Chapter 7: Fox and Hounds
Xack Hathaway didn't go out often if she could avoid it, and her neighbors at the apartment complex began to wonder if maybe she wasn't allergic to sunlight, they saw so little of her. But this day turned out to be surprising in several ways, even to her.
Just yesterday, she'd seen a figure disappearing into the apartment that Joker had occupied as "Jason" when he'd been impersonating a maintenance man. She hadn't been able to get a good look before the door had snapped shut, but Xack thought she'd seen a wisp of a green dreadlock. At once she'd run back into her apartment and locked the door, hiding in her room, hugging her knees to her chest and hyperventilating until she finally managed to calm herself down.
I've got to get a grip, she told herself, If it is Joker, he's got no reason to come after me, right? No, he'd come anyway! But I still have the Batwave pager! I can just call Bruce! He'll help.
But she wasn't convincing herself of this. Previously, when she was suffering her anxiety attacks or thinking she was seeing the Joker, Bruce had been skeptical and dismissive. Even when he'd said he believed her, Xack got a feeling he wasn't being entirely true with her. Her head hadn't been buzzing, but there was just something in Bruce's words that didn't meet his eyes when he'd said that before.
Would he really help? Should I call him? she wondered. Bruce isn't Shaun; he won't tell me I'm being paranoid and silly. But without proof, he's probably not going to believe me.
She'd finally calmed down from her initial panic, but now there was a deep, painful black cloud of despair building around her, the sort that comes from being labeled a liar and a deluded trouble-making attention-seeker one too many times. With a long-suffering sigh, she unfolded herself and got up from her bed, shuffling from her room to her little kitchen. Her hands were pale, even by normal standards, and shaking still, even though she was breathing normally again. Doing the only thing she knew might help, Xack opened one of the cupboards and took out a small glass, filling it with water from the sink faucet, and began to take small sips. Her hands were still shaking, and she had to set the glass down on the bar after a few moments for fear of it dropping and shattering on the tile floor.
I've got to do something! She decided, But what?
A few moments of pacing and thorough consideration gave her the answer she was looking for.
She would wait until Joker made his move first, and see what he did.
This came the next day in the form of Joker leaving the apartment across the hall while the sun outside was still trying to battle the early morning gloom. Xack had been watching at the peephole in her door at different intervals, not really sure what she was waiting for, and it came as quite a start to see him leave the apartment and take off down the stairs. She waited a few minutes, then slowly opened her door just a crack and peeked out. He was already at the door of the building, and she quietly tiptoed out of her apartment, locking the door behind her and desperately praying he wouldn't notice her following him.
It wasn't until they were halfway across Gotham that she started to get suspicious. He'd so far not noticed her following
and she had to wonder if he was just leading her on, giving her that impression so he could spring around and terrify her when she let her guard down.
Well THAT'S not gonna happen, she told herself determinedly.
It was less than a block after that revelation that she realized she was being followed. She slowed down and glanced over her shoulder, but couldn't see whoever it was; they moved too fast. All she'd managed to see was a glimpse of blue.
For a moment she considered stopping altogether; she was beginning to have an anxiety attack again. But she reminded herself she needed to find out what Joker was up to. And besides, if he did know she was following him, he'd probably get pissed off if he found she'd suddenly stopped. So she steeled herself, stood up straight, and continued on her path, determinedly keeping her eyes ahead, on the Joker's retreating back.
This time she saw the shadow on the ground. Whoever it was, they'd taken to the rooftops and they seemed to be wearing some outfit that flowed
kind of like the robes Gandalf had worn in Lord of the Rings, and they were even carrying some kind of staff. She had the distinct impression they were male.
Is he following me? Or the Joker?
She shivered and rubbed her arms, despite the black sweater she was wearing, and walked a little faster.
Neil awoke with a dull throbbing pain in his head, and the wide-eyed face of Sadie watching him.
