DC Infinity Presents
Batgirl # 23
War for Hell
22 and 3rd, Gotham Pier
Silver Shrike tried to swallow, but his throat was raw and his mouth tasted of copper. He hung limp in the metal net that The Riddler lured him into.
"So in order to drive the rogues from Gotham, the mob brought their own costumed thug."
Edward Nigma clucked his tongue, and depressed a button on his trademark question mark staff, and Silver Shrike was lowered to the ground.
"The hypocritical nature of mere thugs never ceases to amaze," Riddler sighed, "now, the question remains, what to do with you? I have to confess that I'm not as enamored with violence as others of my ilk, but there are times when I understand its necessity, its primal lure."
"So do I."
Riddler turned his head just in time to meet with Batgirl's fist. Even years of experience taking blows from Batman wasn't enough to properly prepare the villain for the skill and force with which it landed. Riddler stumbled back a few feet, his vision swimming, while Batgirl plucked his signature question mark staff out of his hands.
"Should have known you Bats would be about," Nigma rubbed his sore jaw, "always with the bleeding hearts for killers."
"You should be thankful…for that," Batgirl noted. She removed a batarang from her belt, and began to cut Silver Shrike free. She watched him carefully, knowing he was likely 'playing possum', but his body language was someone strained, but relaxed. As far as her training was concerned, Silver Shrike wasn't a threat.
So it came as quite a surprise to her that as soon as she was done cutting him free of the net, Silver Shrike sprang up, knocking the batarang from her hand with one hand, and leveling his gun at her forehead with the other.
"Don't even think of moving," Silver Shrike hissed.
And for a moment, Batgirl simply couldn't. Silver Shrike had taken her by surprise in a way only Cain had ever done before, and he'd only done it once in her entire life. Or maybe twice now, Batgirl reflected, as it became clear to her that Cain had not only trained this man, but also lied to her.
But the surprise, the shock, faded quickly, and Batgirl regained her bearings. She saw how Silver Shrike struggled to stand upright, the ache in his body and how his legs shook. The Riddler had clearly done a number on him, and Batgirl was certain that the villain was 'running on fumes', as Robin would say.
"Drop the gun, or I drop you," Batgirl warned.
"You know, you're not much better in the banter department," Riddler sighed, "but at least you're not that fake Batman that was running around. I suppose sanity is a loose thing in Gotham."
Batgirl glared at Riddler, but said nothing. For reasons she was never quite certain of herself, she really disliked the villain. He wasn't as threatening as Joker or Killer Croc, didn't have the body count of Poison Ivy or the sheer annoyance of Harley Quinn, but he still rubbed her the wrong way.
"Sorry," Riddler rolled his eyes, "but Mexican stand-offs simply aren't my thing. And since this little trap has fallen through, and our madgun no doubt has summoned his friend with that panic button on his belt, I think it's time to call it a night."
"No one is going anywhere," Batgirl and Silver Shrike said exactly. The two then gave one another an awkward glance, as if unable to believe what they'd just done.
"Cute," Riddler reached into his jacket and produced a square detonator, "but unless you want to be crushed by several hundred pounds of steel and then blown up, I suggest you leave."
"You wouldn't blow yourself up," Silver Shrike said.
"Well, I do know where the explosives are," Riddler took a few steps back, "and I know that you're standing closing to them than I am."
Riddler pressed the button, and before Silver Shrike could turn his gun on the Rogue, something behind him exploded, pitching him and Batgirl off their feet.
Within seconds, the building was rocked by explosions, but Batgirl was calm. She saw Riddler running into the smoke, and realized he was out of her grasp. She only had time to save herself, and Silver Shrike, and only if she acted quickly.
She reached into her belt, and removed two explosive batarangs. With a sweep of her arm, she flung them towards the factory door, and blew open a hole wide enough to drive a van through.
Batgirl reached down and dragged Silver Shrike to his feet. Just like she thought, he had been at the end of his strength, and the explosion had taken his last reserves. The only way he was getting out was if she pulled him out.
Batgirl reached behind her back, and removed her grappling gun. She fired it towards the ceiling, where the metal claw sank into the cement and plaster of the roof. The Daughter of Destruction didn't have time to make certain that the hold was good before she pressed the button causing the cable to retract.
