Adam Kriticos put on his cap. It was heavier than he thought it would be. It's probably the badge on the front of it he thought. Other cops gave him skeptical glances. This kid looked about 20 years old, had only done a few months at the Academy and was now a full police officer. A rookie, but still an officer. He was an untested commodity and therefore was not to be trusted. Maybe in another city or another time he wouldn't have garnered such harsh attention. But this was Gotham City. A large number of police officers had been fired in a recent attempt to remove corruption. As a result the department had been flooded with rookies. But everyone was watching him specifically. Commissioner Gordon had been the one to bring him in, or so the story went at this particular precinct. Adam tried to readjust the body armor underneath his collared shirt and jacket. He felt uncomfortable and out of place. Adam was used to sweatshirts and jeans. Now he was wearing a uniform that came with its own assembly instructions. He looked around the locker room and caught the suspicious glances of a few of the more veteran officers. He ignored them.
Today wasn't the day to buck the system. Today was the day he would meet his new Captain and be assigned a partner. Then he would be in for all the usual crap work all rookies had to deal with. Walking a beat in bad neighborhoods, endless paperwork, and putting up with crap from his seniors. There was also the crappy pay, but that didn't matter to him. He was wealthy enough in his own right that it didn't matter. What did chafe him was having a chain of command to follow. That was something he had always had difficulties with. His outlook on life typically put him at odds with any majority. But in this instance he was at the very bottom of the chain of command. He tried to keep his dark mood from showing and walked to the sergeant's office.
Sergeant Ricky, short for Ricardo Esperanza, was a man of Hispanic descent in his mid thirties. He was filling out a form, humming something to himself.
"Sir?" Adam asked. He stood in the doorway, hands down by his sides. His superior looked up and smiled. He must have been in a very good mood.
"Morning!" He said cheerfully. He motioned for Adam to sit down. Then he went on. "You look like an observant guy. Notice anything so far?" Adam's eyebrows came together slightly. Oh yeah. He'd noticed a lot of things. Like the names on most of the doors being wrong. And the large amount of empty offices. But Adam didn't say anything. "Not a talker though, huh?" The Sergeant put his hat on and got up from his chair. He motioned for Adam to follow him. "Some people like that in a rookie." They went on a tour of the station with Ricky introducing other officers and Shift politely shaking hands. Eventually they ended up in front of the Commissioner's office. Adam raised an eyebrow but kept his mouth shut. Ricky knocked on the door.
"Come in." Sitting behind a desk was James Gordon, hair going from gray to white, big glasses and a trench coat. He looked worn down to Adam.
"You asked me to bring him to you when he came in, sir." Ricky said, his face serious.
"Yes. You can go now Sergeant." Ricky left the office. Adam still hadn't said a word. "I assume you know why you're here." Adam had an idea but he shook his head, wanting the old cop to spell it out. "Batman gave me a file on you. I doubt it's everything but it's still pretty thick. You lived on the streets here for a couple years." Adam nodded. The older man went on. "I also know about your meta-human abilities. Useful abilities for an investigator, for a police officer. But I also have a psychological evaluation and a history of your conduct. Your record of disregard for authority and rules comes to an end right now. Understand?" Shift nodded. "Good. Now that we have that out of the way there's one other thing we need to talk about. Your fellow officers might not be as understanding of your, uh, skill set as I am. I suggest you keep your status as a meta-human secret. At least from the general ranks." Gordon hesitated for a moment. "You can be an incredible contributor to justice in this city, and-"
"I seriously doubt that." Adam said, interrupting. Gordon gave him a level look. "I did live on the streets for 2 years. The amount of corruption here is staggering. I've been to Suicide Slums, the Narrows, East End. I will give my all to help the people of this city but don't patronize me with grand visions." Adam's anger burned deep in him. Gordon recognized it and even approved of it. But he couldn't condone such disrespect.
