Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dr. Gotham Steps Out - Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Li Sun turned towards the vehicle with bright lights and saw a figure approach from it.

"You are not the White Tiger," Li Sun said to the figure approaching from the side of the brightly lit vehicle. The glare was overwhelming until the nictitating eyelids shifted over his eyes to cut the light and glare down to something tolerable.

"That is correct. I am Gothamaglnyth and most displeased to see you here, Tiamat Harbinger."

"I... yes... Tiamat..." he said bobbing his head up and down as he shifted his stance towards this being who had declared himself as Servant of Gotham. Then he saw the one he wanted moving out of the other side of the vehicle and towards the red bird.

"Yesss... all is in place now," Li Sun shifted to follow the Batman as he carried his heavy load over the tracks towards the center of the interchange.

"Barbara is that you?" was heard faintly echoing beyond the formless ones.

"Daddy get back!! It will kill you!!"

He saw the red bird look at him and he smiled, taking a second step towards her and the White Tiger.

"It's coming!" she screamed and the Batman turned dropping off the cases and smoothly flowing out three batarangs towards Li Sun. He looked at them and smiled.

"Your claws do nothing to me," he said brushing them from his skin to show that they had not even penetrated the hide that was growing thicker over his body. He smiled showing that his teeth had now grown and become more triangular, sharper.

A sudden pain and pressure from his hindquarter caused him to wheel to his right, to see Dr. Gotham pressing his walking stick down to pin that portion that now went behind his body to the ground.

"I was talking to you mnah'ngrah'n of Tiamat."

He only heard the voice of the White Tiger say 'Forward, Override'.

The sudden motion of the five ton vehicle coming towards him was something else, completely.

* * *

Erin and Barbara supported Lisa as they stood looking at the horror in front of them.

There was a rumbling sound to their right and the horror shifted to look that way as the sound grew louder.

It spoke in hissing tones, that echoed in the tunnel as it looked that way.

"The White Tiger has arrived."

Barbara's flashlight was suddenly outshone millions-fold as the headlights turned on from the vehicle that had arrived and stopped on the siding. Erin looked back to see that the horror behind them was now visible no longer needing the light from Lisa's dropped flashlight, coping with the acid that had been put into it. Turning to look forward there was a dim redness just barely visible in the tunnel of the siding and a figure stepped out and was partially visible in the light reflecting off the walls.

"You are not the White Tiger," the horror hissed out.

The other figure stepped across the tracks until it stood only a few feet from the creature.

"That is correct. I am Gothamaglnyth and most displeased to see you here, Tiamat Harbinger."

Erin tried to make out the figure, but couldn't.

"He knows," Barbara whispered, "we just might get out of this yet..."

Erin looked back, again, seeing no change in things and looked at Barbara.

"I think we can lay Lisa down here. I can't support her like this much longer."

Barbara looked at her and nodded. They helped to ease Lisa's body down, and Erin got behind it to make sure she didn't fall. She got on her knees and cradled Lisa's head in her hands while Barbara shrugged off her pack to put under Lisa. Gently Erin laid Lisa's head down and looked at her face.

"Still breathing," Erin whispered.

"I... yes... Tiamat..." they heard the creature hiss out.

Barbara heard heavy, jogging footsteps coming from the vehicle. In a moment the Batman was visible by the light flooding into the tunnel and he had some equipment on his back and cases that he carried with him.

"Yesss... all is in place now," the creature said turning to watch the Batman run.

Erin stood up and stood over Lisa's limp form.

"Barbara is that you?"

Barbara wheeled around back towards the now visible shifting mass and she could see a cloudy figure beyond it in the far tunnel.

"Daddy get back!! It will kill you!!" she yelled.

Erin looked up at the strange creature in the headlights and saw it start to move towards them as the Batman stepped over a set of rails just a few feet from her and then moved into the open area of concrete that they were on. The creature began to take steps towards them and Erin's eyes widened at the predatory and toothy smile the creature had.

"It's coming!" she screamed, unwilling to step back from this horror that wasn't man and wasn't, exactly, something else.

Batman turned and let go of the cases and as he wheeled around Erin saw batarangs appear in his right hand and fly out to the creature. The creature stopped and looked at them, its predatory smile getting wider.

"Your claws do nothing to me," the creature hissed knocking the batarangs off its skin that now was much more than skin and beginning to look like something thicker than normal human skin. Then the creature gasped and wheeled around to the figure now behind it who had used something to press down on the sinuous back part of the creature.

"I was talking to you mnah'ngrah'n of Tiamat."

Batman took up a device from his belt and spoke into it, "Forward, Override."

The idling vehicle shifted into gear and sped forward and the creature with its rear temporarily pinned was rolled under the vehicle, which then started to reverse.

Barbara called out.

"I'm OK daddy, but don't touch that stuff whatever you do. Get away from it!!"

"Stop," Batman said into the hand held controller.

The speed at which the tendrils wrapped around her legs, her arms and pulled her back surprised Erin and as she fell the breath was knocked out of her.

"No!!" Barbara yelled as she saw Erin being dragged off by the black fluid that had been in the drain that had formed into tendrils, then tentacles and pull Erin off her feet and drag her back towards the writhing mass.

Batman turned and shifted some sort of nozzle device from the backpack to his left hand.

"Masks and gloves small case. Acid guns large case," he said as he affixed a mask over his face and then started to step forward. Barbara scrambled to open the small case and pull out a full face mask and thick plastic gloves. As she put them on the sound of flowing liquid could be heard and before the mask was in place she got the overpowering scent of almonds.

