Part 5

"No." Terry replied vehemently, much to Bruce's approval. "What you can do is share some of your experience with me. I could use a little help here."

"Very well." Bruce replied. "Relax and open yourself up to your enhanced senses."

Terry did as instructed and he mind was awash in strange images and sounds. It felt like an ice cold breeze on hot summer's day. Surprisingly he was able to cope with it and even begin to understand some of the foreign input.

"No time for standing around." Batman suggested tackling Terry to the ground just before a plethora razor bats ripped through the air.

"Thanks." Terry replied but Batman was already on the move again drawing the Omega Goblin's fire

"First." Bruce said. "You aren't Terry McGinnis. Right now you are the Dark Knight and its time you started thinking that way."

The name played at the edge of Terry's mind like a child building up the courage to cross the street unaccompanied for the first time. He breathed deep then stepped into something greater. Gone was Terry, temporarily placed on the back burner and the Dark Knight stood in his place.

"Time for round two." Dark Knight announced grabbing a discarded glider and strapping it to his left forearm. The buzzing in the back of head alerted him to movement off to his left and he parried a burst of razor bats with his improvised shield.

"Look who decided to get back in the game." Omega goblin taunted. "I hope you last longer than your mother."

"Animal!" Dark Knight shouted slinging the glider at him.

Omega Goblin went down with both wings ripped from their moorings.

"You gotta do betta that that." Omega Goblin replied as the wings started to re-grow.

"Now that's the Highmark I know." Dark Knight. "You're nothing but a common criminal. And you're going to spend the rest of your miserable life locked up in a cage like your old man but hey it's better than being Kingpin's bitch like your grand pa."

"I'm going ta kill ya whole family, do you hear me, T-Mack, do you hear me." Omega Goblin roared in anger creating a chain gun on each shoulder.

"What's the purplish haze surrounding him?" Dark Knight asked.

"What, I don't see anything." Batman replied realizing that it would take them both to stop Highmark.

"It is some kind of sub-space disturbance." Bruce answered. "Yes, just like on those old sci-fi vids. You don't have to actually speak out loud. I'm in here with you, remember?"

"So what can cause that?" Dark Knight thought as he clung to the underside of an exposed girder to avoid being hit.

"Stark Tele-Presence system uses that kind of technology for instantaneous communication." Bruce replied. "My guess is somebody's jacked into it the Smart-Suit remotely. Yes that's what a smart suit really looks like."

"How far away are they?"

"From the speed of the transformations I'd say on the property."

"Keep him busy." Dark Knight instructed disappearing.

"Get back here, coward." Omega Goblin screamed shooting in random directions hoping to hit him.

"Don't be so sad." Batman replied priming a Hi-Ex batarang. "You still got me to play with."

Inside the makeshift bunker the technicians were frantic. Every since they set the Tele-Presence to full power something was wrong. Dr. Powers's brain waves were erratic to say the least. Something or someone was rewriting itself over his consciousness. If they didn't do something quick their employer would be gone. They were motivated by less than noble notions, while he wasn't a nice man, he did pay really, really well.

The gentleman in the white lab coat typed in the override code again and again to no avail. The system was alive with its own mind and intentions. Switching to full control of the tele-presence system had melded the mind of Highmark and Powers together initially; now it seemed that Highmark's mind was gobbling up everything it touched, like some kind of hellish virus.

"We've got to get Power's out of there!" the man in white lab coat screamed. "Then we've got get that damn suit off line before the entire system is compromised."

Dark Knight observed them from the shadow formulating his own plan. He knew just pulling the control crown off of Dr. Power's head wouldn't solve anything. He'd have to cause some kind of neural feedback that would hopefully force each of the men back into their bodies. But to do that he'd have to be some sort of computer genius. Thankfully he had one on tap.

"Out of the way." Dark Knight ordered pushing the bloke in the white lab coat aside. His fingers moved over the keyboard of their own accord. He'd set the task, mentally pressed start and the suit collated all the knowledge it stored into making it happen. It felt like cheating on a test but he dismissed it; so long as it got the job done.

