TALES OF THE DEMON by Dien Alcyone
Hullo! This is my DC Comics fanfic, written for DC Anthology, which can be found at: http://danthology.cjb.net/ Due to hints from friends and readers, I am diversifying in the places where it's featured at... hence, this! I hope you enjoy.
Summary: Etrigan/Jason Blood fanfiction, in an 'issue' format.
Disclaimer: The Demon and certain characters in these pages are owned by DC Comics. I'm just playing.
TALES OF THE DEMON #1 ~ The Homecoming
It had rained earlier in the evening, a slow, steady, dismal drizzle falling from an iron sky. In other cities, rain leaves the air cleaner, fresher; seems to strip away the accumulations of grime and oil.
In other cities.
In Gotham, mere water can never wash the filth and darkness from the city's soul.
It is the middle of December and this winter's night is cold and damp. Usually by this time of the year, snow has already fallen to cover the city and hide the stained and dirty streets, to muffle victims' screams and bury the stench from the sewers. But the snow is late this year, and the cold December seems interminable.
" 'Always winter and never Christmas,' " the man sitting in the back of the late, late bus into Gotham City quotes to himself as he stares morosely out the window. And then he smiles, a quick cold smile, teeth flashing in the shadows of his face.
He doesn't particularly like Christmas.
The bus finally leaves the poorer, industrial areas of the city behind for the brighter lights and sleeker buildings of the financial district, and then the expensive penthouses and high-rises of the rich and affluent.
He is the last passenger to get off, nodding to the driver and giving him a substantial tip. Carrying his suitcase and briefcase, he walks one block north to enter the empty (at this hour) lobby of Blood Towers—one of Gotham's penthouses (read: playpens) for the wealthy. All the floors are currently occupied, rented out to those willing to pay for the luxury—except the 13th floor. The top floor. His floor.
He enters the elevator and presses the button for floor thirteen.
The elevator hums quietly as it rises. He stares at his reflection in the polished, shiny surfaces of the metal doors. With a silent, imperceptible shudder, the lift stops to let him out, and into his home.
Still, now; standing, listening, in the doorway.
There is the soft stir of air in the long-empty apartment, bringing with it the scent of leather and paper, dust, faint incense… and almost unnoticeable, the copper tang of old, dried blood.
Shadows are dusky and tangible like velvet, filling more space than they should and pressing up against the body like an old and unwanted lover. There is a brief rustling as of scaled wings moving against each other… an unpleasant snigger, so soft as to make you wonder if you only imagined it… a faint shrill scrabbling, as of clawed feet on glass.
Things stir then, briefly, in the darkness, on shelves and in locked cabinets and in dusty glass bottles as the light from the hallway disrupts their long sleep. Eyes flicker open, green and gold and red eyes, small and many, to gaze with inhuman wisdom and cunning before veiling over against the painful man-made glare.
In the darkness, the man nods brief greetings. In the darkness, he enters, setting down luggage and taking off his coat. In the darkness, he goes to the kitchen and fixes a drink. He moves to a window and looks out over Gotham, her lights… and her shadows.
Outside, the snow finally begins to fall, crystal flakes drifting down from the sullen clouds.
Jason Blood sips his drink, feeling the warmth curl though him. He smiles and says to the city, "It's nice to be back."
"Come on, Luis!"
"Shut up. I'm going as fast as I can. You want to do this?"
"Look, all I'm saying is the longer we're out here the more--"
"I know what you're saying. You been saying it all damn night. Shut up and stop moving the light around. I need it steady."
Antonio shivers and obeys his brother, fixing the flashlight on the lock that Luis is picking. God, it's cold out. His breath steams in the night air as he looks nervously behind him, unable to stop the chill that comes from more than the cold. He knows what lives out here in the night, in the shadows.
He wishes he'd never listened to Luis when his older brother had spoken of easy money… but he had needed the money too much to tune Luis out, still needed it too much. With the baby on the way.
For a second, a warm glow fills him despite the two inches of snow that fill Gotham's streets. Antonio was raised a good Catholic by his grandmother. When Juanita told him she was pregnant, he never even considered leaving her. He'd marry her, keep the job at the gas station even though it didn't pay anything worth speaking of. He'd do the right thing by her and their son.