As they began to swing over the rising debris and fire, Batgirl's mind was consumed with what could potentially go wrong. Her grappling hook wasn't designed for all this weight, the roof could cave in at any second or they could be swinging towards the last concealed explosive, and be blown to bits.
And as luck would have it, the roof around the hook began to crumble and give way…just as the two swung out the hole Batgirl had created. They had just begun to pass through the hole, when the final explosive went off, and they were both lifted up like a leaf in a hurricane and pitched out into the street.
Batgirl and Silver Shrike landed none too gracefully on the pavement, side by side.
"That…sucked," observed Silver Shrike.
"Agreed," Batgirl grunted.
Pushing past the pain that wracked her body, Batgirl rose to her feet, and removed a pair of cuffs. But she hadn't taken a step towards Silver Shrike before she heard the squeal of car tires, and saw the headlights bearing down on her.
Batgirl only saw the car barreling down on her out of the corner of her eye, but it was enough. She leapt into the air, and landed on the hood. But the driver slammed on the brakes, and Batgirl once more found herself thrown through the air.
She landed with little difficulty, but just narrowly escaping Riddler's death trap left Batgirl in less than peak condition. So when three men all but leapt out of the car, guns in hand, Batgirl's first instinct was to take cover.
She dove behind a nearby dumpster as all three men opened fire. Batgirl pressed herself against the ground, as bullets flew overhead. Crawling on her belly, she looked out, and saw that of the three men, two had grabbed Silver Shrike and stuffed him in the car, while the third was still firing at her.
The car pulled away with Silver Shrike inside, leaving behind the single gunman who wasn't at all surprised.
Cover fire, extraction team, excellent firing stance, Batgirl was actually a little surprised by the sophistication of this operation. It was hardly at the level of Special Forces, but it was still a step above most organized crime.
That wasn't enough, however, to remove the sting of tonight's failure. Riddler and Silver Shrike had both escaped, she was nearly killed and someone was shooting at her. Right now, Batgirl just wanted someone to hit.
Matt O'Malley slipped another magazine into his gun, as sweat beaded down his brow. He had Batgirl pinned down. Was it this easy? How could it be this easy?
Matt was on edge, and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the batarang fly out of the alley, and began to arc.
Matt didn't need to be an expert in aerodynamics to know where it was heading. He swung around, and convinced himself that shooting The Bats' signature weapon out of the air was no different than shooting sheet. He was only a moment away from pulling the trigger, when a boot slammed into his jaw, and he backwards on his ass, gun falling from his hand.
Batgirl plucked the batarang out of the air, and returned it to his belt.
"They left you," said Batgirl. Matt ignored her, and tried to crawl to his piece. Batgirl rested her foot on top of it, "why?"
"Barely have a record," Matt sighed.
"There's more," Batgirl kicked the piece away, "don't make me…ask hard."
"Jake," Matt pulled his arm back, and cradled it against his body, "my cousin, he worked for Scarecrow. That bastard…he…"
Batgirl watched as grief overtook the man, and felt a tinge of guilt for the pain she'd caused. The fact that he'd been trying to kill her minutes ago didn't even occur to her.
"He overdosed my cousin on fear gas, just to slow Batman down," Jake said, as tears began to form in his eyes, "and all you bastards did was throw him in jail. Again. Jake can't even open his eyes anymore without having a damn panic attack, and that monster just keeps pulling the same shit!"
Batgirl heard the sirens, and saw blue and red approaching fast.
"But Thorne, he's going to change that. Those freaks are going to get theirs!"
Batgirl didn't know what to say, what to think. All she knew was that she was today had been a complete failure, she was utterly exhausted and she had school tomorrow. So once the police were in sight, she stepped out of it.
"Honestly, I'm embarrassed for you. Here we have the mob cleaning up your mess!"
"About time some real men fixed this city!"
"Typical. You pigs trying to stop the people who are fixing this city! Who's payroll are you on, because it sure ain't Gotham's!"
Detective Akins, after a long day of verbal abuse, dropped his notepad on his desk and then all but fell into his chair.
"That good a day?" asked Captain Maggie Sawyer.
"One of the oddest, that's for sure," Peter sighed, "I did like you asked, started asking around about Thorne, get a feel for the word on the street. No one gave me anything but grief. Saying that he's fighting the fights we're too chicken shit to fight."
