Chapter Two: Initiation

It felt like coming up for air. Everything was black, dark, and muffled. There was a pressure around him, pushing in on him like an empty box.

He was floating, lost in a void, a jumble of thoughts with no body attached to them.

And suddenly, he broke the surface.

He was aware of his lungs moving beneath him, aching with each hollow breath. The insides of his throat were coated with something thick. It was hard to breathe. He coughed, the motion sending pain reverberating through his entire being like an earthquake with his taught chest as the epicenter.

The skin of his back was pressed against, reclined on something—in something. Something hard and smooth like carved stone but sticky and gummy like...

He groped around until he found a ledge of some sort, attempting to pull himself up until his back erupted in pain, his whole body tensing as the sharp stabs tore at his flesh. He gasped for air, opting to let himself rest until his head stopped spinning. An annoying ringing was drowning out any sound, buzzing as though it was trying to get his attention, tell him something was wrong. A pained groan escaped his lips.

His ears eventually cleared out, faraway noises echoing around in long booms in tune with the heavy drumming of his heart. He forced his eyes to open, the world coming into focus through thick eyelashes.

Where…?

The room was tiny and dimly lit by a faint light that slipped in through an open door. It must've been daytime.

His eyes slid sluggishly to the side, surveying as much of the area as he could without moving his neck.

He was in a modest-sized bathroom, a sink, toilet, and porcelain bathtub—where he currently found himself—packed compactly into a grey-tiled room. A pitiful medicine cabinet door dangled precariously off its upper hinge, and a grimy mirror feebly reflected the cheap plastic splash as well as a smaller mirror on the opposing shower wall.

Tiredly, his eyes slunk down to look himself over.

He was wearing some kind of... costume? The arms and chest were a vivid cardinal red, lackluster in the dim lighting, and a pair of blood-caked boots glistened ominously on his feet, telling him to check on his torso, which was sloppily wrapped in dense, black fabric—what must've been passing for a makeshift bandage.

He winced as he snaked his fingers through the cloth, painstakingly unwrapping it piece by piece. His abdomen looked alright he guessed. The front parts of the suit were torn, defaced with a few bloodstains but no major wounds that could have caused so much pain. Or so much blood.

Feeling nauseous at the thought, he did his best to ignore the crimson liquid that lined the shadowed inside of the tub and the streaked hand prints that marred the walls. He was really hoping it hadn't all come from him.

Trying to force himself up again, he used his feet to push himself against the opposite wall, but his momentum gave out on him, leaving him to catch himself on the ledge of the tub before he completely crumpled over.

"Hello?" he croaked, hoping for someone else to be out there. Indifferent silence came in reply.

He took in a thick breath and managed to stand upright with a great deal of effort. Using the cool walls and counter top for support, he stumbled forward and straightened up to meet the mirror.

An exhausted specter of a teenager returned his gaze. Blood-soaked, raven hair affixed itself to ghostly white skin, contrasting markedly with the dark circles underneath his eyes. A pair of pupils drowned in azure irises. They flinched as the pulsating ache in his back almost knocked him over.

He gingerly fingered the plateau of his shoulder blade, a gaping hole in his suit leaving the entirety of his upper back exposed. He retracted his hand to scrutinize the dried liquid on his fingers with a low groan. I look as lousy as I feel… Leaning over the sink, the teenager brought his attention back to the mirror. His eyes widened as he recalled the second mirror in the room, shifting slightly so that he could see his back through the other reflection.

He almost wished he hadn't.

Paths of dried blood shimmered around the edges of deep, deliberate marks, carefully branded onto him with a what must've been a knife. Two jagged wings bit into his shoulder blades, a sharp tail trailing down the center of his back while a two-pronged head pierced the sides of his cervical spine. The tissue around the marks was tender, gathering around the edges of each slice. No doubt it was going to scar.

The teenager blinked at the emblem blankly, absentmindedly running a finger along the stinging lines.

But what did it mean…?

And who had done it?

His blood ran cold, eyes flickering back to the stranger in the mirror.

Who am I?


It was a strange realization, not remembering your own name. Could something so integral to a person's identity so easily vanish, slip through fingers like water?

Water, he agreed, propped up against the coolness of a brick wall. You can hold it, know it's there, can understand it's H20—even prove it—but what is it? Where did it come from?

And where does it go?

