said. He pulled off the mask, tossed it onto the medical table and flopped himself down beside the mask.
Wayne walked up to the table and roughly removed Terry's bandages. Terry grimaced in pain. "All right, I learned your lesson," he said. "No more escapades outside Gotham."
"At least you came back in one piece," Wayne said. Then he looked at Terry's wounds. "More or less. I expect a full report by tomorrow morning."
"Sure thing," Terry said. He was silent for a minute as Wayne worked. Then a thought crossed his mind. "Oh, what excuse did you give for my absence?"
"Excuse?" Wayne said with a sly smile. "I told your mother that I had no idea where you had gone." He turned at looked Terry straight in the eye. "If you want to run off on your own, you're going to come up with your own reasons for doing so."
Terry groaned in dread and lay his head down on the cold metal table. But he couldn't help smiling inside. He was back among family. And Curare…Terry opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling. Maybe she would find family someday.