Li Sun had finished his meal and put the tray with covers back on the cart in the hallway. After that he donned his shoes, put on an old winter jacket that had long ago had its insulation pressed down to an uneven flatness and then put on an old brown leather hat he had kept from his younger years working in the San Francisco business district. An old pair of black leather wingtips made him look the part of an old man, shorn of little beyond a pension and who lived in a run down part of town. He took the back service elevator to the basement and came up behind the building that housed the Golden Tiger Club, out into the service alley which had dumpsters, boxes and overhead clotheslines with a dark greyness that allowed him to blend in as a chameleon does with its surroundings. His gait was fluid as well as measured, but his direction was aimless.
First there was that urge to go by the sea, go south or perhaps southeast to the docks or marina district. At the intersection of two alleyways he stopped and breathed in, his nostrils flared and his pupils contracted while he moved his head slowly from side to side. His vision had been failing, slowly, although not to the point of needing spectacles. Now he could see every shadow, every ridge on every brick even at the highest points of the buildings around him and could feel the low thrumming of North Gotham Island on a Sunday. He was hungry, still, the fresh seafood had not abated his hunger but increased it. Air currents tickled over his face and hinted at different food nearby. He turned left and went into the older ethnic sections of the North Island where some of the first immigrants from Europe had landed when there was wilderness around them. He did not bother to look when he crossed roads, he could now feel the movement of cars at a distance and his eyes noted their placement as he moved.
On 50th Street he saw Kurnowski Deli on the corner of Wadsworth Ave. which was just a few blocks south of where the most recent immigrants from Europe had come from towns without easy to form names that seemed to lack vowels unless you knew how to speak them properly. Here, close to the North Gotham River the blending of old world cultures called to him from a hole-in-the-wall deli opened on Sunday and he could see that its little diner bar was full and that others had to wait at the sidewalk service window to order and pick up meals. He smiled at each of the patrons in line, an older woman with two youngsters in tow all with light coats on as the sun had yet to make a full time presence today. Then an older man, bulky and would fit in with his rough shirt, jeans and boots at any warehouse, any wharf or as a bus driver for routes well plied and in need of those who knew them. A younger man with scant beard and round glasses, gaunt of face and lean of limb had on a green overcoat that only showed old jeans and sneakers, plus an artists sketch box that he had open and he was drafting in pencil a wild landscape that seemed to have no horizon, no straight lines and with malformed trees dipping their leaves into a blank ocean going on forever. Li Sun took his place in line and a waitress stepped from indoors to come and take his order.
"What can I get for you, sir?" the young woman in blue and white outfit asked.
"I will have a cup of your czarnina, cold and bottle of mineral water, if you please," he said.
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
"Is that it?" she asked.
He nodded, "Yes, that will do."
"Well if it doesn't have to be cooked you can come right to the window. I'll get that for you right away."
He stepped to the window as she stepped inside and went to the back of the bar area and came back in a minute or two with a white bag at the window.
"Are you sure that's it, sir? Not even a cup of coffee or danish?"
He shook his head.
"No, this will do fine, thank you."
"OK," she said, "that will be $4.75"
He reached into his pants and withdrew his wallet and found a single $5 bill amongst the 10's, 20's and 50's that packed it. He slid that on the counter and waved to her.
"No need for change, thank you."
"You're welcome, sir," she said as she took a quarter from the till and put it into the tip jar next to the cash register behind her.
Slipping the water bottle into an empty pocket he took out the foam cup of czarnina and took the lid off as he walked. He sipped at it, savoring the taste of rich duck's blood and didn't mind the other ingredients so long as the redness inside the bird was his to have. He paid no obvious attention to his surroundings, although noting that two men were following him. Reaching into his jacket he took out the bottle of water and used two strong and nimble fingers to twist it open and then swallowed half of it before re-capping it. Then he sipped the rest of the soup down and put it into a litter box, before finishing off the water and adding that to it as well.
He knew the ways of criminals from lowest street thug to highest echelons of Triads and Yakuza, as well as the Mafia families and Syndicates that one had to deal with in his business. Without looking he could feel them stop just a few doors down the street, pretending not to watch him even as they did so. Resuming his pace he passed by an alleyway and then crossed 41st Street, and they followed him as he headed south past Vanden Way and then Unger until he reached Thorton Street and he turned down that heading west. Still they followed, getting only slightly closer as he had shortened his stride just slightly as he walked. Crossing Thorton mid-way he went to the south side alley, called Malden and at the intersection of alleys he went west, again. He took the corner close to his right side and then shifted into a doorway and became one with it.
The two men entered the alley.
"Christ! What happened to him? No way he could run to the end and lose us," the first man in a rough coat and dark blue pants, with black socks and black shoes said.
"I dunno, Pare. He's gotta be around here, someplace," the second man said looking around
He even looked right at Li Sun, but never saw him. A doorway with ancient screened storm door was, after all, just a sooty door with ancient shapes deposited on it at random. Never a man there. probably nailed shut, to boot.
The two men stepped further into the alley.
"You check that side, Bally, I'll take this one."
"Got it, Pare," said the nearer man who went to start opening up trash containers just past the door.
Li Sun whispered and it reverberated loudly in the alley.
"If you come seeking violence... I can provide it..."
The words shifted loudly for being spoken so softly, and they ran together as if a mouth unused to human speech was forming such words.
"What the hell...?" the man named Pare said whipping around and looking, still not seeing the speaker of the words.
"Where are you?" Bally asked scanning up and down the alley.