The sound of approaching sirens filled the air and Batman gritted his teeth. Now he'd have to take the police into consideration as he fought a creature that would have made the Adaptoid jealous.

"This just keeps getting better and better." He thought as the Omega Goblin started to spasms and fall to the floor.

There was a smell of burning circuits and singed human hair coming from the machine. The plates that sealed in the man inside began to buckle. Moments later they failed completely leaving Highmark open to the cool air of the night.

"Where am I?" The once obstinate Gangster asked. "What happened?"

Batman breathed a sigh of relief.

"Nice suit." Commissioner Montoya complimented entering the warehouse behind him. "Care to tell me what happen?"

"Not now."Batman replied activating his symboite tracking system.

Less than a minute later he was in Power's control room. Powers was in a similar state as Highmark with no recollection of what had happened. But Terry was gone, long gone from the hues of the tracking system.

Batman left the police to clean up the mess and called the new bat-mobile on remote. As it approached he saw sparks shooting from the underside. When it was close his suspicions were confirmed the silver tracking disk was gone, ripped from its housing. He knew from experience that without its extended range, tracking would be near impossible.

"Priority one alert." He said after keying in the codes. "Batman to all parties, the Genie is out of the bottle."

The alert was broadcast globally.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-Carrier somewhere over the Indian Ocean

A man with black hair with white on the temples sat behind a desk. The name "Luthor" was on a simple name plate poster outside his office. Alexander eyed the message on screen as he took a long drag from his cigar.

"Luthor, to all field leaders." He barked into the air. "Protocol Creeping Shadow is now in effect."

Fortified Castle deep in the Latverian Mountains, Checkmate Command

Black King Doom watched the read out on his screen. Christoff was dressed in all black, the symbol of his office, save the gray metal face plate; the symbol of his heritage.

"Black King, to all pawns in the field." He said into the hidden microphones in his faceplate. "Protocol Pandora's Box is now in effect."

Avengers Island off the coast of New York City, fifteen miles out from the Statue of Liberty

Dressed in hunter green body suit and black gloves, the man in the domino mask watched the read out on the screen hovering before him. The green glow from his power ring rising and ebbing with his heart beat.

"Jarvis." He called.

"Yes, Mr. Jones." The computer replied. "Send a Assemble Alert: Code Epsilon."

JLA Satellite, one hundred miles over Metropolis

It wasn't unusual for him to be on watch duty, every member had to take a watch sometime. But he found it appropriate that he be on duty when it finally happened. He thought that it would have been years ago; apparently even he could be wrong occasionally.

"Superman, to all active members; Elvis has left the building."

The wind blew across Fox Towers bring a dry chill. The building didn't have an observation deck or any outcropping. It was pretty much a two hundred forty story vertical tube made of clear alloy and carbon reinforced beams. Dark Knight clung to east side of its sheer surface, still; facing the sun rise.

"This won't be easy." Bruce's voice stated as he faced Terry on the mindscape. "You won't be able to see your family again until we finish this."

"From what you've hinted at, no one is truly safe anymore." Terry replied. His heart ached over his mother. He wanted nothing more that to be with his family right now. He wanted to hold his sister and even his father' just to tell them he loved them. But now was not the time. There were greater things happening, world shattering things.

"I'm sorry to even ask you to undertake this, Terry." Bruce said with more than a hint of sorrow. "You can still walk away from this. You haven't fully bonded with the Symboite; Dick can still remove it from you. I won't be pleasant but it will be less dangerous than what I'm asking of you."

"You gave me the chance to bring my mother's killer to justice." Terry said. "I'm in."

"You'll be hunted." Bruce said simply.

BEEP/BEEP/BEEP/PBEEP/

The sound of the ether-net broadcaster bought him back to reality. It was waiting for him to input the code that would stop it from working. He just watched the sunrise as it began to vibrate; the sign that it was transmitting.

"Like I said, I'm in."

Epilogue 1:

Mat rode in silence; watching the rain slide down the car window. She was happy that it rained today; her mother always liked the rain. It was fitting that they laid her to rest on a rainy day.