Yeah, he decided, releasing a breath thick with pain. Memories are like water. At least his were, anyway. He felt like every time he tried to recall how he'd woken up in that dusty apartment an hour ago, how he'd gotten that odd mark on his back, he was looking into a pool of clear water in his cupped hands. He could understand there was something there, but he only peered through it at his seemingly-empty palms—just like his seemingly-empty skull: The more he shook it for answers, the more water spilled out, escaped through his fingers until his hands were frustratingly bare and his mind just frustrated.

That was what it felt like, and with the feeling explained, he told himself he could let it go; the fact that he couldn't remember who he was could be filed away and ignored until it solved itself.

Only, it didn't go away. It scratched at the back of his hazy mind, trying to drive him mad with the incessant question: Who are you?

Who are you?

Who are you?

It was like there was someone there, someone other than himself, towering above him, pushing him further and further into a bottomless rabbit hole of nothing with questions that he couldn't answer and a face he didn't know. He wanted to tell it to stop. He'd already been to the bottom and back. There was nothing there, just ocean upon ocean of clear, unyielding water.

He closed his tired eyes, leaning his head back against the cold wall behind him. It felt so good, like he could lay there in the freezing world and stop thinking and breathing and just stop.

But he couldn't stop yet.

He had to get up and find answers, because he was pretty sure that his thoughts would keep whirling even if he was dead. So, he pushed himself to his feet, his head fogging up at the motion and his vision tunneling, caving in, until the fuzziness subsided back to his peripherals.

Following the wall, he managed to round another corner, but this alley was empty, too. All he needed to do was find one person. Someone who was willing to help take him to the hospital or the police station or whatever place was needed to get this sort of mess straightened out. One person. That was all.

The world slipped out from underneath him, knocking him to his knees. He winced at the unwelcome feeling of gravel embedding itself in his gloves and made to brush them off. But something was stuck.

Faintly annoyed, he tried to shake the flimsy object off, but instead it clung to the blood on his hands more stubbornly. He peeled off the layer of paper, observing it distastefully through exhausted, half-closed eyes.

"THE GOTHAM GAZETTE."

A newspaper.

He had half a mind to throw it aside until the ache in his back spiked and rocketed down his spine. He lurched forward with a cry, forehead pressed to the monochrome pages as he waited on bated breath for the pain to pass. After a few minutes in which he wondered if it would ever leave, the sensation faded back into a dull ache.

He forced his eyelids to open again, concentrating on the letters and pictures that were dancing inches in front of him. When they came into focus, his vision locked on one of the teased photos on the cover.

The person he'd seen in the mirror earlier was now smiling over a podium and waving to a crowd of people. His raven hair was smoothed back behind his ears, white skin glowing without any sign of scarring or exhaustion. A handsome young man that seemed brimming with promise.

The picture was captioned "Hunting for the Truth: Where is Tim Wayne?"

Tim… Wayne?

He flipped sluggishly to the mentioned page, devouring the words that were laid at his feet despite the spitting headache they gave him.

It seemed the teen mogul was taking time off to pursue schooling in Berlin. The writer wasn't so convinced, citing his disappearance as "sudden" and "ill-timed." The reporter hinted that, instead, he was secretly pursuing a romantic relationship overseas.

It went on like that for the rest of the article, mawkishly offering up potential recipients of the former-Wayne Enterprises CEO's new-found affections, but the gossip aside, the idea that he was studying in Germany was news to him.

He flipped back to the cover, a perplexed expression settling on his face.

The provided mailing address was for Gotham City, New Jersey.* Not Germany at all.

And the paper—it was too new to be out of date.

As he continued to study the article, the facts unchanging and slowly adding up, he began to feel sick to his stomach.

I'm in Gotham, half-dead. But someone is telling the world I'm in Berlin.

He forced himself to a wobbly stand, retracing the steps he'd already taken.

Remember!

Nothing.

What happened to me?

Nothing.

He groaned, half out of pain, half out of annoyance, and continued his trek.

His thoughts tugged him back to the article.

Had someone…wanted him out of the picture? Lied about where he was to build an alibi?

He couldn't help but feel slightly panicky with paranoia. He needed to think straight, consider his options. What would he do? Go to the police? Were the cops here dependable? No, don't know for sure. Hospital? Same thing.

But who could he trust with this?

He closed his eyes in frustration.

He needed answers, because as his thoughts began to run away with him, he realized he only truly knew one thing: Something was wrong, horribly wrong.


AN:

*Contrary to popular belief, Gotham City is set in New Jersey, not New York. Go figure. v-(:/)-v