And then his boss had fired him, and Luis, just out on parole, had spoken so sweetly of money, enough money that he and Juanita would never need to worry again. He remembers the conversation:
"You're… you're talking about robbery. Wh-What about the Batman, Luis?"
"The Bat?! You're joking, little brother. Don't you know, he only wastes his time with the big ones, the locos. Not with people like us."
Not with people like us.
Antonio repeats the phrase over and over to himself, a mantra against what lives out here in the night, in the shadows.
The click of the bolt then, surprisingly loud to Antonio's ears. Luis gives a satisfied grunt.
"See? Nothing to it. This place is deserted, no alarms, no nothi--"
"Si, si. Let's just get the hell out of the alley, out of sight."
"Okay, okay. You whine like a woman, Tony."
As they enter the building, blessedly out of the biting wind, the younger brother casts one last glance at the street, at the rooftops—
The jagged edge of a cloak whips at the edge of a roof for half a second, then vanishes.
"Mi Dios, Luis! It's him! I saw him, I saw the Batman! Oh God, he's coming, he's coming for us…"
His brother's strong brown hand grabs his throat, pulling him inside the building and slamming him into the nearest wall. "Shut. Up. You didn't see nothing. You're jumping at shadows, you stupid, stupid--"
The window above their heads explodes with a burst of glass shards. Through a million raining pieces of death, each one glittering and painfully sharp, Antonio Gutierrez sees a figure come through the window, the silhouette of a ragged cape spread out behind him.
"Not with people like us…" he whispers as glass enters his head and hands.
His brother is pulling a gun, bang bang bang in the deserted building, flashfire in the night and useless, completely useless. Antonio knows this, even as the thing he faces speaks.
"Fair greeting, o ye who've turned to petty crime
"Children, this eve, of both need and greed.
"Were I the night-stalker, you'd both serve time
"But I am me, and desire rather… to feed.
"Be your flesh roasted or raw in its own bloody brine
"It shall do for my hunger, for the flesh of man
"Has always seemed to me most fitting and fine.
"Aye, you both shall do for Etrigan."
And it begins to laugh, moving towards them.
Antonio Gutierrez knows what lives out here in the night, in the shadows. It is not the Bat.
It is worse.
He pulls the cross from around his neck on its heavy chain and recites every prayer his abuelita ever taught him. Mary mother of Jesus protect me, Virgin Mother protect me, saints be near me in my hour of need. Ave Maria, madre de Jesus, madre de Cristo protect me and save me…
"Hail Mary full of grace…" Antonio starts backing up, holding the cross out in front of him as the demon from hell takes the life of his brother in a flash of talons and an explosion of red. Antonio's hand trembles violently.
And then he's at the door, out of the building, running away from that place as fast as his legs will move, clutching the crucifix in one white-knuckled hand and crying.
Hail Mary full of grace…
In the empty building behind him, Etrigan the Demon licks bloody claws and smiles, razor sharp teeth glinting in the moonlight. What once was the unfortunate Luis Gutierrez lays more or less in front of him, his rent form mute testament of carnage.
"Now pity mortal frame
"Frail as the reed
"Just like their faith.
" 'Hail Mary,' indeed."
The demon turns to the wall behind him and extends one long taloned finger to the bare cement. The thin screech filling the air, he scratches an upside-down cross into the wall, a twisted and malefic grin growing on his face as he does so.
"Though I've left you not the ears to hear, my meal
"The truth about that manger's suckling Whelp
"You still have the eyes to see, I trust
"That He didn't bequeath thee much help.
"'Tis, I fear, the same old story
"As Cain and Abel once performed.
"One brother's offering honored with glory
"The other's plea for recognition scorned.
"But, my friend, I think that thee
"Are now far past such things as jealousy."
The grin turns into laughter, harsh and disturbing in the night. Etrigan turns from the grisly remains of his banquet, leaping with grotesque agility to the now-shattered window above, and from there making his way into the night air outside.
