Dance With the Demons
"Selina. Wake up."
The dream she was having faded into nonremembrance. She fought her eyes opened and focused them on the 15-year-old form standing over her in the dimness of the Batcave. Jason Todd, naturally. She managed a smile.
"What time is it, Jase? I need my beauty sleep."
"It's only been an hour or two, Selina. We're going to take you to the hospital. Dr. Dundee has something he wants to try."
She put her pale arm over her eyes. "Don't wanna go to the hospital. What if Bruce comes back?"
The boy clenched his hands tightly. "I don't think he'll be back before we get done, Selina. Dr. Dundee wants to try a whole blood transfusion. I'm not sure it'll work, but I'm not sure of anything right now."
She shivered. "Is it colder in here, Jason? I just can't get warm enough, it seems."
He looked downward.
"Oh, hell," she said. "I'm sorry, Jason. Didn't mean to upset you."
Jason's eyes were dry but sad as he showed her his face again. She guessed he was pretty well cried out by now. "I wanted to show you somethin', Selina. Before you went, I mean."
"Sure," she said. "What is it?"
He stepped back and rolled a wheelchair up to her cot. "Get in and I'll show you."
As he wheeled Selina past Hecate's cage, the panther growled. "Hey, man, I'm only taking her for a minute," protested Jason.
"Behave yourself, Hecate," said Selina. "He's a friend of ours."
The panther subsided and Jason rolled Selina over the uneven limestone floor to another section, well off of the main Batcave body. "I'm not sure if it was Bruce or Alfred told me about it, Selina, but I heard about the time Bruce brought you down here to see something."
"Oh. The cat-stalagmite?" she said. "Yeah. That was kinda nice. Even though he was trying to put us off again, for as long as possible."
Jason took a breath. "He told me that he showed you the stalagmite that looked like a cat, and the stalactite on the ceiling growing down to it. He said that--"
"He said that they were growing together, and that someday we might grow together, too," said Selina. "But the Crisis sort of pushed us together a lot faster. I'm glad it did. So you want me to see the stalagmite, Jason?"
"Yeah," he said. And with that, he pushed her and the wheelchair into the very section of cave they had spoken of.
There was the stalagmite that did look somewhat like a cat, in the lighting Batman had installed.
And above it was the stalactite, hanging down from the ceiling.
Between them, they had been connected by a pillar of quick-drying cement.
She looked back at Jason.
"I went ahead and did it," he said. "Maybe it's sorta saying that we can make things come together ourselves, if we want to." He paused. "Maybe it's kinda dumb, I don't know. But I didn't want to leave things like they were."
Selina Wayne put a chilly hand on Jason's warmer one.
"I'm gonna love having you as a son," she said. "Okay. Help me get ready for Dr. Dundee."
He turned her wheelchair around and started back. Frequently, he bit the interior of his mouth to keep himself from crying.
Batman led the way into Geo-Force's cell. His would be the hardest imprisonment to undo.
The sight of the man imprisoned by the four globes confining his limbs sickened Batman. The smell of Prince Brion's sweat, the haggard condition of his face, the state of his muscles...no question about it. Geo-Force had been tortured. The gorge rose in Batman's throat. He tamped it down with the greatest of difficulties. One more thing for which to make Kobra pay. One more rage piled on the furnace.
But Brion looked up, and despite his pain, smiled. "I knew you would come, friend Batman."
Batman came closer and vouchsafed Geo-Force a brief smile. "Hearing that from you, after the way we once parted company, Brion, almost makes the entire thing worthwhile."
"That is past affairs, and best forgotten," said the Markovian prince. "Lia, darling, how fare you? Were you harmed?"
Looker smiled, stepped up, and took Brion's head between her hands. "No, hon. They damped down my powers, but they didn't do anything else to me. I just wish we could say the same of you."
Silently, Brion nodded.
"Hold on, Brion, we'll get you out of those things," said Halo, and prepared to unleash an aura.
"No, Halo!" warned Geo-Force, hoarsely. "Touch one of these globes, and unbearable pain rushes through my body. I would not mention this were I able to withstand the punishment, but I fear it would render me unconscious. I would be a burden to you, not an asset."
Looker glanced at King Faraday. "Maybe we can help him out. Batman told me you were a master hypnotist."
The agent in the Cultist garb responded. "I'm good, sweetheart, but it takes a few minutes to induce a trance. You've got super-powers. Maybe you can get to him faster than I could."
Katana said, "One hates to point obvious things out, but we are undoubtedly only minutes away from being attacked by our foes and Kobra's hordes. The time has come to act."
