Through its short life it had never experienced nor learned of anything so engulfing, so loving.
Power flowed into its substance in a way that had never happened before because it could not have happened before to any of its kind. It was at both a searing power, that reddened with liquid taste, and an engulfing power, that began to go into its very being. For the first time it now understood what it must be like to be an Old One, with their ancient and eldritch capabilities over anything when they cared to use it.
With a tremor it felt an affinity seeking it out, an affinity of here and now and it was the same affinity that had brought it here, now wielded to find it. Just a moment before it could have done nothing about this and may not have even felt it nor understood it, since it was only the fading affinity of power already used. The richness of depth with the power now in it allowed it to understand this and then do something that it could only do as an adult: reach back through affinity to actually strike at its source. In doing that the affinity link broke and it was free of it, now, leaving only the other affinity given to it here as its tie to this realm.
Such power granted a form of understanding and it was one that now warned it of its imminent demise as some of its being was being tugged from this realm to another, the realm of ch'shagg. and its body was not one that could do that directly and yet directly it was being pulled. If pulled it would face the deathless dreams and be trapped never dead nor alive, and unable to die it would but dream and that fate was the most horrible of all to bestow upon any kind of being. To f'tagn was a curse, a dread curse unlike any other, and it was better to be extinguished in an instant than to suffer it at all. Those few that do suffer such dread fate are admired and feared, both, as it also has the potential for return and when returned the power from that dead and dreaming fate is one that is unimagined and unimaginable.
Avoid this it must and yet now the attraction was so great that it could not move back or withdraw from this nexus point, this place where it had been drawn and enticed. Yet the loving force within this power reassured it that there was a way out, a way to survive. Of anything that might do there was only its cousin that understood ch'shagg, and was a resident of that realm. To save itself it must now call to it and ask for intermelding to save its wretched life once more. Perhaps with two the promise could be understood and with Shoggoth here to defend them as they tried to reconcile this power nexus, they had opportunity as this power promised so very much and with it the hope of fulfillment.
* * *
Erin frowned and shook the hand lantern which had been fading and now flickered and finally went into a dim yellowness that provided next to no light at all. She put it away in her rucksack and took out her penlight, using its bright, tiny beam to find her way. She did her best to remember how the tracks were and went to the left hand wall, stepping carefully over other intervening tracks until she was there and then walked until along it until she found the steps up to the walkway along the tunnel.
"Is someone there?" came a voice from her right, far down the tunnel. A voice that sounded familiar.
"Lisa?" she whispered and then shouted, "Lisa? Is that you?"
In the distance Erin could make out two beams from flashlights, mere dots in the distance.
"ERIN!!" came a cry and then the two lights started to move up and down, slowly getting closer and she heard the distant sound of racing footsteps.
"Don't go anywhere, we will be right with you!" came the voice of another woman, one she didn't know.
She couldn't believe it. Here, of all places, Lisa had come looking for her. She smiled and cried shaking her head in disbelief. Of all people she had thought might come looking for her, Lisa was the last she expected. Carefully she sat down and slid down to the tracks and leaned against the concrete as her friend rushed to her to hold her tightly.
"Erin, I was so worried about you! After hearing on the news about the convention center..."
Lisa was crying as well, as she grasped on to her dear friend who held her just as tightly.
Barbara stopped a few feet from them and was smiling in the darkness, relieved that someone so lost could be found again down here in the underground beneath the Underworld.
* * *
Kevin Masterson was smiling as he led Commissioner Gordon and Deputy Commissioner Colton into the main floor security center.
"Yeah, Ellen was right, I do remember an older guy going out through the doors on Friday. Not much goes on here on Friday nights and he really was dressed for some sort of theme party, you know?"
"Theme party?" Colton asked as they went to a door where Masterson entered a number on a keypad.
"Yup, like something for an old-time sort of deal. He was dressed like a guy from... well... way back in the day. You see guys dressed like that in films... from way back, maybe even in silents... like a businessman or something. Not high society but still..."
The keypad beeped and Masterson opened the door.
"Is that you, Kevin?" came a voice from inside the mostly dark room, with only the EXIT signs giving any real light, but a soft glow coming from around a corner to the right.
"Yup. Got Commissioner Gordon and Deputy Commissioner Colton want to talk with you for a bit, Tony. They wanna see if our security cams saw something pretty late on Friday night. Mind if I put the lights up?"
"Sure, go right ahead. Like it dim to help me concentrate."
Masterson turned the lights on and a relatively ordinary room with a partial wall on the right came into view. There were three desks along the left hand wall and a row of filing cabinets on the wall across from them. They heard a chair get pushed back as they walked in. He led the two visitors into the room and met Tony just a bit past the wall, where they could see a bank of small TV monitors clustered together with banks of switches on a control console under the monitors.
"Commissioner! Haven't seen you since we had to clear up that ruckus back in May."
Gordon nodded as he walked forward to shake his hand.
"That did take a few days to clear up, Anthony, I didn't know that people here did night training films."