Moving on Gotham's rooftops in the 2 a.m. shadows, he crosses town swiftly and silently, to immerse himself in the Art Deco spires and Gothic arches of upscale Gotham. Eventually his booted feet find themselves on the steep roof of Gotham's tallest cathedral, balance sure despite the treacherous footing as he recklessly scales the church's steeple.
At the top he pauses, brooding there like one of the building's own gargoyles as he stares with fiery eyes at the streets below. A cold wind picks up from across the bay, whipping his long, tattered cloak around the steeple.
"A long, amusing sojourn it has been
"Since last Etrigan walked this city of sin.
"Other cities, other heroes, and other foes of late
"Have occupied his time, I fear.
"But now, capricious Lady Fate
"Has brought him back, to here.
"For there seems one thing I've learned—
"Wherever my feet have chosen to roam
"To this darkling city I've always returned.
"Gotham, it seems, is damned to be my home," Etrigan muses to himself as he stares at the city below. For a moment he is silent, and then he laughs loudly, the sound ringing in the cold air.
"'Tis fitting, that this place so full of the evil of man
"Should also be cursed with Etrigan.
"Oh, sweet Gothamites fair!
"Quake and cower in the night air!
"And tremble uneasily during the day
"For the Demon's back, and here to stay."
Smirking, he bends the iron of the steeple's crucifix into a crumpled mass and leaps from the rooftop to enter Gotham's deepest shadows and disappear.
On the other side of Gotham, in the middle of a patrol, the Batman shivers once and wonders why.
In the skyscraper next to the cathedral, however, the reaction is not unease but a sense of triumph. A slim and feminine hand lowers a pair of binoculars. The hand's owner smiles, sweet and dangerous in the night, with the knowledge that the hunt begins now…
The morning light breaks over Gotham, pale wintry radiance barely summoning the energy to break through the overcast sky. Alfred Pennyworth sips a cup of Earl Grey tea as he watches the sun's feeble attempts to rise from the welcome warmth of the kitchen.
"Good morning, sir. Breakfast is on the table," Alfred says, not turning from his vantage point at the kitchen window, where he commands an excellent view of the snow-covered front yard. "It appears to have snowed last night, Master Bruce."
A grunt. "I noticed. I happened to be out in it last night."
"Ah, yes. On one of your nocturnal adventures." Turning, Alfred surveys his master silently, the one raised eyebrow speaking more eloquently than volumes of speech could of his disapproval for Bruce Wayne's garb. Though his cowl is off, the Batman is still dressed in cape and costume.
While he must surely be aware of his faithful butler's unhappy gaze, Bruce Wayne pretends not to notice, immersing himself in the plentiful spread of toast, bacon, and eggs on the table before him. Alfred clears his throat.
Batman studiously ignores him. Alfred sighs.
"I thought we had agreed, sir, that the outfit is not to be worn at the table. You did make that concession to me, as you may recall, in return for my promise not to mention the last time you were shot to Master Tim--"
"Alright, alright, I surrender," says Bruce, a faint smile twisting the corner of his mouth as he gets up from the table. "I may as well change anyway. We're going into the city."
"'We', Master Bruce?" Alfred remarks blandly, starting to clear away dishes.
"Yes. There's somebody I want to talk to," comes Batman's voice from upstairs.
"Indeed, sir? As Bruce Wayne? I was under the impression that most of Wayne's associates would not yet be receiving visitors at this time of the morning."
"The one I'm looking for should be. He's something of a night owl."
"Ah. Not unlike yourself. Does he wear a cape to breakfast, too?"
"Funny. Get the car ready."
An impeccably dressed Bruce Wayne enters Blood Towers some forty minutes later, taking the elevator to the thirteenth floor. Early--very early--this morning, as he had moved from rooftop to rooftop finishing his patrol, he had paused for a moment atop the cathedral… and noticed the ruined cross.
It had obviously required great physical strength, and the only being Batman knew who was likely both to have that strength and the desire to disfigure a religious symbol was the demon who resided in the mortal form of Jason Blood, or so Bruce had explained to Alfred as they drove into the city. Alfred had expressed no great desire to meet the famed occultist, and so Bruce Wayne is taking the elevator up alone.
