When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach
And the bullets catch in her teeth
Life goes on, it gets so heavy
The wheel breaks the butterfly
Every tear a waterfall
In the night the stormy night she'll close her eyes
In the night the stormy night away she'd fly
City of Ashes
Chapter Six: Seeker
A mechanical voice, deep and rumbling, broke the silence with obtrusive force. The words did not come across as a suggestion, but rather a command and I was foolish to disobey if life meant anything to me at all.
I closed my eyes for a quick second, and then anxiously turned around.
A pair of inhuman blue eyes pierced me from across the room; dangerously unstable. Bane stood by the bar table, with a plethora of gadgets and electronic devices sprawled across its surface. The giant fidgeted with what looked like a bracelet, but the object was outlined by a number of buttons and strange additions that lessened the indication of its nature. Even on the other side of the suite, nearly twenty steps away, Bane looked to be a colossal giant in comparison to my smaller frame.
The air was wrought with a mutual hostility between the two of us.
"Yes?" I stuttered. Just then I realized that my body had shrunken in the wake of fear, and quickly I stood taller to correct any suggestion of inferiority.
Bane looked me over for a moment, and I knew that he inevitably caught onto the discreet physical adjustment. There looked to be somewhat of a smile, or at least a flash of condescending amusement, morph his eyes into crescent shapes.
The giant's voice came out more light, and I deduced I must have charmed him in some way. "I have a task for you."
For a very good reason, I wanted to object to helping him in any way with a long, impressive speech on my incorruptible nature and will for righteous doings only, but silence filled my lungs instead. There was always a struggle to find powerful rhetoric to throw at Bane, as he was a master manipulator of words, and could quite easily take the upper hand with help from an intimidating composer, and prolonged experience in speech pathology. I imagined an answer to everything the rebel leader said that was packed with his trademark sarcasm, arrogance, and disdain, but as the words tried to form on my lips, they hesitated and fluttered away like frightened birds.
With no objection, Bane continued to speak, although his focus turned mainly to the laptop screen that flashed peculiar coding that degenerated my brain the longer its complexity was regarded.
"How has your training been going, little one?" The question seemed out of place due to its generic resonance of similarly asked queries I faced at the estate on everyday occasions. Of course, I was being probed, in this particular circumstance, by a madman which kept me on alert despite the outwardly innocent nature of the question.
'Little one'… How I despised that patronizing pet name. At the sound of those fusel words, a flame of anger began to close in to detonate the bomb that was my patience. Clearly, Bane had knowledge of the appellation's undoing, yet I knowing this could not stop the fact that it bothered me still. All that could be done about the consequential anger was to hide it from view, and hope that Bane did not use the entry of weakness to solidify a wordy kill.
I am not your 'little one', you giant brute.
"Fine. I've only had one session with Mika so far," I explained with a detectable grumble, my patience still crippled by the unpleasant epithet. Without really realizing it, I had narrowed my eyes at Bane.
When the giant looked over to me again, he noticed the displeasured expression, and intensified his own stare. "Careful," Bane warned, flashing fire behind intrigued eyes. He flung the bracelet object to me with frightening speed, considering with what little effort it was thrown, but what was more surprising still was that I caught the contraption without fumbling. I winced at the pain the item forced as it collided with my hand, and brought it down to eye level to scan in detail.
Bane spoke quietly without taking his eyes away, impressed by my coordination skills. "Good."
I pretended to ignore the indirect accolade.
There were a number of buttons on the donut-shaped contraption, and a small screen that refused to flash with life as I prodded it with a curious finger. Overall, I had no idea why Bane gave me the object.
"Put it on your wrist," he instructed with a more placid tone. Bane did not linger for defiance, because he knew that there would be none to have. Or, at least, there should not have been.
"What is it for?" I asked nervously, holding the object firmly away from the designated area of entrapment. For whatever reason that Bane refused to disclose the purpose of the electronic wristband gave way to suspicion. How could Bane expect me to trust a man like him so easily? For all I knew, the device could electrify me, sever my wrist, or inject some sort of poison into my veins for a slow kill.
"Put it on," he repeated with greater force. The voice behind the mask began to transform into a threatening rumble of sounds, and the room seemed to tremble.
"No." I shook my head, dropping the hand with the object to my side as a show of refusal to listen. As to what reason I decided to disobey, none could tell, but I knew nothing good could come from such foolish behaviour. Perhaps, in some way, I was challenging Bane's authenticity of rule and supreme power by disobedience, and suffer the eventual consequence if true. Mika believed that I was fortunate to be Talia's daughter, because Bane treated me with greater ease than any other unfortunate soul to cross the tyrant's path, but the observation was seen as a challenge to me – one that needed proving.
Bane first looked down at the bracelet, and then brought his eyes up to me – anger twitching at the corners. He was definitely not used to the word 'no'. With such spiteful, livid eyes, Bane's mask fell into the backdrop of fear inducing traits. I felt the same amount of unease towards the mask as I would initially sense around a wheelchair victim, or amputee. Eventually, time weakened the discomfort of the mask's existence, and now I no longer felt fear towards its imposing nature, but rather that the metal guise was a simple addition to his face – nothing more. Of course, the denunciation of the mask would remain a mental thought, as Bane most likely used the contraption as a scaring tactic, and would not take kindly to passive attitudes towards the instrument of fear.
"Know that any pain that will befall you in the very near future is your own doing," the giant cautioned, taking a few steps forward. "I own you now, and I expect you to obey me, child."
Own me? There is no possible way on this earth that I would ever let a man own me in any derogatory sense of the word. The thought of completely losing independence and freedom for the satisfaction of a person's greed and selfishness was appalling to imagine, let alone experience. No – Bane would not have me so easily. Talia does not dictate the fate of a child she abandoned to the aftermath of a broken city - a broken humanity. Through the hellish flames of my distant future, I would carve my own path.
"Fuck you!" I screamed in uncontrollable anger. The words could not help but escape. A feeling of utter fury consumed all possible remnants of control within me as the profanity dared exit across the room, and ultimately slap Bane in the face with reckless force. The loss in temperance frightened even me after the curse was unleashed, and I recoiled from the brutality of the word thereafter in recompense.