* * *

The cleaning system was heavy as were the cases, but he only let that slow him to a jog. The lights were enough to let him see clearly without the goggles, which were now swung up into their internal holder ready to be brought back down with a simple gesture. His hearing he had attenuated down so that it was only a bit more sensitive than human hearing in front of him, and much less than that to the sides and rear. He could feel the three women as well as see them, as well as the thing caught in the headlights of the vehicle. So, too was Dr. Gotham there, behind and to the right of him, but of the sounds from them he heard little and as he ran the backpack cleaning system obstructed the returns until they were blocked out entirely. His worry was that mass draping over the other tunnel as it gave no returns, at all, to his sonar system. He could define it visually and by its lack of returns, but that was it. In some ways he was glad not to feel the shifting of the mass there, as it would be distracting.

As he jogged towards the women, he saw them place the one they were supporting down on the ground, and arrange a rucksack under her head. He heard Erin Norris whisper, "Still breathing" and his lips pressed together in a frown, of anger controlled. He could not erase what had happened, but now he must fight to stop more from going on. As he picked his way over tracks he could hear "Barbara is that you?" come from in front of him, but of Commissioner Gordon he could only make out a faint outline beyond that mass covering the tunnel.

He saw one of the women, Barbara Gordon, stand up and turn to yell back, "Daddy get back!! It will kill you!!".

Why were these other women here?

What were their part in all of this?

How could Commissioner Gordon's daughter be involved?

He had too many questions and just pushed them out of his mind, his concentration must be on the here, the now, and the fragile lives around him that he knew were in deadly peril. He finally got to the open area of concrete they had found, here near the center of the interchange, one place that was flat and where a few people could stand without being near any of the rails. As he approached Erin looked up from tending to the other woman, and there was the faintest flicker of a smile on her face until she looked beyond him. Then her eyes widened and she stepped back and yelled "It's coming!"

The cases he was able to set on the ground just beyond the wounded woman and already he had batarangs in one hand while his other was reaching for the transceiver. He suspected this creature would not be harmed by the devices, but he needed a distraction and for that they would serve. He wheeled and turned, using the cleaner as a counter-weight to give added velocity to his throwing devices and as the sonar defined the creature he aimed for its center of mass. Three struck it and the fourth tumbled between the tracks, out of sight.

"Your claws do nothing to me," he heard from the creature, its rasping hiss clear to him as were the teeth that might once have been human, but were now of no creature he could name. The briefest flicker of a smile passed over his lips as he saw Dr. Gotham thrust his walking stick down with just the slightest of bluish tint at the end of it as he did so. That end impacted and he heard that grinding of hide between steel end and concrete floor, which garnered Dr. Gotham the attention of it.

"I was talking to you mnah'ngrah'n of Tiamat," Dr. Gotham said in a flat, plain and blunt tone.

"Forward, Override," he spoke into the transceiver as his thumb keyed it, and the vehicle now had an order to override its function made to protect people who might be unwise enough to step in front of it while it sped along unattended. Whatever Dr. Gotham did was enough to hold it until the front tri-tire array rolled over the creature with a sickening sound of bones breaking. As the vehicle came to a stop it started to reverse due to its wall avoidance system, and he waited a fraction of a second to let the weight of the front tires rest on the creature.

He heard Barbara Gordon call out to her father, "I'm OK daddy, but don't touch that stuff whatever you do. Get away from it!!"

"Stop," and the vehicle stopped as he wanted it to, the mangled body now trapped between the heavy equipment solid tires of the vehicle and the steel rails. He could only see its head and left arm under two of the tires, but that would be enough. Nothing could survive that.

With his back turned he could not perceive what was going on behind him and Barbara Gordon's yell of "No!!" was enough to alert him that there was grave trouble still to be faced, and he unhooked the sprayer and started to turn on the feed lines as he turned. The black material in the runoff channels wasn't water, wasn't oil and was alive, and it was now wrapping large tentacle-like things around Erin's body, pinning her arms and dragging her down and away towards the greenish brown tinged mass beyond.

Reaching with his right hand he said, "Masks and gloves small case. Acid guns large case," and then slipped the mask over his face and shifted to a two-handed stance with the sprayer. He triggered the system which premixed the fluids and sent a high pressure stream towards the black tentacles that were on Erin Norris.

Her life was at stake.

So was that of everyone else here and perhaps all of Gotham City, as well.

* * *

"Daddy get back!! It will kill you!!"

Commissioner Gordon was standing about five feet from this translucent material that was shifting hues between green and brown as it moved on its own. There had been many repulsive things he had seen in his life, and this was one of them and more than just repulsive it was physically horrific to him. The appearance of an eye... well he though it was an eye... coming from that to gaze at him was more than he could bear. Instinctively he was moving back from it and as a tendril started to snake out towards him he suddenly felt fear. Sounds were now becoming muffled from the tunnel, and he moved to avoid this thing reaching towards him.

"I'm OK daddy, but don't touch that stuff whatever you do. Get away from it!!"

He could barely hear that but needed no further warning as he looked back at Colton who had dragged Tony back to the stairs he had stumbled on.

"We need to get him back to the platform and then check the other side of the station. Barbara is beyond that," he motioned at the tendril that was slowly pulling back to the mass of shifting color hues.

"Yeah. That stuff is horrible, whatever it is, I can't imagine what it is like up-close."

Gordon put his gun away to help Colton get Tony upright so they could carry him back towards the station.

"I know what happened at the Convention Center, now. How I can write it in a report, I don't know."

Colton walked up the stairs backwards and Gordon took Tony's feet and they then lifted him out to the platform and then away from it and set him upright inside the guard post. Once there Gordon looked at Colton.

"Don't even think about asking me to get back-up, Jim."