?" he started. The last thing he'd remembered was seeing the demon, Killer Croc, spin toward him
then nothing. "Where is he? Where's Addy?" he demanded.
"Whoa whoa whoa!" Sadie said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Slow down there! You just took a wall to the face, Neil! You need to recover."
"Don't worry about the 'demons,' Neil!" A familiar voice added, and he turned slowly to look at Zai. She was giving him a rare smile. "They're being held in custody!"
"Then whoever is holding them is a fool!" Neil groaned, trying to sit up. "Those demons will breed and disease the world! And it's not like any normal man-made cage can contain them!"
"This one can." Said a voice he didn't know, and he turned to see the angel, blinking dark green eyes at him. "Adrian is being held in protective quarters. She's out cold right now."
"Neil, this is Wraith," Sadie said with a nod to the angel, "She and her
friend, Dr. Milo, captured Addy when she followed us here from the asylum. Dr. Milo's going to force Addy to
show her true form. She's already gotten the first dosage of the formula."
"You!" Neil gasped, barely registering the rest of the words, wearily pushing himself up into a sitting position and reaching out to grasp Wraith's hands. Her eyes widened in surprise.
"What the--?!" Curiosity gasped, ending her unfinished sentence in the hint of a growl.
"My prayers have been answered!" Neil said fervently as he stared at Wraith. "My good holy lady! I am but your lowly servant!"
" Wraith gasped, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Neil, what in the world are you talking about?" Zai asked, her own eyebrows shooting up into her hair.
"Don't you see? Sadie, Zai! This is the sign I've been waiting for! God finally answered my prayers and sent me an angel of death to help me rid the world of its demonic disease!" he proclaimed in triumphant religious passion. Wraith glanced up and raised her eyebrows at the other girls, but Neil didn't notice.
"Ah!" she said suddenly, as though she'd just realized something. "So that is why I was relocated to Gotham so abruptly! I had received the summons but I was told that I should not question the change, that the one I am to assist would find me!"
This time it was Curiosity and Zai who exchanged looks.
"God has shown you favor, Neil Davis!" Wraith intoned dramatically, offering him a brilliant smile. "This crusade of yours has brought upon you many hardships, I take it?"
"Indeed, my lady!" Neil said with a nod.
"Then consider your faith and patience rewarded, Neil Davis! For I shall happily help you to rid us of the demonic filth that trespasses upon the poor, abused soil of the earth! Now rise and be blessed!" she said, placing a hand on his head as though she were a clergyman.
"You have my undying servitude and gratitude both, my lady!" he answered, thumping a fist against his thin chest.
"Please, Neil. Call me Wraith or call me Guen. You speak of me too highly when you give me titles. After all, Lucifer spoke too highly of himself, and that led to the thoughts and actions that ultimately brought about his Fall!" she said, ending in a theatrical whisper.
Miss Wraith." Neil responded, whole-heartedly understanding this angel's concern. Heaven forbid she should join Satan and his demonic legions! And especially after she'd been brought here to help him! Still, it was rather odd to be on first name terms with such a heavenly entity. But so great was his thrill at this gift bestowed upon him, a reward for his faith and endurance, that Neil wasn't about to question it.
When Erin came to, she found Wraith standing over her with a rather sardonic expression on her pale features.
"Wh-what happened?" Erin asked weakly.
"You fainted when you saw Killer Croc." she answered in a voice that sounded highly unimpressed. A surge of annoyance welled up in Erin and found its way out through her mouth.
"What, and you didn't? Forgive me if we don't all have cast-iron stomachs!" Erin snorted, pushing herself up on her elbows.
"Oh, that's right," Wraith said as though just realizing something, "You're not exposed to Milo's face as often as I am."
Despite the fact Erin considered Milo a friend, she had to laugh at that. Guen was sweeter, but Wraith somehow always found a way to make Erin laugh.