Bane attacked suddenly, without warning. The speed and agility that the rebel leader executed was inhuman, and even though I was extremely agile, his swiftness was greater still. There was no chance of escape. All that was heard bolting across the living room floor was the sound of thunder that shook the very foundation of the suite with unbelievable power. Despair snatched at my throat, while fear seeped its fangs into my erratic beating heart. This moment was the end.
A vengeful hand curled its massive fingers around the delicate curve of my neck, forcing the entire weight of my body from that pinpoint into the backwards wall with an overbearing force. The air was kicked from my lungs, and I struggled to gain any doable amount of oxygen back inwards, but as the grip intensified, the world around me began to shake out of focus. Bane held back no mercy. I grabbed onto the giant's hand and tried with a failed attempt to remove the vice, feeling suddenly the true insignificance of my deniability efforts, and grew evermore faint in the process of desperate physical exertion. I abandoned the method of tearing at the hand after no reward for the effort, and instead pushed on the giant's chest to show that I was incapable of breathing. The broad, bulky mass of muscle that enveloped the rebel leader's body was hard to the touch, not to mention the skin's surface was scorching. How I hated touching the monster, but despair can cause someone to do a great many things they never knew possible.
Anger is an element of emotion that is hard to control. Like a burning flame, the feeling of anger is natural, and dangerous if not tempered. When I became upset, the sentiment was derived from so much care, so much passion for something that I could not live without, such as the happiness and peace of good people, that I would do anything to see its existence continue. Bane was different. The rage he portrayed was automatic, mechanical, and detached. As I looked up into a pair of dark, vacant eyes, forever changed by the pain and sufferance of a struggling past, I knew that Bane had known nothing else but eternal rage since he was a small boy. To think, the man who managed to overtake an entire city by violent force; killing innocent people, and scarring the lives of thousands, was once a lonely child cast into a deep, dark hole to fester for years until he metamorphosed from a helpless creature, into a monstrosity of destruction.
Suddenly, I remembered… Bane once saved my life. The act was unforgettable, if nothing more than scorned. For some reason untold, the rebel leader kept death at bay, and I owed him for it – an outstanding debt. As much as I wanted to dismiss the efforts Bane made to heal me, I could not overlook the act; the haunting image of his colossal frame looming over me, and his hot touch grazing my skin.
Bane lowered his mask to my ear, and growled softly. "You believe yourself to be brave, but for all your efforts, you are nothing to me. The only choice that you have in this world is that you can either die quickly, or prolong the inevitability of your fate by obedience."
If I did not learn to control my temper, Bane would eventually kill me. There was no doubt in my mind as to how insignificant I meant to the tyrant ruler. Talia gave her daughter up to Bane in hopes that his thoughts would be occupied by a distraction other than her, so I was little more than a toy; an object of play. Ultimately, and the evidence was quite clear, the rebel leader would lose interest in his acquired item, and dispose of it without the slightest hesitation.
"I – I'm s- sorry," were the only words that I could form through the increasing grip around my throat. The effort to speak was almost crippling, as unconsciousness grew closer by the second, and where only dwindling remnants of energy remained.
Without increasing the distance between our faces, Bane turned his head to look at me and study the fear behind bloodshot eyes. Never have I been this close to him before. Our faces were nearly touching, and I could feel the heat from his body encircle me. The overbearing power of the giant's eyes ensnared my soul, and I could not help but look away.
"Good girl," he breathed with a newfound calm, the spoken softness transformed into a barely audible hush of sounds through the mask. Those words, although forgiving, birthed a chill down my spine. Bane seemed satisfied with the apology, and he soon straightened up into a familiar looming posture. Though the hand around my throat remained, the tyrant slowly released his grip, with intentional leisureliness, until I could form gasps for air. Just before he let go, I felt Bane's thumb graze over the swollen surface of my throat, where the skin turned deep red from the assaulting hand, and his eyes intricately observed the damage. There was no doubt that bruises would form in the next few days – if I was lucky enough to survive that long. Before I could push away the remains of his touch, the rebel leader fully detached, and took a step back. The unexpected soft trace of the giant's thumb left a tingling sensation amongst the throbbing pain, and I was not sure if he knew that the strange delicacy momentarily expressed was noticed, but afterwards I felt a new sort of uneasiness.
"…he hasn't touched you, has he?"
A horrific trail of thoughts occurred. I shook the threatening idea from consciousness, and immediately sought a distraction to fill my panicked mind instead.
I grabbed the bracelet from the floor, and Bane watched me intently, his eyes reading every move I made with calculated ease. "Here," I said hurriedly, throwing the contraption around my wrist, and hearing a light clicking noise as the device secured its position indefinitely. The feeling of shame was almost as painful as the pulsating aftermath of Bane's assault on my neck, as I failed to show the bully my strength, and instead was beaten by as much effort as it would take for Bane to bend a single finger. Eye contact was too much to bear. In return, I would only get a look of satisfaction on the rebel leader's daunting face, and such an expression would only generate further frustration within me.
"I won't help you hurt people," I uttered softly, but with strength.
Bane gave me one last agonizing look before he moved to the laptop in the kitchen once more, and began typing on the keyboard.
The bracelet lit up.
"The numbers 468513. Type them in." Bane instructed monotonously, pointing to the bracelet without looking.
I grazed over at the device and found a small keypad with numbers, up/down arrows, and an 'ENTER' and 'CANCEL' button. Hesitantly, I pushed each number on the keypad, and the word 'ACTIVATED' blinked florescent green on the black backdrop screen.
"What is this for?" I asked, prepared to wretch the contraption off of my arm, but the item was locked into position. The metal felt uncomfortable and foreign against the skin. I looked to Bane's face.
The mask… Has Bane gotten used to its feel?
"This bracelet is a GPS system, courtesy of a very unfortunate donor. From the laptop, I will be able to input geographical coordinates into the bracelet's memory system, where the device can track the designated location from anywhere in the city," Bane explained, looking over to me with a flaming stare – not one of anger however. "You will become my seeker."
What is this folly?
"Seeker?" I questioned suspiciously. "What does that mean?"
