Into the Lair
With Connor starting to identify those of the tagged group of Immortals he knew, Ryan left the alley, took a deep breath and leaned against a sleek, powerful, matt black automobile. It was obvious to anyone with a pulse who the owner was. The lines of the car were aerodynamically perfect, and though it called out to the testosterone Ryan’s blood, he wanted to display his displeasure with the Batman’s allies by giving an opinion was rather negative overall. After running for the better part of two hours at the behest of one of the Batman’s friends, Ryan was feeling more than a little surly, not to mention sticky with sweat. He peeled his t-shirt off and wrung it out, grimacing at the impressive amount of perspiration that dripped out. He pulled the shirt back on, wincing at the uncomfortably damp material against his skin. The hulking figure of the Batman strode around to the other side of the car.
“You do realize you’ve destroyed the resale value by adding those tailfins in the shape of wings?” he asked him as the big vigilante effortlessly vaulted into the car.
The masked man glared menacingly at him for a moment, before simply saying, “Get in.”
Ryan swallowed nervously. The last thing he wanted to do was be in a confined space with the Batman, especially after insulting his wheels. “No way! I’m staying here with Connor.” Someone tapped him on the shoulder.
With a startled jump, he spun to find the masked girl behind him. “Aaah! Don’t do that!” he said, clutching at his heart.
“Batman. No sense of humor,” she stated flatly, before handing him a bottle of liquid and turning back to her task.
Grumbling about stating the bleeding obvious, Ryan tore the lid off and gulped the contents down, spilling some from the sides of his mouth. Swallowing loudly, he turned back to the Batman. “Connor and I are here to find this Immortal of yours. That’s it.”
Eyes glittering behind green lenses bored into Ryan’s own. “Once he is done, he will join us. I need to speak with you.”
Connor called out from among the incumbent Immortals. “Ryan, go on. I’ll be right behind you.”
Muttering to himself, Ryan finished the bottle and tossed it back to the young girl-bat, who caught it with practiced ease. Ryan then eased into the car, blinking with astonishment at the vast array of buttons and screens that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the cockpit of a lear jet. “What ever happened to minimalism? Tach and Speedometer not good enough for you?”
The Batman slowly turned his head to face Ryan. “Are you ever serious?”
Ryan realized he was pushing the boundaries of possibly the most dangerous mortal on the planet, but he was determined not to back down. “Of course. I was serious for a whole afternoon a couple of decades ago. Didn’t like it much,” he spat
The Batman glared at Ryan for a few seconds longer than was comfortable, making the Immortal fidget unconsciously, before turning back to the car’s controls. With the push of a silver button, the massive car roared to life, throbbing with contained power, aching to be released. In an instant, Ryan felt his entire body pushed back into his seat by what felt like several Gs, as the car roared away.
The Batman was as subtle a driver as the car was ostentatious. He wove in and out of traffic with the minimum of effort, leaving spaces on either side of the car, which in Ryan’s opinion would hardly have accepted an American Express card. More than once Ryan flinched away from one side or other as the car powered through the city during peak hour, somehow avoiding accidents, pedestrians and obstacles while traveling at over 80.
Though it took all his willpower, Ryan discovered that closing his eyes reduced the stress enormously.
Within minutes, the pair were zooming along one of the many exits from the metropolis of Gotham, heading off into the hills. Gotham, like Manhattan, was an island, which meant that with space at a premium, people tended to build up rather than out. The surrounding land was rather pretty, with large manor homes and estates dotting the landscape.
The massive vigilante finally spoke. “Why didn’t you take the head of the man you shot?”
Ryan blinked in surprise at the unexpected question. “What?”
The Batman pursed his lips in frustration. “The man you shot. The one who had just killed the mugger. Why didn’t you take his head?”
Ryan took a deep breath and turned to look out the window. “I doubt you’d understand.”
With a deep breath, Ryan said, “I haven’t been Immortal long. Killing another person still feels abhorrent to me. Older Immortals seem to have no trouble deciding to kill each other, with less emotion than you’d see them swatting a fly with.” Ryan sighed. “I was once offered a ‘free Quickening’. I can’t really tell you much about it, but the two Immortals who offered him to me were surprised I didn’t take it. Both of them were several thousand years old, from the Roman era. The idea of killing an unarmed, helpless man, even a murderer of non-Immortals made me sick. I have challenged others, and have been challenged, but killing is not something I feel comfortable doing.”
“That does not sound like a trait that encourages longevity in an Immortal,” the Batman observed.