Strange, Erin thought, as her friend helped her to her feet, Considering that she doesn't open up to me as much as Guen does. I wonder how in the world Milo's going to get around Wraith hating him if he ever gets around to
"What are you thinking about, Knightly?" Wraith asked in that deadly soft voice she always got when heads were about to roll.
"Nothing." Erin answered smoothly, looking away from her, and noticing a new face in the kitchen. He was a tall, somewhat thin man (though nowhere near as thin as Achilles,) with dark brown hair and golden-brown eyes. "I don't think we've met yet, Mr
"Erin, this is Neil Davis." Wraith said shortly with a nod to him, and the man called Neil gave Wraith a look of adoration that was almost frightening in a way before turning back to Erin.
"Oh! Well, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Neil!" Erin said brightly, giving him a smile and reaching out for a handshake. He glanced down and studied her hand for a long time. She was starting to feel somewhat uncomfortable when he finally reached out and loosely shook her hand, offering her a disarming smile.
"And the same to you, Miss Erin." he said sweetly before retracting his hand swiftly. What was his problem?
Curiosity suddenly bounced into the kitchen, followed by Zai, who seemed to be a human shadow with all the stealth of Dracula.
"Neil! I found the incinerator room!" she purred, touching his shoulder and throwing a pointed look at Erin, who snorted in contempt and crossed her arms. She didn't like the green-haired girl at all, especially after learning about her attempt to kill Ozzy last Christmas, and the feeling was obviously mutual. Still, she was a friend of Wraith's, so Erin did her best to refrain from shooting a bitter retort at her.
"Really?" Neil asked in a voice of barely contained excitement. His eyes had lit up in a disturbing way at the words "incinerator room," but it seemed Erin was the only one who noticed.
"Whoa, you were able to get into there?" Wraith asked, her own eyes going wide. "Milo's the only one with the keys to get into there, and I don't know the password for the keypad; he changes it every Tuesday. How'd you do that?"
Curiosity only smiled, revealing all of her filed teeth.
"Trade secret!" she answered in innocent sing-song.
Wraith smiled widely in response, and Erin felt a shiver go down her spine. She knew the difference between her friend's two personalities was extreme, but Wraith continued to frighten her in new ways all the time. Now it seemed twice as bad, with the influence of Curiosity and Zai on her.
Erin really didn't like these two girls.
"Show me how and I can let you into the comsim room." Wraith purred in response.
"The what room?" Neil asked.
"Won't that piss off Poindexter?" Curiosity tilted her head to the side, her smile growing wider.
"A pissed-off Milo is a Milo with a lot of darkness for me to feed off of." Wraith answered, her wings opening slightly as her smile grew murderous.
"Again with the whole darkness-eating thing!" Erin groaned. "You still expect me to buy into that, Wraith?"
At this, Neil's ears seemed to prick up slightly and Wraith turned to her ever so slowly, giving her a withering glare.
" 'Better to keep your mouth shut and only appear stupid, than to open it and remove all doubt.' Mark Twain for you, Knightly." Wraith said in that soft, murderous voice. "You should know better than to get suckered in by Guen's sweetness. And you ought to know by now that ghosts exist, that they don't all feed off people the same way."
Erin took a step back, truly frightened now! They didn't always see eye to eye, but Wraith had never threatened her before! Still, she couldn't just afford to be pushed around.
"If you're trying to scare me, Wraith," she answered briskly, "You should remember that Ozzy's going to be very put out if anything happens to me!"
At this, Wraith only rolled her eyes while Curiosity snorted and Zai burst into laughter.
"That fat bird?" Curiosity spat in disgust.
"What's he gonna do?" Zai giggled darkly, "Smack our wrists with his umbrella?!"
Erin felt her cheeks grow very hot, and she straightened her spine, standing rigid and holding her nose high in the air, determinedly not saying a thing.
"Consider yourself warned for slander, Erin." Wraith said quietly, "And know that when I say I devour the darkness in others, I don't stop short of taking it out of Guen's friends."