"One thing that I will not tolerate from those in my care is inaction. Even if you are Talia's child, I will not allow you to sit here uselessly. Being a seeker requires speed, agility, and clever thinking," he continued, pointing then to his head. "All of which I know you have. A seeker performs personal deliveries for their carrier. I simply give you a coordination, and you deliver a package to that spot without question. You do not look into the contents of the encase, you do not doubt the mission, you do not fail at a delivery."
Bane had enough trust to let me handle packages with classified content?
"What happens if I fail?" I asked, hesitant to know the answer, but curious all the same.
There it was again, that evidence of a smile; crescent shaped eyes. "You die," Bane replied with an unfitting light tone, happy to give away the ironically unsurprising answer.
What did Bane sound like without the mask?
Inside I seethed at the reply, and decided to retaliate. "Can I get the bracelet off somehow?" I asked with fake indifference; an indirect implementation of rebelliousness below the surface.
"What a good question," he nearly laughed, impressed by the bravery, or sheer stupidity, of the inquiry. I nearly jumped when he busted out with the amused chortle. "No. There is a trigger within the device that will detonate the bracelet if it is forcefully removed. You are welcomed to try, if it suits you."
"No, thank you." I mumbled slowly, glaring down at the bracelet with a new loathsome power.
There was nothing else to be said, so Bane closed the laptop and detached it from its charging cord to accompany him into the bedroom on the right of the fireplace. "You will begin the first delivery tomorrow. I will give you further detail on the mission in the morning," he finished saying, leaving me in the middle of the living room to think over the information given in solitude.
Before Bane stepped out of sight, I yelled with unplanned desperation. "Why choose me?"
The giant stopped, and tilted his head horizontally sideways to expose one of his blue eyes through the dark covering the rest of his mechanically altered face. Against the light of the fireplace, the curves of Bane's body were emphasized into deep grooves and curvatures that stressed the sheer superior strength he possessed over any opposing forces. I felt a sudden doom for the city. "Go to sleep. Tomorrow will start early," he spoke resolutely, although with an unexpected softness.
I am selfish. Shamefully self-regarding. Bane gave me the option to die now, or prolong the inevitable by obeying his command. Life can be complex at times, and not until it is too late, does one realize how many lives can be affected by a decision they have made. By choosing to listen to Bane, I would put more of people's lives at risk. The content of the packages a seeker handles might go undisclosed, but I knew better than to believe that the deliveries had nothing to do with the progression of Bane's tightening grip on Gotham City. Death was too frightening to consider, no matter how clear the easiest answer was – completely maddening. If I had enough strength to end it all now, then the rebel leader would have to find an alternative route to control the city without my help. Then again, people like Mika looked to me as a light in the dark - a sign of hope. Barsaad could see that I was full of passion and goodness like his younger sister, and I knew no different. For Talia, virtuousness was seen as weakness, but I believed the opposite to be true; evilness was a weakness of the soul. Through the conversation with my mother, I knew that Bane also thought that I was an innocent version of Talia, and for some hidden reason, he kept me alive. The whole 'seeker' fiasco could have been the answer to the rebel leader's decision to fend away death for now, but something else grew my mind restless around the thought. When he spoke of me, Bane sounded almost… desolate. Such a description, however reflective, did not seem a plausible characteristic to attach to The Masked Man.
I wrestled with the covers, flustered. There was too much thinking going on… Every five minutes or so, I would look at the bracelet strapped around my wrist with a begrudged frown, contemplating its possible removal, and cursing its existence all at once. How could I sleep peacefully knowing that there was a bomb attached to my body? For any reason at all, even out of sheer annoyance, Bane could detonate the bracelet with a swift click of a button, and I would be a nice addition to the wall décor. A seeker did not appear to be a difficult job to perform from what Bane had said, but anything involving him deserved second-guessing. Not only were the streets dangerous, but the people who occupied the city quarters required equal scrutiny. Now that Gotham City was for the taking, who knew what kind of abused sense of power someone might have nestled in their brain.
The turbulent weather outside reflected the instability of my future. Each snowflake, innocent in their delicacy, represented all the people of Gotham City, with the cold, bitter wind as Bane's violent wrath that desecrated the peacefulness of the gentle frozen crystals, as they were strewn into a disheveled frenzy. I had a choice: stay indoors and watch a city burn from a safe distance, or venture into the cold dark world to experience the chaos like the rest. Indifference was an impossible route to consider. I had to decide whether I wanted resolution more than the fear of the road that would take me there. Could I handle the turmoil that was sure to come if I decided to act on behalf of Gotham City's survival? If fate should have it, I would prosper…
For a long while, I stared out of the window, thinking about tomorrow and what kind of trouble being a seeker would bring. After all, disorder seemed to find me at every turn. In exchange for good intentions, negative consequences always retaliated. From now on, I had to be more careful with what decisions I made, or at least more discreet.
Morning came too soon the next day. The cold, bright dawn pulled my tired mind from a deep sleep, and for a long while after I arose, drowsiness followed me like a shadow. I wanted to delay the separation from Bane and I as long as possible, so I went through the routine of dressing, brushing my teeth, and fixing my hair with extra laxity before I would exit the bedroom into the rest of the suite. After I took a shower, opportunely dousing the bracelet in water, I realized that the device was waterproof – much to my dismay. There had to be some way of taking the device off without detonating the bomb, but for now I had to settle with the bracelet still attached.
There was nothing else to be done besides enter the living room of the suite. For a long moment I stood at the closed door, cutting Bane and I off by a few measly inches of wood, breathing deeply and with purposeful calm against the coming tide of unpredictable chaos soon to be faced. How would this day end? Death was sure to follow, but in what way… Gunshot? Stabbing? Blown up? There were so many possibilities, none of which were particularly appealing. I almost laughed at the insincerity of my casually predicted demises.
Today was the day that I would show my strength. Today I would show my will to fight, even if it would be my last.
With one final deep breath, I opened the door to the living room, with a little more force than I anticipated as nervousness took over, and stepped out to meet Bane.