"You ok, Baby Doll."Dr. McGinnis asked placing his hand on his daughter's.

"I don't think I'll ever be ok again." She replied. Her family was in shambles. Terry; poor stupid Terry was gone, on the run from the police. There was a trace of heroism to him sending those files to Montoya. With them the Police Commissioner had dismantled most of Gotham underworld in short order but the files implicated him too, so now there was a warrant out for Terry's arrest. Inside she mourned the more; for her mother and her brother.

The ride back to her father's place was mercifully short. She went up to her room insisting that she needed to lie down. Truth was she just wanted to be alone. She hoped beyond hope if she was totally alone that Terry would contact her; a note, a whisper in the dark, anything. There, a shadow across her window. She rushed to the window throwing it open; nothing, only the building rush of wind and rain; the crescendo thunder and lightning. She closed it, dejected, sat on the edge of her bed and wept.

On the rooftop above her a man clothed in black with a blue bird across his chest stood.

"Negative contact." Nightwing reported. "He must have ice water running through his veins to miss his mother's funeral then leave without contact."

"If any of us were in his shoes wouldn't we have done the same?" Batman replied over the com. "This just confirms what I've believed all along, that thing still has part of Bruce inside it."

"Then we really are in trouble." He replied jumping from the roof and into storm.

Epilogue 2

He stood at the window watching the children come inside from afternoon exercises. He caught his reflection in the glass. His blonde hair was gray now and there were a few more wrinkles in his brow than this time last year. Kitty said he frowned too much. Sometimes he felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders between being headmaster of the Xavier Institute for the Gifted and thereby head of a new generation of X-Men, he'd dare anyone to take his place and not frown too much.

"Professor Valley." A voice called to him from the ether.

"Yes." He replied dropping his mental shielding enough to see whom was calling out to him.

The face of Rachel Summers floated in front of him. She like he had aged but she'd done infinitely more graceful.

"The pattern you have me scan for once a day, after all these years, I've found it." She announced. "It's faint but from what I've detected it's headed this way."

"Thank you, Rachel. Please keep me informed." He said calmly as his wings shifted under his shirt.

Epilogue 3:

She walked the hall of the castle with surety in every movement. Covered from head to toe in the crimson robe of her office, she still projected authority. At her heels, marching in perfect step were thirty men in crimson and gold armor. Their fiery red cloaks hid their faces. Held tight in each of their right hands was a short sword.

She led them through two fifty-foot tall ornate wooden doors in to the graduation area. It would be here, if they succeeded, they would become Azreals. She stood before them as she had hundreds of classes preceding them. This time however, a messenger interrupted her. The person walked over to her, whispered something, and then left.

"I'm feeling frisky." Lord Mother said returning her attention to them. "Normally you face each other, let's mix it up a bit, shall we. Today you all face me. Whoever is left standing in ten minutes, graduates."

The stunned men watched their mistress change before them, two flaming swords slid into her hands from beneath her robes and more startlingly, a set of blood red wings unfolded from her back followed the screeching of ravens. For the first time the young Azreals knew fear.

Final Epilogue:

The man in the mirror was a stranger to him. He had black, straight hair, blue eyes and Caucasian skin. He touched his face half expecting the color to rub off and see the darker skin underneath.

"Will you stop picking at your mask."Bruce admonished. "Our stop's coming up."

"Fine." Terry thought back. "You had all your life to be white. This is going to take some getting used to."

He left the bathroom, stepped from the Bullet train out into the station crowd and disappeared.

