"Where are we?" Erin asked looking at the room lit by the flashlights they were carrying. It was a room that featured old concrete walls with one archway that was bricked over to the left of the room. The room, itself, had the decaying remains of some old wooden desks, a place on the right that once had a large chalkboard and still had clipboards hanging from hooks next to where the chalkboard had been. The chalkboard was broken pieces of slate on the floor and there were unused lamps dangling from the ceiling.
"This place?" Dr. Gotham said from far side of the room as he waited for Erin and Barbara to get across it, missing the small amount of greenish water that drained from a leak on the right hand wall.
"Yes," Barbara said, "I know its part of the Chief of Operations office, since that was over the hallway we had to use to get here, but I'm not familiar with this sort of place, either."
Looking around Dr. Gotham nodded.
"This was the central office for subway train maintenance and repair, as well as surface train repairs. That had been its first function and it was situated below ground so as not to disturb residents of the eastern hills district. Once the major South Island lines were completed it had heavy subway use and a new rail yard on the mainland was opened to service trains. I believe that yard has since been abandoned in one of the factory yards. There was no way that Gotham City could sustain a subway system save during extreme times of economic well being. Those do not last."
Barbara got to the archway where Dr. Gotham was and looked back into the room.
"It's impressive, I will give it that," she said looking at the arched ceiling overhead.
Erin picked her way amongst fallen desks, pieces of slate that promised treacherous footing, and around piles of plaster that had fallen down from the ceiling and the pillars supporting it.
"It smells pretty bad, though," she said reaching the archway.
Dr. Gotham shrugged.
"That is what happens when all the surface entrances are closed off and the equipment to handle air is dismantled and removed. Come we are nearly out of the office area."
He turned and went ahead, then they followed him through another hallway and then turned right into a larger room with the remains of steel shelving that held parts of motors, subway train wheels, electrical components, and even old seats that had since decayed into leather and wooden tatters. Larger workbenches with wooden bases showed only some blackening with a light green on some legs, while their iron surfaces had surface rust and scale on them. Too large to move they had been left behind, abandoned along with the subway system.
"Hey! This looks familiar!" she said.
Barbara turned to her as they walked between the workbenches.
"Yes! I had been through... oh! The maintenance yard must be ahead because I saw a couple of places like this when... well... before... you know."
"Yes. And that sounds about right. The surface exit is blocked by the grating, chained and locked. That used to go to the piers."
Erin nodded as they followed Dr. Gotham out of the room and they were in the outer portion of the maintenance yards where the cranes had begun to crumble to the sides of the yards, and they were on a platform on the west side of the yard that was just at door height for subway cars. To either side there were more metal shelves, lockers, and even some dim lights on near exits that cast a dim yellow glow across the vast open space.
"Wow," Barbara said, "its like it was made for giants."
"To work on such vehicles it needed to be large, Miss Gordon. And it had served locomotives, first, so the slow move from steam to diesel engines meant that this yard serviced both, and then electrically driven motors for the subway. That overhead gantry crane on the north side, the one fallen to the ground below, that could pick up entire locomotives or cars and shift them from track to track. We are going in that direction and it is probably safer to be away from the walls as the ceiling looks to be far better supported in this state of decay."
He stepped his way down a set of stairs to the track level and led the women out into the center of the yard. The could shut off their flashlights and see well enough to walk, and that meant they could go faster than through the confines of the hallways and rooms they had come through.
"Its just huge," Erin said, "bigger than I remember."
"All of this was just left down here..." Barbara said shaking her head, "...and the only thing that has happened since are the reinforced supports for the ceiling and some parts of the walls."
"It is sad, Miss Gordon, yes. The original portion would have been able to continue on if the city concentrated on its waterfront and shipping, but it did not even in my time. Industries were in motion and the future of Gotham City without such industry and without a vibrant waterfront was clear. Yet this was expanded, out from under the hills so that the dreams of a few to keep up with other large cities could be dashed on much harder rocks than the bedrock of the city. I had never thought that anyone would just attempt to cover over the city as I knew it, though. That was an evil scheme done with malice to have the people forget what was and to let evil roam freely. No one arose to stop it, thus we have this and the decay above attempting to mask what it left behind it."
"That sounds... uh, well, like there was something behind that..." Erin said.
"Perhaps, Mrs. Norris, perhaps," he took a flashlight from his coat pocket and turned it on as they came to the end of the repair yards.
"Next we skirt above the switching and holding yard, which is a dank and dark place. Stay to the right and with the rails."
On the ground the old rail switches showed up, and they were rusting in place. To their left one set went out into a tunnel in darkness while the one they were on stayed relatively straight. Ahead there was only a dim glow of some maintenance lights left connected from decades ago with fixtures and bulbs stubbornly refusing to die. As they walked a large open area on their left showed the circular facility of the switch yard below that had been used in the era of locomotives to turn them around on a turntable. The turntable was still there although badly rusted as everything else was, including the tracks leading off into a tunnel beyond it.
Dr. Gotham stopped holding up his left hand and looking ahead.
From behind them a cool breeze flowed into the tunnel from behind them.
"Why have you stopped?" Erin asked.
"Something ahead coming towards us," he whispered and pointed ahead after turning his flashlight off.
In the darkness there was a light that moved with someone carrying it. There was a second one behind it, being blocked intermittently. Barbara turned her flashlight off as did Erin as she stepped up behind them. They could hear footsteps echo in the cavern around them, more than one set of echoes.
"Who are you?" Dr. Gotham called out, his voice echoing within the large space.
The lights stopped.
"I am Maria," came a woman's voice, "and I am with a youngster named Shlasuar. We have one other with us, as well. We have been guided here with her, and now we have seen that those close to her are with you."
The lights continued getting closer to them and they began to see the dim forms in the low light as their eyes adjusted to it.
"What?" Dr. Gotham whispered as he took off his glasses, "No. That cannot be."
Erin shifted around him to look into the semi-dark.
"But what do you see? Who is it?"
"I see..." Barbara said taking her flashlight out and turning it on to show the three figures. One was a young man, who had a rope that was bound around the wrists of a young woman, and with them was an older woman coming behind them.
"Oh that can't..." Barbara said.
"Lisa! How... but you're dead..."
"So you thought," Maria said, "but you were wrong. And that put us all in peril. Everyone. Every people. Everything."