The giant's frame was not hard to spot by the kitchen, as the bulky mass ebbed and flowed calmly from each breath exchanged, and as I approached from behind, no sign of difference moved his body by surprise. Instead of Bane's usual black long sleeve shirt beneath a military style vest, he wore a long tan colored sheep skin bomber jacket that I remembered him wearing on the television back at the estate before the escape to Gotham City. Maybe he was already out this morning, however it was only 6:25 am.
"You are awake early. Did you not sleep well?" Bane asked casually, but as I reviewed the question in my mind, I figured it was said with no real interest. After all, the tyrant did not care about the normality of daily life, such as the sleeping patterns of inferiors, or the hunger and suffering of the people. Once again, Bane was fiddling with some electronics on the table; the laptop open and blinking codes I did not know where to begin to understand.
"Not really," I answered with brutal honesty, caring not for the negative tone used in the statement. "Hard to sleep with a bomb strapped around my wrist."
Carefully, I watched Bane pick up a watch from the table that began to beep, and attempted to strap the contraption around his thick wrist, but as one of the bands kept slipping out of place, I thought maybe his fingers were too large to handle the smallness of the watch. Then I realized that the giant's hands were shaking lightly, and he sighed in frustration trying to fight the device. Suddenly, an unexpected bought of sympathy washed over me. Bane was a terribly powerful being, with strength and skill to support his superiority above all others, and yet… The struggle to put the watch onto his wrist seemed too great for the rebel leader to handle; a small feat for anyone else. Usually tremors were associated with sickness or drug withdrawal, and then the reminiscence of Venom came to mind. Maybe… Maybe Bane was not getting enough of the drug to sustain the damage of his spinal injury. Would he die?
I owe him a debt.
"Here, let me do it." I insisted, slipping in front of Bane, and grabbing the item before he could refuse help. The device did not resemble a watch that I have ever seen before. Instead of the time, 45 mL blinked red on the screen, giving the number a sense of urgency as it beeped simultaneously to each flash.
I could feel Bane's eyes bear down on me with unbearable force, as silence filled us both. The only sound that escaped into the awkward new setting was the mechanical hush of the mask as he breathed. A musky, sweaty scent emanated from the giant's body, the heat from his skin amplifying the natural perfume, and although it was not unpleasant, I felt uncomfortable breathing in the smell. I wanted to quickly get on with the Seeker shenanigans, and therefore as far away from Bane as possible, so that I may find seclusion again.
Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of discomfort knowing that the rebel leader was peering down at me with constant eyes, and I wished to be elsewhere with immediate haste.
"What's the watch for?" I asked, quickly stepping to the side, away from the rebel leader, watching him adjust the position of the device. With quiet control, I let out a shuttered sigh, relieving the tension of being so dangerously close to Bane. Oddly enough, when the tyrant and I were adjacent and no harm was committed, the inaction seemed out of place. Most of the times that Bane was mere inches away, he had me in a death grip, threatening my life. A calmer, more collective Bane was interestingly more terrifying, at times, than a violent one. The duality could be reversed, however. In all, Bane was unpredictable no matter how his character is regarded. I had to be aware at all times.
"That doesn't concern you," he replied lowly, eyeing me with a cautious gaze. There was no room for discussion. Someone like Mika, I could bug and prod for answers, but Bane was no one to trifle with, that was for sure. If something did not want to be said, or further explained, do not pursue it. Otherwise, I would simply end up with more bruises to decorate the growing colorful splotches on my skin, and ultimately showcase the rebel leader's marksmanship of abusive power.
The bruise around my neck was sore, truth be told, and the bullet wound was slightly tender still, but to my unbelievable surprise I seemed to be getting a better grasp on the feeling of pain, and curb its strength with meditation and constant exposure. I knew better, however, to let the feeling of confidence morph into a delusion of invincibility. Death could make its final blow at any time, and the impossibility of escaping the demise was clear; no matter how badly life meant to me, I could only control so much.
"I'm just -" I tried to explain, annoyed by the shortness of Bane's tolerance to answer questions. Secrecy fueled the continuation of the rebel leader's operations, and although at this point there was no way that I could demolish any plans given my imprisonment, he still refused to allow entry to most information. What needed to be known, was shared – nothing more. Bane was especially cautious around any lore surrounding himself, so the only way I was going to learn anything further was to turn to Mika for answers. Little did the rebel leader know that I had confidants of my own.
"Worried?" Bane interrupted quickly, his mocking tone hinted with interest. There was a flash of devilish play in the rebel leader's eyes, one that made the hair on my neck stand on end. Any time there was a look different to hatred, rage, or unsteady temperance in Bane's eyes, it terrified me. Such irregularities of character were unpredictable and dangerous to witness, let alone be on the receiving end. I knew Bane to be a monster consisting solely of internal rage, through and through, but when he showed a sense of amusement, mischievousness, or play, these blips expressed more darkness than the associating emotions of anger. These anomalies portrayed the giant's entertainment with the chaos he created. He did not simply induce sufferance and fear on the masses, Bane enjoyed it.
"No. Curious." I corrected. Worry was definitely the wrong feeling to associate with my questioning of the device, but Bane enjoyed toying with me all the same.
Remember what Mika said. No backtalk.
After Bane was satisfied with the discomfort he created, he moved to the laptop and pulled out a bunch of cables.
"Give me your arm," the rebel leader commanded. He outstretched a hand in waiting, but there was hesitation on my part… Obviously. The giganticness of the giant's fingers and palm resembled a teethed steel trap, tended for snaring weaker prey – me. Would I take the bait?
"W-why?" I questioned, managing to stay in place and not back away in fear, though the images of yesterday's brawl came to mind after I had refused an order.
"I must input the coordinates for your first delivery. Otherwise, you will be wandering about the city lost, like a small child," he replied calmly, and almost chuckled at the quickness of my defenses against any remotely suspicious or dangerous actions. Besides the information around the origin and purpose of Bane's watch, he seemed in good spirits today. Well, in psychopathic terms, anyway. Yesterday when I refused an order, I was attacked and forced to abide, with no other option. Today, the giant did not seem to mind my hesitation as much. However, I knew better than to push the limits of that theory.
"I am not a child." The retort was said with strength and belief.