Gordon smiled.

"Come on."

He led the way down the interconnecting tunnel to the other platform and then down the access stairs towards the intersection. Both men had holstered their guns to get Tony to safety, and they now had them ready again. Together they approached the intersection and the lighting shifted from inside it. They suddenly heard and felt a large thud ahead of them and they then had to walk into the beams of the vehicle that was now facing them from far down the tracks.

"Now this isn't good," Colton said.

* * *

In the span of just a few minutes Barbara Gordon had been through an unnerving sequence of emotions that went with the day. The fear of being stuck in the underground beneath the Underworld, elation at finding a woman lost, horror and terror of a kind she had never known before, the abyss of losing a new found friend with whom she had been through so much together, further horror and repugnance of a form given shape, the swing from elation to horror that her father was down here and might be lost in one minor touch of something dreadful, and after that absolute horror of seeing Erin Norris, the one person she and her now unconscious friend had sought to save, being dragged off in black coils of this thing that infested the drains was perhaps a step too far.

If there was a deep abyss at the horror of friend nearly lost, the safety of madness after so much had a definite appeal. Did her mind snap then? She couldn't say. What she could say was that the calm, assured and rather dark presence of the Batman was one that had rescued her from that fate. Simply telling her where the protective gear was and what the guns contained was a sudden point of galvanization for Barbara Gordon.

She could, finally, do something!

Pulling the gloves and mask on while seeing Batman stride forward in action, gave her courage of a sort she didn't know she had, and the thin plastic poncho unfolded with a soft snap to it and then came the case of the guns. She nearly did lose it again as she saw squirt guns, particularly the larger ones like she had used with a friend or two over the summer break playing games in the halls of the dorms on campus. Yet the utter, simple familiarity gave her a deep feeling of assurance, as well. One of those she slung across her back, then two of the smaller squirt guns found homes in her pockets as they were already in plastic bags. After that a second of the major squirt guns was in her hands and she was pumping it up in pressure even as she was standing up.

She could see Batman adjusting the fluid flow on the tentacles as Erin now writhed to escape them. They were becoming slick and now the black fluid in the drain channel was starting to run on its own with the force of gravity. She gave a test stream of acid across the channel and smiled as the black mass she had cut through began writhing and parting.

A wicked smile was on her face which only the mask obscured.

She stepped over the rails took a short few steps forward and then one beyond the Batman who was on the crossing rail bed to the main one, and then aimed directly at the main tentacle base that was attached to the now writhing black mass growing in size even as she watched. A few more pumps to keep the pressure up and the slicing through it was complete while the black mass writhed in horror presenting eyestalks, ears, antennae, arms, tentacles and a host of other limbs of many sorts from its body.

Then sets of eyes centered on her.

She aimed at the runoff channel and fluid ran into the mass the creature was pulling back towards itself and that mass separated in the channel. From the corner of her mask she saw that Batman had finally freed Erin of the tentacles which were no longer attached to her by suckers and the gobbets of blackness slid into the other runoff going along those tracks.

Barbara Gordon was armed.

Barbara Gordon was dangerous.

And she had a will to use the new found steel of her soul forged from the crucible of adversity.

If any of these creatures should have felt fear, it was not of the Batman, although he was extremely dangerous, it was of Barbara Gordon. Her fear had disappeared in the roller coaster ride of emotions that day and something dreadful emerged. Barbara Gordon was having fun and there would be hell to pay for what she had been through.

* * *

When he had decided to pin this Avatar's hindquarters to the floor he had expected to not like the result. With the others busy this threat had been deemed lesser, and yet he knew it was the greatest now present as it knew this world and what could be done here. Nothing could be worse than that which would herald the return of the First of Chaos and that one being having knowledge, reason and will to use them both. The briefest of glances at this Batman told him, however, that this had been the right thing to do. Gotham still spoke to him, in its suggestive way, and he did what came to him as necessary and accepted his fate from that.

Calling the thing a worthless grub of Tiamat may have been a bit much, however, as it seemed to know that Elder language through some unknown means.

Pulling up his walking stick when the vehicle ran over the creature was second nature as one never graps onto an object that will soon be quickly moving, and move it did around and around as the vehicle rolled forward over it crushing bones and organs as it went. As the vehicle pulled back and stopped on this thing he saw its right hand and forearm lay in a twisted ruin beneath two of the tires in the three tire array. Behind that the second tire array rested on broken legs and hind quarter that had been bent at a vicious angle nearly along the tracks as it was dragged back.

Now with only the barest of reflected light he saw the green coming from the ring, the ring that had been in his shop, the ring collected by Chester Rhinold in Iberia, the ring made by an enslaved Incan craftsman to curse his captors and all who followed. Stepping to that glow he saw that the hand had once been human and was now overgrowing the ring. He paid no attention to the yellings, screamings, and the rest of what went on as he knelt down and reached into his suitcoat to pull out his pocket knife.

Using his walking stick he pinned the finger down, perhaps crushing it under the iron end of the stick, and then used a hot forged blade made in the old Gotham Metal Works to slice the finger from the hand. A greenish red fluid flowed out from the stump and it flowed over the blade as he used it to get under the ring and pry it loose from the finger.

"There. You really do not belong here, now, do you?" he said to the ring as he stood up and then cleaned off his knife with a kerchief and then the ring itself. After folding the knife and pocketing the ring he saw motion at his feet.

"Am I too late?" he whispered as the detached finger slid back on to the hand and the hand grasped the wheel array and the vehicle lifted up and pivoted on its left rear array to face north on the tracks away from him. The creature's tail had grown in but an instant and it swept around and took him off his feet to go rolling to the west onto the main line of tracks. Bruised and battered he looked up to see that there were black tendrils flowing from the drainage channels and into the creature.