Dr. Gotham shivered as he looked at Lisa who had duct tape over her mouth and cord between her ankles so she could only take short steps.
Behind them a breeze came up and began to whistle into the cavern.
"Did it now?" they heard from behind them at the entrance to the switching area.
The three of them turned to look at the figure who had a lighter up in the air in front of him.
"Who are you?" Erin asked.
He looked at her and smiled, giving a short bow.
"Me? I am Guthrie Lewis," he said, "and I can now see what the Spider was trying to hide."
"Boreas..." Dr. Gotham whispered.
The man closed his lighter and slipped it into his jacket.
"Ah, just a representative. Although, do not fear, one that has some attention drawn to him. Now, fair is fair, just who are each of you?"
It was a rare night that Bruce Wayne actually got to bed before midnight. It was a rare night when he actually started heading out just after it. Some sleep had left him revived, although still weary from what had happened, and hard work was a good exercise routine when he wasn't out gathering information from hoods on the street. Sunday nights were always quiet ones, even for that part of his life, and the awakening by Alfred while it was still dark out let him know there was a problem.
"Master Bruce, it is Frank and the Project, along with another person coming to see you. They say it is urgent."
Alfred had a black silk robe ready for Bruce who blinked and shifted in bed and saw that it was long before he expected to wake up.
"Really? Well if it is Frank... and Tom then it must be important. Who is the other person?"
"They didn't say on the intercom from the motorpool garage, sir, but they say she is not armed and Frank has Old Reliable with him."
Standing up, Bruce waved Alfred off and went over to the dresser to get on underwear and socks, then a pair of silk pajamas in dark brown before turning back to Alfred and accepting the robe.
"Thank you, Alfred. They will be here in a few minutes, right?"
"Yes, sir. I have coffee brewing in the kitchen."
Bruce nodded, finding slippers beside the bed and sliding into them, then walking over to the bathroom.
"Good. I don't know what this is, but it can't... wait a moment..." Bruce looked at Alfred, "...she? And its not Vivian?"
"Yes, sir, that is what I surmise or else it would have been Vivian contacting me."
Bruce raised his eyebrows and then flipped the lights on in the bathroom and walked in.
"I think, the living room then, Alfred. It doesn't sound formal but if it is important I want you there to be able to hear what is said. Frank and Tom have become... well, its informal with them and I don't want to vary that. Strong coffee for Frank, at least. I'll meet you all when I'm done here."
"Yes, sir," Alfred gave a short bow and left as Bruce ran water in the sink then put a washcloth in it, wrung it out and then wiped that over his face. It was shockingly cold just as he wanted it to be, and a second application helped get him oriented on the tasks at hand. Using a towel from a rack next to the sink he dried his face, then picked up a comb and ran it through his hair.
"She?" he asked softly and then shook his head. Frank Rock wasn't seeing anyone since his wife died, unless you included Vivian and that was social to near familial. They had grown used to each other on that long drive from Kansas City and Vivian had the excuse of checking her work on the Project to visit him. And when he was in town he stayed with her, preferring not to impose on Bruce's life. Bruce couldn't recall a visit from Frank unannounced... which meant this was very unusual, but Bruce was set on handling it like it wasn't business but between family friends.
Bruce used eyedrops to help clear the last of the sleep away and, for once, not to go after any redness. He had worked hard, yes, but that was only after the incident... one that only the two of them had been in and as far as Bruce knew no one else had even seen it. He picked the towel up to give one last pat to his face, decided that there wasn't enough beard growth to warrant a shave, and left the bathroom shutting off the light. He heard sounds of voices coming from the other part of the apartment and he stood for a moment thinking if there was anything else he needed. On his bedside table there was a small spiral pad and he opened the drawer of the mahogany stand to take out a fresh one and another pen. Some ideas came to him in the middle of the night or morning, and even if his printing was a bit hard to read when he was fully awake, he often got some very good ideas from what he wrote down.
He heard Alfred moving into the hall and going to the linen closet and he turned to leave the bedroom as Alfred was searching through the closet. Alfred turned at the sound of the door opening.
"What are you looking for?" Bruce asked.
"Just a warm blanket for their companion, sir," Alfred said taking a green and brown wildlife print blanket from the closet.
Bruce put the notebook and pen away in the top pocket of the robe and reached out to Alfred as he got the blanket out.
"I'll take that, Alfred. Get whatever else they need while I take this in."
"Who is with them, do you know?"
Alfred raised an eyebrow and smirked.
"A woman in your databases that you have only met in passing socially. You know her better by her trade name of Catwoman."
Bruce inhaled and his eyes widened.
"I... Catwoman? With Frank and Tom?" he asked very softly.
"Well this is unexpected..." Bruce said trying to think what it all meant and then deciding that it would be faster to have them tell it to him, "...but I'm sure there's a good reason for it. I'll see you in a couple of minutes. Listen to what you can via the intercom."
"Yes, Master Bruce," Alfred turned down the hallway and took an intersecting hall to the kitchen area while Bruce passed that and went into the living room. There were three large leather sofas in a 'U' shape in front of a fireplace, with two large coffee tables between them and a central space to walk between the tables leading to the fireplace. Bruce walked in and saw Frank and Tom on the far sofa, with Tom near the fireplace end and between them a woman with an old army blanket over her. She was wearing black and had some sort of a hood arrangement that was in leather pushed back from her face along with the top of her skin tight undergarment. Yet the cat's ears in black on the top of the mask were telltale.
"Hello Frank, Tom and... ahhhh... wait a moment, didn't we meet in Monte Carlo in September?" he asked coming into the room.
Frank and Tom got up, and Tom walked around the tables to take the blanket from Bruce and then handed it to Frank.
The woman looked up at him and smiled.
"August," she said, "in Geneva," smiling she got up as Frank took the blanket and put it around her shoulders. Her outfit, while perhaps warm enough for a regular night in Gotham City would have been something for only a short outing on a night like tonight.
"That's it! The Steuben party..." Bruce sighed as it was one of the functions he couldn't get out of and gave him a chance to brush up on his rock climbing skills. He reached over to shake her hand across the table.
"Bruce Wayne," he said.
"She's Selina Kyle, Bruce," Rock said, "and she has had a run in with Guthrie Lewis."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Wayne," Selina said shivering.