"Then give me your arm," Bane taunted, unimpressed.
Reluctantly, I caved. The giant's skin was burning hot to the touch, and I wanted to jerk my hand away before it would be incinerated by the searing heat. No matter how many times I was touched by the giant, with how little or strong of force, there was no getting use to the violation of space and comfort. A long, black wire with a metal head was inserted into an opening in the side of the watch, where Bane then typed in some information into the laptop, and the device beeped – indicating completion of a download.
"I did not mention last night that each delivery has a specific timeframe to complete. If you do not succeed in the mission within the limited time, I will be forced to end your services indefinitely. There needs to be a certain competence to follow the rules; a flaw most in this city lack. The client nor I can wait around all day for you to deliver a package. When I give them a certain time to wait at a location, you will be there regardless of whatever anomalies you encounter on the road," Bane explained, looking eagerly to me for a reaction, while still fidgeting with the watch.
"That's not fair! I don't know the city. What if something happens while I'm out there, and I'm detoured, or hurt?" I protested desperately, pulling my arm away. No longer was time on my side, either. The success of being a Seeker was growing smaller and smaller by the second. There was no possible, fathomable way that I could complete these tasks as Bane says. He wants me to die a failure. No other explanation is reasonable. As the list of do's and don'ts grows longer, the chances of survival weigh thin.
"If you are careful and cautious, then you should not fall into any danger. Your life is forfeit, if not. Simple to understand, don't you think?" Bane provoked.
"Why not choose one of your soldiers to do the job, instead of me? Wouldn't they be more capable?" I suggested with increasing despair.
"You would rather give up someone's life on your behalf?" The rebel leader replied, lifting an eyebrow to show curiosity. "Could you live with the guilt of condemnation?"
"No! The streets… I know they aren't safe. Maybe… Could you give me a gun?" The appeal was bidden for the genuine purpose of protection, but Bane did not see it as such.
"Interesting request, but no. The last time you handled a gun, I was marked with this here," he replied, pointing to the shoulder that I shot during the escape from the underground lair. "You will have to rely on your ability to survive without additional means." There was no hint of sympathy, or self-doubt in Bane's eyes as he looked down at me. Suspicion must run the rebel leader's life, as well. I never really thought about it, until now. Already, I have seen attempts of assassination on Bane's life, from the street raid, and most likely there had been many before, and will be more still, because of where he stands. Many of those who followed the giant, like Mika, are forced to obey, but if she had the chance, I am sure she would escape, or retaliate. Behind every corner, Bane had to be weary of threats. The amount of alertness needed continuously had to be utterly exhausting. At times, I could see its toll.
"You scared me. I didn't mean to shoot," I said truthfully, though the thought of killing the rebel leader at the time would not have been such a bad 'accident'.
Bane turned fully to me, his interest captured. The question was asked with more genuineness than I anticipated. Clearly, he was amused, but something more lingered behind the surface… languish, perhaps? No, impossible.
"Do I still frighten you?"
Without looking away, I fastened on a pair of pale blue eyes wrought with an unreadable expression. "Yes. But I'm working on that," I said, refusing to waver. The question was a challenge, and I would accept, much to Bane's amusement.
With that said, followed by a short silence, the rebel leader let out a rumbling laugh, the sound distorted into a deep echoic rattle. "Your honesty is a rare thing," he replied after having calmed down. Yet again, my efforts of courage have been undermined into a hilarity of sorts. "Come, I will take you to the entrance of the building. Then you will be sent on your way," Bane chuckled, waving for me to follow him as he moved to the door of the suite.
Panic set in. The beginning of the mission was closing in on me, and therefore my fate. Unsure of the end result of today's quest left only an overpowering sense of despair to grow in the depths of my stomach, and suddenly I felt ill. For a second, I was unconfident that I would be able to force down the vomit that was pressuring the lower cavity of my esophagus, so I stood still holding my stomach.
"Wait," I stuttered weakly, looking up at Bane who stood patiently by the door. He said nothing, continuing to stare at me with an unreadable expression. "I don't have a coat." Hopefully, the delay would give me time to recuperate.
Bane looked over to a small door to his right, and walked over to open the content of the room inside. Except, the room turned out to be a closet, and he shuffled a large hand amongst the jackets strung on hangers, pulling out a selected choice without much consideration at all. The giant threw the coat to me, and almost fumbling the catch, I snatched the piece of wear and slipped it on. Not bad. The coat was olive green, with a brown fur hood, and a long body that reached down under my knees for sufficient shelter from the cold outdoors. Since the inside of the jacket was insulated and warm, I should not have any trouble with the wind and snow. Bullets and knives, on the other hand, would be more challenging to evade.
"Come," Bane repeated, nodding his head towards the door. "The more time you waste, the less of it you have to finish the delivery."
We made our way to the elevator and down to the main floor in silence. While Bane walked in front, I trailed meekly behind, huddling within the confinements of the coat in anticipation of the frigid winter weather. Light - I saw light just ahead. The last time that I was outside, I thought it meant freedom, but now I dreaded traveling beyond the borders of the Den. A new fear had been unleashed. Nowhere was safe.
"Sam!" A familiar voice called out, and when I turned around, Mika was seen running towards us with a backpack in hand.
"Mika," I said quietly, my voice trailing off into quietness in remembrance of Bane's close proximity.
"I was afraid I'd miss you before you were sent off," the girl breathed heavily, setting the sack on the ground to catch wind. After a few moments, she stood up straight. "I packed this for you for the road. No guns, unfortunately. Just some basic survival tools, and food if you're hungry." she said, handing the bag to me, which I strung around my shoulders. Mika looked passed me at Bane. "You gotta feed her, you know. She doesn't survive on air." The sarcasm was clear, but the rebel leader ignored the publicized cynicism.
"Thanks," I replied, smiling weakly.
Mika read my sullen face. "Use the skills I taught you. Be fast and efficient. I know you can make it through this, Sam. Just get to the delivery point, drop off the package, and come home."
"Home," I repeated sadly, the word foreign to me now.
"Yes," Mika assured, squeezing my shoulder confidently.
