Tang Ri Shan
(This is a sequel to Beware the Batman: Conundrum. I suggest reading that story if you have not done so already)
"My sincerest apologies Miss Kane!" Oswald Cobblepot apologized profusely as Bruce Wayne helped a still pale Kathy Kane back to her seat.
"What kind of person lets savage animals run amok in a restaurant?!" Kathy sobbed, burying her face into Bruce's shoulder.
"There, there, Kathy" Bruce soothed the stricken woman. "It's over now and you didn't get hurt. That's all that matters" Bruce then turned to Oswald Cobblepot, his expression hardening. "You might want to get that railing looked at, Oswald. I'm sure you'd hate for someone else to fall over it"
"I most certainly will, Bruce. Thank you for pointing it out to me" Mr. Cobblepot's voice was suddenly firm as he turned back to address the gathered crowd.
With Oswald's back turned, Kathy looked up long enough to wink at Bruce, who nodded and scanned the room. He met the eye of Richard Dragon standing near the restrooms with Righard Grayson. Bruce gave Dragon the tiniest of nods.
"Is Miss Kane okay?" Richard Grayson rushed forward, only to be stopped by Richard Dragon.
"She appears to be fine. Perhaps your concern should be directed towards another lady." Dragon replied.
"Huh?" Richard blinked up at the martial arts master.
Richard Dragon leaned down and spoke in a low voice. "If you want to rescue Miss Gordon, you might ponder using the confusion to slip away"
"And where would I look for her?" Richard asked.
"Well, you yourself said that she might be right beneath us. And experience shows that people tend to store things in their basements. Seems as good a place as any to start looking." Dragon's eyes flickered towards a set of doors on the opposite side of the room from the main doors.
Richard blinked, then grinned, then frowned. "But..." He turned to look at Miss Kane.
"Go ahead. I'll make an excuse for you" Richard Dragon nodded.
"Thanks Sensei, I owe you one" Richard smiled at Dragon before hurrying off towards the doors his sensei had indicated.
"Jeeves, the bird has flown" Alfred grimaced as he heard Richard Dragon's voice crackle in his left ear. Why did the marital artist have to use that particular code-word?
"Copy. Once he's found Oracle, get ready to move" He said.
"Understood" Dragon signed off and Alfred switched to a different channel.
"Are your men in position?"
"Yes. But a few are getting antsy. Are you certain she's here?"
"Quite certain" Alfred assured the person on the other end off the line. "Just make sure you remember who the targets are, and wait for my signal"
There was a pause on the other end, then the voice replied. "We're ready"
"Sir. Everyone is in position" Alfred's voice crackled
Bruce let a small smile cross his face as he escorted a 'distraught' Kathy Kane back to their table.
"Everything okay?" A small voice made Bruce look down to see Kathy's eyes.
"Everything's set. We just need to wait for Richard to find Barbara" Bruce said softly as he helped Kathy into her seat.
"And then, once she's clear, we blow the roof off this place" Kathy chuckled as Bruce made for his own seat. "You know, we're taking quite a chance with all this. I only hope it works"
"Me too Kathy" Bruce's face remained stoic, but the uncertainty in his voice was clear enough. "Me too"
"Miss Kane, are you alright?" The two of them looked up to see Zatanna approaching.
"I'm fine" Kathy nodded at Zatanna. "Just a little...shaken"
"I understand, Miss Kane. If I may ask, what happened to your ward? He was here a minute ago, wasn't he? I hope he didn't get spooked by the actions of the seals" As Zatanna continued to speak, Bruce felt himself frown. something was off, Zatanna's posture was stiff, and her voice was formal. Bruce looked up at her questionably.
'He's watching', Zatana mouthed and Bruce gave the magician a tiny nod.
"If you are looking for Mr. Grayson, I just saw him running towards the restrooms" They looked up as Richard Dragon joined them at the table. "I confess I cannot blame him. When I saw the aggressive actions of the seals just now, I felt a little sick myself"
"I see" Zatanna nodded. "Well, I hope he comes back soon, we are just about ready to commence with the opening ceremony and Mr. Cobblepott was requesting that the three of you join him up on the stage.
Bruce and Kathy exchanged a glance. "Well...Richard is not actually fond of ceremonies such as this, so I do not believe he will mind if we commence with the ceremony without him." Kathy said after a moment.
"I will tell him" Zatanna smiled, gave them a small bow, nodded subtly at Bruce, and then trotted away.
"I had hoped that my ward's disappearance would have gone unnoticed" Kathy's eyes met Richard Dragon's, then Bruce's. They glittered with unease.
"As had I" Richard confessed. He turned to look at Bruce. "What now?"
"Let's just keep playing it by ear." Bruce's expression betrayed no emotion, but his voice was tense. "Zatanna will make sure that Dragon's cover story flies, at least for now, but we may have to move fast when we get Alfred's signal.
Richard Dragon nodded, his face darkening, while Kathy shook her head.
"This is one of the reasons why I don't like this hero stuff" She sighed, a pained expression on her face. "We're all walking on pins and needles"
Richard crept down the dimly lit hallway, eyes and ears straining for movement. It had been easy enough for him to slip away from the main room, through the doors, and into the hallway beyond. Creeping down this hallway, he had come to a door which had opened to reveal stairs going down. Following them, he had arrived in another hallway lined with doors that had numbers on them.
Richard paused outside the first door and reached the handle. He turned it, but the handle refused to give.
Locked! Richard growled in annoyance before moving towards the other doors. The next two doors were also locked, but the handle on the fourth door turned easily in his hand. Richard paused for a moment, checking to make sure he was alone, then carefully eased open the door.