"I will need to use the restroom," Tom said.
Bruce turned to him and nodded.
"You know where it is, Tom. Any time."
"Thank you, Mr. Wayne."
Tom walked out of the room and Alfred passed him and they nodded at each other. With a tray of mugs and a sterling silver coffee pot, Alfred proceeded to pour out mugs of coffee for Frank, Selina and Bruce.
"Cream, please," Selina said as Alfred offered it to her, and she took the small pot of it and used her spoon to carefully stir it as she poured it out.
"Much obliged, Alfred," Frank said taking his mug of coffee.
"Of course, sir," Alfred said pouring out Bruce's coffee and handing it to him.
"Thank you," Bruce said sitting back in the sofa at the head of 'U' and sipping his coffee. Alfred took a glass of ice water for himself and sat across from Frank.
"Frank you say that she has had a run-in with Mr. Lewis? What sort of run-in?"
"He tried to kill her, Bruce, by pushing her car off of the end of Draper Street and into the Mid-Gotham River."
Bruce coughed and leaned forward to grab one of the napkins off the serving tray.
"Thought that would get your attention."
"Why did he go after you, Miss Kyle? It seems a pretty extreme reaction for... ahhh... whatever happened at the costume party you were at," Bruce said looking puzzled as he patted at his face.
"It wasn't a party," Selina said, "costume or otherwise. Not for me, at least. For... Guthrie..." she said with a low snarl.
Tom walked back into the room and took up a glass of water from the serving tray, then sat down next to Selina.
"What do you mean... Frank what the hell happened?"
Frank raised an eyebrow and smirked.
"I asked Selina for some help getting something in the way of a Christmas gift for Vivian. She agreed and would waive her fee if I went out with her and her mother, Margaret. I took it that they have had words in the past," Frank said.
"That's not the half of it..." Selina whispered.
"I called it double-date and personnel match-up. I don't like seeing what some parents do to their kids, Bruce. Thomas and Martha were fine parents, no worries with them. Selina's mother seemed to be of a sort less than stellar."
Bruce sat back once more and tried to take that in.
"I take it you considered it a fair trade, then?"
"Sure, Bruce, or else I wouldn't have done it."
Bruce shook his head slowly and looked at Selina.
"Is she really... that bad?" Bruce asked softly.
Selina looked at him and then down at her coffee mug.
"I wouldn't want to count the fights and yelling matches we've had since," she looked at him again, "I was 15, maybe 16. She wanted to marry me off to someone and I wanted to make my own way, but that didn't stop her."
"I see..." Bruce said, nodding and looked back at Frank.
"How did it go?"
"Well enough, Bruce. Fine until she wanted to know what was going on in Tom's life. That brought you up and things got a bit tense after that."
"Oh, you got that right, Frank," Selina said looking at Frank as she leaned back and pulled the blanket around her body, "setting her straight after she left the table," Selina sighed, "I was expecting a yelling match again. But, Frank," she turned to Tom, "Tom, you two were... perfect. I just hoped to keep things civil but..."
"What happened?" Alfred asked.
"Oh! Ah, well, mother had tried to arrange some dates for me before and even with those she was... abrasive. Anyone I liked she made sure to scare off."
"I know of the type, yes. Unwilling to ever let go."
Selina puffed air in her cheeks.
"That is a mouthful right there, but yes. She tried to do that with Frank and Tom and Tom was well dressed and Frank! Dear god I never saw that sort of military uniform outside of photos," she said looking at Frank, smiling widly, "all those little ribbons and just perfectly done up."
"Mess suit, makes me feel like a damned flower display with ornaments," Frank said smiling lopsidedly, "the perfect thing for a woman who tries to push others around."
"Yes," Alfred said, "that would do it, I'm certain. So civil at dinner?"
"Yes," Tom said, "Mrs. Kyle was civil throughout the meal."
Bruce raised an eyebrow as the Project's known ettiquete was either by-the-book or what it learned in outings with Frank, Vivian, Kyle or Sarah. Or with Fr. Jordan. That is actually a lot of human activity to try and categorize.
"And she was, too," Frank said, "and I take it she didn't blow up at Selina alone, either."
Selina shook her head.
"What could she say about either of you to run you down? It is the first time my mother was at a loss for words and for once I was able to get through to her that what she was doing wasn't going to work with me or with anyone else in the family. There was some raising of voices but..." Selina shrugged, "I think we got to an arrangement. Maybe even actual civility."
"Good," Bruce said smiling, "so how did it go from that to Guthrie Lewis trying to knock your car off a cliff?"
Selina pressed her hands to the mug and shook her head.
"Bruce we saw Guthrie with the owner of the club, Cathy Li, obviously the two of them having a decent time of things, maybe more."
Selina nodded, still looking at her coffee.
"From the sensor readings we got earlier and some of the things happening with Guthrie, and around Gotham, I decided to see if there was anything going on. Just wanted to hang around a bit and maybe trail Guthrie, even if it was just back to his hotel. I figured that if he really was innocuous and doing something just commercially, then there would be no reason to worry about him."
"And if there was, Frank?" Alfred asked.
Frank put the mug down and patted at the case beside the sofa.
"Ah, yes. I had forgotten."
"Not a cure for everything, but at least gives you a fighting chance to find one."
"... the damned peace..." Selina whispered softly.
"Excuse me, Miss Kyle?" Bruce said.
Selina had her eyes closed and opened them, blinking as she looked at Bruce.
"Its just what Frank said when we first met at my office. That Old Reliable got him through the damned war and he expected it would get him through the damned peace. I just thought he was joking. I never, ever thought I would be happy to see..." she looked at Frank, "...Frank and Old Reliable. The damned peace."
"Yeah,' Frank said sliding an arm around Selina's shoulders, "but how you got there is something you haven't told us."
"It's simple, really," she said, "I have..." and she realized that she had never told anyone outside of a very close circle of friends and confederates what she really did in her life. "Frank, I'm sorry, I do more than just deal in jewelry and fine art. I also steal it."
Rock raised an eyebrow and nodded.
"Makes sense. But you couldn't have been stealing anything from Guthrie Lewis."
She shook her head and giggled.
"No I was expecting to steal it from Cathy Li. Guthrie..." she shivered and closed her eyes and she realized that she was strating to cry, "... he's just evil."