Licking his lips and smiling Master Sun could feel the drift of the air and smell fear starting to mix with the stench of the garbage.
"Do you wish to die today.... I hunger ever so much for fresh redness..."
The words were drown out with a hiss that leapt from building to building, echoing and yet going no further than that very alleyway.
"Pare? You aren't doing that are you?" Bally said in hushed tones looking around
"Thas not me, Bally... where the hell is he?" Pare started edging away from the dumpster he was at and moved towards the center of the alley. He bumped into Bally who was doing the same thing. They both turned on each other, Pare with a pistol drawn and Bally with a knife.
"It's just games..." Pare said.
"Come out and show yourself, old man!" Bally said turning as he yelled.
Li Sun took one foot up and stamped it on the ground. The sound reverberated in the sewers and drains coming from the building. He did that again and again. The air was reverberating with the sound.
"Oh geeze... now you've done it..." Pare said edging further down the alley.
Both of them were looking around nervously as the sound grew. And grew. And grew. Like the footsteps of a giant coming closer.
Li Sun continued the stamping and watched a manhole cover start to rattle. He smiled as the two men turned around, back to back, trying to see where the sound was coming from. A garbage can lid fell off a can near the far end of the alley. Both men wheeled around and then Li Sun jumped behind the manhole cover which flipped into the air.
"Here I am!" he said.
The two men wheeled around to see a figure of steam coming from the sewers below, one that grew great wings and a great head that slowly turned to look at them.
"Now, I feast..."
Li Sun stepped forward and the mist clung to him as he stepped over the open manhole, the figure in vapor's wings opened and the head peered down on them. It was hard to see where man stopped and vapor began, and was that green glow coming from the man or the vapor? Or both?
Pare and Bally turned and ran headlong down the alley for the apparent safety of the street and sidewalk beyond. They stopped for just a moment to look back and saw nothing: no man, no vapor, no figure. Just an open manhole with the cover sitting next to it. And then they heard a final whisper.
"Escape while you still can..."
* * *
It moved further into the catacombs where the rushing river came from and they soon found themselves in a place of rivulets and pools and distances both short and deep. Here the warmth from below chilled in the air and water seeped onto every surface. It's cousin was still with It and taught It how to taste the waters and see if there was any sight of the other of their kind. They had gone beyond where the winged night fliers roosted and then beyond where the insects crawled and flitted about able to still go to the daylight world if they dared.
Now it was in that realm of darkness they went, where the denizens of above had to adapt to cope with that dark and the denizens below. One tunnel told of a great rock worm that had passed here ages ago, perhaps to seek a nest elsewhere following its rock senses to the best of places for it. This was not such a place, although easy for that kind to burrow through it held not the nutrients their kind needed and was as barren as a desert to them.
In this senseless, spaceless, timeless place the cousin finally gained glimpse of the taste of their mutual cousin kind. It tasted the water to see the fluid tang of it and understood that it must come from the living body of a Shoggoth. It must be near as they had passed through tiny passages that none of the sea could follow and that only the great ones of the rock could get to with any ease. The air, too, moved with a slowness not of deep breath of earth but of slow passage of requirement. Now they must be wary for to startle a sleeping one of their first cousin's kind was lethal and even normal contact must be taken with care lest it decide that kinship really was no bar to being disturbed.
Now into a cavern which a rivulet flowed that they had followed for some time. The rush of a waterfall coming into the cavern and the fetid movement of air told much of where it came from before being cleansed by the rock it traveled upon. The cousin touched the rivulet leading from the pool under the waterfall and called out, pushing the nameless, soundless speech that would flow unhindered through such water.
It too dipped a tendril in to call for its cousin and hope that, if asleep, it would have time to awaken before striking at those that dared disturb it.
They called again.
Was their cousin actually here? Or further on into the deep warm festering blackness above the waterfall.
Then came the response. It had been sensing them for some time.
Unseen the glistening black body slid up from the depths of the pool, raising slowly above the water and the waterfall and it dwarfed them both in size and power, and from that age.
It wished to know why it was being disturbed and that quickness was necessary for their survival.
Together, in part and in unison, they told of what they were, where they had come from and what they had felt. Their kind was good at swift communication of this sort, done by motion and pressure and scent, and the telling went far faster than anything that could be accomplished by mere speech. Thus when there was seconds of silence, the two were afraid that they had brought some minor matter to their elder cousin and would be punished for it.
Then their elder cousin told them that it knew of this Gotham place, of course, and the power that infested it, infused it, was it. That power was subtle in its way and swift with retribution to those who were unwary of it. That primal power that was Gotham was something that could not be tapped by any kind, nor could it be reasoned with or even spoken to. What they had spoken of as a power source, however, was not that of Gotham and of a sort it had not experienced, either. This was new, to it, and the appearance of it so suddenly spoke of things that might happen even within the primal thing called Gotham.
It asked for an intermelding interchange so it could get the full depth of senses from both. This was something that neither of them wanted for their cousin could easily digest them as their mass was lesser to its. Nor could it be refused as that would show fear and, perhaps, treachery of design. To prove sincerity and truth of what they communicated the intermeld had to take place. Shaggoth proceeded and Ngluioth could but follow, knowing that the instant of touch could be its last thought while alive. It was not death that greeted it, however, and the sincerity was repaid with trust and sharing. For the first time in its life of mere centuries Ngluioth came to understand just how old their kind was.
And what it was like to have a mother of their kind and see her fall.
