ISSUE #17 (May 2020) Written by Emma Woods Featuring:
"BLINDED BY INDIFFERENCE" PART 5
“It doesn’t fit,” Drury Walker insisted, staring at himself in a full-length mirror as he struggled fruitlessly to straighten his tie. The suit was a rental, he would have to buy his own before too long if he was going to keep going straight. Looking at his reflection, he found it difficult to relax, presented with a middle-aged man stripped of all his pageantry, no illusions of grandeur.
Drury Walker and nothing else.
“It’s a tie, dad,” his daughter, Tara Walker insisted, sixteen years of age and mildly amused by the fallibilities of her father. She straightened it for him, flattening out the collar of his shirt before she smiled at him. “One size fits all.”
“If you insist,” Drury took a moment to observe her handiwork, inhaling a deep breath as he found himself facing a future of uncertainty. Never before had his life felt so daunting, the path of an honest man.
Tara stood beside him, leaning against her fathers’ arm, a man that had been far too absent in her short life and did not believe he deserved a second chance. He couldn’t waste it; he had wasted too much time already.
“Drury Walker,” he reminded himself quietly, not meaning to voice the words allowed.
His daughter squeezed his arm, her belief in him unshakable, “And no-one else.”
“Guys, I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Batgirl declared as she spun through the air, scissoring out a pair of kicks to solidly connect with two, separate assailants at the same time. “But we seem to be sinking.”
That brought her a little room, but Stephanie wasn’t even sure that was what she wanted. Now that the installation was on high alert, the number of obstacles that presented themselves to her were increasing in number, the Gotham vigilante meeting larger groups of guards in her efforts to clear a path out of the Inferno. She had come upon this patrol before they had spotted her, and she had been amongst their number before they could react, which was all well and good, being as they were equipped with firearms, and Batgirl most certainly was not.
She kept moving, ducking low as her feet came back down to earth, just barely avoiding the swing of a rifle butt aiming for her head. Stephanie threw herself forwards, slamming her knee into the gut of one guard before spinning on the spot and, with a backswing as she tucked into a crouch, she whacked her clenched fist just beneath another aggressor’s kneecap. Both staggered, neither went down, but valuable seconds were bought with her every blow.
The tight corridors, no doubt constructed to instil despair in those that the denizens of the Inferno abducted, were now working to her advantage, limiting the patrols ability to bring their numbers to bare at once. Less helpful was the inch or so of freezing sea water that now flooded the corridor, the entire structure listing slightly to the side like a drunkard.
Someone had set off explosives shortly after Batgirl had discovered the missing Gotham citizens and, while she didn’t know who, she could only imagine that this had been the intended consequences.
Frustratingly, the guards seemed far less concerned about dying at sea than Stephanie.
“Guys, really, can’t we be reasonable?” Batgirl attempted to negotiate, even as she remained on the offensive. She stepped sideways, avoiding a jab, reaching from her belt and pulling free a small box, slapping its magnetic seal to her aggressors’ helmet. A moment later, it released a less than gentle, electronic discharge, one that set the man to screaming as it briefly engulfed his head. Bodily, he fell backwards to the floor, unconscious and out of it for the evening. “How about you and yours abandon ship one way, and me and mine evacuate the other?”
There were still three guards standing from this patrol, the latest to come between Stephanie’s caravan of refugees and the slimmest hope of freedom, and not one of them looked as though they were about to accept her generous offer.
One thrust out at her with a knife, aiming to pierce something vital but, wide eyed, Batgirl was able to sidestep it by the merest of whispers. She grasped the protruding arm by the man’s wrist and, after raising it high, she ducked beneath the limb before swinging it back down, Stephanie slamming his elbow across her braced shoulder with an almost audible pop. She released her hold and turned, even as her attacker cried out in pain, a swift rabbit punch to his throat further convincing him to go down and stay there.
There were two guards left standing and, with more room with them to move in now that the others were out the way, they came at her at once. Batgirl back peddled as she went on the defensive, boots splashing through the inch of cold water as she relied as much on muscle memory as she did expertise to keep her guard from crumbling.
The reality was, she was getting tired and her opponents knew it, accelerating their combined assault as her own deflections slowed. Adrenaline was keeping panic at bay, and Stephanie kept a sharp eye out for an opening, anything for her to seize advantage.
Instead, her own body betrayed her, an involuntary yelp escaping from Batgirl as several stiches in her side split, the wound a reminder from her encounter with a Manbat. It was hidden beneath her suit, but the pain was very real, distracting her for a vital second.