"You will address me as Commissioner or Sir. Are we clear officer Kriticos?" Adam nodded. "Good." he pressed the intercom button on his desk. "Send her in." A moment later another rookie officer in full uniform walked in. She had dark skin but mixed racial features. Adam watched her walk in out of the corner of his eye. She wasn't smiling either. "Officer Davis, this is Officer Kriticos. He'll be your new partner. He'd fresh from the Academy so you'll need to show him the ropes."
"Yes sir." she said without enthusiasm. She was older than Adam by maybe a few years but she clearly had spent more than one as a police officer. "C'mon." She said. Adam followed her out of the office. He noted again that his shoes were not very comfortable. Stupid in his opinion. If he had to run they would slow him down. Too much walking would give a normal person blisters. Stupid. Several pairs of eyes followed the pair as they walked to the motor-pool. "Our beat runs along-" Adam noted everything she said with a mild interest. Part of him accepted his new role while another part chaffed at doing something he felt was beneath him. He's stood at much greater heights, done important things. He reminded himself that this was important too. He'd help people, save lives. But he was also working within severe constraints, at least, compared to the ones he was used to. He shifted focus, examining his new partner. She was shorter than him, somewhere around five and a half feet. Her physique was more or less hidden by the heavy jacket but she moved like someone with heavier muscle. Adam took note of every single glance their way but kept his posture passive and his expression neutral.
"I actually lived in that neighborhood for a few months. I know my way around." She looked at him, surprised.
"I didn't know you were local." she said, not breaking her stride.
"Only for the last 5 years or so." Adam replied. They signed out their car and got the keys. A few minutes later they were on their way to on one of the neighborhoods around Suicide Slums. It was not a nice place. Gangs were operating out in the open, a decent number of the apartment buildings were suffering from disrepair. The cars parked on the street ran the gamut from broke to last year's Cadillac.
"That's the Lords your looking at. Lords of the Avenues. They deal cocaine and meth, do some small arms dealing and loan sharking. With a few cases of witness intimidation and murder for good measure." Susan Davis, Adam's new partner, said with a significant amount of disgust. Adam kept looking around, putting faces into his memory. The glass bottle that hit the windshield made him jump. Susan just kept on driving.
"Why aren't we chasing down and arresting someone for assault?" Adam asked, trying to get his heart rate down.
"So you want me to stop and park a cop car in the middle of gangland and chase down some two bit lowlife without backup?" She sneered. "Maybe I could chase him down an alley and drop my gun on the way. Get real." Adam got the picture. Cops wouldn't intervene here unless absolutely necessary. At least they showed up. In the Narrows or Slums cops never showed up. But Adam didn't care. He wanted to chase down the punk and scare him straight. He knew he could do it too. But he was supposed to go human while on duty.
"I get it. But nothing will change if we don't do anything. If we stop and frisk half these shirtless morons I guarantee we'll find drugs and weapons."
"You think I'm an idiot? Of course we would. And start a war in the mean time. Assuming someone doesn't just gun us down while we're not moving. The Commissioner didn't stick me with a nutcase did he?" She glanced at him and didn't like the look in his eyes. Adam wasn't blinking. His hands were clenched tight. "Did he?" she asked more forcefully.
"No." Adam said flatly. He noted a group of guys pushing around a younger kid. One grabbed his backpack and shoved the kid down. He couldn't be more than 12. The kid made a grab for his pack but one of the men backhanded him. "Please tell me we're stopping."Adam said, pointing out the group. His partner flipped on the lights and siren. She called in the stop to dispatch so they would know what was happening. Adam smiled for the first time that day. They got out and locked the car.
"We have a problem here gentlemen?" Susan said in a clear voice. Adam counted 6 men from 18 to late 20's. Apparently it wasn't an ethnic gang either. The leader was a big guy, crew cut blonde hair and blue eyes. Adam could tell he was in charge because of the placement of the gang members. Second in charge was a Hispanic guy, he was the one holding the backpack. Then there was an Asian man, tattooed to a ridiculous degree and three black men of varying height and weight. As one they turned to look at the cops intruding on their turf.