Then to see their father broken and divided by their step-brother, done most cruelly when he made the forms of being that would be forced to work the surface of their dead mother to live and die over and over again. Their father would know timeless torment. He had hidden the true source of destiny even at the last and the carefully crafted false ones would not serve the victor of that fight. Only the final words of their father rang out as the spearhead slashed him cruelly open.
"I know my destiny, what is your destination?"
His screams like those of the mother of all their kinds rang with his from Shoggoth.
This cousin had not known them while they lived, only gave exacting memories passed to it from elder ones and they, too, in turn, passed it on from their older kind. Now it was theirs, this knowledge, along with all the tumult from then until now.
Their father had separated destiny from destination, and to their kind and the craftily hidden work that said of what those were, they took heart that, someday, a destination would be reached in which destiny would be put back into their power.
Shoggoth also infused Ngluioth with what little of its power was similar to its own, thus allowing it to survive longer in this realm. When they slowly disengaged themselves to head on out towards Gotham, their elder cousin would slow them all due to its mass. There was, however, time to get to this power source and examine it. It was a good destination.
Perhaps it was their destiny as well.
* * *
She was desperately tired and desperately afraid.
In her underground dwelling she kept a tv on to bring in the cable programs and found that with all the channels with nothing on, there was nothing to capture her attention. Football held no attraction for her and game shows with their bright lights and excitement seemed to come from a distant land very detached from the world she was in. Minutes crept by slowly and she found her eyes drifting back to the security console in the room which kept track of those things physical around her. They were no longer a comfort, however, as they could not track the things that stalked the Underworld.
She got up and examined the small bathroom and found little of interest there for the fifth or sixth or tenth time. Her travels to the kitchen area in the main room showed her that, yet again, emergency food had little attraction save to stop hunger. She had then moved on to the small four person bunk room where she had opened the coverings for one bed on the lower right bunk and had only tossed and turned after her ill-spent drifting to sleep in the main room. At the end of each bunk was a set of two footlockers and then two slim upright lockers. Each of the footlockers contained a rolled up bedroll that was sealed in a plastic bag, and two sets of sheets, blankets and one comforter each of them sealed in their own bags. In the upright lockers she found that on the shelf of each there was a packet that contained toothbrushes, soap, comb and a package of facial tissue. Hung up below that was a set of red coveralls marked FIRE RESISTANT that was on a hanger and then sealed in plastic, along with a set of winter jacket and leggings, likewise wrapped, and then a non-descript set of white button down shirt and pants. At the bottom as one pair of boots marked as XL that were high topped black leather with laces, a set of sandals, and a box of XL marked socks. All were in sealed plastic bags.
The only place she hadn't gone into thoroughly was the overhead storage area that had its own ladder at the left of the main room. She had been up there long enough to see large cartons of emergency food, tins of crackers, huge storage tanks on the far side of the area which would be over the kitchen and bathroom section below it, and a number of crates that had military markings to indicate gear to detect radioactivity. A large white container with a red cross on it contained more first aid equipment than she had seen outside of a hospital and neat arrays of ampules, vials and other assorted sealed containers for injectable drugs plus a box of multi-use metal syringes and two containers of disposable syringes. A pile of instruction booklets covered areas from basic first aid to field surgery plus one unfolding piece of plastic to show just what was where inside the box and where to find other items like stretchers, surgery gowns and even full environmental suits. She didn't want to get dirty by trying to climb between the tanks but they hinted at a final upper area that probably had more of the same below.
It was a highly utilitarian place to be. Entertainment from the tv waned and only the small library next to the ladder held anything of interest. There were at least two Holy Bibles there, a full copy of the Constitution and Declaration not only in booklet form but in plasticized sheets, the complete works of Shakespeare, something called Law of Nations, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the complete works of Mark Twain, the Federalist Papers, Wealth of Nations, at least two biographies on each of the Presidents up to Lyndon Johnson, a number of Army manuals covering Wilderness Survival, Escape and Evasion, basic weapons maintenance instructions and diagrams, Field Sanitation, Water Purification with diagrams, Simple Instructions for Tracked and Wheeled vehicles domestic and foreign, Celestial Navigation... her eyes had glazed over just going over each of the titles. Only the major works took up any real space with the slim booklets and pamphlets for the military manuals taking up two rows of the bookcase. There was a sofa and two other chairs in the main room, all made of durable leather and plastic, plus a cabinet that held writing paper, decks of cards and had maintenance fluids for much of the items inside the shelter so that everything could be kept in good condition.
Erin Norris would have been more impressed if she could just get her wits about her.
As it was she kept the tv on at a low level to mask the white noise of the fans keeping the air circulating and took out one of the volumes of Shakespeare and turned to Julius Caesar. With a light blanket and pillow from the dorm room she sat on the sofa and was soon fast asleep to soar above that land of dreams.
* * *
Bruce Wayne opened the box and examined the tooth that was encased in amber, along with the gold working at the crown of amber to hold it in place along with a loop that let the chain through it so it could be worn. He gently picked up the pillow it was on and then unwrapped the chain to dangle the amulet in front of him. As it turned he saw some gleaming from the gold and just a slight red flash of reflected light from deep inside the piece through what must be eye openings of a sort in the worked metal.
"Primitive but well worked," he said looking into the amber at the tooth, "and not a normal tooth from any animal I know of. Slightly curved with more of a triangular profile at the top, like it was a slicing tooth, maybe."
He handed it to Alfred who took off his glasses to peer closely at the piece.
"Unusual," he said, "not exactly like any other piece I've seen, Master Bruce. The amber is extremely clear and yet, peering in, you see internal reflections that make it difficult to see the tooth in detail."