Erin felt her insides grow cold and heart sink. If Wraith really wanted to attack her, she had her doubts even Ozzy would be able to stop her. The dark-haired girl was too unpredictable to take the chance.
"Incredible!" Neil said suddenly, his eyes alight as he stared at Wraith, "You mean to say you can purify humans as well?!"
"In a sense, yes. Though it's a rather bloody process most of the time. Some people are simply
too dark." Wraith gave him a smile that only seemed to make him all the more excited. However, it only served to frighten Erin further.
what's happening to my best friend?!
"Feel free to poke your noses around, if you want." Wraith was saying to the other three. "I don't care if you get into anything really, just don't blow the place completely to Timbuktu. Besides
Miss Knightly here and I need to have a little chat."
Erin took a step back, frightened, clenching her fists.
"Oooh, come on, Neil! Betcha we can find some combustibles!" Curiosity said with a feral gleam in her eye, dragging the brunette man along with her. Zai on the other hand, stayed put and watched interestedly, which didn't seem to bother Wraith in the least.
"What kind of chat?" Erin asked, swallowing past the lump building in her throat.
"Look," Wraith said, spinning around to face her, "Do you know why I'm here?"
"What kind of question is that?" Erin snorted, crossing her arms defiantly.
"Do you know," Wraith said, talking over her, and taking several menacing steps for her, "How I was 'born', chickpea? Why your best friend ended up sharing her existence with me out of nowhere? What caused me to break off from Guen?"
Zai was listening eagerly, suddenly wide-eyed and interested. Erin could only stand and wait, her breath catching in her chest.
Was she finally going to hear what happened six years ago that brought about Wraith's existence?
"Now, now, Wraith," came the cold, smooth voice they both knew so well as Milo swept into the kitchen just at that moment, "You shouldn't go around telling Guen's secrets. She might get mad at you."
"Keep your abnormally large nose out of other people's business!" Wraith hissed, turning on him.
"Yeah, who you think you are?" Zai rolled her eyes, "Professor Snape?"
"You know, he does have the oily black hair and hooked nose." Wraith pointed out.
"Ugh! Then, why the bowlcut? You could go to Harry Potter conventions as Snape and be a hit. Who knows, you might actually get a few friends." Zai snickered.
"Oh, ha ha. You're so witty." Milo scoffed, crossing the kitchen to start the teapot again.
"What are you doing in here anyway? Shouldn't you be starting Adrian's second dosage of the T-99?" Wraith asked him suspiciously.
"I thought I'd wait a bit, let her get a chance to talk to her soon-to-be-mate beforehand." Milo answered innocently, though his smile didn't quite reach his dark eyes.
"Bullcrap." Wraith and Zai said at the same time.
"So why the tea?" Erin interjected, finding her voice at last and hoping for a distraction from the sinking feeling she'd gotten when Wraith hadn't divulged her story.
"I might have failed to mention it" Milo started.
"Like so many other things!" Wraith muttered.
"But just the other day," he talked over her as though she'd not spoken, "I spoke with a friend of mine. I'm having some difficulties with some new tech, so I asked him if he would stop by and help with the debugging, since he's in Gotham. He just called and said he should be here soon, and it would be rather impolite not to offer him any tea."
"You've got one skewed sense of manners, Geek Boy." Zai snarled at him, and Erin got the feeling she hadn't quite forgotten how Milo had threatened Curiosity when they'd got there.
"Look who's talking." He shot back casually.
"Milo!" Wraith said abruptly, her pale face draining of what little color it had, "This
friend? This isn't who I think it is, right? Tell me it's not him."
He blinked at her and looked slightly abashed, his cheeks going a little pink.
"Now, Wraith," he started, "You know he's a technological genius, so who else would I?"
"YOU DID CALL HIM!" Wraith roared, whipping out her scythe in seconds, "HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN WHAT HE DID?!"
"Now, just calm down, Wraith"
"HE TRIED TO KILL ME, MILO!"
"He wasn't in his right mind, you know that."