Sawyer shook her head.
"So the task force, who's on it?" Akins continued. He looked up at his Captain, who could only glance aside.
"…there's not going to be a taskforce," Sawyer said reluctantly.
Akins gave his commanding officer a look of confusion.
"Our superiors don't think it's worth creating a task force for a problem that will," Akins could see the look of disgust on his superior's face, "and I quote, 'take care of itself'."
"You. Cannot. Be. Serious."
Captain Sawyer shook her head, "For what it's worth, I agree. But Thorne bought himself some powerful friends before he ever set foot in Gotham, and to be honest, some of the brass are positively giddy to see the mob take a bite out of the freaks."
"Captain, have we ever seen a gang war that didn't involve innocent people?"
"Well, all we can officially do now is pray for a first."
"Beginning in the eighth century B.C., Ancient Rome grew from a small town…"
Cassandra listened to the history recordings her teacher had given her as she worked out. Given her upbringing, ancient history (or any history, really) was the subject that gave her the most difficulty, knew the least about and yet, was the most interesting for the crime fighter.
With most of her life spent in silence, with no words to give them definition, it always felt as if she was only living in the here and now, with only a single moment to define her. But history was so much more, a series of never ending events. Cassandra found the subject fascinating, and more than a little intimidating. The more she learned, the more she realized what she didn't know. She felt as if she could spend the rest of her life studying it without being able to grasp any of it. Yet it was all around her in so many ways, ever present in people, art and buildings just to start. Cassandra only needed a few classes to realize that history never stayed in the past.
When her phone rang, Cassandra banished those thoughts, and moved towards her gear on reflex. As a matter of policy, her cell phone was left on vibrate. A ring could only mean one thing.
It was Oracle, with an emergency mission.
"It's the Mad Hatter."
Cassandra pulled her Kevlar mask down across her face.
"According to reports, three families have reported the disappearances of their daughters. They were all young and blond. They disappeared barely a week after Jervis escaped."
She removed a pre-stocked belt from her armory, and snapped it into place.
"I've just gotten a report about a C. Lewis renting out a local theater hall for auditions, but he hasn't taken out any ads for actors, and the manager reports that he was acting very 'stiff'."
The tires of her bike howled as she exploded out of the garage, and onto Gotham's streets.
"Nightwing is finishing up a murder investigation. I'll send him when he's done."
Batgirl parked three blocks away, and then traveled along the rooftops until she spied her destination. Two men, armed with regular handguns, patrolled the roof of the theater.
Batgirl ducked behind a pigeon coop, and observed the two for a moment.
Their body language was rigid and constant. They moved in the same pattern for five minutes without missing a beat, to the point that they might have been robots.
The young vigilante didn't have to be a great detective to come to the conclusion that Jervis had them under his mind control. But she watched them for eight minutes, and looked for any bulges on their persons. The Mad Hatter was a dangerous threat, one that could only be defused with time. If he'd realized his guards had been rendered unconscious before Batgirl was ready to make her move, things could get deadly quick.
Once she confirmed that they didn't have any check-in, Batgirl stealthily closed the distance.
Inside of a minute, the two were unconscious, and Batgirl had removed the small devise that had been placed on their necks. It resembled the tabs of regular clothing, but Batgirl could feel the metal underneath. She crushed it contemptuously, and slipped inside.
Two men of wealth and class sat across from one another. The restaurant was known for its exclusive clientele and discretion. If anyone recognized that the second man was a convicted felon with enough deaths attributed to his name to technically count as a mass murderer, they were polite enough not to mention it, or call the authorities.
"I know the contract isn't your typical assignment."
"You'd be surprised."
"Fair enough. Do you have any reservations about the contract? I would understand if you feel that it's nature was threatening to your reputation…"
"Reputations are just words. I deal with bullets."
"Alright then, it's settled," the first man pushed an envelope across the table, "tickets to Gotham. First class, of course."
The second man picked up the tickets, "Thanks."
"If I may inquire, why did you agree to this? Not many are willing to brave The Bat."
"I'm actually due for a homecoming," replied Floyd Lawton.