"Yeah it was a total fuck-up. Just another one of those miscommunications that happens, I guess."
"Yes it was, and Mr. Wayne made sure that any damages and problems got paid for. No one was pressing any charges and since everyone was satisfied..."
"A real mess for a few days, for sure. And I see you have Travis as your caretaker tonight... good to see you Deputy Commissioner."
Travis smiled and shook hands with the weekend Chief of Security for Wayne Corporation, Wayne Tower Section.
"Yes, he did a number on his car again on Friday afternoon. Barbara was his shepherd this morning and I got the duty this afternoon."
"Right, right," Tony said, "So what can we do ya for tonight? Poker game, maybe?"
"You wish, Tony!" Masterson said, "They wanna check some of the security camera tapes from Friday night. They are investigating the Convention Center stuff and think a lead might be someone on the tapes."
"Yes. We are looking for an older man, late 50's or early 60's, between 9 and 11 PM Friday night who came through here," Gordon said.
"I think me and Ellen saw him while we were at the main post out front, coming up from the station. Just a few hours before quitting time, so about 10 o'clock."
"Got it. That would be the lower station, mid hall to the stairs then main floor stairs cameras. He might have picked up a ride on a late WIST from ATC, so do you want me to pull those tapes? It'll only be a couple of cars to check since they don't run on more than the quarter hour on the night schedule."
"That sounds good, Tony," Colton said.
"I'll get the monitors going while you get the tapes," Masterson said.
"Thanks! Might as well head over to the desks, I'll be back in a minute with the tapes as they'll be in the Friday basket waiting to be stored."
Masterson led the two visitors to the desks and shifted the two large monitors on them to be more easily seen while turning them on.
"It's been a helluva weekend here, what with the press and shit going on because of the Convention Center. The PA section have been working overtime like you wouldn't believe, and so has the legal staff making sure everything is taken care of. Wayne's been busy, getting all that stuff coordinated and doing the memorial... heard he is out tonight blowing off steam someplace, maybe doin a midnight drive with someone cushy..." Masterson said with smile on his face.
"We know the feeling," Gordon said, "two majors for us and we think they might be related."
"Really? You mean that Riverside rumble or whatever it was?"
Colton nodded as he leaned back.
"Its weak but worth checking out, at least."
Tony walked back in the room carrying a basket of videotapes with him.
"Here we go! Kevin, you want to take the main floor and stairs, while I catch the WIST cameras?"
After putting the basket on a table the two men took out the videotapes and shuffled through them, then each of them put a tape into the video playback units that were next to the monitors. Each of the men were fast forwarding through the tapes.
"It'll take a bit, have to get pretty far along..." Tony said watching the time marker on the lower right of the screen.
Kevin stopped his machine first and started it on playback.
"It's a snap every 10 seconds, so it will be a bit jumpy."
The view was from the top of the stairs going to the WIST station, and the stairs and hallway intersecting them one level down were visible. The men watched the screen as the time indicator was moving past 9:45 PM.
"There," Kevin said as a figure flashed along the stairs, "I'll rewind it and go shot by shot."
He did so and the first appearance of the man in older business attire with outer coat, hat and walking stick showed him just at the top of the previous stairs walking to the hallway.
"That's 9:58 PM," Tony said and took out a log book from the bottom of the basket, "so that will be... Train 8..." he reached over and took out the videotape for that train while Gordon and Colton examined the 10 second videocaptures on the monitor that Masterson was running.
"That is him," Colton said, "clear shot of his face as he is looking around at the bottom of the stairs."
Gordon nodded as the next frame came up.
"Same walking stick from what I can see. I'd say that's a match. He couldn't be at his shop for the robbery and be here at that time."
Colton looked at Gordon.
"He isn't a suspect, then."
"Then why lie about the Maple Court address?"
Tony was running the other monitor and stopped it.
"You got something, Tony?" Masterson asked.
Tony rewound the tape.
"Yeah, I think so. Here, let me show you the run up to the station. Starts at the Foundry which is the last stop before it heads here. Leaves there just about 9:40 PM. See what we got?"
Gordon and Colton shifted their chairs to watch the monitor.
"Empty car," Travis said.
"Yeah, now here its going into the underground and then coming up inside the tunnels, going up the grade, coming towards the station and..."
On the screen there was a figure sprawled on the floor near the far end of the car. He got up, looked at the tv screen in the car and then went to the door and went out of view.
"What the hell?" Colton said.
"How did he...?" Masterson asked.
"Where did he come from?" Gordon asked.
"Yeah, that's the question. The car was empty when it left the Foundry and this guy shows up two minutes before it gets to the station here. There is no way he could have done that unless he was on top of the car and used the roof emergency exit to get in."
Masterson shook his head.
"All the way from... well the last place you could try that is the overhang for the tunnel on the north tracks, but there is no way you could time that for a WIST train."
"Possible, though. Just wouldn't want to try it late at night. Not as old as he is, either, unless he is an acrobat or something. Still you're likely to dislocate something trying that."