Bruce leaned forward and put his mug down and reached across the corner of the table to put a hand on Selina's shoulder.
"Miss Kyle, what did he do?"
Alfred handed a handkerchief across the table to Bruce who handed it to Selina who dabbed at her eyes.
"He seduced... and then, I, she... that blue glow..." Selina whispered looking at Bruce, "Not mocking but... uncaring but in a... he... she couldn't respond not with... pleasure... he was going to take it... what I had come for... and I had to stop him and get it... then I saw Cathy..."
Selina closed her eyes and started sobbing.
"... blue snaking over her, into her... little flashes.... mouth, breasts, between her legs...smelled like... cat house... she was"
Selina shook her head.
"...smiling in pleasure, her hips still...fingers grapsing the sheets... short of breath... Guthrie had said that when her breath came back she would know... true pleasure..."
She looked at Bruce with a forlorn look.
"If I had stopped to do anything I know, just know, that would be me, next. I don't know what he did, how he did it, but how he left Cathy is... inhuman."
Bruce looked at her nodding.
"Please, Miss Kyle," he said softly, "what did you steal that made him want to kill you?"
Selina shifted away, realizing that her bullwhip was in the car, shrugged to herself and reached under her belt and took out the Faberge case and opened it. The Spider necklace sat on its cushion.
"This. I was commissioned to get this."
"By who?" Alfred asked.
She looked at Alfred and pressed her lips together.
"Ah, just a representative. Although, do not fear, one that has some attention drawn to him. Now, fair is fair, just who are each of you?"
Maria looked beyond the group and saw the person in the black leather jacket and inhaled, sharply.
"I smell... something, Maria," Shlasuar said from her side. He held onto the doubled over cord that went to Lisa's wrists and watched her as she moved abreast of him.
"Yes," she whispered, "old... ancient power," she said.
Ahead of them the man in the group with the two women spoke up.
"That is hardly fair, Mr. Lewis, for the next to consider on that line is Aeolus, the giver of winds."
"Really, I cannot be held for such garbling of stories over time," he said.
"Yogch'wahlbthnksoth," Maria said in a low tone that echoed in the open space above the locomotive turntable.
The three in the center turned to look at her, with the man nodding.
"Ah, yes," Guthrie said, "that is what you've contracted it down to, I can tell. Your kind do know of such things and while you live beneath the surface you are not out of reach."
Maria took a step forward and looked at him.
"You can make your displeasure or mere indifference known. It is written on the ocean bottom where icebergs have scraped it clean. Including our habitats."
Guthrie shrugged in the dim light of the cavernous space.
"More indifference than anything, Sea Person and, ah, Priest, if what I see about you is correct."
"My surface name is Maria, Yogch'wahlbthnksoth, and my kind have, indeed, known such indifference."
"Such is the way of things, Priest Maria," Guthrie said, "and you have an interesting companion with you, although not the youngster of your Changeling kind, but the other. She is very interesting, indeed," he said.
"She was left for dead by her kind," Maria said, "and would be in n'gah ftagn and we would have the end of things once her body perished."
Guthrie raised an eyebrow.
"Really?" he whispered, and looked at Maria, "But that would have brought about her return, an end to all within her universe and she would arise renewed from that."
The other man spoke up.
"If that is what she did then it is the second time she has been thwarted."
Guthrie looked at him.
"Now you, sir, isn't it about time I know who you are? And the rest of you, because I can see that each of you are part of something larger and I suspect that naughty Spider is at work."
"So we were right," said the one woman with the darker hair.
"Very well, Ancient Wind One, I am Dr. Gotham," he turned from looking at Guthrie to Maria, "and you know me by Gotham'agl'nyth."
"And a most capable Maker you are, Dr. Gotham," Guthrie said removing a stone in a plastic bag from his jacket, "you have placed so many interlocking structures around and within this city that just finding out how anything is related to anything else is nearly impossible. Between you and the Spider the tedious chore of just finding those things I have come for has been nearly impossible."
"He knows about the Spider necklace?" the fair haired girl asked softly.
"And you, dear, you have been in contact with it, as well. Why your motions at that conventionn center with Dr. Gotham shifted so many affinities that I had to retrace my steps."
Shlasuar stepped up next to Maria and looked at her.
"Spider necklace?" he asked.
She shook her head negatively and looked puzzled.
"Close your eyes and remember the minor affinity," she whispered.
He did so.
"Now point to the nearest affinity to it."
He pointed at the fair haired girl.
"And what is your name, dear woman, and how did you come in contact with that most lovely of necklaces?" Guthrie asked.
She looked at Dr. Gotham who looked at her and pressed his lips together, then nodded.
She looked back at Guthrie, "I'm Erin Norris and I stole that piece from Dr. Gotham's shop when he was away. My husband and I needed to make good on a debt owed to Li Sun."
"Li... ahhhh, yes, the late business partner of Cathy Li. That explains it, thank you, Mrs. Norris."
Erin closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, shifting from foot to foot.
Maria could feel the breeze from in front of them, a cold breeze that was finding its way not just at their level but below them, slowly swirling as it moved up along the walls.
"So she was thwarted twice, then? The second time is easy to see, but the first," Guthrie said pulling out his cigarette case, taking one out and tamping it down before closing the case and putting it back in his jacket. He reached for his lighter and lit the cigarette, "now that is confusing as I don't see any real way for that girl over there... what is her name?"
"Lisa Choi," the dark haired woman said.
"Excellent as she can't speak for herself, and who are you?"
"Barbara Gordon," the dark haired woman said.
"Now, you see? I know everyone but Maria's traveling companion."
"Shlasuar," the young changeling said, "and I don't like the smell of you."
Guthrie took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew it out, the smoke shifting in air and snaking towards Shlasuar.
"You do need to teach him some manners, Maria," Guthrie said as the smoke started to diffuse around Shlasuar and yet not disappear.
"Apologize," Maria whispered tersely.
Shlasuar started to cough and nodded.
"Please, I meant no insult to you," he said.
Guthrie sighed and shook his head.
"Truly, no manners at all," Guthrie said.
"He is the part-son of our leader," Maria said going to one knee next to Shlasuar and pulling out a packet from her backpack as she dropped it.
"Sadly I'm not here to eat your people," Guthrie said, "a most unappetizing prospect that would be!"