Dr. Gotham nodded.
"I think two or three species of amber were taken, clarified, and then separately molded before a final oil heating on the entire piece. Extreme craftsmanship for something so primitive."
Alfred shook his head and put the piece back in the box and took a kerchief to his eyes.
"Very difficult to focus on it."
He passed the box on to Vivian who picked it up and took the amulet out.
"So, this is, ahhh, Tiamat? Her tooth, I mean?"
"Yes it is, Pilot Rose. Or so the Brotherhood thought, at least."
She pursed her lips together tilting her head left and then right.
"Uh-huh. I see what you mean, Alfred, a real headache piece."
She put the piece down and reached into the coat which was draped on her chair, and took out a piece of facial tissue. She laid that flat on the table and put the amulet on it, then gently rubbed the facial tissue on the amber.
"Nope, no oil there. Nothing else scraping off, either."
She turned the piece over on the facial tissue and then tilted it up so that the tooth pointed at her. She shifted it a bit more and slowly turned it.
"Yeah something red back in there but its hard to get light past the crown. Those two eye holes let some light in but it just goes all over in there."
Finally she put it in the box, took the facial tissue off the table and handed the box to Martin. He just looked at it inside the box.
"Nothing from 'Nam or the Hmong, either. It's different, that's for sure."
Martin looked at Frank who shook his head and he then held out the box to the Project, who took it and took the amulet out. His eye darted left and right up and down, he turned the piece slowly around and then on its longitudinal axis. He then combined all three looking over the amulet.
"Tom?" Bruce asked leaning forward, "What do you make of it?"
"This is a highly worked piece containing a minimum of five admixtures of amber via a laminating process using oil for clarification. Each of the amber layers is different in refractive quality and make clear viewing of the internal tooth structure difficult. The tooth has no other coating on it and is of no known species cross-sectional profile. There is slight serration on the left and right edge surfaces that indicate a ripping as well as slicing function. There are indications of wear along the rear concave portions as well as one scratch diagonally from lower left to upper right of the tooth face. Gold work is of unknown date and period. The entire crown is that of a foreshortened face with mouth open to hold the interior piece."
Dr. Gotham raised an eyebrow and nodded his head.
"The tooth is set into a garnet inclusion that goes from rose garnet at the circumference of the crown to black garnet at the rear where the internal placement pin is located. The tooth is three degrees above ambient room temperature modulating to five degrees at the crown."
He continued to turn the piece and shifted it left and right as the axis of the tooth came in alignment to his eye. Then he tilted it slowly to let the overhead lights shine down more directly through the piece.
"There is fluid movement in the garnet that is of a nonbrownian nature. The rate of flow is slow and continuous."
"What?" Dr. Gotham asked softly.
"Fluid moving?" Frank said leaning forward to look at the piece in the Project's hand.
"Huh? What do you mean fluid?" Vivian asked.
Martin was pressing his lips together looking from the Project to Dr. Gotham and back again, noting the surprise in Dr. Gotham's face.
"Can you tell what it is, Tom?" Bruce asked.
"Yes, Mr. Wayne. It is of a composition like that of seawater with high concentrations of iron."
"Is it alive?" Alfred asked.
"All indications are that this is a Class 7 phenomena item being that of a physically manifested supranormal being that is alive. It is a speculative class with only minor category definitions to it given by Skynet as it had never found any items in that Class. This is unique and fits the general Class description of being alive or attached to something living, having Supranormal effects with physical phenomena, and is only lacking in conscious position to fit all other Class 7 description bases. This is not a speculative Class 6 which is a once living item of a Supranormal manifested being, therefore it is Class 7 although lacking in conscious presence."
Dr. Gotham shook his head.
"Of course. Tiamat F'tagn."
"What?" Bruce asked.
"I don't like the sound of that," Vivian said.
"That can't be a real word," Martin said.
Frank shook his head from side to side.
"I've heard it," Frank said, "or read it. Same thing. A couple of times in local native legend here, or up the coast, really."
Dr. Gotham smiled, "Yes, it is a real word and you are correct, Sargent Rock, it is known not only in local stories but in living use here and there."
"But what does it mean?" Vivian asked.
"Dead and dreaming," Frank said.
Dr. Gotham nodded.
"Asleep and Dead, yet dreaming," he said, "really, what is it that gods do when they are dead and yet still physically here? They don't decay, they don't rot, therefore they must be dreaming even while dead."
"Noted for category reference," the Project said, "Class 6 is a sub-part of Class 7 for f'tagn."
* * *
August 1st 1892
Today I talked with Alachendri alone as I could, finally, speak haltingly in his native tongue which had become so familiar to me after returning from the Pamir highlands. This was their last day at Li Jien now that elder herdsmen had been replaced by the younger in the highlands and it is those elders that would await the return of the herds in a month or less.
Alachendri had asked for a meeting later in the day as that is what I was up to, after the events of the previous weeks. With my strength returning I, too, would be off tomorrow heading back to Kashi and then conducting some interviews with an eye to following up some items I had heard about. He had provided a few relatives to contact in Kashi and perhaps a village or two on my journey back up the Gez.
First he apologized for my encounter with the dark creature, the Shoggoth, as it had not contacted many of their people for some years and then only by way of its brothers in dreaming, the Shaggoth. He said that the one in the caves had communicated with him before they took me down from the valley, and that it had sensed that I had come from a strange and yet familiar place. Of any communication with it, I remember none save what haunts my dreams and the times I see the shadows move on their own when I am not looking at them. Alachendri said that only those who had some familiarity with these creatures could understand them and only repeated contact lessened such shock as I had. He too remembered that from being a boy, and learned that while it was abnormal it could be understood.