"HE WAS TRYING TO BRAIN ME WITH A SHOVEL!"
"Actually, it was a hoe." Milo responded with a slight snicker.
"What's going on, you two?" Erin interrupted. "Who in the world are you talking about?"
As if on cue, they heard a huge explosion, a loud splintering noise, and Rosie suddenly started barking wildly.
"Ah. Here he is now." Milo said, smirking.
"WHO'S HERE?!" Zai shrieked, inching over to stand next to Wraith.
"Knock, knock!" came a posh, silky-smooth English voice. The next second, a tall blonde man in a top hat and a bizarre looking suit poked his head into the kitchen. He looked around and smiled at them all, baring his teeth in a wide grin. "I do hope I'm not interrupting anything, but I'm late you see. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!"
"Ladies," Milo said briskly, striding over to the Englishman and clapping a hand down on his shoulder, "May I introduce Jervis Tetch, the self-styled Mad Hatter?"
Boredom, they say, is supposed to harvest many interesting results, but so far the only thing it had given Barbara Gordon was sore feet and a gnawing hunger in the pit of her stomach. She still hadn't gotten Batman impressed with her, but she was determined to try. After all the trouble she went to making her outfit, (well, really she had only modified it,) getting the belt, (though it really wasn't anything more than decoration,) and taking her "equipment" from the police station, (her dad would kill her if he ever found out,) she wasn't just going to take no for an answer.
So she set up her own patrol when she had time in the summer and her dad was at the station.
However, it was past lunch already, and her stomach was beginning to growl. So not cool. She'd have to start bringing a snack with her. No way any supervillains couldn't hear her coming a mile away with her stomach protesting at her this loudly.
She was just about to call it a day when she noticed something very odd.
Two streets down, a figure was jumping from rooftop to rooftop, but he wasn't the Batman.
"Hello! Something fun at last!" Batgirl said eagerly, heading that way with her handmade "batgrapple." As she drew closer, she saw what had the figure's attention.
Down on the sidewalk was the Joker, followed by a girl in dark clothes with long brunette hair.
"No way!" Batgirl whispered. If she could bring in Joker for Batman
No, that was too risky. Even she knew that. Joker could eat a newb like her for breakfast and use her cowl for a toothpick. And the girl
Barbara squinted at her as she leapt to the roof where the running man was. She didn't know her, but she had the feeling she'd seen the girl before in some of the police files. Why was she following Joker?
Still, even if she couldn't risk taking down Joker, Batgirl wasn't afraid of this other guy. He looked like he should be at some comic book convention with the getup he was in. As her feet hit the rooftop, he spun around, tensing and brandishing a staff at her.
"What's wrong? Get lost on your way to the geekfest?" she asked, then almost hit herself for it. Yeah, she needed to practice with the quips. The man relaxed visibly, but he continued to point the dragon-topped staff at her.
"Ach. Just a wee lass." He sighed in what was unmistakably a Scottish accent. His voice was muffled by the sky blue scarf covering the lower half of his face, but it still carried and Barbara was completely caught off-guard by it.
Well, not enough she couldn't be indignant about the "wee lass" comment.
"Look, gixie," he said in exasperation, "I donno' have the time tae be sittin' a baby bat, nor can I afford tae let the grown ones catch me when I be chasin' me bloodhounds, neh. Go play with ye dolls, I ken ye still be havin' some."
"I don't play with dolls, you D&D nerd! And I'm going to take you in to Commissioner Gordon!" Batgirl said angrily, marching up to him and waggling a finger in his face. The man only rolled his dark eyes at her and shook his head, his fiery red hair flying.
"Neh, lass. Ye will do me a righ' favor and get some shuteye." He answered. He didn't reach for her or anything, but simply began to move his hand in a strange way. Without knowing quite why, Barbara found herself going quite sleepy, and before she could reach out and grab the man, she curled up on the rooftop and her world went black.
"Sweet dreamin' tae ye, lassie."