Chapter Eighteen: Behold Thy Son
Jonathan wished he could run up and embrace his mother, hold her in his arms just to prove to himself she was alive, she was real and unharmed. So many emotions swirled through him and his legs trembled. He fought against appearing weak as Ducard stood beside him, obviously studying his every reaction and calculating what advantage he could gain from him now. Finally, after a moment's silence and the shock had passed from Jonathan, Ducard spoke:
"I would think you would be happier to see her after all the questions you asked me about her back at the compound."
"I am happy to see her if that is what you want to know – but I also think you're a monster. You took her, didn't you? You stole her from me at Arkham."
Ducard gave a small, amused laugh and this infuriated Jonathan more than anything he could say.
"Jonathan, what you say strikes me with great irony. What position were you in at that time to care for her? You were insane yourself and in a straightjacket if I recall. So what I did was protect her from your inmates when they were set loose. Could you imagine the horrors she would face if I left her in her cell and one of your convicts found her?"
"And I ask – just who set those convicts loose? You claim to have saved her, but I say it was you who destroyed Arkham and kidnapped her!"
"Harsh words from a man who is not so innocent himself. You are a brilliant man, Jonathan, but like all men, you have a dark side."
Jonathan shot a sharp glance at Ducard at this last statement and saw Ducard reaching into his black tunic and slipping a very coarse and worn fabric from it.
"The Fear Toxin wasn't just for therapy, was it Jonathan? There was always something more, something more sinister about it."
As he spoke, he fingered the coarse fabric and Jonathan could see from the corner a hint of crude twine in the stitching.
"You call me a monster, Jonathan, but my intent is just to help humanity – what good do you accomplish with this?"
"I do not have to answer to you," Jonathan spat. "And I never was a murderer!"
With that he turned his back on Ducard and entered the room where his mother was imprisoned, no longer caring what Ducard thought of him.
The ninja instantly stood to the offensive and seemed ready to attack Jonathan, but Ducard raised his hand and the ninja stepped back, allowing Jonathan to approach his mother who sat unresponsive upon a metal folding chair.
"Mom, it's Jonathan," he whispered softly to her, hoping the others couldn't overhear. "Are you okay? You aren't hurt?"
But she continued to stare blankly back at him, her face changing not the slightest. Until that time Jonathan thought he was the master of keeping an impenetrable mask – hiding his emotions from the world – but now he realized he was not. His mom had surpassed him in this – maddeningly so and he felt in that instant like screaming or grabbing and shaking her – just to illicit some response from her.
I found you! I finally found you and you can't give me anything? Not even a smile or even a spark of recognition? Damn you! I'm your SON!
Jonathan stifled this scream that remained silent and bitter in his throat. He fought against showing any signs of grief or anger, not in front of Ducard or the ninja. Indeed they must be a strange sight right now – mother and son – both staring at each other as though emotionless.
"Are you satisfied now, Jonathan? She has not been mistreated in any way and has had the best care since she's been away from Arkham," Ducard said.
"So you claim," Jonathan said tersely. "You have the best captive – one who will not speak."
"Enough of this! You have seen her, but now we have work to do."
"We?" Jonathan turned from his mother to gaze at Ducard. "I did not agree to help you."
Ducard stood up straighter than before, his eyes steely and cold now.
"Oh, I think you made that decision long before you entered this room or even this compound – intent to sabotage my plans," said Ducard. "Do not think I am so naïve as to not know this."
"If it is the toxin you want, I will not delude you. I do not have it and never had when I entered here. I will not let you use it as a weapon on Gotham City a second time."
"You are very bold considering you have no leverage and your mother is my captive," Ducard said.
Jonathan suddenly let his guard down and shot him a startled glance.
"Oh, do not look at me as though I am one of the rats that crawled out of the sewers here," muttered Ducard. "I have other means without debasing myself to torturing or interrogating women."
Ducard then shot a look at the ninja and barked a command to them in their own language. Two of the four ninja left their guard and approached Jonathan. It took all his nerve not for Jonathan to run or to look terrified as the men, completely cloaked in black and anonymous except for their eyes peering from narrow slits in their masks, approached him.
"You see, Jonathan, I expected this," said Ducard. "Like many of my former protégées, you continue to disappoint me. But there still is potential in you yet – you just need to recognize it and utilize it."
At this, the ninja swiftly clamped down on Jonathan's arms and he felt as though he was in a steel vice. One ninja harshly yanked off his suit jacket and seized upon the toxin device clamped to his forearm. The ninja – not the brightest – for a moment tried to rip it off of him by brute force before seeing the release lever and detaching it from Jonathan's arm. Already Jonathan could feel the scrapes and bruises begin to form on his arm.