"What have you become?" he asked looking at it.

It paid no attention to him as it began to grow in size. And took a step to right itself into the tunnel which, soon, might no longer contain it.

Getting to his hands and knees he realized that he was aligned with the track and soft light was playing down upon him. Looking ahead his gaze looked into the open back of the vehicle and the one cleaning pack that was still on its hooks swinging slowly left to right, east to west.

"There is no ill wind that does not blow some good," he said softly to himself, "obviously sterner steps must be taken."

* * *

He reared back as the vehicle came but his hindquarters where pinned down by that accursed Servant of Gotham. That one was pitiful, but the vehicle was not. Turning he had no footing and as the vehicle impacted his body he was, in an instant, thrashed and crushed and rolled by it over and over until it stopped. Then he was unconscious.

Darkness was most welcome now.

He could not feel the fluid that wasn't water but contained water now running through the drain channels. All of those channels curved and then joined to get to the main drain, where his body was. For all that this fluid had so much in the way of dangerous and caustic substances, his skin still drew what it needed into it. Those hard and lumpy reserves that had made all too brittle bones, now crushed, were now having fluid that could not only help to put them into a proper structure, but could dissolve them as well. Cuts and abrasions on his hand helped the process, as well as those on his back which now covered the drain opening. The body had to mend itself before all life was spent and, in doing that, sucked in water greedily, hungrily.

The water was adulterated with more than chemicals as it held the dispersed parts of that being known as Shoggoth. These parts knew how to move and shift and churn and build new things in an instant and began to infiltrate the deepest recesses of that which had been Li Sun. As Barbara Gordon sliced off parts of Shoggoth, they tumbled with the surfactant, losing much of their mass but not all of it, and when they found that other parts of Shoggoth were in this body they eagerly joined to get into something that would protect them from the onslaught happening to its body. They understood, at some gross level, that surface creatures had different requirements and they slid and shifted to the needs of this body, shifting to cover breaks in bones and to get rid of the overly grown bones so that they would no longer be brittle, but strong and supple. They, too, recognized the greed for water but also understood how to economize to do a good job. Better a good structure that might not function too well, than one that functioned well but was poor in what it did.

The nerves still worked and even, too, did the brain, although it was not functioning these parts that flowed made sure that it could function. The silent agony of the main body yielded up some larger pieces that then sped on the assembly process, the function was now returning and this body must have move than air brought in by surface, channeled by cilia, and so its lungs were cleared. Its heart, undamaged, needed to be enlarged, strengthened and that was done as Shoggoth expanded beyond its one body to now be in two. While pain still registered from the detached finger, it was not a pain that Shoggoth even registered as it was a kind it didn't care about. The repair was simple, with parts of itself in that finger, and now it expended energy to get the body into a proper shape and form. This was not a final form, the logic of growth dictated something different, but that would require more of everything.

With a shock, Shoggoth realized that it no longer inhabited this body alone.

Something else was present.

And it was under that one's volition that the body shifted, moved and flung the trapping vehicle away from it. Unable to detach from this body that was now, in some way, part of it, Shoggoth knew it was in danger and needed help.

* * *

Through space and places not just space but between and amongst all space, she shifted and drifted pulled first one way until that pulling ended, then adrift until the slow urge to another direction beckoned to her. Foggy mist was that direction, one she had never remembered seeing although it was there for everyone at the end of every long day. It, too, drew her in a way that was at both comfortable and compelling, but not to the airy mists of everynight nor to the land of terrors and haunting things, twisting beyond all ability to understand or cope. Instead the mists cleared on something solid, flat, dark a jutting prominence off a sheer mountainside that looked over the grey desert where so many dreams had died in profusion. In some way she wished that she was up there, amongst the clouds where she knew better dreams may come. She could never remember seeing this desert, this mountain, indeed this mountain range that was both straight and sinuous.

Lisa turned her back to the awesome drop to the desert of dusty death of dreams, and looked at the giant mountain she was on and how this part nestled amongst blackened mounts. Between her and that wall there was something red and fluttering, held on a post and as she stepped nearer, still, she saw it to be a cape with red that fluttered with the errant beathless breezes of this space empty of all such things, to reveal the black side beyond. Stepping to that she laid a hand on it, and it was warm in this land of breezless chill, alive with warmth and comforting in some very strange way. Looking at the sheer rock wall she saw something in it and looked up and then left and then right and thought what this was she saw.

A low rumble on the ground and she was flat on the surface, holding to it as it shifted with the rumble, and yet stayed flat for all of that. The cape dislodged and fell on her, warming her with its soft surface. She stood and huddled the cape to her, keeping her warm in this chilly, dusty land beyond dreams that was not madness but something else, again. Again she looked and now she gasped as the outline of mountain against mountain with smaller mounts near by outlined the resting head and snout of a magnificent dragon and this prominence was just at where its ear hole was, so that one could approach that solid blackness and whisper to its slick, sheer face

Nodding the young woman stepped closer to it and closer still until she was at the hard, black solid face that should be the entrance to an ear and yet was mountain just the same. Walking along beside it until she got to proper mountain rock she knelt down and saw that this was not rock at all, but jagged scales of many sizes so that their jumble looked like rock, but it was really that which was dragonhide. Looking along the surface, her face pressed next to the rock she saw the profusion of scales that just a slight shift turned into rock once more. Pressing her face to the rock she rubbed her hands over the scales until they were no longer cold, but warm from her hands in motion.

"Sleep peacefully," she whispered, "you are not forgotten..."

The breeze sighed to stillness.