Gordon sat back and looked at Tony.
"Is that car here?"
"Lemme check," Tony said and standing up from his chair and walking around to the other side of the room and picked up a clipboard from beside the monitor bank. As he walked back he was checking the times.
"Yeah, its on the east part of the station, idling. It won't be put into service again for about an hour. Want me to take it out of service so we can look it over?"
"If you would," Gordon said standing up, "I want to look at that train."
* * *
He felt that glow of power, how it rippled out promising everything and it smelled of deep and dark nights of the desert, the Taklamakan. The formless things had found it, one of them seemed most suited to finding such power and it was here to find it. Those with it were also powerful in their own ways and they tasted of colors similar and yet different, as if they were inhabitants of different places and yet could partake of any of them if they wished. He had felt fear, horror, terror at seeing one of them, that one now touching the power, which he had seen it earlier at the Convention Center. Now that event, barely a day ago, seemed like it was not even part of his life any more.
These things, by being as they were, could do this finding of that hidden power when any other would fail to know even where to begin to look. This was even beyond him, as he now understood the way that Gotham lay upon the land and exist on and in it, as this was not of Gotham or even part of what was available to be known here. Only these green, celestial senses allowed him to know that such a power was near, but to actually get to it was another matter and one not easily done. Such a power could be found, and it would beckon to those with the ability to understand it, use it and seek it for purposes of their own. Now he felt that this power also had other purposes as he felt it wash around him and energize him as well. This was nothing of what the formless one was doing, but was of this power itself, and it had some capability to draw in the skeins that were familiar to it like the ring that he now wore.
Drawing closer to the source of such power, as he had already, allowed him to feel and sense things differently, and as he added senses so, too, did his abilities to utilize them grow. Now what had been a trickle of change had become a torrent, and he felt his muscles writhe even while he was still. Pressing a hand to the concrete he felt it melt and begin to flow, his body now taking something from it and from the rock that his hand finally pressed to. None of this infusion was painful, and he accepted these shifts as natural, even as he felt bodily strength that was beyond any he had ever felt even as grown man who was in the upper echelons of his Triad gained not just by wisdom but strength when need be. That training he had used throughout his years to keep limber, flexible and as strong as he could be for his age had never allowed for this sort of strength that was becoming his.
Drawing upon this power his senses shifted as he saw red, and south appear, yes, just south of him. He knew her, of course, in that other life.
His attention if not his vision shifted back to the amorphous ones and their activity. There was a joining going on between the one at the place of power and another one, while the third was flowing into the gulley going down the center of the tracks. It wasn't flowing down into the piping but starting to take up that volume that extended down both tracks and into the interchange. These things were quiet, whatever they were, and their ability to be so flexible was a cause for interest. Together the other two were now doing something, he could feel it as the energy flowing from them now moderated and had a different flavor cast to it. This new power made his mind wander as if he was not quite awake and only the solidly grasped rock let him anchor himself so that this change did not distract him. Distraction such as this made those three very hard to concentrate on and his attention wandered when he tried to do so. These things were extremely powerful in their own way, and he could not afford to let their use of power overtake him in this place.
The three females, however, did not even appear to know that they were being acted upon. Even the red bird was unaware of this. She was key in this in some way that the power that washed out now indicated. A web that was vast, intricate and sublime had come together here with very little urging. He could not fathom how long these pieces had shifted because of this, but felt that it went far beyond his life and perhaps beyond the lives of any alive today. Perceiving this he extended that perception and saw how everyone carried a part of something with them, all tumbling throughout their lives and few ever coming together to form any pattern at all. Even he had this with him. but his pattern was fitting well, here, and it was the pull of this power that coalesced these pieces together at this place, at this time. Unable to fathom why this was done or even how, he accepted this and awaited the proper time to add his piece to the pattern.
All that remained was his opposite, the White Tiger of the west.
* * *
"Erin, this is Barbara, Barbara Gordon, and she helped me so much in finding you."
Lisa had turned and stepped to the side on the trackbed so that Erin could see Barbara.
"Barbara... Gordon?" Erin asked softly.
Chuckling Barbara nodded and stepped forward extending her hand.
"I'm safe, I don't bite and I promised Lisa to not tell daddy about you so long as you weren't doing something serious."
Erin frowned and then smiled, shaking Barbara's hand.
"I guess I'm glad to meet you... I think."
"Good!" Barbara said as they shook hands, "And I'm glad you are still alive."
Erin turned to put her back towards the side wall as she looked at her friend on the left and Barbara on her right.
"It's been... a nightmare since Friday," she said haltingly, "first the... shop and what happened... to Ronnie..."
"He is still at Gotham General," Lisa said, "at least the last I heard he is there under psychiatric observation."
Erin closed her eyes, nodded and swallowed.
"I got caught up at the convention center... mistaken for... someone else, a model... I... they... just so much going on... I couldn't..." Erin pressed her lips together and inhaled holding her head down and shaking her head from side to side.
