Batman and the associated characters are owned by DC. With grateful thanks for cmar for beta reading this chapter and thanks for all the reviews so far! All reviews welcome!
Chapter Fifteen – Batman – Time of the Wolf
Robin pulled a grappling hook from his belt and threw it at a fire escape. The line tightened, there was a horrible creaking sound as the rusty fire escape gave up the unequal struggle, and the line loosened again as the boy continued his plummet down.
"Must cut down on my doughnuts!"
The light was blinding him. It was like a spotlight was cast on his soul and it seemed to seer away the years from him and leave him floating towards it. The demon beneath him seemed to struggle to escape its influence.
The Batman wrapped a line round the demon's arm, one of his high tensile lines, and attached a small rocket-powered grappling hook to it. This he fired straight at the light. Some sort of force caught it and started to drag the demon and the Batman towards it.
"No, you fool! You will kill us both!" For once the demon's face showed panic.
The light was blinding now, all there was of this world. Bruce could hear voices.
"Son! Come into the light, son, for too long you have been away from us, away from your family!"
Two silhouettes, achingly familiar, appeared in the distance. His heart, seemingly made of stone after years fighting the worst kind of crime, lurched.
His parents were there to greet him.
The only cause for his relentless conquest against the Gotham underworld. He could at last see them again.
He needed nothing more. He felt like the small boy he had once been. "Ma? Is that you?" His deep husky voice cracked.
"Come into the light, son, join us again."
The light was as strong as the sun and the influence was like the gravity of a black hole on his soul. He could not fight it.
Could not or would not?
No. His parents were dead, nothing he could do could stop that, but he was still alive, and a city of the weak and the oppressed cried out for his help.
"I must return, I will see you again at the end of my life, and that is not today."
The demon was being dragged into the light by the line. Something in the light was pulling inexorably at the line.
"NO!" The demon cried. His clawed hands grabbed at the Batman and dug into his shoulder. "NO! If I go, you come with me!" The demon seemed to shiver, then blue lightning coursed over his scaly body and over the Batman.
It was a pain beyond anything the Batman had ever experienced. Every bone felt like it was on fire, every nerve had been stripped bare and dipped in molten lava.
Pain is nothing, you are nothing. He felt a cooling sensation over his body and he looked again at the demon under his boots.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" The demon grabbed the line that had been dragging him into the light and laughed. The energy might not have dislodged the masked man but it had cut the line. "You are too strong; I will leave your soul here to wander the desert for an eternity!"
The Boy Wonder looked up at the disintegrating fire escape. His view changed dizzyingly from sky to ground to sky again as he tumbled through the air. His belt was empty of grappling hooks and the ground below was sadly empty of soft landings.
He reached a hand out against the wall and grabbed a passing window ledge. There was a creaking and groaning sound as the sill collapsed under his grasp and he continued falling, this time with falling masonry for company.
"Bring him to us, son," said his father.
"We can help you, son," said his mother.
Batman wrapped a line round the demon and was just about to throw it to them when he frowned.
He looked up at where his parents had been and gasped in shock. Where they had stood were two rotting skeletons, skin hanging off them and eyes gleaming red.
"I rule here, me," said the demon, throwing the Batman between the corpses.
"It's your fault we are dead, Bruce."
"You killed us, son."
Batman rolled to his feet and realised he was on the ground again, this time surrounded by the corpses of his parents, and a dozen more came shuffling into view.
"You are not my parents," he said while backing away.
"Well done, boy." The skeleton morphed and changed into the face of the demon. "But you will die all the same."
It is often said that the prospect of death concentrates the mind wonderfully and this is true. For Robin the world seemed to slow as if to make his last few seconds in it more memorable. The brick next to him seemed to pirouette gracefully through the air. His own cloak, now rather battered, flapped helplessly.
Being able to fly suddenly seemed like a useful skill to have. Batman tended to dismiss it as a useless parlour trick by some of his showier colleagues in the Justice League.
Something thumped into him at great speed and he seemed to be flying. For a heart stopping moment he thought he was, then he saw he was in the jaws of the huge Joker beast and suddenly falling to his death seemed like a memory of a happier time.
The Batman used the White Crane stance to fight the demons. This was using the fingers like a bird's beak to punch them down. This was a move he had used hundreds of times to defeat criminals, but this was the first time the punch had disintegrated the demonic image in front of him.
The laugh of the demon echoed and re-echoed around him.