Lisa slid against the rock side, against the smooth scales, and she blinked at a tear that would not go away until it fell from her eye and gave dampness to the rock and scales.

"And if sleep cannot become you, please let Erin go... I will stay and comfort you, Tiamat, if that would be your wish..."

There was no response from the mountain and Lisa stayed there even as mist enshrouded her.

* * *

He adjusted the mix of surfactant and dilutant as he had started with too much of the former. That worked but slowly, with more dilutant the slow sloughing of material went faster and then the stream cut deeper. As he stepped forward the creature drew more mass into itself and obscured that which was beyond, which was just as well for him as it might not be possible for that other one to get to him through this creature. One of the major tentacles fell away but before it did he saw that other shocks were now roiling this formless black mass. With a nod his goggles were down and in place and now the heat he saw told him of who was coming up near the main tracks to him: Barbara Gordon.

Smiling behind his mask he saw how Barbara neatly put a slice into the main mass of tentacles and he followed that up with surfactant, and it separated from the main mass, writhing as it did so. He concentrated on the thin connection points and soon the pieces on the ground were numerous and those that did not writhe back to the creature soon found themselves sliding or kicked into the drainage channel. The surfactant was doing its job, freeing water in the creature and sliding it apart either in sheets or chunks, it was slowly being killed. He lowered the pressure and changed the mix to a very dilute one and removed the few adhering tentacles from Erin Norris and then helped her up as he continued the slow stream on other parts of the creature still shifting nearby.

Erin Norris looked up at him, and he had to concentrate on the task at hand and simply said, muffled by his mask and the spray and thrumming that went through the place making him hard to hear, "Acid guns. Protective gear."

Erin looked beyond the still form of Lisa at the open cases, nodded, and stepped by him, careful not to slip on the slick stream of material that was slowly sliding all around this area.

His boots gave him traction, he could feel the near outlines of this thing when he could not see it, and then saw where Barbara had sliced off pieces that tried to get close to her and he then sprayed those down. She kicked a few of those slick masses to the side and into a drain channel that had started to take the runoff from his work. The creature in front of them writhed in front of them.

Then there was a rumbling, the lights from the vehicle shifted and reoriented before it came down with a thud on its tires, the beams now pointed up the western tracks. He could see two human sized heat masses just barely coming from that tunnel. He had no time for them and hoped they would be able to figure out not to interfere on their own.

Taking a moment to glance back he saw that the thing he had run over had grown in size and was now quite large.

Of Dr. Gotham he could see nothing.

Erin Norris had one of the longer squirt guns out of its case, she had donned a poncho, and she was now facing towards this thing that no man should ever have to see.

Even worse, of Dr. Gotham there was no sight.

* * *

Their cousin cried out for help first in need of guidance and now in desperation. Shoggoth knew the most of this realm because it was home to it, and there were things it could do that were all its own. What was happening to Shoggoth was something that it could not counter and was a surprise of a type that was sliding it apart to the smallest pieces that would soon die without full contact to each other. After doing much for them they could not deny Shoggoth sustainment and they slid tendrils into it and began to intermeld. They knew the pain would be awful, and it was, but the feeling of being slid apart was horrific to them a deep violation of their body type that was something never described to them by any of their kind. Nothing had ever done this to them and now, with the intermeld being committed they had started to combine their fate into one that would doom them.

By shifting their masses inside Shoggoth they, too, began to share the pain and horror of it and that allowed it to recover and realize that something else was going on. That other being, from the eastern wall, had been taking in energy that none of the three could even find and that body, while apparently lifeless, had been set on its own task. Shoggoth knew that there were advantages to a differentiated body, as organs could do things that their undifferentiated structures could not do. While their kind could shift colors, opacity, form, mass and a host of other things, they could not form a real skin nor a real brain both for good and ill. Now it was for ill and a body that could begin to resist those things that were happening to them, or at least provide some distance to such attacks, meant much to them and that body was taking in water released first by Shoggoth and now all of them, and those parts of Shoggoth that still were alive and part of it at that distance also went into that body. It was a body broken and heading to final death. It was also a body that had been transforming at a very basic level and here the different aspects of such knowledge by each of them allowed for the start of what must happen next.

First air must be available through those organs that intermixed air and circulatory fluid. Internal bleeding must be stopped, and broken vessels repaired. Then the overgrown and brittle bones needed to be knit back together and much of the excess material removed and held ready for further transformation. They could not, exactly, feel via the nerves of such a body, but they could recognize nerve impulses, which started the path to finding out the state of the central nerve processing area of the brain. The two most bad foods had been hurting and dissolving them and that allowed for the final method of their transfer to start by shaving off a bit more of their substance to flow down the sluices and to that body and repair it and re-infuse it with what was necessary.

They could also feel its feed to power within that structure it had and it was now energizing its organs once more. Power and will to use it, plus repairs and restructuring went apace. This also meant that their kind were coming under the control of that power and will in that body, and what was coming to life began to utilize them in those repairs. On one appendage was the affinity contact to the power nexus, and it was now being severed by the one who had created the wards that brought Ngluioth to this realm. With so much transformation complete and the affinity to the power nexus established in this body, that device was no longer necessary.

Awakening a fresh infusion of power now flowed through that body, the repairs made firm and the great weight crushing it was now lifted up and tossed off of the body by that which directly inhabited it. Their anguish continued in connection to the power nexus, even as they slowly joined inside this body to help find a way to protect themselves. The being whose body this was then did something extraordinary, and with so much committed to revival there was nothing that It nor it's cousins could do.