"Let ‘em come," said the Creeper, blowing on his knuckles. "I could use a few cracked jaws at this point in the game."
"Save it, Creeper," ordered Batman. "Looker, put Brion under. King, be ready to help if you can. Halo, once they judge him ready, do you think you can break those globes off?"
The hovering girl smiled. "Betcha I'm the only one here who can."
"Do it, Lia," said Brion, lifting his head to meet her gaze dead-on. The look in his eyes was one of love, and that made it all the easier for the woman with the eyes of power to do what she had to.
Within three seconds, a hypnotic connection was made between Looker's and Geo-Force's mind.
<Your body is numb,> said Looker. <You will feel no sensation at all. No pleasure, no pain. You will sustain this numbness though the gates of Hell were loosed against you. You will feel absolutely no pain. Do you agree?>
<Yes,> said Geo-Force. <I agree that I will feel no pain.>
King Faraday was already reflecting the light rhythmically off the surface of his cigarette lighter to reinforce Geo-Force's trance in his traditional hypnotist's way. "Geo, can you hear me?"
"Yes, I can hear you," said Brion.
"Whatever she's doing to you, I'm reinforcing those orders. Your will to do what she has told you has been redoubled. Do you understand?"
"I understand," he said.
"Okay," said Faraday. "Even if you were tied split-legged to a log headed for a buzzsaw, you wouldn't feel a thing. Got that?"
"I understand," repeated Geo-Force.
Batman said, "Do it, Halo."
Plastic Man, Metamorpho, Element Girl, Creeper, Katana, and Talia looked on. The most dangerous part of the operation was about to begin.
"Footsteps," said Katana.
"Go defend," said Batman.
The five heroes headed out the doorway.
Halo, murmuring a prayer, glowed orange. She forced the power through her hands, encircled the globe holding Geo-Force's right wrist, and bore down.
Batman, looking on, tensed. Was Brion registering pain? If so, he wasn't showing it. Looker was still bravely looking into her lover's eyes, the blue beam from her own orbs bridging the gap between them. King Faraday was smoking, saying nothing. Talia was also silent.
With a great crack and a spark, the first globe exploded.
"Only three more to go," said Halo. "Courage, Brion."
Geo-Force maintained his silence.
Halo went for the globe on his left foot next. Another exertion, another spark and blast. This time, they did not miss the slight jerk that shook Geo-Force's frame.
"Brion, did that hurt?", asked Halo, concernedly.
"Of course not," said Brion.
"Hurry, Halo," urged Batman.
With another movement of her hand-beam, Halo went for the globe on Brion's left wrist. Batman and Talia moved to hold him about the midsection. The daughter of Ra's Al Ghul looked into his eyes and it was not hard to read the ardor and, yes, the love there.
He hoped he had not given her that much back.
Another sparking and popping. Geo-Force groaned, "UHN!"
"Brion, you're hurt," said Halo. "Maybe--"
"I," said Brion, with an effort, "am not hurt. I am needed. Finish the job."
"Go on, Halo," said Batman, grimly.
Talia said, "My love, your exterior is all glacier hardness and frost. But your interior is as warm as a hearth. Do not deny it."
He bared his teeth. "This is not the time for that! Halo, finish up."
So the blonde girl in the black costume with the colorful striping set her jaw, exerted her power once again, and pressured the fourth globe.
Looker's hands were on Geo's shoulders as her beam increased to its highest intensity. Batman didn't miss the look of anxiety in her face. But she, too, would soldier on.
Geo-Force's teeth were clenched, hard.
The globe bulged, resisted, expanded about its middle.
Then, like its fellows, it sparked with a blinding flash and burst.
Geo-Force cried out in a wail of pain which he was only able to shorten, not stifle. He sagged, liberated, against the strong body of the Batman, the lithe form of Talia, and the warm and welcome one of Looker.
"It's over, soldier," said Batman. "It's over. We're done."
Geo-Force's knees had been sagging towards the stone floor. Abruptly, he threw his head back, his eyes closed, and stood upright, forcing his allies to shift their positions.
His face looked, to Batman, like that of a war survivor.
"It is not over," said Brion, trying not to gasp. "Lead me outside. We must defeat our foes. We must save Markovia. And your wife."
Batman said, "Do you think you can stand on your own, Brion?"
Looker gave her commander a stern gaze.
Geo-Force pushed the three of them away, gently. "I can stand. And I can fight."
Kobra had already dressed himself in a business suit and taken a valise for the journey. His concubine Eve stood beside him, primly clad in a knee-length blue skirt, white blouse, and blue blazer. Both were standing on a platform that would enhance the teleportational faculties of the device in his belt, which had gotten him out of more than one tight spot in the past.