"You couldn't say anything or you would put yourself in trouble?" Barbara said looking puzzled but nodding.
Erin brought her head up and smiled.
"Yes!" she said softly, "And the people were... they needed someone... I was there... it wasn't so hard because it was like at Minerva's, you know Lisa? I got to keep the clothes on, is all. No one was waiting for me to... well... you know..."
Lisa smiled softly and nodded, then looked at Barbara who was looking at her.
"Its going to come out sooner or later," Barbara said, "just where was it that Erin, ah, well..."
"Minerva Beaumont's," Erin said, "she took me in when I got, well, I was alone and needed to make money and she is a good woman... at least better than others..."
Barbara looked from Erin to Lisa, then shook her head.
"I see... I think... sorry to interrupt... I just wanted that, well, cleared up."
"I haven't done anything like that for a few years, now, anyway. That's when... whatever it was at the shop... that attacked Ronnie... showed up in the dressing room... it came... it sounds insane, but it came out of the sink."
"Just like at Riverside. A house full of, not corpses but 'remains' I think is how it will go into the reports. It was a drug and vice den run out of the back apartment on Riverside and there were remains in places where it didn't seem anything could get in unless it could go under doors or through vents. That's why I went to the library, to look up what might be able to do that."
"And she met me as I was trying to track down stories that Li Sun had heard from his boyhood in western China. When you went missing from the convention center I wanted to see if I could understand what happened to you at the shop."
Erin looked at the two young women who were both smiling at her.
"You did?" Erin shook her head, "I... Lisa..."
Lisa stepped closer to Erin and held her hands.
"I had to find out if there was anything in what you told me, Erin. You are so steady in so many ways, but I had to know. And you told us all the truth, no matter how bad it was for you, you gave us that. Even if it is hard to accept it."
Barbara pressed her lips together keeping a smile down watching Lisa and Erin.
"Such things do exist," Barbara said softly, "they may sound like creatures out of mythology, but the story told about them is... compelling."
Erin squeezed Lisa's hands and then let go of them.
"It's worse close-up. I was just terrified out of my mind when I saw... how it shifted... formed... things... eyes... stalks... its horrible."
Lisa stepped back again looking at Erin.
"How did you get away from it, Erin?"
Erin looked at Lisa, then Barbara.
"I ran... but it wasn't enough... it was getting closer and everyone was running, yelling, screaming... I had to get out... away from it..."
"You came down here?" Barbara asked.
"I... not alone, no. I ran into the Batman. He saved my life there. He stepped in front of me, and used... well he said they were industrial syringes filled with acids. He gave me those and gloves, mask, even a plastic poncho to put on in case I needed them."
"The Bat..." Barbara said softly, "...and he didn't take you in?"
Erin shook her head from side to side.
"I saw him earlier when I ran from the shop. He was going towards it. He told me he... saw this thing there, too."
Lisa frowned then nodded her head.
"Yes, someone mentioned him on Saturday, I think. Just rumor, though."
"Batman..." Barbara inhaled, "... saved you and didn't take you to the police."
Erin pressed her lips together and nodded, smiling.
"He did," she whispered, "said that whatever it was that had come after me might be tracking me somehow. When we were in his car... well... not really a car but... you know..."
"I've read descriptions of at least three different vehicles he uses," Barbara said, "one of them is a car, but hasn't been seen in a few years."
"Its big and fits on the subway tracks. He drives on them."
"That explains the way the rust was pushed down at the station!" Lisa said.
Barbara looked at her and then back to Erin.
"Where did he take you?"
Erin looked at Barbara, then Lisa.
"He said I couldn't be safe anywhere, really. But he had discovered an old fallout shelter that had tight seals on them and could recycle its own air. It was either that or out in the open someplace where I might be able to at least get a chance to stop it if he wasn't there with me."
"Wasn't there... where did he go?" Lisa asked.
"I... he said he had to investigate if there was some way to... deter or kill... whatever this thing is..."
"Shoggoths," Barbara said, "or three related species of Shoggoth, Shaggoth and Ngluioth. They are the children of two ancient gods of mythology, Tiamat and Kinga. Or at least that is the story around them that we found. I think there are others."
"Shoggoth," Erin whispered.
"Yes," Lisa said, "or Ngluioth, I think by the description you gave me. Dwellers between space, able to fit in those places and around space."
"He left me to find if there was anything that would be better than the acids. I... felt I would be safe in the shelter... he showed me how it worked... I stayed there... I saw..."
"What did you see, Erin?"
"After he left I saw... felt... a train pull up outside... on the tracks... its... a Ghost Train...."
"You saw a Ghost Train?"
Erin shivered again.
"Yes, through the cameras. And I felt it rumble to a stop. It... faded away... I couldn't really sleep... had bad dreams... being chased... desert... mountains... then becoming something horrible... flying... I woke up and tried to do other things. Fell asleep later and had a dream where there was a large pit by a glass tree in Gotham. People were yelling, running, the sky was dark with clouds. Everyone was running from a horrible creature coming from the pit..."