* * *

Travis Colton had to shield his eyes with his left arm as the glare from those 6 lamps were eyewatering even at the fair distance about half-way into this subway intersection. Nothing should be able to do that and he looked at where the car must have started and saw, in the reflected light that was closer to dark now, that the figure that stood there was massive and appeared to be growing larger by the second.

"Now this isn't good," he said looking at it as a roar came from the thing's mouth that echoed far and down the tunnels and back again.

Commissioner Gordon was also having to shield his eyes as he looked out into the intersection area.

"Travis there is one down in there and I think," he took a few steps further forward, "that the figure next to... that's Erin Norris? It's hard to see and she has a mask on."

Travis had to tear his eyes from the creature now rearing up above the rails, with black material flowing into it.

"Yeah, it is, got the figure of her, at least. And big and ugly out there is, oh, five or six steps from her, maybe. Dunno what that Norris girl has, Jim, looks like one of those new pump squirtguns but it isn't going to be enough to handle that... thing."

The two men looked at each other.

"It's showtime," Travis said.

Commissioner James Gordon nodded.

"First is to get Norris and that other woman out of here. You're stronger than I am, so you get that duty. I'll put down cover fire if you need it."

Travis shook his head.

"I'm the better shot with a snubbie at that distance than you are, Jim. Besides, you're better at the convincing stuff than I am. I cover, you get them out."

"Barbara's still in there," Gordon said looking around, "but... "

"Yeah. I'll be on the right, Jim."

"Let's go," Gordon said as he did his best to not run as the rails and drainage channels made this a very hazardous place to run once out of the lights. It wasn't pure dark in the cavern, just dimly lit by reflected light.

"That's Batman..." Gordon said looking around as they neared the end of a clear area before tracks began to proliferate.

"Uh-huh... eyes forward, tracks..."

The two men continued forward and as they did Erin Norris stood up and turned towards the large figure that was now orienting itself. It was looking directly at her. The creature growled in a way that almost hinted at speech, but no real words could be heard. She took two steps forward and started spraying into the black material flowing into the creature, and it howled in displeasure.

"Damn! I bet that ain't water in that gun," Travis said as he started to reach the clear area the two women were on.

"Get to her, Travis. I'll get the woman on the ground."

"Right," Travis said now picking his way next to the tracks.

"Erin, don't shoot, I'm here to help," he said loudly. He realized that this got the attention of the creature and being the object of its attention was not a good feeling.

Erin who had a full face mask, poncho and gloves on along with the large plastic squirt gun looked at Travis.

"Get Lisa out of here, please!" she screamed through the mask.

"Jim'll do that, Erin," Travis said standing next to her and the two of them looked out at the creature now taking its first steps forward. Towards them. "You should go with him."

Erin shook here head from side to side.

"I'm not getting chased any more," she said in a chilling tone.

Travis considered cold-cocking her, but the next step warned him from doing that as Erin let another stream of fluid go across the lower portion of the creature where black material was still trying to slide from the ground into it. He took only one, brief, glance back at where that mass was coming from and it was coming from beyond two figures, one wearing a backpack device of some sort with a cape and ears just beyond that, and the other was Barbara Gordon in a duplicate of Erin's outfit. He looked forward again as the creature was now moving its left arm out.

"Get back!" he yelled pushing Erin down as he took a one-handed shot at the creature's chest.

The round was a copper jacketed .357 Magnum hollowpoint.

It might have distracted the creature for an instant.

There was no spatter of anything behind it.

The bullet hole in its chest sealed up almost immediately.

The creature roared in fury.

"I don't think it liked that," Erin said.

"No shit," Travis said shaking his head, "and now its mad at me. Great."

* * *





He awakened and felt the changes going on in his body and then felt the rush of power now flowing into him not just from a distance but in diffuse contact with its source. North had started to come to him as it could not survive without East, thus Earth moved to Celestial and bowed to Green. The vehicle's mass was oppressive, and now he could feel that he was in concordance with a new form that could deal with this weight. He knew, in some way, that the affinity device was no longer with him, but that did not matter as he now had the affinity within him. By using that power he gained affinity to it with or without external help.

North had similar affinity and as it knit him East started to direct North and his body grew stronger, larger, using the gift of water from North his body was shifting faster, now. He did not require good leverage to lift the vehicle up and throw it off, just moving his entire body to finally stand up. That one, that Servant of Gotham, was also thrown to the West as was the vehicle, good riddance to them both. Standing he tried to orient himself, but now began to understand that North was in pain. He screamed in fury at this as two figures were trying to stop him from getting that full fusion that would grant access to that nexus.

He stood upright and oriented and tried to say, "Ah, there is red bird" but his mouth could no longer form such words at least not to one who did not learn how to speak anew with the form he now had. Other figures approached, one towards red bird and the other to that one that was in ch'shagg. More of North flowed to him and his body absorbed it easily now. It would take very little to get red bird, take the rest of North and then only West would remain. These thoughts were swirling in his mind, now, as they were not, exactly his any longer. But purpose he knew and started towards red bird... who then started breaking his contact with the remains of North.

Another step and she should be within claw's reach of him and he swung his arm/leg back to get a full swing at her so as to snatch her up and then consume her.

A shot pierced his still growing ribs, bone shattered, pieces of lead and copper twisted inside him, damaging a lung. North went to work inside him, shifting structure, reinforcing bone, repairing damage to the lung and absorbing, slowly, the lead and copper fragments. No one should dare to do that and he was furious and bellowed in rage, with only a bit of frothing coming up from the one lung. Instead of swinging that which had once been Li Sun took a different course and stepped to its right and scooped up more of North and established its first, direct connection to it.

There were three formless ones now intermelded.

Each had affinity to the power nexus.