The Cobra Cultists who attended him were aware of the battle about to be waged near the prison section of their base. Most of them kept their mouths shut, except to offer information when asked. One of them, however, had less experience with Naja-Naja than the others. He raised his head.
"Lord Naja," he began. "Would it not be more prudent for you to remain and direct the battle? Without your leadership, things may go awry."
The masked and costumed men stiffened. Even Eve's eyes widened. Kobra, looking very calm, stepped off the platform. He went and stood before the one who had spoken.
:"My son," he said, "with the proper incentive, I am sure my men and hirelings can complete the operation."
Then he opened his mouth. And from it a long, artificial tongue whipped out, as quick as the cobra from which he took his name. It encircled the Cultist's neck, choking him, strangling him, causing him to grasp its coils. Desperately, he grasped a dagger from his suit and sought to sever the strangling tongue.
Kobra grasped his wrist and held it firmly, using his other hand to direct a karate blow to a certain area of the man's chest.
Within a few seconds, it was over. Kobra retracted his tongue. The mortal clay that had been the questioning Cultist slumped to the floor. Naja-Naja looked upon his servants, whose armpits were stained with sweat.
"I trust now that you have the proper incentive," he said, smiling.
"Oh, yes, Lord Naja!" they responded. "Oh, yes!"
Saying nothing more, Kobra reascended the platform and stood with his arm about Eve. In another second, their forms flickered and they were gone.
"We've got to go," said Old Robin, succinctly. "I've never fought this guy, but if he's menacing Gotham, it's our duty."
Batgirl nodded, adjusting her utility belt. "I've fought him once, beside Batman. He's one of the deadliest customers around. He can poison you just with his body."
"He injured Hawkman," reminded the Huntress. "I know how dangerous this character is. I saw Carter's burns. But we're down from peak strength."
"If a couple of oldsters like us are going, the rest of you shouldn't have a problem," said Batwoman, making sure her mask was affixed tightly. "Alfred and a big squad of cops are guarding Selina's hospital room while they do the transfusion. Young Dick's already gone with Kory and the rest. So that leaves it in our hands."
Flamebird looked at her and at Karl Kyle. "You know, the two of you don't have to come. You're not really in condition for this kind of fight. We'll have a tough enough time, and we're, well, younger."
Karl looked at her dispassionately. "We'll do all right, missy. And yes, I know this thing is just too convienient, happening just when Selina's going into the hospital. But you all have a duty to Gotham's people, just like we've got an obligation to family. Right now, we're the only ones left. Since Kathy and I are with you--that makes it our fight."
Seriously, Batgirl said, "Wait till you see what he looks like in real life. Then you may reconsider."
"I've gone up against the Joker, Two-Face, the Clock, the Scarecrow, and all the other bad boys," said Robin. "If I was going to start running, I would have done it a long time ago. And I'm not about to start up now. Okay, Bat-Squad, let's get it in gear."
"We're ready," said the young Robin, Jason Todd, resolutely. Batgirl knew he wanted to be with Selina at the hospital, and wondered if that wouldn't have been the better choice.
The seven of them were the only ones left in the mansion, as Julia and Daphne Pennyworth were at Gotham General along with Selina and Alfred. Thus, there was no danger of their identities being compromised as they rushed, in costume, to the library of Wayne Manor, went through the grandfather clock door, and hurried to their vehicles in the Batcave. Several seconds later, they emerged from the concealed exit ramp, on motorcycles and in a Batmobile.
On her Batcycle, the wind whipping her face, Batgirl opened a radio channel to her father. "What's it looking like from there, Commissioner?"
The voice of James Gordon came back. "He's still on the bridge support. I've got a couple of choppers up there, with a sniper team. But I'm not sure whether or not the bullets would bring him down. Plus, he hasn't really threatened anyone yet, just holding up traffic on both sides of te bridge. You still want first crack at him?"
"It's our job, Commissioner," she said, resisting the impulse to call him "Dad." "We'll be there in a few minutes."
"I hope so. Out," said Gordon.
Batgirl closed the channel. She fought down the impulse to turn the Batcycle around and head back to the safety of Wayne Manor, or to proceed in the direction of Gotham General to safeguard Selina. Karl Kyle was probably right about it being a setup.
But when Dr. Phosphorus was on the loose, they didn't really have a choice.
In an apartment elsewhere in Gotham City, a woman watched the TV coverage of Phosphorus sitting atop the pillar of the Gotham Narrows Bridge. He glowed like a Fourth of July sparkler, and his bones were visible in X-ray fashion. Dr. Phosphorus was a scary customer, all right.