Maria took out a small container of salt and shook some into her hand and licked it, then traced over Shlasuar's face starting at his nose. He gasped deeply and coughed hard but still couldn't draw a breath.
"Now, where were we? Ah, yes! How could Lisa over there get to be n'gah ftagn? That doesn't seem possible given the poor amount of knowledge held by the human population of the planet."
Shlasuar started choking and his body started to shift in an attempt to throw off what was happening.
"Stop it!" Maria yelled, "He meant no harm!"
"Shlasuar, have you learned some manners by this demonstration?"
Shlasuar nodded his eyes beginning to transform to their yellow state.
"Very well," Guthrie said and Shlasuar collapsed on the ground drawing deep breaths and shifting out of his partially transformed state.
As Maria tended to him, Lisa had worked her hands free, reached down to work on the cord between her ankles, hobbling over the tracks away from them. Barbara and Erin ran to help her and they removed the cord and the duct tape on her mouth.
"Thank you! I never thought I would get away from them."
"We thought you were dead!" Barbara said hugging Lisa, followed by Erin doing the same.
"I'm just happy you're still alive," Erin said.
"And that was the problem, I take it? Something was able to put you into an unnatural state of being. But what could do that?" Guthrie asked.
Maria looked up from Shlasuar.
"Formless ones you grah'n."
"One of each type," Dr. Gotham said walking over to Maria and kneeling on the other side of Shlasuar, "If I may help? Even with your people there will be some..." he looked back at Guthrie, "... residue left."
Maria raised her eyebrows, "Of course, Maker."
Dr. Gotham nodded and reached into his pocket removing a small bottle.
"This is pungent, Shlasuar, and will cause you to cough up phlegm or your equivalent, at least. Unpleasant, but necessary."
Shlasuar had been able to regain his breath but it was labored.
"Please," he whispered.
Dr. Gotham took a handkerchief from his coat and used that to open the bottle, then put it over the top and gave the bottle a shake with it on. He handed the handkerchief to Shlasuar and screwed its lid back on.
"Inhale through this."
Shlasuar put the handkerchief over his nose and inhaled, and immediately started coughing.
"Again," Dr. Gotham said.
The second time deep, wracking coughs went through Shlasuar's body and he began to spit up fluid from his breathing tissues as he bent his head down.
"Three Formless Ones?" Guthrie asked more to himself than to anyone else. "Why, yes I do suppose they could do that together, although I've never heard of it happening."
He continued to smoke and it rose and swirled in the air above him and then began to curl down the wall that the ledge holding the subway tracks was on.
"But something must have brought them here... ah, no, wait. After the experience with the Elder Sign's Guardian at the Maritime Museum I can make a good guess on that, eh Dr. Gotham?"
Dr. Gotham was standing with Maria and they helped Shlasuar to his feet. He turned to look at Guthrie.
"A ward on my shop. Ms. Norris was unlucky enough to have evaded it and fled with the stolen items..."
"Items? More than one?" Guthrie looked from Dr. Gotham to Erin Norris, "So not just the Spider? And as you went to Li Sun..." Guthrie pursed his lips together as he looked at each of the three women. "Three formless ones. Three women connected together by shared affinity amongst them, one to the other. That just leaves..." he looked back to Dr. Gotham, "... you. I can see that there is some type of Formless affinity with Lisa, although it is very dim compared to the rest of the affinity with her. But you, Dr. Gotham, actually have nothing of the Spider with you, which is strange as it has your affinity, but there is one with you that I can almost recognize..."
He took two steps towards Dr. Gotham who was behind the three women, who edged nervously back.
Guthrie gazed at Dr. Gotham and took a drag on his cigarette and exhaled it through his nostrils. The smoke began to roil into forms in front of him.
"You have been in contact with a piece of her! A living piece! And something... else... with some affinity close to her. It becomes clearer by the moment, oh yes it does. You are the balance to this Li Sun and yet... he is dead and you are not. And the Formless Ones wouldn't leave this sort of knowledge of their existence uneaten. Why, yes, somehow you were able to remove the Formless Ones and this Li Sun who had one of the objects from your shop which you got back that is associated with her. So that just leaves the question. Where are they?"
Dr. Gotham looked at Guthrie and told him a truth.
"They are not at my shop."
Selina turned to look at Bruce Wayne as he talked on the phone that Alfred had brought to him as it was an urgent call. Sitting between Frank and Tom she felt relatively safe, although the Spider necklace in its open box still sat on the table where she had put it. She turned back to look at the necklace as Frank shifted forward.
"It is worth something, that's for sure, but not enough to kill you over it," Frank said looking at the necklace.
"It's important to Dr. Gotham," she said, "and I thought well worth the piece he will give me to compensate me. Now I'm not so sure that I didn't get the bad end of the deal."
Alfred sat down across from them as Bruce stood up with the phone and walked to the far end of the room near the windows, looking out of them as he spoke softly.
"Who is it?" Frank asked.
Alfred raised his eyebrows and looked at Frank.
"It's Commissioner Gordon. I take it that his daughter told him she was coming here and wanted Master Bruce to arrange to have someone at the station for her if and when she gets here."
Selina shivered at the mention of Gordon and thought about what that would mean for her.
"Don't worry, Miss Kyle," Alfred said seeing her reaction, "I doubt very much that there will be any need to mention you or your problem to the police, although you may need to respond to them when they find your car in the Mid-Gotham river."
"If they find it," Frank said leaning back looking at Selina, "that is real cliff there and if there are any rocks at the bottom of it your car would clear them. It's probably sunk to the bottom out of sight until someone needs to dredge the channel."
"I'll put in a stolen vehicle report tomorrow," Selina said, "and thank you for keeping... me out of things here."
"Miss Kyle we have had... involvement with Dr. Gotham before this," Alfred said.
"He mentioned that, when I met him at the Historical Museum to show me the exhibit he put together. Martha Wayne's necklace was donated by Mr. Wayne for that."
Alfred nodded, leaning forward, "On permanent loan, yes. Technically he moved the piece to be held by the Wayne Trust, so while it is still his, the piece itself is part of a larger organization. While the item is of historical value, it holds no other value to Master Bruce."
Selina smirked, "Outside of the amber and some of the working on it, the piece doesn't have a lot of value. The ring that was with it is something else, and it does have some value to it, I think."