"Enough," Bane interrupted the farewell with an aggravated tone. "She must leave."
All three of us exited the lobby of the building into the cold outdoors. The snow was falling lightly from the opaque sky, and the wind was surprisingly calm. A certain stillness filled the air that created an opposite effect – unease. As blinding as the light was to my eyes, the sun's heat was unfelt on the skin; almost as lifeless as the dark.
Barsaad walked up to Bane, and I looked away when the soldier glanced over to me quickly. I felt as though I had failed the expectations Barsaad had of me when he claimed I resembled his sister. I had yet to prove myself to many people.
"The contact has been notified of the delivery time and place," the underling informed Bane with an equable attitude. "Should I go back to the lair and see about its progress?"
"Yes, my brother. You have done well. Go," Bane replied with appeased pleasure. He nodded for Barsaad to leave, and after the soldier disappeared in a strange military machine, the rebel leader turned back to me.
I was handed a light brown envelope taken from an inside pocket of Bane's coat, but as I tried to pull it away, he kept a grip on the package for a moment longer. "You have two hours to deliver. Return to the suite when you have finished the job. There is a tracking device in the bracelet, so do not attempt to run. You know what will happen."
I pulled the package again, and finally Bane let go. Quickly, the envelope was slipped into my backpack, and I turned away from everyone to face the oncoming road.
"Good luck," Mika wished, standing a little behind Bane.
The crunching of snow reverberated against the silence, as I took a few steps forward.
When Bane lastly spoke, I stopped suddenly, hoping that he had decided to let me stay, after all. But, as the words were spoken with such mockery, I knew that the thought was foolish to consider.
"I hope you do not die."
Fear cannot take what you do not give it.
Five minutes passed before I built up enough courage to look behind me, and I found that Bane and everyone at the Den had been erased in the wake of all the snow drifting down with increasing heaviness. A deluge of white flakes coated the earth with a purity previously demolished by the destruction unleashed on the city, but as I stepped on the ground and shifted the layer of snow, black dirt muddied the cleanliness of the white. Evil was only hiding beneath the surface.
I pulled the fur hood up to protect my sight from being completely blinded by the snow, as I looked down at the wristband to find where I had to go. A small animated map glowed on the screen, where the small blue dot represented me, and the red dot represented the destination. As I traveled forward, the blue dot moved accordingly down a linear pathway that signified the designated street needing to be taken in order to find the target. If the line turned to the right or left, a mechanical voice birthed from the wristband to indicate the need to take a street (by name) on whichever side. The method was clear to follow, and as I moved forward, uncertainty eventually gave way to hope.
When the UP arrow was pressed, the screen flashed to a countdown of how long remained for the mission to be completed. So far, I had an hour and fifty minutes left to find the target. Unknowing of how long it would take to pass through all the streets towards the final push, I began to walk faster feeling a new desperation. Bane seemed like a man who would only choose the most skilled and competent people for important tasks… So, why did he select me to become a seeker? The evidence did not add up.
The streets were empty at this point. Maybe I hit Gotham on a calmer day, if such a condition were possible. In any case, I was relieved to have some peace at last.
An hour left. Closer… I was getting ever closer to the destination of the delivery. The snow had lifted somewhat, and the distant road was not so hard to distinguish anymore.
"Almost there," I whispered under my breath, a fog of steam evaporating in the cold air as I spoke. Calculating from the amount of time it took for me to make it thus far, I should be able to reach the target area within half an hour if a good pace was kept.
As if fate heard the slight confidence I exposed, a clatter of voices broke through the silent fixture of the white wall. I sprinted to an edifice on the right of the street and hid out of sight. My heart was racing so fast, that the buildable pressure in my head made all attempts of thought dizzy. Nothing was known about the potential threat. These people, were they civilians, raiders, or some of Bane's men? The best decision I could follow was to remain in the shadows, and wait until the strangers passed without knowledge of my existence.
"Yeah, sure. I bet Bane personally told you that you had a chance of becoming a superior officer," a male voice scoffed.
"What can I say? The big man has got an eye for skill," another man said coolly.
"Yeah, right. You're full of it. The only skill you have is tying your shoelaces properly," the first voice joked.
"Both of you shut up," a third man replied. "You're on patrol, so stop acting like fools."
I pressed hard against the wall of the building, hoping to remain unseen. When the three soldiers came into view after they passed the edifice, I realized they were dressed in familiar uniforms marked by a red scarf that most of Bane's men wore as a sign of their united allegiance. They were simply on patrol, keeping the streets in line, and scouting for suspicious activity that signified possible threats. There was no need to be so afraid, I believed.
As the nervousness weaned, I took my eyes off of the soldiers and looked around to assure the coast was clear of any additional surprises. In the window of a building across the street, I saw a figure standing. The glass was dirty, so the face of the person was unclear, but as a shadowy hand raised an object in the shape of a gun, I tensed.
There was no time to lose. To warn the soldiers, I screamed "Watch out!" and ran into the street before anything could derive from my horrified expectations. The thought of any life being taken away permanently and unwillingly was a situation that I could not stand idly by and allow to happen. Though these men belonged to the very ruler who imprisoned me, they were still human beings, and to end their life with violence caused by another would not be executed without retaliation of some sort.
"What the fuck?" one of the men blurted, as they all simultaneously turned around, and pulled rifles from their jackets with staggering speed. As soon as they saw me, they hesitated to raise their guns. I was not the threat the warning was for.
Just then, a shot rang out, and one of the soldier's heads burst into a disassembled mass of brain and blood all over the white snow. The corpse fell limp and heavy to the ground in a crumpled heap of tangled limbs. Blood scattered onto the other soldiers' faces, and even I felt the light touch of a familiar liquid contact with delicacy the skin of my cheek. Shock intruded into my very being, freezing every fiber, and I could not even motion a wipe to remove the foreign blood away in disgust. Instead, I stood immobile, horrified by the headless image of the soldier's corpse. One minute he was alive, the next he was dead. Death has such speed.
"Raid!" the group leader roared, and pulled his gun up and around to look for the shooter. He seemed more prepared, more experienced with the weaponry and familiar with panicked situations than the other soldier, who could not have been older than thirty.