It was all the opening her aggressors needed, a solid right hook connecting with Stephanie jaw and sending her world spinning, the young woman dazed as a follow up kick to her left shin knocked the limb out from underneath her. Stunned, Batgirl dropped down to one knee, her ears ringing and defences lowered, easy picking for a pair with ill intent.
At least, she would have been had one of the guards not suddenly stumbled forwards, spasming with a shout of startled pain as, to Stephanie’s surprise, an arrow became embedded in his back! It had arrived with a whistle and a crack, the pointed head of the projectile digging deep and dropping him to his knees, apparently enough to convince him to flop face forwards into the chill waters sloshing about their feet.
The final guard, startled as he was, hesitated for a vital second and Batgirl recovered her bearings, surging back up to her feet and, with a shout, proceeded to unleash a flurry of punches, knees and elbows. The injury to her side continued to flare up as parts of the not quite healed wound threatened to reopen, but Stephanie, now prepared for it, buried that pain deep until she completed her blistering offensive.
The man went down a few seconds later, Batgirl exhaling deeply as she leant forwards, palms braced against her knees as she struggled to regain her breath. She looked up to spot the mystery figure still standing down the opposite end of the corridor, the one who had saved her. Slight of frame, she appeared to be a girl not unlike herself, albeit clad in crimson and hooded, a fresh arrow primed in her bow and pointed in Stephanie’s direction.
Looking back at her, Emiko Queen had but one word of welcome.
A Captain who went down with his ship, was one who never became Admiral.
All too quickly, the situation aboard the Inferno had become untenable, his carefully crafted reality coming apart at the seems to the sounds of nine, consecutive explosions. Dante did not believe in coincidence, and as he silently seethed, the crisply suited man could only conceive that the number of detonations had been deliberate, a strike at his ego and the crudest of taunts.
He was leaving, ascending the many layers of the labyrinthine corridors of the Inferno, leaving the installations scrambling security to eradicate those responsible for this infraction. He was a facilitator, not a combatant, the front lines were no place for one of his intellect. There would be repercussions, of that Dante was well aware, reparations paid to his superiors in exchange for his life, a price paid for the finances lost tonight.
It would be passing discomfort, Dante reasoned, making his way towards the deck and helicopter pad, a setback in his path to full partner.
He hurried his pace, feeling the sea air prickling the hairs on his neck, in moments he would…
The lights went out, and it took Dante several moments to realise it had nothing to do with the facility. Pain flared through his jaw as he reopened his eyes, stunned and laid out on the deck after being blindsided by a fierce punch. He tried to get back up, but felt nothing but dizzy, nausea flooding through him as he slumped back down on the floor. With his head spinning, Dante sputtered and cursed, the world fading in and out of focus as his ambusher came into view.
Thick of frame, Killer Moth cut an imposing silhouette, limbs stained with grime and body encased in creaking, worn tactical gear. His face was utterly obscured by a modified gasmask, the lenses of which twitched slowly open. He wheezed, like a man who belonged in the grave, and yet he radiated nothing but threat.
Moth crouched low, irises contracting as his masks blank eyes glowered down at Dante, the man who had stolen from Gotham. He said nothing as he, finally, pulled his heavy pistol from its holster, igniting the tip with a small flame, he said nothing at all as he held it before the man who would be the lord of Hell.
With her bow still raised and arrow poised, Emiko had just one question, “Batgirl?”
Stephanie, her guard up despite the twenty or so yards between them, quickly decided that honesty was the best policy. She nodded, as though the answer shouldn’t be abundantly obvious, the emblem of Gotham’s Guardian emplaced clear as day across her torso. “And you?” Batgirl shot back, uncertain as to what recent developments entailed.
Emiko blew a bubble.
She let it burst.
“Red Arrow,” she answered finally, evidently too cool for school to be hurried. “So, where’s Ollie?”
Batgirl perked her brow, revealing her confusion, “Ollie?”
“Oliver,” Emiko reiterated, betraying her first hint of frustration. It was only exasperated by Stephanie’s continued befuddlement. “Oliver Queen? My brother? Huge dork? Stupid beard? Green Arrow!?! The man who talked me into infiltrating the world’s most inhumane bank in the middle of literal no-where!?!”
The silence that settled between them became uncomfortable, stretching for longer than it should.
Apologetic, and at a loss for something better to do, Batgirl shrugged.
“Son of a Bytch!” Emiko cursed, muttering a string of creative profanities in several different dialects as she lowered her bow and marched forwards, meeting Stephanie face to face and deeply unhappy. “Are you telling me that you’re not here with Green Arrow?”
“Does he wear a gasmask?” Batgirl enquired, dropping her own guard as they conversed.