Ryan half smiled. “I suppose not. I inherited a fortune from my wife’s mother, and used it to create a haven for Immortals who wanted to retire, or at least take a break from the Game. I even called it Haven. An island resort built on holy ground. I had hoped to create a population centre for Immortals, hoping that we’d stop hunting each other if there was a place where we could live in peace, but we are too individualistic for such an idea to work.”
Ryan glanced over at the Batman to gauge his reaction. Nothing. It was like he had been carved from marble.
Silence again descended for a few minutes as the car sped along. Suddenly, the car took a different path, heading directly for the side of a cliff. Ryan gave a strangled shout and covered his face with his forearms, before a sudden drop of air pressure indicated they were speeding through a tunnel. As Ryan’s heart rate returned to normal, the car reached its destination, a massive, high-ceilinged cave. Gigantic stalactites hung from the ceiling, though there were a massive number of stalactite stumps, where hundreds of massive stone cones had broken off. Probably from the recent earthquake, Ryan thought.
The car’s roof hissed and shifted backwards, allowing the cool, dry air of the cave in. Ryan’s eyes bulged as he took in the vast complex of computers, trophies and equipment. In a distant section of the complex, a massive penny stood upright, next to what looked like a mechanical dinosaur. Bank after bank of computer terminals lined one wall, humming quietly. Ryan couldn’t remember getting out of the car as he took in the awe-inspiring complex he’d been allowed access to.
“Jeez, this is incredible,” he said in a low voice.
The Batman ignored him as he stalked over to another part of the cave. The lights automatically brightened as he entered the area, revealing a well-equipped gymnasium and exercise room, including a sparing area on tatami mats. Weapons, mundane and exotic, lined the walls, each displaying signs of being well maintained. And well used.
“Come,” the Batman said shortly.
“What now?” Ryan asked defensively, though he did slowly follow the menacing man.
The Batman pointed to an open cupboard, filled with training outfits. “Change into a gi, and come here.”
“What? Why?” Ryan stammered.
The Batman selected a wakizashi from a display stand containing dozens of Japanese blades, and a combat knife from a display drawer, heightening Ryan’s nervousness. “Your technique needs some work,” he said flatly.
Ryan blinked. “My what?”
The Batman turned to face him. “You were obviously taught by someone who favors a much longer, slightly curved blade. While he was just as obviously an expert with it, he imparted certain habits that need breaking.” With a tug, he removed his heavy cape, letting the material pool at his feet. “Change, then assume your usual battle stance,” he ordered.
Ryan swallowed, but complied. Once dressed in the thick cotton outfit, he picked up his weapons and did as instructed. Quickly, the Batman pointed out three flaws in his stance, and began giving him instructions on how to correct them.
Three hours later, Ryan lay panting and unmoving on the tatami mats. The Batman had drilled him relentlessly until the young Immortal could assume the technically correct stance in an instant. From there, the pair moved on to the theory behind facing opponents with different weapons, styles and abilities. Ryan began suffering from information overload after about an hour, but his brutal instructor simply kept the data coming.
The practical side of things was even more painful. Without having to worry about permanently injuring, or even killing his opponent, the Batman had taken the simple path of landing lethal blows whenever Ryan’s defense slipped. As he lay exhausted, Ryan estimated that he had died more often in the past couple of hours than he had in his entire life, including every time his wife had fed from him.
“Good, you lasted nearly fifteen seconds that time,” said the Batman, in a particularly unwelcome voice.
Ryan growled in the back of his throat, feeling unable to even lift his head from the mats. “Yay for me,” he muttered.
“Don’t feel so bad, Ryan,” said a familiar voice.
Ryan blinked and with a Herculean effort, raised his head. Connor stood in the entrance to the gym, leaning against a support with his arms crossed. “Damien only lasted a couple of minutes against him,” the older Immortal said.
Ryan let his head drop back down with a ‘thunk’. “That Immortal you told me about on the train?”
“Aye.” Connor gestured towards a heavily notched sword in one of the trophy cabinets. “That was his sword. It doesn’t look like much now, but it nearly managed to cut through Masamune’s blade,” he finished, drawing his own katana and gently touching the blade near the hilt.
Ryan again growled with stiffness as he slowly rose to his feet. “Are we done?” he asked, nearly pleading.
The Batman nodded, having already reattached his cape. “It’s time for our patrol.”
Connor and Ryan shared a glance. “Patrol?” they said in unison.
“We think we may have found them,” said a new, feminine voice. The two Immortals turned to the main computer bank, where the largest screen was filled with a digitally disguised figure. Only her piercing green eyes were unobscured. “The chips we implant in them can’t be detected from a great distance, but we have identified a few places where large numbers of Immortals ‘disappear’ from our screens. They must be in one of the older, thick-walled buildings, or underground.”
Ryan frowned, listening to the voice. “Are you the Oracle person who sent me running on a stupid turkey hunt?”