"Jesus fucking Christ!" the other soldier wailed in sheer agony, falling to his knees to hold the headless corpse of his friend. "Fucking bastards!"
The leader looked at me, lowering his gun slightly. "Who are you?" he rushed to say, looking around with erratic eye movement.
"I'm Bane's seeker," I stuttered monotonously, unable to look away from the soldier who was shot.
"Shit!" he cursed, grabbing a hold of my arm. "You gotta get out of here. Go!" He shoved me forward to encourage a run, the violent push hauling my mind back into reality.
I looked down at the man on the ground, covered in the blood of his fellow soldier. "You can't die, man. Please, stop playin' around," he cried, shaking the dead corpse in total disbelief.
"Get up," the leader commanded irritatingly, shoving the soldier with his foot while still on alert. "There's no time for mourning the dead. We have to protect the girl." Suddenly, his eyes widened as he looked beyond my drained face, and the leader dropped his gun to the ground - defeated.
I whirled around to face the target of the leader's terrified stare, and spotted a group of armed men walk out onto the street from a number of the buildings surrounding us. All of the intruders wore black police raid gear, most likely stolen, with handkerchiefs that covered the bottom half of their faces; their identities unknown.
"My, my. You boys are definitely in the wrong place, at the wrong time," a smooth voice sounded in the crowd. A tall, slim figure sporting raid gear stepped out in front of the other interlopers, except the black handkerchief he wore had the bottom half of a skull printed on the material. From what I could tell, he must have been the chief of the encroaching group. None of the other men spoke out of turn when he dominated the scene, and how the masked man expressed authority in the way he walked and talked suggested no other sustainable reason.
A couple of attackers came up behind the two soldiers and forced them to the ground with the nozzle of their assault weapons, while I was remained untouched.
As the raid leader stepped closer, I noticed he had a light pair of blue eyes, almost grey, which looked over to me after studying the two soldiers and determining that they served no threat as they were currently positioned. Discomfort did not affect the masked man as he looked down at the mangled corpse, and seemed rather curious by the crying soldier's erratic behaviour with a slight cocking of the head. None of the invaders portrayed a sense of disturbance towards the killing, but rather indifference.
"Are you with these fools?" the chief raider asked amusingly, the hint of an English accent manipulating every vowel. "Please tell me you're not. I would hate to mess up that pretty face."
I looked down at the soldiers, the leader peering up at me with a slightly elevated head.
"Get down!" one marauder behind the soldiers shouted, and hit the leader over the skull violently with his gun, wherein the leader hissed at the newfound pain, but begrudgingly complied.
"Please, I need to go." I shuttered, bending the will to look at my wristband, and inevitably bring attention to the device, though I worried that time was running out for the delivery to be made. With every step taken by the chief raider, my breath shortened until only uncontrollable fitful huffs of air escaped; opaque puffs of crystalized vapour chucking out like the steam of a locomotive train. When the lead soldier encouraged me to run, I should have listened, but again fear took its strong hold.
"You didn't answer my question," he said more softly, clearly aware of the stress he was causing, but diluted no lesser authority. "Are you with these men?" The voice of the man was silk; smooth and inviting to indulge, but I knew better than to trust a raider. These plunderers were nothing more than a bunch of criminals with a warped sense of power, mistaking senseless bravado for righteousness. Now that the city was absent of lawful authority, dwellers could take up arms for Bane, remain neutral and afraid, or form a rebellious group with no basis for good or evil, but rather to satisfy selfish need. Raiders, as Mika informed, were materialistic and optimistic. They gathered what valuables and status salvageable, in wait for the end of the chaos to cash in their efforts for a nice, comfortable lifelong settlement. They took advantage of the pandemonium, and filtered monetary value from the pain and sufferance of its victims. 'They're leeches,' Mika had said.
"Bane with find out about this, and you all will suffer," the leading soldier laughed darkly, and spat at the chief raider's feet. "He will kill you."
With this, the guarding raiders at the back of the two soldiers kicked the leader onto the ground in anger, and planting a foot into the soft spot of his stomach, crippling to man whose purpose for the threat was to distract attention from me.
"Not likely," the masked man chuckled, bemused by the soldier's idle warning. He looked to me. "You should know better than to wander in the streets. Not unless you have a great purpose to fulfil."
Another raider stepped up to the side of his superior, and whispered inaudibly into an open ear; the leader leaning back slightly to listen, however his eyes unmoving as they watched me intensely.
"So, you came from the Den. What purpose, I wonder, would you have with Bane?" the masked man asked thoughtfully, having been given new information to fuel his curiosity, and recomposed himself into a tall, lean stance.
"My business is my own," I countered, determined to resist the allure of the raid chief.
The men chuckled at the display of useless courage.
"Unfortunately," he continued, pausing for a moment to create suspense. "These are my streets."
Before I could deny the raid chief's claim, someone spoke up in the crowd.
"Ikem. Someone approaches."
The chief raider turned his head to look down the street, and I followed his eyes.
So… His name is Ikem.
Against the blinding white, a black figure approached with a casual stride, despite the guns and threatening scene of masked men.
Ikem breathed loudly, almost a growl of welcomed anticipation, as he eyed Cat Woman's glossy leather frame in the coming distance. Excitement widened his blue eyes, as the raider adjusted to the surprising, although not unwanted, party guest, and turned fully to meet the mysterious black feline.
"Cat Woman, is it?" Ikem hollered over the wind and snow – a rhetoric question. By the unimpressed tone used, the raid chief already knew who the woman was, and as per usual, did not feel threatened. The raiders repositioned themselves to face the new potential problem, and held readily onto loaded guns to claim the lethal power they possessed. With an army of men, Ikem was in no danger, and he knew it to be true.
Cat Woman? THE Cat Woman from television? Why in the world would she be here?
"Now, boys." She purred. "Pointing a gun at a girl's head is no way to impress." Unlike Bane, the mask Cat Woman wore did not cover the majority of her face, only the eyes, so her facial features were more distinguishable. With long brown hair, and full crimson lips, the heroine could already be considered beautiful, even without bearing in mind the curvy figure she flaunted in the tight leather suit. She, too, was unafraid.
