Rain of Fire

I

Gotham City looked different now. After so many years away, it almost felt darker than it had before.

Nightwing leapt nimbly over the rooftops that were close together, using his grappling gun to swing over the distances that were too great for him to jump.

Far below him, the nighttime streets of Gotham were swarming with vehicles. Then again, they were swarming with vehicles during the day as well.

Ordinarily, he would be working with a team. His team. But right now, they were all miles away, handling their own tasks. There was no need to concern them with any of Gotham's problems.

Especially her, thought Nightwing. She has more than enough to worry about right now.

He thought back to the last time he'd seen her. Two days ago, just before she'd left to check up on the Titans East. Cyborg was handling things there well enough, but there had been rumors of an increased crime rate in Steel City.

It was true that Steel City wasn't far from Gotham City, but a cryptic message from Barbara Gordon demanded his attention.

On a rooftop in Park Row, Nightwing stopped and took in his surroundings. This looks like the place.

The next second, he felt the presence of another.

Turning, he saw Robin making his way toward him, his cowl drawn up as always. This partially covered his face in shadow, but his features were still discernible.

"Tim," Nightwing said." What's the situation?"

"Not good," replied Robin. "The League of Assassins are stepping up their actions and attacks, and there was a breakout from Arkham Asylum not too long ago."

Rather than ask who had broken out (as Nightwing could already guess one of them), he said, "I see. Any idea what their ultimate goal is?"

"Nothing solid," Robin said. "Batman's been looking into the League's actions. He seems to think that Ra's al-Ghul is planning on launching an attack on Gotham soon and he wants to be ready for when the storm hits."

"And Barbara?"

Robin crossed his arms. "She's been attempting to track the escaped inmates from Arkham Island."

At that moment, Nightwing's ear chirped. The voice of Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle, came from the other end saying, "Tim, Dick, you two had better get down to Gotham First National. Something's going down."

Nightwing sighed. "A bank robbery? Now?"

"We won't know until we get there," replied the other.

# # #

There was indeed a bank robbery in progress. The police, James Gordon included, had the entire street cordoned off and Gotham First National surrounded.

Nightwing leapt over to the roof of the bank and slipped in through a grate, while Robin kept a check on the exterior.

There was silence inside the building that slightly unnerved Nightwing, but he'd learned long ago to block out any form of emotion when dealing with situations like this.

He crept through the shadows, making absolutely no noise as he worked his way through the corridors and down towards the lobby.

Once he'd reached the lobby, a shocking scene met his eyes.

Desks had been smashed and glass had been shattered. There were burn marks on the floor and walls, and some of the wood and even stone had scratch marks in them.

I should've known this would be her handiwork, thought Nightwing.

Then, out of nowhere, Catwoman's voice said, "I told you to get lost!"

Another voice replied, "Forget it, sister! This loot is mine!"

Nightwing couldn't quite place the second voice, but it was male and he did recognize it.

"So we're doing this the hard way, huh?" Catwoman asked.

"Come on, kitty cat," said the man. "You were giving me one helluva dance just a minute ago. Don't tell me you've got more."

"There's plenty more where that came from."

The man whistled, and then there was the sound of a fight from somewhere below. By this time, Nightwing was moving up to the ceiling, where he was able to light on a steel bar that was high above.

Suddenly, a flying red X shaped shuriken flew past his head.

No, it can't be. In Gotham City?

Then Nightwing caught a glimpse of Catwoman, and shortly after her, of Red X himself. He still wore the familiar black armor with a red X across the chest, and the mask shaped like a white skull.

He and Catwoman were evenly matched, although for every kick and claw swipe that Selina delivered to X, he returned in kind.

Eventually, he managed to subdue her and knock her to the floor, though they were both exhausted. This is my chance, Nightwing thought.

He jumped down and landed in the shadows near the duo, but they were more focused on each other.

"You bastard," Catwoman growled.

"You're playing hard to get, aren't you?" said X. "I was holding back so that I wouldn't mess up your pretty face."

"Shut up," seethed Selina. "This isn't over."

"It was over before it began," Nightwing said loudly, stepping out of the shadows. He turned to Red X and added, "Why Gotham, X?"

"You know me," replied X. "In fact, you know me better than anyone…Nightwing. I'm always looking for a new challenge. Plus…" He looked at Catwoman. "…I have competition here."

Catwoman slammed a fist on the floor next to her.

"Gotham has enough troubles without you adding to them," said Nightwing. "The city's going to be a war zone soon enough."

"Which makes everyone's stuff ripe for the taking," X said. "Come to think of it, I did see a couple of ninjas on my way here. They were headed for the clock tower."

Nightwing managed to conceal his panic. "Anything else that could help us?"

"Afraid not," X replied. "That's all the help you're getting from me." He threw a smoke pellet at the ground and slipped away in the cloud. Despite Nightwing's keen senses, he couldn't tell where the thief had gone.

Looking at the ground, Nightwing noticed that Catwoman had also disappeared.

Cursing his carelessness, he placed a finger to his ear communicator and tried to contact Oracle. There was no reply, only static. Instead, he keyed in Robin.

"Tim," he said urgently. "We've got a situation here. Oracle isn't responding."

There was no reply from Robin, either. Looking out the front of the bank, an empty street met his eyes.

The cops couldn't have left that fast, and there's no way that they'd abandon this situation.

He ran out the front doors, and immediately looked up. The buildings and spires of Gotham's architecture were rising in horrifyingly twisted patterns. Then, his vision flashed and he saw corpses lining the streets…innocent citizens of Gotham who'd been caught in the crossfire of some gang war of something of the sort.

Nightwing started walking down this street, the sight of more bodies greeting him with every step.

The street lamps began to flicker, and on the edge of his hearing…demented laughter.

He fell to his knees and looked up again. Once more his vision flashed, only this time he saw his parents falling again.

NO! He tried to fight it, but the influence was too strong. The world around him began to waver and a figure started walking toward him.

His mask was a terror in and of itself. His eyes were glowing orange, and a hood covered his face. Needles had replaced the fingers of his right hand, and behind them were canisters of his infamous fear toxin.

Scarecrow.

Suddenly, there was a flash of bright green, and Nightwing blacked out.

# # #

Note: The Scarecrow in this story is the one from Arkham Asylum.