“No!” Emiko snapped before sighing, composing herself with commendable effort. “No, Green Arrow does not wear a gasmask.”
“Then I’m afraid not,” Stephanie admitted.
“So, you mean to tell me,” Emiko exasperated, irritated beyond reason that her oh so merticulously maintained cool had been breached. “That you’re not part of the carefully crafted, precisely balanced sting operation that has been in the works for the better part of a year?”
“I found out about these guys yesterday,” Batgirl admitted, not meaning to sound like she was bragging. “Kind of fell into my lap.”
For what felt the longest time, Emiko couldn’t find the words to express herself, instead inhaling deeply as she forced herself to become calm, collected, cool.
“Well,” Red Arrow sighed, gathering her thoughts as she looked both ways down the corridor.
She blew a bubble.
She let it burst.
“I may have jumped the gun then,” she admitted, referring to the explosives she had detonated. “We’re sinking, no stopping that now.”
“I figured,” Batgirl nodded.
“They with you?” Emiko went on to question, nodding in the direction of refugees that were coming into view, a long train of human suffering traveling in Stephanie’s wake towards freedom. Doctor Agnes Bellinger was in the lead, keeping them together.
“They are now,” Stephanie confirmed, looking between them and Red Arrow. “We’re leaving. You want to come with?”
“Sure,” Emiko shrugged, as though she actually had alternatives. “This place blows anyway.”
Dante knew his time was short, and yet his throat felt too parched to talk.
He was alone, splayed out on the floor, staring down the barrel of a gun that spat fire, his assailant crouched and glaring through the retracting lenses of a faceless mask. Never before had he felt daunted within the corridors of the Inferno, forever the master of his hellish domain.
Dante swallowed, expecting death.
“Who are you?” he inquired, his dry voice croaked, eyes unflinching from the lenses of his self-appointed executioner. The man did not reply, the irises of his mask grinding open, stuttering and erratic. “Why are you here, what do you want?”
Still, Killer Moth did not answer, the barrel of his pistol level.
Dante grew angry, pinned to the floor by only the unspoken threat of violence, “Do you even know where you are?”
His assailant tilted his head then, Killer Moth pondering the question, his stoic mannerisms betraying nothing. At last, he spoke, a single word delivered at a rasp, scar tissue in his lungs distorting the spoken syllable, “No.”
Dante bristled, beside himself following the confession, to learn that his fate was to be decided by little more than happenstance, that his death could well be mandated by coincidence. The realisation was galling, and one he struggled to live with, temper flaring as he moved to sit, “No? What do you mean, no? If not for me, then why are you even here!?!”
Without a word, Killer Moth stood, his heavy pistol still pointed at Dante, his shoulders rigid. “You took from me,” he explained, without drama.
“Took from you?” Dante blinked; lip curled into a snarl. “What could you have possibly possessed that I would have taken from you?”
With the lenses of his mask contracting, Killer Moth pulled the trigger of his weapon, the barrel lighting up and igniting a flammable stream to ignite into a roaring blaze of fire. The inferno engulfed Dante from head to toe, his killer setting him alight and watching the lord of this domain burn alive before him with an unflinching manner. The flames were reflected in the blank lenses of his mask, echoing a memory from years before and another life, one when he had been better man, stripped of all illusions, pageantry and grandeur.
And no-one else.
“The people of Gotham,” Killer Moth rasped, his voice a poisoned growl. “Are mine to burn.”
The Inferno was lost.
There was no saving the investment, the facility sinking by inches even as Shado darted across the uppermost platforms, but there were still reparations that could be made in the here and now, an opportunity to balance the ledger before she faced judgement for Dante’s failures. Lithe and limber, she bounded from one precariously leaning precipice to another, sure of footing even in these hazardous surroundings, and utterly unflinching in her shifting purpose. The sky had grown dark, clouds thick with rain and roiling thunder, drowning the man-made structure even as it was already being swallowed by the vengeful sea.
She came to a stop only upon reaching the highest perch, crouching low as she unslung her bow and notched a single arrow. Steady, she remained, not moving a muscle, watching as a hunter with the patience of eternity, her gaze upon the cargo haulers still sitting at anchor, the ships the only remaining means to escape the sinking Inferno.
Shado waited, and she was rewarded, a caravan of aimless humanity streaming out of the structure’s bowls and into the open air, surging towards the false promise of salvation. Her daughter was amongst them, precious little Emiko, misguided and treacherous, lead astray by a broken compass.
Pulling the string taunt of her pristine bow, Shado aimed down the shaft and picked her target, waiting for the right moment to release. As much as she tutored and coerced her wilful offspring, her child continued to stray, Shado faced with at least one more lesson to teach her only daughter.