Beyond the door lay a storeroom, but it was mostly empty. Richard blinked, his eyes adjusting to the gloom, and then he saw a small figure lying in the corner, a figure wrapped in a blanket...with red hair!
"BARBARA!" Richard gave a cry of joy ad rushed over to the girl. He knelt down over her and pulled off the blanket.
Barbara was lying on her side, facing away from him, wearing a trench coat. He reached out and gently turned her over. Barbara's eyes were closed, her glasses were missing, and her face was streaked with tears.
"Oh man, what did this guy do to you?" Richard began shaking Barbara's shoulder. "Barbara! Can you hear me? Wake up!"
Barbara groaned as she felt herself float back to reality.
Barbara looked up, and gasped in terror. Leaning over her was...herself! But at the same time it wasn't her. The other Barbara's skin was scaly, her eyes were reptilian. She was smiling, and Barbara could see fangs poking out from behind her scaly lips.
"You...you…." Barbara whimpered.
"Barbara? Are you okay?" The croc-her hissed.
"GET AWAY FROM ME!" Fear lending her sudden strength, Barbara threw herself away from the nightmare in front of her.
Richard's eyes widened in bewilderment as Barbara suddenly screamed and threw herself away from him.
"Barbara! Calm down, it's me!" Richard hissed, glancing nervously towards the door. If anyone heard them...
"You...you can't be here!" Barbara shouted, her eyes wide with terror.
"Barbara, calm down, and be quiet. I'm gonna get you out of here!" Richard took a step towards the panicked girl.
"No! I'm not going anywhere with you!" Barbara spotted the open door and lunged for it.
"Barbara wait!" Richard tried to stop her, but Barbara dodged his grasp at her arm and darted through the open door.
Cursing under his breath, Richard raced after her.
With the excitement on the screens over, Alfred turned his attention to other matters. He had already disarmed the roof sensors and was now carefully lowering the firewalls protecting the system.
"We've set the charges" A voice rang in his ears.
"You sound upset" Alfred noted.
"He thinks we're using too much" Metamorpho's voice growled.
"No I'm just wondering if this is the best idea. We all heard what the Penguin said." Man-Bat argued.
"Man-Bat's point is valid." Alfred said. "But there are risks involved in any plan. Besides, we're just the distraction. Zatanna, Dragon, and Batman are doing the real work."
"Condor to Control!" Alfred suddenly froze as a voice crackled through a speaker in front of him. "We have a motion alert in the basement, can you see what's going on?"
Alfred bit his lip, wondering if he should answer.
"Control, come in!" he voice came again, this time more urgent.
"Sir. I may have a problem" Alfred spoke over his earpiece as he heard footsteps rushing towards the door from outside. The doorknob began to rattle.
Bruce's face darkened at Alfred's report.
"Something wrong?" Kathy's question made Bruce look up to see her and Dragon looking at him.
"Alfred may be compromised" Bruce revealed.
Richard's eyebrows rose and Kathy's eyes widened.
"So...now what?" Kathy asked. "We didn't count on that happening"
Bruce paused, thinking, then turned to Richard. "Go" He said.
Richard Dragon raised an eyebrow, but when Bruce nodded, he stood up from the table.
"My friends!" Everyone froze as they heard Cobblepot's voice. The stocky man was approaching their table, Vixen and Dinah right behind him. "In spite of the unfortunate near-miss of earlier, everything is running on schedule, and we are moments away from commencing with the opening ceremony. Would you be so kind as to...I'm sorry, are you leaving us, sir?" Cobblepot paused, eyeing Richard Dragon.
"Only temporarily." Richard said quickly. "Ricahrd Grayson should have been back by now. I'm just going to see what is keeping him" He motioned towards a set of doors at the end of the hallway.
Oswald nodded and turned back to Bruce and Kathy. "As I was saying..." He began as Richard Dragon made his exit. "We on the verge of commencing with the opening ceremony, and I would ask that, at this time, the two of you to please come join me on the stage"
"Us?" Bruce gave Cobblepot a smile. "You actually want us to try to steal your thunder, Oswald?"
Kathy gave a tittering laugh, while Oswald guffawed, but Bruce did not miss the angry flash in the man's eyes.
"Hah! You may just well do that, Bruce Wayne!" Cobblepot said loftily. "But we have known each other for years, and upon this night, the dawn of my dream endeavor, I feel moved to share the spoils of my labor, and I can think of no one better to share them with"
"Oh Ozzie!" Kathy clasped a hand to her chest. "You truly are a gentleman! Oh Bruce, we simply cannot deny Ozzie this request!"
Bruce paused for a moment, then nodded and stood up from the table. "Very well, I suppose we can humor Mr. Cobblepot"
As he took Kathy's hand and helped her to stand, his gaze swept the hall, meeting one set of eyes. He gave a tiny nod, and the eyes vanished.
It's been a while since I updated this story (or any story for that matter), but I thank you readers who were perseverant enough to stick it out. I am at a very busy point of my life right now, mixing in taking classes with teaching classes is no easy task, let me tell you. Free time where I can sit and write down without being interrupted is nearly non-existent, but I am making every effort I can to finish what I have started here.
I estimate there to be 3-4 chapters left in Red Wings after this one. Since this story is near completing anyway, I resolve to try to have it finished by the beginning of summer at the latest. Hopefully this is a goal I will be able to keep, and if any readers wish to give me a 'gentle' reminder, I would not say no!)
As always, thank you to Superfan 44 for peer-reading this chapter before it was posted. Stay tuned, the final battle is about to begin!
Until Next Time!