"Nah officer. Just having a little chat with my cousin." The Hispanic man said. The German looking guy just stood there smiling.
"Really? People usually use words when they're chatting." Susan said. Adam was content to stand and watch for the moment. He was looking closely to see if he could spot a weapon. Arresting these guys would make it a good day. The kid grabbed his backpack back and ran.
"You scared him officer. He's afraid of people carrying guns."
"Yeah, I'm sure that's what it is. Have a nice day gentlem-" the Asian man made eye contact with Adam and made a rude hand gesture. Adam smiled at him. But the look in his eyes was murderous. The gang member recognized the look and started at Adam. He grabbed the rookie cop's shoulder but Adam knocked his hand away. The leader held him back.
"Have a nice day officers." The blonde man said firmly. The rest of his gang crowded in behind him. Adam stepped up closer to Susan. She tipped her hat and walked back to the car. Adam followed behind her but kept looking over his shoulder. Violence had been so close to the surface just then. He honestly wished it would have happened.
"Keep walking, pig!" One of the men shouted. Adam turned slightly but Susan elbowed him in the side.
"You heard him. Keep walking." she muttered to her partner. He could smell her fear and it ticked him off. But he couldn't blame her. Any ordinary human would be outmatched in that situation. He'd smelled gun oil on them. At least one of them was carrying. Adam kept walking like his partner said. His itch for violence wasn't a good enough reason to get his brand new partner killed. He managed to catch a gang sign being flashed at him out of the corner of his eye. It made him smile, this time in satisfaction. He'd gotten them upset enough to act territorial. Neither of the officers said anything until they were driving away. "You are crazy." Susan muttered.
"Not according to the psych eval." Adam joked darkly. "If you show any kind of weakness your ability to deter them drops. I let them know I'm willing to step up to them."
"They'll kill you if you dis them like that." Susan said. Adam smiled slightly. He'd honestly love it if they tried. There were rules that held his conduct within strict boundaries. Until he was assaulted with intent to kill that is. Then all bets were off. The rest of the day was uneventful. They returned the car and went to their respective homes. Adam had a nice set-up in the richer part of Gotham. Two bedroom fully furnished apartment. It was a mile from the station so he decided to walk. Back in his more comfortable hoody and jeans he strolled down the sidewalk. It was dark already, the number of people on the street had dropped to those who were foolhardy or unable to be inside. Adam saw a number of homeless. Men, women, and children. It was still early in fall. No one would freeze tonight. Adam remembered what that was like. Before he could flash back to those less pleasant memories he caught sight of gang members coming toward him on the street. Perfect. He kept moving forward and made sure his body posture looked afraid. Slightly hunched over, arms tight against him, eyes pointed down. He had to work to keep from smiling. One of them pointed him out.
"You lost man?" One of them said. Adam didn't so much as look at him. He tried to push his way past but one of them shoved him to the sidewalk. He scrambled to his feet, purposely stumbling and giving them time to surround him. They did. "Who you think you are?" Another one said. He got up to his feet. Adam didn't bother hiding his smile anymore. "What's so funny?" Someone shoved him from behind and into the thugs in front of him. He felt a punch to his gut and one to the side of his head. It hurt a little, but it was nothing compared to what he had planned for them. Then he heard someone grunt and fall. The gang started shouting and Adam glanced behind him. A dark figure stood there, two of the thugs down at his feet. Adam's mood soured. Batman was going to steal all his fun. No sooner had he thought that when he saw a handful of small gleaming shapes fly from the Dark Knight's fingers. Five guys dropped around him. The last two tried to charge Batman but he laid them out in moments. Then he grabbed Adam by the shirt and hauled him into an alley.
"Thanks for that." Adam said sarcastically.
"You're not supposed to draw attention to yourself Adam." Batman said coldly. "The Court is more important than these low level street trash."
