Now

Gotham City

Klinger and Szell stood once again observing the interior of Priest's cell. Priest was on the floor, most of his restraints removed save for his straitjacket, drugged, while another man stood in wait nearby, wearing a suit that had seen better bays and an odd, unnerving mask.

"The drugs should be wearing off by now; Priest'll be quite lucid in a couple of minutes."

"I don't like this." Said Klinger.

"I don't like it either, but I'm afraid this is our last resort."

"There's a time to cut losses and quit."

"That's not an option, Mr. Klinger. This man has murdered a dozen important officials including Director Josephine's personal aid, not to mention dozens of guards and security personnel. And let's not forget how he'd contaminated Xavier's psyche with his own psychosis, driving our best psychic, an irreplaceable asset, to suicide."

"Something you should have considered before you went ahead with it, Doctor."

"I realize that, and I'm not trying to disavow responsibility, but it happened on your watch. Like it or not, that puts our careers and lives in jeopardy, not unless we have something to show for it."

***************

The pounding headache subsided, and Priest was able to open his eyes. It a moment or two for the blurs to gain shape and substance. He felt that same feeling in his gut that he'd felt every time he woke up from these stupors, dread, panic and loathing mixed in with the festering, anemic blood they fed him so he wouldn't starve to death.

As he tried to right himself up, he hadn't yet regained the clarity of mind to wonder why the guards were not in there with him, as they always were, nor to notice the man in the cell.

He muttered a Gaelic curse as he got to his knees, and only then did he see the man.

"Huh? This is new."

Priest struggled to get to his feet. He then stood leaning against a wall, staring at the mask the man wore, made of different rags of burlap, stitched together with thick back thread, covering every inch of his face save for the man's beady, blue, sinister eyes that looked back at him from the center of two dark, abyss-like patches.

"I'd normally make a snide remark about how I though that Halloween had already passed, but with how desperate Doc Szell is getting, I simply haven't the heart. So whatever amateurish trick you're suppose to present, by all means, have-"

The man in the burlap mask raised his hand. In the split second before what happened next, Priest noticed the cylinder attached to the underside of the man's wrist inside his jacket, and the little lever in his palm. The man pulled the lever, resulting in a faint metallic click and a burst of an aerosol cloud shooting forth, right into Priest's eyes.

Priest yelped as he felt sudden, instantaneous, primal panic and tripped, slumping onto his back with a thud.

His vision went blurry again, clarity twisting around the approached figure of the man in the burlap mask, towering over him, exaggerated, jagged claws springing forth from the tips of his finger, the mask disintegrating with every step he took, maggots leaking from every crumbling path and dropping down his chest, slowly revealing a bald, pale head, eyes of granite and a beard that covered his chest, but could not hide his cruel, fang-filled mouth.

"Abraxas…" whispered Priest as sharp pain filled his chest, and that cold, lifeless lump of meat convulsed.

****************

Klinger couldn't help but feel a modicum of horror as he watched Szell's mouth spread into a grimly satisfied grimace.

"Fascinating." Said Szell, his eyes scanning the monitor before him, reading Priest's vitals and watching him wriggle, "Doctor Crane's toxin works on him as well as it did on any human. He's… My word…"

"Who's Abraxas?" asked Klinger.

"I don't know, but whoever it is, Priest must be hallucinating that he's right there with him, and he's scared of him more than anything, enough to actually cause a faint heartbeat."

"Now what?"

"We just wait. In a few hours, all his hubris and bravado will be stripped away."


"A… Force-field generator?" said Josephine as she turned away from the wall-high window, "Really?"

"That's what MI6 relayed to us." Said Diana.

"I assume Major Boothroyd has divulged the specifics of this device?"

"He has. I'm not a scientist, so perhaps it's better if you read the reports for yourself. However, a few pertinent details are that it utilizes a core made of pure anti-matter. The likes of what was stolen from the New York branch last year."

"Hm. I remember that. What else?"

"It'll only function properly under water, which suggests that they're arming their submarines with them, or perhaps only Nemo's 'Menhaden', the Yellow Submarine."

"What are its limitations?"

"Boothroyd says that when he was testing it, he created a perfectly spherical force field fifteen feet in diameter that could withstand anything short of a nuclear blast. But the field's effectiveness decreases proportionately with the size of it, and exponentially the more oval it becomes."

"I see. So how powerful would it be if shaped to surround a submarine?"

"Boothroyd said it would take two or three Mark 48 torpedoes, maybe four."

"Alright. Have N.I.D. initiate protocol-29. Did we get the plans for this device?"

"Unfortunately not. Part of Boothroyd and Nemo's arrangement was that the documentation would remain with Nemo."

"What about our agent? His assistant?"

"Well, he claims to have made copies, but then promptly lost them."

"Lost them."

"Yes. Months ago."

"Oh, god."

"What do you want to get done about them, madam director?"

"Mi6 can have Boothroyd. We've got younger, keener minds at work. Have our agent, whatshisface…"

"Igor Algernon."

"Have Igor Algernon transferred somewhere very dull and thinly populated. Preferably very cold."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Any news from Szell?"

"He called hours ago, actually. Said he was confident he was about to deliver results."

"He's been saying that since he took over." Said Josephine, "The white-headed bastard is rapidly beginning to outlive his usefulness."


New York City

The heavyset Jamaican issued a loud yawn as got up from his comfortable armchair after the fifth pound on the door; he grumbled as he picked up the Uzi and walked to the iron door at the end of the room. He grew grumpy, feeling the cold October weather radiate through the door, and made his mind to dismiss whatever caller it was harshly.

He slid the cover of the peep hole aside and looked out to see a woman of her early thirties, black haired and fair skinned, wrapped in a black coat.