I doubt that any will understand this when I arrive home as it is too strange to recount. I fear I will always be haunted by these events to my dying day.
Secondly, in return for my gifts to his men and for my travails, he wanted to entrust to me an item of Mo Long that had been with their people for some time. It was an amulet with a tooth encased in amber, capped by worked gold. In many ways it was primitive but appeared to be a vital keepsake. I could not, in good conscience, take such an item but Alachendri insisted that not only was this for what I went through, but that it belonged, more properly, where I lived, which is to say Gotham. From their place to mine they wished for me to remember them well. I could not decline that for such a reason and hope that I may display it prominently upon my return or perhaps make it a gift to the City's historical museum. Perhaps I would pair it with that dragon ring I purchased while in Iberia, to show off the older forms of jewelry design I had encountered in my life.
Third and finally he warned me that in the rest of China there would be upheaval amongst its people and that the White Lotus was only the first of many travails to come. He suspected that his people, already looked down upon, would not be welcome here much longer and that they would seek refuge in the old places of Empires past that are little known or visited. I told him I wished I could see such places and he smiled and offered that if I was back within two years that I could be taken to them, as well.
After that we had a last meal together, his people and my group, that lasted into the night. Even after I turned in I could hear the playing of ethereal flutes and that syncopation of drums that echoed off over the Tak-la-Makan. There was only the distant hiss of wind over sand in response, a gentle shifting of the sea of dusty waves. In the morning the Yuezhi had left with only a few of the elder herdsmen left to supply any needs of their upland kin.
Lisa shivered as she heard Barbara read the last of that passage. As Barbara leafed through the following pages Lisa had to calm her nerves.
"After that its travelogue back to Kashi and then up the Gez heading back to Pakistan. No real further mentions of these creatures."
Lisa looked at her, nodding.
"It is enough, really. This is not what I was expecting, exactly," she said, "nothing simple and easy to understand. But it is enough."
Barbara closed the diary and looked at Lisa.
"You haven't told me what you really came here to find, Lisa," Barbara said.
"Nor have you."
"Oh, god. A game of secrets! I thought that I had outgrown that!" Barbara smiled.
That brought a smile to Lisa's lips as well, her eyes twinkling in relief.
"I guess, yes. If you wish but it must be...."
"... only between us," Barbara finished, "That is how its played."
Lisa smiled and nodded.
"Yes. And since you are the one to bring it up..."
Barbara looked at her materials on the table and nodded.
"OK. My father's car is in the shop and I had to drive him around today. I'm Barbara Gordon..."
"Oh!" Lisa inhaled looking at Barbara, "I didn't know..."
Barbara raised an eyebrow.
"I'm the one who tries to look out for him when he has really done a number on his car. Still today was weird with what happened on the Riverside and at the convention center..."
Lisa shivered and whispered, "Riverside?"
"Uh-huh. A multiple death scene there, and a strange one. It might be gang related but... well... I doubt it. Something had been able to overcome twelve people last nights, adults and late teens and not leave much in the way of bodies. Just bone slivers, parts of a skull, dental fillings..."
Swallowing hard was the only way Lisa could control her fear. This wasn't just a normal shooting or some simple revenge act done by Mafioso or Syndicate members.
"... and left this slimy stuff around the house they were in. No screams, no witnesses, nothing. I can't give you their names because it is dad's work, but whatever it was could get into locked rooms, move without waking people or even overcome those who were awake, and do it so quickly that they couldn't respond. Guns in nightstands, knives still in pockets, that sort of thing. After that we went to the convention center to see what happened there after a fashion show and... well... it is a huge crime scene. It started at the back dressing rooms after most of the show was done and then all hell broke loose. Some people trampled to death, two people thrown hard enough to kill them, then something going on in the hallway out of the back area. A real mess. I think I found some more of the slimy stuff there, but it was already mostly dry so can't tell for sure. And whatever happened started next to a sink. So I'm piecing things together and looking for something that can go through drains, under doors or through air vents, and is pretty strong. Plus really lethal. Going through an obscure glossary I found reference to these Shoggoth and that an original source document was here at the library."
"Your father didn't send you, did he?"
"You mean, is this official?"
"No, it isn't. Its my excuse to hang around the South Station area in case dad needs me since that was his last stint before becoming Chief and then appointed Commissioner, everyone there knows me. By now," she glanced at the clock that was nearing 2 PM, "I'm sure he is hip deep in reports by all the officers, the lab and trying to work things out with a couple of his Deputies back at City Hall."
"That is good. Thank you, Barbara."
Barbara reached out to move her materials closer.
"You're welcome. Its your turn now."
"This is between us, right? Not official?"
Barbara turned to look at her, tilting her head slightly.
"So long as there isn't a homicide involved... I can keep a secret..." Barbara trailed off softly.
"No, at least I don't think so."
"Don't think..." Barbara blinked and looked at Lisa who was still shivering, "...that doesn't sound good."
Lisa shook her head no while looking at the diary.
"Look, if it is bad... I'll tell you, OK? I'll keep you out of it if I have to tell dad."
Nodding Lisa looked from the book and then into Barbara's eyes.
"It has to do with a friend of mine. Erin Norris. She and her husband tried to rob a store Friday night and they... encountered something... green, glowing you could see through it but not clearly. It enveloped her husband, Ronnie, and then it... the mass... grew eyes on stalks and tried to... get Erin. She was terrified and ran out and didn't stop until she got to the riverfront and then came to me where I work the night shift and was able to tell me the story."