Bruce Wayne walked back and was obviously talking to someone else.
"... have two people do a walk at the station every half-hour. Its possible that she will be coming in from the south tunnels..." he said nodding, "...yes, just help them. Food, water, VIP rooms available, whatever they need. Just go through stores and route the bill to Alfred...Good! Thank you again, Nate. I know its late but this is important.... right... good-night to you too."
He put the phone down on a side table and hung it up, then went back to the sofa where he had been sitting and sat down again.
"Sorry about that," Bruce said, "but there are responsibilities with the job."
"I understand," Selina said softly, "and thank you for keeping me out of it."
Bruce shrugged, picking up his coffee to take a sip of it.
"It's not their problem, yet. And as you've stolen a piece already known to be stolen, it won't be reported to them. That only leaves the problem of the man who tried to kill you, Guthrie Lewis. Miss Kyle we did have a simple field scan of him while we were out at lunch, testing some equipment, and it gave indications of Mr. Lewis having some sort of electrostatic plasma field that clung to his body. The blue glow you describe with Mrs. Li... and your car... may be artifacts of that. I'm no expert on cold plasma, and we had contacted Barbara Gordon to do a quick bit of research for us yesterday... no two days ago... and she left her materials to apparently go with Dr. Gotham and an employee of WMM, Erin Norris."
"Erin? Wait, she went straight with Ron after they got married..." she saw the expression on Bruce's face as he shook his head, "What happened to her? To Ron?"
"Miss Kyle that necklace," Alfred said after looking at Bruce who raised an eyebrow and gave a short nod, "was an item that was stolen by Ron and Erin Norris from Dr. Gotham's shop. It is troubling that Barbara Gordon was later involved in an... incident... below Wayne Tower that led to finding the remains of Li Sun and the death of Lisa Choi. Ronald Norris... Miss Kyle it is hard to know what is credible and factual when dealing with Dr. Gotham and what isn't, and he indicated that Mr. Norris was driven insane by one of Dr. Gotham's 'wards' that he uses to guard the shop. Mr. Norris is currently in a mental institution in Upstate New York and Erin has started divorce proceedings as he has an unnatural hatred towards her that is not rational."
Frank sat back and took a swallow of coffee as he looked at Bruce.
"Bruce its just a bizarre set of things that went on then," he said, "as it is that Dr. Gotham seems rational if seeing the world just a bit differently. I got my share of end-timers during the war, though, and he isn't one of those. This Guthrie character doesn't look to have a connection to him or to anyone around here, but I don't think he would be after simple theft after what he has shown he is willing to do. Going after the necklace is the first thing he's done that might connect him to something. That and the weather."
Sitting back, Bruce crossed his legs and looked at the Project.
"Tom is it possible to use a plasma field like what Selina has described?"
The Project looked back at Bruce with a dead stare.
"Yes, Mr. Wayne, it is possible and would indicate an advanced understanding and control of such plasma and field effects that is not known by anyone."
Selina looked at Tom as he shifted to pick up a glass of water and take a sip from it. Listening to Tom's flat speech left Selina feeling cold and trying to figure out the implications of what he had said left her befuddled.
"That goes with what he said, at least," Selina started, "about how Cathy would experience... pleasure."
Tom looked at her.
"Many bodily fluids are conductive to electricity or electrostatic effects which allows them to serve as a conduit for plasma. Their ionized state can be maintained with minimal input from the environment that such polar disparity and pH differences will create when such fluids interact between individuals. Once stimulated the central nervous system can be mapped and charged states utilized to create nerve stimulation using the ionized state of the remaining plasma. As you described Mrs. Li was gasping which reduced the oxygen content in her bloodstream which lowered the ability of her nervous system to respond to induced effects. Such a change in breathing can also be done with that effect. That is a capability unknown to science and technology."
"But theoretically possible?" Alfred asked.
Tom looked at Alfred.
"And the weather?" Frank asked, "Could there be any connection with that?"
"Unknown. There is a parallel of circumstance. Causation cannot be ruled out or confirmed without additional data."
"You mean," Selina started, "that this Guthrie might be controlling the weather?"
"That is unknown, Miss Kyle," the Project said.
Selina began shivering again as the idea that Guthrie could do that and what he had done to Cathy, and the Bobcat was deeply disturbing.
Bruce uncrossed his legs and put his coffee down on the table beside him.
"Tom that is almost fantastical," he started and then caught himself, "but he has demonstrated fantastic capability, hasn't he?"
"That's my point, Bruce," Frank said after looking at Selina and then to Bruce, "I don't like what's been going on but it all seems connected with Mr. Lewis. He's done things to a woman that no man can do to get a piece of jewelry. Then he was willing to murder Selina and lose the jewelry at the same time. Those are not actions of a normal man, Bruce, outside of the weather. Maybe it is just circumstantial for that, but what he has done is no joke. And I don't think Selina could make up a story like that and open herself up without something extreme going on."
He looked to Selina and gave her a lopsided smile.
"You're a professional. Not phased by much. Something got through that professionalism, didn't it?"
Selina looked at Frank, pressing her lips together and closing her eyes and giving a short nod in agreement.
"What he did is just evil, Frank."
"I do not think that it can be coincidence that Mr. Lewis was after the same piece of jewelry that you were sent to procure for Dr. Gotham, Miss Kyle," Alfred said looking at her and then turning to look at Bruce. "He did talk to us about that last month, Master Bruce, at least his expectation to get it back and place it with the rest of the Rhinold collection."
Bruce nodded, slowly.
"If she is coming here from Dr. Gotham's via the subway tunnels," Bruce started, "then there isn't much good we can do. I don't want to get lost down there and even figuring out which route to go would be difficult and require research. I'm afraid there is nothing for it but to sit tight for the night. Security will contact me or Alfred, and most likely Alfred, if Miss Gordon shows up."
Bruce yawned and shifted his shoulders, then shook his head.
"And I would be pretty useless in doing that now, anyway. I'm tired and need some sleep," Bruce looked at Alfred, "I think we can arrange for VIP rooms for the night for our guests. Because right now I can't think of anything better than to sleep on it. If Barbara doesn't show up by morning then we will have to try and find Dr. Gotham to see what has gone on."