Cat Woman looked at me. "Get out of here. These men won't be hurting you."
Ikem stepped slightly in front of me. "Oh? You think that you can command my men?" There was a slight annoyance in the chief raider's voice this time.
Cat Woman rolled her eyes. "Please. I've brought what you needed, so in exchange you can let the girl go." She raised a gloved hand holding a small sealed envelope.
"Should I forget the other settlement we agreed to?" Ikem questioned with a lighter tone, although a concealed threat lingered below the surface of words.
"Don't even think about it. However," Cat Woman sighed, shrugging her shoulders. "I could always keep the chip, and you could find your own way to come up with the information you need. Your choice." The last two words were said with an intense precision and seriousness that the previous sentence did not possess, which made the claim all the more severe.
Ikem glared down at me, secretly defeated. He wanted to toy with me for a while longer, but Cat Woman spoiled the fun, and the scene turned more serious with higher stakes at risk. Higher than the chief raider was willing to gamble for.
"Fine. She may leave," Ikem shrugged, trying to seem less disappointed.
What kind of business does Cat Woman have with a group of raiders?
"Thank you," I said to Cat Woman, nodding to her in acknowledgement.
"Don't worry about it. I just want to get this over with, and you're in the way," She said in return, keeping her eyes on Ikem. There was definite disdain in her voice.
In any case, I was still grateful.
As I withdrew from the blood and the armed men, to escape back onto route of the delivery, Ikem looked to me with roguish eyes. "I'll be seeing you again," he promised.
There was no time to lose. Only ten minutes remained before the delivery would be considered late, and my death certain. With as much speed that could be mustered, I fled down the street towards the final destination; lungs in terrible pain from breathing in the bitter cold air. Tears swelled in the corner of my eyes at the thought of failing the mission, and the whisking snow was no help. No crying. I promised myself not to cry.
"I can make it," I breathed hard; an emotional shudder. There were only two turns left to take before the final push.
A man conspicuously stood in a long grey wool coat at the corner of St. Mary Road and Briar Street, exactly where the red dot on the wristband indicated as the delivery location. He glanced at his watch, and looked down the street both ways for any sign of the package, soon spotting me on the approach.
"H-Hey!" I yelled, and waved my hand in the air. Excitement filled me. There was still hope yet.
"I was afraid you wouldn't show," the man smiled nervously, outstretching his hand to take the package.
I knelt into the snow to open the backpack on the ground and pulled out the package thereafter, which also gave me a chance to catch wind. "Just a moment."
"Hope you didn't have any trouble getting here," the man said in an attempt to fill the silence.
"Oh, nothing too bad. Just a few raiders," I responded with surprising lightness. All that mattered now was that I effectively fulfilled the delivery on time. The raiders were long gone, and I would definitely take an alternate route on the way back to the Den, so as to sneak past the detection of the marauders with more success than the first attempt.
"Oh," the client murmured quietly, stunned by the lack of care towards the serious implementation of the confession.
"Here you go," I said with a smile, handing over the envelope to the man, who stuck the package under an arm for safe keeping.
"Good. Good. I'll let Bane know that you made it on time." The client nodded, and gave a weary smile. As a final solute, the man tipped his hat to me, and started to walk alone down a snow covered road. He did not seem like an associate of Bane's dominion, but looks can deceive.
I stood unmoving and silent for a few moments, taking in the scenery, and the past two hours; filled with peril and yet… hope. Today would be the first missions of many as a Seeker, and I could not let the success of one deliver obscure the potentiality of possible future anomalies. For this day only, I could celebrate the success of my first mission, but tomorrow would start anew, and with fresh anxieties.
The air was a peaceful calm again. I lifted my face up, letting the gentle flakes of snow nestle onto warmer cheeks.
On the way back to the Den, I did not rush. There was nothing to look forward to in terms of reward, or acknowledgement on Bane's part, and the outdoors was barely accessible nowadays, so I took my time returning home. Home… Such an unfamiliar word now.
When I returned to the suite, Bane was nowhere to be found. Disappointment did not occur. The fire was crackling and warm; the only destination that interested me at this point, after a long journey home in the cold winter snow. After I removed my jacket and threw it onto the couch lazily, moaning loudly as I stretched sore limbs, I caught a glimpse of a box on the kitchen counter.
"What the…?" I whispered doubtfully, stepping over to the mysterious box with cautious footing. There was a note on the top of the box, and it read: A reward for your continuance of living.
"Haha. Very funny," I mumbled darkly, throwing the note to the side, as I opened the box.
Bane could not care less if I lived or not. The alteration was too strange to consider.
There was an iPod and an empty journal hidden within Pandora's Box, along with several pens.
"No way," I almost laughed, amazed. A gold mine. Not only did I miss writing poetry, but music has almost become a mythological element, as well. The faint remembrance of music fluttered lightly on the borders of formation, but I could not recall the truth of its magical, escapist powers. I skimmed through the playlists on the iPod and found a plethora of musical genres. When I was not busy being a Seeker, or training with Mika, I would write and listen to music, so as to escape on some level from the horrors of Bane's treachery. Physically, I would remain in Gotham City's remnants, but mentally I would be elsewhere.
Suddenly, I realized that there were no earphones in the box.
Author's Note: First of all, I would like to apologize for all the grammatical errors and repeated words in the last chapter. I try to closely watch how I write, and review my work as many times as possible before I consider it feasible to read by the public. Only after I looked over the last chapter post its publication did I realize all the mistakes I made. Forgive me! Even the chapter title is spelled wrong… A sad day indeed.
I thought I'd end this chapter with a little humour. Bane, you dirty dog. Haha.
Tell me what you think about the whole 'Seeker' aspect! Bane's errand girl. Sure to bring up many interesting events in future chapters. Also, what do you think of Ikem? He will reappear in upcoming chapters, too. Ikem is inspired by Luke Goss. :P
Why is everyone masked in this episode?! Bane… Cat Woman… Ikem… Geez. These people must have lots of self-confidence issues. Just kidding!
PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS TELLING ME WHAT YOU THINK (OR QUESTIONS)!
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!