But what scared her most was what her husband was going to do about it.
He opened the door. It was hard for her to steel herself to the sight of his altered form. The last time he had done this, he had gone berserk. He assured her the dosage was the correct one, this time, and he was firmly in control. But she remembered how it had been when she herself had changed, and she harbored doubts.
"You sure you have to do this?"
"Even though you have a daughter?"
"Yes," he said. "Take good care of her till I get back."
"If you get back."
He said nothing. Instead, he went to the window, opened it, and was gone.
She held their daughter to her breast and did not dare look after him as he left.
Within Gotham General, Doctor Dundee was already in the process of replacing Selina Kyle's entire blood supply with new, hopefully untainted, pints. He accepted the fact that several of the persons inside the treatment room, also clad in green surgical gear, were armed police officers. There was nothing else to be done about it, and he understood their necessity.
Selina herself was terribly weak. If it was not a last-chance thing, he would not have risked this undertaking. But it might buy her a bit more life-time, if not totally cure her. Dundee could not face himself another day without having done something substantial in her cause. Thankfully, Selina had consented to it, provided she was allowed to convalesce in Wayne Manor as soon as it was done.
Jason had wanted to be by her side, but Alfred disallowed it. Instead, Jason had gone with the Bat-Squad, and Alfred was sitting outside with his granddaughter Julia and his niece, Daphne. They tried to make small talk. Julia told of how she was getting on at Picture News, under the editorship of Vicki Vale, and Daphne, after a little coaxing from Alfred, told anecdotes of her life as an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
For his own part, Alfred told a few stories of serving in the underground in France during the Second World War, and kept most of his commentary about Master Bruce fairly vague. If he seemed a bit distant, Julia chalked it up to his concern with Selina.
He was actually hoping and praying that another squad of Cobra Cultists wouldn't assault the hospital and attempt to finish what their fellows had failed at, earlier. True, Gordon had stationed a force of good men about the mistress. But they had never faced fanatics quite like Kobra's men. Alfred well knew that their earlier victory was due to surprise as much as anything.
A man in an orderly's uniform walked by the hallway and briefly noted their presence outside. An old man and two women. Hardly a threat to him. The big problem would be the police guards outside and inside the transfusion chamber. He decided to wait until they brought her out and took her to her room.
It wasn't that he had that much against Catwoman. True, she had stood against him, along with Batman and Robin, some months past. But his real rage was still directed against Nocturna, and she was absent since that time of confrontation, when she drifted away, wounded, in a hot-air balloon that was knocked out of the red skies by a storm. He was persuaded that she had survived, since her body was not found.
The killing of Catwoman would be a statement. A "come and get me" that would bring Nocturna out of hiding. True, he would have to deal with Batman when the masked man came back from wherever he was. But he had fought him before, and almost prevailed.
Usually, he struck at night. Usually, he wore an all-black costume.
But the Night-Slayer compromised where he had to.
He also hoped that nobody found the stiff of the real orderly whose uniform and i.d. he had appropriated before he had a chance to wet the same dagger that had killed the chump with the blood of Selina Kyle.
Whether it was her own, or some she'd borrowed from other people.
Finally, they stood together, still within the prison unit of Kobra's mountain fastness, but prepared. Batman, Katana, Metamorpho, Geo-Force, Halo, Katana, Plastic Man, the Creeper, Element Girl, Black Lightning, King Faraday, and Talia.
Twelve against ten super-villains and several hundred Cobra Cultists. Fair enough odds.
"I don't have to remind you what's at stake," he said to his troops. "Only that failure is not an option. No matter how many stand against us."
"Give my regards to the Great White Way, Bats," said Faraday. "Just hope I can make up for some of the trouble I've caused you."
"I'm ready," said Looker. "I think I can speak for the rest of us in that, too."
Plastic Man, his wounded hand swathed in an elastic bandage scrounged from a medical supply box in the prison, nodded. "It'll be a privelage to finish things up beside all of you. I've had a few bad turns in my life, but this may be where I can make ‘em all straight."
"We ain't done in yet," said Black Lightning, smacking his hands together with a crackle and spark. "Let's rumble, Bats!"
Batman looked at him,briefly, and went to the door of the unit. He sprayed some acid from a vial in his utility belt on the lock. After enough of the metal had sizzled away, he kicked it open.
Metamorpho filled the gap in the doorway as a calcium shield, receiving blasts of cold and fire on his surface. He thrust forward like a battering ram, bowling over Heatstroke, Coldsnap, and several others of their foes.
The others came behind him, and looked upon a sea of enemies.
"Looks like we've been expected," said Batman, with a grim smile.
The battle was joined.