The woman responded with an amusement-laced voice. “The very same. Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Chessman. And you too, Mr. MacLeod.”
Ryan grimaced, but Connor gave a subtle, elegant bow in the computer’s direction. “Nice to meet you too,” the Highlander said in his odd accent.
Ryan just sighed. Older Immortals had such out of date manners. He looked down to where he had left his clothes, only to find them folded neatly, having been cleaned, repaired, pressed and lightly fragranced. Ryan shook his head. He just didn’t want to know.
The powerful car swerved in and out of traffic at high speeds, an act that had the young Immortal again trying to remember that it was highly unlikely he would die in a car accident.
“This is some sort of vigilante hazing ritual, isn’t it?” he said as the Batman slid the big car around a corner at nearly sixty miles an hour.
The Batman actually smiled, revealing a gleaming set of white teeth. “Surely you are not afraid of death?”
Ryan swallowed. “Death doesn’t frighten me, for obvious reasons. But it sure as hell hurts to have all your bones broken!”
The Batman grunted, the smile disappeared. “I don’t doubt it. Tell me, what’s it like?”
“Being Immortal? Or having all your bones broken?”
“Knowing you can’t die. It must be liberating,” the Batman clarified.
Ryan barked a laugh. “It might be better if you didn’t know that at any time, someone with thousands of years of experience with a sharp piece of metal could challenge you. I met one Immortal who claimed that he had a bet with another Immortal as to which of them could take twenty heads the fastest.”
The Batman instantly grew somber. “He hardly sounds like a paragon of virtue. What happened?”
Ryan took a deep breath, holding it as the car rounded a corner on what felt like two wheels. “He played with me. He took his time, making sure I knew I was outclassed. Broke my back and went to take my head.”
“And yet here you are.”
Ryan smiled at his attempt at humor. “I managed to trick him into thinking that there were other Immortals around by changing my aura. He took the bait and I stabbed him in the leg with my knife when he wasn’t looking. He went down, and I managed to half cut off his head. It was enough, and during the fireworks that followed, the building fell--” he said as suddenly, a large number of Immortals lit up his senses in an instant. “--down on us. Stop here.”
“Here! Stop here!” Ryan said.
The car quickly skidded to a halt, and the Batman expertly reversed into an alley. Ryan closed his eyes and concentrated. “There’s at least a dozen Immortals nearby. More move into range and out of it. There’s probably a base in one of these buildings,” he said, starting to look around. Getting a bearing, he pointed at one. “That one.”
The Batman looked up and down the building, before pulling out some sort of a communications link, probably with that Oracle woman. “Waynetech Building, Five-Gee,” he said into the device. “Check personnel for Immortal connections.” With that, he put the device back in his belt.
“What now?” Ryan asked..
The cowled man punched a few buttons on the car’s console. “Let’s go.”
Ryan watched in awe as the Batman systematically disarmed each security device at the windows and doors they passed. While security was as tight as Ryan had ever seen on the building that housed the Immortal coven, it proved no match for the Batman. Whether it was a simple lock that needed picking, or an infinitely more complex magnetic seal, the masked vigilante had both the skills and the tools for the job. It was an experience to watch. Eventually, the pair entered a maintenance shaft that allowed access to the various ventilation ducts. With the Batman leading the way, Ryan entered the narrow pathway, and began to scout the building.
After a while, the pair had mapped part of the layout of the complex. Ryan had not recognized any of the Immortals he spyed through the grills covering the ducts in the walls, but dutifully informed his escort every minute or so on how many Immortals were in his ‘range’. The Batman began moving off into another direction, through an even smaller shaft.
“How the hell do you fit in here?” Ryan whispered at the huge man in front of him. The ventilation duct was hardly wide enough for the slender Immortal to fit, and even that was a struggle. The Batman easily outmassed Ryan by a hundred pounds or more, yet seemed unperturbed by the claustrophobic confines. Indeed, he hardly even slowed in pace at all.
“I studied with a contortion artist for a while,” came the cryptic response.
Ryan shook his head. “Was there anyone you didn’t study with?” he mumbled under his breath. If the Batman ever gave up kicking ass and cracking skulls for a living, he’d make a great cat burglar. Suddenly, Ryan stopped crawling. “Wait!” he hissed.
The Batman stopped and looked around quizzically.
Ryan examined the auras he felt. While many Immortals were moving in and out of his senses, one aura was hauntingly familiar. The one aura that had never caused his sensitive gift any pain at all.
“No,” he breathed. “It can’t be her.”
Ryan swallowed. “This way,” he said, pointing down a different shaft.