Authors Note:

First thanks for all the feedback. You don't know how many times I set out to finish this and got sidetracked. I really wrote myself into a corner with the ending of the last chapter and what I wrote after that didn't hold out. I'm ready to give you something that I don't even think I could have fathomed three years ago: Strange Fruit: The Symboite War. I'll warn you it won't be as stand up and straight forward as my normal style of writing. It will deal with what happened as the world has perceived it. I'll let you know in advanced it won't be centered on The Dark Knight or the Bat-family all the time. The two characters you get to know are Rick Jones aka the Sentinel, and Jean Paul Valley aka the Avenging Angel I want to take some time to explore other aspects of this universe and answer who rules Atlantis :)

Then after that we'll deal with what happened from Bruce's point of view; detailing his last moments as the Dark Knight and what he and Terry are up to. But until then here's a Teaser; the first story from Symboite War

Enter Authorization Code: XXX-XXX-X

Code Confirmed

Warning the following file is Top Secret Level Blue misuse or mishandling could result court-martial or up to and including summary execution

Audio transcript of interview of a survivor from the first battle of Manhattan Island code named Eagle's Nest. Mission parameters: First rescue civilians' Second destruction of enemy targets.

Subject Caucasian Male

Name: Charles Denton

Age: 36

Occupation: Stock Broker

Location: Interview room one aboard S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-Carrier Avenger

Interviewer: So what happened next?

Charles: The thing, whatever it was jumped off the guy right onto Johnny. So he goes down, puking his guts out, it was really gross. I'm stunned man, you know like a deer in head lights or something. I'll tell you finally got my ass into gear, seeing that piece of blackness crawl down his throat. That did it. I ran man, ran like I never have before. (Takes a pull from cigarette) I ran down to Joey's the bar you know. I don't why I decided to go there but hey it was close, it was a place I knew.

Interviewer: Then what happened?

Charles: When I get there, the door's locked. I'm banging on the door. "It's me, Charles." I shout. I can see people but nobodies moving. The bastards just sat there. I can't say that I really blame them, though. By the time I made it there, the street was crawling with those…those things you know. (Takes a long pull from cigarette) I can hear a couple of them getting closer, thankfully they move slow, you know like a drunk or something. So I ran. I vowed if I made it through this I was going to sue those bastards. Petty, yeah I know. It kind of funny what your mind does when you think you're going to die. That's when I saw him.

Interviewer: Saw who?

Charles: You know that guy from the Avengers…what's his name…Captain America. He was trying to hold off a good twenty or thirty of them. They were trying to get at a school bus that had wrecked on a light pole. He was amazing but the more he put down more came to take their place. It was like every one of those things for blocks was attracted to him. He had to know it was futile but he fought on like he was possessed or something. (Takes three quick puffs then silence; visibly shaken)

Interviewer: Then what happened?

Charles: They killed him, man. (puts out cigarette)They overwhelmed him. They drug him to the ground and ripped him limb from limb. They didn't even try to infect him. It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen and I was there for the twenty-eleven stock market crash, man. People pitching themselves from rooftops couldn't compare to this.

Interviewer: What happened to the bus?

Charles: (Coughs) This guy flies in, you know Green Lantern…well he scoops up the bus with these gigantic glowing green hands. All I kept thinking is why he didn't get here sooner. He called out for Captain America but then he focused on the (Coughs) gathering of things by where the bus was. He screamed out as he slapped them away with another one of those hands. He wept like a baby as he picked up the remains. Then he flew away. I tried to call to him but he didn't hear me.

Interviewer: What happened then?

Charles: What do you think, I ran. The streets were getting packed with those things. I had a few close calls. A couple of times (Coughs) they found my hiding place and almost got me.

Interviewer: How did you make it to the safety zone?

Charles: To be honest I don't really remember. I'd stumbled (Coughs) onto a gang of them ripping into a guy, I'm not sure who he was; all I saw was a set of wings and a bloody mace still clutched in hands. My shoulder exploded in flames. One of them snuck up on me from behind. It held me and one was walking up on from the front. I was starting to pass out when (Cough) I saw flashes of red and gold. A man in red with a lightning bolt on the chest said it was going to be alright. (Multiple coughs)

Interviewer: Can I get you some water?

Charles: (Coughing,coughing) Help…help me… (Gagging)

Interviewer: Oh my God. Get me out of here.

Charles: Grrrr… (Unintelligent)…Join us

Interviewer: Screaming

Interview room one incinerated by flamethrower