He looked at Selina and smiled, "And to fulfill your end of the agreement."
Selina nodded as she looked at Bruce.
"He did leave me... on the letter he left for me there is a gold seal. He said that when I need to find him I can just have that with me and... well it seems insane but that I would just find my way to him with it."
Bruce shook his head and smiled.
"I don't know how that would work," Selina said, "but he knew when to be at the Historical Museum to meet me when I had the letter with me..."
"Sounds like a plan, Selina," Frank said, "Grab some shuteye and then we go to your office, you get the letter and we will take you to the Museum. Because if Guthrie is still after you...."
Looking at Frank, Selina felt warm and reassured. This was one of the men who rescued her. And he wasn't put off by her other line of work and was willing to see her through to the end of a job that had gone wrong in ways no one could have predicted.
"Frank you don't have to..." she started saying softly.
"Of course I do, Selina. I think you're the right one to figure out a gift for Vivian and I can't lose someone as valuable as that to the likes of Guthrie Lewis."
Selina looked away from Frank and down at the table, and reached out to close the Faberge case. As she took it off the table and started tucking it under her waistband she just stopped.
"I can't go dressed like this... that would totally blow my..." she whispered and looked at Frank.
Alfred spoke up.
"There will be no need to, Miss Kyle. Although there are numerous warehouses full of clothing from Wayne Materials Marketing, none of them are open. There is, however, one person who shouldn't be on the premises, but does tend to stay here more than she should. I think you are of a size so that we can ask her for a suitable change of clothes before you leave here."
Her head came up and looked at Alfred.
"Yeah, she does at that, Alfred," Rock said looking at Bruce.
"Have Alfred find us rooms while we go down to the range and see if there is a change of clothes available."
Bruce chuckled and nodded.
"She really should know better," Bruce said as he looked at Frank, "and serves her right for staying on the job late."
Lisa stood next to Erin and looked at the man Guthrie. Barbara had slipped off her pack and was opening the main compartment looking for something in the dim light.
"They are not at my shop."
Lisa turned to look at the man called Doctor Gotham who was now standing up and walking away from Maria and Shlasuar.
"And they are where stealing them will do you little good, Keeper of Winds."
Guthrie bowed his head, smiling.
"Can't really keep them, you know, as they are their own beings," Guthrie said, "and I doubt that you would destroy such artifacts. Now as for pointing out what they are and any hidden place can be found, with persuasion applied, of course, that I do not doubt."
Dr. Gotham stepped past Barbara not to block her light and stood next to Lisa.
"No persuasion needed as they are out in plain sight," he said as he glanced at the smoke that was now thickening along the walls and starting to form over the tunnel entrances, and Lisa looked around and saw mist rising from the turntable below and shifting with the smoke there. Maria was helping Shlasuar to stand up and saw where Lisa was looking and looked there as well.
"Nyog'Sothep," she whispered and no echo of that could be heard in the cavernous space.
"Call up what you will," Dr. Gotham said, "none can stop what has started as the Spider has apparently eluded you."
Guthrie took a long drag on his cigarette.
"It was in my very grasp, Dr. Gotham. I had treated the owner of the Fair Winds store most well and with much pleasure involved to finally get to that thing of the necklace. Then out of darkness came a woman who was able to surprise me and deprive me of that hard won ornament. I pursued her knowing that if I could not have it then at least I could put it where its affinity would be so dampened that the paths would be clearer as its would be muted," he flicked his cigarette out into the cavern and it hung suspended in air flaring red as it hung there.
"I would have ended her life and put the Spider out of the way perhaps forever, but she is quick, that one, and she was saved by others in a black Camaro Z28 driven so well that they escaped me," he took out another cigarette, tamped it down and lit it, taking a long, slow drag from it. As the smouldering end went red the red glow hanging in the cavern also flared larger. "Well driven and escaped, but not without me finding the entrance to the old subway system. And within I could see the traces of affinity that I had seen elsewhere in my travels and knew that they were from living traces and reinforced by recent travel."
"What are you doing?" Maria asked being unable to keep away from the growing mist and saw the glowing red orb begin to shift in mid-air.
"Ah, Priest, it is just one of those things," Guthrie said exhaling smoke after another drag on his cigarette, "ancient and dark, long since its last awakening. And you know how they get after long eras of sleep, don't you?"
"Hungry," Dr. Gotham said looking between Guthrie and the gathering globe of red that no longer was a thing of a cigarette butt and was now turning into a creature of dark air and mist.
"Exactly so! Now out of the plethora of affinities and knowledge I only need enough to fit in my Bora, which is, practically speaking, only two others as the rear seat is most unsuited for passengers."
Barbara Gordon looked at Guthrie as he smoked and at the reddish glow now pervading the cavernous space. As she watched the haze began to solidify which started to obscure the light fittings, catwalks and overhead crane above, and the turntable below.
"What the hell is going on?" she asked.
Maria looked back and saw that the way to the tunnel entrance from where they came from was clouded over completely.
"It reminds me of... something..." Lisa said trying to place just when she might have seen anything like this, but was unable to do so.
"Black Air Terror," Dr. Gotham said, "a creature without true form, but no cousin of the properly Formless Ones. It is a creature of the air, thought not at all mindless or of a mind like even a Shuggoth. For all of that it can be as substantial as any other creature once it is formed."
"It's like the things blowing in the desert... amongst the floating things..."
"Yes," Maria said, "it is one of those but those live off of dream stuff. This one is much older. It lives off what is here and is attuned to the power of this realm."
"There, now everyone knows what it is! And here I thought that there was no one left who knew such things, and yet here I have a few that actually do."
"But what... does it do?" Erin asked softly.
"Do, Mrs. Norris?" Guthrie asked, "Why after a long nap it is hungry and needs to be fed and this oldest of its kind prefers the living physical things over mere dream droppings. Now who should go with me to find these things where any can find them?"
Smoking his cigarette he looked at Dr. Gotham.
"Sadly, Dr. Gotham, you are far too skilled and know the lights of affinity and power in and around Gotham too well. I am sure that you would lead me into any sort of disaster you might have left laying around. Maybe as effective as that Guardian I had to deal with which, may I say, actually was a close brush with an unpleasant ending. And that will never do."
Dr. Gotham pressed his lips together and his eyes went to slits as he looked at Guthrie.