"You have any idea what time it is, sista?" he said gruffly, speaking with a thick Jamaican accent.

"It's three-thirty."

"It's three-thirt AY-EM! Get the fock away from 'ere."

"You know what, I don't care what time it is. In Lincoln in?"

"Lincoln who? You got da rang place, now let me see your ass shakin' away."

"Very funny. Open the door, I want to see DeNeuf. I need some hardware, and I have the cash for it. Unless you'd prefer I'd take my business to the Russians, I'm sure he won't mind. I wouldn't imagine he's do something drastic, like making a voodoo doll out of your hide."

The Jamaican said nothing for a moment, before saying, "Wait 'ere.", retreating in and closing the panel. He returned less than a minute later, and opened the door for her without saying a word.

She walked in, like someone who had been to the place before, heading into the adjacent hall while the guard returned to his armchair. A few men lounged about the place, eying her like she was a prey that had stumbled into a den of predators, but she was undeterred, making her away under the metal hooks that hung from the rafters, a remnant from before the place was slaughterhouse.

The leader of the house sat behind a desk at the end of the hall, wearing an elegant suit, flanked by a number of odd statues and a heavy wooden cross wrapped in chains.

"How's it going, Lincoln?" said the woman as she stood before his desk.

"Mona Sax." Said the Jamaican crime lord, "It's been too long."

"Has it?"

"Six years. I'd heard you been doing life in prisan. I also heard you blew the burg last year. My compliments. So I take it you're back in business in this city? Unwise move, woman."

"I appreciate your concern, but I'm not setting up shop here permanently."

"In town for a job? Big contract?"

"Massive."

"Families? Or perhaps Yakuzas?"

"No, it's no one you'd know. No one you'll even read about in the paper."

"What do ya need?"

"45's, two of them. A Smith and Wesson forty-o-six, an Ingram, a John Woo silenced. And do you have any sawn-offs?"

"Sawn-offs are out." Said Lincoln, "But everting else is doable."

"I'll also need a sniper rifle, Dragunov or anything that'll fit a seven-sixty-two Russian."

"Doable. That's a lot of killing yer planning on. Fifteen grand of killing. Do ya have fifteen grand?"

Mona reached slowly into her coat and pulled out a thick manila envelope that she tossed at Lincoln's desk. The crime lord casually reached for it, peaked in and examined the contents.

"There's a little extra, for you to get me everything I need right now."

"Huh. Massive, you said."

"Gargantuan."


Rome

"Alright." Said Barnes, sitting behind the wheel as the car drove down the bust streets of the Italian capital, "The plan, Collier, is to kill Robur and Gruber. How do we kill Robur and Gruber, since they don't eave their impenetrable strongholds, you ask? Well, good question, Collier. And I do have the answer; can you guess what it is?"

"Umm…." Shaun muttered, then paused to think, "We… Find a way to make their strongholds penetrable?"

"Jesus…Don't quit your day job, Collier. No, the answer is… We get them to leave their impenetrable strongholds."

"And how do we do that?"

"Simple. Aside from the seven branches of the League in Gotham, New York and so on, there's a league station in every country, some even have two. These stations mostly spy on the intelligence services of whatever country they're in, that's what the league does, that's how they maintain a competitive edge, they spy on other spies."

"They watch the watchmen, then?"

"After a fashion. Some of these stations are large enough that, especially considering that we do live in the information edge, have the ability to pick up an entire other branches workload; a back-up branch. So for example, if the Tokyo branch was attack or compromised, and assuming the Tokyo director was still alive, their operations would resume in the well equipped and nearby Russian station."

"So I guess that the Rome station is the backup station to either the German or French branches?"

"No, but close enough. Very close. The Italian station is the backup to BOTH the Paris and Berlin branches."

"Right. I still don't see how any of that helps us."

"WELL! Given enough time, you would eventually wonder what would happen in the eventuality that the Rome station was compromised while the integrity of the other branches was still maintained."

"They'd have their next best nearby station pick up the slack?"

"Not a bad guess, but wrong."


Gotham City

"Stay here." said Klinger to Szell, picking up his gun and leaving the observation room, then walking in through the door directly to the left. Some of his men were already inside. Two were aiming their guns at Dr. Crane, the man in the burlap mask, while three others were fixed on Priest.

"He's dead." said Crane, "Now let me go..."

"How do you know he's dead?" answered Klinger.

"I checked his vitals right after he passed out. He has a general lack of heartbeat, now unless you don't want the same thing to ha-"

"We've all been inoculated against your fear toxin, Scarecrow. So try anything, and you can see if you're really afraid to die."

Klinger went to where Priest lay on the floor, lying face down in his straitjacket.

"If he moves, shoot him in the head. It doesn't matter if you have to shoot me in the process."

Klinger pulled on Priest's shoulder so that he'd be facing up. He then checked Priest for signs of life the only way he could to a man with naturally no breath or heartbeat, by forcing his eyes open with his fingers and looking at his pupils. They were completely dilated.

"He's not dead, Warden."

Szell stood in the doorway, wearing an expression of bewilderment.

"If he were dead, he wouldn't be there as more than a mound of dirt and ashen shards of bone."

"Well then what's going on?"

"I assume you've found his eyes to be extremely dilated. I've just checked hid EEG readings, they're consistent with those of a patient suffering total necrosis of his cerebral neurons."

"He's brain dead?"

"Yes." said Szell, "Whatever we may have tried to seize from his mind, to redeem ourselves, is irrevocably gone."


Next Chapter

Raimus, Nemo and Al-Sheikh reach Mongolia.

In Rome, the first part of Barnes' plan is set in motion.