And trying to convince himself there is a good reason for doing this. Why, exactly, is he taking the time to verify that Jason and his pet demon are indeed back in Gotham, after being away… wherever they had been? Etrigan hasn't actually hurt anyone yet. It isn't really his problem. Or his business.
And he would prefer to be elsewhere.
It isn't that he is afraid of Etrigan. (He is the Batman. He does not get scared. He gives it.)
But he is also honest with himself. He acknowledges that the demon makes him… uncomfortable. As does Jason himself, much as he respects and even likes the man. But magic, in general, is not an element the Dark Knight understands or claims to.
The superstition that oft accompanies it, yes. That is a weapon he knows well how to use. The real thing, however…
He would not, he realizes, truly prefer to be elsewhere. He would prefer that the demon were elsewhere.
Rather than in Gotham. In his city.
The elevator stops and he exits. He knocks on Jason's door and hopes, deep within himself, that there will be no answer.
"Batman. Come in. It isn't locked."
Bruce stops for a long moment. Finally shaking his head, he opens the door and steps into Blood's home.
Sunshine has made the place more welcoming. In the light of day, it looks almost normal—the strange pieces of bric-a-brac scattered around, the disturbing paintings on the walls, the cursed artifacts and relics and carved oddities that lurked malevolently the night before all seem to be faintly absurd now. He takes it all in in a glance.
"You knew I was coming." When he speaks, his voice is that of the Batman, not of Bruce Wayne.
Jason smiles faintly, turning from the window where he looks out over the city to face the Dark Knight. "And a very good morning to you, too. Please, sit down."
Batman remains standing. Jason's smile grows broader as he sits and pours himself a drink, remarking in a conversational tone, "You know, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Gotham."
"How do I enjoy Gotham? Now, I admit that at first glance the city can be off-putting, but--"
"How did you know I was coming."
"Ah." Jason sips his drink, leaning back in his chair and observes Batman for several moments, his amused smile gradually fading. He sets his glass down on a coaster made from the scales of a beast long dead and steeples his fingers.
"I know many things, Batman. I know there is a darkness at this city's core. I know there is a sickness in the night, that breeds evil and crime and madness. I know you fight it.
"Other things… that I might know… surely these aren't really important. Not to you."
Batman gives it up. If Blood wants to be mysterious and obscure, he will be, and there's nothing he can do about it. The demonologist is one man he cannot intimidate. He shifts tactics.
"You were gone from Gotham."
"Yes. Yes, I was. I traveled… spent some time in Europe, some in Gateway City. I briefly fought—or I should say, Etrigan briefly fought—one of your colleagues, the Amazon princess… then allied with her.
"I bought some art in Paris. I visited a villa I own in Greece. I talked to some old acquaintances and tasted wine in southern Italy.
"And eventually… as always… I came back here. I do like this city. As much as anywhere, it is home, I suppose. Now… that I've treated you to a tour of Europe… what did you want to talk to me about, Bruce?
"I may call you Bruce…?"
Batman ignores the question of his name, idly lifting an hourglass from a nearby table and flipping it. "Last night. Gotham's St. Matthew's Cathedral. Something destroyed the crucifix on the steeple."
"Yes. Is that all the demon did, then…? Well, your sense of civic duty does you credit, Bruce… but I already sent St. Matthew's money this morning to pay for repairs."
"Anonymously, of course."
"Of course." Batman gives an imperceptible sigh and set the hourglass back down.
"Was that all, then?" asks Blood, rising from his seat.
"You tell me. When you spoke of that being 'all the demon did'… is there something else I should know about, Jason?"
"You're asking me? Remember, Batman, all I know of Etrigan's actions is what he deigns to share with me. So as far as I know, yes, that is all."
"Mm. Fine. Thanks for your time, Jason."
Jason smiles as he holds the door open for Wayne to leave. "Anytime. And Bruce…? Have a nice day."
And what are the chances of that? Gotham's protector wonders to himself as he presses the button to descend from the thirteenth floor. I'm sure Blood finds it ironic, people going up to reach the demon's home when hell traditionally lies beneath us…
Back in the car, Alfred takes one knowing glance at his master's face and asks, "I take it your undefined mission did not go well, sir?"