Barbara couldn't break her gaze from Lisa as she saw fear of a sort she hadn't seen before.
"I... the managers... we all know Erin from when she worked with Minerva..."
"Beaumont?" Barbara asked.
Lisa finally closed her eyes and shook her head.
"Yes. She had met Ronnie on the job and they had gotten married... happily... we all thought that they had went straight... but..."
Barbara pressed her lips together.
"Crime seems to attach itself to people, doesn't it?"
Lisa pulled out a tissue and dabbed at the corner of her eyes.
"Yes. They had... started working to distribute drugs... and had a drug transfer... a bust a few weeks ago, but not by the police... on the ferry..."
"The Batman," Barbara whispered. He rarely ventured out during the daytime and that was one of those times.
"Yes... they weren't discovered but had... to repay what was lost... Ronnie had seen a shop that had some jewelry and other items and it was at the edge of the Shambles. They had thought it would be an easy job, but that creature... it sounds like what Erin described, an Ngluioth, appeared. I was able to give her shelter and other friends helped her to recover. Last night she didn't... want to stay so far from her husband and... she was able to get help to get to the convention center..."
Barbara blinked and shivered.
"That's... oh god..."
Lisa looked at her and nodded.
"A younger cousin of mine was also at the convention center, he was there as a model... Mark Re..." Lisa stopped, closed her eyes and shook here head. "He had come to Gotham because he had asked me... if there were jobs for male models... even part time... now he is dead and Erin is missing."
Lisa had sucked her lips in and pressed the tissue to the corner of her eyes. Barbara normally didn't use a purse and kept items stashed in her car and in her coats. She spent a few moments checking her coat pockets until she came up with a sealed pack of facial tissues, which she broke open to hand another to Lisa, who smiled and whispered 'thank you' and then put them on the table. After that she slid a water bottle out from an outer pocket and handed that to Lisa who nodded and took a quick swallow.
"After I learned about that this morning, I needed answers. I went to Mark's employer at Hideko..."
Barbara furrowed her brow.
"Cathy Li? She runs that portion of the company, doesn't she?"
"No. Li Sun, who runs the company. He was there last night as well, and Cathy was in the back area. She had fled in terror at what happened. Master Sun had been pushed aside by another man who had been killed by those... running to get away... he had seen Mark thrown but..." Lisa shook her head, "he had been disturbed because of what he saw. He had told me of the stories told to him as a child when he had lived in China, decades ago. Stories of a secret brotherhood, creatures and old Empires... because of what he saw."
Barbara glanced at the diary of Chester Rhinold who would never recover from that trip to China and be committed to an asylum within a few short years of his return. And now, somehow, it is his descriptions, with him being the only one to find these Yuezhi, that remained. Barbara knew that the story, the deaths, the robbery and creature, all of it was connected. Somehow.
"I should never have let Erin go... but she was so concerned about being near Ronnie... not with him just near him."
Barbara looked from the diary and back at Lisa.
"You couldn't know what would come of it, Lisa. You aren't to blame for what happened to her or to your cousin. I know that doesn't help you..." Barbara pressed her eyelids together and held her head down, whispering, "... it never does in these cases... dad has seen so many of them... but you aren't to blame."
Lisa nodded assent.
"I know. I just want to find... what happened to Erin... even if its..." she trailed off, looking at Barbara who was still looking at the floor.
"All the people at the riverfront were known... identified... she wasn't there..." Barbara whispered.
"Then where is she?"
"I don't know," Barbara said lifting her head up slowly opening her eyes.
Lisa shook her head. "She couldn't just disappear unless she had been killed where people couldn't find her."
Barbara shivered and her lips formed an 'oh'.
She shook her head 'no'.
"But I might have an idea. At the convention center there were other people investigating what had happened. Seeing what they could find out for their employer."
Lisa pulled her head back and looked puzzled.
"What? Who were they?"
"Two work for Wayne Corp, at least a couple of them do. Another is a friend of Mr. Wayne's, Frank Rock, and a friend of his, Mr. Octurian," Barbara blinked at the memory of him, "two of them were following what they thought was a trail but it didn't seem to go anywhere. If your friend Erin did escape, we might be able to find a clue to where she got to."
"Really?" Lisa said softly.
"Yes. There's just a few preparations we need to make, thats all."
Lisa looked puzzled.
"Preparations? What sort of preparations?"
Barbara gathered her materials into a pile and looked at Lisa.
"Oh, the usual. Rope, flashlights, maybe a few balls of string, bottled water. Nothing we can't get at the Army/Navy store over on 15th and Howard."
"But where... does the trail lead?"
"The Underworld. I saw Mr. Octurian come from one of the old subway stations so the trail must go there. I guess boots would help, too."
Lisa pressed her lips together thinking of Erin hiding in the vast set of subway tunnels and covered over streets that were under Gotham's surface. It had been a haven for some criminal types until the stories of the Ghost Trains started to spread. And the Batman. He, too, seemed to arise from the depths of Gotham's Underworld.
Looking around her, Lisa closed up her notes after writing a last few pieces down, and then put them together in front of her and looked down at them.
"You would really help me, Barbara?"
"Sure! This isn't enough to really go to dad with, as its too outlandish. He said I should never, ever go down into the Underworld, but I'm a big girl now and while I wouldn't call it 'safe' down there, I'm not afraid of the dark. Besides I can't imagine anyone stuck down there since last night... and if your friend Erin is down there then this thing... Shoggoth... Ngluioth... whatever it is... might be hunting her. We just have to go down prepared, is all. And grab something to eat."