Without argument, the Batman nodded and descended down the indicated shaft. At the end, after a few seconds work with a magnetic screwdriver, the pair exited into the ceiling cavity.
The Batman leaned close to Ryan, nearly cheek to cheek. “This is the void above the secure storage rooms.”
“Secure?” Ryan whispered back.
The Batman nodded. “They were designed to store prototypes of anything from electronics, to weapons, to pharmaceuticals. All Waynetech buildings were modified to survive a powerful earthquake, even before the one that hit Gotham. But the rooms here were built into the bedrock, separate from the building foundations. The cavity we are in now is the only access point besides the front door.”
Ryan nodded, noting in the dim light that one wall of the cavity was rough hewn strata. “Who owns the building now?”
“Still Waynetech. They built another storage facility in a different part of the city, and moved all their equipment and inventions. This one was turned into an administrative centre, since the foundations weren’t damaged, but the secure rooms were left less secure than necessary.”
The pair crawled through the low space until Ryan nodded and pointed down. “This is the place.”
The Batman set about creating an entrance without question. He quickly disassembled the ventilation system, and began pulling the whole contraption away. The hole left was just large enough to admit someone of Ryan’s slender stature.
“Hardly secure,” he whispered.
The Batman glanced back at him. “If you mean the size of the vent, I accessed the designs before the building was constructed and made a few changes. Where do you think I get all my equipment from?”
Ryan blinked, but couldn’t stop a smirk from his face. “So, you are a cat burglar, as well as a vigilante.”
The Batman didn’t respond as he finished moving the ducting system. He withdrew a small globe from his belt and shook it. Slowly, the globe began to glow a soft green.
“Who’s there?” a voice from below whispered despairingly.
Ryan looked down through the hole, not prepared to stick his head through. “Cassandra?”
There was a pause. “Ryan?” came the voice, tinged with weariness.
Ryan frowned. “Yes, it’s me. What’s the matter?”
Another pause, before an audible sigh. “You’ve joined this monster too,” she said, sounding defeated.
“Um, if I had, I’d probably be coming in through the front door,” he replied flippantly.
“Truly?” she said in a whisper, a faint trace of hope in her voice.
“Naturally. Can you jump up? We’ll try to grab you.”
Again, another pause. “We?”
Ryan swallowed. “A… friend.”
If Cassandra heard the hesitation in his voice, she didn’t comment. “I am shackled to the wall.”
The Batman, who had been silent throughout the exchange, dropped the glowing globe into the room. Ryan was astonished at how high the room was. He estimated it to be nearly fifteen feet.
“There is no one else in the room,” the Batman said, and with a whisper of fabric, he disappeared head first down through the hole. Ryan heard Cassandra suck in a lungful of air in fright. “Ryan, join us,” he said from below.
Wincing, Ryan awkwardly stuck his feet through the hole and slowly wriggled through backwards. He hung from the edge for a second or two, then let go, bracing for impact. As he hit the ground, he let loose an “Oof!” and fell hard onto his backside.
The Batman looked down at him dispassionately. “You need to learn how to fall correctly,” he said.
Ryan grunted as he stood, rubbing his coccyx. “So long as it isn’t you who teaches me, I’ll be right with it,” he said sourly.
The Batman turned to look at Cassandra, who was herself looking up at the pair. Dried blood caked her face, hair and torn clothes, but what made Ryan’s stomach turn was the fact that she had been shackled in such a way that she could be raped at will. Even in the dim light, Ryan could see that her clothes had been torn away from her form and that she had been repeatedly assaulted.
“Dear God,” he whispered, stunned into inaction.
The Batman however, didn’t even blink as he began picking the locks at the Immortal’s wrists and ankles. Cassandra looked up at the masked man.
“Who?” she said, clearly confused.
Ryan shook his head to clear it. “One of MacLeod’s acquaintances. MacLeod Senior, that is.” He helped gather the tattered remains of her clothing and draped it over her in an effort to preserve whatever remaining modesty she possessed.
Cassandra’s eyes met Ryan’s own. “Connor is here? What of Duncan?”
Ryan shook his head. “Connor is in the city, but not with us. Duncan survived whatever, or at least whoever, was sent to pick him up.”
The Batman finished with the shackles. “Can you travel?”
She gave him a haughty look, which Ryan felt was rather impressive considering the situation they had found her in. “Of course.”
Another tool was taken from the yellow belt at the Batman’s waist. As he aimed it up towards the exit above them, both Ryan and Cassandra inhaled sharply.
“How many?” the Batman asked quickly.
“Three,” the two Immortals said in unison. Ryan frowned, then paled suddenly in the dim light as the sheer longevity of one of the approaching Immortals overwhelmed him.
“Oh, no,” he said.