Erin wrapped her arms around herself shaking badly. Lisa stepped forward to hug her again.
"Its all right," she said softly, "it was only a dream."
"No," Erin whispered, "I... was the creature.... I was also... dead at the bottom of the pit... and saw my reflection on windows but no one else saw me... that was horrible, Lisa," she said holding her friend tightly.
"Shhhh..." Lisa said, "we can get you out of this."
Erin sobbed and then pressed hard to Lisa before letting her go.
"I... couldn't stay there after that dream... I just have to get out of here... out of Gotham..."
"And we will, Erin," Barbara said, "we shouldn't be more than another few miles from the north subway bridge. We just have to make sure we don't get run over by one of the WIST cars used by Wayne Corporation."
Erin turned to her left and looked north.
"It looks like there might be a light there ahead," she said.
Lisa turned to look north, shining her flashlight in that direction.
"Yes. This interchange splits up a bit further that way."
Barbara looked around her.
"Looks like some steam is coming up from the drainage sewers. Warm air hitting cooler down there, so we have to be pretty close to the Wayne Station and then the bridge beyond that."
"Good!" Erin said smiling.
Together the three picked their way amongst the tracks and did their best not to step into the black liquid that had stopped up in the drainage sluices for the tracks. Soon they were at the steam, and then realized that what was beyond wasn't what they expected.
* * *
Watching the way the vehicle threaded its way amongst the few Sunday night cars on the street and then suddenly wheel over to the right down a harbor front access road and then to the right, again, through an unfastened gate and then bump over railroad tracks and head towards a closed set of metal doors was a bit much for his experience. The man in control of the vehicle did this all calmly, smoothly while talking. It was hard to follow exactly what he was saying as the various near catastrophes of near misses with vehicles, being inches from buildings, then going airborne just briefly over the slight ramping of the asphalt to the access road over the train tracks made actually listening a bit of a problem. Even knowing that the driver didn't have a death wish didn't help as the necessary split second timing to do these things was amazing.
And yet that figure in the suit, cape and cowl talked.
"... without samples to analyze I went by visual observations of reactions..."
Dr. Gotham looked at the Batman who was staring straight ahead.
"Getting 'samples' from one of that family of beings is most difficult because, to do so, you need to first survive meeting it, without getting scared out of your wits... and just how did you stop from being afraid?"
The vehicle bumped onto rails heading towards the metal doors. He activated one switch, which gave indicator lights by the center console on the inside of the tires, and then another one which saw the two doors swing up as one to the roof of the tunnel in the side of the hill.
"I was afraid. My fear doesn't control me."
Going from merely dark with overhead lights and the general diffusion of lights from the rest of the city, partially obscured by the falling mist, now saw the mist disappear and a dim redness of light fo on in front of the vehicle.
"Ah, I see. So surviving the initial encounter is one thing, then surviving with the sample is another. The final problem is that the sample has affinity to the rest of the being, and it can track you that way. Long-term survival is most difficult in such situations."
On a screen in the center console diagrams flashed by, as a red pathway started to show up on a lower screen.
While the Batman was terse, enigmatic, and had an acute tendency to short sentences, Dr. Gotham did come to respect his competence, if nothing else.
"It looks like you've mapped out the entire subway," Dr. Gotham said in a low tone.
"Does the city let you do that in these days?"
"The city doesn't care about the subway any more."
Dr. Gotham snorted.
"It was a luxury, I always felt. Prone to be needed only during boom times and those do not last forever. So, what did your visual sightings tell you of the Ngluioth?"
The vehicle slowed as the first activated transponder received its orders and the rest of the hidden system came to life, invisible to all that could not see in the radio spectrum.
"It exists. It is mostly fluid. It can change shape readily and resists sudden high heat via liquid vaporization. External fluids can flow into it and move inside of its mass. It is undifferentiated, indicating a similarity of smaller parts able to arrange themselves to different forms. This indicates that it has a multi-cellular structure with a fluid system, possibly colloidal, between the cells."
Blinking Dr. Gotham had to rummage around in his mental storehouse to piece these parts together.
"Heat tracking," the Batman said in a low voice. The red lighting in front of the vehicle went out and only the faint glow of the lights inside the vehicle were left. None of them reflected off of the glass-like parts of the vehicle. A display on the center console shifted from a partial subway map to a thermal camera system, giving hazy outlines to the tunnel, tracks and some of the warmer air coming from other parts of the underground world of Gotham City.
"Ah, yes..." Dr. Gotham watched as the system brought up temporary white boxes around warmer places as the vehicle moved through the tunnel.
"... and this surfactant?"
"It is a type used to dissolve inter-cellular contact for biofilms as pertain to algae, slimes and other biofilm producing organisms."
The Batman turned the vehicle to follow a set of tunnels that had a high degree of warmth coming from them. He nudged it faster and the tunnel went by until it opened out into the old subway repair yards.