"Thankless job, constantly alone at night. I've played my part for months, played the nice little mouse. I'm going nuts. It's been no fighting, no magic, no contact with anyone from my real life. Raven is going to be so mad at me for this."
"You agreed to this. You know how important it is that we clear them out of Gotham. They've destroyed countless lives, shattered families." Adam flinched at that.
"I don't know how much longer I can take it. Do you know what it's like to drive around this city, watching people get hurt and not do anything? And then to go to an empty apartment and try to live with yourself? If I don't find a thread to pull at soon I'm going to scrap subtlety." A polite way for saying he would work his way through every gangland schmuck he could find until a big fish came after him. Then, once he found one member of the Court of Owls he'd hand him over to Batman and that would be that. If he still had his former level of power he could use a divination spell to get the info and it might take a day at most.
"Patience Adam. You're exactly the kind of new recruit they'd want. They'll make contact with you soon. In the mean time you'll need to break a few rules, let them know that you're willing to work against the police if necessary." Adam's eyes flared with yellow. Batman had just made his leash longer. He already knew what rule he was going to break. He felt the itchy sensation in his mouth as his canines elongated. The pressure in his fingertips as claws began to sprout. He reigned it in. No sense I getting too eager about it now. His eyes dimmed back to the normal light green. Batman knew he was walking a dangerous line here, but he needed Adam for this. He would draw the Court like moths to a flame. They needed soldiers and enforcers now that most of their Talons had been put into the deep-freeze. Adam fit that bill perfectly. Too perfectly.
The Court needed to replace their army of killers. Adam knew as much about life and death as most of the Talons had in life. And what's more, he'd killed before. They'd be able to smell the blood on him. Simply put, Adam was perfect for the job and that was what made it all so difficult. Batman trusted him to a point, but Adam was unpredictable. He was sure Adam would get the job done, but what kind of damage might he do in the mean time? How badly had he meant to beat those thugs? Would he have killed them? Batman wanted to say no but with Adam he was never really sure. He'd seen the young man's eyes flash in excitement as the gang pushed him into a corner. Those idiots hadn't known what kind of danger they had been in. They would never know but Batman might have saved their lives. "Patience. I know it's tempting to try fixing everything on your own." Adam snorted at that. "But stirring the waters here might get a lot of innocent people hurt."
"Yes, sir." Adam said. He threw in an insolent solute.
"Are the symptoms disappearing?" Batman asked, changing the subject.
"How would I know? I haven't been using magic. Not even for small things. If they saw me it would complicate things." He put a lot of emphasis on "they". The Court would observe him before they made contact, he knew that. So he'd been careful to act normal. About six months ago he'd lost his power source, had a creature of immense magical power leave his body and it had caused a number of problems. Every time he tried to use magic he experienced side effects. He wasn't sure if he even could use magic anymore. Well, aside from those abilities granted him as a lycanthrope.
"Good. Just a little longer now. Be patient." Adam grunted his assent and walked home. He still felt caged, but his little chat with Batman had settled him down. And given him something to look forward to. His hands twitched eagerly in anticipation. A little excessive force would look good on his resume. Maybe leaping into a dangerous situation, or getting a disciplinary suspension or reprimand would help. The possibilities made him lick his lips. At his core he was a creature of chaos. Or more accurately a creature of change. He knew Batman was using that to his advantage and he didn't really care. The Court's time was over, he would see to that. He would be the bloody star in the sky to herald the end of their reign.
It was another two weeks of normal police work before he had an opportunity to break the rules. His opportunity came when a tweaked drug addict held up a convenience store. Instead of waiting for backup he kicked the back door in and dropped the guy with a right hook. He got a stern talking to by the sarge, his partner had actually smacked the back of his head. Still no contact. A week later they responded to a call in the Narrows. An abusive boyfriend had grabbed some buddies and tried killing his girlfriend who had run off while pregnant. She called the cops and Susan had been the first to respond. But Adam had gotten to the perps first. He'd broken some bones on all three of the criminals and Susan had gone along with his "resisting arrest" story. But word went around the station that Adam had no problem knocking heads when necessary. That got him a meeting with the Commissioner who chewed him out. Adam didn't say anything that wasn't "Yes sir" or "No sir". But that night when he went home he began feeling so much better about his job.