Ducard coolly approached Jonathan and gazed down at him, who now had been forced to his knees by the ninja.
"You see, Jonathan, we could always do things the easy way or the hard way – but I always get what I want. You could be my colleague in this or my enemy, but I will have what I want out of you."
Jonathan remained silent, but venom and bile rose within him while Scarecrow grew in power and magnitude in his mind, uncoiling in his brain like a massive viper preparing to strike. Ducard said something else to the ninja and before Jonathan could realize in the haze of his fury, a bright flash of metal glinted in his field of vision and he heard a tearing sound. He gazed down and saw one ninja was quickly making short work of one shirt sleeve, ripping a huge fabric gash upward toward Jonathan's bicep.
My God, what are they preparing me for?
All his muscles suddenly tensed as he saw a third ninja carrying a slate colored metallic case, although he didn't know what was inside. He realized it was a futile attempt, but knew he had to fight. He would not go passively to whatever they were preparing for him. The ninja initially were caught unaware by the sudden struggle as Jonathan tore himself from their grasp and bolted for the door. But the ninja swiftly and with painful ease, grabbed hold of him before he even reached the door frame and pinned him down to the cold concrete floor.
Jonathan tried hard to restrain a scream of anger and frustration as they dragged him back to the place he was before. In spite of the failed attempt, Jonathan continued to struggle and fight the ninja, and one of them moved to strike him when Ducard barked an order and the ninja's hand lowered.
What? They'll torture me, but not beat me, Jonathan thought with great irony.
Great bitterness welled now within Jonathan. All had gone wrong and he would meet his death – but first now Ducard would toy with him in a manner even crueler than the ninja with their razor sharp Shuriken.
For the ninja Jonathan was a diversion – a sport for their amusement to play to death – but with Ducard there was something underlying and more diabolical here. And the most painful factor of all was his mother continued to gaze at him with her uncomprehending eyes while all this unfolded before her.
Will she see what is happening and not know or understand or will she just be screaming inside, a prisoner in her own body, unable to do anything? Oh, mom I wish you didn't have to see this! What have I done to bring us both to this!
The ninja who was carrying the slate-colored case placed it on the table and one by one flicked the steel locks open. In Jonathan's low sitting position it was hard to see what was inside as the ninja opened it, yet he needed to know and straightened his posture to get a better view.
It was something unexpected – and even more terrifying than Jonathan imagined.
Dr. Jonathan Crane could be considered an odd man – aside from the fact he routinely wore a burlap mask and used Fear Toxin on his victims under the guise of Scarecrow. He did not fear physical pain as much as the anguishes of the mind – the deep inner recessed torments of the spirit. Jonathan Crane had been acquainted with physical pain in his youth and was quite used to it by the time he sat on that cold cement floor in the bowels of Gotham City.
He expected to see torture devices when the ninja clicked the briefcase open, but instead he saw something totally different and altogether sinister to him. The case held nothing more than hospital-grade hypodermic syringes, complete with the safety caps still on the needles, and a row of small clear-liquid vials. The writing was too small on the vials, but this caused Jonathan's fear to grow even more than any sharp-bladed torture device.
There was a reason the Fear Toxin was Jonathan's weapon of choice – the mind could be the most torturous creation ever devised if you could unlock its secrets and turn its terrors on its owner. Jonathan had discovered this and had been reaping its benefits for years – maybe now Ducard would indeed give him a taste of his own medicine if he refused to be his obedient Dr. Crane again – churning out Fear Toxin to poison countless millions in Ducard's scheme.
For a brief moment, seeing the row of gleaming syringes above the row of unknown medicine vials – Jonathan was tempted to cave in and submit to being Ducard obedient dog. But no he couldn't. What would happen to him if he officially sold his soul and even worse – did so while his mother watched it all?
The ninja moved away from the case and Ducard stepped up, gazing long at the contents of the briefcase. He tapped a few vials with his index finger, moving them slightly in their position within the case, as though with each move he was deciding Jonathan's fate.
"Jonathan, I don't want to do this," Ducard murmured in a sickeningly paternal tone. "But you leave me with no other option now."
At last Ducard plucked out the vial he seemed to be searching for and a satisfied smile spread across his lips.
"If you will not help me – perhaps this will 'persuade' you otherwise," Ducard said as he uncapped a needle and withdrew some of the liquid from the vial.
"Why do you need me," Jonathan gasped. "Make any of your mindless ninja do your bidding. They are perfect at it."
"Because, as you know Jonathan – you have special talents and abilities – and I am in need of such people by my side."