"That... its a strange sort of thing to make, isn't it?"
"It breaks up algae in pool systems. Surfactants are also added to detergents and contact lens cleaner in small proportions."
Slowly the vehicle glided to the left, and the Batman slowed it further as it went into a dark tunnel and wheeled around some large structure.
"If that was the repair yard, this is the train assembly yard... I remember seeing photographs of it as it was being built."
"There is nothing on your side of the vehicle but open space to that yard."
Dr. Gotham looked ahead through the windshield into the darkness.
"You haven't had a chance to test this surfactant, have you?"
Batman downshifted as the vehicle came out of the turn.
* * *
It utilized low ground thrumming to call its cousin Shaggoth for help. That was of desperation as the power needing to come through was killing it, and only a being with affinity to that power could moderate it. This came from that land of Dreaming and Shaggoth was a native there. Of hesitation there was none and Shaggoth smoothly moved up and began the intermelding process. There was astonishment at the amount of that realm trying to manifest and Shaggoth moved into the melding as fast as it could. Already it felt that impulse and pull being lessened as its cousin moved to moderate it to the degree that it could. But this was no ordinary manifestation of ch'shagg and this manifestation had a power that was on a scale unknown in that realm just as that which it moderated was beyond any intensity for scale for this. Together they worked, communicated directly and began shifting that power outwards to lessen its direct impact on them.
Time was growing short and neither it nor its cousin could stand such manifestation for long without something changing, perhaps in a permanent fashion, to them. At least now they would not be brought to f'tagn, Shaggoth would ensure that, and far better to die once than live dead and with dreams forever. Now their cousin, eldest of its type amongst them, must guard them in this realm so that this power could be fully understood before its racing removed them from existing. Understanding the ways to move and mask itself in this realm, it and cousin Shaggoth found first use of the power as well, each exercising a small fraction of the part they let loose to change perceptions and hide them from outside observation. Shaggoth knew best of how that power worked and it could only reinforce it, give in added compulsion and must learn quickly how those much, much older of its kind could wield such power in that way. Together they disappeared to anything that had no means to pierce this perception and compulsion, and those things that had no mind for accepting that had no mind at all.
As their cousin moved forward it quietly thrummed to them that the affinity it had garnered from the youngster was now present in a way that would allow it to finally be brought in. Shoggoth asked if it should simply kill that one, but the youngster told it that such affinity must be directly dealt with to ensure a final breaking. It was an imposed affinity, not one it had mastery in thwarting, and the simplest way to end it was with but one touch. That food with affinity approached and out of the upwelling of power throughout its being, that sense was given to be heightened so that direct determination could be given. Spreading further cousin Shoggoth gave exacting distances and that the food was with two other food. At its furthest reaches as it spread it reported that there was another here that was using the power outflow, as well, and it was one hidden using the power of this realm to do that. Yet the intensity of that use now brought it to Shoggoth's attention and it was utilizing those powers in some way it was unfamiliar with. For that this one still had some affinity to the power outflow moderated by something it carried with it, so that it was channeling but a portion of the outflow to other ends.
This other being had not demonstrated hostility or, indeed, anything so far but appeared to be changing just as those two in contact with such power were doing by the channeling of it.
To bring this to an end, and quickly, more power was channeled to the perception change and pushed further out to the reach that the youngster could now extend a tendril. Soon, it knew, with the culmination of contact, things would change for it as so loving a power could not promise anything but fulfillment. And not even cousin Shaggoth could find that not to be the promise that was imbued through it. They had not been harmed save by intensity of flavor, and fulfillment of that intensity was beginning to take on a compulsion all its own.
* * *
Lisa held Erin's hand as she led her forward towards the end of the intersection area. The steam had billowed up briefly and blinded them and they had to concentrate on stepping carefully through the confusion of tracks and keep their feet dry from the thick, black liquid that now filled the drain channels. Barbara followed them, trying to shine her light to the sides to see the tunnel walls and yet could not pierce through the steam to see them.
"It must be a steam release valve being open down there..." she gasped almost physically having to push her way forward through it.
"There is less of it here... starting to thin..." Lisa said as she stepped forward leading Erin through the fog and then...
Lisa screamed at what she saw, so horrible in manifestation that it defied the ability of her mind to even outline it, as it had no outline amongst the shifting surfaces and bulges that moved almost wholly on their own. She felt Erin step up to her left, holding her hand.
"Lisa, what's.... oh... no..."
Feeling her friends hand grasp hers hard Lisa realized that this mass ahead of them had shifted towards her friend. She turned and stepped in front of her friend.
The tendril found her, not Erin.
Lisa gasped as the tendril found skin and touched her, and her eyes widened in shock. She let go of her friend's hand and started to fall to the ground. Looking up she whispered.
"Erin... run.... please..."
Erin watched as her friend collapsed and then tried to hold her upright, kneeling in front of her to do that. Lisa's eyes were glazing over.
"So... horrible... beautiful..."