"Now Priest Maria, you are also in search of the things I am after, yes?"
Maria gritted her teeth and nodded.
"And as more than one object is involved, I'm sure that we can come to some... accomodation... about them, isn't that so?"
"Yes," she said tersely.
"Good! And it gets you out of the belly of the creature, as well, going with me. A positive resource for each other! Your traveling companion, however, offers little to me."
"Better here than with you," Shlasuar said.
"Indeed so! Glad that you agree with me on that. Now to the three ladies... ahhh... true symmetry for the Formless Ones you are. Yet I can take but one with me as the Priest has already taken one spot."
Lisa looked at Erin then Barbara, and then looked at Guthrie.
"Ah, Miss Choi, is it? You would be perfect as you do have a set of affinities about you that connect you with my goal. True you haven't been in contact with a direct piece of her..." he said and trailed off as he looked at Lisa as there was something about the colors he saw that were not as he expected.
Lisa crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Guthrie.
"No. It is hard to remember exactly what went on but... just no."
Maria moved up behind the women and spoke softly.
"You were at the Precipice, Lisa," she said softly, and the others turned to look at Maria.
"The Precipice, you say?" Dr. Gotham asked as he stepped around Erin to look at Lisa. "Is this true?"
She smiled wanly and shifted to look at him.
"Its so hard... I wasn't awake, really, or asleep... but I remember looking down on a desert of floating dream things..."
"In a valley?" he asked softly.
She nodded and Dr. Gotham smiled.
"Will even this dark, formless thing wish to find itself at the Precipice of Forever, Mr. Lewis? I know I could not survive there and doubt that no matter what attentions you have, that you could either. That is the affinity that binds, and it is a testament to circumstances that she is here with us, now, in this life still alive."
"John died there to save her," Shlasuar said, "ripped apart by whatever is there. Torn apart in mid-air while sleeping."
"So you see, Wind Master," Maria said, "I would be happy to go with you to retrieve the items of power and decide their fate if you were not such a brute. My people have no reason to trust you and your inattentions and uncaring ways towards us. You put me in a hard spot to decide these things, becuase of that. But this one," she said looking at Lisa who turned to look at her, "she was put where no one should be and each of us was drawn in by that in the most subtle of ways to save her. Look at how short our attempts to bind her lasted. She is connected to events in ways I cannot fathom."
Maria shook her head and looked over to the floating, glowing red sphere that was approaching the side of the cavern.
"Would you take her place?" as she shifted stance and took two steps towards it. The sphere shifted, turned around inside itself and slowly moved back not expecting such forwardness, and Maria smiled.
"And you, Wind Master, would you dare one who has left the Precipice alive? You can see the affinity, of course. But can you see the power of her, within her, to do that? Because it is of a kind and type that has no affinity to leave, as it is hers and hers alone. Within her and she has left no traces or places with it that I can discern save back to Shag."
Erin turned pale as she looked at Lisa.
"I... it was a dream... a black cloak... red on the inside... on a place... over... floating things... I put on the cloak since I was cold and it looked... was... warm... I could... wings, talons... fly up and away..."
Guthrie looked at Erin then Lisa.
"Yes. So close and yet so very far away. And you, Miss Gordon? Have you been to this place where these two have been, even in their dreams? For that is not about you."
Barbara stepped forward and clenched her fists.
"No, I haven't and it sounds like a place I don't want to be. But if Lisa and Erin were there with me," she turned and smiled at them, "then I wouldn't be afraid of it."
"Such courage. All of you, as even you, Maria would defy me on this, yes?"
Dr. Gotham turned sharply.
"You can only kill me, Aeolus. But then I only serve Gotham and if it wants another servant it will find one. You had best leave us now because the Spider has drawn this together, and that includes you. It drew Lisa back from the Precipice, it drew me to Erin and Barbara to protect them, it drew Maria, Shlasuar and their late friend together in the saving of Lisa. The Spider is inside all of this, I'm certain, and has done it without even directly touching most of us. Do as you will. You are too late to stop what is happening. I'm sure you can easily find what you seek without us, but do be aware that it is your vision that is clouded, now, and you who are being drawn in."
"Ah, such a lovely thing, that Spider. Still it can only tangle, as can you, but I'm most skilled at picking apart such things. And, if not, then I now know I can freeze this entire city from its lowest tunnels to its highest reaches. With the inability to move or shift, the affinities will be locked and their paths clear as the living will no longer sustain them. Deny me now and there will be no thanks given on this Thanksgiving."
"Leave," Maria whispered, "better to die amonst strangers than deal with you. Your indifference to the pleas of my people earn you no help, now, from me."
Guthrie smirked and nodded.
"So be it. I doubt your ability to deal with this one," he said nodding to the red, shifting orb now floating back towards the edge of the cavern where the others were. "And even if you do, you will have scant time to do anything to safeguard that which I seek. Instead of death for few it will be Gotham as Necropolis. Either way I shall not be denied."
Turning Guthrie flicked another cigarette into the air and it soared into the space at the center where the glowing ball was and it became reinforced and began to turn darker red. Guthrie walked into the mists at the entrance to the tunnel and behind him they solidified and began to move on their own.
Lisa looked from Maria to Dr. Gotham as the mist thickened and the walls began to flow with its slickness, and tendrils began reaching out towards them.
"Now what?" she asked softly.
"That was bravado, yes?" Dr. Gotham asked of Maria as he looked at the central part of the cavern that was turning to the inside of some dark, misshapen mass with something that might be an eye or just some sensory organ that was bulbuous and red that began moving towards them. That orb was obviously something more than just an eye.
"Yes, Servant of Gotham. Such as this one," she said glancing over to the orb as it came closer to them, "only think of fear when boldness is presented to them, sternly, as they do not expect opposition. You get to do that once. It does not know of daring, only of hunger, at this point. And for all of where Lisa has been, nothing that kills her will be going there."
"What?" Lisa asked softly.
Dr. Gotham looked to Lisa and watched as the stuff clinging to the walls got darker, thicker and started to send out feelers into the air.
"I could not save you last time, Lisa. I suggest you keep moving your feet and remain in contact with the ground, although that will be difficult. So long as there is simple motion it cannot form up properly."
"Too late," Erin said as she looked at the tendrils now wrapping around her legs, "I'm stuck."