Ducard now approached him with the full hypodermic and Jonathan, for a moment, tensed, then thrashed against the ninja, struggling desperately to free himself.
"Hold him," Ducard ordered. "I don't want him injured or the needle to break."
"Stop! No," Jonathan cried out, sweat breaking across his forehead as Ducard poised to plunge the needle into his bicep.
"What, Jonathan? You agree to help me?"
Jonathan continued to pant, sweating and straining against the ninja who now held his arms and legs so tightly his joints began to protest in pain.
"Oh, God" Jonathan moaned.
Jonathan's eyes gazed wide and he strained to lift his head.
It was not the voice of Ducard or any of the other ninja – but the voice of a woman.
"Mom," Jonathan gasped, struggling to see her through the ninja and Ducard.
"Jonathan – are – are you okay? What are they doing to you? Oh, Jonathan!"
Her voice was raspy-sounding from disuse and emotion. The sound of his mother's voice, which he craved so much just minutes before, now was enough to break his heart. Jonathan's eyes turned in her direction and saw the ninja – the one who stood by the briefcase – turn and move toward his mother.
"No, don't," Jonathan cried out. "Leave her – leave her alone!"
Regardless of what Jonathan said the ninja disappeared from his line of vision and he was unable to see if he approached his mother or took up a post somewhere else in the room.
"Jonathan! Are they hurting you? My son! What are you doing to my son?"
At this Jonathan was nearly in tears from helplessness, anger and fear while Scarecrow raged in his brain, threatening to boil over at any moment. Somehow Jonathan wondered now if he had anything left to lose leasing the last seconds of his life to Scarecrow if it would just give him the fleeting satisfaction of feeling Ducard's throat beneath his choking fingers. But instead of answering in a torrent of curses to Ducard and his ninja, he replied to his mother:
"It's nothing, mom. They are just giving me my medicine."
Jonathan then turned, his ice-blue eyes piercing into Ducard's steely gaze.
"Do what you have to," Jonathan said. "I will play no more games."
"Very well, Dr. Crane."
Jonathan's teeth clamped down in pain as Ducard sunk the hypodermic needle deep into his flesh and injected whatever poison it held within his system. Whatever it was – he was ready to accept his fate.
Emily panted as she raced frantically through a narrow tunnel that somehow she felt certain at one point Jonathan must have crossed, but now wasn't certain. But whether he had come this way or not, she now felt a sense of urgency now, almost bordering on panic, to find him. She turned down a large pipeline and noted the writing stenciled in white letters: Sect. G8.
Oh, God I hope he came down this way.
And what if he hasn't?
Then I guess we'll die together.
Or you're being a fool. Maybe he has made it out and will go looking for you. Remember he thinks you're safe. Maybe YOU will die alone.
Emily had been having a similar internal conversation ever since she began her mad pursuit to find Jonathan and realized what a Fool's Errand it was. She was an unarmed woman going into unknown territory where there were ninja. Love is blind – and stupid – indeed.
Suddenly she heard voices up ahead and ducked into the cover of a shadowy corner and saw some ninja talking. Luckily they weren't coming her way nor did she see Jonathan as their captive. But if Jonathan was among them, she would have the consolation she had found him and he was still alive. Well, she at least couldn't go down this route – not when ninja were patrolling it.
Emily tried to move as silently as possible away from the patrolled tunnel and cautiously began to turn around. She took a step, then a few more when she felt certain the ninja weren't following her, but still she felt ill at ease somehow and more frightened than ever. She had nearly been caught and not too long after she left Commissioner Gordon in search of Jonathan.
She gazed at her shadow and wished the light wasn't so bright in this tunnel she has just passed into. She felt more exposed than ever and realized if a ninja happened to pass this way now he couldn't help but see her as clear as day.
Stupid! Why did you take such a dangerous route, Emily thought.
Because I had no other choice, her inner voice answered.
But she shrugged off her doubts and fears. She had no time for this. Her heart beat faster in urgency. Somehow she knew she had to find Jonathan and fast!
He must be in trouble. How can he not be in a place like this?
Emily glanced to her side again and suddenly stopped, sensing something was not right. She strained her vision and memory a moment – searching what it might be while the inner clock in her mind continued to tick relentlessly.
What am I missing? Something is very wrong here. I sense it.
As Emily turned around her eyes rested on the wall and realized although the light remained fixed where it was – the shadow which had been following her was gone. Her heart skipped a beat and panic suddenly filled her. A moment later a hand covered her eyes and a black leather gloved hand crushed against her mouth – muffling her screams.