When he arrived in his apartment he shut the door behind him and tossed his jacket over a chair. Then he froze. He could smell something strange. Someone had been in his apartment but the smell they'd left was really unpleasant. It wasn't a human stink it was some kind of disgusting chemical smell. Like formaldehyde and something musty. There was a knife stuck in the center of his kitchen table. On closer inspection the knife had pinned a piece of paper to the wood. Adam walked over, pulled the knife out of the table and picked up the paper. It was actually parchment, and old parchment at that.
It was a letter. It gave him a place, a time, and told him to come prepared. He grabbed the tiny capsule batman had given him months ago and swallowed it. That way the Dark Knight would be able to follow him. Then he tucked the knife into a pocket and headed to the location. It was a crappy bar in the East End. It was a place Adam wished he'd never heard of, let alone been to before. It was the drug and prostitution capitol of Gotham. Every single time he stepped foot there he had a woman with dead eyes proposition him in very obvious ways. And each time he declined he knew whichever woman it happened to be was punished in some way. He kept his head down and made it to End Run. He didn't see anyone he recognized or smell the messenger from before. So he went to the bar and ordered a beer. A bottle, not a tap drink. He wouldn't trust anyone in this hole not to try drugging him. He sat and drank for half an hour. Whoever sent the letter was late. His thoughts drifted to Raven, the empath he had formed a connection with shortly after losing most of his power. They had become friends, and maybe something more than that. But all of that had been cut short by this little assignment. Ever since she had been in his head he couldn't stop thinking about her. That, more than anything was the source of his bad temper.
"Adam Kriticos." Someone behind him said. Adam didn't turn around, he just grunted. "Are you prepared to be tested?" Adam took several deep breaths, trying to sort the person's scent from the smells permeating the room. It was difficult in that cramped space with so many people smoking and the sunk in odors of a bar.
"What kind of joke is this?" Adam said, going on the attack. "Is this some cop initiation crap, cause I'm really not in the mood."
"Are you prepared?" they simply asked again. He couldn't identify the voice as male or female. He couldn't pick out their scent. Whoever this person was they were already treading on his frayed nerves.
"What the hell. Yes, I'm prepared." Adam finished the beer. Then he turned around. A person in a heavy winter coat with the hood pulled up and wearing a white owl mask was standing there. Not a large person, physique completely hidden by the loose coat and sweatpants they were wearing. Adam narrowed his eyes. "Seriously, what is this? Some kind of weird joke? Cause I don't get it."
"This is your test, Mr Kriticos. Follow me." The masked person took off running out the door. Adam left a twenty on the bar and followed. Adam soon found that this person was a skilled acrobat. They managed to scale the side of a building in the time it took him to catch up. But he could play that game too. With a single springing leap he managed to grab the top of a streetlamp and swung himself onto the roof of the small building. "Very good. Try to keep up." The owl person dodged and danced halfway around the city with Adam hot on their heels. He kept his effort for a minimum and faked an increasing exhaustion. After half an hour the owl dropped into the sewers. Adam hesitated. The smell would choke off any advantage of his superior olfactory sense. But after a moment he descended into the dark stinking tunnels. His shoes splashed down in disgusting sludge. Adam cringed but flipped on the small flashlight he had brought. To make use of his darkvision would be tipping his hand too much. In a moment he spotted the white mask moving back along the tunnel. He followed at speed. They wound and twisted through various tunnels until Adam cornered the person in the mask in a dead end.