They were within him.

Deep back in those growing spaces of his brain came a fusion of affinity and the final extinguishment of Li Sun. Three of North had now joined one of East. Symmetry must hold.

There were three from the South, not just red bird.

Three and one, twice.

All joined the pattern would be complete.

First the most dangerous had to be ended. The rest of North he would gather, plus one of South, and then that most evil of competition would be killed to yield West. The rest of South would be all that remained.

If he could smile, he would have, but his snout did not allow that.

The time for completion had arrived.

* * *

He scampered up the ramp and looked from the very rear of the vehicle at its rear compartment contents.

"Where to start?" he asked himself as he saw the swinging cleaning pack swing less from side to side.

"East to West," he whispered and looked at the two similar sets of storage drawers on either side of the vehicle. He turned to the one on his right and opened the first drawer.

"Hmmmm.... gloves, masks, ponchos... next to containers... ahhh... chemistry... HF? Yes," he checked the simple thumb release and looked at the three syringes inside before closing it. "Very good, and the gloves and other pieces on the right must be the protective gear... and in containers, too," he started filling his coat pockets with containers of gloves, folded plastic ponchos, and a thin face mask he slipped on so that it fell under his chin, and finally one of the containers of acid.

He opened the next drawer.

"Ahhh... mechanical devices of some sort.." he said looking at the drag lines, "... no time to learn those..."

The next drawer yielded containerized sets of batarangs and press-apply tabs along with a loose box of same. He took up the box and looked at it.

"Simple to use, yes. Useless for my needs."

He put the box back in the drawer.

"No time to move those tanks. Other side."

Turning around he saw a web harness on a hook and decided to put that on, then started putting the containerized acid pack and protective gear on to that.

"So simple!"

He heard a roar outside.

"Must hurry," he said opening the top drawer. He saw boxed and containerized equipment and the boxes all had the same label, just in different sizes.

"Mmmmmm... mustn't get greedy..." he said opening one of the boxes and saw that a simple pull ring was on the container along with a press-apply tab that was already on the container ready to be used. "Ingeneous!" he whispered to himself putting on two of the larger containerized packs and three of the smaller ones. He saw boxes of goggles, plus two loose ones and took a loose one and put it on so that they rested over his forehead easy to slip down with the elastic webbing that went through loops on its sides.

A shot rang out and another roar.

The next drawer yielded flashlights and he took two of the larger ones, slipped those onto the harness then shut the drawer and made sure they would sty on the harness to give him some light. He took two steps down the ramp, jumped off it using his walking stick to propel him out from the vehicle and headed around the vehicle towards the interchange.

"Now, I must mind the tail..."

As the tail swung away from him he dashed forward taking out one canister and pulling off the thin piece of plastic on the tab and then applied it and pulled the goggles down and pulled the loop on it. The next canister was applied, and its loop pulled. And then another.

Soon it was very bright and very hot and he had to duck down under the tail that was now swinging frantically back and forth.

"That won't save you, dragon spawn."

The tail nearly fell off right on top of him.

He could barely see it through the goggles and took time to shift those up as he put the mask on, along with the gloves. The poncho he slid into as he pulled out one of the syringes. As the black green tail base came towards him he used his walking stick to press down on it, popped the top off the syringe and inserted it into the nerve column and then walking up along it making sure a thin stream of the acid was along its entire length, now nearly 8'.

The bright lights were now whirling around as the creature tried to stop the heat of the inferno that was burning into it. Some of it spattered and popped on the ground, but the worse was a steam expulsion that blew its underside open.

The thing was enraged unable to decide between trying to address these grievous wounds or find its attacker. Shielding his eyes he dashed behind it as it whirled around and used the last of an acid spray to get its attention. As he reached the eastern tracks he glanced back at it and saw that it was trying to focus on him and had fallen forward to try and come after him. Taking out a flashlight he smiled as he went into a tunnel that led to the next station.

Perhaps, just perhaps he could finally get something that would really get its attention in a final way going.

"Too bad that the spoken word is never as powerful as the made creation," he sighed as he got to the station and saw the shadow of the thing chasing him.

"Ya'ai gebyar wgah'n Gothamaglnyth cnnnuh'eah..." he intoned in a deep, rich voice that echoed and re-echoed through the tunnels with a rushing of promise and a far off screaming growl.

* * *

She had to check the level in her gun, and it was running low. Another minute or two with it would be enough and then it was time for the back-ups.

The tunnel shook and the lighting changed, quickly and Batman's vehicle was now pointing north on the other tracks just past the intersection of the side tunnel with the main one. A sudden roar distracted her and she looked back and could see the dim outlines of something large that had been under the vehicle. It had obviously thrown it off and was none too happy about being run over. The dropped flashlight gave a bit of light where the diffuse reflected glow of the headlights didn't reach so well. Erin had knelt to check on Lisa and now had on a poncho to add to her gloves and mask, plus she had one of the other large squirt guns out. She thought she saw figures moving beyond Batman but wasn't sure as she continued the methodical spraying of the mass in front of her.

It was going easier now, something had happened within the last few sprays across the shivering mass of this thing, and parts were now sliding off easily into the drain channels. Most of the mass had shifted towards the center of the rails and she decided now was a good time to get closer to Batman to find out what was going on as Batman followed up her spray lines with surfactant that spread both the acid while diluting it, and allowed pieces of this thing to fall away. She saw that Batman had looked back and continued his part of the work.

"What next?" she asked almost out of breath.

"Your father is here," he said.

"Get back!" she heard from behind her and she looked to see Deputy Commissioner Colton pressing Erin back as the creature swung a long arm out. He fired into its chest. The creature bellowed out in hatred.