Jonathan collapsed onto the dank concrete floor, his arm still throbbing with pain from the injection. He still did not feel the effects of the drug, but he imagined he would soon. Jonathan looked up – his ice-blue eyes filled with hatred at Ducard – then turned in the direction of his mother. The ninja no longer held him now that the injection was finished, so Jonathan tried to stand up and walk to her, but found himself momentarily dizzy, and had to suffer the humiliation of crawling to her side. He thought he'd see many different emotions in her eyes – disappointment, pity – even anger. But again what he saw broke his heart even more – in her warm brown eyes gazing back at him were tears of love.
"Oh, Jonathan, my Jonathan – what have they done to you?"
"It is nothing. I knew this might happen and have prepared myself for it. I have failed."
"I'm sorry – sorry I couldn't do more," Jonathan whispered, hoping Ducard or the ninja couldn't hear. "Sorry I couldn't take you from this place."
His mother just shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks as she gently brushed Jonathan's dark hair.
Jonathan savored the moments he had with his mother, even if he thought they were his last. How many times did he long she would come alive as she had just a moment ago, to hold him and tell him everything would be okay?
And now Jonathan sensed something inside him besides love tarnished with regret. He suddenly felt fevered. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his heart began to race. A wave of dizziness suddenly overwhelmed him, followed by a feeling he no longer was in control of his body – and it was terrifying. But something even more terrifying still awaited him.
The coiled serpent that had remained semi-dormant and impotent in his mind – the ever present, sleepless creature that was Scarecrow – suddenly began to uncoil and slither into his conscious psyche.
Oh, God. No … no! Not now!
But Scarecrow didn't listen to orders or pleas. He continued to slide, slowly but relentless from the dark corner he always inhabited and to spread out – like a malignancy – throughout his mind, his tendrils touching every corner, every memory, every piece of knowledge Jonathan possessed. It was horrible – an invasion of his soul by the demon he could never be free of. Scarecrow – sometimes his savior and now his tormentor.
Jonathan lowered his eyes from his mother, hoping she would not recognize Scarecrow in them if she saw any change. But now he could hear Scarecrow's voice – not as if he was in his head anymore, but in the room – as real to him as anyone there.
"Jonathan, what's wrong? Tell me," his mother demanded, fear in her eyes.
But Jonathan remained silent, even at her continued pleas.
Ducard stepped out and stood near mother and son, gazing down at them.
"Mrs. Crane, this is a very important, but long-overdue day for you," Ducard said. "Your son would like to introduce someone to you – someone he has been very close to all his life."
Mrs. Crane gazed up at Ducard, her shining eyes now mixed with anger as well as fear.
"What's wrong with him? What did you do to him you monster," she spat.
"Oh, I am not the monster. No, I leave that all to your son. Mrs. Crane, may I introduce you to – Scarecrow."
The ninja held his leather hand to Emily's mouth, muffling her screams. She could hear the police in the distance, but how would they know she was in trouble and where she was? She had tried to rip the ninja's hands away by force, but strength for strength she was no match for a trained killer from Ducard's elite League of Shadows.
The ninja's grip tightened as she continued to struggle frantically. The ninja then made a sudden movement away from her mouth and toward her head. In Emily's shock and horror she had a fleeting image of the ninja grabbing hold of her head and breaking her neck. A piercing scream rang from her – both of fear and anger, and she rammed her pointed high heeled shoe into the ninja's foot.
Now it was his turn to scream, but to Emily's terror she realized he didn't loosen his grip, but merely tightened it … and this time his hands moved to her throat. At once the ninja's death grip would silence her screams and end her life. She screamed again as the leather groves clamped hard and choked away her cries in a sudden, gasping wheeze. Emily fought against the ever tightening squeeze that was relentlessly crushing her throat like a boa constrictor upon its victim.
Her lungs burned, aching for the oxygen suddenly cut off and her brain at first screamed alarm and panic at the sudden loss of air – but dizziness and haziness of thought followed with fearsome swiftness. Her movements became slower, more sluggish and her vision faded. She felt a wind brush against her face and sensed the flutter of something dark and heavy swirling in the air. Emily didn't give it much thought at the edge of consciousness, but imaged she saw a shadow sweep past her and suddenly the choking pressure was released.
She struggled to stay awake, as much as falling into the hazy blackness of unconsciousness seemed inevitable and almost welcoming now. Her eyelids fluttered open and her oxygen-starved brain couldn't comprehend what she saw … an enormous bat-like figure towering over a beaten and unconsciousness ninja.
The Batman … he's here, Emily thought before her consciousness slipped away.