Erin wanted to run. She had run to escape death twice, and death still followed her. Then she remembered the actions of the man who had stood in front of her to face down death in her place. The gloves were right where she had stowed them, and her hands fumbled only for an instant before they were on. One hand reached back to the mask while the other pressed the lid to a container open and took out one syringe.
Barbara came up beside them and screamed as well, seeing a pulsation flow along the tendril and into Lisa. She was petrified in horror at what she saw, one new found friend being attacked... no... attached... to a mass that flowed and glowed brownish green.
"Help me. Keep her upright."
Barbara heard Erin kneeling next to that friend and looked dumbly down and then realized that Erin just might be able to save Lisa. Barbara scrambled to her knees and held Lisa's torso up as Erin reached around, grabbed the tendril and then pushed the syringe home into it and pushed fluid in. The smell of rotten eggs suffused the air and the part attached to Lisa dropped away to the concrete floor.
Erin let go of the syringe as the tendril retracted and that pressure pushed more of the acid into it, as it went into the writhing mass that was in front of them. As she stood she lifted up Lisa, who had no volition to her and staggered to try and drag her back and away from this horror. Barbara's eyes watered, she coughed and realized that she was in danger as was Lisa, still. She stood and helped Erin lift Lisa's limp form up and they could nearly take steps away from this thing. The steam and mist had vanished, though they didn't realize that, and Barbara still held her flashlight which helped them to pick their way back amongst the tracks.
The light shone on a tall, sinuous humanoid figure that was slide walking and sidling out to the tracks.
"Red bird has come home to the nest," it hissed as its ripped clothing dropped away from it, "your place is provided for... and it is one of fulfillment for us all. Symmetry has come and now the elements align."
They had just seen formless horror. Now horror with all too clear a form was before them and this one was far different than any ever seen before.
* * *
Li Sun could barely pierce the changed perceptions as they spread further out and with intensity of a flavor he could not describe. That joining had brought more than just expanse but depth, as well, altering the flavor at its deepest level. Joined powers now flowed into him, as well, attuned as he was now becoming to something more than just rock and caves, he knew that he must change as well. Reaching into the wall he sought water and allowed his skin to move every molecule of it into him, so that if any water touched his skin, it became his. There was limited amounts of it here, in the rock, and only a tiny rivulet hidden in a deep crack offered any to him and it was not enough. The nature of that water told him how false the water mirage was of the steam and mist around those amorphous ones. It was the dream of steam, not steam itself that was there and he must gain more.
Detaching from the wall he took in the next source and put himself akin to the air around him which had much water floating freely in it. The soft breeze that had flowed to him soon became a shifting draft as air laden with moisture was sucked dry of it next to him and thrust up to the ceiling. It was slow, so very slow, to build those things within him that needed such water. He could not transform without it and he knew that is what he must do.
Hearing the screams of horror he did not need to look but felt the waves of such horror and impending doom. The three women scrambled, one struck but that one was not the target and her vitality began to flow out of her and to the formless ones at the power point. Yet that was stopped, abruptly, with much of a smell of things buried for far too long in fetid swamps which was, itself, most pleasing to have. Now they began to drag the one that was struck back from the two amorphous ones, taking her beyond their range in an attempt to flee.
This, he knew, must be stopped and he stepped out in front of them to do so, as now it was green and East that must act to keep the pattern alive. He sidled out, his more bulky form slowly gaining in mass as he did so, though at a very slow rate. Motion helped to gain more access to the air and as he grew he gained more contact with it. Now if only it was damper in amongst the underground.
They stopped in cold fear that was of dark spirit like tea with harsh liquor added.
"Red bird has come home to the nest," it hissed as its ripped clothing dropped away from it, "your place is provided for... and it is one of fulfillment for us all. Symmetry has come and now the elements align."
Then came the rumble from white, and west. A sound of halting and then the harsh, harsh white lights pierced the darkness flooding over him, the rails, the tunnel and in their intensity bringing light everywhere, even to the north. He spoke smoothly, softly, in hissing tones.
"The White Tiger has arrived."
* * *
The screens indicated the intersection ahead and he slowed the vehicle as it came into view. On the thermal camera system a white box appeared around a warm object and then other boxes appeared stretching up beyond and behind it. Then the boxes moved to follow the heat source. The old pod system coalesced the boxes to form a boxy outline and had a pip show up with a leader line and the text TARGET ACQUIRED.
"Brace for stop," he said and Dr. Gotham grasped one armrest and pushed his feet to the floor as he brought the vehicle to a sudden stop at the entrance to the main tunnel system.
"Brights," he said and six recessed lights that each had one million candlepower turned on to pierce the darkness and shone a figure that was not wholly human and not, really, something else. Only at the last of motion did other partial indicators appear to the left of the monitor, indicating other heat sources of human size.
Dr. Gotham leaned forward peering through the windshield.
"Avatar of Dragon Mother," he whispered remembering the text on the stolen ring, "we are in true danger now."