Lisa looked up from her materials and then the closed diary of Chester Rhinold. Finally she turned to Barbara and nodded.
"Great! I got a car in the parking garage."
"Mine is on the street and it will not be safe there after sundown."
Barbara pressed her lips together.
"Tell you what, lets get over to the South Station and I can leave my car there. I'll drop dad a note not to worry about me as I'm looking up a lead on what caused the killings. You don't even have to come in or go to the lot, just wait a block down the street for me. OK?"
A trace of a smile graced Lisa's lips.
"Agreed. I need help. So does Erin, I think."
"Great! Leave the diary on the side shelf and we can get out of here. Probably fast food. There's a diner by the Army/Navy store."
In a whirl the ball of energy that was Barbara Gordon was unleashed into the great unknown.
* * *
James Gordon was leafing through the lab reports in his meeting room and finding that they weren't adding up to very much. Major Rhodes and Deputy Commissioner Colton were also there along with the number 3 man in the Forensics Evidence Unit, Lt. Kent Unger. There were three white paperboards up and they had on them the pages of evidence from the two crime scenes at Riverside and the Convention Center, and then a blank one that listed the similarities between the two. Those similarities were scant and consisted of a perpetrator unknown or unseen and an ability to kill either by blunt trauma, inducing fear or dissolving someone rapidly.
"You would think that there would be something connecting these events, wouldn't you?" Rhodes asked.
"So far, there isn't a connecting thread that I can see," Colton said.
"Nothing from the forensics side, at least," Unger said, "no hallucinogens, no hypnotic devices or impulses, no real identification of the material at the riverfront site save that it is some form of protein that is gelatinous but its a simple protein, like what is found in biological gels. All the reports are coming up empty."
The door opened to a woman in uniform carrying a thick stack of folders.
"Here's what the Chief sent over Commissioner. Everything that's been going on in the last week."
She put the pile of folders on the table and then broke them down by tab color to sort them by day.
"Thank you, Detective Flannery," Gordon said, "I hope this helps, some."
She smiled and looked at the briefing stands with the large paper flip sheets and the raft of reports already on the table.
"I would have to get them for your Monday briefing, Commissioner. I already have most of the stuff from early in the week summarized, and had to wait a bit to get the Thursday and Friday reports."
Lt. Unger turned to look at her.
"Is there anything unusual from what you've seen early in the week?" he asked.
"Not that I've seen. Your normal burglaries, robberies, muggings, shake-downs, domestic violence and other assorted street dust-ups. All the way to Wednesday, which I have handwritten notes attached as I didn't get a chance to type them up."
"You're a wonder, Clarice," Deputy Colton said looking to her and then to Gordon, "I think we can concentrate on the remainder. The summary of hold-over cases from the last two months isn't giving us much and I'm guessing that if something leading up to Saturday night happened, it would have happened on those days."
"Det. Flannery," Rhodes asked, "have you ever seen something like what happened here at the convention center and riverfront? I haven't been on the beat in a few years and only get reports and summaries, so I'm just wondering if you remember anything over the past couple of years at street level that was like this?"
She shook her head.
"Nothing like this, Maj. Rhodes. This is weird even for Gotham or even out in the boonies up coast and other states. I mean you might get something like this in Vermont, maybe, along the upper Miskatonic. But nothing like that here."
Gordon pressed his lips together to keep a smile down as everyone had heard stories about the region, but none of the evidence that had shown up over the decades really pointed to anything mysterious. Even what had happened at Innsmouth had been chalked up to a short-lived influenza outbreak that had been confined to the town. And Vermont was, after all, Vermont and far removed from the environs of Gotham City.
"Thank you, Detective. Since I'll be going through the files, all the records will need is the case number and 'inspected' next to it for the summary folder. After that, if you have any time, dig around in the cold cases file and see if anything turns up."
"Will do, Commissioner. I'll hit the Big Red Box first," she said referring to the file box containing the major problematic crimes and events that the GCPD couldn't make heads nor tails of, "since it has a good summary sheet."
"It does?" Unger asked, "Can we get a copy of that, too?"
He turned to the Commissioner.
"We have something similar in the labs, but it only goes back to the mid-1960's when the old lab was... ahh... torn down by accident," he said referring to the major street renovation project which had some unfortunate events along with it.
"I can get you an extra copy, Lieutenant," Flanner said, "give me about five minutes, OK?"
"Thank you, Detective," Unger said, "that would be wonderful."
Det. Flannery turned and left the room and the Commissioner leaned forward.
"Right, if that last pile is Friday by time, hand me the top hmmm... five folders... we will go reverse chronological since that also looks to have some early Saturday files."
Maj. Rhodes handed the top five off the stack to him, then Colton signaled the next five, and Unger took the Thursday stack, leaving Rhodes with about ten more folders.
Commissioner Gordon flipped open the file about the robbery of a Curio Shop in the southern part of Mid-South near or in the Shambles. The top of the notes held a mugshot of a woman who was currently missing. He glanced up to the photos and composite picture of the woman who was at the convention center that wasn't Tammy Landon.
"I don't believe it," Gordon said taking the picture up along with the wanted description. He got out of his chair holding it up and walked over to the convention center sheets.
"Don't believe what, Commissioner?" Colton asked.
"A suspect. From the Friday to Saturday reports. This is the reason we had so few people to cover the convention center and river front from South Sectors. The woman who isn't Tammy Landon."