Batgirl watched as the Mad Hatter, and his kidnapped 'Alices', stood up from their chairs and moved to another, like a demented musical chairs.
The Daughter of Destruction lurked in the balcony, watching the demented show from the shadows. As much as she wanted to rush the Mad Hatter, to feel her fists slamming into his jaw, the madman was not someone to be taken lightly. His mind control technology meant that he had hostages that would kill, or kill themselves, at the Hatter's whim.
Batgirl focused her loathing of the villain into laser like precision, taking in everything so that the moment Nightwing arrived, they could end this obscene display.
Batgirl observed how the children looked weak, emasculated. Had they anything to eat besides what was provided at Jervis' 'tea party'? And then the guards, who were just as expressionless as the ones on the roof. Batgirl examined them with a careful eye, and something about them bothered her. She looked at one guard, then back to the children.
Her heart stopped, and her blood ran cold. He wouldn't…but he did.
Batgirl pushed the gut wrenching discovery down, bludgeoning it with logic and experience. Rage was the ally of her enemy and enemy of the innocent. It was a hard pill to swallow, but the young crime-fighter realized now more than ever, she needed Nightwing. The complications just multiplied and were even more dangerous than anyone had realized.
Batgirl centered herself, and went back to surveying the area. No concealed explosives like last night, no mind controlled victims unaccounted for, four men entering from the front…
Batgirl's eyes went wide, and she felt a chill travel down her spine as she had a pretty good suspicion as to who was approaching.
"Oracle, get Nightwing here," Batgirl pulled out grappling rope from her belt, and hooked it around the balcony handrail in seconds, "need backup now!"
"Hey, you pedo bastard!"
Mad Hatter dropped his tea in shock, as Silver Shrike, accompanied by three made men, stomped into the theater. Silver Shrike had a pistol in one hand, hammer cocked.
"You've had your last tea party!"
But before he could squeeze the trigger, a batarang knocked the weapon from his hand. Batgirl swung into the gunman, knocking him aside.
"Kill them!" Mad Hatter ordered.
Mad Hatter's men raised their weapons mechanically, and opened fire. Silver Shrike and Batgirl dove to opposite sides of the aisle, while one of Silver Shrike's man caught a bullet in the shoulder and the others managed to find cover behind the seats.
"You sons of bitches!" Max shouted. A father of three, the disgust he felt for Mad Hatter and the people who worked for him ran through every cell of his body, and he moved for his piece and was pulling the trigger before he even bothered to take aim. He caught one of Mad Hatter's men in the chest, and the man went down in a slump.
Batgirl leapt from cover, bounded over the aisles, the thin backs of the chairs little more than stepping stone to her, and came down, swinging her elbow across Max's jaw. He went down like a sack of bricks.
"What the hell!" Silver Shrike demanded. He pointed at Mad Hatter, who was surrounded by his Alice's, and grinning like the Cheshire Cat, "look at that guy! He's scum! His people are scum!"
"That's their parents!" shouted Batgirl.
"What…?" Silver Shrike's body language went from righteous indignation to recrimination within the span of a single breath.
Batgirl removed a smoke grenade from her belt, and tossed it at the stage. It exploded in a white mist, she fired her grappling gun, and swung to the stage.
Batgirl landed only a few feet away from Mad Hatter, and within seconds his mind controlled bodyguards lunged for her.
She swung her elbow into the gut of the first man, and ducked under the reaching arms of the second.
As long as Mad Hatter wore his hat, his victims were nothing more than puppets. Batgirl knew that. But as she dodged the mind controlled parents, Mad Hatter had his 'Alices' dancing around him erratically, acting as the most despicable human shields Batgirl had seen yet.
As Batgirl struggled to deal with the Mad Hatter, Silver Shrike and his associates had come out from cover, but were uncertain on their next course of action. The Boss had been clear, Mad Hatter had to die, and the children saved. The public relations victory was vital to his future plans, but now, knowing what they did, none of them could think of a way to salvage the situation.
"We need to go," Max muttered.
"We can't leave yet," Silver Shrike protested, "that guy's a maniac! We can still do this!"
"No, no you can't," said a new voice.
They all turned. Nightwing cracked his knuckles, and smiled.
Batgirl remembered what Oracle had once told her, that computer programs were incapable of true randomness, of true chaos. Any pattern created by a computer had a pattern someone within it.