He released the buckle and the restraints broke away, he then reached up and back and looked at Dr. Gotham.
"Stay here," he said as he gathered his legs under him to push back into the crawlway.
"Of course not," Dr. Gotham said as he released his restraints and then mimicked the motion the Batman had used to open the other side door. The door on his side swung out and up.
"This is as much my fault as anyone's," he said shifting in his seat, "and I will do as I must."
"Stay clear of the vehicle's path," the Batman said as he pushed himself and used his hands to pull him quickly back to the rear of the vehicle. There he stood under one of the packs and it detached as his shoulders pushed it up. He grabbed the containers of gloves, masks and then used his right hand to pull down the box of the squirt guns. With that he nudged the button to open the back door and stepped out and down the ramp and jumped to the left of the vehicle and walked beside it.
As he approached the front of it he saw Dr. Gotham to his right approaching the creature ahead of them.
"You are not the White Tiger," the figure said.
Dr. Gotham stepped over the main tracks to get closer to the creature.
"That is correct. I am Gothamaglnyth and most displeased to see you here, Tiamat Harbinger."
* * *
It put the tendril out and hit another of the food that had shifted at the last moment. Aim was not off, just timing and it had to get used to the extended length of tendril it now could use. Youth betrayed it and the automatic response to stun and begin the death process was one that also took time to stop. Better to have missed, completely, and spare the reflexive process than this. It could not even begin to enjoy the food it had struck as it had not been tenderized sufficiently with fear and terror. Just a bit of that piquant flavor arrived which was an enjoyment to it and its cousin, both.
Then came the pain.
There should not have been surprise at this, but there was at it was unexpected. This food had not shown that resourcefulness, that necessary wit and courage combined as that bad food had. Now it had learned from that bad food, and this was a danger far above most others. The separation of parts was necessary and could not even be thought about it happened so fast. This time, though, it had its cousin as part of the intermelding and it had experienced this directly, now, for the first time. Of all things this threatened their power connection as the urge to withdraw from the intermeld, from pain was present in Shaggoth which transferred, in part, to itself. Worse was the continued burning that required the self-expulsion of part of their beings and this younger one now had to school its older cousin in controlling pain, fear, recoil and the host of other things that would get them both killed if they predominated.
Only by understanding what was being done did Shaggoth follow suit and, soon, that part of them that was dying out was isolated and expelled, a mass of fuming ichor on the concrete in front of them.
Shoggoth did its best to get their attention, to find out their state and to warn them that the one actor on the east had moved and a new one on the west arrived in something it had only seen via the sharing from its younger cousin. There was danger here, it could sense it, and yet still opportunity, unbounded. Shoggoth's thrumming did get a response.
Bring the one with affinity in closer to the intermelded ones, restrain it so it cannot cause pain.
This was Shoggoth's realm of expertise and a very simple task.
* * *
"Just a sec while I put the car offline," Tony said from inside the security booth for the WIST station. Normally there was no weekend security officer there as the amount of traffic through Wayne Corporation on weekends didn't require it. Gordon and Colton waited outside the booth and looked at the north platform of the WIST station. Behind them were stairs going up to the lower floor and main level, as well as two walkway tunnels connecting the north and south platforms. As they watched the train's lit schedule changed from IDLE to OUT OF SERVICE. Tony stood up inside the booth smiled.
"There we go! Let me just close up here..."
A faint scream was heard in the distance.
"What the hell?" Colton asked looking around.
"Where did that come from?" Gordon asked as he stepped out to the platform.
Tony came rushing out of the booth to stand next to Gordon.
"Do you have anyone down here?" Gordon asked as Colton stepped to the right of him.
"Not a thing. No maintenance on weekends...."
Another scream and the three men turned to the right.
"I don't like the sound of that," Colton said.
Tony was already moving, he had a flashlight out and was heading towards the low service gate at the end of the platform. Colton came next unholstering his revolver as he moved.
"That second one sounded familiar..." Gordon said running after the two men, getting his flashlight and revolver out.
Hitting the low gate at a dead run, Tony pushed it open and went down the stairs to the raised narrow walkway next to the tracks. Colton followed hitting the gate to keep it open and Gordon used his hip to block its closing and then followed the other two down the stairs to the walkway. Ahead of them, suddenly, a very bright glow came to life in the tunnels and the three men had to slow and squint to see ahead of themselves.
"Can you see anything, Tony?" Colton asked.
"Not a damn thing... there's an interchange ahead and I know the walkway... ahhhh!"
Tony tumbled down the short flight of stairs before the interconnection area and hit his head on the near rail. Colton slowed to take the stairs and then knelt next to him.
"Get him off the track, then follow me, I know that second voice," Gordon said.
As he ran forward on the concrete of the rail bed, Gordon used his left arm to block out the glare. He slowed to a walk as the light got far, far brighter and he could almost make out shapes. If it wasn't for the shifting, translucent something hanging down obscuring the tunnel... he called out.
"Barbara is that you?"
"Daddy, get back!! It will kill you!!"