"I will play with your mind before ripping out your soul."
The Batman winced as he was surrounded by bright light.
The Joker beast landed on all four paws in the middle of the alleyway. Robin pressed a button on his belt, closed his eyes, and held his breath. There was a hissing sound and the Batman's own version of pepper spray surrounded him. The Joker Beast dropped the Boy Wonder like a rag doll. He rolled to his feet and started running. Behind him the Joker Beast was coughing and howling in pain.
It would not slow him down for long.
His armoured costume had saved him from the beast's teeth but he would have some wonderful bruises in the morning, assuming there was a morning.
Gotham City had originally been built like most of the other American cities, in a grid pattern. Space had never been a premium in most of these places so they could expand. Gotham had been like that originally but it had suffered much over the past few years with earthquakes, fires and several meta-human fights that had reduced much of it to rubble, and when it was rebuilt the original plans were ignored. The alleyways now snaked through the city, seemingly at random. Robin absolutely loved this since he could easily lose a predator in it.
He scampered through the alleys of Gotham, turning left, then right, then right again. He would lose this beast if it was the last thing he would do.
Not the best turn of phrase. He could hear the Joker Beast behind him thumping against walls, crashing against dumpsters and smashing through boxes as it tried to keep up.
He pressed his communicator button. "Batman, Batman?"
There was nothing but static.
"Come on B? Answer?"
Damn it! He slightly adjusted the frequency. "Oracle, you there, babe?"
"Yes, I'm here. Call me babe again and you'll wish I wasn't, pint size."
"I gotta a problem here." Behind him he could hear a howling sound.
"Just a second, I'll check the cameras." There was a moment's silence then a low whistling sound. "Cute puppy after you. I don't think the Batman will let you keep it."
"I don't want to keep it; I want to get away from it."
"You've got a stalker? Wow, just like the movie stars."
"Don't make me come up there, Oracle! Just tell me how to get out of here! I've got no grappling hooks left, this beasty boy can climb and he's hot on my tail!"
"Okay, keep your cloak on, take the next left and fast."
Robin raced down another alleyway. This ended on one of the streets in Gotham's fabled West End. Several top-flight musicals were going on and crowds snaked around the corner, all after the first tickets of the opening night. Half a dozen hot dog stands were doing a roaring trade.
Robin pushed himself through the crowds. "Excuse me! Coming through!"
"Hey you jerk, whaa..?"
Behind him the Joker Beast pushed himself through the crowds. He was so intent on catching the Boy Wonder he ignored the crowds around him. All around him were the screaming sounds as the Joker Beast was spotted and the crowds scattered.
"Keep going, Robin, next left."
He dove down another alleyway; this one ran to the side of two theatres. One of the fire doors opened, illuminating the alleyway in a dirty yellow light as one of the stagehands popped out for a quiet cigarette. He quickly closed the door again as he saw the Joker Beast lolloping towards him. Curiously, he never smoked again after that.
"Do you even know where I'm going?"
"Jump up now."
Robin looked up and could see a fire escape just three feet above his head. He wall kicked to gain height and grabbed hold of it. Seconds later the ladder thumped to the ground and he started climbing it. He had a choice of left or right at the top of the building and he went left.
"I meant you to turn right."
He could hear a clanging sound and see the fire escape shake as the Joker beast clambered up it.
"You're off my cameras."
"Good." Robin looked wild eyed at the edge of the building; he looked behind him to see the Joker beast creeping up on him. Caught between the wolf and the deep dark chasm.
"He, he, ha, HA, HA!"
Batman groaned as he rolled to his feet. Where was he?
He was back in the mansion. How did he get back here?
"Brucey? Where are you?" He heard a familiar voice reverberating around him. "Your son is too good at hiding at bath time."
"How come he's my son when he's bad and yours when he's good?"
"He has to be up here somewhere. You couldn't herd Alfred into helping us look, could you."
That was his parents? What was going on? He looked behind him and realised he was under his bed from when he was a child. His Lego space station he had built under there was next to him and the box he had his action men stuff in.
He clambered out under his bed to see his bedroom from years ago. There was a mirror there and he looked at the chubby, blue-eyed face of an eight year old.
"We'll find you Brucey!" warbled his mother's voice through the door. "We'll find you!" Her voice deepened to that of the demon.
He reached a hand down to his waist. Oh brother. Where before he would have had a utility belt at the best and at the very least a muscular stomach was now a stomach that had had too many treats and not enough exercise. The beast was playing with his mind.