So as Batgirl dodged mind controlled parents, and sought an opening around dancing, she watched. She analyzed. She anticipated.
And after two minutes, she found it.
The batarang seemed to fly from her belt as if possessed. It cut through the air, trimmed the blond hair of one Alice, and just barely sliced over the scalp of Jervis Tech, tearing his signature hat from his head and kept on going until the signature weapon was stopped by a wooden pillar. The insidious weapon was pinned like a butterfly, and Batgirl watched as Tech's victims regained their wits. And she saw the diminutive madman begin to panic.
"It's not time, it's not time!" Tech screamed, as Batgirl swept towards him.
Batgirl pulled her punch, but she still sent Mad Hatter flying a good two feet with a shattered jaw.
"Daddy!" Batgirl turned her head and saw one of the 'Alices', draped over the man Silver Shrike had shot. He was still breathing, but just barely at that.
Batgirl saw Silver Shrike and Nightwing sparring towards the front of the stage, and once again Batgirl found that the man's style was uncomfortably familiar. The way he moved on the offense, the way he anticipated Nightwing's blows and counter attacked, it was almost like watching herself fight.
Almost. Silver Shrike had been relieved of his guns, and Batgirl could see how he had to continually change his katas to compensate. And while they seemed evenly matched to the untrained eye, Nightwing held an undeniable edge.
When Silver Shrike landed a punch, Nightwing connected with an elbow across the face. When Silver Shrike chopped a nerve bundle under the armpit, Nightwing mule kicked him in the stomach.
Nightwing would win, but Batgirl knew they didn't have the time to wait and he was needed elsewhere.
Despite years as an independent crimefighter, old habits took over Dick Grayson when he heard a voice that with tone.
He stepped back and stepped aside as Batgirl dove from the stage, landed on her hands and swung her legs forward. Silver Shrike just barely managed to bring his hands up to defend his face as Batgirl somersaulted into him with both feet, forcing him back.
Batgirl followed her momentum, coming to her feet and backhanding Silver Shrike with such force, the lower half of his helmet covering his chin was shattered.
"Gunshot victim," Batgirl's eyes never left Silver Shrike, "help him. This one…is mine."
"Understood," Nightwing didn't look back as he turned to help the man.
"I'm not some push over," Silver Shrike snarled. Batgirl wondered if she should say something clever, but found her eyes drawn to a scar on the man's chin.
Silver Shrike charged, and swung her elbow to catch the side of his head, he blocked it with his wrist. When he tried to bring his knee up to meet with her stomach, Batgirl stepped back and avoided it effortlessly. Her right hook failed to connect, and his snap kick was just an inch wide.
Punches, elbow, kicks and nerve strikes were thrown about like confetti, but neither Silver Shrike nor Batgirl managed to land a meaningful hit on the other.
In the back of her mind, Batgirl was baffled. Nightwing had fared better, and though Nightwing was an accomplished fighter, Batgirl knew she was better. It was almost as if Silver Shrike had been trained only to fight her.
Yet, he didn't seem to know her. Silver Shrike didn't regard her as any different from Nightwing.
Nothing made any sense. His fighting style had Cain's finger prints all over it. He was better trained to fight her than he was against Nightwing. Yet, it didn't seem as if he knew her at all. How…?
Batgirl withdrew, and felt a chill of fear travel down her spine.
"Had enough?" Silver Shrike panted.
Batgirl pounded her fist into her hand, and held it out.
Silver Shrike froze. He raised his free hand without thinking, and met Batgirl's fist bump.
"Sophia…" Silver Shrike breathed.
"Abel…" gasped Batgirl.
Batgirl tore away at mask from her mouth, while Silver Shrike flipped his helmet up.
The two embraced passionately. They kissed like lovers separated by war, and explored one another's mouth like awkward teenagers.
Batgirl broke the embrace, and stepped back. She felt as if her world had turned upside, and wanted to vomit as memories and emotions she thought long buried began to overtake her. Cain never lied to her. He had been completely truthful when he said he hadn't trained Silver Shrike. The truth slipped past Cassandra's lips like bile before she even realized it.
Next Issue: The origin of Silver Shrike, and the war for Gotham's black heart goes nuclear.