"Who are you? Why bring me here?" the owl didn't answer. Adam approached impatiently. He found out that was a mistake when the floor opened beneath him and he dropped. He flailed for a handhold to grasp but there was nothing but empty air to meet his hands. The hard impact with the ground managed to knock him out. His last thought was that he still knew nothing about the person in the mask except that they were very light on their feet.
Adam awoke in a brightly lit stone chamber. To his left was an ornate white fountain. To his right was an open stone box. At his feet was an archway entrance into a dark maze. Adam stayed still for a while, waiting to see if someone would approach. He counted his heartbeats, letting that concrete sense of time anchor his mind. He had fallen into a trap, which may be a test or may be a method of execution for failing. For now he would proceed as if it was a test. After counting a thousand heartbeats he sat up, quickly checking his pockets to see if they had left him what he brought with him when he left his apartment. The knife was still in his pocket, but his wallet and phone were gone.
"What kind of nonsense are you planning to put me through?" He said out loud. He received no reply. So he proceeded through the archway and into the maze. It stank of fear, of desperation, of despair and death. This was an execution ground, one meant to break a person before killing them. But that didn't mean it wasn't a proving ground. Adam walked down the blank corridors for hours, wondering if Batman would come for him, or if the transmitter even worked so far underground. Hours passed according to his heartbeat. Then nearly a day had gone by when he found another open chamber. He was greeted by a flash from an antique camera. When his vision cleared he saw a wall of portraits. The frames held the images of broken men and women. Hundreds of them. His anger began to boil. These were people. The Court had broken them for it's own amusement. This wasn't a public spectacle meant to correct behavior, this was torture done in the dark. Adam smashed the camera with a kick and went on his way, determined to find and punish those responsible. He had steeped himself in darkness far deeper than this petty cruelty. And he would share it with the Court before another day had passed. He wouldn't weaken for lack of food or water, but his control would slip a little more as time went on.
His footsteps were nearly silent in most situations, but in that soundless place they were loud. He was the only thing moving, the only thing creating sound. Probably designed to increase the stress level. Adam sneered at the setup. The desire to smash it all to pieces was becoming overwhelming. In his admittedly short experience it was a pathetic display. He sighed when he realized he was thinking in circles. No matter what he thought about all it did was circle back to how annoyed he was being here.
"I take it back, this place does seem to work. In a roundabout sorta way." He said out loud. It was too much to hope for a response but he was betting the Court heard him just fine. Hours later he stumbled into a room full of stone boxes. The lids had all been pushed to the side revealing an empty space. Adam could smell human bodies mixed with the same harsh chemical smell that had been in his apartment. The scent was stale and old. Whatever had been here was long gone. There was a solitude to the place, sort of like in a church cemetery, except it wasn't a positive feeling. It wasn't restful, it was a watchful place. It really ticked him off. Then he saw one of the coffins had a kind of emblem pressed onto the lid. This had obviously stored something the Court considered sacred.
Adam's reaction was as simple and primal as it was stupid and dangerous. He unzipped his pants and hosed it. He was fairly certain that the Court was watching him stumble around this maze and getting some kind of sick pleasure out of it. This was a petty revenge. It was their fault for leaving something valuable in here with him, he rationalized. In truth, his actions were having exactly the impact he'd hoped.
"That disrespectful little-" a member of the Court raged. They were all watching in a safe room, somewhat removed from their Labyrinth.
"I like him." Another said. "He shows the kind of spirit we need in our new Talons. And whose bright idea was it for us to store our Talons in the Labyrinth?" Several Court members shifted uneasily. They all wore the ceremonial snow owl masks. The slight differences in mask design designated a loose ranking system that was known only to the Court. The woman who had approved of Shift's bravado ranked quite high. The man who had complained was a fairly new member so he had nothing to say after she overruled him. In truth, many of the Owls were unhappy with Adam at that moment. One of the higher ranking ones spoke up.
"We haven't tested his combat skills yet. He's been in there more than a day, it's time for more substantial performance tests." Most of the room nodded at the elderly woman's proclamation. Adam would soon have a playmate to keep him company.