He ran to the sash window and tried to open it. Too many years of paint had melded it shut, and just to make sure he couldn't escape his parents had nailed it shut. The Batman would have forced this window in a second but an eight-year-old boy had neither the strength or skill to do that. A red glow appeared under the doorway.
"We'll find you, son!"
"He, he, he, urrrggh!" There was a creaking sound and cracks snaked sinuously over the roof. The Joker Beast padded towards Robin when more cracks snaked out around him.
Puffs of dust erupted around him and half the roof collapsed, sending the Joker Beast plummeting towards the ground in the abandoned theatre.
"Oh sh….!" Robin's comment was thankfully cut off as the collapsing roof cracked and fell around him as well making him fall painfully into the dusty auditorium.
"You alright Robin?"
"I said you should have turned left."
"You said I should have turned right!"
"I meant right, anyway on the plus side I can see you on the security cameras."
"And on the minus?"
"That cute little puppy is sitting by the building's only exit."
The Batboy threw himself back under his bed and crawled to the end. He knew there was an old ventilator here. He had unscrewed it when he was seven and hidden a lot of his favourite toys here. He had also gone exploring in the walls of the house. He had gotten covered in dust and cobwebs but he knew a way round the house that only a child could go.
As an adult he had put in a few secret doors and heavily armoured panic rooms. They were not there now of course. Still.
"Brucey! Brucey! Brucey! We'll have your darling little head unless you come out!" The demonic voice in the guise of his mother echoed around the house.
He put a foot down on his comics he had kept there and started to squeeze through the crawl space.
This was all wrong.
You don't win battles by retreating. But what could he do now? This was an immortal demon and he now had the body of an eight year old!
Where could he go?
He needed weapons. If this landscape was an accurate portrayal of his mansion when he was eight then none of the Batman's tools and weapons would be available to him. But his father had a collection of medieval weapons he and his family had picked up over the years.
The dust in the air nearly made him gag. He carried on, trying to breathe as little as possible; if he had a coughing fit they would know where he was. He could see a small glimmer of light in front of him. It was another ventilator. If memory served it was the hallway by an armoured knight. One armed with a sword.
He just had to hope he was strong enough to use it. He peered cautiously through the vent and then quietly levered it open. He used to use this route to escape Alfred when it was bath night. He looked out again and this time saw a pair of black shiny shoes and pin striped trousers.
"You've got to try and clamber out the toilet window in the back of this building."
"Clamber out the toilet window in an abandoned theatre? My heroic life has come to this?"
"Well, you either go out that way or in the stomach of the Joker Beast."
"Dear me, Master Bruce, I haven't seen you like this for years!" Alfred was leaning against the armoured knight that had stood guard at the top of the Wayne Mansion staircase for a generation.
"Alfred, is it you?"
"Indubitably, sir. I seem to have been drawn into this nightmare the same as you. I must admit I haven't felt this young for years! Although not as young as you, sir. Do you want me to read you a bedtime story?"
"I want you to get rid of the demon!"
"I've told you before sir, there are no monsters under the bed."
"Well, what's that then!" Bruce pointed behind Alfred, his eyes wide open in fear.
Robin ran through the deserted theatre. Past posters advertising past glories. The red carpet was old and moth eaten and in front of him rats scampered away. Behind him the beast was approaching.
"Turn left here."
"That's the ladies! I can't go in there!"
"Okay, I'm there, I'm there. Hopefully that will stop the Joker as well."
There was the sound of a huge beast barging through the door.
"Okay, maybe not." The Boy Wonder cart-wheeled through the room and smashed foot first through the narrow window at the top of the room. He landed in the alleyway in a pile of black rubbish sacks, spilling their foetid matter into Gotham.
The Joker Beast tried the same manoeuvre but was way too big for the window. There was a creaking and groaning sound as the brickwork gave up the unequal struggle and fell into the alleyway in a welter of dust and rubble. The beast shook his head to clear the dust and started to lope after Robin.
Behind Alfred, darkness formed. The monster; there to take his soul. In every second it seemed to get more solid, more real.
Alfred levered the sword out of the knight's hand and swung it at the shadow beast as it was forming. There was a hissing sound from the demon. Alfred started shouting. "YOU LEAVE MASTER BRUCE ALONE!"