Gordon took a piece of tape and put the picture up next to the photos and composite drawing of the woman missing from the convention center.
"Never heard of her," Rhodes said.
The other two shook their heads negatively.
"Neither have I," Gordon said, "but if the description of something by her husband is hard to put together, it fits with the other two cases."
"Really?" Unger asked, "Where is he?"
Gordon walked over to the table and checked the sheets and pursed his lips together.
"At Gotham General Hospital. In the psychiatric ward," he flipped a page in the file, "Here's a summary... the patient Ronald Norris exhibits extreme anxiety and apparent psychosis due to a trauma described as being engulfed by a warm translucent mass that invaded his..."
Gordon shivered and handed the file over to Colton.
Travis Colton exhaled and shook his head.
"If its not one damned thing, its another."
* * *
Dr. Gotham had stood up and had adjusted his coat as he pulled it on.
"Do with it, Mr. Wayne? That is up to you. I am not the owner of the item and only ensured that it had a container for safe keeping of it."
Bruce closed the box and pushed the hasp which clicked into place.
"Yes, but why was it where my mother found it?"
Dr. Gotham shrugged, picking up his walking cane.
"Why did Mr. Rhinold place it there, do you mean?"
"Yes, why there?"
Raising his eyebrows he put his hands on the head of the cane and leaned slightly on it, looking at the faces around the table.
"I don't know, Mr. Wayne. It was placed where sea dwellers and the sea couldn't easily get to it and where a land dweller had to clamber around on a rock ledge to find it. Only by the expedient of some of the rocks pushed in to conceal it having fallen out in the intervening decades did you mother find it. It must have been an arduous task to place it there for Mr. Rhinold but there is no telling on the thoughts that drive the demented to do such things."
"But you do have an idea, right?" Vivian asked.
Dr. Gotham took a hand from his cane and pushed his glasses up his nose.
"Of course I have speculations, Pilot Rose. Martha Culligan did not pay me to deliver speculations but to perform a cleaning service and then an initial research into the item's history. That is done, bought and paid for by her and now delivered with the item back into the care of her son. My duty is discharged, at this point."
Martin Carstairs leaned back in his chair to look up at Dr. Gotham.
"What else was found with the amulet?" he asked.
"Why nothing, Lt. Carstairs. No other item, no box, no cloth, no religious items, nothing of any sort was reported by Martha Culligan and I take her at her word on that. And has been recounted in her ledger she found nothing else of interest with it."
"Isn't that odd?" asked Alfred, "That an item of value was roughly put in a rock wall and concealed? With nothing to protect such an item would it not succumb to the elements?"
Dr. Gotham smirked.
"It has lasted thousands of years, Mr. Pennyworth, I doubt that some time by the sea would harm it in a space of any less time than it has already been in existence."
Sargent Rock shook his head.
"If Tom's right, then it is living, although I really don't understand that. Wouldn't there be something to at least try to contain it?"
"Sargent that is speculation. One can only do so much to contain that which is Tiamat f'tagn as the power of the dreaming land flows through her dead yet sleeping corpse. That, alone, should be enough to preserve the item. And really, there is no power that can restrain such a being so close to the origin of all chaos. All other gods and monsters are her children and while she can be killed she cannot be made to stop dreaming. And now, over time, even that which killed her is gone, perhaps f'tagn or, perhaps because of the position of being lesser to Tiamat, gone for good. The third generation after her appears to claim all, and yet it is very hard to get rid of the great-grandmother to them all. She remains Tiamat f'tagn."
"What you are saying, then," Bruce said, "is that there is no safe place for it."
Dr. Gotham smiled.
"Well, I wouldn't put it on if I were you. Truly I was surprised to see your mother wearing it when she came to my shop. And she was able to take it off as if it were a normal item of jewelry. You may not be so lucky, Mr. Wayne, as such items tend to become... ahhh... attached to their owner."
"Thank you, Dr. Gotham. Alfred if you would see him out?"
Alfred got up from the table to escort Dr. Gotham back to the elevators.
Bruce took the box up and pocketed it in his leisure jacket that was draped on his chair.
"Now about what happened at the convention center..." were the last words Dr. Gotham could hear as he walked out with Alfred.
"You don't know anything about the events at the convention center, do you Doctor?"
Walking at a steady pace next to Alfred, he turned and looked at him.
"I have no idea, Mr. Pennyworth. I was quite busy at my shop last night and only learned of events via the paper this morning."
Alfred nodded as they turned left to head towards the main entrance to the apartment.
"Martha Wayne was a good woman, Dr. Gotham. She dedicated herself to Thomas to help him build up Wayne Industries and made sure Bruce was raised properly. To you she is only someone you met a few weeks ago, and as a girl. She made an lasting impression on all her knew her."
Dr. Gotham arched an eyebrow as they got to the door and Alfred opened it.
"I can see that, Mr. Pennyworth, she is here through the works she and her husband made and I can see that the determination that she had as a girl has changed you all, even past death. Although I never met her husband to be, what he has done also lives on here in the quiet methodology of a physician and a caring one. These are not the things of headlines or great turns of history, and yet in some way, the determination of that woman and the caring of that man come together here for all to see. Now I can find my way to the elevator from here, thank you for your time, Mr. Pennyworth."
The two men shook hands, the shopkeeper who was more than just that and the butler who was no servant.
He retraced his steps to the elevator and, from there to the main floor, and then out the lobby to the front walk. As he headed towards the street he looked up at the tower.
"Tiamat f'tagn," he said softly, "indeed."