"It went. Somewhat… inconclusively, but it went. Is it just me, Alfred, or does it—the madness, the darkness, the… evil… of it all—does it get worse in the winter?"
"I wouldn't know, Master Bruce. Such things are really more your hobbies than mine."
Jason has just unpacked Harry Matthews. Harry is understandably grumpy. "Really, Jase, just leave me squished inside the suitcase all night long while you get to gallivant around town--"
"While Etrigan gets to gallivant around town, Harry."
"Whatever. All night long—and let me tell you buddy, your underwear does not have much in the way of personality or conversation skills, awright? I mean, cheez, I don't expect much; I'm a flesh cushion, I take it in stride I'm not gonna get a lot of respect… but still, IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK TO BE TAKEN OUT OF THE SUITCASE BEFORE YOU CHANGE INTO YER STINKIN' DEMON???"
"I said I was sorry. I forgot."
"You forgot. My best friend 'forgot' I was cramped next to his unwashed socks, frazzly toothbrush, and a cheap paperback copy of The Last of the Mohicans… what, may I ask, is the world coming to?"
Jason sighs and sets the flesh pillow down on the couch. "The same thing it's always coming to, Harry. Apocalypse, Ragnarok, Judgment Day… pick a euphemism."
"I forgot how you're always so cheerful in the morning, Jason," grumbles Harry.
Jason ignores the comment and begins to hunt through the refrigerator for breakfast ingredients. Unfortunately, much of the food in the apartment has gone bad in his long absence. Eggs and milk are quickly inspected and thrown out, as well as all other dairy items.
"What are you gonna make us for breakfast, Jase?" says Harry to the demonologist's back.
"Depends on what in here is still—phew! Here's another one for the dump… edible, Harry," mutters Jason. "Hey. Can you make anything with pickles and champagne?"
"Urrgh. For breakfast? Even when I was alive, I was more of a order-in guy than a chef, but I don't think it sounds appetizing."
"Hmm. Next, I suppose."
A few minutes passed in silence while Jason finally gave up on the fridge and moved to the shelves.
"Canned beets… yes, Harry?"
"Can I ask a question?"
"Flour… yes, Harry."
"When are you gonna call Randu and Glenda and let 'em know you're back in town?"
"Do you think this pasta is still good?"
"You're avoiding the question."
"It's seven months past the expiration date…"
"And my question will be too. Come on, Jase, you can't just let them hang like this! I mean, granted, it may not have worked out too well between you and Glen, but cheez, they're still your friends and all! You oughta at least call and say hi.
"I mean, at least say hi to Randu. Dude's probably worrying his turban off about you, y'know? It'd be considerate. And even if you want to cut all ties, what makes you think I do? They're still my friends. It's a little bit… selfish.
"And, hey, I know you dig the whole 'I-am-Jason-Blood-bound-to-the-horrible-demon-and-cursed-to-live-forever-don't-get-too-close-to-me-you-might-end-up-a-seat-cushion-like-my-friend-Harry-here-except-I-don't-call-him-my-friend-because-'friend'-would-mean-I'm-you-know-HUMAN-and we-can't-have-that' thing…. but everybody needs friends.
"So whaddaya think, Jase?
Blood closes a cabinet, his face set in grim lines. "What do I think…? I think you need to mind your own business. I think a lot more than you do before I open my mouth. I think… I need to go buy some groceries.
"I'll be back later," Jason says tersely, and heads out the door.
"Hey! You can't just--"
Harry sighs and leans his pillow-self back against the other things on the couch, muttering to himself, "Welcome back to Gotham, Harry. This is an auspicious beginning to things…"
THE NEXT ISSUE BOX THAT CAUGHT FIRE AT THREE IN THE MORNING: Will Jason call Randu and Glenda? Who is the mysterious woman watching Etrigan? What will Harry do? And what will they eat for breakfast??? Tune in next month, same time, same station, for a journey that will lay all of your questions to rest. If we feel like answering them, that is.