"Uh-oh," she said softly.

The thing shifted its hand and swept it into the channel that she had just stepped over and there was an undulation along it that spattered acid and surfactant as it went right into the main mass on the rails. Then the entire mass started to shift.

"Cut off its forward part, NOW!" Batman said as he took in what happened.

Barbara shifted to the acid gun and laid down stream after stream on that part as Batman flushed surfactant on the stuff coming off. She threw away the empty gun and pumped the next one into action. Such a large mass tried to divide to go along the edges of the channel and she aimed there. They tried to go towards Batman and he switched to a syringe that made the entire mass start to shiver as he injected it, and a section started to bubble and dissolve off in front of him. He switched the spin mixer on and foam washed on that portion, then switched back to the powerful, thin stream.

Bright, bright light soon engulfed the tunnel and it turned as the creature spun and spun, bellowing as it did so.

"Don't look. That's thermite. Dr. Gotham has apparently gotten to the vehicle."

There was a final roar and the light continued to shine, but dimly and a bursting sound that was wet echoed briefly. There was the smell of scorched flesh of some sort as the bellowing and footsteps moved away into one of the tunnels.

"Concentrate on this mass. If it is destroyed, then it will not come back."

In a moment Erin and Travis Colton joined them, both armed with the other two large squirt guns.

"What a mess!" Colton said.

"Yes," Batman said, "don't let any part larger than your fist get away. I'm down to only a quarter tank and then I need my back-up."

As they worked they heard words echo through the tunnel system and the wind start to pick up.

"Yaai gebyar wgah'n Gothamaglnyth cnnnuh'e'ah Tiamat'hupadgh"

Looking back where the light of the thermite had died out, Barbara saw another light that had the large figure of the creature in front of it. A light that rattled. A light that was ghostly. The tunnels shook as the train came down the tracks.

"A Ghost Train," she whispered.

* * *

The creature heard what the man said and didn't like what it implied.

"I say now as Gotham's servant to protect those with me from that born for Tiamat."

None of those were Words of Power.

That one on the platform so near did not even command the power he called for, perhaps even the opposite was true. But the shivers going out from him, the blue black waves it saw shivered the earth in ways that meant he had been heard and that something was responding. What that could be it couldn't know, exactly.

Then the shaking and rattling started and it lost its footing on the tracks. From its crouch raising itself on the tracks a glow had coalesced from no space it could find. Silver black was its form, streaking down the tracks, wind was its harbinger, and death was its name. It summoned power to send against it and that power disappeared into an abyss that was at the heart of the train. Demonic it could understand, but this was beholden to no demon, no god, no angel to nothing was its affinity save the forever blackness which it was. Getting to its feet was nearly impossible with so much of its hindquarters damaged beyond quick fixture, charred and baked so that nothing lived near those places where thermite had burned through it.

It gave one last look to the man on the platform.

"Tell Tiamat to bother Gotham no more."

It was consumed by the Ghost Train as if it never was.

And the train continued on down the tracks, unhindered by mere earthly consumption.

* * *

Turning at the lights and noise, the rattling and new light he gazed up the track and then grabbed Barbara through the poncho and pulled her from being so close to the tracks. He knew this would damage the cleaning pack, but it was exhausted. Tumbling back also brought down Travis and Erin, and they saw the reflection of the coming train from the mass that was still on the tracks.

They felt the pressure of wind.

They heard the scream of lost souls frozen forever in Train 125.

Of impact they could see it and it was a transformation of mass into nothingness as the train went through it, absorbed it, sucked all that was attached to it into the abyss of timeless death that was this Ghost Train.

The train itself melted as it went by, vanishing in a soft hiss. Death had come and gone once more. Things that did not touch it were not harmed. Nothing that was consumed by it ever came out again, save one who had been there for merely decades, not eternity.

This was not its stop for it would never stop, pushing in only one direction the spirit of past direction given form in that place known today as Gotham.

As Batman stood up all he could see was the way the rails had been badly eroded, eaten through in some places, even concrete pitted and dissolved. Of the creature... the creatures... there was nothing left. He helped the others get up and they were joined by Commissioner Gordon. Turning to look he asked, "How is she?"

Gordon looked at him.

"Stable. She doesn't look wounded, but I didn't want to move her. Too much was going on to know which direction was safe.

Batman nodded.

"I will get her to Gotham General," he said shrugging off the cleaning system and lifted the transceiver to his lips. "Brights off, IR," he said and waked to her using his IR goggles to see by while only the flashlight on the ground that had been left behind began to flicker. Carefully he lifted Lisa Choi up and into the vehicle as James Gordon took out his flashlight to look around.

"This will take forever to figure out," Travis said as he picked up the flashlight on the ground.

"Well, Barbara can help us. And Erin," Gordon said.

Barbara had gotten hers out and soon they were joined by Dr. Gotham who looked as the vehicle buttoned up after Batman entered it from the rear.

"Apparently this Batman doesn't take compliments or thanks," he said joining them.

"And just what is your part in all of this?" Colton asked.

"Me?" Dr. Gotham asked, "I am but a simple shopkeeper."

"OK. Why did you send us out on a wild goose chase after Martha Culligan and her son, Bruce?"

Dr. Gotham blinked.

"I did no such thing. And if you want to know where her son lives, it is right above us. Wayne Tower."

James Gordon stepped over to his daughter and hugged her.

"And just what did I tell you about the Underworld, Barbara?"

She looked at him, smiling.

"Never go into it."

"Good advice," Travis said.

Erin looked at the vehicle which now had a red figure in the front part of it.

Soon it purred to life and was heading out into the blackness of the tunnels.



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