"Scarecrow … who is Scarecrow," cried Jonathan's mother, searching her son's eyes for the answer.
Jonathan's breath now was coming in quick gasps, as though he couldn't get enough breath into his lungs. His brow was covered in sweat and his normally sharp, piercing blue eyes seemed gazed and far off. He roughly tugged at the tie that always seemed meticulously tied about his neck.
"Jonathan, what's wrong," she demanded. "What have they done to you?"
"I don't know how much more time I have," Jonathan gasped. "But know – know that I love you … and do not believe him."
"Who? That man?" Hatred already burned in her eyes as she looked at the self-pleased expression on Ducard's face.
"No … Scarecrow. If he … when he comes … do not believe … me. He is the Master of Lies. Do not believe me, mom. Do not listen to me … I love you and always will … but don't listen to me … not to Scarecrow."
"But who is Scarecrow?!"
Jonathan hesitated, the gasps became less, but his dark hair was matted against his slick brow. His clear, blue eyes dazed and almost drained of all energy and life as Scarecrow continued to batter down his mental defenses. He reached out and gently grasped his mother's hand. She was shocked to feel it clammy and trembling beneath her fingers.
"Scarecrow is … is me. It has always been me … the evil and darkness of my soul. He lives within me … and I can never be free of him."
"Oh, Jonathan," his mother whispered, confused at his answer but also frightened her son was dying and didn't know what he said now.
She embraced her son, terrified if she let go of him he would be gone. She felt him trembling in her grasp and then thought he was crying from his steady gasps. As she slipped her arms away, expecting to see tears on her son's face, she was shocked to see not only were his eyes dry, but were piercing and clear. A cold, ironic smile crept across his lips and she realized her son was no longer with her. She had to be gazing at last into the face of "Scarecrow."
"Nice to finally meet you 'mother.' It has been long overdue, but Jonathan was always so selfish about you. But now the pleasure is all mine."
"Where … where is my son?!"
"He is dead … his time is over. Only Scarecrow now lives."
Scarecrow rose from the cold concrete and she was startled to see the difference between her son's illness and weakness just a moment ago and Scarecrow's strength, energy and frightening resolve. With a sly smile he looked at her once more and then moved to turn away when she cried out:
"Wait, I don't believe you! Let me speak to my son!!"
"I told you, it is over. Your son is no more … only the Master of Fear remains."
"You are the Master of Lies!" she struggled to rise to her feet. Her legs shook from the effort from long disuse and muscle atrophy. "You are what has destroyed him all these years … eating him up on the inside … killing my child! Monster!! Give him back to me!!!"
In a movement even the Master of Fear did not expect, she grabbed at him, clawing at the ragged fabric about his sleeve that had been ripped open to administer the deadly injection. It was a futile attempt, for the ninja pulled her off of Scarecrow, who although was startled by the frantic gesture, didn't exhibit any fear or anger. He appraised her with those maddening cold blue eyes and then that smirk – which she quickly was coming to loathe – crossed his lips.
"Your son? If a son is what you wish, behold thy son … for I am the only one who remains now!"
"No," she shrieked. "Lies! Jonathan fight Scarecrow! You must!"
"Enough of this quaint little melodrama," said Ducard with tired amusement. "Our time runs short and the bomb will detonate soon. I suggest we both leave this facility."
"That may be," said Scarecrow. "But the Gotham PD stand between us and our exit. Surely you have not forgotten that."
"I have not," said Ducard very stiffly.
"You have forgotten one other thing, Henri," said Scarecrow.
Ducard gazed at Scarecrow with steely eyes – Jonathan rarely if ever called Ducard by his first name and here Scarecrow was using it so casually with him. Scarecrow outstretched his arm, his torn sleeve truly dangling like a scarecrow's rags. The welts and scratches made from the clumsy and brutal ninja still were red and raw upon Scarecrow's arm.
"You have something of mine. I will need that if you wish for me to help you," Scarecrow purred silkily.
Ducard's eyes narrowed in distrust, then he sighed and crushed the burlap fabric into Scarecrow's awaiting hand.
"And the toxin," Scarecrow whispered.
Ducard paused even longer at this request, but then gave an order to a ninja, who then fetched the apparatus and handed it – with much hesitation – to the dangerous man before him.
Scarecrow easily latched the toxin device to his arm and secured the belt about his waste that held the deadly formula. He then slipped the burlap mask over his head slowly, as if relishing the feel of it – as though the fabric was of the finest silk. Then he turned, the burlap obscuring all but his cold blue eyes and a sigh escaped from the twisted, crooked twine of the mouth:
"It's good to be back."