"Aaaah!" The shadow was split into two, then four. Alfred continued to hack at it but his strength was failing and the sword dropped at Bruce's feet. "Ha! Ha! Ha! You can not stop me, old man, when I have finished with his soul I will burn yours for a millennia." The demonic soul started to reform.
Bruce picked up the sword. It was old rusty and heavy. Too heavy for a child to carry.
This was not a proper reality. He concentrated on the sword and it started glowing in the darkness. It suddenly felt light as a feather and he seemed to grow as he raised it above him.
He was no child, he was a man.
He picked up the heavy sword like it was a feather and slashed it at the demon, slicing the shadow beast into pieces. The glowing sword seemed to slice and burn the demon with each cut.
"This is impossible!" Blue light burst out of the demon like a laser burst. "No mortal can beat me! This is my world!"
"No, this is my world," said Bruce.
"And mine," added Alfred, as he picked up another sword to attack the demon.
"You have lost," said Bruce, looking at the demon as it shrivelled out of existence.
The sword thumped down from where Alfred was holding it. "Oh dear?" He seemed to fade out of existence himself.
With a sound like a thunderclap the demon disappeared and the mansion shimmered out of sight as the creature's world disappeared.
This was the place the dead went.
The morgue was cold, white and clinical. Several bodies were awaiting an autopsy. The first one was an old alcoholic whom the police had found in the streets of Gotham. He was not too far-gone and he had the green marbling effect on his body caused by jaundice that was due to alcoholism. He was starting to smell so he got moved to the front of the queue for the autopsy.
There was also a homicide from two shots, one in the chest and one in the stomach. That was fresh and the police were in no hurry for the results back.
Morris and Dennis, the pathologists, were taking a well-deserved break on a small table at the side of the room. Morris looked at his cards and winced. He then looked up and tried to look smug. He just had two pair, which was not much.
He looked at the pot on the table. "I'll see your forceps," he said pushing a pair of forceps on the table, "and raise you a scalpel."
Dennis looked at what he had left. "I'll up you to a kidney dish."
"I'll see you." Morris looked up at a rustling noise. "What's that noise?"
"What's that noise?" asked Dennis. "What's that noise! Do you see something? I'm sure that one moved! You're like a broken record! We are in a mortuary! The only things alive here are us, and sometimes I wonder about you!"
"Don't you believe in cadaveric spasm or ghosts?" Morris gave a mysterious voice. "We are surrounded by the undead spirits of the underworld!"
"Well, they could do something useful like tell me what cards you have."
Alfred sat up like an undead vampire and after blinking a few times looked at Morris's cards. "He's only got two pair, sir, I think your hand should beat him."
The next sound was two thumps rather close together as the pathologists fainted.
The heavy thumping sound of the Joker Beast behind Robin stopped. He looked back quizzically to see a naked Joker trying to find a box or anything to cover himself up. The moonlight still glinted on the alleyway.
"There is normally more rubbish in this city than in the entire western world! Why is there nothing here now to cover me!" In the end he just stood there rather sheepishly, his hands covering what needed to be covered. "There is never a pair of purple pants when you need it! If I get a reputation as a flasher I'll never live it down!"
Batman groaned as he woke up. He was still on the floor of the building where he had faced off against Luthor and his henchmen. Luthor was still unconscious and chained up where he had left him. Rivulets of dust streamed down gently from the ceiling making small eddies in the moonlight.
He had to get out of here. He looked down and was reassured to see his utility belt. He pressed a button on his belt and was relieved to hear the throaty sound of the car's engine start. It had performed its programmed duties and hidden itself nearby as the members of Team Luthor hunted for it.
He shuffled out into the open and waited a few seconds for the car to turn up. With a hissing sound the roof opened and he leapt in. Shortly afterwards he was hurtling back to the mansion.
Was it over?
The moonlight still glinted overhead. He pulled over in a rest area and, breathing deeply, he opened the roof. Should he take his cowl off? It was the only way to be sure. He flicked the release mechanism of his adapted metal cowl and looked up to face the moon.
There was no tingling sensation to indicate a change. He allowed himself a smile.
A chirruping sound came from his communicator. "Terribly sorry to disturb you, Master Bruce. I seem to have woken up in hospital sans clothes and no finances to get back home. I apologise for disturbing you for such a minor inconvenience but if you could see your way to…"
"Alfred, I'll be there shortly."
"Am I to take it your animal instincts have left you, sir?"
"The wolf has gone, only the Bat is left."